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My Favorite Trail Breakfast: Wheat Cereal Soup

My favorite trail breakfast consists of three packs of instant wheat cereal and dried fruit and nuts. You just need to boil water to make it. I like to make mine the consistency of soup because the extra liquid helps me rehydrate in the morning and because it makes it much easier to clean up. You just need to swish some water in your cookpot a few times to get it passably clean.

Wheat cereal is pretty easy to find in the United States under the Cream of Wheat brand, although the generic store brand is my preference because it’s less expensive and indistinguishable in taste. It packs about 130 calories per packet while the added dried fruit/nut mix adds another 200 calories. I usually make mine with three packets bringing the total calorie count up to about 650 calories. In cold weather, when you can carry butter without it melting, you can add even more calories.

There’s something comforting about eating a hot breakfast on a cold morning, even though it takes a few minutes longer to prep. I know hikers who gulp down a few trail bars and drink a liter of water in the morning before setting off. But eating a hot breakfast gives me time to listen to the birds twittering and ease into the day. My time on backpacking trips is precious, but making miles has become less important to me over the years than savoring the solitude of the morning.

Truth is, I eat this same meal for dinner sometimes because it is so easy to make, filling, and satisfying. It’s perfect for those spur of the moment overnights when I just want to get out for one night. I just throw the ingredients into my Ursack and take off.

If you want to save money, time, and produce less trash, skip that Mountain House breakfast and roll your own. If you have food allergies, find something else that works similarly. Soup for breakfast is the real deal.

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  1. I use a similar concoction using oatmeal as a base, that I carry for breakfast each day. I made it too watery by mistake one time and found (as you state) the pot was so much easier to clean. I have tried the bars/water thing and it does not seem to carry me through the morning near as well. I find myself stopping much earlier for lunch. Could not agree more on enjoying the morning before taking off for the day, it is probably my favorite time during each hike. I do not like the prepacked oatmeal since it has so much sugar, but I am going to take a look at the Cream of Wheat.

    • I used to like instant Oatmeal, but I’ve eaten SO much of it, that the only thing I can really stomach is the full grain Irish stuff my wife makes on Sundays.

      The instant Cream of Wheat has a fair amount of sugar too. But it’s just so easy… had some just yesterday morning in the middle of the Pemi. So peaceful.

  2. Philip – Two things you said really hit home…and mirror my feelings exactly.

    “There’s something comforting about eating a hot breakfast on a cold morning…skip that Mountain House breakfast and roll your own.”

    A hot breakfast and hot coffee in the morning, sitting in my little chair listening to the wilderness is cherished time. I will add that my transition away from bars and prepackaged meals has totally changed backpacking for me. I now eat only “real” food. Cereals, dried meats and fruit, cheese, tortillas, etc. Dehydrating ingredients and developing your own recipes for freezer bag cooking has been a revelation…and a huge improvement in nutrition/reduction in sodium intake.

    “My time on backpacking trips is precious, but making miles has become less important to me over the years than savoring the solitude of the morning.”

    THAT!!! I guess I chafe some of the “macho” attitudes I come across that dictate the trip a failure unless you pushed mileage boundaries or set some new (at least personal) record. Slow and deliberate, with a keen sense of enjoying the wilderness is so much more satisfying. Sometimes, when I find a beautiful spot, I completely ditch my plans, stay put and just hang out for a day. I get so little time to be by myself that when in the woods surrounded by nothing but the sounds of nature, I often can hardly convince myself to head back to the car.

    • The mileage thing is insidious. Totally an artifact of thru-hiking that’s really not that conducive to wilderness enjoyment.

      Eating real food is the way to go on hiking or backpacking trips. Take 5 minutes and pack a sandwich instead of eating cliff bars. It’s so much more satisfying.

    • JH, I was about to comment on that second quote too. All my wilderness time is precious and making miles has NEVER been important to me, although sometimes making certain destinations has been. I am currently reading Bree Loewen’s “Found” about her time doing mountain rescue near Seattle (including Rainier) and just today came across a similar sentiment. She seems to be frustrated at the fact that “people think you must be a better person if you’re busy” and that we have this mindset of always having to be on the move, that the Garmin will record your break time only so that you can “minimize it the next time.” She recognizes that in mountain rescue timing is of the essence, of course, but when she’s on her own in the woods it seems like she wishes she could spend more time just enjoying and not being on the go.

      Anyway, I just wanted to say that I love this sentiment. Mornings on the trail are the #1 reason that I love backpacking. Waking up in the woods…ahhhhhh, bliss.

  3. The best way to slow down on a backpacking trip is to bring a fishing rod. Gives you an excuse to sit for a few hours and is just as meditative as hiking. I have to make a point to NOT bring one on some of my trips, however, when I need to make miles in a certain time frame because it’s so seductive to hang out and enjoy myself.

  4. My thoughts exactly, regarding how enjoyable cool mornings in the wilderness are. It is rarely about the miles for me, either. I go out to spend time in nature and reconnect — or disconnect. It’s about enjoying the beauty around me. Sounds corny in a way, but it’s the truth. Good breakfast idea, too, Philip! Will definitely try it. Thank you.

  5. I’m late to the party – I’m assuming we’re still talking about breakfast? :)

    I’ll use the Quaker instant oatmeal packets for convenience, but I prefer my own mix of Quaker Oatmeal (the plain kind, in the round cardboard box) with dried fruit and nuts (pecans and cherries, yum) and maybe some powdered milk. Because I’m diabetic (diet and medication, no insulin needed), I like the fact that the oatmeal has no sugar, and I can control what I add with the fruit and milk.

    With either the instant or do-it-myself, breakfast is easy to fix and clean up. I boil a full pot of water in my Titan Kettle, and put my mix in the Titan Cup. I pour just enough boiling water from Kettle to Cup to get the oatmeal consistency I like, then use the rest for tea (which I make in and drink from the Kettle.) Cleanup is just putting some cold water in the cup, washing with my fingers until the faint residue dissolves, and wiping both items dry.

    I’ve tried the bars-and-water breakfast, and find it lacking. (If I want a cold breakfast, it’s more likely to be granola cereal with tea.) Like the rest of you, I like easing into the morning. At 69, I’ve long outgrown the idea that I have to go “better, faster, further.” In fact, I’m probably in deep trouble with the ultralight police: I use an awful lot of the “fast and light” gear to go “slow and light” so I can keep doing this for a while longer. (I never have understood why “fast” must be linked to “light” in the first place.) I typically hold my days to 8 or 10 miles, on gentler terrain (again, make the original equipment knees last) – and I take the time to stop and look around, so I get to see the copperheads that the fast-and-light crowd blew right past. (And then tell them about it later.) I’ve also found myself hiking the same trails repetitively, watching the seasons change and reveal (and then hide) different details as the foliage thickens and thins. This spring, heavy rains and no leaves let my buddy and me notice where a couple of creek banks had collapsed, exposing the sand underneath; this summer, we can see the undergrowth starting to reclaim the bare spot.

    But enough. I, too, like my homemade food – and I also like trail mix better than granola bars.

    When I’m only out for a night or two, I’ve even found myself foregoing the freeze-dried entrees at supper. Instead, I’m bringing along a pack or two of ramen noodles, along with a pouch of chicken or flavored tuna or salmon, or a small can of those little tiny shrimp to mix in. Sometimes, I’ll use a “creamy” cup of soup instead of the seasoning packet to make a sauce (yes, I know that both the packet and soup are full of sodium and other nasty stuff. So is the freeze-dried stuff.) Again, it’s quick and easy, and hits the spot.

    I always find that I enjoy such a simple meal as I watch the day wind down, and the night rise up as the sun sets. (I just noticed recently that we talk about night “falling,” when in fact it gets dark at ground level in the woods while the sky is still bright.)

    So, here’s to a good breakfast to start a good morning.

  6. Maple syrup goes a long way in sprucing up instant breakfasts. Low on the glycemic index and doesn’t really spoil. In addition to my typical cream of wheat I’ve taken to bringing prepackaged liege waffles to complete the gourmet breakfast. Heat up the waffle on your pot lid while boiling water for the CoW.

  7. Philip – one more thing. Thank you for suggesting that real butter can be taken backpacking. I’ve been packing real cheese for several years now but I never really thought about butter…I have been using butter powder successfully. Since I only backpack when it’s cold, real butter seems like a no brainer. I suppose it could get a little messy, but double zip locking it would probably suffice.

  8. I’ve found something marvelous in Ecuador: powdered oatmeal. Add full-fat powdered milk, which comes with a bit of sugar, and water. Then mix and eat. I haven’t tried it hot, and don’t want to, personally speaking, but I bet it would be fine that way too.

    I can’t find that this is available anywhere in the U.S., except for some body-builder stuff. (8 pounds in a plastic tub for $30 on Amazon.) It should be available but isn’t, because it’s great.

    Last year I was in the U.S. for a while and tried Soylent, which I liked a lot. I treated that like instant mashed potatoes and added generous amounts of powdered milk and butter, and maybe some grated Parmesan cheese, but it was fine plain as well, mixed up only with cold water, or just powdered milk and water.

    Even Quaker sells powdered oats here (76¢ a pound). Proof: But not in the U.S.? WTF, etc.

    • Suggestion: make the powder at home yourself by using a blade coffee/nut grinder. I do that when I want to have the steel cut oat flavour without the wait.

      I have found that regular, thick, Scottish rolled oats will rehydrate just fine with your method, Philip. And…you can adjust the water to come pretty close to your wide’s version.

      Also, you can rehydrate the oats with freshly ground coffee – made with the hand grinder one should always bring on a backpack – and have two items at once! (?)

      • I put a cartoon of a monkey with hands over its mouth, to indicate, “speak no evil” but it came out as a question mark here…guess emojis aren’t acceptable;-)

  9. I became burned out on rolled oats too but never thought of Cream of Wheat. I currently dehydrate my own cooked steal cut oats at home then reconstitute in the field using a cozy. Its more time and work but that way I can control the amount of sugar and wholesomeness of the final product.

  10. On the topic of butter. Shops with Indian food supplies will have liquid clarified butter: Ghee
    I am not a cook but I have carried ghee as a replacement for solid butter
    May or may not work for you

  11. While I’m venturing into keto territory now, in the past I’ve always looked forward to my quick grits and precooked bacon days as break from my quick oats walnut cranberry mix mornings.

  12. In the spring and fall when morning temps are still cool, I mix some Nido powder milk with some chocolate protein powder at night before turning in. In the morning I mix it with my wife’s homemade granola cereal. Really packs some calories. I do take the time to have some hot coffee though. Then i’m set.

  13. I’ve made my own ghee and quite enjoyed it on the trail, a quick “google” and you’ll making your own in no time.

    I’ve enjoyed reading everyones comments and am right there with you, quiet time spent on the trail is time well spent.


  14. I’m glad I read the post as I almost didn’t because of the photo of watery something. But now I read the comments I have some great ideas for breakfast.

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