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What are Good Backpacking Breakfasts?

A Leisurely Hot Breakfast
A Leisurely Hot Breakfast

You’d think there was a simple answer to this, but it really depends. What you eat for breakfast depends on knowing what your body needs in the morning. It depends on external weather conditions, the number of daylight hours you have, the distance you need to hike that day, how much weight you are willing to carry, and whether you are addicted to caffeine or not.

The one thing you need to keep in mind when eating breakfast or any other meal is that your body can only absorb about 400 calories of food an hour,  so it really doesn’t matter how much food you consume for breakfast beyond a certain point (this process is called gastric emptying if you’re interested). This is why it’s important to snack during the day when hiking, otherwise you’ll fall behind on the number of calories you can turn into energy until after dinner.

If it’s warm out and I’m in a hurry…

I know that my body craves carbohydrates and water in the morning. So if it’s fairly warm out and  I have a long day ahead of me, I eat a ziploc bag with 500 calories worth of dry granola, a half dozen dried apricots, and I drink 32 ounces of cold water. This is my baseline breakfast and the one I mainly eat from late spring through early autumn (for New England hiking.)

Granola is a calorically dense food with about 100-120 calories per ounce and it compresses reasonably small in my food bag. It’s also really easy to prepare when I pack for a trip, which is another reason I like it. I’ve also eaten so much instant oatmeal on backpacking trips that I can never eat it again.

Another breakfast food I eat on trips is pound cake and I often bring some along on backpacking trips as an alternative to having granola every day. Pound cake, butter cake, ginger cake, or logan bread are all calorically rich and will stand up to being deliberately smushed to take up less space. I slice the cake up and put it into sandwich bags when I pack my food at home or resupply during a hike, and aim for a 500 calorie piece for breakfast in place of granola.

One thing I’d like to also emphasize here is my water intake. When you sleep at night, it’s normal for you to lose about 1 liter of water through perspiration and exhalations. Drinking one liter of water at breakfast is needed to restore the water you lost during the night and bring your body back into equilibrium. It also means you don’t have to carry it in your pack (where it will feel heavier. )

If it’s cold and dark outside…

When it’s cold and dark outside in early spring or late autumn, I like to eat something hot for breakfast. Daylight is short during this time of year, but I know from experience that I can almost completely pack my gear while my breakfast is “cooking.” For these meals I also eat granola, but I pour the hot water into the ziploc with the granola, and munch on the dried apricots. There’s is nothing like Trader Joe’s Ginger Granola with hot water in the morning! It is a fabulous pick me up that beats instant oatmeal any day.

I’ll also boil enough water for a big pot of tea and drink the rest of my 32 ounce water allotment cold. Cleanup is easy because this is essentially a freezer bag meal. I reckon the entire procedure adds about 30 minutes to my morning routine, but a hot meal is a worthwhile mood enhancer in colder weather, so the extra time spent is worth it to me.

In winter…

In winter, I like to eat granola with hot water and a big pot of tea, but I’ll also eat a chocolate bar and some nuts to increase the fat content of my meal. These foods take more energy to break down than carbohydrates and help stoke my metabolism so I stay warmer in the morning. I’ll also put several bags of sugar in my tea to create a surplus of calories in my system.

No Clean Up

I’ve never been big on elaborate meals for breakfast. I think this is because I want to get out of camp in the morning (early of course) and get hiking. I certainly don’t want to be stuck cleaning up anything and my method avoids that altogether. I’d rather have more free time in the afternoon or evening after I’ve hiked the distance I planned to hike for the day, than burn up precious time in the morning.

What about You? What do you eat for breakfast on hiking trips?

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49 comments

  1. Its instant noodles for me in the morning – bacon flavour!

  2. My breakfasts are pretty simple, too. Most days its just two packs of Granola bars or similar. I pack up and leave, and as soon as I leave I eat one pack while walking and the other about an hour later.

    If I know I have big morning climbs, then it's 3/4c of rolled oats in a ziplock with nuts, rasins, turbinado sugar, or whatever. I have not been able to eat instant oatmeal since I was about 12 years old, but the rolled oats I love just fine. Pour boiled water in the ziplock and let it sit while I pack up, then eat 2/3rds just before I leave and the rest an hour later. Yes, it's still good cold.

    I also am a morning drinker. I'll mix 1L of orange Gatorade the night before and down the whole bottle just as I leave – it's my morning orange juice. I drink less water at night than most would say than I should on purpose. I like to be very slightly dehydrated going to bed to alleviate overnight privy trips. It's a fine line between too little and just right that you have to listen to your body for. If you feel like you'd like just 8 oz more water before you go to bed – that's about right. Doctor's and nutritionists, don't blast me. YMMV.

  3. I love ziplock bag omelets for the first morning. (especially ever since I found that eggbeaters makes little 2 egg equivalent sealed dixi cups, but the cartons work too if you have a group)

  4. my breakfast is about as simple as it gets, one Kashi bar while I'm packing up then after I've been on the trail for a couple of miles or nice view which ever comes first, I eat a second Kashi bar. If works for me.

  5. What kind of zip lock bags stand up to boiling water without melting?

  6. Unfortunately I have special food needs. When I was younger I would eat a pop tart and some instant oatmeal, and carb up. Over the last ten years or so I've developed Hypoglycemia. Carbs have become more of an enemy then anything.Proteins and fats are what I fuel up with now.

    My new favorite breakfast is 1 Atkins Chocolate chip Granola bar broken up into small pieces, 1 scoop Vanilla Whey Protein powder, A small handful of walnut pieces, and another small handful of Trader Joe's Blueberries. I package all the ingredients in a zip lock at home. To prepare it I add a cup of water to the bag, seal it up and shake it up for a minute. then let it sit for one more. So far it works for me.

    I would love to hear about other backpackers with special food needs.

  7. Amos – the size up from sandwich size works best for things that require hot water. basically any brand will work

  8. I'd say my favorite breakfasts are not "breakfast foods". Often I eat a smaller size version of a dinner – savory foods. If it is going to be really hot with long miles potatoes often are in my breakfast for the potassium. I also keep the portions small so I can digest it, I hate walking on a full stomach. I plan for a second breakfast 1-2 hours down the trail.

    On really short time mornings it might be nut butters on some form of bread and dried fruit (preferably stewed a bit).

    Always with a lot of tea!

  9. My current breakfast is 1/2 cup of wheat germ, a handful of granola and Nido powdered milk. I mix up the milk and pour it into a baggie with the the wheat germ until the wheat germ absorbs the milk then add the granola. (Wheat germ tastes like sawdust if you don't do this. Once it's absorbed the milk, its tasty.) Quick, tasty and filling.

  10. I've been meaning to try Nido. I think Packit Gourmet sell it. Some good ideas here. I've got some stuff to try.

  11. I also add Nido (got it from Packit Gourmet) to either oats/dry friut/walnut mix or cous cous/dry friut/walnut mix on cold mornings. Tasty and adds more protien to my breakfast. I also make and drink my tea while it "cooks" in my cozy.

  12. I get my Nido from Walmart or the grocery store, it's usually in the ethinic foods section for some reason.

    Here's a link to an article on wheat germ: http://www.survivalblog.com/2010/08/wheat_germ_fo… If you look at the nutritional info, it really is a super food, plus its about as light weight as food can be.

  13. I've found the Mountain House Granola w/ Blueberries to be pretty good. And I also try and bring a banana or 2 for that first morning.

  14. My breakfast – 2 or 3 real eggs (carried in a Coghlan container) fried up, and a few strips of shelf stable bacon, along with a Jetboil of tea.

    Nothing beats it to start the day, especially on later days into a hike.

    If I'm not in the mood to cook, a Snickers bar. :)

  15. 2-3 packs of flavored Instant oatmeal and some Yogi Green tea with a pack of sugar in the Raw. Nothing beats a hot breakfast especially when its cold or rainy.

  16. I've started packing sugar in the raw in my tea kit lately too. Really makes a difference in morning tea, although it feels like it's pretty heavy.

  17. I am reputed to be a morning person, however, that distinction is always reserved for a time zone a few slots west of wherever I am. Once I stumble out of my warm down bag, I usually scarf down a couple bags of instant oatmush or Cream of Tweet along with a slug of java. I'll also scrounge into my jerky bag for some extra protein and raid the chocolate chip bag if I hadn't chomped my way completely through that the day before. I'm not too picky but this thread has expanded my horizons a bit, if not my waistline.

  18. I used to just go oatmeal or mountain house stuff, but this past year I've really changed it up to require actual cooking instead of "just add water." First morning's breakfast is always eggs and bacon. I'll keep an egg left over for the next morning's pancakes. If there's a third morning, it will likely be oatmeal with dried fruit.

    Oh, and don't forget the Via. :-)

    –Mark

  19. Similar to others here:

    If I am planning long days, I will have a granola bar while packing and another as the hiking starts along with at least 1 liter of gatorade.

    If I plan short days or in the winter, I like a hot meal of instant oatmeal and coffee and the liter of gatorade.

    Eggs and bacon sounds great but the only time I could see myself doing that would be base camping in the winter which I haven't really done yet.

  20. I am also thinking of changing my "3-season routine" to packing and hiking a few miles before having a hot breakfast; especially if there is a nice spot a few miles down the trail.

    This would break up the hiking a bit so not sure if the extended rest would help or hurt.

  21. I usually rely on pop tarts for breakfast, they taste great and seem to work for me

  22. I love something warm and soupy and love a mix of flavors so: a packet of instant oatmeal, tube envelope of Starbucks Verona instant (strong and good!) a handful of gorp, envelope of cocoa mix, extra instant milk powder and slosh it all around in boiled water. For me…yum! Yeah…in a plastic bag…or my titanium pot.

  23. Instant oatmeal in whatever form is not for me.Use real (pinhead) oatmeal, leave in pan with water and salt overnight and just bring to the boil in the morning.Add a good dollop of honey and you don't need anything else.Another easy breakfast is instant mash,butter and corned beef mixed .

  24. For relatively short trips I eat what I eat at home…Kashi Go Lean cereal. I pre-measure my normal amount into a freezer bag with the right amount of Nido. I will usually add some dried fruit like currents or blueberries, and perhaps some walnuts or pecans. Then all I have to do is add water and eat from my freezer bag. Plus I have to have my Starbuck Via coffee. I just find that my digestive system works better if I can eat relatively close to what I eat at home when I am on the trail.

  25. When it's cold, I like a hot oatmeal, usually the brown sugar / maple / apple chunky kind, two or three baggies mixed up. And a Via instant coffee with the remainder of the hot water. When it isn't cold .. I hike off without any breakfast, and munch on granola, crackers, dried fruit, jerky, etc while on the trail. Also depends on the region of the hike, I find that in the desert southwest, I often return home with sweet stuff left, but all salty stuff gone, whereas the opposite is true for my hiking in the northeast.

  26. For years I ate Rasin Bran or Wheaties premixed with dried milk, just add water to a ziplock bag. Then a Cup of MRE Hot Chocolate, which was the best compared to the lightweight store brands.Nice and creamy too. Followed by a Apricot & Prune mix which was very sticky, especially after a warm day…Then I switched to Green Tea and now White Tea.

    On lay over days I enjoyed a Freezed dried Egg Omelet with dried onions, garlic, bell peppers, bacon crumbles mixed up at home in a ziplock because some of the Store bought stuff has almost 290 g's of Cholestrol per two person pack, and we know that two people will not be eating that pack..

    And since I read about here on this website, I tried the Logan Bread with the Tea and it was very satisfying, more so than I expected it to be…In fact I loved it so much I had it for lunch which replaced my standard of hard Dry Italian Salami with MRE Vegetable Crackers and MRE Jalapeno Cheese…But alas I had to give it up the Logan Bread and the Salami.

    Now it is Instant Oatmeal or Grits with Cinnamon, due to Cholestrol and Sugar concerns, the Cinnamon helps drop the sugar levels in the blood, followed by a huge mug of White Tea which is loaded with Anti-Oxidents. I use the same cup as I boil the water and eat the oatmeal out of, to which I make the tea which helps clean it, nothing like lumpy tea.

    I'd like to experiment with cinnamon in the Logan bread but haven't done it yet to see if it would have the same effect as it does with Oatmeal and Cinnamon in reducing the blood sugar…If we have any Diabetics or type II Diabetics or anyone with Sugar problems out there I'd like to hear from you if you are eating the Logan Bread……

  27. Hey everyone…on the oatmeal thing – if you want to make your own recipe and not have to buy the pricey packets check out my link for DYI:
    http://www.trailcooking.com/recipes/instant-oatme

  28. As always Sarah, a BIG thank you!

  29. AMCLTHIKER (Mark War

    I eat my own mix of instant oatmeal, with dried apples, raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon.

    In response to Amos' question about which Ziplocs to use, I would have told him to only use freezer bags. I have had too many regular Ziplocs melt.

  30. Speaking of Zip Locks and melting. Has anyone found a Brand of Ziplocks that do not leak??

  31. Eddie, I prefer either Ziploc brand or Glad brand, only freezer bags. But here is the thing – let your water boil and then let it sit for a few seconds (heck even a minute!) and then pour. It doesn't need to 212* to rehydrate your breakfast. As well, a supported bag that is sitting in a cozy works much better.

  32. Thanks Sarah, this is Sherlock if you recognize the name…But I am looking for a freezer bag that does not leak say when rehydrating Beans, or letting seeds Sprout, while hiking along the trail for dinner…Other than using a "Seal -a-Meal" type unit at $100+ a unit and then the cost of the plastic, I was looking for something more reasonable priced to use…

  33. Sherlock,

    I've found the bags without the slider stay sealed quite well. I can't stand the ones with the slider. They always seem to come apart.

  34. Hey Sherlock (sure do remember you!),

    My theory on the freezer bags for extended soaking is Ziploc freezer bags – they have gotten better with the seal now. The ones they sell at Costco work well. But…carrying the bag in a cookpot or mug seems to work better. Again supporting the bag leads to less stress. I don't waste time with sandwich bags, the seal is just not good enough!

  35. Instant oatmeal (sorry!) with chunks of walnut or almond sprinkled in. Nearly all of our backpacking is early or late season, so mornings are still cool or outright frigid. A good granola would be a workable alternate though. Have to try that..

  36. Soon, I'm going on a forty mile hike on the Buffalo River Trail with my brother in law. I made a couple freezer bag cozies last night and was packaging meals in bags. I dehydrated a bunch of strawberries and also have dried blueberries to go in the instant oatmush. I have a Ziplock 1 qt. container to use as a bowl if needed and went crazy with the aluminized cozy material and made a cozy for the bowl also. I think we'll be cozy too–the weather should be fairly decent, except for a possible rain shower or two.

  37. I prepare muesli at home (oat flakes, ground flax seed, drie fruit and nuts) and put in a ziplock. I pack powdered soymilk. I make the milk with water, add to the muesli and voilà! Homemade organic muesli and soymilk. I suppose I could also add the powdered soymilk directly to the muesli in the ziplock and just add water, but I haven’t tried that, yet.

  38. Since having to change my food intake at my Doctors suggestion, now it means cutting out Sugar, getting up in years sure is not fun food wise though I still make the same time on the trail as I did when I was 30..But now I stop and look more and take more pictures..Anyway

    I’m back to plain Oatmeal with just Cinnimon and NO Sugar..Anyone have any suggestions for a good breakfast without it being sweet and no bacon and eggs or ham and eggs either cause we now have to watch Fat, Cholestrol, Sugar, Carbs, and all eatable foods…:)

  39. Thanks Earlylite I’ll try it…can’t have the raisins either, to high in sugar, nor cranberries..geez..

    • hey eddie, try using stevia…it’s safe for diabetics & though i’m not diabetic i use it & have for several years. my body has aches and pains when i consume too much sugar or simple carbs. i like the sweetleaf brand – also comes in liquid form – might give that a try too – think coffee, tea, cereal, baking…you’ll be glad you did!

      • Thank you, I will look for the Stevia, thank you for taking the time to share that with me…

  40. I use Roger’s Porridge Oats, Steel Cut Oat Blend. This is the stove top stuff the directions tell you to bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. I add goji berry gorp, quinoa, chia seeds in a 4/3/2/2 ratio.

    With a tupperware container in a well made pot cozi, I add boiling water to the above, cover, and 20 minutes later add hemp hearts and salt and it’s good to go.

    In that 20 minutes wait I’ll drink at least half a liter of water, and munch on dried fruit.

  41. Heck, I struggle (and usually lose) to find a healthy breakfast on non-wilderness days. Having said that, for several years now I’ve been obsessed with finding the perfect scrambled egg. What I’m about to suggest is not the perfect scrambled egg…and it’s pricey…but it’s pretty stinkin’ good. Mountain House Scrambled Eggs with bacon or ham. After a day or so of eating the usual hiker fare, waking up to this warm, moist, savory breakfast is a nice way to start a day on the trail. They’re pre-cooked and rehydrate in their own packaging, so no pan mess to clean-up. After hydration there’s a little water left-over and this supplements the water for my instant grits nicely. I also like to bring along a pack of shelf-stable bacon from which I fry up a couple of strips in my lightweight skillet. Starbucks Via is the perfect liquid accompaniment…and maybe a caffeine pill, just for kicks.

  42. I am going on a forty one mile, five day hike and I dont like oatmeal. What do I do?

  43. Homemade instant oatmeal with chia seeds and dried fruit – sometimes dried blueberries, sometimes dried cranberries or apples. No added sugar most of the time. I’ll also bring along pre-hardboiled eggs to add some protein – usually one or two per day. An egg container holds six which is perfect for 3 or 4 days. I only have to boil water to add to the oatmeal and for a cup of coffee, and my luxury a hydro flask with a pinch of loose leaf tea to which I add hot water whenever I stop long enough to justify getting out the stove. It’s very nice to have hot tea with snacks on the trail.

    BTW – I can’t eat the pre-made commercial instant oatmeal- it tastes awful, Chemical, over-sweet, with who knows what. Learning how to make instant oatmeal at home was a game-changer. My cholesterol dropped over 50 points once I started having it for breakfast most days – on or off the trail.

  44. Drinking cold water before or during a meal ain’t such a good idea. Warm or hot much better, but not too much. Cold water, cold milk, etc, slows metabolism, which requires heat for the digestive enzymes and such to do their thing. This is from the science of Ayurveda, one of the oldest and most revered health systems on the planet.

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