Making Trail Foods For Wilderness Exploring

Making Trail Foods For Wilderness ExploringA few steaks, some bags of chips and a case of beer or soda pop will usually get you through an easy weekend overnighter of hunting or target shooting. And this only if the weather’s mild. Long wilderness expeditions to remote usually require proper trail foods. Dehydrated or freeze dried foods that are as light come heavily spiced to overcome the cardboard factor. However, you can make your own tasty trail foods and here are a few recipes.

I can say that the first few days of eating store-bought backpacking foods aren’t bad. You’re tired, hungry and anything will taste good. It’s the same principle when you get tired in the wild. Even a flat or pointy rock will do when you’re dog tired. The wonders and gorgeous surroundings of the wilderness tend to block out the negative. Even so,  something happens to backpacking foods after the third, or at the very latest, the fourth day. Everything begins to taste the same, and it feels you are eating the same food only packaged differently.

Is it the packaging, the in-famous spice concoctions or something about the butane cook stove that causes this food fatigue syndrome? During a long backpacking trip, I can remember drooling as I watched a fellow hiker eating oranges while I sat there munching on trail mix and swilling down warm tea.

After a week of living on dehydrated meals, you will sell your soul for some “tasty/real” food.  

As a survivalist and modern backpacker enthusiast, you should be able to enjoy eating good foods that won’t spoil and are easy to prepare. The key to happy eating while backpacking is pre-trip planning and proper packaging. Before getting into making your own gourmet trail foods, it’s a good idea to learn how our predecessors did it.

Trail foods – Jerky and Pemmican

The very first explorers on this continent were the Native Americans, and they developed some of the best trail foods known to man. Dried meat, known as jerky is still a favorite snack found in most stores. However, store-bought beef jerky contains lots of salt, seasonings and extra ingredients that can make you sick on the trail. It’s better to make your own so that you can control the flavor and ingredients.


To eat real jerky, you “worry” off a chunk with your teeth — if you can — or cut off a “flake” with a pocket knife, then soak the “flake” in your cheek for a while until it finally softens. If jerky isn’t that tough, it won’t keep!

That being said, you should know that jerky can be made from venison, elk or buffalo. However, most jerky today is generally made from beef. Flank steak will work great for making jerky. Start by cutting the meat in long thin strips against the grain. Make sure to remove and try away any fat or gristle if present.

The Cowboys used to sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. They also used a small amount of chili powder to improve the overall taste. Once you add your condiments of choice, simply hang it on wire lines in the sun to dry. If you want a more flavorful jerky, marinate the meat in a solution of flavors. Use 2 tablespoons of Soy sauce, 2 drops of Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper to taste. Add also 1/4 teaspoon of salt, ground pepper and one fresh clove of garlic, minced.

Place meat and flavor juice in a Ziploc plastic bag in the refrigerator overnight. After it marinates properly drain the meat and place on the oven racks to dry.  Ste the oven at 140 degrees and leave the oven door partially open. Let it dry for about six to eight hours. You should let it dry at least until the meat turns dark and brittle.

You can make a marinade from other ingredients as well. I recommend red wine, wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, minced onion, a pinch of thyme and oregano.


Pemmican is a nutritious, preserved food created by the women of Native American tribes. The term Pemmican is derived from pimii, the Cree-Chippewa word for fat. Pemmican consists of a mixture of cooked, dried and shredded buffalo meat, or fish, which is combined with melted fat. The pemmican was tightly packed into a bag made of buffalo skin. It was used as a convenient type of long-lasting food.

In the old days, it was considered essential for sustaining warriors and hunters on the trail due to its content of proteins and vitamins. Pemmican can be eaten out of hand or added to soups, stews, or anything in need of an extra nutritional boost.

Besides assuring good health of the Native Americans, Pemmican was also considered a super-food due to its content of buffalo meat and the proprieties it was passing on. The warriors of the Indian tribes believed that if they ate pemmican, they would be strong and healthy as the mighty buffalo.

In today’s modern times, Pemmican is ideal for preppers because it is a high-energy, fast food that is easily transportable and long-lasting.

Before you try to make your trail foods, you will need to buy a food dryer/dehydrator. Good commercial food dryers are available for about $100, but you can make your own for a few bucks.

The Traditional Indian Recipe:

Native American women used dried buffalo meat to make pemmican. The method and recipe for making pemmican were as follows:

  • The buffalo meat was first dried, and then it was heated over a low fire.
  • The meat was beaten with sticks or stones into fine shreds so that it can be well mixed with the other ingredients
  • Buffalo tallow was melted and the shredded meat stirred into the hot fat to create pemmican
  • The pemmican was 50 percent meat and 50 percent fat
  • Berries and dried fruit were sometimes added to the pemmican
  • The mixture was tightly packed and fastened into a bag made of buffalo skin
  • The pemmican would then cool and harden

Pemmican would last for over a year and was eaten dry or boiled in water.

Planning a menu – Settling on trail foods

If you plan a menu for your wilderness journey, it’s best to plan for one or two small meals and end the day with the main meal. Trail snacks should also be provided as quick snacks for energy replenishment. In your traveling journal list the days you will be gone on the left-hand side.

On the top of the page write breakfast, lunch, and dinner and add snacks in between them. Now draw lines separating the days and each meal category. In each created box you should list a particular meal of the day. It will help you spot out any repetitive meals, and you can mix your foods accordingly.

For figuring out what to put into each box of your menu, you might try one of the cookbooks teaching you how to make proper survival foods. The “Forgotten Lessons of Yesterday” it’s a good example.  

The basic principle of packing food for backpacking, bugging out or any long journey is keeping it simple and light.  If you want quick, trouble-free meals that keep well on the trail, pack the following: hard salami, small tins of fish, tuna, and chicken. You shouldn’t forget crackers, cheese, peanut butter, dried fruit, and granola. These will save you the trouble of cooking and cleaning up.

Related article: 5 Recipes To Make Your Own Survival Protein Bars

I also bring a few bags of evaporated milk that I use as full strength for coffee creamer. You can also cut 50/50 with water to use as whole milk. Yogurt is ideal for shorter trips, but you should remember that it will last max  48 hours. As a cheese lover, I never forget to pack it because it keeps well and will continue to age during long trips.

Black bread and dense whole-wheat bread travel well on the trail.  You can make them yourself, or you can buy them from your local grocery store. I also bring dry bagels as they travel very well in a backpack and are a good on-the-go snack.

Trail foods and packaging

When preparing trail foods, you also have to consider the cleaning duty. More precisely, how to get rid of it. You can mix ingredients in sturdy self-locking bags like. These bags can be useful when rehydrating dried fruits and vegetables can be done in these bags as well. To pack each meal, you should use large gallon size bags. Make sure to label the bag with wide tape and use a waterproof marker to write the day and the meal.

A quick tip for any types of items you carry is to remove unnecessary packing. This goes as well for grocery store bought foods (cardboard boxes, etc.). However, if there are “complicated instructions,” clip them and include it with the food.

If you have a vacuum sealer, you can pre-measure mixes and powders at home and then seal the bag from the elements. By doing so, you will save time on the trail when mixing up your favorite recipes.

For individual portions such as cookies or cakes, you must wrap them separately. Do not mix foods!   As a general rule, you need to protect your food from spoilage or contamination by other items in the pack. Soap and other liquid fuel will spoil your trail foods. You never know when your bottles will burst due to high altitude and contaminate the foods.

As a general rule, the weight of food to pack for each varies from one to two and a half pounds per day. Common sense rules here and of course the colder the weather, the more calories you need to pack

Here are ten ways to cut down the weight of your trail foods:

1. Eat less. If this is not possible for you, your shape may not be the best for wilderness travel. You should get in shape if you want to bug out or have an enjoyable backpacking experience.  

2. To save fuel one should use recipes with the shortest cooking times.

3. Another method to save fuel is to undercook foods slightly and letting them sit for a few moments, covered, to finish cooking. Even more, learn to use various types of open fires for cooking.

4. Eat heavy meals first. Anything like canned goods or fresh foods should go first.

5. If possible, carry only one pot meals.

6. Use dried soups and dumplings for dinner.

7. Pack make-ahead meals if you want to save cooking time.

8. Substitute fruit leathers for trail mix.

9.  Enforce your own rule and respect the pounds-per-person limit you settled on.

10. Save water. Learn to collect water from natural sources and filter it properly. By doing so, you will not be forced to carry a lot of water (which is heavy and bulky).

If you have a dehydrator, use it to dry fresh fruit and vegetables. After years of backpacking, I can tell you that vegetables and fruits are the best foods to dehydrate. There are recipes for dehydrating any types of foods nowadays.

Earlier we talked of beef jerky and for a good reason. It can be added to stews and other meals for extra flavor. As an alternative, You can bring ground beef for your meals if you dry it in your oven at home.

A flavoring tip for trail foods:

Your meal gets a better flavor use the fresh ingredients. You can harvest wild onions and of garlic to enhance and salted butter. Fresh onion and garlic sautéed in butter will marry the flavors of anything. You can pack garlic cloves in leftover 35mm film cans (if you have any). You can use plastic film cans for all your condiments regardless of their use (cooking or healing). If you don’t have film cans left from the “Kodak days” you can use plastic pills containers.

Fresh cheeses make boring meals a delight, and it will last from a few days to a few weeks.

Or your journeys in the fall and winter months, supercharge your meals with extra calories. You will help your body to get enough fuel to fight off exhaustion and hypothermia.

To ease your appetite during cold weather camping here are a few recipes you should try.

Trail foods – Russian Black Bread


  • 1 square unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup bran flakes
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 envelopes dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 cups white flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 2 cups of rye flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • For the glaze use 1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water


Start by melting chocolate in 2 cups water. Then pour the melted chocolates over the bran and cornmeal in a large bowl. Let it cool for a while. In the meantime, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cups warm water. Once the bran is cool, you can add the oil, yeast, molasses, brown sugar, salt, coffee, fennel, and 3 cups of white flour.

Mix well. Add the rye and whole-wheat flours. You will need to add more white flour until you can knead the dough. Do so, until it gets sticky. You will need to add more flour if necessary. Afterward, put it into a greased bowl, turn, and cover with a damp towel. You need to let it rise until double. Punch the dough down.

Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball. Set the dough balls on greased cookie sheets, cover, and let rise until nearly double in size. It should take about 30 minutes or so to double its size. Once it doubled in size, you need to brush the loaves with a mixture of egg white and water. Bake the bread at 375 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. You should bak it until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Once the crust turns very dark, you can get it out of the oven and cool it on racks.

Related article: Making Old Pioneer Sourdough For Traditional Baking

For winter trail foods you will need to pack as many calories into your meals as possible.

A good advice I once got from more experience backpackers was to make up a soup that. A soup packed with delicious nutrients and plenty of vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, and protein. This super soup has the advantage of using up the odds and ends of dried vegetables — the leftovers from making more refined recipes.

It is a very tasty soup, and if you add dumplings to it, you will make it a complete meal.

Cooking tip: milk does not boil well. You will need to add it only in the last few minutes of cooking.

Trail foods – Super Soup


  • 1/3 cup barley
  • 1/3 cup lentils
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1/4 cup instant potato powder
  • 1 cup dried vegetables (sliced)
  • a pinch of thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry milk
  • 1 tablespoon dried meat
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup grated or cut cheese
  • 1 cup biscuit mix packed in its own bag for dumplings

Once you gathered the ingredients, put them in one bag except for the milk, butter or margarine, and grated cheese.

Trail instructions:

1. Put the soup mix into a pot with 4 1/2 cups water. Bring to boil, then simmer for 1/2 hour.

2. During the last five minutes, stir in 1/2 cup dry milk and 3 tablespoons butter or margarine. Add cut or grated cheese.

3. For making dumplings, you need to add 1/4 cup water to 1 cup of biscuit mix to make a stiff batter. Form the dumplings into balls about the size of ping-pong balls. Then float them on top of the soup. You will need to cover the pot so they steam and cook until done. Do so during the last 20 minutes of cooking time.

Trail foods – Winter trail mix

This is another trail survival food that can be found in the backpack of those who like traveling when weather is not so kind. You probably know that raisins and peanuts are the basis for most trail mixes because the peanuts provide fat and the raisins provide natural sugar. This combination is good for all year round, but a good winter trail mix requires some supplemental ingredients.


You need to use equal measures of each:

  • Macadamia or cashew nuts
  • Dried cranberries
  • Coconut flakes
  • Dark chocolate chips
  • Peanut butter chips

Each quarter cup of the trail mix you made should provide 200 calories and 14 grams of fat.

However, regardless of what nuts you chose for your winter trail mix, make sure they are low salt or salt-free. This will prevent you from getting dehydrated during cold weather. Adding coconut flakes to your mix will assure a good source of carbohydrates and fat.

This trail survival food is easy to make, it’s tastier than pemmican, and most importantly, kids love it. It’s a perfect choice for every outdoor adventure.

A last word on trail foods

The trail foods suggestions from this article are a few ways to make sure you receive an adequate amount of calories during your trips into the wilderness. There are many trail foods you can make, and there are dozens of books out there teaching you how to do so.  However, I have to specify that you should make and eat the foods at home first before you try them on the trail.

Other Useful Resources:

Learn how to Safeguard your Home against Looters

The Best EMP survival and preparedness guide available for the general public

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation

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