Have you ever opened your backpacking food bag, and been disappointed to find the same old dinners, energy bars, trail mixes, and dried fruits day after day? Then you would benefit from adding more variety into your hiking diet! Or perhaps you already believe in the benefits of variety and are just looking for more ways to mix it up. Wherever you are in your variety journey, one simple tip I recommend to anyone for packing a wider selection of food is a strategy I call Backpacking Pantry Theory. It’s a great way to up your food game without spending any extra money. Anyone who goes on more than one trip per year can take advantage of it!
Here’s the core concept - by buying a season’s worth of food all at once, and dividing it out across a season’s worth of hikes, you add more food variety to each trip than by going on individual shopping trips before each individual backpacking trip.
Let’s use the example of someone who goes on three backpacks per year and one food they always include on every trip is a six pack of energy bars. In Scenario 1, they buy chocolate energy bars and eat all six chocolate energy bars on the first trip, then they buy peanut butter and eat all six of those on the second trip, and then buy caramel and eat all six of those on the third trip. In Scenario 2, they buy chocolate, caramel, and peanut butter energy bars all in advance of trip one, and then divy out two of each flavor to each of the three trips over the course of the season. Therefore, on an individual trip level, they have added three times the variety in bar flavor. Pretty neat!
The same thing goes for dried fruits! It’s much more satisfying to eat dried mango, dried cherries, dried bananas, and dried apricots on each trip, than it is to eat only dried mangos on one trip, then only dried cherries on the next, then only dried bananas on the next, then only dried apricots on the final one. My tastebuds are bored just thinking about it!
Nuts, bars, fruits, cookies, jerkies, gummies, trail mixes, chocolates, savory snack mixes, fruit leathers, pretty much every munchable you can think of benefits from flavor variety more than sameness. So be sure to mix it up!
Another benefit of pantry theory is cost savings. Buying for a few trips all at once allows you to save money with bulk discounting, as well as find specialty items. Freeze dried broccoli and mushrooms are some of my personal favorites. With the internet at your fingertips, you can pretty much find a dried version of anything, and I highly recommend investing in dried or freeze dried veggies.
If you subscribe to Backpacking Pantry Theory, then you’ll say goodbye to panicked last minute shopping trips. If you tend to wait until the eleventh hour to pack food, then having all of the supplies ready to go in advance will help stave off stressful grocery-store runs, and sketchy, efficiency-shopping-based decisions. No, you don’t need that 24” sub. Everything will be ready to go at your home, just bag it up.
Keep in mind that adding variety is never worth the cost of staleness. In order to make Backpacking Pantry Theory work, you can’t mess with foods that have a short shelf life or perish soon after opening. Those foods must be bought or opened on a trip by trip basis, unfortunately. Things that are crunchy, like nuts, or sesame sticks, may lose their crunchiness. Things that are very chewy already will get chewier. It’s disappointing, and something that must be watched out for. Make sure to seal everything up as air tightly as you possibly can after decanting.
For some people, planning just one trip is stressful enough, and that’s okay. Pantry theory isn’t for everyone. Ultimately, your food strategy should be based on what works for you. And of course, what we’re talking about here is saving taste buds, not lives. But hey, implement this concept and your enjoyment of backpacking food will almost certainly go up. It sure as heck won’t go down. So what do you have to lose? Buy extra early on and reap those flavor variance rewards all season long. Bon appetite, and happy hiking!