Backcountry Nutrition and Meal Prep For Camping

Last updated August 9, 2023

Food is essential to life, whether you’re on the trail or at a desk. When in the outdoors and especially the backcountry, proper nutrition is hugely important and can make or break your experience.

If you’re planning a hiking or camping vacation, one of the main considerations is the food: what to eat, how much to eat, how to pack it and optimize space. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can feel a little daunting. So we spoke to Sanne Zonneveld-Veenbrink, co-founder of Sjef Camping Adventures in British Columbia, for expert insights on backcountry nutrition from her years spent on the trail.

Sjef Camping’s mission is to create a trusted community with a focus on the human connection to nature and food as well as creating connections to the land to ensure the longevity of our environment.

Sjef Camping Hiker

Q&A with Sanne Zonneveld-Veenbrink

Vacayou: The majority of the meals and snacks served on your trips are homemade, using fresh, organic, nutritious ingredients sourced from local businesses. Why is this important to Sjef Camping?

Sanne: We believe in providing delicious homemade meals and snacks with high-energy ingredients to power every hiker through to the final destination. Supporting your body through physical exertion is extremely important as it makes sure you do not run out of important energy to make it to the next camp or to the top of the mountain. 

Sjef Camping Backcountry Cooking Stove

Vacayou: How are meals and snacks packaged for adventure? How do you handle waste?

Sanne: We divide up the meals as much as possible beforehand so each guest has their own food and snacks for the duration of the trip. We’re using foldable containers for day 1 lunch and this container will then be washed and reused for breakfasts and dinners. For snacks, we use reusable snack bags. With regard to waste, we always Pack Out what we Pack In, except for grey water. We are Leave No Trace Certified and follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As an example, when we dispose of the dish (grey) water we strain the water first to catch food scrapes which could otherwise attract animals and then dispose of the grey water on a high traffic surface (like the trail) at least 200ft away from camp, dispersing the water widely. 

Vacayou: What do guests learn about backcountry nutrition and cooking during their trip? 

Sanne: We have multiple workshops throughout the adventure and one of them is focused on backcountry nutrition. We’ll provide tips and tricks on how to eat healthy while exploring the backcountry and how to properly prepare yourself before going on a trip. Most of the food is prepared beforehand as we dehydrate most of our dinners and some of our snacks. We provide a document with backcountry nutrition information and some recipes after the trip for guests to bring home and use for their own future adventures if they like. We will also talk about the cooking gear we use and where would be best to cook your food and leave your food overnight.

Vacayou: Talk to us about dehydrating in terms of backcountry nutrition. What are the top benefits? Any tips or things to avoid?

Sanne: There are so many benefits!

Benefits of Backcountry Nutrition

  • Dramatically reduces the weight of foods
  • Reduces waste on the trail
  • Locks in the maximum amount of flavor
  • Keeps enzymes of your raw foods intact promoting exponential health and energy benefits (much needed during physical activity)
  • An all-natural method of preserving and extending the shelf life of foods
  • Makes your favorite meat, fish, fruit or vegetable portable

Sanne: Fruit is simple and quick to dehydrate. These super lightweight and natural sugared snacks give you an instant BOOST of energy; mango, banana and apple are all great options. You can even add some cinnamon to the apple or dip the apple in a homemade sauce before you dehydrate them. 

Fruit Leathers

Do you remember Fruit-Roll Ups? Berry fruit leathers are also great to chew on or add to an oatmeal breakfast.

Tofu hasn’t been a success for us so far. If someone has a tip, we’re open to it.

Vacayou: Food or cooking items never to pack?

​Sanne: A bottle of wine. It is oh so nice to have a glass of wine with dinner while you’re out there in the backcountry with your friend or partner. There are fantastic reusable & foldable wine carafes out there these days. So you never have to pack the actual bottle. 

Vacayou: Coffee in the backcountry? Yes?

Sanne: For sure! We love a good cup of coffee in the morning and we don’t often leave the house without our Titanium French Press. 

This does add a bit of an awkward item to the backpack, so there may be moments where we do leave it behind, depending on the type and intensity of the adventure.

Also, bear in mind that coffee does dehydrate, so maybe stick to a small cup and make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day. 

Same with wine. A glass of wine at night is nice, but you want to make sure you don’t dehydrate yourself if you have a big day ahead of you. 

Vacayou: Can you share one of your favorite go-to recipes?

Sanne: High energy granola bars have become a traditional go-to snack of ours on the trail. There are a ton of options out there these days, however, nothing can compete with homemade. 

Sjef Camping High Energy Granola Bars

Dry Ingredients

(make sure you use a dry measuring cup)
2 cups rolled oats (regular or Gluten-Free)
1/2 cup raw slivered almonds
1 1/2 cups raw cashews
3/4 cup raw pumpkin seed
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 cup dried raisins
1/2 cup semisweet or mini dark chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand)
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt

Wet Ingredients

(make sure you use a wet measuring cup)
3/4 cup honey
This is the most important ingredient in the whole recipe, so make sure you find quality honey that is liquid and not solid. We recommend Buckwheat Honey as it is a full-body honey that is not overly sweet.

Combinations we have found to be optimal:
1/2 cup Buckwheat Honey (Chilliwack River Valley Honey)
1/4 cup Wildflower Honey (Chilliwack River Valley Honey)
1/4 cup melted unrefined coconut oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons macadamia oil…more wouldn’t hurt either


In a large bowl combine the rolled oats, slivered almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, dried raisins, chocolate chips, salt. Stir until evenly distributed.

In a wet measuring cup add the honey, then the melted coconut oil, almond extract, and macadamia oil. Stir all ingredients gently together.

Pour wet ingredients into the larger bowl of dry ingredients. Thoroughly mix by hand until all the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Don’t be timid. Get right in there. You get to lick your hands clean after!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a small 9″ x 9″ rectangular baking pan with overhanging parchment paper. Spread the bar mixture and use your hands to press it down TIGHTLY! and flat. I use a wide plastic spatula on a low table and force it down with my fist and all my body weight on top.

Bake for 28-30 minutes or until the edges are toasted. Depending on what honey you used, you should see the honey and oils bubbling along the outer edge of the recipe. This is a very good sign meaning the honey is caramelizing.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely at room temperature on a cooling rack. If you don’t have a cooling rack you can use one of your racks in your oven. If you are short on time you can even pop the recipe in the oven once it has cooled a little bit.

When completely cool, unmold and cut into bars or squares. Wrap individually and store in an airtight container or zipped bag in the fridge and or freezer. Will keep well for at least one month.

Ready to put this knowledge to the test? Take yourself out of your routine and into the heart of nature with a liberating hiking and camping adventure in the backcountry.

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