Why Oatmeal is the Best Backpacking Meal and the Many Ways to Prepare It

Camping expert Hannah K. shares six ways to prepare oatmeal and her eight favorite recipes for appreciating all angles of this favorite breakfast food.

Closeup on oats in milk and topped by fresh blackberries

Photo by Dessy Dimcheva

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Oatmeal. Porridge. Whatever you call it, it’s my favorite breakfast food. If you are anything like me, you truly appreciate and acknowledge the power of oatmeal. It is filling, satisfying, easy to make, and so many flavors can be added to it. My go-to breakfast for backpacking (and let’s face it, everyday) is oatmeal for all of those reasons. If I’m facing a long day on the trail, I often will get lazy with my food. I don’t want to think about preparing intense dishes or carving out time for something that will take longer than ten minutes.

Aerial view of a person preparing oatmeal in a pot outdoors

Photo by Manny Moreno

Preparation Techniques

There are a few different ways you can make oatmeal.

The easiest way is to throw it in a microwave for ninety seconds and add your toppings.

When I lived with three of my friends at university, they all made fun of me for microwaving my oatmeal. They would say, “That is the worst way to make it!” But don’t listen to them, there is nothing wrong with microwaving oatmeal!

Another option is to steam your oats. Pour boiling water over your oats and cover for a few minutes. Basically set it and forget it.

You can also make oatmeal on a stove top—which takes the longest—but many argue it gives you the best results: creamy oats.

There are also store-bought packets of oatmeal that already have seasonings in them, so all you have to do is add hot water and wait. I find that one packet is usually not enough to fill me up, and the store-bought packets have added sugar and chemicals. That being said, they are extremely convenient when you aren’t able to make your own food.

Overnight oats is also an option. If you prefer to prepare your breakfast the night before, let your oats soak in milk (or water) overnight with some chia seeds and whatever other toppings your heart desires. You’ll wake up to true oatmeal bliss.

Lastly, you can also eat oats raw. Not my favorite option but it isn’t horrible either.


A closeup on oatmeal topped with sliced bananas, a dollop of peanut butter, and juicy red strawberries

Photo by Lucie Rangel

Overnight Oats

I like to mix half a cup of oats with two tablespoons of chia seeds, a half a tablespoon of maca powder, vanilla protein powder, some cinnamon, some goji berries, and almond milk. In the morning, I top it off with slivered almonds and some maple syrup.

Morning Porridge

This recipe is from the cookbook The Plantpower Way: Whole Food Plant-Based Recipes and Guidance for the Whole Family by Julie Piatt and Rich Roll. It is a really great cookbook that I highly recommend.

Bring two cups of water to a boil and add in half a cup of oats and half a cup of quinoa. It should take 20 minutes for the water to be absorbed. When that is done, add a teaspoon of coconut oil, cacao nibs, goji berries, some raw walnuts, cinnamon, ground cardamom, and sweetener of choice. If you want a savory option instead, omit the sweetener, use teff instead of quinoa, and top it with sea salt and cilantro.

Power Oats

This recipe is what I make if I know I have a very physical day ahead of me. With my serving of oats, I add chia seeds, hemp seeds, cacao powder, chocolate protein powder, flax seed, spirulina, and then top it with fresh berries or fruit and slivered almonds. I normally do a tablespoon of everything listed above, but I usually tend to eyeball it. So, go with your gut and what you think will make your body feel good!

Savory Oats

If you aren’t feeling sweet oats, savory oats are a great way to shake it up. I often saute kale, sweet potato, and a carrot and throw it in with my oats. I top it with roasted pumpkin seeds, paprika, chili flakes, and cilantro. Feel free to add an egg on top or some melted cheese.

Oatmeal topped with savory ingredients like egg, spinach, and dried onion crumbles

Photo by Ke Vin

Peanut Butter & Jelly Oats

This is a classic for me on the trail. Peanut butter is something I always have on me. In your oats, add a hefty spoonful of peanut butter and some raspberries or jelly. Top with fresh berries and cacao nibs or chocolate chips. Throw in a banana as well for some extra fruit.

Apple Pie Oats

Cut up an apple of choice, then add some chia seeds, a dash of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, applesauce, lemon juice, and vanilla extract to your oats. Obviously on the trail you won’t have all of these things, but bringing some applesauce (or an apple from town) and a small strawful of cinnamon is doable. If you want to go crazy, top it with coconut whipped cream and granola.

Pumpkin Pie Oats

When fall comes around and everyone goes crazy for pumpkin spice lattes, you can whip out this recipe and have pumpkin pie oats instead. All you have to do is add pumpkin butter to your oats with your sweetener of choice, nutmeg, and some sea salt for extra flavor. Top it with walnuts or granola. You can also add in any seed of choice.

Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Oats

This is one of the most decadent oatmeal recipes I make for myself and I usually don’t make it unless I need an extra pick me up. I smash up a banana and cook it with my oats—either in the microwave or by steaming or on the stove top. I add in chocolate protein powder, cacao, and the entire peanut butter jar (okay, only a spoonful) into the oats and then enjoy.

These are just a few of the ways you can prepare oatmeal. Some of these are not great for the trail. But you can simplify all of these to a version that works for you. The easiest thing for me is to bring some dehydrated blueberries, peanut butter, and some granola with me to add to my oats. Simple, satisfying, warm, and can make your soul (and stomach) smile.

Do you have a favorite oatmeal recipe for me to try? Hit me up through my profile and let me know.

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Written By
Hannah K
Hannah K
Camping & Hiking Expert
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...
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