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

Published on 09/28/2023 · 6 min readCamping Expert Hannah K. shares six ways to prepare oatmeal and her eight favorite recipes for appreciating all angles of this favorite breakfast food.
Hannah K, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Hannah K

Photo by Grekov's

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 is oatmeal (and, let’s face it, every day) 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.

The best part is that oatmeal is actually a very healthy way to start the day, especially if you’ve got an adventure planned! Cooked oats break down to become energy that’s slowly absorbed by your body and can serve as fuel well into the afternoon.

Not all oats are created equal, however. Highly processed versions with added sugar can have the opposite effect, causing an energy crash before you even get your hiking boots on. While not always backpacker-friendly, steel-cut oats are rich in complex carbs and offer that slow-burning energy that’s ideal for a day outdoors. Preparing them ‘overnight style’ is a perfect way to enjoy a hearty, healthy breakfast.

Preparation Techniques

Photo by Frau aus UA

No matter which type of oatmeal you choose, there are a few different ways you can prepare it.

For traditional rolled oats or instant oats, the easiest way is to throw them 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. This will take longer for steel-cut, and they may still have a chewy consistency when done.

You can also make any type of **oatmeal on a stovetop or camp stove, **which can take the longest, but many argue it gives you the best results: creamy oats.

There are also store-bought packets of instant oatmeal that already have seasonings in them, so all you have to do is add hot water and wait. I find that one packet of instant oats is usually not enough to fill me up, and the store-bought oatmeal 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 are 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.

Backpacking Oatmeal Recipes

Overnight Oats

Photo by Kristine Rad

I like to mix half a cup of oats with two tablespoons of chia seeds, stir in a half a tablespoon of maca powder, vanilla protein powder, some cinnamon, some goji berries, and almond milk. Like magic, it's ready the next morning! I top it off with slivered almonds and some maple syrup.

Morning Porridge

Photo by Olha Polishchuk

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 your choice. If you want a savory option instead, omit the sweetener, add teff instead of quinoa, and top it with sea salt and cilantro.

Power Oats

Photo by Matvey Solodovnikov

This camping oatmeal 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, and spirulina, and then top it with fresh berries or fruit and slivered almonds. I do a tablespoon of the ingredients 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

Photo by Genia Ruda

If you aren’t feeling sweet oats, savory oats are a great way to shake it up. I often sauté kale, sweet potato, hemp hearts, 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 slices.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Oats

This is a classic backpacking oatmeal recipe for me on the trail. Peanut butter is something I always have on me. In your oats, add a hefty spoonful of peanut butter or your favorite nut 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

Photo by Sebastian Sonnen

Cut up an apple of your choice, then add some chia seeds, a dash of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, 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 straw of cinnamon is doable. If you want to go crazy, top it with coconut whipped cream, raisins, granola, or even hazelnuts!

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, pecans, or granola. You can also add in any seed of your choice.

Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Oats

Photo by Kay Olivier

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 stovetop. I add chocolate protein powder, cacao, and the entire peanut butter jar (okay, only a spoonful) into the oats and then enjoy.

Final Thoughts

Photo by Piotr Piatrouski

These are just a few backpacking oatmeal breakfast ideas. Some of these are not as 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 freeze-dried blueberries, peanut butter, milk powder, and some granola with me to add to my oats. Simple, satisfying, warm, and in my opinion, the perfect backpacking breakfast.

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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