spices that are big on flavor

Lowest weight, highest flavor ingredients to pack

By Chef Corso

What’s the best way to add flavor without adding a lot of weight? 


Come along as we dive into the pantry. I’ll share my favorite spices, spice mixes and other low weight, easy packin’ ingredients to bring along on any trip.

how to pack gourmet ingredients for backpacking meals

As I look into the cupboard, I notice A LOT of options and it can be daunting to know which ones to select for your trip.

spice rack
spice cabinet

Some notes before we get into it:

Be mindful of salt.  Yes, sodium is an important micronutrient that we need to replenish but many spice mixes are FULL of it.  I want my spice mixes to be full of quality spices, not salt and filler.

Quality and age of spices is very important. After they’re ground, they lose their flavor impact quickly so if your spices have been in your cupboard for more than 1 year, they’ve probably lost a lot of their zip. I know the grocery store is the easy place to purchase your spices, but it’s hard to know the quality and how long they have been on the shelf. Consider buying your spices from a local spice shop (support small businesses) or mail order shop. They will be the freshest and most flavorful spices they can be. Well worth the few extra dollars in my opinion. Here are a couple of my favorite shops:

First off, we have single spices like oregano, ginger, garlic powder and then we have spice mixes like chili powder (often a blend of chilis, garlic, cumin, paprika, maybe salt), Indian curry powder and other ethnic flavors.

Both single spices and mixes are great options to consider. It just depends on what you’re making.

jar of spice for backcountry cooking
spice blend for backcountry cooking

I have broken our options down into 4 tiers.  We will start with the basics and build and build as we head down the path to added flavor.

Check out my full video here that shares the tiers visually.

TIER 1: Basic


Oil/Ghee/Coconut Oil

Acid – Lemon/Lime/Vinegar

Something spicy

(if you like spicy)

ingredients for back country hiking meals

For our first tier, we have just a few things.  Salt, a fat/oil and some acid.  All three are key building blocks for a solid meal.  The flavor may not hit you hard, but at least it won’t be bland.  Why I include some sort of acid is it will bring together any.  Think about squeezing lime on a taco or malt vinegar on some fish and chips.  It gives you that last little bit of freshness to finish off your dish.

TIER 2: A little bit tasty

Italian Seasoning

Black Pepper

Ginger Powder

Chili Powder

Indian Curry Powder

Garlic Powder

Packets – Mayo, mustard, asian sauce packets

Soy Sauce/Powdered Soy Sauce

Hot sauce of many types

Bouillon cubes/pouchesw

Vinegars – white, rice, apple cider

meal ingredients for backpacking that are low weight

In tier 2, we start to build in some flavor.  And many of these included can be used across multiple recipes and cuisines.  I’m not suggesting that you pack all of these on every trip.  Just focus on the few you need to build out your backcountry pantry.

TIER 3: Lots of flavor

Chili Flake

Dried Oregano



Old Bay 

Thai curry paste

Miso paste

Japanese curry paste

Coconut Milk Powder

Other vinegars – Black, balsamic, sherry, etc

Sesame Oil

Sesame seeds

Seaweed sheets

low weight meal ingredients for backpackers

O man, here we go.  Getting into some good stuff.  Some of these ingredients in tier 3 may be very common to you, but others might be a little special.  Note the pastes in this tier.  Pastes of many styles are a fantastic ingredient to pack along.  A little goes a long way to building a tasty soup, noodle or rice dish and they last for a long time away from refrigeration.

TIER 4: Special

Jamaican Jerk seasoning

Everything bagel spice

Smoked paprika


Zatar seasoning


low weight ingredients for trail hiking

And finally we have tier 4.  These are some special ingredients or blends that I really enjoy but only use on specific trips.  Smoked paprika is a game changer for soups and stews, everything bagel spice on savory toast with eggs for breakfast is delicious and sumac is a sneaky one that provides some acidity with little to no weight. 

3 easy packing, high flavor recipes

backcountry meals with noodles
mountainside meals for hikers
flavorful backcountry meals
vegan noodle bowl recipe for trips
quick and easy sauce for camp
ramen recipes for mushroom lovers

Thanks for coming along for a dive into the pantry.  Hopefully these suggestions can guide your menu and ingredient choices to give you tasty meals without having to take everything and the kitchen sink.

Feel free to drop me a line at eatwell@outdooreats.com if you have specific questions.

Get out there!


Chef Corso


Categorized in: Food, How-To Cooking, News