packing food for hiking - bearvault test

BearVault Meal Plans

Testing new meal plans for the 2022 season

-By Chef Corso

As I started thinking about the 2022 season, I wanted to create some new meal plans to help with a huge and important part of any trip planning: the food. 

We currently have a nice selection of meal plans for differing lengths of trips and styles of eating at but it was time to explore some new recipes. 

I received a suggestion from a recipe tester that said, 

“hey…you know what would be great?  A meal plan specifically for a bear can.”

(Chef Corso with his hand on his chin…thinking)

Well that’s an absolutely great idea! 

backpacking meal plans for bearvault

As I thought more about this type of meal plan, I got excited (as I do for any new meal plan)!

Not only will these meal plans be helpful and keep folks safe in bear country where a lot of the United States recreates (think Smoky Mountains, Pacific Northwest, Montana/Wyoming) but having a bear can along is a great way to stay organized on the trail for any destination. 

But then the excitement shifted into the challenges of curating meal plans for this specific task.  It’s no small feat to pack up meals for 2 people for 7 days and 6 nights in a limited area.  

The other main challenge is that for the style of recipes, meal plans and cookbooks we create here at Outdoor Eats, we never use packaged meals. 

So all of these recipes that make it into our pack need to be fast, easy, tasty, fresh and filling AND ALSO fit into the bear vault.

testing backpacking meal plans for bearvault


For this project, I really wanted to get out there and test a meal plan of this style.

I enlisted one of my great buddies from culinary school based in Austin, Texas to help.  I also wanted to test out a solid length of trip to really get the feel of how these meals held up and cooked up over multiple days. 

So, we decided on Big Bend National Park this past Spring to test the first meal plan. 5 nights/ 6 days, mostly in the backcountry

Factors to consider

  • Equipment – which stove to bring

This is always the best first question as the stove dictates what recipes you can choose.  I chose a Jetboil Stash.  The pot is approximately 1 L and can easily cook up portions for two people and having a larger, squattier shape, it opened up the options for recipes.  (in comparison, a chimney style stove can cook many tasty meals, but it isn’t the best option for longer simmering or heavy stirring recipes as they can scorch on the bottom)

  • Water – will there be water along the way?  Pack it in? Cache it?

The next important question to ask is what’s the water situation.  If water is available along your whole route, then you can literally cook anything.  If it’s a challenge for the whole trip, a even a few days, then selecting recipes that are lower in water is a good way to go.  In some areas, you can pre-plan and cache some water in specific areas which can help you stay hydrated and cooking up tasty meals.  

  • Weight

Any meal plan needs to be mindful of weight.  I am packing up meals for 2 people over 5 days and we decided to share the load for all equipment.  I carried the BearVault, TG carried our 2 person tent and stove/gas.  Our total meal plan ended up being about 10 lbs.

testing ingredients - backpacking meal plans for bearvault
  • Volume

This is INCREDIBLY important.  Ingredients chosen need to have a low volume.  Tortillas are a better option than bread rolls.  Dried cranberries are a better option than whole apples.  

  • Ingredient/Menu Engineering  

The next thing I think about is how to use ingredients multiple times in different recipes throughout the trip.  This helps both with shopping/provisioning as well as packing up the meal plan.  You need less items to make your full meal plan.

recipe - backpacking meal plans for bearvault
beans - backpacking meal plans for bearvault
Bowl recipe - backpacking meal plans for bearvault
breakfast - backpacking meal plans for bearvault
bowl - backpacking meal plans for bearvault

Mashed potatoes can go from Loaded Mashed Potatoes to Holiday Bomb to Bravas Potatoes, completely changing the flavor.  Or Dried Mango can go from Tropical Oatmeal in the morning, to Beef Mango fried rice in the evening. 

  • Dietary Restrictions/Preferences

And lastly, dietary restrictions and personal preferences are an important factor.  Maybe someone doesn’t love tuna or blue cheese.  Or can’t eat dairy. 

Helpful Packing Tips

Every trip is different and every meal plan has its own needs. 

Here are some helpful packing trips :

Repackage into larger bags to decrease volume.  

(books are easier to pack than softballs)

ziploc - backpacking meal plans for bearvault

Consider reusable ziplocs to save on waste.  They clean up easily upon return.

coffee - backpacking meal plans for bearvault
food stuffed in - backpacking meal plans for bearvault
fit test - backpacking meal plans for bearvault

Pack vertically to easily pull items out OR label and pack horizontally starting with your last day in the bottom and snacks/coffee on top

You can chose to label meals if you like or let the trail guide your meal choice.

cap test - backpacking meal plans for bearvault
  • Safety

Make sure to screw on and lock the bear vault after every use. (2 clicks)

Don’t leave the lid off so smells can wander

Don’t store it close to where you are camping.  Walk it away from camp

5 day big bend - backpacking meal plans for bearvault

Where I landed

Here’s what I landed on for the first journey. Check out our YouTube video of our testing trip.

After returning back to Austin, I made a few tweaks and got to work finding some great combinations of recipes for many lengths of trips, plus vegetarian options. 

I excited to share 9 new meals plans that all fit in a specific size of bear vault.

All can be found over in the shop.

Bruin 3 Day/2 Night:

-A, B, Veg A

Grizzly 5 Day/4 Night:

-Big Bend, A, Veg A

Kodiak 7 Day/6 Night:

-A, B, Veg A

four meal plans for backpacking

Thanks for coming along for my journey from kitchen to trail.  I hope these meal plans can help fuel your tasty adventure this season.  Any questions?  Please feel free to email me at



Categorized in: Food, News, Packing / Equipment