Being on the road full time means that we’re often busy adventuring and need food that is cheap, easy to make, and fulfills our hunger.  As with any explorer, we have our favorite dirtbag foods that we like to eat when we travel and take with us hiking, biking, and climbing.  Living in the van has made us a little more creative when it comes to making easy, filling meals on the fly.  In addition, cost is really important to us, as our budget to sustain full time vanlife is a careful balance of work and play.  If you’re curious how we manage our money to live this way, check out our blog on our Vanlife Budget.

dirtbag foods

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What qualifies as “Dirtbag Foods?”

#1.  It has to be FILLING

The first criteria is that it’s solid sustenance.  Something filling and edible. We are not picky eaters and we’re always hungry.  Greg calls himself an “opportunistic eater,” meaning that he will eat whatever is put in front of him.  Leftovers are not a thing in our van. Somewhat in part because we hate food waste, but also because we are very active and we eat a lot.  The dirtbag food we eat must sustain our activity level and be filling!

#2 It’s Simple

The second qualification of dirtbag foods is that they are simple and easy to make.  When you’re spending most of your time exploring, the last thing you want to do is make a complicated recipe.  Since I don’t really like cooking anyways, a lot of our meals are very basic. Especially when we’re driving a lot or have had a long day on the trail.  If I am cooking, I try to make everything in one pot. Less hassle, less to clean. We are not fancy over here.  Check out our blog on 10 Van Kitchen Essentials to read about products that make cooking in a small space easy!

#3  IT’S CHEAP

Lastly, and most importantly, our favorite dirtbag foods have to be cheap.  We are not talking about highly marketed superfoods here. Dirtbag foods do not contain antioxidant acai berries, omega-rich hemp seeds, or your favorite spirulina supplement.  They can certainly be healthy, but are inexpensive. We are incredibly frugal, and also strive to eat healthy. Therefore, we seek ingredients that are rich in nutrients, but easy on the budget.  Every dollar spent on stuff we don’t need is a dollar taken out of the travel fund!

BONUS POINT:  PORTABILITY

A bonus point goes to dirtbag foods that are portable.  We all have that “friend” who brought a tuna sandwich that got smashed in the bottom of his pack.  Then begging you to split your trail mix with him and avoid the warm fish and soggy bread (eew).  Dirtbag foods that are durable and cheap can be hard to find, since processed and packaged foods can be expensive. They also create a lot of waste from single-use packaging.

OUR Favorite Dirtbag Foods

Here is the list of our favorites, now that we have our criteria for determining the best dirtbag foods:  [Filling, Simple, Cheap, Portable]

Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich

[Filling ✰, Simple ✰, Cheap ✰, Portable ✰]

While peanut butter can be expensive, bread and bananas are super cheap.  This meal is dense in calories and in structure, making it filling and portable.  It’s about the easiest thing you can make, with zero cooking involved. This makes it a 4-star dirtbag food in our book.

Packet of Tuna, Cheese & Crackers

[Filling ✰, Simple ✰, Cheap ✘, Portable ✰]

Although filling, simple, and portable, this dirtbag food is not cheap.  Individually packaged tuna packets are tasty, but cost much more than plain tuna in a can (which is less portable).  We stock up on tuna packets when they’re on sale, or you can buy them on Amazon for $1 per pouch. Cheese is also a more expensive food, especially when you buy individual cheese sticks.  It’s better to buy a block and just bring along a few chunks for your hike. Crackers are dirt cheap, thankfully, otherwise this go-to meal would be off of the menu for us!

Potatoes, Eggs & Black Beans

[Filling ✰, Simple ✰, Cheap ✰, Portable ✘]

This is one of our favorite breakfasts and we have eaten it multiple times per week, for several years.  Eggs are essentially the perfect food. Tasty, nutritional, and very inexpensive. When scrambled with the satisfying starch of a potato, some black beans and your favorite hot sauce on top, you’ll look forward to having it day after day.  While not as simple to make because it requires cooking, we still rate this as a 4-star dirtbag food because it’s still pretty easy to cook. (I mean, if I do it almost everyday, it can’t be that bad, right?) With the cost of this meal being less than $2 per portion, you really can’t go wrong!  However, nobody likes cold scrambled eggs (um, gross), so this meal doesn’t get the bonus point for being portable.

Oatmeal w/ Peanut Butter & Apple

[Filling ✰, Simple ✰, Cheap ✰, Portable ✘]

Similar to the first dirtbag food we listed, but a different texture.  Oats are extremely inexpensive. While generally flavorless, you can spruce your bowl of gruel up with some peanut butter and an apple.  You could even sprinkle some cinnamon on there if you’re feeling fancy. In addition, oatmeal is so simple to make and super filling. However, it doesn’t get bonus points for being portable.  You could do it, but carrying a container full of gloop that will be cold by the time you get there doesn’t sound very appealing.

Potatoes, Cheese & Broccoli 

[Filling ✰, Simple ✰, Cheap ✰, Portable ✰]

Again with the potatoes!  I am convinced that potatoes were the original dirtbag superfood.  A baked potato could be wrapped in foil and would store easily in a pack for a long hike.  While not the most flavorful snack, it provides quick calories and energy for the activity ahead.  Combine that with some nutrient rich broccoli, and satiating cheese, and you’ve got the perfect meal!  This combination is fairly inexpensive because potatoes are super cheap, and broccoli is usually one of the most affordable vegetables you can buy.  Cheese bumps up the price a little, but who are we kidding? It’s totally worth it. The only downside to this combo is that it requires cooking, But it can be done in one pot, can be packed in a reusable silicone food bag, and is super filling.  We give it 4 stars on the dirtbag scale.

dirtbag food

Veggie Burrito

[Filling ✰, Simple ✰, Cheap ✰, Portable ✰]

I take back what I said about eggs being the perfect food.  In fact, burritos are the perfect food! First of all, you can make ANYTHING into a burrito.  I’ve even made burritos out of peanut butter, apples, and trail mix. Because let’s face it, everything tastes better when it’s wrapped in a delicious flour tortilla.  Premade burritos are an excellent trail food for dirt bags because they are super filling, very portable, and pretty cheap depending on what you put in them. A basic rice, veggie & cheese burrito can cost less $3 per portion and is one of the most nutritious meals you can eat.  They can be made in one pot and enjoyed immediately, or wrapped up in tin foil for a summit snack.

dirtbag foods

These are some of our favorite easy, cheap, and filling meals that we like to make in our full-time vanlife routine.

What are your favorite dirtbag foods?  Let us know in the comments!

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