Life Style

The best food for a trip can be found in Asian supermarkets.

So you’re heading out on a backpacking trip. Before you hit the trail, you’ll need to stop by the camping gear co-op, the sporting goods store — oh, and your local Asian supermarket.

Just trust me on the last one. As an avid hiker, I’ve found that the best fuel for my outdoor adventures doesn’t come from the “performance food” section of REI or Patagonia. It’s right there on the shelves at H Mart, 99 Ranch and Mitsuwa, a few of the markets I visit as I’m gathering sustenance for my journey.

Instant foods from Asia make for ideal backpacking snacks for a couple of reasons. One is the way they’re wrapped. Japan in particular is known for its innovative packaging techniques, designed to prolong the freshness of oxygen- and humidity-sensitive foods. The second reason is more subjective. I simply find these snacks to be tastier than the chewable electrolytes or seed bars or birthday-cake-flavored energy gels my backpacker friends are having.

Making a shopping list for your own expedition? Here are my top nine essentials, from trail snacks to tent-side meals.

1. Pocari Sweat Powder

When you’re lugging 40-plus pounds in the sun, you’re going to sweat. And when you sweat, you’ll need to hydrate. Pocari Sweat, which I like to call Japanese Gatorade, is my favorite electrolyte drink. It’s slightly salty with a hint of grapefruit — the taste is far less sweet and more refreshing than its American counterpart. Plus, the powder is efficient to pack and easy to enjoy on the go.

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa Marketplace, H Mart, Seiwa Market

2. UCC Craftsman Coffee Drip

UCC coffee drip

There’s nothing quite like having hot coffee on a chilly morning at your trail camp. But when you’re cold and tired, you don’t want to wait to brew it. Enter Craftsman Coffee Drip by Japanese coffee giant UCC. Each box comes with thin, single-serve filter sachets that you can easily slide into your gear. As far as camp coffee goes, the pour-over process is backpacking zen and the taste is transcendent. Look for three different flavors: mellow (my go-to), mocha and special (which has a richer taste). For sweeter alternatives, Old Town’s Malaysian White Coffee or Vinacafe’s Vietnamese coffee, which is nice on ice.

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa Marketplace for UCC coffee, 99 Ranch Market for Old Town and Vinacafe coffee

3. Instant miso soup

Not in the mood for a morning cup of java? Try a tent-side morning cup of miso soup instead. The salty-sweet umami flavor combined with the comforting warmth makes the Japanese staple a perfect backpacking breakfast. Just pour the packet of powder into a thermos of hot water.

For your next group adventure, you might opt for an instant paste variety pack from Shinsyu Ichi, which includes the fantastic freeze-dried toppings tofu, wakame (seaweed), green onion, spinach and fried bean curd.

Bonus: Want a creamier option? Try Instant Corn Potage from Hokkai-Yamato. This soup mix from Hokkaido is ideal for those who prefer something sweeter and milkier.

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa Marketplace, H Mart, 99 Ranch Market

4. Instant ramen

Packs of instant noodles are an enduring essential for all campers. They’re affordable, convenient and lightweight. They of course also have quite a bit of sodium, so why not choose the most deliciously satisfying option? There are tons of good bets for all taste buds (instant ramen shopping really is a personal quest), but my noodle of choice is Nongshim’s Shin Black Ramen. While I sometimes go for the spicier original, this premium “black” option is richer with chewier noodles and tastier freeze-dried veggies, which all makes for a hearty meal. While the bowl version is trickier to pack than the bagged blocks of noodles, it works well for a quick trail-break refuel. My ramen runners-up: Nissin’s Roast Beef Flavor and Sanyo’s Sapporo Ichiban Tonkotsu. To further elevate your bowl, bring your own toppings, like seaweed or garlic flakes.

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa Marketplace, H Mart, 99 Ranch Market

5. Dried squid

Shredded squid

Beef jerky is an all-time-favorite hiking pick-me-up. The high amount of protein packed in a strip of preserved meat makes it hard to beat. While some people venture toward pork, tuna or buffalo varieties, I’m here to share an even better alternative: dried squid. Like jerky, it’s convenient on the trail and high in protein, but it’s also got Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent joint pain and inflammation. Plus it’s fun to chew and it tastes damn good. A popular and easy-to-find option is Shirakiku’s Prepared Shredded Squid. I like the “hot smoked” flavor, which goes especially well with a post-hike beer.

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa Marketplace, H Mart, 99 Ranch

6. Kakipi

On your next trek, instead of popping the trail mix as usual, opt for a rice cracker concoction. I like Kaki no Tane with peanuts, a.k.a. Kakipi. The crescent-shaped crackers are coated with a savory blend of soy sauce and chili, a flavor that fuses perfectly with the salty peanuts (which are good protein). I like the classic flavor, but you might try other varieties, such as wasabi, mentai (spicy cod roe) or ume-shiso (plum and perilla).

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa Marketplace, H Mart, 99 Ranch Market

7. Calbee Jagariko

Calbee Jaga rice potato snack

If you have a long hike to your backpacking site, it’s helpful to load up on carbs to give you a gradual energy release throughout your journey. Calbee’s Jagarico is a tasty snack that satisfies that need, while just being plain fun to eat. Resembling fries, these grab-and-go potato sticks are the right combination of airy, crispy and crunchy. And they come in a huge variety of flavors, including original (often called “salad,” with carrots and parsley bits), Hokkaido butter, cheese and tarako butter (seasoned pollack roe). Backpacking hack: Put the sticks in a cup, add a bit of hot water and stir. You’ve now got mashed potatoes!

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa Marketplace, H Mart

8. Calorie Mate


When it comes to backpacking snacks, it’s all about efficiency. It’s no surprise that hikers stock up on energy bars to get them the fuel they need to bag that peak or crank out that extra mile to the campsite. Heck, sometimes they just need the calories. Enter Calorie Mate. The block biscuit with an almost-comical name is not only quite filling, but nutritious as well, containing proteins, fats, sugars, and 11 vitamins and six minerals. Comparable to shortbread cookies, it’s got a crumbly texture and comes in multiple flavors, like cheese, chocolate and fruit. It can also be found in jelly or can form, but you’re unlikely to encounter those outside of Japan.

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa

9. Instant curry

If you’ve brought freeze-dried rice on your backpacking trip (or if you’ve gone next-level and brought a whole rice cooker), you’re going to need a scrumptious supplement. A personal camping favorite is curry: S & B offers a popular instant mix with multiple spice levels. The hearty roux stew is easy to cook at your tentsite and share with your hiking crew. You can add veggies or meat, or simply enjoy it on its own.

Where to buy it: Mitsuwa Marketplace, H Mart, 99 Ranch Market

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