The humble instant noodle is often looked down upon, but this lightweight and carb-laden meal is a backpacker’s best friend. No other meal is at once so easily transportable, so quick to cook, so packed with flavor, so filling, and perhaps most important of all, so very cheap. Dehydrated backpacking meals have come on leaps and bounds in quality, but the cost can leave a week-long backpacking trip feeling like a week in a resort.
Luckily, that’s where your instant noodles step in. Given the choice, I’d always whip up a Pad Thai with chopped peanuts, ginger, and fresh chili if I had all kitchen amenities at my fingertips, but it can’t be denied that instant noodles have their place. One of those places is on the trail.
When I finish a long day of hiking, I’m pretty hungry. Time is of the essence, not just so that I don’t start gnawing on dry noodles, but because the weather is often not on my side. Consider investing in a camping stove with a quick boil time, and you’ll be enjoying your meal just minutes after arriving at camp.
Cup noodles vs. packet noodles
I’m not saying that packet noodles always taste better (I firmly believe that this depends on the brand), but there are several obvious advantages of packet noodles over the cup variety. The first is space; cup noodles are bulky and you can't fit many of them in a backpack. They create a lot of waste (plastic or Styrofoam) that you’ll need to carry back with you. Based on this, I’ve analyzed the best packet noodles.
Elevate your noodle game
As you’ll see from the nutritional information below, man cannot live on noodles alone (and if they do they’ll be hungry and nutrition-deficient). If you’re cooking at home, a protein such as egg or tofu and some fresh vegetables are an excellent addition, but when you’re on the trail it’s difficult to cart around a dozen fresh eggs. Some great, lightweight extras to pack are nuts (peanuts go well with most noodle dishes), dried mushrooms, and dried seaweed.
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At a whopping 630 calories, the NongShim Stir-Fry Neoguri was the most calorific instant noodles I could find, and that’s exactly what you want after a strenuous day of hiking. They’re incredibly flavorful, including seafood, chili, garlic, spring onions, and the noodles come with flakes, a soup base, and seasoning oil all in separate sachets. They take slightly longer to cook than other instant noodles (five minutes), but it’s worth it.
Mike’s Mighty noodles have a great level of spice without having you breathing fire, and most of the ingredients are organic (they describe their product as ‘craft ramen’). There are only 250 calories per serving, so you’ll likely want to supplement your noodles with extras, but the 9g of protein is very decent for a meal this size. Mike’s gets bonus points for using solar power in their production and never using palm oil.
Simple, unpretentious, and not in the slightest bit oily, Koka’s chicken noodles still manage to pack close to 400 calories and 9g of protein. They require very little water to cook (400ml is the recommended amount but we found 300ml was perfectly sufficient), and are great for vegetarians missing meat. Made in Singapore.
Rather than frying, Nissin has air-dried their noodles and paired them with a savory umami broth. The result is a light and filling dish, which doesn’t compromise on flavor. They take four minutes to cook, a little longer than some on the market, but you won’t be waiting long for your meal. They’re also extremely good value.
Budget-conscious backpackers will love the Indomie Mi Goreng, which weighs in at well under a dollar a packet when buying in bulk. The sachet of fried onion included is a real winner, too. Yes, they taste better when topped with a fried egg, but they’re still jam-packed with flavor. Japanese Indomie now supplies over 100 countries, a testimony to the quality of their noodles.
These instant noodles are made from rice, meaning they’re less calorific (270 calories), but also a little lower in protein (just 7g). Lotus Foods use organic rice and have also included bamboo extract, seaweed, and dried parsley, so these noodles feel both flavorful and healthy. To make a filling meal, you’ll probably want to add some extras. The cooking time is four minutes.
The Mama Tom Yum Shrimp Noodles are air-dried rather than fried, and with only 260 calories/5g of protein, they’re a light option, perfect for a snack. If you’re looking for a more substantial meal, you’ll want to add extras. They include a paste-flavor sachet, a powdered lemongrass packet, and a chili powder packet. For spice-lovers, these noodles certainly have a kick!
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