Backpacking Meal: Vegetarian Lentil Chili Recipe

null null|Published January 14, 2022

backpacking chili

It isn't too difficult to make your own vegetarian backpacking meals, but incorporating enough protein into them can be a challenge.

Protein is a critical macronutrient that helps facilitate muscle repair. You might be able to overlook it on a quick overnight, but over the course of a longer multiday hike, your muscles will start to fatigue without it. Since much of your muscle recovery happens at night while you sleep, one of the most important times to load up on protein is at dinner.

backpacking chili

That's where this dehydrated lentil chili comes in. Using a combination of red lentils and kidney beans, this meal is loaded with more than 20 grams of plant-based protein per serving. A big bowl of this chili is a great way to help your muscles recover after a long day on the trail.

Everyone has their own personal preference when it comes to chili: Some like it hot, some like it mild and some like no spice at all. And that's why this particular recipe is great. By making this recipe at home and then dehydrating it, you're able to test the final product it before committing and you can dial in the spice to exactly your liking. The last thing anyone wants when backpacking is to discover the bowl of chili you packed for your dinner is too spicy to eat.

So if you're a vegetarian backpacker searching for a way to keep your muscles fueled over the course of a long hike, this lentil chili is definitely worth checking out.

Vegetarian Lentil Chili

Makes 3-4 servings


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 cups sliced zucchini
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 (14-oz.) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 (14-oz.) can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2+ cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
dehydrated chili

Directions (Prepare at Home):

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions, peppers and salt, and sauté until beginning to soften. Add zucchini and cook until vegetables are soft and beginning to turn golden in spots. Add garlic, cumin and chili powder, and sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

Add the tomatoes, beans, tomato paste and 2 cups broth, stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then add the lentils. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, adding more water if needed. Stir in sugar and adjust seasoning to taste. Remove from heat.

To dehydrate, spread the chili onto dehydrator trays lined with solid fruit leather sheets, ensuring the chili is in a thin, even layer. Dehydrate at 135° F for 8-12 hours, until the chili is dry and crumbly.

Package in sealable bags and store in a cool, dark place or your freezer for longer storage.

dehydrated backpacking recipe

Directions (Prepare at Camp):

Pack the dehydrated chili and a small bottle of olive oil (3-4 tablespoons total) in your bear bag or food container.

At mealtime, place the chili, around 1 cup water per serving (enough to mostly cover the chili) and 1 tablespoon oil per serving in a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the beans and lentils and tender.

Tip: If you have time, you can let the chili soak for a bit before bringing it to a boil, which will reduce the simmer time, therefore reducing fuel consumption.