What are Meals Like on an Overland Summer Hiking Trip for Teens? Thoughts from our Year-Round Team

In this post, I’ve asked Overland’s year-round team, to share their favorite meal ideas from when they led Overland groups on hikes around the world.

This post is organized into three main sections:

  1. Breakfasts
  2. On-the-Trail Snacks
  3. Dinners
  4. Desserts
  5. The Final Dinner

Part One: Breakfast Ideas

It’s hard to go wrong with a fluffy pancake and fruit breakfast. It’s easily customizable – add pecans and walnuts or, if nuts aren’t your thing, chocolate chips, bananas, or blueberries – then you can top it all off with syrup or, if you’re like me, a touch of peanut butter. An abundance of pineapple, blackberries, or strawberries on the side balances the entree. It’s also fun: like Olympic diving judges, your group can rate every flip – assessing rotation, height, and flop! I’ve held these pancake flop meets in North Cascades and Olympic national parks (on Northwest Explorer and Northwest Expedition), but the only perfect 10 scored was on an island off the Northwestern Icelandic coast during a sea kayaking venture (on Iceland Explorer and Iceland Expedition).

David Dustin | Leader Hiring

My favorite Overland meal is Slow Morning Brunch (SMB): it’s complete with fresh fruit, pancakes, hash browns, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice, etc. It was always a highlight for our students on buffer days, or when we could have a slower morning. It’s perfect for Overland—the group can decide which elements of brunch are their favorites, and it’s easily adaptable to allergies, intolerances, and dietary restrictions. Each student could pick which part(s) of brunch they were most excited to make and eat!

I’ve had many SMB brunches (on trips like Mountains & Sea Adventure). It always stands out to students, because it is often a familiar meal from home, but on Overland trips, they could run the show. Whether it’s slicing the strawberries, flipping the pancakes or DJing the kitchen, students could choose the role they were most excited about, and pick foods that felt like a treat. My co leaders and I found it a great way to spend a slow morning, and we could fully tailor it to any particular group.

Meg Pandiscio | Trip Planning

Part Two: On-the-Trail Snacks

We like to say that there are six meals a day at Overland. Several of these meals will be snacks, but not just any snacks—we take snack time seriously at Overland. When we think of snacks at Overland, we think of fuel and we think of fun. 

Picture yourself hiking with your group. The sun has burned off the coolness of an early morning in the Alps, and you’ve worked up a good sweat over the last hour and a half of hiking uphill. You’re parsing your way through a riddle that your leader posed to the group (“a man with a shoe passes a hotel and smiles…why?”), and when you reach a viewpoint above the valley you just climbed out of, your group stops for a mid-morning break. “Packs off, let’s grab a snack!” your leaders say. Excellent, you think. You know exactly what you want. Sliding your pack down off your shoulders, you go for your top zipper pocket: you’ve got a collection of Clif Bars, two clementines, and a bag of gorp, with plenty of M&Ms in there. With some water and a comfy place to sit, this is the perfect refuel halfway through your morning.

This scene will repeat itself in all sorts of settings—and all over the world, from the Berkshires to the Rockies to Tanzania—and at many different junctures throughout the day. It’s important to stay energized when you’re active all day long, and pushing yourself to reach new heights. And, in these moments of refueling, it’s also an opportunity to pick your head up, engage with the people around you, and share a fun treat in a beautiful place. Snacks at Overland invariably come with laughter and inside-jokes that only make sense to you and your group. You’ll try new combinations of snacks (“does almond butter taste good on a Nature Valley bar?”) and try to find the most picturesque snack-spots in the mountains. Like we said, we take snack time seriously; these are the ingredients to a great snack break, and the ingredients to a great trip.

Luke Costley | Director

Part Three: Dinner Ideas

My favorite Overland meal has always been some good ole fashioned backcountry chili. There is nothing like spending a hard day on the trail, bundling up as temperatures go down with the sun, and heating up a warm concoction of beans, veggies, meat and spice. This is the kind of meal that will put you right to sleep under the stars, and give you a little extra pep in your step the next day. My favorite spot I’ve had this meal is on Carrot Ridge in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest with my Yellowstone Teton Explorer group in 2021. Great views, better company, and out of this world food. The students love the seemingly bottomless pot, and this meal is easily amendable for any allergies that are in the group. The vegetarian option is just as good!

Jack Owens | Trip Planning

Spicy Italian sausage stew is ideal for when the weather is poor but you still made it a point to get outside, brave the elements, and explore anyways. Often, during these types of adventures, students come back a little chilly and have a big appetite. This is when the stew making process begins; you start by acquiring all the ingredients at your local market or grocery store: spicy Italian sausage, potatoes, celery, carrots, kale, kidney beans, black beans, sweet onion, chicken stock, paprika, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper, and a loaf of sourdough bread from the bakery. Then all the ingredients are prepped and thrown into the pot to simmer while you prepare a cup of tea and curl up with a book or play a card game with friends while all of the ingredients get friendly. 

The meal is low effort to make as you are often coming back from a day in the cold and don’t want to spend a long time creating an elaborate meal. It is filling, nutritious, and a great comfort food to scarf down and warm up. Using the sourdough bread as an extension of a spoon is always a plus/hit with students. You can cook the stew either over a wood fire or your trusty camping stove—although a wood fire gives it a certain allure students love. Additionally, the meal can be made to accommodate all allergies and dietary preferences as certain ingredients can be eliminated or substituted to suit students’ needs. For example, swapping the Italian sausage with a beyond meat alternative and using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock to accommodate a vegetarian preference! 

We loved this dinner when we were camping in Gstaad, Switzerland (on Alpine Explorer and Alpine Challenge). There is something about the feeling of holding a warm bowl in your hands and hearing the scrape of spoons against empty bowls as students went back for seconds and thirds that made them all sit back after they were done and say, “Woah, what a day! I’m glad we got out there!” 

Brooks Brown | Trip Planning

A hearty gado gado spaghetti is my Overland kitchen favorite. This backcountry twist on a delightful Indonesian peanut sauce allows creative chefs to use all sorts of ingredients in their pantry — wheat or rice noodles, fresh vegetables, all smothered in a zesty and hearty peanut sauce that’s sure to fuel up your group before a big challenge day. The recipe is easy: prepare your noodles and desired veggies, fry up some onion, then add broth, garlic, brown sugar, other desired spices, and add a bit of water. Then, add soy sauce and peanut butter (stir well, don’t let the sauce burn) to create a truly tasty backcountry satay sauce! 

This zesty dish is a delight to prepare, and adds distinct flavor and excitement to your meal, even while out in the backcountry. Plus, the rich sauce will add pep to any noodles and vegetables you’ve got in your pantry. The ingredients pack well, and best of all, the dish can be easily modified based on the dietary restrictions of the group. Feel free to use spelt or rice noodles, and substitute peanut butter with a legume-free sunflower seed butter for a version that everyone can enjoy. 

My students and I prepared a gado gado while hiking near Franconia Notch on Appalachian Trail Expedition. We just returned from a great loop in the Kinsmans, and were preparing for a big climb of Lafayette and Lincoln the following day. With our bodies in overdrive, we knew we needed something zesty with real “stick to your ribs” power to get us up the Franconia Ridge the next day! 

After days on the trail, we were all eager for a dish that felt exotic, zesty and filling. The empty bowls at the end of dinner confirmed the recipe’s success — an easy evening for the clean-up crew, and as I recall, the cook crew got loads of cheers that night! 

Dave McCahill | Trip Planning

One of my favorite Overland meals is the pizzadilla! The pizzadilla is a hearty meal that fills everyone up after a long day in the outdoors and it combines two kid favorites – pizza and quesadillas. 

I first learned about the pizzadilla from other leaders on my Overland Hiking Training Trip (HTT) near Stratton Pond in Vermont. I then brought this recipe with me to Alaska where my students and I set our stove up on the porch of Alaska Sea Kayakers overlooking Whittier Harbor (on Service & Hiking Alaska).

This is a great meal to make with an excited Expedition age cook crew because each student has a role the whole time. One student is taking orders to customize the pizzadillas, another is preparing the tortillas and toppings, and you have a third student cooking and flipping them under the watchful eye of the leader. 

Admittedly, this meal is an undertaking. Kids love them but it is time consuming to flip 12 pizzadillas so make sure everyone else is engaged with other crew work or a group game and offer up some appetizers to tide folks over until dinner. Depending on your kitchen set up, it can be a great time for a rolling cheers or cooking a first round for everyone and then jumping back in to make a round of seconds. That being said, while multiple stoves and pans can be nice to speed up the process, the only kitchen utensils required are a cutting board, knife, pan, and stove. You can place the cooked pizzadillas directly into individual bowls or place them on a dish and cover with aluminum foil to keep them warm while the others cook. 

The ingredients are simple and easy to prepare in a limited, camp kitchen. A big stack of tortillas (both gluten full and gluten free are an option), a jar of pizza sauce, and lots of shredded cheese form the base and then a variety of toppings can be added including peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, and more! You are truly only limited by your imagination and the ingredients you pack. You close it with a second tortilla, or fold the first one in half depending on hunger level, to really bring in the quesadilla feel. Heat until the cheese begins to melt and the outside gets slightly crisp. Bon Appetit!

Chelsea Colby| Admissions

My favorite Overland meal is fancy ramen. The ingredients are lightweight and easy to carry into the backcountry, and it’s so customizable depending on what the group likes. It’s also great for making large portions, so everyone can have plenty — and you can pretty easily make it into a little buffet, where people can add the ingredients they like. Plus, on a chilly evening, it’s nice and warm. I have a fond recollection of making fancy ramen on a chilly night at Grant Campground in Yellowstone (on Yellowstone Teton Adventure), where temps can drop quickly once the sun goes down. Our kids (12-13-year-olds) had only eaten ramen from the packet, so they were not only excited to eat something familiar but then also blown away by how much they could do to make it a full meal. Because it’s so easy to modify/customize, it’s great for kids with allergies and intolerances.

Marisa Wesker | Admissions

One of my favorite Overland meals was what we called “Hippie Bowls” – vegetarian bowls that are great for the planet. It starts with the base – rice and salad greens, then topped with seasoned chickpeas, tofu, broccoli, and bell peppers. Next come the garnishes and sauces: sesame seeds, avocado, soy sauce, sriracha, and aiolis. 

This is a special meal on its own, but now imagine you’re in the Norwegian backcountry (on Norway Explorer or Norway Expedition), surrounded by glaciers, eating your meal bundled up next to a quiet bright-blue alpine lake. My Norway Explorer group had just finished taking on our first day of the Aurlandsdalen Trek with a full backpacks. We set up a buffet of all of the meal components so students could concoct their own creatively yummy dinners. Customization is key to ensuring everyone in the group is happy – everyone can pick and choose and create unique meals that are individually delicious! By dinner time, we were all ready to dive into our meals and reflect on our challenging and amazing journey to Geiterrygghytta.

Katie Cullen | Admissions

Part Four: Dessert Ideas

Overland has a nightly routine called Dessert Circle. This is a time for the group to come together, enjoy a sweet treat, and reflect on everything they accomplished that day! While cookies and gummy bears are a satisfying treat, it’s nice to mix things up! Imagine juicy berries, delicious mangos, and crunchy apples coming together to make your taste buds do a happy dance. Fresh fruity desserts are a delicious Dessert Circle treat! 

These treats aren’t just super tasty—they’re also good for you! Packed with vitamins, minerals, and hydration, fruits are the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth after a long day on the trail.

A bonus, fruits are an excellent snack choice for those with food allergies and intolerances! There is no need to worry about nuts, gluten, or dairy as fresh fruits are free from common allergens and offer a safe and delicious alternative for individuals with dietary restrictions. 

There are a bunch of ways to mix up fruit desserts too—whether it’s a colorful fruit salad, a zesty citrus, or a strawberry shortcake! 

After three days in the backcountry in New Hampshire’s White Mountains (on New England Explorer), my Overland group was ready to celebrate our backpacking success. As we were winding down the day with Dessert Circle, my co-leader and I thought something fresh would hit the spot! We decided on a fruit salad for the dessert of the night, and it was a hit! 

There is something so satisfying about biting into a juicy piece of watermelon or munching on sweet berries after a long day on the trail! Fresh foods are the fuel your body craves during an outdoor adventure. 

Alex Dunn | Trip Planning

Part Five: The Final Dinner

My favorite Overland meal is the final dinner! Even though it signifies the end of the trip, I found these dinners to be filled with stories, laughter, and smiles. While everyone loves being on cook and clean crew, every once and a while it is nice to be able to sit back and enjoy someone else’s cooking. In California (on Sierra Adventure, Sierra Explorer, or Sierra Challenge) We would always call ahead and reserve a big table in one of the side rooms so that we could be loud without bothering our fellow guests (a key tenet of LNT principles). Final dinner is one of the best meals because everyone pitches in on finding the restaurant and you can review the menu ahead of time to ensure that there are plenty of options for everyone in the. It’s also the perfect opportunity to order all of the food you might not have been able to have on the trip. My students loved ordering milkshakes, french-fries, mozzarella sticks, and all sorts of pizza. Final dinner always left a lasting impression on the students and set the stage perfectly for our final dessert circle. I think final dinner embodies the essence of the Overland experience: great food, good people, and a community reflecting on shared accomplishment.

Will Savage | Leader Hiring

What are Meals Like on an Overland Summer Hiking Trip for Teens: Part One

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    Tom Costley

    When Tom Costley founded Overland in 1984, he sought to create experiences for young people that were fun, where new friendships could grow, where natural beauty was embraced, where there were real and varied challenges, and where Overland’s students would achieve something of importance to them. Overland’s focus on small groups, carefully crafted trips, and superlative leadership has made it a leader in the summer camp world. Overland’s commitment to excellence in everything it does has led to its success: over the past four decades, Overland has served 40,000 students and 5,000 trip leaders. Tom writes about the outdoors and travel from Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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