Freeze-dried foods are the best backpacking meals because they are both lightweight and efficient. They pack tons of needed calories, are ultra-lightweight, and require little clean-up. When comparing energy to weight there is nothing better. You need only boil water with your handy backpacking stove, add it to the bag for the preset amount of time, and like magic, you have a tasty meal miles away from civilization. Short of sourcing your food on the trail (usually fish), freeze-dried foods make the best backpacking meals. While you can freeze-dry your own food, there are tons of manufactured freeze-dried meals available. They are made by several different manufacturers with a variety of options. Many are very tasty.
To maximize a freeze-dried meal’s efficiency you eat directly from the bag, which is one of the reasons why we love this long spork. If you pour the contents into a bowl that is one more thing to be cleaned and the need for more water/disposal. The self-contained food bags are especially convenient in bear country. It can be dangerous to wash dishes because the smells can spread out with the water, attracting all kinds of wild creatures. Freeze-dried meal packaging can be resealed once finished and packed out. You only need to clean your utensil (make sure to order the long-handle version).
Freeze-Dried Meal Tip
When backpacking, ounces add up to pounds. Manufactured freeze-dried meals typically come with a silica packet in them to keep them fresh. They also have about 1″ of packaging on the top to seal them above the resealable zipper bag. We typically remove both of these before heading out on the trail. An added benefit to doing this is removing all the air from inside the packaging as well. To make sure they stay closed we typically fold over the zipper area to creese the packaging and add one small piece of scotch tape across the middle of the fold. When packed into a dry bag or bear canister the package will not open.
We do not typically carry freeze-dried breakfasts because instant oatmeal is much cheaper and the packaging is smaller and lighter. The downside is we have to cook oatmeal in our jetboil making the cleanup more difficult. If sourcing water on the trail is difficult we will often carry granola bars for breakfast instead. The packaging on instant oatmeal is also so thin that we have had it rip open inside our bear canister. For this reason we typically pack the oatmeal inside a plastic baggy.
Best Backpacking Meals Reviews
Jennifer and I have been eating freeze-dried meals on the trail for years and these are our personal reviews. We started this list for our own use and, while taste can be subjective, we thought others might find the info useful. Our best backpacking meals are rated with a 5-star system and filed by the manufacturer. This list will be updated as we try new freeze-dried meals… so you do not have to.
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Mountain House is one of the most well-known and affordable brands of freeze-dried meals. For the most part, they stick to simple freeze-dried ingredients that cook up really well. Their packaging leaves something to be desired and they tend to have a lot of sodium in their meals. However, if you do not backpack a lot and are looking for solid meals in the backcountry look no further than Mountain House.
Mountain House Reviews
Lasagna with Meat Sauce (5 stars) – It is hard to beat a good bowl (bag) of lasagna after a long day’s hike. This is our go-to meal when we are craving something simple and hardy on the trail.
Chili Mac With Beef(4.5 stars) – This is exactly what it sounds like, tasty chili with macaroni noodles. It is very tasty with simple flavors. Our only complaint is that is needs a slightly longer cook time than what is recommended.
Classic Spaghetti with Meat Sauce(4.5 stars) – It is hard to go wrong with rehydrated spaghetti. That seems like a weird statement but pasta, tomato sauce, and beef seem to be some of the easiest ingredients to rehydrate in the wilderness.
Chicken Fajita Bowl(4.5 stars) – This fajita bowl has great flavors and is not overly spicy. It is a perfect backcountry representation of a classic tex-mex meal.
Fire Roasted Vegetable Blend (4.5 stars) – We are not big on vegetarian cuisines in the backcountry. However, this is a great vegetarian option that has really good flavors. (Or, add pre-packaged cooked chicken to it.)
Italian Pepper Steak (4.5 stars) – This backcountry meal tastes like spaghetti, but with steak and rice. May sound odd but it works really well.
Breakfast Skillet (4 stars) – This breakfast skillet is a hardy backcountry meal that works as a breakfast or a dinner. It has great flavors but does suffer from a lack of pepper.
Backpacker’s Pantry is one of our favorite brands of freeze-dried meals. They make unique and tasty options that incorporate a lot of international flavors. Their meals appeal to vegetarians, vegans, and meat-eaters alike. They color-code their packaging for an at-a-glance review so you know if it has meat or meat products in it. Adding to their well-thought-out packaging are stylized scenes from many iconic locations and clearly stated serving sizes, calorie counts, and protein counts.
Backpacker’s Pantry Reviews
Pad Thai with Chicken(5 stars) – This is one of the best backpacking meals. It has actual peanuts and other ingredients that are packaged separately and added after rehydration. It is very unique and flavorful. Our only complaint is that the sriracha sauce is a little overpowering but as it comes in a separate packet you can easily add it to your preference. We prefer a little more than half.
Stroganoff with Beef & Wild Mushrooms(4 stars) – Stroganoff is one of Jennifer’s favorite backpacking meals but I’m not the biggest fan of the flavors. The meat can be a bit tough but if you like beef stroganoff this is a good backcountry representation.
Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken (4 stars) – I’m not much of an alfredo person myself but this is a good representation of the classic Italian dish. It suffers a bit from a lack of pepper.
Three Cheese Mac-N-Cheese (4 stars) – I was really hesitant to try this freeze-dried meal because it is almost as easy to just carry a box of Kraft into the backcountry. However, the flavor is really good and the ability to cook it in the packaging makes it even easier than a box of Kraft shells. This is a great Vegetarian option but we prefer Mountain Houses’ Chili Mac for the added protein.
Risotto with Chicken (3.5 stars) – This free-dried Risotto suffers from a lack of flavor. A little pepper would go a long way. We also found it to be a little too watery.
Vegetable Lasagna (2.5 stars) – I was very hesitant to try a Vegetable-only Lasagna but it has a surprisingly good flavor upfront. However, the after-taste is not pleasant.
AlpineAire is similar to Backpacker’s Pantry in its quest to create unique flavorful meals for backpackers to enjoy. They have nice packaging with the calories and protein information listed very clearly on the front. One of their core ambitions seems to be using unique flavors and reducing the amount of sodium that is typically found in freeze-dried meals. AlpineAire is also usually cheaper than Backpacker’s Pantry and even comparable to Mountain House. While on a whole we tend to like Backpacker’s Pantry more it really depends on the meal as to which we prefer at the moment.
Spicy Sausage Pasta (4.5 stars) – This is a very flavorful meal with just the right amount of spices for the backcountry. This is one of the best backpacking meals we have had from AlpineAir.
Pepper Beef with Rice (4 stars) – This meal has good flavor but the pepper is a touch overwhelming which is not something we usually say about freeze-dried meals. It is of course called pepper beef so if you are a fan this might be the perfect recreation for the backcountry.
Black Bart Chili with Beef and Beans(4 stars) – Good chili flavor but the meal had a few crunchy ingredients that did not seem to fully rehydrate. I would recommend adding a few minutes to the cooking time.
Three Cheese Chicken Pasta(4 stars) – This chicken pasta has really good flavors but the zucchini is a little overwhelming. We would prefer it had more chicken and more cheese.
Cheese Enchilada Ranchero (3.5 stars) – I love enchiladas so I was eager to try this deconstructed backcountry enchilada. The flavor representation was fairly good. However, Jennifer and I both wish we had brought some tortillas to wrap the meal in.
Chicken Gumbo (3 stars) – This is a fairly good backcountry representation of the classic cajun dish. Our only complaint is that it has an almost overwhelming taste of black pepper.
Chicken Tropicana (3 stars) – The taste reflects the natural ingredients but it could use some pepper to spice it up just a little. The entire meal has some very interesting flavors.
Thai Noodles with Chicken (2 stars) – The central flavor was overwhelming. I think it was basil but whatever it is it is way too much.
Kung Pao Chicken (1.5 stars) – I was expecting an explosion of flavor. Unfortunately, it tastes like bland chicken with rice. Edible but not enjoyable.
We are relatively new to trying the Peak Refuel brand of freeze-dried meals. The company creates high-end backpacking meals that seem to be priced slightly higher than Backpacker’s Pantry. They claim to have more protein in each of their meals when compared to all their competitors. They also boast about using 100% USDA inspected meats with no fillers. While we have not fully enjoyed our meals we think this can be mostly attributed to the companies desire to use less water in the rehydration process. This does have the benefit of sourcing less water on the trail, but the meals do not seem to cook as thoroughly as their competitors. We do however look forward to trying more of their meals in the future.
Peak Refuel Reviews
Chicken Pesto Pasta(4 stars) – This freeze-dried meal has a really good flavor and requires surprisingly little water making it a great option for one of the best backpacking meals to cook up in the desert. However, the chicken was a little tough so perhaps a touch more water and a longer cook time would help.
Sweat Pork & Rice (3.5 stars) – If you like brown sugar then this meal is for you. We found it to be overwhelming and once again it needed a little more water and a longer cook time to soften the pork.
Happy Yak is a Canadian company that we don’t have much experience with. However, the few meals we have tried have been hit or miss. On a whole the ingredients are good but the cook times seem to be off making the proteins in the meats tough. That being said we really enjoyed their Shrimp Curry and we look forward to trying more of their products in the future. They are expanding into the United States and now ship direct to consumers out of Vermont.
Happy Yak Reviews
Shrimp Curry (5 stars) – This is by far one of the best backpacking meals that Happy Yak makes. It is very tasty with unique flavors that cook up just right. If you like curry then this is a great option for the backcountry.
Mandarin Beef and Rice (3.5 stars) – It is rare that a freeze-dried meal tastes fresh but this one did and the flavors were spot on. However, the meat was very tough. We might try it again in the future but will definitely allow it to simmer longer than the suggested time.
Mediterranean Pork (2 stars) – We have found that pork is a hard thing to rehydrate and this Happy Yak meal was no different. The pork was very tough. While the taste was okay, we found the meal to be overly salty.
The Best Backpacking Meals Reviewed
Freeze-dried meals are an essential product for the modern-day backpacker. They allow for lighter packs and longer adventures. Whether you are new to backpacking or a seasoned tramper we hope you have found these reviews of the best backpacking meals helpful. Let us know if we missed one of your favorites so we can try it out for ourselves.
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