If there was ever a blog post I was meant to write, this is it! You get to try a bunch of different food?! Sign me up. I was also very popular with all my girlfriends (and dogs) bringing a platter of food to try. We ate like queens in the backcountry while thoroughly testing these backpacking meals to report back to you with our findings. No crumb was wasted.
Some Pro Tips Before We Begin
- Always use the correct amount of water called for on the package. Too much water will result in a soupy consistency. Too little water will result in the ingredients being crunchy and hard to eat. I am not saying we learned the hard way, but I am not not saying that either…
- Always let the meal sit for the allotted amount of time on the package instructions. I usually set a timer on my phone, as I can be pretty impatient to eat after a long day of hiking in the summer heat.
- Don’t forget to take out the oxygen absorber before pouring in the hot water.
What was on the Menu?
We grabbed a few different brands of backpacking meals, as well as some breakfast and dinner. We even had dessert! You could say we spoiled ourselves. What exactly was on the menu, you ask?
This is a vegetarian option that was popular with the veg heads in the group. It was filling and provided great flavor. The only thing lacking was the cheesiness. It wasn’t as cheesy as the taste testers had hoped, but was still delicious and savory. Since I am not a fan of cheese (I know, I know…), you can imagine I was in heaven. This meal is 800 calories with 34g of protein, which is great considering no meat! The Mac & Cheese weighs 7 ounces total and is freeze-dried. It calls for 2 cups of water and 10-12 minutes to cook.
For a meat option, I went for the Thai Noodle dish, since I love Thai food. This meal only weights 5.12 ounces, which saves some weight compared to the Mac & Cheese if you are on a long thru-hike. It provides 500 calories and 28g of protein. This meal also takes 2 cups of water and 10-12 minutes to be ready to chow. I really liked the spice of this dish. It wasn’t too spicy, but added to the flavor nicely. The noodles were slightly long and thin macaroni noodles instead of long noodles, which was a lot cleaner to eat than slurping sauce all over the only pair of pajamas you brought.
The Sweet Potato Mash only comes as a delicious side, but is super filling as you can imagine sweet potatoes are. It only requires 10 ounces of water and is ready in 3 minutes. We decided this is a great “on the trail” snack if you are willing to heat up some water. Since the recipe has cinnamon, clove, and real Vermont maple syrup, it could also be a dessert. Eight out of eight girls loved this side dish! It is a bit clove heavy so if you do not like cloves, I suggest trying one of their other dishes, like the Rice Puddin’ or Hunter’s Pie. Buska’s Kitchen meals are freeze-dried. This meal offers 500 calories and 8g of protein. The package weighs 3.9 ounces and has a really easy “Open” tab and “Eat” tab, making it easy and clean to cook.
I may be a little biased as this company is from my hometown of Bend, Oregon, but the other seven girls and three dogs are not and we all voted this meal our absolute favorite! The freshness of the ingredients definitely hit the spot after a long hike and a day in the sun. It tasted like we had just cooked a fresh meal at home.
Food for the Sole is a small mother and son company that use only fresh ingredients. This meal is vegan and gluten-free so you can eat healthy, even in the backcountry. The whole meal is 510 calories with 19g of protein. Being dehydrated instead of freeze dried, it had the longest prep time of all the meals we tried, taking 15-20 minutes, but we deemed the wait time #worthit. This recipe doesn’t actually call for a specific amount of water, which could be helpful in the backcountry to not have to measure water, but also is a double edged sword if you get the amount wrong. The instructions state to pour water to “just below the top of the food”. It seemed to be enough instruction that we got it just right.
Holy flavor, Batman! Even though this is not a full meal, it was the most savory flavor. I ate it as a snack on the trail and it was a great source of fuel for the rest of the day’s activities. No prep needed. Just open and eat with a fork. One pouch has 24g of protein and 180 calories. I took the pouches out of the box for the hike, since one pouch only weighed 4 ounces.
Pro tip: Pack some dehydrated mashed potatoes from Idahoan (you can purchase at Safeway or most any grocery store) and add the Smoked Salmon to the taters for a full meal. You will thank me later!
The Patagonia Provisions are a branch of Patagonia that specializes in sustainable and responsibly sourced food for the backcountry – or at home! Find out more HERE about Patagonias practices of sustainable packaging to regenerative organic agriculture.
There is Always Room for Dessert
Food for the Sole – Cinnamon Cherry Crisp
I don’t think of health when I think of desserts. Thankfully, Food for the Sole does. This dessert is dairy free and vegan, but tastes like it should be 2000 calories. Don’t worry! It is only 500 calories and best shared with your friends. It contains 10g of protein and weighs 4 ounces. Definitely worth the extra weight if you ask me. It only calls for 2 ounces of water as well. There is nothing better than a little whiskey, sitting by a river with friends, and a sweet snack to end the day.
Breakfast – The Most Important Meal of the Day
I am more of a savory type of breakfast person, so it really surprised me how much I enjoyed this breakfast. It was really filling and energizing, but not so filling that you become tired. This is super important when you have a full day of adventure ahead. It paired really well with my coffee as well. This breakfast weighs 4 ounces, only requires 4 ounces of water, and 5 minutes of prep, which is great when you are trying to get your day going early. With 530 calories and 14g of protein, you will be fueled up and ready for what the day holds.
Heather’s Choice is based out of Anchorage, Alaska. They are a backpacking food startup company dedicated to making delicious, ultralight, nutrient-dense meals and snacks for all us adventurers. They also sustainably source their salmon and bison used in their dinners.
Dehydrated vs. Freeze Dried
There are some pros and cons between these two types of ways to preserve food and reduce it’s overall weight. Freeze-drying removes 98% of the water in foods while dehydration removes about 80% giving freeze-dried products a much longer shelf-life. For example, the AlpineAire meals have a shelf life of 5 years, whereas the Food for the Sole is 18 months.
Freeze-dried foods also rehydrate more quickly, usually in 5-15 minutes, in hot or cold water. Dehydrated foods usually take 15-20 minutes to rehydrate, provided you use boiling water.
Since freeze-dried foods take out more water, more water is needed to cook these meals.
Flavor wise, we all agreed the dehydrated meal in this circumstance tasted better than the freeze-dried meals overall.
Dehydrated meals are much easier to make from home than freeze-dried. A dehydrator can cost anywhere from $50-200 and can be used at home to dehydrate your own meals. A freeze-dryer can cost over $2,000 and takes up significant space. It also takes about 24 hours to freeze dry food compared to about 2-4 hours to dehydrate.