There’s not much worse after a long day on the trail than having nothing to eat but your half-stale pack of trail mix for dinner and settling in for a night of stomach rumbles and low energy. Thankfully, these days freeze dried backpacking food makes it so much easier for hikers to enjoy a tasty, nutritious and calorie-dense meal in a light-weight and convenient way.
Shelf-stable, and easy to pack, freeze dried foods are a great addition whether you’re spending a few days out hiking, or planning for a long and grueling trip.
All you need is to add a few cups of boiling water, allow your food to rehydrate, and then you can enjoy a hot, nutritious meal straight out of the pouch – no washing up, and no pots and pans needed!
Taste wise – let’s be honest, no freeze-dried meal is going to taste identical to the real deal. That being said, this industry has seriously stepped up its game, with many of the flavors on offer being a tasty treat that you’ll find yourself wolfing down and enjoying. After all, things always taste better after a long day out in the wilderness.
We’ve created this guide to list some of the best freeze dried foods on the market, and who they might be suited to best – so you can be sure that at the end of a tough hike, you’ve got a meal that feels like a real reward.
What You'll Learn
- Choosing the Best Freeze Dried Backpacking Food
- The Best Freeze Dried Backpacking Food – Reviewed
- Best for Meat Eaters: Mountain House Homestyle Chicken Casserole
- Best for Vegans:Good-to-Go Classic Marinara with Penne
- Best for Vegetarians: Mountain House Pasta Primavera
- Best for Gluten-free: Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai
- Best for Pescatarians: Good-to-Go Thai Curry
- Best for Paleo: Paleo Meals To Go Summit Savoury Chicken
- Other Flavors to Tempt your Tastebuds
- What You Need to Know About Freeze-Dried Food
- How To Prepare Your Freeze Dried Meal
- Troubleshooting Before You Go
- Nutrition, Calories, and Staying Energised While Hiking
- A Note About Water
Choosing the Best Freeze Dried Backpacking Food
Of course, everyone’s tastes are different, so there’s no way of choosing one definitive flavor as the ‘best’ freeze dried food.
Before we list our highest rated freeze dried products on the market, here are a few key considerations you may want to take into account when choosing the right freeze dried food for you:
While just about anything may sound delicious after a long day on the trail, it’s still important to make sure you actually like the food you’ve packed!
Freeze dried foods are improving in quality all the time, but the textures, tastes, and cooking times can still vary. We always recommend testing your meals before you get on the trail to troubleshoot any problems with cooking and to make sure you’re going to enjoy your meal when you’re desperate to get some calories in after a long day hiking.
While some hikers may be more concerned with the nutritional value and taste of their meals, it’s still worth comparing brands and their prices.
Getting enough calories into your body while hiking is absolutely essential to ensure you have the nutrients and energy to stay healthy and safe while on the trail.
Make sure you choose a freeze-dried meal that will give you enough calories to replace those you’ve burned while hiking. Having multiple servings may be necessary in some cases, so try to calculate how much food you will need before setting off (scroll down for more details on hiker nutrition).
Protein is essential for helping your muscles recover after exercise, which is why a balanced freeze-dried meal is a preferable recovery meal over more carb-heavy trail snacks. On a long hiking trip, choosing foods that are specifically high in protein may give you the boost you need to keep on going day after day.
Having too much sodium in your diet can raise your blood pressure and put you at risk for a stroke or heart attack. Most people will want to avoid these risks, but especially hikers who need to be fit and healthy for the trails!
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends into no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, a number that can be easily exceeded if you eat more than one serving size of some freeze-dried foods. For this reason, we would recommend checking the sodium content of the pouches you are buying to ensure it is not too high.
The Best Freeze Dried Backpacking Food – Reviewed
Now you know what to look for in a meal, here are our top recommendations for the best freeze-dried meals to chow down on after a day’s hike.
Best for Meat Eaters: Mountain House Homestyle Chicken Casserole
At a Glance:
Calories per Serving: 290
- 18g of protein per serving, tastes good, very easy to make
- High sodium content, a single serving may not be enough
More than 77% of customers give the chicken casserole a 5* review, so you know it’s got to be good! Many reviews report the chicken casserole flavor to be one of the best they’ve ever had – however, I feel that the recommended serving size is too small, and with a low calorie-density per serving you may want to eat multiple servings to ensure you’re getting enough energy.
Best for Vegans:Good-to-Go Classic Marinara with Penne
At a Glance:
Calories per Serving: 430
- Calorie dense, low in sodium, great taste and no preservatives
- Longer prep time (20 minutes)
The vegan classic marinara penne is highly rated for its great taste and the fact that it’s low in sodium, gluten-free and has no preservatives! Some users do report the sachet not being fully rehydrated even after 20 minutes so cook time may be longer than expected.
Best for Vegetarians: Mountain House Pasta Primavera
At a Glance:
Calories per Serving: 210
- Tastes good, cooks well, packaging easy to pack out
- Can be watery, single serving size is too small
The Pasta Primavera has a great taste with a creamy sauce, but the general consensus is to cook with a little less water than recommended (1 ¾ cups instead of 2) for a thicker sauce. May also need cooking for an extra minute or two.
Best for Gluten-free: Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai
At a Glance:
Calories per Serving: 460
- Calorie dense, high in protein (20g), tastes great, easy to pack, also vegan and non-GMO
- Can be a little too watery, high in sodium
The Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai has many people raving about its great taste and is praised for being both vegan and gluten-free but with a high protein content. Once again, this pack can be a little too watery so its best to troubleshoot cooking this meal before you get on the trails.
Best for Pescatarians: Good-to-Go Thai Curry
At a Glance:
Calories per Serving: 380
- Low in sodium, no preservatives, tastes good, easy to pack out
- Longer prep time (20 minutes), lower protein content (10g)
This pescatarian Thai curry has a good spicy flavor and nice texture. However, some people find the meal unpalatable and to have a strange taste – perhaps one best tested at home to see if it suits your own tastes before taking out on the trail! Personally, I’m not sure about freeze-dried fish!
Best for Paleo: Paleo Meals To Go Summit Savoury Chicken
At a Glance:
Calories per Serving: 290
- Very high in protein (51g), low in sodium, good taste, easy and short prep
- Expensive for a small serving size, shorter shelf-life than most
Paleo Meals To Go is, without a doubt, one of the best freeze dried food brands for anyone on a paleo diet, and deliver a tasty, enjoyable eating experience. However, this is definitely more expensive than other freeze-dried brands.
Other Flavors to Tempt your Tastebuds
What You Need to Know About Freeze-Dried Food
Why Take Freeze Dried Food Hiking?
The process of freeze drying food can remove up to 90% of its water weight, leaving an extremely calorie-dense, nutritious meal but at a fraction of the weight. With most freeze-dried meal pouches weighing around 100g with a calorie count of between 500 – 900, you’ll be getting a much higher energy-to-weight ratio than if you were to take regular food.
With keeping your pack as light as possible being a key priority for hikers, this a huge benefit of freeze-dried food.
Another bonus of freeze dried food is that it can’t degrade, so you can leave your pouches at room temperature for a long time without risking the food going bad.
Freeze dried food is extremely convenient for backpackers and hikers, providing a meal that can be cooked with nothing but the pouch and boiling water in less than 20 minutes – meaning no washing up, and no need to pack your pots and pans.
How To Prepare Your Freeze Dried Meal
Freeze dried meals are extremely quick and easy to prepare (perfect when you’re ravenous after a long day), but if you’ve never encountered them before the food can look a bit like something out of a spaceship!
To prepare your freeze-dried meal, all you need is to pour boiling water in the pouch, stir and close, and then wait for the length of time indicated on the pack for it to cook. Then stir and enjoy straight out of the pouch.
Troubleshooting Before You Go
As with any food, you’ll always find at least one person whose meal didn’t cook in the recommended time, or who simply didn’t like the taste of a meal others find delicious.
Cook one of your meals at home to make sure you like it (if it tastes good on a plate it’s going to taste amazing in the wilderness!), and to test your cooking times so you always have an edible meal.
Freeze Dried vs Dehydrated Food
Freeze dried and dehydrated food is often confused for one other, but there are actually some big differences between these types of food.
Firstly, freeze dried food is made by placing the food in a vacuum chamber, lowering the temperature to below freezing, and then slowly raising the temperature so that the water inside the food moves from a solid to a gaseous state while leaving the nutritional value of the food intact. Dehydrated food, in contrast, is made by circulating hot and dry air across the food.
So how does this affect the food? One of the most immediate differences is the weight: freeze-dried food will weigh significantly less than dehydrated food, making it more convenient for hiking. Dehydrated food does lose more nutrients through the process, compared with freeze-dried food which will retain almost all of its original nutrients.
Nutrition, Calories, and Staying Energised While Hiking
The Mayo Clinic suggests that a 160 lb person will burn an average of 438 calories during a one hour hike. If you are regularly hiking for 5 – 6 hours a day, you could, therefore, be burning upwards of 2,600 calories!
It’s for this reason that dialing in your nutrition and ensuring you are eating enough calories (and therefore, energy) to replace what you have burned is so essential. If you’re not supplying your body with enough energy, it will quickly run out of fuel and start eating up important things you really need when hiking – i.e. muscle instead of fat stores or fuel from food.
Packing freeze dried foods is one of the most efficient ways to ensure you can get a calorie-dense, balanced meal (rather than carb-heavy energy bars or fat-rich trail mix) without carrying too much additional weight with you.
A Note About Water
All freeze dried backpacking meals require water to cook, so if you’re packing some it’s worth considering what you need to do about ensuring you have enough water to drink while hiking and to cook with later in the day.
If you will be hiking to a campsite with a water source, it may be a good idea to only pack water for the hike itself, and then refill once at the campsite to save on weight.
Will Altitude Affect my Freeze Dried Meal
Good question – and actually, yes, altitude will affect the cooking time for your freeze-dried meals.
This is for two reasons:
- Water boils at a lower temperature at high altitudes
- Water evaporates faster at high altitudes
This means that your freeze-dried meal will probably need a longer soak time when you’re at a higher altitude than it would at sea level. A good rough guide is to add an extra minute for every 1,000 feet of elevation you’ve gained.
Don’t forget to Leave No Trace!
A huge bonus to freeze-dried foods is how convenient they are to prepare. You simply pour your boiling water into the pouch and can eat straight out of the pouch to avoid having to pack a plate or bowl.
Your spoon can simply be washed with leftover boiling stove water, and you can then close the zip-lock pouch to place in the bottom of your pack to be packed out to leave no trace in the camp.