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Best Dehydrated And Freeze Dried Meals For Backpacking And Hiking

Man making camping dinner
 

Hiking and backpacking food can mean very different things to different people. Some are content munching on a jar or peanut butter and tortilla wraps for their sustenance, whilst others prefer to prepare gourmet meals from scratch. What everyone shares, however, is the need to stay fuelled for the trail. Choosing dehydrated or freeze dried meals is an excellent option, for many reasons. Good fuel being only one of them.

The best freeze dried meals for backpacking and hiking should be lightweight, nutritious, high calorie and easy to cook. In days gone by the all important enjoyment factor didn’t really come into it. However, dehydrated and freeze dried backpacking food has come a long way in recent years giving hikers the luxury of having access to ready-made meals that also taste really, really good.

Woman eating backpacking food next to tent

We’ve been munching our way through an incredible selection of dehydrated and freeze dried meals this year. Most of the meals are vegetarian, as this is our preference. But there are some cracking meaty meals available for the carnivores out there.

We usually like to prepare backpacking food from scratch at home before we hit the trail. But this takes forethought to ensure the ingredients are in the house, and time to prepare them, both of which aren’t always available in abundance! So it’s been a real treat to just grab some meals and go, making last minute get-aways so much easier to plan and execute.


Summary of dehydrated and freeze dried backpacking food

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ProductTypeBest forExample weight (main meal)Example calories (main meal)Cost per example meal
Summit To EatFreeze driedLow weight to calorie ratio117g / 4.1oz638kcal$
Expedition FoodsFreeze driedHigh calorie contents148g / 5.2oz812kcal$$
PackIt GourmetFreeze dried and dehydratedVariety of meal options143g / 5oz
530kcal$$
Food For The SoleDehydratedVegans119g / 4.2oz510kcal$$
FirepotDehydratedClean ingredients135g / 4.8oz525kcal$
Nomad NutritionDehydratedOrganic ingredients114g / 4oz600kcal$$
Right On TrekAir driedSet menus143g / 5.04oz532kcal$

The best freeze dried meals for backpacking and hiking

Summit-to-Eat-meal

Summit To Eat

Type of food: Freeze dried, meat and vegan
Meals available: Breakfasts, mains and desserts

Summit To Eat is a UK-based company offering freeze dried meals to adventurers, campers and expeditioners alike. Their meals are designed to be lightweight and high calorie, yet amazingly they are made with very clean ingredients that you’d find in your cupboards at home.

I really like the clearly labelled pie chart on the packets showing a breakdown of the nutritional information. This is especially useful for endurance events or adventures when getting the right balance of nutrition is key.

Though I don’t eat meat, I do occasionally eat fish. And fishy freeze dried backpacking meals are offered fairly infrequently. So I really enjoyed the salmon option which felt like a special treat.

Summit to eat food

Salmon and Broccoli Pasta

Weight: 117g / 4.1oz
Calories: 638kcal
Protein: 19g
Dietary info: Pescatarian
Cooking time: Under 10 mins
Tasting notes: The salmon flavours were really strong and the chunks of salmon, although on the tough side, were actually really tasty. Pasta doesn’t often feel as filling to me as other carbs, so I finished the meal feeling like I could have eaten another good few mouthfuls. That said, the high protein content of the fish did actually sustain me for longer than I expected.

Summit to eat food 2

Chocolate Mousse with Granola and Cherry

Weight: 97g
Calories: 416kcal
Protein: 15g
Dietary info: Gluten free, vegetarian
Cooking time: Less than 10 mins
Tasting notes: OMG! Soooo good. And no hot water needed – just cold. After 10 minutes the chocolatey powder actually turned into a well-set mousse. The chocolate flavours were great, but the crunchy granola really topped off this filling and highly satisfying dessert. A real treat at the end of a tough day.


Expedition foods camping meal

Expedition Foods

Type of food: Freeze dried, meat and vegan
Meals available: Breakfasts, mains and desserts

If stuffing your face full of calories is the main objective when considering your backpacking menu, then you need only consider Expedition Foods meals for your fuel. There are three serving sizes to choose from which provide 450, 800 and 1000kcal, respectively. And despite their generous energy offerings, they don’t weigh too much more than some of the lower calorie options we’ve tried.

There are lots of meat options but they also cater for vegetarians and vegans as well as dairy and gluten free diets. Plus there are even kid-friendly meals so that there will be no grumbly tummies at the end of a tough day in the mountains!

Expedition foods meal

Vegetable Tikka with Rice

Weight: 148g / 5.2oz
Calories: 812 calories
Protein: 13g
Dietary info: Gluten free, vegetarian
Cooking time: 5 mins
Tasting notes: It’s full of varied textures, packs a punch on the flavour front and is a right old warming meal. The spicy tikka flavours are by no means too “hot” but if you’re sensitive to spicy food then you may want to opt for a more gentle meal. For me, the spiciness was perfect. And it felt a little bit like having an Indian takeaway out in the wild. This 800 calorie meal is also super filling leaving me feeling very satisfied.


Spoon of backpacking food

PackIt Gourmet

Type of food: Freeze dried and dehydrated
Meals available: Breakfasts, mains and desserts

The first thing to note about family owned business, PackIt Gourmet, is the vast array of meals they offer. Taking inspiration from their Texan roots, the flavoursome meals feature plenty of cheesy, beanie and tex-mex ingredients that feel like you’re being properly treated at the end of a long day on the trail.

Most of the ingredients are clean and organic where possible. But their desserts contain a few things (palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavours, sodium hexametaphosphate etc) that may raise a few eyebrows if clean ingredients are a top priority. That said, if you like sweet treats then you’ll LOVE their desserts which are filling, rich, great texture and super sweet.

Packit Gourmet backpacking food

Poblano Corn Chowder

Weight: 110g / 4oz
Calories: 429
Protein: 15g
Dietary info: Contains chicken stock
Cooking time:
Tasting notes: This rich and creamy chowder is a bit of a treat to have on the trail! It has lots of ingredients and is a little low on calories and substance for a stand alone main meal. But excellent as a hot and hearty lunch. It’s worth being patient to let the corn rehydrate fully before eating.

Packit Gourmet backpacking breakfast

Good Day Sunshine Bowl

Weight: 125g / 4.4oz
Calories: 530
Protein: 12g
Dietary info: Vegetarian, vegan, dairy free
Cooking time: 10 mins
Tasting notes: All of the oat-based breakfasts I’ve tried this year have been excellent, and this Sunshine Bowl is another superb one to add to the list. It’s made with clean ingredients that offer a filling and satisfying start to the day.

Packit Gourmet backpacking dessert

Meyer Lemon Cheesecake

Weight: 5.2 oz | 149 g
Calories: 650
Protein: 14g
Dietary info: Vegetarian
Cooking time: 10 mins
Tasting notes: If you’re in need of some extra calories after a super hard day on the trail then this ought to sort you out! It has excellent texture and is very flavoursome once you get over the slight artificial taste. However, if you don’t eat desserts often, you may find this one a little on the overly sweet side. It’s also a very generous portion size after a main meal, which may be best shared.


The best dehydrated meals for backpacking and hiking

Woman eating freeze dried backpacking food

Food For The Sole

Type of food: Dehydrated vegan
Meals available: Breakfasts, lunches and mains

Food For The Sole creates really delicious dehydrated backpacking meals that are all vegan. The mother and son team, who are based in Bend, OR, have made a huge success of creating vegan meals for backpackers that taste so good I’d happily have them at home! The options are varied, balanced and with good protein content. They are also one of the only companies to offer cold-soak lunch options. I’m a big fan of a ‘proper’ trail lunch but don’t like the faff of getting all my cooking gear out. So I really like this style of lunch which requires minimal prep and clean up. Another good feature of the meals that Food For The Sole offers is that all the main meals are available as lunch sizes too.
Food for the sole food

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Quinoa

Weight: 119g / 4.2oz
Calories: 510
Protein: 19g
Dietary info: Vegan, gluten free
Cooking time: 15-20 mins
Tasting notes: Ah! All the good stuff. And a meal I would cook at home – healthy but hearty, satisfying, wholesome and surprisingly filling. The clean ingredients are packed full of flavour with a slight sweetness from the sweet potato. I really like the addition of the seeds to add even more texture to the dish.

Triple Peanut Slaw

Triple Peanut Slaw

Weight: 91g / 3.2oz
Calories: 570
Protein: 21g
Dietary info: Gluten free, vegan
Cooking time: 15 mins (soaked in cold water)
Tasting notes: This is a seriously yummy and fresh-tasting little dish. Super clean ingredients with loads of crunchy texture. It would make a great side with dinner. But I enjoyed it as a low faff lunch on the trail, served with some oat cakes. It felt like a mega treat to have veggies at lunchtime and the lack of hot water prep makes it an ideal trail snack.


Firepot backpcking meal

Firepot

Type of food: Dehydrated, meat and vegan
Meals available: Breakfasts and mains

Another UK-based company whose meals I have very much enjoyed is Firepot. They offer some good meaty options for the carnivores out there, but they don’t neglect those following vegan diets or with other dietary requirements. You can upsize your choices if you want more calories (usually around 200-300 extra calories) and you can also opt to have your meals in compostable packaging. However, you can’t prepare the meals directly in the bag; they need to be prepared in a cooking pot like the Right on Trek meals.

Firepot pride themselves on their very clean ingredients and being palm oil free.

Firepot backpacking meal

Vegan Orzo Bolognese

Weight: 135g / 4.8oz
Calories: 525
Protein: 28g
Dietary info: Vegan, lactose free
Cooking time: 10 mins
Tasting notes: Soya mince isn’t to everyone’s taste. But if you’re a fan then this vegan bolognese will be sure to go down well. It offers a ton of protein, has a great flavour and is very filling. The bite of the orzo and warming bolognese flavours makes this pasta dish feel satisfying and hearty.

Firepot dehydrated backpacking food

Toasted Banana Porridge

Weight: 125g / 4.4oz
Calories: 515
Protein: 11g
Dietary info: Vegan, lactose free
Cooking time: 10 mins
Tasting notes: This is one really yummy breakfast that did a very good job at sustaining me through to lunch. The flavour is great and is like you’ve topped your very clean bowl of porridge with fresh slices of banana.


Backpacking-food-1

Nomad Nutrition

Type of food: Dehydrated, vegan
Meals available: Breakfasts, mains and lunch portions

Nomad Nutrition is revolutionising backpacking food. They use organic, non-GMO, whole food ingredients, and all their meals are also gluten free, with vegan and paleo options. They are also mega lightweight and with remarkably high calorie content. This 100g pack of Hungarian Goulash provides 600 calories and is a huge favourite of ours. To make things a little more cost effective, they also offer a selection box of varied and super healthy energy-packed meals.

Like Food For The Sole, the main meals are also available in snack or lunch-sized portions so that you don’t have to rely on trail mix and flapjacks to get you through the day. I also really like the wide packets of the main meals. This makes it much easier to get all the scrapings out of the bottom of your meal!
Nomad freeze dried backpacking meal

Hungarian Goulash

Weight: 114g / 4oz
Calories: 600
Protein: 20g
Dietary info: Vegan, dairy free, gluten free, soy free
Cooking time: 8-12 mins
Tasting notes: This goulash is full flavoured and very hearty and another favourite if you’re after home from home meals on the trail. An ideal meal to finish the day with, especially when you’re out in cooler weather. I found it to be very filling and sustaining without needing to follow it with a sugar-packed dessert!


Air dried meals for backpacking and hiking

Dehydrated backpacking food

Type of food: Air dried
Meals available: Breakfasts, mains and snacks

This Silicon Valley based backpacking food company provides a unique service that allows customers to order an entire day of trail food. You can choose how many calories you anticipate you’ll need to consume each day, the number of days you’re on the trail for and also whether you have any dietary requirements. They’ll then instantly create a menu for you and pack it up in very handy packs labelled for each day to include breakfast, snacks/lunch and an evening meal. The main meals are created using clean ingredients and are all air-dried which retains a bit more nutrition and requires less energy than freeze drying. Plus, Right On Trek uses biodegradable packaging where possible.

Finally, the company charges $1 per 100 calories, no matter what you buy. This is a good amount cheaper than most other freeze-dried backpacking food options.
Right on Trek backpacking food

Gado Gado Noodles

Weight: 143g
Calories: 532
Protein: 22g
Dietary info: Vegan, vegetarian, dairy free
Cooking time: 11 mins
Tasting notes: The noodles are filling and hearty with subtle and clean flavours. The optional additions of soy sauce, hot sauce and lime juice add good depth and warming kick that is much needed on a cool evening. But I like that you can omit them if you’d rather something a bit more plain.

Right on Trek backpacking food 2

Banana Bread Oatmeal

Weight: 84g
Calories: 400
Protein: 9g
Dietary info: Gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free
Cooking time: 8 mins
Tasting notes: This is a full flavoured oatmeal which isn’t too sweet; a big plus for me, especially in the morning. The warming cinnamon isn’t overpowered by banana flavours, resulting in a really yummy and healthy way to start the day!


Camping noodles

Freeze dried Vs dehydrated backpacking meals

Freeze drying and dehydrating food are both excellent solutions for backpackers. Though the processes are different, the results are fairly similar: lightweight food with a long shelf-life.

There are a couple of difference to be aware of:

The dehydrating process is fairly simple and relies upon heat to extract moisture from the food to dry it out. 80-95% of moisture is removed from food through dehydrating. But compared with freeze dried food it doesn’t have as long a shelf life (a year or so). It also takes a little longer to rehydrate than freeze dried food.

The freeze drying process removes 98-99% of the moisture content in food making it last longer and retaining a little more nutritional value than dehydrated food. However, it is a more complex process that requires more specialist equipment.


Freeze dried backpacking meal

How to choose dehydrated and freeze dried meals

Back in the day (a couple of decades ago!), when I did my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, the options for lightweight backpacking meals were VERY limited. The good stuff was too pricey and the rest was average, at best. So we just learnt not to be fussy and see it as fuel instead of food. These days, however, the choice is endless!

To help make your choice a little easier, here are a few things to consider:

Dietary requirements

Probably the first thing to look for is that your personal dietary needs are catered for. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, for example, you can just focus on the brands that are plant-based. Additionally, some brands offer gluten-free and dairy-free meals, as well as meals full of everything! Start here and your search will be immediately narrowed down.

Calories

The number of calories your meals contain is one of the most crucial things to focus on when choosing meals for backpacking and hiking. And although low weight is important, there’s no point choosing featherweight meals if they don’t provide enough energy to carry them!

Everyone burns calories at different rates and this depends on your weight, age and gender. But the weight of your backpack, the terrain, your pace and distance you are travelling also impact how many calories you’ll burn.

So work backwards. Plan your route, calculate the rough distance, elevation gain and pace, weigh your backpack and then put those stats, along with your weight etc, into a calorie calculator:

HIKING CALORIE CALCULATOR

Weight

If you’re only planning a one or two night trip then the weight of your backpacking meals is less important. For longer trips, on the other hand, you’ll need to consider some low weight meals. As mentioned, balancing this with high calorie content is important. So aim for a good weight to calorie ratio.

Taste and texture

Some people aren’t too fussed about how their backpacking meals taste. It’s fuel and it enables them to go amazing places. But for the rest of us, choosing food that tastes great is kind of important! Not only from an enjoyment factor, but it can also act as a mini reward at the end of a tough day on the trail. Something to look forward to.

Taste and texture are fairly personal things. It might be that you have to try out a few different options before you find the best freeze dried meals to suit your preferences. But generally, reviews will give a good indicator if something tastes like garbage!

Ingredients

Much like taste, the ingredients in backpacking meals don’t matter to some folk. So long as it does the job, that’s good enough. But if you don’t want to be filling up your body with E numbers, palm oil and artificial sweeteners then you might want to pay attention to what your backpacking meals are made with.

Thankfully, there are loads of dehydrated and freeze dried backpacking meals that are packed full of clean, healthy and wholesome ingredients. Some may not quite compete on the calorie front with the less healthy options. But they do a surprisingly good job at getting the balance right.

Cooking time

How long your backpacking meals take to cook or prepare is another important factor to consider. Most options simply need hot water adding to the packets which are stirred and left for 5-10 minutes. This means you only need to bring water to the boil making this method a good option if you’re conserving fuel on longer trips. The main downside of this method is that the packets can lose their heat if left to sit in cold conditions. Wrapping them in your sleeping bag or puffy jacket will help to keep them insulated and warm.

Other meals are designed to be added to a pan of water and boiled for a period of time. Usually, this means you’ll need to burn more fuel. But you’re guaranteed to have a super hot and well-cooked meal as a result.

Packaging

Finally, and no less importantly, the packaging of your backpacking meals should be considered. A lot of waste is created from packaging which is one of the main reasons that I prefer to create my own meals when I’m on the trail. There are a few companies who have branched out into more eco-friendly packaging that are worth getting behind if this is important to you.


Whether you’re following a strict GF, vegan or dairy free diet, or perhaps you’re a fully committed carnivore, you’ll be sure to find a favoured flavour on our list of the best freeze dried and dehydrated backpacking meals. And believe, the process of finding your favourites is a LOT of fun!

About the author

author-joey

Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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