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10 Best Freeze Dried and Dehydrated Backpacking Meals


Aaron Zagrodnick

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Let’s be honest; not every backpacking trip provides the time for us to prepare a nightly gourmet meal, and not all of us are ready to embrace, or perhaps we have yet to have a discussion with, our inner hidden chef. While I like to create backpacking meals from scratch at times and when I can, if you’re like me, after a long day on the trail I simply often find myself wanting a sufficient amount of calories that taste great, and I want that meal as quickly and as easily as possible with minimal cleanup afterwards.

Best Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Backpacking Meals from Mountain House and Backpacker's Pantry

Freeze dried and dehydrated, ready-made backpacking meals usually fit the above criteria – but if you’ve tried your share of these types of meals, you’ve surely had your share of experiences that don’t exactly hit the spot in the taste department, and not much is worse than having to force down such a meal when it's all you have in the wilderness. As such, here’s a review of the 10 best add water and eat freeze dried / dehydrated backpacking meals that I’ve eaten over the years that do hit the spot, taste great, and are easy to prepare. These are the meals I keep stocked in the gear room, and that find a place inside the Ursack or food bag on backpacking trip after trip.

The Criteria

Meals to make this list and review are weighted on a few factors that are important to my approach and palate, including ease of preparation, great taste, calories, lack of artificial colors and flavors, and the inclusion of meat, or another protein that’s tough to carry while backpacking like eggs. While I’m by no means a carnivore on the trail, a vegetarian I also am not – and although I’ll eat a meal that is specifically aimed at other dietary considerations, I don’t abide by gluten-free, vegan, paleo, standards etc. and for the most part have a pretty standard and eclectic food bag.

Things like chicken and beef that go well in meals are tough to carry in the backcountry; and I’ve found for dinner applications, meat of the freeze dried variety works best on multi-day backpacking trips for the light weight, taste, quick rehydration, and texture. This would go for something like eggs as well – in my experience taste is definitely not a high point of powdered eggs. On the flipside, I’ve found vegetarian meals are the easiest to replicate through freezer bag cooking or one pot meals in the backcountry. For example, while a simple mac and cheese (our mac and cheese guide) or ramen meal from many popular brands that make freeze dried meals may taste great, it’s pretty easy to make this on your own from the grocery store either in the pot or freezer bag style, and thus meals of this variety are ones I usually just make on my own.

This top ten list of backpacking meals all meet the above criteria and considerations; and all are coincidentally from two popular brands, Backpacker’s Pantry of Boulder Colorado, and Mountain House, a division of Oregon Freeze Dry. With the criteria set, on to the list!

Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy

$9, 560 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 9 minutes. 4.4 ounce net weight.

A meal I originally bought for breakfasts, Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy now also works its way into my dinner menus. Buttermilk biscuits were something I used to think were only to be had from a refrigerated can (yes I have taken those backpacking), or from a favorite local diner, but Mountain House has done a great job of bringing these to the freeze dried backpacking meal world. Combined with crumbled sausage and gravy with an ample amount of pepper seasoning, when this one occupies some space in my food bag I’m always looking forward to it during the hiking day.

Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy Freeze Dried Backpacking Meal Review

Like all Mountain House meals, this one is now officially rated to stay fresh for 30 years – no more expired meals hidden in the dark corners of your gear stash, and 30 years is even enough time to fall in love with a meal, get burned out on it, and then repeat the process a couple more times.

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

$10, 510 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 9 minutes. 3.7 ounce net weight.

A breakfast meal that originally debuted from the Mountain House “wraps” line, Mountain House Breakfast Skillet works equally well for breakfast or dinner in my experience. This originally debuted at a solid 800 calories per package, but is down to 560 in the latest packaging. This eclectic mix of hash browns, eggs, sausage, and peppers is definitely reminiscent of getting the works plate off your local diner’s griddle. For even more calories, bring a couple tortillas to go along with this one, and if you’re on the pro ketchup and eggs side of the fence, a packet of ketchup is an excellent addition to take along as well. Hot sauce packets of course, would also work for those looking for a bit more kick.

Backpacker's Pantry Santa Fe Rice and Beans with Chicken

$13, 600 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 15 minutes. 5.7 ounce net weight.

The Backpacker's Pantry Santa Fe Rice and Beans with Chicken meal combines chicken and rice, with beans, cheese, green chili and vegetables. This is a great dinner for one or two, and adding an olive oil packet works very well for boosting the calories on this one. Although the rice is usually a little al dente in my experience following the specified directions, only slightly so and that’s fine in my book. For a burrito approach, this goes very well with tortillas, and bring a hot sauce packet or two if you’re so inclined. It’s not quite your favorite Mexican restaurant or a burrito from Chipotle, but for the backcountry it’s getting close enough to the latter. The latest iteration of this meal has less calories than before, but it's still a bit higher than average.

Mountain House Yellow Curry

$11, 510 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 9 minutes. 3.9 ounce net weight.

A relatively new offering, Mountain House Yellow Curry features chunks of chicken with rice all in a curry sauce that is sweet, savory, and spicy all at the same time. My favorite part of this meal is that while the rice is there, it's not the main attraction so to speak. Where some takes of backcountry bag meals are nearly all rice with a little of this and that thrown in, this one is the opposite with the chicken and curry sauce as co-stars.

Mountain House Yellow Curry Meal

While a bit of a light meal for two I’ve found, a packet of olive oil as well as adding tortillas (although naan would be better) and planning for some dessert to go along with this meal is a great idea. Overall, this is one of the best meals Mountain House makes and if you asked me of this list which meal would be number 1, this meal would be in the discussion. For more, take a look at our full Mountain House Yellow Curry review.

Mountain House Spicy Southwest Style Skillet

$10, 490 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 9 minutes. 3.9 ounce net weight.

An offering that came out with a slew of meals that Mountain House released a few years back, Mountain House Spicy Southwest Style Skillet is in my opinion another that’s served up equally well for breakfast or for dinner. With a green chile and hash brown base, and oddly for freeze dried meals actual hearty chunks of beef combined with other southwest themed vegetables and ingredients, this meal is a bit of a diamond in the freeze dried meal rough. Although this recipe did have a recall to be aware of – those with pouch code 3253174 and best by date of Dec. 2046 were affected, this is a new favorite of mine on the trail...with the right pouch code of course. That said, unfortunately just recently this one has become difficult to find in stock or on the shelf. Hopefully, Mountain House won't retire this meal as it's one of my favorites to pull out of the food bag when dinner time in camp rolls around. You can find our full review of this meal here.

Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings with Vegetables

$10, 600 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 9 minutes. 4.5 ounce net weight.

If you like chicken pot pie, this is the freeze dried meal for you. Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings with Vegetables features chicken, and a heavy dose of vegetables along with buttermilk biscuits and gravy at least reminding one of grandma’s secret recipe....or perhaps just your favorite microwavable chicken pot pie from your local super market’s freezer section. Either way, this one hits the spot while backpacking and especially if temperatures are a little on the chilly side. This is one meal that is on point right out of the bag – no mods or additions required.

Mountain House Chicken & Mashed Potato Dinner

$11, 450 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 7 minutes. 3.7 ounce net weight.

I know I know, we can all head to our local grocery store and grab any one of a number of mashed potato packages that are easy to cook, quick, and taste great after a long day of hiking. As such, the key to the Chicken & Mashed Potato Dinner from Mountain House isn’t about the potatoes, it’s the chicken. And it just so happens that this is such a simple combo, but one that's tough to beat.

Mountain House Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Believe it or not, this meal used to come with two whole, grilled freeze dried chicken breasts included in the pouch. This was a bit of a novelty in the past, however these days the meal comes with more of a diced chicken. This is fine, as although I think previously Mountain House intended for us to eat the chicken breasts with a knife and fork, I always just mashed up the chicken and potatoes all together anyway. The price to calorie ratio on this is a bit steep, so this is one meal where I always add an olive oil packet to boost the calories, and I keep this on hand for a splurge occasion.

Backpacker’s Pantry Pad See You

$11.50, 720 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 15 minutes. 6.6 ounce net weight.

This one was almost left off, as Backpacker's Pantry has apparently discontinued this meal. However, we thought we'd include it for nostalgia and in hopes that it's brought back someday, as it was hands down the best meal we've ever had from Backpacker's Pantry. With rice noodles and chunky broccoli in a tasty sauce with an adequate amount of chicken mixed in, Pad See You from Backpacker’s Pantry was about as close to take out as I've ever had on the trail.

Backpacker's Pantry Pad See You Review

No need to bring along an extra olive oil packet – Backpacker’s Pantry already included one inside the pouch for you to mix in before you added hot water – and unlike a lot of freeze dried meals, this one actually packed some punch in the flavor department without extra doctoring (if stirred well; the spices were always at the bottom). If you like a little extra spice like me though, a little cayenne or a packet of Sriracha went great with this meal. Perhaps someday the meal will be brought back. However in the meantime we've developed a similar and easy DIY recipe that you can check out here in Issue 52.

Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef

$11, 460 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 9 minutes. 3.8 ounce net weight.

A classic Mountain House meal, and just classic meal all around, Chili Mac with Beef from Mountain House takes mac and cheese to an entirely higher level (when you add cheese, as I always do) with beef, beans, and spices. One memorable experience came with this meal on an especially wet, snowy, and chilly hiking day – after setting up camp tired, a bit chilled, and with darkness having fallen this meal definitely raised both sprits and warmth before hitting the sleeping bag. The calories are a bit low on this one; I suggest adding a packet of olive oil and the aforementioned cheese for long hiking days (throw it in before adding hot water).

Mountain House Mexican Style Adobo Rice & Chicken

$11, 570 calories per pouch. Ready to eat in: 9 minutes. 4.6 ounce net weight.

The Mexican Style Adobo Rice & Chicken meal from Mountain House may just be the meal to reach for when you're craving Mexican food on the trail, and this newer meal has always hit the spot for me in the backcountry. While I do wish the chicken in the meal had a bit more presence, it's hard to complain when it comes to taste here. I always like to add some cheese to this one on the trail, and tortillas are almost mandatory. Olive oil and a little spice if you’re so inclined can both work together well for taking the calorie count, and experience here to the next level if desired. For more on this one, check out our review.

Nutrition, Ingredients, and Directions - Mountain House Mexican Style Adobo Rice

Mountain House Mexican Style Adobo Rice & Chicken is a great meal that goes particularly well with tortillas.

Final Thoughts

Note that all the prices above are full price; any time of the year REI offers 10% off 8+ meals here with free shipping available, and cost can also be mitigated through careful shopping, as it’s not too difficult to grab these meals 20% off from time to time and / or with free shipping if you keep an eye out for sales at retailers like REI and here at Amazon. Although all of our palates vary and a lot of these meals seem to come and go on the manufacturer side, the above list is a great start, and are the ones that have stuck around in my food bag.

One tip I can add is to always throw in a new meal or two on long trips; it helps prevent burnout on any individual meal and is a great way to find the next one you’ll go back to time and time again. I like to keep a simple spreadsheet at home for each meal, and update it after a trip any time a new meal is tried. I give each a meal a quick rating (poor, fair, and good) in my system, and also note next to this any thoughts on the taste, what might need to be added next time (example: needs black pepper and a packet of olive oil). Of all the meals I've tried the 10 listed above are the highest rated on my particular spreadsheet.

While a pre-packaged meal can be more costly than making your own meals from scratch, if you have a focus on convenience, having some of these meals on hand can make packing your food bag before a trip that much easier, and freeze dried meals bring that same convenience to mealtime on the trail as well. Either way, whether you like to throw a couple in to take care of a meal or two on a long trip, or if you take one for dinner each night, having a few go-to freeze dried backpacking meals on hand for your next trip can go a long way towards helping out with your backcountry meal planning.

For a list of nearly every freeze dried meal made (over 100 different options) that you can sort by brand, category, meal type, etc., check out this page at REI.

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I've tried the mountain house chicken and rice on several occasions. It has a good flavor to it and cooks very well in a short amount of time. I keep one in my pack even when I bring other meals and in my truck for emergencies. I have also saved cleaned and reused the mountain house bags to cook other meals in such as homemade dehydrated meals. 

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Joe from NorCal

Posted

Appreciate the article but must warn others to beware the chilli mac. None of my backpacking friends will eat it.

The MH chicken and rice is a lot like chicken soup with concentrated broth-really tasty.

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Aaron Zagrodnick

Posted

Ha, thanks Joe. Everyone has their own preferences for sure - If you have any extra of the chili mac, just let me know... :D

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Surprised the BP Pad Thai was left out. I’ve been a fan of it ever since I first tried it! Good to Go also has some nice options. 

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Aaron Zagrodnick

Posted

Had to go with the Pad See You on account of the chicken. :) I like the Good to Go meals - the Pasta Marinara is my favorite from them. Hopefully they come out with some some chicken or beef, etc. options in the future as it would take their meals to another level for me.

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gunner76

Posted

I found the Sweet Sour Pork to be very good.  I have been eating Mt House since the early 70's

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