Best Freeze-Dried Backpacking Food

Freeze-dried foods are a godsend on long backpacking trips.

They are lightweight and compact so they don’t take up too much space in your bag. They provide you with a warm, filling meal at the end of a long day of hiking and are super easy to make.

We have rounded up a selection of the best freeze-dried backpacking foods for you here, and put our favorite at the top.

We have also put together a handy buyers’ guide to help you pick out the best backpacking food.

We have compiled an FAQ section at the end, in case there are any questions you still have.

Each pouch we have reviewed has 2 servings, but we recommend eating a whole pouch as a meal.

In a hurry?

Our top pick is the Backpacker’s Pantry Cuban Coconut Rice & Black Beans pouches.

They are certified non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free. This makes them a suitable choice for people with all kinds of dietary needs. 

Top 5 Best Freeze-Dried Backpacking Food

OUR TOP PICK

Backpacker's Pantry Cuban Coconut Rice & Black Beans, 2 Servings Per Pouch, Freeze Dried Food, 14 Grams of Protein, Vegan, Gluten Free

This comes in a set of 6 pouches for $55. The pouches weigh 7.8oz each, so they’re not the lightest by any means, but pack in a massive nutritional load.

As you can see below, there is a decent protein, carbohydrate, and fiber content and only a moderate amount of sodium.

None of the ingredients are cooked before they are stored in the pouch, to retain as much of the nutrients as possible.

To cook, pour 2¼ cups boiling water into the pouch, stir and leave to sit for 20 minutes. The pouches have a shelf life of 7 years if left unopened. 

1% of all sales from Backpacker’s Pantry are donated to 1% For The Planet, a non-profit organization that protects the environment.   

Nutrition per pouch

  • Calories: 840
  • Protein: 28g
  • Carbohydrates: 154g
  • Fat: 14g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Fiber: 28g
  • Sodium: 820mg

EDITORS CHOICE

Mountain House Granola With Blueberries and Milk With Probiotics

A set of 6 pouches from Mountain House will set you back $35.94, a moderate price compared to the other options. The pouches weigh 4oz each, so are very lightweight. 

There is a relatively good amount of protein in this granola and lots of carbohydrates. Each sachet only contains about 5% of your daily sodium intake so this is something to be wary of.

To cook, pour in ½ cup of cold water, stir and leave to sit for 10 minutes. The pouches come with a 30-year taste guarantee.

The pouches include no preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors and the packaging is recyclable via Terracycle. 

Nutrition per pouch

  • Calories: 520
  • Protein: 15g
  • Carbohydrates: 74g
  • Fat: 18g
  • Saturated fat: 8g
  • Fiber: 8g
  • Sodium: 120mg

BEST VALUE

Mountain House Rice and Chicken

A set of 6 pouches from Mountain House will set you back $56.94, a fairly mid-range price. The pouches weigh 4.2oz each, so are easy to carry. 

Considering the ingredients, there is not much protein in this pouch, but there are lots of carbohydrates.

However, each sachet contains about 63% of your daily sodium intake so this is something to be wary of.

To cook, pour in 1⅓ cups of boiling water, stir and leave to sit for 10 minutes. The pouches come with a 30-year taste guarantee.

The pouches include no preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors and this is certified gluten free by GFCO. The empty pouch is recyclable via Terracycle. 

Nutrition per pouch

  • Calories: 500
  • Protein: 15g
  • Carbohydrates: 92g
  • Fat: 8g
  • Saturated fat: 2g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Sodium: 1460mg

RUNNER UP

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet, 4.73 Oz, 13g of protein

A set of 6 pouches from Mountain House will set you back $53.15, a fairly mid-range price. The pouches weigh 3.7oz each, the lightest of all our choices.

There is a lot of protein and carbohydrates in this pouch, but there is lots of fat too. Each sachet also contains about 69% of your daily sodium intake so be careful of what else you eat in the day.

To cook, pour in 1⅓ cups of boiling water, stir and leave to sit for 10 minutes. The pouches come with a 30-year taste guarantee.

The pouches include no preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors and this is certified gluten-free by GFCO. The empty pouch is recyclable via Terracycle. 

Nutrition per pouch

  • Calories: 510
  • Protein: 28g
  • Carbohydrates: 46g
  • Fat: 24g
  • Saturated fat: 7g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sodium: 1580mg

RUNNER UP

Backpacker's Pantry Pad Thai, 2 Servings Per Pouch, Freeze Dried Food, 20 Grams of Protein, Vegan, Gluten Free

A set of 6 pouches from Backpacker’s Pantry will set you back $72, the most expensive of our picks. The pouches weigh 8.1oz each, so are also our heaviest picks. 

There are relatively few calories considering the weight, but there is a decent amount of protein and carbohydrates. 

To cook, pour in 2¼ cups of boiling water, stir and leave to sit for 20 minutes. The pouches have a 7-year shelf life.

1% of all sales from Backpacker’s Pantry are donated to 1% For The Planet, a non-profit organization that protects the environment.   

Nutrition per pouch

  • Calories: 460
  • Protein: 20g
  • Carbohydrates: 65g
  • Fat: 17g
  • Saturated fat: 3g
  • Fiber: 8g
  • Sodium: 780mg

Best Freeze-Dried Backpacking Food Buying Guide

How to Cook It

Freeze-dried food does not need cooking as such. A more appropriate description would be reheating and rehydrating. 

To do this, you must first remove the packet of oxygen absorber as this is toxic. You then usually mix around 1 cup of boiling water with the dried food pouch and seal the top.

Leave it sealed for the time stated on the packet (usually around 20 minutes) and then eat. It is important to leave it for the time specified as the texture can be unappetizing if you don’t.

You can place the pouch in your hands or wrap it up to retain some heat while it is cooking. If you have a camping stove or trangia to hand, you can pour the contents of the sachet into a pan and boil. This will keep it warmer and is easier to eat from, but requires more washing up.

What it Tastes Like

The names of dried food are designed to be appetizing and eye-catching, but are they actually nice? 

Every manufacturer will make their products differently. It is worth trying a few before your backpacking trip to ensure you are taking the ones you will like. 

If you do not have the time or money to do this do not worry. When you’re tired from a long day of walking you will relish any hot and satiating meal. 

We recommend bringing some seasonings and spices to tweak the flavor profiles to your tastebuds.

Calorie Density 

When you are outside hiking and backpacking your body requires many more calories, somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000. This is to fuel your activity and to keep you warm in low temperatures.

You do not want to be carrying any more food than you need to, and so it is wise to look at the calorie density of your meal choices. 

A good guideline to aim for is around 100 calories per ounce. This may not sound like much but as the water has been removed, a lot of the weight disappears too. This allows you to fuel yourself sufficiently while carrying as minimal weight as possible. 

Most backpacking food pouches weigh between 3 and 7 ounces and should be 400-800 calories. We recommend ingesting a minimum of 600 calories per meal.

Nutrition

The process of freeze-drying retains a lot of the nutritional value of the original meal. This is ideal for backpacking as you need a lot of fats, protein, and carbohydrates to fuel your body.

The freeze-dried meals are designed to be a complete energy source and will clearly lay out the nutritional content on the pouch. 

It is a good idea to focus on the sodium content of the pouches, as preserved food is often very high in salt. This can cause dehydration or high blood pressure, both of which are best avoided when you’re in the wild!

Other things to consider are the protein and fiber content. Protein is vital to fuel your muscles when they are being placed under demanding conditions. Fiber keeps your bowels moving regularly, and the last thing you want on a hike is to be constipated!

You can supplement these freeze-dried meals with snack bars, cured meats, nuts and seeds, or any other preservable snacks you desire. 

Price

There are massive discrepancies in price between manufacturers. This can depend on the ingredients, but they are often fairly expensive. This is because freeze-drying requires a lot of energy to complete and so the marked price is higher.

Freeze-drying uses 1.7x the energy of freezing, and 1.2x the energy canning takes. A rough guideline for price is in the range of $5-$15 per pouch.

If you want to save money and plan to hike regularly, it may be worth bulk buying these foods. You can also create your own food pouches and trail mix.

Take a Close Look at the Ingredients List

While freeze-dried food is designed to last for years, you should still look for meals where you can recognize the ingredients.

Some companies will only use whole and natural ingredients and these are your best options. These tend to have a shorter shelf life, at around 4 to 6 years. 

The meals with more preservatives and chemicals have been treated to allow them to go off more slowly. These meals tend to have a lot more sodium but will last for up to 30 years.

How Heavy it is

When you hike you will need to carry everything you need for your entire trip. It is wise to pack as light as you can and not to bring more food than you will eat. 

We suggest planning out all of your meals and snacks to ensure you only pack what you need.

Other Requirements

You need to cook the freeze-dried pouches with boiling water. If you are wild camping or cannot carry all of the water for your expedition, you will need to camp close to a water source. 

You will also need some way to heat up the water. This can be over a trangia or camping stove, or you can make your own fire carefully. 

Either way, you will require a pot of some kind to heat the water, a fuel source, and something to ignite the fires with.

Dietary Requirements

In 2020 we have a good understanding of food allergies and intolerances. It is wise to triple check your freeze-dried food pouches to ensure they are suitable for whoever is being fed.

You can buy vegan, vegetarian, ketogenic, and gluten-free food pouches, so there is something good for everyone. 

Waste

It is important to respect nature when you are backpacking and part of this is ensuring you do not leave any waste.

Take a bag for rubbish to store the empty pouches in until you find a trashcan to dispose of them properly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I bring camping with me, for cooking?

We recommend that you bring a stove system such as a trangia or camping stove to provide a heat source to warm the water for your food.

We also recommend bringing a lightweight pot to heat water in and potentially cook in too. We suggest bringing a long-handled spoon to stir the pot and serve food. You will also need to bring cutlery to eat with. 

We suggest investing in a Ursack or BearVault BV500 system to store your food and keep it safe from wildlife. This may seem unnecessary, but the last thing you want to wake up to is a hungry bear. 

We also recommend bringing cups for drinking, a lighter or flint, and a brush to wash the pot out. 

What are some good snack suggestions?

We recommend calorie-dense foods for snacking. These could be homemade trail mix, nuts, and seeds, or Kendall mint cake. 

The individual sachets of peanut butter are also a good idea, but do not drop any waste outdoors!

Other good snack ideas include dried fruit, jerky, crackers, candy, and granola bars.

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