CAMPING & HIKING

Best Backpacking Meals: Do Not Let Hunger Get the Best of You

Best backpacking meals
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

As time passes, backpacking has become increasingly popular with a wide variety of people. If you value quiet solitude on the trails, this might not be such good news. But if you value delicious meals after a hard day of hiking, this popularity is a blessing, and you can now easily obtain and enjoy the best backpacking meals with just a click of a button.

As more and more people hit the trail, companies have gotten increasingly more creative in their quest to make the best dehydrated food. These days, you don’t even need to bring a mess kit in your pack. Just boil water, pour it into your bag, and stir it up.

It’s not uncommon to cook up a tasty, nutrient rich hot meal in less than 10 minutes. Not only does this give you something to look forward to when the going gets, tough, but the majority of the meals are healthy, well balanced and deliver a boost of energy. Now, the only thing left for you to do is decide which meals are your favorite.

Our Top Picks

Product NameWeightDimensionsSpecific FeaturesPrice
Mountain House Just In Case 72 Hour Kit2.9 lbs.9 x 9 x 12 inLong shelf life, food for three daysCheck price on Amazon
Backpackers Pantry Hawaiian Style Rice with Chicken8 oz.10 x 8 x 1 inCook in the pouch, two servingsCheck price on Amazon
Wise Company Entree Only Grab n Go Food Kit20 lbs.15 x 10 x 12 in20 year shelf life, 30 pouches, four servings eachCheck price on Amazon
Alpine Honey Lime Chicken5.8 oz.8 x 8 x 8 inCook in the pouchCheck price on Amazon
Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef4.8 oz.11 x 2 x 8 in30 year shelf lifeCheck price on Amazon
Mountain House Neapolitan Ice Cream Bar0.8 oz..9 x 5.3 x 9 inReady to eatCheck price on Amazon
MaryJanesFarm Chili Mac4.9 oz.9 x 7 x 1 inOrganic, vegetarianCheck price on Amazon
Backpackers Pantry Kathmandu Curry6.6 oz.8 x 1 x 10 inVegetarian, two servingsCheck price on Amazon

Features to Consider Before Buying

There are a few important features to consider when trying to buy the best hiking food for your backpacking trip. Check out the top three things to consider when choosing your perfect camping meal.

Nutrition

Even though you need a lot of calories to get you through the hiking trip, remember that not all calories are the same. A candy bar is fine, as long as it’s not your primary fuel source. The best calories, however, for this purpose, come from proteins and complex carbohydrates. For quick snacks rich in those, you can pack a lot of nuts and dried fruits.

Nuts and fruits

Another great option, if your diet allows, is cheese! It is rich in fat and protein, and very calorie dense. Except that, freeze dried foods provide a lot of nutrition too, and it’s great that even you can make them at home.

Taste

Taste is far and away the most important consideration for many people when shopping for camping meals. Of course, there are some folk out there who don’t care about how their food tastes, as long as it keeps them alive! But for those of us with taste buds, there is nothing worse than finishing a strenuous hike and having to eat bland, tasteless food.

It’s worth preparing a “test” meal before you hit the trail, to find out ahead of time whether you like a given product. Make sure you’re bringing food that you can enjoy after a hard day of trekking.

Homemade hiking food

Nowadays, there are so many different types of flavors available, from sweet snacks to give you an energy boost, to rich and creamy mac and cheese. Vegetarians will also be pleased to hear that they are also now catered for, with an ever increasing range of delicious, nutritious vegetarian meals also on offer. Indeed, you can now find good quality vegan and gluten free meals for a fair price.

Meal Options

Even though it doesn’t look like that, especially if you’re new in hiking, there are number of meal options to choose from when preparing for a hike. All of them have their pros and cons, but surely you don’t have to eat boring food on the trail.

Out of all, fresh foods last shortest – up to two days in the pack, so if you are bringing fresh foods, make sure to eat them before they go bad. For dry foods (pasta, rice, soup) you will need water and a stove, while for dehydrated foods you only need water. There are very delicious by the way. And don’t forget to bring spices!

Size and Weight

As with pretty much all camping supplies, you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing something that is lightweight. Many hikers go to great lengths to buy lightweight trekking equipment, and don’t want to weigh themselves down with needless pounds of food. Check that packets are not bulky, and will be able to pack away easily, without taking up precious space.

Mountain house food

The best backpacking meals will be lightweight, high in calories, and will give you the fuel you need to complete your adventure. Most dehydrated meals pack away quite small, but expand upon cooking to create a substantial meal.

Shelf Life

This consideration is especially important if you are buying these meals to keep in case of emergencies. You don’t want a disaster to strike, only to discover you don’t have any edible food. As a rule of thumb, try to buy products that will last ten years or more.

Again, vacuum packed, dehydrated meals will tend to last for many years if stored correctly, in dark, dry conditions. Obviously, if you’re planning a short hike or a camping weekend, shelf life may not be so important, but it’s worth avoiding foods that will go bad after a few days, just in case you end up stranded.

Best Products in Today’s Market

Now it’s time to help you chose the most delicious meal you will have on your backpacking experience.

Mountain House Just In Case 72 Hour KitMountain House Just in Case 72 Hour Kit

Price: Approx. $72

Weight: 3 lbs

Dimensions: 9 x 9 x 12 in

Specific features: Enough food for 1 person for 3 days, 12 year shelf life.

Best use: Short, easy going backpacking and camping trips, power Outages.

Description: Most freeze dried food can be pretty bland and flavorless, but Mountain House Just in Case 72 Hour Kit can be downright enjoyable. Especially after a long day of trekking, having a meal with flavor can be pretty important.

In terms of longevity, the 12-year shelf life of these products is great for backpacking. However, if you’re planning on keeping these meals tucked away in an emergency kit, 12 years may go by faster than you think. Beware also that the 12 years starts from the date of manufacture, so be sure to check that first of all to work out the exact shelf life.

The package is a good size and weight for backpacking, not too heavy and very compact. It doesn’t take up unnecessary space in your pack and certainly won’t weigh you down – not bad for three days’ worth of food.

One downside is that the calorie count per serving is fairly low. With only 200 to 250 calories a serving and 2.5 servings per packet make sure you calculate your caloric needs before throwing these into your pack for a trek. Beware especially if you expect to undertake a physically demanding trek, as you will perhaps require more energy than these packs can supply.

PROS:

  • Excellent taste
  • Fairly long shelf life
  • Lightweight and compact

CONS:

  • Low calorie count
  • Other meals offer a far longer shelf life

Related: Besides food, water is very important in nature. In order to drink clean water, you can use LifeStraw Personal Water Filter to have a clean glass after this meal.

Check the price on Amazon

Backpackers Pantry Pad ThaiBackpacker's Pantry Pad Thai

Price: Approx. $8

Weight: 8 oz.

Dimensions: 10 x 8 x 1 in

Specific features: This package includes 2 servings and cooks in the pouch, just add hot water.

Best use: Backpacking

Description: Backpackers Pantry Pad Thai is another reliable freeze dried food. Most of their meals taste good, are lightweight, and don’t take up too much space in the pack.

The spices and flavors on the Hawaiian rice are pretty decent, as long as you like sweet and sour style food. Just, be sure to use less water than the amount they recommend. If you use the full amount of water, it will end up pretty soupy.

A few other words of caution: be ready to add 10 minutes to the cook time, to make sure that the food has enough time to cook properly, and make sure you shake it and stir it, to avoid having dry clumps at the bottom of the bag.

Compared to other meals on the market, it has a relatively short shelf life of just seven years. As such, it may not be the ideal choice for long-term emergency food, but for more backpacking and camping trips, it’s a good choice.

Each serving packs 310 calories, which is filling enough after light activity, but for more intense treks, you may want to consider taking more to get all the calories you need. On the whole, however, it’s a good choice if you enjoy the flavors, and is filling enough for all but the most extreme hikes.

PROS:

  • Excellent taste
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Affordable

CONS:

  • Cooking can be complicated
  • Other meals offer a far longer shelf life
  • The flavor doesn’t suit everyone

Related: If you need new utensils, you can consider Tapirus Long Handle Spoon and Spork Set to help you out.

Check the price on Amazon

Wise Company Entree Only Grab n Go Food KitWise Company Entrée Only Grab and Go Food Kit

Price: Approx. $175

Weight: 20 lbs

Dimensions: 15 x 10 x 12 in

Specific features: This product has a 20-year shelf life, and comes with 30 pouches, each with 4 servings.

Best use: Emergencies, family backpacking and camping trips.

Description: The Wise Company Entree Only Grab n Go Food Kit can be a great resource for families who want to stock up in the case of emergencies. As far as taste is concerned, this Wise Company gets an average rating. The food tastes fine but there are other brands that taste arguably superior. Overall, it is palatable and after a hard day of trekking, it will still hit the spot.

One of the best things about this freeze dried food is its 20-year shelf life. Whether you want to use it for emergencies or for backpacking, it is nice to know you’ll have food to sustain you for 2 decades. Another bonus is the variety of meals on offer, with meals such as lasagna, veggie pasta and pot pie, there’s something for every taste, even vegetarians.

The downsides include the calorie count, with each pouch claiming to offer 4 servings. In that way, one serving is only 250 calories. Most adults need to eat 400-600 calorie meals, so the term “serving” here can be a little confusing

These packets are not great for solo backpackers. Because there are 4 servings per packet, you cannot divide it into 2 helpings before cooking it. This product works for families who are camping, but not for individuals.

On the whole, these are great meals to put into storage for unexpected disasters and survival situations. While they aren’t great for solo backpacking trips, families or groups can pick the packets they’d like to take on a trip, rather than taking the entire kit.

PROS:

  • Variety of meals
  • Vegetarian options
  • Very long shelf life
  • Affordable

CONS:

  • Low calorie count
  • The packs are designed for group meals and are unsuitable for all but the hungriest solo travelers.

Related: A warm meal is always better, and to start that fire faster, you can use Ralix Magnesium Survival Fire Starter. It also has a compass and whistle.

Check the price on Amazon

Alpine Honey Lime Chicken EntreeAlpine Honey Lime Chicken Entree

Price: Approx. $10

Weight: 5.8 oz.

Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 8 in

Specific features: Cook in the bag, 2 servings per pouch, gluten free

Best use: Light backpacking and camping, power outages

Description: Alpine Honey Lime Chicken Entree is regarded by some as one of the tastiest prepackaged camping foods on the market. The honey lime chicken has been described as really tasty, not too salty or unpalatable. However, as with most freeze dried food, consider using a little less water than recommended, as it helps to keep the flavor concentrated. Also be sure to mix it well, as some have had problems cooking it properly.

One area of concern is the structural integrity of the packs themselves, with occasional packets becoming damaged in the backpack. Make sure you keep it packaged up well and don’t store it next to pointy objects in your pack. With proper storage, the meals have an ambiguous 5+ years shelf life – just be sure to check each packet if you’re planning on stocking up.

Each serving offers 300 calories, so again this may not be enough after a long, hard hike, and with only 20 calories coming from fats, you may find your stomach rumbling again soon. Otherwise, this is a solid choice for backpacking food, and is an especially good choice if you’re looking for a low fat, gluten free meal.

PROS:

  • Gluten free
  • Low in fat
  • Good flavor if cooked well

CONS:

  • Fragile packaging
  • Low in calories
  • Relatively short shelf life
  • Complicated cooking instructions

Related: You need boiling water to prepare this meal, so if you don’t have a stove, we recommend buying the Alocs Outdoor Camping Stove. This alcohol stove is small, compact and lightweight, and it is made of base, furnace body, lid, and flame control valve.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountain House Chili Mac with BeefMountain House Chili Mac with Beef

Price: Approx. $10

Weight: 4.8 oz.

Dimensions: 11 x 2 x 8 in

Specific features: Cook in the pouch, 2.5 1 cup servings, 30-year taste guarantee, quick cooking

Best use: Emergency stocks, hunting, camping, backpacking

Description: Again, Mountain House impresses with their flavor, shelf life, and compact packaging. In terms of flavor, Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef is one of the most popular Mountain House meals on the market. The ratio of beef to macaroni to beans is spot on. The sauce is flavorful, with just a bit of a spicy kick. The 30 Year Taste Guarantee is more than enough proof!

The two and a half cups of food are enough to feed 2 moderately hungry people, or enough for one completely starving man. With each pouch offering 32 grams of protein, you can be sure that this meal will not only taste good, but will keep both your spirits and your energy up.

If there was any complaint about this product, it is that the beef doesn’t have the texture of fresh beef. But really, for a freeze dried meal, this one is pretty darn good.

PROS:

  • High in protein
  • Good flavor
  • Very long shelf life

CONS:

  • May be too spicy for some people
  • More expensive than others

Related: If you don’t already have one, or you don’t like the one you have, we recommend buying the Light My Fire Original BPA-Free Tritan Spork to bring with you on your trips. It is one of the best sporks on the market – it is lightweight, compact, and most importantly – BPA-free.

Check the price on Amazon

Mountain House Neapolitan Ice Cream BarMountain House Neapolitan Ice Cream Bar

Price: Approx. $5

Weight: 0.8 oz.

Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.3 x 9 in

Specific features: No mess packaging, ready to eat, 2-year flavor guarantee

Best use: Backpacking, snacking

Description: The Mountain House Neapolitan Ice Cream Bar is more unusual than your standard camping food, but as a snack or dessert, it can be a great option for something different while you’re on the trail. It has a really interesting texture, and while it looks chalky and seems a little dry, it will soon melt in your mouth. This is ready to eat and requires no additional rehydration – perfect for a quick sugar boost.

Perhaps the downsides are that it is pretty sugary and the texture can be unexpected. Yet, this is one of the highest rated desserts on Mountain House’s menu. And who doesn’t want to eat astronaut food?

This product also gets extra points for its slim packaging and ultra-lightweight. The only downside is, that unlike other Mountain House products, it will only last for 2 years on your shelf. As such, it’s not recommended for emergency stocks, but makes an excellent snack on the trail.

PROS:

  • Sugar and energy boost
  • Good flavor
  • No mess, quick and ready to eat

CONS:

  • Short shelf life
  • Too sweet for some
  • Strange texture

Related: If you are an outdoor enthusiast, it is very important to be prepared for all kinds of situations out in the wilderness. If you like kits, we have one for you – the CHANGKU Emergency Survival Kit, which contains flint stone, scraper, flashlight, swiss card, mini light, compass, tactical knife, whistle, tungsten steel pen, emergency blanket and black box.

Check the price on Amazon

MaryJanesFarm ChiliMacMaryJanesFarm Chilimac

Price: Approx. $9

Weight: 4.9 oz.

Dimensions: 9 x 7 x 1 in

Specific features: Organic, vegetarian, cooks in the bag, 15 year shelf life, one and a half servings

Best use: Light backpacking and camping trips, vegetarians, emergency stocks

Description: MaryJanesFarm ChiliMac is an organic and completely vegetarian meal which is a great option for more health conscious backpackers. The meal is widely regarded as really tasty, with a nice mix of chili beans, lentils, cheese, spices and pasta. However, you may find that it lacks in salt.

The slim packaging holds up well in a pack, and is able to hold hot water well without burning the user, transforming the pack into a ready to use bowl. It’s light and compact and can easily fit in even the most crowded backpack.

Some might argue that there are not enough calories in a single serving to compensate for a long day of trekking. Each pack offers around 475 calories, split between one and a half servings, with a suggested serving size of one cup. You may not feel completely full and may consider packing dessert.

With a shelf life of 15 years, you can be sure that these are also a great option for tucking away in case of emergencies.

PROS:

  • Excellent flavor
  • Great for vegetarians
  • Organic
  • Light and compact
  • Long shelf life

CONS:

  • Low in calories and proteins
  • Small servings, not ideal for hard going hikes

Related: A supplementary dose of magnesium could come in handy, even after a full meal. LES Labs Magnesium Citrate can be of great aid with this.

Check the price on Amazon

Backpackers Pantry Kathmandu CurryBackpacker's Pantry Katmandu Curry

Price: Approx. $6

Weight: 6.6 oz.

Dimensions: 8 x 1 x 10 in

Specific features: Cook in the bag, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, two 14 ounce servings

Best use: Backpacking and camping trips, vegetarians, emergency stocks

Description: Another good vegetarian option, Backpackers Pantry Kathmandu Curry is flavorful and the huge package will last you a long time on the trail. It is a good option for vegan or vegetarian backpackers who want to make sure they are getting enough protein.

The food is lightweight, and won’t take up a huge amount of space in your pack. Also, like most freeze dried foods, it is easy to make, just remember not to add too much water. Some may find the dish too spicy for their taste, however, if you are accustomed to spicy food, it won’t bother you. On the other hand, if you are sensitive to spice, maybe this isn’t the product for you.

Despite lacking in meat, it’s packed full of fiber and protein, and contains super foods such as lentils and brown rice. With each serving offering 340 calories, some may prefer to eat two at a time, especially on longer, harder going trips. Once opened, the meal must be consumed within a week, which is perhaps not ideal for solo hikers without a huge appetite.

Overall, this is a filling vegetarian/vegan option for backpackers that will provide you with plenty of food without wasting space or weight. It’s also gluten-free, making it a great choice for anyone with intolerances.

PROS:

  • Excellent flavor
  • Great for vegans
  • Gluten free
  • High in fiber and protein
  • Larger servings if required

CONS:

  • Too spicy for some tastes
  • Not suitable for solo backpackers with a small appetite.

Related: Backpacking is much easier and more enjoyable if you have access to boiling water – whether it is to disinfect it for drinking, to make a cup of tea or coffee, or to prepare some food. One of the best options for this is the Jetboil Flash Cooking System, which is very compact and practical, and boils your water in 100 seconds!

Check the price on Amazon

Wrap Up

Thanks to the wide variety of outdoors stores and the rising popularity of camping and backpacking, there are more and more options for freeze-dried, pre-packaged camping meals on the market. A widening variety of tastes and needs are now being catered for, with gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options also readily available.

With so many different options to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find something you like. Keep testing out the different options until you find a few meals that suit your palate, and then you know what to bring when you hit the trail. The best backpacking food is the one that you can eat over and over again.

Now it is your turn to speak: What’s your favorite backpacking meal? Do you think we missed a great product that deserves to be on this list? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.