Best Freeze-Dried Foods: Top Backpacking Brands, Meals & What To Look For

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Freeze-dried food is the outdoorsman’s solution to eating nutritious, calorie-dense, delicious meals on the trail without needing to hunt, fish, or forage for the ingredients. Freeze-dried foods are easy to prepare, lightweight, and come in a huge range of flavors to suit even the pickiest eater’s taste. If you like to backpack, hike long trails, kayak, canoe, bike, or do anything else that has you in the wilderness for days at a time, you could find that freeze-dried meals come in pretty handy, especially at the end of a long, taxing day.

 

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What is Freeze Dried Food? | How To Choose | Top Brands | Best Freeze Dried Breakfasts | Best Freeze Dried Dinners | Best Freeze dried Snacks

 

If you want to bring freeze-dried food on your next hiking or camping trip but want to be sure you are choosing the best options, you have found some answers! Here, we are sharing what we look for when shopping for freeze-dried foods, and listing our picks for the best tasting and most nutritious options on the market.

 

What Is Freeze-Dried Food?

For the uninitiated hiker or backpacker, freeze-dried food may only be known as ‘astronaut food’, which became popular when museums and specialty stores began selling freeze-dried ice-cream as novelty items. While it is certainly fun to crunch your way through a scoop of Neapolitan, freeze-dried food is no novelty, and serves an important purpose for campers, survivalists, mountain climbers, and even members of the military.

 

How It’s Made

What makes freeze-dried food unique is that it is virtually infinitely preservable, since it contains zero moisture and can easily remain sealed for decades. Before freeze-dried food becomes the lightweight bagged product we all recognize, these meals start the same as any other dish. Meals are carefully prepared, cooked, and portioned, just as they would be if the food was going to be served. Here is where the process diverts from the norm.

  1. Rather than serving the freshly made meals, food destined to be freeze-dried is then transferred to a deep freezer, which solidifies the food making it more handleable and ensures the water in the ingredients will eventually be removed rather than merely melting.
  2. Once completely solid, the meals enter the first stage of drying wherein frozen water crystals are removed through a process of gentle warming in a vacuum to turn the ice crystals into a gaseous vapor. During this stage upwards of 95% of the water is removed.
  3. To remove the last few drops of moisture, the food is put through a second phase of drying at higher temperatures. With only around 1% moisture remaining, the meals are now freeze-dried.

 

Benefits of Freeze-Dried Food

While other methods of preserving and drying food have been used far longer than freeze-drying, freeze-drying has become the method of choice for drying everything from fruits and vegetables to whole meals and desserts by individuals that care about taste, nutrition, and integrity as much as they care about convenience. Some of the benefits of freeze-drying food include:

  • Nutrition Preservation: Eating whole foods is one of the most surefire ways to ensure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs. When food is freeze-dried, the whole food is preserved along with all its nutrients. Freeze-dried food resembles fresh food as closely as possible, so you aren’t losing out on any of the benefits of healthy, whole-food eating when you are on the trail.
  • Portability: The water content of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and grains adds significantly to the overall weight of a meal, which is why freeze-drying foods helps to make them far more portable. For example, a pound of fresh chicken would weigh around ⅓ of a pound after being freeze-dried. Lightweight and shrunken in size, you can easily carry several weeks worth of freeze-dried food where you may only be able to carry a few days of fresh.
  • Shelf-Life: On the trail, you don’t have time for an apple to go bad or for your ingredients to expire, which is yet another reason to carry freeze-dried food instead. Freeze-dried meals have an extended shelf life thanks to having had almost all moisture removed, and being sealed in airtight packaging. Capable of lasting for several years on a shelf, freeze-dried foods are fresh when you need them to be!
  • Appearance & Texture: Other methods of preserving food (like dehydrating) inherently change the appearance and texture of the ingredients. Because freeze-dried foods are first frozen solid in their original shape, freeze-dried foods remain virtually unchanged (except for their lack of moisture) once fully dried. Dehydrated foods, on the other hand, shrink, shrivel, become tough, and can never truly regain their true form. Freeze dried-foods, once re-hydrated, taste and appear almost identical to their fresh counterparts.

 

How To Eat Freeze-Dried Food

Eating freeze-dried foods is easy, and luckily, preparation is just as much of a breeze. The key to getting freeze-dried meals just right is to adequately rehydrate without drowning your ingredients. Most freeze-dried meals need little more than a cup or so of boiling water and a little time to transform into delicious, hot meals. Here are the steps for most freeze-dried meal preparations:

  1. Read the cooking instructions on the back of your freeze-dried meal
  2. Pour the amount of water you will need for rehydration (plus a few extra tablespoons to account for evaporation) into a pot and set it over a stove or fire to boil
  3. Once your water is boiling, remove it from the heat and set it aside
  4. Carefully open your freeze-dried meal pouch, making sure to only remove a strip from the top, leaving the rest intact
  5. Pour the appropriate amount of hot water into the pouch, then close or seal and set aside to rehydrate – this could take anywhere from 7-20 minutes
  6. Open the pouch, stir to check for full hydration, and enjoy!

How to Choose Freeze Dried Meals

With plenty of options available, it can be tough to choose which freeze-dried meals to try first. Some people like to test out meals before they are on the trail to find the ones they enjoy the most, while others prefer to keep it a surprise. Some people look for meals with specific calorie content or nutritional balance, while others care more about quantity over quality. No matter what the deciding factor is for you, it is important to look at several considerations before making your final pick. Here are some of the things we look at when choosing a freeze-dried meal:

 

Price

While some variation exists in the price range of freeze-dried meals, most fall within a certain industry standard. Snacks and desserts often cost between $4-$6, while full meals sit in the $9-$15 range, much like a dish you might purchase from a restaurant. To get the best value, don’t just look at which items are the least expensive, look at which items have the highest nutritional value for the lowest price.

For example: Mountain House Breakfast Skillet costs $9.99 normally and contains 510 calories per pouch, meaning that you get around 51 calories for every dollar you spend. Compare this to Mountain House Chicken & Dumplings which costs $8.49 and contains 600 calories per pouch, which works out to 70 calories for every dollar spent – that’s a better deal on a cost / calorie perspective!

Keep in mind that purchasing in bulk can give you some cost savings as well.

 

Calories

As mentioned above, calories are one of the main factors to consider when choosing freeze-dried foods, since calories are what will help to fuel your body along the trail. If you plan to do strenuous exercise, like backpacking hundreds of miles, you will want to choose freeze-dried meals with at least 600 calories or more per pouch. If you are just enjoying an overnight trip and won’t be exerting much energy, lower-calorie meals may suffice. Simply put, your meals have to reach your calorie requirements, or you may be in for some hurt or discomfort during your adventure.

Of course not all calories are equal. Nutrition is important too!

 

Nutrition

 

In addition to calories, every good freeze-dried meal should contain the right balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrates to keep your energy stores high. It is also essential to maintain proper electrolytes balances. Sodium in these meals are often high, but often necessary. Regardless, we have written a complete guide to choosing healthy backpacking food for you to read. You may also be interested in vegan backpacking foods.

 

Flavor/Taste

If flavor doesn’t matter to you, and you can chow down on just about anything, don’t worry about paying too close attention to what you are buying. If, however, you have a narrower pallet or dietary restrictions, you’ll need to spend a little more time browsing different dishes. In the end, it all comes down to personal taste, so if you find a flavor you think you might love, go ahead and give it a try!

 

Ease of Cooking

Freeze-dried meals for hiking and camping should be easy to cook, requiring no more than some boiling water to get the job done. Don’t worry – every option you’ll find here is easy to cook! Some require a bit more water than others, or longer time for the food to rehydrate.

 

Brands

Some people might say brand loyalty is limiting, but we think: you like what you like! If you have tried a bunch of brands, and find you just prefer what one has to offer, feel free to stick with their meals. Additionally, if you find a brand whose morals and ethical efforts align with yours, consider giving that brand a chance. Supporting businesses that support the things you care about is one of the best ways to put your hard-earned money towards something that matters.

 

Top Brands

Some of the best freeze-dried meals come from well-known household names, but as good as old favorites are, some amazing under-the-radar brands are creating delicious and nutritious meals as well. Here, we’re going to feature a few brands that we think make excellent products and that customers love to eat. Here’s a little bit of information about each of these premium freeze-dried food brands:

  • Backpacker’s Pantry: The OG of freeze-dried camping food, Backpacker’s Pantry has been around since 1951. A favorite among outdoor enthusiasts worldwide, Backpacker’s Pantry has a great selection of flavorful meals. Backpacker’s Pantry cares about the environment and uses 100% renewable energy to power their facility.
  • Good To-Go: Ideal for individuals with dietary restrictions or special diets, Good To-Go features all-natural, gluten-free, low-sodium meals made without the use of artificial preservatives. Created by world-traveler and chef Jennifer Scism, Good To-Go meals are delightfully balanced, light, and nutritious.
  • Mountain House: Originally a provider of meals to the U.S. Special Forces in the 50s, Mountain House today has one of the most diverse ranges of freeze-dried meals on the market. Boasting dozens of flavors and meals for specific occasions, Mountain House is the place to go for variety.
  • Outdoor Herbivore: If you are a vegan or vegetarian, and want to see lots of options for you all in one place, Outdoor Herbivore is the freeze-dried food brand for you. Dedicated to creating delicious, unique, plant-based meals for hikers and campers, Outdoor Herbivore has everything from entrees and desserts to snacks and condiments.
  • Packit Gourmet: Family-owned and operated, Packit Gourmet features high-quality ingredients and family recipes that will remind you of classic camping recipes from your childhood with a gourmet twist. Super flavorful and carefully put together, Packit Gourmet is for the hiker/foodie.
  • Trailtopia: All natural ingredients prepared in small batches by life-long nature lovers, Trailtopia meals have all the flavor you would expect from a carefully crafted home recipe. Featuring simple recipes and thoughtful packaging, Trailtopia also has plenty of options for gluten-free eaters, vegans, and vegetarians.

 

There are definitely some other really awesome brands out there. Don’t be afraid to check out different brands to determine what you like the best.

Best Freeze-Dried Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day (or so they say), and that doesn’t change just because you are on the trail! When hiking or backpacking, eating a healthy, hearty, calorie and nutrient-dense meal before you pull on your hiking boots and head out on a journey will keep you feeling energized and strong. Here are some of the absolute best freeze-dried breakfast options:

 

Backpacker’s Pantry – Summit Breakfast Scramble

Backpacker’s Pantry Summit Breakfast Scramble

Price: $8.99
Calories per $1: 25 calories per $1
Total Calories: 230
Servings: 1
Total Fat: 8 grams
Total Protein: 17 grams
Net Weight (dry): 2.1 ounces
Dietary Notes: Gluten-Free

How To Cook: Add 1 ¼ cups of boiling water to the pouch and stir well. Seal and let sit for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

 

Buy On Backpacker’s Pantry | Buy On Amazon

 

Mountain House – Biscuits and Gravy

Mountain House Biscuits & Gravy

Price: $7.99
Calories per $1: 70 calories per $1
Total Calories: 560
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 20 grams
Total Protein: 22 grams
Net Weight (dry): 4.4 ounces
Dietary Notes: Nothing Artificial; Contains Pork

How To Cook: Add 1 ½ cups of boiling water to the pouch and stir. Seal and let sit for 9 minutes, stirring again 5 minutes in. Enjoy!

 

Buy On Mountain House | Buy On Amazon

 

Mountain House – Breakfast Skillet

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

Price: $9.99
Calories per $1: 51 calories per $1
Total Calories: 510
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 24 grams
Total Protein: 28 grams
Net Weight (dry): 3.7 ounces
Dietary Notes: Gluten-Free; Nothing Artificial; Contains Pork

How To Cook: Add 1 ¼ cups of boiling water to the pouch and stir. Seal and let sit for 9 minutes, stirring again 5 minutes in. Enjoy!

 

Buy On Mountain House | Buy On REI

 

Mountain House – Granola with Milk and Blueberries

Mountain House Granola with Milk & Blueberries

Price: $5.99
Calories per $1: 86 calories per $1
Total Calories: 520
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 18 grams
Total Protein: 15 grams
Net Weight (dry): 4 ounces
Dietary Notes: Nothing Artificial

How To Cook: Add ½ cup of cold water to the pouch and stir to hydrate milk. Enjoy!

 

Buy On Mountain House | Buy On Amazon

 

Packit Gourmet – Santa Fe Corn Pudding

SANTA FE CORN PUDDING

Price: $8.99
Calories per $1: 53 calories per $1
Total Calories: 480
Servings: 1
Total Fat:  17 grams
Total Protein: 19 grams
Net Weight (dry): 4 ounces
Dietary Notes: Vegetarian; Gluten-Free

How To Cook: Add 1 cup of boiling water to the pouch and stir. Steal and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir again and enjoy!

 

Buy On Packit Gourmet

 

Packit Gourmet – West Memphis Grits Souffle

WEST MEMPHIS GRITS SOUFFLÉ

Price: $8.49
Calories per $1: 42 calories per $1
Total Calories: 360
Servings: 1
Total Fat: 12 grams
Total Protein: 14 grams
Net Weight (dry): 3.1 ounces
Dietary Notes: Vegetarian; Gluten-Free

How To Cook: Add ¾ of a cup of boiling water to the pouch and stir. Seal and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir again and enjoy!

 

Buy On Packit Gourmet

 

Best Freeze-Dried Dinner

After a long day of strenuous hiking, there is nothing better than tucking into a nice warm, filling meal. Freeze-dried dinners have come a long way, and today, you can find freeze-dried dishes from around the world hanging in your local sporting goods store! With almost too many excellent options to choose from, we’ve managed to select seven options we think are the best:

 

Backpacker’s Pantry – Three Cheese Mac and Cheese

Backpacker's Pantry Three Cheese Mac & Cheese

Price: $9.99
Calories per $1: 86 calories per $1
Total Calories: 860
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 30 grams
Total Protein: 40 grams
Net Weight (dry): 7.1 ounces
Dietary Notes: Vegetarian

How To Cook: Add 2 cups of boiling water to the pouch and stir well. Seal and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Stir again and enjoy!

 

Buy On Backpacker’s Pantry | Buy On Amazon

 

Good To-Go – Bibimbap

GOOD TO-GO Bibimba

Price: $14.00
Calories per $1: 52 calories per $1
Total Calories: 740
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 16 grams
Total Protein: 18 grams
Net Weight (dry): 6.7 ounces
Dietary Notes: Gluten-Free; Vegan

How To Cook: Add scant 2 cups of boiling water to the pouch and stir. Seal and let sit for 20 minutes. Stir again and enjoy!

 

Buy On Good To-GoBuy On Amazon | Buy On REI

 

Good To-Go – Thai Curry

GOOD TO-GO Thai Curry

Price: $14.25
Calories per $1: 53 calories per $1
Total Calories: 760
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 28 grams
Total Protein: 20 grams
Net Weight (dry): 6.6 ounces
Dietary Notes: Gluten-Free; Pescatarian

How To Cook: Open and add coconut milk powder to the pouch, followed by 2 ½ cups of boiling water. Stir, seal, and let sit for 20 minutes. Stir again and enjoy!

 

Buy On Good To-Go | Buy On Amazon

 

Mountain House – Beef Stroganoff with Noodles

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles

Price: $9.49
Calories per $1: 59 calories per $1
Total Calories: 560
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 23 grams
Total Protein: 24 grams
Net Weight (dry): 4.3 ounces
Dietary Notes: Nothing Artificial

How To Cook: Add 1 ⅔ cups of boiling water to the pouch and stir. Seal and let sit for 9 minutes, stirring 5 minutes in. Enjoy!

 

Buy On Mountain House | Buy On Amazon

 

Outdoor Herbivore – Fiesta Quinoa Salad

Fiesta Quinoa Salad

Price: $7.99
Calories per $1: 53 calories per $1
Total Calories: 430
Servings: 1
Total Fat: 13 grams
Total Protein: 9 grams
Net Weight (dry): 3.5 ounces
Dietary Notes: Vegan; Gluten-Free

How To Cook: Add ½ cup of cold water to the pouch and stir. Seal and let sit to marinate for 5 minutes. Stir again and enjoy!

 

Buy On Outdoor Herbivore

 

Packit Gourmet – Dottie’s Chicken & Dumplings

DOTTIE'S CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS

Price: $11.99
Calories per $1: 30 calories per $1
Total Calories: 370
Servings: 1
Total Fat: 6 grams
Total Protein: 44 grams
Net Weight (dry): 3.9 ounces
Dietary Notes: Nothing Artificial

How To Cook: Add 1 ½ cups of boiling water to the pouch and stir. Seal and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir again and enjoy!

 

Buy On Packit Gourmet

 

Best Freeze-Dried Snacks & Dessert

Remember earlier when we said that there is nothing better than chowing down on a hot meal after a long hike? Well, we may have lied, because the dessert after that meal is maybe even better. If you like a sweet treat on the trail or need to follow your dinner with a dessert, try one of these super tasty snack and dessert options:

 

Backpacker’s Pantry – Creme Brulee

Backpacker's Pantry Creme Brulee

Price: $5.99
Calories per $1: 103 calories per $1
Total Calories: 620
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 30 grams
Total Protein: 12 grams
Net Weight (dry): 4.5 ounces
Dietary Notes: Vegetarian; Gluten-Free

How To Cook: Remove sugar topping packet. Add ¾ cup of cold water to the pouch and stir vigorously to blend, at least 2 minutes. Seal and let sit for 10 minutes. Sprinkle sugar topping over pudding, let sit to dissolve, then enjoy!

 

Buy On Backpacker’s Pantry | Buy On REI

 

Backpacker’s Pantry – Dark Chocolate Cheesecake Mix

Backpacker's Pantry Dark Chocolate Cheesecake Mix

Price: $5.99
Calories per $1: 100 calories per $1
Total Calories: 600
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 30 grams
Total Protein: 12 grams
Net Weight (dry):
Dietary Notes:

How To Cook: Remove chocolate crumb topping packet. Add ⅔ cup of cold water to the pouch and stir vigorously to blend, about 2 minutes. Seal and let sit for 10 minutes. Sprinkle chocolate crumb topping over cheesecake, and enjoy!

 

Buy On Backpacker’s Pantry | Buy On REI

 

 

Packit Gourmet – Mom’s Banana Puddin’

MOM'S BANANA PUDDIN'

Price: $8.99
Calories per $1: 52 calories per $1
Total Calories: 470
Servings: 1
Total Fat: 17 grams
Total Protein: 8 grams
Net Weight (dry): 3.8 ounces
Dietary Notes: Vegetarian

How To Cook: Add ⅔ cup cold water to the pouch and stir vigorously to blend. Seal and let sit for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

 

Buy On Packit Gourmet

 

Trailtopia – Cheesecake Dessert with Chocolate, Raspberries & Grahams

Trailtopia Cheesecake Chocolate Raspberry

Price: $6.99
Calories per $1: 98 calories per $1
Total Calories: 686
Servings: 2
Total Fat: 18 grams
Total Protein: 12 grams
Net Weight (dry): 5.5. ounces
Dietary Notes: Vegetarian

How To Cook: Remove graham cracker topping packet. Add 1 cup of cold water to the pouch and stir vigorously for 1 minute to blend. Seal and let sit for 10 minutes. Sprinkle topping over cheesecake and enjoy!

 

Buy On Trailtopia | Buy On REI | Buy On Amazon

Max DesMarais
Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and sharing experiences with others. Max is a published author for various outdoor websites and digital marketing websites. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about