Tastings
The 10 Best Backpacking Meals to Fuel Your Hiking Adventure
Freeze-dried backpacking food makes backcountry cooking easy. Here are our top 10 picks for good eats, trailside.
Grace Kelly

Ah, the great outdoors! Sometimes there’s a primal urge to get out there and rough it, at least for a while. If you go backpacking, you must fuel your adventure. While car camping meals can be downright gourmet, you won’t be hauling a cooler on a backpacking trip. If you’re looking to travel light and sans refrigeration and still eat well, freeze-dried backpacking meals are a great option.

Made of featherlight freeze-dried ingredients, each meal is packed into a single pouch. In most cases all you do is boil water, pour it into the pouch, and wait a bit, and then voilà—the food is ready. The range of meals available is impressive—you can feast on hearty dishes such as beef stroganoff, skillet biscuits and sausage gravy, and chicken and dumplings in mere minutes and maybe even end the day with a pouch of banana pudding.

In most cases all you do is boil water, pour it into the pouch, and wait a bit, and then voilà—the food is ready.

But not all freeze-dried backpacking meals are created equal. To find the best, we tried more than 20 different products from a variety of brands. Along the way, we learned some tips for choosing great backpacking food (for example, fancy packaging doesn’t always equal a better meal) and discovered some stellar options (and some not-so-stellar options). Read on for our results.

Our Top 10 Freeze-Dried Backpacking Meals

Peak Refuel Beef Stroganoff

Price: $12.99
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Emoji Rating: 🤩   Time to Make: 10 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 2

Comments: With a luscious, tangy sour cream sauce, perfectly cooked egg noodles, and large chunks of mushroom and beef, this meal was hard to stop eating. One taster even hid the leftovers in the back of the refrigerator to prevent any unwanted attention and steadily chipped away at them with a spoon throughout the day. Suffice it to say, this meal was a big hit. It’s also superfilling, which is of the utmost importance when you're hiking miles and miles a day.

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Texture

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Packit Gourmet Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings

Price: $11.99
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Emoji Rating: 😋   Time to Make: 10 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 1

Comments: Packit Gourmet, a small, family-owned company based in Austin, Texas, really knows how to churn out decent backpacking fare. While most of their meals have a 18-month shelf life (shorter than the meals from some other brands), we gobbled them up in no time because they’re so dang good. The chicken and dumpling soup was no exception. It came with a packet of chicken broth concentrate inside, making the resulting soup rich with chicken flavor. We were especially impressed by the texture and flavor of the chicken, though it was a bit dry. The vegetables tended to be crunchy (particularly the carrot cubes), but they were inoffensive, and the flat, slick-style dumplings were a taste of childhood nostalgia.

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️½

Texture

⭐️⭐️½

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Peak Refuel Butternut Dal Bhat

Price: $12.95
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Emoji Rating: 🥰   Time to Make: 10 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 2

Comments: While you can probably get equally (if not more) delicious similar packaged meals at your local South Asian grocer, this chickpea-loaded version from Peak Refuel was really flavorful and filling. While this meal was called “butternut dal bhat,” we found the butternut squash elusive save for its faintly sweet flavor, and it also seemed to be lacking lentils. But what was present (mainly chickpeas, rice, spices, and a hint of coconut) was delicious, even if the chickpeas were a bit crunchy. This is a tasty vegetarian option in a market often loaded with meat-centric products.

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️½

Texture

⭐️⭐️½

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Packit Gourmet Skillet Biscuits & Sausage Gravy 

Price: $10.99
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Emoji Rating: 🤯   Time to Make: 12 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 1 (though we found that it could also serve 2, depending on how hungry you are)

Comments: The idea of reconstituted biscuits and sausage gravy wasn’t exactly a pretty one in our minds; we pictured soggy biscuits swimming in gray gravy with questionable chunks of “sausage.” But this rendition, though a bit of work for a backpacking meal, was fantastic. The biscuits, which were studded with bits of cheddar and jalapeño, were light and fluffy, with a crisp, golden crust from their time in a skillet. Even the “just add hot water” sausage gravy was delicious: creamy and flecked with pepper and bits of sausage that, though the tiniest bit too chewy, were still good. It was more work to make than your standard backpacking meal, since it required adding water to a quick biscuit mixture and then doling it out in blobs onto a skillet (the mixture was quite messy). But it tasted good in the end, so it was worth the dough-crusted fingers.

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Texture

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️

Packit Gourmet Santa Fe Corn Pudding

Price: $9.99
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Emoji Rating: 🤠   Time to Make: 10 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 1

Comments: While this was sold as a breakfast, it would also make a killer (and filling) lunch or dinner. Texturally, the pudding was like a cross between cornbread and polenta or grits, and flavorwise, though it needed a pinch of salt, it had a nice sweet corn flavor cut through with pops of spicy jalapeño. We had to make sure that we stirred it well or else we ran into unpleasant dry pockets. Oh, and gooey melted cheddar cheese dangled from each forkful, which also made this meal a hit.

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️½

Texture

⭐️⭐️½

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Patagonia Provisions Organic Black Bean Soup

Price: $7.00
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Emoji Rating: 😌   Time to Make: 10 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 2

Comments: Black bean soup might seem like a blah option, but this one, loaded with corn, beans, and chipotle flavor, was quite good. The beans rehydrated nicely (no crunchy bits), though this did involve simmering the soup in a pot for 10 minutes. Flavorwise, it was earthy, with hints of spice from the chipotle and pops of sweetness from the corn. The only downside was that it required a sizable sprinkling of salt. One taster added slices of cured sausage and instant rice to give it a bit more heft and it was fantastic, sort of like Brazilian feijoada. Bulking out freeze-dried meals with shelf-stable add-ins, such as instant rice and cured meats, is something worth considering if you’ve had a long day of hiking and really need to fill up.

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Texture

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️

Mountain House Chicken & Dumplings with Vegetables

Price: $8.00
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Emoji Rating: 🙂   Time to Make: 10 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 2

Comments: This was essentially chicken pot pie filling with bits of puffy, slightly crunchy dumplings scattered throughout it. Nothing new or thrilling, but it was still tasty, and one taster actually went back for seconds, a rarity during this tasting. Overall, it was a solid meal that will fill you up, and it tastes surprisingly good considering it’s one of the less expensive choices in the lineup.

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️½

Texture

⭐️⭐️½

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Packit Gourmet Mom’s Banana Puddin’

Price: $9.99
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Emoji Rating: 😍   Time to Make: 10 min   Servings: 1

Comments: While this is basically glorified instant banana pudding, it was so darn tasty that one taster became near territorial over it. Loaded with crunchy bits of cake, freeze-dried banana chunks, and toasted coconut flakes, it tasted like a pudding version of a banana Laffy Taffy. Not a bad way to end a long day of backpacking!

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Texture

⭐️⭐️

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Good To-Go Kale and White Bean Stew

Price: $13.50
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Emoji Rating: 😀   Time to Make: 15 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 2

Comments: This cozy mix of white beans and kale was good overall, though like many other backpacking meals we tried, it benefited from a pinch of kosher salt. The beans were a tad crunchy, but they were a nice textural contrast to the kale, which was very soft and slippery, more like escarole. One taster really liked that the kale was chopped up so finely, saying, “There’s no big pieces of kale dripping soup all over. I like it.” Overall, we got Italian wedding soup vibes (sans the meatballs).

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste

⭐️⭐️½

Texture

⭐️⭐️

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Firepot Baked Apple Porridge 

Price: $12.50
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Emoji Rating: 🙂   Time to Make: 15 min, plus time to boil water   Servings: 2

Comments: With creamy oats flecked with bits of almost savory apple, this was the closest thing to “real” oatmeal we tried. Though at first bite it was a bit bland, it turned out to be quite tasty with a bit of added brown sugar and would make for a filling hiking breakfast. The amount of water called for left it soupy at first, though it firmed up a bit as it cooled in a bowl. One taster noted it was “the best oatmeal I’ve tried.”

Rating Criteria Star Rating (Out of 3)

Taste (with brown sugar)

⭐️⭐️½

Texture

⭐️⭐️

Ease of Prep

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Five Backpacking Meals That Will Do in a Pinch

While these didn’t make our tastebuds explode in ecstasy, they weren’t terrible either and will do a fine job fueling your camp-venture.

1. AlpineAire Mexican-Style Grilled Chicken Bowl (Buy Now)
This was nicely seasoned, the chicken actually had the taste and texture of chicken (other meals couldn’t claim this feat), and there was nary a mushy grain of rice to be found.
Emoji Rating: 😌

2. Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef (Buy Now)
While it didn’t live up to the flavor many tasters remembered enjoying as kids, this still had a tasty enchilada-like sauce and nice spice level.
Emoji Rating: 🌶️🔥

3. Firepot Spicy Pork Noodles (Buy Now)
This meal of bite-size rice noodles in a spicy pork sauce was better than expected, but we still found that it lacked flavor.
Emoji Rating: 😐

4. Packit Gourmet Market Pasta Puttanesca (Buy Now)
While we liked the pasta, the sauce was rather one-dimensional—think canned pasta sauce.
Emoji Rating: 😐

5. Patagonia Provisions Organic Breakfast Grains-Tart Apple (Buy Now)
This oatmeal didn’t have much in the way of oats, but if you want to boost your seed and grain intake, this could be a good choice for you.
Emoji Rating: 🤔

Seven Meals Not to Bother With

On our quest to eat through more than 20 backpacking meals, we were bound to find some duds in the bunch. From questionable meat to a very disappointing dessert, we’d chuck these to the bears.

1. Backpacker’s Pantry Blueberry Walnut Oats
Some tasters found the hemp hearts overpowering and the blueberries elusive.
Emoji Rating: 🧐

2. Heather’s Choice Grass-Fed Bison Chili 
Bland, chewy, and with cocoa powder overpowering everything else, this wasn’t at the top of our list.
Emoji Rating: 🤨

3. Backpacker’s Pantry Mango Sticky Rice
Instead of sweet, sticky rice, this was more like watery, turmeric-stained rice with no sweetness whatsoever and a few crunchy freeze-dried mango bits.
Emoji Rating: 🙁

4. Backpacker’s Pantry Hatch Green Chile Mac & Cheese
This dish didn’t have much in the way of cheesy flavor; we recommend packing a box of your favorite mac and cheese instead.
Emoji Rating: 😖

5. Good To-Go Classic Marinara with Pasta
The pasta in this meal was cut up into small pieces and tossed in a not-so-flavorful sauce.
Emoji Rating: 😟

6. Good To-Go Oatmeal
While raisins provided some slight intrigue, this pricey oatmeal was just okay. 
Emoji Rating: 😴

7. Heather’s Choice Organic Chicken Mole With Rice
The cocoa flavor overwhelmed our palate in this dish, giving it a bitter taste.
Emoji Rating: 
😝

for your next camping adventure

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Backpacking Stoves

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