Backpacking meals are light, easy to pack, long-lasting, and simple to make with just boiling water. And they’re getting better all the time.
If you’re a backcountry nut like I am, you’ve certainly experienced moments where freeze-dried meals didn’t live up to the surroundings. I still carry around packets of Taco Bell Fire Sauce and vials of salt and pepper on the trail.
But with foodies holding higher standards around what should go into their mouths, the trickle-down of what should go into their backpacks follows. Lately, I find myself needing my extras less and less.
The ol’ faithfuls like Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry still reign in some areas. But companies like Good To-Go, Heather’s Choice, and Peak Refuel are catching up. And that hardly begins to cover some of the more niche companies specializing in paleo, keto, and vegan offerings.
I compiled some fan favorites, and I based these off of my own experiences and user reviews. Here are 12 meals to stock up on for the coming season — or, if you’re a prepper, the coming apocalypse. Whatever way things shake out, these meals are A-OK.
GF = gluten-free
DF = dairy-free
V = vegan
Veg = vegetarian
Heather’s Choice Strawberry Vanilla Buckwheat Breakfast (V, DF, GF): From $10
The most beloved of Heather’s five flavors of buckwheat breakfasts, the Strawberry Vanilla option is said to be a bit tart and not too sweet. I like that these meals are cognizant of many folks’ dietary needs and they’re not overwhelmed with sugar and sodium.
Mountain House Spicy Southwest-Style Skillet (GF, DF): $10
I hate to say that Mountain House kinda has the eggy breakfast side of camping cornered, but I’m personally obsessed with every egg-based breakfast in their arsenal. The pro packs of eggs and bacon are super light and just the right size for breakfast.
But my favorite — and another fan favorite — is this breakfast hash. Chiles, shredded beef, beans, taters, and eggs! It’s so good, and I always eat my breakfast and have enough for lunch. Win-win.
Another hearty breakfast option that’s mindful of diet is this meal from Backpackers Pantry. Ingredients are all organic and natural; there are no weird, difficult-to-pronounce chemicals listed.
And one reviewer remarked that this meal is “hella tasty” — a phrase you rarely see in these freeze-dried parts.
Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy (Sorry, folks): $8
For the calorically indulgent and dietarily unrestricted, this is one of the most popular backpacking meals of all time.
One reviewer said, “After opening the pouch, I could have sworn someone dumped my mom’s biscuits and gravy in place of the once crouton-looking mound. Absolutely delicious.”
Must we go on? No, I don’t think so.
Lunch & Dinner
Good To-Go Thai Curry (GF, DF): $10
Just look at her face. That’s not even acting. I know, because this is my favorite Good To-Go meal, and they’re all pretty dang OK.
The Thai Curry is simply a standout. It looks terrible after it’s absorbed the water, but don’t be dismayed. This is one of the few meals I don’t add anything to once it’s hot and ready for action, and it’s a hunting camp go-to after a long day on the mountain.
AlpineFare Spicy Sausage Pasta (Nope): $7
The first time I ate this was fireside, and we hadn’t even hiked yet. I made my camping partner try it because I was so blown away by how good it was. My new favorite backpacking dinner is creamy, sausagey, delicious, cheesy goodness.
Diet be damned, this is worth the full leap into dairy, gluten, and meaty excellence.
Wild Zora Paleo Meals Chicken Caldera Curry (GF, DF, Paleo): $13
The clear favorite among the paleo options, this meat-eaters’ curry is a pile of meat, veggies, spices, and pineapple. That’s it.
It’s described both as “fabulous” and “the best backpacking meal I’ve had.” However, this is another that folks suggest waiting a bit more time for the meal to get fully rehydrated.
Backpacker’s Pantry Louisiana Red Beans & Rice (V, GF): $6
Another fan favorite — so much so that it’s sold out on Amazon! Vegans love it, and so does everyone else. Tips include adding a little less water and letting it sit for an extra 5-10 minutes to allow the beans to fully rehydrate.
I’m loving the price tag as well, especially for long-distance backpackers. And I look forward to trying it out.
Patagonia Provisions Organic Black Bean Soup (DF, GF, V): $7
If you thought Patagonia only made puffies and pants, prepare to be surprised. Patagonia Provisions aims at creating a sustainable food chain while providing affordable options for the trail-savvy.
And this black bean soup is the top-reviewed among its backpacking food options, and diners describe it as both “hearty” and “tasty.”
Snacks & Dessert
Heather’s Choice Packaroons (GF, DF, V): $25 for 8
You could buy these Packaroons individually. But, once you try one, you’re gonna want to try them all. These are not only great for the trail, but they can stand in for an on-the-run breakfast grab or a stash of office food supplies. The lavender is my absolute favorite.
At $25, the joy of these sweet treats is an easy spend. And these are great for a day trip or a backpacking trip. You will love.
Mountain House Raspberry Crumble (Veg): $9
Mountain House calls this a four-serving dessert. But one bite, and you’re not going to want to share with more than maybe one other person.
The brand has a few other yummy desserts, but this one is a wonderful combination of sweet and the tanginess of raspberries. And the crumbles add a great texture.
I’ve eaten these at the end of long, hard days on the trail. They’ve even served as a birthday treat. And I’ve loved them every time.
As a child of Ohio, I was a frequent field-tripper to the Neil Armstrong Museum, where we would all get astronaut ice cream sandwiches.
Neil Armstrong is cool and all, but those ice cream sandwiches were legendary. And thanks to Backpacker’s Pantry and NASA, I can now take them backpacking. They’re so good, you guys. And the sentimental soul within is excited each time I have one of these in my pack.