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The Best Vegan Backpacking Meals of 2023, Ranked

When I go backpacking, I’m picky because I want something really good, really quality, that tastes great after hiking 20 miles. And it needs to be vegan.

(Photo/Mary Murphy)
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Dehydrated and prepackaged backpacking meals are typically the answer for anyone who wants to plan a no-frills backpacking trip. After all, you’re just trying to bring a Jetboil or PocketRocket, not the whole kitchen sink. Leading brands for these types of meals include Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, Peak Refuel, Good2Go, and smaller and newer brands like ReadyWise, RightOn Trek, and LYO.

But sometimes backpacking meals can just be bland — and that applies to all of them. If I wanted something flavorless and simple, I probably could’ve made it myself instead of paying upward of $10 for freeze-dried food in a bag.

I love spice. And I love various international cuisines. I’ve traveled to 14 countries as a vegan. I’m an adventurous eater. But I’m also picky in the sense that I want something really good, truly high-quality, that tastes great after hiking 20 miles.

And, here’s the catch — it has to be vegan: no meat, no fish, no milk, no eggs, no problem.

With 10 years of veganism and nearly 10 years of serious backpacking experience under my belt, I set out once and for all to find the best of the best backpacking meals on market — sans meat and dairy, but full of flavor, and balanced weight-to-price-to-calorie ratios.

Vegan Backpacking Food: There Is Variety

Two vegan meal options from Peak Refuel — one Nepali-style cuisine, the other a straightforward American favorite; (photo/Mary Murphy)

Currently, there are over 80 different all-vegan backpacking meals on market. That’s probably at least a 30% increase compared to when I started out backpacking years ago. And, the market is only getting better. There’s a ton of variety. The same can be generally said for other dietary preferences like dairy-free and gluten-free.

On par with other meals from these same brands, the vegan meals we tested range from $6 to $16. Now, anything in the $12+ range is pretty high for a single one-serving meal — we get it. Vegan food is supposed to be approachable, economical, budget-friendly. Heck, it’s just rice, wheat, and vegetables, right, not filet mignon?

Still, a couple of these high-priced meals made our list, so be sure to read why below. It’s worth investing in a couple for more special nights out on trail.

How We Tested

Taste testing meals on the CDT and AT trails (a stew on the left, curry on the right); (photo/Mary Murphy)

First off, we scoured hundreds of online reviews on each company’s site, as well as REI and Backcountry, to whittle down the 80+ meals across 25 brands to the top 30-40 meals (from 16 brands) worth testing. This is on top of prior experience eating these vegan meals when backpacking in years past. Then, we cooked according to instructions (I tested largely all of these at or above altitude).

Now, if it was just me — the lone vegan — doing the taste test, I didn’t think that’d be fair. So I enlisted the help of my hiking partners, friends, and fellow editors to help rank the meals, too. We had a handful of editors put a large pile of these to the taste test: everyone from meat-eaters to vegetarians to vegans participated.

If you are wondering what qualifies me to review and rank food, above anyone else? I’ve been vegan for a long time, and have a background in food, simplified here:

  • First job was working in a restaurant when I was 15
  • Worked in the restaurant industry for 8+ years
  • Vegan for 11 years and counting
  • Am a total foodie: I cook with a variety of foods, spices, and ingredients at home
  • Over 200 days backpacking experience
  • Have both purchased prepackaged meals and made by own backpacking food

Simply: I want to be your vegan backpacking food expert. This isn’t just a compilation of the options on market, or a summary of other reviews by other people — I taste-tested all of these. They had to live up to average backpacking-meal standards, as well as my own (fairly high) vegan standards.

The (Vegan) Backpacking Meal Contenders

Dehydrated meals already have dried spices added to the mix; (photo/Mary Murphy)

Here’s the full list of brands we tried that currently make vegan backpacking meals, and the number of vegan meals they offer (#):

Testing a new backpacking meal at ~10,000 feet in Colorado; (photo/Mary Murphy)
Testing a brand new “top-secret” meal from Readywise; this one gets an honorable mention! (photo/Mary Murphy)

Editor’s note: We’ve listed both U.S. and U.K. companies, so some meals are only available in certain countries. But generally, you can find many of these meals across the U.S., Canada, and Europe — and readily available online.

The Best Vegan Backpacking Meals on Market, Ranked

Best Vegan Backpacking Entrées: The Top 10

1. Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai ★★★★★ 5 stars

Arguably, nothing is heartier or more welcome than a hot bowl of noodles. A strong lime flavor, good amount of veg, and crushed peanuts put this Pad Thai over the top. The balance between nutrition, weight, easy rehydrating, and price is also near perfect. You can’t go wrong.

2. Peak Refuel Three Bean Chili Mac ★★★★☆ 4.9 stars

This one is my favorite backpacking meals in fall and winter: it’s hearty and packs in a ton of calories. Two very different ingredients: dried beans and macaroni, and they both rehydrate perfectly. If you are expending a lot of energy day after day, you’ll appreciate this heavier meal.

3. FERNWEH Green Tamale Pie ★★★★☆ 4.8 stars

This is simply a flavorful, unique, slightly spicy meal. If you are bored with all the other options already, grab a few of these: the combo of peppers, zucchini, and jalapeño tomatillo sauce is to die for. It’s also one of the better and more delicious rehydrated cornbread attempts we’ve tried out of the lot. It is, however, expensive at $16.50.

4. Peak Refuel Butternut Dal Bhat ★★★★☆ 4.9 stars

The combo of lentils, chickpeas, rice, and curry spices is darn near perfect. It’s a subtle, mild but not bland flavor, and so creamy. Texture has just enough variety, too. The addition of butternut squash knocks it down for me a little bit in authenticity, but its still a superb meal. Definitely a winner among vegans and non-vegans alike.

Best Vegan Backpacking Meals
(Photo/Mary Murphy)

5. FIREPOT Vegan Orzo Bolognese ★★★★☆ 4.75 stars

You cannot have a list of best backpacking foods without at least one pasta item on menu. For vegans, pastas sans meat and cheese tend to be a bit boring, with pesto if you are lucky, or just chopped up veggies and not enough flavor. This meal from FIREPOT crushes all the other pastas we tried: it’s a take on Bolognese, a traditional Italian meat-and-tomato-based sauce. It’s packed with flavor and uses orzo (smaller noodles that rehydrate well). The spices, quality, and overall taste is incredible.

6. Good To-Go Kale and White Bean Stew ★★★★☆ 4.7 stars

This is one of the highest rated meals on the shelves, and we have to agree. I find it to have a much better mix of both texture and flavor than Good2Go’s other meals. It packs in a great amount of protein, and the strong smell of thyme and herbs reminds me of cooking soup at home.

7. RightOn Trek General Tsoy’s Mountain Rice ★★★★☆ 4.7 stars

For anyone who is worried about getting protein or the hearty, filling texture of meat, look no further. The textures of the pepper, soy, and rice is fantastic, and this meal is easy to rehydrate. The medium hint of chili pepper spice is perfect, although I still like adding a few other seasonings on-trail. Calorie, flavor and texture, packaging, and value-wise, this meal is amazing.

8. Good To-Go Mexican Quinoa Bowl ★★★★☆ 4.6 stars

Honestly, this bowl is a welcome difference to most rice and bean meals on market — it’s not a salt bomb, not too dense, and the poblano and squash give it a hint of sweetness. Even at altitude (the cook time takes a little longer), the meal soaks up water and rehydrates well. It’s not missing flavor or sauce, and pairs great with tortillas for a trail lunch. Bonus: it’s gluten free too.

9. Lyo Foods Chili Sin Carne with Polenta ★★★★☆ 4.6 stars

A unique and different flavor, though a pretty common combination of peppers and veg; what shines here is the spice profile and Lyo’s great success with freeze-dried polenta. The serving size is also spot on. Overall, it’s a good and balanced meal.

10. Backpacker’s Pantry Kathmandu Curry ★★★★☆ 4.5 stars

I have had better curry, but that was in Nepal. Out of all the curries on market, this one still tops my list. If you are looking for a more unique replacement to the typical Nepalese/Indian Curry meals, try Nomad Nutrition’s Caribbean Curry — still a fairly recognizable coconut milk, ginger, and curry spice base, but with the addition of yams.

Best Vegan Backpacking Meals
(Photo/Mary Murphy)

We really wanted to keep our list to the top 10 best overall entrées, but would be remiss if we didn’t mention the other category of vegan meals: breakfast. Honestly, for backpacking meals overall, breakfasts are still lacking in variety. It’s usually one of two things: an egg scramble spinoff, or fill-in-the-blank oatmeal.

Maybe you’ll get a savory breakfast veggie hash if you are lucky (Nomad does make a pretty good yam, quinoa, and tofu breakfast bowl). By and large, the breakfasts on market are all pretty similar, which is why we focused our top 10 on entrée and core meals.

That being said, our top three vegan breakfast meals are Heather’s Choice Blueberry Cinnamon (or Apple Pie) Buckwheat, Backpacker’s Pantry Blueberry and Oats, and Outdoor Herbivore’s incredibly unique CinnaMonkey Chomps (which you can add to oats if you wish). Breakfast, snack, dessert? These fried plantains coated in cinnamon sugar are really anything you want them to be — and pack in a great nutritious value with over 800 calories per bag.

Finally, Backpacker’s Mango Sticky Rice takes the cake (literally) for best backpacking dessert on market. If you want something sweet for the trail, this sticky rice is the one to beat.

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Nutrition, Calories, and More

For breakfasts, you’ll typically find a higher-protein base like oats, with added nuts and fruits; (photo/Mary Murphy)

For anyone who backpacks, getting the sufficient amount of calories can be tough. Now, I won’t tell you what’s right for you, since nutrition is highly dependent on your diet, lifestyle, amount of activity, type of trip, etc. It’s also worth noting many people prefer the nutritional benefits and taste of dehydrated over freeze-dried methods (this is another way meals slightly differ in preparation, nutrition, and rehydrating).

Here are some nitty-gritty rules I like to use and are worth considering when you are shopping for vegan backpacking meals.

  • For shorter backpacking trips: don’t be fooled by that 300-calorie meal. It won’t cut it if you are hiking with weight on your back, even on easier terrain or shorter mileage — you will need to consume more calories. I still aim for anywhere between 400 and 600 calories per “meal.” Bring plenty of trail snacks to supplement with or in-between meals.
  • For longer trips/more mileage per day: I aim for ideally 600+ or more calories per meal. Typically, this means one person can easily eat a “two-serving” bag. The 2.5-serving or double-serving bags are also great if you want to share meals. So, often when I am backpacking with a partner, we will bring a couple of two-serving meals. Then you have enough calories, a variety of food, and the option to share.

Serving Sizes: Best Bang for Your Buck?

Best Vegan Backpacking Meals
Backpacking meals can come in anywhere from one serving up to four or family serving sizes; (photo/Mary Murphy)

Aside from calories-to-weight ratio, the next biggest consideration for me for backpacking meals is the ratio of volume (aka serving size) to price. A $6 meal might be a stellar price on paper, but it won’t offer enough calories or enough food for the type of eater you are when hiking and recreating outdoors.

Same goes for the opposite. It may be just the right amount of calories, and filling enough, but maybe the serving size is way to much, or too pricey.

You’ll want to consider the nutrition information, serving portion, but also the size and weight of the packaging and meal itself.

Packability and Weight

Best Vegan Backpacking Meals
(Photo/Mary Murphy)

The packed size of meals is worth a quick mention here.

There are some meals I really, really love, but they don’t have the best packaging. I actually don’t mind opting for and using the compostable paper meal packages that you can’t cook in, but that’s not for everyone, since you need to bring a camp mug or bowl along with you.

I’ve also stumbled across some meals that are stiffer and tough to stuff into bear canisters when you are tight on space. But ultimately, so many of these meals are made from similar packaging across the board.

Packaging materials and sizes vary widely across brands; (photo/Mary Murphy)

If you are really trying to cut weight, you can also buy these meals and transfer to smaller Ziploc sealed bags. (Just don’t forget to jot down how to rehydrate and the cook time!)

I’ve also used Stasher bags before for rehydrating homemade or store-bought meals. You can cook them in boiling water with Stashers — making them a great thing to carry on trail!

When I am meal organizing, I take this moment to decide what spices I’ll want to bring on the trail based on meal selection. My typical spice kit is a wicked small MSR salt and pepper shaker, a mini bottle of tajín chili lime seasoning, and some sort of herb or herbed salt mix (I love Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt).

Conclusion

Vegan backpacking meals
I always like to pack a mix of backpacking meals, fresh foods, and snacks; (photo/Mary Murphy)

From one vegan backpacker to another, I really hope this list helps you get outside and enjoy the best of the best foods on trail! There are a ton of options out there, but these meals are truly the best of the best — no inaccurate cooking times, no funny tastes, good seasoning and flavors overall, and balanced in terms of nutrition to weight to value.

Even if you aren’t vegan, some of these newer brands’ — ahem, LYO foods and Readywise Pro — meals are really worth trying. And if you are a guide, or typically the food shopper for a group trip, consider all these options! There’s something for everyone nowadays. Yes, even the vegans. And I truly believe the vegan backpacking food options will only get better and better.

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