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The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Backpacking meals are light, easy to pack, long-lasting, and simple to make with just boiling water. For any palate and diet, we've narrowed in on the best backpacking meals of 2024 for your backcountry adventures.

enjoying a backpacking meal on a hike in the backcountry(Photo/Chris Carter)
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Hunger truly is the best spice — but sometimes that trusty ol’ packet of ramen noodles just won’t cut it at the end of a long day on trail. The best backpacking meals will serve up a “gourmet” dish of flavorful, nutrient-rich energy right in your dirty campground. And — they weigh barely anything.

However, if you’re a backcountry nut like we are, you’ve certainly experienced moments where freeze-dried meals didn’t live up to the surroundings. We still carry around packets of Taco Bell Fire Sauce and vials of salt and pepper on the trail to spruce up our meals.

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, we’ve found ourselves needing our extra spices less and less.

The old 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 with extremely respectable calorie-to-weight ratios and phenomenal tastes. And that hardly begins to cover some of the more niche companies specializing in gluten-free, paleo, keto, and vegan offerings.

Our team has collectively scraped the last morsels out of thousands of backpacking meals on adventures around the world and won’t settle for just any freeze-dried meal you find in the grocery store. Author and Senior Editor Chris Carter has significant experience waiting impatiently for backpacking meals to hydrate in the cold evening hours. An alumnus of each of the Triple Crown Trails in the U.S., he’s intimately aware of the importance of well-balanced meals on the trail, not only for a morale boost at the end of a grueling day but as sustainable nutrition for the long haul.

Chris has sampled just about every brand out there in an effort to find that backcountry feast. He put over 15 different meals to the test in the past year alone, scoured the interwebs, bugged his thru-hiking buddies, and pored through hiking forums to bring you this streamlined selection of meals you see today.

Below, we’ve compiled some fan favorites and based our selection on our own experiences and user reviews. Here are the top backpacking 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.

Check out our list of top picks, or hop down to our buyer’s guide, comparison chart, or FAQ for more info on snagging the perfect meal for your needs.

Editor’s note: This guide was refreshed on May 21, 2024, with additional information about dietary restrictions and links to our guides to gluten-free and vegan backpacking meals.

Dietary Info Key

GF = gluten-free
DF = dairy-free
V = vegan
Veg = vegetarian

The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024


Best Overall Backpacking Meal

Peak Refuel Chicken Pesto

Specs

  • Dietary info N/A
  • Calories 920
  • Dry weight 5.71 oz.
  • Water required 2/3 cup
  • Prep time 10 min.
Product Badge The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Astronomical calorie-to-weight ratio
  • Loaded with healthy protein (43g!)
  • Phenomenal hearty taste
  • Speedy prep time
  • Minimal water requirements

Cons

  • Some difficulty getting all the ingredients to rehydrate
  • May ruin your love affairs with other brands
  • On the pricey side
Best Budget Backpacking Meal

Readywise Still Lake Lasagna With Sausage

Specs

  • Dietary info N/A
  • Calories 710
  • Dry weight 5.9 oz.
  • Water required 2 cups
  • Prep time 12-15 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Great, filling ingredients
  • Impressive calorie-to-weight ratio
  • Affordable compared to similar calorie-rich meals

Cons

  • Requires a good deal of water
  • A bit difficult to get all ingredients to rehydrate
Runner-Up Best Backpacking Meal

Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai

Specs

  • Dietary info N/A
  • Calories 730
  • Dry weight 6.2 oz.
  • Water required 2 cups
  • Prep time 15-17 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • One of our favorite flavors for backpacking meals
  • Feels like you are actually following a recipe and cooking
  • Bursting with flavor
  • On the affordable side

Cons

  • Not the best calorie-to-weight ratio
  • Requires a lot of water
Best Backpacking Breakfast Meal

Heather’s Choice Apple Pie Buckwheat Breakfast

Specs

  • Dietary info V, DF, GF
  • Calories (per package) 530
  • Dry weight 4 oz.
  • Water required 4 oz.
  • Prep time 5 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Acceptable calorie-to-weight ratio
  • Phenomenal taste

Cons

  • Would like a bit more protein in breakfasts
Best Backpacking Lunch Meal

Pinnacle Foods Herb Roasted Chicken and White Cheddar Dumplings

Specs

  • Dietary info N/A
  • Calories 710
  • Dry weight 4.3 oz.
  • Water required 1.25 cups
  • Prep time 10-12 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Incredible calorie-to-weight ratio
  • Great, filling taste
  • Very flavorful
  • Sustainable packaging

Cons

  • Takes a bit longer to hydrate than others, and some ingredients struggle to fully hydrate
  • Expensive
Best Paleo Backpacking Meal

Wild Zora Paleo Meals Chicken Caldera Curry

Specs

  • Dietary info GF, DF, Paleo
  • Calories 350
  • Dry weight 3 oz.
  • Water required 1.5 cups
  • Prep time 5-15 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Solid paleo option
  • Hearty and filling

Cons

  • Pretty bad calorie-to-weight ratio
  • Difficult to get every ingredient to fully hydrate
Best Backpacking Dessert

Backpacker’s Pantry Astronaut Neopolitan Ice Cream Sandwich

Specs

  • Dietary info Veg
  • Calories 130
  • Dry weight 1 oz.
  • Water required None
  • Prep time Time it takes to open package
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Quick, delicious dessert for after dinner or the top of a climb
  • Weighs absolutely nothing
  • Genuine ice cream taste

Cons

  • A jealous trail family
Best of the Rest

Mountain House Spicy Southwest-Style Skillet

Specs

  • Dietary info GF, DF
  • Calories 490
  • Dry weight 3.9 oz.
  • Water required 1.5 cups
  • Prep time 9 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Solid calorie-to-weight ratio
  • Great taste
  • Lots of energy to start the day

Cons

  • More water required than other breakfasts

Backpacker’s Pantry Organic Hot Blueberry Walnut Oat & Quinoa

Specs

  • Dietary info V, DF
  • Calories 360
  • Dry weight 3.1 oz.
  • Water required 1 cup.
  • Prep time 5 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Natural, organic ingredients
  • Surprisingly tasty

Cons

  • Not the best calorie-weight-ratio

Good To-Go Thai Curry

Specs

  • Dietary info GF, DF
  • Calories 770
  • Dry weight 6.6 oz.
  • Water required 2.5 cups
  • Prep time 20 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Phenomenal taste
  • Passable calorie-to-weight ratio

Cons

  • Long prep time
  • Requires a good deal of water

Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy

Specs

  • Dietary info N/A
  • Calories 560
  • Dry weight 4.4 oz.
  • Water required 1.5 cups
  • Prep time 9 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Hearty, filling meal
  • Great taste in the morning
  • Respectable calorie-to-weight ratio

Cons

  • Not good for folks with dietary restrictions

AlpineAire Spicy Sausage Pasta

Specs

  • Dietary info N/A
  • Calories 600
  • Dry weight 5 oz.
  • Water required 1.5 cups
  • Prep time 12-15 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Super flavorful
  • Hearty and filling

Cons

  • Takes longer than others to hydrate

Backpacker’s Pantry Louisiana Red Beans & Rice

Specs

  • Dietary info V, GF
  • Calories 330
  • Dry weight 3.3 oz.
  • Water required 1.25 cups
  • Prep time 15 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Good vegan option
  • Great taste
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Long prep time
  • Bad calorie-to-weight ratio

Trailtopia Sweet Potato Chili Mac With Hemp Seed Protein

Specs

  • Dietary info N/A
  • Calories 860
  • Dry weight 7.8 oz.
  • Water required 2.5 cups
  • Prep time 15 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Rehydrates well
  • Plenty of calories
  • Packed with long-lasting energy
  • Relatively quick prep time for how many calories it boasts

Cons

  • Heavy package (put passable calorie-to-weight ratio)
  • Requires a lot of water

Pinnacle Foods Thai Peanut Curry With Roasted Vegetables and Rice Noodles

Specs

  • Dietary info GF, V
  • Calories 800
  • Dry weight 3.8 oz.
  • Water required 1.25 cups
  • Prep time 10-15 min.
The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Pros

  • Super flavorful
  • Rehydrated well
  • Cooked relatively fast
  • Fantastic calorie-to-weight ratio

Cons

  • A bit difficult to stir and eat everything out of Omnidegradable package option
  • Pricey

Backpacking Meals Comparison Chart

Backpacking MealPriceDietary InfoCalories (Per Package)Dry WeightWater RequiredPrep Time
Peak Refuel Chicken Pesto$13N/A9205.7 oz.2/3 cup10 min.
Readywise Still Lake Lasagna with Sausage$7.50N/A7105.9 oz.2 cups12-15 min.
Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai$10N/A7306.2 oz.2 cups15-17 min.
Heather’s Choice Apple Pie Buckwheat Breakfast$9V, DF, GF5304.0 oz.4 oz.5 min.
Pinnacle Foods Herb Roasted Chicken And White Cheddar Dumplings$15N/A7104.3 oz.1.25 cups10-12 min.
Wild Zora Paleo Meals Chicken Caldera Curry$13GF, DF, Paleo3503.0 oz.1.5 cups5-15 min.
Backpacker’s Pantry Astronaut Neopolitan Ice Cream Sandwich$4Veg1301.0 oz.NoneNone
Mountain House Spicy Southwest-Style Skillet$10GF, DF4903.9 oz.1.5 cups9 min.
Backpacker’s Pantry Organic Hot Blueberry Walnut Oat & Quinoa$13V, DF3603.1 oz.1 cup5 min.
Good To-Go Thai Curry$10GF, DF7706.6 oz.2.5 cups20 min.
Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy$10N/A5604.4 oz.1.5 cups9 min.
AlpineAire Spicy Sausage Pasta$10N/A6005.0 oz.1.5 cups12-15 min.
Backpacker’s Pantry Louisiana Red Beans & Rice$8V, GF3303.3 oz.1.25 cups15 min.
Trailtopia Sweet Potato Chili Mac With Hemp Seed Protein$12N/A8607.8 oz.2.5 cups15 min.
Pinnacle Foods Thai Peanut Curry with Roasted Vegetables and Rice Noodles$16GF, V8003.8 oz.1.25 cups10-15 min.
We tested backpacking meals on loads of different trips, including a thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail; (photo/Chris Carter)

How We Tested Backpacking Meals

The GearJunkie team is composed of a multitude of backcountry chefs who have been whipping up meals in the wilderness for about as long as they can remember. They know the importance of a hearty, tasty meal for a boost in morale at the end of the day, and sustained energy on the open trail.

For this guide we racked our brains, trying to remember our favorite meals we’ve sampled over our years of adventuring. We also scoured the interweb, bugged the pros, and tried a plethora of new concoctions to narrow in on the best backpacking meals currently on the market.

Author and Senior Editor Chris Carter has burned more backpacking meals in the woods than he’d like to admit, but in his years of culinary calamities, he’s stumbled upon some pretty spectacular flavors and brands. Chris is an alumnus of each of the Triple Crown Trails in the U.S., the PCT, CDT, and AT, and has cooked his fair share of gnarly hiking meals. Beyond the fabled ramen bombs that sustained him many a night on trail, Chris has sampled most backpacking meal brands, and won’t just bring any ol’ freeze-dried option on his adventures.

Every meal on this list was vetted by our stone-cold pros and had to prove itself on real-world tests in the mountains. Meals had to offer acceptable calorie-to-weight ratios, and provide sustainable energy for the long haul. Rest assured — we would depend on any one of these meals for nourishment on our treks.

The Best Vegan Backpacking Meals of 2024

When I go backpacking, I’m picky because I want something high-quality that tastes great after hiking. And it needs to be vegan. Read more…

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Backpacking Meals

eating a warm backpacking meal from a pot
A warm and nutritious meal can elevate your spirits and energy levels out on the trail; (photo/Chris Carter)

After laying out gear for your next backpacking adventure, the prospect of planning your food intake can feel complex and daunting. This is where bringing backpacking-specific food offers some relief and lots of time-saving convenience.

Instead of painstakingly preparing carefully measured volumes of specific ingredients to make a bunch of meals from scratch, backpacking meals come in neat little packages that are easy to lay out and visualize as you plan your trip’s meal schedule.

Before you purchase in bulk, be sure to consider how much space you have in your backpacking backpack, or ultralight backpack when shopping for these meals.

Dietary preferences are very individualized, and everything from taste to ingredients to ideal serving size varies from person to person. When selecting backpacking meals for your upcoming adventure, try to lean heavily on what you already know about your personal food preferences.

While plenty of creative and inspired backpacking meals are available today, choose the options that align with your lifestyle and sound appealing. Maybe you prefer low-sodium foods, are lactose intolerant, or maybe you just really dislike black beans. Whatever your preferences are, honor them as you begin to purchase meals.

After a long and active day out, you don’t want to find yourself stuck with a meal that isn’t exciting and satisfying for you. Go with what you know.

Caloric Density & Weight

Activities like backpacking and mountaineering require a significant amount of healthy calories; (photo/Chris Carter)

Now, here’s where the debate gets heated! Backpackers — particularly in the ultralight cult — love nothing more than to scrutinize the stats of every element in their loadout to narrow in on the best functionality-to-weight ratio.

Different backpackers have different nutritional needs, but in general, you want to strike a healthy balance between calories and dry weight so you don’t end up bringing too much heavy food or not enough to fuel the activity you’re about to do.

Consider how much your meals weigh versus how many calories they offer. While we aren’t going to suggest an exact number of calories you should be consuming during backpacking trips, we do recommend ensuring the meals you purchase offer enough calories to sustain you throughout the strenuous demands of your backpacking trips.

We like to follow the “100 calories per ounce” rule when backpacking. Optimally, any food you take, whether freeze-dried dinners or protein bars for snack time, should follow this metric. Many of the meals we’ve highlighted above are eaten during dinnertime, which is when you should be consuming the most calories. Therefore, it’s best that they have a much higher ratio than just 100 to one.

Chomping on some Good To-Go goodies on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Thru-hikes require some precise mathematics to figure out the most optimal calorie-to-weight ratio for the food you carry between resupply stops; (photo/Chris Carter)

Generally, you’ll consume more calories daily while backpacking than you do on average at home. Before your trip begins, it may be a good idea to try a few backpacking meals and experience the actual size of the servings and how full they make you feel.

Remember that when you locate the calorie number on the back of your food pouch, that number refers to the calories in a single serving. Many backpacking meals contain multiple servings, so don’t assume one individual pouch is meant to be one meal for one person. In our stats list above, we have listed the total number of calories in each entire package.

Food always makes up a major portion of the total weight you’re lugging around in your pack. Ideally, you’re maximizing the amount and quality of the food that you bring while minimizing the weight you’ll have to carry.

As you consider which meals to buy, think about the ratio between weight and calories. There’s a lot of variation in this ratio between different meal options and manufacturers. Over a multiday trip, food weight adds up fast. Plenty of calories, nutritious fueling meals, and a manageable total pack weight are your goals.

Cooking Method: Pot or Pouch?

eating a backpacking meal out of a pouch
Pouches make preparing many backpacking meals quick and easy, with fewer dishes to deal with; (photo/Chris Carter)

There are a few distinct categories of backpacking meals that are defined by the cooking method. Most backpacking meals are dehydrated or freeze-dried and must be invigorated with hot water before consumption.

While many options can simply be hydrated in their own packaging, others have to be poured into a pot and actively stirred. An obvious difference between these two methods is that the pot-reliant options require you to dirty a dish at mealtime. Cook-in-pouch meals are the better choice for those who wish to avoid washing a pot or for the ultralight and cookware-averse crowd.

A third category of backpacking meal requires no hot water hydration at all. These meals are cooked and ready to eat as is, and all you have to do is simply open the pouch and dig in. However, because these options are not dehydrated before packaging, they tend to be heavy.

Check out our comprehensive guide on backpacking stoves for help in choosing the best backcountry heating method to whip your meals into shape.

Water Availability

Most backpacking meals require 0.5-2 cups of water to fully rehydrate their ingredients; (photo/Chris Carter)

For meals that require water in their “cooking” process, plan ahead to ensure you’ll have access to enough water to hydrate your pouches at mealtime. Will you be carrying some or all of your water on this trip? Is there access to water along the way?

If you have access to a natural water source, do you have a reliable method of treating your water before using it for meals? If done correctly, boiling water can be an effective method of disinfecting water before using it for meals.

If you have limited access to water on your trip, it will be a very cherished commodity, so it may be wise to consider meals that don’t require hydration before cooking. That way, you can focus your water allotment on your hydration needs.

Dietary Restrictions

There are plenty of foods that have the nutrition we need without eating traditional meat-based diets. These days, ever-improving backpacking meals are available for those with dietary restrictions. Brands like Heather’s Choice, among others, make meals that accommodate eaters with all kinds of diets, from dairy-free to paleo to vegan and more. If you’re looking for vegan options specifically, we’ve covered the best vegan backpacking meals as well.

With an estimated 1% of the American population diagnosed with Celiac disease and an additional 6% with sensitivity to gluten, the number of people avoiding gluten is bigger than ever. As the gluten-free community grows, companies producing gluten-free backpacking meals are growing alongside them, providing more options than ever before. We’ve outlined what we think are the best options in our best gluten-free backpacking meals article.

Nutritional Value and Energy in Backpacking Meals

Senior Editor Chris Carter crunching on some Readywise goodness during a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Thru-hikes require a ton of energy and healthy calories; (photo/Jackson Sims-Myers)

Just because a meal has a ton of calories, doesn’t mean those calories will necessarily give you the sustainable energy you need to keep pushing day after day on trail. Food made of empty calories doesn’t offer much in the way of clean, nutritionally dense energy.

Keep your eyes peeled for backpacking meals that strike a balance between healthy fats, substantial carbohydrates, and protein. These are essential ingredients for your body to keep lugging your backpack across brutal terrain.

We love meals that incorporate organic ingredients with lots of energy. Meals like these make us feel cleaner and healthier as we push our limits out in the backcountry.

Cost

Finally, refer to your trip’s budget before jumping in and buying all the meals that seem intriguing. Backpacking meals range in price quite a lot, and many backpackers are surprised to discover that some options cost nearly as much as brunch at a sit-down restaurant. Backpacking meals tend to cost between $5 and $15 per pouch.

We don’t think buying all of your meals at once for a long multi-month backpacking trip is the best idea. Chances are, the flavors you desire in the present aren’t what you will crave 5 weeks into a 4-month thru-hike. Sample a few beforehand, and buy different flavors or ship them ahead while you are on trail.

Dehydrated backpacking food pouches can cost a pretty penny, but deliver delicious, nutritious meals in an ultralight package; (photo/Chris Carter)

FAQ

What food should I bring for a 2-day backpacking trip?

Thanks to the common combination of long days and heavy packs while backpacking, you’re going to burn a ton of calories. Most backpackers will need to eat more food while out on a trip than they do on a normal day at home. Actual intake depends on the individual, but most people will need to eat between 2,500 and 5,000 calories per day to sustain themselves and replenish after a strenuous hike.

Because backpacking meals come in breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, you could feasibly subsist on only backpacking meals and get plenty of calories each day. However, depending on your budget, you may want to supplement your backpacking meal pouches with other snacks and foods for easy and affordable grazing.

What are the best backpacking meals?

Companies like Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry make many tried-and-true backpacking meal pouches. While these two sources represent the bigger names on the market, we also recommend products from other companies like Good To-Go and Peak Refuel.

The best backpacking meal is the one that tastes great, fills your dietary needs, and fits your budget. You want your meals to add satisfaction to your life after a full day on the trail.

If we have any say in the matter, the absolute best backpacking meal we’ve tried is Peak Refuel’s Chicken Pesto — but this obviously boils down to personal preference.

How can I eat healthy while backpacking?

Many backpacking meal companies now make products that accommodate a wide spectrum of dietary restrictions and preferences.

If you’re seeking healthy meals with fewer additives and preservatives, companies like Heather’s Choice and Wild Zora Paleo Meals make quality offerings. Check the ingredients of potential meals before you purchase. Whether you’re vegan, paleo, or are simply health-conscious — now’s a good time to be alive as a consumer of backpacking meals.

What are the best keto backpacking meals?

There are a few options out there to meet the needs of ketogenic folks, but they are rare. Next Mile Meals specializes in keto backpacking meals. These are crafted with adventurers in mind, and have the requisite calories and energy to support high-output activities.

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