Although freeze dried food is the light-weight way to build your hiking menu, any seasoned backpacker will be familiar with the struggle to find a tasty option. To save you the trial and error, we’ve gathered a ranked list of the best freeze dried meals from the backpacking community, plus some expert tips to take your meals to the next level.

1. Chicken & Dumplings by Mountain House

Mountain House makes some of the best freeze dried meals in the backpacking industry. The company was founded in 1969, is readily available in backpacking supply stores, and has a loyal following. The long shelf life of Mountain House (30 years!) also makes their freeze dried meals popular among survivalists looking to stock their emergency kits.

The Chicken and Dumplings meal is one of the best Mountain House meals according to backpackers and even has 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon. I think the flavor is closer to a chicken pot pie than to traditional chicken and dumplings, but either way, it’s delicious comfort food on the trail!

Recipe Tip: Be sure to add enough boiling water, seal the bag while it soaks, and wait a little longer than the recommended time so that the dumplings get nice and soft. To bring this meal to the next level, sprinkle on some French’s Crispy Onions to add crunch and extra flavor.

Mountain House is the most popular brand in freeze dried backpacking meals
Get it on Amazon

2. Beef Stroganoff with Noodles by Mountain House

It’s difficult to find freeze dried backpacking meals that taste like their original, but the Beef Stroganoff from Mountain House comes close. Even as new freeze dried food comes onto the market, this classic is on solid rotation for many backpacking menus.

Recipe Tip: As is the case with many of the best Mountain House meal recipes, let this one soak for at least 5 minutes more than the recommended time to make sure the noodles can fully rehydrate.

Get it on Amazon

3. Vegetarian Thai Curry by Good to Go

Made by a fellow backpacker out of Maine, Good to Go makes some of the best freeze dried food in the industry because of their commitment to locally-sourced, healthy ingredients. The healthy freeze dried meals are more expensive than other options, but if you’re focused on sustainable backpacking, the extra cost is worth it.

The vegetarian freeze dried Thai Curry meal is the most popular meal from Good to Go, both for its flavor and texture. It rehydrates beautifully and comes very close to what you’d make at home. One packet of Good to Go has less protein compared to the best Mountain House meals, so you can double the portions if you tend to get ravenous at the end of the day, or add a scoop of freeze dried chicken if you’re not a vegetarian.

GoodtoGo - a new freeze-dried backpacking meal company focusing on local ingredients

Get it on Amazon

4. Louisiana Red Beans & Rice by Backpacker’s Pantry

Backpacker’s Pantry is another industry leader in freeze dried backpacking meals. Their food tends to be less expensive compared to other options. The best Backpacker’s Pantry meal is their Louisiana Red Beans recipe, probably since beans and rice are the easiest base ingredients to rehydrate and make the best freeze dried meals for backpacking. Not only is it a delicious blend, it’s also one of the best freeze dried vegan meals!

Recipe Tip: My pro-tip is to add a little less water than the recipe calls for, check it half-way through, and let it soak for up to 10 minutes longer than the suggested time. Otherwise, you run the risk that the beans won’t fully rehydrate.


Get it on Amazon

5. Lasagna with Meat Sauce by Mountain House

Lasagna is great comfort food after a day hiking in the great outdoors, and the lasagna recipe from Mountain House is the go-to for many people in the backpacking community. The result is pretty close to the taste and consistency of a deconstructed lasagna. 

Get it on Amazon

6. Vegetarian Mexican Quinoa Bowl by Good to Go

This flavorful vegetarian freeze dried Mexican Quinoa Bowl is packed with plenty of protein thanks to the generous amount of quinoa and black beans. With cumin, chile, and Mexican mole in the mix, it has a more interesting flavor profile compared to typical freeze dried backpacking meals, which are usually on the bland side to appeal to the masses. And the Good to Go company focuses on local and sustainable ingredients, which makes it a winner in our book.

Get it on Amazon

7. Spicy Southwest-Style Skillet by Mountain House

This gluten-free Southwest Skillet Mountain House food packet has potatoes, shredded beef, black beans, green chilies, and veggies. It’s has a wonderful flavor but is the spiciest recipe that Mountain House offers so proceed at your own risk.

Recipe Tip: To make a balanced meal and take the edge off some of the heat, we like topping the Southwest Skillet with shredded cheese and wrapping it in a tortilla.

Get it on Amazon

8. Three Sisters Stew by Backpacker’s Pantry

Packed with rice, black beans, and quinoa, this stew is one of the best freeze dried vegan meals from Backpacker’s Pantry. It’s a hearty, tasty meal after a day in the wilderness–  perfect if you’re looking for something that will appeal to all taste buds.

Get it on the Backpacker’s Pantry Website

9. Creamy Macaroni & Cheese by Mountain House (Vegetarian)

It’s Mac & Cheese, no frills here, just no-fuss comfort food. What makes this one of the best Mountain House meals is the fact that it tastes exactly as you’d expect at home. 

Recipe Tip: In our experience, the recommended serving of water can result in a soupy consistency. Add a bit less than you think and check it half-way. This basic Mac & Cheese is an excellent candidate for adding mix-ins, like bacon cubes, French’s Crispy Onions, dehydrated meat, or dehydrated broccoli.

Get it on Amazon

10. Chicken Pesto Pasta by Peak Refuel

Peak Refuel offers a lot of alternatives to Moutain House if you’re looking to mix up your backpacking menu. This Pesto Pasta is their most popular meal featuring ziti noodles, chicken, and a creamy pesto sauce. The flavor is amazing and comes close to restaurant taste, actually. Our one gripe with Peak Refuel is that it has a shorter life (4 years) compared with Mountain House’s 30-year shelf life, but if you’re buying for an upcoming trip, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Recipe Tip: Be sure to soak the meal long enough in boiling water so that the chicken and noodles become fully rehydrated.

Get it on Amazon

Runners Up:

Chili Mac with Beef by Mountain House

The taste of this Chili Mac exceeded our expectations. However, some others in the backpacking community have warned that they had some, so to speak, lingering effects after eating this meal, so it’s best enjoyed as a solo backpacker in the summer when you can air out your tent!

Recipe Tip: You should definitely let this one soak for longer than the recommended time, otherwise the meat might end up with a chewy consistency, which means the freeze dried pieces haven’t fully rehydrated yet.

Get it on Amazon

Chicken Teriyaki by Mountain House

A well-rounded mix of green peas, carrots, peppers, and onions, this Chicken Teriyaki has a great flavor.  If you can get the consistency right, it’s nice comfort food on the trail!

Recipe Tip: Be sure that you mix it with boiling water and let it soak for the full time. Otherwise, the rice has a hard time rehydrating, and you might end up with a soupy consistency.

Get it on Amazon

Pasta Primavera by Mountain House

A great vegetarian freeze-dried meal, this Pasta Primavera recipe has spiral macaroni in a parmesan cheese sauce, along with zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, red & yellow peppers, and green peas. We are always pleasantly surprised at the flavor and the consistency of the cheese sauce. Our one complaint is that there is a lot more pasta compared to the ratio of vegetables, but the overall flavor is delicious.

Recipe Tip: If you’re not following a vegetarian diet, you could add a scoop of Auguson’s Farms freeze dried chicken to round out the meal.

Get it on Amazon

Yellow Curry by Mountain House

Yellow curry with vegetables and chicken always hits the spot after a long day on the trail. It’s a good option if you’re after a little more kick. It’s not too spicy but it has a robust flavor. It’s also a gluten-free recipe.

Recipe Tip: Based on our previous experience with Mountain House, we ended up adding more water than the recipe called for, and ended with more of a soup. It was still delicious though! For this recipe, we recommend following the directions for the water amount. This one is also a great contender if you want to add additional dehydrated vegetables to stretch the meal further.

Get it on Amazon

Breakfast Skillet by Mountain House

Once one of the best Mountain House meals, the Breakfast Skillet recipe has been recently revamped, and the jury is still out on whether it’s an improvement or not. The new recipe has less fat, but also a smaller portion than before. Loyalists claim that the new one isn’t as good as the former recipe, but most still agree that it’s still one of the best freeze dried meals for backpacking. Good for more than just breakfast, this one contains shredded Potatoes mixed with scrambled eggs, pork sausage, peppers, and onions. 

Get it on Amazon

Recipe Hacks for the Best Freeze Dried Meals

Take your freeze-dried meals to the next level

Take your freeze-dried food to the next level

To bring your packaged dehydrated meals to the next level, we’ve identified some of the best add-ons that make your food feel more special than just eating out of a bag. Add a portion of these mix-ins to your backpack so that you have them on-hand at meal time. Our favorite recipe hack add-ons are:

  1. French’s Crispy Fried Onions – Instant yumminess that can pretty much be added to any savory backpacking meal. The crunchy, salty, caramelized flavor of crispy fried onions can save a mushy meal and makes each bite better.
  2. Crushed, Roasted Nuts – As a high-nutrition add-on, nuts provide a great crunch when sprinkled over a backpacking meal. Peanuts, almonds, pine nuts, or walnuts would work.
  3. Sesame Seeds – Sesame seeds are an easy way to add a nice texture to curries and noodle dishes. A little goes a long way to spice up your backpacking food along the trail.
  4. Shredded Cheese – Sometimes you just need a little real cheese to add extra yumminess to a freeze dried meal. You can add parmesan cheese to pastas or cheddar cheese to stews.
  5. Chili Flakes – if you’re looking to add a little heat, chili flakes can be used in almost any style of dish, whether it’s mac & cheese, chicken & dumplings, or a curry dish. Most of the best freeze dried meals are made to appeal to the average palate, so they are usually mildly flavored. If you want a little more heat in your meal, bring some chili flakes on the trail.
  6. Freeze dried Chicken – If you want to add some protein, most freeze dried meals can be elevated by adding a scoop of freeze dried chicken. Auguson Farms has a bulk pack that you can bring on your trip and add to meals as you like.

The Best Freeze Dried Food Companies

the best freeze dried meals for backpacking

Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry have been the leaders in dehydrated backpacking food, but there are many new companies on the market that offer amazing options. Some of them are focused on Paleo, no-carb, or vegan freeze dried meals. While we haven’t been able to try all of these yet, we are hearing good things in the community and they are definitely worth a shot!

  • Mountain House – Founded in 1969, the company was created to sell military-style freeze dried food to the outdoors community. They can be found in most outdoors-supply shops and thanks to their constant innovation, they’ve remained the industry leader. Famous for the extra-long shelf life, Mountain House is also popular for people stocking emergency food supplies.
  • Backpacker’s Pantry – Another industry leader, Backpacker’s Pantry has a variety of meals that cater to different dietary restrictions like gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and more.
  • Good to Go – The Good to Go backpacking food company prides itself on being homemade and dehydrated in Maine, USA using healthy ingredients for their freeze dried meals and sustainable business practices.
  • Next Mile Meals – Next Mile Meals focuses on Keto-friendly and low-carb backpacking meals. Beyond the typical rice and beans, Next Mile Meals has recipes like Italian Beef Marinara and Beef Tacos.
  • Stowaway Gourmet – Stowaway Gourmet makes backpacking meals featuring gourmet ingredients like wild boar and bison. Their portions are pricier than a typical backpacking meal, but worth the splurge now and then.
  • PackIt Gourmet PackIt Gourmet is another company focused on gourmet backpacking meals. They have a variety of cold soak recipes, hot water recipes, as well as individually-sold ingredients if you want to make your own concoction.
  • Harmony House – Harmony House focuses on non-GMO, high-quality shelf-stable foods. They sell packaged meals as well as individual freeze dried ingredients so that you have a variety to play with.

The topic of hydration is hotly debated among backpackers. Your water supply is crucial to any backpacking trip, and choosing a lightweight water bottle and water filtration system is one of the most important choices you can make to keep your pack weight light. In recent years, many have chosen to buy Smart Water bottles because they pair nicely with the Sawyer water filter, making a lightweight combo-deal. But if you’re interested in sustainable backpacking, camping, or hiking, you should consider some of the following options for your water bottle and filter system.

The Most Sustainable Water Bottle: Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel water bottles are the most sustainable choice. A stainless-steel bottle is good for three reasons, all of which are important not only for your own health but for the health of the earth.

A stainless steel water bottle is the most sustainable choice

1. Stainless Steel Water Bottles mean Zero Microplastics

First, using a stainless steel water bottle means you can be 100% confident it is not leaching any nasty chemicals or micro-plastics into your water. Plastic, especially Smart Water bottles, are not designed to be used over and over again. They are called single-use for a reason. Especially when bottles get heated, like on a hot summer’s day, they will leach toxins and micro-plastics into your bottle. 

If you are going to use a plastic bottle, opt for a Nalgene or a Bladder. They are often made of “re-usable” plastics, meaning they are designed to be used over and over. Nowadays, most companies will make them without nasty BPA, BPF, BPS, and phthalates, but it’s worth keeping in mind, they are not perfect. 

2. Stainless Steel can Truly be Recycled

Using a stainless steel water bottle will not only keep you healthier, but you can be confident that when the product reaches its end-of-life, you can ACTUALLY recycle it. If you grew up like me, you would have been taught that plastic is recyclable. This is not the case. Plastic is “down-cycled”, meaning a recycled Nalgene bottle cannot make another Nalgene bottle. The heating and re-molding process makes the plastic weaker, meaning it needs to be turned into something smaller like a plastic bag, or new plastic needs to be added to it to make another Nalgene bottle. After plastic gets down-cycled once, it needs to go to the landfill. It cannot be recycled again, meaning it is not a circular system, but is rather a wasteful linear one. Stainless-steel on the other hand is 100% recyclable. It can be recycled into the same product over and over again for its whole life. Using a stainless steel water bottle is supporting a circular system.

3. Sustainable Water Bottles are a Vote for a Better Future 

A third reason to buy a stainless-steel bottle is recognizing that it is a vote. It is a vote for the environment. Every time we buy a plastic Smart Water (which is owned by Coca Cola), we are voting for more plastic. It is the simple supply and demand concept. The more we buy, the more they supply. Vote wisely with your dollar. Companies will shift to please the consumer, so shift them to take care of the environment. 

The Most Sustainable Water Filter

The most sustainable water filters for your backpacking trip

Despite the popularity of the Smart Water-Sawyer Filter combo among ultralight backpackers, it’s far from the most sustainable choice. I tried the Sawyer Filter, and it broke on the second day. I was thankfully able to repair it with some duct tape, but when I spoke with other people, they had similar qualms. It’s a tempting filter to buy since it’s cheap and light, but I don’t think we should be supporting companies that make crappy products. You only end up buying more later on.

For a more sustainable water filter, I recommend using the Steri-pen Filter. Full disclosure, I haven’t actually used this one, but I’ve spent a lot of time researching it. Plus, friends that have used it, love it. It’s light, fast, and rechargeable. You fill up your bottle, stick the light into your bottle, click the button, and within 90 seconds, you have drinkable water. The UV light kills the harmful bacteria and viruses, making drinkable water in seconds. 

The biggest drawback of this system is that if you have “floaties” in the water, the light will do nothing to get rid of them. You may need to bring a stocking (aka, tights) and filter the floaties and grit out. 

Another reason the Steri-pen is a more sustainable water filter is that it’s USB rechargeable. This means you are not putting harmful batteries into the environment every charge. It is more expensive, but I guarantee it will last you longer than a Sawyer. 

Sustainable Ultralight Backpacking Water Bottles

If you’re focused on keeping your pack-weight as light as possible, stainless steel water bottles may not be your first choice. My favorite ultralight backpacking water bottle combo that is zero-waste is a Platypus Bladder paired with a Steri-pen Filter. When compared to the weight of an empty Smart Water bottle paired with the Sawyer filter, it’s only a 4-ounce difference, and it’s faster, more reliable, and better for the environment. 

If you’re still considering the trade-offs, here’s an overview of the weights of various water bottles and filters, plus the time it takes to produce drinkable water using each system.

Water Bottles by Weight (When Empty)

  • EcoTanka (stainless-steel):  (2 liters) = 10.2 ounces (300 grams)
  • Nalgene:  (1 liter) = 6.2 ounces (176 grams)
  • Platypus Bladder : (2 liters) = 1.3 ounces (37 grams)
  • Camelbak: (3 liters) = 7 ounces (198 grams)
  • Smart water: (1 liter) = 1.2 ounces (34 grams)

Filter Weights and Time to Produce Drinkable Water

  • Steri-Pen (1 liter) = 90 seconds and weighs 5 ounces (141 grams)
  • Sawyer Filter (1 liter) = 10 minutes (if not drinking straight from a bottle) and weighs 2 ounces (57 grams)

Let’s make the right choices when backpacking, camping, and hiking to protect the very environments that we love to explore. If you’re looking for more ways to make your backpacking trips more sustainable, check out my 7 tips for zero-waste backpacking.

Zero waste backpacking is surprisingly difficult. Between all the gear, packaged food, and on-the-go hydration needs, a typical backpacking trip can lead to a lot of plastic waste. It takes effort and planning to be zero-waste or ‘low-waste’, but I am here to tell you that it IS possible. Coupling zero-waste with backpacking seemed like the last piece in my sustainability puzzle. Finally taking the plunge, and making the necessary changes, has left me feeling like I am actually protecting the very nature I am interacting with. Eventually the changes became habits, and now Mother Nature is far better off for it. Here is my story and top tips for backpacking sustainably, let’s protect the very environments that we love to explore.

My Journey to a Zero-Waste Lifestyle

Four years ago, I found myself on the floor of my bedroom, staring at thirty-plus plastic bathroom products, having an epiphany that would change my life. This is the moment my zero-waste journey started. As plastic lipsticks, toothbrushes, shampoos, conditioners, body soaps, razor blades, mascaras, combs, brushes, and more stared back at me, I realized I had a plastic problem. I realized our world had a plastic problem. Most of all, I realized that I needed to change the way I consumed products. 

Over the next four years, I would learn how to buy food in bulk, how to refill my handsoaps, laundry, and dishwashing liquids. I would learn to carry a stainless-steel water bottle and reusable coffee mug with me everywhere I went. Small changes over time have resulted in massive lifestyle shifts. Now, when my partner and I empty our one-foot-tall rubbish bucket every three weeks, we can truly see the impacts of our waste-reducing efforts. 

My Big, Zero-Waste Backpacking Trip

Alongside my zero-waste pursuit, I was developing my outdoor skills. My first job outside of University was glacier guiding in Alaska. This role then carried me to New Zealand, to continue glacier guiding. New Zealand is where I have lived for the last four years. This is where I would harness many outdoor-skills including ice climbing, mountaineering, rock climbing, canyoning, free-diving, marathon running, gardening, and more. 

After spending years developing my backpacking, hiking, and camping skills, I decided to go for a long hike, a 272-mile-long hike, in fact, The Vermont Long Trail. The trail begins in Canada and hits every major peak of Vermont, winding through cute, maple-loving towns, before it terminates in Massachusetts.

Zero Waste Backpacking on the Long Trail in Vermont

This hike would take me twenty days to complete and I would be hitting the trail solo. I felt a sense of nervousness, but excitement to be finally ticking off a long-time goal. I had graduated from the University of Vermont five years prior and had always intended to return and complete the trail. So, there I was, ready to embark on a journey that had been a long-time coming. Yet, I found myself at the foot of the trail with a new goal, a goal to hike the trail in a sustainable way, in a zero-waste way. 

The Challenges of Zero-Waste Backpacking

Before I go on, it is worth noting that zero waste, as in no waste what-so-ever, is completely unattainable. Rather, zero-waste is a “stretching goal”, a goal that allows for constant growth, the type of goal I love. “Low-waste” might be a better phrase. Whichever term you prefer is fine, but just know that when I say I was doing the trail “zero-waste”, I mean that I was attempting to complete the trail with as little waste as possible. This goal would prove to be more difficult than finishing the 272-mile Long Trail itself. 

As I began researching “zero-waste backpacking”, it became apparent that not many people were writing about the topic. This meant that I needed to figure out some stuff for myself. The Long Trail went from being a zero-waste backpacking trip, to a trial-and-error trip. I was able to learn what worked and didn’t work, and along the way, I kept notes that I hoped to share with the world later. 

Prior to setting this goal, I had never worried about my backpacking waste. I was so low waste in the rest of my life, that I allowed backpacking to be the “exception, not the rule.” Backpacking is supposed to be fast and light, which often meant dehydrated, processed food, in non-recyclable packaging. It meant eating muesli bars and “treat-yo-self” style snacks. But now, I wanted to see if I could shift away from this wasteful lifestyle. I wanted to stop cutting myself slack. I wanted to see if I could make the change and still be fast and light. 

The irony that I considered myself an environmentally-conscious person except when I was camping, hiking, or backpacking in nature, was not lost on me either. In hindsight, it seems amazing I was consuming so much waste in the very environment I was trying to protect. I don’t think I am alone in this proclivity, which is why I am here to share my top seven tips for producing less waste while backpacking. 

1. Dehydrate Your Own food

Dehydrating my own food is probably the most significant thing I did to keep my backpacking trip zero waste. It’s one of the best ways to build a sustainable backpacking food plan. This was one hundred percent new to me, so there was a lot of reading and You-Tube video watching. Buying the ingredients, cooking them from scratch, and dehydrating them myself was both cheaper and healthier, it felt good knowing what was really in my food. These are two luxuries you don’t often get when you buy the packaged dehydrated meals. 

Dehydrating your food is one of the most important tips for zero waste backpacking

Dehydrating does take a very long time. Each session can take anywhere between six and twelve hours. Because of this, I was only able to prepare half of my meals and snacks for the trail this way. I ended up with three vegan risotto’s, three vegan Bolognese, and four chili’s for dinner meals. I also dehydrated lots of fruit, like bananas, apples, pineapples, and strawberries.

2. Choose Sustainable Food Containers

It took a while to figure out how I could package the dehydrated meals. It was important to me to be as light as possible and to be able to seal hot water in the container, to rehydrate the food. 

I landed on using silicone-resealable bags. Silicone is able to withstand extreme-heat, which meant I could pour boiling water directly inside of them to rehydrate the food. The plus-side of using silicone bags was that I could re-use and keep them for the rest of my life. The disadvantage was that they were 3 ounces (100g) heavier than pre-packaged meals. They seal nicely, but depending on how long your hike is, I think you could even get away with packaging the meals in cloth produce bags or paper bags instead. They could then be rehydrated in a covered pot. 

Resealable Silicon Bags for a Zero-Waste Backpacking trip

3. Buy Supplies from Environmentally-Friendly Companies

Purely due to time constraints, I was only able to prepare half of my meals and snacks using the dehydration method. For the other half of my meals, I opted for packaged dehydrated meals. However, instead of buying the cheapest brand on the market, I did my research and sought out one that was doing good things for the environment. The brand, Good-to-Go”, is made by a chef and fellow backpacker in Maine. She uses whole foods and sources local ingredients as much as possible. Although it was more expensive, I asked myself, “What is the true cost, if the cheaper options are worse for the environment?”. The answer was simple. I was happy to support this business.

4. Buy Snacks and Meals in Bulk

Most plastic produced while backpacking comes from our food, which is why the first few zero-waste backpacking tips are focused on sustainable backpacking food tips. I was able to avoid a lot of plastic by buying food in bulk and storing it in cloth produce bags and brown paper bags. For breakfasts, I ate granola and oatmeal, and for lunch I had banana peanut butter wraps. For snacks, I had a range: sour patch kids, chocolate-covered pretzels, trailmix, and date balls. All of these items, I bought in bulk. 

Buying in bulk for your sustainable backpacking trip

Before the hike, I was able to stock up for my first five days with these bulk items from Whole Foods. And yes, I was even able to get peanut butter in bulk. At Whole Foods, they offer “grind-your-own peanut butter.” Luckily, backpacking in Vermont, a typically “green” state, I was able to re-stock my bulk snacks along the way at organic shops and grocery stores. I even got to refill my peanut butter at another “grind-your-own peanut butter” station in one of the organic shops, what a score!

It really is amazing how much plastic you can avoid if you take the time to look and think about your packaging. Eventually, it just becomes the norm.

5. Choose a Sustainable Water Bottle and Filter

Most people who are focused on ultralight backpacking buy plastic Smart Water bottles because they pair nicely with the Sawyer filter, making a lightweight combo-deal. But there are plenty of sustainable alternatives that will bring you closer to zero-waste backpacking.

A stainless steel water bottle is the most sustainable choice

I think you’ll find, a Platypus Bladder paired with a Steri-pen Filter results in only a 4-ounce difference, and is faster, more reliable, and better for the environment. 

A stainless-steel bottle is a great way to avoid buying those cheap plastic “Smart Waters”.  A stainless-steel bottle will not only avoid microplastics leaching into the environment, but unlike plastic water bottles, they are truly recyclable once you are done using them. The topic of hydration on the trail is hotly debated within the backpacking community, so read more in my full review of the most sustainable water set-up on the trail.

6. Switch to a Bamboo Toothbrush

This one doesn’t need much explanation. Switching to a bamboo toothbrush far more environmentally friendly than using a plastic toothbrush. You can still cut it down to size, if you are looking to save weight too. These can be easily found online and in stores.

7. Always Use Matches over Lighters

Matches are made of wood and come in cardboard boxes, making them environmentally friendly. They will break-down after use and will not pollute the environment. Lighters, on the other hand, litter coastlines. Birds, especially albatrosses, consume them thinking they are food and eventually die to too much plastic consumption. Like the toothbrush, this is a very easy switch. The only challenge that comes with using matches is keeping them waterproof, but that is entirely manageable. Another good option could be a refillable zippo. Just ditch those plastic lighters! 

Trying to reduce the weight of your pack and wondering if you can ditch the cooking equipment? Especially for long multi-day hikes, every ounce counts! Although some people believe the ritual of making a meal at the end of the day is worth the weight of cooking equipment, our recipes guarantee you won’t miss out on any comfort when backpacking without a stove. The secret is using the cold soak method to rehydrate dry ingredients. Here’s a list of stoveless backpacking meals that will help you feel as if you’re ‘cooking’ on the trail – without the added weight of extra gear.

DIY Backpacking Meals Using the Cold Soak Method

‘Cold soaking’ is the process of rehydrating food using nothing but, you guessed it, cold water. Without heat, the rehydration process takes more time, so before you start each day, mix the dry ingredients with cold water in a container and carry it in your pack so that it’s ready to go by mealtime.

An ultralight backpacking pro-tip is to prepare the dry ingredients for each cold soak recipe in individual plastic bags before you start your trip. You can cold soak your DIY backpacking meals directly in each pre-measured bag, which saves time on the trail and reduces the weight of extra food packaging.

Cold Soak Food Prep when backpacking without a stove

Photo by Dave W. from Facebook

Cold Soak Staple Ingredients

The following ingredients serve as the building blocks of all cold soak backpacking meals. You can follow our recipes when you’re first getting started, but over time you’ll likely come up with some specialties of your own. You can find most of these ingredients in grocery stores or camping supply shops, but we’ve linked to more specialized ingredients that can be found on Amazon.

Cold Soak Recipes for Breakfast

A standard cold soak breakfast starts with oatmeal or muesli. These nutrient-dense staples are a part of every hiker’s menu because they provide sustained energy. And there’s something so comforting about starting your day with a nice bowl of oatmeal porridge! Mix everything the night before so that it’s ready to go by breakfast.

Mix and Match Oatmeal

  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • 1 TBS powdered milk
  • ⅓ cup dried fruit
  • Add cereal or granola after cold soaking

Overnight Oats

  • ¼ cup steel oats
  • 14 banana chips
  • ⅓ cup dried cranberries or raisins
  • 3 tsp cacao nibs
  • 1 scoop powdered soy milk

Muesli Coconut Power Breakfast

  • ¼ cup nut/seed muesli
  • ⅓ cup dried fruit
  • 1 TBS shredded coconut
  • 1 tsp coconut milk powder
  • 1 scoop protein powder

Cold Soak Couscous Recipes

Pearl couscous is a staple ingredient for cold soak backpacking meals because it rehydrates easily, even with cold water. The combinations are endless with couscous, so feel free to get creative! It’s a great base for a vegetarian meal, or you can throw in some dehydrated meat. Here are a few cold soak couscous recipes to get you started:

Salmon and Couscous

Vegan Curry Couscous

Instant Potato DIY Backpacking Meals

Some would argue that instant mashed potatoes are almost indistinguishable from the real thing! Mashed potatoes are a traditional comfort food and can be mixed with a variety of ingredients. We found this recipe for Thanksgiving Dinner in a Cup a few years ago, and it’s one of the meals we look forward to on the trail. It’s crave-worthy!

Thanksgiving Dinner in a Cup

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Add mayonnaise for max calories and creaminess
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • S&P to taste
  • Optional: shredded Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast

Ramen Noodle Cold Soak Recipes

Ramen noodles: the staple of college students and seasoned backpackers. The noodles rehydrate easily and make the perfect foundation for a filling meal at the end of a long day. Over the years, the backpacking community has created some delicious cold soak meals which elevate basic ramen noodles to the next level.

Ramen Noodle Pad Thai

Pesto Noodles

  • Ramen noodles without seasoning packet
  • .8 oz sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 olive oil packet
  • .1 oz garlic powder
  • lots of dried basil
  • .1 oz Parmesan cheese

Noodles & Peanut Sauce

Cold Soak Recipes with Dehydrated Beans or Lentils

A great source of protein, dehydrated beans and lentils make an ideal base for stoveless backpacking meals. And you can add lots of spices to beans, which means that your DIY backpacking meals will be anything but bland. Make sure you are buying dehydrated beans or lentils that have been precooked, not just raw dry beans or lentils. 

Taco Casserole

Vegan Curry Lentils

Instant Rice Stoveless Backpacking Meals

Instant rice is another great base for delicious meals without a stove. Again, the possibilities are endless, but here are some classic cold soak recipes from the backpacking community:

Cheesy Broccoli Rice

Frito Pie

  • 2 oz instant refried beans
  • 1.5 oz minute rice
  • .2 oz taco seasoning
  • 1 oz Fritos
  • 1 oz extra sharp cheddar

Rice Curry

Using Grits for Stoveless Backpacking Meals

Grits belong on any meal plan for backpacking without a stove. They can be used in a breakfast mix or as the foundation in this creamy polenta recipe:

Polenta & Peppers

  • 2.5 oz grits
  • 0.75 oz dehydrated peppers
  • 0.5 oz tomato powder
  • 0.1 oz garlic powder
  • 1-2 olive oil packets

Tortilla Wraps – Ideal for a Backpacking Lunch

Super versatile, nutrient-dense, and lightweight, a pack of tortillas is a great base for many types of DIY backpacking meals.

Veggie and Hummus Tortilla

  • You can use raw veggies and real hummus, or you can cold-soak dehydrated veggies and hummus powder.

Tortilla with sliced meat and cheese

  • Feel free to use sliced meat and cheese, or you can cold soak dehydrated meat for an ultralight backpacking meal

Tortilla with peanut butter, banana, dried fruit, cinnamon

  • To keep it lightweight, bring dried fruit, banana chips, and powdered peanut butter that you can cold soak during the day.

High-Nutrition Snacks for Stoveless Backpackers

Having lots of options for a snack on the go will keep you satiated so that stopping to eat isn’t a big demand on your time.

  • Dried fruit that has been cold soaked – having juicy pineapple on the trail is so refreshing
  • Nuts
  • Bars
  • Dried fruits
  • Chips
  • Chocolate
  • Beef jerky
  • Powdered hummus

Pre-Trip Prep: Cold Soak Essential Gear

While backpacking without a stove will reduce the gear that you carry on your back, there is some important gear that will come in handy during the planning phase of your trip.

Sample Pack of Dehydrated Veggies

If you’re interested in making DIY backpacking meals and prefer to experiment with a variety of dehydrated ingredients, a great starting point is to get a sampler kit with various ingredients. You can mix and match ingredients to create your own meals, or just add a scoop of healthy veggies to a pre-made freeze-dried meal. This food sampler from Harmony House includes a variety of beans, dehydrated veggies, and meatless options for vegetarian meals. The pack comes with easy-to-follow recipes and allows you to incorporate a variety of different ingredients in your backpacking menu.

Another option is this freeze-dried fruit and veggie kit that comes with freeze-dried strawberries, bananas, peas, broccoli, and corn. There are 120 servings in the kit, and you just need to add water to rehydrate. 

Food Dehydrator

Most of the dry ingredients required for these cold soak meals can be found at camping supply stores. However, specialized dehydrated ingredients can be pricey. Investing in a low-cost dehydrator will help you save money in the long run and will allow you to get creative with your ingredients and DIY backpacking meals. This food dehydrator comes highly recommended by fellow backpackers and can be found on Amazon for around $50. Or if you know you’ll be relying on dehydrated backpacking meals and want to get a more robust machine, this food dehydrator from Cosori comes highly recommended.

Low-Cost Dehydrator – Available on Amazon

Premium Food Dehydrator – Available on Amazon

Digital Scale

Anyone focused on ultralight backpacking is obsessive about the weight of everything in their pack. This also applies to every ingredient in their food supply, which is why recipes for most DIY backpacking meals give measurements in ounces. Instead of doing all the work to convert ounces to standard kitchen measuring volumes, do yourself a favor and invest in a cheap digital kitchen scale. We have this scale which is under $15.

Available on Amazon

Not ready to give up the heat?

For some, cooking on the trail is part of the joy of backpacking. The recipes above are all possible to make with hot water – if you have a lightweight stove with you, you can just heat the water and mix once you’ve set up camp for the night. 

This lightweight backpacking stove is under $20 and is popular among the Ultralight Backpacker community. It’s compact and weighs just .96 ounces (25 grams), but don’t forget to factor in the weight of fuel and a cooking vessel.

Available on Amazon


Do you have any tried and true backpacking meals? Add them in the comments! And be sure to check out our other blog posts for more gear recommendations.

2020 has been a rough year for avid travelers, but 2021 offers lots of hope that we will all get out there again! This holiday season, explore our list of backpacking gifts for the travel lovers in your life while they dream of future adventures. Any one of these travel and backpacking gadgets will help get them excited for the day when they can safely hit the road again.

Backpacking Gifts Under $20

Any item from this list would make a great stand-alone gift or stocking stuffer. Or, why not create your own gift basket full of useful travel and backpacking gadgets for the savvy backpacker in your life?

1. Sleeping Bag Liner – One of our favorite backpacking gifts – washable, compact, and soft. We’ve loved having these in hostels and guest houses just to ensure hygienic peace of mind. Plus – these handy liners mean that your sleeping bag will stay clean since you can just remove the liner and throw it in the wash. This version is silky soft and stays durable after washing.

2. Portable Phone Tripod with Remote – Looking for that perfect travel gadget for the solo traveler in your life? This tripod can be used as a mini selfie stick or to capture a solo shot in the midst of an awesome backdrop. Plus, this tripod will help them capture the perfect night shot, which requires that the camera is perfectly still. This version has adjustable legs plus a Bluetooth remote to snap pics from afar.

Backpacking gifts for solo travelers

3. Waterproof phone case – Great for the traveler who enjoys the great outdoors– rain or shine.  Some waterproof cases are advanced enough that they allow you to take underwater pictures. This universal waterproof case fits all varieties of smartphones and keeps phones perfectly dry, even underwater.

4. Scarf with hidden zipper pocket – When we first learned about hidden pocket scarves, we were thrilled to finally leave the old-fashioned travel belt behind! A hidden pocket scarf is a stylish decoy and is even more subtle than the traditional travel belt. We love this one with two well-concealed pockets and a variety of colors and patterns to choose from.

5. Door Stop Security Alarm – Help ensure peace of mind with this doorstop alarm. If the door is opened unexpectedly, an alarm will sound. This one is an affordable and high-quality version.

6. Quick-dry Travel Towel – A quick-dry towel is an essential item on any travel packing list. Help get their travel kit started with this budget-friendly but high-quality option. This version includes 3 various sizes, perfect for camping, hiking, or long backpacking trips.
7. Portable Luggage Scale – On more than one occasion, we have been desperate to calculate our luggage weight before the airport to avoid excessive baggage fees. A portable luggage scale has solved our problems and prevented us from frantically reshuffling our luggage items in the airport departure hall! This version by etekcity has never failed us.
A travel scale - one of the most essential backpacking gifts

Mid-Range Travel & Backpacking Gifts ($20-$50)

8. Portable Power BankIt’s a backpacker’s worst nightmare: scrambling to find the hostel address while your phone’s battery slowly ticks lower and lower. An external power source is one of the most useful gadgets for travel lovers. The Anker Power Core 10000 is our favorite in terms of power capacity and compact size.

9. Scratch Off World MapHelp the world traveler in your life display their past adventures and get inspiration for where to head next. We have had this one hanging in our living room for years and love taking it down to commemorate when we travel to new places.
Scratch-off map, a fun backpacker gift

10. Travel Size First Aid Kit – For minor injuries, a travel-sized first aid kit is a practical and savvy choice. This one has the most bang for your buck in terms of items, affordable price, and compact size

11. Sleep Eye MaskWe wouldn’t dream of boarding an international flight without our own personal sleep mask. It makes all the difference when it comes to avoiding jet lag and adjusting to new time zones. It blocks out light and helps us achieve deep sleep – even when our airplane seat neighbor insists on staying up all night watching movies. This version comfortably wraps around your head and even includes a travel pouch.

12. Adjustable Travel PillowThe next generation of airplane pillows, this one is made with memory foam and can be molded into different shapes to be used for your neck, lumbar, or leg support. The cover is removable and washable, making it one of the best backpacking gifts.
Practical backpacking gift - a neck pillow for long journeys

13. Outdoor Bluetooth SpeakerWe love this version which has a 100-foot wireless range, and which produces crystal-clear stereo sound.

14. Books to inspire travel – While the COVID pandemic still lingers, help soothe their Wanderlust with a travel-themed book like National Geographic Destinations of a Lifetime, or 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. These also make gorgeous coffee table books to display their love for travel when the backpacker in your life is just relaxing at home.

15. Lifestraw Water Filterspractical for camping, hiking, or traveling in places without safe drinking water. The lifestraw is a light-weight but life-saving addition to any backpacking kit.
Lifestraw - a potentialls life-saving backpacker gift

High-End Travel Gadgets for Backpackers

16. Apple Air Podsdefinitely on the pricey side but one of the newest travel gadgets for backpackers and digital nomads who don’t want to have to deal with a mess of cables on the road.

17. Wireless HotspotThis 4G/LTE portable wireless hotspot is perfect for the digital nomad, travel blogger, or offroad adventure.

18. Kindle Paperwhite1 Kindle can replace over 10,000 books. Your backpacker can load up thousands of titles, from casual reads to pass the long journeys, or travel guides. When space is essential, a kindle can be one of the most valuable items in their pack. This listing on amazon comes with a stylish leather cover in a variety of colors.
Practical backpacking gift - an e-reader!

19. Noise-cancelling headphones – The plane, train, or bus journey is sometimes the only chance a hard-core backpacker has to relax and recharge while on the road. These high-quality noise-cancelling headphones come in handy on long journeys when you just want to zone out.

20. DSLR Camera – One of the best starter DSLR cameras, this Lumix version is the top-rated model among amateur photographers. It is compact and packs a punch in terms of features, which can help the backpacker in your life take their travel photos to the next level.

Ultimate backpacking gift - a DSLR camera

 

21. Beginner’s Travel Telescope – Or the best gift of all during quarantine, a telescope to explore the night sky. This highly recommended amateur star-gazer model might help soothe the earthly wanderlust by allowing your backpacker to explore the craters of the moon, the moons of Jupiter, or the rings of Saturn.

22. GoPro Camera – One of the ultimate travel gifts for backpackers, a GoPro camera is still the preferred way to document adventures among the travel community. The durable and compact GoPro cameras produce high-quality images and videos that can capture intense activities from sky diving to deep-sea diving.

And the Best Gift for Backpackers: The Gift of Future Travel!

23. Travel Gift Certificate: Give the gift of future travel to the backpacker in your life by giving them a gift card to use on Get Your Guide, a tour and activity company that offers 35,000+ different experiences around the globe. The travel gift card is valid for up to 3 years from the date of purchase and can be redeemed for any of the experiences on Get Your Guide’s site for any time in the future when travel and backpacking become possible again!

Have you Caught the Travel Bug Yet?

If just scanning this list has gotten you excited to get out there and travel yourself, browse our extensive list of country guides for ideas on where to go next. Or scan our blog for inspirational travel itineraries, budget tips, and more!