If you’re just starting out with a backpacking hobby, one of the first things you’ll need to purchase is a lightweight tent. Having the right tent can make or break your trip (and break your back in the process!) so this guide will help give you an understanding of all the factors involved when picking a backpacking tent.

The most important factors to consider when wondering how to choose a tent when backpacking on a budget include:

1. The weight of the tent

Consider weight when choosing a budget backpacking tent

Keeping the weight of your pack low is important if you are walking long distances each day or taking the tent camping.  Even though you might think a few ounces might not make a difference, it can add up over the course of a few days or weeks of backpacking. This is why so many ultralight backpackers are picky over every last ounce.

For most backpackers, the tent that you choose will be one of the heaviest items they are carrying, with the others being the backpack itself and a sleeping bag.  If you can shave off a few ounces on the weight of your tent, you will find it easier to walk long distances and you will enjoy your time backpacking much more.

2. The type of materials used

The materials used to make a backpacking tent are important as they will determine how durable, lightweight and waterproof the tent is.  When you are looking at backpacking tents, you will often see the material descriptions like:  20D x 200T ripstop nylon 2000mm Durashield™ polyurethane & silicone.  This is clearly confusing for a person who is wondering how to choose a tent for backpacking for the first time!  Let’s break this down into each component:

  • “20D” is this tent’s Denier rating
    The denier rating is used to describe the thickness and durability of material.  It represents the thickness of each fibre within the fabric.  1 denier is about the thickness of a silk strand, so a 20D fabric has strands that are as thick as 20 strands of silk woven together.  Fabrics that have a higher denier rating will be thicker and more water resistance as water droplets will find it harder to push through.
  • 200T” is the thread count
    The thread count is the number of horizontal and vertical threads per square inch.  The higher the thread count, the softer and more pliable the material is.  The materials used to make tents will have a denier and thread count that provides the most durability, pliability, and water resistance.
  • “2000mm Durashield™ polyurethane & silicone” is the fabric’s coating
    The last component refers to the water-resistant coating that is applied to the tent’s materials.  In this case, it is a 2000mm thick coating that consists of polyurethane and silicone.  In most cases, a thicker coating will result in a more waterproof tent.  Durashield™ is a brand name for the coating that is applied to the tent.

When looking at each tent, remember to compare the denier, thread count, and coating thickness to determine how water-resistant and durable it is.

3. Interior space

Interior Space is a consideration when buying a backpacking tent

Most lightweight backpacking tents are intentionally designed to be on the smaller side.  However, they always should provide enough room for you to comfortably stretch out and to store your backpack inside the tent.

It is common for 1-person backpacking tents to have an unusual shape that provides you with sleeping space and vestibules for placing your backpack.  This is done to minimize the size of the tent when it is folded up. 

One important consideration to keep in mind when comparing the size of tents is the maximum height.  Make sure you choose a backpacking tent that you can sit in cross-legged without your head hitting the ceiling.

4. Season rating’s for backpacking tents

Modern tents often provide a season rating, which refers to how many seasons the tent can be used outdoors.  The most common season rating for a budget backpacking tent is 3, which means the tent can be used in Spring, Summer, and Autumn.

Check the season rating when choosing a backpacking tent

Ultralight or lightweight backpacking tents usually have a 3 season rating because they are designed to be low weight, which often means they are made from thinner materials.  This reduces the amount of protection that you would have in colder climates.  You can find 4 season backpacking tents, but they will usually be on the heavier side.

5. Protection from the elements

Tents will never provide as much protection from the elements as staying indoors, but they should at the very least keep you dry and provide some shade.  Even a typical backpacking tent will be water-resistant, but the level of water resistance they provide can vary.

The best modern backpacking tents will have a polyurethane hydrophobic coating on the tent’s exterior.  However, the thickness of the coating can vary and will usually be between 2000mm and 5000mm. 

If you are concerned about water entering the tent, choose a backpacking tent with a thicker coating.  Also, look for a tent with a “bathtub” floor.  This kind of floor goes above the ground and covers the bottom of the tent, providing protection from water that might penetrate the sides of the tent.

Another important consideration is UV protection.  Some cheap tents use material so thin that UV light can penetrate, causing you to get sunburned even when you are sitting in your tent all day!  High-quality tents usually use thicker materials with a higher thread count, which reduces the amount of light entering the tent.

Finally, think about the creepy crawlies.  Does the tent have fly screens on any windows?  Most high-quality backpacking tents will have two layers, an inner mesh layer, surrounded by a waterproof layer to keep you dry.  If you are visiting a region known for its mosquitos, make sure you choose a backpacking tent that has excellent bug-proofing.

6. Size of the tent when packed

When you are backpacking you will find yourself taking your backpack into many different environments.  You may find yourself hiking for long periods, using public transport, or trying to fit your backpack into a locker for temporary storage.

It is much easier to handle your backpack if it is smaller in size.  This means that having a tent that collapses into a small package when packed can be very advantageous.  Most of the best backpacking tents will indicate the packed size in their description, so keep this factor in mind when comparing tents.

7. Price of backpacking tent

Most people go backpacking for two reasons — they have the freedom to choose where they travel and it is a cheaper way to travel.  If you are backpacking because it is cheaper, then your budget will be a big factor when deciding how to choose a tent.

Fortunately, it is possible to get a budget backpacking tent that is still very high quality.  Saving money on your tent will give you room in the budget to buy a great pair of hiking boots or some high-quality clothes that will survive life on the road.

8. Tent pitching time

If you are often on the move while backpacking, you may find yourself setting up and packing your tent every day.  This can eventually become tiresome if your tent has a complicated pitching process.  Look for a lightweight backpacking tent that only has a small number of components and can be pitched in a matter of minutes.

9. The functionality of the tent

The best backpacking tents will usually have useful functionality like interior pockets, rain flies, and even LED lights.  Compare the additional functionality that each tent offers and have a think about what you would use on a tent.

10. Durability and strength of the tent

The durability of a tent really comes down to the quality of its materials and the construction techniques that are used.  In addition to the fabric used to make the tent, you should consider the types of zippers and fasteners used. 

The quality of the tent pegs and poles can also be an important factor, as low-quality parts will bend or break more easily.  In terms of construction, look for tents that feature double or triple stitching as they will have much stronger seams.

11. Interior capacity

One person backpacking tent

Should you get a one or two-person tent?  Even if you are the only person using the tent, you might enjoy having a little extra room available to move around or store your things. 

Most 2 person backpacking tents are only a pound heavier than a 1 person backpacking tent, so there isn’t much difference in terms of weight.  Additionally, you never know when you might meet someone who wants to share your tent!

12. Wall construction

When exploring how to choose the best budget backpacking tent, be sure to look for one that is double walled.  This kind of tent has an inner mesh shell surrounded by a rainfly.  Having these two layers separated creates a moisture barrier that will keep you dry in wet weather.

13. The number of doors

If you are going for a two-person tent, consider getting one with 2 doors and 2 vestibules.  This will make it easier to get into and out of the tent, and each person will have their own section for storing their backpack.

14. Footprints

The floor must be the most durable part of a backpacking tent as it is constantly stepped on and often sits on sharp objects.  That’s the reason why the best backpacking tents have thicker material on the floor.  The floor also needs to have stronger waterproofing as it is often exposed to water for long periods.

Some backpacking tents will come with a footprint.  It is an additional piece of plastic that covers the bottom of the tent to protect it.  If you think your tent will be used in locations with rough terrain, choose a backpacking tent with a footprint.


We hope this was helpful! The good news is that we’ve done the work to figure out the best backpacking tent, taking all of the above considerations into account. If you’re in the market for backpacking tents, be sure to check out our recommendations for the best backpacking tents.

Whether you’re just getting started with your backpacking hobby or have already explored the great backpacking routes of the world, you may have realized that something is lacking in the world of packaged backpacking food. Either they’re too expensive, too bland, or too artificial. The good news is that making your own DIY dehydrated backpacking meals is not as complicated as it seems!

There are generally 2 approaches to assembling a DIY dehydrated meal. The first option is to simply cook the meal at home, dehydrate it and then rehydrate on the trail. The other option is to assemble a meal made from individual dehydrated or freeze-dried ingredients.

Both methods have their pros and cons, so we usually bring a combination of meal types on the trail with us. Read on for tips and tricks on how to make your own DIY backpacking meals

Method #1: Dehydrate a Home-Cooked Recipe

Dehydrating a dish that you can make at home is generally the most fool-proof and inexpensive way to go. It doesn’t require you to buy individually dehydrated or freeze-dried ingredients, it just requires your own kitchen equipment plus a good food dehydrator.

With this method, you can control the taste of the recipe before your trip, so you won’t be unpleasantly surprised when you’re ravenous on the trail.

Dehydrating Your own Home-Cooked Meals

Dehydrating Your own Home-Cooked Food for Backpacking

The simplest way to get started with dehydrating your own backpacking meals is to brainstorm a few of your favorite dishes that you can fully cook at home. The best DIY dehydrated meals will be sauce-based and full of hearty ingredients. Stews, pasta, and casseroles work best for this method.

After cooking the meal, you will dehydrate the mixture using a food dehydrator. Once the mixture is fully dehydrated, you will crumble it into uniformly-small pieces, and pack it in a ziplock bag for the trail.

To rehydrate on the trail, all you need is a lightweight camping stove, water, and a cooking vessel!

Cooking your own food at home is the easiest method in terms of simplicity, but it’s by far a more time-consuming option. Not only do you have to cook everything at home first, but dehydrating the final mixture at home can take up to half a day per portion. 

For a week-long trip, you might need to start weeks before you embark on your trip, depending on how many meals you plan to bring with you. If you have the time, we say go for it! 

Pro-Tips for Preparing and Dehydrating Full Meals at Home

The good news for those interested in DIY dehydrated backpacking meals, is that it’s really not rocket science. However, there are a few adjustments you should follow to make sure the DIY dehydrated meal will dehydrate and rehydrate properly.

  1. Don’t use butter or oil when cooking! Doing so will cause problems during the dehydration process. Cook with a little bit of water in the pan only. If you want to add some fat to the recipe, you can bring olive oil packets or powdered butter and add it later to the recipe on the trail when you rehydrate the meal.
  2. Use plenty of seasoning. Dehydration will reduce the flavor, so add more seasoning than you normally would, to give the food a robust flavor on the trail.
  3. If the recipe includes ground meat, combine it first with plenty of breadcrumbs and seasoning before adding it to the overall recipe. This will help with the rehydration and help prevent the dreaded crunchy or grainy rehydrated meat. 
  4. If the recipe includes noodles, chop them into small pieces once they’re cooked. This will help them dehydrate and rehydrate uniformly.
  5. Let your finished recipe sit overnight in the fridge before dehydrating it. This will give it time to let the flavors combine, and will allow ingredients like pasta or rice absorb the sauce and flavors.

At-Home Equipment for DIY Dehydrated Backpacking Meals: A Food Dehydrator

The only extra equipment you’ll need for this method is a food dehydrator. There are plenty of low-cost dehydrators available on amazon which will certainly do the trick.

If you’re going on a longer trip or know that you’ll be using the food dehydrator many times in the future, you might want to invest in a larger, more high-quality machine. We have this food dehydrator from Cosori and consider it essential backpacker equipment.

Method #2: Assembling Meals using Dehydrated or Freeze-Dried Ingredients

DIY Backpacking Meals

DIY dehydrated backpacking meals

With this method, you will combine various dehydrated or freeze-dried ingredients, and rehydrate them together on the trail to make a complete meal. If you have a variety of freeze-dried or dehydrated ingredients on hand, the combinations are endless!

You can still go the full DIY route by dehydrating individual ingredients using a food dehydrator, or you can purchase the dehydrated ingredients in most grocery stores and camping supply stores.

If you plan to make a variety of backpacking meals, you can even purchase sampler kits full of dehydrated ingredients. This food sampler from Harmony House includes a variety of beans, dehydrated veggies, and meatless options for vegetarian meals.

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. 

At-Home Equipment for DIY Dehydrated Backpacking Meals

1. Food Dehydrator

Most of the dry ingredients required for these dehydrated meals can be found at camping supply stores. However, specialized dehydrated ingredients can be pricey, so you might want to dehydrate the ingredients yourself.

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 dehydrated 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 food and want to get a more robust machine, this food dehydrator from Cosori comes highly recommended.

2. Freeze-Dried or dehydrated ingredient sampler pack

To get started with a variety of meal options, you can start with this food sampler from Harmony House.  It comes with a variety of beans, dehydrated veggies, and meatless options for vegetarian meals.

For freeze-dried ingredients, start with this freeze-dried fruit and veggie kit. There are 120 servings in the kit, so you’re bound to be able to come up with some exciting backpacking recipes.

Dehydrated or Freeze-Dried Ingredients

The staple of DIY backpacking food is a good sampling of freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients. There are pros and cons to both ingredients. In a nutshell, freeze-dried wins over dehydrated in terms of nutrition, shelf-life, and texture, but it comes at a high cost! If you’re interested, you can learn more in our write-up about the difference between dehydrated vs. freeze-dried ingredients.

After you assemble a good collection of ingredients, you can basically throw things together as you would when cooking your typical dinner at home! Here are some staple ingredients to get you started:

Freeze-Dried or Dehydrated Meat & Meat Alternatives

Dehydrated Beans

Make sure you buy beans that have been cooked and then dehydrated or freeze-dried! If you just buy plain dried beans, they will not have been cooked, and will not hydrate properly in a meal.

Grains

  • Dry couscous (you can use normal dried couscous in recipes that you plan to rehydrate for at least 10 minutes)
  • Dehydrated rice (Knorr Minute Rice sides are a staple for all backpackers)

Dehydrated and freeze-dried vegetables

Add Flavor

For creating a variety of flavors, there are a few versatile ingredients that will come in handy for your DIY backpacking food

DIY Dehydrated Backpacking Meal Recipes

Luckily there are gourmet-loving backpackers out there who have come up with lots of delicious options. When preparing the mixture, it’s best if you stick to either dehydrated or freeze-dried components within one recipe. It is technically possible to mix and match, but then you’ll have keep an eye on the rehydration time for each ingredient.

As a general rule of thumb, freeze-dried ingredients take around 5 minutes to rehydrate, while dehydrated ingredients can take between 10-20 minutes.

Chili con Carne

Curry with different types of meat

  • Freeze-dried or dehydrated meat of choice (see above)
  • Freeze-dried or dehydrated veggies of choice (see above)
  • Knorr’s minute rice
  • Curry, Coriander, and Cumin powder

Chicken Fajitas

Thanksgiving-inspired Meal

Pad Thai

How to Cook your DIY Dehydrated Backpacking Meals on the Trail

How to cook DIY Backpacking Meals on the Trail

How to cook DIY Dehydrated Backpacking Meals on the Trail

Regardless of which method you chose, the cooking process is generally the same. Since these are all ‘just add water’ dehydrated backpacking meals, the only cooking equipment you really need is a device to boil water and a cooking vessel. 

Lightweight Camping Stove

The most popular camping stove among backpackers is the Jetboil Stove. We don’t go backpacking without it. It’s lightweight, compact, and simple. It comes with a simple burner and a vessel for preparing boiling water.

Another option is 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.

A Cooking Vessel

Rehydrating is a lot different from cooking on the trail. Theoretically, you could rehydrate your meals over a campfire in a camping pot, but as rehydration can take up to 20 minutes, this would use a lot of fuel. It’s much more energy efficient to boil the water, add it to your mixture, and then let the mixture soak and rehydrate.

Once you’ve boiled your water, combine it with the dehydrated meal in a heat-tolerant cooking vessel. The vessel should be sealable in order to retain as much heat as possible during the rehydration process. There are a few different cooking vessel option, each with their own pros and cons, so you’ll have to decide based on your preference.

  1. Mylar bags – Heat-tolerant Mylar bags are a great lightweight option. You can use them to transport each meal, and then just add boiling water directly to the ingredients when on the trail. These bags can tolerate boiling water, are resealable, washable, and reusable. Since rehydration usually takes at least 20 minutes, the Mylar bags are great at retaining the heat during this time.
    • Pros: affordable, convenient, and good for ultralight backpacking
    • Cons: Plastic, difficult to wash and reuse
  2. Resealable silicone bags – These are reusable, easy to clean, and durable enough to last multiple backpacking trips. When using the silicone bags to transport the dry food, be sure to add oxygen-absorbing moisture packets to keep the dry ingredients stable.
    • Pros: Reusable, sustainable option
    • Cons: Expensive, not the most lightweight option
  3. Freezer bagsThis is the extreme ultralight backpacker’s method. You can transport the dry mixtures in freezer bags and just add boiling water directly to the freezer bags. If you go the freezer bag route, it’s important that you wrap it in an insulating bag to retain heat during rehydration. Some people even make a DIY coozie out of a car windshield shield!
    • Pros: Cheap and easy to find in the grocery store, ultralight
    • Cons: Not as sturdy, difficult to eat out of. Plus, conflicting opinions about how safe it is to heat plastic for food consumption
  4. Stainless steel camping pot with lid
    • Pros: Environmentally friendly option, healthier than cooking in Ziplock bags, gives the feeling of really cooking on the trail
    • Cons: Added weight

The cook time will vary depending on the type of ingredient. The general rule of thumb is that freeze-dried meals take around 5 minutes to rehydrate, while dehydrated meals will take 10-20 minutes.

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!