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Backpacking is a great way to stay active without getting bored — every trail provides something new and exciting. However, it’s easy to burn thousands of calories each day when you’re on the trail, especially if you’re taking on rough terrain.

Needless to say, most backpackers recognize the importance of staying properly fueled. However, if you are backpacking with dietary restrictions, that might seem easier said than done. Things like food allergies or sensitivities can make it hard to get the calories you need to keep going on a long hike.

Thankfully, it’s not impossible to get the right nutrients and fuel your body in healthy, effective, and efficient ways. Learning how to do so can make each experience more fulfilling and enriching, so you can focus on your surroundings instead of your grumbling stomach. Let’s take a look at how you can maintain your strength and energy on long backpacking hikes, even if you have to deal with dietary restrictions.

Plan the Perfect Trip

Packing snacks for the trail can be easy enough, even if you go with the same “stand by” snacks every time. However, unless you’re camping after a hike, the most important way to keep yourself properly fueled is by eating a healthy meal before you hit the trail and after you’re done.

So, it’s a good rule of thumb to choose backpacking locations that are surrounded by places that fit your dietary needs. For example, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’ll be easier for you to find healthy, filling options in trails close to cities that cater to plant-based diets. Some of the best areas in the country for plant-based tourists include:

  • Portland, Oregon
  • Austin, Texas
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Chicago, Illinois

Backpacking should be fun and exciting. It’s all about exploration and discovery. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the perks of “city life” while you’re on your trip. While backpacking, search for local restaurants that cater to your dietary needs, and you’ll have an easier time fueling up and recharging.

Understand Backpacking Food Basics

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or you’re hitting the trail for the first time, you probably understand how important it is to have enough food with you. However, far too many backpackers make the mistake of not packing enough nutrient-dense items. There are some essential rules to follow when it comes to backpacking food basics, including:

  • Choosing shelf-stable ingredients;
  • Packing plenty of lightweight food, including freeze-dried and dehydrated items;
  • Packing calorie-dense items;
  • Understanding cooking times.

The more you understand how to pack your food efficiently, the easier it will be to pack snacks and meals that meet your caloric needs and take your dietary restrictions into account while backpacking.

Yes, we suggested meals. Sometimes, when you have restrictions that require certain ingredients to be eliminated, small snacks won’t cut it. Thankfully, there are plenty of pre-packaged and even stoveless meals you can take with you on the trail. Nowadays, you can find vegan options and gluten-free options, as well as pre-made meals that will offer warnings and disclaimers about any ingredients that may cause allergic reactions.

It can take a bit of time, research, and even some trial and error to find pre-packaged meals and snacks that meet your needs and taste great. Don’t be afraid to try different brands and options, and you’ll eventually find what works best for you.

Create Your Own Snack Hacks

While there are plenty of pre-packaged snacks and meals on the market, sometimes the easiest way to meet your dietary needs is to make your own. You know your restrictions better than anyone. Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to ingredients.

Plus, when you’re in charge of preparing your own snacks and meals, you can choose flavors you love, and you won’t get bored on the trail. Having something delicious and nutritious to look forward to can keep you motivated and energized long before you dig in.

It can take a bit of creativity to prepare meals and snacks, depending on your dietary restrictions. For example, many people take nuts or trail mix with them while backpacking. Nuts are a great source of protein and can provide a quick energy boost. However, if you have a nut allergy, those pre-packaged mixes aren’t an option.

Thankfully, you can create your own with things like seeds, dried fruits, and different spices. Not only will making your own snacks allow you to leave out ingredients you can’t have, but you’ll also be in control of sugar content, fat, and flavor.

You don’t have to be a pro in the kitchen to create snacks and meals that meet your restrictions and taste great. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different foods and flavors. It can end up saving you money and keeping you properly fed and fueled on your trip.

There’s no reason dietary restrictions should get in the way of your backpacking goals. Keep these tips in mind to stay safe, healthy, and energized on the trail.

Wilderness backpacking is a new adventure every time you step out. Whether you’re making a long trek or only hiking for a few hours, proper nutrition is key for a safe, healthy, and enjoyable backpacking experience.

As fun as backpacking can be, it’s also often challenging, especially if you prefer to go off the beaten path. Fueling your body the right way will make it easier to keep moving forward and take on any terrain that comes your way.

However, if you’re sick of pre-packaged energy bars and gel shots, there are plenty of ways to get creative with your backpacking nutrition while exploring the backcountry. Let’s cover how to pack proactively for your next journey, which foods you should prioritize, and how making nutrition a priority on the trail will boost your performance and help to ensure you stay healthy.

Pack Smart

As an avid backpacker, you know that too much carrying too much weight is a problem. The last thing you want is to get dehydrated or for your stamina to run out quickly because your bag is too heavy. However, the last thing you should compromise is the food you bring with you! When planning your backpacking nutrition, try to get creative about what you pack and how it will impact the weight of your bag. Your goal should be to bring calorie-dense foods that give you energy without taking up too much space or adding too much bulk.

So, how much food should you pack for optimal backpacking nutrition?

The easiest way to figure that out is by doing a bit of math. Try using Petzoldt’s Energy Mile Theory to determine how many calories you’ll need. By the end of your trek, your goal should be the following:

Calories of Food Packed – Calories of Food Eaten = 0

If you’re not sure what to pack to meet your calorie goals, a good rule of thumb is to maximize lightweight foods that are high in caloric density, including

  • Seeds
  • Cereal grains
  • Nuts
  • Freeze-dried berries

These things will weigh less than energy bars and heavy bags of trail mix, but are high in calories and sugars, and will give you plenty of energy to stay on track.

Stay Hydrated

It’s recommended that you drink at least a quart of water per hour while hiking. If not, you could end up getting dehydrated quickly and experience symptoms like

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Confusion

Those aren’t exactly things you want to experience when you’re on the trail. Water is essential for any avid hiker, no matter how much space it takes up. You can also choose to pack foods that have a high water content, like melon, celery, and pineapple.

If you’re hiking for a long time or you’re backpacking in extremely hot weather, water might not always be enough to replenish what your body is sweating out. In those cases, ingesting electrolytes is an important component of backpacking nutrition. You can get electrolytes through sports drinks, but consider using electrolyte powders or protein powders for an energy boost if you don’t want to pack separate drinks besides water. Especially if you’re over the age of 50 and backpacking, you need to be sure you’re keeping your energy levels high. Staying physically active will help, but you must feed your body properly as well.

Buying whole foods locally is always a good idea, but if you can’t find something you feel is essential to your trip, you’re bound to find it in an online shop.

Consider Using Supplements to Boost Backpacking Nutrition

Whole nutrition is essential for your health, especially when you’re an active backpacker. If you’ve been doing this for any length of time, you likely have a basic understanding of what your body needs to stay alert and healthy on the trail. That might include eating a hearty breakfast to boost your energy or stopping to rest and have a snack every hour or two.

However, depending on your personal nutritional needs as well as your activity level, what you eat might not always be enough to give your body what it needs. Backpackers can’t often obtain things like fresh meat or foods rich in omega-3s. If you know you’ll be on the trail for a while and want to ensure you’re focusing on whole-body nutrition while backpacking, supplements can help. Many are designed to boost your heart health, while others can ensure your mind and body are functioning the way they should.

Backpackers need to take nutrition very seriously. There’s a fine line between knowing what/how to pack and making sure you’ll have enough to sustain yourself on the trail. If you’re just starting out as a backpacker, err on the side of caution and “overpack” without weighing yourself down. You’ll quickly learn what you need to stay healthy and hydrated on your treks through some trial and error. Whatever you do, though, keep backpacking nutrition at the top of your priority list, and listen to your body when you’re on your backpacking adventures.

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.

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.