Thoughts On Freeze-Dried Backpacking Meals

Since I have started backpacking, food has been one of the hardest things for me to get together before a trip. Doesn’t really matter if it is for a day hike or an overnight trip, and especially so for a multi-day hike! So, like many others before me has probably done at one point in time or another, I leaned into the prepackaged freeze-dried meals to meet these needs.

According to Wikipedia:

Freeze-drying (also known as lyophilization or cryodesiccation) is a dehydration process typically used to preserve a perishable material or make the material more convenient for transport. Freeze-drying works by freezing the material and then reducing the surrounding pressure and adding enough heat to allow the frozen water in the material to sublime directly from the solid phase to the gas phase.

Two examples of freeze-dried meals that I have experience with are the Mountain House Meals and the Backpacker Pantry Meals. Of course both companies offer a fairly large variety of meals for both breakfast and dinner and even some deserts.

The only place that I have locally in which any of these meals are readily available to me is our local Wal-Mart. And of course the selection is quite limited. Other than this I have ordered some meals from REI as well as stopped at some other outdoor type stores so that I would have something a little different.

Most of the meals that I have consumed have been the Mountain House Meals, and only recently have I used some of the Backpacker Pantry Meals. After eating both, I cannot necessarily tell a difference in the quality of one versus the other. In my opinion, the difference simply comes down to which particular entrée is chosen.

So, starting with the Mountain House Meals, the ones that are available to me at Wal-Mart are the Chili Mac with Beef, Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and the Chicken Teriyaki. All of these were the meals that served two, and I shared all of them with either my wife or my son. There has been one occasion in which I ate an entire entrée by myself because my son decided that he didn’t like Lasagna while we were on the trail. I was able to do so, but I must say that I am glad that it was one that I liked, otherwise it would have been a lot of food to force feed myself.

Of these I enjoyed them all except the Chicken Teriyaki, which simply did not taste good to me and I will not get it again. As for the other three, they were each pretty good, but I have got to say that they all kind of tasted like the other. I guess that this can be expected since they are all really kind of the same. Anyway, I would get any one of these three again if needed.

I also at one point tried the Mountain House Scrambled Eggs with Bacon. The morning I ate this one I decided to mix a little instant potatoes with the breakfast and then serve it on a flour tortilla. Long story short, it was nasty. I could not even force myself to eat it and I ended up packing it out. I told myself that I would never do that again…

Then again, here recently actually, I decided I would give this type of breakfast one more shot. I initially wanted the Mountain House Breakfast Skillet Wrap, but it was sold out online at some of the stores I buy from, and it was not available at the stores I stopped at. So, in place of it I decided I would try the Mountain House Scrambled Eggs with Ham and Red And Green Peppers. Even though it was a single-serving meal and there were two of us (my wife and I) I only got one. This time I did not intend on mixing anything with the breakfast, however we did plan on putting them on some pieces of Pita bread. Long story short, it was just as bad as my first experience. Now when I say I will not buy these anymore, I mean just that.

I have on occasion gotten my son the Mountain House Neapolitan Ice Cream Bar, and he loves it. Every time we go hiking together he asks me if he can take some. I tried a little piece of it one time and found it to be rather tasty. My problem with it is that it seems to be a small amount, at least for me.

One of the last Mountain House Meals that I have tried is the Pasta Primavera. I have found that this has been my favorite of the Mountain House Meals so far and will be sure to get this one again when looking for more freeze-dried type meals for my hiking trips. I could have easily eaten this whole entrée by myself but thought that it was only right that I share with my wife, which also had good things to say about this meal too.

As for the Backpacker Pantry Meals I have only had three, the Chicken Cashew Curry,  Santa Fe Chicken, and the Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken (and this is the order in which I liked them). I really enjoyed the cashews in the Chicken Cashew Curry, but the curry was not quite right. Maybe it was because it was freeze-dried, I don’t know, but don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it. The Santa Fe Chicken we got was good and filled with beans. As for the Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken, I was a little disappointed. I saved this meal for our last night out on a recent hike, thinking it would be the best, but I ended up not even eating my share. It was a good thing my wife liked it because she ate a little more than I did. I would not get that one again.

So, these are my general likes and dislikes when it comes to the freeze-dried meals I have eaten so far. As for the packaging, I have both carried the original packaging as well as repackaged them myself at home, splitting them into equal parts in two separate Heavy-duty quart sized Ziploc bags. Both ways work fine for me, it just depends on what the situation calls for. My wife likes to use a bowl, so I just pour out her portion in her bowl and I eat the rest out of the package. My son does not mind eating out of a Ziploc so when he goes I will repackage them.

In the future I do plan on trying to get more involved with preparing my food for my trips, and hopefully moving away from these types of meals. But until then, they are filling the void.

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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11 Responses to Thoughts On Freeze-Dried Backpacking Meals

  1. DennisP says:

    I’ve been a big Mt. House fan for some time, even though they are salt heavy, and contain processed food ingredients. Im just now beginning to create my own dehydrated meals, but one thing I am addicted to are the freeze dried ice cream sandwiches. If your not yet familiar with the growing popularity of Chef Glen, may I suggest it worth your time to check this out:
    http://Www.backpackingchef.com

    IMHO-This man authored a book that is miles above any other resource on trail meals. At the least, he provides a means to have morning scrambled eggs that are quite good. Eggs are mixed with just enough grits, then baked before dehydrating. The grits purpose is to more easily rehydrate the egg on the trail, and the combination really works well. This method and your oven are all that is nessessary to create your own breakfast of scrambled eggs that are far better and cost wise, than anything I’ve tried in processed food offerings.

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  2. James says:

    Hello Stick,

    came across your blog as a link on BP forum (which I generally dislike, cause it is dominated by about 10 people who run others off if one disagrees with them on any subject, but I read it anyway) I applaud your enthusiasm for learning about BP’ing.

    I have been at it on a weekly basis for 7 years after a 5 year lapse, before that, since I was 10 y.o, horseback camping, truck camping and backpacking in the Missouri Ozarks (I am 50 now) which while I am thinking about it, S. central Mo aint too far from you so check out the Ozark Trail. http://www.ozarktrail.com. Its actually better than the web site makes it look or sound.

    Anyway, for the last 5 years I have been backpacking Colorado, Nevada and the Sierras, and since I am a simple guy, I keep my food simple and cheap! (I’m cheap too! ha!ha!) so I thought I would say what I do and let ya take it for what ya may.

    Calories are what are imporant, and when you’re hungry, everything tastes good, so heres a typical food list that hasn’t varied much for years, Wal Mart has everything listed:

    Breakfast:
    Either oatmeal ($2.00 a box, enough for 3 days) with pita bread ($2,80) or cook-for-a-minute gravy ($1.50 a pack) with pita bread (350-450 calories total)
    Morning Snack:
    Cookies or little halloween candy bars ($1.00 to $3.50) (50 calories/cookie, 150 calories/c. bar or so)
    Lunch:
    Ramen Noodles and vienna sausage (less than $1.00 per meal) (500-600 calories)
    Afternoon snack:
    Allways Good round crackers ($1.80 for a 4 pack box) and sharp chedder cheeze ($2.50 for a 1/2 pound, enough for 3 days) (300-500 calories)
    Supper:
    Allways Save cook-for-7-minutes flavored Rice ($1.00 a pack) with one can of chicken ($2.00 a can (400-650 calories total)

    Alternate snacks: Peanuts, my own beef jerky, dried or fresh fruit like apples, those little fruit breakfast bars, very very tasty! Little chocolate donuts.

    I have found that this keeps me going and renews my appreciation for food when I get home.

    I wish you and your family all the best, I enjoy your blog and may drop in once in awhile and see whats new.

    JP

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    • Stick says:

      JP,

      Sounds like you have a long history in the art of BP’ing…that is awesome. I only got into it a few years back so no long history for me. I have heard of the Ozarks and I have driven through them once, but never hiked in them. One day I would like too though…

      I will admit that there are some on all of the forums that are a little full of themselves. (And in comparison, BPer is not the worse one in my opinion…) However, there are quite a few that know what they are talking about and are worth listening too. As well, they really can be quite a wealth of knowledge… Actually BPer.com is where I started…

      As far as your post, I agree, the simpler the better, and especially when it comes too food! I have actually used a good bit of items in your list, but I always enjoy reading others menus cause it gives me more ideas! So, thanks for taking the time to post your detailed list. I appreciate it and will keep it in mind when I get ready to pack for my next trip!

      And thanks for stopping by and commenting on the blog article. Talk to you later!

      ~Stick~

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  3. David Vo says:

    Stick, you should consider posting a chart (or google spreadsheet) with three columns

    Company, Meal, Verdict
    Mountain House, Chicken Teriyaki, YUCK!

    Like

    • Stick says:

      David,

      That is a good idea. It would be a great way for me to keep up with what I have had too. I have had some that I liked, but cannot remember. Many of them though are either awful or ok…

      ~Stick~

      Like

  4. kytrailnotes says:

    Hi, just discovered your blog, enjoy reading it.

    You make us feel gluttonous – we usually eat an entire “serves 2” Mountain House meal each. We will split the “serves 4” though.

    We’re planning on posting lots of recipes on our blog (there are only a few currently). Good luck in planning yours!

    Like

  5. Scott says:

    Thanks for the update on Freeze Dried foods. I am a few steps behind you in my hiking so your posts are helpful. Still trying to figure out this food thing.

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  6. Foraker says:

    “I could have easily eaten this whole entrée by myself but thought that it was only right that I share with my wife, which also had good things to say about this meal too.”

    “Which”? Seems to be an odd word choice. Might want to fix that!

    Thanks for the review.

    Like

  7. Alan says:

    Hi Stick,
    I appreciate what you are saying but i am a bit surprised that you don’t seem to have exhausted the different companies that supply this type of catering in the US. There seems to be lots.
    We have companies in the UK that are pretty bad but we have other suppliers that are excellent such as Real Turmat and a new kid on the block that is having very good reviews from the outdoor bloggers. The name is Fuizion Food.
    Before getting into the dehydration element and buying all the equipment and spending lots of preparation time, i think i would try some others.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Alan, thanks for checking out the site and leaving a reply. As far as the freeze dried foods are concerned, I am not completely getting away from these, but I have toyed with the idea of getting a dehydrator so that I can do some of my own meals. Biggest reason honestly is because I feel like I would actually save money in the long run using a dehydrator, but I also feel like I would enjoy my meals more often this way too. If I prepared my own meals that I knew I enjoyed, I wouldn’t have to play the guessing game as to whether or not I would like the new flavor of meal I purchased. Also, I would like to try other brands that are out there, but I would have to order them, and I really hate to pay more for shipping than the already expensive meals. I understand that they are not all totally expensive, but they aren’t cheap, especially when I must pay shipping too.
      By the way, nice blog you have there. I added your site to my list on my page.
      Thanks, Chad

      Like

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