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Backpacker’s Pantry: Dehydrated Meals

I originally became a devotee of freezer bag cooking because I like to eat clean. Dehydrated mashed potatoes, Knorr soup mixes, or ramen noodle packs are full of salt, MSG and other horrible ingredients that will pickle your liver. Give me a base of couscous, low salt vegetarian bouillon, dehydrated vegetables and a package of tuna or salmon and I can whip up a meal that will be ready in minutes, is nutritious and filling after a hard day of backpacking.

However, this year I thought I would experiment with some of the prepared, dehydrated food that is available for backpackers from manufacturers like Backpacker’s Pantry, Natural High, and Mountain House. Upon further investigation, I found that a lot of these meals are prepared without a lot of toxic ingredients and are fairly nutritious. They are however quite expensive and often range from $5.50 – $7.50 per meal.

So far, I’ve tried two different meals from Backpacker’s Pantry in actual field conditions: Katmandu Curry and Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, but I haven’t been very impressed. To make both of these meals, you boil water and pour it into the package to rehydrate and cook the ingredients. This is exactly like freezer bag cooking except that these commercial meals generate about twice the amount of garbage as a freezer bag meal prepared at home. Lately, I’ve taken to transferring their contents to quart size zip locs before my hikes to cut down on the waste weight I need to carry after I’ve eaten them.

I also haven’t found much consistency across meals, at least in terms of portion management. For example, the Katmandu Curry pouch makes two servings, each containing 500 calories and 31g of fiber. In other words, enough to feed two people. But no one in there right mind should ever consume 2 X 31g of fiber in one meal. Trust me on this one. Particularly if they’re sharing a tent with a friend. In contrast, the Louisiana Red Beans and Rice dish makes two 300 cal servings, each with 16g of fiber, which can be consumed by one person and will not result in a fireball if they’re used to consuming 40-50g of fiber per day in the real world. Conclusion: when buying these meals you can’t assume that there is a 1-1 correspondence between a package and a meal for one person. You need to read the labels carefully and do a complete calaorie/meal plan for your trips.

In addition, both of these dishes contain rice, which never re-hydrated completely no matter how long I let the ingredients cook in the bag. I never use rice in my home-made freezer bag meals for this reason. Couscous, which is actually a very fine pasta, re-hydrates in about 3 minutes, and is my carbohydrate of choice for home-made meals instead of rice.

Tastewise, the Katmandu Curry was awfully boring. Bring along some extra spices to heat this one up. The Louisiana Red Beans and Rice tasted much better and had some kick to it. But the crunchy rice was hard to ignore. If you know how to get the rice to rehydrate properly, please let me know.

Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.

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