Reader Poll: Who Makes the Best Freeze-Dried or Pre-Packaged Backpacking Meals?

11 Pound Jar of Nutella

11 Pound Jar of Nutella

If you were to look into the foodbags of most hikers, you’d be horrified or amazed, or maybe both. I know a few hikers who only eat pre-processed, pre-packaged meals for months at a time on thru-hikes, others who carefully pre-bag freezer bag meals, and still others who subsist almost entirely on junk food and Nutella, eating it straight out of the jar with a big plastic spoon.

But the rest of us who can only get away on backpacking trips for a weekend probably don’t eat like thru-hikers on 2,000 miles hikes. We don’t have the revved up metabolism to burn off 6000 calories a day.

If I had to wager, I’d say most short-haul backpackers (under 5 days out) eat pre-packaged, freeze-dried meals from Mountainhouse, Packit-Gourmet, Mary Janes Farm, AlpenAire, Backpackers’ Pantry, Natural High, or Outdoor Herbivore.

Which of these backpacking food manufacturers do you prefer?

What are the most important factors when you purchase a pre-packaged backpacking meal? Price, taste, weight, calories, ease of preparation  or cooking time?

Please leave a comment.

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32 Responses to Reader Poll: Who Makes the Best Freeze-Dried or Pre-Packaged Backpacking Meals?

  1. Mr Ed March 28, 2013 at 5:39 am #

    I’ve been happy with Packit-Gourmet. I like that they have a wider range of foods and you can pick by ease of prep or calories.

  2. Cincinnatus March 28, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    Packit-Gourmet has some really great food. I can’t imagine a morning breakfast without their Jamaican Peanut Porridge and coffee. On a cold evening their Austintacious Tortilla Soup keeps you warm and happy.

    Pretty much use them 100% of the time.

  3. Brian Peterson March 28, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    Outdoor Herbivore and Mary Jane’s. I try to find organic, vegan, gluten free, and sugar free

  4. Birch March 28, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Our first priority is being dairy-free (allergy). Then will the kiddo eat it?

    We occasionally get the Indian rice packets from the grocery store, but we usually dry our own.

  5. John March 28, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Mountainhouse Lasagna and Meat Sauce is a favorite. Hungry Hikers has some awesome meals. Really love Murray’s Hurried Curry.

    • Mazzachusetts April 3, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

      I second the Mountainhouse Lasagna and Meat Sauce. Also mainly switched over to pepperoni, cheese, and bread/crackers for lunches and I now try to minimize the Freeze Dried stuff for weekend trips.

  6. John March 28, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    All of the folks selling freeze dried or dehydrated meals are doing a good job and most seem to have their “specialty”. I love spicy food but over time have found that the meals I am most happy with after a high-mileage day are the more “normal” (some might say “bland”) entries from Mountain House like Beef Stew, Beef Stroganoff and Pasta Primavera . I’m not a big fan of the high sodium content, but I’m always happy with a MH dinner, and I haven’t always been able to say that about the others.

  7. Cristy Rice March 28, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    I always like Mountain House. It is readily available at Walmart. The kids like the freeze dried ice cream on the summits of the mountains we hike

  8. Tim @ Appalachia & Beyond March 28, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    I’ve only tried a couple different brands which include Hungry Hikers, Mountain House, and Heater Meals. Hungry Hikers Shephards Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, and Beef Stroganoff are pretty good. I’ve also enjoyed Mountain House’s Lasagna w/ Meat Sauce and Granola w/Milk and Blue Berries. Of the Heater Meals, the Zesty BBQ sauce with Mashed Potatoes and Beef, Green Peppers & Steak, and Chicken Pasta Italiana are pretty tasty once you’ve added your own salt and pepper, I highly advise against the included seasoning packet.

  9. Guthook March 28, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    I haven’t gone the freeze-dried route in a while, but I do remember being able to buy bulk packs from Mary-Jane’s that were really great (organic, and reasonably priced since you package your own).

    Packitgourmet is my favorite these days not for freeze-dried things, but for being able to put together a bunch of different things in a sort of DIY fashion.

    I recently found a bunch of yellow-box Taste of Thai and Taste of China microwave meals at Ocean State Job Lot that work really great as cheap backpacking dinners… and I think the China ones are remarkably low in preservatives and whatnot. The grocery store is always my first stop for backpacking meals, and it doesn’t always have to be heavily processed junk.

  10. JJ Mathes March 28, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Prepackaged meals are part of my food bag anymore, the few times I did eat them I liked MJF’s the best.

    BTW are 11-lb buckets of Nutella sold up your way cause iffin they are I’d like to get couple :-)

    • Earlylite March 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

      Amazon.com – $65 for 5 kilos (11 pounds).

      • JJ Mathes March 29, 2013 at 9:53 am #

        :-P yum!

  11. Mike March 28, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    I started freezer bag cooking with meals I prepare and dehydrate at home a few years ago. I love that I can eat some of my favorite meals from home on the trail. It also allows me to make portion sizes perfect for me. All the pre-packaged commercial stuff always seemed overly expensive and has too much sodium.

  12. Old Man of the Mountain March 28, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Favorite Meals – 6 day hike
    Idahoan Instant Potatos and a can of chicken
    Knorr Swiss Soups & crackers
    Knorr Pasta sides and a can of tuna
    Mountain House Chili-Mac x2
    Couscous and Jerky
    Big Ole SwisssBurger – Long Trail Inn – and Microbrews

  13. Patty March 28, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    I buy from Packit Gourmet’s general gocery section and use their ingrediants to make my meals. Veggies and Chicken either in a gravy mix over mash potatoes, in Ramen noodles (I don’t use the salty packet that comes with the noodles) and in rice are my favorite. I use different veggies, corn, broccoli, and their vegetable blend are good. I have only had a bite of a Mountain House meal, it was good but I think they are too pricey and I don’t want to spend the money on something I have not tried and get to camp and find out I don’t like it.

  14. Paul O March 28, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    I’m a huge fan of the Mountain House Pad Thai.

    When I look for a meal I want great taste and calories. It’s a bonus to have some variety.

  15. Samuel Savard March 28, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Definitely taste comes first, then comes weight, then comes price…. That’s the order of priorities for me. I love Mountain House products, but I never tried Packit Gourmet, and considering the comments above, it seems like I should!

  16. Peter J March 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    The Assistant Scout Master for my son’s Troop has his own dehydrator and got another one donated to the troop. He also uses a vacuum packing system to get it all real tight.

    Using both he has the Scouts going on a High Adventure hike making up all of their food. This includes a 7 day pre-trip hike on the AT. Last weekend he mixed up a Sheppard’s pie using an alcohol stove, a titanium cup, 1.5 cups of water, and a dehydrated packet in about 10 minutes of soaking time and 4-5 minutes on the stove.

    So, is there a make your own option?

  17. Grandpa March 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    I’ll eat anything that won’t eat me first, as long as it’s dead, cooked, and doesn’t have eyeballs staring back at me.

    Since I’m always on a tight budget to finance my hiking predilection, most of my choices come from the supermarket. For me, it’s:

    Lipton-Knorr Pasta Sides
    Idahoan Instant Potatoes
    Ramen Noodles
    Mac ‘N Cheese
    Various experiments of vegetables dried in my dehydrator
    Added to the above are:
    Jerky (either homemade or store bought)
    Dehydrated ham–gets added to the pasta and ramen
    Sometimes, I’ll bring a package of tuna or chicken to mix in
    Breakfast used to be oatmeal packages, however, now I mix my own with instant oatmeal, Malt O Meal, assorted dried fruits and nuts and put them in snack bags.

  18. TAG March 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    I love Packit Gourmet, but often end up with Mountain House because it is so readily available. There was an interesting article in Outside magazine on the topic.

    http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/culinary/A-Love-Affair-With-Freeze-Dried-Food.html

  19. Dave March 28, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    I’ve been using mix-at-home freezer bag meals based on recipes from freezerbagcooking.com. I’ve had Sara’s first book for a number of years and found that 95% of the meals are very good, inexpensive and can be tailored to suit. I do like to take along some of Mary Jane Farms meals and occasionally will take a Mountain House or Enertia Trail Foods meal for a change of pace.

    I believe one of the most important characteristics for meal success is to eat, as closely as possible, what you are used to eating at home with larger portion size to make up for the additional energy expended.

  20. Matt March 28, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    I try not to buy pre-packaged, freeze-dried anything. Convenience is not to be placed higher than balanced nutrition, especially when those calories fuel your activities. Most of my meals are a combination of home-dehydrated ingredients, supermarket items, and from various ethnic/specialty markets. Variety is key, and I’ve tried almost all of the brands of freeze-dried meals, with mixed results. I need to check out MJF and PG. Some of the bulk cans offered by MH and RF, might be something to add to augment your usual meals.

  21. Steve M March 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    I decided to try the freeze dried / dehydrated route and purchased a bunch of the offerings from both Packit Gourmet and Hawk Vittles, along with some of the choices at REI and EMS. I am slowly working through the pile with the goal of qualifying final preferences based on taste, ease of preparation and variety. So far, Packit Gourmet selections are at the top for taste. All are pretty easy FBC type meals. As a diabetic, my real challenge is to have the proper balance of fats / carbs / protien / sugar throughout the day to avoid bonking or worse while on the trail.

  22. Jason Corbett March 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    I stay away from pre-packaged meals mostly. I primarily use Pemmican Bars, the best source of balanced calories I have found. These things are like bricks, and are CHEAP. Otherwise, peanut butter, olive oil, couscous, and lots of CHEESE!

  23. Jim March 28, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    Packit Gourmet. Hands down.

  24. Michael March 28, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    I normally make my own FBC from scratch because it’s much cheaper, but sometimes will use Knorr Pasta/Rice Sides as the base. When I did use pre-packaged meals, Packit Gourmet was my choice though I didn’t mind Mountain House either. I’m not a picky eater though.

  25. spymoose March 28, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Packit Gourmet all the way!

  26. George Phoenix March 29, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Mary Jane’s Farm and Hawk Vittles are my current preferences.

  27. Stinkbug March 30, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    My fave is Mary Jane’s Farm. In addition to the selection being very good, you can buy in BULK – saving a ton of cash. A 3 pound bag makes 25 meals. I usually carry a single Mountain House meal so I can reuse the ziplock bag, but then bring several day’s worth of MJF meals. Portion control is all yours. I especially love the cheesy mac and potato soup, and bring along some salmon or chicken in a foil pack to add. Makes a quick, mess-free, hearty meal – for about a buck!

  28. Mike March 30, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    The AT has definitley made me a far less picky person. I often drink luke warm water, and as long as it’s healthy, I’ll pretty much eat anything. I eat the same thing on basically all my various 3-6 day hikes. Stock up on Trail mix, chewy/nature valley bars, maybe some oatmeal that I eat cold, Almonds, and of course beef jerky or slim jims. I do sometimes bring some nutella or Peanut butter to spice things up, but I generally have no issue eating dry stock for a week or so.

  29. retread April 14, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    I find myself using more homemade freezer bag meals with various oriental curries, dried potato mixtures, hot cereal mixes, soup/stews, etc. I have also always found Mountain House to be very good as well. I do however splurge on a couple of things which are both South African recipes I became familiar with while living down there. The RSA form of jerky is called BILTONG and it is uniquely spiced and more flavorful than most I have found on local store shelves. The other product is a very tasty dried sausage called DROEWORS. I buy mine from a South African Food Shop located near Charlotte NC by online ordering. Their website is http://www.southafricanfoodshop.com. I have shared these items with fellow AT hikers and they always rave about the flavor.

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