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Low Sodium Backpacking Meals

Low Sodium Backpacking MealsHave you ever looked at the nutrition labels on Mountain House and Harmony House backpacking meals and Knorr Rice and Pasta sides. You’ll be appalled by the amount of sodium included in these meals, especially since the other trail foods (nuts, bars, salty snacks) most people eat during the day, also have their share of added salt.

For instance, here’s a list of backpacking meals, mainly dinners, I’ve compiled that lists the amount of sodium per serving and by package, since more often than not you’ll eat the whole thing in one sitting. As a point of reference, US Guidelines recommend eating a maximum of  2300 mg of sodium per day.

Calories per packageSodium per package (mg)
Alpenaire Foods Black BartChili w/ Beef and Beans5801500
Alpenaire Foods Mountain Chili5401180
Alpenaire Foods Southwestern Style Masa w/ Beef6601540
Alpenaire Foods Thai Style Chicken w/ Noodles500840
Backpacker's Pantry Katmandu Curry6801220
Backpacker's Pantry Thai Coconut Curry w/ Beef540750
Backpackers Pantry Louisiana Red Beans and Rice6001160
Backpackers Pantry Shepards Potato Stew with Beef6001340

Good-to-Go Classic Marinara with Penne
Good-to-Go Herbed Risotto410420
Good-to-Go Smoked Three-bean Chili340360
Good-to-Go Thai Curry380500
Harmony House Southwest Style Mixed Bean Chili2401592
Harmony House Mama Mia Italian Vegetable Soup1841340
Harmony House Beefish Barley2201824
Harmony House Corn Chowder841288
Harmony House Greek Lentil Soup3001808
Harmony House Hearty Texas Beefish Stew2401720
Harmony House Super Savory Split Pea Soup3441100
Knorr Pasta Sides Alfredo5201340
Knorr Rice Sides Beef5752025
Knorr Rice Sides Cheddar Broccoli5801425
Knorr Rice Sides Chicken Broccoli5751600
Knorr Rice Sides Creamy Chicken5801375
Knorr Rice Sides Mushroom Flavor5751650
Mary Janes Farm Organic Curry in a Hurry465825
Mary Janes Farm Organic Mac 'N Cheese465255
Mary Janes Farm Organic Black Beans and Rice5701020
Mountain House Beef Stew5002225
Mountain House Noodles and Chicken5501725
Mountain House Beef Stroganoff w/ Noodles6501975
Mountain House Lasagna with Meat625900
Outdoor Herbivore Basil Walnut Pene692565
Outdoor Herbivore Chunky Chipotle Chili406738
Outdoor Herbivore Lemongrass Thai Curry623570
Packit Gourmet A Shepard's Cottage Pie9403720
Packit Gourmet Dotties Chicken &' Dupplngs2801560
Packit Gourmet Market Pasta Puttanesca400350
Packit Gourmet The Big Easy Gumbo3701360
Packit Gourmet Tuscan Beef Stew6603560

Even if you’re not at risk for high sodium intake, meals that have a large amount of sodium in them can be unpleasant to eat, if only because you have to drink so much water to overcome the thirst they create.

Using the list above, I’ve picked out a few of the meals with less salt, mainly from Good-to-Go and Outdoor Herbivore that I plan to eat every week with a little rice added in. I’ll also eat a few of the higher sodium meals, but not on successive days.

While eating meals high in sodium probably wouldn’t affect me if I had to do it everyday for a short weekend trip, it’s not something I want to subject my body to over a period of weeks. Finding all this extra sodium in backpacking food, some of it quite extreme, was a real eye-opener. There’s got to be a better way.

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  1. I too hate high amounts of sodium , I find my self eating alot of rice and salmon / tuna , for breakfast oats and honey… I think the thing I eat that has the most sodium is smoked summer sausage but I don’t eat alot of it just as a snack …

  2. Harmony House also sells soups and chilis without added sodium, so you can add your own seasoning to your liking.

  3. I dehydrate a lot of my food so I can control my intake. Also supplements are fantastic when you can’t pack the good stuff.

  4. wow, I had no idea they were that packed in sodium. I’ll be taking a closer look at the food I bring on my hikes.

  5. Mountain House used to offer two delicious low sodium options — white bean chicken chili and a cajun shrimp — which I used to buy all the time. Unfortunately, they were discontinued. The lasagna is my go-to right now, but I do wish there were more low sodium options.

  6. Thank you for compiling this list, I also do not like all the sodium added to backpacking meals. I keep experimenting9cooking my own) and trying new ones (purchasing) in hopes of finding the one with the least amount of sodium. This list is helpful.

  7. I dehydrate all my backpacking meals. It’s easy, fun, healthier, and cheaper than store-bought dehydrated meals. I also make beef jerky, fruit leathers, bean bark, sweet potato bark, and dehydrated fruits that are practically weightless. Get a good recipe book, like The Backpacking Chef, and a good quality dehydrator, like an Excalibur. You’ll never regret it!

  8. I tried to go to outdoor herbivore but the y say the site is not found or deleted anyone have info about these meals or where to find them?

  9. I have been using military ration meals like the US MRE and the Canadian IMP for many decades . They have the right amount of everything and don’t require any guess work . Maybe pricey but I have never had any problems and they come with electrolyte powder , the strawberry is great . Some of the meals are really good especially the Canadian IMP’s if you can get them .

  10. Murray Callaghan

    Most of my trips range from 2-3 nights and while I’m always conscientious of weight try to eat a normal meal of fresh protein (one is frozen and the other partially thawed) and starch which may include rice, noodles and even small potatoes leaving the already prepared meals for emergencies. In addition, pepperoni, jerkies, farmer’s sausage cheeses and the like travel rather well. I broke that rule last summer and enjoyed a nice Lasagna dehydrated meal from one of the big names and let’s just say that the period after is still known as the infamous flatulence fest. I see that the manufacturer no longer produces that item. I’ll revisit the dehydrator as I had bought one with the best intentions but it was returned when it crapped out on the very first attempt. Till then, I shall remain old school and encourage others that with common sense and some basic skills that one can reasonably take a trip into the wilderness with something that more closely resembles the kitchen table.

  11. Even the best of these are around break-even point, which is my quick rule of thumb for low-sodium food. If a portion of a certain food contains x mg of sodium but provides x calories, on a typical grown up diet one will take in 2000mg per day (and 2000 calories) living off only that food, which is in between commonly mentioned targets (3000 in general, 1500 for at-risk). My target is much lower so this stuff is off limits for me.

  12. I recently had a Mountain House meal that was so salty I could not finish it. I threw away the other Mountain House meals I had.

  13. The struggle is real… After being diagnosed with kidney disease, I had to virtually omit sodium, potassium and phosphates from my diet. Not easy to do and virtually impossible if you enjoy the outdoors. I ended up with the choice of freeze dried ice cream or dehydrate my own meals. 2000mg + is a euphoric situation waiting to happen for me and if you add the high potassium, a week on the trail and you may not survive.
    Salt, in this form is not healthy for anyone. We need a meal that may have a shorter shelf life but be better for you.

    • My current meal process involves dehydrating meals I enjoy and vacuum bagging them. I was able to find the equipment online relatively inexpensively. It’s not a bad idea to dehydrate and then rehydrate and try them out at home. You may find certain ingredients don’t rehydrate that well. I don’t find crunchy/chewy that objectionable on the trail but not all taste buds are as demented as mine!

    • Rob, I had a meal plan setup for backpacking that was good for a week, required no refrigeration and no stove but had pretty high levels of sodium and saturated fats. (Cheddar cheese and hard salami.) I’ve been reconfiguring my plan to lower the sodium (but see my comment below) and lower the saturated fat. The sticking point now is trying to figure out how to cook lentils without burning too much fuel. I haven’t found a solution. So, the last piece of the puzzle is some high fiber, low sugar, high complex carb food like kidney beans, lentils, etc. Something that cooks fast and won’t burn a lot of fuel. Any suggestions?

      My old plan included: cheddar cheese, macadamia nuts, deluxe mixed nuts, hard salami, dehydrated apples, carrots, sugar snap peas, protein powder, and dates. The cheddar cheese and hard salami contribute the majority of the saturated fat and sodium. However, considering sodium lost through sweat on a hard day, even the sodium in this diet is probably not sufficient. Nonetheless..the new diet I’m considering would replace the hard salami and cheddar cheese with avocados and ???. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. (The goal of low saturated fat is due to a specific medical condition, not slavish adherence to the “low fat” industry.)

      • Search on precooked dried (or dehydrated) beans. These are beans, including lentils, that have been cooked and then dehydrated. So they should cook pretty quickly, if mushily, the second time. Two brands that appeared in my search were Harmony House and Mother Earth products.

  14. I see this is an old thread, but if anyone is still reading it, have you considered the amount of sodium lost through sweat on an all-day backpacking trip? A multiday hike? I’ve been researching the subject, and the amount of sodium lost through sweat can easily account for the increase in sodium ingested through backpacking meals. I am on a medically required low sodium diet. But, I also have to be careful about hyponatremia (not enough sodium.) Sodium lost through exercise (sweat) can easily reach 500 mg per hour. I know that I sweat enough on my backpacking trips that my shirts show a white haze of salt after two or three days. Has anyone else done any research on what “low sodium” really means for multiple all day backpacking hikes? There is also the possibility that the body regulates serum sodium levels through increasing or decreasing the amount of sodium in sweat.

    See and the related links.

    • I had no idea it was that high. Thanks for that link.

      • There appear to be two camps who are not communicating…the low sodium group, and the “replenish electrolytes” group. The electrolytes group are knowledgeable about sodium and potassium loss and physical recovery (hence, gatorade and the other products on the market) and the low sodium group are tracking information on high sodium diets (processed food). I’m sure there is a balance in there somewhere. The fact that the body may regulate serum sodium through changes in the saltiness of sweat makes estimating true sodium loss through sweat on multi-hour hikes difficult. However, I would be more concerned about hyponatremia than cardiac problems for back to back intense backpacking days. (I’m assuming an otherwise healthy person. Persons with kidney, liver, or other problems should obviously consult with a physician.

      • This is obviously a very complex subject.

        However…from the conclusion of that study:

        “Currently, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends an intake of 0.5 to 0.7 g sodium/L of water as the appropriate level of sodium intake to replace the sodium that is lost in sweat during endurance events (6).”

    • My shirt and hat get the salt haze after a day of hiking (and then deer come to the camp to lick them at night). One time I was hiking on a warmish day through a well-watered area. I kept sweating, so I kept drinking water and I started to feel bad so I thought it was the first stage of heat exhaustion so I drank more water. Probably four liters in about as many hours. Eventually, I felt bad enough (exhaustion) that I had to stop. My pulse rate stayed at about 130 even after I had been resting for a hour. I was a bit nauseous, but also hungry, so eventually I gave in to hunger and ate a freeze dried meal (when I was starting out, I carried almost no snacks so what I had were all meals). I almost immediately felt great. I still don’t know if that was heat exhaustion or hyponatremia or if I’d just plain overdone it.

  15. Yes, a multi-day backpacking trip is an endurance event. It has nothing to do with environmental conditions (heat and humidity). It’s the nature of the physical activity.

  16. Endurance is the ability to sustain a specific activity over a prolonged period of time. I would argue that heat and humidity – along with other environmental factors – absolutely are a factor in your ability to endure.

    I would also say that a multi-day backpacking trip is an endurance event only as defined by the act of hiking and the distance or elevation covered. I would not say someone who hiked 1 mile to a shelter where they stayed 2 nights and hiked out endured a whole lot but they were backpacking.

    Ultimately my feeling on the sodium intake is that, barring some medical condition, a high sodium meal or two from time to time is perfectly fine. Your body will flush what it doesn’t need, within reason. If this weren’t the case we would never eat in restaurants.

    • I haven’t been in a restaurant in over a year and at this rate…

      I think the amount of sodium you should consume really depends on your blood pressure and whatever medications you might be on. Given the stress on one’s heart during backpacking, I could see that being a problem, particularly coupled with dehydration, when one’s blood/fluids volume is low. I’ve administered CPR on hikers who’s had heart attacks and you really don’t want to have a cardiac event hiking. I outcome isn’t very favorable.

  17. I had a quadruple heart bypass at 45 years or age and can’t have a lot of sodium due to heart disease. Nice to know that there are some alternatives out there as I REALLY watch what I eat now. Thank you for the list of sodium content.

  18. Hey check out peak refuel. They tend to have a calorie to sodium ratio that much closer to 1:1

  19. I checked the link to Good-to-Go Classic Marinara with Penne. Numbers are about 2X shown in the table. The package contains 850 cal and 600 mg/ Na. Also a whopping amount of fiber: 13g (46%).

    Packit Gourmet Market Pasta Puttanesca link shows 710 cal, 1030 mg Na and 51% fiber.

    I get most of my fiber from breakfast oatmeal and snacks during the day. Overdoing fiber can lead to less-than-desired digestive issues. Saturated Fat is another item to look for in evaluating the cardio safety of the product. Many products are extremely high. For those already on statins (and even those that aren’t) consuming 50% of daily value in one setting isn’t a great idea.

    Don’t mind the occasional commercial FD meal, but making several dehydrated meals for extended trips.

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