What's "Cooking" on that Trip?!
Deciding what you are going to eat on a backpacking trip is a pretty big decision. It is important to consider flavor, cooking instructions, weight and nutritional factors. Caloric intake while camping warrants sufficient thought as it is likely that you will be eating less than normal so you want to get the best bang for your buck.
Cookability is important to consider as meals cook at different speeds and require different utensils. Freeze dried food is already cooked so you are simply rehydrating it, however this can occur at different speeds. Typically all they take is some boiling water and 10-20 minutes to bring the meal back to life. Be sure not to skimp on the suggested time or else you will have some crunchy food that doesn't taste great. In addition, pay special attention to instructions as some meals have complicated cooking steps, which may out reach your cooking appliances while on the trail.
Freeze drying meals removes most of the water weight of a meal, leaving behind a lightweight and packable meal option, which is great when needing to shed some backpack weight. Most freeze-dried backpacking food contains 300-800 calories and weighs around 3-7 ounces (100-150 calories per ounce) making it relatively calorie dense. Some pouches contain two servings, but a starved hiker can easily consume both servings after a long day on the trail. Make sure you look at serving sizes when planning your meals for your trip.
Nutrition is the significant advantage freeze drying has over other preservation methods. The process of freeze-drying retains most of the nutrients in any given meal. Check the nutrient information to avoid overloading on salt or fiber when you eat. However, take into consideration that if you are going to be sweating a lot that it is crucial to replenish lost sodium through meals.
Okay so now the good stuff.... what are the best meals for your trip?
- Mountain House
Mountain House is one of the most popular brands and our go to for a cheaper options, costing approximately $0.99 per 100 calories. They are known for their hearty meals that are fairly consistent in flavor, however, the primary draw back is that they are high in sodium. We loved that they had very simplistic cooking instructions and we only needed our Jet Boil. Compared to other options, they are not as flavorful and we could usually eat a double serving each. However, it is camping so feeling completely satiated may not always happen. Our favorite flavors include Breakfast Skillet, Biscuits and Gravy, Chicken and Dumplings, Beef Stroganoff, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Rice and Chicken, Turkey Dinner and Scrambled Eggs. We would highly recommend buying a variety of options to avoid repeating meals. A must in your next backpacking bag.
2. Packit Gourmet
Packit Gourmet is a family owned business out of Texas, which started in the 70s. Packit Gourmet places a priority on wholesome foods and classic homemade flavors, which is easy to tell within the first bite. Each meal uses high-quality freeze-dried and dehydrated produce, lean meat proteins, and robust seasoning blends. They are slightly more expensive with an average cost of $1.32 per 100 calories. We would highly suggest reviewing cooking instructions prior to buying as some require extended time and more cooking utensils. They do offer some cold-water packs, which take longer to cook but are convenient when boiling water is not readily available. They are not as calorie dense as other options, which may make them a no for some hikers. Flavor wise, however, you can't go wrong! Some of out favorite flavors include: Good Day Sunshine Bowl, Polenta with Pork Sausage, Skillet Biscuits and Gravy, Deli-smoked Roast Beef Wrap, Dottie's Chicken and Dumplings, Texas Two-step Turkey Trap, and Market Pasta Puttanesca. Be sure to include several of these for your next trip!
3. Backpacker's Pantry
Backpackers Pantry was founded in 1951 to make lightweight and nutritious trail meals for girl scouts but quickly expanded from that. Slightly more expensive but not as calorically dense, they cost about $1.12 per 100 calories. They are lightweight, easy to prepare (just add hot water), and generally tasty. Eating directly out of the bag also makes clean up super easy, which is great when on the trail. Like several other brands, the double servings can be consumed by one person, especially if in need of a calorie re-boot. They also have several vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, which are harder to find in other brands. While we have only had the Three Cheese Mac and Cheese, Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken and Risotto with Chicken, they were full of flavor and we highly recommend for any trip!
4. Good to Go
Founded by chef Jennifer Schism and her business partner and husband David Koorits, Good To-Go is focused on delivering all natural foods that taste great in the backcountry. The best part is that all the ingredients listed on the back can be pronounced! Besides its meat dishes, Good To-Go also makes gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and pescatarian meals, but many of which were great. The Herbed Mushroom Risotto, Mexican Quinoa Bowl, New England Corn Chowder, and Classic Marinara with Pasta were our favorites. Breakfast wise, we have the Granola, which lacked flavor and Oatmeal, which had a less then pleasant consistency. We would highly recommend Good to Go for lunch and dinner but not for breakfast.
5. Heather's Choice
Heather's Choice is based out of Anchorage, Alaska and advertise being made with the highest quality ingredients, including sustainably sourced proteins like sockeye salmon and grass-fed bison. In addition, they are known for being an allergen-safe option for individuals looking for gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free backpacking food. The cooking instructions were simple, mostly requiring boiling water and about 20 minutes. Price-wise, Heather's Choice is expensive, averaging $15.00 for 490-550 calories. In addition, they have limited meal options. For the price, I was expecting a lot better flavor. We tried the Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Chili with Grass-Fed Bison, Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder, and Apple Pie Spiced Breakfast. Due to the limited options, price, and lack of flavor, we would not recommend for your next trip.