Updated: December 2017

Freeze Dried Meal Reviews:

I just returned from an 8 day backpacking trip into the high Sierras and thought I would give my feedback on how freeze dried meals stack up against each other. We had a group of 6 guys who all brought a variety of freeze dried dinners and breakfasts on the trail. Many of us had shopped at REI to buy the freeze drieds and our list of freeze dried foods included entrees, desserts and breakfast (omeletes). I was able to taste 4 different brand names with a wide range of pastas, meats, and vegetables. The last time I had gone backpacking with freeze drieds was about 20 years ago so I expected that the food quality had improved dramatically since the mid-80's and was hoping for a nice treat come dinner time. I must say that I was surprised at the added flavors and textures that freeze dried companies are able to pack into these compact meals. Our comparison and results below were based on 7 nights of freeze dried meals with 6 people eating them every night. (List of best-selling freeze dried meals is here..)
freeze dried

The first thing to remember is that freeze dried meals really don't compare to a fresh, home-cooked dinner you find at home. Secondly, sometimes you are so famished at the end of the day from hiking that you are really able to eat almost anything and think that it tastes good. I feel that the results we found were "fair" in that 6 people were eating the dinners all with different tastes and appetites. To begin with, most freeze dried dinners range in price from $5 to $12 with the most expensive meals offering up things like salmon. The less expensive breakfast items are close to $5, some are cheaper than $4/each. The desserts run about $4 to $5, but we only had 2 desserts between us all week so I did not include our favorites in the findings since there was not enough of a sample size. Believe it or not you can get desserts like brownies, blueberry cheesecake, ice cream sandwich, bananas foster, and hot apple cobbler. The most recognized name in freeze dried food is Mountain House followed by Backpackers Pantry, Richmoor, Alpine Aire, Mary Jane's Farm, and Packlite foods. Almost all of these brands are carried in stores like REI. If you are new to backpacking or buying freeze dried meals, REI has a "Product Information" sheets on all the foods they carry in their stores that you can pick up and review. They list the foods by category - breakfast cereal, breakfast eggs, entrees (chicken, beef, turkey, seafood, vegetarian, pasta) and desserts. You can quickly see the servings per container, net weight, calories per serving, total fat, sodium, protein, carbs, and sugars that are in each meal. As noted above, also check out the best selling freeze-dried food section -- they carry most of this stuff.

Many people plan their meals based on the protein or carbs in each dinner which is a good strategy for staying hydrated and fit on the trail. I personally found that the basic meals were just as pleasing as the more extravagent ones. Many expert hikers recommend that you try a few freeze dried dinners before hitting the trail and that is not a bad idea so you can get an idea of what you like before you purchase 6 of the same thing. I bought 6 completely different meals and by the end of the trip found myself trading with other hikers for ones I preferred better. Backpackers Pantry was the one brand that made their meals sound exciting and flavorful with dishes like Jamaican BBQ Chicken, Chicken Saigon Noodle, Pesto Salmon Pasta, and Thai Satay with Beef. All of us hikers did agree that the Backpackers Pantry meals had the most flavor and were tasty. The Richmoor brand rated the worst as they were bland and lacked flavor. Mountain House was an excellent standby item each night if you wanted consistency and a meal that satisfied you. Many of the freeze dried dinners/entrees say they serve 2 but in actuality if you have hiked 10 miles that day you are probably going to be able to devour the meal all by yourself. A few times I couldn't make it through a meal but my fellow hikers gladly accepted the extra calories and ate what I couldn't finish. My personally go to meal was the Mountain House Noodles and Chicken dish which offers up a total of 540 calories and costs about $6. It was a basic meal but left me wanting more and later in the trip I traded another meal of mine for a Noodle and Chicken. My final thoughts on freeze dried meals are that they have come a long way over the last 20 years and are quite tasty. I found myself eating dishes I probably wouldn't have eaten at home but I was so hungry that the food tasted great after a long day on the trail.

Best Freeze Dried Meals:

The clear winner in terms of the best freeze drieds was Mountain House. This solid brand name came out on top amongst us 6 hikers. Their website is located online at Mountainhouse.com and their top selling items are Beef Stroganoff, Lasagna w/ meat sauce, Beef Stew, and Chicken Teriyaki. Their meals are offered in 16 oz, 20 oz, and 40 oz sizes with a shelf life of 7 years. Even if you aren't able to consume all the meals on your trip, save them for next year or in an emergency box. There is an online order form if you want to order the meals and have them sent directly to your house. You just boil water, unzip the top of the package and pour the hot water into the contents. Reseal the top and wait for the preset amount of minutes before eating. They are easy to use, tasty, and will give you all the energy your body is craving after a day of activity. We found many of their items on sale on the website at the time of this article.

Top Rated Freeze Dried Dinners:

When it comes to flavor and calories, it's hard to pass up the Backpacker's Pantry freeze dried foods. They offer up great tasting items like Chicken Saigon Noodles, Wild West Chili, Pad Thai, Pesto Salmon Pasta, Asian Curried Stir Fry, and Louisiana Red Beans and Rice. The Jamaican BBQ Chicken dish I had was spicy and included brown rice, black beans, vegetables, chicken, and their authentic Jamaican BBQ sauce. One of my fellow hikers had the Katmandu Curry and said it was "outstanding". Their website is located online at Backpackerspantry.com the ability to order online. Backpacker's Pantry entrees were excellent, although not as consistently good as Mountain House selections.

Vegetarian Freeze Dried:

Many people who love the outdoors and hike tend to be vegetarians these days. They are not only health conscious about their own bodies but they are concerned with eating meat. The company that comes to mind for the best freeze dried foods meant for vegetarians is one called Packlite Foods. You can find them online at Packlitefoods.com with a huge variety of entrees, breakfasts, and desserts just for vegetarians. I had a chance to taste their South o' The Border Chili and it was delicious. You get black and pinto beans, green and red bell peppers, onions, celery, and tomatoes. For less than $5 it's a meal worth considering even if you are not a vegan.

Organic Freeze Dried Meals:

Organic is the big marketing term for all foods and it's no different when it comes to freeze dried meals. The Mary Jane's Farm backpacking foods are quite popular and gaining national recognition. They include breakfasts, soups, pastas, desserts, and much more (all organic ingredients). The details are listed online at Maryjanesfarm.org and their products are carried by major outdoor retailers like REI. Their selection of soups and pastas is first rate and definitely worth a look if you are heading out on a backpacking trip any time soon.