Updated: October 12, 2015
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..)
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.