When you're out backpacking and burning calories like a hummingbird, mealtime is vitally important. Additionally, after the first few hours of your trek, meals become delightful moments when you can take off your pack and relax for a while. The last thing you want to eat during this moment of respite is something that tastes gross--especially since you have to finish whatever you make.
Dehydrated backpacking meals are easy to carry and prepare when in the backcountry. They're not inexpensive, but they're light and calorie dense. Plus, most come in two serving sizes (but please double check packaging before hitting the trail), so food for you and your hiking partner are all set. You add boiling water, let them sit, and have dinner in usually 20 mins. They're convenient.
Over the years, we have tried myriad dehydrated backpacking meals and can attest that not all are created equal. Some are downright disgusting and we have no idea what the food engineers were thinking when they made them. Others suffer from dehydrated meal syndrome, where they have a taste profile that can best be described as "generic flavor packet." Then there are the few odd balls that simply aren't meals you want in the backcountry or have so few calories it's not worth bringing them along.
The following list is composed of those rare finds that are perfect for the backcountry. They taste good. Period. We will add to this list if we find more, but for now, these are our trusted dehydrated meals.
We eat dehydrated meals for breakfast, at lunch (just an entree), and at dinner (where we have an entree and a dessert). We also carry and eat a lot of snacks on our trips, and we recommend the NOLS Backcountry Nutrition book for customizing snack plans to your body's needs based on the location and type of hike you're doing. The book is the best resource we've found on the topic.
Additionally, we strongly recommend the Sea to Summit Alpha Light Long Spoon. It barely weighs anything and has a long enough handle to reach down into the bag. We eat straight from the bag (less to wash up afterward and less to pack) when we're in the backcountry, and a small carabiner at its end makes it simple to hook over the corner of the bag in between bites of food. The small carabiner also means you can hook it onto your mess kit when you're done making it hard to lose.
Finally, on with our list of great dehydrated backpacker meals:
- Backpacker's Pantry: Granola with Bananas, Almonds, and Milk
- Mountain House: Biscuits and Gravy
- Mountain House: Breakfast Skillet
- Backpacker's Pantry: Hawaiian Style Rice with Chicken (very sadly, appears to be discontinued)
- Backpacker's Pantry: Three Cheese Mac and Cheese
- Good To-Go: Pad Thai
- Mountain House: Chicken and Mashed Potatoes
- Mountain House: Mac and Cheese