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a variety of backpacking meals with water in the background

Some of the backpacking meals we tested. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia


The Inertia

Backpacking meals have come a long way from the mushy noodles or rice meals of decades past. And that’s good news because there’s nothing more rewarding than some tasty, hard-earned calories after a long day on the trail.

As regular adventurers, our team of testers knows a good backpacking meal is a balancing act between flavor, macronutrients, micronutrients, packability, and caloric density. Where once there were limited options, there are now dozens of freeze-dried meal options ranging from vegan to gluten-free to paleo. And they all have something different to offer!

Our team of testers sampled some of the best freeze-dried backpacking meals in the business. This guide is the result.

Take a look at our Comparison Table. to see how the meals we tested stack up.  Because each of the brands highlighted here offers multiple meals, we compared our top meal from each. Of, if you want to learn more about what to look for in quality backpacking meals, check out our Buyer’s Guide.

The Best Backpacking Meals of 2024

Best Overall Backpacking Meals: GOOD TO-GO
Most Packable Backpacking Meals: Heather’s Choice
Best Ingredients in Backpacking Meals: Nomad Nutrition
Most Affordable Backpacking Meals: Backpacker’s Pantry
Best Calorie-to-Weight Ratio in Backpacking Meals: Mountain House
Most Preparation Options for Backpacking Meals: Packit Gourmet


Best Overall Backpacking Meals

GOOD TO-GO ($15.50)

one of good to go's backpacking meals

Pros: Recognizable ingredients, fun packaging
Cons: Some meals weren’t super flavorful
Favorite Meals: Cuban Rice Bowl & Thai Curry

Founded in 2014, GOOD TO-GO was one of the first backpacking brands to offer healthier options. GOOD TO-GO uses whole, clean ingredients and our testers appreciated recognizing every item in the ingredient list.

All GOOD TO-GO meals are gluten-free, low in sodium, and preservative-free. The brand also includes several vegan and vegetarian options. GOOD TO-GO meals all tasted great, and our testers specifically enjoyed the Cuban Rice Bowl. Although the Mushroom Risott0 was good, they felt it was a little lacking in flavor—nothing a little salt and pepper can’t fix.

These meals felt light, and our testers really appreciated having a healthy meal while in the backcountry. Most of the meals ranged from 300 to 600 calories, which was on the low side if you’ve been hiking or kayaking all day.

If you have a big appetite, you may want to consider the two-serving meals. The packaging on all the meals was bright and fun, and the fun extras in the instructions (i.e., Hang out for 20 minutes and think about how big the universe is) made our testers smile. GOOD TO-GO took the Best Overall award due to its clean ingredients, flavor, high-calorie content, and packability.

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Most Packable Backpacking Meals

Heather’s Choice ($15.95)

one of heather's choice backpacking meals

Pros: Great flavor, quality ingredients, extremely lightweight and packable
Cons: Short shelf life (1-2 years)
Favorite Meals: African Peanut Stew & Grass-Fed Beef Spaghetti

At Heather’s Choice, their mission is to feed people healthy, nutrient-dense food that they can take across the globe. And they deliver. Of all the meals we tested, Heather’s Choice offered the most lightweight and packable meals, which can make a huge difference if you’re short on space.

All of Heather’s Choice’s meals are made with wholesome, quality ingredients, and our testers appreciated that they could pronounce and recognize everything on the ingredient list.

Heather’s Choice offers breakfasts, dinners, and treats, and they have gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and dairy-free options. Don’t miss the Packaroons, bite-sized, chewy cookies in fresh flavors like Black Espresso and Lemon Lavender.

Our testers particularly loved the African Peanut Stew and the Grass-Fed Beef Spaghetti. Both of the meals packed tons of flavor and tasted like home-cooked meals. Because their meals are so fresh, the breakfasts have a shelf life of just one year and the dinners two, which was a lot less than the other meals we tested.

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Best Ingredients in Backpacking Meals

Nomad Nutrition ($14)

kathmandu curry nomad nutrition backpacking meals

Pros: Light and packable, incredibly tasty, clean ingredients
Cons:
No meat options
Favorite Meals: Irish Shepard’s Pie & Kathmandu Curry

Based in the Pacific Northwest, Nomad Nutrition designs its meals to deliver perfect combinations of healthy fats, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates. All of the meals are non-GMO vegan friendly and gluten-free.

While it’s nice to have vegan options, our testers worried that the lack of meat would mean minimal protein, but that didn’t seem to be the case. For example, the Irish Shepard’s Pie contains 600 calories and 22 grams of protein, which we felt was solid for a single meal.

Our testers enjoyed the Shepard’s Pie but they loved the rich flavors of the Kathmandu Curry. The meals are packable and small, but they felt filling and were some of the tastiest meals we tested. We loved the fact that Nomad Nutrition utilizes clean ingredients that we could recognize.

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Most Affordable Backpacking Meals

Backpacker’s Pantry ($9.95)

one of backpacker's pantry's backpacking meals

Pros: Lots of dietary restriction options and desserts, available almost everywhere
Cons: 
Meals are on the buky side, use artificial ingredients
Favorite Meals: Summit Breakfast Scramble, Astronaut Ice Cream Sandwich, Three Cheese Mac & Cheese

In 1951, a Girl Scout troop leader spent a backcountry trip carrying heavy, canned foods and promptly returned home with the mission of creating lighter and easier backcountry meals. She created Dri-Lite Foods. Twenty years later, Ronald Smith purchased the company.

After recipe testing and trial and error, he transformed the company into the Backpacker’s Pantry that we know and love today.

Backpacker’s Pantry’s strongest selling point (other than price point) is its variety: breakfasts, entrees, fruits, desserts, and emergency meal kits. They also offer meals catered towards every type of dietary restriction, including vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, soy-free, tree-nut-free, and high-calorie.

We appreciated all of the different varieties but especially enjoyed the high-calorie options. You may try to cut calories at home, but on the trails, adequate fueling is crucial.

Another plus to Backpacker’s Pantry is its wide availability. You can find the brand’s meals in Walmarts all over the country, and even some small-town hardware stores. That’s great news for long-distance hikers looking to resupply.

Of all the meals we tested, all were good, but none were exceptional in flavor. We enjoyed the Summit Breakfast Scramble for breakfast and the Three Cheese Mac & Cheese for dinner. The mac and cheese was a high-calorie option with 510 calories per pack and 24 grams of protein. The pack was advertised as two servings but we found it was best to eat the entire pack yourself in order to feel full.

The item that stood out the most from Backpacker’s Pantry was their Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s advertised as “astronaut ice cream” and honestly tastes exactly like an ice cream sandwich, albeit crunchy. Try it and see!

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Best Calorie-to-Weight Ratio in Backpacking Meals

Mountain House ($11.50)

mountain house backpacking meals

Pros: High-calorie content, lots of choices
Cons: Ingredients aren’t clean
Favorite Meals: Fettucine Alfredo, Breakfast Skillet

Mountain House was born from a request from the U.S. Special Forces during the Vietnam Conflict for food that tasted good, lasted long, and was lightweight. Mountain House’s parent company, Oregon Freeze Dry, responded to the request and won the contract. As the war came to an end, the brand began selling its meals in sporting goods stores, and in 1969, Mountain House was officially born. Like Backpacker’s Pantry, you can find Mountain House’s meals almost everywhere.

An old-school brand, Mountain House offers lots of classic backpacking staples. Its ingredients aren’t necessarily clean, but they are tried and true, and they keep you fueled while tasting good. Our testers found that the Mountain House meals delivered more calories per serving than some of the other meals they tested, which they appreciated.

They were also lightweight and packable despite their calorie content. For example, the Chicken Fettucine Alfredo, one of our testers’ favorite meals, contains 820 calories and 34 grams of protein per pouch (two servings). All that at a net weight of 5.5 oz? Sign us up.

Another meal we enjoyed was the Breakfast Skillet. The texture was a little funky, but the flavor was spot on.

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Most Preparation Options for Backpacking Meals 

Packit Gourmet ($13.99)

packit gourmet backpacking meals

Pros: Multiple cooking options
Cons: Skillet meals are more work to cook

Favorite Meals: Skillet & Biscuits, Southwest Corn & Black Bean Salad

Packit Gourmet is a family-owned business born during a road trip in the 1970s. Jeff and Debbie Mullen set out on a year-long camping trip in their Dodge Van and spent weeks dehydrating and preparing their food. On the trip, they learned the importance of a tasty, nutritious meal. Fast forward to 2008 and Packit Gourmet was founded.

Packit Gourmet offers a Tex-Mex-inspired array of breakfasts, entrees, and desserts, with both cook-in-the-bag and skillet meals. Some of Packit’s wraps and salads can be prepared using cold soaking, which we found to be a great lunchtime option as it saved us from having to unpack our stove.

The cook-in-the-bag meals were certainly easier, but on a weeklong trip, it was nice to pack along a few skillet meals, which tasted more “real” than a backpacking meal. For breakfast, we loved the Skillet & Biscuits, which we cooked in a pan. We also enjoyed the Southwest Corn & Black Bean Salad, which we made with cool water for lunch.

Something to note: one of our testers accidentally packed a few skillet meals on his trip when he meant to pack boil-in-a-bag options. Make sure and pay attention to which kind you buy or pack!

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Backpacking Meals: Best of the Rest

AlpineAire ($11.95)

alpineaire backpacking meals

Pros: Filling, EZ fill line
Cons: Large packs, not super tasty
Favorite Meals: Wild Mushroom Fettucine Alfredo & Grilled Chicken Pad Thai

When you’re backpacking, calories and macronutrients are extremely important. Our testers felt that the AlpineAire meals delivered in both departments.

AlpineAire also breaks down its nutrition facts with half-a-bag and full-bag options, so it’s easy to see what you’re getting if you split or eat the entire thing solo.

These meals were bigger and heavier than the others on our list, but they also offered a lot more food and were more filling. The Grilled Chicken Pad Thai and the Wild Mushroom Fettucine Alfredo were our testers’ favorites—the flavor wasn’t amazing in either, but it was good enough, and they were filling at the end of long days.

Another thing we appreciated about the AlpineAire meals was that the bags included “EZ fill lines,” so a measuring cup wasn’t necessary.

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Trailtopia ($7.50)

trailtopia backpacking meal

Pros: All-natural ingredients, good flavor
Cons: Low calorie content
Favorite Meals: Chicken Cashew CurryPesto Chicken Pasta

Like many backpacking meal brands, Trailtopia was born on the trails. Founder Vince Robichaud loved to backpack, bike, camp, kayak, canoe, climb, ski, and stargaze and he began experimenting with recipes for trail friendly meals. In 2013, Robichaud decided to share his recipes with the world and Trailtopia was born.

Trailtopia’s offerings include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desserts. Although Trailtopia doesn’t use 100% clean ingredients, they do use as many all-natural ingredients as much as possible, which we greatly appreciated. We enjoyed their oatmeals for breakfast complete with dried fruit. For dinner, our favorite meals that we sampled included the Chicken Cashew Curry and the Pesto Chicken Pasta. Both meals tasted good and we liked that we recognized the ingredients. However, we found the calorie content to be a little on the low side (360 calories for the curry and 370 calories for the pasta).

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Backpacking Meals Comparison Table

Brand Meal Cost Servings Per Pouch Calories Fat Carbs Protein Weight Cook Time (Sea Level)
GOOD TO-GO Cuban Rice Bowl $15.50 2 1070 35 g 164 g 30 g 8.7 oz 12 minutes
Heather’s Choice Grass-Fed Beef Spaghetti $15.95 1 560 13 g 82 g 27 g 4 oz 20 minutes
AlpineAire Grilled Chicken Pad Thai $11.95 2 530 8 g 93 g 25 g 4.97 oz 10-12 minutes
Nomad Nutrition Kathmandu Curry $13.50 1 600 12 g 75 g 13 g 4 oz 12-15 minutes
Backpacker’s Pantry Three Cheese Mac & Cheese $9.95 2 510 18 g 64 g 24 g 4.2 oz 15 minutes
Mountain House Fettucine Alfredo $11.50 2 820 46 g 64 g 34 g 5.5 oz 9 minutes
Packit Gourmet Southwest Corn & Black Bean Salad $12.99 1 530 22 g 73 g 21 g 5 oz 15 minutes
Trailtopia Chicken Cashew Curry $7.50 1 360 8 g 54 g 19 g 6.4 oz 10 minutes

How We Tested the Best Backpacking Meals

Our lead tester, Rebecca Parsons, has a lot of backpacking experience under her belt. She went on her first backpacking trip in college while attending UC Santa Cruz. She was a member of their backpacking club for four years. Since, she’s hit the trails in California, Hawaii, New Zealand, Iceland, and Catalina, and plans to continue exploring new places via her own two feet.

To test these meals, our tester and her husband went on a seven-day sea kayak camping trip in Palau. Each day, they paddled anywhere from six to thirteen miles, with several snorkeling stops along the way. As a result, they were extremely hungry and eager to test the meals. Additionally, our testers sampled the backpacking meals in hotel rooms, in their home, on a quick trip to the Na Pali coast on Kauai, and on a trip to Catalina Island.

They took into consideration the calorie content of each meal, how packable it was, how easy each was to make, the macronutrients each offered, and, of course, the flavor.

A woman eats one of the backpacking meals from this guide while sitting in a cave at the beach

Enjoying a Backpacker’s Pantry dessert after a long day of kayaking. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Backpacking Meals Buyer’s Guide

Packability 

When you’re backpacking, space is tight, and every ounce counts. So you want meals that are volumetrically tiny and calorically dense. All the meals we tested were freeze-dried and came in vacuum-packed pouches but varied in size and weight slightly. For shorter trips, we prioritized flavor.  But for longer trips, we took calorie count and weight into consideration and preferred meals that were high in calories but low in weight.

Ease of Preparation 

For the most part, the backpacking meals we tested followed the same format: You boil water, pour it into the bag, reseal it for the directed amount of time, stir, and you’re good to go. Some of the meals could be cooked with cool water, making no stove necessary.

We also had a few meals that necessitated a skillet. The skillet meals required more work and a pan as opposed to a pot, but they typically tasted more like a home-cooked meal than a boil in a bag. It all comes down to whether you value convenience or taste. For the most part, we preferred the easier, just-add-hot-water meals. But on a seven-day trip, it was nice to have some skillet options as well.

two backpacking meals and stove on the beach

The GOOD TO-GO’s Cuban Rice Bowl was our top-pick backpacking meal. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Measurements

Each meal included directions on how much water to add. The only caveat is that none of them came with measuring cups or pour-to lines except for AlpineAire. We wish that the meals had fill-to lines, but since they don’t, you may want to bring a plastic measuring cup with you (or a water bottle with measurements). We didn’t and eyeballed it — most of the time, we were successful, but a couple of times, our ratios were off.

a variety of backpacking meals sitting on the grass

We loved the variety of backpacking meals out there. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Serving Size

Some of the meals we tested came in single-serving packs, while others contained two servings. When meal planning for your trip, be sure to check the number of servings per pack. Additionally, check the calories and macros per serving.

In some cases, we found that the two-serving packs were enough for two people, but in other cases, they were enough for just one person. Factor in how hearty of an appetite you tend to have and how much exercise you’ll be doing each day.

two fettucine alfredo backpacking meals on the beach

The battle of the alfredos. Mountain House came out on top. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Ingredients in Backpacking Meals

When it comes to ingredients in backpacking meals, there seem to be two camps: ingredients you know and recognize or a slew of highly artificial ingredients you’ve never heard of.

To each their own, but we really enjoyed having meals with clean ingredients that we were familiar with. The only downside of this is that they sometimes didn’t last quite as long (due to a lack of preservatives). We also noticed that the clean meals weren’t as flavorful or calorically dense as the more traditional options.

Dietary Restrictions

Back in the day, dietary restrictions and preferences went out the window on backcountry trips, and food was food. These days, lots of folks have allergies, restrictions, or strong food preferences. Luckily, the companies that make backpacking meals do a great job of accommodating. We tried vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and traditional meals and appreciated the wide range of options.

a backpacking meal and a stove on the beach

Nomad Nutrition uses clean ingredients to create tasty meals. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Alternative Options to Backpacking Meals

Packaged backpacking meals are tasty and convenient, but they are also pricey. Luckily, they aren’t your only option when hitting the backcountry.

While most companies offer breakfast options, we often prefer some simple Quaker oats. They’re affordable and easy, and you can pour hot water straight into the bag and eat from it. If you have access, another great option is military meals, which typically don’t even require a stove (they tend to be heavy, though). You can also assemble your own meals utilizing freeze-dried ingredients like potatoes, veggies, and meat. Tortillas and some sort of spread are a solid lunch option.

Best Overall Backpacking Meal
Best Overall Backpacking Meal

Founded in 2014, GOOD TO-GO was one of the first backpacking brands to offer healthier options. Packed with flavor, all of their meals are gluten-free, low in sodium, and free from preservatives.

Price: $15.50

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Spice Kit

Most of the backpacking meals we tested were loaded with spices, especially salt. As a result, most were quite tasty. But some were a little lacking in flavor. At a minimum, we would recommend bringing salt and pepper in case you wish to add some flavor, but a small spice kit would be even better. Hot sauce is often worth its weight in gold on the trail.

Additional Snacks

Backpacking meals are great, but you’ll want to bring some snacks to supplement them. Most of the backpacking meals we tested range from 300 to 600 calories, which isn’t enough to meet the recommended 2,000 calories a day. Not to mention the fact that if you’re hiking or kayaking all day, you’re likely burning well over 2,000 calories. Great trail snacks include trail mix, granola/protein bars, dried fruit, and jerky.

Nothing’s better than sharing food with a loved one. Check out our Best Camping Gear for Couples guide to round out your meal. Then, pull up a seat at the table with our Best Camping Chairs roundup. For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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