Food & Drink

The Best Freeze Dried and Dehydrated Meals of 2024

Posted by
Clay Abney
November 27, 2023
Updated February 01, 2024

dehydrated camp meals

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Go light and fast thanks to these tasty freeze-dried hiking meals.

If you’ve been backpacking long enough, you likely remember a time when hikers had very little variety or choices when selecting options for the trail. Thankfully those days are long gone as advancements in dehydration, freeze-drying, and packaging of these meals have improved significantly. Additionally, many brands are also utilizing chefs who are creating tastier meals that not only pack a punch in regards to providing the necessary nutrients but also a more flavorful approach, including vegetarian and vegan solutions.

Over the last four decades (and counting), I have experienced this evolution firsthand. While choosing the “best” meals from the array of options on the market is truly a subjective endeavor, we banked on our experience and tried to choose meals that would cater to a wide array of discerning palates. 

When I first started backpacking, I was a young Boy Scout. We carried large external-frame packs and we weren’t afraid to carry extra weight, like canned foods, bacon and eggs, etc. As we gained more experience, our trips became longer and our meal selections became more calculated. We would go to the Army-Navy Store and procure MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) packages. This evolved into other freeze-dried meal options. As Scouts, we always took turns preparing meals for the group on longer outings into the backcountry. 

I’m a creature of habit. I prefer to enjoy the same meals over and over as I stick with what works. However, in recent years, I have been branching out. I will try a meal at home to ascertain its potential selection for backcountry use. Some of the selections below have been in my quiver for years if not decades while others have made the short list and are relatively newer additions. And while you pursue my selections below, enjoy personal stories around each and why they are my top picks.

camp meals

Our Top Picks: Best Freeze-Dried Meals of 2024

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Full Breakfast

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

  • Servings: 2
  • Calories: 680
  • Protein: 39 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 45 grams
  • Fat: 38 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: N/A

When you have a lot of miles ahead of you, fueling up properly is essential. The Mountain House Breakfast Skillet is the perfect catalyst for that long day ahead with a whopping 39 grams of protein. Just two cups of water and 15 minutes of prep time unleashes this flavorful blend of whole eggs, peppers, hash browns, and 100% real sausage. 

Breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the day. I like to take it a step further by bringing along some tortillas (and perhaps a few salsa packages or a little hot sauce) and making breakfast burritos for a one-hand meal while you break camp or I have made an extra one for a mid-morning trail snack. 

Buy at REI

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Vegetarian Breakfast

Good To-Go Ranchero Scramble

Good to go ranchero scramble

  • Servings: 1
  • Calories: 330
  • Protein: 15 grams 
  • Carbohydrates: 46 grams 
  • Fat: 11 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: Gluten-free, Vegetarian, Peanut and Tree Nut-free, Soy-free

One of the newest offerings from Chef Jen and the Good To-Go team is this savory vegetarian breakfast complete with real scrambled eggs, black beans, and cilantro brought together with an aromatic and flavorful house-made ranchero sauce. Add ¾ cup of boiling water to the pouch, wait 10 minutes, and then add in included dried plantain chips for a little extra crunch. And like the breakfast skillet above, adding this to a gluten-free wrap makes an ideal breakfast on-the-go meal.

I had to add this one as it provides a vegetarian option. I am not a vegetarian though I do dabble in reducing my consumption of meat regularly. I just tried this one for the first time a few weeks ago and it has risen in the ranks as an eggs-only option to the aforementioned “best full breakfast”. I treated it the same way using the tortillas but also enjoyed it as a dinner meal as I wasn’t feeling the other freeze-dried meal that I had brought along. It was like IHOP for dinner.

Buy at Good To-Go

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Trail Snack

Heather’s Choice Packaroons

Heather's Choice Packaroons

  • Servings: 1
  • Calories: 150 
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 12 grams 
  • Fat: 11 grams 
  • Additional Dietary Info: Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Vegan

This may very well be my favorite trail snack. Why? These tiny snacks from Heather’s Choice pack an amazing 150-160 calories into each individually wrapped delight. These gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan coconut cookies come in 8 flavors: Black Espresso, Blueberry Almond, Cherry Almond, Lemon Lavender, Mint Chocolate, Orange Vanilla, Sweet Coconut, and one of my favorites – Snickerdoodle.

Let’s face it, we have all carried Snickers (or Butterfinger, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, or all of the above) on backpacking trips. They are great except they are extremely messy on warm days when the chocolate melts in the wrapper and you resort to Lord of the Flies techniques to extract the remnants from the wrapper. Enter the Packaroons. With 8 flavors, they provide enough variety without the mess. I carry an assorted mixture with my favorites being the Blueberry Almond, Lemon Lavender, Orange Vanilla, and Snickerdoodle. 

Buy at REI

 

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Backcountry Indulgence

Patagonia Provisions Wild Sockeye Salmon (Smoked)

Patagonia Provisions smoked salmon

  • Servings: 3
  • Calories: 100
  • Protein: 13 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fat: 6 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: Non-GMO 

Regardless of how advanced these meals have become over the last few decades, nothing beats a non-dehydrated or freeze-dried option. Enter the wild sockeye salmon from Patagonia Provisions. It’s ready to eat right out of the pouch and makes a fantastic gourmet addition to a camp dinner or a trailside lunch without any prep involved. This responsibly harvested catch from the North Pacific will ignite your taste buds. 

Nothing tastes better than real food, especially after 4 days on the trail and I love the salmon. And while the lemon pepper is my go-to for trips, I have also indulged in the black pepper pink salmon and the lightly smoked sockeye salmon as well. One of my favorite meal combinations is having the salmon along with the three-cheese mac and cheese. Aside from the cheesy goodness requiring a little heated water, there is minimal prep time and the salmon is also great mixed into the noodles.

Buy at REI

 

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Dessert

Backpacker’s Pantry Blueberry Peach Crisp

Backpaker's Pantry Blueberry Peach Crisp

  • Servings: 2
  • Calories: 540
  • Protein: 12 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 92 grams 
  • Fat: 16 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: Vegetarian

More often than not, I always include a dessert of some kind at the end of each day. And while I don’t do this much at home, I like a little indulgence in the backcountry. Adding just ¾ cup of water to the Backpacker’s Pantry Blueberry Peach Crisp brings this buttery brown sugar treat to life. Oat crisp, a hint of cinnamon and a fruity cascade of blueberries and peaches served warm is the perfect pairing before retreating to your tent for the evening.

Call it dessert or call it breakfast, I’ve enjoyed this sweet treat for both. I don’t normally crave sweets. However, after a long day on the trail or paddling, there is nothing better after a big meal than indulging in a pre-bed dessert.

Buy at REI

 

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Chili

Heather’s Choice Grass-Fed Bison Chili

Heather's Choice Bison Chili

  • Servings: 1
  • Calories: 520 
  • Protein: 44 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 60 grams
  • Fat: 14 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: Gluten-free, Dairy-free

Is there anything better than a bowl of hot chili on a cool evening whether you are at home or in the wilderness? I think not. Plus, this spicy Heather’s Choice Grass-Fed Bison Chili delivers an amazing 44 grams of protein in this single-serving pouch. The bison is surrounded with kidney and pinto beans, bell peppers, and jalapeños and is ready in just 20 minutes.

Though this meal can pull double duty as a warm or cold weather meal, there is something about a hot bowl (or bag) or chili on a cool evening in camp. When the temperatures begin to drop, I like to carry a little cheddar cheese to add to the top. Chili is one of those meals that nearly everyone has their favorite toppings and it’s easy to cater to personal preferences or just right out of the bag. Now, if I can only find a way to transport some good old-fashioned cornbread to accompany my chili, it would be the topper. 

Buy at REI

 

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Kid’s Meal

Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce

mountain house lasagna

  • Servings: 2
  • Calories: 440
  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 60 grams
  • Fat: 12 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: 

Even the most discerning kids love a little pasta. And whether spaghetti or lasagna, this is bound to please regardless of age. And unlike cooking pasta at home, this lasagna with meat sauce from Mountain House is ready in just 10 minutes and there’s no messy cleanup. The enriched wheat noodles are layered with a flavorful meat sauce topped with a three-cheese blend (parmesan, romano, and mozzarella) for an ooey-gooey Italian meal in a pouch.

Like my near spaghetti disaster mentioned above, pasta is a delicacy at the end of the day. I was a picky eater as a child and then only liked the buttery noodles. I didn’t know what I was missing back then. Now, the lasagna meal is a staple on multi-day fall and winter trips as the warm, cheesy noodle concoction provides a satisfying meal before sliding into my sleeping bag for the night. 

Buy at REI

 

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Vegetarian Meal

Good To-Go Cuban Rice Bowl

Good to Go Cuban Rice Bowl

  • Servings: 1
  • Calories: 540
  • Protein: 30 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 82 grams
  • Fat: 17 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: Gluten-free, Vegetarian

Take a little of the Caribbean into the backcountry with this Cuban Rice Bowl from Good To-Go. This dish is loaded with 82 grams of carbohydrates to replenish those depleted stores from an exhausting day on the trail. This combination of long-grain rice and black beans provides ample protein in this bold, flavorful pouch. Topped with a tasty garlic crema sauce and plantains, this taste of the islands is ready in just 12 minutes. 

Thankfully, I have expanded my childhood culinary habits as this spicy little dish is fantastic right out of the bag or in a wrap. I’m not going to lie, I’ve also indulged in this meal wrapped in a tortilla for a breakfast burrito on multiple occasions. 

Buy at REI

 

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Pasta Meal

Mountain House Fettucini Alfredo with Chicken 

mountain house Alfredo with chicken

  • Servings: 2
  • Calories: 820 
  • Protein: 34 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 64 grams
  • Fat: 46 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: 

Fettucini Alfredo is truly a comfort food and adding chicken only enhances this Mountain House staple. And like all pasta dishes, the ability to seal up the pouch when done makes for a no-fuss meal on or off the trail. Ready in just 9 minutes, this fusion of tender pasta in a butter and parmesan sauce with chunks of chicken makes it the perfect meal at the end of a hard day of adventuring.

There is just something about a little Italian that warms the heart and soul after a long day. And while there isn’t the bottomless bowl of salad and warm breadsticks, this is the next best thing. 

Buy at REI

 

Best Freeze Dried Meal: Best Comfort Food

Backpacker’s Pantry Three Cheese Mac & Cheese

Backpacker's Pantry Mac and Cheese

  • Servings: 2
  • Calories: 510 
  • Protein: 24 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 64 grams
  • Fat: 18 grams
  • Additional Dietary Info: Vegetarian

I don’t care how old you are, nothing beats a side of mac & cheese with a meal or as a standalone meal. Arguably, this Three Cheese Mac & Cheese from Backpacker’s Pantry could easily accompany any of the other items in this story. And while this dish has one of the longer prep times of any of the above (close to 15 minutes), the cheesy blend of romano, cheddar, and parmesan coating the elbow noodles will be so worth the wait. 

This childhood staple has long been one of my favorite meals whether it be a standalone or accompanying side to a larger meal. I have added the salmon (mentioned above) along with other items to mix in with the cheesy noodles. This is also the one constant on any backpacking trip and I always keep a few extra on hand so it never misses making it into my pack. 

Buy at REI

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