What Is the Best Dehydrated and Freeze Dried Food for Hiking, Camping, and Backpacking? (Part 2)

Wild Zora Mountain Beef Stew

Into the Paleo Diet? You’d love this meal from Wild Zora.

While expensive at almost $13 per pouch, Wild Zora’s Mountain Beef Stew is arguably the best-tasting backpacking food in the bunch and one of the easiest to prepare. 

Review Summary

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Are you a newbie to backpacking food? We’re not.

Food is at the top of our list of backpacking essentials. We love it so much that a couple of posts ago, we reviewed five of the most popular standard freeze dried food brands in the market today.

Now while that list is pretty awesome, it isn’t as exhaustive as we’d like. For one, it focused on mainstream brands like Mountain House and didn’t cater to people with special diets and alternative lifestyles, like vegan or vegetarian backpackers.

We also wanted to include food choices for people with gluten sensitivity or those who simply want to keep their grub healthy. Lord knows how hard it is for these folks to find good backpacking food out there, so here’s what we did:

We reviewed another batch of freeze dried food and dehydrated backpacking meals specifically for that demographic.

If you want to discover healthy backpacking food choices that fit your diet or lifestyle, we’ve got just the thing for you, so read on:

What Types of Backpacking Food Did We Cover?

Before we dive into the actual review, here’s a quick low-down on the types of backpacking meals we covered in this article:

  • Vegetarian  – Vegetarian diets do not include meat but may have other animal products like dairy and eggs.
  • Vegan  – Unlike the vegetarian diet, the vegan philosophy believes in avoiding all animal products outright. That means no meat and meat by-products like eggs, dairy, honey, or animal fat. Vegans also don’t buy products with leather, suede, wool, or animal skin.
  • Pescatarian  – Pescatarians can be considered “semi-vegetarians.” They still avoid meat but eat seafood and shellfish.
  • Paleo  – The Paleolithic diet, also known as the Paleo, hunter-gatherer, or caveman diet, is based on foods that the prehistoric human presumably ate. This diet centers around lean, grass-fed meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and berries. It doesn’t include food produced through farming and agriculture, such as dairy, grains, and bread.
  • Gluten-Free  – Gluten is a protein often found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. People who are gluten-sensitive or those with celiac disease avoid products with these ingredients.

How Are These Foods Different From Regular Freeze Dried Backpacking Meals?

backpackers pantry freeze dried food backpacking organic

What sets these special meals apart from the usual ones you see in big-box stores and mainstream retailers? Here are a few factors to consider:

Ingredients

While most backpacking food brands don’t mind piling on the sodium and artificial preservatives on their products, the items we reviewed in this article are more health and eco-conscious.

You obviously won’t find any meat or meat products on vegetarian or vegan options. For brands that do have meat, they’re most likely organically sourced or come from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals.

On top of this, you’ll often find that the rest of the ingredients are non-GMO, certified organic, gluten-free, or don’t contain allergens like nuts.

Price

good to go backpacking food

Because of these unique ingredients, these backpacking food options are more expensive. Organic, non-GMO ingredients need specific certifications and are harder to source. Free-range meat is also pricier than their factory-farmed brethren. Plus, most of these products are made by small businesses that operate right out of their kitchens.

A freeze dried or dehydrated food pouch with these ingredients can fetch around $10-$15 on average. In contrast, commercial freeze dried food brands cost only about $4-$8 a pop.

Shelf Life

To quote one of the brands featured in this review: “real food cannot and should not endure until the end of time.” Most organic camp food only lasts around 2-5 years on average because they tend to shy away from artificial preservatives.

Some meals also use dehydration. This process doesn’t take away as much moisture as freeze-drying, so the meals have a shorter shelf life.

For comparison, the most popular freeze-dried food companies have products that can last for 20 to 30 years.

Prep Time

The usual prep time takes about 15 minutes, but some can go for as long as 20 or 30. Again, this is because some of the food is dehydrated rather than freeze-dried. Dehydrated food takes longer to reconstitute. Organic food brands also love using rice in their offerings, which takes more time to rehydrate.

Packaging

These brands are all about sustainability. While a number of them use the standard aluminum pouches, many organic and specialty food brands are adamant about using packaging that you can bury, burn, or compost. This means no aluminum, no plastic, and no cooking and eating in the bag itself.

How We Did Our Review

trail fork backpacking food

We begin each product review with research. We first looked into the best-selling variants of dozens of brands. We read reviews from customers, checked out other test articles, and watched more than a handful of videos.

In choosing the items, we considered the ingredients, nutritional value, cooking time, ease of preparation, environmental impact, and of course, perceived taste. From there, we created our shortlist of items.

As with all our reviews, the products we’ve tested here were bought out of pocket. Once we got them, we did a first-impressions test in a controlled environment (aka our test kitchen). We put together an editorial review team to give us feedback on the taste, texture, and overall quality of each product. Then, we embarked on an overnight camping trip to test how easy they are to prepare in the outdoors.

You’ll find the results of our testing and review below.

The Best Organic, Vegan, and Gluten-Free Backpacking Meals

Wild Zora Mountain Beef Stew

Into the Paleo Diet? You’d love this meal from Wild Zora.

While expensive at almost $13 per pouch, Wild Zora’s Mountain Beef Stew is arguably the best-tasting backpacking food in the bunch and one of the easiest to prepare. 

Review Summary

Features

  • Diet: Paleo, gluten-free
  • Taste: 5 stars
  • Shelf life: 2 years
  • Calories: 370 per serving
  • Weight: 3 oz
  • Cooking time: 5-15 minutes, depending on the altitude

Pros

  • Delicious
  • Short preparation time
  • High calorie and protein content

Cons

  • Expensive

wild zora mountain beef stew

Wild Zora is a family-owned dehydrated and freeze dried food brand based in Colorado.

Known for their healthy camp food choices and non-GMO ingredients, this brand is a favorite among backpackers and hikers who want to eat good food without the added preservatives, sugars, or chemicals. The company also prides itself on only using meat from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals.

Their Paleo Meals To Go feature a selection of food pouches that are high in protein from said meat, plus lots of vegetables. They’re also dairy and gluten-free, which is great for lactose-intolerant and gluten-sensitive folks out there.

For this review, we tested out their Mountain Beef Stew variant.

Now, refreshing isn’t a word you’d often use to describe freeze dried food, but Wild Zora’s Mountain Beef Stew is just that. At first glance, you might think it’s just another boring meal catered to people with sensitive guts, but the opposite is actually true. Wild Zora’s Mountain Beef Stew is filling, well-seasoned, and smells really good. While one pack contains only one serving, it does make up for a huge percentage of protein and energy, which is perfect after a full day outdoors.

We love that the meal reconstitutes well in such a relatively short amount of time. It doesn’t take that much water, either. It’s got a generous amount of beef bits plus huge chunks of mushrooms. The addition of sweet potatoes and carrots also helps improve the overall taste and texture of the meal.

Each component is served in equal proportions, so you get a good portion in each spoonful, too. If you find the meal a tad bit drier than expected, just add some hot water before you chow down.

Whether you’re a paleo enthusiast or not, this backpacking food makes for an excellent time outdoors. We’d recommend it to anyone who loves to eat a filling meal without the empty calories. The packaging is lightweight, so you won't have a problem stuffing it in a camping backpack. 

Good To Go Thai Spicy Yellow Coconut Curry With Veggies And Jasmine Rice

Good To Go Thai Spicy Yellow Coconut Curry

Who needs a fancy personal chef when you can buy some gourmet backpacking meals from Good To Go?

Good To Go, founded by big-shot New York chef Jennifer Scism, believes in creating healthy and delicious food choices for the trail. We’re guessing she had one too many bad beef jerky and started to take matters into her own hands. Today, Good To Go is home to a roster of foods free from gluten and preservatives. They also have options for vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians.

We tested one of their pescatarian meals, the best-selling Thai Curry With Veggies And Jasmine Rice.

Review Summary

Features

  • Diet: Gluten-free, pescatarian
  • Taste: 4 stars
  • Shelf life: 5 years
  • Calories: 380 per serving
  • Weight: 6.6 oz
  • Cooking time: 20 minutes

Pros

  • Delicious
  • High calorie and protein content
  • Big serving
  • Long shelf life

Cons

  • Long prep time
  • Needs a lot of water

Perhaps the only thing you have to carefully consider about this meal is its cooking time.

Because it’s dehydrated and not freeze-dried, Good To Go’s meals can take around 20 minutes to cook at sea level. This backpacking food, in particular, is packed with a lot of rice, so you’ll also need a significant amount of water (about two and a half cups) to cook it.

Don’t worry about it being too soupy at the beginning—the rice actually absorbs the moisture well.

The string beans are a bit soggy after reconstitution, but the rest of the meal is quite good. In fact, we’ll go so far as to say that this dehydrated food closely resembles a home-cooked meal. The curry flavor isn’t too overpowering and the rice rehydrates properly, too.

The coconut milk, which is packed in a separate pouch, ties everything together nicely. We know this ingredient is notorious for turning tummies haywire, but thankfully, no stomachs were upset during testing.

If you want a filling meal and have the resources to spare, Good To Go’s Thai Curry is a good choice.

You'll enjoy this meal if you love a good kick of spice in your lunch or dinner. It’s filled with fragrant jasmine rice, veggies, and a rich helping of creamy coconut milk. A single pouch comes with two generous servings at 380 calories each, so this is an excellent go-to meal if your tank’s running empty after a long day on the trail.

Backpacker’s Pantry Jamaican Style Jerk Rice And Beans With Chicken

Backpacker’s Pantry Jamaican Style Jerk Rice And Beans With Chicken

If you’ve been hiking or camping for some time now, you’ve probably heard of Backpacker’s Pantry. This Colorado-based freeze dried food company has a wide selection of tasty flavors and varieties, including best-sellers like the Fettucini Alfredo with Chicken and Dark Chocolate Cheesecake. Their vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are quite varied, too.

The thing is, this tasty reputation didn’t seem to translate to their Jamaican Style Jerk Rice meal, as you'll find out shortly.

Review Summary

Features

  • Diet: Gluten-free
  • Taste: 3 stars
  • Shelf life: 7-10 years
  • Calories: 310 calories per serving
  • Weight: 6.3 oz
  • Cooking time: 15-20 mins (doubles every 5,000 feet)

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Long shelf life
  • High calorie and protein content

Cons

  • Long prep time
  • Needs a lot of water
  • Bland flavor

At 310 calories per serving, Backpacker Pantry's Jamaican Style Jerk Rice meal packs on a lot of energy. The beans and chicken also provide as much as 19 grams of protein. On top of that, this backpacking food also has one of the longest shelf lives at 7-10 years per pouch.

Unfortunately, the taste just isn’t there. Many reviews say this doesn’t taste like Jamaican Jerk at all, and we agree. It’s just a bland mix of sweet and sour flavors thinly spread all throughout each spoonful, and it didn't taste as good as we expected. The rice rehydrates well if you give it enough time, but it’s got a peculiar after-taste that reminds you it’s been in a pouch for months.

The upside is that the beans had a better consistency and texture compared to the rice. The veggies also had a nice crunch to them, which is a good consolation. Even if the chicken bits were small, they tasted fine nonetheless.

This entree is a good choice if you don’t mind the bland taste much. It’s got a good amount of calories and protein, plus you can keep it for a long time. You’ll just have to pack some salt, pepper, and other spices to improve its taste somewhat.

Mary Jane’s Farm Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice

Mary Jane’s Farm is one of the pioneers in the outdoor and farm living arena. For years, they’ve built an empire on homesteading tips, household items, books, magazines, and of course, organic food.

They have a wide array of options when it comes to backpacking food. For this review, we tested out their Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice. Unfortunately, this meal failed to meet our expectations.

Review Summary

Features

  • Diet: Organic, gluten-free, and vegan
  • Taste: 2 stars
  • Shelf life: 2 years
  • Calories: 290 per serving
  • Weight: 4.3 oz
  • Cooking time: 5 minutes

Pros

  • Organic
  • Non-plastic, non-aluminum packaging
  • High calorie and protein content
  • Short preparation time

Cons

  • Bland flavor
  • No ziplock

While made from organic ingredients and certified vegan, Mary Jane’s Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice was just plain bland.

Sure, you can taste the lentils and a bit of the rice—which both had an unappetizing texture, by the way—but there was zero Indian Spice. The currants also made for an odd sweet-sour taste that didn’t sit well with the seasoning.

Our advice on how to improve this meal?

Pack some hot sauce or extra salt and pepper. It’s the only way to make up for its taste…or, in this case, the lack thereof.

The upside is that the meal packs a good caloric punch at 290 calories per serving. If you’re really starving out on the trail and don’t mind the taste, this can fill your stomach just fine. It also makes for a fast meal—it only takes around 5 minutes to prepare.

If you’re big on using biodegradable materials and reducing waste, you’ll love this product’s packaging. While you can’t zip it up top, it’s made from non-plastic and non-aluminum materials. You can burn it in your campfire or bury it without harming the environment.

Mary Jane’s Farm may have had good intentions when they developed this backpacking food. It’s made of organic ingredients, packed with good calories, plus it’s gluten-free and friendly to vegans. It’s just too bad that it doesn’t taste good at all.

Trail Fork Pizza Casserole

Trail Fork is another brand committed to saving Mother Earth from the dangers of plastic packaging. All of their vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free backpacking food come in a plastic-free, biodegradable pouch. You can bury it on the ground, turn it into kindling, or add it to your compost pit, which is pretty cool.

The downside is that you can’t cook and eat in the bag itself. When preparing your meals, you’ll have to empty the contents into a separate bowl or pot and cook it there.

As for what we think about the actual food, you'll have to keep reading!

Review Summary

Features

  • Diet: Vegetarian
  • Taste: 1 star
  • Shelf life: 1 year
  • Calories: 650 per serving
  • Weight: 6.3 oz
  • Cooking time: 15 minutes

Pros

  • Biodegradable pouch

Cons

  • Pasta did not rehydrate
  • Has to be prepared in a separate bowl

Trail Fork's Pizza Casserole meal consists of orzo pasta, tomato sauce, and a good helping of cheese. 650 calories a pop isn’t bad at all, plus pizza on the trail sounds like a really good idea, so we went ahead and added this to our list of freeze dried and dehydrated food to review.

To our disappointment, this ended up being the worst in the bunch. While the seasonings smelled great and the soup didn’t have that been-in-the-bag-for-a-couple-of-years aftertaste, the orzo pasta did not reconstitute at all.

Letting it sit beyond the fifteen-minute mark yielded the same results. That was when we found out the hard way that undercooked, crunchy pasta didn’t make for good dinner. Which is really too bad, because the rest of the meal seemed promising.

We don’t doubt Trail Fork’s commitment to producing healthy backpacking food and sustainable products. The concept behind their Pizza Casserole dish is great, and it would’ve made a hearty backpacking or camping meal, had the pasta reconstituted properly. Maybe we’ll have better luck trying their other bestsellers in the future.

Final Thoughts

Camping and backpacking food doesn’t have to be unappetizing, nor does it have to be full of salt and chemicals. In this review, we found out that eating on the trail can be a delicious and healthy experience, too.

Sure, there were some hits and misses, but all of these dehydrated and freeze dried food passed muster in terms of ingredients and energy content.

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian backpacker or someone who just wants to eat clean food without the hassle, we wanna hear from you. Which one of these freeze dried food brands did you like best?

If you’ve got suggestions for our next review, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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