Shopping for easy, ready-made meals for backpacking or your emergency go-bag? These are my top picks for the best freeze-dried meals out there.
I don't always camp with freeze-dried meals.
One of my favorite things about camping is campground cooking, and I love to add fresh produce to our food and make it (mostly) from scratch.
But sometimes that's simply not practical.
For example, when we flew to California to go backpacking in Yosemite, we brought along freeze-dried meals.
When we flew to Arizona to hike Camelback Mountain and the Siphon Draw Trail, we knew we'd be car camping (not backpacking), but flying with our Coleman 2-burner propane stove was out of the question. Instead, we brought a small backpacking stove and some freeze-dried meals.
Are Freeze-Dried Meals Worth the Price?
There's no doubt about it, at $5 to $15+ per serving, these meals can be pricey.
There's something so satisfying about eating a hot, well-seasoned meal after a full day of hiking. Some of us (me, for instance) get pretty grouchy when we live on trail mix for days.
If you have the time (and equipment) to make dehydrated meals at home, go for it! No, dehydrating is not the same as freeze-drying, but making dehydrated meals might be a little more accessible for most people than freeze-drying.
Otherwise you (like me) will have to buy your meals.
That said, I never really worry about buying too many of these meals, because they have long shelf-lives and are perfect for emergency go-bags or emergency shelter-in-place rations.
Best (+ Worst) Freeze-Dried Meals
Below are some of the best freeze-dried meal options (in my opinion). I think you'll find these meals surprisingly delicious, especially if you're feeling a little suspicious about freeze-dried food.
Keep in mind that most of these meals (all of them except for Omeals) require a heat source to boil water.
Obviously, I haven't tried every brand out there, so if there's a meal you love and I completely missed it, let me know what it is!
But first, a word of caution. Some freeze-dried meals are just plain nasty.
I don't have a full list of the "worst" freeze-dried meals out there, but I will say that I do not like freeze-dried eggs. In my opinion, freeze-dried breakfast "egg" scrambles are the worst.
If you want to try a meal with freeze-dried eggs, I recommend starting with just one egg-filled meal. Don't buy them in bulk for the first time, because (again), they are the worst.
Our Top Freeze-Dried Meals
We tried lots (and lots) of freeze-dried meals. To make it into our top choices, we had some criteria.
The meals needed to be relatively easy to find.
They needed to be somewhat affordable, which to us meant that the meals were competitively priced and (preferably) fed at least two people per package.
We also checked the calorie count, because a few of the meals we tried had quite low calorie counts, and we almost always eat freeze-dried meals when we're HUNGRY. We were aiming for at least 300 calories per person.
Our reviews below won't go into the calorie information, since each meal is different. But know that we took that into account when trying meals.
Also, because we love desert backpacking, we kept an eye on the amount of water required per meal. I'm always most impressed when meals use less than one cup of water per serving. If you've got limited water available on your hike, this one matters!
Finally, these meals had to taste good!
When I shop for freeze-dried meals, I usually begin by looking for Mountain House meals.
Mountain House meals are easy to find. I've bought them online, in the camping section at Walmart, and also at outdoor retailers like Cabela's.
These meals are relatively affordable and (in general) fairly tasty. They also tend to use a moderate amount of water and cook quickly. These are among the fastest cooking meals we tried!
We haven't loved every Mountain House meal we've tried, but most of them have been pretty fantastic (especially when you've been hiking all day long!).
Keep in mind that Mountain House meals tend to be fairly high-carb and most (or all) of their entrees include meat.
The Mountain House Chicken Fajita Bowl is one of my favorites. It's both tasty and filling.
We usually scoop this meal into tortillas, and then wrap them up to make burritos for an even more satisfying meal.
Mountain House also has a freeze-dried chicken curry meal! I like to bring along a variety of flavor options on my trips, and curry helps make that possible.
Tip: If you like your curry spicy, bring along some red pepper flakes!
Backpacker's Pantry is another one of our top freeze-dried meal choices.
Their meal flavors are slightly more adventurous than Mountain House, and Backpacker's Pantry makes an impressive variety of meatless options. These meals are also nice to have on hand if you do eat meat, but want to mix things up with some meatless meals.
While their freeze-dried meals aren't usually available at Walmart, I have seen them in person at REI. Also, the meals are fairly easy to buy online.
So far, my favorite is their Backpacker Pantry's Pad Thai. It's both vegan and gluten-free, and was surprisingly delicious.
Looking for something warm and cozy? Try Backpacker Pantry's Three Sisters Stew.
For extra calories, try scooping the beans and rice into a tortilla and rolling it into a burrito!
These were some of the best tasting meals we tried!
That said, Peak Refuel meals tend to be slightly pricier than our top two choices, and (when we tried their meals), there were fewer meal options than the other brands we enjoyed.
If you want to try Peak Refuel meals, they're easiest to find online or at a specialty outdoor-gear store such as REI. When we looked, I did not find their meals at Walmart or Cabala's.
Best Freeze-Dried Meals: The Runner-Ups
These freeze-dried meals are our runner-up selections! We did enjoy them, but these wouldn't necessarily be our go-to meals.
That said, we did really like the flavor of these runner-up meals, so they might be good options for you, depending on your needs.
OMeals Self-Heating Meals
If you need a meal that will self-heat, no stove (or backpacking stove) required, try OMeals.
OMeals self-heat, and there are several vegetarian options.
Why aren't they one of my top picks?
The packaging is heavier than other meals, so I don't love this for a long backpacking trip. Also, the portions are single-serving, making these meals much pricier than most of my other choices.
That said, the flavors are good and the self-heating packaging might be a perfect option for some of you!
Omeals vegetarian chili is an awesome meatless option.
Eat it with corn chips, or scoop it into a tortilla for extra calories.
If you're looking for a protein-packed, self-heating freeze-dried meal, this Omeals Southwest-Style Chicken and Rice is perfect. Again, try eating it in a tortilla for extra calories.
If you love Cajun seasoning, try this Omeals Chicken Creole with Brown Rice! I recommend bringing along some red pepper flakes if you like things spicier.
Heather's Choice makes single-serving freeze-dried meals with light packaging.
We tried the African Peanut Stew and the Spinach Curry with Chicken and Rice. Both were delicious (although both needed hot sauce, especially the chicken and rice).
Why isn't this brand one of my top picks?
These meals are single-serving, making the price comparatively high per serving.
Also, both of the options we tried used over one cup of water (even though they were just one serving), which is more water than most of the other meals we've tried (per serving). Since we typically take freeze-dried meals backpacking, I kept thinking about how much extra water we'd have to filter!
That said, these were delicious options, so if you're a solo hiker and the flavor options sound good to you, Heather's Choice is a great choice!
Good To-Go is a small company located in Maine. And I do love supporting small businesses!
They make a nice variety of single- and two-serving freeze-dried meals in lots of different flavors and dietary preferences. At the time of purchase, all the meals we saw available were gluten-free. Other dietary options were also clearly labeled on the packaging.
The meals we tried had really nice flavors, and I would definitely buy these again.
Why isn't this one of my top picks?
All of the meals we chose required a lot of water, over one-and-a-half cups per serving. That may be on me, since I mostly ordered their soups!
The chicken pho we tried had wonderful flavor, but with 3-⅓ cups of water added, I would be hesitant to take it on a backpacking trip with limited water sources. Also, I found it slightly tricky to eat the soups out of the packaging, and ended up pouring them into bowls.
That said, not every Good To-Go meal uses that much water. I did go back and review packaging for other meals, and found that some (like their risotto) use about one cup of water per serving. It's definitely something to be aware of if you'll be rationing your water.
These meals were delicious though, and would work well if you're backpacking with bowls (or mugs), and if you've got lots of water available. I'd also be happy taking these Good To-Go meals to a developed campsite with potable water available.
Firepot is a small company located in rural England. They specialize in vegan freeze-dried meals.
We tried their porcini mushroom risotto and vegan orzo bolognese.
We enjoyed the flavors in both meals, but thought the bolognese was better than the risotto.
Why isn't this brand higher on my list?
On average, these meals tended to have less protein and more carbs per serving than our favorite meals did.
Also, these meals used at least one cup of water per serving. The risotto used more.
These meals might be a good option if you're looking for vegan options, have easily accessible water and aren't concerned about eating a carb-heavy meal.
Best Freeze Dried Meals: Breakfast
Typically when backpacking, we like to pack instant oatmeal packets. They're cheap and filling.
Sometimes we like to bring along a backpacking breakfast meal to shake things up and keep our meals more interesting.
As mentioned above, I am not a fan of freeze-dried egg meals. Instead, I recommend oat or granola breakfast meals.
We liked this Backpacker's Pantry blueberry walnut oat option, as well as Mountain House's granola with milk and blueberries.
Best Freeze-Dried Dessert Options
Do you like to end a long hiking day with something sweet?
Expect for all of the desserts listed above to taste like really satisfying puddings.
Other Freeze-Dried Meals We Tried
These options weren't our favorites, but might be worth trying if it fits your dietary preferences, budget or just sounds good to you!
We also tried Alpine Aire's freeze-dried meal options, and were pleasantly surprised to see that these meals (when we looked) were slightly more affordable than some of the other options.
We also loved their selection of vegetarian options, such as the Alpine Aire Forever Mac & Cheese. Their meat options are clearly labeled with the type of meat, which I really appreciated.
However, our testers didn't love the flavor of most of Alpine Aire meals that we tried. Also, these meals did seem to have a bit more sugar added than the other meals we tried, so if that matters to you, make sure to check out the nutrition labels before buying.
That said, the price is good, and it might be worth trying to see if you like it more than we did. We found the best selection of Alpine Aire meals online and at Cabela's.
Nomad Nutrition makes a small selection of plant-based meals. The meals we saw were all single-serving and on the pricier side.
That said, their meals sounded amazing! We tried their Hungarian Goulash and their Caribbean Curry.
Unfortunately, our testers didn't care for the flavor of either of these meals. If you like a different one and think we should give it a try, let us know!