It almost goes without saying: dinnertime is one of the best parts of any backpacking trip. There’s just nothing quite like warm, filling food after a long day on the trail. In choosing the best backpacking meals of 2024, we focus on taste, nutritional value, packability, preparation time, and cleanup. In addition, weight, calories, and price certainly matter to most backpackers, so we calculated handy “calories per ounce” and "calories per dollar" specs for each. For more background information on choosing the right meal, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks. To complete your mealtime toolkit, see our article on the best backpacking stoves.

Our Team's Backpacking Meal Picks

Best Overall Backpacking Meals

1. Backpacker’s Pantry ($10 - $13)

Backpacker's Pantry backpacking meal (Pad Thai with Chicken)Cooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 15-20 minutes
Calories per ounce: 115
What we like: Great bang for your buck and incredible selection.
What we don’t: Long cook time; other brands have more interesting and/or healthy menus.

Choosing a top pick is never easy, especially when it comes to something as subjective as food. Everyone has their own taste and dietary preferences, caloric needs, and budget, and we’re not here to tell you what to like. What’s more, in 2024, there’s no shortage of incredible mom-and-pop companies serving up delicious and nutritious backcountry meals (don’t worry, we’ll get to these below). All that said, we’ve reserved our best overall pick for a reliable standby that offers a large and diverse menu—including many gluten-free, vegan, and organic options—and great bang for the buck: Backpacker’s Pantry. Their Pad Thai, which comes complete with a small package of peanut butter and handful of separately packaged peanuts, is one of our all-time favorites.

If you visit the food aisle of just about any outdoor store, you’ll see Backpacker’s Pantry, Mountain House, and AlpineAire compete for the title of most ubiquitous backcountry meal. All three are reasonably priced and come in flat, packable pouches, large serving sizes, and a plethora of special diet options. But we think Backpacker’s Pantry meals taste better than the competition, and at 58.8 calories per dollar on average, they offer excellent bang for your buck, too (Mountain House and AlpineAire meals average 52.7 and 48.5 cal/$, respectively). For value alongside great flavors and recognizable ingredients, Backpacker's Pantry puts it all together better than most. And if you're willing to spend up for gourmet, organic, or all-natural menus, check out options like Heather's Choice and Good To-Go below.
See Backpacker's Pantry Meals


Best Budget Backpacking Meals

2. RightOnTrek Adventure Meals ($8 - $15)

_RightOnTrek Adventure MealsCooking method: Pot
Average cook time: 6-10 minutes
Calories per ounce: 118
What we like: Affordable meals and the option of convenient custom meal planning.
What we don’t: You’ll need to dirty a pot.

Food is expensive in 2024, and backcountry meals are no exception. For the most affordable option on the market, take a look at RightOnTrek. While their price tags are slightly lower than that of the competition (around $10 for single servings and $15 for double), the real kicker here is calorie count. These are legitimate one- and two-serving meals—while many meals that advertise as two-person offerings make a great dinner for one (like those from Firepot below), we’re guessing that most hikers won't be tackling RightOnTrek’s 1150-calorie two-serving Backcountry Chili on their own. And the numbers don’t lie: In our calorie per dollar metric, RightOnTrek scores head and shoulders above the rest. 

However, RightOnTrek’s meals come with one major caveat: They must be cooked in a pot over a stove, which is a lot less convenient than a just-add-water pouch. Most notably, this method requires dirtying a pot, which will then need to be cleaned before boiling water for coffee or tea (be sure to follow Leave No Trace practices when you dispose of your wastewater). On the other hand, RightOnTrek’s meals are faster to prepare than many of the just-add-water meals here, at about 10 minutes from start to finish. And we’re also big fans of RightOnTrek’s meal kits, which include everything you need for a day out (snacks, breakfast, hot drinks, and more). And for budget just-add-water pouches, check out Mountain House below.
See RightOnTrek Adventure Meals


Best Gourmet Backpacking Meals

3. Gastro Gnome ($17)

Gastro Gnome backpacking mealsCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 8-12 minutes
Calories per ounce: 126
What we like: Real ingredients and cooking practices; restaurant-quality flavors. 
What we don’t: Pricey; some might want blander meals in the backcountry.

Choosing between various backpacking meal options isn’t too dissimilar to deciding on a restaurant: You’ll factor in price, quality of food, amount of food, and overall experience. And as restaurants vary from fast food joints to fine dining, so too do your backcountry options. Gastro Gnome sits at the top of the food chain, with a small-team operation that uses real ingredients and bonafide cooking practices (including marinating their Indian Yogurt Braised Chicken overnight) to deliver truly top-notch meals. Their menu includes offerings like Almond Pesto and Mushroom Ragu Farfalle and Italian Fennel Sausage Rigatoni—and they actually taste as delicious as they sound.

At 125.5 calories per ounce, Gastro Gnome’s meals are about mid-pack in terms of caloric density, which is impressive in the gourmet category and makes them a totally viable option for everyone from ultralight thru-hikers to casual backpackers. And unlike most gourmet restaurants, there’s not much of a cost penalty with Gastro Gnome’s meals—they’re pricey at $17 per dinner, but in 2024, that’s just the high end of normal. You will want to prepare yourself for complex flavors, which not everyone is drawn to in the backcountry (sometimes we just crave good ol’ mac and cheese). But when sampled alongside other premium meals on a recent backpacking trip, all six members of our testing team concurred: Gastro Gnome’s entrées are something special. 
See Gastro Gnome Meals


Best Calorie-Dense Backpacking Meals

4. Pinnacle Foods Co ($16)

Pinnacle Foods Co backpacking mealsCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 12 minutes
Calories per ounce: 169
What we like: Best-in-class caloric density alongside real-food ingredients and great flavors.
What we don’t: High in sodium.

If you’re trying to keep your pack weight low while maximizing your food supply, Pinnacle Foods should be at the top of your list. This small but mighty High Point, NC-based brand uses fresh and natural ingredients to create high-powered entrées, which offer by far the best caloric density here at 169 calories per ounce. We’ve taken Pinnacle meals along on our last three backcountry outings, and have yet to be disappointed: Their Thai Peanut Curry is among the best we’ve tried, and the Italian Sausage and Zesty Tomato Sauce with Farfalle Pasta is just what you want after a long day out. For thru-hikers, climbers, serious backpackers, and anyone else needing filling meals at a low weight, give Pinnacle Foods a closer look.

Our one gripe with Pinnacle’s offerings is their high sodium content, which hovers around 50 to 70% of your daily value for each meal. But for Pinnacle Foods’ target audience, this could actually be a strong suit. They also give you the option between standard (Retort) and omnidegradable pouches, the latter of which have a shorter best-buy date, but are actually compostable (more and more we’re seeing these used in backpacking meals). All told, you’d be hard pressed to find another company that offers the same combination of great flavors, real-food ingredients, and caloric density—we’re always happy when we see a Pinnacle Foods pouch in our pack, and know it’s going to be a tasty and satiating meal.
See Pinnacle Foods Meals Co


Best Marketplace for Backcountry Chefs

5. Harmony House Foods

Harmony House Foods bulk dehydrated food for backpackingCooking method: Pouch/pot
Average cook time: 10-15 minutes
Calories per ounce: N/A
What we like: Extensive selection of nutritious staples for DIY backcountry meals.
What we don’t: Vegetarian and gluten-free options only. 

Harmony House’s website is reminiscent of the bulk foods aisle of your local grocery co-op, with a large assortment of dehydrated and freeze-dried offerings. Ambitious backcountry chefs can stock up on the staples—dried vegetables and beans, meat-flavored TVPs (short for textured vegetable protein), fruits and berries, soup blends, and more—and save a good deal of cash in the process. You can pre-pack your meals at home (Harmony House sells a few different sizes of just-add-water zip pouches) or bring the pantry to the field so you can improvise for each evening’s meal.

Unlike most backcountry food brands, Harmony House does not offer pre-packaged entrées, limiting their appeal to seasoned camp chefs or those inclined to DIY. And because Harmony House is completely vegetarian and gluten-free, you won’t find dehydrated meats or many simple carbohydrates, which are an easy way to tack on extra calories and protein in the field. Further, most hikers will simmer these supplemental ingredients in a pot along with instant rice or noodles (easily purchased at your local grocery store), resulting in additional cleanup compared to simple pouch meals. But if you’re on trail for long stretches and looking for an affordable yet healthy alternative to pre-packaged dinners, Harmony House is a great place to start.
See Harmony House Foods


Best of the Rest

6. Heather’s Choice ($13 - $16)

Heather's Choice backpacking meals (spaghetti)Cooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 20 minutes
Calories per ounce: 130
What we like: Ethically sourced food that tastes really good.
What we don’t: Expensive; not a ton of options.

After dehydrating her own backcountry food for years, Alaska-based Heather Feather launched Heather’s Choice via a Kickstarter campaign in 2015. Now, this small and growing company is one of our favorite choices when it comes to taste, ingredients, and gluten-free options. Heather takes care in putting together her meals, using high-powered foods such as coconut, maple syrup, wild-caught Alaskan Sockeye salmon, and 100%-grass-fed bison and elk. Impressively, many of the dinner options contain a whopping 35 to 40 grams of protein per serving and average out to 130 calories per ounce. And the cherry on top: each meal comes in an impressively tiny package (kudos to Heather for conserving materials), which is great for small packs and spoons alike.

You don’t get a ton of options with Heather’s Choice, especially if you’re a vegetarian (although each dinner is gluten, soy, egg, and dairy-free). Further, the one-serving meals will run you as much as $16, and at around 500 calories per entrée, you get a lot less bang for your buck than with Backpacker's Pantry above (34.2 calories per dollar vs. 58.8). But Heather’s Choice is some of the best-tasting and well-sourced backpacking food around, and the tradeoffs could be well worth it for those who don’t want to compromise enjoyment or nutrition while on the trail. And to complete your kit, we also recommend looking at Heather’s Choice’s breakfast options ($9) and her popular cookie-like Packaroons, which offer 170 calories of healthy fats and sugars in a 1-ounce package.
See Heather's Choice Meals


7. Good To-Go ($9 - $16)

Good ToGo backpacking foodCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 15-20 minutes
Calories per ounce: 113
What we like: Great flavors and healthy, real ingredients.
What we don’t: Can be too spicy; slower to cook than many of the options below. 

Good To-Go spearheaded the current generation of backpacking meals, which prioritizes the same whole foods and fresh flavors that many of us eat at home. Designed by professional chef Jennifer Scism, the assortment of all-natural, gluten-free meals have an ingredient list that is short and readable (translation: real food). Their volume of offerings can’t match some of the other big-name brands here—Good To-Go has 13 dinner options to date—but the combination of flavor, quality ingredients, and calorie-to-weight ratio earns this Maine-based company our resounding endorsement.

Good To-Go falls about mid-pack in both our calories per ounce and calories per dollar metric, although their meals are more affordable than much of the gourmet competition. That said, we’ve noticed ourselves reaching for Good To-Go less and less as the market expands: Their flavors can be rather harsh at times (on more than one occasion, the Thai Curry has been too spicy for us to finish), and the meals aren’t as tasty as those from brands like Gastro Gnome and Heather’s Choice. Further, their 20-minute cook time is one of the longest here. But if you’re gluten free (or even celiac) or want to eat healthy backcountry meals without deviating too far from the mainstream, it's hard to beat Good To-Go’s combination of quality ingredients, price, and selection.
See Good To-Go Meals


8. Firepot ($14 - $16)

Firepot backpacking meals 2Cooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 15 minutes
Calories per ounce: 108
What we like: Well-sourced and delicious meals; more affordable than Gastro Gnome and Heather’s Choice.
What we don’t: Not as calorie dense as Gastro Gnome's meals.

Founded in the rural southwest of England, Firepot is fresh on the scene in the U.S., now being sold through the outdoor giant REI. We tested a number of their meals on a recent backpacking trip in Patagonia, and were very impressed with what the small startup has put together. Their entrées represent a positive shift in backcountry cuisine that we’re all excited about: a focus on whole, natural ingredients and thoughtful flavors. Sourcing much of their ingredients from the rural area around their headquarters, Firepot’s meals are some of the best we’ve tasted, and include a number of vegan and gluten-free options as well.

Firepot goes head-to-head with Gastro Gnome as one of the best sourced and healthiest meals here. At 108 calories per ounce, it’s not quite as power-packed as Gastro Gnome, which might be a consideration for those particularly concerned about keeping pack weight low. But you do get a lot of calories per pouch—ours averaged about 770 calories per meal—which results in a better value overall (especially if you’re sharing your meal or like a healthy amount of food). All in all, Firepot is a great brand to have on your radar, and if you order from their website (a bit tricky from the States), you get the option of compostable packaging, too.
See Firepot Meals


9. Farm to Summit ($13 - $15)

Farm to Summit backpacking mealsCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 15-18 minutes
Calories per ounce: 117
What we like: Up-cycled imperfect produce; vegan, vegetarian, and GF options.
What we don’t: Average in terms of caloric density.

Farm to Summit joins the ranks of gourmet backpacking meals, with a small assortment of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free entrées made in small batches with real food. As their name states, Farm to Summit sources many of their ingredients directly from farms, and focuses especially on “imperfect” produce: fruits and vegetables that are rejected by grocery stores due to deformities, scars, or being overly ripe (last year, 32% of the produce in Farm to Summit’s meals was imperfect and would have otherwise gone to waste). At the time of publishing, they offer nine unique entrées, ranging from Thai Red Curry to Garden Mac & Cheese.

Farm to Summit meals are great for those who prioritize healthy eating and natural ingredients in the backcountry, but their veggie-forward menu might come up short for those wanting to pack in the calories. However, they’re nevertheless a great meatless option that’s priced a bit lower than much of the gourmet competition, and you can still get your protein with entrées like the Three Bean Chili (39g of protein). Finally, it’s also worth mentioning Farm to Summit’s powdered latte mixes—including Golden Milk Latte, Chili Mocha Latte, and Double Shot Latte—which come in single-serving packets and are a luxurious replacement for black coffee (just make sure you mix them really well—we’ve been turned off by powdered chunks).
See Farm to Summit Meals


10. Peak Refuel ($14)

Peak Refuel backpacking mealCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 10 minutes
Calories per ounce: 153
What we like: Packed with calories and protein. 
What we don’t: Dishes are noodle-heavy and only come in two-serving pouches.

Peak Refuel offers a competitive lineup of high-powered meals for your next adventure. Their dinners pack a serious punch with an average of 153 calories per ounce and one of the highest protein counts of any option on our list (an average of 22.5 grams per serving). And like Mountain House below, Peak Refuel’s entrées are freeze-dried, meaning that they rehydrate in just 10 minutes and with less water than dehydrated pouch meals. If you’re looking for an easy and quick way to replenish after a big day on the trail, Peak Refuel is a solid choice. 

All that said, there are some tradeoffs to going with such a power- and calorie-packed option. Unlike companies like Gastro Gnome that prioritize creative and quality ingredient lists, Peak Refuel’s offerings are fairly traditional and noodle-heavy. Further, we’ve found that the double service sizes aren’t ideal for solo adventures—with close to 1,000 calories per pouch, many hikers will end up sharing or having to save some for later (which can be a process). On the flipside, that means you can have dinner for two for just $14, which is more affordable than most options here. 
See Peak Refuel Meals


11. Stowaway Gourmet ($17 - $20)

Stowaway Gourmet Bison Beer Black Bean Chili (backpacking meals)Cooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 10 minutes
Calories per ounce: 146
What we like: La crème de la crème of backcountry meals.
What we don’t: Expensive.

If you’re looking for la crème de la crème of backcountry meals, check out Stowaway Gourmet. With entrée names like Bison Beer Black Bean Chili and La Pasta Nostra, you might even think you’ve stepped off the trail and into a gourmet restaurant. And the hype is real: We’ve tested a number of Stowaway’s offerings (including their breakfasts), and they taste just as good as the descriptions would suggest. They’re also packed with calories (scoring fourth on our list in terms of calories per ounce), making them a viable option for hikers concerned about keeping their pack weight low.

This might be a controversial opinion, but we found Stowaway Gourmet’s meals to be almost too tasty for the backcountry. Hear us out: The flavors are fairly complex, which can provide an interesting dissonance when the food is rehydrated mush eaten out of a plastic bag. This will have some demanding back their bland mac ‘n cheese, while more adventurous eaters might find at least one aspect of their palette refreshed. We’ll leave it up to you to decide.
See Stowaway Gourmet Meals


12. Mountain House Adventure Meals ($11 - $12)

Mountain House Adventure Meal backpacking foodCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 9 minutes
Calories per ounce: 133
What we like: A classic value choice with decent taste and high caloric density. 
What we don’t: Lots of preservatives and sodium. 

The Mountain House name is practically synonymous with freeze-dried food, and for good reason. They may not knock it out of the park in terms of taste, but these meals remain a reliable and lightweight standard for backcountry cuisine. Mountain House’s home-cooked-style dinners—like Chicken & Dumplings and Chili Mac with Beef—cook up quickly (9 min.) and are great for filling up after a long day on the trail. Importantly, you also get good bang for your buck with a price that undercuts similar two-serving options by around $4 to $5, as well as a high calorie-to-weight ratio. Plus, all Mountain House meals come with a 30-year Taste Guarantee, so you can buy now and eat much, much later. 

Mountain House has been dishing up backcountry meals for over 50 years, but the competition has never been fiercer. Unlike many of the modern gourmet options, you won’t find all-natural or organic ingredients here, and those with special diets should look elsewhere. In addition, the pasta-heavy menu hasn’t changed much in years, and each entrée is startlingly high in sodium (which can be a good thing, depending on your needs). And while Mountain House is a relatively affordable standby, Backpacker’s Pantry wins out in terms of calories per dollar. In other words, we think there are a number of better options in 2024, but we certainly won’t fault you for sticking with an old classic. It’s also worth noting Mountain House’s Pro-Pak lineup, which come in low-profile, single-serving pouches and are generally very high in protein. 
See Mountain House Meals


13. PackIt Gourmet ($13 - $15)

Packit Gourmet backpacking foodCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 10-15 minutes
Calories per ounce: 105
What we like: Tasty food with all the accoutrements. 
What we don’t: Pricey for what you get.

PackIt Gourmet isn’t quite a household name, but the small online marketplace boasts an impressively diverse lineup including prepackaged meals, bulk dried ingredients, individually packaged sauces, and even separate Cook-in-Bags for DIY dehydrated food. They offer more than 20 different tasty dinners (with a variety of options for special dietary needs) that are more flavorful than most of the competition. And PackIt sweats the details, too: For example, their Austintacious Tortilla Soup comes with a packet of lime powder, dehydrated jack cheese, and tortilla chips. 

But PackIt meals don’t offer a particularly great bang for your buck—many of their one-serving meals have less than 400 calories yet still cost $13 to $15, which is one of the worst values here. Some also require you to pack your own ingredients—like the Big’un Burrito with Fajita Chicken, which is BYO tortilla. Finally, the shelf life for most entrées is relatively short—only about a year and a half. But for those looking for smaller serving sizes and more creative options than the standard thai curry or mac ‘n cheese, PackIt’s unique, flavorful dishes are worth a shot. 
See PackIt Gourmet Meals


14. Trailtopia Adventure Food ($7 - $14)

Trailtopia Adventure Food backpacking mealsCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 8-15 minutes
Calories per ounce: 120
What we like: Quality ingredients and convenient packaging.
What we don’t: Doesn’t stand out in any other way.

Like entrées from brands such as Good To-Go and Heather’s Choice, Trailtopia’s ingredient lists are chock-full of all-natural foods with few chemicals or preservatives. Take their Cajun Smack Chicken & Rice, for example, which is similar to a meal you might have at home with long-grain rice, chicken, onion, broccoli, bell pepper, and spices. We’re also big fans of their short and stout packaging (you won’t have to go fishing with your spoon), and sample packs allow you to try out multiple meals at a discount before committing to full serving sizes. Finally, entrées are packaged to feed two (some single servings are available), and you can also pick up meat “side packs” to add extra protein.

There’s no denying that Trailtopia’s meals are healthy and taste good, which is great news at the end of a long day of hiking. What's more, at 59.2 calories per dollar, they offer fairly good value among the competition. That said, the menu is pretty standard and uninspiring, and you’ll have to dig a bit to find the gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options (you can’t filter specifically, but these designations are listed directly on the product pages). Finally, you can pack in more calories at a lower weight with brands like Pinnacle Foods and Peak Refuel. But small gripes aside, we’ve enjoyed digging into many a Trailtopia meal, and they get our wholehearted recommendation for those looking for real trail food.
See Trailtopia Adventure Food Meals


15. Itacate ($12.50)

Itacate Charge-Up Chilaquiles (backpacking meals)Cooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 5-10 minutes
Calories per ounce: 127.8
What we like: Tasty Mexican entrées that help promote diversity and inclusion in the outdoors.
What we don’t: Only three single-serving entrées to choose from.

Up until recently, backcountry-goers have had a fairly limited menu to choose from, consisting mostly of American (or American-adapted) dishes like mac and cheese, beef stroganoff, and chicken and rice. But in the past few years, many cottage brands have stepped up to fill in the gaps, and one of the most exciting new entries is Itacate. Built by a Latinx women with the goal of bringing Mexican comfort food to the outdoors, Itacate is getting their start with a small selection of entrées, including chilaquiles, caldo tlalpeño (a chipotle-based soup), and a lentil soup.

Itacate comes from the Nahuatl word Itacatl, which refers to the food you take on a journey. We’re excited to see Itacate providing a feels-like-home option for Latinx trail-goers, and they’re also a tasty pick for anyone looking for vegan and vegetarian backcountry food. You’ll pay a bit of a premium and the three entrée options are only available in single-serving varieties (each with 490 calories). But we love supporting small brands and especially those that promote diversity in the outdoors, and look forward to trying some Itacate for ourselves soon.
See Itacate Meals


16. Next Mile Meals ($16) 

Next Mile backpacking mealCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 7-10 minutes
Calories per ounce: 156
What we like: Incredibly nutrient-dense and generous serving sizes.
What we don’t: Expensive and limited offerings.

Next Mile Meals is a small company that hasn't been around for long, but we took their meals on a recent trek in Chile’s Parque Patagonia and came away very impressed with the flavors, ingredients, and quick cook time. Like Gastro Gnome above, Next Mile Meals actually taste like real food, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise after looking at the ingredient labels. These ketogenic entrées cut the carbs and pack in calorie- and nutrient-dense foods like meat, veggies, and cheese. It all adds up to an impressive 156 calories per ounce on average, which is one of the best calories-per-weight specs here.

Our main gripe about Next Mile is the price: $16 only gets you a one-serving pouch, and at only 34.9 calories per dollar on average, they’re far from a standout value (for reference, Peak Refuel's meals offer almost twice the calories per dollar). You also don’t get many entrée choices—seven at the time of publishing—but we expect more over time. Finally, Next Mile Meals are best within a year of purchase, and the included condiments have a short 180-day shelf life. But they’re a great option in terms of caloric density, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Next Mile Meals are also all-natural and taste great.
See Next Mile Meals


17. AlpineAire Foods ($10 - $15)

AlpineAire backpacking foodCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 10-12 minutes
Calories per ounce: 106
What we like: Low price and fun menu items.
What we don’t: Tastes like standard backpacking fare.

We’ll start by saying that AlpineAire meals sound delicious. With names like Al Pastor with Cilantro Lime Rice, Cheese Enchilada Ranchero, and Tuscan Grilled Chicken Alfredo, you practically feel like you’re ordering from a restaurant. They also offer a plethora of special diet options: low-sodium, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, and all-natural. And their eye-catching packaging clearly displays information on ingredients, serving size, and nutrition. The pouches are flat and packable, and the main courses are as speedy to cook as Mountain House meals. With a relatively low price, AlpineAire seems like the whole package. 

Unfortunately, the taste of AlpineAire meals just doesn’t measure up. Perhaps their names and labeling create overly high expectations, or maybe mixing healthy ingredients with a short cook time stresses the flavors. Whatever it may be, we find that AlpineAire dinners are either noticeably bland or so over-spiced that they are hard to finish. If you find one you like, stick with it. Otherwise, the pouch meals above are both tastier and more calorically dense.
See AlpineAire Foods Meals


18. Wild Zora Paleo Meals To Go ($13)

Paleo Meals To Go backpacking foodCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 10-12 minutes
Calories per ounce: 110
What we like: Incredibly nutrient dense.
What we don’t: Steep price tag of $13 for a single serving.

In a world of noodle-heavy backcountry meals, Paleo Meals To Go’s gluten-free and protein-rich offerings are refreshing, and you don’t have to be paleo to enjoy them. The Mountain Beef Stew Pouch we tried had an impressively natural ingredient list: beef, vegetables, spices, and sea salt. The meat (free range, grass-fed, and 100% natural) especially stood out—it retained the taste and texture of real meat better than other freeze-dried meats we’ve eaten. And Wild Zora now offers Quinoa Bowls too, which also have an impressive ingredient list and come in both meaty and vegan options.

But Paleo Meals To Go come at a high price: $13 for one serving, to be exact. For that cost, you could have three servings of Backpacker's Pantry. They’re also available in less varieties than before—we can only find three dinners on their website at the time of publishing. But the nutrition is hard to beat: For one serving of Mountain House Beef Stew, you’ll get 15% of your recommended daily Vitamin A, 15% of Vitamin C, and 8% of Iron, while one serving of Paleo Meals To Go’s Beef Stew Pouch is packed with 320%, 45%, and 35%, respectively. That’s a huge selling point for those who are focused on getting more than just calories from their backcountry meals.
See Wild Zora Paleo Meals To Go


19. Nomad Nutrition ($14)

Nomad Nutrition backpacking mealsCooking method: Pouch
Average cook time: 8-12 minutes
Calories per ounce: 130
What we like: Unique dehydrating process and surprisingly calorie- and protein-packed.
What we don’t: Limited selection and not the best value.

A small company founded by an adventurous foodie from British Columbia, Nomad Nutrition offers nutrient-dense meals with a strong emphasis on whole food ingredients. And despite being mostly plant-based and 100% gluten- and dairy-free, Nomad’s entrées are startlingly calorie- and protein-packed, topping our list with an impressive 130 calories per ounce and 15 grams or more of protein per packet. And Nomad is doing things differently with their unique dehydrating process called REVdry, which cuts out the need for preservatives and keeps the ingredient list both natural and low in sodium (a rarity among the competition).

Compared to Peak Refuel above, Nomad Nutrition’s meals have less calories per ounce, although they manage to pull it off without a single noodle-based dish. But while two hungry hikers can get away with sharing a Peak Refuel pouch, Nomad’s similarly priced meals will likely only feed one (they average about 600 calories per pouch), making them the pricier option by a sizable margin. For some it might be worth it: Looking inside a Nomad Nutrition pouch is a clean-eater’s dream, with a colorful rainbow of real food such as potatoes, broccoli, peppers, corn, peas, and more. All told, the company is off to a promising start, and we’re excited to see where they’re headed.
See Nomad Nutrition Meals


Backpacking Meals Comparison Table

Food Price Cal/$* Method Time Cal/Oz* Special Diet Options
Backpacker's Pantry $10-13 58.8 Pouch 15-20 min. 115 GF, vegan, vegetarian
RightOnTrek Adventure Meals $8-15 76.2 Pot 6-10 min. 118 GF, vegan, vegetarian
Gastro Gnome $17 42.8 Pouch 8-12 min. 126 GF, vegetarian
Pinnacle Foods Co $16 47 Pouch 12 min. 169 Vegan, wheat free
Harmony House Foods N/A N/A Pouch/pot 10-15 min. N/A GF, vegan, vegetarian
Heather's Choice $13-16 34.2 Pouch 20 min. 130 GF
Good To-Go $9-16 49.1 Pouch 15-20 min. 113 GF, vegan, vegetarian
Firepot $14-16 50.8 Pouch 15 min. 108 GF, vegan
Farm to Summit $13-15 52.2 Pouch 15-18 min. 117 GF, vegan, vegetarian
Peak Refuel $14 60.5 Pouch 10 min. 153 Vegan, vegetarian
Stowaway Gourmet $17-20 32.2 Pouch 10 min. 146 GF, vegetarian
Mountain House $11-12 52.7 Pouch 9 min. 133 GF, vegetarian
PackIt Gourmet $13-15 32 Pouch 10-15 min. 105 N/A
Trailtopia Adventure Food $7-14 59.2 Pouch 8-15 min. 120 GF, vegan, vegetarian
Itacate $12.50 39.2 Pouch 5-10 min. 127.8 Vegan, vegetarian
Next Mile Meals $16 34.9 Pouch 7-10 min. 156 GF
AlpineAire Foods $10-15 48.5 Pouch 10-12 min. 106 GF, vegan, vegetarian
Wild Zora Paleo Meals $13 26.2 Pouch 10-12 min. 110 GF
Nomad Nutrition $14 38.5 Pouch 8-12 min. 130 GF, vegan

*These numbers represent the averages of weight, price, and calories per serving for the top five meals from each brand (when available).

Backpacking Meals Buying Advice

About Our Rankings

Backpacking food is a difficult gear item to rank because taste is highly individualized. Some of us love high-sodium meals in the backcountry, while others crave all-natural ingredients. Some prioritize flavor and nutrition, while others look for calorie-dense meals that pack down small. Our rankings above take all of these factors into consideration: price, weight, flavor, ingredients, packaging, variety of menu, and more. But because we’re all looking for something different to eat, you simply might not agree with our numbering. That’s okay. Using the chart above, you can hone in on what matters most to you and compare the specs for all of the meals we included.

Backpacking food (group photo)
From simple to gourmet, there is a wide range of backpacking food options

Cooking Method: Pouch or Pot

One way we’ve categorized the meals in this article is by cooking method: pouch or pot. In 2024, many backcountry travelers opt for “pouch” meals like Backpacker's Pantry or Good To-Go due to their ease of preparation and cleanup. You simply add boiling water to the pouch and let it sit for the specified amount of time, and no bowl or pot is required (nor is cleaning said bowl or pot after your meal). Notably, the lack of cleanup also reduces impact on fragile wilderness environments. On the other hand, “pot” meals—like those from RightOnTrek—require that you pour the dried contents into a pot, add water, and most often heat the meal over a flame. Sometimes instructions will require that you simmer the meal for up to 10 minutes (requiring a backpacking stove with good flame control). Of course, when the meal is finished, you have to clean the pot and pack it away for your next day on the trail.

Pouring water into a dehyrated backpacking meal
To prepare a pouch meal, just add water and wait the recommended time

Cooking Time

Depending on the cooking method, the meals in this article take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to cook. For pouch meals such as those from Heather's Choice, you simply let the food sit in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes—no need to tend to it. Pitch the tent, collect more water, sit down and work on a crossword with your hiking partner—20 minutes will fly by. We personally don’t mind this waiting time and find the distinction between 8 and 20 minutes almost inconsequential (although this doesn’t mean that we don’t dig in a little early and eat crunchy noodles on the rare occasion). On the other hand, pot meals like those from RightOnTrek require that you stir the meal occasionally as it simmers, meaning you’ll need to be beside your backpacking stove for the duration of the cook time.

Eating breakfast in camp at sunrise (backpacking meals)
Backpacking meals take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to prepare

Calories and Serving Size

We’re not here to provide an equation for calories burned based on mileage, elevation gain, pack weight, altitude, body weight, and metabolism, or give our opinion on whether or not a backpacking trip is a prime time to start a diet. We’ll leave that to the experts and to your own personal discretion. But we will say if you want to stay strong and energetic during outdoor activities, you’ll generally need to eat more than you would on a normal day at home. It’s quite simple: for every calorie out, you want to put at least one in. With that in mind, calories are your friends in the backcountry and the numbering on nutritional labels deserves your attention. 

When you find the calorie number on the back of your food pouch, take note that it denotes the number of calories in a single serving. This is not necessarily the number of calories for the whole pouch: some are single serving, others are double, and some are even made to serve four people. And keep in mind that companies vary significantly on serving size. A standard Gastro Gnome meal, for example, can contain up to 850 calories per serving, while an average Mountain House meal serving size is 264 calories. Speaking from personal experience, on a serious backpacking trip we find that we need a double serving from most brands to satiate our hunger at dinnertime. For this reason, we recommend that you pay more attention to the calorie count than the serving size, and don’t be shy about eating far more than one serving. Not often does food go to waste in the backcountry…

Gastro Gnome backpacking meal (nutrition label)
Serving sizes vary greatly, so you'll want to pay most attention to the calories

Weight (Calories per Ounce)

Whether you’re a thru-hiker who saws off half your toothbrush and tears completed pages out of your book, or a weekend warrior who enjoys creature comforts on the trail, all backcountry travelers share some level of concern about weight. Because food is such a large portion of your load, the goal is to maximize taste and calories for the least number of ounces. For this, our “calories per ounce” spec can be your guide.

To come up with this number, we divided the number of calories by the weight of the packaged meal. For example, Stowaway Gourmet's meals average 573 calories per 3.92 ounce serving: divide 573 by 3.92 and you get 146, the calories per ounce. You’ll want to aim for around 100 calories per ounce, and the larger this number, the better. To illustrate, an average PackIt Gourmet meal contains only 105 calories per ounce, whereas Pinnacle Foods Co meals contain 169 calories per ounce. So, if you’re hoping to consume a 700-calorie dinner, Peak Refuel will weigh 4.1 ounces, and your PackIt Gourmet dinner 6.7 ounces. Add it all up over a week-long trip, and with heavier food you’re either carrying a lot more or dealing with an empty stomach.

Backpacking food (comparison photo)
To determine caloric density, divide the number of calories by the weight

Ingredients and Dietary Restrictions

All-Natural Options
Much to the delight of the health-conscious, there are a growing number of all-natural (meaning real food: no artificial flavors, additives, or preservatives) backcountry meal options. In fact, the majority of brands here—including Good To-Go, Gastro Gnome, Pinnacle Foods Co, Heather's Choice, Next Mile Meals, and Firepot—pride themselves on using only natural ingredients. Others, such as AlpineAire, have many all-natural options and strive to use only real food ingredients whenever possible.

Preservatives are one of the most common unnatural offenders in backcountry meals, added to increase the shelf life and guard food from being spoiled by microorganisms such as mold, bacteria, and yeast. Although some preservatives are natural (salt, garlic, spices), many are manufactured chemicals. Mountain House’s 30-year guarantee is an extreme example, requiring a good deal of unnatural ingredients and a heckuva lot of sodium for such a long shelf life. On the other hand, if you can read an ingredient label and know where to find each entry in the grocery store, chances are they’re natural.

Backpacking meal ingredients
The number of all-natural backpacking meal options is growing each year

Special Diets
Most backcountry food brands have adapted their menus to accommodate the growing vegan, vegetarian, paleo, ketogenic, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free (etc., etc.) markets. Generally, it shouldn’t be difficult to find meals that suit your dietary needs. Good To-Go pouches, for example, are fully gluten-free. Farm to Summit only sells vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free cuisine, Heather’s Choice only uses ethically sourced meats, and Next Mile Meals appeals to the ketogenic crowd. Finally, AlpineAire offers a filter feature on their website that allows users to find meals with specific ingredients or special diet options. To help highlight the possibilities, we’ve included the “special diets” spec in our table above.

Heather's Choice backpacking meal gluten-free
Heather's Choice meals are gluten-free

The American Heart Association recommends that adults limit their sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day, and ideally not exceeding 1,500 mg. However, most healthy and active individuals who spend much of the day sweating in the hot sun will need—and thus crave—high-sodium foods to replenish what is lost. With an average of 400 to 800 mg of sodium per serving (and remember, you’re probably eating more than one serving), it’s no secret that most backcountry meals are high in sodium (Pinnacle Foods' meals are among the worst offenders, with up to 1,570 mg/serving). If you’re looking to keep your sodium intake down, pay special attention to the nutritional facts (we see a great deal of variation from meal to meal). Additionally, meals from Good To-Go, Farm to Summit, and Nomad Nutrition tend to be lower in sodium than most.

Eating backpacking meals in Patagonia
Backpacking meals can be very high in sodium

Dehydrated vs. Freeze-Dried

Dehydrating and freeze-drying are two distinct methods of food preservation. In the freeze-drying process, food is placed in below-freezing temperatures and gradually warmed, moving water in the food from a solid to gaseous state. The dehydration process, on the other hand, exposes food to hot and dry air over several hours (smoking and sun-drying are also methods of dehydrating). In the end, the freeze-drying process removes 98-99% of moisture from food, while dehydrating removes 95%. Both processes result in dried food that needs to be soaked in water to regain its size, texture, and edibility, but with noticeably different characteristics.

Due to its lower water content, freeze-dried food is lighter and has a longer shelf life than dehydrated food. Surprisingly, it also rehydrates almost twice as quickly—freeze-dried Mountain House meals cook in 9 minutes versus the 20 minutes required for dehydrated Good To-Go meals. On the other hand, dehydrated ingredients shrink more (think plum to prune), meaning they’ll take up less room in your pack. They’re also known to keep their original texture better than freeze-dried ingredients. In terms of taste, the two methods go head to head.

Cheers around backpacking stove in Patagonia
Some brands use a combination of freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients

While some brands (like Good To-Go and Mountain House) use either exclusively dehydrated or freeze-dried ingredients, most use both. Manufacturers use discretion when choosing which process works best for each ingredient, weighing the pros and cons of flavor, size, and price. In short, the freeze-dried versus dehydrated debate matters little to the everyday consumer. The companies do the legwork to find the best way to dry food, so we can sit back after a long day on the trail and enjoy the outcome. 

Breakfast and Coffee

To complete your meal kit, most backpackers will want to add breakfast and coffee (and snacks) to their shopping list as well. For many of us, breakfast is a lighter, quicker, and simpler meal than dinner, and oftentimes bulk oatmeal or a bar with some dried fruit will suffice. But for those who prefer a more substantial or elaborate start to their day, there are myriad options to choose from. Most brands featured above offer a lineup of breakfasts too, ranging from savory options like the Mountain House Breakfast Skillet to sweet treats like Backpacker’s Pantry Granola with Bananas, Almonds and Milk. Packaged backcountry breakfasts usually start as low as $7 and are available in one- and two-serving options.

Backpacking food (pancake)
Cache Lake's fry bread makes for a great breakfast treat

If you’re anything like us, breakfast just isn’t complete without a hot cup of coffee. You have a lot of options when it comes to a backcountry brew, ranging from lightweight and portable pour-over setups to disposable drip coffee kits from brands like Kuju. The most lightweight solution is instant coffee, which we’ve found to be perfectly sufficient for our morning cup of joe. A number of options are available, from Trader Joe’s to the ubiquitous Starbucks Via. Our personal favorite is Alpine Start, a small start-up out of Boulder that specializes in making fantastic coffee for the trail. Alpine Start can be made with hot or cold water and is good enough that we’ve even been caught drinking it at home a time or two.

Pouring hot water into cup (morning coffee while backpacking)
Nothing beats coffee on a cold morning in the backcountry

Bulk Ingredients

The pouch meals predominantly featured in this article might be your most convenient option for backcountry dining, but they aren’t the only way to eat dehydrated or freeze-dried ingredients. Maybe you’re pinching your pennies, cooking for the masses, or just enjoy channeling your inner chef in the wilderness. You can find bulk dehydrated and freeze-dried ingredients from a number of online vendors, including Harmony House Foods, HQ Organics, and PackIt Gourmet. And recipes aren’t hard to come by: with a simple Google search you can find tasty meal ideas like this Beef and Barley Stew

DIY Dehydrated Meals

You’re paying a pretty penny for convenience when you opt for the prepackaged meals above. A one-stop shop at your local gear store (or even online) can save you hours in meal planning for your next backcountry trip. That said, if you’re inclined to DIY, you can save yourself a great deal of money by dehydrating your own meals. You can even do so in your oven, although most will find an actual food dehydrator works better. You’ll usually want to cook your ingredients before dehydrating (a raw onion, dehydrated and then rehydrated, is still a raw onion). Many online guides provide the temperature and time specifications for different types of food. And take note: if you’re dehydrating food and planning to store it for months or years, make sure that it’s properly dehydrated and fully sealed.

Backpacking food (DIY)
A food dehydrator allows you to prepare your own backpacking food

Other Meal Options

The prepackaged meals and dehydrated ingredients we’ve mentioned above are the most convenient and lightest way to eat in the backcountry. That said, there really are no rules here and plenty of “real” options. Macaroni and cheese, couscous and canned chicken, a frozen burrito bought the morning of, Tasty Bites, even fresh vegetables: the sky is the limit. For some, food preparation (rather than simply pouring water into a pouch and waiting 10 minutes) can even be a fun way to relax at the end of the day. There’s no denying that dehydrated meals are the easiest, but don’t let this article lull you into thinking that they are the only way to go. Be creative and have fun out there.

Backpacking food (sodium)
If you're willing to dirty a pot, the options for backcountry cooking are endless

Stoves, Fuel, and Cooking Supplies

Many of the meals in this article rehydrate in their pouch, making them popular options because they only require adding boiling water. For these meals, we recommend bringing an all-in-one stove system such as the Jetboil Flash. It’s compact, boils water quickly, and is reasonably priced. For “pot” meals, you’ll probably want a more traditional stove with a simmering function, like the MSR PocketRocket 2 or Dragonfly. For more information including our top picks, check out our article on the best backpacking stoves. If you want to leave the stove behind, consider bringing pre-cooked dinners (like MREs or Omeals) or meals that can be hydrated with cold water.

Backpacking food (pot system)
MSR's PocketRocket has a great simmer function

The amount of fuel you’ll need on your next backpacking adventure depends largely on whether you’re eating “pouch” or “pot” meals. For pouch meals, you simply boil the water, turn off the stove, and pour the water into the pouch. For pot meals, on the other hand, you might need to boil or simmer the food for up to 10 minutes. If you’re out for a week, this cook time can certainly add up to a lot more fuel. Keep in mind that altitude, temperature, and wind are also factors in how much fuel you consume. 

For meals that require cooking over a flame, take your pick from a wide assortment of pots and pans, from ultra-lightweight titanium to more durable stainless steel or aluminum. When cooking for more than one, we recommend bringing a lightweight bowl or mug/bowl combo along. If you’re traveling solo, you can save weight and just eat straight from the pot. Finally, keep in mind you might want a second pot or kettle to use exclusively for boiling water for hot drinks.

Backpacking food (meal prep)
You'll want to match your stove system to the type of meals you plan to prepare

Shelf Life and Emergency Preparedness

A meal’s shelf life denotes the amount of time that it retains its flavor, nutrition, and edibility. Looking at the brands above, the shelf lives vary from 1 to 30 years, depending on the preservation method (dehydration, freeze-drying, or pre-cooking) and type/amount of preservatives used. This information is easy to find on the packaging or manufacturer website. To guarantee their shelf life, backcountry meals should be stored fully sealed in a cool and dry environment (no refrigeration needed). 

Most backcountry enthusiasts are buying for their next adventure, meaning that shelf life shouldn’t be a concern for most. But backpacking food, as it turns out, is also ideal for emergency preparedness—it takes up less space on your shelves than canned goods (the benefit of that calorie-to-weight ratio), lasts for a long time, and is easy to prepare. For stocking up in case of an emergency (or if you’re buying in bulk for trips well into the future), the shelf life is a specification worth considering. And if food storage is your main intent, we do recommend buying in bulk. Companies like Mountain House offer their meals in cans and even buckets, which will take up significantly less space and save on both packaging and money.
Back to Our Top Backpacking Meals Picks  Back to Our Backpacking Meals Comparison Table

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