When you're going on long hikes, weekend camping trips, or backpacking adventures, saving weight in your pack is usually top of mind—which is why dehydrated backpacking meals are so convenient. The flat packaging is a space-saving hack—a stack of three barely weighs over one pound—and these just-add-water backpacking meals are more flavorful, calorie-rich, and enjoyable than just hawking down a baggie of trail mix
...Or at least, they should be.
That's what I set out to test on a four-day backpacking trip where my partner and I both ate nothing but Backpacker's Pantry freeze-dried food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
About Backpacker's Pantry
A family-owned company, Backpacker's Pantry has been in business since 1951, producing freeze-dried meals for outdoorspeople—breakfasts, entrees, desserts, and even emergency meal kits—with a shelf life of three to 10 years. Based in Boulder, Colorado, its facility is solar-powered, and as a member of 1% For the Planet, it donates one percent of every sale to nonprofits around the world.
The meals are designed to accommodate a variety of diets, using sustainably sourced ingredients to produce diverse options. So, if you're dairy-free, vegetarian, or gluten-free (like I am), you won't go hungry on the trail.
How I Tested
While I'm no stranger to outdoor adventures, this was my first time diving into the wonderful world of dehydrated meals. Personally, I've always been a minimalist with nutrition on camping trips—nuts and dried fruit, energy bars, jerky, or maybe a sandwich would accompany me on long hikes and overnights. The freeze-dried stuff always seemed designed more for convenience than enjoyment, a pouch of soupy calories to be gulped down with a grimace.
Despite my skepticism, I was determined to be fair and open-minded. Each meal was judged by the following standards: Did it reconstitute well, not remaining crunchy or becoming soggy? Was the flavor pleasant, not bland or strange? Was it actually filling? Did it sit well afterward?
Whether settled at the campsite or taking a lunch break by the side of a tranquil stream, the process was simple: I'd pull out our tiny camp stove to boil water, add the steaming liquid to a pouch of dehydrated pellets, wait several minutes, stir, wait several more minutes, and hope it tasted good.
How Backpacker's Pantry Meals Performed
Because most of the meals were two servings, my husband and I were both able to sample and survey seven offerings (including dessert!) from Backpacker's Pantry. Much to our happy surprise, there wasn't a single dud in the batch. While we had our favorites, all of the meals reconstituted to have an appetizing texture and great taste, and they satisfied our hungry hiker appetites. Below are the detailed findings of my Backpacker's Pantry review, ranked in the order that we consumed them.
1. Santa Fe Style Rice & Beans with Chicken
As the first dehydrated meal of our trip, this protein-packed, gluten-free rice and beans lunch did not disappoint. It was well seasoned, smokey with a sweet hit from the corn, and the beans and chicken rehydrated to be soft but not gummy. For extra heat and flavor, we added a generous splash of hot sauce and spooned it onto a mini corn tortilla—we were full for hours.
Our only complaint? The rice ended up being a little firmer than al dente, so I recommend letting this one sit for a bit longer than the suggested amount of time of 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Summit Breakfast Scramble
I was fully prepared to be let down by freeze-dried eggs, but this meal rebounded surprisingly well and was seasoned to perfection. Even the cheddar cheese melted smoothly into the scramble without contributing any weird flavors or textures. The overall consistency was fluffy, not watery, and the beans were a tasty way to add extra protein for a more filling gluten-free, vegetarian meal. Scoop it onto a trusty corn tortilla and you have an instant breakfast burrito.
Fair warning: This breakfast has a kick! With both crushed red chili pepper and cayenne pepper in the ingredients, this spicy scramble will wake you up if your coffee doesn't.
3. Shepherd's Potato Stew with Beef
Thick, hearty, and boasting a silky potatoey texture, the Shepherd's Potato Stew with Beef is your best bet for a savory, gluten-free meal if spiciness isn't your thing. Again, I was pleased to find that the reconstituted meat (beef this time) had a great texture and wasn't off-putting in any way. I don't know how they accomplish this, but it's as close as you can get to beef stew without having to pack and cook raw meat. Truth be told, this stew might have been my favorite camping meal of all time. (Sorry, PB&J, you can't compete.) Say it with me: This goes great on a corn tortilla.
4. Blueberry Peach Crisp
The Blueberry Peach Crisp, which can best be described as a (gluten-free, vegetarian) fruity, dessert oatmeal, had a just-right cinnamon-y sweetness to make it just as nice for an after-dinner treat as it would be for breakfast. Once again, I was shocked at how well the freeze-dried food reconstituted after several minutes of soaking. The peach slices were actually tender and juicy—how?
The only complaint I had was with the overall consistency: despite adding less water than called for and letting it sit for an extra minute, this was one liquidy "crisp."
5. Cinnamon Apple Oats
Oatmeal is one of the best options for carbo-loading before hitting the trails, which made the Cinnamon Apple Oats a filling, gluten-free and vegetarian breakfast on our backpacking trip. At this point, we weren't even surprised at how tender and delicious the apple bits turned out after several minutes of soaking and stirring. The outstanding reconstitution of freeze-dried food is certainly a defining feature of Backpacker's Pantry meals. Laced with cinnamon and cane sugar, this oatmeal is sweet without tasting like a dessert, and the added quinoa gives it a whopping 11 grams of protein.
Although the texture of the apples was on point, the oats turned out a bit watery. However, in my experience both outdoors and at home, I've found that this is hard to avoid without using a microwave.
6. Dark Chocolate Cheesecake
Anyone who enjoys licking brownie batter from the spoon will love this chocolatey dessert—especially after torching calories on the trail all day long. It was the easiest to make of all the Backpacker's Pantry offerings, as it simply needed cold water and saved us the step of boiling some. This Dark Chocolate Cheesecake Mix tasted like a cross between rich chocolate mousse and creamy pudding. Although it's not marked as a gluten-free option, I found that not adding the cookies (which are the only gluten-containing component of the dessert and come in a separate sealed baggie inside the pouch) made it safe for me to eat on its own. My husband opted to sprinkle the cookie crumbs on his own portion and appreciated the sweet, crunchy texture.
To reiterate, this is a rich treat, so it may be in your stomach's best interest to heed the two-serving label and share with a friend.
7. Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken
Sadly, this pasta dinner is not gluten-free, so my husband was tasked as Chief Fettuccine Food Critic while I observed enviously. He was leery of the powdered dairy at first, but found it rehydrated surprisingly well as a creamy sauce, tasted delicious, and sat well afterward. The egg noodles came out decadently soft but not mushy, and the chicken, as usual, impressed with its excellent texture. Although I didn't taste this concoction, I smells the Italian seasoning and have full confidence in his glowing report on flavor.
Similar to the not-so-crispy Peach Crisp, the sauce (while flavorful) was too liquidy, leaving behind a large puddle in the pouch after the noodles were eaten. Adding less water might avert this issue—unless you enjoy slurping soupy alfredo sauce after the meal. I won't judge.
Backpacker's Pantry Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken - from $11
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