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Instant Backpacking Meals, Ranked Worst to Best

On my recent backpacking trip we brought along a few too many of those freeze dried backpacking meals. These are the instant meals we ate ranked by how palatable they were.  (A five star backpacking meal would be fresh caught trout cooked with butter and dried onions, wilted dandelion leaf salad with wild berries and dark chocolate for desert). 

#5 * Backpackers Pantry Kathmandu Curry:  Perhaps we did not let this soak long enough since it was far too soupy.  In any case, two of us were not able to choke it all down.  

#4 ** Heather's Choice Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder:  Nice and fishy, but the package it came in was too small to add enough water to make it into soup.  Since the weather was cold, I wanted soup! This was more like salmon mashed potatoes.  The dried veggies did not rehydrate and were too chewy.

#3 *** Peak 2 Butternut Dal Bhat: Tastes really good, but the reconstituted chick peas have a strange styrofoam-like texture that is a little hard to adjust to. 

#2 *** Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy: Very convincing pork sausage gravy, but the biscuits are like weird little cubical crackers.

And the winner is..

#1 **** Backpacker's Pantry Pad Thai:  Comes with little packets of peanuts, lime powder and Siracha powder.  Since rice noodles are normally prepared by soaking in hot water, this meal has an almost normal texture.

Which instant meals do you especially like or dislike?  

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18 Replies

I don’t buy the packaged meals simply because they’re far too high in sodium. 
But I am totally with you on the five star meal you mentioned although, as an adult with no one to tell me “no”, I’d have the chocolate as an appetizer AND then for dessert as well. 🤣

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“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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This is a great topic. I don't often buy freezer meals but the only one I have liked is the Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy. I find the other MH meals bland and goopy. I've tried a bunch of other ones but I don't know why the options are always Thai and/or spicy. I find very little that I can try from the 'healthier' companies that won't set my mouth on fire or upset my stomach.

I'm interested to hear what other people like, maybe I'll find a new one to try!

"Turn and listen, for not only in my eyes is Paradise"
-Dante

Bland and goopy is what they are. 

I think that the options are always Thai because even at home you cook rice noodles by pouring boiling water on them and letting them soak.  I found a box of powdered coconut milk and a box of indian curry powder.  On the next backpack trip I'm just going to fix my own rice noodle bowl instead of using the pre-packaged ones. 


Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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I don't know that I find them bland.  I also don't know that I have paid much attention.  It is a meal.  I tend to do the retail freeze-dried meals for backpacking.  As it keeps me from having to cook, dehydrate (I don't have a dehydrator anyhow) and package a meal.  So, just the simplicity.  Although they can be a bit pricey.  And there seems to be a lot of the same choices even amongst the manufacturers.

I have probably had mostly Mountain house and dinners.  I would not prefer anything spicy (stomach and I cannot handle spicy).  I have not had that Biscuits and Gravy meal.  It does sound a bit like what some military friends would call SOS.

I don't know that I have a favorite.  It has just been a while since I have been out backpacking.  I would probably lean towards a spaghetti and tomato sauce meal.  Although I did see a Shepherd's Pie that at least sounds interesting.

Enjoy

agree with you on the biscuits and gravy, had it for the first (and last) time on my recent trip.

my new fav is MH chili mac, with added crushed fritos, 2nd is MH spaghetti and meat sauce, followed by, 3rd, MH lasagna.

I always re-pack the meals into quart size freezer zip locks, to reduce weight and bulk.

REI Member Since 1979 YouTube.com/philreedshikes

Great thread, @AmyB!

The MH biscuits & gravy kind of sits like a rock in my gut and seem excessively salty to me, so it’s not on my shopping list.

But right now I’m bummed.  To be able to respond to your question I looked up my fav and found out it’s not being made anymore.  Backpackers Pantry Pesto Pasta with Salmon had a foil pouch of real salmon, not freeze dried.  It was my go to dinner on the toughest (or best) day of the trip.  Guess I’ll have to create my own version.

On my last backpack I experimented with cold soaking and was pretty impressed.  One evening I did couscous with my wife’s pesto (the best,) and a tuna pouch and Parmesan cheese.  Pretty good, but I would change to regular couscous rather than pearl.  The pearls didn’t soak through so were quite al dente. I liked not carrying a stove and fuel, but missed my strong British tea in the mornings.

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Now that I think of it, I have had that pesto pasta with salmon and it was really good.  It seems like something that could be re-constructed fairly easily.    I tried McCormick pesto mix, though, and it seemed way, way too salty.  I wonder if there is some better dried pesto out there somewhere?  Is Knorr pesto mix any better?

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@AmyB , you’ll likely find most of those will be overly salty. Especially if you’re not used to eating a lot of salt. The high sodium is meant for shelf stability. That’s why I stopped using those mixes (and subsequently saw my blood pressure score get lower). 

Now you have me wondering about making my own mix. Dried basil, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese to start. I can (probably) dehydrate pine nuts and grind them into a powder (or just a very fine grind). The challenge will be getting the oiliness of the olive oil without carrying oil. 

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“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

And you can hike with spices which are light weight so you can change things up a bit...definately hot sauce/Chili powder  🙂 

 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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