Although sharing a freshly cooked meal around a campfire is perhaps one of the most enjoyable experiences, it’s undoubtedly a bit of a luxury and one that most backpackers will not partake in.
The main issue when it comes to meal prepping for a hiking or backpacking trip is figuring out how to get in all of your nutritional and caloric needs without weighing down your backpack. The less weight you carry, the less energy you use, and the more comfortable you will be.
For the most part, backpackers prefer carrying freeze-dried foods or dehydrated meals for their trips. These two types of meals are about as lightweight as you can get and are available in a huge variety of different flavors. Most only require water and a heat source for boiling water.
They are more brands carrying backpacking meals than ever before. This is great news because it gives outdoor enthusiasts more options, but it also can be a bit intimidating trying to figure out which brand is best.
The only way of really determining which backpacking meal is the best is to give them a try. After all, one individual’s tastes may not be the same as our own. However, if you’re fairly new to backpacking and need a brand to start with, two of the most popular are Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House.
Compared to many freeze-dried meal brands, Backpacker’s Pantry has quite a detailed menu of options, if buying online. There are eight main categories on their website, including –
Some of the most highly recommended flavors among backpackers include Granola with Bananas, Almonds & Milk, Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken, Beef Stroganoff with Wild Mushrooms, Lasagna, Chicken Cashew Curry, and Mango Sticky Rice.
Backpacker’s Pantry has a much more elective selection of meal flavors, including Thai and Indian dishes. In that sense, they are more culturally-diverse and have a broader range of tastes.
Strangely, the majority of breakfasts from Backpacker’s Pantry are sweet in nature. Average cook time is anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, which is on the high end for freeze-dried or dehydrated meals.
The typical pouch weighs just under 7 oz and all pouches are flat, meaning it can be tricky to fill the pouch or eat it. Backpacker’s Pantry meals tend to have lower sodium, but higher vitamin content and a higher calorie count. Their meals retail for $4.50 to $10.90 per pouch.
Strangely enough, Mountain House also has a bit of an unusual backstory. Mountain House originated as a meal production company for the United State Special Forces during the Vietnam war. During this time the military requested a new type of meal – one that was better tasting, lighter weight and had a longer lifespan than the K and C rations at that time. At this time the company was called Oregon Freeze Dry and they won the military contract.
To this day Mountain House still makes meals for the Special Forces and other military branches, but it was in 1969 that they began offering meals to the public. There were few brands offering easy-to-make freeze-dried meals during this time so Oregon Freeze Dry changed to what we know as Mountain House today.
Throughout this time Mountain House has been one, if not the, most popular backpacking food brand. Adventurers of all times have relied on Mountain House on trips to both the North and South Poles, around the world on the highest mountain ranges, and were even used for the voyage to the moon. They also boast some of the longer shelf life stable options and shortest prep times for backpacking / survival food rations.
Mountain House has a bit of a simpler approach to their meals. They break down their selections in seven categories –
This layout makes it a breeze to find exactly what kind of meal you’re looking for.
In the Camping section, you’ll see Mountain House’s Top 3 Best Sellers for backpackers, which include:
Some of the most highly-rated flavors among backpackers include:
Mountain House cook time averages between 8 and 10 minutes per meal. The typical meal pouch weighs less than 5 oz and all pouches have a flat-bottom design to allow them to stand up on their own. This design also makes it easy to eat directly from the pouch.
Mountain House has slightly fewer calories per pouch, on average than Backpacker’s Pantry and slightly higher sodium. However, many find Mountain House meals to have very savory ingredients and classic taste. You’ll find more traditional meals, such as scrambled eggs and chili mac.
If you tend to favor classic American meal options that are very familiar to you, Mountain House is a great option. Typical retail varies between $5.99 and 8.99 per pouch (generally more affordable)
Both Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House are highly recommended brands. Full stop.
Each company has their own dedicated fan base, but there are also plenty of outdoor enthusiasts that have their favorite meals from both brands.
Bottom Line: With all that being said, Mountain House typically checks out as having the better tasting meals and meals that reconstitute faster. Mountain House meals taste very much like good old home cooking to many, giving them a “comfort food” appeal while still getting all the nutrition you need.
However, if you have dietary restrictions, chances are high that you’ll find more options with Backpacker’s Pantry. You’ll have gluten free and low-sodium options as well as vegan meals, something rare among similar meal companies.
The only way of truly determining which brand is best for you is to give both Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House a try.
Consider buying a few of the best-selling flavors mentioned and do a taste test. You can order from both brands online (and Mountain House directly here) and many outdoor stores will have Mountain House in stock as well. In fact, you might even find some Mountain House products right in the camping aisle of your local Walmart.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.