by Diane Spicer
Freeze dried backpacking food is one of your options for lightening up your pack on a multi-day hiking trip.
But it's not necessarily the best option.
Here's a quick review of why freeze dried backpacking menus are so popular.
Then you can decide if this type of trail food is for you.
Any food that is "freeze dried" is going to weigh a lot less than it did originally.
The technique of freeze drying pulls out the heavy water molecules, leaving nutrients behind in the remaining organic material.
The technical terms for freeze drying include:
Carrying food that weighs less is what backpacking is all about. Ditch the water on the trail, and then add it back once you set up camp near a surface water source.
Hiking tip: Always know where your water source is going to be, by studying maps and satellite images of your intended destination.
And know how to clean it up.
Another bonus of freeze dried hiking food: Microorganisms can't degrade the food, and you can leave it at room temperature in your pack or resupply kit for a long, long time
Amazingly, the flavor and smell of the food is pretty much retained, which means rehydrating your meal over a stove is going to involve all of your senses.
That makes for a pleasant dinner experience after a long hard day on the trail.
There's a second way to remove water from food, and thus lighten it up: dehydration.
Many hikers use a home dehydrator to make backpacking menus for multi-day trips.
This follows the time honored tradition of drying food in the sun's heat, but makes trail food preparation more convenient on your own kitchen counter top.
But what you need to know about this method is that dehydrated food will not have all of the nutrients, aroma and savory-ness of freeze dried backpacking food.
On the other hand, dehydrated backpacking food will be even more compact and cost a lot less when you use this technique at home.
One more downfall of dehydrated food: It takes a lot longer to rehydrate, as in hours rather than minutes if you only have access to cold or tepid water.
However, if you have the right backpacking stove with adequate fuel, you can re-hydrate either type of backpacking food within 10 minutes using hot water.
Never heard of fresh dried food?
It's a new technique to preserve more of the nutrients while creating a lightweight nutritious supplement for backpacking menus.
The Blendfresh Company is pioneering this approach to preserve most of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals and enzymes of fresh food.
Phytonutrients, if you'd like the technical term.
Try some of their lightweight blends to maximize your nutrition and boost the flavors in your freeze dried backpacking food.
Good question for a backpacker who is conscious of the weight of water on her back!
The answer is no, you will need water to reconstitute this type of food. If you attempt to eat it dry, it will pull water from your body as it digests and you'll wind up dehydrated - not a good idea.
This brings up the necessity of the right quantity of clean water to use in preparing your meals (see link above).
Every hiker has unique taste buds, and what is incredibly yummy and satisfying for me might not make it onto your "favorite trail foods" list for the best freeze dried backpacking or camping food.
But I'll go out on a limb here and tell you why I prefer this brand: Backpackers Pantry from REI (a reputable gear coop) which offers a percentage discount when you buy in bulk.
Which you should, to maximize cost savings and mix up your trail menu for the benefit of your taste buds.
So why Backpackers Pantry for my backpacking trips?
Mountain House is a company that has been around for over four decades.
I've used it for that long, too!
Here's my recent review of some of their backpacking meals.
Or go here to select your favorite entrees for an upcoming outdoor adventure.
If you need to go gluten free, Backpacker's Pantry has an assortment of options just for you (including my fave, the curry!).
For exact, detailed information about ingredients, read their list of nutritional information here.
All of the common allergens (milk, peanuts, wheat, soy, etc.) in each entree are noted, so you can avoid anything you'd rather not ingest.
I don't use their breakfast entrées because I'm always in a big hurry first thing in the morning, so I don't have any feedback on those.
But I never skip dessert, and can highly recommend their version of Astronaut Ice Cream, which brings back childhood memories.
Don't let the sugar scare you - carbohydrates are a backpacker's best friend!Probably not so much in your off trail life, though.
Mountain House has clear labeling to make it easy to spot their gluten free options, too.
Recently, I discovered another gluten free, "real food" option for backcountry meals: Wild Zora (old name:
Paleo Meals To Go).
Depends on what your definition of "healthy" might be!
The processing of food will always strip away some nutrients.
But as a backpacker you want lightweight, easy to handle, non-spoiling food on your trip.
And that means compromising on the nutrition of whole foods in order to attain your base weight while satisfying your taste buds and your body's requirements for fuel.
Here's what to do about the question of nutrition:
Each backpacking freeze dried meal you purchase will have nutrition information prominently displayed on the package.
If you're concerned about a particular nutrient, you can calculate your daily intake and then get creative about ways to supplement your hiking nutrition.
If nutrition isn't your main concern, maybe taste and palatability are. After all, you're going to be away from a fresh food supply for awhile.
As you get to know each backpacking food brand, you will have your own answer to the all important question: what does freeze dried food taste like?
Then you can begin to hack the flavors and add some taste to suit your own palate.
Always carry a small spice selection to jazz up your freeze dried selections:
This is in addition to bringing salt and pepper to flavor your meals.
Pack some lightweight but powerful food to modulate your mood as you hike.
Invest some time into the necessary task of finding your trail favorites for an upcoming backpacking trip.
Freeze dried hiking food isn't cheap, but it's not possible to make it yourself at home.
That's where a food dehydrator comes into play.
So decide for yourself what's most important to you: cost, convenience, nutrient levels, or flavor.
Then select from dehydrated or freeze dried backpacking menus.
If you're still wondering what is better, freeze dried or dehydrated food, re-read the information above. It comes down to personal choice, availability of time and water, affordability and your own unique taste buds.
Realize that you're going to be hugely hungry on a backpacking trip.
Serving sizes on pre-packaged backpacking food should be treated with skepticism, as in "I can eat the WHOLE thing by myself."
Because you can (and will) devour each and every morsel of your freeze dried backpacking food entrée.
Before you go, check out how to stay full on the trail!
Best Freeze Dried Backpacking Food
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About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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