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Paleo Backpacking Food:
Paleo Meals To Go

By Diane Spicer

Paleo backpacking food incorporates all of the usual suspects of trail food you're probably familiar with:

  • lightweight (dehydrated or freeze dried),
  • easy and fast to rehydrate, 
  • filling,
  • and hopefully tasty.

But when you throw in the "paleo" qualifier, you've tightly restricted the ingredient list.

And you've also reduced your easy options in the backcountry.

But there's good news for paleo backpackers in this Paleo Meals To Go review.

First, some disclosures

Disclosure of Material Connection:

Hiking For Her received pouches of dehydrated food from Paleo Meals To Go, coordinated by Outdoor PR in consideration for review publication.

Update: The brand is now part of WildZora.

There is no financial relationship between Paleo Meals To Go WildZora and Hiking For Her, but as an Amazon affiliate, purchasing through that link will result in a small commission.

There is also no financial relationship between Outdoor PR and Hiking For Her.

However, I was personally motivated as a gluten free (GF) hiker to sample this paleo backpacking food. Because grain is omitted in a paleo diet, all of these meals are also GF.

As always, this review was written with you, an avid hiker, in mind.

  • But with a twist: a gluten free and/or paleo hiker.
  • Or someone who wants real food on the trail.
A selection of freeze dried backpacking meals in resealable pouches

A word about
paleo backpacking food

Let's define the paleo diet before moving on.

  • If you're already into paleo backpacking food, skip this.

Paleo refers to our paleolithic ancestors, the ones we don't remember but who kept the human race alive by either chasing down their food or finding it as they foraged.

If you hike on a paleo diet, you turn to these ancestral foods for your nutrients:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • some nuts, including almonds and walnuts
  • some fruits and vegetables (no potatoes, but sweet potatoes are a favorite paleo ingredient)

Here's where things get really interesting for hikers.

Grains and legumes are literally off the table.

  • Yet grains and legumes provide cheap, fast, digestible carbohydrates and other nutrients needed on the trail.

What modifications have to be made to keep a paleo-devoted hiker fueled on a hike?

The labels on the Paleo Meals To Go paleo backpacking food will answer that question.

And as a paleo hiker, you can bid a fond farewell to dairy products and refined sugar, too.

  • If you chow down on cheese sticks on a day hike, or enjoy the nuts in your granola glazed with honey, those days are over.

It's a different way of approaching trail nutrition, that's for sure.

As a non-Paleo but somewhat restricted eater who also happens to log hundreds of miles on the trail each year, I was eager to read the ingredient lists and sample the nutrient density of the freeze dried food for this Paleo Meals To Go review.

It's a sad reality for some of us hikers that food can make us sick, rob us of energy, and take us off the trail to deal with gut issues.

The more restrictive the diet, the harder it is to find hiking food that works for, not against, us.

By the way, that's exactly how Paleo Meals To Go was started.

How the food was packaged
and prepared

Backpackers cherish freeze dried food because it is lightweight, packs small, and is fast and easy to rehydrate.

Not sure about the difference between dehydrated and freeze dried hiking food? Read this.

Paleo Meals To Go freeze dried meals are packaged in the time honored backpacking tradition of a free standing foil pouch with a zip seal, surrounded with a paper wrapper bearing instructions and a standard nutrition label.

Freeze dried backpacking food in pouches
Front and back of freeze dried backpacking food packets

The company is redesigning the tall pouch pictured here into a consumer friendly wider bowl (landscape format).

  • Great idea, because it will be easier to get at the contents and make the "scrape the corners for every last morsel of food" ritual just that much more fun.

The new design will be available in a few more months (it's August 2016 at the time of this writing).

Easy to prepare

Add the right amount of water to the pouch, stir, and set your time keeper.

Twelve minutes or so later, and you can chow down.

Tip: Always err on the side of more water, especially if you're not sure of your hydration status after a long hike, or are eating prior to tackling a strenuous trail.

I found that using the maximum amount of water in the recommended range gave the best rehydration results. That's important for your taste buds, because they rely upon dissolved molecules.

And not having to wait around while the beans rehydrated (because there were no beans!) was a plus.

Disclosure: In an abundance of caution, I prepared and consumed these paleo backpacking meals in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Two reasons for this:

  • I wanted all of my attention on the food, with no distractions such as buzzing mosquitoes or vast mountain vistas.
  • I always try new backpacking food at home first, to screen for quality indicators such as taste and palatability, but also to watch for adverse reactions to the food.

Trail tip to heed

Don't be a dingbat like me and leave the dessicant pouch in your food as you pour in the hot water.

Luckily, it didn't dissolve but things could have gone horribly wrong.

  • One more good reason to try out a new product at home first!
  • Form the admirable habit of fishing out that small but clearly labelled, hard-to-miss pouch before you rehydrate the big pouch.

How the rehydrated backpacking food looked and tasted

Every backpacker has her own definition of tasty.

But all of us can agree that food becomes the linchpin in a successful backpacking adventure.

If your food is bland, soggy or chemical soaked, it's going to be tough to enjoy your meals.

And when you eat less, your energy level and recovery times are impacted.

So it was a pleasant surprise to open the foil packages and be able to identify real food.

And to smell savory spices that my nose could identify instantly.

  • These are not trivial observations.
  • Your body prepares to digest food by seeing and smelling it, thus getting your digestive juices flowing.
Freeze dried beef stew from Paleo Meals To Go

In fact, I'm willing to upgrade to a fantastic surprise.

Rehydrated beef stew from Paleo Meals To Go

Look at those veggies! And I wish you could take a whiff of this stew.

As a backpacker who has learned over the decades to "just make do" with convenient rehydrated food for breakfast and dinner, these meals were a revelation.

I can honestly tell you that I've never had freeze dried backpacking food quite this tasty.

In fact, while eating the Mountain Beef Stew, I couldn't keep myself from saying Yum! over and over again.

Would I buy this paleo backpacking food for my next trip?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: Yes, with modifications.

Modification #1: BYOS

The seasonings are quite mild.

  • If you expect a lot of punch in your curry entrees, you'll want to pack extra curry powder.
  • Ditto for chili powder.
  • Thus, BYOS: Bring your own seasonings if your taste buds demand a party at every meal.

The salt content is low on purpose, with options to add high quality sea salt.

Celtic sea salt pouch in a dehydrated food meal

But here's the thing:

Backpackers sweat a lot, and along with water we lose precious electrolytes that keep big muscles going hour after hour.

So bring along extra sea salt if you find yourself concerned about the potential for electrolyte imbalances.

Personally, I really like the option of modifying the amount of salt, according to taste preferences and dietary restrictions.

  • Lots of other freeze dried backpacking food contains enormous amounts of salt, making the food unpalatable and leaving a hiker really thirsty.
  • This can be a serious issue if you're hiking in areas where water is a precious commodity. 
  • Or have a medical condition that requires keeping an eye on sodium intake.

Modification #2: Coconut and digestive issues

The amount of fat via coconut and nuts in the breakfast options was concerning to me, a non-Paleo hiker and someone who no longer possesses a gallbladder (where emulsifying bile is stored to help digest fat).

side by side comparison of backpacking dehydrated food

Palisade Pineapple Mango

Cliffside Berry closeup

Cliffside Coconut Berry

Although I enjoyed the fruit-dominated taste of these breakfast choices, my digestive system balked at the amount of saturated fat.

  • The average amount of fat for the 2 entrees shown above: 50 grams.
  • That works out to 450 fat calories in the 640 calories per package.
  • Each package is one serving.
  • To put this into perspective, that's 84% of your saturated fat intake for the day.
  • I've got nothing against calories on a hiking trail, but that amount of fat all in one go did not do my gut any favors.

I suspect that if you're a Paleo hiker, your digestive system has switched over to coconut and nuts as mainstays in your diet. You might not have any problem consuming that amount of fat for breakfast.

And without getting deeply into the whole animal -vs- plant fats issue, let's just say that coconut oils (medium chain fatty acids) are more easily digested than animal fats.

But converting fat calories into energy from any source is less efficient than using carbohydrates for energy, and I could feel my body working harder than usual to process my breakfast.

To be fair, not having a gallbladder always puts me at a disadvantage when eating fat.

  • For me, a third of a package mixed in with a grain (a Paleo heresy that I hope will go unpunished) for breakfast would be more than enough.

On the bright side, the whopping amount of dietary fiber (~60% of daily total) will fill you up and keep you regular.

And here's a different option in the Paleo Meals To Go offerings:

The Butte Cacao Banana entrée does not rely upon coconut, using lots of almonds instead (almond flour, slivers and whole almonds) along with flax to give it bulk.

  • Fat calories = 310, and total calories are somewhat less than the coconut based meals, around 570.
  • Saturated fat comes in at 32% for your daily total.
  • Total fat: 35 grams, or 54% of the daily value.
  • An improvement, but still heavy on the fats while delivering only 56 grams of carbohydrates.
  • If cacao nibs are new to you, the slightly bitter taste might require an adjustment of your breakfast expectations. But these little nutritional powerhouses deserve a place in your backpacking menus.

Modification #3: More calories for dinner.

At the end of a long hiking day, I'm ravenous.

The "hungry as a bear" joke isn't funny when you're by yourself in the middle of bear country, but it's true.

So looking at the amount of calories for a Paleo Meals To Go dinner entrée had me a bit concerned.

  • Canyon Chicken Chili: 310 calories with 40 grams of protein, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams fat
  • Bedrock Beef Chili: 360 total calories with only 32 grams of protein
  • Caldera Chicken Curry: 310 calories
  • Mountain Beef Stew: 390 calories

The portion size was enough to fill me up right away, with lots of bulky meat and sweet potatoes, carrots and other dense food.

But my body would need more calories than this to get ready for the next day on the trail without any weight loss.

And I hate waking up at 2A from hunger pangs.

To avoid these issues, I would supplement the evening meal with some good olive oil (for satiety) and a handful of jerky.

hefty chicken chunks in a savory broth in Paleo Meals To Go backpacking food

At the risk of further infuriating the paleo community:

Half a cup of quinoa would be mighty tasty topped with this!

And if you're larger than the 5'3", 130 pound person writing this review, you'll be even more eager to consume more calories.

Maybe you could eat two packages for dinner.

A dietary word of caution

Heads up:

If you have a nut allergy, you won't be able to enjoy some of this food.

There is a heavy reliance upon the paleo approved nuts: almonds, walnuts, and pecans.

But if you enjoy nuts, these are high quality and very tasty.

Why this freeze dried backpacking food from Paleo Meals To Go
was so impressive

I was impressed with the short list of "real" ingredients.

If you've never looked at an ingredient list for freeze dried meals, go ahead and count the number of ingredients next time you have a chance.

If you're a long time backpacker, you already know what I'm getting at.

Many companies rely upon way too many unpronounceable and probably undigestible ingredients and chemicals in their meals.

In contrast, every ingredient listed in the Paleo Meals To Go repertoire is a recognizable food, both in name and by sight.

  • Mountain Beef Stew: Beef, carrots, onions, mushrooms, celery, spices, sea salt. That's it!
  • Caldera Chicken Curry: Chicken, pineapple, spinach, coconut sugar, red bell pepper, seasoning (garam masala, spices, curry), onions, celery, sea salt.
  • Note that the meat is listed first, and that's what you'll notice immediately when you peek into the pouch.

I was also impressed with the size and amount of the pieces of meat, vegetables and fruit. No skimping on ingredients!

For example, this Apex Fruit Snacks package had recognizable and very tasty dried fruit, including berries, mango, bananas, and pineapple.

freeze dried berries in a foil pouch

This is how 48 grams of non-fat goodness, with 42 grams of tasty energy-producing carbohydrates in 170 calories, looks.

Warning: You're not going to want to share this snack. It's that good.

And I was blown away by the flavor of the entrées

  • If the label said banana, you could really savor the flavor.
  • If the picture promised beef, your nose, eyes and mouth could all agree that you were in fact eating beef.

In the future, I will be eating this tasty food while car camping and backpacking.

I also plan to add several pouches to my disaster preparedness kits in my car and garage.

And stashing a few in my carry on bag would make a lot of sense, given the dismal track record of the airline industry lately.

One final reason to love this paleo backpacking food:

Each meal delivers a large load of vitamins and minerals per serving.

  • Example: 150% of your daily vitamin C, 15% of your daily calcium along with 20% iron for Cliffside Coconut Berry.
  • Another example: 310% of your daily vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C, 10% of calcium and 20% of iron in one package of Canyon Chicken Chili.
  • All of these vitamins and minerals will help you recover from exertion, and reduce the risk of muscle cramping and fatigue on the trail.
  • And here's a fun fact: The breakfast options all contained flaxseed. I always carry flax separately and add it to my camping and backpacking food in order to cash in on fiber and anti-inflammatory oils. So this food would save me a little room in my kitchen sack.

I've been a fan of two other backpacking food companies for years, and I'm here to tell you that I'm switching my dinner entrées and snacks to Paleo Meals To Go.

They gave me great flavor, real ingredients, no digestive upsets, and a fast way to satisfy my appetite.

If the price point of pre-packaged freeze dried backpacking food is a concern for you, this food will seem pricey to you.

However, your hiking trip depends upon your quality of sleep, stamina and a strong immune system.

In turn, these depend upon your nutritional status.

This food is going to give you energy, replenish your nutrient stores and make you really look forward to your meals on the trail.

What are these things worth to you?

For me, skimping on trail food just can't happen.

Instead, I make my hiking gear and outdoor clothing last as long as possible (duct tape is the greatest thing ever invented).

Then I spend my hard earned money on high quality food like this.

And I never regret it.

So hurrah for Paleo Meals To Go. They widened my gluten free healthy backpacking food choices.

I do not hesitate to recommend that you try their products. And remember, no one paid me to say this!

I'm simply delighted to share a high quality, tasty freeze dried backpacking food option with you.

Where to find this
paleo backpacking food

You can order Paleo Meals To Go WildZora here.

I'm pleased to have the deep satisfaction of sharing a great source of paleo backpacking food with you.

And if you're a gluten free hiker, you'll be pleased with their selection, too.

If we ever meet up on the trail, you're invited for dinner! (I'll be the one in the creatively duct taped pants.)

And now you know exactly what I'll be serving.

  • Bring your own spork.

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Paleo Backpacking Food: Paleo Meals To Go