In the past when backpacking we’ve stuck with Mountain House meals for dinner because they were quick, convenient, and fairly tasty (for dehydrated meals). Lately though, I’ve been wanting to branch out and find some things that were different and perhaps a little less processed. So for our recent trip, we tried meals from Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, and Natural High.
Before leaving, I removed all of the food from its original packaging and put everything into individual zip-top freezer bags, since these bags pack down smaller than the regular food bags. I write the name of the meal and the cooking instructions on the front of the package.
Note: some people say that putting boiling water into freezer bags can be dangerous. There is some research out there discussing the potential for chemicals or toxins to be leaked into food from the bag. However, there are just as many articles on using freezer bags for backpacking meals. I suggested you do some research and make the decision that is best for you and your family.
Since there were three of us, we knew we’d need at least two backpacker meals per night. Our first night we had Mountain House Beef Stroganoff and later Backpacker’s Pantry Red Beans and Rice. While both of these were pretty tasty for dehydrated meals, we could have used less water. The Red Beans and Rice called for 2.5 cups of water and ended up being soupy. From then on, with Backpacker’s Pantry meals we used .5 cup less than what the directions said.
The Beef Stronganoff was really good. It was creamy and did actually taste like Beef Stroganoff. I’m pretty sure there were even real mushrooms in it! The Red Beans and Rice had potential, but since it was soupy I’m not sure we got the full effect of the spices and flavorings that had been added. Still, this one could be spiced up even more with a few packets of hot sauce, and is a great vegetarian option.
The second night, July 4th, we had Backpacker’s Pantry Lasagna and a Risotto dish. The risotto was the first dehydrated meal I’ve seen that included broccoli, and it was great! The texture was creamy like risotto should be, and the rice wasn’t the least bit crunchy. The lasagna was good too, if a little predictable. You could add more dehydrated veggies of your own to the risotto, or even to the lasagna, to change things up a bit.
The night after our unsuccessful 14er summit attempt we were tired and very hungry. We made quick work of a Mountain House chicken and rice meal and a Backpacker’s Pantry Shepherd’s Potato Stew. The chicken and rice was ok. I forgot to add any extra dehydrated veggies to it, so it was pretty plain; it literally was just chicken, rice, and some flavoring. The Shepherd’s Potato Stew (with 1/2 cup less water than the directions called for) was really great! The potatoes were a nice change from rice or pasta, and it was very filling. It felt like comfort food, and that’s exactly what we needed!
The last night we had our final Mountain House chicken and rice (with added veggies) and a Natural High Three Cheese Pasta with chicken and zucchini. What a change! Zucchini? It was nice to have something so different out on the trail. At first I thought this one was a little bland, but in the end I really enjoyed it. The chicken and rice just couldn’t compare to the Natural High pasta. Even though I added half a bag of “just veggies” with dehydrated tomatoes, peas and corn, the “exotic” introduction of zucchini in the wilderness won me over.
We did try a few desserts on the trail as well. My favorite was the Backpacker’s Pantry Creme Brulee. Most of these desserts end up seeming like instant pudding with a few garnishes, and this was really no different–but it was very good. It was sweet and had crunch bits of caramel and sugar in it. It was also super easy to make and only required about 1/2 cup of cold water. Desserts are great emergency food because they require no hot water; we always take a Mountain House chicken salad for the same reason. Last year when we were stuck in our tent and couldn’t start our camp stove, that’s what we ate and we were quite happy to have it.
Since returning to civilization I have borrowed a dehydrator from a friend. While pre-made dehydrated meals are great, they can also be expensive. Even though making my own may not be easy, I think I can give it a shot. So far I’ve dehydrated some strawberries and blueberries for our next trip. I plan to add these to granola with a little powdered milk so that out on the trail all we’ll have to do is add water.
The strawberries I cut into 1/4 inch slices. I put them on a fruit roll up tray (you can also use parchment paper) and dehydrated them for about 10 hours (I started it before going to bed one night). They were leathery the next day and not “juicy” feeling at all. That’s what I consider “done.”
The blueberries took much longer. Most directions say to blanch them in boiling water first and I think I let them sit in the water a little long. They were quite juicy when I took them out and consequently took almost a full 24 hours to dry. Now, though, I have a nice bag of dried fruit for backpacking. Once it was finished I labeled it and put it in the freezer. My dad says his dehydrated foods keep much better that way.
I plan to try dehydrating a few more items, like some actual meals and more fruit, before our next trip. If you have any tips on dehydrating or simple ways to make your own backpacking meals, please let us know in the comments section below!