When it comes to camp eats it used to be that you had to choose between good food or easy food. A nice steak is great, but you have to have the ability to keep it cold prior to cooking, the proper grill, an accurate meat thermometer, and the patience to cook it. Plus, you have to find an animal, kill it, clean it, and cut it up. To avoid all that work, you’re stuck with canned goods or MRE’s that are barely digestible. Well, now there’s a solution to this conundrum that’s both easy and surprisingly tasty: Dehydrated food.
Dehydrated food has become an art over the years. It now goes long past freeze-dried eggs that practically make you ill or tough-as-nails beef jerky. You can get rich beef stews, pudding, and even vegetables that practically taste fresh-picked with just the addition of a little water. You can also get flavorless, dried out, unpalatable sludge. So that you only find the manufacturers with dehydrated sundries that you want to eat, are easy to pack, and give you plenty of nutrients and calories for energy, we’ve got the 8 best dehydrated camping food brands around.
Pro: Vegetarian and gluten free options
Con: A bit on the expensive side
Old Hand: Mountain House is owned by Oregon Freeze Dry who has been making packaged food for more than 50 years. They’ve forgotten more about freeze drying than many other companies will ever know, including how to create meals for the military that can survive in the worst conditions without losing their nourishment of their flavor. Whenever a company mentions the shelf-life of a product, it’s often because they’re referring to a Mountain House product that has lasted for decades. They’re the grand-daddy of the preservative food industry and all that experience has taught them how to make great flavor and fresh-tasting products.
Pro: Bulk and single-serving options available
Con: Many dishes tend to be garlicy
The Natural: MaryJane Butters spent much of her life as a wildfire lookout in Idaho, so she knows how important it is to have good food when you’re stuck in the wilderness. Her real passion is organic farming, and her pouches offer an organic bend to an industry that is laden with synthetics. She aims to make each meal as natural as possible, while still being able to make the trek with you into terrible conditions. The dishes taste home cooked, offering a sense of emotional comfort in addition to organic nutrients that come right from proper growing and packaging procedures, rather than a laboratory.
Pro: High-end packaging
Con: Often runs on the bland side
True Transparency: One of the first things you’ll note about meals from Alpine Aire is the large chunks of vegetables and other easily identifiable foodstuffs. If you do a little more digging, you’ll find that in addition to knowing exactly what you’re putting in your mouth, you can track down all the nutrition information on every dish they sell right from their website. This takes the guesswork out of deciding what to pack so that you can keep your blood sugar up and plenty of life-giving calories on your plate. They make food for Gourmet Reserves, Katadyn, and Natural High as well, so odds are you’ve already stumbled into their tasty all-star lineup.
Pro: Astounding taste
Con: Extremely limited selection
Gourmet Grade: When one of the founders of your company is not only an accomplished hiker, camper, and backpacker but also an Iron Chef contestant and restaurateur, you’re going to be in for a treat when you dig into her cuisine. You’ll find the normal chili fare, but it will come alongside penne in marinara and thai curry for a taste of home and some offerings from far away. Simplicity and flavor are the goals of Good To-Go, and they clear the bar on both with room to spare. They’re not as quick as some options out there, so if you’re going to be trying to mix them in bad weather, you could find yourself frozen and frustrated, but the wait will be worth it.
Pro: Donates part of their proceeds to Defenders of Wildlife and Polar Bear Adoption
Con: Runs heavy on sodium
Mobile Meals: As the name suggests, Backpacker’s Pantry is meant to be lightweight for those who are going to be humping their pack up a hill rather than just taking a relaxing car camping jaunt. As such, portability is important, and they do an excellent job of packing a lot of calories and a reasonably high amount of flavor into each of their packets. Requiring nothing more than boiling water, these are easy and convenient with a gusseted bottom that turns the pouches into their own easy-to-use bowl that reduce dry pockets so you can get every last drop.
Pro: Includes brand-name seasoning, foodstuff, and condiments
Con: Can be complicated and messy
Mix and Match: You’ll get a real food taste out of the Packit Gourmet brand, and that’s partly due to their packaging which separates various ingredients and offers you condiments and seasoning along with the meal itself. This method enhances the flavor but can also create a lot of clutter in your pack and adds to the complexity of creating each dish. The flavor variety as well as cooking styles are very broad, giving you the choice of simplicity or crafting an impressive meal while out on the trail. Just be careful to note whether each meal has items that might spoil.
Harmony House Foods
Pro: Exhaustive variety of food
Con: Minimal pre-made dishes
Supreme Simplicity: In the dehydrated food world, you’re often stuck with whatever pre-made, pre-mixed stuff comes in the package. Harmony House has those quick pour-and-mix options, but they also offer a lot of basic staples such as vegetables, fruits, and TVP meat substitute so that you can let your out your campground cook to play and experiment with dishes to arrive at what you want. While this means a little more work, either before or during your trip, it also means that the possible combinations expand your menu exponentially. You’ll also always know precisely what is in each bite.
Pro: Rich, home-cooked flavors
Con: Too complicated for backpacking
Elite Fare: Cache Lake is made by NPO Foods who declare that their food is so good that you’ll want to eat it at home. With items like scones, chocolate pie, sweet potato latke, and wild rice soup, they’re not far off the mark. They work hard to ensure that their flavors aren’t that different from what you would get making these things at home, which enhances the flavor to a level that is comforting and delightful. It also increases the difficulty setting, requiring that you have all manner of cooking utensils and whatnot on hand to whip up their gourmet-level food. It’s too much trouble for backpackers, but if you have some space to spare in your car for an average camping trip, or just want to stock your RV, then your palette will flip over many of their recipes.