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February 2, 2023

We Tried 3 of the Top Freeze-Dried Backpacking Meals on Amazon

Written by Zack Newsome
Updated on April 25, 2023
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Top freeze dried backpacking meals on amazon
We brought freeze-dried backpacking meals along on outdoor trips we’ve taken the past few weeks to see how easy they are to prepare, how they taste, and how filling they are.

We recently ordered freeze-dried meals from the 3 top brands on Amazon and tested them each to see if freeze-dried food can be any good.  On a recent trip to the outdoors, we brought the meals along to see how easy they are to prepare, how they taste, and how filling they are. Here’s how they stacked up.

In our experience, meals just taste better in the outdoors. Cooking over the campfire while camping is always a memorable experience and car camping can provide the ability to bring an entire kitchen to prepare the outdoor meals of your dreams. But even when you are backpacking and short on space, you deserve a quality, hot meal once you settle in for the evening.

Backpackers are experts at balancing the most calories in the smallest amount of space. They burn thousands of calories each day trekking through the wilderness only carrying what will fit in their pack. Out of necessity, backpackers are kings of food creativity.

Luckily, the outdoor gods have provided a great solution for those venturing outdoors with limited space – freeze-dried meals in a bag.

We were curious if freeze-dried meals were any good.  Sure, they are convenient, but do they do justice to their home-prepared versions? We ordered meals from 3 of the top brands to find out. Within minutes of starting our search, we had a Cuban Rice Bowl from Good To-Go, Pad Thai with Chicken from Mountain House, and Beef Stroganoff from Peak Refuel headed our way.

A few days later, thanks to the magic of Amazon Prime, we had our freeze-dried meals in hand.  We also picked up a portable butane stove and a lightweight pot set to make our tests as authentic to the backpacking experience as possible. We already had a trip to the mountains planned, so we brought the meals along to review.

Good To-Go’s Cuban Rice Bowl

We arrived in the mountains just after dark, unpacked our portable stove, and fired it up. The instructions were easy to read on the back of the package and seemed straightforward. We quickly brought 550ml of water to a boil.  We tore open the top of the Cuban Rice Bowl pouch, poured in the hot water, gave it a quick stir and resealed the package. Per the instructions, we waited 12 minutes, stirred it again, and dug in.

Freeze Dried Backpacking Meal - Good To-Go Cuban Rice Bowl after hydrationHow it looked

Chefs often talk about how you “eat with your eyes first”. Most backpackers don’t care what their meals in a pouch look like, but we do.  So, here’s our visual review.

Our now-hydrated Cuban Rice Bowl looked a lot like we would expect a Cuban Rice Bowl to look.  The black beans, plantains, and tomato flakes provided a nice contrast with the rice.  It looked to have plenty of seasoning with the pepper and cilantro being readily visible. It was a bit more watery than we expected, but for a dehydrated meal, we’d rather have a little too much water than not enough.

How it tasted

Our first taste was filled with lime, pepper, and cilantro flavors – some of our favorites. It has a small bit of spice that really adds to the overall taste.  We could have used more, but as this is for a mass audience, a small amount is probably the right call. The garlic comes through – especially lingering behind in the aftertaste.  It’s not overwhelming so you won’t have to avoid speaking directly to your partner after eating this meal. All of the elements were hydrated well without any crunchy or chewy bits.  We were surprised not to find even a random chuck of plantain that was a tad tough.

This meal from Good To-Go has a ton of flavor.  The drawback to so much flavor is that the plantains, beans, and rice are a bit overwhelmed by it.  Every bit tastes exactly the same.  Nevertheless, we’d more than welcome a hot serving of this Cuban Rice Bowl after a long day outdoors.  In fact, the more we ate of it, the more we enjoyed it. This is a really good vegetarian meal with a lot of protein (30g in the pouch).

Mountain House’s Pad Thai with Chicken

We brought this pouch along on day-trip snowboarding.  At lunch, during a break from the slopes, we set our portable stove up on the tailgate of our truck in the ski resort parking lot. This meal called for only 325ml of water with a 10-minute wait time.

How it looked

Mountain House Pad Thai with Chicken - Freeze dried backpacking mealOpening the pouch after 10 minutes, the pad thai waiting inside was full of color. There are a lot of colorful vegetables in this meal – bell peppers, carrots, and green beans. Like the Cuban Rice Bowl, it’s more watery than a typical plate of Pad Thai. The noodles are cut small – probably to aid in the hydration process.  It only generally looks like Pad Thai, but it does look appetizing.

How it tasted

First of all, Mountain House’s offering smelled really good.  Tired from being on the mountain, we were anxious to dig in. The first taste yielded mild flavors, but it definitely tastes like Pad Thai. It has a good amount of chicken which you can taste in each bite. The small-cut noodles have a good texture and, like the Good To-Go meal, everything in this pouch has rehydrated nicely. Like you’d expect in a good Pad Thai recipe, the unique flavor of the fish sauce comes through in this version. It has a really good flavor that isn’t overwhelming.

As we finish the meal, we don’t find any unmixed bits at the bottom of the pouch, a sign that it’s mixed and rehydrated well. This is a surprisingly good meal – especially from a freeze-dried pouch.  We finish it all and are left wanting more.  This turns out to be our only real problem with this Mountain House Pad Thai – there isn’t enough of it.  While it claims to have 2 servings in the pouch, there are only 480 calories and 20g of protein in the entire pouch.  If this was shared between 2 people as it suggests, the 240 calories per serving it provides won’t get you very far.

Peak Refuel’s Beef Stroganoff

Having been pleasantly surprised by how good the first two freeze-dried meals were, we eagerly tore open the pouch of the Peak Refuel Beef Stroganoff.  Checking the instructions on the back, we were surprised to learn that this meal only calls for 178ml (6oz) of water – half of the water the Mountain House Pad Thai required and a third of the water the Good To-Go Cuban Rice Bowl needed. Only requiring 90 seconds or so to heat up this small amount of water,  this is the quickest meal of the 3 to prepare.

How it looked

Peak Refuel Beef Stroganoff Freeze Dried Backpacking MealAfter 10 minutes and stirring multiple times, what was looking back at us when we opened the pouch wasn’t good.  While the other meals were a bit watery, this meal was clumpy and dry-looking. The beef stroganoff was colorless and looked unappetizing. It looked the least exciting of the 3 meals and it wasn’t close. As a single clump, we couldn’t tell where the noodles ended and the beef started. Undeterred, we dug in.

How it tasted

Chefs must know what they talking about.  We were turned off by the appearance of our newly-hydrated beef stroganoff and the pain only continued as we took our first bites.  We do eat with our eyes, but food that isn’t good probably also doesn’t look very good.

In our opinion, Peak Refuel’s Beef Stroganoff wasn’t good. Its texture was dense and mushy seemingly lacking moisture. If we had a second pouch, we would try using more water in a second run.  Even with added water, we’d prefer to let someone else have the second run because the flavors of this meal also aren’t amazing.  The beef chunks are chewy and the salt in this recipe overwhelms everything else in it. The flavors did improve as we worked deeper into the pouch – a sure sign that it needed more water and more stirring. As we finished the pouch, we discovered some unmixed powder at the bottom.  Using such a small amount of water also meant that this meal wasn’t as hot – something that’s important to us after a long day on the trail. It’s edible, but now that we’ve seen how surprisingly good these freeze-dried meals can be, this one underwhelmed us big time.

Our Conclusions

We knew that freeze-dried backpacking meals are convenient. Heating up water and throwing it in a bag doesn’t get any simpler. But now we know that they can be really good too. We were also surprised when scanning the packages that are seemingly pretty good for you – made with simple and good ingredients.

At $13-15 per pouch on Amazon, these meals aren’t exactly cheap. But the combination of convenience, healthy ingredients, and solid flavor can make them a great value.

Our favorite was the Good To-Go Cuban Rice Bowl – at 1070 calories, it had the most calories per pouch of the meals we tested.  It also tasted really good.  We loved the flavors of cilantro, garlic, and pepper that lingered (in a great way) on our tastebuds after the meal. Its 31g of protein is a good amount – especially for a vegetarian meal.

The Mountain House Pad Thai with Chicken also tasted great, but with only 480 calories and a cost of more than $15, it’s the worst value in the bunch.

The Peak Refuel’s Beef Stroganoff‘s flavor didn’t compare well again the others, but with 810 calories and a whopping 41g of protein, those looking for the best price/gram of protein should consider it.



Have a favorite freeze-dried backpacking meal we should try?  Let us know below in the comments.


About the Author

Zack Newsome

Zack is a lifelong adventurer passionate about sharing the joy of the outdoors with others. He loves camping, fly-fishing, sailing, and exploring wild spaces. He launched Outward in early 2022 to inspire others to spend more time outdoors – improving mental health and more deeply connecting with the environment.

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