Backwoods Gourmet: Best Backpacking Meals

Photos by Luke Nilsson

Dehydrated backpacking food has come a long way since the salty, spongy, cardboard-tasting gruel of a couple of decades ago. Now, you can pack a surprisingly nutritious and tasty selection of lightweight foods for those trips when a stovetop or pizza stone isn't an option.

We evaluated three entries from four leading brands, comparing breakfast, entree, and dessert options. The team consisted of me, my wife, and our three kids (ages 10 to 13)--all of us veterans of backpacking cuisine.

We graded for flavor, texture, ease of preparation, packability, and nutrition. The test was designed to minimize personal preferences--my wife doesn't like bananas; my daughter despises eggs. But any food test boils down to taste, and in that regard, most of these meals exceeded expectations. My daughter even ate her eggs.

Editor's Choice: Mountain House

The rich, creamy beef stroganoff was a big hit, along with the scrambled eggs, which had smoky bits of bacon to break up the monotony of the reconstituted eggs. The only ding: MH uses a lot of salt to spike flavors.

Natural High

The Three Berry Cobbler was the highest-scoring meal based on taste. Its mix of tart berries and chocolate topping would nicely cap a long day on the trail. The Strawberry Granola was good, though it's just granola and dried milk.

Alpine Aire

We loved the Bandito Scramble, but like the Huevos Rancheros from Backpacker's Pantry and all the apple-based desserts, it requires cooking in a pan after hydration, which could be hard to pull off in a stormed-in tent.

Backpacker's Pantry

We were psyched to try the exotic-sounding Jamaica Jerk Chicken, but the entree was a little watery, the rice a little crunchy, and the flavor a little bland. The Hot Apple Cobbler, though it requires extra cooking, was first-rate.