Hits and Misses From the Trail; On-the-Go Camp Food Reviews
There’s no doubt that when it comes to get-aways a large portion of my planning is centered around food, and camping is no exception. I’m a foodie at heart, so if a change of environment is taking place, it can be assumed that my stomach instantly anticipates the new flavors and meal options that are in store. Whether it’s prepping meals by means of readying ingredients and planning the cooking times involved or simply deciding which ready-to-go camp meal we will be boiling water for, there’s always a checklist to make sure all the basic meals and snacks are covered. As we have experienced first hand, when you’re out on the trail hiking and camping, a lack of calories and protein not only contributes to hangry hikers, but can also really mess with the body, especially at different elevations or harsher weather conditions. Thus, the importance of proper meal prep.
When camping within a few hours of home for a couple nights in the same location, we tend to indulge in a more relaxing and laid back trip, enjoying full meals cooked at our base camp. While the possibilities for cooking food when we are in perfect weather conditions are almost endless, when it comes to prepping meals for longer trips, cold weather camping or hiking-intensive trips, we tend to gravitate toward ready-to-go meals to streamline simplicity with prep and cleanup and allow us more time on the trails without the long-needed time at camp to cook and clean dishes.
Regardless of the camping expedition, our typical trend for meal planning is camp-style meals for breakfast and dinner and sandwiches or tuna and chicken packets, either pre-made or prepped on the tailgate at a trailhead, for lunch. Having enjoyed, and not enjoyed, a number of ready-to-go meals, I figured before we get back into the swing of hiking and camping, now would be a good enough time as any to share some of the hits and misses we’ve had when it comes to instant camp meals. With any help from our experiences, you may even find one or two you’ll want to try out on your next outing.
Camp Food Hits:
Mountain House - Breakfast Skillet: Maybe it’s due to repetition and eating this meal often, maybe it’s an oddity of my taste palette, but the texture of these rehydrated eggs is a needed staple and absolute comfort when it comes to camp breakfast for me. While the eggs do still have a unique rehydrated texture, this is probably one of the easiest breakfasts to enjoy. After boiling water and nine minutes of waiting this is ready to enjoy as is, no added seasoning necessary. Each breakfast packet contains 510 calories and 28 grams of protein, and we typically split this meal between us, and pair it with the addition of a biscuit or granola bar and are perfectly content with simple trail snacks until lunch.
Mountain House - Biscuits and Gravy: Another breakfast favorite and breakfast comfort food, this biscuits and gravy is about as good as it can get for rehydrated food. Like the breakfast skillet from Mountain House, the biscuits tend to have a bit of rehydrated texture, but again, for me, I enjoy the little extra texture and the flavor surpasses the this detail, making it completely acceptable. This meal is 560 calories with 22 grams of protein and when we are prepping for a heavy day of hiking, often split the meal between us in addition to splitting Mountain House’s scrambled eggs or breakfast skillet for some added calories to fuel us until lunchtime.
Backpacker’s Pantry - Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken: Another pasta option available by most brands, this one in particular is really tasty. Your standard fettuccine Alfredo comfort food with a good amount of added chicken for extra protein and some texture. While we have tried other brands of this flavor and they are equally as tasty, I prefer Backpacker’s Pantry as this meal rehydrates well and softens up to perfectly prepared pasta. It’s a really nice comfort and hearty option when you’re looking for a meal you can count on out in the wilderness. This has 580 calories and 40 grams of protein per package which means it’s perfect for sharing or enjoying by yourself, depending on how hungry you are. After a long day of hiking this is a very welcomed meal for me and we typically will each have a meal packet to ourself.
Mountain House - Beef Stroganoff with Noodles: This meal just encompasses comfort food, and after a long day of hiking, some warm comfort food is just the ticket. Much like their breakfast options, the freeze dried noodles when rehydrated have an al dente texture, which I do enjoy, but for those times when I’m looking for softer pasta textures, I can spend a little extra time to allow the noodles to rehydrate and they can soften up to accommodate that preference. The combination of creamy sauce, mushrooms and ground beef is a good balance for nutrition and the traditional flavor you expect from stroganoff dishes, and it isn’t overly salty to the taste, which I like. This packet contains 560 calories and 24 grams of protein and can be shared with a side dish or enjoyed solo.
Mountain House - Rice and Chicken & Mountain House - Mexican Style Adobo Rice and Chicken: Two more wins from Mountain House, these are both good options if you’re looking to get away from pasta, which a lot of the freeze dried meals are based on. The basic chicken and rice meal is 500 calories and has 15 grams of protein while the adobo rice and chicken is 570 calories and 30 grams of protein per packet, and in both cases they offer enough to hold me over until morning. Both meals contain long grain rice and chicken that is seasoned well with a variety of veggies and spices that don’t taste overly salty or spicy. While these doesn’t provide that wholesome comfort food feeling that a pasta dish offers, they do fill me up and help me recover from a long day of hiking, plus they both leave me feeling like I’m eating something a little more healthy than a heavy pasta dish.
Patagonia Provisions - Wild Sockeye Salmon: This feels like a fancy treat when we’re camping, this salmon was delicious and was something I’d eat whether I was on the trail or sitting around the fire pit in my backyard. Simple to cook, just placing it in its packaging in boiling water, this was one meal I’ll definitely be buying again and will be trying out the other flavors available. At about 270 calories and 36 grams of protein, we split this and paired it with a salad and dessert and it felt like an elevated campground date night. This was tasty enough on its own, but I can see where adding it to a salad, rice bowl or veggie medley would be possible options to enjoy as well if you’re looking to get creative and create a heavier meal.
Patagonia Provisions - Organic Black Bean Soup: I was very back and forth with this one as far as which list I would add it to, and after much deliberation, I’ve decided it’s a hit. Straight out of the packet, it’s a little subtle when it comes to flavor, however add a bit of salt and you are good to go. We added a little less water when we made this, which turned the texture into more of a chili consistency. As a black bean chili type of meal, we decided that adding some sour cream and tortilla chips to it would be a really delicious option for this one. So, if soup is not your thing and you want something a little more hearty you can absolutely transform this into a delicious chili with little effort.
Trailtopia - Rocky Road Chocolate Pudding: When you go camping enough, eventually you want something other than s’mores for dessert, which makes freeze dried options rather exciting and this one is the perfect comfort desert. Not only was this rich and chocolatey, to my delight I was quite surprised at how much pudding you actually get in this single packet, in fact I think I commented on that a handful of times while we were enjoying this. It was definitely a filling dessert and one that was absolutely delicious and worth sharing. This dessert contains 244 calories, 2 grams of protein and with how rich it tasted, I was surprised to find out it only has 34 grams of sugar per packet which is really nice if you don’t want to load up on sugar at the end of the day. Another bonus for this dessert for those concerned, is that it is gluten-free. Overall, this was definitely a hit and one I’ll be adding to our dessert options in the future.
Backpacker’s Pantry - Crème Brûlée: Crème Brûlée is my absolute favorite dessert ever, anywhere, so when I saw that this was an option for camping I freaked out, and it did not disappoint. Not only do you get to experience the delicious and entrancing dance of vanilla flavoring and custard texture, but there is also a toasted sugar topping to sprinkle in when you’re ready to eat it, which adds that finishing touch that crème brûlée is famous for. I don’t know how they manage to pull off a freeze dried crème brûlée but this is definitely a treat when camping and something I would be up for buying to enjoy at home as well. This packet comes in at 610 calories and contains 24 grams of protein and 84 grams of sugar and is a perfect amount for reluctantly sharing.
Camp Food Misses:
Patagonia Provisions - Organic Creamy Banana Breakfast Grains: Prepared as-is, straight out of the packet, this was incredibly bland. Despite the promise of banana flavor, this had very little flavor whatsoever, (which was incredibly disappointing considering it was made on the same trip as our poor experience with an all vegan dinner option). Adding a couple packets of Splenda however did make this palatable and I can definitely see where adding some cranberries, raisins, honey or peanut butter when preparing it could definitely improve the flavors and provide a little more texture. With 420 calories and 16 grams of protein, we paired this with fruit and biscuits and it held us over for the remainder of the morning through our hikes.
Good-To-Go - Herbed Mushroom Risotto: Although this lands on the miss list for me, I want to preface this with one thing; this meal option was not bad. However, having salivated over the idea of this mushroom risotto for months prior to actually trying it, I think my mind may have built it up to be more exciting than it was. Overall the flavor was good, however after being on the trails during the day, I found that it may not have been the best option as the texture of the risotto missed the mark a bit for what I was looking for after a long day of hiking. At 410 calories and 13 grams of protein however this was plenty to satisfy my hunger from the light hiking we did during the day and it held me over until morning, although I was definitely ready for breakfast.
While this is on the miss list, I think it is only due to hiking trip circumstances, so I would still consider this as an option in the future, but would probably pair it with another protein option for a heavier meal.
Nomad Nutrition - Irish Shepherd’s Pie: When you think of shepherd’s pie it’s a pretty basic texture and flavor you expect; mashed potato and veggies. This did not have either. Somehow this meal was bland and overly saturated with lentil flavor all at once. I know there was potatoes and veggies in this dish but the only thing we could taste, both in flavor and texture was spice saturated lentils…so many lentils! This was the first trail meal we took only a few bites of before throwing the rest away. This meal has 600 calories and 22 grams of protein and is a vegan option that is also gluten-free, palm oil free, non-gmo and not worth it. While I tried to eat what I could, it was SO MANY LENTILS!!! I can say with absolute certainty that the only thing this meal is good for (especially when paired with the black bean soup from Patagonia Provisions) is if you’d like to have a Blazing Saddles experience.
Nomad Nutrition - Spanish Paella: I love Spanish Paella. Being part Castilian Spanish it’s only natural, and I was so excited about this option for camping but this was sadly, another complete miss from Nomad Nutrition for me. Intrigued by the concept of a vegan Spanish Paella, this meal had no flavor; oh wait, yes it did… chickpeas… so many chickpeas! This was a bit like eating a full meal of very disappointing hummus, each bite you expect to find the flavor only to be met with more plain chickpeas. This meal contains 510 calories and 11 grams of protein, and while this meal was palatable and I ate most of it, I did end up tossing the rest of the meal out and this would not be an option I would ever choose to have again.
Overall Brand Reviews:
This is a win across the board for me so far. Along with Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry is consistent comfort food you can count on when you're out exploring, plus they have some unique ethnic food varieties that sound delicious, but I have yet to try them out. These meals tend to be a little on the smaller side compared to other options, so in some cases we pair a meal packet with a side dish or pair multiple packets for some extra calories to recover from a tiring day of hiking. In addition to the meals listed above, Backpacker’s Pantry also offers vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options for those looking for them.
These meals tend to vary in price depending on the complexity of the flavors and range from $9.95 to $12.95 for larger entrees and as little as $6.95 for some breakfast options that are only one serving, which can make them a bit more of an affordable option, unfortunately as a result the options are sometimes limited when it comes to what is available on the shelf.
In regard to recycling programs or extra perks, Backpacker’s Pantry is a member of the One Percent for the Planet group, so one percent of every sale is pledged to nonprofit environmental groups. In addition, they share that their products are made in a factory powered by 100 percent wind energy which is another win for finding a company that is environmentally-conscious.
Basic flavors are not on the menu when it comes to this brand, which isn’t too surprising since the company was founded by a professional chef. Good To-Go meals tend to include more complex flavor options, which can be nice for adding some variety to camp meals. We have not had many of the meal options from this brand yet, but so far I’m not ruling them out as being an option for continued consumption.
Their meal options range in price from $6.75 to $8.75 for single meal options and from $14.95 to $15.50 for their larger meals. All of Good To-Go’s meals are gluten-free, preservative free, and low in sodium, and they also offer some variety of vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian options for those interested.
All of Good To-Go’s meals are made in USDA-approved manufacturing facility in the company’s headquarter state of Maine and the brand employs locals to have a positive impact on their local community.
Probably one of our favorite go-to brands for camping meals, Mountain House has a variety of meal options and to date, we have yet to find a meal we don’t like from them. If I had to describe Mountain House packet meals in one way it would be comfort food for the trail. The simplicity of the meals and flavor variety is consistent, and when you are at new elevations and in different sleeping conditions, a bit of comfort food can be exactly what your stomach wants. Because of our success with Mountain House, we tend to gravitate toward their multi-day supply kits, which typically have a variety of breakfast and dinner options to choose from, allowing us to always have a good variety of flavors to select from when we are planning a trip.
Most of the Adventure Meal packets we purchase range from $10.95 to $11.50 per meal at REI and the 3-day food supply kit that we usually buy is $92.00, however they also offer larger assortments that cost upward of $131 per supply kit. They also offer a few vegetarian and gluten-free options for those with dietary preferences.
One additional thing that Mountain House offers that the other brands don’t is they partner with TerraCycle, which recycles all the pouches used for meals. In addition to their meal pouches being made from recycled materials, you can also sign up for the Mountain House free recycle program which has allowed us to rinse out the meal packets when we are done with them, print a prepaid shipping label for a box of used meal pouches and mail them in to be recycled.
While we have only tried a handful of items from this brand it has solidified one fact for me; vegan life is not my thing. From the abundance of disappointment from a lack of flavors, the over abundance of lentils and chickpeas in the meals we have tried was a bit like eating bird food; you’re left pecking around the packets for the good stuff only to find that it’s missing. While this brand may be exactly what some people are looking for, their vegan options are not ones that entice me to give them a second chance.
Their single serving meals come in at $13.50, making them a little bit on the high end of the budget.
Nomad Nutrition is founded on creating meals that are organic and made from whole ingredients. All of their food is plant-based, non-gmo and gluten-free with vegan and paleo options and they focus on environmentally friendly packaging.
Although we have only had a handful of items from Patagonia Provisions, we have noticed a trend with them, and that is that while Patagonia’s meals are ready to go with relatively simple prep, they do require a bit more prep time and can definitely use added ingredients for more flavor. This makes them a great option for those trips that we know we will have a little extra time to spend at camp for cooking and for special occasions when we want to have some fancier flavors to choose from. Patagonia Provisions’ foods also provide a wider variety of complex flavors making their meals feel like outdoor feasts rather than merely being hunger-satisfying, which makes sense since they offer food and drink options for enjoying at home as well.
The provisions provided by Patagonia range from $7.50 to $10.00 for most of their meals with the salmon meals coming in at $16.00 and well worth it.
An extension of the famed Patagonia outdoor brand, like its parent brand, Patagonia Provisions creates its meals from responsibly sourced ingredients including farmers who use regenerative organic agriculture techniques and fishermen who practice sustainable harvesting, to help regenerate the environment. Additionally, the brand has committed to only use packaging that is reusable, compostable, made of renewable resources or recyclable by the year 2025.
Trailtopia has a number of food options and honestly, we’ve only ever tried their desserts so far so I can’t speak too much about the brand’s options as a whole but I can say with absolute certainty that the desserts we have tried so far are amazing, and some of their meal options such as the pesto pasta and various oatmeals sound very promising.
Their meal packets range from $3.50 to $8.50 for individual serving options and up to $14.00 for larger portions, putting them in a good price range for various meals and a worth while price for a delicious dessert. Trailtopia is a family-run company and in addition to dessert they offer all the meal varieties and gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian meals as well.