The Best Backpacking Meals

bear hunter
By Austin Miller

Are you someone who travels a lot and lives week to week away from home? Do you spend your summers backpacking through new country? Or do you spend long weekends in the woods hunting? No matter your life style no one can deny that food plays a crucial role in keeping you fueled and energized to continue to do what you love. These last few years for me have been life changing. When I found out my Dad was diagnosed with cancer a lot was going on in my head, but the one thing I kept coming back to was diet. This was the first time I realized the detrimental impact it can have on your health, but it also opened my eyes to food as medicine and the amazing healing qualities it can have as well. I fell deep into the rabbit hole of nutrition and it really opened my eyes and forced me to examine my own diet and choices and realize how they could be having a negative impact on my body and overall health. I started listening to podcast after podcast with my favorite backpacking partner, Jenna. Loads and loads of information funneled through our heads and we started down the path of eating cleaner. (As hunters isn’t that what we are all trying to do?)  We experimented with different foods to see how our bodies reacted and what felt best for the both of us.

best freeze dried food

What we landed on was a Ketogenic focused diet. Put whatever label on it that you want, it doesn’t matter. The basic gist is that it’s a high fat, low carb diet. Not just any fats though, it’s all about getting high quality, sustainably sourced, natural fats that are nourishing for your body. One of the biggest learning points for me was about oils. Little did I know the negative impact that vegetable/seed oils have on your body, they are incredibly high in Omega-6 fatty acids which leads to increased inflammation and could potentially even cause chronic disease. Both Jenna and I have never felt better in regards to our energy levels and the way we feel. We both have noticed that we operate at a much better pace and what I mean by that is that our mental focus has improved and we both experience less of that obnoxious brain fog. We aren’t forgetting nearly as much and we have tons of energy throughout the day. Not to mention we both have noticed a huge improvement in our quality of sleep and for those that don’t know, sleep has a tremendous impact on your overall health as well (but that is a different rabbit hole for a different day). All of this just from changing the way we eat. The point I am getting at is – food is important. It is what builds you up or slowly breaks you down. For me it’s my fuel to get me through a long day at work, a hike, a hunt, etc. With how much time I spend outside and the long hunting trips I go on I started to wonder and worry a little about how I would continue to eat this way in the woods. I wanted to be able to carry this mental sharpness and high energy levels out to the hills, so began my hunt for high quality dehydrated meals.

The following is a break down on four different brands that I have personally sampled while trying to find a healthy option for my active lifestyle.



Peak Refuel

Peak is a fairly new company within the last few years, but don’t let that shy you away from giving them an honest look. Similar to Heather’s Choice they go the extra mile in providing quality/real food ingredients. They promise that their meals “will always contain 100% USDA inspected meat,” they are made in the U.S of A, with non-GMO ingredients, all without compromising taste. Along the same line as Heather’s Choice, Peak Refuel doesn’t require a lot of water to prep your meal, 7-10 oz (0.87-1.25 cups) of water is all that is needed for these meals as well. This makes it super nice because you’re not at the creek each night filtering water to be able to make dinner. These meals are not only a healthier alternative but they are also delicious, and better yet I never feel sluggish after eating one like I did with Mountain House. All the meals I have tried from Peak Refuel have been really good. Flavor is on point and truly doesn’t taste like a meal you just heated up with boiling water. All these small things add up at the end of a long adventure. Your food has to be nourishing or your body will not hold up on these long trips in the back-country. Another great selling point for Peak Refuel is the fact that the protein/serving in their meals is almost double Mountain House, with almost all their entrees coming in at 40 grams/meal compared to 20-30 grams. Just about every meal they offer is very good; you get the luxury of eating a warm delicious meal that makes you feel like you are back in the comfort of your home.

Price/Meal: $6.99-12.99

Cook Time: 10 mins

Weight: 4.59-6.35 oz

Water Required: 7-10 oz (0.87-1.25 cups)

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Mountain House Meals

I feel like everyone knows about Mountain House. You can find them just about anywhere which makes them easy to pick up if you’re in a hurry. When I first started hunting this was all I would buy because it was so prevalent and well known in the market. In my opinion as far as taste goes all the meals they offer are good and easy to make – just add about 2 cups boiling water for most entrees, breakfasts typically require a little less. What really deters me is when you turn that package around and look at the label. The vast majority of their meals are made up of empty carbs. And compared to some of the other brands listed below, the protein/serving is significantly lower, which for me is a big deterring factor. I understand for some the high carb count may not be a deterring factor, just speaking toward my personal preference. When I look back on the times that I ate these meals I wonder how I ever made it up a hill or even had anything left in the tank by the end of a long trip. I always felt very full and sluggish after eating a whole meal, I would have to sit and digest for a while before I felt ready/able to doing anything. Not to mention the lack of protein/fats left me feeling hungry just hours later. This was all a part of my journey to discovering what fuels my body the best,

best freeze dried food

and by no means am I saying these are horrible meals. Some people run better off different things and different people are going to have different likes and dislikes. I would just encourage everyone to experiment with their own bodies and find what fuels you the best. One nice aspect of this brand is the very large variety of options they have from the typical breakfast and entrees, to ice cream and smoothies. Another positive note to mention is how lightweight they are. All in all, these are a convenient and relatively cheap option that will work well for a lot of people. They are just no longer my first or even second choice. Keep reading to learn about some exciting new brands!

Price/Meal: $7.99-12.00

Cook Time: 9-10 minutes

Weight: 2.2-4.94 oz

Water Required: 8-16 oz- (1-2 cups)

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Heathers Choice freeze dried

At this point Heather’s Choice has been around long enough for people to know the name. All these meals are prepared in Anchorage, Alaska with locally sourced ingredients to provide high quality dehydrated meals, with ingredients like sockeye salmon and grass fed bison. Not to mention they cook all their meals with olive oil rather than the cheaper vegetable/seed oils. Heather’s Choice offers a lot with their meals that very few do.  All meals are allergen safe for people looking for gluten free, soy free and dairy free options. Personally I enjoy the meals and snacks they offer. They are not a low carb option per say, but you can feel good knowing you are eating higher quality, nourishing ingredients. Another appealing thing about these meals is the fact that it doesn’t require 2 cups of boiling water, which when you are on the hill you know that water can be a precious commodity. With Heather’s Choice, on average, 10 oz (1.25 cups) of water is all you will need. Now just like every brand you have some you don’t like as much as others, but overall they offer a variety of very good healthy options to maintain your healthy lifestyle and keep you on top of your game while away from home. They pride themselves on trying to get 6-ounces of protein in every meal, which we all know how important protein is to not only to satiate our hunger, but also to keep us fueled longer.  These meals run a little more expensive than your normal Mountain House, but when you start comparing the two you quickly understand why, after all you get what you pay for. They offer 20% off your first order when you sign up for their newsletter.

Price/Meal: $7.00-15.00

Cook Time: Breakfast: 5 minutes, Entrees: 20 mins

Weight: 4 oz

Water Required: Breakfast: 4 oz (0.5 cups), Entree 10 oz (1.25 cups)

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This is a small family run business based in the U.S. that I recently found after transitioning to more of a keto/real food lifestyle. As I mentioned above, it is all about getting clean, natural, high quality ingredients; focused on eating more fat and less carbs, and as much as possible ensuring I find high quality well sourced food with which to fuel my body. I was pleasantly surprised when I found this company and truly feel that they meet these high standards I had been looking for. All the meals are made from recipes that Jessie, owner of Next Mile Meals, created when she was preparing to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017. They pride themselves on using the highest quality ingredients – meats, cheeses and vegetables. And you will see this reflected in the cost, because unlike most other dehydrated meals out there they do not use cheap carbs like pasta and rice to bulk their meals and turn a big profit. They even mention on their website that if you are a carb-avore then you can add your own inexpensive carbs, like rice or pasta, to the meals which will significantly lower your cost/calorie compared

Next Mile Meals

to other brands. The high quality meat is paired well with carefully chosen spices that make these meals mouth watering good. Along with Heather’s choice and Peak Refuel, you could serve these to people on a plate and I doubt they would know it came from a bag. After learning more about the company and reviewing the food label I thought these were a little too good to be true. But last year I decided to go all in and I bought enough meals for a week-long archery hunt in Wyoming. I was a little nervous never having tried them before, but man was I pleasantly surprised by how good they were. Not only that but they kept me on track and in ketosis and I didn’t have any negative side effects like feeling sluggish or any GI issues. These meals have anywhere from 21-42 grams of fat/meal and 32-69 grams of protein and only 4-12 grams of carbs/meal. Talk about feeling full and satisfied!  My only knock on this brand is the fact that in a few of their meals they do use canola/soybean oil, olive or avocado would be a much better alternative, but like many they may not be aware of the negative impact those oils can have. These meals take just 3-6 oz (0.37-0.75 cups) of water as well. When you’re in the back-country, you only have what you pack in or filter out of a creek. That can be a lot of work if water is limited. Overall, I would highly recommend these meals and will personally be purchasing more for the many more adventures to come.

Price/Meal: $9.50-14.00

Cook Time: 7-10 minutes

Weight: 3-4.48 oz

Water needed: 3-9 oz (0.37-0.75 cups)

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