Best Lightweight Backpacking Meals Of 2023 | Delicious Freeze-dried, Dehydrated And Ready To Eat Food Pouches For Camping And Backpacking - Outdoors Magic

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Best Lightweight Backpacking Meals Of 2023 | Delicious Freeze-dried, Dehydrated And Ready To Eat Food Pouches For Camping And Backpacking

We've cooked up a list of the best lightweight backpacking meals to fuel your camping adventures

Heading off on a wild camping or backpacking adventure doesn’t mean you have to eat tasteless food – you aren’t limited to cheap instant noodles or bland cup-a-soups. There’s actually a huge range of nutritious, tasty and lightweight backpacking meals out there. Pick the right ones for you and they’ll not only fuel your body for your chosen outdoor activities, but also give you something to look forward to at the beginning and end of each day. After all, a delicious and hearty meal is a massive morale boost when you’re out adventuring in the great outdoors.

There are two main types of lightweight backpacking meals: ready to eat and freeze-dried/dehydrated. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Ready to eat meals can be eaten hot or cold, do not require you to carry or add water, are well-priced and easy to cook, and – for some – taste better than freeze-dried/dehydrated meals. But they are generally way heavier and have a lower calorie count. Conversely, freeze-dried/dehydrated meals are super-lightweight and compact, easy to pack in your backpack, have a long shelf-life, and often provide a higher calorie content. But there are cons. You have to carry and boil water to rehydrate them (unless you opt to ‘cold soak’ them like some obsessional ultralight thru-hikers do) – and the big question is, will you like the taste?

Credit: Hugo Vincent, Switzerland

Without getting too technical, it is also worth noting the two different ways of taking water out of food to render it lightweight and preservable: freeze-drying and dehydration. Freeze-drying involves freezing food to a very low temperature and drying it in a vacuum; dehydration involves passing warm air over the surface of the food inside a commercial dehydrator. Different brands use each approach, but the end results are relatively similar. Summit To Eat and Bla Bland make freeze-dried meals, for example, while Adventure Food and Firepot supply dehydrated food.

So which type should you go for: ready to eat or freeze-dried/dehydrated? This will really depend on the type of adventure you’re going on and what your priorities are. For most adventures such as wild camping, long-distance trekking and off-grid backpacking, minimising the weight and size of your backpack is the most important consideration, so freeze-dried/dehydrated meals will definitely be your best bet. Why? Because the lightest freeze-dried/dehydrated main meal reviewed below is just 100g, which is three times lighter than the ready to eat meals we tested. If you’re undertaking an intense physical challenge, such as an Ultra, calorie in-take is likely to be more important to you. In that case, again freeze-dried/dehydrated is the right choice, with specialist high-energy meals providing up to 800kcal per portion. But if you’re heading to a campsite, or if price if your biggest motivator, a ready to eat meal might suffice.

If we’re going to get really geeky, there are a few other pedantic considerations when it comes to lightweight backpacking meals including rehydration times, how easy it is to get the right consistency, and the stability and size of the pouch. Some meals take only six to eight minutes to rehydrate while others take up to 15 minutes – the latter can feel like a long wait if you’re super hungry. Another downfall with rehydrating meals is that it’s annoyingly easy to put the wrong amount of water in: too much and your meal will turn to a soup, too little and it’ll be stodgy and thick. Some brands include a fill mark on the outside or inside of the meal pouch (inside is better) while others simply state the volume of water in ml to add. Finally pouches that are wider and shorter are simpler to use (it’s easier to get your spork to the bottom, for example, and to mix the ingredients, and the pouch stands up more stably), whereas higher ones tend to be more awkward in general (you’ll probably find yourself getting frustrated as you dig away for that final morsel in the depths of the pouch).

You can buy lightweight backpacking meals direct from some brands’ websites, but for added convenience simply shop at a specialist online retailer. Our favourite is Base Camp Food, which stocks multiple brands, offers free delivery on all UK orders and has an all-round excellent reputation.

Best Lightweight Backpacking Meals

For this round up of the best lightweight backpacking meals, we’ve mostly focused on nutritious dehydrated dinners and high-calorie freeze-dried meals, including vegetarian, vegan and dairy-free meals, but we have also included one ready to eat option – so there’s something for everyone. In our view, the four best-tasting brands are Firepot, LYO Expedition, Real Turmat and Summit To Eat – with not much to choose between them. But obviously this is down to personal preference and it’s all very subjective, so your best bet is to order a selection of meals and discover what tastes best to you. Below we list the 10 best backpacking meal brands, and in the reviews we outline our favourite picks from their ranges.

  • Firepot – Best Lightweight Backpacking Meals
  • LYO Expedition
  • Right On Trek
  • Real Turmat
  • Summit To Eat
  • Wayfayrer – Best Ready To Eat Backpacking Meals
  • Adventure Food
  • Bla Bland
  • Expedition Foods – Best High-Calorie Backpacking Meals
  • Extreme Food
  • Be Well Expedition Food

BEST BUY: Firepot

Price: £6.95
Meals Tested: Orzo pasta bolognese, posh pork & beans, dal & rice with spinach
Vital stats: 135g / 510kcal / 3.8kcal per gram / 15mins – posh pork and beans
Best for: Wild camping, car camping, campervan trips, hiking trips
Key attributes: Environmental packaging, tastes like ‘real’ food, best taste on test

Hand cooked in Dorset, Firepot appears to do things differently. Its meals are made using 100% natural ingredients and created using the dehydration process, which according to the firm leads to far better results than freeze-drying. It says its “food tastes like it should, with plenty of texture and flavour”, partly because each meal is handmade and dehydrated in its entirety without adding anything else, unlike other brands which “buy in freeze-dried ingredients and just mix them together in the packet, hoping the flavours will combine by the time you add water — they don’t.” Whatever it does, Firepot is doing something right. It has a good selection of vegan and special diet options, and better still it has introduced compostable packaging to its range: a clever eco-friendly innovation that appears to be ahead of the curve compared to other brands. Impressive stuff.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The orzo pasta bolognese is delicious, with nice rice-shaped pasta, a flavoursome tomato and oregano sauce, and filling slow-cooked beef. At 15 minutes, it is the longest pouch meal to prepare (which is a tad frustrating) – but it is definitely worth the wait. The posh pork and beans has become a bit of a classic for many outdoor enthusiasts and it’s one of my favourites too, while the dal and rice with spinach is as close to an Indian takeaway you can get up in the fells. The calorie-to-weight ratio isn’t the best, but I’d happily sacrifice a bit of calorific in-take for a far more enjoyable meal. All in all, Firepot seem to make the best-tasting backpacking meals out there – and that’s the most important thing.

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LYO Expedition

Price: £7.99
Meals tested: Coconut porridge, nettle curry, penne alla bolognese
Vital stats: 110g / 517kcal / 4.7kcal per gram / 10 mins – nettle curry
Best for: Long-distance treks, wild camping, general adventures
Key attributes: Innovative flavours, tastes like ‘real food’, rehydrates well

LYO Expedition is a multi-award winning range of freeze-dried meals from LYO Food based in Germany. The branding of the pouches is contemporary and cool, they are lightweight and simple to use, and the calorie content is pretty high. But the main attraction is the taste. The experts at Base Camp Food put it like this: “for us, the real standout feature of these meals is the taste – they taste more like a home cooked dish than most other freeze dried meals – the meat rehydrates well and the vegetables taste like real vegetables.”

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The coconut porridge is a brilliant start to the day, tasting both delicious and healthy with ample blueberries, figs and chia seeds added to the porridge, while the nettle curry is a fragrant, creamy dish with an epic quantity of juicy vegetables – a real surprise and an absolute delight. At up to £7.99 for a main, LYO Expedition isn’t the cheapest – but it is definitely one of the tastiest.

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Right On Trek

Price: $6.49 per meal
Meals Tested: Blueberry bliss granola with yoghurt; backcountry chili
Vital stats: 110g / 480kcal / 4.4kcal per gram / 1min – blueberry bliss
Best for: Wild camping, hiking trips, campervan trips
Key attributes: Unique meals, tasty, innovative approach

Founded by a group of friends and backpacking buddies from Silicon Valley in California, Right On Trek is a multi-faceted outdoor business with the aim of making “epic outdoor adventures accessible to new hikers and lifelong mountaineers alike”. It has various strings to its bow: you can rent mountaineering kit and wilderness essentials from its innovative automated ‘gear station’ that’s open 24/7 in Glacier National Park; its website helps you book and plan trips and hikes; and it also manufactures and sells backpacking meals. The latter are described as a “reinvention” of the backpacking food diet, made from sustainably-sourced ingredients using nutrient-retaining preparation techniques. Preservation methods don’t add harmful chemicals, the packaging can be safely burned as kindling, and the taste is described as “fresh and flavourful”. Here’s how we got on with it.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The blueberry bliss granola with yoghurt is an excellent camping breakfast. It tastes far more like ‘real’ food than other backpacking brekkies, and features a generous portion of fruit and healthy ingredients. The blueberries are sweet, the chunky granola has a nice crunch to it, and the yoghurt-covered almonds are a nice addition. Similarly the backcountry chili (spelt with one L by the Americans) is similarly tasty. With 10 spices, two types of beans, sweet bell pepper, corn, and tomato, the taste is bold and flavoursome, and for me it hit the spot. My only gripe is that you cook it in your pot (rather than pouring water into the meal pouch), resulting in washing up duties – but this process of cooking slowly on a low simmer seems to enhance flavour. Another innovation by Right On Trek is the separation of various ingredients. With the chili, you get a separate sachet of cheese to add in at the end of cooking – a real treat when you’re out in the hills.

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Real Turmat

Price: £9.99
Meals tested: Pulled pork with rice, blueberry and vanilla muesli
Vital stats: 121g / 547kcal / 4.5kcal per gram / 8 mins – pulled pork
Best for: Campsites, wild camping, a camping treat
Key attributes: Unique meals, delicious taste

Norwegian company Real Turmat is one of Base Camp Food’s best-selling ranges – and it’s easy to see why. The freeze-dried pouches look great, are lightweight, quick to cook and hassle-free to use, and provide a decent calorie hit. They are, however, super-expensive at up to £11.99 for a main meal, but sometimes you get what you pay for. The meals on offer are unique, such as reindeer casserole, and they taste great.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The blueberry and vanilla muesli, which is made using cold water in just three minutes, is a welcome change to porridge, has a lovely sweet vanilla flavour, and is a filling and scrumptious start to the day. Meanwhile, the pulled pork with rice has a huge amount of succulent pork and a rich flavour – a real treat out in the mountains. If you’re fed up with the bog standard supplies of stodgy porridge for breakfast and bland chicken curry for dinner, I found that Real Turmat offered something different – unique, unusual meals which tasted great. It’s just a shame the price-tag is so, well, Norwegian.

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Summit To Eat

Price: £5.50
Meals tested: Chicken fried rice, chocolate mousse with cherry and granola
Vital stats: 121g / 603kcal / 5kcal per gram / 8 mins – chicken fried rice
Best for: Wild camping, campsites, all types of adventures
Key attributes: Excellent taste

The expedition food brand with the wittiest name, Summit to Eat, serves up a “lightweight, versatile food source to help fuel any adventure”, according to its excellent website. It is a solid performer across all key areas: its freeze-dried pouches are well-priced, lightweight, simple to use, easy to pack, and high in calories. And, thankfully, they taste good too.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The chicken fried rice is a filling meal with a tasty teriyaki sauce, bigger pieces of chicken than many competitors (like almost all rehydrated meals the chicken can be a little ‘cardboardy’, but it still tastes good), and a generous supply of vegetables including onion, red peppers, green beans and sweetcorn. The chocolate mousse with cherry and granola is a chocolate gooey mess, like many other expedition desserts, except the addition of crunchy granola clusters and cherries makes it far tastier than most. All in all, I would thoroughly recommend Summit to Eat. I really warmed to the Summit To Eat brand. They do everything well: great taste, handy pouches, competitive price, and are super-lightweight. I found myself thinking I could be loyal to this brand.

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Price: £4
Meals tested: All day breakfast, coconut curry, veg chilli and rice
Vital stats: 300g / 381kcal / 1.3kcal per gram – all day breakfast
Best for: Campsites, budget adventures
Key attributes: Bargain price, good taste, ready to eat

Wayfayrer supplies ready to eat meals that can be eaten hot or cold (although hot is way better). The pouches are, obviously, significantly heavier than freeze-dried options, but they can be cooked without water. Simply empty the contents into your pan, heat up and enjoy. Other cooking options include placing the unopened foil pouch into boiling water or using flameless ration heaters, two approaches that both mean you can eat out of the pouch and thus avoid any dirty pans to wash. The Wayfayrer meals are one of the cheapest options on test, saving you a couple of pounds per meal, but they are also amongst the heaviest and least calorific (a measly 1.3kcal per gram, compared to 4-5kcal per gram on average with freeze-dried/dehydrated meals). The big pro, however, is that they taste good.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: Plodding steeply uphill in Great Langdale, my backpack felt distinctly heavier with these ready to eat meals stashed inside. But by mealtime it was worth it. They were tastier, fresher and more ‘real’ than the artificial-tasting freeze-dried meals I was getting fed up with. The all day breakfast is a filling combination of sausage, bacon and omelette in a baked bean sauce (although I couldn’t really taste the omelette), while the coconut chicken curry is spicy with a creamy, indulgent sauce and good chunks of chicken. Both meals were pretty enjoyable and filled a hole.

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Adventure Food

Price: £5.50
Meals tested: Chicken curry, mouse au chocolate, pasta Bolognese
Details: 148g / 600kcal / 4kcal per gram / 8 minutes – chicken curry
Best for: Wild camping, campsites, campervan trips
Key attributes: Well-priced, good flavour, dehydrated style

Set up by adventurer Hans van der Meulen, the first Dutchman to climb Everest without additional oxygen, Adventure Food specialises in dehydrated expedition food “for intensive outdoor activities”. The Netherlands-based company opts for a classic approach: self-standing pouches that you add boiling water to, seal for 8 minutes, and then eat out of. It is a quick and simple approach, with no washing up to do at the end – always a bonus. The meals are well-priced compared to others, lightweight but not the lightest on test, and serve up a good calorie content to weight ratio.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The chicken curry is well-spiced and relatively filling, rehydrating out nicely into a biryani-style texture with small squares of chicken. The gooey mousse au chocolate meanwhile has a bubbly texture, added chocolate swirls, and, unlike others, isn’t too sickly. In terms of taste, I’d describe them both as pretty enjoyable (but not exceptional). Both Adventure Food pouches hit the spot while I was out camping in the Lake District: they were tasty and nutritious and felt like classic expedition meals. I wasn’t disappointed. They were a safe bet at a good price.

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Bla Bland

Price: £7.25
Meals tested: Tropical breakfast with cereal flakes, Indian chicken stew
Vital stats: 146g / 650kcal / 4.5kcal per gram / 10 mins – Indian chicken stew
Best for: Wild camping, camping holidays
Key attributes: Handy internal fill-line, excellent shallow pouch

Bla Bland offers a mid-range selection of free-dried expedition meals that perform solidly across all criteria: they are lightweight, quick and easy to make, not too expensive, deliver a good calories-to-weight ratio, and taste pretty decent too. Their unique selling point is the shallow pouch shape, which is really useful and also features a handy internal fill-line telling you exactly how much water to pour in. The internal line is far easier to use than the external lines used by some rival brands.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The tropical breakfast with cereal flakes is a good-sized portion of porridge, with the pieces of mango, pineapple and passion fruit a creating a distinctive flavour reminiscent of a tropical fruits juice drink. The Indian chicken stew, meanwhile, is a curry-style dish with chunks of chicken, rice, a healthy portion of tomato, green beans, red pepper and onion, and a fragrant flavour. For me, in terms of taste the meals were pretty good but not spectacular – perhaps 6/10 for the breakfast and 7/10 for the dinner. But I really liked the shallow pouch shape of the Bla Bland meals. It was easier to stir, thus avoiding those annoying powdery remnants at the bottom of some pouches; I didn’t have to delve my hand deep into the pouch to get those final few mouthfuls; and it was really stable when self-standing.”

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Expedition Foods

Price: £7.99
Meals tested: Porridge with strawberries, chicken tikka with rice, Thai green curry
Vital stats: 161g / 802kcal / 5kcal per gram / 5 mins – Thai green curry
Best for: Off-grid adventures, intensive adventures, physical challenges
Key attributes: Superb calorie-to-weight ratio, massive portions

According to its bright orange packaging, Expedition Foods has been providing “top quality freeze-dried meals to expeditions, rowers and sailors, endurance athletes, mountaineers, film crews and disaster recovery teams all over the world since 1995”. Clearly, the British company is positioned to supply more intensive adventures, and this is reflected in its high-energy range (800kcal or 1,000kcal), which serves up a humongous calorie boost per meal. The chicken tikka with rice, for example, provides 809kcal but weighs only 140g, a massive 5.8kcal per gram – the highest in our tests. Other meals such as the Thai green chicken curry with rice come in slightly lower at about 5kcal/gram. For less intensive adventures, a simpler 450kcal portion is available for £6.49.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The high-energy range provides the highest calorie content per meal on test. If you’re undertaking a high-intensity, hardcore adventure and in need of calorific meals, expedition foods are an ideal option – and I certainly felt satisfied, full and ready for the following day’s mountain adventures when I ate these meals on wild camps. But I’d describe the taste as “good” rather than “great”. The porridge with strawberries is filling and sweet, with a decent texture, while the chicken tikka with rice is reasonably spicy and creamy and complemented by small squares of chicken.

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Extreme Food

Price: £5.99
Meals tested: Chicken & pesto pasta, choc chip pudding, Moroccan cous-cous
Vital stats: 100g / 500kcal / 5kcal per gram / 6-8 mins – Moroccan cous-cous
Best for: Ultra-marathons, long-distance treks
Key attributes: Very compact and slim size, superb calorie-to-weight ratio

Extreme Food claims to offer “specially formulated and nutritionally balanced meals with the highest energy vs the lowest pack weight and volume on the market” – food that will “power you to achieve your goals”. It is difficult to disagree. The small, flat pouch size is really easy to pack into your bag and at only 100g for a dinner of 500kcal Extreme Food does provide the lightest main meal in our test, with a superb calorie-to-weight ratio of 5kcal per gram. But how do they taste?

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The chicken and pesto pasta is creamy and spicy, with small, thin tubes of pasta and small bites of chicken, while the chocolate chip pudding is a gooey delight complemented by ample chocolate chips. The Moroccan chicken cous-cous has a nice fragrant flavour to it and a slightly oily texture (which I found appetising for the extra calories). I enjoyed all of the meals. But the real selling point is the slim, compact pouch design – I could slide the meals really neatly into my backpack – and the low weight of 100g, which is a good gram saving compared to other brands. The calorie-to-weight ratio of 5kcal per gram is almost the highest on test too, which is very impressive.

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BeWell Expedition Food: Chicken Tikka Masala

Price: £6.49
Meals Tested: Veg chilli con carne, strawberries with custard, chicken tikka
Vital Stats: 180g / 700kcal / 3.9kcal per gram / 8 mins – chicken tikka masala
Best for: Expeditions, backpacking, wild camping
Key attributes: Big portion sizes, high calorie count, easy-to-use pouch

Used and endorsed by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, British-based company BeWell Expedition Food supplies a range of free-dried meals, ready-to-eat wet meals, 24-hour ration packs and energy products – all emblazoned with a headshot of the legendary explorer looking suitably rugged and adventurous. The freeze-dried meals use the standard approach of rip open pouch, add water, stir, seal, wait, and eat – and serve up a high-calorie content to fuel your adventures, although they are a tad heavier than ideal.

Outdoors Magic Taste Test: The vegetarian chilli con carne is a hearty hot meal with a slightly spicy kick to it, an excellent helping of kidney beans and rice, and a large portion size that is guaranteed to fill a hole, while the 180g strawberries with custard provides a similarly massive portion of very sweet dessert with a whopping 784kcal. The chicken tikka masala provides a similarly big portion with a decent spicy flavour. Personally I didn’t find the BeWell Expedition Food meals the tastiest on test, but if you’ve got a big appetite they might just be the right option for you.

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