Packing food for backpacking trips can be intimidating at times. How do I keep my food from going bad? How much food will I need to bring? How do I make my food INTERESTING, not just plain granola and energy bars? 

If you’ve done any amount of research on conventional “backpacking” food, you’ve probably heard of or come across freeze-dried meals. Think MountainHouse, Backpacker’s Pantry, AlpineAire, etc. Not quite “astronaut” food, but a simple and easy, just add hot water option.

The benefits of freeze-dried foods for backpacking are that:

(A) they are lightweight, since the water content has been removed

(B) they are often nutrient dense per their volume, since the water content has been removed

(C) they are shelf-stable for YEARS, meaning you don’t have to worry about throwing them in your pack when it’s hot outside

(D) they’re easy and simple to re-hydrate in camp. . . just add water

In our food prep for our JMT thru-hike, my Dad and I set out to package our own freeze-dried trail dinners. Although companies like MountainHouse, Backpacker’s Pantry, and Alpine Aire sell pre-packaged freeze-dried trail meals, we wanted to give the DIY (do-it-yourself) process a try.

|| The Benefits of DIY ||

Companies like MountainHouse, Backpacker’s Pantry, and Alpine Aire do a great job of offering a wide variety of pre-packaged trail meals, to give them fair credit. Their products offer an easy solution to eating in the backcountry, allowing backpackers to pick a meal off the shelf and get out there, without any complications.

For my dad and I though, their options never quite fit our bill. Their flavor options sounded OK, but didn’t give us that mouth watering urge to sink our teeth into one of their meals at the end of a long, hard day. Additionally, the traditional packaging on those kinds of products was not very space efficient, and with a 9-day food haul, we were looking to save every cubic inch we could in our limited bear canisters.

After taking a look at the ingredients in meals from MountainHouse, Backpacker’s Pantry, and Alpine Aire, we realized that we could package our own combinations of ingredients, in the same way that these companies are doing. We found different vendors online that sold each ingredient we were looking for: freeze-dried beef, freeze-dried vegetables, cheese powder, etc.

This was the biggest advantage to DIY that we found. By ordering individual ingredients in bulk from around the internet, (A) we could make a less-expensive option than the pre-made meals that are on the market already, and (B) we could synthesize our own delicious combinations, without having to settle for a pre-made flavor combination that had one ingredient that just didn’t do it for us.

|| Recipe: Shepherd’s Pie ||

This was, and still continues to be, my absolute favorite flavor combination on the trail. The buttery mashed potatoes combined with beef dices and vegetables just do it for me. Plain and simple.

Yummy! Shepherd’s pie came to be our favorite trail meal, the buttery mashed potatoes satiating my appetite (for however brief).

Nutritional Breakdown

  • Weight: 3.68 oz
  • Calories: 480 cal
  • Protein: 27 g
  • Fat: 14.5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 46 g
  • Sodium: 1140 mg
  • Fiber: 6 g
  • Price per serving ~$5.87



Mashed Potatoes:

BONUS: For some extra flavor, I love to cut up chunks of Hunter’s Reserve summer sausages and Northwoods Cheese throw them in the potatoes.

Prep Instructions:

I like to re-hydrate the potatoes and the veggie/beef base separately. The potatoes take around 6-8 oz of water, depending on your desired consistency, as do the beef and veggies. I like re-hydrating them separately so that the potatoes become fluffy, rather than part of a larger soup.

|| Recipe: Beef Stew and Vegetables ||

Nutritional Facts: 

  • Weight: 4.34 oz
  • Calories: 564 cal
  • Protein: 28 g
  • Fat: 19.5 g
  • Carbs: 64 g
  • Sodium: 1045 mg
  • Fiber: 6 g
  • Price per serving ~$4.3