My Top 5 Dehydrated Meals of 2020

Only outdoorsy people understand the real magic made in mere minutes with just some hot water and a dehydrated meal. Making a warm meal with a fire or portable stove is not only a lightweight and comforting food option, but is also a ritual that I look forward to while hiking and camping- often the only reason I make it to the summit or campsite. Over the last year, I ventured on a committed search to find the market’s best dehydrated meals to try in 2021- the new year and hiking season we’ve all been waiting for. Made with pure ingredients and brought to you by both iconically massive and smaller brands with purpose behind their food, I bring to you, backpacker planners and extreme-survivalist preppers, a list of 5 dehydrated meals you need to add to your cart immediately.

Imagine yourself this spring, miles into the backcountry, hidden from anything related to man, apart from the contents of the pack strapped to your back. You’re tired, you’re covered in the microscopic-living dust of the earth around you… and ravenous. As you know, hunger in the wild is different than what we usually experience at home. It’s not something a granola bar or all the trailmix in the world can fix, but rather a wholesome, hot, and flavorful meal that leaves you feeling satisfied and eager to march on. Food that gives me “that feeling” is what I look for when choosing a dehydrated meal. I want something easy, flavorful, and gratifying-something that comforts me enough to skip a shower for a few days with pleasure.

Pizza Margarita- Pack it Gourmet

That’s right. I agree, it is an overwhelming concept that we could enjoy warm and zesty pizza outdoors- we’ve all had a year of learning to appreciate the little things, and this dream concoction is no exception. This bag includes key pizza ingredients like mozzarella, organic extra virgin olive oil, and tomatoes, but really shows off with its side of upscale ingredients- pesto, red and green bell peppers, organic tomato flakes, parmesan, and even sweet basil. Once steep-cooked, the filling is added to your “BYO Tortillas’ as they state on their packaging, and can be eaten in the same shape as the only thing better than pizza- a pizza burrito.

Special Mention: Mom’s Banana Puddin’

I never thought I would say that I had strong feelings for pudding, until I tasted this pudding from Pack it Gourmet. It had me slowing down the bites to really savor it. Made with real bananas in a smooth vanilla custard, with crunchy cake croutons and toasted coconut, this is the best trail dessert I have ever had. I took this pudding on a day-hike with my husband as a sweet treat and loved that we were able to pack light and leave the portable stove at home, as you use cold water. The recipe and preparation process was as easy as dumping a splash of bottled water into the bag, sealing it tight, and waiting a few minutes. Upon opening it, we dove right in while continuing on the trail. We loved that we were able to continue hiking while eating it out of the bag, with no mess nor cookware to deal with.

Cuban Coconut Rice and Black Beans- Backpacker’s Pantry

I couldn’t write a post on my favorite freeze-dried meals without mentioning this simply delicious must-try from Backpacker’s Pantry. I originally grabbed it for a side dish while on a multi-day backpacking excursion, but found out that this flavorful pick is a full meal on its own. The rice is flavored with coconut milk, giving you caribbean-esce flavor wherever you enjoy it. It not only has hearty black beans mixed in, but also natural freeze-dried banana pieces that add pleasant sweetness to the blend. It is also worth noting that the banana flavor isn’t an overly sweet, artificial one like a banana Laffy-Taffy. It is natural on the tongue, nourishing, and contains 2 servings in a bag, making it a perfectly hefty portion for me, myself, and I.

Organic Southwestern Couscous- Mary Jane’s Farm

This vegan comfort food isn’t like the dehydrated pastas from *some major brands that will not be named*. Instead of being made up of chemical-smelling “cheese powder” and tasteless noodle shells, Mary Jane’s Farm’s Southwest Couscous is derived from raw ingredients grown at her farm in Moscow, Idaho, giving it the authentic flavor that can only come from a brand with heart. This vegan meal is made up of couscous, jalapeño, tomato, black bean, and corn- giving me warmth and healthy energy on the trail. I recently took this one on a steep trek up the local snow-draped ridge here in Central Washington and ate it at the top. I even shared it with my 2 pugs that tagged along as the ingredients were raw and dog safe. Each bite gave me life again and enough endurance to hike back down in a good mood despite the cold conditions. 

Just a side note- this brand supports over 9 causes, including feeding Team Rubicon’s emergency-response teams, organizations such as the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute, and helping build libraries one reader at a time for communities in need. They were even awarded the Cecil D. Andrus Leadership Award for Sustainability and Conservation. “Cece” himself said words that I find quite fitting, “MaryJane Butters exemplifies the best of rural America—tireless commitment to stewardship of the land and community, relentless entrepreneurial drive that recognizes no barriers, and boundless creativity and can-do spirit that inspires all who meet her and buy her products.” 

Chicken and Broccoli Ramen Noodles- Trailtopia

Ramen is a fun addition to a hiking or backpacking trip. My favorite is this flavorful chicken and broccoli one with gluten-free organic brown rice noodles and a seasoning blend that feels restaurant-esque. Its selection of seasonings spice up the pallet as warmth rushes over the body. All of this goodness is packed into a compact bag, about half the size of many other dehydrated food brands, and perfect for packing light. As someone who has experienced gnawing on chawky dehydrated chicken bits in years past, I appreciated that this meal had chicken broth and authentically flavored noodles, but no puffed chicken. Being less than $5 on their website, this flavorful soup is a staple for my road trips, hikes, and camping trips this summer. 

Pad Thai- Backpackers Pantry 

It’s not surprising that this one has been BP’s best-selling entrée since before I started hiking. The two servings of rice noodles are actually made in Thailand and added to authentic spices, herbs, vegetables, garlic, and peanut butter right here in the US. With 18 grams of protein per serving from organic non-GMO soy protein, this spicy carb-load is a robust addition to a night in the wilderness. They even include extra roasted peanuts, additional lime, and Sriracha to top it all off. Dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan, the “big brand” behind this bold dish knows what they are doing and it shows. 

As we head into the new year, trying new things is top of mind. Here’s to putting down the trail mix and experiencing food made with pure ingredients. Here’s to doing whatever it takes to make memories that we will remember forever. Here’s to 2021. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 

Madison Ford

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