Specialty Backcountry Meal Reviews

The world of backcountry meals has taken a turn for the better of the past couple years. It seems like more and more higher end options are coming to market, claiming to change the game of backcountry meals altogether. Most of these meals come at a clearly higher pricepoint than the good ol’ Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry. Maybe it’s because climbing has gone mainstream, maybe it’s because prepping has one mainstream- who knows, but I’m interested!

The major reason that I am posting this is because it seems that there is a lack of good unsponsored and/or unbiased reviews about almost all food products online. These reviews are in no way, shape, or form, sponsored or encouraged by any of these manufacturers. I purchased these meals at full price and ate them just like any ordinary customer would.

Last updated June 23, 2021. (This will be updated as I eat more!)


Stowaway Gourmet

Stowaway Gourmet has an interesting start, a Kickstarter that raised a relatively healthy amount of funds on the promise of better food for the backcountry.  As a self-proclaimed food lover and living deep in the tech industry, this one just called out to me.  Almost no reviews online were available, so it was a happy surprise when I had my first bite.  These are clearly the best packable meals I’ve ever had.

UPDATE: I am now a brand representative of Stowaway Gourmet. The majority of these reviews were written prior to this affiliation!


Bison Beer Black Bean Chili

Pros: Super delicious. Rehydrates very fast and is not seemingly super sensitive to overhydration, the beans take a bit longer than the rest but still faster than most bean meals I’ve had. The chili is nicely spiced and salted, and is actually a bit spicy which I love. There’s a good number of calories for a big day.

Cons: Literally none.

Overall: This is just an all-around fantastic meal, it’s no wonder why this is seemingly their most popular meal. I would have never guessed this was freeze dried, it could easily fool me as homemade or from a restaurant. I will make it a point to buy more of these.

Flavor: A
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): A
Overall: A+


Wild Boar Bacon Bean Stew

Pros: Overall very delicious. Easy to rehydrate, I leaned on the side of overhydration and it worked great. Took around to 5 minutes to be edible, and beans and bacon fully rehydrated by the 10 minute mark. The wild boar was extremely tasty, and the whole thing was well spiced. The celery was a nice touch.

Cons: Not quite the same texture as the stock photo, more of a “stewed” consistency, but still contained plenty of full beans. I would like to note that the texture was still good, just not as pictured. This is really more of a “note” than a “con” . It is a bit low on the calories, and I was still a bit hungry afterwards.

Overall: This is a fantastic backcountry meal that reminded me of my dad’s French home cooking. I’d buy it again for lower intensity days or if I had a supplemental addition like a protein shake. 

Flavor: A
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall: A


Miso Salmon Okayu

Pros: Very tasty, rehydrates extremely easily. The fish and tofu really keep a surprisingly true texture, and the texture rice porridge takes well to dehydration. The light ginger in there makes for a very true tasting disk.  

Cons: At only 400ish calories, it’s just not really enough to be versatile for many situations. $16 a meal makes sense considering the expensive ingredients, but in the end, the price per calorie is pretty high.  Bringing 2 for a single meal would increase bulk and makes for a $32 backcountry meal, so the practicality there is somewhat low.

Overall: As a half-Asian person myself, I love that somebody is making true Asian backcountry dishes, not just “Asian inspired”. I’ll bring this as a splurge for situations when I know that I have a chill morning or a rest day. 

Flavor: A
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): C+
Overall: B
+


Thai Curry with Shrimp

Pros: The flavor is totally on point, and the spiciness is much appreciated in the world of bland backcountry food.

Cons: Shrimp isn’t bad by any means, but it seems to not rehydrate as well as other proteins. I’m on the fence of calling that a “con” though because it is nice that they are keeping their protein selection interesting. This meal is a little easy to over-hydrate, but it’s still pretty good with too much water. 

Overall: I love the flavor, it totally reminds me of what I would be getting in a restaurant. I’ve got mixed feelings about the shrimp, I like that it’s there and it is a nice change to the standard beef or chicken proteins in freeze dried meals, but the texture was a bit chewy. I’ll buy more of these.

Flavor: A
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall: A


Jambalaya with Shrimp

Pros: The flavor and texture are 100% what I’d want from a Jambalaya. I ate this at around 16,000’ and it rehydrated very well, speaking to the ease of this brand’s rehydration. I noted that the shrimp texture was a little “strange” for the Thai curry, but it is much more fitting in the jambalaya. 

Cons: The calories are a bit on the lower side than I’d like. 

Overall: Fantastic meal, I’ll be taking this one up again on a lower output day. 

Flavor: A
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall: A


Comrade Doeganoff (Stroganoff)  

Pros: Wow, that’s a good tasting meal!!  The rehydration of the noodles is far better and faster than any other freeze dried noodle that I’ve tried. This one really knocks it out of the park in the flavor and texture departments.

Cons: The calories are lower than I’d like. 

Overall: Jess and I love making Beef Storganoff at home, and we make one that we are pretty proud of. This one was surprisingly good when we took our first bite. The calories are on the low side, so if you are having a big day, make sure to pack a little “appetizer” on the side. I also love that these folks keep on innovating with the proteins, the venison is great. I wouldn’t know that the venison was freeze dried if I weren’t eating it out of a bag. 

Flavor: A+
Texture: A+
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall: A


Good To-go

Good To-go has made a buzz in the backcountry food scene over the past few years.  These chef-prepared dehydrated meals seemed to be the first of their kind on the mainstream market.  They have a lot of non-meat options as well, which I personally find appealing. (I tend to eat a lot of meat in regular life but mostly plant based in the backcountry.)  


Mushroom Risotto

Pro: Very good flavor. The caloric value is also extremely good, even for the smaller single serving package.  Good To-Go makes proper hydration measurements very simple with their bag indicator.

Cons: The sauce never seemed to integrate with the risotto. It felt more like nicely cooked rice with a nice mushroom broth poured over it. The rehydration time is long, and no amount of time seemed to help integrate the broth with the rice.

Overall: I don’t think I would buy this again. While the flavor on its own is restaurant quality, the texture it just totally off. It seems like the mixture was lacking the rice starch in risotto that naturally binds the sauce to the grains of rice making for that amazing creamy texture. This is just the weirdest risotto ever.

Flavor: A
Texture: F
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): B
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall: C-


Pad Thai

Pros: Good caloric value, and makes for huge meal. The carrots and peanuts give a fresh and snappy texture that is unexpected in the backcountry. Good To-Go makes proper hydration measurements very simple with their bag indicator, and the hydration time is relatively quick for being a dehydrated meal.

Cons: This doesn’t taste like pad thai at all. Most reviews say that this is because most American folks aren’t used to tamarind sauce. I am used to the tamarind sauce, and this simply doesn’t taste like pad thai. The texture is quite nice, but far from pad thai as well. This just simply isn’t pad thai.

Overall: If you are expecting pad thai, this ain’t gunna be it. If you are simply looking for an “Asian fusion” dehydrated noodle dish with have high caloric content, this could be an option.  

Flavor: D
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): B
Value (price & weight per cal): A
Overall: C


Mexican Quinoa Bowl

Pros: High caloric value, and makes for big meal. Like the other GTG meals, hydration is easy with with the bag indicator.

Cons: This feels more like a random blend of “Mexican ingredients” rather than a thought-out dish. Hydration took a little longer than other meals, but that is to be expected with dehydrated beans and quinoa.

Overall: I am truly curious what Mexican dish this concoction of ingredients is based off of. I love moles, which is maybe the thing this meal is closest to.

Flavor: F
Texture: F
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): B
Value (price & weight per cal): A
Overall: F


Chicken Gumbo 

Pros: Like the other GTG meals, hydration is easy with with the bag indicator. This is also one of the faster GTG meals to rehydrate, but still slow compared to freeze dried meals.

Cons: There is a distinct lack of salt in this meal. It also did not meld into a stew consistency like a gumbo should. The orca is a cool addition, but it and the chicken struggled to rehydrate. 

Overall: Unfortunately, this was yet another disappointing meal from this brand. Like most of the other meals, it feels like it’s a meal of individual components that where individually rehydrated and then mixed together. 

Flavor: C-
Texture: C-
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): B
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall: C


Mary Jane Farms

Everybody says that this brand has a nice story; I think the story is alright (haha). I am a big fan of the packaging and sizing of these meals for supplemental meals. Most of these meals appear to be dehydrated rather than freezedried, but the majority stick to easy-to-rehydrate components. I have personally stayed away from the ones that seem harder to rehydrate, so those will be left out. This brand sells in bulk which is nice if you’re into that.

Bare Burrito 

Pros: One of my favorite things in the world is a good plate of frijoles refritos and rice. You know, the slow cooked one, the one not holding back on the lard. This one gets close to that, with a few additions into the mix. 

Cons: There is a slight tinge to the taste of this, I’d bet coming from the lactic acid in the ingredient list. That is a very minor complaint to this though. The meal is a little small on its own, but not small enough to eat 2 (at least for me).

Overall: I like this one enough to buy a few of them to keep in my arsenal. I now happily pack these as an extra meal or a breakfast. 

Flavor: A-
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall: A-


Organic Beef Chili

Pros: This meal rehydrated particularly quickly and easily. Texture and taste wise, it’s pretty good. 

Cons: The little packet of bacon bits (similar to what Kraft sells in the pantry isle) has a bit of an artificial taste. Overall a minor complaint though. 

Overall: Of all the backcountry chilis I’ve had, this one doesn’t particularly stand out as “amazing” or “horrible”. For its size, weight, price, and calories, I think it’s a reasonably good extra meal to throw in the pack. 

Flavor: B
Texture: B
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall:  B


Shepard’s Meat Pie

Pros: Rehydration is a snap with this meal- throw in water and it’s ready to eat in less than a minute. This is particularly nice when ending a long day and you just need to get food into your body as soon as possible.

Cons: Calorie and size wise, this meal is very small, especially considering it is about 40% more expensive than most other MJF meals. It seems like people are very on the fence when it comes to the use of the smoke flavoring used in this meal. If this meal is to your liking, just be certain to bring 2 packets!

Overall: The flavor of this meal seems to be pretty controversial. Jessica likes it. I think there’s a bit of an overuse of artificial  smoke flavor. It seems like the internet is also split on this one. Overall, it’s a good partial meal if the flavor meets your liking. 

Flavor: A or B
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A+
Value (price & weight per cal): C
Overall:  B+/-


Thai Fusion

Pros: It is hard for me to say anything positive about this one.

Cons: This is a very strange concoction. It tasted like a blend of the sweetened coconut milk that is typically on top of a mango sticky rice, rice, and cilantro. I felt like this meal couldn’t decide it if wanted to be a dessert or dinner. The texture added to the rice pudding effect. 

Overall: I never have left a meal in the backcountry unfinished. Eating this was the closest I’ve gotten though. With the overall good products of MJF, this felt like a massive outlier.

Flavor: F
Texture: F
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): B
Value (price & weight per cal): B
Overall: F


Peak Refuel

Peak refuel is seemingly taking the market by storm, seemingly at least. They’re heavy on the ambassadorships and social media, and they definitely love to advertise their protein content per package. Their pricing isn’t outrageous, especially when considering the caloric content, but is pegged to be in a higher quality tier than the standard players. The bulk of each package isn’t as high as I would have guessed for how much food is in each bag as well. In a way, this brand seems to be what mainstream backcountry food of the next decade is going to be.

Homestyle chicken and rice

Pros: The calories and protein in this meal are very high, especially for the size and weight of the package. Hydration for rice is always a bit of a longer wait, and I did eat this one at around 16,000’, and it performed as expected (in a good way). This meal isn’t super sensitive to over hydration. 

Cons: None really.

Overall: Very good meal that packs a punch for a big day out. The flavor was fairly good, but nothing to write home about. I can see why this brand is rapidly gaining in popularity.  

Flavor: B
Texture: A
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): A
Value (price & weight per cal): A
Overall: A


Biscuits and Gravy

Pros: The extreme caloric value of this meal is good if you know you’ll be hungry and don’t want to carry 2 smaller meals. 

Cons: Hydration was the core problem with this meal. Sitting for 20 minutes with boiling water at 9000’ still left the meal with a lot of crunch in the sausage. The full biscuits are cool, but they need to be broken down to rehydrate. Ultimately, the meal never fully hydrated and was a crunchy soup. 

Overall: This was a meal I really wanted to like. Mountain House B&G has been one of my long time go-tos, and I was excited when coming across this. More calories and hopefully a more realistic texture was what the marketing promised. The meal fell pretty short in the hydration department though, really losing out in the texture department, and the flavor was on par with Mountain House. Overall, I prefer Mountain House B&G to this meal. 

Flavor: B
Texture: D
Hydration (water level sensitivity & time): D
Value (price & weight per cal): A
Overall: C