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Dehydrated Food Reviews

By: Ben Shaw A.K.A Squanto

A lot of first-time backpackers aren’t quite sure what to eat to maintain caloric intake needs on the trail and even more people that don’t backpack wonder what we eat to keep ourselves going.  While pasta sides, ramen, instant potatoes, and tuna fish can all be cheap and delicious (in their own way) alternatives to sometimes pricey dehydrated food, nothing beats the ease of adding water to a pouch and getting some much needed grub after a hard day on the trail.  On a recent trip to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota I tried a slew of different dehydrated meals and brands trying to break down which I thought were best and why.  We can all agree to disagree but here are my thoughts and rankings on the following brands and meals:

  • O Meals – Southwest Style Chicken with Rice
  • Wise Foods – Chicken Teriyaki
  • Mountain House – Chicken Teriyaki
  • Backpacker’s Pantry – Sweet & Sour Rice and Chicken
  • Alpine Aire – Thai Style Chicken and Noodles
  • Good to Go – Chicken Gumbo

My goal with all the meals was to try items that were similar; contain chicken, rice, similar flavors, etc.  Sorry to all my vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free friends, if you guys pay for my food, I can do a blog for you too with just as much research and unbiased editorial tasting. The ranking of them all played out differently than expected and some meals were let downs while others exceeded expectations.  Below is each item’s cost, calorie count, grams of protein, cook time, and my own reviews of the product based on backcountry experience.  You’ll notice I also let each meal sit for about 5 minutes over the stated cook time, this allowed them all to have even chance to heat and cook, all meals were eaten warm.

6.)        Backpacker’s Pantry – Sweet & Sour Chicken

Calorie Count –                500 Calories

Protein –                            28 grams

Stated Cook Time –         10-12 minutes (15 for me)

Cost –                                 $11

Special Notes –                 Gluten Free, supports 1% For the Planet

Taste –                                 I felt like I was eating Orange Chicken at a Chinese restaurant who likes to skimp on sauce.  While the meal was tasty, they threw in chunks of pineapple which kind of threw me off, I would have preferred a veggie.

Comments –                       You really must stir the packet to get all the flavoring out of the bottom, it also didn’t re-hydrate the chicken all the way.  My least favorite of the bunch because of these facts that made it my worst trip dinner.  This is also the most expensive meal on this list.

5.)        O Meals – Southwest Style Chicken with Rice

Calorie Count –                  290 Calories

Protein –                              18 grams

Stated Cook Time –           15 minutes (20 for me)

Cost –                                   $8

Special Notes –                  Did not require a stove, heats with element in pouch

Taste –                                Probably one of my favorite meals taste wise, the chicken was moist and tender and there was a boatload of flavor.  This tasted like a thick chicken chili full of beans, corn and other delicious goodies.

Comments –                       These meals aren’t dehydrated so they have an arm up on the rest of the group.  The down side with these meals too is the way they heat up with the heating element.  I thought that would be my favorite aspect of them, but it created a lot of trash, wasted water and almost didn’t work in the 30-degree temperatures I was testing it in.  After the meal I was also still hungry because of the low-calorie content and small size of the actual meal, I was left wanting more…

 

4.)        Wise Foods – Chicken Teriyaki

Calorie Count –                  620 Calories

Protein –                              30 grams

Stated Cook Time –           12-15 minutes (15 for me)

Cost –                                   $5.99

Special Notes –                  Needed more hot water than stated to properly re-hydrate

Taste –                                  If you’ve ever had Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki, this gave it a run for its money but lacked on that extra Teriyaki flavor that makes the meal good.  Because of this the rice tasted a bit dry and the meal did not re-hydrate properly.

Comments –                       This was the cheapest meal on the list, and has lower quality ingredients, it did however have the second highest calorie count and protein content, right behind Backpacker’s Pantry.

3.)        Good to Go – Chicken Gumbo

Calorie Count –                330 Calories

Protein –                            16 grams

Stated Cook Time –         15 minutes (15 for me)

Cost –                                $7.25

Special Notes –                Gluten Free, dehydrated not freeze dried, natural ingredients

Taste –                               Like authentic Louisiana Gumbo, the right amount of chunky and juicy. This meal combines that sweet chicken flavor with the right amount of spice to make a truly delicious backcountry meal (or front country when I get lazy…)

Comments –                       Good to Go is dedicated to natural ingredients and delicious, flavor-packed meals.  They all have something that tastes slightly different about them, small business, made in the USA.  The meal however was lacking in much needed calories.

2.)        Mountain House – Chicken Teriyaki

Calorie Count –                 550 Calories

Protein –                             25 grams

Stated Cook Time –          8-9 minutes (15 for me)

Cost –                                 $8.99

Special Notes –                  Mountain House is tried and true, they make A TON of different meals.

First made food for the US Military during the Vietnam War as OFD Foods.

FDA shelf life up to 30 years.

Taste –                              Full of teriyaki flavor, the rice, chicken, sauce and vegetables pack perfectly together.  This meal is probably one of my favorites and has been across the country with me along with other Mountain House.

Comments –                      I probably have a bias to Mountain House but they honestly do make great food.  They have a bunch of delicious ingredients and have a terrific spread of meals.  I will say, the meals with more ingredients and better taste are the more expensive.

 1.)        Alpine Aire – Thai Style Chicken and Noodles

Calorie Count –               500 Calories

Protein –                           28 grams

Stated Cook Time –         10-12 minutes (15 for me)

Cost –                                 $7.50

Special Notes –                 Alpine Aire, like Mountain House has a slew of meals, they do get wild with some of their flavors sometimes.

Taste –                                Full of chicken flavor, this meal tasted fresh.  It was packed with cilantro and the noodles were a nice change from the rice that most of the dishes came with.  It was soupy, but this assured the noodles re-hydrated well.

Comments –                      I would probably add less water in the future.  Alpine Aire is one that I want to try more meals from, but I think I’ll mix them in with my Mountain House which I know and love in case the flavors gets a little too wild for me after a hard day outside.  I honestly thought Mountain House would take the cake (their Mac n’ Cheese kicks Alpine Aire’s butt) but the full flavor of this meal definitely did it for me.


Meal Cost Calorie Count Protein Cook Time
Alpine Aire – Thai Style Chicken and Noodles $7.50 500 28 grams 10-12 minutes (15)
Mountain House – Chicken Teriyaki $8.99 550 25 grams 8-9 minutes (15)
Good to Go – Chicken Gumbo $7.25 330 16 grams 15 minutes (15)
Wise Foods – Chicken Teriyaki $5.99 620 30 grams 12-15 minutes (15)
O Meals – Southwest Style Chicken with Rice $8.00 290 18 grams 15 minutes (20)
Backpacker’s Pantry – Sweet & Sour Rice and Chicken $11.00 680 38 grams 15-20 minutes (20)
Note: Under “Cook Time”, the number in parenthesis represents my actual wait time after adding water.