When the discussion topic among outdoors people is backpacking freeze dried food, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is always Mountain House Foods. The company that sells 10 million food packages a year to outdoors people, preppers, and survivalists traces its roots back to the Vietnam War. Its parent company, Oregon Freeze Dry, supplied millions of “Long Range Patrol Rations” to American soldiers fighting in Vietnam. Some of these 11-ounce packages containing cigarettes, gum, and an 1,000-calorie entree like chicken and rice, or spaghetti with meat sauce found their way into army surplus stores where they were discovered and snapped up by outdoors people. In 1969, Oregon Freeze Dry partnered with REI to develop 14 flavors of food packs with contents designed specifically for recreationalists – the products that eventually evolved into Mountain House.
But while Mountain House may be the dominant player in the freeze dried food market, it is by no means the only one. There are appealing alternatives to Mountain House Freeze Dried Foods. Six other companies provide freeze dried, or dehydrated meals for outdoors people. One of them has been in the business longer than Mountain House. Each has its own unique characteristics, identifiable taste, and its own loyal customer base.
Here’s a summary of the most popular freeze dried and dehydrated foods in the U.S. along with what makes each one special and some comments from enthusiastic (and sometimes not so enthusiastic) users.
HEADQUARTERS: Albany, Oregon
WHEN FOUNDED: 1967. Oregon Freeze Dry partnered with REI to create the prototype for the freeze dried single packet meals that eventually became Mountain House.
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE FOOD: Mountain House prides itself on the fact that its food is first prepared as a ready-to-eat meal before it’s freeze dried which results in what it calls the “homemade taste” of its food.
MOST POPULAR MEALS: Scrambled Eggs with Bacon, Biscuits and Gravy, Beef Stew with Noodles, Beef Stroganoff, Breakfast Skillet, Chili Mac, Sweet and Sour Pork. Mountain House offers approximately 27 products at any one time.
WHAT USERS SAY: “All of the folks selling freeze dried or dehydrated meals are doing a good job and most seem to have their ‘specialty’. I love spicy food but over time have found that the meals I am most happy with after a high-mileage day are the more “normal” (some might say “bland”) entries from Mountain House like Beef Stew, Beef Stroganoff and Pasta Primavera . I’m not a big fan of the high sodium content, but I’m always happy with a MH dinner, and I haven’t always been able to say that about the others.”
“I always like Mountain House. It is readily available at Walmart.”
HEADQUARTERS: Minneapolis, Minnesota
WHEN FOUNDED: AlpineAire was founded in 1979 and purchased by the Switzerland-based Katadyn Group in 2012. The Katadyn Group has been produccing personal water treatment systems and products for the outdoors and marine industries for more than 80 years.
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE FOOD: Known For: All-natural freeze-dried and dehydrated instant meals, side dishes, breakfasts soups and desserts. AlpineAire offers an expanding variety of gluten-free options.
SOME POPULAR MEALS: Order directly from the AlpineAire website using an innovative ordering system where you can select a type of meal: snacks, breakfast, main courses,soups, sides and veggies and desserts. Then select the ingredients you want. Those being: poultry, beef, pork, vegetarian, vegan, all natural,cholesterol free and gluten-free
WHAT USERS SAY: Whereas most user comments on different brands of freeze dried food are fairly consistent, the opinion of outdoors people who have tried AlpineAire meals are split down the middle.
“We purchased AlpineAire Freeze-Dried meals for a backpacking trip last summer with our two boys and everyone loved the food. Great taste, lots of options for meals. For backpacking food, it tasted gourmet.”
“I brought these on a camping trip and was sorely disappointed with them, especially with all the positive reviews on Amazon. I tried several of them and I just could not eat them; they all tasted like salty cardboard and sand. I’ll be bringing my own rice, pasta, dried potatoes, and flour on my next camping trip.”
HEADQUARTERS: Moscow, Idaho
WHEN FOUNDED: Incorporated in 1993 as Paradise Farm Organics.
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE FOOD: Organic meals for backpackers, rafters, kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts. MaryJaneFarms has 60 different instant or quick prep meals and desserts that are all organic.
SOME POPULAR MEALS: The “Outpost Adventure Sampler” includes Organic Outrageous Outback Oatmeal, Organic Brownies, Organic Southwestern Couscous, Organic Black Bean Humus, Organic Red Pesto Pasta and Organic Bare Burrito.
WHAT USERS SAY: “My fave is Mary Jane’s Farm. In addition to the selection being very good, you can buy in BULK – saving a ton of cash. A 3-pound bag makes 25 meals. I usually carry a single Mountain House meal so I can reuse the ziplock bag, but then bring several day’s worth of MJF meals. Portion control is all yours. I especially love the cheesy mac and potato soup, and bring along some salmon or chicken in a foil pack to add. Makes a quick, mess-free, hearty meal – for about a buck!”
HEADQUARTERS: Boulder, Colorado
WHEN FOUNDED: The company was founded in 1951 to supply Girl Scouts with lightweight, nutritious food for the trail.
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE FOOD: In addition to Backpacker’s Pantry, the company also operates Colorado Spice, which supplies all-natural and organic spice blends to restaurants, grocers and snack food companies throughout the U.S. Backpacker’s Pantry meals are made up of a combination of these spices and freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients.
SOME POPULAR MEALS: Pad Thai, Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken, Katmandu Curry, Lasagne, Cuban Coconut Rice & Black Beans
WHAT USERS SAY: “I like Backpacker’s Pantry more than Mountain House for most items. I went to a hiking seminar last year and they prepared 8-10 each of Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House meals. I can say hands down I preferred Backpacker’s Pantry.”
Packet Gourmet is a small, family-owned and operated company.
HEADQUARTERS: Austin, Texas
WHEN FOUNDED: 2008
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE FOOD: Packit-Gourmet’s “General Grocery” is stocked with products you might find in your own grocery story in dried, powdered or otherwise shelf-stable form. This allows you to create backcountry meals that you might make at home. The General Grocery is also a plus for people with specific dietary needs and want to tailor their menu accordingly.
SOME POPULAR MEALS: Austintacious Tortilla Soup, Big Easy Gumbo, Cajun Ranch Chicken Salad, Cheddar Jalapeno Biscuits with Sausage Gravy. Packet offers over 75 breakfast, lunch and dinner meals for campers.
WHAT USERS SAY: “I buy from Packit Gourmet’s general grocery section and use their ingredients to make my meals. Pretty much use them 100% of the time”
“So far, Packit Gourmet selections are at the top for taste. All are pretty easy ABC type meals. As a diabetic, my real challenge is to have the proper balance of fats / carbs / protein / sugar throughout the day to avoid bonking or worse while on the trail.”
HEADQUARTERS: Sacramento, California
WHEN FOUNDED: 2010
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE FOOD: All of Outdoor Herbivore meals are vegetarian. Many of the meals include ground seeds or beans which boost the meal’s caloric value and add bulk to it when rehydrated.
SOME POPULAR MEAL: Switchback Soup and Stuffers, Sunny Sunflower Salad, Chunky Chipotle Chili, Chickpea Sesame Penne, Basil Walnut Penne, Lemongrass Thai Curry, Lickety-Split Lentils, Bee Good Couscous, High Elevation Rice Cereal, Coconut Chia Peel.
WHAT USERS SAY: “I have tried a lot of commercial backpacking meals over the years, including making my own by dehydrating food and making up recipes. But after trying these meals, I’m ready to completely switch to eating Outdoor Herbivore entrees on backpacking trips. These meals are so good, easy to make, and relatively inexpensive, that there’s little point in me trying to top what I can buy.” Source: The Section Hiker
HEADQUARTERS: Bend, Oregon
WHEN FOUNDED: 2010
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE FOOD: Hungry Hikers meals are created with freeze dried ingredients rather than dehydrated foods and ingredients. The camper cooks the meal in a pot, rathern than rehydrates it in the meal’s envelope like you would with Mountain House and other brands. Hungry Hikers claims that cooking the ingredients together with water and heat, reintroduces the necessary moisture back into the meal and brings out the original flavor and texture of the ingredients.
SOME POPULAR MEALS: Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Pot Pie, Murray’s Hurried Curry, Shepherd’s Pie
WHAT USERS SAY: “I am a United States Air Force Pararescue man stationed in Portland, Oregon. Since first trying Hungry Hikers in 2012 via Portland Mountain Shop, I have become a huge fan and advocate. I was discussing with my team about operating in the alpine environment when the topic of sustenance was brought up. Several team members referenced Mountain House meals. I immediately brought up Hungry Hikers. The team was skeptical that a freeze dried meal could actually provide such delicious taste. I then cooked Murray’s Curry and quickly proved my point.”
What Are Your Preferences in Freeze Dried Foods?
Savage Camper and other readers want to know your preferences for freeze dried foods. What brand or brands to you prefer? What is most important to you when choosing a brand of freeze dried or dehydrated food for your outdoor experiences, taste, price, weight, calorie content, or something else? Is there a brand you prefer that is not included here? Add it in a comment for others to see and for Savage Camper to include in future stories on freeze dried and dehydrated foods.