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Dehydrated Camping Food Review

By Heidi Jaenicke

Long gone are the days when hungry campers could only choose between bland beef jerky, stale granola bars and dried fruit for their meals. With an ambitious mindset and an empty stomach I decided to review dehydrated camping foods sold at Wal-Mart, Summit Hutt, and REI.

First, let’s talk about where’s the best place to buy your camping food supplies. Walmart has the lowest prices on dehydrated foods but lacked variety. Summit Hutt has more choices than Walmart but still only offers a limited selection of outdoor food items. REI was the most expensive out of all the stores but offered the most options when it came to camping foods.  They had something for everyone including vegetarian, gluten free and low sodium options. Not to mention they’ve dedicated half an aisle to energy candy, pre-workout supplements and granola bars. An interactive and attentive staff is another facet of REI that I greatly appreciated, as they were not only very welcoming, but involved and conversational while helping my pick out camping meals as well.

Below I’ve listed the foods I sampled one evening after a hike in Catalina State Park. Bringing two thermoses of hot water and the five different packaged meals, here’s how my experience fared.

AlpineAire Foods (Mountain Chili) available at REI for $6.25

I remember grabbing this item off the shelves at REI and immediately afterwards being approached by one of the workers who exclaimed how delicious this chili was. While he professed he had never eaten it himself, he claimed all of his co-workers had rave reviews about this particular item. Having this coworker’s statement in the back of my mind I’ll admit I had high expectations for this meal.

As far as preparation goes I’d say this chili was one of the simplest meals to assemble. One only has to add hot water, let it sit and then have a meal ready in minutes. I found this especially enjoyable as some of the other brands that I sampled involved complicated instructions with lots of stirring and/or multiple packets, which I don’t look forward to after a long, tiresome hike. The one downside of this chili was that not all of the beans had been fully rehydrated after letting the water sit for the instructed 10 minutes, leaving an unpleasant extra crunch to every bite. I would recommend allowing the hot water and chili to blend together and cook for at least 15 minutes. However, once I tasted the earthy notes in combination with the warm spices I almost completely disregarded this small factor.

Natural High (Low Sodium Himalayan Lentils and Rice) available at REI for $6.50

After eating this meal I felt satisfied but not weighed down by any means. Natural High’s lower sodium packaged lentils and rice were a delight to consume and easy to prepare. I was particularly impressed with how perfect my rice was cooked.

Not only can this dish be used as a sustainable main meal, I would image this recipe would go well alongside almost any protein as a side dish. Another characteristic I enjoyed about this entrée was that it was low sodium, and yet did not lack at all in flavor, as it was packed with lots of bright spices instead of salt.

Trail Foods (Veggie Pizza Pasta) available at Summit Hutt for $4.99

The amount of flavor packed into this pasta is incredible for being a meal that requires only water to prepare, although in terms of convenience I thought this entrée was one of the more complicated ones to prepare. I especially didn’t like the fact that after I had let it stand and the pasta was ready, I had to add another dried packet, which was the sauce, and then mix it and let it stand again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about a meal that you just have to add water to, I’m just saying that if you boast about your product being easy to prepare, then I expect the product to be easy to prepare. Besides this minor gliche I would say that this was by far my favorite item of the night.

Mountain House (Scrambled Eggs with Bacon) available at Walmart for $3.75-$5.95 depending on package size

Ever wondered what it’s like to chew on an egg flavored sponge? Thanks to Mountain House and their breakfast selection you no longer have to wait to experience this pleasure. 

If the above statements haven’t scared you off and you’re still interested in eating this prepackaged meal, don’t say I didn’t warn you. While I can empathize with this brand in their attempts to satisfy hungry hikers first thing in the morning; that is no excuse for what my taste buds endured.

Maybe it was the fact that I was sampling multiple dishes at once, or maybe it was because I was eating eggs around dinnertime--whatever the reasoning, the moral of the story is that scrambled eggs and bacon shouldn't be vacuum-sealed into an air package. Also you shouldn’t have to eat any eggs that are leaking yellow pigmented liquid with bits of pork running through it.

Backpacker’s Pantry (Dark Chocolate Cheesecake) available at REI for $5.50

Having just tried the retched scrambled eggs, my stomach and my gag reflexes were almost at the breaking point moments before tasting this dessert. As the sun and my appetite dissipated into the evening I was especially disheartened with the appearance of this sweet treat. Even the fragrant smell of cheesecake couldn’t disguise the fact that this dessert looked like a mix between spoiled leftovers and vomit.

Impatient to finish off my experiment I topped off this pudding style dessert with the cookie crumbles that accompanied the package. Diving my spoon into the bag I took my first bite and to my surprise I was blown away by this heavenly concoction. This dessert tasted like dark chocolate cheesecake pudding with crispy chocolate wafers on top, lending a satisfying contrast in texture for a splendid dessert.

Even with my turning stomach and overwhelmed palate I couldn’t deny how wonderful this dish was and how much I wanted to consume the entire package. Luckily I was able to talk myself out of eating the entire contents, as I knew I would regret it in the morning. This product may not be easy on the eyes but don’t worry because as far as taste goes it’s a total winner. For chocolate lovers, sweet tooth addicts and anyone who can appreciate a good dessert, I personally recommend that you purchase this item.

The bottom line

What did I learn from my camping food tasting experiment? I found out that one no longer has to decide between boring beef jerky, crunchy granola bars or dried fruit as their outdoor meal options. I also discovered that the modern era of camping cuisine provides outdoor enthusiasts an impressive variety of foods ranging from candies, snacks, desserts and entrées. Dehydrated camping foods offer ease and convenience for those who can’t commit to preparing, properly storing and heating up a recipe made from scratch. With straightforward directions, convenient cooking times and easy clean up, nowadays anyone can enjoy a great meal outdoors.

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