This post comes from something I see over and over on social media. I often am shown ads for backpacking freeze-dried meals, by various companies. And often I see: “Your meals are too expensive!” “Who can afford this!” and so on, posted by other readers. And so…why are they so expensive? Or….are they actually expensive? Let’s take a look at this.
Outdoor meals were never cheap, even in the old days. I actually got into developing recipes because I was going broke buying packaged meals every week, to go on trips. I was feeding myself and my oldest son, and we often went backpacking every week when he was young. I can remember complaining when Mountain House meals were approaching $7 a meal in the mid 2000’s. That was how the “empire” of Freezer Bag Cooking & TrailCooking was born. Because I was frugal. But making my own meals took a”hiker’s pantry” of supplies and the willingness to stand there and do prep. I was buying in bulk or dehydrating base ingredients to mix up meals, and that still costs money. Buying all the ingredients adds up.
The TL/DR comes down to this: They may seem expensive, but the base ingredients are also expensive these days. If you like having a few meals to make life easier, then treat your self, if you can afford it. Yes, you can go cheap and eat boxed mac and cheese or other packaged meals (that require cooking) and add in a pouch of tuna, and eat for $2. Or you can invest the time and money into a “hiker’s pantry”. But these meals are priced pretty fairly these days for what they offer. Or maybe I am just living my best bougie lifestyle……
Hiking Solo. This is a big one. When you are prepping just for you, and you don’t go often, it may just be easier to buy bagged meals. Prepping for a group? Then doing it yourself is nearly always far cheaper. Even with buying supplies.
Convenience. You will always pay for this, no matter what it is you are buying. You are buying a meal, packaged to last. It is shelf stable, has a long shelf life, and is designed to hold up in storage, in heat and cold. It is for 1 meal. You do nothing but pick it out and toss it in your food bag. Using freeze-dried meals can help a person plan an entire trip simply, especially if they are buying the meals many months in advance before they need them. (Such as preparing for a thru hike or similar). You know the meals won’t be stale or go bad when you are opening a resupply box.
The Cost of Being Busy. See above. Have a full time job and little spare time? Maybe it is easier to let someone else do the hard work.
Space At Home. I am a shameless prepper, who loves creating recipes from dry base ingredients. And I have a large family and the space, and the equipment to store those ingredients so they last. But if you live in a tiny apartment, especially solo, you won’t have room to have a “hiker’s pantry”.
Actual Freeze Drying. Commercial freeze drying is not cheap to do. The equipment is expensive. Every time I fantasize about buying a home freeze drier I look at the price and gasp. You can buy a lot of food for $2,000 to $3,500.
Advertising. Those Facebook and Instagram…and Google ads are not cheap. In the old days, it was ads in Backpacker and Outside magazines.
Shelf Life of Ingredients: Making your own meals is a good thing, no doubt about it. But there is planning you must do. If you are buying base ingredients (dried meat, vegetables, etc) the clock starts ticking once you open the master package, especially if you are using freeze-dried meat, the longer it is out of its original packaging, the limper it gets. It starts absorbing moisture from the air. If you go out often, and are using up the ingredients quickly, then it isn’t an issue. But if you go on one trip a year and figure your $50 #10 can of dried meat will be good the next year, no, it won’t.
The Cost of Ingredients. This one varies but it is simple: If you want higher end food, it will cost more. The newer companies making meals are using cleaner, shorter ingredient lists. They are packing the meals full of real meat. And more exotic vegetables. Cheaper meals use a lot more carbs, and less meat/vegetables. They also use thickeners, so the meal tends to remind you of Chef Boyardee cans, rather than real food. If you are on a Keto or Paleo diet, you want to avoid the old school brands.
So what is the actual price range of commercial freeze-dried meals? The lowest I see is $8 for a meatless pasta dish. With meat they start at $9. The most expensive can top at $15 a bag. If you buy direct from the companies, often you can get a deal if you buy a “sampler” of meals, most offer it. It can shave a dollar or two off each meal. Or see if they have a code for 10 to 15% off for giving up your email address. While Amazon is my choice, it isn’t always the cheapest. So do your homework (and many companies offer free shipping now – but it can vary from $30 to 100 to get it).
Recommendations for Brands:
If you are doing Paleo and/or want the best brand on the market? Wild Zora. It is literally just meat, vegetables and a bit of herbs/seasoning. Yes, they are $12.95. But you get what you pay for, these are clean and high in protein (37 grams) and low in sodium, at 570 mg.
Keto? Check out Next Mile Meals. These run about $14 a meal on their website. Sodium for the 1 person bags can run from 1100 to nearly 2,000 mg, so salt can be an issue. They are high in protein though.
Looking gluten-free/ethical? Heather’s Choice, which are made in Alaska. (They run $15 a bag on Heather’s website) Sodium is under 300 mg and a good source of protein.
Want homestyle meals that have a short ingredient list, and heavy on the meat? Try Peak Refuel meals. They are $12.95 a meal for entrees. But they are high in protein. Eating the 2 person bag is less than a 1,000 mg sodium.
Looking for a salt lick? Backpacker’s Pantry has you covered. You can score them for around $10 a bag…but…you won’t want to eat an entire 2 person bag! You would consume 2200 mg sodium!
Looking for the most affordable version? Well, old school Mountain House has you covered. But….you will have less clean ingredient list, and a lot more sodium, at nearly 1,600 mg. Drop $8 and up per meal.
For gourmet, consider PackitGourmet version of pasta. This one needs cooking, but there is something to be said about that. It will fill you up, and have a more in depth flavor. This meal runs $11.99.
Looking for vegan meals that are Hippy Hut™ approved? Food For The Sole are a great brand.
FTC Disclaimer: This post is riddled with affiliate links. But you are sooooo appreciated when you use them!