Food Finds · Trail Cooking

Backpacking Desserts: Freeze-Dried Ice Cream Roundup

Over the years I have tried and reviewed many freeze-dried/instant desserts while backpacking. Most have come up…rather lacking. They are often just weird textured, and too sweet (yes, too sweet even for my sweet tooth can be a thing). It’s not shocking that the big companies have trimmed down their dessert selections, I can’t imagine they sold many “Raspberry Crumbles” over the years.

But I got to thinking, about how years ago I had carried actual ice cream in on a hike. I was out hiking on the PCT in the mountains, and it would hit 104° that day….we stocked up on ice cream cups and ice before we left town.

Pretty easy to do, if you plan it out.

But that takes forethought, and you can’t do this on multiple day trips. Still, it was pretty awesome to pull out frozen ice cream and enjoy it. Then we used the ice and rubbed it on our face/arms and heads to cool off. Win-win.

So I wandered farther back into memory lane, when I was young and the descriptions of backpacking food in Campmor catalogs called to me. I’d sit there and dream about what I was ordering, and how it was going to taste. I remember buying freeze-dried ice cream. I don’t remember though what my thoughts were of it, or if we took it along on a trip. That was like 20 years ago, so I can cut myself some slack.

So I decided to acquire a number of treats to review and see….would these give that same feeling you get with ice cream? Would I like them? Would the children like them? And most of all….how would it line up for a treat to be had while hiking?

The Contenders:

Three companies, two are major freeze-dried companies, one is new to the arena.

As you can see, all are broken. This is normal, the wrappers are slit, then freeze-dried. And in the process, the bars break. So don’t expect a full bar.

Mountain House. Old school, and for this, quite dependable. Mint Chocolate Chip and Vanilla.

Retail is $3.99, bought for $3.27 on Amazon.

The ice cream bars are modern chemistry (dyes, corn syrup and so on), but kids will love the simple flavoring. The cookie wafers are crunchy and satisfying.

Weight is 1.1 ounce for mint and 1.13 ounces for vanilla.

If you have ever been in a gift shop at museums, you have seen this hanging. Dependable product. It runs at the same quality as Mountain House. They make 3 flavors: Neapolitan, Vanilla, and Cookies & Cream. Can be found on Amazon, and from their website, in 6 packs. They sell for $3.99 a bar. (I purchased a single bar from REI about 2 weeks ago, at $3.95, now REI has pulled the product for sale.)

The ingredient list is…well…highly processed. Artificial coloring, flavoring, corn syrup and such. And quite delicious. Darn you modern chemistry! Kids will enjoy the crunch.

Weight is 1 ounce, wrapped in mylar outer pack and inside paper lining.

Fun fact: Is owned by Backpacker’s Pantry company.

Cosmik is the modern take on it. It’s packaging is the smallest, however the inner wrapper is plastic as well. Kind of odd I thought, until I realized since it doesn’t have a wafer cookie, it would stick to paper before being dried. However, this ice cream is quality. It doesn’t contain artificial coloring, flavoring or corn syrup. It has a very rich taste as it melts on your tongue. Of the 3 flavors, only one contains wheat (cookies & cream). For me, this would be my choice, as I avoid artificial coloring for migraine control.

Cream is the first ingredient, and the texture shows it. The other companies have milk first.

Cost is $3.99 a bar, but is sold in 6 packs online for $23.99 at Amazon and from the company directly.

Final Thoughts:

All the bars were good (which for backpacking food this is unusual). All 3 run the same price wise per bar. All 3 were highly rated by children. It’s ice cream. It’s sweet. And crunchy. What’s not to like? If you don’t mind no wafer cookies, adults will like the Cosmik the best. for how rich it is.

None are necessarily cheap, but if you could pull these out for a treat on a hot summer evening, you would highly impress most children (and well, even adults).

Be sure to have a drink with them. They will absorb a lot of moisture as they rehydrate in your mouth.

The Bonus:

Now then….because I have far too much free time it seems, I crumbled up a strawberry bar from Cosmik. I found I got a shy ½ cup powder from it. I mixed ¼ cup of powder with 1 Tablespoon cold water – it takes a bit – and it produced a creamy mixture. Which if you have a young toddler, this would be a great treat for them, the risk of choking would go far down. And it would be easy to make it up in a snack size zip top bag.

And it got me to thinking…this ice cream powdered would make a fine trail smoothie addition. Unlike freeze-dried yogurt, it isn’t tart. But that is another day, no?


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