When I first got into backpacking and camping, food and nutrition were an afterthought. I was so excited by the prospect of sleeping outside in a tent, that the weight, packability, and size of my food choices didn’t really matter to me. I can remember trips where I would stuff Subway sandwiches and bags of chips into the top of my backpack alongside heavy cans of chili and packages of hotdogs. After that phase, I got into going really lightweight and minimal with my food choices. This meant no cooking setup and very lightwieght foods. That experiment lasted for a few months before I could no longer take the flavor and calorie deficiencies. It makes sense for longer thru hikes, but for shorter night and weekend trips, I’ve found that the extra weight is not worth shedding. This has lead me to my current backpacking meal favorite, dehydrated meals. There are a few choices out there if you’re looking to purchase dehydrated meals, but the most popular brand is Mountain House. I ate Mountain House meals on the John Muir Trail and they have been my food choice for a few more trips since then. Below, you’ll find my review.
Pro-Pak vs Regular Packaging
Mountain House offers their meals in a standard package and a “Pro-Pak” package. The Pro-Pak is vacuum sealed, compact and lightwieght. The standard packaging is pretty light as well, but takes up quite a bit more space in you backpack or bear canister. I’ve looked at the measurements for the Chili Mac With Beef as a comparison. For this flavor option, both the packages contain 54g of dry mix, but the total wieght of the Pro-Pak is 115g vs the 136g or the regular packages. This might not seem like much, but when you have 7 meals packed for a long stretch in the Eastern Sierra, the Pro-Pak would save you 147g and a lot of pack space. The only downside is that the Pro-Pak is a few dollars more per serving than the standard packaging. I like to bring the Pro-Pak for camping and backpacking, but purchase the standard packaging for car camping.
Preparation and Cleaning
Mountain House meals are very easy to prepare, just boil 2 cups of water and pour the water into the Mountain House pouch. From there, you’ll stir it up, wait for minutes, stir again, and let the pouch sit for 8-10 minutes. That’s really all there is to it. I like to add a little more protein to mine on longer hikes, so while I’m doing my second stir at 4 minutes, I’ll add in some salami or packaged tuna.
One of my favorite parts about eating Mountain House meals is the easy clean up. Once you’re finished with your meal, you can just seal the ziploc and stow the trash in a bag. There is no cleaning needed. If you’re eating one of the cheesier or saucier meals, you may have to do a little clean up on your eating utensils. My mouth has always worked better than a napkin in these cases.
Taste and Preferences
Taste is a very personal thing when it comes to food. For instance, Julia loves Mac n Cheese, and I can’t stand it. Julia is also a vegetarian, and I love meat. The great thing about Mountain House is that they have a ton of meal options to suite just about everyone’s preferences. My favorites are the Teriyaki Chicken, Chili Mac With Beef, Lasagna With Meet Sauce, and Spaghetti With Meat Sauce. I won’t get to much into the flavors of each meal, since I know that would be impossible to convey. Instead, I’d like to focus on the textures and consistency of the food and how they relate to the non dehydrated alternatives.
The Mountain House sauces are very good, and don’t taste very different to what you’d find in a decent canned meal. The Italian inspired offering can be a bit salty for some, but I love the sodium after a long day on the trail. The dehyrated cheese sauces are also very good according to Julia, and much like what you would find in a packaged mac and cheese box. The noodles are pretty tasty, but can taste a bit stale or when compared to a boiled noodle. I like my pasta al dente, so this is not a problem for me. Rice, on the other hand, has the same texture, which is not my favorite. Still, in the teriyaki meal, it’s mixed with a nice sauce which makes things go down pretty nicely. The meat probably takes the biggest hit with dehydration, and can taste a bit spongy and porous. For this reason, I like it better in the bolognese sauce of the pastas, and the smaller pieces of the chicken meals. The detractions I’ve mentioned here are not a knock on Mountain House, but just a fact of life when eating dehydrated meals. When the food is reanimated with boiling water, it will loose some of it’s original qualities. Because of this, it is vital to get the flavors and sauces just right. On this front, Mountain House does a great job. I also like the addition of vegetables in a few of the Mountain House meals. On longer hikes, it’s impossible to bring along a lot of fresh veggies, so it’s nice to get something in via these meals.
If you’re looking to try out a few dehydrated meals on the trail, give Mountain House a look. They offer plenty of choices and deliver the nutrition and taste you’ll crave at the end of a long day in the mountains.