Tasty, nutritious, filling food is as important as weather and scenery to the enjoyment of overnight camps. Exploring some long distance Scottish routes this year while researching a new guidebook has seen us try a number of dried camping meals alongside our “go to” staples of instant mash, cup-a-soups, noodles and couscous.
We tried a selection of meals from most brands including meat and vegan, main meals, breakfast and dessert options where available. The selection included brands that dehydrate the whole meal (said to preserve flavour), meals where ingredients are dried separately and then combined, and freeze drying which prolongs shelf life and is said to produce a better texture. Most of the options can be rehydrated with cold water and plenty of time but having tried this, we found that, whilst the results were edible, the experience was depressing and not something we’d do except in an emergency. We compared weight, price, calories, rehydrating time, ease of use, shelf life, texture and more subjectively, taste and how satisfying they were. Here’s what we found:
£7.45 for regular meals (approx 400kcal – calories vary per flavour) £9.45 for extra large 700kcal meals.
These are slow-cooked meals using whole and easily recognisable ingredients (no palm oil) that are dehydrated using commercial dryers. Rehydration time was the longest of the meals on test – 15 minutes for some main meals which feels like a long wait once you’ve pitched camp. However texture and taste was excellent. We liked the range of interesting flavours with lots of vegan and gluten-free options (favourites of ours included the Green Gumbo and Barbecued Pulled Pork main meals and Toasted Banana Porridge). There are no desserts or snacks in the range.
The slim, deep packaging does not stand up brilliantly on its own and given the long rehydration times, we tended to sit the pack in a woolly hat to keep it upright and warm. The fill line on the inside of the packaging is fairly easy to see and use but a long spoon is best for stirring and eating to the bottom of the pack. Firepot has introduced optional compostable packaging, although this isn’t supposed to get wet, we did use this packaging in the same way as the waterproof bags, ie. pouring in boiling water, stirring, resting and eating from the packet, and had no problems. The weight and calorie count varies a little between meals but averages around 110g for the regular size meals and 160g for the extra large. Long shelf life. These were meals that we would look forward to and the extra large option is great for when calories really matter.
£4.90 for 500kcal main meals, £5.90 for 800kcal main meals, breakfasts £4.20 and £4.90
Tent Meals produces a range of 4 vegan main meals and 5 vegan breakfast options both in two sizes. Made using natural and recognisable ingredients, these meals had minimally packaging. They consist of dehydrated carbs (rice, cous cous or oats) supplemented with seeds, nuts, dried fruit and natural flavourings. These are vacuum packed in tiny bags rather than in a pouch you them hydrate in; each meal is surprising small (think less than a can of fizzy drink for the large size meal) and very packable – great if you had a larger number for a long trip. Although the bag can be used to measure the amount of water needed, a separate pan or large mug is needed to rehydrate the meal in, something to bear in mind if you tend to camp just using a stove kettle. Weight hovers around 111g for the 500kcal meals and 204g for the 800kcal options, good ratios especially combined with the low weight of packaging you’ll need to carry out (around 3.5g per meal). Optimal rehydration time was around 10 minutes with 450ml working well for the 500kcal meals. Tent Meals have a shorter shelf life of around 6 – 12 months (the company says it only sells meals with less than 6 months in its clearance section)
Our verdict? Surprisingly tasty (our favourites were Almond Jalfrezi main meal and the Super Seed and Red Berry breakfast), with a good texture and great calorie count for the weight and price. Really like the small packaging and lack of waste. It’s easy to taste the individual ingredients rather than feeling you are shovelling down a single-taste slop. Whilst it looks like something you might be able to put together at home, it’s actually well-spiced and flavoured and it would be difficult to recreate the same dehydration and small packaging. Not one for anyone who doesn’t like, or is allergic to, nuts.
Huel Hot & Savoury
£18.75 for 658g bag (contains 7 meals at 400kcal each) – £2.68 per 400kcal meal (94g), £4 per 600kcal meal (141g)- bulk discounts available.
Huel has come a long way from its inception as a nutritionally complete drink aimed at Silicon Valley tech workers concerned about nutrition but too busy to cook. While it still produces a range of meal replacement shakes made using cold water, it recently launched a Hot & Savoury range, in 10 flavours, which it says provides, “complete food that is high in protein, fibre and essential fats, and contains a balanced macro split of 38:30:25:7 (carbohydrate, fat, protein, fibre), phytonutrients and all 26 essential vitamins and minerals.” All Huel products are vegan and contain no soy, palm oil or GM foodstuffs.
Huel comes in large bags rather than individually packaged meals, which you can then divide up as you wish. It’s slighty faffy to get ready beforehand as you need to stir the large bag of Hot & Savoury thoroughly to mix up the ingredients before using the provided scoop to measure out meals into bags. 2 scoops equals a 400kcal meal and needs around 200ml of water, 3 scoops and 300ml for 600kcal. The lidded cup (provided with first order) has a measuring line for the amount of water needed for 2 scoops and works well for rehydrating both sizes of meal but it loses heat so needs to be placed in a hat or similar for insulation while rehydrating.
Whilst not scientific I felt fuller for longer after eating this than some of the other brands, although I would go for the 3 scoop option for an evening meal and 2 scoops for a lunch. When Huel first launched, the internet was awash with stories about it causing digestive issues which could be a big deal out on a backpack. We are happy to report that we felt no digestive ill-effects whatsoever from one large meal a day for a few days but, as with all the brands, it probably makes sense to test these meals out on short trips or at home before embarking on a three week trek.
The fact that you make up your own meals for each trip means it is very flexible and there is much less waste packaging unlike some of the more traditional meals. It also works out cheaper than the competition.
Our verdict? Much tastier than anticipated, our favourite three flavours were Green Thai Curry, Pasta Bolognese and Chick’n & Mushroom Pasta. All were really flavoursome and, while a bit sloppy, had enough texture to make them feel like a proper meal. Long shelf life, cheaper than other brands although bulk buying is required, definitely a good option for a long multi-day backpack where weight and good nutrition is a major factor. This also rehydrated pretty well using hot water from a flask so I’d consider taking this for a morale-boosting hot lunch on a winter day walk.
£5.50 – £6 main meals (600kcal, 142g – 156g), £5 – £5.50 breakfast and desserts (600kcal, 142g)
Founded by Hans van der Meulen, the first Dutch person to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen and also an Arctic expeditioner, Adventure Food produce a varied range of main meals in lots of flavours including a vegan and vegetarian options, 3 breakfasts and 3 desserts. The robust foil packet that stands up well and keeps realtively warm while rehydrating, fill line is marked on both out and inside but could be easier to see on the inside. The rehydration time is 8 minutes which was adequate. Regular meals use between 280ml and 350ml of boiling water. 2 year shelf life.
Overall these were fairly tasty with the veggie couscous being our favourite and the breakfasts feeling particularly hearty and keeping us full for longer. Quite a few ultra processed items on the ingredient list but a good weight-calorie ratio. Not the tastiest on test, but still good enough to look forward to, and cheaper than some brands.
Summit to Eat
£7.79 regular main meals (approx 650kcal,130g) £9.99 big pack main meal (approx 1000 kcal, 217g), breakfasts and desserts £6.99 – £7.79
A large range of freeze dried meals including vegan options, two sizes of main meals and breakfast and desserts. We found these were the tastiest of the meal brands tested, with a reasonable texture and easy to use, robust pouch with visible fill line and 10 minute rehydrating time. The regular meals use 300ml of boiling water and don’t lose too much heat during rehydrating. Very long shelf life.
Our favourite main meals include the Chicken Tikki (meat texture is good), Macaroni Cheese and the Bean Cassoulet. Special mention needs to be made of the Chocolate Mousse with Cherry & Granola – a evening treat worth fighting over, or at least keep one in your pack during a multi-day hike for when you really need a boost. The least said about the Scrambled Egg with Cheese the better – this breakfast option does doesn’t work for us for either flavour or texture, the other breakfast on offer Morning Oats with Raspberry is lovely. Overall a good ratio of calorie for weight and great range of flavours.
£8.25 main meals (450kcal, 78g) £9.99 main meals (800kcal, 160g) £10.99 main meals (100kcal, 188g) including 2 vegan options, some vegetarian meals and a range of breakfasts and desserts.
Expedition Foods produce a huge range of meals in 450, 800 and 1000kcal packs. Similar to the other freeze dried meals here, the resealable pouch is opened, the oxygen eater sachet removed, boiling water added and stirred, re-seal and wait for it to rehydrated (in this case the stated time is 5 minutes), stir again and eat. Whilst the packaging has fill line markers on the outside, the label does not say which one to fill to but just states the amount of water (250ml for the 800kcal meal), a clear fill line would make it easier. We found we needed to add a little more water to the meals and leave them a couple of extra minutes to get a better texture.
We were only sent one meal to test (thai green chicken curry with rice) so can’t comment on the vegan or breakfast/dessert options; we would describe the taste and texture of the curry as being fair. The chicken pieces remained a little hard but overall the meal was still reasonably tasty and filling, just not something to get overly excited by. Good for a tough expedition; for trips where high calories are the priority, the larger meals provide the best energy to weight ratio of the brands on test.