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Best camping food 2023: Instant, nutritious meals in minutes, wherever you roam

Whether backpacking or bikepacking, the best camping food takes up little space but will be tasty and ready in minutes

Searching for the best camping food is no easy feat. Dehydrated pre-made camping meals have been available for decades, offering just-add-water convenience for when you’re backpacking. In the past, these meals have been more about simple sustenance than savouring your supper, but thanks to advances in food science you can now find a wide range of calorie balanced, nutritionally impressive meals that you’ll actually want to eat.

Below, you’ll find our selection of the best instant meals for camping and backpacking. We’ve eaten thousands of calories in the name of research, to discover the tastiest and most nutritious options available. You’ll be genuinely impressed by how good the latest hydrated meal packs can taste, whether you’re in need of a warming breakfast to fuel you up for a day of adventure, or you’re tucking in to a well-earned dinner at the end of it. We’ve even found you a scrummy dessert for pudding.

Read on, and we’ll explain how to choose the best camping foods for your backpacking and camping trips.

Best camping food: At a glance

How to choose the best camping food

What camping food options are available?

Most camping food packs – also known as Backcountry Meals – are either made from dehydrated or freeze-dried ingredients. These are usually supplied in robust pouches, and to prepare them you open the packet, remove the oxygen scavenger sachet, fill with hot water (the volume varies), stir, reseal, leave for up to 15 minutes and eat. Easy.

Some brands, such as Wayfayrer, offer pouches of food that can be either emptied into a pan and cooked, or that you can simply boil in the bag. These meals tend to be heavier than the dehydrated options, but often have a more recognisable texture, especially with meat dishes.

The recipe options available these days read like a high-class bistro menu, with everything from wild mushroom risotto to mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken mole to pulled pork and beef marinara, along with a host of sweet treats, and even scrambled eggs for breakfast. If you’re off backpacking for weeks, and if you’ve got room in the pack, you could eat something different every day.

While we’ll stop short of calling them gourmet meals, the main reasons to buy pre-prepared camping food are their high calorific content and exceptionally low weight. There’s no way you’d be able to carry enough fresh ingredients, and cooking equipment, to keep your energy levels up, especially if you’re doing intense activities.

Which camping foods taste the best?

Taste is obviously highly subjective but, in our experience, the foods that would traditionally be slow cooked – stew, curry, chilli and the like – are the ones that tend to taste best after they’ve been through the dehydration/rehydration process. Also, those recipes that include a hit of spice can often mask a multitude of sins. Yes, there’s often an element of Cup A Soup or Pot Noodle about them, but they have far more calories, and are generally made from less processed ingredients.

We’re big fans of porridge for breakfast when camping, but, in many instances, we found that carrying some instant oat sachets then adding our own dried fruit and nuts was far better value compared to buying camping-specific porridge packs. That said, if you need maximum calories, these can be excellent.

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Will a hydrated camping meal fill me up?

On average, an adult can expect to burn around 300-400 calories per hour hiking across moderate terrain. American brand Backpacker’s Pantry has a handy online Hiking Calorie Calculator to help you work out how many meals you’ll need to replenish your energy levels when walking.

Once you know how hard you’ll be working – and don’t forget the average adult woman expends roughly 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, while the average adult man expends 2,000 to 3,000 – you’ll be able to choose enough camping food to keep you full of energy.

The average pack of camping food contains anywhere between 250-600 calories, but figures vary, and different sizes are available. For example, Expedition Foods offers its packs in 450, 800, and 1,000kcal servings. It’s worth checking the calorie content against the weight of the dried food, as you don’t want to fill your bag with heavy packs of food that won’t fill you up.

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I have specific dietary needs, is there anything out there for me?

Most camping food brands have adapted their menus to accommodate the ever-increasing number of diets, so if you need vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, gluten-free, dairy-free or soy-free, there’s someone out there who’s prepared to make and dehydrate it for you.

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The best camping food to buy in 2023

1. Firepot: Best dehydrated camping food

Price when reviewed: From £6.99 | Check price at Firepot

Dehydrated camping meals don’t get much better than Firepot. This Dorset-based brand goes the extra mile both in terms of the ingredients it uses – a great many are locally sourced – and its ecological footprint. The firm estimates that producing its vegan meals emits four times fewer carbon emissions than those containing meat, and its food packs are available either in fully compostable packaging or the more standard plastic and aluminium yellow waterproof pouches, for which the company offers a recycling service.

It currently makes 20 recipes, with our favourites being the Baked Apple Porridge for breakfast and, for dinner, the filling Orzo Bolognese (the regular portion only weighs 136g, but contains 635kcal). All the food packs are available in regular and large sizes too and are well worth the money. Be warned, though: the rehydration process takes at least 15 minutes, which can seem like torture after a long day hiking.

Key detailsCalories: 500-800; Cooking time: 15mins; Weight: From 120g

2. Expedition Foods: Best selection of camping food

Price when reviewed: From £8.49 | Check price at Expedition Foods

When you need maximum calories for minimum weight, Expedition Foods has you covered. Each recipe is available in “Single Serving” (450kcal), “High Energy” (800kcal) or “Double Serving” (1,000kcal) packs, and you can choose from 28 different recipes for your main course – from fish pie and mash to couscous and curries – plus 11 breakfast options, four of which can double as dessert choices. The brand also offers multi-buy packs for longer adventures, and even ultra marathons.

With prices starting from £8.49, they’re expensive, although you can make savings if you buy multi-packs. Our favourite recipe was the Thai Green Chicken Curry, which had just enough spice and sense of “real” ingredients to keep us interested, but, as is often the way with the more adventure-focused brands, calories come first, followed by dried weight, and flavour comes last.

Key detailsCalories: 450, 800 or 1,000; Cooking time: 5mins; Weight: From 91g

3. Summit to Eat: Best camping pasta bolognese

Price when reviewed: £7.50 | Check price at Blacks

Currently on sale from Blacks as part of a buy-one-get-one-half-price deal, these freeze-dried food packs contain at least 650 calories each (the bolognese crams 742kcal into 136g weight). The brand also offers larger packs with around 1,000 calories, as well as both breakfast and dessert options to top up your caloric needs. Preparation is simple, the packaging is full of information, and the internal fill-lines are a big help, too. The pack also opens up nicely and balances well as it rehydrates.

There are plenty of recipes available, with the Pasta Bolognese our pick of the bunch – though we hope we never have to eat another Vegetable Chilli with Rice ever again. If you’re hungry, you’ll enjoy how warm and filling these meal packs are, but don’t expect true gourmet flavours. They are affordable though, and available at many major outdoor retailers.

Key detailsCalories: 650; Cooking time: 10mins; Weight: 136g

4. Huel Hot & Savoury: Best camping food for vegans

Price when reviewed: £62 | Check price at Huel

Meal replacement specialist Huel has branched out from the gym-bunny shakes it’s known for, and now offers a great range of hot, nutritionally complete vegan meals that are loaded with 23-25g of protein. To make, simply place two (or three) scoops of dried food into a pot, add boiling water, stir, close the lid, wait five minutes and eat. Both the Green Curry and Mexican Chilli flavours have become lunchtime regulars in this office, with plenty of spice and texture.

We’d happily take the big bag away on a multi-day camping trip, or decant a few servings into a separate pot. You do need to buy three bags at a time, though, so, while it’s not cheap up front, at around £3 per meal (21 meals in total) it is a bargain compared to the traditional camping brands, and uses much less packaging.

Key detailsCalories: 200 per scoop; Cooking time: 5mins; Weight: 50g per scoop

Check price at Huel

5. Forclaz Raspberry Crumble: Best camping food dessert

Price when reviewed: £4.99 | Check price at Decathlon

Decathlon’s backpacking brand, Forclaz, offers a comprehensive range of dehydrated meal packs with some inventive recipe options for both mains and desserts. We were initially sceptical about the need for a pudding but, after a long day hiking, this sweet raspberry crumble was an absolute treat, and the pack weighs just 70g.

It only requires 25ml of hot water – that’s about four spoonfuls – and rehydrates in two minutes, which couldn’t be easier. It also smells absolutely delicious, and will make your camping companions (campanions?) jealous they didn’t make space in their backpack for one.

Key detailsCalories: 249; Cooking time: 2mins; Weight: 70g

Check price at Decathlon

6. Wayfayrer Chilli Con Carne with Long Grain Rice: Best boil-in-the-bag camping food

Price when reviewed: £4.95 | Check price at Decathlon

Carrying the Official Food of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme seal of approval, these meal packs aren’t dehydrated. Instead, you simply boil-in-the-bag in a saucepan of water for seven minutes, until it’s heated through. We sampled the chilli con carne with long grain rice and the pasta bolognese and, despite both of them looking like cat food, they were super tasty, with a good mix of meat, rice, pasta and vegetables.

At 444 calories per pack they’re not as filling as some of the others on this list, but the nutrition is well balanced. The pouches are also heavy by comparison, which, if you’re going backpacking for a few days, will add considerably to your pack weight. It’s also worth noting that you’ll need a relatively large saucepan to fit the bag, but you can open the pouches and heat the food directly in the pan, although there will be more washing up. They’re even safe to eat cold, if needs must!

Key detailsCalories: 444 per pack (300g); Cooking time: 7-8mins; Weight: 300g

7. Lakeland Food Dehydrator: Best dehydrating machine

Price when reviewed: £70 | Check price at Lakeland

OK, so we’re cheating a bit with this entry, but the latest dehydrating machines make it easy to create your own long-lasting, nutritious snacks from fruit, vegetables and even thin-cut meats. It’s an affordable alternative, and allows you to control precisely what you’re eating.

This good-value option from Lakeland is ideal for beginners, and comprises four trays in a cylindrical design that won’t take up much space on the counter top. It has an intuitive control panel, with four temperature settings for different foodstuffs, plus a 12-hour timer that enables you to dry out your ingredients overnight. And for recipe inspiration, this blog post has a step-by-step guide to dehydrating camping food.

Key detailsCalories: N/A; Cooking time: N/A; Weight: N/A

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