Taste Test: Best Food for Lightweight Backpacking from 9 Small Brands

Shilletha Curtis
Best Food for Lightweight Backpacking from Small Brands

Let’s face it, we’ve all had our good and bad share of backpacking meals — whether instant ramen or one that’s pre-packaged. Backpacking food is vital, especially after a long, tedious day of hiking. Nutrients are what give our bodies the mental and physical energy to push through even the hardest of days on the trail. 

With so many companies and meals to choose from, it can be a challenge knowing what exactly your tastebuds will like and dislike, especially if you are thru-hiking. Vegans, gluten-intolerant folks and those with food allergies and dietary restrictions often experience extra difficulty in finding and selecting backpacking food. 

So, I decided to dive in and eat my way through the best meals these phenomenal nine small backpacking food companies make — sharing my results with you!  

FishSki Provisions 

Best Food Lightweight Backpacking Meals Small Batch Brands

MSRP: $11.50 for a pack of 2 

Meal: Cheddar, Hatch Green Chile, & Garlic 

Weight: 6oz 

Calories: 290 

Creamy, soft and irresistibly cheesy, this comfort food is a fantastic blend of zesty and garlicky tones. Every spoonful is heavenly, making this backpacking meal my absolute favorite. 

Two cups of water was sufficient and I noticed no extra liquid. With only 300 calories and 58g of carbs, I felt satisfied but still wanting for more, simply because the flavor is right on point. The garlic really shines through and adds a balanced touch to the mild flare of the hatch green chiles. Al dente noodles give a welcomed chewy texture and a smile on the face. 

The main disadvantage of FishSki’s macaroni and cheese is that they do not recommend cooking in the bag.

All of FiskSki’s meals use high-quality ingredients that are free of GMOs. Plus the small backcountry food brand donates 3% of every sale to local conservation or recreational access efforts. 


  • Extremely spoon-licking good 
  • GMO free 
  • Proceeds go to benefit conservation 
  • Not freeze-dried 


  • Cooking in the bag not recommended 
  • Uses two cups of water 
  • 300 calories may not be enough depending on individual

Greenbelly Meal2Go 

Best Food Lightweight Backpacking Meals Small Batch Brands

$7.40 each

Meal: Dark Chocolate Banana 

Weight: 5.47oz 

Calories: 660 

Greenbelly is a great non-cook, convenient option for folks who want something sweet rather than savory. Ingredients such as sliced almonds, banana chips, peanuts and crisped rice add a subtle but nice crunch to this high-nutrition bar. 

With over 25% of your daily nutrition contained in this one meal bar, you will feel like you’re ready for anything that you come face to face with on the trail. 

I love the sheer amount of nutrients, and having a well-balanced meal with potassium, calcium, sugar, protein, carbs etc. meant that I never felt fatigued or sluggish on my hike. 

Flavorwise the dark chocolate was very bold and nearly masks the soft sweet flesh of the banana itself, which may be disappointing to those true banana lovers out there. I personally was okay with the subtle hint of banana because it’s not my most favorite fruit. 

The texture was nice and chewy but a little dry so make sure to have water handy, especially on a hot day. Otherwise I really love this idea of having a meal on the go with no frills attached. 


  • Lightweight 
  • No cooking required 
  • Convenient 
  • Well-rounded nutrition 


  • Not suitable for those with peanut allergies 
  • Somewhat dry texture 

Outdoor Pantry 

Best Food Lightweight Backpacking Meals Small Batch Brands

MSRP: $9.50 each 

Meal: Freeze Dried Brown Butter Sweet Potato Mash 

Weight: 3oz 

Calories: 447

There’s something truly delicious about this brown butter sweet potato mash. It could be the savory bits of bacon, or maybe it’s the maple, cinnamon, all spice, and nutmeg that make you feel warm and toasty. For me the combination was stellar, and the bacon was portioned in a way that added a chewy texture to contrast with the soft and mushy component of sweet potato. 

This is another meal where I found myself licking the bag clean. Each spoonful is soft and palpable with the exception of the crunch of pecans, which was a hidden secret for me.

The sodium content is low at 213mg and the sugar, given all ingredients mentioned, is only 9g. Potassium is the nutrient that takes the throne at 1886mg; it will make you feel like you have a new set of legs. 

Outdoor Pantry only uses real ingredients with no additives or chemicals. This meal, which uses only  ¾ cup of water, is not something you will not want to pass up. 


  • Ultralight food 


  • None 

Next Mile Meals 

Best Food Lightweight Backpacking Meals Small Batch Brands

MSRP: $14.99 each 

Meal: Italian Style Beef Marinara 

Weight: 3.6 oz 

Calories: 580 

Protein and Italian flavors assemble! If you love meat, then this meal may be your calling. Forget the need for fillers, this meal consists of savory ground beef meatballs, scrumptious mozzarella cheese and large zucchini chunks tossed in a low-carb marinara sauce. Every ingredient reminds me of sitting at the table eating a fresh cooked Italian meal. Be prepared for your fellow comrades to be jealous because the aroma in itself is all too inviting. 

With huge portions and only 6oz of water required for preparation, this meal is extremely filling and loaded with a whopping 42g of protein and 345mg of calcium to nurture the body. Texturely, everything is very tender and palpable. 

I had concerns that this would wreck my stomach but I found it to be gentle on the digestive tract. However, the sodium content skyrockets to 1501mg and the taste of salt is very apparent. I found myself yearning for copious amounts of water at the end of the bag, but I still enjoyed the meal. 


  • Lightweight
  • Well-seasoned 
  • High in protein and calcium 
  • Uses only 6oz of water 


  • High in sodium 



Best Food Lightweight Backpacking Meals Small Batch Brands

MSRP: $9.99 each 

Meal: Pesto Chicken Pasta 

Weight: 6.9 oz 

Calories: 370 

Gone are the days of cheap, processed ramen, this meal is the real deal. Buttery pesto sauce rests on the twists and turns of the rotini noodles like fresh snow on barren trees. Nutty and garlicky aromas seduce the senses, making it hard to wait while the food stews for eight minutes. Tender pieces of chicken melt in the mouth and provide an ample amount of protein.

I had issues with the 8-minute suggested cooking time and found that the meal actually needed to cook for 10-15 minutes. I also found the 2 ½ cups to be excessive, but the meal definitely needs that much water or else it will be dry and unappealing.

The noodles were edible — slightly firm and chewy — and the 1,050mg of sodium content was not appreciated. It is a good meal but I found myself packing out leftovers from the 2-serving meal, rather than devouring the extra portion myself. 


  • Great seasoning 
  • Very hefty and filling meal 


  • At 6.9 oz this is the heaviest backpacking meal to tote 
  • High sodium 
  • Uses 2 ½ cups of water 
  • May have issues with rehydration depending on elevation, etc. 

Nomad Nutrition 

Best Food Lightweight Backpacking Meals Small Batch Brands

MSRP: $6.99 for each

Meal: Caribbean Curry

Weight: 2 oz 

Calories: 290 

Nomad Nutrition prides itself on quality vegan, gluten and soy free meals. This tiny but mighty company sits in Canada and is dedicated to making nutritious meals without compromise. Their facilities are gluten, dairy, meat and nut free, making their meals suitable for those who have different eating lifestyles, food allergies and medical needs.  

The Caribbean curry is made without meat, but rather with vegetables such as potatoes, broccoli, sun dried tomatoes and a host of clean ingredients. The texture was a tad bit dry and conflicting in the sense that the carrots, quinoa, sun dried tomatoes, yams and potatoes seemed gritty. A mild kick of cayenne and the black pepper lingered in the back of my throat for a few minutes after each bite and I enjoyed that. The flavor of the coconut milk is subtle and I would have liked that nutty flavor to be more bold. The flavors in general were bland and more seasoning is needed. 

The nutrition content is amazing and this meal provides a substantial amount of vitamins and iron while keeping the sodium at 210mg. I love that Nomad is very clean and uses ½ cup of water to rehydrate their meals. Every bite felt fresh as if the plants are farm to table, and I felt little guilt knowing that I was eating healthy versus cheeseburgers. I would give them another chance as they have many unique flavors I have not seen elsewhere! The food is very innovative. 


  • Uses ½ cup of water 
  • Very clean eating 
  • Ultralight 
  • Perfect for vegans 
  • Gluten, dairy, meat and nut free 


  • Conflicting texture 
  • Bland 

Sasquatch Fuel 

Best Food Lightweight Backpacking Meals Small Batch Brands

MSRP: $12.99 

Meal: Kickin’ Cactus Bowl 

Weight: 4.29oz 

Calories: 490

Cumin, chili pepper and tomato welcome you to the Kickin’ Cactus Bowl. Mix that with white rice, black beans, sweet corn and nopal cactus, and you’ll be begging for more! 

I do not say this lightly! I truly enjoyed this meal and the kick that comes with it. I was very impressed by the smoky flavor and the aroma that reminds me of chili on a cold winter day. The texture is soft, slightly grainy due to the rice and has a slight chew to it but nothing overwhelming. I have never eaten cactus before and this was a huge win and something that I want more of.

I noticed that in comparison to the other backpacking foods, this meal has the least amount of nutrition with the dietary fiber being the highest at 10 grams and sugar being the lowest at 9 grams. The sodium is also very low at 97mg, so there is no extreme need for water and the meal is not swimming in salt for flavor. It requires 9oz of water and is made in a biodegradable bag. 

Sasquatch fuel has made a wonderful and tasty creation that only uses whole foods and no preservatives. I felt very energized and truly happy while eating this meal. In addition, when you purchase meals on their website or in the store they give back to the outdoor community! 



  • Only uses 9 oz of water 
  • Not salty or overly seasoned 


  • Lacking nutrition in certain areas 

Food for the Sole 

Best Food Lightweight Backpacking Meals Small Batch Brands

MSRP: $4.95 each 

Meal: Cinnamon Cherry Crisp 

Weight: 1.8 oz 

Calories: 220 

Taste the home-cooked cinnamon cherry crisp from Food for the Sole and you will be in for a tart treat. Come all who want to eat great food as this meal is both vegan and gluten free.  Whether you prefer these juicy and plump cherries for breakfast or desert is all yours to decide. I chose to eat this as a desert and had no regrets. 

When my morale is low I know that my body needs sugar and carbs and this did the job with 19 grams of sugar and 31 grams of carbohydrates. What I really appreciated about this rich meal is that the crisp toppings are in a separate clear bag inside the meal. After rehydration of the cherries, you add the crisp topping so that you get a nice crunch instead of a soggy sundae. Both of the textures compliment each other, as you get the ripeness of the cherries and the combination of the crunchy yet tender pieces of the almond and oat crisp topping. 

The cinnamon is mild and the ginger is slightly sharp but balanced well. The meal in itself is very juicy and moist and requires only ⅓ of a cup of water. Food for the Sole has warmed my soul with this heavenly creation made with love. 


  • Everything 


  • None


Fernweh Foods

Best Backpacking Food Small Brands Fernweh

MRSP: $15.00

Meal: Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl

Weight: 7oz 

Calories: 540/ 1080 

Ah, good ole Fernweh Foods had me at the first bite! After a strenuous day of mountain climbing in the Catskills, I found myself wrapped in love with this warm and savory meal. For a whopping two cups of hot water, you will find yourself with two servings of this nutrient-packed, plant-based meal. 

Vegans and vegetarians, this small but mighty company is the one to be on the lookout for! My meat-eating friends even wanted to try a spoonful because the aroma was divine, catching their attention. 

The Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl is a balanced blend of sweet potatoes, chickpeas, coconut oil, chia seeds and bananas; then topped with toasted coconut, strawberries, pecans and dates. The texture is moderately creamy and smooth, even with all the ingredients and small chunks of dates. The subtle crunch from the pecans is very welcoming. 

Sweeteners are unnecessary and I am glad that Fernweh omitted them, as the meal itself is sweet enough. A single-serving contains 27 grams of all-natural sugar, with the double-serving clocking in at 54 grams. In addition, I found the carbohydrates to be substantial at 152 grams for the double-serving. 

I personally ate two servings of this delightful bowl and my belly was completely satisfied. Afterwards, I continued my hike and I felt like I had the energy of an ox while my friends started crashing. It was a definite win!


  • Everything 


  • None


Continue Hiking with Shilletha Curtis:  

Gear reviews




I’m a huge fan of the Beef Marinara from Next Mile – it’s absolutely delicious, especially if you’re a keto/carnivore hiker.

Shilletha Curtis

Shilletha Curtis

Thanks for reading everyone! It was delightful to try so many great foods!

Kim Kremer

Kim Kremer

Thank you for admitting to licking the package! I make almost all my own food, but that description was enough to make me want to try that food. I’m never too proud get every tiny bit of goodness out of meal!

Ellie Thomas

Ellie Thomas

Good article – thanks! Try Stowaway Gourmet and Outdoor Herbivore. Stowaway currently has the best meals on the market in my opinion.

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