In the last few years, a wave of small backpacking food brands has crashed onto to the market — bringing with it healthy, nourishing outdoor cuisine that's able to meet a variety of dietary needs and successfully fuel long miles on the trail.
Today, we round up the 11 brands that have most caught our attention. From cold-soak salads and keto-specific meals to several gluten-free and vegetarian options, there's never been a better time to reach for your spork.
Food for the Sole
Julie and Henry Mosier believe that you should be able to eat good food anywhere. That’s why the mother-and-son team created Food for the Sole, an Oregon startup that makes tasty, nourishing, vegan, mostly gluten-free, make-in-the-bag, backcountry meals.
Food for the Sole’s line of dehydrated adventure meals includes calorically dense cold soak salads, such as its Triple Peanut Slaw; meals that will fuel and sustain you for hours, such as its Coconut Rice and Cuban Black Beans; and meals that beautifully cap off a day, such as its Garlic Green Bean and Cashew Stir Fry, filled with belly-warming broth, and its Cinnamon Cherry Crisp for dessert.
Julie and Henry didn’t necessarily set out to create vegan and gluten-free meals. Their aromatic offerings went that direction simply because they wanted fresh-tasting vegetables while backpacking and during other outdoor adventures.
But serving a population who typically struggles to find food, much less healthy food, has turned out to be one of their favorite parts of running Food for the Sole. Customers have told them that they’re giving them access to the outdoors, as they now have the fuel they need to go on adventures. >>> Read Food for the Sole’s full startup story.
Meal to Check Out >>> Peanut Super Slaw
Six years ago Good To-Go debuted its line of dehydrated backpacking meals at Summer Outdoor Retailer. It featured three options: Thai Curry, Three Bean Chili and Herbed Mushroom Risotto. The fledgling brand was run by Jen Scism and her husband David Koorits, who still held his day job as a nurse.
At that OR, Good To-Go won Backpacker Magazine’s editor’s choice award and got picked up by REI, catapulting their growth. At that OR, we also met them — sitting on a bench in an upper hallway — and Good To-Go became Garage Grown Gear’s first backpacking food brand.
Now the Maine company employs 19 people and in 2018 it produced and sold 400,000 meals, spread across 13 different offerings — all of them absolutely delicious and gluten-free. >>> Read Good To-Go’s full startup story.
Meal to Check Out >>> Thai Curry
While thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage, who was already lean framed to begin with, found himself losing a ton of weight. Drinking olive oil and pounding peanut butter helped to mitigate the situation — but it also got Chris thinking about a potential real solution that would “cram in a ton of nutrition, be lightweight and ready to eat, feature clean ingredients, taste good, and have the right kind of macronutrients.”
So, in 2014, Chris moved back in with his parents in Georgia and started nerding out on the idea of non-cook, stoveless backpacking food. It took both substantial time and working with a food scientist, but eventually he figured out how to make a product that met his parameters and was also shelf stable. And shortly after Greenbelly Meals was born. >>> Read Greenbelly Meals’ full startup story.
Meal to Check Out >>> Dark Chocolate Banana
Dissatisfied with the commercially available options for freeze-dried meals, Vincent Robichaud began making his own backpacking meals. The meals were gluten free, as his son-in-law has celiac disease, and tasted delicious, thanks to the decades his mom spent teaching him how to cook.
With encouragement friends and family, and after some back-of-the-napkin calculations, this personal passion project soon morphed into a business. Most of Trailtopia’s ingredients are freeze dried, with a few exceptions such as the noodles, seasonings and flavorings. And only the meat is pre-cooked. That means that all other ingredients get cooked for the first time when you add boiling water to the bag.
“Freeze-dried food has a better quality, texture and flavor profile, and it rehydrates faster,” Vince said. Trailtopia meals are also free of preservatives, additives and MSG, and include premium freeze-dried fruits and vegetables. “When you look at our broccoli, it looks like broccoli,” Vince said. >>> Read Trailtopia’s full startup story.
Meal to Check Out >>> Cajun Smack Chicken & Rice
Canadian rock climber and alpinist Denis Mikhailov has choked down his fair share of uninspiring, backcountry meals. But even though these preservative-laden meals zapped his energy and upset his digestive system, he had resigned himself to consuming them, believing he had no other options.
Then one day in the Bugaboos he met a mountain guide who had brought his own homemade dehydrated food on their expedition. He shared it with Denis and immediately “a light bulb went off.” In that moment, Denis concocted Nomad Nutrition, a brand that would go on to make delicious, nutrient-dense backcountry meals using revolutionary REVdry technology.
All Nomad Nutrition meals are made from scratch in its state-of-the-art food processing facility located in Vancouver, BC, using ingredients from either local farmers or local organic distributors. Nomad Nutrition offers vegan meals — all of them free of gluten, dairy, soy, nuts and GMOs — that have a decidedly international flavor profile. >>> Read Nomad Nutrition’s full startup story.
Meal to Check Out >>> Ukrainian Borscht
Back in 2015, JC Coughlin was taking a break in the Olympic National Forest with his longtime partner, Anya. Sitting lakeside, enjoying their homemade quick-cooking backpacking food, they wondered, “Why is it so difficult to go into a store and find what we’re eating?”
JC was well aware of the saturated backcountry food market. And he also felt that none of the brands out there had quite got it right — all the options were marginally nutritious, excessively packaged, and priced a stitch too high. “There wasn’t anyone bringing all the pieces together,” he said.
So JC decided to tackle it himself. Backcountry Staples officially launched in June of 2019. Still in its infancy, Backcountry Staples' first offerings are entirely breakfast meals made of creamy oats and buckwheat porridge. Inspired by indulgent treats like cobblers, crisps, and scones, JC prepares all the brand’s products by himself in a commercial kitchen in Bellingham, WA.
While some of the brand’s breakfasts can be cold-soaked, Backcountry Staples meals are specifically designed for thermos-cooking. They’re also gluten and dairy-free, with sugar-free and nut-free options available too. >>> Read Backcountry Stapes full startup story.
Meal to Check Out >>> Raisin Carrot Cake
Born and raised in Alaska by a mother known for her organic good cooking, Heather Kelly has long had an appreciation for healthy, delicious food. That appreciation was heightened after she earned a degree in Evolutionary Nutrition, and then went on to study at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
With a small five-tray dehydrator, Heather started out by making meals and snacks for her own backcountry trips. Her friends soon encouraged her to turn her obsession into a business, and in 2014 Heather's Choice was born.
Heather's Choice is dedicated to making delicious, ultralight, nutrient-dense meals and snacks for adventurers. All Heather’s Choice food is made in Alaska from organic, wild caught, sustainably raised ingredients, including sustainably sourced proteins like sockeye salmon and grass-fed bison. The meals and snacks are also allergen safe with gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free options.
Meal to Check Out >>> Orange Vanilla Packaroons
FishSki Provisions pays homage to Rob and Tania McCormack’s home in the Southwest. In that region, there is one culinary question that outshines the rest: green? red? or Christmas? Green chiles are Rob’s favorite while Tania prefers red chiles. Christmas is shorthand for a combo of both.
Tania has been doctoring her mac and cheese for years with “red.” This tried-and-true recipe served as the basis for what is now FishSki Provisions — which offers an inspired take on mac & cheese and cheese & grits.
The “just add water” meals are designed with the outdoors in mind. In addition to being easy to make, the packaging is recyclable, portable, packable and weather resistant.
Meal to Check Out >>> Hatch Red Chile Mac and Cheese
Throughout years of backcountry exploration, Andrew Schroeder kept encountering two food-related problems: litter from packaging left behind by others, and food that bogged him down with unhealthy ingredients, preservatives, and a bad taste.
He realized that litter from food packaging in the highcountry is especially bad because the majority of it goes undiscovered due to low foot traffic. So, in 2012, Andrew and his dad decided to go in search of a solution.
After two years of relentless research, Andrew landed on technology that was being used for coffee bags — one that would allow for degradation into toxin-free biomass (plant food) and water. Andrew and his dad worked with the manufacturer to create a shelf-stable pouch that could contain boiling water and cook a meal.
Sasquatch Fuel launched in 2015 and is dedicated to small-batch, craft nutrition that reduces packaging waste. While its offerings include familiar backcountry meals — such as beef stroganoff and spaghetti and meat sauce — it also has a couple of notable standout: the Kickin’ Cactus Bowl and Yak Snacks.
(Note: Sasquatch meals are not yet offered through Garage Grown Gear, but are coming SOON!!!)
Meal to Check Out >>> Kickin’ Cactus Bowl
After 39 years in corporate America and two successful startups, Debbie Cyros sold her California home to head for the open road. As she traveled, she became passionate about hiking and backpacking, covering thousands of miles.
Unable to find much variety among the healthy backpacking food options — ones that weren't laden with salt and preservatives — she started creating her own recipes. In 2016, she decided to take on the Pacific Crest Trail, with part of the adventure being that she made a lot of her own food for the trip.
After the thru-hike, she decided to open Outdoor Pantry, which offers a unique variety of freeze-dried meals, ranging from sweet Belgian waffles and strawberry yogurt bark to African peanut stew and beef & lamb gyro with tzatziki sauce.
(Note: Outdoor Pantry meals are not currently offered through Garage Grown Gear.)
Meal to Check Out >>> Freeze Dried Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches
Next Mile Meals
When Jessie Greger decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017, figuring out food was her biggest logistical challenge. “Can I eat keto and do the hike?” she asked herself.
There was only one way to find out. Jessie began creating her own ketogenic meals for the trip. And, once on trail, she surprised herself with how delicious and nourishing her recipes turned out to be.
After fellow hikers and social media followers repeatedly asked where they, too, could find ketogenic backpacking food, she realized that the meals she had handmade and crafted might help others just like her. And so, in the middle of a mountain range near the Oregon border, her company — Next Mile Meals — was created.
After the hike, she picked her favorite meals, tweaked the spices, experimented with new packaging — and before long launched a business. With Next Mile Meals, you can start your day with a Denver Omelette and end it with Beef Tacos, all while eating within the parameters of Keto.
(Note: Next Mile Meals are not currently offered through Garage Grown Gear.)
Meal to Check Out >>> Denver Omelette