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Best Vegan & Vegetarian Backpacking Meals of 2023

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Best Vegan and Vegetarian Freeze-Dried Meals

Best Vegan & Vegetarian Backpacking Meals of 2023

Zucchini and mushrooms and black beans, oh my! We’ve once again donned our fancy food critic pants and ate all the food until there was no more food to eat – vegan and vegetarian style! If you’re sick of eating that one single flavor of vegetarian ramen every night, we’re here to tell you that it’s time to spice up your food bag.

We taste tested each one of these meals and analyzed ingredients to bring you this list of the best freeze-dried vegan and vegetarian meals.

Last updated: March 1, 2023

We hate doing dishes, but that doesn’t stop us from loving Patagonia Provisions Organic Spicy Red Bean Chili.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Quick Recommendations

Check out this quick list of our favorite vegan/vegetarian meals, or continue scrolling to see our full list.

Freeze-dried meals from GOOD TO-GO are made with ingredients you can pronounce!

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

What’s Most Important to You in a Backpacking Meal?

DIET – More and more folks are going vegan and gluten-free, and luckily the freeze-dried food industry is adapting to cater to that crowd. It’s not always super obvious which meals are friendly to which diets, so to make it easy, we’ve marked all the meals with V or GF on the list below.

PRICE – Freeze dried meals are not cheap and there are plenty of inexpensive alternatives (instant potatoes, pasta sides, ramen, etc). If you’re spending months on the trail thru-hiking, meals like these will probably be too expensive to be sustainable. But we still bring a couple on long trips to have as a treat and to save ourselves from having to do dishes.

Pro tip: When you buy 8 or more backpacking meals from REI, you save 10%. We usually stock up for the hiking season. You can also save money by purchasing bulk meal kits. Best value freeze-dried meals (typically less than 1¢/calorie): Backpacker’s Pantry & Mountain House

Freeze-Dried meals from Backpacker’s Pantry typically cost about a penny per calorie.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

CALORIES/OZ. Many backpackers choose freeze-dried meals because they’re lightweight. The process of freeze-drying a meal removes 80% of it’s water weight, while retaining a high level of calorically-dense nutrition. Most meal pouches range between 500-900 calories and weigh around 5-7 ounces. This puts them in the 100-130 calorie-per-ounce ratio. We always shoot for most of the food in our bag to be above 100 calories per ounce.

Food for the Sole’s Garlic & Green Bean Cashew Stir Fry is delicious and has a whopping 143 calories per ounce.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

MEAL OF THE DAY – Maybe you’re the type that only cooks for dinner or you like to spoil yourself with a fancy dessert every now and then. If we could only have two freeze-dried meals from each category for the rest of our lives, here’s what we’d pick.

Having one of our favorite desserts, Backpacker’s Pantry Dark Chocolate Cheesecake, for breakfast!

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

MAC & CHEESE – Here at CleverHiker, we know what’s really important to all of you backcountry gourmets: macaroni and cheese. Trust us when we say, we also take our noodles and cheese sauce quite seriously. Noodle shape? Texture? How many different cheeses? We’ve put the best mac on the market to the test to find out which one is truly superior. Best freeze-dried macaroni & cheese:

  1. Mountain House Creamy Macaroni & Cheese

  2. Backpacker’s Pantry Three Cheese Mac & Cheese

  3. MaryJanesFarm Cheddar Herb Pasta

We pit the top freeze dried mac and cheeses against each other and Mountain House Creamy Macaroni & Cheese came out on top.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Squirrel Rating System

Whenever we go backpacking, we take some of our tried-and-true favorite freeze dried meals. Each trip we also take some new flavors to test out. First established by our dear friend David Branson while hiking the Zion Traverse, the very “scientific” CleverHiker Squirrel Rating System was born. We’ll call it the SRS for now.

While consuming new freeze dried meals, we deliberate about how it tastes and ultimately decide on a squirrel rating. Every meal we eat earns a squirrel rating score between 1 and 5 based on flavor, texture, and overall deliciousness. There are only whole squirrel ratings, because half a squirrel would be gross. We update this list every time we put on our snobby food critic pants and stuff our faces in the backcountry.

Backpacker’s Pantry - Summit Breakfast Scramble is a great way to start a big day of hiking.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Best Vegan & Vegetarian Backpacking Meals of 2023

V = Vegan, GF = Gluten-Free

The JetBoil Flash is perfect for those who only need a stove to boil water for freeze-dried meals.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Gettin’ our grub on on the JMT.

Photo credit: Dave Collins (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Three Squirrel Meals

Quite good still, but nothing to write home about. We might buy them again, but we weren’t amazed.

Boiling some water with the efficient MSR Pocket Rocket 2 stove.

Photo credit: Dave Collins (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

The JetBoil MiniMo has a wider pot than the JetBoil Flash, and it allows you to control the power of the flame.

Photo credit: Dave Collins (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

One Squirrel Meals

Whoa boy, that was a disappointment. Considering how hungry we were, backcountry meals should probably be more foolproof than this.

The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 is one of our favorite ultralight backpacking stoves because it’s efficient and stable.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

What’s in Our Camp Kitchen?

When we head out on backcountry trips, these are the items usually found in our packs. For more information on our favorite gear, check out the CleverHiker Backpacking Gear Guide and our Stove Buyers Guide.

Bear cans, like the BearVault BV500, keep your food safe from animals, and they keep animals safe from associating humans with food.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Critical Freeze-Dried Meal Considerations

PROS & CONS OF FREEZE-DRIED MEALS – We have really come to enjoy bringing freeze-dried meals on trips because of the convenience, but there are some definite drawbacks. We usually bring a combination of DIY meals and freeze-dried meals to get the best of both worlds. Here are some things to consider with freeze-dried meals if you’re not sure which style is best for you:


  • You can get them started then walk away to do other things, like filter more water, while they rehydrate
  • You can have a large variety of flavors on your trip
  • Most meals cook in their own packaging, so you don’t have to clean a dish
  • Most meals are calorie-dense and filling


  • Convenience comes at a price, and freeze-dried meals almost always cost more than DIY meals (check out DIY MEALS section below for some money-saving alternatives)
  • The air inside the packaging can make freeze-dried meals bulky. This is especially important to consider if you have to pack all of your food in a bear canister.
  • Many freeze-dried meals are heavier than DIY meals, especially when you take all the trash you have to carry into account
  • Takes longer to cook than many instant meals (like mashed potatoes or ramen)
Ova Easy Egg Crystals, olive oil, Textured Vegetable Protein, salt, and pepper make for a pretty great DIY breakfast.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

SUPPLEMENTARY FOODS, SPICES & CONDIMENTS – We always bring along a few spices and supplementary staples in case we need to jazz up a meal that sounded a lot better than it tasted. Vegans & vegetarians may also need to add things like protein and fat to their meals to maintain healthy bodies on trail. Below are some of our favorite supplementary foods and gear items to keep meal-time fun and healthy.

  • GoToobs – These things are seriously the coolest. We use them for condiments, sunscreen, and toiletries when we travel. They’re spill proof, easy to fill, and, best of all, we don’t have to lug around the entire container of mayo anymore.
  • GSI Spice Missile – We used to always use little individual baggies for all of our spices on the trail, but we would always run into two major problems. Dirt from our fingers would end up becoming part of our favorite seasoning mix or the zipper would eventually stop sealing because it became clogged with little granules. The Spice Missile is ultralight, super compact, and it allows you to bring six different spices. It’s a luxury item we never hit the trail without.
  • Ova Easy Egg Crystals – Yep, powdered eggs. Before you scoff, let us just say that if you’ve ever had continental breakfast at a budget hotel, you’ve probably already eaten and enjoyed these. They take some time to make and require some scrubbing after you’re done, but they’re a great way to get some protein without packing much weight. For bonus flavor points, throw in some salt, pepper, and dehydrated veggies or potato chips!
  • Textured Vegetable Protein – TVP is an affordable and versatile way to really kick your meals up a notch. It’s great to add to dinners after a long day on the trail when you’ll need some extra protein to help your body recover. It has a meaty texture and easily absorbs the flavor of spices and broths. We really like to throw it in soups and pasta dishes like Patagonia Provisions Organic Black Bean Soup and Mountain House Pasta Primavera
  • Solely Fruit Jerky– After a couple days on the trail we REALLY start to crave fresh fruit. The Solely Fruit Jerkies are just pressed fruit with nothing added, and they really hit the spot. We usually pack along enough to have one or two everyday to break up into oatmeal or desserts.
  • Primal Vegan Jerky – If you haven’t tried these yet, you’re in for a real treat. If you’ve missed the flavor of jerky, and, to a lesser extent, the feeling of having it stuck between your teeth, look no further. Primal Jerky is great by itself, but we also like to break it up into our freeze-dried meals for a savory upgrade. Try the Texas BBQ flavor in your Mountain House Creamy Macaroni and Cheese or the Thai Peanut flavor in some Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai.
  • Olive oil – This is a staple that we always carry with us. It can add a buttery flavor to vegan dishes, help keep your digestive system working smoothly, and has a really high calorie-to-ounce ratio.
  • Karen’s Just Veggies & Just Fruit – Just Veggies and Just Fruit are, as the name would imply, dehydrated fruit and veggies with no additives. We like to use these for DIY meals, but they’re also great to add to freeze-dried pasta and granola meals.
  • Justin’s Nut Butter Packets – These nut butters make for a really high calorie snack on their own, but we also like to add it to granola and meals for extra flavor.
Bring some olive oil and a small amount of your favorite spices to add some pizzazz to your backcountry meals.

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

DIY MEALS – For most of our trips, we take a combination of freeze-dried meals and DIY meals. We always look for foods that are quick and easy to make, lightweight, and high in calories. Check out our 13 Great Backpacking Meal Recipes and Food Dehydration Tips post for some of our favorite DIY meals! A lot of the recipes include meat, but in most cases you can substitute it for TVP, Primal Vegan Jerky, or dehydrated shiitake mushrooms. Our Best Lightweight Backpacking Food guide also has some good info about meal planning and some ideas for foods that work well on the trail. Below is a list of some of the vegan and vegetarian foods we like to bring along with our freeze-dried meals.

One of our favorite things about backpacking meals is that you don’t have to clean your cook pot!

Photo credit: Casey Handley (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Need More Gear Advice?

If you liked this list, you’ll love the CleverHiker Gear Guide where we test and recommend tons of outdoor adventure gear from a variety of categories. here are some links to popular articles:

One of our favorite ultralight cooking combos: the BRS 3000T and the Snow Peak Mini Solo Cookset.

Photo credit: Dave Collins (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Why Trust Us?

We fully understand how tough it is to find trustworthy gear advice, and that’s one of the main reasons we built CleverHiker. We live for outdoor adventure, and we take these guides very seriously. Here are some of the reasons you can trust us:

  • Our choices are completely independent and based on personal experience.
  • We’ve logged over 10,000 trail miles and test outdoor gear for a living.
  • We own and field test every product we recommend, which is sadly not the norm.
  • We travel to industry trade shows to learn about upcoming product innovations.
  • We constantly update our guides when new products launch.
  • We treat our recommendations as if they were for our family and friends.
  • We’re lifelong learners and we’re always open to constructive criticism. If you think we’ve missed a product or got something wrong, we’d love to hear your feedback.

More Information

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Thanks for reading and happy trails!

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we may receive a modest commission if purchases are made through those links. This adds no cost to our readers and helps us keep our site up and running. Our reputation is our most important asset, which is why we only provide completely honest and unbiased recommendations.