The usual disclaimer: No, I'm still not sponsored, still not a shill, no free gear or food, etc.
I avoided store bought backpacker meals in the past for several reasons. Perhaps the biggest one is that they can be expensive, but I also didn't think they tasted all that great much of the time. And they also didn't have as many vegan or vegetarian options (I eat vegan, my wife vegetarian), plus they were also bulky, then there is the issue of all the packaging waste, etc.
At times over the years I would get a few of these fancy store bought meals as gifts, and of course I'd use them, and at times I was surprised by some of them for being tastier than older ones. Which got me to reconsider them as an occasional treat. Then when I would check out various options at a few different stores, in addition to noticing more vegan and vegetarian options, I also noticed that at times there would be sales. Lucky for me, at the stores I frequent, the vegan options were more often on sale, as they were not as popular as other options, I would guess. So I started to buy a few here and there and add one or two to my food bag for trips. It also made planning somewhat easier.
Overall during the past several years, these factors got me to re-evaluate the store bought, dehydrated, fancy-pants meals. Backpacking in general also got all the more popular here in Sweden over the years, and especially during and now after the pandemic. This has resulted in lots more meals to choose from (plus vegan and vegetarian food is also more popular), and competition drove down prices.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am still a huge advocate for making your own DIY backpacking meals. I've posted recipes on this topic on Reddit (here's my mac n cheese recipe, for example), and there are several videos about food on my Youtube channel (link is above in my blog menu)--food videos are among my post popular videos, actually. So I'm still on team DIY meals 4 life. But then I saw how two good friends of mine were combining their meals, and it was a game changer for me.
There we were, my wife and I and our two good friends and hiking homies, on a great section hike in the summer of 2021. And I watched as my homies ate their first meal on trail, which was a few store bought meals. But then I noticed that they boiled up a bit more water and used that to rinse out their fancy meal bags. I asked why, and they explained that tomorrow they would put their DIY meal into the recycled store meal bag to cook and eat. Why the hell didn't I think of that before?
Since then, my meal routines for most of the year (I usually go no-cook in the summer) are to include a few store bought meals along with my DIY meals, which still make up the majority of my meals. For me this is a great mix of convenience yet still being frugal and also minimizing on waste. Plus other benefits, like not having to clean my pot anymore, as now I only boil water with it or make tea/coffee. So now I keep an eye out on sales (if you live in Scandinavia, XXL at times has them) to stock up on bougie meals (which don't go bad for a long time anyhow).
This has been a big improvement of my food situation on trail. I will typically reuse a fancy meal bag for 3-4 DIY meals. And keep in mind that using boiling or hot water to clean them out, plus using boiling water again when cooking another meal in them, is going to make it sanitary. I've not had any issues with reuse, either with my body or with the bags themselves, which are pretty robust.
Thought I'd pass this on here, and hope it helps out how you eat out trail. And for the record, I store my DIY meals in small ziplock bags, but after dumping the contents into the recycled fancy cook bag on trail, I will store the small ziplocks separately from my trash bag to be either reused or recycled.
Finally, here's a rough cost estimate of some of my go-to meals:
- Store bought meal - 50 to 70 SEK (5 to 7 USD)
- DIY mac n cheese (nooch) n olive oil - 12 SEK (around 1.20 USD) per serving
- DIY ramen fake pad Thai (add peanut butter and hot sauce) - 15-20 SEK (1.50-2 USD) per serving if you get nicer ramen and hot sauce, but can be done for under 10 SEK (a buck) with cheapo options
- DIY oatmeal with sesame seeds and sugar - less than 5 SEK (50 cents) per serving
- DIY parboiled rice, split lentil, and dried veggie stew with olive oil - 10 SEK (a buck) per serving
Happy new year to all my readers, and happy trails for 2023!