They say food tastes better when you're outside. A bowl of indescribable brown mush at the end of a long hard day can be the best thing you've ever eaten. A pot of rice cooked in Knorr instant soup mix makes a pretty gourmet meal for the non-discerning adventurer.
In the last decade there's been a lot more focus on Iron Chef worthy backcountry meals that are nutritious, delicious, attractive, organic, gluten-free, non-allergenic, locally-sourced...
Let's just say we are pretty food-focused these days.
There are some pretty incredible pre-packaged backpacking meals you can buy. Check out this chicken and mashed potatoes meal from Mountain House:
There are two main methods for preserving backpacking food: freeze drying, and dehydrating. (The chicken and potatoes above were freeze dried.) Both take water out of the food to render it lightweight and preservable, but each method has its pros and cons.
Pros: higher nutritional retention, taste, quick reconstitution
This process removes water by freezing the food and then placing it in a vacuum. Freeze dried food reconstitutes better and faster than dehydrated food (5 minutes versus 15 minutes) and many people find the taste is slightly better preserved. You can also eat many freeze dried foods dry as crunchy little snacks.
Pros: more affordable, more compact, easy to do on your own
Cons: takes longer to reconstitute, shorter shelf life
The dehydration process involves heating the food at low temperatures so most of the water evaporates. It has a shorter shelf life (1-8 years versus 30 years) due to some water being left in the food. It tends to be lighter and take up less space, however, so is an excellent choice for backpacking.
Electric dehydrators are easy to find, and you can even do it in your own oven. The advantage of dehydrating your own food is you get to decide exactly what to put in it.
It is very rewarding at the end of the day to simply boil a kettle, pour the water into your dehydrated or freeze-dried food, and minutes later be enjoying a delicious, nutritious meal.
Happy chowing, folks :)