10 Best Mountain House Meals of 2018—Ranked!
|Mountain House Meal||Score||MSRP||No. of Servings||Calories per Serving||Preparation Time||Protein|
|Top Pick & Best Breakfast: Breakfast Skillet||
|$7.99||2||400||8-9 min||14 g|
|Camper’s Choice: Biscuits and Gravy||
|$6.99||2||310||8-9 min||8 g|
|Backpacker’s Choice: Beef Stroganoff with Noodles||
|$8.99||2.5||250||8-9 min||11 g|
|Camper’s Choice Runner-up: Beef Stew||
|$8.99||2.5||190||8-9 min||13 g|
|Rice and Chicken||
|$7.99||3||270||8-9 min||6 g|
|Backpacker’s Choice Runner-up: Chili Mac with Beef||
|$8.99||2.5||230||8-9 min||12 g|
|Scrambled Eggs with Bacon||
|$5.99||1.5||230||5-6 min||16 g|
|Macaroni and Cheese||
|$7.99||3||320||8-9 min||13 g|
|Chicken Fajita Bowl||
|$8.99||2||280||9-10 min||21 g|
|Chicken Teriyaki with Rice||
|$7.99||2.5||220||8-9 min||10 g|
Have you ever been so exhausted after a long day of backpacking that you just want to skip dinner, curl up in the sleeping bag and worry about all that food stuff tomorrow?
Yeah, me neither.
Today, backcountry cooking has never been easier. Thanks to the growing popularity of MREs, also known as Meals Ready to Eat, you can now skip the shopping, chopping, dicing, sautéing, boiling, seasoning, all of it. Just add boiling water and in five to ten minutes impress your tent mates with culinary genius.
Mountain House has been making MREs in the form of freeze-dried meals for nearly 50 years, and what once started as a project to serve meals to US Special Forces has boomed into a massive enterprise that the backpacking world now loves.
Today, Mountain House offers nearly 30 different breakfasts, entrees and desserts. But, how on earth do you know which ones are any good? Luckily, you’ve got us.
We challenged Mountain House to send us their 10 bestselling meals, and they accepted! We put their meals to the test, guided by a focus group of five very different individuals (and two food-enthused doggies), and we’re ready to give you the results of our experiment.
Table of Contents
- How We Tested
- Top Pick & Best Breakfast
- Camper’s Choice
- Backpacker’s Choice
- Camper’s Choice Runner-up
How We Tested
Our testing process was two-fold. It included:
- A side-by-side taste test of all 10 meals
- Research into the important product specs of each meal
(If this testing process looks familiar, it is. We also used it to determine our favorite Backpacker’s Pantry meals.)
Part 1: The Taste Test
For the first part of our testing process, we assessed the actual taste and flavor profile of each meal. We focused on three specific criteria:
- Visual appeal and smell
- Flavor and aftertaste
But here’s the thing — you don’t need to be a hardcore backpacker to judge things like your journey to flavortown.
In fact, what I’ve learned over the years is that most hardcore backpackers will eat pretty much anything. As a general group, we’re not that picky.
That’s why we wanted to set up a focus group for our taste test. We brought in five very different individuals with very different palates and forced them to study, smell, taste, and judge MREs until the sun went down. (Don’t worry, we rewarded them all with beer.)
The personalities of our focus group testers were critical to this step in the study, and we hope that, by understanding the individuals involved, we can provide some relatability to you as a reader and future MRE consumer. The personalities of our five focus group participants are as follows:
- Little Dirtbag: Female, age 22. Willing to eat anything with calories, but patient enough to cook and prepare her own backcountry meals. Generally avoids MREs because she thinks she can do it better. Weirdly proud of her record of 18 days without showering. Often found in mountains and on rivers.
- Kale Eater: Female, age 31. Fitness fanatic who judges everything on its nutritional benefit. Will not go camping unless an air mattress and Airstream is involved. Requires beauty sleep and protein shakes. Finds the smell of a campfire to be unpleasant. (???)
- River Rat: Male, age 30. Likes the outdoors and recreational activity but generally goes with the flow. Served as our neutral, most unbiased judge.
- Mountain Man: Male, age 52. Long time backpacker and backcountry adventurer, with very seasoned and particular food opinions. Relies heavily on MREs while adventuring, but always carries his spice kit to dress them up. Attempted to force all other participants to only sample MREs with hot sauce. That’s not how this works, Mountain Man.
- Den Mother: Female, age 51. Highly averse to backcountry hiking, climbing, and salt. Has supported a family of backpackers for years. Always makes the best from-scratch frontcountry meals and works magic on a Coleman stove. Expert glamper.
Little Dirtbag and Mountain Man served as our backpacking professionals and their opinions on the meals helped us develop the Backpacker’s Choice award. The Backpacker’s Choice award was awarded to the meal we believed to be best suited for the backcountry adventurer.
Kale Eater and Den Mother served as our camping/glamping professionals and their opinions on the meals helped us develop the Camper’s Choice award. The Camper’s Choice award was awarded to the meal we believed to be best suited for camping and frontcountry activities.
River Rat served as our most neutral judge, with the least bias invested into the process. His opinions supported equally both the Backpacker’s Choice and the Camper’s Choice awards.
Once our taste testers were all together, we:
- Followed the preparation instructions found on the back of each MRE precisely and waited exactly the recommended cook time before sampling the meals.
- Analyzed how successfully cooked the meals were based on the instructions. Meals that were undercooked, too soupy or overcooked ranked lower than those we found to be cooked properly.
- Rated each meal on its initial appearance, smell, texture and flavor profile, as well as “how close to the real deal” it actually tasted.
- Ranked the meals on a scale of 1-5. Then we opened the floor to discussion and debate regarding our rankings and opinions. Never before have we worked with a more quotable group.
Part 2: Product Specs Research
The second section of our testing was less fun and involved researching the product specs for each meal. We focused on:
- Amount of water needed
- Preparation time
- Nutritional content
- Number of servings
We then developed a ranking system to support our awards process.
The Backpacker’s Choice award was more highly influenced by specs than our Camper’s Choice award. Meals high in protein and calories that required less water and preparation time ranked more highly for backpacking than they did for camping. Meals that ranked highest in smell, taste, and texture, regardless of weight and water required, scored higher for the Camper’s Choice award.
Top Pick & Best Breakfast: Breakfast Skillet
The Mountain House Breakfast Skillet, by far, offers the best taste.
From a first look, the Breakfast Skillet is the most colorful of all the meals, a hint at its higher nutritional content. Coupling our first look with a sniff, the meal genuinely smells fresh despite its packaging and shelf life.
It’s made with hash browns and scrambled eggs, mixed with pork sausage patty, peppers and onions. Nothing we sampled competed with the Breakfast Skillet for “how close to the real deal” it tasted.
Mountain Man mentioned that he possesses at least five of these packages in his gear closet. “It’s simply a staple,” as he says. Kale Eater agreed and mentioned that she’d like to “keep at least one in the car.” You could probably convince your friends you actually possess cooking talent by serving this at camp.
Unlike some other Mountain House meals, the amount of water required and preparation time were ideal both for camping and backpacking. With 800 calories per package for $7.99, it’s also a great value.
The hash browns make the meal incredibly filling and fueling, but the vegetable content will give you the morning boost you need. The sodium content — while scary to read at a whopping 920 mg — is pretty typical and actually fairly low for meals like this.
Those with food allergies, take caution. The Breakfast Skillet contains eggs, milk, wheat and soy.
Camper’s Choice: Biscuits and Gravy
Everyone dreaded the opening of the Biscuits and Gravy package.
“I am very particular about my biscuits and gravy,” Den Mother noted.
“Seriously? How are you going to package biscuits and gravy?” Kale Eater commented.
Somebody else made a gagging noise.
Eager to please our growingly biased audience, we told them all supportively to “Shut up and eat it.” Kale Eater smelled the bag and immediately changed her tune.
Nobody expected to love the meal as much as they did, but after our initial sampling, our judgmental campers wouldn’t stop raving about it, ultimately acknowledging that they would eat it for any morning breakfast, on or off the trail.
Biscuits and Gravy ranked highly on the smell, taste and even texture scale. However, its lower calorie and protein content, coupled with its higher amount of required water, prevented this meal from being awarded our Backpacker’s Choice award.
This meal predominantly received its award for the flavor profile, and would work best as a morning treat at camp. Its lower nutritional benefits and the expansive, bloating power of rehydrated biscuits in your stomach mean lower energy on the trail.
“This is a meal that I immediately want to take a nap after consuming,” Little Dirtbag acknowledged.
Great for camping, not great for challenging days on the trail. Mountain Man required that we mention that Biscuits and Gravy is really, really great with hot sauce.
Backpacker’s Choice: Beef Stroganoff with Noodles
“Yessssss,” screamed the Little Dirtbag. Clearly, there were predisposed opinions among our backpacking community. We had to remind folks to taste the thing before giving the review.
When they did, the meal ranked highly for all participants, but was especially adored by backpackers.
Why does the Beef Stroganoff especially stand out for backpackers?
If you ask me, beef stroganoff will always be a classic backpacking meal. It’s a warm, hardy, stick-to-your-insides kind of meal, and that is something you’ll really appreciate when the temperature hits single digits.
It’s made of beef, noodles, mushrooms, milk, onions, and is seasoned with even more beef and lots of garlic. Noodles mean high carbs and beef means high protein, and remember, we backpackers like those things. The net weight of the entire bag is only 4.8 ounces, making it both easy to pack and light to carry. With 2.5 servings in the entire bag, you get more beef for your buck, as well as ooey, gooey, goodness.
Since we followed the back label instructions precisely for each meal, one thing we wanted to know was how soupy the meal would become. There are some foods that you simply can’t tolerate being soupy, like eggs (*gag*). But luckily, beef stroganoff is hard to screw up. Even if you do end up with a little soupiness — which you won’t because the instructions work out really well for this one — the meal will still prove to be delicious and hardy.
The one and only downside to eating Mountain House’s Beef Stroganoff may be its aftertaste. I find that most rehydrated meals that utilize milk can cause a filmy aftertaste in your mouth. And like most freeze-dried meals, the sodium content of one serving is 33% of your daily value. Keep these things in mind.
Camper’s Choice Runner-up: Beef Stew
Full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of Mountain House’s Beef Stew. Then again, I’m not a huge fan of beef stew any time.
However, our campers loved it and with good reason. It’s made with carrots, potatos, green peas and corn oil, which makes it fairly nutritious.
This is one of those warm meals that you can gorge on and then immediately go to sleep, a major plus for anyone who is car or frontcountry camping. Plus, because its a stew, you can get away with it being mildly soupy.
The meal would work well for backpacking, too, if you like beef stew.
Out of curiosity, we sampled the beef stew as a dry mix first, before cooking it. Don’t do it. It’s gross. Always be sure to have a complete backpacking cookset with you to cook your meal.
Backpacker’s Choice Runner-up: Chili Mac with Beef
Since most hiking and camping trips typically last more than one day, we wanted to add a section for our 2nd place meals, our runners-up.
(While we did gauge how willing our participants would be to eat each meal multiple night in a row, that certainly doesn’t mean you need to.)
Mountain House Chili Mac was our Backpacker’s Choice Runner-up because it’s just dang delicious. We love backpacking meals that have lots of calories and multiple servings. A package of the Chili Mac contains 2.5 servings at 230 calories each. 50 of those calories are from fat, a good source of long-term energy while on the trail.
Chili Mac has similar product specs to Beef Stroganoff, but it ended up being the runner-up because of taste. It’s just not as tasty. Regardless, Chili Mac is still a backcountry staple.
Reviews of the Other 5 Mountain House Meals We Tested
What’s worse than flavorless eggs? Watery, flavorless eggs.
As described by our Mountain Man, the scrambled eggs with bacon has a “really tough visual.” It’s not pretty to look at, nor is it delicious to eat. The eggs fluff up a decent amount, so the texture is not half bad if you can get past the fact that the eggs are literally swimming in water by the time you reach the end of the bag.
The only significant flavor in this meal is bacon. As Den Mother noted, “I have nothing against this but there is no flavor. No spice.”
How did the Macaroni and Cheese not make the cut and earn an award?
Honestly, mac and cheese will always be one of my favorite camp foods, but the Mountain House Mac and Cheese is nothing to call home about. Following the instructions on the package exactly, the meal ended up a little undercooked and slightly watery.
For $7.99 a bag, it’s probably easier to package and prepare your own. My recommendation? Go a little gourmet and melt down some cheddar and mix it with some cooked pasta in your camp bowl. Simple perfection.
I have nothing against the Chicken Fajita Bowl. I wanted to enjoy the Chicken Fajita Bowl. I couldn’t enjoy the Chicken Fajita Bowl.
Mexican food needs to taste fresh, and this just barely makes the cut on the freshness scale. Our taste testers met this meal with shrugs. Would they eat it? If they had to. Do they have to? Absolutely not.
Rice and chicken is such a simple meal that we recommend you pack your own goodies and make this yourself. The Mountain House version is plain and the rice is difficult to cook all the way through. It smells nice and probably tastes as intended, but ultimately is not worth it in our opinion. Mountain Man assured us that this could be fixed with a little more onion and hot sauce.
Ah, our lowest scoring MRE from Mountain House. What happened?
It’s gross. It smells bad. The flavor is way too sweet. There is something wrong about a synthetic Asian flavor, especially when followed by a poor aftertaste. I would never take this camping, hiking or backpacking. Plus, the nutritional stats don’t make up for the poor flavoring. Opt out of teriyaki.
How to Choose the Best Mountain House Meals for Your Needs
There are lots of different reasons why you may be purchasing a Mountain House meal: backpacking, taking a weekend camping trip, living out of your vehicle, starting a road trip or simply taking a break from cooking.
Here are the important things to consider before choosing which ones to buy.
What flavors do you love? What seasonings do you most often cook with?
Don’t overlook your real-world taste preferences when deciding which Mountain House meals to purchase. Think of what meals and flavors are important to you in your everyday life.
Try a few of these meals for yourself and see what you think. You may have a very different palate than our five taste testers. Either way, I bet you can find a Mountain House meal that you will enjoy. If not, though, then check out our list of backpacking food ideas or our favorite Backpacker’s Pantry meals instead.
For car campers and glampers, this is by far the most important consideration. For backpackers and other backcountry explorers, though, there are other things besides taste that you should take into account.
When meal planning for a backcountry trip, you’ll want to ensure you’re properly nourishing your body. Before purchasing an MRE, take a gander at the Nutrition Facts label and note the amounts of:
- Macros (fat, carbs, and protein)
- Calories per serving and per bag
- Vitamins & minerals
Compare these numbers to your daily calorie goals, sensitivity to salt, and other nutritional needs.
Of course, weight is always an important consideration for anything you carry with you in your pack. For any backcountry food, calories per ounce is a good measure to pay attention to here.
Calculating the calories per ounce of any food can be done easily by dividing total calories by overall weight of the package in ounces. (When calculating total calories, don’t forget that many MREs contain multiple servings.)
Calories per ounce = Total Calories / Overall Weight (oz.)
Lightweight backpacking foods tend to be in the range of 120-130 calories per ounce.
Mountain House meals need water to rehydrate — often around 2 cups. When deciding which MRE to buy, consider whether you’ll be able to carry or have access to enough water to prep your meal.
Some locations have scant amounts of water and ask backpackers to filter only as much water as they need. In locations like these, it’s better to bring along foods that don’t call for lots of water to prepare.
Like most packaged foods, many freeze-dried meals have more ingredients than you’d expect if you simply read the name of the meal. Double-check the ingredients list to make sure a meal meets your dietary requirements before buying.
The Mountain House Meals Other Experts Prefer
Lots of other folks have done similar taste tests of top Mountain House meals. We’ve rounded them up here so you can have a variety of opinions.
Dave over at Clever Hiker actually believes Chicken and Rice is a “classic” from Mountain House. Likewise, he is also a fan of Biscuits and Gravy, Beef Stroganoff and Beef Stew. One product that we did not test is the new Chicken Fried Rice. Dave had his expectations “blown away” by this one. We might be giving that a shot later!
Griffin Post, a sponsored athlete from Backcountry, showed Beef Stroganoff some love, saying that, “Of all the Mountain House meals I’ve had the privilege (or punishment) of eating, this is my favorite. It’s tasty enough that you might actually forget you’re eating freeze dried food.” But he also mentioned that although the meal is hearty, the serving size may be deceiving: “I mean 12g of protein and 310 calories, for dinner? On a hiking trip? There’s no way that keeps you going. I usually eat one to myself, or bring some instant rice and beans to stretch the meal for two people.”
A long-time hiker known as Shutterbug on White Blaze also shared our love of Chili Mac, but acknowledged that with older age came less of an appetite. “When I was younger, I would eat the 2 servings for one meal. As I have aged, I have found that 2 serving are too much. If my wife is hiking with me, we share a meal. If not, I split the meal into two packages and only fix 1/2. I use my JetBoil Stove to replace the Mountain House foil package. I heat one cup of water in the Jet Boil, put the Chili Mac in the Jet Boil and seal it. It cooks just like it was in the foil pack.”
Ultimately, we think Mountain House is a staple, no matter what your goals on the trail. Of the 10 meals we sampled, we are certain that there is a Mountain House for everybody.
Dig in, campers, and happy hiking!