Would You Eat 37-year-old Beef Stew?

Would You Eat 37-year-old Beef Stew?

For many backpackers, freeze-dried meals are a go-to during multi-day trips. When you’re active and constantly burning calories on the trail, the ease of just adding water to your food, or maybe not adding anything at all can be quite convenient… but we all know convenience comes at a price. 

Is that sacrificing price coming from your wallet, or are you costing yourself the questionable nutritional value you get from the food itself? I mean, how on earth can something that has “up to” a 30-year shelf life be something you want to put in your body? Let’s find out! 


Lyophilization, or freeze-drying, is “one of the best ways to preserve foods,” according to Diane Barrett, a food science and technology professor at UC-Davis. Think of it like a time machine. When you freeze and dehydrate the food, it remains the same until rehydration. However, certain nutrients like vitamins C and E, and folic acid are heavily depleted during the process, according to Gary Stoner from the Medical College of Wisconsin, so keep that in mind when planning out meals. 

When participating in low-intensity, long-term activities like thru-hiking, it’s important to use a slow-burn fuel like fat, according to Dietician and writer of ChargeTheTrail.com Claudia Carberry. She says that when your body isn’t relying on carbs for energy, it will cause your body to shift and burn fats instead. So, when planning your trip, think about how many average calories you might burn and pack accordingly. Some other high-fat foods include avocados, almonds, olive oil, whole eggs, and cheese. 


Just like many things, the brand can be a determining factor when it comes to quality. But how do we define quality? Taste? Effectiveness? Value? Thankfully, GearHunt.com provides pretty straight-forward pros and cons to top brands in their article 10 Best Freeze Dried Foods Review. They reference foods like freeze-dried Pad Thai, dehydrated veggie soup, and even some reviews on different military-grade emergency rations.

So, what’s the difference between a basic freeze-dried meal, MRE’s (Meal, Ready-to-eat), and emergency rations? Essentially, basic freeze-dried meals require rehydration to eat, MRE’s have no prep time, and emergency rations are pretty much granola bars jam-packed with loads of calories and nutrients.   

For me, taste and texture is a huge factor in gauging quality when eating anything, but especially freeze-dried meals. Surprisingly, some are more flavorful than you’d think. Gear Hunt said the Chili Mac with Beef from Mountain House not only has a 30-year shelf-life but “heads up their list for rich ingredients and a spicy kick.” I can get down with some spice… but wait… did you say THIRTY years?!? 


Differences in the storable life of a freeze-dried meal depend a lot on the temperature the food is kept at. The colder the product is kept the better, though fluctuations in temperature can strongly affect its shelf-life, according to foodassets.com. This is important to remember if you’re stockpiling rations in your home for emergencies or when storing them in a trailer or boat. They provide this helpful guide in their article Shelf Life of Freeze-Dried and Dehydrated Food.

The “recommended” shelf-life of most freeze-dried foods can be stretched a bit, though I’d suggest not trying to push it. Although you could be like Tim Hemmingway from Food Assurance and eat a 37-year-old package of freeze-dried beef stew just to prove a point, that’s all you, dude. I’ll stick to the manufacturer's guidelines.

So does that mean it’s okay to eat a meal that’s been on the shelf for 30-40 years? Essentially, yes. Because of the preservation process, it’s like the food never had a chance to go bad. As long as the food maintains a consistent temperature, you’re good to go.

Dietary Concerns 

Previously, freeze-dried meals were loaded with sodium and there was little variety between meals. These days, your titanium sporks have never had it so good. As the trend of freeze-dried food has risen and we’ve begun to move from military rations to near gourmet meals, more brands have started addressing the dietary concerns around freeze-dried food. 

Alpine Aire has some vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, like Pasta Roma, Forever Young Mac and Cheese, and Mountain Chili. Jeremy Rowland, from Sierra Madre, specifically favors the Pad Thai and Veggie Burrito Bowl but also says you can’t go wrong with the freeze-dried mashed potato flakes you can find at most grocery stores.

Personally, after comparing a few meals from Mountain House, I was extremely impressed by their Sweet n Sour Pork. The meat was chopped up enough to where I wasn't spending time trying to chew tough pieces of meat. The flavor was spot on with the deliciously juicy pineapples. 


You can easily burn around 5,000 calories on a good, 15-20 mile day (okay, for the exact science, plug-in OutsideOnline’s calorie calculator). So, what happens when you’re thru-hiking and don’t have quick access to freeze-dried food, but need to get your calories?? After asking a few thru-hikers their favorite alternatives, I compiled a list of their suggestions, and I must say, some are better than others.  

  • Ramen Noodles 

  • Snickers 

  • Protein bars

  • Peanut butter 

  • Oatmeal

  • Nuts

  • Seaweed

  • Butter 

  • Cheese 

HOLD UP… did you just say butter? YES. Apparently desperate times call for desperate measures, but surprising the high-fat content of butter can be helpful for long-distance trips. No, I’m not telling you to eat butter, I’m just the messenger here, people. Although, some people suggest adding butter to your coffee in the morning, but again, that’s something you’ll have to try for yourself. 

Freeze-Dry till I die... 

So, whether you’re an astronaut heading to the moon, a prepper stocking their bunker, or just a multi-day hiker looking for a way to maintain your calorie intake, freeze-dried meals can be the difference between an energy-filled hike and a slug-feeling day. Just remember to maintain a happy balance between your fats, proteins, and carbs, and you’ll be a happy camper :) 

If you’re like us, you’ve probably had experience with not being able to reach that last bit of food from the bottom of your freeze-dry bag. Because of this, we created one product that can not only get you those last few bites but has 6 other uses (including beer can opener and flathead screwdriver)

Click Here to Learn More about the 7-in-1 Spork Chop!

1 comment

Lewis William Whitener

Lewis William Whitener

Great blog. I look forward to reading more.

Great blog. I look forward to reading more.

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