Bikepacking-friendly Camping Meals in Compostable Packaging
In our ongoing effort to curb the use of single-serving plastics, we took a deep dive into what “biodegradable” packaging really means and gathered dozens of bikepacking-friendly snacks and dehydrated camping meals that come in compostable packaging and put them to the test. Find our reviews and a roundup of options here…
By Virginia Krabill & Logan Watts
Over the years, we’ve reviewed a number of pre-packaged camping meals. We’ve also discussed the value of making your own food for the trails and at camp (see Ways to Save Money on Bikepacking Food). Generally speaking, we feel that a DIY approach to mealtime is best. That’s not necessarily because our own recipes are more flavorful or nutrient-dense than those offered by professionals. They rarely are. The bigger issue for us is the environmental impact of the wasteful, single-use plastics in which most dehydrated camping meals are packaged.
Fortunately, there are several small businesses that are bringing greener options to the table with camping meals in compostable packaging or pouches designed to decompose in a far shorter timeframe than conventional plastics. We’re excited to see that progress is being made on this front, and we’ve rounded up samples from six different producers and put them to the test. We’ve also dug into a little research on “green” packaging, so we can all be a bit clearer on what it is and hopefully make more conscientious decisions in the future.
Types of Packaging: What’s in a Label?
Going “green” sells products, and companies know it. Unfortunately, that means that many businesses use greenwashing techniques that make it harder for consumers to differentiate between truly eco-friendly products and those that aren’t. In terms of packaging, phrases like environmentally friendly, biobased, and degradable are thrown around quite a bit, but they don’t actually tell consumers anything about the environmental impact of a product. So, what do these different terms actually mean?
For starters, as is the case with another often used greenwashing term, “all-natural”, the word “biodegradable” is entirely unregulated. Almost everything will eventually degrade, even conventional plastics, though the process can take thousands of years. Biodegradable doesn’t mean a material is compostable or recyclable. Unless otherwise specified, anything labeled biodegradable should be disposed of in the trash or landfill. Read through each of the packaging types below and learn about the labeling.
Some biobased plastics are recyclable, but they require different processing than conventional plastics, so most municipalities, at least in the US, don’t accept them. Unfortunately, well-meaning consumers often toss these products into recycling bins, which unintentionally results in the contamination of large volumes of otherwise recyclable plastics.
“Home compostable” Packaging
In the United States, there’s no regulatory standard for home compostable plastics. Some US-based companies follow the standards developed by other countries and use packaging that has been certified by TUV Austria. Others use packaging that has not been certified home-compostable, but do have it third-party tested and/or conduct their own field testing. We’ve found that most of the companies in this roundup are happy to answer questions about their packaging, including their home compostability testing and standards. Just send them an email.
Omnidegradable® bags are the newest of the plastic packaging options that we’ve encountered. According to TekPak, the Canadian company that manufactures the bags, they’ve treated plastic with an organic film that reacts with microbes to create an enzyme that breaks the long-chain molecules in plastic into pieces small enough for environmental microbes to completely consume. Per TekPak, the microbes can then revert the plastics to their “original elements” of water, CO2, and a small amount of organic biomass.3 These plastics don’t require water, sunlight, or oxygen to degrade. They only require microbes, even those found in anaerobic environments like landfills. This packaging sounds a little too good to be true, especially if it can be made from non-virgin plastics, but TekPak reports that their products and the science behind them are supported by independent laboratory testing.
List of Camping Meals in Compostable Packaging
Each of the companies that we’ve included in this roundup use either industrially compostable, home compostable, or Omnidegradable packaging for their meals and snacks. Many have shown an additional commitment to the environment by using organic and locally-sourced ingredients, and most offer vegetarian and vegan options. For the environmentally conscientious—especially those with access to commercial composting facilities—these are great selling points. For the food lovers in all of us, many of these small companies also offer really great tasting food.
Read on for the list, plus find a couple of trail snack makers using responsible packaging at the end of the article.
Ever Green Adventure Foods
Home Compostable Meal Pouches
Made in Georgia (USA)
Ever Green Adventure Foods is a small family business based in Peachtree, Georgia. Their meals are all 100% plant-based with several gluten-free options. The ingredients used are organic and locally sourced whenever possible. The company donates a portion of its profits every year to organizations that support Public Lands and trail conservancy.
Packaging Type: Certified industrially compostable and third-party verified for home compostability. To see all that goes into their meal and shipment packaging, check out how they #GiveaShit here.
Meals Available: Bella Pasta (regular and gluten-free), Chili Mac (regular and gluten free), Lentil Stew (organic and naturally gluten-free)
Our Favorite Meal: Our favorite of Ever Green Adventure Food’s meals was the Bella Pasta, which contains the following: penne pasta, mushrooms, shallots, brown rice flour, lemon juice, tahini, vegetable stock, salt, pear juice concentrate, cane sugar, carrot juice concentrate, sunflower oil, onion powder, natural flavors, mushroom powder, nutritional yeast, olive oil, rosemary, black pepper.
Like their other meals, Bella Pasta is a very filling and robust option. Typically, a two-serving package makes a single meal for a hungry bikepacker after a day in the saddle, but we found these meals to be plenty enough for two moderately hungry individuals.
As for flavor, Ever Green’s meals weren’t our favorite of the bunch. Overall we found them a little bland, although they are indeed hearty. If you were to add some seasoning or fresh veg, they can easily be brightened up a bit.
- Our Favorite Meal: Bella Pasta
- Suggested Servings per Package: 2
- Weight: 170 grams (6oz)
- Nutritional Values: 680 calories, 24g protein, 1.36g sodium, 20g fat, 104g carbs, 6g sugars
- Price: $12 USD
- Place of Manufacture: USA
- Manufacturer’s Details: Ever Green Adventure Foods
- Currently Shipping To: US and Canada
Fernweh Food Company
Made in Oregon (USA)
Fernweh Food Company’s founder, Ashley Lance, started making her own meals for camping and bikepacking in 2015. From there, she’s grown her operation from a small side project to a successful business that’s focused on making packaged meals for conscientious consumers. All of the meal options are vegan and gluten-free. Ingredients are also organic and locally-sourced “whenever possible.”
Packaging Type: Fernweh Food Company uses Omnidegradable® packaging for their single-serving meals and compostable* bags for their bulk, five-serving options. The compostable bags are not intended for in-the-bag rehydration or cooking. Alternative means, such as a separate cooking pot, should be used.
Meals Available: Southwest Stew, Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl, Red Beans, Greens, and Coconut Rice, Green Tamale Pie, Mushroom Pot Pie, and Morning Glory Bowl. There are also desert and snack options: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble and Apple Ginger Crisps.
Our Favorite Meal: It’s hard to choose one favorite from the Fernweh lineup, as each one we’ve tried has been outstanding and entirely unique, with satisfying textural elements that many dehydrated meals lack. So, we picked two. The Green Tamale Pie was our first pick. Ingredients include water, tomatillos, mushrooms, green peppers, red peppers, onions, poblano peppers, zucchini, corn, pinto beans, jalapeños, pumpkin seeds, spinach, lime juice, coconut milk, almond flour, cornmeal, cilantro, garlic, coconut oil, olive oil, chia seeds, salt, baking powder, cumin, lemon juice, coconut sugar, kosher salt, baking soda, and oregano.
Not only does it pack a lot of calories and protein into a small package, but it’s also absolutely delicious. Somehow, the flavor is more than the sum of that already impressive ingredients list. The roasted poblano comes through and the tangy jalapeño tomatillo sauce nicely complements a hearty veg combo of pinto beans, zucchini, and mushrooms. And the cornbread pieces are an excellent addition to thicken it up. This might just be one of our favorite camping meals of all time.
Mushroom Pot Pie is our other pick. Ingredients include organic vegetable broth, yellow potatoes, cremini mushrooms, coconut milk, yellow onion, carrot, peas, celery, coconut oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, kosher salt, rosemary, salt, sage, thyme, black pepper, paprika, onion powder, cayenne, red pepper flake, potato starch, almond flour, coconut milk, coconut oil, baking powder, salt, arrowroot, and nutritional yeast.
The Mushroom Pot Pie offers rich, hearty flavors with a herbaceous coconut sauce, hints of garlic, thyme, and shallots, and gluten-free dumplings. We described its flavor as “beef pot pie meets Thanksgiving stuffing.” Like the Green Tamale Pie, it’s truly excellent, not even just by dehydrated standards. Unfortunately, these gourmet meals are rather expensive.
- Our Favorite Meal: Green Tamale Pie
- Suggested Servings per Package: 1
- Weight: 128 grams (4.5oz)
- Nutritional Values: 630 calories, 25g protein, 1.32g sodium, 25g fat, 83g carbs, 22g sugars
- Price: $15.50 USD
- Place of Manufacture: Oregon, USA
- Manufacturer’s Details: FernwehFoodCo.com
- Currently Shipping To: US
Home Compostable Packaging (Eco)
Made in England
Firepot Foods focuses on making delicious, slow-cooked meals with healthy ingredients, most of which are procured from local sources. The ingredients in the meals are cooked as they would be at home versus being made with individual freeze-dried ingredients, a factor the company says really sets them apart from much of the competition. Firepot offers six vegan and five gluten-free options. None of their meals contain palm oil.
Packaging Type: Two options exist in terms of packaging, a conventional plastic and mixed-material pouch for wet weather conditions and rehydrating meals in the bag, and an “eco” pouch that’s certified industrial and home compostable. The compostable bags aren’t intended for meal rehydration. The meals must be prepared in a separate cook pot or pan. The company says it hopes, in time, “to develop a fully compostable range of meals that can also be cooked conveniently in the packet.”
Firepot Foods meals all come in their regular, single-serving size packs as well as an extra-large size (160-200g dry weight). For “particularly weight-sensitive expeditions” or group cooking, the company also offers multi-portion bags.
Meals Available: There are 14 options in all, including Posh Pork and Beans, Dal and Rice with Spinach, Chili Con (and Non) Carne and Rice, Chicken Keema Curry, Porcini Mushroom Risotto, Vegan Orzo Bolognese, Barbecued Pulled Pork, and Baked Apple Porridge.
Our Favorite Meal: With a relatively simple ingredient list—risotto rice, chestnut mushrooms, onion, celery, olive oil, lemon juice, dried porcini mushrooms, mushroom stock, parsley, salt, and pepper—Firepot Foods’ Porcini Mushroom Risotto is truly delicious. And that’s despite the omission of the wine and parmesan cheese that one typically finds in risotto. The mushrooms lend an intense umami flavor that is balanced nicely by the bright lemon, and the texture is remarkably close to what home-cooked risotto should be. It’s obvious that the meal was cooked slowly, a must when it comes to getting the most complex flavors out of food. The single pouch makes a very hefty portion for one person and can easily serve two as a smaller meal or side dish.
- Our Favorite Meal: Porcini Mushroom Risotto
- Suggested Servings per Package: 1
- Weight: 135 grams (4.76oz)
- Nutritional Values: 560 calories, 11.5g protein, 1.5g sodium, 8.6g fat, 108.1g carbs, 3.7g sugars
- Price: £7.45
- Place of Manufacture: England
- Manufacturer’s Details: FirepotFood.com
- Currently Shipping To: Worldwide (see note above)
Off The Path Provisions
Home Compostable Packaging
Made in Ontario (Canada)
Off the Path Provisions, formerly Backcountry Wok, is a Canadian company committed to “inspiring sustainable, nutritious and inclusive adventures.” The ingredients used in their meals are all sourced from Canadian producers in-season. Many of the ingredients are also organic, and all of their meals are vegan. A portion of the company’s profits helps fund outdoor education and sustainability programs for youth.
Packaging Type: Certified for industrial* and home composting*, made from kraft paper and a corn-based (polylactic acid) lining. For some great tips on composting at home, check out their blog post here.
Meals Available: Thai Green Curry with Rice, Bibimbap: Korean Style Fried Rice, and The Original Fried Rice
Our Favorite Meal: Off the Path Provision’s Bibimbap may not taste exactly like it does at your favorite Korean restaurant, but it feels a whole lot healthier than its namesake. It has a fresh and wholesome taste if you’re into that sort of thing. With lots of carrots and spinach, this bibimbap offers nutrients that other packaged meals often lack.
The pouch is an ample size for an individual, but to create the suggested two servings, we think the addition of a couple of eggs, some beans, or added oil would be needed. Similarly, we found the flavor was a little on the bland side and could use some additional hot sauce or seasonings to amp it up a bit.
Ingredients: white rice, carrots, potatoes, textured vegetable protein (defatted soy flour), red peppers, spinach, garlic, onions, shallots, corn syrup, red pepper powder, cooking rice wine, soybeans, glutinous rice, salt, rice flour, koji
- Our Favorite Meal: Bibimbap: Korean Style Fried Rice
- Suggested Servings per Package: 2
- Weight: 166 grams (5.9oz)
- Nutritional Values: 550 calories, 22g protein, 520mg sodium, 1.5g fat, 119g carbs, 24g sugars
- Price: $13.49 CAD
- Place of Manufacture: Ontario, Canada
- Manufacturer’s Details: OffThePathProvisions.com
- Currently Shipping To: US and Canada
Made in North Carolina (USA)
Pinnacle Foods is a family-owned business that makes small-batch gourmet meals without added preservatives or fillers. The meals are freeze-dried at a low heat, which helps preserve the nutrients of the ingredients. Fresh herbs are featured in the meals, and the company offers one vegan option.
Packaging Type: Omnidegradable® or Retort bags, which are non-compostable.
Meals Available: Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuits and Herbed Sausage Gravy, Creamy Tuscan Chicken with Penne Pasta, Sticky-Teriyaki Chicken with Garlic Asparagus and Coconut Rice, Chipotle Beef Burrito Bowl with Corn and Cilantro Lime Rice, Herb Roasted Chicken and White Cheddar Dumplings, and Thai Peanut Curry with Roasted Vegetables and Rice Noodles
Our Favorite Meal: We tried several Pinnacle Foods meals, including the Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuits and Herbed Sausage Gravy, Sticky Teriyaki Chicken, and Thai Peanut Curry. They’re all really good, more than their rather utilitarian packaging might suggest. Pinnacle Foods Herb Roasted Chicken and White Cheddar Dumplings was probably the favorite. It’s the quintessential comfort food akin to chicken pot pie, but instead of a pie crust, there are hearty chunks of buttery biscuits mixed into the chicken stew. It’s rich and flavorful without being overwhelmingly herby. With 710 calories and 47 grams of protein, the meal seems like it should be more than ample for one individual. That said, it’s so tasty that folks might not be willing to share. Despite it having a fair share of sodium, we found that it still needed a little salt to taste.
- Our Favorite Meal: Herb Roasted Chicken and White Cheddar Dumplings
- Suggested Servings per Package: 1
- Weight: 122 grams (4.3oz)
- Nutritional Values: 710 calories, 47g protein, 1.26g sodium, 33g fat, 55g carbs, 15g sugars
- Price: $13.99 USD
- Place of Manufacture: North Carolina, USA
- Manufacturer’s Details: PinnacleFoods.co
- Currently Shipping To: US and Canada
Made in Montana (USA)
Sasquatch Fuels was founded by father and son, Andrew and Sanford Schroeder, in an effort to find solutions to two problems Andrew says they repeatedly encountered throughout their years of adventuring in the backcountry together: packaging litter and (packaged) food “that bogged us down with unhealthy ingredients, preservatives, and bad taste.” The search for a sustainable packaging solution ultimately led Andrew to work with TekPak in the creation of the Omnidegradable® bags that his and several other companies are using for their meals. As if that wasn’t contribution enough, Sasquatch Fuels donates more than 1% of their total revenue to conservation organizations and volunteers 1% of their time performing backcountry cleanup. Sasquatch Fuels has a lot of meal options to choose from, two of which are vegan. Meals are sold individually or as mixed variety packs
Packaging Type: Omnidegradable®
Meals Available: White Cheddar Mac N Cheese, Beef and Bean Chili, Southwest Mac N Cheese, Cuban Rice & Beans, Beef Stroganoff, Spaghetti and Meat Sauce, and Kickin’ Cactus Bowl, Strawberry Banana, Blueberry, and Cocoa Chia with Banana granolas
Our Favorite Meal: We didn’t get to try Sasquatch’s full lineup, but all of the ones we sampled were very good. We really liked the Southwest Mac N Cheese, but our favorite was the Kickin’ Cactus Bowl. This gluten-free and vegan meal is a winner. The flavors are earthy and complex. The warmth of the allspice, coriander, cloves, and cumin are balanced nicely with the acidity of tomato and lime. The suggested serving size is one. However, while riding the Baja Divide, we found that the meal stretched to two solid portions with the addition of tortillas, avocado, and a little cheese, all of which were readily available in most markets. The cheese and avocado also amped up the fat content, which made it even more satiating.
Ingredients: white rice, black beans, sweet corn, tomato, nopal cactus, red bell pepper, lime, chili pepper, allspice, coriander, cumin, oregano, cloves, garlic, cilantro, green bell peppers (crushed), onion, salt
- Our Favorite Meal: Kickin’ Cactus Bowl
- Suggested Servings per Package: 1
- Weight: 120 grams (4.3oz)
- Nutritional Values: 409 calories, 13g protein, 97mg sodium, 1.3g fat, 89g carbs, 9g sugars
- Price: $12.99 USD (% of price donated to Arizona Trail Association)
- Place of Manufacture: Montana, USA
- Manufacturer’s Details: SasquatchFuel.com
- Currently Shipping To: USA
Trail Snacks in Compostable Packaging
Outdoor Provisions has a great line of energy bars and nut butters that all come in certified home compostable, plastic-free packaging. All of their snacks are plant-based and made without refined sugars or palm oil. The Coffee, Almond, and Cashew nut butter is one of our favorites. It’s a great breakfast option with the simple addition of a slice of bread or tortilla. Based in northern England, Outdoor Provisions, ships their nut butters and energy bars throughout Europe. The Cocoa & Mint bar is another tasty option that we enjoyed.
Energy Bar flavors: Cherry Bakewell, Cocoa & Mint, Orange & Tea, Date & Ginger
Nut Butter flavors: Coffee, Almond, Cashew or Almond, Date, Sea Salt, or Hazelnut & Cacao, or Peanut, Almond, and Raspberry
The snacks are sold individually or in mixed multi-packs. They’re priced at £1.90 each, packs of 8 bars or nut butters for £14.00, or packs of 16 for £27.00. Discounted subscription service also available. Details at OutdoorProvisions.com.
Sun and Swell
Over 75% of the products sold by Sun and Swell Foods are sold in 100% compostable* packaging. Commercial composting is recommended for expediency, but the company reports that all packaging is also approved for home composting. The company sells a wide variety of bulk items and pantry staples, including dried fruits, grains, legumes, and spices in addition to their snack options, all of which are organic, vegan, gluten- and soy-free. Items are shipped from Ventura, California, to any location within the US. Our favorite snacks are the Apple Pie Bites. The cinnamon and apple flavors are reminiscent of pie, while the texture is that of a more conventional energy bar, but in a bite-sized format.
Snack options: Apple Pie Bites, Oatmeal Cacao Chip Bites, Fudge Brownie Bites, Roasted and Salted Trail Mix (nuts and seeds), West Coast Blend Trail Mix (dried fruits and nuts), and Organic Pumpkin Seeds
Bites are $14 USD for a 14oz bag, Trail mix and seeds range from $11.70 to $15 USD for a 16oz bag. Discounted subscription service also available. Details at SunAndSwellFoods.com.
We’ll always be proponents of preparing and eating “real” food on the trail, but we know that some trips might dictate less-involved meals and that whole fruits and vegetables can’t always make it onto everyone’s pack list. Pre-packaged meals usually save space in our packs and their convenience is hard to beat. Unfortunately, most pre-packaged meals and convenience store fares create a lot of nasty waste. That’s why we’re happy to see these small companies take the lead in creating more sustainable options. Although most of the packaging they’re using still relies on plastics, with a little effort, they can be disposed of in a responsible manner. What’s more, many of the meals showcased above taste great and are made from ingredients we felt good about eating. So, if you’re in the market for pre-packaged meals for a particular trip, consider supporting these small businesses.
Please remember to Leave No Trace. Do not leave packages at camp or on the trail. If you pass a composting facility that accepts bags en route to your next destination, that’s great. Please do not bury them. The only packaging that’s compostable when buried is the Omnidegradable® packaging. If you would like to bury it, please do so on your own property. Also, please do not place any of these packages or packets into recycling bins.
*Where notated, statements regarding the compostability of a company’s packaging were self-reported. Certification of compostability standards could not be verified by the authors. To confirm specified compostability standards, please contact each company directly or refer to their packaging manufacturers’ websites when possible.
If we missed any trail-friendly snacks or camping meals in compostable packaging, let us know in the conversation below.
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