Pouch Wars: The Best Dehydrated Backpacking Pasta

welcome to Cover wars, a monthly taste test of dehydrated hiking meals. We’ve surveyed the market, sampling both big corporate brands and small, artisanal operations in our search for the best. While we certainly take note of caloric value, food weight, and the use of unhealthy colorants and stabilizers, this is primarily a matter of taste. Is it delicious? Does it have a texture? Would you happily eat this rehydrated pouch if you weren’t starving in the backcountry?

This month we’re tackling Italian pasta – no ramen or Strogonoff allowed. Entrees ranged from deconstructed lasagna to chicken pesto, with tomato-based sauces dominating the lineup. A common technique for reducing the cooking time of dehydrated pasta dishes is to use the thinnest noodles possible, broken into small pieces. To that end, pasta that retained its structural integrity was a big plus in our testing, as was sauce consistency and depth of flavor.

Pasta Nostra from Stowaway Gourmet (Photo: courtesy)

First place: Stowaway Gourmet La Pasta Nostra

Rating: 5/5

This tomato-based pasta meal is the new benchmark for all others in the future. For starters, the semolina flour penne offered the perfect al dente bite — not an easy mark for partially cooked, rehydrated pasta. The sauce – a thick tomato reduction cooked with fresh tomatoes, wine, garlic and basil – was incredibly rich and complex. That’s thanks to the addition of anchovy paste (an essential ingredient in many Italian pasta dishes), parmesan and pecorino romano, its saltier cousin. Meaty, cheesy bites of tomato-soaked mushrooms gave this pocket as much punch as a full-fledged Bolognese. This is a dinner that would do for any nonna, let alone a hungry hiker. 570 calories; 4.25 ounces; 10 minutes of cooking

$15; Buy now

Mountain homemade lasagna
Mountain homemade lasagna (Photo: courtesy)

Finalist: Mountain House Lasagna with Meat Sauce

Rating: 4/5

High ratings from an inexpensive dehydrated food brand show that fancy packaging and expensive ingredients aren’t a requirement for a top-notch backpacking meal. The Oregon-based industry giant offers some truly envy-worthy pasta, headlined by lasagna ribbons that nail the texture and mouthfeel of the layered Italian dish. A creamy, meaty tomato sauce simmered with beef and three types of cheese, including gooey mozzarella, was hard not to devour after a long day on the trail. Only downsides? A slight rosemary undertone that doesn’t belong in lasagna and the relatively low fat content, which might not be enough for hikers with high caloric needs. 440 calories; 3.6 ounces; 9 minutes of cooking

$11; Buy now

The rest

Packit Gourmet Puttanesca
Packit Gourmet Puttanesca
(Photo: courtesy)

Packit Gourmet Puttanesca Pasta

Rating: 3.5/5

The great texture of twisted gemelli pasta and a rich tomato marinara kept this entree from one of our favorite dehydrated meal brands in the running, but there were a lot of things against him. First and foremost, it’s not a real meal cooked in a pouch – you have to cook the pasta separately in boiling water before mixing it in the pouch with the rest of the ingredients. The pouch features three separate sub-pockets, making micro-waste an issue. Flavor-wise, this puttanesca missed the mark. Instead of the typical olive and caper sauce, we found heavy, jarring red and green peppers and celery flavoring the mix. To top it off, the sachet contains 25 grams of sugar, which is as much as you’ll find in a Twix bar. 710 calories; 6.8 ounces; 15 minutes of cooking

$12; Buy now

Good to Go Classic Marinara with Pasta
Good to Go Classic Marinara with Pasta (Photo: courtesy)

Good to Go Classic Marinara with Pasta

Rating: 3.5/5

A vegan sun-dried tomato reduction and brown rice pasta alternative will surely appeal to some palettes, but for us the marinara didn’t fire on all cylinders. The brown rice pasta – cut into micro pasta pieces – had an off-putting buckwheat taste that colored the entire pocket while the tomato sauce itself was way too sour. Additional damage? The long cooking time. 430 calories; 3 ounces; 20 minutes of cooking

$15; Buy now

Heather's Choice Mom's Spaghetti with Beef and Marinara Sauce
Heather’s Choice Mom’s Spaghetti with Beef and Marinara Sauce (Photo: courtesy)

Heather’s Choice Mom’s Spaghetti with Beef and Marinara Sauce

Rating 3/5

We had high hopes for Heather’s Choice, which uses grass-fed beef in many of its great meals, including this one. Unfortunately the beef was the only something we tasted in this particular pouch, with a lack of salt and too much acidity. The spaghetti micro-slices were also a disappointment. Note: Heather’s Choice recently posted an updated recipe, which we look forward to trying. 630 calories; 4 oz.; 20 minutes of cooking

$16 | Buy now

Backpacker's Pantry Lasagna
Backpacker’s Pantry Lasagna (Photo: courtesy)

Backpacker’s Pantry Lasagna

Rating: 3/5

This lasagna used glommy tagliatelle noodles rather than its namesake pasta. While we liked the creamy consistency aided by the butter and milk powder infused tomato sauce, the overall flavor was reminiscent of nondescript cafeteria mash – a common refrain in testing Backpacker’s Pantry pouches. 620 calories; 5.5 ounces; 15 minutes of cooking

Coming in 2022 (a previous version is available here.)

Mary Jane’s Farm “Eat Your Veggies” Pasta (Photo: courtesy)

Mary Jane’s Farm “Eat Your Veggies” Pasta

Rating: 3/5

Mark this “primavera” as a bait and switch. It’s really just macaroni and cheese with dehydrated spinach confetti shreds. As with most of the MJ Dehydrated Meals we’ve tried, there’s a definite yummy factor, but at the cost of complexity and substance. 490 calories; 4.1 ounces; 10 minutes of cooking

$7 | Buy now

Trailtopia Pesto Chicken Pasta
Trailtopia Pesto Chicken Pasta (Photo: courtesy)

Trailtopia Pesto Chicken Pasta

Rating: 2.5/5

The spring rotini noodles and large chunks of roast chicken couldn’t quite make up for the shortcomings of our only pesto starter. With the recommended 2 ½ cups of water, this sauce is watery and under-pestoated. 740 calories; 6.9 ounces; 10 minutes of cooking

$10 | Buy now

Penne-Demic Marinara Outdoor Herbivore
Penne-Demic Marinara Outdoor Herbivore (Photo: courtesy)

Penne-Demic Marinara Outdoor Herbivore

Rating: 2.5/5

While we love a good pun, this “marinara” didn’t live up to its name. Whole bites of penne were the only bright spot in a dish with an unsettling Play-Doh flavor, likely due to the addition of lentils and quinoa powder. 600 calories; 5 ounces; 8-10 minutes cooking time

$9 | Buy now