Can Camping Food Expire? (Plus Tips for Saving Money)

bag of dehydrated camping and backing meals

You’re planning out your pack list for your next expedition – you’ve got your tent, rainfly, and sleeping bag, and now you’ve got to pack food. You still have some packaged camping food from your last expedition leftover, but is it still good? Does camping food expire?

Freeze-dried camping food has an average shelf life of 5 years. However, some brands rate their camping food as having a shelf life of up to 30 years in unrefrigerated conditions.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at exactly which camping foods have the longest shelf life!

How Long Does Freeze Dried Camping Food Last? 

The expiration of freeze-dried camping foods will vary per the manufacturer, so you’ll need to check the label on the package of any that you have to be 100% certain. However, the average camping or backpacking freeze-dried food has a shelf life of 5 years.

Different brands of freeze-dried foods will have different expiration dates. Some may only last a year or two, while others last up to thirty years!

Here’s a quick look at some popular brands that you’re likely to come across inside an REI or other outdoor store.

BrandShelf Life
Mountain House30 years
Backpacker’s Pantry3 – 10 years
AlpineAire5 years
Peak Refuel5 years
Good To-Go4 years
Heather’s Choice1 year
Ova Easy2.5 years
Patagonia Provisions6 – 16 months
Shelf life for common camping and backpacking foods.

As you can see, brands like Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry have a shelf life that can extend well past 5 years!

If you’ve just had a camping trip last month and have bags leftover, you’re probably alright to use them on your upcoming trip. Although it never hurts to double-check the label!

If your great grandfather offers you the freeze-dried MRE he saved from boot camp, though, you’re probably best to leave it at home. While freeze-dried foods last a longggg time – nothing lasts forever.

Freeze-dried food goes bad for the same reason any other packaged food goes bad. Colonies of bacteria survive and thrive off the sugars and fats inside a package of food. The idea with freeze-dried food is to dehydrate the food so bacteria have no water to help them grow. 

If water seeps into the packaging over time it could lead to the growth of bacteria and spoilage of food.

No matter how tight your packaging is, some bacteria are bound to get in at some point, and rotting will occur. The idea with the expiration date is to find out how long that takes to happen, so consumers don’t eat rotten food. 

Luckily, companies are very good at doing this, no matter how complicated it may sound. Trust the expiration date on your food- don’t risk it. But don’t throw out food that hasn’t gone bad yet. If the date hasn’t passed, and your package hasn’t been open, you’re probably alright to eat. 

However, if you open a package of camping food and notice that it has an unexpected or strange smell – then it may be wise to not eat it if you have other food options available.

Shelf life is an indicator of storage under perfect conditions, so a faulty seal or puncture to the packaging could result in the food going bad sooner than expected.

Good-To-Go freeze dried backpacking meal

Longest Lasting Camping/Backpacking Food

No one food has the “longest” expiration date, but certain foods last much, much longer than others. Foods with short expiration dates will generally be fresh fruits, veggies, and meat. By comparison, canned and dried foods will last you much longer!

In terms of freeze-dried camping foods, Mountain House foods have the longest shelf life. All of their adventure meals that come in buckets and pouches have a shelf life of 30 years, while their ice creams have a shelf life of 3 years.

Interestingly enough, their website shares a few details to clarify that while their foods have a labeled shelf life of 30 years, this isn’t actually an expiration date!

Think of it as more of a “best by” date!

Here’s exactly what they have to say on the topic:

The food doesn’t “go bad” after the shelf life, but the quality will start to diminish. You may notice a slight change in flavor or texture, but we’ve eaten food from both our Adventure Meal™ pouches that were over 30 years old and were still tasty!

MountainHouse.com
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This long of a shelf life effectively ensures that your camping and backpacking food is unlikely to spoil before your nexts trip!

While you could wait 30+ years to find out just how long they’re good for, I truly hope that you don’t go that long between outdoor adventures 😉

Why is Freeze Dried Food So Expensive?

Everything about freeze-dried food is expensive – from the store price all the way down to the manufacturing process. Feeze-dried food gets its price from the extensive preparation it takes to make it last. 

For example, right now you can go to the store and pick up a pound of beef for around $5. Walk two aisles over, though, and you’ll find bags of Jack Links Jerky going for as high as $12!

So, why is Jerky so much more expensive? 

Just like a freeze-dried meal, the preparation process for a bag of beef jerky is long and exhaustive and requires lots of labor. More labor or processing means higher costs. 

Additionally, air-tight packaging takes a lot of preparation and tools to get just right. Mess it up, and you could make food that spoils in a week, which might end up getting your customers sick. 

Thus, companies that make freeze-dried camping food spare no expenses to create foods that will go the distance, lasting for years. All of this precision also drives up costs, which consumers then have to pay for. 

Freeze Dried Food Alternative

If you want to avoid some of these high-priced meals, you can also try making your own camping/backing meals. With a little DIY ingenuity, you can skip out on the costs and still eat well!

Drying your food is an excellent idea if you want a nutritionally diverse set of foods for your trip. While trail mix and ramen are ok, you might get bored and find yourself craving a banana. 

Buying a dehydrator (good option here) is a great investment for campers and hikers, as it can dehydrate any fruits you’d like to take along with you. You can even dehydrate vegetables for something to mix into your ramen for flavor and nutrients!

COSORI Food Dehydrator

Cosori’s Original Food Dehydrator effectively dries fruit, vegetables, meat, and more by circulating hot air. This hot air removes the moisture, bacteria, and fungi in your food, preventing potential health risks and keeping food from getting spoiled. Expandable to 7 trays.

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Jerky is also an excellent camp food since it takes so long to expire and has so many nutrients. There are hundreds of recipes for jerky online, and a simple search for ‘jerky recipes’ will uncover any number of satisfying instructions for drying out your beef. 

Parmesan cheese, too, can be a great source of energy. Cheese is a fatty food, which often drives us away from it in our day-to-day lives. On the trail, though, we use up a lot of energy, which must be replaced somehow. In these cases, fats are extremely valuable. 

If you want a special, homey treat, you might also try bringing along some popcorn. With a pan and some oil, you can make baskets-full of popcorn that will excite and delight your fellow campers. Bring along a little honey to sweeten it up. 

Pasta and white rice are two more spectacular alternatives to freeze-dried camp food. While a bag of Mountain House might be too much for you, you can probably afford some egg noodles. Just look around the store for packaged foods with long expiration dates on them.

Finally, canned food is the old-fashioned way to bring hearty, nutritious food along with you without worry about spoilage. Canned food will last years on the shelf and will last you all the way through even your most extended camping trips.

All in All

All in all, camping food will expire, and different brands will have different expiration dates. Always check the date on your package before consuming freeze-dried food. When in doubt, perform a smell test!

And remember – if prices on camping food are getting you down, there are always ways to circumvent the system and pack healthy, long-lasting food that won’t break the bank.

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