As we all collectively panic about Covid-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus), dehydrated meals are selling out in stores and online.
As a reviewer on WIRED’s Gear team, I’ve eaten a metric ton of dehydrated food on camping, hiking, climbing, backpacking, and occasionally paddling trips. They’re great for drastically reducing the weight and volume of my meals when I’m carrying everything on my back for a week, but I strongly prefer real food when I have the choice. So will you.
There’s nothing wrong with stocking up on a few non-perishables at a time like this, but despite what a lot of disaster prep retail sites may tell you, you won’t need a closet full of freeze-dried meals to survive the coronavirus. You should buy food you’ll actually want to eat.
The Problem With Dehydrated Meals
Freeze-dried meals may seem like the right kind of food to stockpile, but they are expensive and unhealthy.
For a pouch that’ll supply you with 300-600 calories, expect to pay around $8. For one that supplies around 800 calories, you’re looking at $13 or so. That’s per meal. You don’t need a calculator to know that adds up fast.
Dehydrated food is also stuffed with salt. A single serving often has 30-40 percent of an entire day’s recommendation level of sodium. But one serving usually isn’t enough to make a meal, so you’ll inevitably eat both servings. In just one meal, you’ve almost hit your daily sodium target.
Salt is added by manufacturers to prolong shelf life and improve taste, but that much sodium in your diet, day after day, is going to raise your blood pressure and make you feel like junk.
I’ll get anecdotal here, but quite a few people I’ve met also tell me the instant meals give them digestive problems. Theoretically, if you add the right amount of hot water and wait the right amount of time, you shouldn’t have problems digesting rehydrated meals, especially near a sea-level altitude. But in practice, some people’s stomachs are sensitive to it. You don’t want to discover you’re in that club if you have nothing else to eat.
Back Up. What Is This Stuff?
There are a few kinds of instant camping meals. All of these can be rough on certain peoples’ stomaches, and I wouldn’t classify any of them particularly healthy. You won’t need food that lasts three years, and certainly not 30, to stock your pantry right now.