We test four popular Pad Thai backpacking meals to crown one the winner of our Official Pad Thai Roundup.
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It’s a little spicy, a little sweet, and a little sour. Rice noodles are stir-fried with aromatics, scrambled egg, peanuts, and bean sprouts and garnished with lime and cilantro. Of course, I’m talking about Pad Thai, a dish that is ubiquitous with South East Asian cuisine. However, a person doesn’t need travel all the way to Thailand to enjoy this dish. A number of brands create trail-ready dehydrated or freeze-dried versions that can be enjoyed right on the trail. Over the course of the last few months we have been busy field testing four popular Pad Thai backpacking meals to crown one the winner of our Official Pad Thai Roundup.
Our sample set included the four most common and readily available Pad Thais on the market. These can usually be found on the shelves of your local outfitter, REI, or, ahem, at the big box stores. They are also widely available from most online outdoor retailers.
- Mountain House Pad Thai with Chicken
- Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai with Chicken
- Good To-Go Pad Thai
- Alpine Aire Grilled Chicken Pad Thai
How We tested
Like all of the backpacking food tested on Hikefull, we enjoyed these meals on the trail during real outings in the Rockies and the Appalachian mountains. We sampled these meals as they are intended to be enjoyed, under beautiful blue skies in scenic locations after a day of hiking or adventuring. We sampled heaping bites of Pad Thai off of the end of real sporks and long-handled spoons. In many cases, we spent the night laying awake in our tent, contemplating the meaning of life and the complexities of the Thai-inspired food we consumed. Without further ado, here are the results of our Pad Thai roundup:
Mountain House Pad Thai with Chicken
Serving Size: 55g
Serving Per bag: 2
Calories Per Bag: 490
Fat/Carbs/Protein Per Bag: 14/70/20 (g)
Mountain House boasts that their Pad Thai with Chicken is “better than takeout!”. This is a bold statement for a freeze-dried backpacking meal but we couldn’t agree more. The Mountain House Pad Thai achieves what amounts to magic – an unsuspecting bag of freeze-dried ingredients that transforms into what could pass for delicious restaurant quality Pad Thai. Tada!
Flavored with authentic ingredients such as oyster sauce, tamari, tamarind, sambal oelek, and more, this meal achieves that perfect balance sweet, sour, salty, and spicy that Pad Thai is known for. When prepared as instructed, the ingredients rehydrate perfectly, with generous and tender chunks of chicken and peppers that retain their snap. Most importantly, the noodles hold up well.
As stated by one of our testers, this is a “happiness inducing meal” on the trail. It’s also that rare backpacking meal you could happily eat at home. The Mountain House Pad Thai with Chicken scores high for taste and authenticity and is our clear choice for the best Pad Thai backpacking meal.
Backpackers Pantry Pad Thai with Chicken
Serving Size: 95g
Serving Per bag: 2
Calories Per Bag: 820
Fat/Carbs/Protein Per Bag: 34/99/41 (g)
Coming in at a close second is Backpackers Pantry Pad Thai with Chicken. With a colorful blend of peppers and herbs, along with not one but two accessory bags of peanuts, this meal looks and tastes festive. The combination of crunchy dried peanuts and smooth peanut butter not only add caloric density after a long day of hiking, but creates a dynamic texture. While there is certainly a lot of peanut flavor going on, it’s balanced by a harmony of other flavors, namely a hearty and zesty sauce. Crystalized lime and vinegar add a brightness to the dish, while sriracha powder adds a bold level of spice. Not only does this taste great, you get a high calorie-to-dollar ratio here, making this an incredibly filling meal or one that’s easy to share. Overall, it’s satisfying, filling, and delicious. For all of these reasons, this is a great value and easily a top contender for the best Pad Thai we tested.
Good To-Go Pad Thai
Serving Size: 114g
Serving Per bag: 1
Calories Per Bag: 460
Fat/Carbs/Protein Per Bag: 12/74/17 (g)
We love Good To-Go meals for their wholesome ingredients and chef-inspired flavors. However, we found the flavor of their Pad Thai to be a little on the tame side. While we were anticipating Pad Thai’s signature complexity, the flavors here were more subdued, offering only a subtle sweetness and a mild spice. Texture-wise, the noodles may have had the best texture of all the meals we sampled; however, the veggies weren’t really discernable from the rest of the sauce, except for the bountiful (maybe too much?) amount of carrots. While there is a semblance of Pad Thai by virtue of rice noodles, peanuts, and an Asian sauce, it’s all merely suggestive. Overall, this dish is completely adequate but not our favorite Good To-Go offering or, in our opinion, the best Pad Thai you can take into the backcountry.
Alpine Aire Grilled Chicken Pad Thai
Serving Size: 168g
Serving Per bag: 1
Calories Per Bag: 640
Fat/Carbs/Protein Per Bag: 10/110/30 (g)
While the Good To-Go Pad Thai was a little tame, the Alpine Aire Pad Thai treads boldly in the opposite direction. As stated in our full review, “the intensity seems to blow-out my taste buds to the point where this dish actually tastes like nothing at all”. Ingredients wise, there is a lot going on here, but not in a favorable way. Between the shallot, garlic, ginger, onion, and cilantro, nothing seems to stand out. Instead, it all amounts to a salty muddled taste. Amongst our testers, the verdict was mixed on this one. While one of our testers concluded this may be a satisfying trail meal, it doesn’t taste like Pad Thai. Another tester was less favorable, vowing to leave this one on the shelf. If it’s Pad Thai that you crave on the trail, you would be best considering another option.