Monday, April 20, 2015

TRAIL MEALS: Mass Review of Freeze Dried Bag Meals

Rather than trickle these out one article at a time, and thus inflate my post count, I thought I'd do a more comprehensive writeup. I've been testing a bunch of these, left and right, in the field, on a train, or just when I'm too lazy to do something more involved. I really love the concept. Freeze Dried meals in a bag have an appeal to me I can't quite explain. Not only am I fond of them for their intended purpose on the backpacking trail, but I also think they work great for eating like a king aboard an amtrak train. You can get water hot enough to prepare them from the cafe car, and they beat the heck out of the $5 microwaved hotdogs. And when you're on the trail, not having to do dishes is an excellent thing.

Highest ranked in my esteem are the following meals. From Mountain House, their Beef Stroganoff, Lasagna, Chili Mac, Chicken With Noodles, Sweet and Sour Pork, and finally Apple Crisp. From Backpacker's Pantry, their Creme Brulee, Cheesecake, and Dark Chocolate Cheesecake. And Alpine Aire's Bananas Foster. This group are the meals that I spend all day anticipating, just waiting for it to be mealtime. Great candidates for your end-of-day meal so you've got a reward waiting for you at the end of your hike.

Next highest, what I'd rank as "Good" are the Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki (included here if you add a more flavorful teriyaki sauce. a little more lackluster if unmodified) Spaghetti (it really begs for garlic bread, my thought is to pick up some croutons and mini packets of parmesan cheese to enhance it. as a bonus these would go well with the lasagna too), Chicken and Rice, the Granola and Blueberries cereal and their Freeze-dried icecreams. I rank the icecream lower because it's difficult to eat without having it crumble apart, the granola and blueberries was good but just didn't seem deserving of the highest praise, and the Chicken Teriyaki and Spaghetti really beg for modifications to make them shine. The Chicken and Rice is tasty but could stand larger chunks of chicken. Flavor-wise it really reminds me of lipton instant soup.

I'd consider the Mountain House beef stew to be squarely middle of the road. I don't know that you could make a better beef stew but there's just something weird about the way the freeze dry process or perhaps the rehydration process effects the potatoes. They come out kinda... springy. And the uniform size of everything makes for some unsatisfying meat bits. Some manner of stronger beef taste, perhaps adding a boullion cube, maybe some dehydrated onion or some sort of gravy mix might improve the rating of this, but with so many better options I can't see why you'd go out of your way to make this better. Likewise, while I'm a pretty big fan of Macaroni and Cheese, their Mac and Cheese meal was rather... lacking. It was far better than say, EZ Mac, but fell far short of just about any other instance of mac and cheese I've ever had.

Difficult to consume were both of the Backpacker's Pantry entrees I've had, the Kung Pao Chicken and one of their asian noodle bowls. I probably ought to give something more staid like their beef stew or stroganoff a shot before I condemn their entrees entirely, but I find it difficult to work up any excitement for such prospects. I can see what they were trying for, and I think they just have too lofty gourmet goals in mind for their trail meals. They stretch beyond what magic a bit of boiling water is easily able to impart, and the end product just winds up unenjoyable. I suppose out on the trail, with a hunger kindled by a day of walking, I'd be better able to tackle one of these but even as I sit here, I find myself dreading the prospect.

If you'd like to try any of these, check your local suppliers or hop on REI's website. If you try something I haven't listed here, and there's plenty I haven't had yet, I welcome your recommendations.

Boiling water for some Mountain House at Hartman Creek

Dinner at Flint Ridge, near the Klamath River, CA:

Mac & Cheese (biolite in the background) at Van Buren SP:

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