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      Your vote for best commercially available dehydrated meals     

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schweady
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05/24/2017 03:15PM
My wife and I have a lot of experience with camp cooking, but very little of it has dealt with dehydrated options. Most of our experiences have been car camping: meals prepared at home, packaged and frozen, re-heated over the 2-burner Coleman. Or canoe trips with mostly fresh foods cooked over the fire (followed up in the last couple of days with the quick grocery store-bought lightweight meals... Knorr, StoveTop, etc). Oh, we did a bit of experimenting in the 1970s with new-fangled dehydrated items on our trips out west (Frostline kits and Svea 123 cooking, anyone?) but I hear that things may have changed a bit in the past 40 years...

We are jumping into ready-made packaged 'add water and eat' meals with both feet this summer. New this year: an MSR WindBurner 1.8 L stove/skillet system, a BV500, and a recognized need to expand our horizons.

We jump into this with the intention of packing that bear vault with 3 days of provisions for a quick trip through Little Gabbro and beyond with no preconceived notions about today's packaged meals. I am looking for your best of the best out there. Thanks!
 
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05/24/2017 05:30PM
In general I've found I like the offerings from Outdoor Herbivore (OH) and Hawk Vittles (HV). Some things to consider:

Dehydrated vs. freeze-dried. The dehydrated will usually have less bulky packaging, which packs better, and fewer chemical preservatives, but also a shorter shelf life.

Serving sizes vary and everyone's appetite is different. I find some meals' serving sizes a little too small, but the double serving a little too much. Outdoor Herbivore's "hungry single" size is usually in between others' single and double and I find it about right for me, but you and your wife will need to figure out what works for you. Nutrition information, including calorie count, for single and double portions is available on the websites.

Taste is a very personal thing and varies from person to person. There are some from each maker I like and some I don't. Some of the Hawk Vittles meals I like, others aren't so crazy about and vice versa.

I just add boiling water to mine and rehydrate them in a cozy vs. cooking them in the pot. I don't know if that's your plan or not, but if it is, you'll need a cozy obviously. I just eat it out of the bag and have no dishes to clean up. And the food stays warmer longer in the bag in the cozy than it does on a plate or in a bowl (an important thing on a cold Sept. evening).

A couple of other things to note - the HV meals come in a bag you can add boiling water to but they are not resealable; the OH meals come in resealable Ziploc bags, but they are not recommended for adding boiling water. I buy some heavy duty zip lock bags designed for boiling water to transfer them into. You could also make a pot cozy out of reflectix and rehydrate them in the pot, but then you'll have a little more clean up.

You may want to do some experimenting at home to work out details before your trip.

If you are looking for specific meal recommendations and remembering that personal tastes are just that, the following are some specific ones I like:

Breakfast-

OH - Toasted Sunburst Muesli and Maple Blueberry Crunch. Both are eaten cold.

I also like the Jamaican Peanut Porridge from Pack It Gourmet, but I need 2-3 packets for 1 meal. The consistency is more like a thin smoothie than a thick oatmeal.

Dinner-

HV - Cashew Curry and Bacon Baked Beans. I get the gluten free quinoa substitution for couscous on the Cashew Curry, but I like quinoa better anyway and that also makes it suitable for my sister, who has celiac disease.

OH - Blackened Quinoa, Lickety Split Lentils, and Chunky Chipotle Chili. I also like, but not quite as well, the Thai Lemongrass Curry and Lemony Quinoa Tabbouleh. The Lemony Quinoa Tabbouleh, especially, has a strong and distinctive flavor (due I believe to the sumac) that many may not like.

Don't know how interested you are in lunch/snacks, but I usually have a ProBar Meal (the larger size) for lunch and snacks are mostly mixed nuts with a little dried fruit. I like most of the ProBar flavors, especially the PB ones and Chocolate ones.

I also usually take a couple of bags of OH's Cocoa Nutty Chomps.

One other thing related to packing food in the BV - I don't pack the first day's lunch/snacks in the BV, I carry them in my pocket. The next day I do the same at breakfast for that day.



05/24/2017 07:16PM
i'm kinda partial to CAMP CHOW which is made on the Gunflint Trail at Trail Center Lodge and Restaurant. they might have more selections available in the store than on the website. have found that the servings are generous.
my vote is for the beef stroganoff w/wild mushrooms, cheesecake w/berries, chocolate milk, oatmeal, potato soup, fry breads (require cooking)
schweady
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05/24/2017 07:55PM
Wow, thanks. Yeah, dehydrated/freeze dried... an obvious distinction that I didn't make when bringing up the subject. "Lightweight"... how's that?

We tasted some offerings at Midwest Mountaineering's Expo that were good, but do you think I could have written down the names?...

I picture the convenience of meals that allow mixing in the packet as a huge cleanup plus, so want to lean toward ones that make that possible. So, you settle your bag inside a cozy? name brand/DIY? sizes/features? I'm conjuring up images of beer can cozies and teapot cozies... forgive my ignorance

I still plan to try one pancakes and pre-cooked bacon breakfast, if that seems feasible, maybe some kind of eggs one day, hence the skillet added to the system. After all, what's camping without it?

Yup, lunch has always been Clif bars, GORP, nuts and fruit bits, etc although I usually also need to figure out items I can bring as vehicles for scooping peanut butter. A bit on the heavy side, I know.
NotLight
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05/24/2017 08:42PM

It's tough to fit stuff into a bv500. If you cook in freezer bags, it can sometimes be more space efficient to pack your meals in thinner flimsier bags in the bv500, and then dump that bag into a freezer bag for cooking while in camp. The freezer bags are sturdy, and sometimes don't pack down well if full of food.

05/24/2017 08:50PM
Lightweight - The OH "hungry singles" are about 5 oz. net weight and about 600-650 calories. Others vary, but it'll give you all that information on the sites. A lot of the lightweight hikers will talk about it in terms of "calories per ounce". When looked at that way, the nuts and PB are actually very "calorie-dense" (175 calories per ounce), so not heavy on that basis. Also pretty compact on that basis. I usually have about 4 ounces per day. The ProBars are about 3 ounces and about 380 calories. So, I usually have about 2400 calories in 18 ounces - average about 125-130 calories per ounce. How many calories do you guys eat? You and your wife will eat different amounts, but that will give you an idea. I really had no idea in the beginning, which is why I carried several extra pounds in, around, and back out :). A good reason to do a little experimenting at home before. The trick is to be satisfied, but not have leftovers. Leftovers are a pain, but continuing to eat after you're stuffed isn't fun either. I try not to have leftovers and have enough snacks that I can fill it out if needed.

Fats are the moist calorie-dense and oil or butter is sometimes taken to "beef up" the calorie count of meals if needed.

I usually just scoop my PB with a spoon :).

A lot of people seem to like the Camp Chow, but I have no experience with it. Maybe some others will chime in with their favorites. Some people like the Mountain House meals and I used to eat them, but like the others better.

Yeah, the no dishes, no clean up is a big plus to me. Squeeze out the air, zip the empty bag shut, place in Ziploc "garbage bag", put back in BV, wipe spoon clean. You can buy cozies, but they are easy to make out of "Reflectix" bubble wrap and the metal tape for it. Just make it big enough to hold whatever size bag you're using for the meals. They're just like an envelope you slide the bag with food and hot water down in and close the flap to retain heat. I just slide it between the log seating or lean it up against a rock/log while it rehydrates. I've got a bunch of the reflectix bubble wrap envelopes from the pharmacy. If you want me to mail you some for experimentation, just send me an address.

You'll want a cozy for each of you, of course, if you're going to eat out of the bags and not have dishes to clean, which means you can have individualized menus. I'm guessing also that you may eat different amounts . . . ?

A lot of people do the "freezer-bag" meals and/or dehydrate their own meals, put them in freezer bags, and rehydrate in those. I burned one out once with boiling water, so I buy a 5-mil thick bag from Pack-It-Gourmet for extra strength and transfer the meals from OH and HV to those, but most people report no problem with the freezer bags. The HV bags will stand up to boiling water and you can fold the top over after you cut it and close with a clip, but it's a little awkward.

You may want to check out the various maker's websites, see what might interest you, and order some from each to try. You could pick one and your wife could pick one from each maker and that way you could each taste two. You'll also get an idea of the various amounts, packaging, etc. You'll probably want to just go ahead and rehydrate them in the cozies and eat them out of the bags like you plan to out there. Oh, one more suggestion - get a spoon with a long handle ;).


schweady
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05/25/2017 06:35AM
Great info on the cozies, boonie. Why I didn't google this sooner, no idea. Who knew they get upwards of $30 for these fancy insulated envelopes?... I dropped you an email, maybe I can get some ideas on sizes/patterns to use for the different meal pouches.

We're not calorie counters, so we might be all off on our calculations. But we have a couple of non-wilderness outings coming up soon to give a few meals a try. Thanks for the very detailed info.
schweady
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05/25/2017 12:45PM
Trying to keep it simple here, so aiming at brands that allow pouring water directly into the pouch and eating it out of there when ready. Wish that more web sites had prep instructions along with each item to make decisions easier. i.e. lots of Camp Chow items - such as their hash browns - have you reconstitute then fry...

Knowing whether they are resealable is always nice, too, I suppose, for stashing pouches back in the BV500 when finished.

So, any other favorites out there besides Outdoor Herbivore, Hawk Vittles, and Camp Chow? And any other Mountain House reviews, good or bad?
NotLight
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05/25/2017 01:14PM

I like the Mountain house beef stroghanoff, and the breakfast skillet (you serve it in a tortilla... but for the breakfast skillet only add half the water they ask for). I think the online reviews of their different meals are accurate, so just order a couple of the top rated to try. I'm not sure if they sell the "pro packs" still - larger servings, and air sucked out of the pouch so it packs smaller.
HappyHuskies
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05/26/2017 10:48AM
Well, no one absolute favorite. I find I keep going back to Hawk Vittles, Packit Gourmet, the Outdoor Herbivore (I like their no cook salads for lunch) and will sometimes splurge and order a few meals from Heather's Choice (I like her meals quite a lot, but they are spendy).

I'll keep an eye on this thread and see if there are any source that sound good that I have not tried.
05/26/2017 01:47PM
quote HappyHuskies: "Well, no one absolute favorite. I find I keep going back to Hawk Vittles, Packit Gourmet, the Outdoor Herbivore (I like their no cook salads for lunch) and will sometimes splurge and order a few meals from Heather's Choice (I like her meals quite a lot, but they are spendy).


I'll keep an eye on this thread and see if there are any source that sound good that I have not tried.
"


Which of the Heather's Choice Meals do you like? That's a new one to me.

Have you tried any of the meals from Good-To-Go Dehydrated Gourmet?
HappyHuskies
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05/26/2017 02:16PM
Which of the Heather's Choice Meals do you like? That's a new one to me.


Have you tried any of the meals from Good-To-Go Dehydrated Gourmet?"


I like the Doro Wat and Salmon Chowder (I find the Salmon a little chewy, but tasty). I did not care as much for the Tomatillo Rancheros. I have not tried the two chili meals, so cannot comment on them.

Have not heard of or tried the Good-To-Go meals. Will have to order a couple and give them a try. they have several that sound promising. I will say that the calorie content looks a little lower per meal than most other meals I have tried.

To give you an idea of the meals I like from Hawk Vittles (which may give you an idea of where my tastes tend to land), I find I keep going back to the Black Bean Stew and North African Stew. I am not wild about their shrimp based dishes and found that their tomato sauce used in some of the meals is not for me.
05/26/2017 03:11PM
Mountain House. I tried a variety of the Camp Chow last year, and I did not like it. You can also find a great deal on many MH meals right now @ Sierra Trading Post.
05/26/2017 05:23PM
Thanks, Happy Huskies-

The Doro Wat sounds like something I'd like. Have you tried any breakfasts?

I liked Good-To-Go's Smoked Three-Bean Chili, but didn't care much for the Mushroom Risotto. They have some new ones and other ones that I'd like to try.

I have not tried HV's Black Bean Stew, but it sounds like something I'd like. It's one of those with a low calorie count though - do you get the double serving size? I find that a lot of companies single meals are not quite enough, but the double would be just a little too much. I tend to like something in the 600 calorie range, but not too much more. a 500- calorie dinner is OK. There are a couple of OH hungry singles that I sometimes have a little trouble finishing. I think it's just that the ingredients are bulky and high-fiber.

I have sometimes considered buying 2 doubles of some and making it into 3 meals. And I may try that as an experiment with some of the Good-To-Go meals.
HappyHuskies
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05/27/2017 05:32AM
quote boonie: "Thanks, Happy Huskies-


The Doro Wat sounds like something I'd like. Have you tried any breakfasts?


I liked Good-To-Go's Smoked Three-Bean Chili, but didn't care much for the Mushroom Risotto. They have some new ones and other ones that I'd like to try.


I have not tried HV's Black Bean Stew, but it sounds like something I'd like. It's one of those with a low calorie count though - do you get the double serving size? I find that a lot of companies single meals are not quite enough, but the double would be just a little too much. I tend to like something in the 600 calorie range, but not too much more. a 500- calorie dinner is OK. There are a couple of OH hungry singles that I sometimes have a little trouble finishing. I think it's just that the ingredients are bulky and high-fiber.


I have sometimes considered buying 2 doubles of some and making it into 3 meals. And I may try that as an experiment with some of the Good-To-Go meals.
"


boonie,

The Three-Bean Chili sounds good and different than anything I'm carrying now. Will have to give it a try. I'm sure I can find 3 or 4 meals from Good-To-Go to try. It's a company that was not on my radar.

I have not tried any of Heather's Choice breakfast items. Generally I'm to cheap to buy very many dehydrated breakfasts and just go with oatmeal or another hot cereal with maybe a small handful of dried fruit.

I hear you about the calorie content of Hawk V"s black bean stew, but I find the double meals much more than I can eat. Sometimes if I'm still hungry I'll rehdrate some dried fruit and I also usually have 1 or 2 deserts from Packit Gourmet along in case I get the urge for something sweet. Getting portions just right is a struggle. Some days I seem to not be able to get enough to eat and other days I don't seem to have a huge appetite.

Food is such a large portion of pack weight/bulk that I try to get it right. Generally if a get off the water or walk out of the woods with only 1 meal left I think I got it about right. I think I have my pack dialed in pretty well for my style of travelling, but an still fiddling with meal planning.
Jaywalker
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05/30/2017 11:38AM
I'm a Mountain House fan. I'm sure there are better, but its fairly cheap and reliable. I just had Chicken Fried Rice and Pasta Primavera on last trip and liked them. Their Beef Stew sells out a lot but I thought it was closer to just ok. Lasagna always works. My favorite was Turkey Tetrazinni but they stopped making it. Will try their Stroganoff on next trip. Seems to me that most such meals are a bit better with a dose of extra olive oil and pepper. I love cooking over a fire in the BWCA, but some days you just can't beat boil-wait-eat-lick spoon dinners.

I don't cook many breakfasts, but Ova Easy eggs reset the standard for me.
sns
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06/01/2017 05:37PM
I for one have given up on the big-name brands. Just can't do those anymore.

Have become a big fan of Packit Gourmet. Everything so far has been very good...have seen a number of serious backpackers embracing the brand as well.

Good to Go I also like, though I have not tried them all. Enjoyed the Mushroom Risotto but it did need seasoning. The Pad Thai and Thai Curry were solid & had a kick, but the Marinara Penne had trouble rehydrating.

Greenbelly Meals bars are a strong contender when you want lunch on the move in a high-calorie day.

Have Dirty Gourmet on my radar but have not tried them yet...this season I will.

Life's to short to eat boring food!

Cheers
Northwoodsman
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06/01/2017 06:42PM
Mountain House Pepper Steak gets my vote for #1. I eat large portions and this is definitely enough for 2 people. My kids and paddling buddies love it. I have tried most brands and always go back to Mountain House. If you are talking about breakfast - Ova Easy Eggs are superb! You wouldn't know that you are eating powdered eggs. To assemble your own meals I like Pack-It Gourmet. Their FD sausage crumbles, veggies and shredded cheese make great omeletes or scrambles when used with the Ova Easy Eggs. They also sell re-usable high temp bags to put together your own meals, I throw them away after each use however.

I find that freeze dried and dehydrated options use a fraction of the fuel because you just add boiling water and let them sit to re-hydrate. Traditional dry packaged meals that you need to simmer for 10 - 20 minutes use a lot of fuel and often require you to wash dishes. Couscous is a fast easy side dish that you don't have to cook either. It's a little on the heavy side.
06/10/2017 05:26AM
I've only tried camp chow and mountain house. I think Mountain House is ok and I really like certain ones from Camp Chow. I love the couscous ones. I've had the chicken alfredo and beef stroganoff. I think there are 2 other couscous flavors that I haven't tried yet. I also really like the chili but only put in about 1/2 the recommended water amount otherwise it's way to watery and soupy.

I love the simplicity of pouring in water, letting it sit, eating it out of the bag, licking the spoon clean, and putting the bag in the garbage.

For a coozie I use the black thing that wraps around our french press.

Lotw
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06/15/2017 10:28AM
I like some mountain house, some is near inedible to me.
MY favorite is chicken fajita. The biscuits and gravy isn't bad.

I have heard good things about Heathers choice but haven't tried them yet.

Check out pack-it gourmet.
06/18/2017 04:21PM
I've enjoyed getting things like powdered tomatoes, powdered cheese, powdered about anything at honeyville.com. and freeze dried this and that and making up different stuff. I do cook more than it sounds you like. But it really is pretty simple stuff. I spend winters playing with stuff like that, so when summer comes and I can't physically go you can imagine how bummed I am.
TominMpls
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07/20/2017 03:28PM
Resurrecting to put in a vote for Trailtopia meals, which are delicious and are probably among the ones you tried at Midwest's expo. They have a very limited selection, but every one I've tried has been excellent. Regarding portions, one dinner pouch is "two servings" but I find that it's about 1 1/4 meals for me - the whole bag is a little more than I want, but not enough to share. So I just eat the whole thing anyway, and work a little harder the next day. Their apple crumble dessert tasted like the best thing I'd ever eaten on the sixth night of our trip.

I'm also a big fan of Cache Lake, but they could be better described as dried meal "kits" as they do involve several steps and actual cooking gear to prepare. But they're light and not bulky, and all their stuff is delicious (especially their scones, which have some dark magic that makes them turn out like baked scones in a frying pan). Midwest used to sell them, and they were at this year's expo, but they don't carry them any more so I order direct now.

Note both are Minnesota companies: Trailtopia is in Rochester, and Cache Lake is in Bemidji.
BuckFlicks
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07/28/2017 02:11PM
I've used Richmoor, Backpacker's Pantry, Mountain House, and other lesser known freeze dried meals. While not as tasty as home-prepared and frozen meals, they're much lighter to haul around and easier to prepare in camp. They are a must for backpacking, but we've also found that they just make life simpler on boundary waters trips, especially the ones with longer/tougher portages. It reduces the weight you have to carry, the volume of the pack(s) and you really only need one stove for 2 people (but we always carry a spare "just in case") ... and two little pocket rocket stoves and fuel cannisters take up a lot less space than a full kitchen kit needed to prepare and eat elaborate meals.

That said, there's nothing like a nice steak or other fresh meal.

My favorites have tended to be Backpacker's Pantry followed by Mountain House. BP has a lot more variety and more flavors I like.

The single serving size is just a bit too small, but I like that my buddy and I can have different meals. We generally agree on what our favorites are but we might have different ideas on different nights. The two-serving packs that we used to get were not as easy to deal with, so we have settled on a system that works well when we are using dehydrated food for our meals. We each pack our own meals, and we also get one side dish for each meal(usually something like mashed potatoes/shepherd's pie ... something that goes with most other foods) and split it. This usually winds up being the perfect amount of food.

I've never used dehydrated food, only freeze dried, but I've thought about making some of my own stuff I like, such as spaghetti with meat sauce or king ranch casserole and dehydrating it myself.
Guest Paddler
 
08/01/2017 02:32PM
MREs man. They're lightweight, come with everything you need and average 2000 calories each. Wet naps and toilet paper included... spoon too. Can't beat em.
BuckFlicks
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08/10/2017 11:54AM
quote : "MREs man. They're lightweight, come with everything you need and average 2000 calories each. Wet naps and toilet paper included... spoon too. Can't beat em."

If weight wasn't a consideration, I'd give them serious consideration. The food probably tastes better and is more balanced than a freeze dried meal... but I'm not sure I would call them lightweight (compared to freeze dried or dehydrated.)
08/21/2017 02:45PM
I took advantage of the birthday sale to get a sample pack from Heather's Choice to try this fall. I'll report back later. Thanks for the heads up, HappyHuskies.
 
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