I can still remember the plain white bags that contained the food that I ate on survival weekends as a cadet. The only knowledge of what was inside was stamped on the individual bags, using an old school typewriter-like font. All the food looked the same and I’m pretty sure it tasted the same too. I would learn many years later that not all dehydrated prepackaged food was the same as the military rations that I filled my belly with. Prepackaged meals have come a long way since those white bags of mystery.
Depending on who you talk to, some hikers don’t go near prepackaged meals and others chow down on them. I sit happily right in the middle with a love for my dehydrator and the creations that I have made with it and I still fuel up with prepackaged meals when I feel like it.
Homemade food will always be cheaper compared to eating out, regardless if I am in a restaurant or eating store bought food out of a bag in the middle of the woods. I’ve paid for some pretty crummy food in restaurants before and I have seen people dig into their $12 Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai at their log stump table, relishing in the moment and clearly enjoying what they are eating.
The price of these meals can be difficult to stomach when hiking on a budget so assembling meals at home is the best option. When watching sales though, mainstream brands can be purchased for around 20% off and on hiking forums, I’ve read that people stock up when they are on sale.
I would compare the convenience of these meals to picking up dinner on the way home from work because I don’t feel like cooking or nothing is prepped for dinner at home. Prepackaged meals are simply convenient and are an all in one zero fuss option. There is no need to add a bit of this and a bit of that and hope the meal is well-rounded.
Yes, some prepackaged meals are downright gross and I have never fully recovered from a lasagna incident. I have not been able to bring myself to eat freeze dried ground beef in a tomato sauce to this day. If you must know, I threw up outside my tent and the acidic tomato sauce burned as it came back up. But all that being said, I have had more good tasting prepackaged meals than not.
I tested out a number of prepackaged meals prior to hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I kept the flavours pretty simple with chicken and beans as the protein. Here are my favourites that I carried in my food bag: AlpineAire Mesquite BBQ Chicken, Mountain Chili (vegetarian), and Honey Lime Chicken and; Backpacker’s Pantry Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken, and Santa Fe Rice with Chicken.
Prepackaged meals create waste, as do zip lock bags and vacuum bags. A goal of mine for this year is to use a Stasher Reusable food bag when I hike for 1-2 nights. It is currently on its way from Amazon! For anything longer than a weekend trip, the reality is that there will be single use packaging regardless of what food is trekked into the bush.
The one thing that I really do not like about prepackaged meals is that they are loaded with salt bombs. The salt contributes to the gross taste that some of the meals have. It is just the nature of the beast that any non-perishable food item that is expected to have an extended shelf life will be high in salt. Day to day, most of what I eat is not overly processed and is made from scratch so I quickly got over the high sodium for trail life.
The sodium content in AlpineAire Santa Fe Black Beans and Rice is 370mg and the sodium content on Knorr Sidekicks Mexican Rice Side Dish is 370mg. The sodium content between the two is the same yet AlpineAire is a meal in one containing beans whereas the Sidekicks need to have ingredients added to round out the meal. It’s simple convenience with AlpineAire.
I think it will be fun this year to test a few prepackaged meals from different small-batch companies. As the name suggests, they produce in small quantities and primarily sell online, at vendor shows, and are in select stores.
Some of the options from these companies have a much shorter shelf-life for their prepackaged meals. The food inside the bags is fresher and has less for preservatives. I plan to balance out my testing of small-batch made meals and my desire to use the Stasher Reusable Bag as best I can.
Who knows, I may even try freeze dried ground beef and tomato sauce and be able to finally move on from that horrible experience.