Freeze Dried Throwdown

Freeze-dried meals – a staple of emergency kits and backpacking. This test, between Campfire Meals and Mountain House, is a blind taste-test of 4 meals over 4 days. We’re testing 3 of the Campfire Meal’s best selling meals side-by-side against their Mountain House equivalents, with a final round of the best sounding from every vendor available in our area.

We followed a standard protocol for each test. My wife prepared them per their instructions, and passed out a single serving of each to us while we remained outdoors. We had no insight into any portion of the prep or contents prior to noting our results.

Meal 1: Mexican Style Rice with Chicken!

Throwdown Mexican Style Rice and Chicken
From a packaging standpoint, I was firmly in the Campfire Meals corner for this one. The package is far more attractive, larger, and seemed likely to provide “more bang for the buck”.

Prep notes from my wife:

“After I added the water, the Campfire Meals Mexican Style Rice with Chicken smelled appetizing and well seasoned. It was difficult to open, requiring scissors, unlike the Mountain House. It contained less food than indicated on the package – more like 1 and 3/4 servings. It was difficult to mix due to the height and style of the bag.”

“The Mountain House Mexican Style Rice and Chicken smelled very unappetizing, but was very easy to open.”

Once prepared and served, we dug in — a hungry teenager and myself, both worn out, hungry, and tired from a day of farm work. Hunger is always the best spice, and ours had been raised to a fever pitch by my wife’s fresh-baked bread, served as a palate cleanser. I believe this well approximates the general hunger I feel after a day of hiking or hunting, so we were in the proper state of mind.

Throwdown Meal 1

The results, based on Taste, Smell, Texture, and how Filling the meal seemed on a 5 * scale.

Meal A

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * * * * 7/10
Smell * * * * * * 6/10
Texture * * * * * * 6/10
Filling * * * * * * * 7/10
Notes Very loose, stew-like Less visible meat
Would re-purchase? No No No

Meal B

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * * * * 7/10
Smell * * * * * * 6/10
Texture * * * * * * 6/10
Filling * * * * * * * * 8/10
Notes Very little chicken Chemical flavor, large chicken bites
Would re-purchase? No No No

Winner: B

By a tiny margin – literally just how filling the meal seemed, B was the winner.

The reveal:

Throwdown Mexican Style Rice and Chicken REVEAL

Winner, Campfire Meals!

 

Meal 2: Lasagna with Meat Sauce!

I was a pretty happy with this one. Lasagna, that’s a solid favorite, right?

 

Prep notes from my wife:

“Campfire Meal’s sauce was thicker, less watery to mix. Mountain House left a lot of cheese on the stirrer, and was difficult to remove from the container. Turned cold and rubbery very fast.”

“Both meals were very hard to mix, the dry ingredients had to be scraped up from the corners a lot – recommend using chopsticks to mix. Scissors again required for Campfire Meals.”

Once prepared and served, we were resigned to our fate. Another hard day of farm work, and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

The results, based on Taste, Smell, Texture, and how Filling the meal seemed on a 5 * scale.

Meal A

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * * * * * 8/10
Smell * * * * * 5/10
Texture * * * * * * * * 8/10
Filling * * * * * * 6/10
Notes Very much “lasagna”, zesty Servings seemed small. Lots of unmixed bits.
Would re-purchase? Yes Yes Yes

Meal B

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * * * * 7/10
Smell * * * * * * * * 8/10
Texture * * * * * * * 7/10
Filling * * * * 4/10
Notes Smells cheesy doesn’t taste like cheese. Very cheesy
Would re-purchase? No Yes Maybe

Winner: A

Taste, texture, filling – and the all important ‘we’d both definitely re-purchase’ for this one. The lasagna is basically what you’d expect from a freeze-dried trail food.

The reveal:

Winner, Campfire Meals!

 

Meal 3: Rice and Chicken!

Arroz con Pollo – how can you possibly miss? One of my all-time favorite simple dishes to make at home.

Prep notes from my wife:

“Very tired of the impossible to open Campfire Meals bags. Especially this one, where it was barely 1/4 full even with water.”

We were pretty excited about this one – though cautious about what sort of tortilla Campfire Meals had in store.

Ummm. Tortilla?

The results, based on Taste, Smell, Texture, and how Filling the meal seemed on a 5 * scale.

Meal A

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * * 5/10
Smell * * * * * 5/10
Texture * * * * * 5/10
Filling * * * * * 5/10
Notes What tortilla? Slimy. At least whole corn. Spicier than expected. No chicken
Would re-purchase? No No No

Meal B

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * 4/10
Smell * * * * 4/10
Texture * * * * * 5/10
Filling * * * * * 5/10
Notes Tortilla? Smells horrible. Gummy. Chicken well textured. Tastes like chicken noodle soup. Lotta chicken
Would re-purchase? No No No

Winner: A

Meal A won this one, for what it’s worth. These were both pretty bad, and nobody finished even the tiny heavy servings. The real losers here were our stomachs.

The reveal:

Winner, Campfire Meals!

 

Meal 4: Best Sounding from the whole range

These were the best sounding options from the whole range

Prep notes from my wife:

“Campfire Meal’s bag was again ridiculously hard to open, and barely had a full cup of food in it. 2 1/2 cup servings weren’t quite doable.”

And she’s right – look at this bullshit:

This is some bullshit. Look at the bag-to-food ratio. That little bit is ALL that is in there... *fully hydrated*

This is some bullshit. Look at the bag-to-food ratio. That little bit is ALL that is in there… fully hydrated. Compensating for something?

For comparison, here’s the bag to food ratio for the Mountain House meal:

More like what you'd expect, right?
More like what you’d expect, right? Much smaller bag, yet somehow much more food.

 

This time, there was no surprise or guess work. We knew what we had, and were looking a bit forward to it. Biggest surprise was how freaking long Backpacker’s Pantry takes to cook at 7,000′. Even at a mere 5,000′ (what they are calibrated for on the directions), it takes twice as long as the others.

Wait – where’s meal C? Well, Backpacker’s Pantry takes nearly 45 minutes at 7,000 feet. Hope you’re not hungry.

The results, based on Taste, Smell, Texture, and how Filling the meal seemed on a 5 * scale.

Meal A – Campfire Meals Rice & BBQ Beef

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * * * * * 8/10
Smell * * * * * * 6/10
Texture * * * * * 5/10
Filling * * * * * * * * 8/10
Notes No comments Stringy but good
Would re-purchase? Yes Yes Yes

Meal B – Mountain House Italian Style Pepper Steak

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * * * * * 8/10
Smell * * * * 4/10
Texture * * * * * * 6/10
Filling * * * * * * 6/10
Notes No comments Odd “cat food” smell. Appetizing look. Weird aftertaste.
Would re-purchase? No Yes Maybe

Then, finally, quite a bit later – we had our late entrant!

 

Late entrant!
Late entrant! Man, there has got to be a faster way to cook this.

 

Meal C – Backpacker’s Pantry Kung Pao Rice w/Chicken

Critera Tester A Tester B  Cumulative
Taste * * * * * * * * * * * * * 13/10
Smell * * * * * * * * * 9/10
Texture * * * * * * 6/10
Filling * * * * * * * * 8/10
Notes Very slow. Soupy. VERY spicy, excellent flavor. Had 2nds! Too good to be backpacking food
Would re-purchase? Yes Yes Yes

Winner: C

Though, really, the real winners were us. We were finally done eating freeze-dried food, and back to normal food.

But seriously – Backpacker’s Pantry blew everyone away. I also tried their Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Rice – excellent!

This also goes to show – the top selling items are not the way to go. I suffered through these, but my advice is to grab what sounds tasty. Or do what we do, and bring real food. Nuts, fruits (fresh and dried), peppers, preserved meats, cheese, and bread travel better than you might think, and actually taste good. Nothing beats the smell of frying bacon, though you will need to either make it yourself or order real bacon online. Regular store-bought bacon is no longer properly prepared for travel, and requires refrigeration. Actual bacon is smoked and salted until is basically jerky – and it’s what almost everyone ate on trails until about 100 years ago.

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