By Dan Kidder
At the recent Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, scores of companies were providing samples of their dehydrated or freeze dried meals for backpackers, hikers, campers, hunters, and preppers.
While the quality of the food options available for this market has vastly improved in the last few years, creating the perfect balance of shelf stability and great taste has been a real challenge. One product that has struck an ideal balance between taste and longevity is The Outdoor Trail.
When food is exposed to oxygen, it deteriorates – oils go rancid, discoloration occurs and the food spoils. Oxygen can be removed from the packaging by removing all of the air with a vacuum, which will increase the shelf life of the food packed inside. The bucket we had was labled best if used by 6/11/2037, or 25 years.
Regular vacuum packaging works fine for sturdy solid foods such as beef jerky and fresh meat. However, delicate foods like freeze dried or dehydrated meals require nitrogen flushing to remove all oxygen. These foods need protection so they do not spoil. The Outdoor Trail uses nitrogen flushing and sealing machines to force the oxygen out of the packaging and injects nitrogen gas in.
Nitrogen does not react with food like oxygen does, so taste and texture are not compromised. And since the nitrogen fills up the bag, it helps to protect the delicate foods inside.
The Outfitter from The Outdoor Trail is an excellent way to store a large quantity of food in a waterproof, airtight bucket. The idea of a bucket of dehydrated or freeze dried food is nothing new, but the Outdoor Trail Outfitter provides 60 meals in individual servings. While many companies offer multiple serving pouches, the Outdoor trail provides true single serving size packets for consistent meals every time.
The Outfitter offers 10 each of beef Stroganoff, chicken Alfredo, chicken teriyaki, cheesy lasagna, mac and cheese, and broccoli cheddar soup.
For the pasta dishes, the sauce and the pasta are in separate pouches to ensure that the proper mixture of pasta and sauce is achieved each and every time.
We cooked up a serving of each of these dishes and tested them for taste and consistency. The food is superb. You can add boiling water to the meals and allow them to sit for about five minutes, but for the best flavor and texture, we found that is was best to boil them for about 7 minutes in a pot, stirring occasionally. This was best achieved with a camping stove like a JetBoil or an MSR reactor.
The Outdoor Trail meals contain no MSG, are made with top quality restaurant grade ingredients and are made right here in the USA. Each Outdoor Trail meal contains a soy based meat substitute that tastes, looks, and feels like real meat, but are vegetarian friendly. The products come with a 100 percent replacement guarantee if you are not completely satisfied with any meal for whatever reason.
Good Stroganoff contains a distinct yet perfectly blended marriage of sour cream, mushrooms, beef, and pasta. The Stroganoff from the Outdoor Trail achieved this beautifully. Each flavor was a distinct counterpoint to the others. Bits of mushroom, perfectly al dente spiral pasta, and a creamy sour cream sauce created an ideal stroganoff. When testing food storage or camping meals, Stroganoff is the benchmark, as every maker of this type of food offers their own version of this dish. The Outdoor Trail Stroganoff is the best we have tasted so far. Many cover the poor quality of their sauce by using too much salt to season their sauce or spike it with MSG, which can cause food sensitivities for some people. The Outdoor Trail Stroganoff was not too salty, and in fact the salt flavor was undetectable, leaving a stronger sour cream taste, which was more pleasing to the palette than a stringent saltiness.
Mac & Cheese
There are no pickier connoisseurs of mac and cheese then a group of elementary school students. We tested The Outdoor Trail mac & cheese on three girls between the ages of 7 and 12 and they all agreed that it was far superior to the name brand mac & cheese you get at your local grocery. The Outdoor Trail mixes powdered real milk and powdered real butter with their standard powdered cheese, making it much creamier than other brands on the market, including Kraft. I have to agree with our young taste experts that this is the best powdered mac & cheese as far as flavor and creaminess I have had.
Broccoli and Cheddar Soup
Nothing beats the cold and dreariness of a late fall day like a piping hot bowl of soup. The Outdoor trail uses its extra creamy cheese blend with dehydrated broccoli bits to create the perfect internal antifreeze for those hitting the trail in cold weather. The soup is the ideal consistency for slowly travelling down the throat to spread the warmth evenly over the body from the inside out. The flavor is excellent, with cheesy overtones and a light, but not overbearing broccoli counterpoint. As soups go, this creamy veggie offering is filling and satisfying. Bring along a wide spoon, because you will be trying to scrape every drop out of your bowl.
The only rice meal in The Outfitter, the chicken teriyaki is delicious. On a recent taste test among a group of hungry SCUBA divers, this was the stand out favorite. The rice is excellent, the sauce a perfect balance between tangy and sweet, with bits of vegetables and peppers to provide distinctive flavors and textures. Because rice is so much denser than pasta, the chicken teriyaki is more filling. It also retains its heat longer and it is easy to scald the mouth with this dish if you are not careful. But when the weather is dropping, this stick to your ribs offering is just right to help warm you up, fill you up, and delight the taste buds.
Where The Outdoor Trail really shines is in making their sauces creamy and rich. Nothing is worse than a gritty and runny Alfredo sauce. Alfredo is a perfect blending of butter, cream, and cheese to achieve an ideal balance of flavor and texture. The Outdoor trail nails it. While you can adjust the thickness of any of the meals by adding or subtracting the amount of water, when the directions are followed to the letter, The Outdoor Trail Alfredo sauce is the ideal thickness to evenly coat the pasta and the inside of your mouth. The subtle chicken flavor and low salt content leave a delicate creamy cheesiness on your palette.
Good lasagna, the homemade kind, in my opinion has to have several kinds of cheese. It is dripping with gooey goodness. Replicating the texture in an instant meal has eluded everyone so far, but when it comes to replicating the flavor, The Outdoor Trail has it down. Their blend of cheeses makes the cheesy lasagna a hands down favorite on the trail. If is a perfect balance of tomato sauce, veggies, and cheese that coats the pasta perfectly. Because The Outdoor Trail uses spiral pasta, each forkful is jam packed with flavor. The sauce has a hint of sweetness and a bountiful burst of tomato, offset with cheesy goodness.
The Outfitter from The Outdoor Trail is the perfect meal plan for long term storage but also offers an easy way to feed large groups in the field. Whether you are fueling a hungry pack of scouts, guiding a group of hunters into the back country, or just looking for small portable meals to toss in your hiking pack, these meals are the right value, size, and weight for your needs. If you have eaten as many outdoor meals as I have, you will find that these are some of the yummiest and most nutritious offerings on the market.