Freeze-Dried Camping Foods Return: Just in Time To Escape From L.A.

Shortly after the Fukushima disaster spread fears of a tsunami and radioactive plume hitting the Western United States, panicked buyers cleaned out many retailers of freeze-dried camping foods and left shelves bare at outdoor sports retailers. Yes, those camping foods that our colleague Elina Shatkin reviewed this week were actually sold out all over the West coast for weeks on end.

Adventure 16 salesperson Devin DeRieux says their West Los Angeles store "anticipated the rush and increased orders as soon as news of the tragedy broke." Now that supplies have stabilized, what should you stash away for the massive exodus from the city after next week's Armageddon or other unportended act of God?

There are three categories of food products suitable for your emergency kit:

Lifeboat rations - when you gotta skip town fast
Lifeboat rations - when you gotta skip town fast

1. Emergency food ration bars: Similar to shortbread cookies in texture, these high-calorie, low-protein bars meet US Coast Guard's requirements for survival rations on lifeboats. They're formulated to be eaten without fresh drinking water. Its packaging is not affected by heat, so these are a good choice to keep in your Jeep for that drive across the Mexican desert to escape Skynet's reach.

2. Freeze-dried camping food, such as those sold at Adventure 16, Sports Chalet, and REI. Mountain House and Backpacker's Pantry are the leading brands in this category.

Melanie Cornutt, Sales Manager of the Mountain House brand, explains their process. "Mountain House meals are fully cooked and then freeze dried. Our items are packaged in an oxygen barrier and moisture barrier package resulting in a much longer shelf life. To consume our products you simply need boiling water."

Larry Pearson of Backpacker's Pantry advises against extended storage of freeze-dried camping food. "Backpacker's Pantry pouch food is actually designed for camping, backpacking, mountaineering and adventure travel as opposed to long term storage. We recommend 3 years for most items, and 1 ½ years for items that have nuts or are organic. Because of that, we don't recommend our pouch food for long term storage."

 

3. MRE's, or Meals Ready-To-Eat. Cornutt describes MRE's as "a complete meal, meaning it contains your main entree, a bread, vegetable, drink mix, dessert and utensils. The MRE entree in most cases are a re-tort item, where you just heat it up and eat (like a soup)."

You can find the first two categories at outdoor retailers, but MRE's are harder to find. Government-issued MRE's can not be legally resold on the civilian market. Several manufacturers make a version for sale to the general public at web stores like Nitro-Pak and Emergency Essentials.

Nitro-Pak President Harry Weyandt describes the MRE's flavor. "MRE's seem to be either well liked or not. It is a personal thing based on what you are used to eating. If you can eat canned spaghetti, chili, etc. from the grocery store, then you will most likely enjoy the taste of MRE's."

Comforting, tasty foods become important in a time of extreme duress. So how do they taste? They range from terrible, as our intrepid taste-tester Elina found out, to quite good. This author sampled the Beef Stoganoff with Wild Mushrooms which tasted of quality wild mushrooms, though the noodles were a touch mushy. The Beef Stew from Backpacker's Pantry tasted ok because its ingredients rehydrate well. Is it going to replace mom's beef bourguignon? Well, no.

According to A16's DeRieux, the industry has made an effort to improve the texture of the ingredients in recent years. He recommends Mountain House Chicken Breast and Mashed Potatoes, which he claims rehydrates to a credible hunk of chicken breast. DeRieux's choice for breakfast? Backpacker's Pantry Granola with Blueberries & Milk.

The lesson? Choose your menu wisely, and sample a few before you buy in great quantity.


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