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Reviews > Food > Packaged Meals > Backpackers Pantry Cold Water Meals > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

Backpacker's Pantry Cold Water Lunches
By Raymond Estrella
OWNER REVIEW

June 15, 2012 (updated July 13, 2013)

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 52
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 225 lb (102.00 kg)

I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly ultralight, I try to be as light as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.

The Product

Manufacturer: Backpacker's Pantry
Product: Two-Person Cold Water Lunches
Year manufactured: 2010-12
MSRP: See below
Example net weight listed (Black Bean Salad): 4.8 oz (136 g)
Actual gross weight (incl. packaging): 5.8 oz (164 g)

Field Locations

I have had approximately 12 of the cold water meals over the past few years. I can't remember all the locations I had them but know that they were used on two backpacking trips in the Sespe Wilderness, two backpacking trips along the Kern River in the Sequoia National Forest, a couple summer backpacking trips in the San Jacinto Wilderness and one in the San Gabriel River Narrows, all in California.

They were also used on an overnighter on the North Country Trail at its western terminus at Lake Sakakawea State Park and for four days of hiking on the Maah Daah Hey Trail in Sully Creek State Park, the Little Missouri National Grasslands, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park (south unit), all in North Dakota.

I take these meals when I know the temperatures are going to be extremely high (85 F/29 C and up). The actual temperatures on the trips I took them on have been from about 50 to 118 F (10 to 48 C). Elevations have been from 100 to 8000 ft (30 to 2400 m).

Product Description

Hey, one is bigger. I want that one.


I have been using freeze-dried meals since 1978. They were not very good back then but by the early 1990s I was having success with them and enjoying the taste of most of them, with a bit of added ingredients (see below). I have been using Backpacker's Pantry meals since 2004 and right now they make up about 85% of my backpacking dinners.

There are a couple of things about the Backpacker's Pantry line that appeal to me. One is the fact that they supplement their meals with added vitamins and minerals. On long trips I worry about getting my vitamins and often will bring supplements along with me. Eating the Backpackers Pantry meals lets me leave the extra vitamins at home.

Second is the fact that they are without a doubt the spiciest across-the-board brand of backpacking meals in my experience. For many years I carried extra seasonings to spice up my freeze-dried meals. As part of my move to lightweight hiking I ditched the big kitchen kit I used to carry, including its stock of spices. With the Backpacker's Pantry meals I have not missed it.

The meals come in a plasticized foil bag. On each side of the bag is a notch to facilitate tearing the top off to get to the contents. A half inch (1.2 cm) below the tear notch is a press-to-seal strip inside the bag. On the top of the bag a "best when used by" date is stamped into the material. The bottom of the bag is pleated, which allows it to lie flat in a pack. But when the pleat is spread open it creates a stable base for the bag to stand on.

The first cold meal that Backpacker's Pantry made was the Pasta Salad. One thing differed from what is offered today, and that is just the size. Until earlier this year (2012) it was sold in a 9.6 oz (272 g) size that was very filling. This year they dropped the size as is listed below.

All of the salads come with a 0.5 fl oz (15 ml) packet of olive oil that is added to the other ingredients either with the water or right before eating. Below I will give the information for each type followed by my thoughts of them.

Black Bean Salad
Dry Weight: 4.8 oz (136 g)
Serving Size: 1/2 package
MSRP: US $6.50

INGREDIENTS: BLACK BEANS, SUPER SWEET CORN, ORGANIC EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, APPLE CIDER VINEGAR (MALTODEXTRIN, FOOD STARCH-MODIFIED AND APPLE CIDER VINEGAR), SALT, DEXTROSE (FROM CORN), ONION, TOMATO, GARLIC, MALTODEXTRIN, CILANTRO, PAPRIKA, WHITE VINEGAR (MALTODEXTRIN AND DISTILLED VINEGAR), CAYENNE PEPPER, BUTTER SAUCE (MODIFIED CORN STARCH, SALT, WHEY SOLIDS, NON-FAT DRY MILK, DEHYDRATED BUTTER, NATURAL BUTTER FLAVOR, SUGAR, XANTHAN GUM, LACTIC ACID, TURMERIC AND ANNATTO), SOY SAUCE (SOY SAUCE (WHEAT, SOYBEANS, SALT), MALTODEXTRIN AND SALT), VEGETARIAN SOUP WITH IMITATION CHICKEN FLAVOR (MALTODEXTRIN, SALT, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, YEAST EXTRACT, ONION POWDER, TURMERIC EXTRACT (COLOR), SUNFLOWER OIL), MALIC ACID.

Directions: Remove Olive Oil packet and set aside. Add 1-1/4 cup (300 ml) of cold water to all contents in pouch. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 40 minutes. Add Olive Oil. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 270
Total Fat: 7 g
Total Carbohydrates: 40 g
Protein: 12 g
Sodium: 930 mg

The Black Bean Salad is my favorite flavor of these salads. It is pretty spicy and very flavorful. One thing it needs is to be rehydrated much longer than Backpacker's Pantry suggests. In the picture below, taken at Sully Creek State Park, I let it sit one hour knowing that black beans are notoriously slow hydrators. There were still some crunchy beans. Backpacker's Pantry may want to look at tweaking their beans or changing sources. I like to add cheddar cheese to this to boost calories and protein as well as add flavor.

Get your wet shoes off the dinner table.


Cold Potato Salad

Dry Weight: 3.9 oz (110 g)
Serving Size: 1/2 package
MSRP: US $7.90

INGREDIENTS: POTATOES, PANKO BREAD CRUMBS (BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, DEXTROSE, YEAST, AND SALT), PEAS, CHEDDAR CHEESE (PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES, ANNATTO), ORGANIC EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, SOUR CREAM (CULTURED CREAM, NONFAT MILK), PARMESAN CHEESE (PARMESAN CHEESE (CULTURED PART-SKIM MILK, SALT, ENZYMES), DISODIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT), APPLE CIDER VINEGAR (MALTODEXTRIN, FOOD STARCH-MODIFIED AND APPLE CIDER VINEGAR), ONION, BELL PEPPER, HARD BOILED EGGS (EGG WHITES, WHOLE EGGS, NON FAT MILK, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, SALT, XANTHAN GUM, CITRIC ACID, PEPPER), SUGAR, GARLIC, SALT, GREEN ONION, BLACK PEPPER.

Directions: Remove Olive Oil Packet and add oil to other ingredients. Add 3/4 cup (180 ml) of cold water to all contents. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 270
Total Fat: 15 g
Total Carbohydrates: 24 g
Protein: 10 g
Sodium: 400 mg

This one surprised me with how well it turned out. I was expecting to have a cold version of mashed potatoes but it had chunks and texture to it. It is my second favorite as far as flavor but it is also the least filling. I could easily eat two packages of the Potato Salad for one dinner. This too I add cheddar cheese to for a boost in calories and protein. Another trick is to add a hard-boiled egg to it. (More on how later.) Here is a shot of the Potato Salad at Lake Sakakawea State Park.

Dinner on laundry day


Cold Pasta Salad w/vegetables
Dry Weight: 5 oz (142 g)
Serving Size: 1/2 package
MSRP: US $6.90

INGREDIENTS: PASTA (DURUM SEMOLINA (ENRICHED WITH NIACIN, FERROUS SULFATE, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN AND FOLIC ACID)), SAUCE (BUTTERMILK, ONION, APPLE CIDER VINEGAR (MALTODEXTRIN, FOOD STARCH-MODIFIED AND APPLE CIDER VINEGAR), SOUR CREAM (CULTURED CREAM, NONFAT MILK), SALT, GARLIC, BLACK PEPPER), CHEDDAR CHEESE (PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES, ANNATTO), ORGANIC EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, BELL PEPPER, CARROTS, BROCCOLI, CELERY.

Directions: Remove Olive Oil packet and set aside. Add 1 cup (240 ml) of cold water to all contents in pouch. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 30 minutes. Add Olive Oil. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 420
Total Fat: 18 g
Total Carbohydrates: 50 g
Protein: 16 g
Sodium: 1260 mg

This is the flavor I have had the most of. It is pretty good with excellent noodles. My only complaint about it is the broccoli. While I really like (and eat a lot of) raw broccoli I do not like the flavor of it cooked. The broccoli in the Pasta Salad tastes more like cooked to me. This is another one that I have many times added freeze dried cheddar cheese to, and sometimes even fresh cheese.

One trick I do when planning a trip with these as a meal is to freeze a bottle of water very hard before I leave. I put the bottle in one of my Granite Gear Aquatherm insulated bottle holders that I normally use in winter (see review). Then I stick a small Ziploc bag with shredded cheese, and one chopped hard-boiled egg, in the holder. I then place it on my sleeping bag with my other stuff in the pack on top to keep it more insulated. In camp I use the very cold water to mix with the salads. I then insulate the package as well as I can with my sleeping bag or quilt to keep it as cold as possible. I add the fresh ingredients right before I eat. This makes for a wonderful meal when the temps are high.

Another benefit of the Cold Water Lunches is that it gets rid of the need to carry a stove and fuel. On trips that I want to be as fast and light as possible, with as small a pack as I can get, these meals along with some bars, nuts and jerky work great. I am out of the salads right now but am going to order more as I have eight or nine days of backpacking lined up for next month that we are going to do as a no-cook trip to save time, weight and volume. Since I can't find a picture of the Pasta Salad in action maybe I will revisit this review to add one when I get back in October.

I realize that Backpacker's Pantry makes these as a side dish or small meal. I would like to suggest that they make a larger version for those of us that want a dinner-sized portion. If they do I promise to buy them. ;-)

Addendum 2013

Right after publishing the review of the Backpacker's Pantry Cold Water Lunches I took them on a long California trip that saw a 2-day backpacking trip in the southern Sierra Nevada, a 5-day backpacking trip in the northern Sierra Nevada, and a day-hike and 2-day trip in the Angeles National Forest. There was a total of 136.5 miles (220 km) with 23,575 ft (7186 m) of gain, in temps that ran from 31 F to a ridiculously warm for that time of year 90 F (-1 to 32 C). Almost all of it was on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This up-and-down trail saw constant elevation flux with the high points most days being at 9000+/- ft (2750 m).

I used them on a few fall trips in Minnesota too, all on the Red River north of Halstad. These trips saw cool wet weather with temps dropping below freezing at night.

Observations

I wanted to revisit the Backpacker's Pantry Cold Water Lunches because I used them as a full-on main meal for the big California trip. I had decided that I would not take a stove letting me cut weight and allowing me to use a smaller pack. I turned the Cold Water Lunches into dinners by adding extra ingredients to really boost the calories. I used a Food Saver to vacuum pack Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar cheese, Kraft 3-cheese Italian Shreds (dry Romano, Asiago & Parmesan), sun-dried tomatoes, bacon, beef jerky, and other semi-shelf-stable foods. Then I combined them in camp to make a very filling meal that I did not have to cook.

The southern sections of trail had water issues so we had to carry all or most of our water. So this let me do like so. I froze a 0.5 L bottle of water and placed it in an insulated holder. I put a long narrow chunk of cheese (vac-packed) alongside and put a hard-boiled egg on top. In camp I chopped up both and added it to the Potato Salad along with some tomatoes and bacon. It added over 200 calories and a lot of protein to the salad. Of course the frozen water trick only works for the first night, so whatever ingredients were the most perishable went into the first dinner of the longer (5-day) section.

Dinner in the tent


I used the same ingredients except for using the Italian cheeses with the Pasta Salad a few times. For the Black Bean Salad it got beef jerky, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and a couple packets of hot sauce. Another dinner with the Black Bean Salad was the same add-ons but a small can of chicken in place of the beef jerky. It was great. I even experimented with using it as a hot meal for overnighters without a stove. I filled a steel vacuum bottle with boiling water and took it on one of the rainy cold fall hikes. For dinner I added a package of Backpackers Pantry Cheddar Cheese Spread (see review) that I had kept in my inside pocket to keep warm, a pre-chopped vacuum bag of jerky, and a couple packets of hot sauce. I added the hot water and wrapped it in my sleeping bag as an insulating cozy. After having the rest of the water for some cider I opened the salad to find a very good and filling hot meal. The picture above is from that trip before I put it all together at dinnertime. As it was raining all evening, trapping me in the tent, it was a good trip to have tried this on.

Now I can't say all my experiments worked well. I had the idea that Spam is like ham, right? So it should be great added to the potato salad with some egg and cheese. Uh, wrong, at least for my taste buds. It was not very good although as it was all I had I ate 2/3 of it. Anybody want some individual packets of Spam Lite? Here is a picture of everything after I had it chopped up and ready to add to the salad.

Well it seemed like a good idea


Backpacker's Pantry also added a new salad to the Cold Water Lunches. It is:

Cold Couscous Salad
Dry Weight: 3.8 oz (107 g)
Serving Size: 1/2 package
MSRP: US $6.50

INGREDIENTS: ORGANIC WHOLE WHEAT COUSCOUS, ORGANIC EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, BELL PEPPER, GARBANZO BEANS, BROCCOLI, GARLIC, SAVORY SOUP BASE (MALTODEXTRIN, SALT, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, YEAST EXTRACT, ONION POWDER, SILICON DIOXIDE, TURMERIC EXTRACT (COLOR), SUNFLOWER OIL), CILANTRO, GREEN ONION, LIME JUICE POWDER (CORN SYRUP, LIME JUICE WITH LIME OIL), SALT.

Directions: Remove and discard enclosed oxygen absorber before beginning food preparation. Remove Olive Oil packet and set aside. Add 1 cup (24 mL) of cold water to all contents in pouch. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 40 minutes. Add Olive Oil. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 210
Total Fat: 6 g
Total Carbohydrates: 33 g
Protein: 6 g
Sodium: 280 mg

This one is pretty tasty. It is couscous with bell peppers, garbanzo beans, broccoli and garlic.

It has a lot of broccoli and I am happy to say that they seem to have refined their freeze-dry process with the broccoli. It tastes like fresh, not cooked as I had reported not caring for with the Pasta Salad. There is quite a bit of red bell peppers but they are quite mild. What is not mild is the garlic. I like it a lot but want to warn couples who hike together that they may want to make sure both parties partake of the salad to insure marital bliss. ;-) I had it three times, once by itself, once with a hardboiled egg and bacon bits added, and once with Italian cheeses and chicken added (as seen below before preparing). I think that this flavor is now number three with Pasta Salad moving to the back of the pack. (They say familiarity breeds contempt and I have had by far more of the Pasta Salad over the years.)

Cous cous anyone?


As I had planned those last 10 or so meals in advance I did a bulk purchase of the Cold Water Lunches direct from Backpacker's Pantry. As much as I ended up liking them I plan to get more for this summer should my schedule ease up to let me get out regularly again. I am sure that I will dream up new ways to use them in the meantime. Maybe I will update this again down the trail.


Read more reviews of Backpackers Pantry gear
Read more gear reviews by Ray Estrella

Reviews > Food > Packaged Meals > Backpackers Pantry Cold Water Meals > Owner Review by Ray Estrella



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