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

Backpacker's Pantry Backpacking Meals
By Raymond Estrella
Owner Review
April 29, 2009

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 48
LOCATION: Orange County, California, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, and in many of the western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I have made a move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my wife Jenn or brother-in-law Dave.

The Product

Manufacturer: Backpacker's Pantry
Web site: www.backpackerspantry.com
Product: Two-person Entrees
Year manufactured: 2008
MSRP: See below
Example net weight listed (Jamaican BBQ Chicken): 6.3 oz (180 g)
Actual gross weight (incl. packaging): 7.7 oz (218 g)

Variety show

Field Locations

Over the course of the past year I have eaten these meal in California as far north as Immigrant Wilderness and as far south as the Santa Rosa mountains, with many locations between. I have eaten them in Minnesota from near the Canadian border down to Itasca State Park. I have had them on trips well below freezing and trips well over 100 F (38 C). Elevations have ranged from barely past sea level to over 10,000 ft (3050 m) above it. They have been consumed in at least 11 different National and State Parks, Forests and Wilderness areas. Wow, now I should go into an ad for Alka Seltzer. Plop plop, fizz fizz…

Product Description and Observations

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 occasionally since 2004 as their Santa Fe Chicken meal is my brother-in-law Dave's favorite hiking meal.

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 light weight hiking I ditched the Outdoor Research fold-out kitchen I used to carry, including its stock of spices. With the Backpacker's Pantry meals I have not missed it.

I had decided to do a thorough review of this line and have eaten only them for almost a year now. I purchased a lot of them directly from the company web site during a sale. Others were purchased at outdoor retailers in California and Minnesota.

Flat for travel


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 of 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 lay flat in a pack as seen above. But when the pleat is spread open it, as seen below, it creates a stable base for the bag to stand on.

Open wide and say ah dinner


The front of the package has the Backpacker's Pantry name along with the name of the entrée itself, with a short description. The net weight is listed at the bottom. On the back is some marketing information, instructions for preparation, the ingredient list and nutritional information.

When opened the bag reveals the main ingredients along with a small oxygen absorber packet. Many of the meals also contain small plastic pouches of secondary ingredients. These are opened and added to the main batch before adding the boiling water. Most of the ingredients are freeze-dried but some are dehydrated instead.

Almost all of their entrees I use are no-cook. They say to add the boiling water, stir and let sit for 13 minutes before eating. As the times have been figured at the companies home offices in Colorado at an elevation of 5000 ft (1524 m) this covers a lot of the areas I hike with the exception of the mountains where I am often double that. So I let mine sit in a cozy or wrapped in my down coat or sleeping bag for 20 minutes. A few of the meals need to be cooked in the pot or need two containers.

I am going to tell about the meals I have used and give my impressions of the flavor, texture and ease of preparing. I will also relay what my wife or children thought if they were sharing it with me. For the most part I eat an entire package myself for dinner after hiking all day.

I will start with the name of the meal, the weight, serving size, company description and cooking directions. As full ingredient lists and nutrition figures are available on the company web site I will forgo putting it all here but will hit the main categories as many folks may be like me and want to know just how many calories a meal is going to give. The MSRPs listed are in US dollars.

As an insight to the way my taste buds work I should share that I have grown up surrounded by lots of Mexican influenced cooking and parents that love hot foods. So please know I am at the far end of the scale when it comes to hot & spicy. My Pennsylvania born wife likes food a little milder so her input may help those with my calloused tongue.


Lasagna

Dry Weight: 7 oz (198 g)
Serving Size: Two 13 oz servings
MSRP: $ 7.50

Tomatoes, parmesan cheese, noodles, vegetarian ground beef (meat substitute) and the perfect blend of Italian seasonings.

Directions: Add 2-1/4 cups (540ml) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 390
Total Fat: 10 g
Total Carbohydrates: 53 g
Protein: 23 g
Sodium: 700 mg

I have had lasagna from three companies and I like this one the best. The noodles do not get as mushy as some in my experience. The cheese and TVP (textured vegetable protein) help to thicken the sauce up so it is not too soupy.


Black Bean Tamale Pie

Dry Weight: 8.7 oz (248 g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz servings
MSRP: $ 8.90

Black bean chili and cheese over corn tortilla chips. This is a must-try!


Directions: Remove tortilla chips. Add 2 cups (480ml) of boiling water to remaining contents. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and pour over chips.

Calories per serving: 470
Total Fat: 8 g
Total Carbohydrates: 86 g
Protein: 20 g
Sodium: 1360 mg

I love this meal. It gives me a ton of carbs for recovering after a hard day and plenty of protein for the next one. It calls for the meal to be poured over the chips, but I break the chips up a bit and pour them into the package after it has "cooked" for 20 minutes or so. (I learned to let it go a bit longer to make sure the beans thoroughly rehydrate.) Jenn found this to be a little too spicy.


Macaroni & Cheese


Dry Weight: 7.2 oz (204 g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz servings
MSRP: $ 5.90

Elbow macaroni with a cheddar cheese sauce.

Directions: Add 2 cups (475 ml) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 430
Total Fat: 12 g
Total Carbohydrates: 63 g
Protein: 16 g
Sodium: 540 mg

This is my kids' favorite meal and a favorite of Jenn's too, so I have it a lot when not solo. It has a good texture and consistency. It cooks pretty fast too. As the trips that I have this flavor on are shorter I will often bring some taco sauce or some shredded Chipotle Cheddar cheese to add to it to spice it up a bit.


Mexican Rice with Beef

Dry Weight: 6.5 oz (184 g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz servings
MSRP: $ 7.50

A delicious mexican sour cream sauce with instant rice, beef, cheddar cheese, vegetables, chili and garlic.

Directions: Add 2-1/4 cups (540 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 360
Total Fat: 10 g
Total Carbohydrates: 56 g
Protein: 14 g
Sodium: 161 mg

This is another very good meal. It is not as in-your-face as many of the other Mexican dishes but is still far from boring. I wish there were more in the package as I find myself wanting seconds even after polishing off the entire package myself. I let it sit over 20 minutes to make sure I don't end up with crunchy rice.


Beef Stroganoff with Wild Mushrooms


Dry Weight: 6.6 oz (187 g)
Serving Size: Two 13 oz servings
MSRP: $ 7.90

Beef and wild forest mushrooms in a sour cream sauce over noodles.

Directions: Add 2-1/2 cups (600 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 260
Total Fat: 10 g
Total Carbohydrates: 30 g
Protein: 11 g
Sodium: 910 mg

Beef Stroganoff (from another company) was the first "good" freeze-dried meal I remember having and this flavor will always have a nostalgia-spot in my bear canister. The addition of mushrooms makes this one even better. There are enough to actually taste! As it is one of the lighter weight and lower calorie meals I often save it for last on multi-day hikes. (I lose my appetite the longer I am out, I am the hungriest the first night.)


Santa Fe Chicken

Dry Weight: 7.5 oz (212 g)
Serving Size: Two 13 oz. Servings
MSRP: $ 8.90

A delicious New Mexican green chili with chicken and cheese served over rice.


Directions: Add 2-1/4 cups (540ml) of boiling water to all contents. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 400
Total Fat: 6 g
Total Carbohydrates: 66 g
Protein: 24 g
Sodium: 1130 mg

This is one of my favorites, and is Dave's all time favorite meal. It is a little mellower with the mild green chilis.


Chicken & Rice

Dry Weight: 6.2 oz (177 g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz servings
MSRP: $5.90

White rice, celery, onions, red and green bell peppers, parsley, carrots and hearty chunks of chicken in a chicken gravy.

Directions: Add 2-1/4 cups (540 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Close and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 280
Total Fat: 0.5 g
Total Carbohydrates:57 g
Protein: 13 g
Sodium: 1260 mg

This is another mellower meal that has a lot of flavor. On a trip with my children I made this for myself and Mac & Cheese for the kids. My daughter Emma asked to try mine. She liked it so much she wanted to trade me half. (Why of course…)


Jamaican BBQ Chicken


Dry Weight: 6.2 oz (177 g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz servings
MSRP: $6.50

Brown rice, black beans, chicken and vegetables over rice with our special Jamaican BBQ sauce.


Directions: Add 2-1/4 cups (540 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Close and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 310
Total Fat: 1.5 g
Total Carbohydrates: 61 g
Protein: 16 g
Sodium: 1430 mg

It is spicy and tangy, yum! This has become a favorite of mine and lately Dave is liking it a lot too. (He just bummed one from me last week.) I have learned to let it sit for about 25 minutes to make sure that the black beans rehydrate fully. Otherwise they can stay a bit crunchy in the middle.


Hawaiian Chicken

Dry Weight: 6.3 oz (180 g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz servings
MSRP: $6.95

A taste of the South Pacific! Chicken, brown rice, tomatoes, onions, red and green bell peppers in a tangy Polynesian teriyaki ginger sauce.

Directions: Add 2-1/4 cups (540 ml) of boiling water to all contents. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 300
Total Fat: 1 g
Total Carbohydrates: 65 g
Protein: 12 g
Sodium: 1160 mg

This one is pretty tasty too. It has pineapple in it that really comes through. It smells wonderful when the bag is opened after sitting its allotted time. Jenn loves this flavor.


Tomato Chipotle Pasta with Turkey

Dry Weight: 5.7 oz(163 g)
Serving Size: Two 13 oz servings
MSRP: $7.50

Turkey in a creamy tomato, basil and chipotle sauce with pasta.


Directions: Add 2-1/2 cups (590ml) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 420
Total Fat: 13 g
Total Carbohydrates: 52 g
Protein: 26 g
Sodium: 1610 mg

This one is a very filling meal. It has a lot of everything. I love chipotle (smoked jalapeno peppers) and the spiciness is right on for me.


Chili Mac with Beef


Dry Weight: 5.2 OZ (148g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz. Servings
MSRP: $5.90

Elbow macaroni smothered in chili and beef.


Directions: Add 2-1/4 cups (530 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 270
Total Fat: 2 g
Total Carbohydrates: 48 g
Protein: 14 g
Sodium: 1320 mg

Well, I don't know about "smothered in chili" but it has enough to make this perennial backpacking standard pretty good. This is another one that the kids and Dad both like. Sometimes I will bring some shredded cheese to top it with. Here is a picture from a Minnesota trip where we made the four-person size.

Dinner time kids



Jose's Chicken Mole

Dry Weight: 7 OZ (199g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz. Servings
MSRP: $6.90

Holy Mole! The word "Mole" (pronounced Mo-Lay) comes for the Aztec word "Molli," meaning "concoction," "stew," or "sauce." Ours is a special, complex dish carefully woven together using dried chiles, spices, and chocolate with rice and chicken. You will not believe how good it is!


Directions: Add 2 cups (475ml) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 320
Total Fat: 2.5 g
Total Carbohydrates: 64 g
Protein: 15 g
Sodium: 2010 mg

I had this only one time. I was in Yosemite and had been forced by lack of water to do an extended march. I was thoroughly beat as I made this meal and ate it in the dark. I chose this one as a treat for the bad day. Surprise! I have never had any backpacking meal be too spicy hot for me to eat, but Jose's Chicken Mole was so spicy that I could only eat a third of it. My mouth was burning, my lips were tingling and my nose was running. Later I thought that there must have been a problem with the spice addition in the manufacturing process that doubled it up (or more) in this batch. I am going to try it again.


Mashed Potatoes & Gravy with Beef


Dry Weight: 4.5 oz (127 g)
Serving Size: Two 13 oz servings
MSRP: $5.50

Mashed potatoes and beef in a rich beef gravy.


Directions: Add 2-3/4 cups (650 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Close and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 230
Total Fat: 1.5 g
Total Carbohydrates: 41 g
Protein: 13 g
Sodium: 750 mg

This is a good, easy mellow meal. This is another that I plan towards the last days of a long hike.


Turkey Stroganoff

Dry Weight: 6.3 oz (180 g)
Serving Size: Two 13 oz servings
MSRP: $9.50

Turkey, peas and mushrooms in a sour cream sauce over noodles.

Directions: Add 2-1/4 cups (540 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Close and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 390
Total Fat: 15 g
Total Carbohydrates: 46 g
Protein: 18 g
Sodium: 1260 mg

Here is one of my few problem meals. While the flavor was very good I had what felt like dirt all through it. I believe it may have been from the peas, although I let it sit extra long. I have noticed this to some extent in other mushroom dishes too, so maybe the combination of both made it worse. I ate it but the grit made it less than enjoyable.


Shepherds Pie with Turkey

Dry Weight: 5.1 oz (144 g)
Serving Size: Two 13 oz servings
MSRP: $8.50

This is a big meal! Mashed potatoes with cheddar cheese topped with sweet corn, peas, onions, lentils, tomatoes, and juicy chunks of turkey in a burgundy red wine sauce.

Directions: Remove potato mix packet. Add 1-1/2 cups (355ml) of boiling water to turkey & vegetable mix. Seal and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir dry potato mix to break up clumps. After 5 minutes add 1 cup (240mL) of boiling water to potato mix. Stir until smooth. When vegetables are ready (approximately 10 minutes), stir and pour over potatoes.

Calories per serving: 270
Total Fat: 3.5 g
Total Carbohydrates: 43 g
Protein: 17 g
Sodium: 920 mg

Notice the multi-step instructions. I did not notice that as I packed it and when it came time for dinner I mulled over what to do with the potatoes. I was a hard walk down to water and did not want to cook the potatoes in my pan. So while the turkey and veggies steeped I tried pouring the boiling water into the bag the potatoes were packed in. I held the thin bag in my fleece hat to keep from burning myself. Ha! The water instantly collapsed the bag pouring hot water over my hand. I quickly set everything down, watching as potato-y water went inside my hat. (And it was going to be cold that night, great. Raymond Potato Head.) I ended up dumping the mixture inside my insulated mug after quickly drinking down the ZYM electrolyte drink it contained. I had to boil a bit more water to get it right. Finally I scooped the potatos out and into the bag with the rest of the dinner. In hindsight I will just put all the water called for in the bag in the first place and just dump the potato mix in after it has sat long enough. Here is a picture of me transferring potatos out of my cup.

Now my drink is gonna taste funny


Now once I was eating I have to say it is pretty good. It had a lot of black pepper and onion flavors present.


Turkey with Mashed Potatoes & Stuffing

Dry Weight: 6.1 oz (173 g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz servings
MSRP: $7.50

This classic American meal combines diced turkey, harvest vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a bread crumb topping to make it a complete Thanksgiving dinner!

Directions: Remove bread crumb packet and set aside. Add 2-1/2 cups (600 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir, sprinkle bread crumbs over top and serve.

Calories per serving: 280
Total Fat: 4.5 g
Total Carbohydrates: 43 g
Protein: 18 g
Sodium: 1470 mg

Now this meal has the potatoes already mixed in. Yay! I do wait until it is ready to eat to mix in the bread crumbs. This is a very yummy meal, Jenn liked it too.


Fettuccini Alfredo with Turkey


Dry Weight: 7.5 oz (212 g)
Serving Size: Two 12 oz servings
MSRP: $9.90

Creamy alfredo sauce, roasted red peppers, turkey and noodles.

Directions: Add 2 cups (480 mL) of boiling water. Stir well. Close and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 310
Total Fat: 13 g
Total Carbohydrates: 31 g
Protein: 18 g
Sodium: 115 mg

This is a good one for times when a mellower meal is needed. The Alfredo sauce is pretty good and the noodles have good texture. It has the least sodium of any meal of theirs I have tried.


Risotto with Turkey

Dry Weight: 7.1 oz (202 g)
Serving Size: Two 14 oz servings
MSRP: $7.50

A delicious combination of rice, poultry stock, vegetables, parmesan cheese and juicy turkey.

Directions: Add 2-1/2 cups (600ml) of boiling water. Stir well. Seal and let sit for 13 minutes. Stir and serve.

Calories per serving: 370
Total Fat: 4 g
Total Carbohydrates: 66 g
Protein: 18 g
Sodium: 1470 mg

I love Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat…) and this reminds me of the simple one-pot meals mom would whip up in a hurry. It is quite filling. Jenn and the kids like this too so I am sure it will make it into my shopping cart again.


Chili Nachos with Beef

I have no information to post about this flavor as the company just dropped it. I am so extremely disappointed as this was my number one pick from the entire process. I bought two packages of this and wish now I had bought a case, it is that good. Well, it is to me. I hope that they will bring this flavor back. As for now I am going to hit all my local shops to look for close-outs on it.

Conclusion

Well that is it for this review, the longest I believe I have ever done. On the whole I found my experience with Backpackers Pantry to be quite positive. I am sure I will be having more of them. In fact the day I finished writing this (April 29, 2009) I ordered 5 packages from REI for an upcoming trip to Yosemite. I love the full flavor and spiciness of most the meals. As they introduce new flavors I am sure I will try them. Maybe a few years from now I can talk about a new batch. Until then Backpacking Bon Appétit.

Oh, look what's for dinner tonight…

A drink before dinner

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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