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Reviews > Food > Packaged Meals > Cache Lake Foods - 2007 > Test Report by Kathleen Waters

CACHE LAKE FOODS
TEST SERIES BY KATHLEEN WATERS
FIELD REPORT
February 04, 2008

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TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kathleen Waters
EMAIL: TheMiddleSister@usaring.com
AGE: 56
LOCATION: White Lake, Michigan USA
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 4" (1.63 m)
WEIGHT: 125 lb (56.70 kg)

I started hiking in 1998 after an eye-opening climb up Hahn's Peak in Colorado. Hooked, I return to Colorado often. I've hiked/snowshoed glaciers, rain forests, mountains and deserts in domestic and exotic locations, including Iceland, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Death Valley. At home, I plan for 2-3 hikes of 6-8 mi (10-13 km) weekly and one weekend hike monthly. Weekday hikes take place in Pontiac Lake Recreation Area, a mixture of heavily-wooded moderate hills and flat terrain. Weekend hike locations vary. My hiking style is comfortable, aiming for lightweight. Current pack averages 25 lb (11 kg) including food and water


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Cache Lake™ Foods - A division of NPO Foods
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.cachelake.com
MSRP: US$ SEE cHART 2 BELOW
Listed Weight: various, see Chart 2 below
Measured Weight: various, see Chart 2 below*
Other Details: Nutritional Facts

ProductWeightCaloriesFatsCholesterolSodiumCarbsFiberSugarsProtein
Banana Cream Pie4 oz/113 g2527.7 g6.6 mg275 mg29 g0.5 g25 g3 g
Beef Stroganoff5.8 oz/164 g3316 g20 mg718 mg53 g2 g3 g16 g
Beef, Vegetables & Gravy w/Mashed Potatoes5.6 oz/158 g2743 g20 mg1073 mg51 g2.5 g1.5 g11 g
Chicken a la King with Rice7 oz/199 g2002.5 g30 mg655 mg30 g0.3 g0 g11 g
Chicken Noodle Casserole w/Vegetables6.6 ox/187 g2772 g24 mg834 mg54 g2 g3.5 g10 g
Chocolate Pie4 oz/113 g2479 g1 mg523 mg43 g0.5 g15 g1.7 g
Curried Sweet Potato Latke6.4 oz/182 g3748 g117 mg717 mg65 g1 g26 g8 g
Hash Brown Egg Scramble6.7 oz/190 g2248 g2.7 mg1109 mg23 g2 g7 g15 g
Peas & Carrots1.5 oz /42 g170 g0 mg5 mg5 g1.5 g2.4 g0 g
Quick & Tasty Cheesy Sweet Potatoes6.4 oz/182 g3705.5 g40 mg530 mg75 g3 g61 g7 g
Quick & Tasty Pudding - Lemon Cream4 oz/113 g1590.1 g0 mg240 mg104 g0.2 g80 g0 g
Quick & Tasty Pudding - Vanilla4 oz/113 g2080.12 g49.7 mg322 mg49.7 g0 g35.7 g3 g
Really Tasty Chicken Stew5 oz/142 g2113 g0 mg1613 mg18.7 g4.5 g.6 g12.4g
Really Tasty Dumplings3.2 oz/90 g2203 g35 mg286 mg41 g2 g0 g6.5 g
Sloppy Joes w/Fryin' Pan Buns6.4 oz/181 g3329 g59 mg 1900 mg43 g19 g29 g2.5 g
Sweet Potato Corn Bread6.5 oz/190 g1502.8 g117 mg474 mg20 g0.5 g4.5 g5 g
Wild Rice Pancakes6 oz/180 g2169.3 g47 mg790 mg47 g1.6 g3.2 g8 g
Wild Rice Vegetable Salad3.5 0z/100 g1120 g0 mg147 mg24 g2.5 g1 g4 g


CHART 2


ProductListed WeightActual Weight *MSRPProductListed WeightActual Weight *MSRP
Banana Cream Pie4 oz/113 g5 oz/142 g$3.50 Beef Stroganoff5.8 oz/164 g7 oz/198 g$6.50
Beef, Vegetables & Gravy w/Mashed Potatoes5.6 oz/158 g6.5 oz/184 g$5.95 Chicken a la King with Rice7 oz/199 g8.5 oz/241 g$6.75
Chicken Noodle Casserole w/Vegetables6.6 ox/187 g8.25 oz/234 g$6.75 Chocolate Pie4 oz/113 g5.25 oz/479 g$3.25
Curried Sweet Potato Latke6.4 oz/182 g5.5 oz/156 g$3.75 Hash Brown Egg Scramble6.7 oz/190 g6.75 oz/191 g$4.75
Peas & Carrots1.5 oz /42 g2.5 oz/71 g $2.65Quick & Tasty Cheesy Sweet Potatoes6.4 oz/182 g7 oz/198 g $5.50
Quick & Tasty Pudding - Lemon Cream4 oz/113 g4.5 oz/128 g$1.95 Quick & Tasty Pudding - Vanilla4 oz/113 g4.25 oz/120 g$1.95
Really Tasty Chicken Stew5 oz/142 g5.75 oz/163 g$5.75 Really Tasty Dumplings3.2 oz/90 g3 oz/85 g$2.95
Sloppy Joes w/Fryin' Pan Buns6.4 oz/181 g10.5 oz/298 g$6.30 Sweet Potato Corn Bread6.5 oz/190 g7.5 oz/213 g $3.95
Wild Rice Pancakes6 oz/180 g8.5 oz/241 g$5.95 Wild Rice Vegetable Salad3.5 0z/100 g5.5 oz/156 g $5.50

*As measured on my postage meter scale.


INITIAL IMPRESSIONS - September 2007

Yum! Almost 6 lb (3 kg) of Cache Lake dehydrated food products arrived for testing! There's everything from breakfast to desserts, from no-prep, to frying. That's quite a variety of dishes for me to sample and the pictures on the website are very encouraging!

First off, all the Cache Lake products are encased in the bare minimum of packaging. The dehydrated food completely fills the packaging with no extra airspace. Some of the packages are "bulging" due to having been sealed at lower altitudes than my current altitude of 5637' (1718 m). The individual packages are very small and will be easily crammed into the corners of my backpack.

Some of the custom-sized "bags" are similar to ordinary zipper-type freezer bags with heat-sealed top openings. Other bags are of the same weight material but without the zipper-seal. All of the bags are see-through and have labels on the front. Some have additional labels on the back. These labels detail cooking instructions, ingredients and nutritional facts. Some of the packages are labeled "Cache Lake's Outfitter's Choice". The labels are attractively colored with either green, brown or orange text. I have a great deal of difficulty reading the orange text especially in bright sunlight. I'll be needing a magnifying glass on the trail for sure.

Most of the food products have "Sell By" dates on them well into late 2009 and even 2010.

The food products through the see-through packaging looks like typical dehydrated food - not very appetizing. But some of the aromas wafting out of those packages hint of tasty trail fare. I'll need a "bear bag" for sure!
Cache Lake Dehydrated Food
Cache Lake Dehydrated Foods

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The first thing that I noticed about the cooking instructions for the various Cache Lake Foods is they are EASY! At least, the instructions sound easy enough. Whether or not I accomplish them on the trail easily, remains to be seen. A couple of the dishes, such as Peas and Carrots, and the Chocolate and Banana Cream Pies, have two sets of directions; a "quick and easy" and an "ultimate taste" set for versatility.

Some of the products are simply, "mix-with-water-and-eat". Others require cooking in pots or fry pans. But none of the products require any additional ingredients other than water and (in some cases) oil. The cooking utensils needed are limited to pots, pans, bowls and spoons/forks; the usual suspects on a basic backpacking trip for me.

TESTING STRATEGY

Oh my goodness! Just looking at all the products I received for the Cache Lake foods test and I'm salivating! Everything sounds so yummy! The mainstay items appear to be soups/stews and breads and those are my most favorite foods, especially for fall and winter backpacking trips. Give me those carbs and I'm a happy camper (pun intended). The fry bread sounds so delicious that I won't even crab if hubby makes ME carry our cast iron fry pan.

As a tester for the Cache Lake's sample box of food, I will eat and evaluate every last little morsel! Ah, I will probably share a little - if hubby carries the frying pan. ;) And since all the products are designed for 2 servings, that won't be too much of a sacrifice!

Things I will be testing for will be; storage and packing issues, palatability, and appetite and energy satisfaction, not necessarily in that order.

First, are there any long-term shelf storage conditions to satisfy as far as heat or cold? Does the packaging hold up to being crammed into corners of my pack or will it tear or burst? Does the packaging easily tear open on the trail or will I be using my teeth (or knife) to get the bag open? Does the packaging keep the various food items fresh? Will moisture penetrate the packaging? What about heat - will the food spoil? Conversely, will the cold have any adverse effects? How much waste packaging am I going to have to pack out? Can I compress the packaging down to a small wad after consuming the food?

Can I easily follow the directions or are the directions complex? Can any of the food products be prepared in their packages? If a food item is just an add-hot-water-wait-then-eat meal, how long before it is ready for consumption? How long do the various products take to prepare properly?

Since I usually carry the bare minimum food-wise on the trail (unless packing with my chef-son, Shawn) whatever food I carry must taste good and pack a good energy wallop! Smell precedes taste, so how good do the various products smell? Can I recognize the various flavors of the various products just by smelling them?

How do the various food products look when prepared? Are they appetizing or just a mish-mosh of goop on a plate? Does MY final product look like those on the website?

How does the food taste? Are the spices pleasing? Too pronounced? Too spicy? Too sweet? Too bland? Or just right? Will I go first for the Cache Lake foods when the pangs of hunger hit me on the trail? Are they good tasting enough that I would consider eating them even if they weren't the only thing left in my pack? How does the food feel in my mouth? Do the products feel like they are "fake"? Gritty? Pasty?

Lastly, do the Cache Lake foods satisfy my hunger and sustain me on the trail? I realize this is a very unscientific testing and I will do my best to determine whether or not they reasonably fill me up. Is the serving size realistic? Will I want to eat more than one serving at a sitting? Are the portions too much for a snack? Do I feel the Cache Lake foods give me more sustained energy on the trail versus a more sugar-laden carbohydrate-based food bar? Are the food products relatively healthy with the ideal mixture of fats, proteins and carbohydrates for hiking? Will I suffer any after effects?

I will also report any other issues that arise during the testing period.

SUMMARY

This concludes my Initial Report on the Cache Lake Dehydrated Camping Food products. Please see the results of all my cooking efforts and dining experiences below in my Field Report.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During this field testing period, all of my backpacking took place in south central Colorado. All backpacking trips were weekend jaunts into the approximately 100,000 acres (40,468 hectares) of BLM land encompassing the Cooper Mountain range/Royal Gorge area near Canon City or the Wet Mountains south of the Arkansas River Valley.

The Cooper Mountain range is mostly pinon pine and juniper-covered high desert with rough primitive game and mining trails (for the most part) and is easily accessed just outside of my property fence line. So this was (and will be) most often chosen for my weekenders. My husband and I generally pack up, grab the GPS, pick a trail and go without any planned destination in mind.

The Wet Mountains rise up from the Arkansas River Valley and are dense ponderosa pine and sage forests. One of my favorite trails there is the Barlett Trail in the southern part of the Wet Mountains.

Elevations I tested in ranged from 5000' up to 14000' (1524 m to 4268 m) and temperatures over summer and fall varied from 50 F to 95 F (10 C to 35 C).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

It was a very different experience for me, testing the Cache Lake Food Products. I'm generally a very lazy hiker when it comes to food. As long as the stuff tastes good and requires no work, I'm ok with it. My usual cuisine runs like, instant oatmeal for breakfast with hot tea, both sans milk; some sort of protein bar or tuna/cracker pack for lunch; trail mix or jerky for snack breaks and instant soup, ramen noodles or tuna steaks for dinner. Not very inspired, but certainly easy and I'm in the outdoors to commune with nature, right? Food is just fuel for my body so I don't get overly distracted by a growling tummy.

Well, Cache Lake Foods certainly opened my eyes to what I've been missing! I never knew I could have such a variety of foods so easily prepared on the trail.

Fortunately, the Cache Lake Food products are very economically packaged. There is no wasted space or excess packaging for that matter. In a couple of cases, ingredients are individually packaged and then combined into an additional package. The packaging is flexible and was able to be tucked here and there into my pack. The packaging was strong enough to withstand pokes and jabs from other items in my pack without the powdered contents spilling all over my pack. While I wasn't able to tear the packaging, I was able to open the packaging with a pocket knife.

The packaging appears to keep the products fresh in all the elements I encountered. At no time did I find that any moisture had penetrated the packaging. Heat and cold had no effect on the products, either. I was also very happy to find that the packaging folded flat when empty and took even less space than my usual trail fare.

None of the products were able to be prepared in their packaging by just adding water though.

My only complaint regarding the packaging was that some of the product directions (and everything else in print) were in colors that were almost impossible for me to read in the sunlight. Particularly the "yellow" color which forced me to resort to my trusty magnifying glass to decipher!

In most cases, I could smell the Cache Lake Food products even before the packaging was opened. And that smell intensified while cooking. Yum! More than once, I was asked "what's cooking?" Fortunately, for the most part, the bears were in hibernation, but the smells really whet my appetite. I could especially anticipate the spiciness of the Sloppy Joes and the Beef Stroganoff.

I can't say that most of the foods, particularly the chicken entrees looked very appetizing. That could have been my fault in preparation. I'm a fairly casual cook. The products looked a lot better on the Cache Lake Foods website! Anyway, most of the time, it was dark when I was eating and the taste was more important to me than the visual end result.

Below, I describe my experience with each of the Cache Lake Food products.

Banana Cream Pie
Equipment and Water Needed: 1/2 cups (0.12 l) water and a bowl. Additional variation requires 1/2 tbsp (7.5 ml) oil and a fry pan.
Preparation Notes: Mix Banana ingredients with water until well blended. Divide in half and serve with crust crumpled over the top. 2-3 minutes prep time.
Results: Very creamy with a strong banana flavor. Not my favorite, even if hubby did enjoy it. The crust crumpled over the top was very nice. I definitely wouldn't bother with the cooked version. Too much trouble on the trail.
Beef Stroganoff
Equipment and Water Needed: 2.5 cups (0.6 l) water and a pot.
Preparation Notes: Boil water, add ingredients, mix and cook until heated through - 7 minutes.
Results: 2 individual packages for noodles/beef and gravy. Nice appearance, smelled wonderful, could use a bit of pepper for other seasoning. Tasted good, meat a bit stringy. Not enough to satisfy on this particular night. Ate with some bread.
Beef, Vegetables & Gravy w/Mashed Potatoes
Equipment and Water Needed: 3.5 cups (0.84 l) water and two pots.
Preparation Notes: Boil water in two different pots, add Beef and Vegetables to one, return to boil and add gravy. Add potatoes to other pot and stir. 6 minutes plus boiling time.
Results: 3 separate packets. Tasty and filling. Looked good with lots of peas. Potatoes were good. Beef chunks were noticeable and chewy. But required too much effort for the trail for me and clean up was messy.
Chicken a la King with Rice
Equipment and Water Needed: 2.75 cups (0.66 l) water and two pots.
Preparation Notes: Boil water, mix in ingredients, then cook for 7 minutes.
Results: 4 individual packages. Very tasty, but could use some pepper. Very filling, more than enough for two. More rice than vegetables and meat, but not objectionably so. Mostly peas, not crunchy, but not mushy either. Definitely would cook/eat again.
Chicken Noodle Casserole w/Vegetables
Equipment and Water Needed: 3 cups (0.72 l) water and a pot.
Preparation Notes: Simply boiled water, add chicken and veggies. Return to boil, simmer 5 minutes, add gravy and mix. About 9 minutes from start to finish.
Results: 2 individual packages. Not the most attractive dish. Very filling, probably should have cooked a little longer for my taste in noodle consistency. Chicken a bit chewy, got stuck in my teeth. Very filling, would definitely eat and enjoy again.
Chocolate Pie
Equipment and Water Needed: 1/2 cup (0.12 l) water and a bowl. Additional variation requires 1/2 tbsp (7.5 ml) oil and a fry pan.
Preparation Notes: Mix Chocolate ingredients with water until well blended. Divide in half and serve with crust crumpled over the top. 2-3 minutes prep time.
Results: I love chocolate, so there were great expectations here! Divine! Very smooth, tasty and I will definitely be ordering this again. One of the few dishes I didn't want to share!
Curried Sweet Potato Latke
Equipment and Water Needed: 1 cup (0.24 l) water, a bowl and a non-stick fry pan.
Preparation Notes: Mix potatoes and water together, then fry in fry pan. 10 minutes prep time.
Results: Spicy! But I like spicy! One package was a good side dish for two with a meat dish. Consistency was very nice, like a potato pancake.
Hash Brown Egg Scramble
Equipment and Water Needed: 1.5 cup (0.36 l) water and a non-stick frying pan (2 tbsp/30 ml oil, if not non-stick).
Preparation Notes: Mix and fry in fry pan. 15 minutes from start to finish.
Results: Surprisingly spicy. Very filling. Didn't look very pretty, but tasty. Not sure how much egg was in there though, lots of potato.
Peas & Carrots
Equipment and Water Needed: 1 cup (0.24 l) water and a cup or small bowl.
Preparation Notes: Boil water and pour over Peas and Carrots. Let stand 2-3 minutes.
Results: Tried this right-out-of-the-bag as directed, for a quick snack. Too messy. Cooked up the rest - just poured water over it! Very tasty with just enough crunch. Way more carrots than peas, but great. With pre-packaged mesquite tuna steaks and the Sweet Potato Latke, made a great meal.
Quick & Tasty Cheesy Sweet Potatoes
Equipment and Water Needed: 1 cup (0.24 l) water and small pot or bowl.
Preparation Notes: Mix & eat cold, ready in less than 5 minutes. Super Easy.
Results: Two individual packages, Consistency of mashed potatoes, cheese bits add crunch. Actually yams, not blander sweet potatoes, nice color, nicely spiced - ate cold, would like to try it hot.
Quick & Tasty Pudding - Lemon Cream
Equipment and Water Needed: 1 cup (0.24 l) water and a bowl.
Preparation Notes: Mix water and pudding together and let set 2-3 minutes.
Results: Easy to mix. Nice and thick. Almost like cheese cake consistency. Husband John thought it tasted like lemon meringue pie. Strong, but not too strong lemon flavor. Excellent. Made more than enough for two servings. No gritty taste, mixed up creamy smooth.
Quick & Tasty Pudding - Vanilla
Equipment and Water Needed: 1 cup (0.24 l) water and a bowl.
Preparation Notes: Mix water and pudding together and let set 2-3 minutes.
Results: Like the Lemon Creme flavor, this pudding was super easy to make. No gritty taste, very smooth with good vanilla flavor. Definitely a keeper for me.
Really Tasty Chicken Stew
Equipment and Water Needed: 3 cups (0.72 l) water and a pot.
Preparation Notes: Bring water and mix to a boil and then simmer 10-15 minutes.
Results: I had difficulty - maybe too tired that night - getting this dish and the dumplings below coordinated. Good taste and filling with the dumplings. Could have used a bit more spice. Not much chicken chunks floating around though.
Really Tasty Dumplings
Equipment and Water Needed: 1/4 cup (0.06 l) water and a bowl.
Preparation Notes: Mix dumpling mix with water, add to stew and boil in stew for 10 minutes.
Results: Very simple to make, but when made in conjunction with the Chicken Stew, too much trouble on the trail for me. The consistency was not to my liking, sort of doughy. Could have been my fault though.
Sloppy Joes w/Fryin' Pan Buns
Equipment and Water Needed: 2 cups (0.48 l) water, a pot, and 1 tbsp (15 ml) oil/fry pan or non-stick fry pan.
Preparation Notes: Mix bun ingredients and then fry buns in fry pan. While buns are frying, mix Sloppy Joe package and heat. Pour hot Sloppy Joes over buns. About 20 minutes to complete all the steps.
Results: My least favorite of all the meals. A real pain to make. Meat was of a mystery kind of consistency. The buns turned out pretty decent, but didn't make up for the meat.
Sweet Potato Corn Bread
Equipment and Water Needed: 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (0.12 l + 30 ml) water, 2 bowls and a fry pan.
Preparation Notes: Mix and fry in fry pan. Only 12-13 minutes were required for this.
Results: VERY tasty! This filled my whole 7 inch (18 cm) fry pan. Served two nicely with some packaged tuna steaks. Did not use any oil, just a non-stick fry pan. I'll be ordering this again.
Wild Rice Pancakes
Equipment and Water Needed: 1 cup +1 tbsp (0.24 l + 15 ml) water, a cup/bowl and a fry pan.
Preparation Notes: Soaked blueberries for about 10 minutes. Mixed pancake mix slightly with water, then added blueberries. Cooked in fry pan for 2-3 minutes each.
Results: This made about 6 - 4 inch (10 cm) pancakes. Tasted just like home! Good flavor, a bit nutty. Smeared with some blueberry jam. Yum! Sure beat instant oatmeal, my usual trail breakfast!
Wild Rice Vegetable Salad
Equipment and Water Needed: 1 cup (0.24 l) water and a small pot or bowl.
Preparation Notes: Soaked for 10 hrs in bag (directions call for 8 hrs). Nothing to it! Includes 2 packages of dressing to be mixed in before eating.
Results: Package didn't leak even when turned upside down and lightly squished. Only used one dressing package. Very tasty, crunchy, but not hard. By itself, it would be sufficient for just me. Splitting w/ hubby, just needed a hot dog to be complete.

SUMMARY

Overall, I really enjoyed the Cache Lake Foods. They were very well packed, fit easily into my backpack, had simple instructions for preparation and most importantly, the foods were tasty and filling. Some of the dishes required more effort than I normally expend on my usual outdoor meals, and I probably won't purchase them in the future. However, for the most part, I definitely will be a repeat consumer and will (and have already) recommend them to my friends and family. Especially the sweet potato products!

This concludes my testing of the Cache Lake Foods products.

Thank you to NPO and BackpackGearTest.org for introducing me to these products!

Kathleen Waters

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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