So many of us love the outdoors. So many of us love food. Why, then, is commercially available outdoor (and emergency) food so inadequate? Is it really the case that we cannot marry our love of the outdoors with the love we feel as we sit down to the table? Sure, we can take our “good food” with us, but there is only so much weight one is able to handle, especially for multi-day trips.

Besides the chemical ramifications of the freeze-drying or dehydrating processes, there are the obvious ramifications to texture, aroma and aesthetic that otherwise add much to the overall eating experience.

Producers of outdoor food probably don’t agree with this proposition. But surely some are doing better than others and, to find out, I’ve endeavored to produce written reviews, including a rating based on a 100-point scale (subject to evolution as we proceed with reviews):

95 – 100: EXCEPTIONAL!
90 – 94: EXCELLENT
80 – 89: VERY GOOD
70 – 79: GOOD
60 – 69: MEDIOCRE
40 – 49: POOR

Point scales often give a more identifiable representation, particularly where subjective factors need to be considered. Reviews will include consideration of the following factors and I will reproduce the nutrition facts as per the labels (subject to the occasional screw up):

Taste – Outdoor food should enhance the ultimate outdoor experience and, ultimately, stand on its own. Taste is still king.
Packaging – There is a practical reality to eating in the outdoors and convenience demands special consideration. This rating category will consider all factors around that issue.
Value – Like everything else we buy, we should consider cost and what we get for our money. Value is based only on MSRP.
Nutrition – This is a tough one. Nutrition is not an exact science, no one diet is right for everyone, and caloric needs vary wildly by age, gender, weight, height and levels of physical activity. The most recent USDA’s dietary guidelines (2010) estimate that the average adult active male needs 2800 – 3000 calories and the average adult active female needs 2000 to 2400 calories. But an outdoor hobbyist’s needs may well exceed even those estimates. A backpacker or rock climber could very easily burn 500 – 700 calories or more per hour of activity. For the time being, rather than relying on a more sophisticated algorithm[1] (but hope in future to be able to rely on), I will accept the following:
Outdoor meals need to be able to serve up lots of calories (relative to others in their category) in a small amount of space.
The ratio of carbohydrates to protein should be about 4:1 post-workout, and we will assume that an outdoor entrée is serving the need for recovery (note that this commonly thrown around ratio is not a scientifically proven optimum and may vary anywhere from 2:1 to 5:1 depending on weight and other factors).
Trans fats and saturated fats, shown to be correlated to chronic disease, are unhealthy (the strength of such correlation will not be considered).
Sodium greater than 420 mg per serving is high sodium (as suggested by the FDA, based on their recommended total sodium per day of less than 2400 mg) and therefore unhealthy, notwithstanding that those with higher levels of physical activity may need higher levels of sodium.
Other factors and nutrients not included on package labels will not be considered.
Products are always prepared to package specifications. Where instructions are to let stand for a time in a specified range (e.g., “12 to 15 minutes”), I let products stand for the maximum amount of time (e.g. in this example, 15 minutes). I’ll try not to comment on viscosity (unless there is something truly notable) since this can generally be adjusted by the amount of boiling water used.

Finally, note that where taste tests are conducted, even if something wins out in a taste test, the point score may not be high. As described above, point totals will take account of factors other than taste, and even if taste is best of a class, it doesn’t mean it is deserving of the highest ranking.

Please let me know if you think there are brands and flavors worth checking out. I’d love to hear about them.