Overland Journal's Shelf Stable Meal Test

DzlToy

Explorer
Being a life-long outdoorsman, backpacker, mountain biker, and health-conscious minimalist, I was somewhat disappointed after reading the following article.


Can we really not figure out how to preserve healthy, great tasting food for a car camping or backpacking trip in the year 2019?

Complaints ranged from, "...needs more salt." from one taster testing a low sodium meal, to, “No, thank you, it smells really bad, like chemicals, and I don’t want to eat this." Some meals had good taste, but scored poorly in texture or cook time, while others were loaded were sodium, preservatives, MSG and sugar.

While I do not own a company that manufactures backpacking meals, I have done my share of freeze drying, vacuum bagging and canning over the years. Salt is not required as a preservative when food is dehydrated or freeze dried. Further, the sodium is significantly concentrated by dehydrating a salty food, such as ham, sending the salt per serving off the charts.

Freeze drying is the preferred method to preserve freshness, eliminate sodium and other preservatives, whilst retaining all nutrients, when compared to pre-cooking or dehydrating. Yet, only one brand in the OJ test used a freeze drying process to make their meals, IIRC.

I would be interested in hearing your strategies for short term food preservation; the idea of making something shelf stable for 2 - 30 years is patently absurd to me. Who keeps backpacking meals for 2 or 3 years? You buy them, go camping and they are gone in a few months. This alone should eliminate all preservatives and additives, IMO. It's just part of trip planning.

Alternative brands to the ones reviewed in the article above would also be of interest. I have used Packit Gourmet meals for years, and while the ingredients are quality, the sodium is still a bit high for my tastes, so I try to limit my use of them on trips.

Other options are Wise Foods, Fish People Seafood, Bertrand (GER), Back Country Cuisine (NZ) and Adventure Menu (CZ).

Feedback on preservation methods or top-of-the-range brands would be appreciated. A focus on preservative and additive free meals, with fresh, quality ingredients gets bonus points. Double bonus points are awarded for vegetarian, vegan, keto or other "whole food" based diet options. I do not eat salt and MSG at home, so why would I eat them on a 10 day backpacking trip?

Cheers
 

Kerensky97

Xterra101
Who keeps backpacking meals for 2 or 3 years?
"Preppers"

(I use quotes because I now consider the term derogatory, referring to bored suburban dads on message-boards rather than people who actually prepare for emergencies.)

You're exactly right. For camping meals I'm usually preserving within the week before the trip and the trip itself is rarely longer than a week. If I still have food at the end of the season it's rare, I must have cancelled a big trip.
90% of my camp meal pre-prep is really just finding ways to get around refrigeration... Not for preserving 4 years of food in a nuclear bunker for when "Mad Max" magically becomes a reality show rather than fiction.

It's fun to play the "Prepper" game in your mind, but the most important part of actual preparation is staying grounded in reality.
 
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shade

Well-known member
"Preppers"

(I use quotes because I now consider the term derogatory, referring to bored suburban dads on message-boards rather than people who actually prepare for emergencies.)

You're exactly right. For camping meals I'm usually preserving within the week before the trip and the trip itself is rarely longer than a week. If I still have food at the end of the season it's rare, I must have cancelled a big trip.
90% of my camp meal pre-prep is really just finding ways to get around refrigeration... Not for preserving 4 years of food in a nuclear bunker for when "Mad Max" magically becomes a reality show rather than fiction.

It's fun to play the "Prepper" game in your mind, but the most important part of actual preparation is staying grounded in reality.
You mock what you don't understand. You can have my missile silo when you pry it from my cold, dead hands er, feet!

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I agree that there's more emphasis than necessary on "shelf stability" when all I want is some backpacking meals that can go without refrigeration. I don't need years of storage capability built into my food. To save money, I've been buying Mountain House cubed chicken in a gallon tin, and packing meals from it as needed. That's much cheaper than buying their Chicken & Taters meals, and the unused chicken stays fresh in a freezer for months.

I wish I could justify a freeze dryer, but they're still a bit high for the amount of use I'd get out of one.
 

BritKLR

Kapitis Indagatoris
Another thought on this topic....precooked healthy food at home and then freezing it to be reheated while on a roadtrip/Overland trip. We spend approx. 1-3 weeks on the road every month or approx 30-50k miles per year living out of our Tiger. While it's fun to splurge with eating out, steaks, sausages, pan fried whatever, dehydrated campfood, etc...there is only so much of that you can eat. So, before we headout, we makeup a menu of meals weeks before hand and any time we make soups, stews, chilis, casseroles, pasta, etc...we make enough for two extra servings and place them in ziplocks and stack them flat in the freezer. When we head out I place them in the Tiger freezer. Our Norcold fridge freezer is tiny but, with careful planning I've had 8 meals stacked in it. PS....what's with the disappearance of salad bars? We spent a week in California along the PCH/Big Sur and couldn't find a single grocery store, Whole Foods, etc. that had a salad bar and after two weeks on the road from OEEast we couldn't find a good salad bar.....
 

DzlToy

Explorer
A couple of Ronny Dahl's mates did exactly that ^^ on a 16 day Outback trip in the Kimberley region of Oz. Meals were made up, laid out flat in large bags, vacuum sealed and frozen into "tiles". During load out, they were then slotted into the freezer like papers in a file cabinet. Of course, this only works with certain foods, such as spaghetti, soups, beans and rice, etc.
 

shade

Well-known member
I don't think there's much doubt about the efficacy of using refrigeration to preserve food. I often travel with a vegan that has some favourite meals that we prepare, freeze, and bring along in the fridge. No big deal.

I think the OP is asking about non-refrigerated methods, recipes, etc. That was my takeaway.
 

Chorky

Observer
Being a life-long outdoorsman, backpacker, mountain biker, and health-conscious minimalist, I was somewhat disappointed after reading the following article.


Can we really not figure out how to preserve healthy, great tasting food for a car camping or backpacking trip in the year 2019?

Complaints ranged from, "...needs more salt." from one taster testing a low sodium meal, to, “No, thank you, it smells really bad, like chemicals, and I don’t want to eat this." Some meals had good taste, but scored poorly in texture or cook time, while others were loaded were sodium, preservatives, MSG and sugar.

While I do not own a company that manufactures backpacking meals, I have done my share of freeze drying, vacuum bagging and canning over the years. Salt is not required as a preservative when food is dehydrated or freeze dried. Further, the sodium is significantly concentrated by dehydrating a salty food, such as ham, sending the salt per serving off the charts.

Freeze drying is the preferred method to preserve freshness, eliminate sodium and other preservatives, whilst retaining all nutrients, when compared to pre-cooking or dehydrating. Yet, only one brand in the OJ test used a freeze drying process to make their meals, IIRC.

I would be interested in hearing your strategies for short term food preservation; the idea of making something shelf stable for 2 - 30 years is patently absurd to me. Who keeps backpacking meals for 2 or 3 years? You buy them, go camping and they are gone in a few months. This alone should eliminate all preservatives and additives, IMO. It's just part of trip planning.

Alternative brands to the ones reviewed in the article above would also be of interest. I have used Packit Gourmet meals for years, and while the ingredients are quality, the sodium is still a bit high for my tastes, so I try to limit my use of them on trips.

Other options are Wise Foods, Fish People Seafood, Bertrand (GER), Back Country Cuisine (NZ) and Adventure Menu (CZ).

Feedback on preservation methods or top-of-the-range brands would be appreciated. A focus on preservative and additive free meals, with fresh, quality ingredients gets bonus points. Double bonus points are awarded for vegetarian, vegan, keto or other "whole food" based diet options. I do not eat salt and MSG at home, so why would I eat them on a 10 day backpacking trip?

Cheers
e OP is asking about non-refrigerated methods, recipes, etc. That was
Agreed. I know many folks who have done a ton of through-hikes, or backpack trips just to rack up miles (which I personally despise), and they are always searching for another form of food, or home made freeze dried recipe. The store bought stuff is much better than it was years ago, but it still leaves things to be desired. But I will disagree with above statement that you wouldnt keep them longer than 3 years. I actually have some backpacking food going on 10 years now. I actually have to eat it for actual food this winter ha! Partly by choice, mostly not. I always plan lots of trips, and usually only go on 50% of them for whatever reason. So, buying in bulk to save casy, I'm usually left with extra. That extra typically goes on the shelf, the truck and the jeep as a backup or 'emergency' food. Not for the sake of prepping, as some may choose to do. but more for the sake of not knowing if you ever break down, get stuck, or just dont want to drive all the way home in one day. That being said, theres so many recipes out there for home made backpacking food. Then again, depending on your time of year, and length of visit, you may not even need any shelf stable food. Even some 'refrigerated' items don't truly need to be refirgerated.
 

dreadlocks

Well-known member
For backpacking I just bring cooked venison, cheese, and pasta shells.. of various types and mix them together in varying combinations with some spices here and there.. Its about as ultralight and consumable day after day as I can take.. those MRE Backpacking meals are just terrible and expensive and not worth the few ounces of weight savings, I'd rather fast the first day and make up for it than eat that crap again.. your food load is just going to get lighter as the days roll by anyhow, why bother extracting every lil drop of water out of it? is it just so you can eat it with a titanium spork and not feel silly?
 
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