I have been experimenting with no cook backpacking meals from Outdoor Herbivore for the past six weeks to see if I want to bring them on a big backpacking trip I have slated for this year. I’ve been burned by bringing food that I haven’t tried at home on trips beforehand, so it’s worth my time to test commercially packaged meals in advance.
In addition to taste, I want to make sure that my digestive system can tolerate foods that I’ve never eaten before and that the preparation required is compatible with the capabilities of the cook system I plan to bring. For example, alcohol and solid fuel (ESBIT) stoves are good for boiling water, but they’re inadequate for cooking meals, like spaghetti, that need an adjustable flame for simmering. When selecting food for a trip you want to double-check that all the meals you bring can be prepared with the stove and pot you plan to carry.
No Cook Meals
Before trying these meals, I’d always thought that no cook meals were stoveless meals that you rehydrated in some kind of jar or covered bowl for a few hours before eating. While Outdoor Herbivore does sell several meals like that, mainly breakfasts, most of their dinners require the addition of boiling water to a dry mix, which caught me by surprise because a stove of some sort is required. They also sell entrees that require simmering and boiling, so you need to be careful that you understand the cooking requirements fully before buying a meal from them.
All of the meals that I’ve tried from Outdoor Herbivore have been very filling which is a pleasant surprise. I eat pretty clean on the trail already, but the Outdoor Herbivore’s meals are all vegetarian, something I was open to trying, but inexperienced with. One reason they are so satisfying is that many of their meals include ground seeds or beans which boost the meal’s caloric value and add “body” to it when rehydrated. For example, Outdoor Herbivore’s Chickpea Sesame Penne (above) contains milled flax-seed, ground chickpea and ground sesame seeds which help boost its caloric value up to 700 calories per 6 ounce serving.
One thing I have noticed when eating Outdoor Herbivore meals is that I need to drink more water during the day because they make you thirsty. That’s not an issue when I’m hiking because I drink 5 liters a day, but at home it’s more noticeable. This isn’t caused by high levels of sodium in the meals. Quite the contrary, I add salt to almost all of the Outdoor Herbivore meals because I feel they need more.
Here’s feedback on 10 of the Outdoor Herbivore breakfasts and entrees that I’ve tried so far. I’ve included the number of calories provided by each meal, their weight for those of you who worry about caloric density, as well as Outdoor Herbivore’s recommended preparation instructions. Overall, I find the rehydration times recommended by Outdoor Herbivore too short and recommend you let their meals sit an extra 2-3 minutes to more completely rehydrate before eating.
All of these meals are available at Outdoor Herbivore.
1. Switchback Soup and Stuffers – 415 calories/4 ounces
A cheesy bean and salsa meal with black beans and pinto beans, organic cheddar cheese, corn, diced tomato, and dried herbs. Boil water and let soak for 10 minutes. Very tasty and a fantastic complement to flour tortillas.
2. Sunny Sunflower Salad – 480 calories/4 ounces
A blend of seasonings tossed with organic corn, sunflower seeds, flaked black beans & bell peppers. No cooking required. Just add water and the included 0.5 oz. olive oil packet and wait 10 minutes. Great flavor and an excellent lunch item. Has a nice crunch to it.
3. Chunky Chipolte Chili – 420 calories/4 ounces
Spicy chili with bell peppers, cocoa-cinnamon, chipotle pepper & red chili. Boil water and let soak for 10 minutes. Very hearty and filling. Quite spicy too!
4. Chickpea Sesame Penne – 700 calories/ 6 ounces
Pasta with creamy flavors of chickpea, sesame, roasted red pepper, and garlic. Add contents of package to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover & stand 10 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Rich, creamy, and very satisfying.
5. Basil Walnut Penne – 840 calories/ 6.4 ounces
Crushed basil & walnuts tossed with organic whole wheat penne, milled flax-seed and olive oil (included). Bring 1.75 cups of water to boil in a covered pot. Stir in pasta mix & enclosed olive oil. Boil 1 min. Turn off heat, keep covered and stand 10 mins. Another tasty pasta dish. The crunchy walnuts really make this meal!
6. Lemongrass Thai Curry – 615 calories/4.75 ounces
Flavors of lemony citrus, hot chilies, and sweet coconut base blended with instant basmati rice and roasted peanuts. Bring 1 cup of water to boil in a covered pot. Add rice mix, turn off heat, keep covered, and let stand 8-10 minutes. Love a curry in the backcountry. Yummy.
7. Lickety-Split Lentils – 620 calories/5.8 ounces
Spiced legume dish with lentils, brown rice, vegetables, and Indian spices. Bring 1.25 cups of water to boil in a covered pot. Stir in rice mix, turn off heat, keep covered and let stand 10 min. Very spicy, but makes a fantastic hot lunch or dinner.
8. Bee Good Couscous – 770 calories/6 ounces
Couscous with organic raisins, bee pollen, and the roasted nuts give it some crunch. Boil water. Add contents of package & included olive oil, stir, cover and stand 5 minutes, or until water is absorbed. A bit dull but filling and packed with calories.
9. High Elevation Rice Cereal -540 calories/4.8 ounces
A hot cereal made with organic whole grain brown rice and packed with fruits and nuts. Creamy, nutty & sweet flavors scented with ginger, cinnamon, & clove. Boil water, contents of package, stir well, cover and allow to rest 5-7 minutes. Also a bit dull. Really could use some extra brown sugar.
10. Coconut Chia Peel – 600 calories/5.0 ounces
Creamy flavors of coconut, chia, and banana. Add cold water, stir and allow to stand 10-15 mins, or until chia forms a gel consistency. The chia really adds a lot of interesting mouthfeel and body to this smooth coconut and banana flavored meal. It’s a shame that Outdoor Herbivore doesn’t have a wider collection of cold breakfasts that use chia because it is really a nutritional powerhouse.
I have tried a lot of commercial backpacking meals over the years, including making my own by dehydrating food and making up recipes. But after trying these meals, I’m ready to completely switch to eating Outdoor Herbivore entrees on backpacking trips. These meals are so good, easy to make, and relatively inexpensive, that there’s little point in me trying to top what I can buy.
As a trip planner, there’s also a lot of value in being able to get all of my dinners (or hot lunches) from one source, particularly for a long and complex backpacking trip I have slated for later this year. That said, the calories counts and caloric density of these meals are a bit lower than I want on trips where I need to keep my food weight as low as possible. Still, that is a trade-off I am willing to compensate for by eating higher calories foods for breakfast and lunch, so I can enjoy these Outdoor Herbivore entrees once a day.
Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) purchased all of these Outdoor Herbivore meals with his own funds.