Gear Review: Pre-packaged Dinners

You won't go hungry with these backcountry dinners.
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You won't go hungry with these backcountry dinners.

Coleman Savory Veggie Soup

“A classic comfort food done right—pleasantly salty with ample veggies like corn, peas, and carrots, along with beans, potatoes, and pasta,” reports one tester. Our crew inhaled this heartwarming brew atop a cold, slickrock bowl in Utah during a November snowstorm. Fast, easy, and satiating, it’s perfect for delivering quick, hot calories. $5 (1 serving); coleman.com

Mary Janes Farm Organic Shepherd’s Pan Bread

Inspired by the dinner staple of Basque sheepherders, this filling bread with potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, cheese, and black pepper is a rare treat in the backcountry. It’s best when prepared in a skillet and takes a little time (about 15 minutes), but the warm, fresh-baked goodness rewards patience and makes a nice side (see right). $6; maryjanesfarm.org

Backpacker’s Pantry Chicken Vindaloo

Packed with chicken, rice, and potatoes and smothered in a delish curry sauce, this East Indian entrée “had a nice, spicy burst of flavor—always a welcome change in aworld of endlessly bland chicken-and-rice combos,” our tester reports. “And the chunks of chicken were more generous and tender (comparable even to pouch chicken) than most freeze-dried meals.” $9; backpackerspantry.com

Packit Gourmet Big’un Burrito with Fajita Chicken

This was one of the first entrées we tested on our annual Editors’ Choice trip, and it set the bar—high. Stuffed with black beans, brown rice, veggies, and cheese, “the Big’un is filling and tastes like something you’d make fresh at home,” one tester says. Buy it vegetarian-style or with fajita chicken. Tip: Some testers thought it needed some extra zip, so pack hot sauce or cayenne pepper. Tortillas are not included. $10 ($11 with chicken); packitgourmet.com

Packit Gourmet ‘The Big Easy’ Gumbo

“This hearty, tasty glop is one of the best dehydrated meals I’ve ever had,” declares one editor. A hands-down favorite, the gumbo jumble of chicken, okra—okra!—tomatoes, bell peppers, and rice is nearly foolproof to make: “Add too much water, and it was a nice soup; not enough and it was a rich stew,” says another tester. $7 (1 serving), $12 (2 servings); packitgourmet.com

Natural High Chicken Enchilada

One word: supercheesy. That delicious attribute, combined with zesty Mexican seasonings and a serving of crunchy chips for a balanced texture, made this a much-loved dinner that testers wolfed down. $7; richmoor.com

AlpineAire Black Bart Chili with Beans

Our team raved that this meal—a hearty mix of beef, beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and zesty spices—tasted almost homemade. “I wouldn’t have blinked if this came with my meal at a restaurant,” reports one editor after camping in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness on a chill October night. “It’s better than any chili mix I’ve made.” $8; alpineaire.com

KILLER DEAL

Enertia Trail Foods Spinach Ziti


A creamy combo of pasta, spinach, tomatoes, and Parmesan smothered in a garlic-tomato sauce fuels the furnace for miles. $5 (1 serving); trailfoods.com

See all "essential" reviews from the 2011 Gear

Guide