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Welcome to Pouch Wars, a monthly taste-test of dehydrated backpacking meals. We’ve surveyed the market, sampling both big, corporate brands and tiny cottage operations in our search for the very best. While we certainly take note of caloric value, food weight, and the use of unhealthy dyes and stabilizers, this is first-and-foremost about taste. Is it delicious? Does it have texture? Would you happily eat this rehydrated pouch if you weren’t starving in the backcountry?
When most backpackers think of dehydrated curry, they imagine the Southeast Asian, coconut milk-based variety that usually graces REI shelves. In our call for curries from over a dozen brands, we were thrilled to find entries as diverse as the dish itself, with spicy stews from African, Indian, and Caribbean cuisine all entering the fray. If the bag included a curry spice blend from any part of the world, it was eligible.
First Place: Good To Go Thai Curry
In 2014, when the dehydrated meal market was still, shall we say, underdeveloped, this Thai curry rocked our world and earned an Editors’ Choice award. Seven years later, in a more crowded and competitive field, this Thai curry is still king of the category. Its brilliance lies in a few special ingredients: fish sauce, tamarind, and Makrut lime leaf. All three are commonly used as seasonings in actual, bonafide Thai curry and do wonders to move beyond the usual coconut milk, chile, veggie-mix facsimile seen in many backpacking meals today. The result? An intensely sweet, savory, complex, and funky pouch with meaty hunks of green bean, broccoli, and cauliflower. With a recipe this winning, will it be another 7 years until we see a real challenger? (Note: the fish sauce makes this a no-go for vegans and vegetarians). 380 calories; 3.4 oz; 20 minute cook time
$8; Buy Now
Runner Up: Heather’s Choice African Peanut Stew
Maafe, or West African peanut stew, comes in dozens of variations, but is often served with starchy legumes, greens, and some kind of spice or chile blend. Heather’s Choice uses a curry mix, ginger, and a subtle spoonful of peanut butter powder to season this spicy, sweet, satisfying stew. Sweet potatoes, swiss chard, and precooked rice make this just about as comforting as chicken noodle soup (with a kick, of course) on a cold day. 440 calories; 4 oz; 20 minute cook time
$10; Buy Now
Outdoor Herbivore Lemongrass Thai Curry
This is a solid entry into the dehydrated Thai curry market, but light in substance. Lemongrass hits big right off the bat, with big slices of spicy chile mixed into this predominantly rice-based pouch. The lack of veggies and protein (apart from red pepper) is noticeable, but we love the texture and pop that salty, chopped peanuts add to this mix. 630 calories; 4.75 oz, 10 minute cook time
$9; Buy Now
Nomad Nutrition Caribbean Curry
There is nothing inherently wrong with this take on a Caribbean/ Jamaican curry, although we expect a bit more of that island spice boldness typically found in the form of seasonings like turmeric, nutmeg, allspice, and—if you’re lucky—Scotch bonnet pepper. This curry brings a steady heat and nice grain variety in the form of quinoa, but the mash of broccoli, yam, and green pepper tastes a bit like a college co-op lunch special. 520 calories; 4 oz; 8-12 minute cook time
$12; Buy Now
Alpine Aire Spicy Grilled Chicken Curry
While the rib-sticking mix of instant white rice and lentils is certainly hearty, and the sweet pop of currants offers some variety, this pouch is overwhelmingly one-dimensional and certainly doesn’t do the Anglo-Indian curry style any favors. No word from the aforementioned “grilled” chicken in the char department. 620 calories; 6 oz, 12 minute cook time
$9; Buy Now
Backpacker’s Pantry Green Curry
While we appreciate how coconut-creamy this stab at Thai green curry is, we can’t get over the overwhelmingly soapy flavor associated with it (we’ve also experienced this with BP’s Chiang Mai Coconut Curry). Unrefined coconut oil, which is rich in lauric acid, can taste soapy to certain individuals (in the same way that cilantro tastes like soap to certain palates), but we didn’t experience any of the bitter, unpleasant aftertaste with other coconut-based curries in this taste-test. For those less sensitive to the soapy aftertaste, the potent heat from jalapeño pepper powder and zing from crystalized lime might make this pouch worth your consideration. 780 calories; 6.1 oz, 15 minute cook time
Available in 2022