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Maybe you’ve been in this situation: It’s a cold night in camp, and you’re rehydrating dinner. You pour the hot water into your meal, zip it up, and settle into your puffy for the 20-minute-or-so wait. When you crack your vittles open to eat them, they’re already cooling. By the time you choke down the last couple of mouthfuls, it’s ice cold.
There’s no quicker way to ruin the vibe in camp like a lukewarm dinner. It turns what should be one of the most satisfying, recharging parts of the day into an act of bare survival. Luckily, there’s an easy way to avoid it: Use a meal cozy.
In basic terms, a meal cozy is an insulated pouch that you slide your meal pouch or pot into to retain heat. There are a few advantages to using one: Your meal stays hot for about 25 to 30 percent longer, giving you time to actually savor it. It can help rehydrated meals cook more quickly by preventing them from cooling down partway through the rehydrating process. It can save fuel, too: For pasta or other meals that usually need to simmer in a pot, you can just bring your food to a boil and then slip it into the cozy, letting the retained heat do the work.
I’ve brought my AlpineAire (H)eat Pouch on winter and shoulder-season camping trips for years, and it’s been a game-changer. Besides keeping my food hot and letting me get away with a little less fuel, the neoprene material insulates my hands from the lava-hot food, making it easier to hold and saving me the trouble of awkwardly balancing my meals on my lap. While that model isn’t on the market anymore, backpackers who want a meal cozy of their own have a few options. Which you pick largely depends on whether you usually eat your food out of a pot or out of a pouch.
Making your own pot cozy is simple. All you need is some Reflectix—that metallic bubble wrap that car windshield covers are made out of—some aluminum tape, and a little patience. There are a lot of guides to creating your own cozy on the internet, but they all boil down to essentially the same thing: Make a cylinder the circumference and height of your pot, cut a circle the size of the bottom of your pot, and tape it all together.
If you’re not the DIY type, AntiGravityGear makes cozies for a wide range of common pots. (We gave their products an Editors’ Choice award way back in 2003.) If you have a Vargo Bot, the company makes a neoprene cozy for its 1-liter combo pot and water bottle.
If Mountain House is on the menu, you’ll want a pouch-shaped cozy to snuggle your meals. DIY is an option here, too—use the same supplies as above to create an envelope large enough for your preferred meal brand. If you’d rather go premade, Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s REPack Freezer Bag weighs a scant 1.44 ounces and has a secure buckle closure. A cheaper option: Use an insulated bubble mailer or bag. You can buy them in bulk on Amazon, or just snag one from your local grocery store.