on February 26, 2013
Not really, I have a wife that cooks great food, but I could see eating one of these if I was hungry one night. I looked around quite a bit trying to find a "survival" meal I could buy and put aside for a number of years. Most of the other kits I looked at were either full of junk that might make you feel full but wouldn't give you any nutrients, or were from iffy sources where people were claiming missing parts or outright different products. Even though this wasn't the least expensive it looked the best so I gave it a shot. I haven't tried to live off of it for a month, but after trying the product I've very pleased with my purchase.
My family tried one of the breakfast packs this morning. It was a maple sausage, hash brown with bacon, chocolate toaster pastry, soft wheat cracker with blackberry jam, instant coffee, chocolate milk powder, and orange "Gatorade" powder. With salt/pepper, creamer/sugar, spoon, wet nap paper towel. It came with a heating element that you just put a small amount of water on. Each of the above was in a separate sealed bag, so if you didn't want to eat all of it at once you could save parts for later. The pastry and bread with jam I would eat any time it was so good. That was very surprising, everyone kind of did the scrunched "this will surely taste bad" face before biting into them, but it really tasted good. The hash brown with bacon was fine for field eating, actually it would have been very good for field eating. The sausage was also very good for field eating. I'm sure they both would have tasted like heaven after being hungry and tired, but for just waking up for the day in suburban living it was acceptable. The powder drinks were also good, the coffee wasn't so great but then I drink expensive coffee and am jaded, and I'm sure if I was out in the field ANY coffee would be good. We all tried bites and drinks of the meal and agree it was a keeper. I finished off the sausage and hash brown and am very full right now. The case came with 12 meals, they are random. I got a few breakfast menus, but most were dinner stuff. Out of 12, only 2 didn't sound good to me as they were both vegetarian meals. It has a 5 year shelf life, and all of mine were produced in Jan, so I have the full 5 years a head of me. I had to really look to find the expiration date though. There is a 4 digit number stamped into the bottom of the bag. It explains on the back at the very bottom in fine print how to read the code. The first digit is for the year, the last 3 are for the day of the year. so 3032 would be 2013 and the 032nd day which is Feb 1st. Hope that helps for anyone who couldn't find it.
I'll get another pack or two to put on a shelf for emergency situations. I know I'll be set in case of hurricane or if my wife kicks me to the couch and won't cook me dinner!
on September 3, 2013
Just back from a week in the Black Rock Desert where I ate nothing but a case of these (two a day), a couple boxes of Clif bars, and some free vegan curry given to me in a paper bowl that had sort of a dusty taste to it. This was way better than any meal plan I could have come up with on my own. Tended to be salty, somewhat spicy, and filling -- just the perfect thing to keep fed and properly hydrated when running around doing stuff in the desert. Almost as if they were designed for that purpose or something! I know, right?
Note that I was car camping, not backpacking. These are (for the most part) not dehydrated, and I'm sure they're way heavier than dehydrated food. Of course if you're somewhere you have to pack in all of your own water anyway, like I was, then that might not make any difference once all is said and done, but if you do have access to water at your camp site or along your route and weight is a big issue, these might not be ideal. (Unless you're sick of the taste and texture of dehydrated food, of course....)
Before I left, my boss showed me a genuine US military issue "NOT FOR RESALE" surplus MRE that he'd bought on eBay. The outer bag for each individual meal was slightly different (branding etc -- markings were different, bag itself seemed the same), but inside the bag everything looked pretty identical as far as I could tell, right down to the markings and the instructions and little military-oriented motivational slogans and tips about what fraction of your standard military canteen cup to add to which drink mix. Even the flameless heater pack looked completely identical to me, despite my boss's claim that a commercial MRE would never include those because they could be used to make a bomb (by stuffing them into a soda bottle with some water -- seal tight, shake, throw -- not much of a bomb really, but it makes a very loud bang, or so he claimed). This was not a side-by-side comparison, I saw them at different times, and my memory isn't perfect, so I could be wrong! To me, though, the main difference was that his MRE was some years past its considerable shelf life (which was why he was breaking it out for show and tell, I think), whereas mine were fresh and new.
I think I watched the manufacturer's video before I left but didn't pay that much attention. Didn't matter, the heater packs had detailed instructions printed on them, of course. They're simpler to use than the instructions make them seem. I accidentally ended up pouring too much water in the heater almost every time -- it takes remarkably little! -- and despite the DO NOT OVERFILL warning, it all seemed to work out just fine. Definitely watch out for steam burns and hot water spills, though! It would be really easy to burn yourself if you aren't careful. Yes, there is actual steam coming out of these things, that isn't just fanciful marketing simulated picture hoohah. I ended up using the little boxes that the hot dishes came in as makeshift heat pads. Some of the meals have only one hot dish, but many have two, a main dish and a side dish -- you can easily tell which things are intended to be served hot because those pouches come in their own little cardboard cartons. I tried various combinations of putting the pouches directly in the transparent green heater bag (as directed) or just putting water in the green bag, folding it over, and putting it directly over or under the food pouches (or between, if there were two) and putting the whole thing in either a cardboard box or in the big enclosing bag the whole meal had come in. Everything seemed to work fine. I will note that some things were still a bit lukewarm around the edges when I ate them, but that might have been because I tended to just eat them as soon as I was done wolfing down all the other stuff instead of waiting the recommended 10-15 minutes for things to even out. Other than that, they were hot -- not warm, hot. I don't think they would have been bad cold, honestly, and obviously everything's perfectly edible exactly as-is, but I was always glad to be able to have hot food, even in the desert heat! Go figure.
I left on my trip in a bit of a hurry, so I was eating these with no plates, no silverware, no cups, no nothing, just some gallon-sized jugs of water, and it actually worked out great, everything necessary is included, you can totally eat everything right out of the package with the included spoon, they even give you both a wet napkin and a dry napkin with every meal. (Along with instant coffee, creamer, salt, etc, none of which I ever tried so I can't tell you much about them.) Most meals include two powdered beverages (usually a "carbohydrate electrolyte" sports drink with some kind of fruity flavor to it, and a smaller, thicker cocoa drink, though some meals just had one or the other); these were designed to be mixed in the package, the cocoa drink even has a ziplock type closure to make it easier to shake it without spilling. I attempted to drink the drinks directly from the package with mixed success -- it's tricky, sometimes I ended up spilling some on myself. Would be easier with a plastic cup or a small water bottle or something. The cocoa drink was very good cold, by the way -- never tried it hot, not sure how you'd arrange that with the included heater pack anyway.
Most meals come with either crackers or "wheat snack bread". The crackers are sort of like Saltines if each side of the saltine was twice the usual size, and they come two to a package, so you can easily make a sort of sandwich with the included jam, peanut butter, or fluorescent orange cheese spread food product. Incredibly, despite being so oversized, the crackers were never broken, I think because the packaging is so good. I learned after the first cheese spread to heed the instructions and knead the package before opening, otherwise you get pools of grease. Honestly it looked pretty scary, but the taste and texture were great, sort of a mild cheddar flavor, and I happily ate the whole thing.
"Wheat snack bread" is sort of like a single double-thick cracker that's softer and less crumbly, quite tasty. I think the chicken fajita meal came with tortillas instead of crackers or bread, which was cool. Many of the breakfasty meals (pork sausage, apple maple oatmeal) came with "toaster pastries" which are, of course, Pop Tarts -- in fact most of them came in the Kellogg's packaging inside the outer layer of MRE vacuum packaging -- the only one I can recall not having inner Kelloggs packaging was the chocolate chip toaster pastry that came with one of the pork sausage patties. Oh and I swear one of the meals had *two* pop tarts in it, both in the same Kellogg's wrapper. One of the breakfasty ones. Probably trying to hit their calorie count or whatever.
I think pork sausage patty is the only entree that gets duplicated in the whole case (and the rest of the meal is somewhat different), but it was so damned tasty it was worth seeing twice. Smells like breakfast!
As far as I can recall, all of the desserts were reasonably awesome: fudge brownie, "muffin top" (no way was that thing ever part of a complete muffin -- but it would have been a huge muffin, if so), spiced pound cake. There were some puddings, too, a chocolate and a vanilla in different meals, which along with the drink mixes and the heater packs are the only things that require you to add water to the pouch. I was a bit lackadaisical about stirring them all the way, so I got a bit of crunchy powder texture, and even so they were still pretty tasty, I gotta say. Maybe I was just hungry, I don't know. A couple of the meals had zapplesauce, which I guess is fortified applesauce? Seems like everything had vitamins and such added to it, I don't know why the zapplesauce is the only thing that rates the extra Z. Anyway that also gets the thumbs-up from me.
Most of the entrees were pretty damned good too. The oatmeal was a bit disappointing -- blander, more gelatinous and vacuum-pack-shaped than most of the other entrees. Still decent, still ate the whole thing. Hunger is the best sauce. The meatballs in marinara sauce were fantastic -- I must have read it wrong the first time, I was somehow expecting there to be pasta in there, but no, just a ton of mini-meatballs and tomato sauce. The ratatouille, on the other hand, *did* have pasta in it, which, I mean, if these were French military rations then maybe I would expect something more authentic, but this is American, so it's all good. The seasonings definitely said ratatouille to me. Pretty sure there were at least two other entrees involving pasta -- the chicken noodle soup one (very thick and hearty, like stew), the "lasagna" one, probably others I'm forgetting. No lack of pasta overall, is what I'm saying.
Some of the side dishes were sort of disappointing and bland. The hash browns with bacon, especially -- if there was bacon in there, it wasn't obvious. The fried rice was sort of in that category, though that was actually quite flavorful -- just a bit gelatinous and blobby, like the oatmeal. I think both of those would have been a lot better if I'd been able to dump things onto a plate and mix them together with the entree, instead of eating them directly out of the pouch with a spoon and not having any place I dared set them down to alternate bites. So try packing a plate, I guess! Pro tip! The potato cheddar soup, on the other hand, was really good -- definitely soup, though a thick soup, maybe more of a stew, you could both see and taste the bacon, very good, thumbs up.
Overall -- listen, I'm not going to be eating these as regular food back in the real world, you know? That's what those frozen TV dinners are for! That's not a bad comparison, actually -- these MREs are better tasting than many of the frozen TV dinners out there, and worse than others, depending on what you like, no doubt. Certainly more varied and filling than most! And very American, no doubt about that, both in terms of what you are eating and where it was made, so if that style of American food is comfort food to you (like it is to me) then that's a plus. Otherwise watch out, I guess? My campmates were eating brown rice and steamed zucchini, I guess it takes all kinds. No judgement here. Regardless, if you're out in the middle of nowhere, in the hot sun (and/or freezing cold, I suppose), with no freezer and no microwave and not even any dishes to eat off of, and you've got better things to do than try to plan or prepare meals ahead of time, or burn down half the West Coast with your camp stove [it happens!], or venture out of your tent into the cold/rain/mosquitoes/hail/tornadoes/drama, or wait around for hours for your gigantic solar cooker to make your food nice and tepid, or sit around camp trying to cook something when you could be *doing* something (or, better yet, doing *nothing*), these things are fricking awesome. Get extra, they keep. I wish I'd ordered two cases, that "Indian taco" I ended up getting in Wadsworth was bland as hell.
UPDATE 2013-09-19: I ordered another case of these a week or two ago, and the heater packs are no longer as I described in my original review -- they're larger opaque green bags (transparent near the fill line) with instructions printed in 4 languages (so obviously not US military issue) and the URL of a "rationheater" web site with the obvious suffix which I am probably not allowed to link to from a review but who knows. I have only used these twice so far (camping on Angel Island the other day): first time was with veggie lasagna which had only one hot item, came out after 10 min almost too hot to eat (almost), full marks; second time was the chicken fajita which has the rice side dish, after 9-10 min the food packets didn't seem completely heated all the way through, but mostly, maybe 8/10. Maybe my technique was off. Not exactly scientific, could be exactly the same as the other one, certainly not hugely different, aside from the packaging obviously -- new instructions seem better/clearer to me, none of this trying to stuff the entree inside the heater pack itself. Though that would be easier with this bigger bag. Aside from the heaters, everything else seems unchanged as far as I've noticed.