Lots of folks have tried to reinvent the wheel. A select few succeed in their own way, and I think I found one of them.
When I worked in outdoor retail around the turn of the century, dehydrated meals for outdoor recreationists were coming into their own. They offered convenience and were widely available. However, brands were few, selection was limited, and overall quality was uninspiring.
Over 20 years later, not much has really changed in that industry. There are more companies on the scene offering more flavors, but in my opinion, nobody has moved the needle much on quality. Until now, that is.
An email landed in my inbox in January, from someone asking if I’d like to write about RightOnTrek’s eco-friendly backpacking meal packaging (a finalist for 2023 Outdoor Retailer Innovation Awards).
After a little investigation, I came to understand their “bio-based” packaging is actually compostable. I appreciated this innovation. I hate plastic, and especially the thought that all the dehydrated-meal packaging I’ve used since 2001 is probably still in pristine condition in a landfill somewhere.
Why not, I thought, and indicated I’d like to try the Chicken Coconut Curry flavor at the next opportunity.
I was warned ahead of time of the main caveat: RightOnTrek’s meals have to be prepared in a pot, as opposed to inside the bag (forever the industry standard). This is because of that compostable packaging. I didn’t mind, as I normally pack a small pot on my adventures.
Right on Target
About four miles into my recent wilderness canoe trip, I finally had the time and place to give Chicken Coconut Curry a proper trial. With components laid out and the minimal directions understood, I fired up my stove.
Water came to a boil in no time. Simmering water-plus-ingredients was supposed to take three minutes. Sounds awfully short, I thought, but that was accurate.
Done. Easy and fast.
The provided cashews and peanut butter were stirred in, and sriracha drizzled on top. Since it was such a hot day, I let it cool a few minutes while I tempered my expectations.
Turns out there was no need for that. In a word, it was outstanding. Far better than I expected or thought possible. The texture was perfect, and spices were vivid. The sriracha was a nice touch. And I loved what the cashews and peanut butter added to the experience. Altogether, it was stacked with layers of rich flavor.
I knew right away it was, hands down, the best such dehydrated meal I’ve ever had.
Right on the Money
“What’s the catch,” you may ask. Other than cooking this product in a pot, the only drawback might be shelf life. This kind of product is usually shelf stable for decades, but who really needs that? I mean, I don’t buy food that will sit around for the next 30 years.
RightOnTrek makes theirs for an 18-month window (I’m told that’s because ingredients are air-dried, for quality, rather than freeze-dried). Sounds short by comparison, but similar to the groceries we buy every day. That’s reasonable.
In weighing other factors against longstanding brands, I believe RightOnTrek comes out on top.
First, you’ll notice those other brands are suffering from “shrinkflation,” if you’re paying attention. Some claim that a package with 500-600 calories is now two servings. That’s ridiculous. Everyone knows that’s likely to be just one person’s dinner.
By contrast, my Chicken Coconut Curry was rated for one serving, at 560 calories. An honest amount, especially after a day of physical exertion.
Second, RightOnTrek’s ingredients list is the most straight-forward I’ve ever seen, and sodium is at a reasonable level. Many ingredients are organic.
Third, RightOnTrek’s pricing is in line with—or better than—the rest of the industry. My curry meal, along with most other dinners, is listed at $8.99 on their website. At my local REI, other companies’ (2 serving) meals in similar calorie ranges are mainly priced from $10 to $12.
Now, I’ll admit my own experience is so far limited to one flavor. But I doubt if it was a stroke of luck, as Backpacker Magazine picked RightOnTrek’s Bechamel Mac & Cheese as the best rehydrated macaroni and cheese of 2022.
I look forward to trying more flavors from this made-in-Montana company. And the sooner the better.