Trail Meals - Dehydrated or MREs?

One of my favorite parts of heading out for an overnight is the food.  I feel a little like a 12 year old Boy Scout heading out for an adventure and making my own dinner out there in the woods is just kinda cool.

I've tried dehydrated meals from several vendors, US Military MREs and bringing my own food [either raw or cooked] and all have their pros and cons for the backpacker.

I'm a fan of all of them for sure and there's no right or wrong food to bring for the most part.  Probably the most important aspect to remember is that ANY food can attract animals.  To keep yourself and your equipment out of harm's way it's best to prepare, eat and store any foodsource at least 100 yards from your campsite.

I've never had an issue with any animal getting into my food but following these simple rules is a great idea to keep that from happening.

I recently tried a dehydrated meal from a company called Packit Gourmet - Shepard's Cottage Pie.  I've got to say it was extremely tasty and fairly easy to prepare.  It was, however, not inexpensive.  After shipping [which was super fast], I probably had invested $10 into that meal.  Was it worth it??  Maybe for the convenience and for the experience, yes.  But their products probably won't be a staple in my backpack.  That's not to say I won't treat myself from time to time.  And to conserve on shipping fees I ordered three of their meals so I'll be having more experience with them.  Pasta Beef Bolognese is the next on my list and from what I hear, it's one of their best sellers.

But I'm here to make the case for the good 'ole MRE or Meal Ready to Eat.  Coming in around $50 - $60 for a case of 12, they can be considered a bargain, especially if you find them locally.  I've got an Army-Navy surplus store just a few miles from me so I've got a source.

For about $5 a package, the MRE has some decent upgrades over the traditional dehydrated meals.  But let's get the cons out of the way first.  I'll bet by the time you see everything the MRE has to offer, you'll be headed out to grab a few for your next trip out.

Here is really the ONLY 'legitimate' downside I see to the MRE and that is the weight.  With most MRE's you're looking at adding a pack weight of about 1 pound versus 8oz - 9oz with a dehydrated meal.  Understand though that to eat that dehydrated meal I will have to bring along around 12oz to 14oz of water.  Now, maybe I can find that water out next to my camp area and maybe not.

Next to the Shepard's Cottage Pie [or any other dehydrated meal], let's see what that potential additional pack weight really brings to the table.

Here's the contents of the MRE:

MRE: Vegetable Lasagna
8.0 oz Vegetable Lasagna - Main Entree
4.5 oz Pears
Poppy Seed Pound Cake
Wheat Bread
Peanut Butter
French Vanilla Cappuccino Instant Powder
Raspberry Kool Aid
Toilet Paper
Moist Towelette
Iodized Salt
Chewing Gum

Just in taste variations alone, the MRE wins hands down in my opinion.  And since all of these items are individually packaged, I can choose to eat them at my leisure or leave them home / pack them out.

Here's what I see as major advantages in the MRE over the Dehydrated Meal:
1) COST - We hashed this one around a bit already - $5.50 versus $10+
2) VARIETY - With the dehydrated meal you get one meal, the MRE offers [normally] a main entree, side dish, dessert, beverage [or 2], snack and more.
3) CALORIE COUNT - I've gotten to the bottom of many a dehydrated meal wishing for more at the end of a long day but the MRE has always delivered more than I wanted.  Sheer calorie volume should be a scale tipper for some of us.
4) FIRE FREE - If you choose to leave behind [or forget] your alcohol stove or canister stove, the MRE has a water activated heat source that can heat your entree.  If you stop and think about it, the dehydrated meal absolutely requires a campfire or stove.  That is an additional time or money investment you may not want to deal with.

So, I've found the MRE hard to beat.  And with 12 different MREs per case, I'm sure to find plenty of variation and something I'm in the mood for.  If you have not tried one yet, check out the local craigslist ads.  I've found them for sale on there for either an entire case at a time or even just a handful of meals.


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