Here's my final report on the Cache Lake foods. Mods - thanks for the
extension. HTML version is at: http://tinyurl.com/37o49s
1) Field Conditions
The Cache Lakes foods were consumed over about four months as fall
transitioned to winter here in the Pacific Northwest. About 2/3 of it
was used up in fall conditions early in the test window - October and
November. The last 1/3 of it was used up a little slower, in part due
to a minor injury that kept me off of snowshoes and longer trips for
the last month or two. Two overnight hikes and 3 or 4 dayhikes made
up my trail time during this test window. All but one trip was on the
west slope of the Cascades. I was primarily on forested trails that
led to lakes between 3,000 and 4,000 feet (900-1200 m). Temperatures
were mild - typically in the 40s or 50s (~4-12 C) during the day and
mid 30s (1-2 C) at night. I had plenty of drizzle to accompany me and
a couple of times that turned to snow as I cooked in the evening or
early morning. I did fish on a few of the trips and planned to
supplement the Cache Lakes food with fresh trout, but it was very late
in the season and I had no luck catching something that was big enough
to cook up for dinner.
2) Field Report
A lot of time testing the Cache Lakes foods involved the packing and
sorting of the food at home. My goal was to pack a day's food that
was 100% Cache Lakes and not supplemented with anything else. I
packed the various items in groups that made sense to me: a breakfast,
lunch items, dinners with sides, and a dessert for each day. This
would require cooking a hot meal for lunch, but that was fine for the
trips I had planned. After sorting this way, I put them in larger
Ziplocs and noted the servings and calories. This gave me 3 full days
of food plus an extra meal or two for emergencies or hearty appetites.
The initial groups are seen in the picture below.
PIC Packed Cache Foods
PIC Cache Lake Foods Packed for Complete Days
The first thing I noticed after sorting them and doing the math on the
calories was the disconnect between the servings and the calories.
All of the items in the daily food bags were listed as two servings.
The amount of food in each two-serving portion did in fact seem to be
pretty generous and I had no difficulty imaging them being plenty for
two people. When I totaled the calories, however, the number was
relatively low for two people backpacking. None of the the days'
caloric total was over 3000 calories for two people. They averaged a
little over 2500 calories each day, or about 1250 calories per person.
Even small folks can burn 2-4 times that amount during a day of
backpacking so I was concerned about the calories right from the
beginning. They were light, however, averaging only about 1 lb (.45
kg) per person per day.
After using them on a couple of trips my worries proved unfounded.
There is a LOT of food in these packages. They are very filling even
if the calories aren't there. I figure this is the result of low
calorie density foods like vegetables and some of the starches. They
definitely fill the hole after a day on the trail. I would speculate
that the low calorie totals would eventually catch up to a backpacker
after many days on the trail, but for an overnighter or even a weekend
trip this probably wouldn't be much of a factor. There is a lot of
bulk even if it's not particularly dense.
While the calories didn't end being a real concern after all, I did
have some problems with the preparation of the meals. The directions
are clear and work exactly as they are written - my problem was
entirely due to my own expectations of backpacking food. Essentially,
these meals are a lot more work than the food I normally take on a
trip. I try to make each meal I eat on the trail involve boiling
water only. I like to take only a small pot and use it to boil water
only. I eat directly from the packaging the food comes in or will
carry a very light titanium bowl with me, but I do not like to cook
food in my pot at all. The Cache Lakes foods involve a lot of cooking
in the pot, in addition to basically requiring extra cookware and
often extra ingredients that aren't included in the food packages.
I found this out the hard way on my first trip. Assuming that each
meal was self-contained I took a couple of meals that needed a fry pan
and oil to cook properly. I didn't have a fry pan and I don't carry
oil normally, so this was a bit of a problem for me. I made do on
that trip (the food tasted fine but it was UGLY) and ended up
re-sorting my packages after that trip based on cooking directions and
supplies needed. The meals that result from following the directions
are definitely better than most boil-only meals I've had, but the
required extras needed more than doubled the weight of my kitchen set.
I didn't mind this when I was eating curried sweet potato latkes in
the middle of the woods, but it did make me grumble when I was packing
gear, adding weight to my pack, and having to do oily messy dishes
with near-freezing water. Backpacking food is most definitely a
personal preference and how involved people want to make their meals
is absolutely individual in nature, but for my style of backpacking
this was a lot more work than I would like. The results, I must
admit, were pretty impressive however. A few of the meals from some
of my trips:
Chicken Noodle Casserole on a Gas Cartridge Stove
Peas and Carrots
Peas and Carrots on an Esbit Stove
Sloppy Joe Bun - Cooked on a Pan, not Baked
Sloppy Joe Read to Eat
Overall, every meal that is listed in my Initial Report is quality
backpacking food in my opinion. Some are much better than others, but
taste is completely subjective. Here are some of my personal thoughts
and very opinionated quick notes on the meal packs:
* Beef, Veg., & Gravy w/Mashed Potatoes: Very filling. Wish it
had more beef and wish I had a lot of pepper to go with it.
* Sloppy Joes w/ Fryin' Pan Buns: Definitely unique. Makes a LOT.
Buns were really cool (see picture) but the TVP-based sauce was
disappointing. Very laborious to make.
* Chicken Ala King w/Rice: Needed a bit of salt, but otherwise
fine. Straightforward cooking was nice.
* Chicken Noodle Casserole w/Veg: One of the more bland meals.
Very starchy. Less flavor than most other meals.
* Beef Stroganoff: Easy to cook. I like my stroganoff with lots of
sour cream flavor - this doesn't have much at all.
* Really Tasty Chicken Stew: Super easy to cook. Not sure there
was chicken in there - maybe soy chunks instead?
Sides or Lunches
* Cheesy Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon: The sweet potato products
are awesome! I'll be buying these in the future.
* Curried Sweet Potato Latke: Requires a frying pan and oil, but
probably my favorite of everything I tried. Spicy and just plain good!
* Wild Rice Veg. Salad w/Ranch Dressing: I tried the soaking
directions - about 10 hours - but it was still crunchy. Good flavor,
* Peas and Carrots: Nothing fancy, but without a doubt the best
texture of rehydrated veggies I've ever had. Just like it had never
* Sweet Potato Corn Bread: Again, the sweet potato products are
Cache Lakes' best in my opinion. Tedious to make and I'd leave the
corn out next time, but really good flavor.
* Really Tasty Dumplings: Really simple and works with any of the
stews. This is one that would be easy to add to lot of different meals.
* Wild Rice Pancakes w/Blueberries: Need extra gear to make, but
good. I added some wild huckleberries, too. A mini syrup pack would
be a nice addition.
* Hash Brown Egg Scramble: I completely destroyed these, so I
don't have much to say. User-error for sure! Think gooey charcoal :)
* Lemon Cream Pudding: Very good, and I don't usually like lemon
desserts. Not the fake "Pine Sol" flavor at all.
* Vanilla Pudding: Also very good. The puddings are super easy to
make and taste just like major brand versions at home.
* Banana Cream Pie: Another good one. It's hard to make an actual
piece of pie that looks like one, but I didn't care if it looked good
as long as it tasted good - which it definitely did.
* Chocolate Pie: Best of the desserts. I'd buy this one, too.
Chocolate crust with chocolate pudding - what's not to like?
Chocolate Pudding Pie - No Cooking Needed
Final Test Thoughts
The Cache Lakes foods are surely unique. Instead of simply making the
easiest, fastest, saltiest food they can stick in a pouch, they seem
to really try hard to make authentic food for backcountry use. It is
obvious to me that they have a background in canoe camping, since many
of the recipes require more kitchen tools and more involved directions
than many backpacking foods. For my preferred style of backpacking,
the extra gear and effort was a little bit too much. I most
definitely found some recipes that I will be ordering in the future
and that are unique (love the sweet potato stuff!), but for me most of
the foods would fit my car camping style more than my backpacking style.
The actual food quality is top-notch. I would eat anything they make
in the backcountry again. My only hesitation is on the preparation.
For backpackers who really enjoy cooking in the woods, Cache Lakes is
definitely something to consider. I had no ill-effects from anything
I had. I don't typically digest TVP particularly well, but even that
went down fine.
The caloric density appears to be relatively low - most likely due to
a lack of fat. There are a lot of vegetables and starches in the
meals. Many recipes need oil, so generous use of some olive oil would
be an easy way to boost calories on longer trips.
My only recommendations would be to maybe categorize the meals by
cooking directions and perhaps re-package those in bags that can
handle boiling water. If there was a list of meals that only required
boiling water and it could be eaten right from the bag, backpackers
that focus on small kitchens and simple cooking would have a source
for high-quality tasty food that meets their cooking style.
My thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and Cache Lakes foods for the
opportunity to test these meals. This was definitely one of the most
fun tests I've done!