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Field Report - Cache Lakes Foods (Curt)

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  • nwcurt
    Here s my final report on the Cache Lake foods. Mods - thanks for the extension. HTML version is at: http://tinyurl.com/37o49s -Curt
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2008
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      Here's my final report on the Cache Lake foods. Mods - thanks for the
      extension. HTML version is at: http://tinyurl.com/37o49s



      Field Report

      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
      Chicken Noodle Casserole on a Gas Cartridge Stove
      Peas and Carrots
      Peas and Carrots on an Esbit Stove

      Joe Bun
      Sloppy Joe Bun - Cooked on a Pan, not Baked
      Sloppy Joe
      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:

      Main Courses

      * 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
      been dehydrated!
      * 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
      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!
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