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When we inquired about listing Pack Lite Foods on the Lightweight Backpacker site -- which reviews equipment useful to backpackers and other campers -- Charles Lindsey offered to review our products if we'd send samples for them to test. We did, and he (and his friends) produced a careful, detailed, and sophisticated review, which with their permission we're reproducing here (we've removed the prices and updated the weights and calorie counts where necessary). We think the variety of reactions from the seven testers will give you a pretty clear idea what you'll get with any of our meals.

                                               

Pack Lite Foods Review
From: Charles Lindsey
Email: charles@backpacking.net
Type of Gear: FOOD
Manufacturer: Pack Lite Foods

INTRODUCTION to PACK LITE FOODS

Pack Lite Foods prepares lightweight vegetarian meals, primarily for backpackers and canoeists. They can take care of you as an individual or prepare the meals for your entire expedition....

Pack Lite meals are all natural food -- No MSG, no sulfites. All meals are prepared with the highest-quality dehydrated or freeze-dried vegetables and spices. In several of the dishes, they use Minnesota's finest wild rice, precooked and dehydrated, to add an inimitable texture and nutty flavor.

OUR GOAL

Our goal was to have a good time, with good friends and good food, and, in the end, to have tested six (2-person) Pack Lite Foods dinners and one lunch and, subsequently, to compile a team-oriented review.

OUR PROCESS

Sandra did the cooking (following exact instructions on each package -- in some cases, however, there were deviations from the instructions where longer soaking times and cooking times were used in order to prepare the food according to our preferences for consistency and such).

The rest of us took a healthy portion of each entree -- as it was delivered -- and proceeded to partake and make notes in response to an agreed-upon list of test criteria. We documented our individual responses to each criterion and after a brief intermission and drink of water, continued the process with the next entree. Eventually, we exchanged our overall opinions of Pack Lite Foods and how it compared to the traditional fare; such as, Mountain House freeze-dried food.

In this review, I will attempt to get everyone's results communicated but at the same time summarize as much as possible. The intention here is not to write a 20-page essay, but a reasonably brief, concise and to-the-point synopsis of each meal and an overall evaluation of Pack Lite Foods' products.

THE TEST CRITERIA

  • Quantity of Portion
  • Quality of Ingredients
  • Aroma
  • First Bite Impression
  • Flavor
  • Texture
  • Consistency
  • Seasoning
    • spiciness
    • sweetness
    • saltiness
  • Required Utensil(s)
  • Aftertaste
  • Tummy Test
  • Total score (on a scale of 1 to 5)
    1. = edible in the mountains but not at home
    2. = very good in the mountains & okay at home
    3. = excellent in the mountains & very good at home
    4. = gourmet in the mountains & excellent at home
    5. = gourmet anywhere

THE MEALS

LUNCH

Wasa Crisp Bread with Hummus Spread
A spread made of garbanzo beans, felafel (sesame tahini, salt, garlic, citric acid, lemon flavoring, sesame oil), and cheddar cheese powder which can be spread over the four slices of crisp bread which are included in the package.

DINNER

Bountiful Bean & Lentil Chili (my #2 favorite !)
Plenty of red, black, and pinto beans, plus garbanzos and lentils, combined with julienne tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, and leeks in a tomato sauce. Not particularly hot. Double serving: 835 calories, 8.0 ounces

Green Bean Cuisine
Wild rice combined with brown rice and mixed with green beans, leeks, mushrooms, almonds, and seasonings in a tasty cream sauce. Double serving: 828 calories, 8.0 ounces


Wild Will's Wild Rice

A combination of 100% wild rice mixed with broccoli florets, leeks, mushrooms, red bell peppers, and cranberries in a creamy sauce. Double serving: 667 calories, 6.0 ounces

South of the Border Chili
Lots of red, black, and pinto beans loaded with red and green bell peppers, onion, celery, and tomatoes in a spicy tomato sauce. Double serving: 740 calories, 8.0 ounces

Meals with Wheels (my #1 favorite !)
Not an ordinary pasta, but vegetarian wagon wheels mixed up with sweet garden peas, onions, and green pepper, all cooked in a cheddar cheese sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Double serving: 1124 calories, 10.0 ounces

Mom's Pasta Primavera
A penne pasta with lots of tomatoes, broccoli, basil, red bell peppers, leeks, and mushrooms in a garlicky tomato sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Double serving: 1034 calories, 10.0 ounces

 

THE RESULTS

The results were very educational, to say the least. We learned alot about each other's food preferences, that's for sure. As Josh put it, "...there's something here for everyone!" His comment was related to the fact that every meal was someone's favorite and, conversely, as you might expect, someone's least favorite.

We all agreed, however, on our assessment of both "Quantity" and "Quality".

The quantity of all the meals was more than adequate -- if not generous -- for two folks or for one extremely hungry backpacker (like me about every other day). Josh coined the phrase "hefty, healthy helpings." A noteworthy tip is that the double portions are twice as much food, but not twice the price. You get more for your money by getting the doubles.

The high quality of the ingredients was evident. Anna -- who is a teacher of nutrition -- said "...ingredients are very good, high quality, no additives, and all meals taste like they were just made (from scratch) in the kitchen." Other comments about quality, "...tastes like freshly cut up veggies right out of the garden." "...lack of salt makes everything taste like a freshly made meal." Sarah (who is not a backpacker) said, "...makes you wanna go backpacking".

We also agreed that the seasoning was very well done by using a well-balanced selection of herbs, rather than heavy on the salt like most freeze-dried food. I, for one, am very sensitive to salty food, and I particularly appreciated the relative lack of sodium in these meals.

Although both spoon and fork could be useful, a spoon should be the only required utensil that you'll need for both cooking and eating all these meals.


 

Bountiful Bean & Lentil Chili

This was my favorite #2. It was also Sarah's favorite #2 and received high scores from both Josh and Anna. It scored low with Sandra and Janel (who don't particularly like tomato dishes). Jamie's reaction was sort of a dichotomy. She thoroughly enjoyed the meal, but it failed her "tummy test" when she experienced indigestion/heartburn (probably because she's pregnant). Consequently, she gave it a lower score.

Aroma
delightful; stewed tomatoes; appetizing -- tomatoey and beany; wonderful like spaghetti sauce; smells good.

First Bite
tomatoey and a little too thin (but satisfying); tangy/zesty like spaghetti sauce; tad spicy; hearty chili taste; tomatoey and very tasty.

Flavor
mild (not too spicy); exquisitely tangy, tiny-bit sour; slightly sour, slightly bitter, tangy sweet, little salt, medium spicy (not hot); has an occasional kick, not too sour or sweet; ingredients have a fresh taste (especially the longer you chew).

Texture/Consistency
variety, good crunch, allows for chewing; slight crunch (lentils); slightly runny and not too thick; it could have soaked longer (a matter of personal preference); thickens up nicely after it sits for awhile; slightly runny but grows on you.

Aftertaste
slightly bitter / stays with you and makes you want more; lingering red pepper/green pepper; wonderfully tangy with slight tingling on the tongue; mild -- lends itself to eating with 'great gusto'; mouth burns with lingering legume and tomato flavor

Tummy Test
great!, filling; would be great with bread or crackers; gives me heartburn; very warming and filling; great girgley for my girgley stomach; satisfying.

Other Comments
I love the variety of beans and texture, excellent ingredients!; easy to prepare but took a long time (35 to 45 minutes). Update from Pack Lite: Cooking time has since been reduced to 10-15 minutes presoaking and 6 minutes to cook.

Total score
4.2, 4.2, 5, 4, 3.5, 3.5, 5 (4.2)


 

Green Bean Cuisine

Aroma
smells "ricey" and delicious; it's okay; appetizing rice w/spices; mild nutty, clearly rice-based.

First Bite
bland (flavor comes out the more you chew); slightly under seasoned; fresh veggies.

Flavor
To fully experinece the flavors your mouth needs to get a workout. As Josh points out, "if you wolf this down it'll seem bland, but if you take the time to chew, many flavors will come out"; The more I chew, the more it unlocks a nutty flavor; Sandra, who is extremely sensitive to salt, said "...this food is fine -- not too salty!"

Texture/Consistency
nuts add a bit of crunch; smooth nutty; thick, crunchy, lumpy thick as a rice dish should be; thick chewy; Janel said "...mouth gets good workout"; awesome texture makes it worth eating; good crunchy and smooth; love the nuts and rice-chewy.

Aftertaste
fresh veggies (green beans very fresh tasting); pasty rice; nice mild; nutty.

Tummy Test
filling; sits well; a full meal.

Other Comments
"makes you wanna go backpacking"; very good hardy and wild rice is great; Charles belched, which is always a good sign; "liked this very much, not too salty".

Total score
4, 4, 4.1, 3.3, 3, 3, 3 (3.5)


 

Wild Will's Wild Rice

Aroma
good earthy; herbal smell; smells very herby; smells of spices -- reminds me of a Fall day in a warm kitchen filled with a vegetable/spice aroma; spicy and herby.

First Bite
good hearty, fulfilling taste and texture; there's something sweet in here like dried raisins (actually craisins -- dried cranberries) which give a burst of flavor every time you hit one; many different flavors mixed; it's bitter -- no, it's sweet

Flavor
hardy, good chew, satisfying, herby; mild but not bland; I like it, the craisins add a lot.

Texture/Consistency
wonderful, very chewy and crunchy, satisfying; chewy; lumpy, crunchy; nice slight crunch intermixed with smooth texture of rice.

Aftertaste
good; very good -- not salty; not much; sour aftertaste.

Tummy Test
sits very well; yes, it's okay; very filling; a good wholesome, full feeling; satisfying.

Other Comments
very good combination of herbs, not hot; added a little more water to this dish and soaked it longer, too; cooking time about right -- did add more water.

Total score
4.6, 4.5, 3.5, 3.8, 3.5, 4.3, 4 (4.0)


 

Wasa Crisp Bread with Hummus Spread

Anna and Sandra loved the Hummus Spread and Wasa Crisp Bread, but the rest of us didn't particularly like it. If you like hummus, you'll love this one. If you don't like hummus, this one probably won't change your mind.

Aroma
good fresh; smells delicious; spicy smell; appetizing.

First Bite
very good, tangy, fresh taste; strong, herby fresh.

Flavor
excellent. good protein, nourishing; strong veggie; bitter and sour.

Texture/Consistency
good, thick and creamy, cool; smooth.

Aftertaste
very good; strong mustardy taste; pasty.

Tummy Test
feel replenished; too strong.

Other Comments
hummus with crackers taster better than hummus alone; this would go good as a side dish to the main meal.

Total score
5, 5, 1.5, 3, 3.9, 2.5, 1.5 (3.2)


 

South of the Border Chili

The interesting and surprising thing about this chili dish is that Sandra liked it, whereas she didn't like the "Bountiful Bean Chili" because of the tomatos. She said that this chili did not have a strong tomato taste and was not as spicy. She liked it.

Aroma
light, okay; mild smell; smells fresh; nice, sweet aroma; good hearty chili smell.

First Bite
light, okay, very hearty; mild taste; made my lips pucker; got a good zing in my jaw; much less spicy than the other chili.

Flavor
grows on you, runny, prefer chili thicker, not too spicy; tickles the taste buds; not very spicy, but tomatoey.

Texture/Consistency
runny, but not bad, may thicken if it sits a little longer; nice whole beans, good pieces of corn and texturized vegetable protein which acts as "meat"; soupy; plenty of veggies and texturized veggie protein acts like meat; plenty of veggies and different kinds of beans; soupy; like a mixture of chili and soup.

Aftertaste
very good aftertaste; strong aftertaste; a slight cheese taste; tomatoey aftertaste -- a little too much.

Tummy Test
feels good;

Other Comments
cooked up great -- let soak for 15 minutes rather than 10. A hearty meal.

Total score 4, 4.1, 2.9, 2, 4.4, 4, 4.2 (3.7)


 

Meals with Wheels

This one was the overall favorite and you could tell it would be so from all the ummms and ahhhs during that first-bite test.

Aroma
light, but very good; pepper-jack cheese aroma; smells delicious; ah yes, this smells good!; smells great!; good pasta smell;

First Bite
satisfying, creamy, lots of good carbohydrates; cheesy flavor; tasty can't wait for more; this reminds me of my favorite Pasta Primavera; I'm hearing a lot of ummms and ahhhs!; taste great-the peas really add a lot;

Flavor
tastes fresh, homemade; cheesy; excellent superb but a little bland; taste great!; creamy, noodley; not spicy a little sweet; slight cheese taste; lack of salt makes it taste very fresh; a little spicy; good flavor; peas add a very pleasant flavor; taste homemade, like it's right off the stovetop at home;

Texture/Consistency
creamy, slightly chewy, satisfying texture; very good pasta is soft, peas are slightly crunchy which makes it all taste freshly made; not too spicy, but good herbal flavor; creamy; excellent consistency; good mix of ingredients; excellent creamy consistency; nice combination of ingredients; creamy texture; very smooth; pasta stays firm when cooked;

Aftertaste
good healthy aftertaste; cheesy creamy; pleasant; creamy pasta.

Tummy Test
sits well in my stomach; Jamie says "...yes, sits well in my stomach"; very satisfying and filling; sits very well.

Other Comments
maybe too light of a meal for after a hike (lacks protein); filling, complete; loved this -- loved the peas.

Total score
5, 4.3, 5, 4.5, 4.7, 5, 5 (4.8) four 5's


 

Mom's Pasta Primavera

This was Sarah's favorite.

Aroma
excellent!, fresh, basil; smells good, like a restaurant; very tomatoey and tangy;

First Bite
okay, odd, smells better than first bite; fabulous flavor, I can't stop eating it!; ZING! -- like a zap to the jaw.

Flavor
not bad, does taste very fresh; fabulous, taste like home cooking -- this is great!; I like the slight, subtle spinach flavor.

Texture/Consistency
smooth, thick; hearty; extremely tomatoey.

Aftertaste
good; lingering, fresh, and clean.

Tummy Test
satisfying and filling

Other Comments
very healthy portions

Total score
3.5, 5, 4, 4, 4.1, 3.8, 4 (4.1)

 

BOTTOM LINE

Overall Ranking by Score:

GOURMET ANYWHERE
4.8 -- Meals with Wheels
GOURMET IN THE MOUNTAINS & EXCELLENT AT HOME
4.2 -- Bountiful Bean and Lentil Chili
4.1 -- Mom's Pasta Primavera
4.0 -- Wild Will's Wild Rice
EXCELLENT IN THE MOUNTAINS & VERY GOOD AT HOME
3.7 -- South of the Border Chili
3.5 -- Green Bean Cuisine
3.2 -- Wasa Crisp Bread with Hummus Spread

First, a word about the scoring system. We figure that any food that scores 2.0 and above would be a very good meal in the mountains. All of these meals scored well above that. Secondly, this group of testers is tough on handing out 5's. A very critical crowd, indeed.

Having said all that, we as a group, gave Pack Lite Foods a 4.4 rating overall. Anna said it for all of us when she said, "...all of these, you can't go wrong".

We also determined that the Pack Lite Foods fare was more wholesome, with fresher ingredients and much, much less salt than the traditional freeze-dried foods -- like Mountain House and similar brands. "You feel like you've had a home-cooked meal, not like you've been sucking on a salt lick.

...We wholeheartedly recommend that you try these Pack Lite Foods products. Hopefully, our assessments will help you zero in on the meals that will be according to your own preferences.

Copyright © The Lightweight Backpacker. All rights reserved

 

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SATISFIED CUSTOMERS

"Thank you again for your personal assistance with my order and, most importantly, for producing such an excellent product. My two young compatriots ate up the outdoors, quite literally. The Pack Lite Foods - chili, pasta, wild rice, oatmeal and hummus - were all hits after intense calorie-burn hikes, dune climbs and swims on North Manitou Island. Your portions were just right to feed the ravenous duo and me (we used two two-portion packages for each meal). Excepting the beef jerky hidden in their packs, we were a meat-free excursion... and the guys hardly noticed :) Again, thanks much. We're hooked on Pack Lite for our next adventures."

Carl G.
Traverse City, MI
 

Pack Lite Foods
804 Airport Way
Sandpoint, ID 83864
(208) 219-7737