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The On-The-Go Camp Food Showdown

For campers and backpackers looking for the best pre-prepared backcountry meals, Good To-Go is the new contender in town. Co-founded by chef Jennifer Scism, the Maine-based company aims to make lightweight gourmet meals that outdo typical freeze-dried fare.

Scism, who co-owns Annisa in New York's Greenwich Village and has cooked at four-star restaurants, decided she needed better food options after planning a seven-day backpacking trip with her husband. So she pulled out the dehydrator and started making the kinds of meals she'd be proud of in her own restaurant. 

My fiancée, Paige, and I eat a vegan diet, and she's gluten-free. That limits options for camp food. But thankfully Good To-Go has three gluten-free flavors, two of which are also vegan (they're labeled vegetarian). We wanted to see how they stacked up against the other big names out there—Backpacker's Pantry, Mountain House, and MaryJaneFarms—so we worked up our appetites and dug in. Here are the results: 

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Good To-Go Three Bean Chili

Gathering firewood and setting up camp on the Chama River in northern New Mexico left us hungry. Good thing we'd brought snacks. Because Good To-Go is dehydrated rather than freeze-dried like most backpacking meals, it requires almost double the time to absorb water—20 minutes—compared to others. Expect that going in, and you're, well, good to go. When it was ready, I opened the resealable packet, and the chili was still piping hot.

The consistent first response was, "Mmm." The chili packs a lot of flavor, and it's spicy, but not over-salted like most brands. Perfect texture, too, just like you'd expect at home. At 100 grams per serving (a more realistic serving size than most offerings), the chili made for a hearty meal, the kind you want after a long day outside. ($6, 3.5 oz)

Calories: 340
; Protein: 16g; 
Carbs: 64g
; Fat: 5g
, Sodium: 360mg

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

MaryJanesFarm Outpost Lentils, Rice, & Indian Spice

Part two of our Chama dinner was also dehydrated, but took half the time to hydrate. Nonetheless, the rice was a bit chewy, and though the flavor was good, it didn't stand out after Good To-Go's excellent chili. MaryJaneFarms does get props for all-organic ingredients and eco-packaging that you can burn when you're done to eliminate waste. Unfortunately, the lack of insulation and no reseal option (you fold the top down while hydrating) means you lose heat for a lukewarm meal. ($6, 4.3 oz)

Calories (per pouch): 435; Protein: 16.5g; 
 Carbs: 90g; 
Fat: 2.3g
; Sodium: 780mg

Overall Rating: 8/10

Good To-Go Herbed Mushroom Risotto

After a 3.5-mile quad-busting hike to 11,400-foot Nambe Lake in New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness, I needed fuel. So after boiling water, I chomped into an apple and let the risotto soak. Twenty minutes later, I dove in, and I admit I didn't waste much time reflecting on every bite. But my first impression was the risotto's texture—I felt like I should be eating this on a plate at a restaurant. The mushrooms popped satisfyingly, and the flavor was subtle, but good. I was mostly satisfied, but while the serving is ample compared to other brands, I'd probably already burned most of the 410 calories it gave me just getting here. I was left wishing for just a bit more. ($6, 3.4 oz)

Calories: 410; 
Protein: 13g
; Carbs: 64g ; Fat: 10g; Sodium: 420mg

Overall Rating: 9/10

Backpacker's Pantry Katmandu Curry (for two)

Paige and I had just come back from a late-night music session, and we thought we'd save time by boiling up this curry dish at home. In the backcountry, a certain psychology and physical necessity tends to make your taste buds forgiving, so it's true that our home environment could have skewed the results here. Still, Backpacker's Pantry has long been my go-to when opting for freeze-dried backpacking meals, so I'm familiar with it in its proper setting.

In both scenarios, my biggest complaint is the over-salted flavor. Otherwise, it would stand up to home cooking. True, you need electrolytes after a long hike, but I found it was excessive here. And I'd normally eat the whole pouch myself, which gives me 2440 mg of sodium (ouch), yet only three grams of fat—a key requirement in the backcountry. The curry was a tad watery, too. Extra points for clear gluten-free and vegan labeling. ($6.50, 6.6 oz)

Calories (per serving): 340;
 Protein; 18g 
Carbs: 64g ; Fat: 1.5g; Sodium: 1220mg

Overall Rating: 7/10

Good To-Go Thai Curry 

This one has milk and anchovy, so I gave it to Paige's brother Pete for testing. He found the rice to be quite tasty, full of Thai flavor. His only complaint: the spices were a tad too sweet. But he declared it good to the last bite, which came a bit too soon to fill him up. Bring on dessert. ($6, 3.4 oz)

Calories: 380; Protein: 10g; Carbs: 56g; Fat: 14g
; Sodium: 500mg

Overall Rating: 8/10

Mountain House Fire Roasted Vegetable Blend

Mountain House doesn't have any full-meal options for vegans, so I opted for a side dish. While the food smelled like it was going to be very tasty, when I drained the excess water (it's in the directions, but it feels like wasting precious liquid) and ate a spoonful, the meal was bland. That's fine if you want to customize your flavor, but I didn't.

Nonetheless, I added some much-needed salt and garlic powder, but it still didn't hit the mark. Something else was missing, too. Rice would have been a good touch. The veggies were flaccid and not particularly appealing, while the beans were unremarkable. True, this is a side dish, but it's made to be self-contained, and yet I found it only works in tandem with something more flavorful. ($4, 1.5 oz)

Calories: 150
; Protein: 7.5g
; Carbs: 30g; Fat: 1g
; Sodium: 13mg

Overall Rating: 5/10

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Onewheel Electric Skateboard

Segways are so 2001. The future belongs to the Onewheel—a one-wheeled electric skateboard that’s self-balancing and battery-powered.

The rider leans forward to accelerate, back to slow down, and side-to-side to turn. The skateboard can reach speeds up to 12 mph, and has a range of up to six miles. And if you invest in the “ultra charger,” you can charge the Onewheel in less than 30 minutes. (The standard charger takes about two hours.)  

Like every other gadget these days, the Onewheel will soon be app-ready, too. The company estimates the product will ship this December. 

Pre-order for $1,499 (includes ultra charger), rideonewheel.com

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Freedom Rider

Growing up, I lived at the top of a hill. At the bottom was my high school, with a mile of perfectly paved sidewalk in between.

Each morning, I’d grab my skateboard—a battered thing I stole from a friend’s backyard—and point the nose downhill, carving every driveway like it was the face of a wave. The early-morning wind blowing through my hair was the only reason I made it to class.

Handcrafted in Denver, the Kota SPAD XIII ($314) is much slicker than my old board, but the feeling is the same. The cambered deck is cut from Wisconsin maple, and the textured finish on top means no grip tape covering up Old Glory. After all, these colors don’t run—they fly.

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10 Rules to Detox Your Digital Life

Remember the dire Y2K technological apocalypse predictions? If only they had come true. Without sermonizing, here are 10 ways to disconnect the broadband flow of digitized scheiße that's drowning our souls.

#1: Smell a Book

Hey, iPad readers: Do you remember what a book smells like? Especially an old book that everyone in your family has read a few times? As an 11-year-old, I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, plus The Hobbit, and, verily, even The Silmarillion at least four times. Call me a creep, but sometimes I'd walk by, pick up one of the tattered, coverless paperbacks, and smell it.

I won't attempt to describe the aroma—it's too personal—but it made me feel good. Books are tactile and sensory. Like candlelight, they're intimate and calming. And a book won't knock your teeth out when you fall asleep reading one—if you can sleep at all after reading on an iPad. Experts say the light your iPad or phone emits is jacking with your melatonin. Not so with books.

#2: Ditch the Smartphone Alarm Clock

One of the only smart features I actually use on my phone is the alarm clock. This is a trap. Alarm clocks go next to the bed, so your phone goes next to the bed. My latest software update makes a wee light flash blue (Facebook), white (text), or green (email) every time a message arrives. What's that? Somebody tagged me? Oh, it's an irate reader calling me a douche at 11:00 p.m.

Now I'm angry, or stressed, or annoyed, or distracted, and perhaps worse, I'm looking at a bright white light (more on that later). Recently, I moved my angry alarm phone to the kitchen and replaced it with a large wall clock at my bedside. It ticks like a school clock and somehow reminds me of my late grandfather—and the heartbeats of my sleeping dogs. Studies have found that our constant connectivity affects our mental health and frequent cellphone use can lead to insomnia.

#3: Talk to Your Coworkers

We hire and train a few interns at my office each year. Important parts of the job entail checking facts, connecting with sources, and asking for photo-shoot gear. Invariably an intern—a journalism student, mind you—will enter my office and hopelessly explain that a source hasn't gotten back to them. "Did you call?" I ask. "Uh, no," they reply, shaken by the thought.

It has been reported that the generation currently in high school send upwards of 1,300 text messages a month, and they're seven times more likely to text than to call. Email and text are marvelous tools, but they work best in place of otherwise guttural vocalizations like "got it" and "on the way." Texting while you drive is a thumb stroke away from a negligent homicide charge. A poorly worded email can get you fired. Easily articulated nuances like mirth, sarcasm, facetiousness, or just the right amount of displeasure do not cross over to hastily typed digital communication. Pick up the phone. Unless you're driving. In which case, shut up.

#4: Put Down the Camera

Recent studies have shown that aggregating pixels is not the same as observing and reflecting upon the world. It's called the "photo-taking impairment effect," and although you may feel like you're documenting wondrous existence, mostly you're just operating a chintzy camera and not paying attention.

This means that unless you're carefully framing the subject and noting the light and composition of the impending image, you're not really absorbing the experience into your memory. As Socrates once wrote on a wildly popular Athenian bumper sticker (it bombed in Sparta), The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living. Your daughter's dance recital. Skiing with your son. Mountain biking with friends. Put your camera phone down and be there. Socrates didn't take selfies. #drinkinghemlock 

#5: Join the Dark Side

I interviewed a sleep-disorder specialist a few years ago. For the most common form of insomnia, his advice was stupid simple. Don't drink coffee after 3:00 p.m., and get your television, laptop, tablet, and smartphone out of your bedroom. It sounds like hippie science, but biorhythms are real. Staring at a bright box late at night tricks the body into thinking it's morning. The effect is so powerful it can make you hungry for breakfast, which is why it has been linked to obesity. Unless your insomnia is entrenched, it's probably fine to read a book made of paper by a dim light. Otherwise, the bedroom is for sleeping—and "wrestling." 

#6: Bring Back Cursive

Like art and gym class, handwriting has largely been dropped by our education system—not that adults are writing by hand much these days, either. It's a bigger loss than we thought. A series of studies have shown what we intuitively knew all along. Like creating art, the act of writing lights up the brain in ways that typing decidedly does not. There has even been conjecture that the very act of writing cursive may instill "functional specialization" (focus, control), help us compose our thoughts, and even treat dyslexia. We aren't going to stop typing anytime soon, but when paired with just the right fedora and skinny jeans, perhaps bringing a journal on vacation and a legal pad to a meeting might pass as hip.

#7: Turn Off Your Alerts

The end of the world is coming. Check this box if you'd like to be notified by email or text message. Last winter, I downloaded an NFL app, thinking—as advertised—I would be able to watch a playoff game as I flew to Utah. Naturally, it didn't work. But then, many months later, during the far-superior hockey playoffs, my phone alerted me no less than 20 times about the endlessly fascinating and life-affirming results of the NFL draft, an event that now competes with the birth of a British royal for pure idiotic spectacle.

With the exception of reverse 911 updates, turn off all your phone notifications. Yes, including Facebook. And adjust your computer settings. Do you really need the little pop-up and accompanying chime when an email arrives? Has instant messaging ever benefited you? They seem petty when isolated, but systemic distractions are a big deal. NASA big. There's even a field of research devoted to it called "interruption science." For the humans among us, no matter what kind of work you do, true creativity or even just workaday focus comes in brief bursts. The masterful novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez once told the Paris Review that, at his best, he could write a worthy paragraph in a six-hour workday—and most of the time he'd tear up those lines the next morning. The breaking news that Johnny Football went to the Browns might have completely derailed him.

#8: Unplug from the Data

I wear a brilliant GPS watch in the backcountry. My mountain bike is kitted out with a touch-screen computer that tells me my location, route, speed, heart rate, and pedaling cadence. My Strava-connected road-cycling friends speak the strange language of power meters. For them, riding isn't about mileage but wattage.

I enjoy my outdoorsy gadgets: The watch once saved me from a night wandering the high country in search of my tent. The bike computer lets me gauge my effort so I don't blow up before the final climb. Power meters have taken the guessing out of training regimens. But sometimes we rely upon tech too much. A map or even just a look around tells me that if I follow the creek, I'll hit the pond. And there are times when you should listen to your body instead of your power meter.

"Athletes sometimes have to separate themselves from their data analysis," says Jason Hilimire, director of coaching at FasCat Coaching in Boulder, Colorado. "As coaches, we can spot it in their written comments. 'I'm tired. I'm hungry. I can't sleep.' They're cooked from training or their jobs or their family life. We tell them to unplug and ride with no prescribed goals. Hit the mental reset. Have fun."

#9: Forget About Facebook

Unless it's to notify you that their 27-year-old dog died, nobody goes on Facebook and tells the world about their downfalls: Can't afford new snow tires. The kid has lice! Dead-end job. Drinking too much lately! No, those aren't good posts. Facebook is about gloating and pretense, not the harsh realities of life that actual friends help with. The showing off is especially prevalent with outdoorsy types—and I'm as culpable as anyone. Nothing but sunshine, gleaming choppers, and powder on my page. Nobody's life is that perfect. One small study hinted that the more participants interacted with Facebook, the unhappier they became. Sometimes, when I'm feeling alienated from society and nauseated by being, Facebook makes me feel a whole lot worse. For those days, what we need is a social media site composed of morose French existentialists chain-smoking Gauloises. "We refuse to like your post," they would say. "At the most, we'll recognize that behind the veil of your public presence, you too also suffer."

#10: Share the Music

In Empire of the Summer Moon, author S.C. Gwyne spends a few lines telling the reader how Comanche would wake up singing. That passage resonated with me. And then, last night, my 12-year-old son said he didn't listen to as much music as his peers who spend their days isolated in their private soundtracks. He seemed almost dejected. Music is part of our family life, but earphones and portable music are not. In the car or at home, we listen to music together. We share music, just as I did with my parents and teenage friends. And when we wake up, we wake up singing.

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