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A Trip Report in Four Meals: Good to Go Gourmet Backpacking Food Review

Badger enjoys the Marinara Penne for breakfast in the Sand Dunes
Badger enjoys the Marinara Penne for breakfast in the Sand Dunes

With new backpacking foods popping up on the market everywhere these days, a crew of long distance hikers and I wanted to test out some new flavors and varieties before outdoor season gets into full swing.

As big time foodies who also love backpacking, we were stoked to discover a relatively new company on the market, Good to Go, which calls itself a gourmet backpacking food—and for good reason! Founded by Iron Chef winner (and longtime owner of NY Times 4 star rated restaurant Annissa in NYC), Jennifer Scism, Good to Go is a new pre-packaged backpacking dinner that first appeared at Summer OR and is quickly hitting the shelves of specialty outfitters.

Good to Go offers four flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz), Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per, Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)
Good to Go offers four flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz), Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per, Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)

I had the chance to try a few bites of Good to Go at Winter OR—and was blown away by the restaurant quality flavor. But how would food prepared by a top chef perform in the backcountry when faced by a crew of hungry hikers? We took Good to Go on a three day backpacking trip in Great Sand Dunes National Park and the foothills of the Sangre to Cristo Range in Colorado to test our Good to Go’s flavors—Herbed Mushroom Risotto, Classic Marinara with Penne, Thai Curry, and Smoked Three Bean Chili.

I bring you a trip report told in the story of four meals. The abridged version is that while hikers generally enjoy eating, on a cold and wet trip, Good to Go raised our spirits and made the being outdoors experience even more beautiful.

Dinner: Smoked Three Bean Chili

As the chef at any American Long Distance Hiking Association West Gathering can tell you, long distances hikers have an appetite bigger than a college freshman football team. Yet, after spending the day walking as far as the eye could see climbing dunes, we still found the Good to Go portions if anything, generous. Unlike many other backpacking food companies, one container=one generous meal for one person. If you’re hiking with two, bring one for each of you.

As we watched the storm roll in, we cooked up the Smoked Three Bean Chili. The meal was light in salt, but big on flavor. We loved the smokiness of the paprika mixed with the ancho chili powder. After getting pelted by wind and sand all day and not seeing a soul around, having a warm, gourmet meal really hit the spot and added to the epic-ness of our adventure.

Breakfast: Classic Marinara with Penne

So, it was harsh night out in the Dunes. Despite our efforts to find a wind-free spot, gusts of sand spit into our sleeping faces, we got snowed on, and one of our crew got lost in the Dunes doing some night photography.

We needed a breakfast pick me up. BAD. So we cooked up the Classic Marinara with Penne. As with all the Good to Go Meals, prep is simple enough it can be done when the brain is still in a pre-coffee state. We simply boiled up so water, tossed it in the pouch, and sealed it, and waited 20 minutes—enough time to get some coffee brewing!

I’m a big sucker for marinara—especially while backpacking. It’s a classic flavor, and one that is often botched in the backcountry. Good to Go’s marinara was spot on and I could just hear my Italian friends saying that it was like being back in their grandmother’s kitchen. Except not. We were in the middle of a Sand Dune getting snowed on.

Dinner: Herbed Mushroom Risotto

By 10 am, the weather had turned, and soon the snow was coming down hard. Temperatures and visibility dropped. It was snowing so hard, that we decided not to hike on in the afternoon. Luckily, we got out tents up in a relative break in the snow, and were able to hike around basecamp and enjoy the beauty of the snow for a few hours. But by dinner time, we were cold, wet, and ready for something to warm us from the inside out and give us the energy to keep our bodies toasty though the cold night ahead.

I’m always a big fan of risotto, and Good to Go’s cremini mushroom, garlic, white wine, walnut, and basil seemed rich enough to keep me snug all night. Amazingly, Good to Go actually uses Arborio rice like a true risotto, not like the mock risottos made of instant rice that I see in other backpacking foods and that I make myself. Good to Go Foods are all dehydrated, so they take a little longer to soak in boiling water than backpacking goods that are freeze dried and won’t work for those who go stoveless. If you’re impatient like me, or at altitude (water boils at a lower temperature at altitude, so backpacking dinners soaked at high altitude will take more soaking time), you can always stick your food in your pot and cook it for 5 minutes.

I’m not sure how they were able to turn Arborio rice into something that would rehydrate in the backcountry, but the result was creamy and hearty and just want our cold and wet crew needed.

Dinner: Thai Curry

After staying surprisingly comfortably warm all night (with only a heavy snow-covered branch falling right by our tent to disturb the night) we packed up our wet tents and headed out. We enjoyed a relatively warm and dry day watching the foot of snow melt and evaporate. To celebrate how we’d been able to make the best of the weekend—regardless of the weather—I cracked into the Thai Curry, which I knew from the beginning was going to be my favorite flavor of the four.

It’s filled with tons of veggies—green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and peas. But the best part is the flavorful sauce of coconut milk, but also spices you never see in other backpacking foods– Kaffir lime, cardamom, tamarind, and lemongrass. That night, I went home but could only think of the months I spend each year hiking in remote places that don’t have ethnic food restaurants. How even tastier this meal would have tasted then!

In conclusion, Good to Go offers high quality ingredients (in fact—all pronounceable) in a gourmet style dehydrated backpacking food. You can check out their flavors and where you can get them at Good to Go. While some long distance hikers may find the food too gourmet (and pricey) to eat for every meal, it is the perfect treat for special trips such as the time you have to take your food picky mom out on her first backpacking trip, a hiking trip with a hot date you’re trying to impress, or the really hard part of the your long distance hike when you’re going to want a big pick me up.

Flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz), Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Herbed Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per 3.5 oz), Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)

 

 

New Trends in Backpacking Food: Outdoor Retailer Sneak Peeks at What To Eat

 

Part 4 in the series on Outdoor Rertailer 2015. 

Being more of a foodie than a gearhead, I was especially stoked to sample, nibble, and gorge on all of the new foods announced at the Outdoor Retailer Show this year. Here’s a sneak peak at what to eat, from the intriguing, scrumptious, to just plain disgusting.

Most Innovative: Clif Energy Food

Clifbar unveiled their new energy food packets at Outdoor Retailer
Clifbar unveiled their new energy food packets at Outdoor Retailer

Part real food gel, part adult baby food, these pouches taste way more “real” than the competitors’ energy goop. These totally organic, gluten-free packets come in re-sealable pouches and have a shelf life of 12 months.

One major selling point on these bad boys is that they’re easier to digest than real food, but tastier and mor

e wholesome than gels. Props to Clifbar for the innovative idea. Because of the limited calorie density, I can’t see this taking off in the long distance hiking community as more than an occasional treatbar. As much as I love the Clif Energy Foods, I worry it won’t stick around for long, so start hording these before they end up on the cutting block!

The sweet flavors (90g): Banana Mango Coconut (100 calories) and Banana Beet Ginger (110 calories).

The savory flavors (120g): Sweet Potato and Sea Salt (200 calories) and the Pizza Margherita flavor (120 g—my favorite).

New Dehydrated Food: Good to Go

 

Founded by Iron Chef winner Jennifer Scism (and long time owner NY Times 4 star rated restaurant Annissa in NYC), Good to Go is a new pre-packaged backpacking dinner that first appeared at Summer OR. The flavor is pretty much advertised—restaurant quality.

The only downside is that Good to Go is dehydrated instead of freeze-dried, so Soakers like my friend Bobcat aren’t going to be able to use this food to its full potential. It appears to have as many calories as the competition, but a single serving Good to Go retails for the price of a double serving of the competition. I guess it’s still cheaper than dinner at a 4 star hotel.

Flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz) , Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per, Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)

Sweet and Savory: Navitas

 

Health food store standard, Navitas organic superfood company made an appearance at Outdoor Retailer and rocked the potential for flavor and variety of all natural backpacking snacks. I was already a big fan of backpacking with the Cacao Nibs and Chia seeds, but was stoked for their new line up set to roll out this spring.

Coconut chips (three flavors): cacao, caramel, and chili lime (I tried this was and it was AWESOME). These have the potential to be a low glycemic alternative to potato chips. Of course, coconut chips are never inexpensive, but at least these come in creative flavors.

Superfood+ Line: Cacao Hemp Almonds, Chia Rosemary Pepitas, Coconut Hemp Pepitas, Goji Basil Cashews, Goldenberry Ginger Almonds, Maca Maple Cashews (incredible), Tumeric Tamari Almonds (turmeric is an all-natural ibuprofen alternative).

Although they aren’t new, I was pretty intrigued by the Power Snack cubes (Flavors include: Cacao Goji, Citrus Chia, Coffee Cacao, and Lemon Goldenberry). At $10 for 8 oz, these raw organic cubes are less expensive per oz than many other raw organic bars out there and have no added sugar.

New Twist on a Trusted Bar: Probar

Although they didn’t have a booth at Winter OR this year, during the show, several of my friends swung by ProBar headquarters and met with Jules, the CEO, who had kindly supplied the Gossamer Gear Jamboree in Moab with snacks. I’ve been excited for their two newest flavors, which rolled out a few months ago:

Almond Crunch: Let’s just say that the hikers who tried this bar loved it so much, that what they want to do to this bar is inappropriate to write in the blog. This flavor is phenomenal. (And thank you, Probar, for making a peanut-free bar!)

Strawberry Bliss: It’s like they took my favorite ingredient from the Wholeberry Blast and just dedicated a whole bar to it.

Probar also rolled out their new line, Bites, which offers the same great flavors as their Meal Replacement Bars, except in smaller-portioned (and thus lower calorie) bars. (Hikers, of course, are best sticking to the Meal Replacement Bar).

Best Idea Ever: Alpine Aire Guacamole

How many times have I been sitting on a mountain and wished that I had some guacamole for my chips? Up until now, I didn’t think it was possible to dehydrate an avocado. I thought it was physically not possible. But Alpine Aire has done it–and it’s incredible. Keep your eyes and tongue peeled for this amazing, incredible, much-dreamed about new food idea. Hikers: I introduce you to freeze dried guacamole!

Reading Material: The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook

Stackpole Books presented their newest backpacking food recipe book, the Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook, which includes 398 recipes. Suitable for preppers and hikers alike, if you’re looking for an off-season hobby to get you prepared for backpacking, this book has enough projects in it to keep you busy until next off-season. It includes full color photos of what can be done with a dehydrator—although, admittedly, many of these are way too fancy for a lot of hikers.

Oldie But Goodie: New Clif Bar Flavors

At the Conservation Alliance Breakfast, Clifbar rolled out two new flavors for attendees to try:

Berry Pomegrante Chia

Nuts and Seeds

Macrodelicious: GoMacro Bar

I was pleased to see health food staple Go Macro bar at Outdoor Retailer, showing off some of their cool new packaging designs–which recently won an award for awesome art. Outdoor Retailer was a great place for them to showcase some of their new flavors that I haven’t seen in stores yet: banana + almond butter, sunflower + butter chocolate,  sesame + butter dates, and cashew caramel.

Trail Magic Award: PowerPop

The ultimate in trailside magic showed it’s face at OR this winter: an Otterpop like ice popsicle with electrolytes. I’m just saying if someone showed up at Scissor’s Crossing handing out a few of those, they’d instantly get the status of “angel” from some near-dead hikers.

For a Good Cause: Salazon Chocolate

At Outdoor Retailer, Salazon rolled out their Continental Divide Trail specific salted chocolate bar: 72% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds. All Salazon bars are Oragnic, Fair Trade, and Rain Forest Alliance certified. Packed with plenty of energy, uppers from the chocolate, and salt to keep your electrolytes in balance, proceeds from this bar go to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. Now that’s some good chocolate!

Are there any food trends or flavors you’re excited to try in your backpacking food?

Stay tuned for the final segment on Outdoor Retailer: gear and marketing trends in the Outdoor Industry!

 

Fall Kale Dehydrating for Summer Hiking Health

The Hiker Must Do before the end of the month! Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons
The Hiker Must Do before the end of the month! Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons

What’s the perfect trail food that no one carries on trail? Kale! This leafy green has as many nutrients as that multivitamin in your med kit that you keep forgetting to take. Kale is a natural detoxifier, which is a plus for hikers who spend the whole day eating (or making) trail dust. Dark, leafy vegetables also have anti-inflammatories, meaning less Vitamin Ibuprofen for those of us with lots of miles on our feet. Plus, any thru-hiker can appreciate how rehydrated kale can be incredibly filling for its weight. A pint sized ziplock equal to an entire bunch weighs in at less than an oz.

It’s kale! I promise! (Ok, fine, there are some beet greens in there, too)
It’s kale! I promise! (Ok, fine, there are some beet greens in there, too)

Unless you live in California, before your local farmer’s markets holds its last sale until the spring, be sure to stock up on kale to dehydrate. The dried stuff lasts more than a year and will be a great asset to your March trail food.

Redbor Kale (purple), Curly Kale, Russian Kale, red and golden beets and Hakurei turnips (their green tops are edible)
Redbor Kale (purple), Curly Kale, Russian Kale, red and golden beets and Hakurei turnips (their green tops are edible)

 

 Snorkel’s Dehydrated Kale “Recipe”*

1)      Be sure to thoroughly wash your kale before starting, especially if it isn’t organic. Who knows what could be trapped between those nice little leafy ridges?

2)      Strip the leaves off the thick stems, which can be tough and unsavory. From here, you can cut the remaining leaves into 1” strips or (for people like me), tear the leaves into strips of similar sizes.

3)      Go raw to retain your kale’s nutrients! Since raw kale can be a bit rough, I dip my strips in salty hot water to slightly soften it. The salt helps with flavor and preservation. Baking soda or baking powder also work to tenderize and preserve the somewhat tough vegetable.

Drying set up includes bowl of leaf chunks (ready to toss into water), lots of towels, and dehydrating slats (the things that look like window screens)
Drying set up includes bowl of leaf chunks (ready to toss into water), lots of towels, and dehydrating slats (the things that look like window screens)

4)      Lie the kale strips on slats for your dehydrator, being sure not to overlap.

5)      Put it in the dehydrator on the vegetable setting. In my circa 1970s dehydrator, it takes about 24 hours to get completely dry. Since I usually don’t use my kale for several months, it’s important that my kale is completely dry to prevent rotting in storage. If done correctly, dehydrated kale has lasted me a year.

*This recipe also works for Swiss chard and Collard Greens. I’ve also had luck with turnip and beet greens (although these guys are usually tougher and less tasty than kale).