Anyone that has spent more than a few days in the high country has been there. Eating freeze dried meals for days on end tends to make something seem a little off and not quite right. A quick glance at the nutritional panel on most of these meals, and it quickly becomes apparent as to the reason why. I do not understand the inner workings of nutrition and am far from an expert in this field. However, I do know how my body tends to perform on inadequate nutritional fuel even with proper training in endurance, strength, and overall physical fitness. For this reason, I have been trying to find an alternative to freeze dried meals for some time. About a year ago, I learned about Heather Kelly. Heather is an “evolutionary sports nutritionist [and a] certified psychology of eating coach. She is the owner, operator, and the creator of Heather's Choice
Heather's Choice “is a line of dehydrated meals for adventuring. All of the recipes [have been] developed to be nutritionally balanced and made with the highest quality ingredients available.” Heather has “gone out of her way to find sustainable sources of protein for all of her meals, and gluten free ingredients.” The Heather’s Choice line up consists of: breakfasts, snacks, and meals.
Dehydrated vs. Freeze Dried
To us as high country hunters weight matters! Both dehydrated and freeze dried food weighs much less than fresh; however, there are some differences.
Dehydration of food is usually performed in inexpensive dehydrators that are found in most kitchen appliance stores. These machines circulate hot and dry air across the food that is placed on the trays. This removes much of the water content. Dehydrated food is usually withered and harder.
Freeze-drying isn’t something you can do at home without high-tech machinery. There are units available for at home use such as the Harvest Right™; however, these units are expensive and cumbersome. Freeze drying is also a fairly simple process. Food is placed on large racks inside of a vacuum chamber. The temperature is lowered to below freezing and then slowly raised. The water in the food moves from a solid to a gaseous state .
Dehydration removes about 90-95 percent of the moisture content while freeze drying removes about 98-99 percent. Foods that you dehydrate at home will typically have a 10 percent moisture content level , while foods that are dehydrated professionally will have a lower moisture content. This seems to be the case with products such as Heather’s Choice.
The moisture removal has a direct impact on the shelf life. As stated above dehydrated food has a shorter shelf life than freeze-dried foods due to the fact that it has more moisture. While this is important in instances such as food storage, this in my opinion is not as important for the high country hunter. For example, I only purchase my meals for the upcoming season just months and not years prior to using them. Thus, I usually have already exhausted my supply well before the expiration dates.
In talking with many mountain hunters, I have found that most (including myself) utilize Mountain House products as the main stable for backcountry meals. Due to Mountain House being the likely standard, I decided to use one of my favorite meals: the Mountain House Chicken and Rice Pro Pack, as a constant when comparing nutritional values with Heather’s Choice Dark Chocolate Chili.
It is important to realize that Heather’s Choice has a serving size of 1 per pouch while the Mountain House serving size is about 2 per pouch.In order to give a fair comparison, the numbers for the Mountain House label must be doubled. After looking at both of the labels in this way, Heather’s Choice has more: Calories, Saturated Fat
, and Cholesterol; while the Mountain House has more: Total Fat
, and almost 3x the amount of Sodium
(1500 mg vs. 530).
It should be also noted that Heather’s Choice has a substantial more amount of Protein
(35 g vs. 12 g). This is important to the high country hunter because,“protein is critical for muscular repair, growth and maintenance [and] eating enough protein will help with recovery, energy levels, cognition and stamina.” I have found this to be true as well in my own experience.
Post Season Review
I was able to trial various Heather’s Choice products on multiple day trips, overnight scouting trips, and an early season archery mule deer hunt. The products that I trialed were: the Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder, Dark Chocolate Chili, Chipotle Cherry Chili, Tomatillo Rancheros Entrées
and the Sweet Coconut , Lemon Lavender , and Spiced Coconut Packaroons.
After receiving the various sampler products, I was impressed with small size of the packaging. Each of the main entrées and Packaroon packages were much smaller than a Mountain House Pro Pack. Every pouch fit nicely within my organizational food stack and I was surprised at the reduction in the overall bulk in my backpack.
Just as with any backpacking meal, the entrées required boiling water in order to cook. The pouches held water well and I never had any leakage once closed after adding water. I also quickly became aware that due to the packaging being smaller, I did NOT have to stick my hand inside when trying to fill the spoon with the package contents. This kept the meal more sanitary and required less clean up when finished.
At first, I was a little concerned as to whether 4 oz. of food would sustain me in a way that I needed it too. However, I quickly found that after eating Heather’s Choice, I did feel completely full, my energy returned quickly, and I had just as much or more endurance as I ever have had. Also, I noticed that after eating Heather’s Choice, I did NOT have the stomach problems that I usually have had in the past including bloating. I attribute this to the lower sodium content, more balanced nutrition, and significant more protein as compared to other products that I have been previously using.
Unfortunately, while I felt significantly sustained in my endeavors, the taste of some of the entrées was much too bland and different for my liking. After the first meal, I found myself using significant salt and other spices to substitute for the taste. I found that without these other additives, I would have to force myself to finish some of these meals. On one these was the Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder. If I had brought an alternative meal, I would have gladly switched. However, to be fair I do not like fish in the first place and barely being able to finish this particular entrée was not a surprise to me.
In contrast, I really did enjoy most of the Packaroons. I found myself using the Packaroons (especially the Lemon Lander) frequently as a substitute for high sugary snacks. I quickly learned that with one package of Packaroons, my in between meal cravings would be fulfilled. I also found that I had a significant increase in more long term energy and endurance than I had had previously.
From a nutritional and performance standpoint, Heather’s Choice products are hard to beat. I do realize that the price for Heather’s Choice is almost double that of other back country meals. However, it is important to realize that this can be attributed to the fact that it is not cheap to obtain quality food sources and produce products with quality nutrition. You do get what you pay for.
I was a little disappointed in the taste of many of the entrées. However, after seeing many reviews online, I’ve come to the conclusion that my experience seems to be vastly different from many others. I hope that my review doesn’t discourage others from trying Heather’s Choice based on taste. Taste is personal and while some of these entrées didn’t agree with me that doesn’t mean that will be the case for you.
I do believe that Heather Choice products are a great substitute to freeze dried meals for the high country hunter. I hope that you consider them when planning your next high country adventure. Personally, I look forward to trying and fine tuning various food items including:dehydrated meals and several Heather’s Choice products in order to better perfect by own backcountry meal list.
All information provided in quotations was taken from the Heather’s Choice website. Please refer to www.heatherschoice.com
for more information.
Photo Credit: www.heatherschoice.com
 FREEZE-DRIED FOOD VS DEHYDRATED. 2015. Ready Store Blog. Accessed December 2016. https://www.thereadystore.com/food-storage/8376/dehydrated-vs-freeze-dried-food/