Just Add Water

If you’re going backpacking, you’ll want to travel light, and every bean and grain of rice adds up. (Unless you’re car camping, in which case everything comes easier.) Fortunately, there are a handful of companies selling freeze-dried/dehydrated meals in self-contained packets that double as

cooking pots and serving bowls. Nothing beats the real thing, but when all your weight is on your back, this stuff can seem a lot more attractive.

CHOW tasted four vegetarian chilis, one of the few entrées found across multiple brands, and rated them 1 to 4 (1 being the best).

Alpine Aire Mountain Chili Mary Jane Farm Organic Kettle Chili Richmoor Natural High 3 Bean Chili Backpacker's Pantry Wild West Chili
RANKING 1 2 3 4
They say “A blend of pinto beans, vegetable protein, corn, mushrooms, and spices” “Organic lentils, organic black beans, organic vegetables, and organic spices” “Black, red, and pinto beans, garden vegetables, and spices” “All-natural pink beans and spices”
Visual Appeal Looked like pet food, except for the pleasing number of whole mushrooms visible. Had a nice color, and all the ingredients were identifiable. Scary! Looked like someone chewed this chili and spit it out on the plate. Looked like gut replacement in a B-horror flick, and the smell was off-putting.
Rehydration Definitely the best even, moist texture of the four. Soupy and runny. More like lentil soup. No complaints here; it took in all the water quite well. The ingredients became mushy but remained separate from one another rather than forming a stew.
Seasonings A nice variety of spices, neither overbearing nor bland. Too bland, and definitely needed salt. Tasted too sugary. Was there seasoning in this?
Heartiness Would get you through a day of rough hiking. Would need a side of s’mores for a complete meal. Would fill you up. Hard to say whether it would be filling, because tasters immediately spit it out.
Overall Flavor Tasted the most “meaty” of all the brands. Neutral: not great, not horrible. Strange: Tasted like someone added cleaning products and granola to this chili. Did not taste like chili, and was superbland.