Just Add Water... 'AlpineAire' Camp Food Test

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Camp food has come a long way. Take the sliced okra in my AlpineAire Chicken Gumbo this week, for example. You can see the pinwheel vegetables, cut beautifully just like in a fancy salad, among the rice, chicken, and spices that comprise the meal.

Add a mug of boiling water and let it sit. The okra, chicken, rice, and other ingredients soak it in, converting the dry constitutes into a dinner so good you can eat it at home.

But in the woods anything like Chicken Gumbo is magical. There’s something about hiking miles into the outback that makes everything hot, salty, and savory taste extra good.

AlpineAire is one of a few brands that makes dehydrated food in packets. I have a special spot for the brand. During an expedition in Patagonia my teammates and I relied on the company’s pouches to keep us alive.

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Sliced okra in Chicken Gumbo from AlpineAire

One night, after more than a week in the Chilean wilderness, we were getting low on food. No time to boil water my teammates and I ripped open an AlpineAire pack and munched on a sweet oatmeal with tiny apple chunks.

I squirted in some water from my CamelBak and let it “cook” cold for 30 minutes before taking another go with the mixture, scooping with two fingers as we hiked.

This summer I’ve been eating dehydrated food from AlpineAire in a more civilized manner. The occasion to test the food came not from an outfitter or expedition planner but from a connection at a design firm in Minneapolis called Capsule.

The agency was hired to remake AlpineAire’s packaging. With work for brands as diverse as SmartWool, Yakima, Schwinn Bikes, and Double Cross Vodka on Capsule’s resume I was interested to see the agency’s take on camp food.

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Chicken Gumbo prepared at home… good enough to eat at the kitchen table

Packaging is more important in this category than most. Like many brands have done for a few years now, AlpineAire eliminates the need for a cooking pot by letting a camper pour hot or boiling water into the package in which the food comes.

Tear open the top, pull out the small oxygen absorber packet, and pour water in — it’ll soak into the dehydrated food and “cook” it over a few minutes.

Capsule kept the same basic form factor but changed AlpineAire’s look to offer new ways to interpret what’s inside each pack. Simple readouts of the calories, protein amount, and food type are on front in a large font.

Package weight is clearly shown, and there’s a ruler on one edge to measure the amount of water to add. On back, instructions on preparation come in four or five steps.

The requisite ingredients and nutrition facts are shown along with icons that denote “All Natural,” “Gluten Free,” “0g Trans Fats,” and other important facts.

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New packaging design has details in large font, ruler on the edge

I had the Three Berry Crumble for dessert after the gumbo one night. It was super sweet, with brown sugar and little chunks of reconstituted fruit. Make it with boiling water and top it with the included pack of chocolate pie crumbs, which look like coffee grounds but taste like a pastry.

The Chicken Gumbo was very filling, slightly spicy, and salty. But in the woods I wanted even more salt — I sweat it out during the day and crave salt at night. (Tip: Bring a tiny vial of big-grain sea salt and sprinkle it onto any food if you’re like me.)

The Gumbo has a texture like a good rice-based stew. The packet notes 540 calories for the serving, but it seemed like more — I was quite full.

AlpineAire sells dozens of flavors and meal types. The new meals and the new packaging will be available in September at retailers and online. Cost is $5 to $7 per pack.

Not only is the new food good tasting, but it’s easier to make. Check out AlpineAire if you’re heading into the woods and need lightweight meals of the just-add-water type. I bet you’ll be impressed with the flavor, including the rice, chicken, spices, sliced okra, and all. —Stephen Regenold

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