Gear Review: Heather's Choice Backcountry Meals
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
Overview: Teddy Roosevelt once said: "No man who, for his good fortune, has at times in his life endured toil and hardship, ever fails to appreciate the strong elemental pleasures of rest after labor, food after hunger, warmth and shelter after bitter cold."
I know that to be true. I've been able to hike, backpack, hunt, fish, and camp all throughout the country: Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon and Wyoming. I can attest that nothing makes me more ravenous than long days outdoors, especially days on the trails carrying a pack. That being said, I am always looking for new food ideas when on these adventures - not only for some variety in flavors but also something that has the nutritional value that can keep up with what my body is burning.
I first met Heather from Heather's Choice at a backcountry hunting event in Boise in May of 2019 and had a chance to try one of her delicious and, rightfully famous, Packaroons - basically a packable cookie full of natural ingredients and healthy fat for long-lasting backcountry energy. I was impressed.
Heather was born and raised in Alaska by a mother notorious for her delicious organic cooking. She graduated in 2010 with a degree in Evolutionary Nutrition. From there, she went on to study at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, continuing her pursuit for dietary wisdom.
Using what she learned in school as well as her own experiences as a collegiate athlete and backcountry aficionado, Heather shifted to a more Paleo-oriented nutrition plan that was geared towards CrossFit. In 2011, she began coaching athletes through her first business: OPENutrition. From there she took her nutritional knowledge and personal experiences and started Heather's Choice with a mission to provide healthy, delicious, packable food for adventurers worldwide.
While I have eaten a lot of "food-in-a-pouch" brands on my travels over the years, I knew that many of them weren't really the most healthy options. As I began to plan my eight-day backcountry hunt in Montana with my two sons this past November, I knew I wanted to eat better without sacrificing convenience, so I stocked up on some Heather's Choice, including one breakfast each (Apple Pie), two dinners each (Bison Chili and Salmon Chowder) and, of course, plenty of Packaroons.
The Heather's Choice dinners range from $10-$15 each, the breakfasts are around $7, and the Packaroons are $2.50
Here's what I found:
What I like:
1. Healthy, all-natural nutrition: Every Heather's Choice offering is made with paleo-friendly all-real ingredients, and contain no artificial flavors, MSG, fillers, or preservatives. Additionally, they provide an allergen-safe backpacking food option for individuals with a wide range of dietary restrictions. For example, the Grass-Fed Bison Chili dinner is made with 100% grass-fed bison and is free of gluten, soy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, and dairy, and the Salmon Chowder uses wild-caught Salmon from Alaska's Cook Inlet and is free of gluten, soy, eggs, dairy, and peanuts.
For comparison purposes, here is how these two meals stack up against the Mountain House Beef Stroganoff (one of my favorites) from a nutritional standpoint:
MH Beef Stroganoff: Calories: 560, Total Fat: 23g, Sodium: 1,570mg, Total Carb: 63g, Protein: 24g, Dietary Fiber: 2g
HC Bison Chili: Calories: 550, Total Fat 14g, Sodium: 870mg, Total Carb: 70g, Protein: 42g, Dietary Fiber: 13g
HC Salmon Chowder: Calories: 590, Total Fat: 24g, Sodium: 1070mg, Total Carb: 43g, Protein: 54g, Dietary Fiber: 7g
Pretty obvious that the Heather's Choice options kick the crap out of the Mountain House from a nutritional standpoint. For the same calories they have half to two-thirds of the sodium, twice the protein, and 3-6 times the dietary fiber.
2. Convenience: Like other "food-in-a pouch" options, these ultralight (4 oz per serving), easy-to-stow-and-pack, backcountry meals simply require adding boiling water to prepare.
3. Taste: Beyond being healthy and filling these meals mix unique ingredients and have distinctive flavor profiles.
I mean, the Packaroons are basically a healthy, energy-providing cookie, so they are frickin delicious.
The Bison Chili features cocoa, coffee and yams to deliver a unique twist on a classic favorite. The ingredients, including sweet potatoes, crushed tomatoes, onions, garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, sea salt, espresso, allspice, cumin and oregano, are stewed together to create this delicious and hearty dish.
The Salmon Chowder mixes a hefty portion of smoked salmon with carrots, celery, and potatoes and is lightly seasoned with dill, cayenne and white pepper. Coconut milk powder makes this meal creamy and calorie rich.
What I don't like:
Price: Let's just get it out of the way, the Heather's Choice food options cost more than some of the others you can find out there. BUT, real organic food should be expected to cost more than fillers, artificial flavors, and colors. So, if your biggest consideration is price, these might not be for you. On the other hand if you are looking for value in terms of quality for your money, Heather's Choice wins.
Taste: Ok, while I mentioned how delicious the Packaroons, Chili and Chowder were - and they are - they do have unique flavor profiles that might not be suited to "less-adventurous" palates. If you prefer something closer to Hamburger Helper, these aren't going to be your first choice.
And, I will have to say the Apple Pie Breakfast received mixed reviews. I thought it was pretty decent - especially considering the nutritional value it was providing, but neither of my boys could finish theirs (in fairness they are very filling). I suspect the chia seeds, coconut, and hemp seeds might have thrown them off a little bit...that and the expectations of "Apple Pie". Let's just say this isn't your overly-sweetened "Apples and Spice" Instant Oatmeal.
Perfect For: With a total packed weight of just 4 oz per serving, the Heather's Choice meals are a perfect lightweight backpacking food choice for individuals looking to curb hiker hunger with natural, healthy calories.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
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