I just got a shipment of dehydrated meals, the first sign of my upcoming trip to the Texas Coast to follow the Arctic Cowboys (plus one) as they paddle from Boca Chica Beach to Sabine Pass.
I’m pretty psyched, since I’ve been at home since flying in from Canada on March 5. To celebrate, I got a brain-tickling nasal swab COVID-19 test at a drive-through station today, something all four members of the expedition – trip leader West Hansen, Jeff Wueste, Branndon Bargo and Jimmy Harvey – are also doing to make sure we don’t cross contaminate one another.
The food came from Packit Gourmet, an Austin-based company I discovered in 2016, when I wrote about them for the Austin American-Statesman. (Read the article at https://www.statesman.com/NEWS/20161208/Austin-based-Packit-Gourmet-makes-meals-fit-for-the-back-country?_ga=2.143733554.663474386.1589468570-1283764380.1333191630.)
Sarah Welton hatched the idea for the company, which makes lightweight camping meals that taste like real food, instead of heavily-salted cardboard, while she was earning a graduate business degree from the University of Colorado Boulder. She’d grown up paddle camping with her parents, self-described hippies who dehydrated their own ingredients to cook along the way.
Welton’s mom, Debbie Mullins, developed some of the recipes, which Welton tried on her classmates. The company officially launched in 2008 with a few items including Austintacious tortilla soup. A popular backpacking blogger bought mentioned the meals on her blog and recommended them to Backpacker Magazine, which awarded Packit Gourmet an editor’s choice award.
I took an array of meals along when I backpacked the John Muir Trail four years ago, and loved the stuff. I poured boiling water into what looked like a bowl of confetti but bloomed into a piping hot bowl of chicken and dumplings. The Texas State Fair Chili got the highest marks from me. (I wasn’t so thrilled about the “hamburger,” which requires a tortilla for wrapping.) The breakfasts are the best – particularly the West Memphis Grits Souffle. And who doesn’t like banana pudding, especially while backpacking?
Today’s shipment includes a few I haven’t tried yet: Polenta with Pork Sausage and Pasta Beef Bolognese. Stay tuned for a full report on those.
In all, the company offers about 50 different meals, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options, all easily prepared with hot or cold water. Top sellers include Big Easy gumbo, high-protein smoothies and something called Ramen Rescue, a pack of dried veggies designed to spice up your own noodles.