Some time ago we made links with a new supplier of expedition food (and related expedition cooking accessories) called Base Camp Food. They kindly supplied us with some products for one of our Peak Mountaineering Friendly Friday Giveaways and also offered to join our Retailer Discount Scheme. As we have a policy that all products or services we offer have been road tested before we allow them to be unleashed on our clients, I faced the not so arduous job of…..eating some food! However, testing expedition food has far more relevance when it's done in challenging conditions because, in addition to what it tastes like, the ease of preparation is a crucial factor in it's suitability. A recent expedition to the Hossa Wilderness Area in Finland offered the perfect testing ground.....
My time in Finland involved temperatures down to -15 degrees, nights in snow shelters and lots of physical exertion. I took along a range of foods from the Base Camp Food Lyo Expedition range. Lyo Expedition is an award winning range of freeze-dried meals made by LYO FOOD GmbH in Cologne, Germany. They won the prestigious Gold Outdoor Industry Award 2013 for the best meals available on the market. The range is extensive with 16 main meal variations along with a wide range of desserts, soups and breakfasts. They pride themselves on only using natural ingredients and no preservatives. For my Finland visit I took along some of their farfalle with gorgonzola and spinach, sweet morning raspberries and apple breakfast meal, cream of tomato soup and banana snack pack.
For simplicity I have split the review into 2 parts. One covers the general features that are common to the whole range and the second considers the individual dishes I field tested.
The Lyo Expedition range available through Base Camp Food currently comprises almost 30 meal options and some main meals are conveniently available in both a large and small size serving. I have used several types of expedition food in the past and often find the portion sizes just aren't big enough. A large Lyo main course and dessert gave a decent size meal (especially if a soup starter and some bread was added).
The preparation system is the same for all the range. The food comes packed in a durable foil pouch which tears open easily by pulling a tab on the side. To prepare the meal you just pour boiling water into the pouch and then a zip lock style closure allows it to be resealed before being left to stand for 10 minutes before eating. A second tab allows it to be opened and the food can then be eaten straight from the bag and, once eaten, it can easily be resealed before being carried out for disposal at home. I have got into the habit of throwing all my meal wrappers into one of the bags in the evening. Then, after squashing it completely flat and sealing it the bag can be packed in the bottom of my rucksack which keeps everything tidy. It's a very simple system that works brilliantly.
The nutritional content of expedition food is another key consideration for outdoor people. We generally need a high calorie intake and, depending on the situation, a high carb and higher fat content is beneficial too. Of course, some nutritional requirements may depend on the duration of the trip and the conditions you'll encounter. A lengthy crossing of the Antarctic will inevitably have different requirements to a weekend warrior mission in the Scottish mountains. My use of Lyo Expedition has so far been restricted to short duration use in very cold conditions. For this use I was happy that taste and a high calorie content were priorities (there is detailed nutritional information available on each Lyo product available on the Base Camp Food website).
Weight is also likely to be a key factor for most users and dehydrated foods are always going to offer a better weight to nutrition ratio than hydrated products. I have used hydrated options like the popular Wayfarer meals on a number of expeditions and they have some advantages such as being able to be eaten cold if needed. However, the usual consumption method is to heat them and this is usually done either by standing them in a pan of boiling water or by emptying the contents into a pan. Neither of these is great as the first uses quite a lot of fuel in the heating process and the second leaves a pan that will need cleaning. Lyo meals are much simpler, more fuel efficient, cleaner and, in my opinion, just as tasty and nutritious.
For a long time my staple dehydrated backcountry foods have been things like super noodles or cous cous and buying prepared meals like Lyo products is always going to be more expensive. A super noodle meal with something like cup a soup and cheese added may cost you close to £1.50 when a large Lyo Expedition main course is more like £7.00. So, it boils down to whether you are happy to pay the extra. Having tried them I'm certainly happy to pay. The fact that they taste good while being much easier to prepare is well worth the extra after a long day in the hills. A main course and dessert from the Lyo range will still cost less than a single main course from your average pub and that is probably where I would be spending the cash if I wasn't up a mountain anyway!
So, the final consideration is taste. There is no point having a nutritional or quick to prepare meal if it is unpalatable. So, what do Lyo Expedition meals taste like? For this part of the review I tested a selection of meals from the range and asked some of my Finnish hosts to also try the food and say what they thought. However, I would say that what tastes good to one person may not suit someone else. So you will need to make your own decision on what suits your palate. Having said that, the other tasters and I were all in agreement for all the dishes we tasted. It should also be noted that I only tried a selection from the Lyo Expedition range and there are several other brands available from Base Camp Food. The results on each meal are shared below.
Cost £7.99 for size large (or £6.80 with the Peak Mountaineering retailer discount)
Weight 132 grams
This was very well received by the 6 people that tried it. The testers commented on it's creamy consistency (one described it as 'deliciously buttery') and it's tastiness. It also had a distinctively cheesy taste and the pasta didn't turn into a mush which I've certainly experienced with some similar meals in the past. This meal was a hit with everyone.
Weight 65 grams
A really tasty and creamy soup that has a lovely tomato flavour. This was again unanimously liked by all the testers. I must admit that I normally take cup-a-soups and in comparison this is quite expensive, but it is really nice with some bread to dip in. Very good calorie to weight ratio too.
Weight 87 grams
This breakfast option combines fruit and cereals in a tasty breakfast meal that is really moreish. We actually ate these as a breakfast and dessert and they were equally tasty either way. The fruit was nicely formed (I thought this might be just a fruit mush!) and it felt substantial enough to get you up and running for a challenging hill day. There were a couple of testers that felt it was a little oversweet but most thought it just about right. My personal opinion was….it is yummy! This one can be made with either hot or cold water.
Weight 30 grams
This is a simple one really. A snack size bag of energy giving banana chips with no preparation required. They were tasty, crunchy, nutritious and banana tasting – not much more we can say about this one really! If you like banana you won’t go wrong with these.
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