“No stove, no water, no power - no problem. New self-heating meals that go wherever life takes you...”
A meal that requires no refrigeration and heats itself. That sounds great, I thought, as I hurriedly packed my sack for a 2-day trip into remotest Scotland - now I can ditch the stove!
After 9 miles of pedalling and walking I was already hungry, but after a scrabble up Beinn Lair I was gagging for my dinner. I took out the cardboard box: “HeaterMeals ‘Hunger Breaks’ Hamburger Bites & Beans”, it said on the packet. “This meal heats itself!” Heck, I hope so. I opened the box and out tumbled a sealed plastic dish containing the food, a separate heater bag, a sachet of salt water, and a fork. A bit like this:
My first reaction was slight disappointment - ooh, the meal isn’t quite as big as I’d imagined. But anyway, now the interesting bit... You pour the sachet of saline (not normal water) into the heater bag, which activates a thin pad of crystals, and then put the food dish into the bag and seal it with a sticky tab. Next, whack this back into the cardboard box. And wait.
Within half a minute there’s a slight sizzling sound, which soon develops into a steamy hiss as the chemical reaction intensifies. It’s almost exciting! Ten minutes later the steaming has all but stopped and your food is ready to eat. There’s a slightly odd smell from the reaction, but as the food is sealed it’s unaffected.
The Verdict (from a backpacking perspective):
The food itself, in this case Hamburger Bites and Beans, was nothing special (though see below for the other meal options). But when you’re hungry that scarcely matters.
For the outdoor enthusiast who’s conscious about the weight on their back, these self-heating meals present a dilemma: HeaterMeal or stove? There seems little point in packing both. Taking just the HeaterMeal is convenient but means you can’t have a cup of tea; take just the stove and you have the faff of cooking dried food, but you do get a warming cuppa afterwards. If multi-night backpacking, I would certainly opt for a lightweight stove and dried food.
That said, the HeaterMeal website (www.heatermeals.co.uk) cites many types of very satisfied customer - from aid-relief workers to truck drivers, and from Atlantic rowers to Marathon des Sables runners.
For me, with just one mild night out and some extra food, this HeaterMeal worked very well.
At a Glance:
• Everything you need is in the box: food, heater bag, fork.
• Needs no refrigeration, and has a shelf life of up to 5 years.
• Pack weight, 300g. (Don’t expect a huge portion!)
• Food ready in 10 minutes. With care, the heater bag can then be used as a hand or bum warmer.
• Four meal types are currently available in the UK: Curried Chicken, Steak and Vegetables, Hamburger Bites and Beans, and Chicken Cacciatore. Other options, including vegetarian, will be available soon - as will “pouched” versions.
• £2.99 per meal (as of May 2006)
• Perhaps ask yourself: HeaterMeal or stove?
Originally developed for military use, self-heating meals are still used by various forces and are distributed worldwide by various emergency organisations. Some 800 million self-heating meals have been consumed in the last 15 years!
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