Oregon was the first state I visited when I began this lifestyle of adventure travel a few years ago. I was there for only 18 hours and saw very little, but the hike we did was my first hike since childhood and ignited a passion in me that would shape the rest of my life. Hiking to Pittock Mansion in the early morning glow while snacking on Voodoo Donuts was a highlight of my early 20s and a feeling I still chase today.

Knowing we were headed for Oregon on this trip, it was hard not to be excited. It’s host to some of our nation’s most incredible features from waterfalls and hot springs to forests lush with life. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I really love Oregon. Our destination on this 2nd/3rd day would be Toketee Campground and all the magic that it contains. I was stoked to finally break out the tent and even more excited to break into our stash of Mountain House meals. Drew and I knew, even back when we were still headed to Canada, that the easiest way to cut down on costs would be to plan our meals accordingly. We spent months looking for a freeze-dried food brand that was tasty, compact and affordable. After testing out a few brands, it wasn’t until my January visit to the Outdoor Retailer show that I really considered Mountain House meals despite already enjoying them. I had taken their Rice & Chicken with me backpacking in Maroon Bells and DAMN did it hit the spot. We were thrilled to get a variety pack from Mountain House to try!

As we began working our way through eastern Oregon we drove through forest after forest, it was hard not to pull off every few miles to look at the different types of trees and feel the air changing on our skin. Eventually we would make it to our destination — Umpqua National Forest. This incredible place nestled in southwestern Oregon is literal magic. I kid you not. As you drive in, you’re surrounded by towering trees and hidden falls. The word “umpqua” actually translates to “thundering waters,” which is a fair description for the area. We were headed for Toketee, which is clearly marked. This is a fee site, so be prepared with cash or a check as there’s no attendant! You’ll get your permit, I suggest paying for your day pass then, too. Drive around until you find a spot that speaks to you, they’re all gorgeous. Some backed up against the river, others tucked into groves of trees – all will transport you.

After we found our spot, we quickly set up camp so we could jaunt on over to Umpqua Hot Springs, the real reason we were in town. Once the tent was set up, we were famished and decided a quick break for some Mountain House meals was well overdue. We were so stoked to have so many options for the trip. The biggest issue I run into as someone that doesn’t eat beef or pork is finding trail friendly food options that are still satisfying. Recently, Mountain House released their new Turkey  Dinner Casserole meal, which I was excited to try as a stuffing lover. They also sent us their Chicken and Dumplings meal which sounds too good not to dig into. So we decided to do both! While they serve two each, we were pretty hungry and thought there’s no way just one would be enough. Drew powered up the JetBoil to get the water running while I got the rest of our gear ready.

If you haven’t eaten a freeze-dried camp meal before, there’s a few things that I always try to inform of newbies.

  1.  The time on the bag that it says to steep for is usually wrong, maybe not always but in my experience I always add an extra 3-5 minutes. This way it’s SURE to have absorbed all the moisture it needs. 
  2. ALWAYS stir before you seal. Since you want the water warm, we have a couple tactics for this. I frantically grab a spork and mix then seal, Drew’s usual method is to seal it and then just shake the bag. You can decide works better (my method does, obviously) but both can work. If you don’t mix the bag, you’ll end up with clumps of dried stuff at the bottom.
  3. Don’t worry about the packet inside. If you realized after you poured the water in that you never took out the packet, all is not lost! You’re totally fine, just be sure to grab it before you eat. 
  4. Don’t expect perfection. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had friends dig into a freeze dried meal and exclaim with how crappy it is and how it “so does not taste like vegetable curry!!” Lower your expectations – you’re camping after all. This is why I stick with flavors I know I’ll probably like even if the texture is off. 
  5. USE THE BAG! The coolest and most convenient part of the Mountain House meals is that you can just eat it right out the bag. Grab your spork and go to town. Since it zips up, if you’re in a non-bear area you can save it for later, too. Drew is always hungry, so more often than not when I can’t finish one he will save it for later down the trail. 
Once the timer was up, we grabbed some plats to divvy out even portions of the turkey stuffing and chicken & dumplings for each other. It was warm, fluffy and honestly looked delicious. Excited to try it, we dove in and I can tell you — I know what heavy looks like and it’s a spoonful of chicken & dumplings. First time trying both flavors and they may be contenders as my new favorites. It was so hard not to shovel it into my mouth because of how good both were, honestly. I could eat the chicken & dumplings at home on a regular day it was so yummy. Drew felt very similar sentiments. We enjoyed our little linner break more than we intended, making the idea of getting into a hot spring after all that comfort food even more relaxing. 
We went to the hot springs, a story I’ll tell another time, and had a great evening. We’d be super relaxed for bed, a night in a forest that would be probably the best sleep I’ve gotten in a year. In the morning, we’d have more Mountain House meals as we tried to keep our timeline on schedule. This time, Drew dipped into their breakfast skillet while I got down on the granola with blueberries that was sent. Quick, easy and fast to clean up – these meals kept us well-fed the entire PNWhat?! trip.