Table of Contents for Civilized Explorer or Burning Man
Search this site

Quick Meals on the Playa

The Civilized Explorer's lovely logo

The Civilized Explorer

Here are some resources for meals which require no skills and little or no preparation. We do not recommend making quick meals your total dietary intake on the playa; we cook regular meals all we can, but sometimes dust storms and other factors mean we cannot set up our cook stove and prepare a normal meal. If you have health issues which mandate regular meals, having one of these items may mean you get to enjoy the Burn fully without any trips to the medical tent or other emergencies.

Some of the items we list can be eaten without cooking, some have chemical heat which can be done in any storm or weather, and some require boiling water, which means you have to set up a stove -- not always possible in a storm, and not always quick. Take your needs into account when choosing items. If you are healthy and can skip a meal without any problem, you may be willing to wait on a ramen snack, for example, which requires boiling water. If you require meals at regular times, you will want food that requires no preparation or that has self-heating packs.

Self-heating packs generally have a fiber pouch (which contains magnesium iron alloy filings) and a packet of salt water. Adding the salt water to the fiber pouch wets the alloy and generates heat from oxidizing the alloy. No flame is generated, and they are safe to use in enclosed environments (although hydrogen is released during oxidation -- do not use near an open flame). The residue left after activation is non-toxic, but not potable. Any water remaining in the self-heater may be safely disposed of with the rest of your gray water. The fiber pouch contains no toxic materials before or after activation.

Where we mention shelf life, the information is from the source; shelf life is probably optimistic and presumes certain moderate temperatures which do not obtain on the playa.

AlpineAire / Inferno
AlpineAire offers a wide range of quick foods. The AlpineAire line is dehydrated meals in a pouch. Pour in boiling water, stir (they recommend a long-handled spoon), and wait about fifteen minutes. We have not tried their meals in a pouch, but we have tried other brands every five years or so and decide we do not like them. Your tastes will vary, and you may like them. AlpineAire offers one-meal and two-meal pouches and packs with three to seven days' worth of food. They offer gluten-free menus. In addition to boil- in- a- bag meals, AlpineAire also offers survival rations to feed a person (or more) for a year. These rations are dehydrated and require considerable amounts of water to rehydrate and considerable hours of soaking and boiling (five or six hours for some foods). In addition, AlpineAire now also offers self-heating meals, branded "Inferno." We will be giving Inferno a try; we found it in a local army/navy surplus store near the MREs. One of the attractive features about freeze-dried foods is the shelf life: pouches have a shelf life of around five years, and their canned foods have a shelf life of 10 to 15 years.
We have used HeaterMeals since about 2001, both on the playa and off. The package contains a sealed food portion, a utility pack with eating utensils and a napkin, and a plastic pouch with a "food heater pad," and a little packet of salt water. Follow the directions to heat up the meal in the plastic pouch, and you will have a hot meal in a quarter of an hour. (This is a difference from the original packaging, which did not deliver hot food.) HeaterMeals are offered in a wider variety since our last review. Calories vary depending on the entrée; expect from about 300 calories to 700 calories in the HeaterMeal, more in the Plus pack. Two-year shelf life without refrigeration for most entrées; the company has added a line of entrées that have a five-year shelf life. HeaterMeals are available from the maker and from other online sites; search and compare.
EverSafe meals are similar in preparation to HeaterMeals. EverSafe appears to have a wider range of meals. EverSafe claims a 2-year shelf life for its meals, which it sells in individual packets and by the case. Meals come with an entrée, a snack (pretzels, peanuts, crackers), a dessert, spoon, salt, pepper, moist towelette, napkin, and the self-heater and salt water to activate the heater. The meals provide from 600 to 900 calories each (cheese tortellini is 450), with lots of fat and sodium. On the playa, high calories, fat, and sodium may not be a problem for people who do not get their full three square meals a day. We tried them off the playa and got serious heartburn; your mileage will vary.
Ready-To-Go Emergency Food Pack
From Caravan Trading Company, this pack has three days' worth of food for an individual. No cooking is required. Three single-serving size cans of tuna or chicken, trail mix, wheat bread, utensils, and other stuff. No cooking is required for any of the food, a plus in many circumstances. The provisions, Caravan says, are specially packed in special films and with oxygen absorbers which give a three-year shelf-life. Since each item is separately packaged to preserve freshness, there may be more trash than some people want to pack to and from the playa.
We have not used Tastybite's foods. Tastybite advertises its food as Indian and Thai recipes. In addition to meals with meat, Tastybite offers vegetarian meals and a line of Kosher foods. They have an extensive FAQ concerning contents: no gluten, no MSG, not organic but natural, and so forth. According to the site, food can be eaten directly from the package without heating, but they recommend dropping a pack in a pan of boiling water for about two minutes. They claim their products are high in sodium, and this is a plus on the playa where you need to replenish your electrolytes. Eighteen-month shelf life with no refrigeration. We could not find information on calories.
MREs are available from several sources, so we do not list one here. Do a search on the Web for prices and shipping to your door or for local stores. Real MREs are not suitable for what we consider "normal use," as real military MREs contain around 1,300 calories per meal, have about 2,000 mg of sodium (almost a full day's recommendation in normal people), and each meal is 30% to 40% fat, which is too high for normal activities. Shelf life is about five years with no refrigeration. MREs are available with and without self-heaters, but they can be eaten without any preparation. Read each Web site for information on what is included with each pack, as contents vary according to producer. We have not used military- style MREs. On the playa, MREs may just fit the needs of some Burners who are not getting three square meals a day.
Another quick food -- just add boiling water -- which is widely available in stores all over the world. We know people who claim to have brought nothing else to the playa for food. We would not recommend ramen as an exclusive diet, but it is a quick way to get some food in a hurry with high sodium content. Requires you to have boiling water. In addition to ramen, you can find Cup o' Soup, Oodles of Noodles, and a wide variety of other dried soups in your supermarket.
Hormel Compleats
Compleats require no refrigeration. They come in a small container of 10 ounces and may not be enough for a full meal. The product can be microwaved for 90 seconds or boiled in water for eight or nine minutes. We have had several of these, and we eat them at home for a quick, light meal - quite tasty. The packages all say they have 280 calories. Packages bought in July 2008 have expiration dates of November 2009.
Hot Pack Meals
We have not used Hot Pack meals. This company is located in the UK. They offer self-heating meals which include an entrée, utensils, condiments, and a serviette. :-> Calories per meal run from about 200 to over 400, depending on the menu. We could find no information on shelf life on their site; another seller says the shelf life is five years. The company also sells an Action Pack which contains the food and self-heater, but no dish, making a smaller, lighter ration with less refuse after the meal. Hot Packs have a larger self-heater than HotMeals, bringing food to about 80 degrees Celsius (about 180 degrees Fahrenheit) in 12 minutes and remaining hot for up to a half hour for your later heating needs (hot coffee, anyone?). Hot Pack meals are also available in the US and Canada -- do a search for online and offline stores.
La Briute Meals
We have not used La Briute meals. They appear to be similar to other self-heating meals, and they are kosher. Each box contains an entrée, a utilities package, and the self-heater unit. We are unable to find any information on calories or shelf life.
My Own Meal
Another company providing kosher meals; we have not tried this product. The site says it provides menus for vegens, lactovegetarians, and lacto-ovovegetarians, lactose intolerant persons, as well as gluten-free meals. The meals can be eaten without other preparation, boiled in the bag (four minutes), or self-heated. Shelf-life is listed as five years. When purchased in case lots, you also get an accessory pack which provides the self-heater, snacks, raisins, cereal, salt and pepper, roasted nuts, cocoa or coffee, creamer, moist towelette, toilet tissue, and a spoon. Individual rations come in a foil bag and do not contain the self-heater. Entrées contain around 800 calories. You can buy pouch main courses only or full rations with accessory packs.
Sizzle Sack
We have not used a Sizzle Sack. It is available from several sources, so do a search and find the price and shipping that suit your needs. Sizzle Sack is a self-heater bag which you put your own food in to heat (or heat water for dehydrated meals or coffee). Recommended heating time is 15 to 20 minutes. The maker claims the Sizzle Sack heats to 100 degrees Fahrenheit above ambient temperature using metal alloys and salt water. Sizzle Sacks come in a kit -- one five-use kraft bag, five heating pads, five saltwater packets, and five plastic bags to contain your food. (Some stores offer salt tablets in lieu of saltwater packs, and you supply your own water.)
A product of HeaterMeals, ZestoTherm is the self-heater sold separately. Each ZestoTherm is a leak-proof poly bag with the metal alloy and salt in it. Open the bag, add your own water to the fill line, fold the top of the bag over, place the MRE to be heated next to it, and put the pair in the box that the MRE came in. Each unit is single-use. Individual ZestoTherms are about the size of a playing card before use and have a shelf life of five years. HeaterMeals claims it will raise the temperature of 8 ounces of food to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 12 minutes. HeaterMeals offers ZestoTherms in case lots of 360, but other sellers offer packs of 12; search the Web for a resource near you.
Mainstay is a no-cook survival ration claiming a 5-year shelf life. The maker offers servings in kits of 1,200 calories, 2,400 calories, and 3,600 calories; minimum serving is 400 calories (a 1,200-calorie kit will contain three 400-calorie, individually sealed bars). The food is said to have a lemon flavor and to be kosher. Sold in many places in meal-sizes or by the case. We have tried Mainstay and passed it around to friends. The portions come vacuum-wrapped in foil in bricks which are scored to break into meal-size servings. Everyone agreed that the taste and mouth-feel were better than expected, but no one ate a whole serving (well, no one wanted to have 1,200 calories for a taste test). No one reported being thirsty after eating a cake-like sample. The portions are small so you can store large amounts of calories in little space, but they won't be filling. I expect these comments to apply to Datrex as well.
Datrex offers no-cook survival rations in 2,400 calories and 3,600 calories. It claims all-natural ingredients that do not provoke thirst. People who have tried Datrex prefer its flavor and consistency to Mainstay and say it has a cocoanut taste. Shop around on the Web for prices. The maker claims a 5-year shelf life. As with Mainstay, this is a no-cook meal with as many calories as you want or need (the 2400 calorie kit breaks down to 200-calorie servings).
Minimus offers personal-sized products -- those condiment containers of jelly, soy sauce, and salad dressings, the single-serving boxes of cereal, and individual portions of instant coffee, cocoa, and tea that you see in diners and cafeterias. They also stock travel-sized toothpaste, sanitizers, wipes, and the like. Many of their containers meet the September 26, 2006, TSA limits for travel with liquids and gels.

For al fresco dining on the playa, take a look at Orikaso Fold Flat Products. They offer a bowl, a cup, and a plate, all of which collapse flat. With a bowl in your pocket and a spork on a string around your neck, you are good to go.

This is not the official Burning Man site. That Web site is located at Welcome to Burning Man.
The Burning Man Archives contain every Web site for the Burning Man known to Man. Please browse that site as well.

Copyright © 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008 The Civilized Explorer