Mealtime in the backcountry, or when on a car camping trip, often means a curious assortment of plastic or metal plates or bowls, perhaps a fork and spoon, certainly a knife, and certainly a favorite cup, often insulated.
We've seen many attempts to put together the perfect meal kit over the years, but all have, for the most part, simply modernized the age-old mess kit that found its way into camping kits from the military.
Light My Fire, a Swedish company SNEWS® discovered while wending our way through the aisles at the OutDoor trade show in 2005 (a large European trade show in Germany for outdoor gear), has entered the United States with what it calls "a mess kit re-invented." Indeed.
Imagine what Ikea might do with a mess kit if it had the gumption and you get the idea -- serviceable, functional, elegant and useful all rolled into one. The Outdoor Meal Kit features a triangular-shaped bowl, a lid for that bowl that serves as a plate, a "spork" (one piece with spoon at one end, fork at the other and a serrated knife edge on one tine of the fork), a small round bowl that seals, an 8-ounce cup with lid and sipping hole, and a triangular-shaped cutting board that doubles as a strainer, serving platter or you-name-it. All parts, with the exception of the spork, which is made of polycarbonate, are made of durable, lightweight polypropylene and are dishwasher safe. The smaller parts of the kit nest inside the larger, triangular-shaped bowl creating a compact and eminently packable package that is 7 inches by 7 inches and 2.25-inch deep. The entire package weighs just under 12 ounces.
We love the fact that all parts of the unit are recyclable. For the boaters or paddlers, the fact that the Meal Kit floats is a plus too -- makes recovery of items should they get tossed in the drink just a bit more manageable.
The cup's measurement graduations are very easy to see and use since each mark is actually a small ledge inside the cup. It's quite a change from typical measurements in camping cups, which are tiny engravings that wear off over time or become practically unusable.
While at first we scoffed at the small, waterproof bowl inside the unit, we've found it very useful to pack dry coffee grounds or other drink powders to keep them dry. The strainer and cutting board is useful, but if you want to shave an ounce or so from the total weight, leave it at home.
LOVE the spork. We've tried to break ours and haven't yet. The cutting edge of the serrated fork tine is superb and the weight is spectacular. The material is safe to use with Teflon and titanium cookware, a major plus. We've even packed it alone for a day hike or into a suitcase for unexpected hotel snacks.
The triangular design appears to be somewhat unusual, but we found that the shape actually serves to help the unit store more easily into the corners of luggage, a picnic basket, or a pack more than a traditional round shape.
Not all is raves and applause for the Outdoor Meal Kit, though, as close as it does come to design nirvana. For one, the lanyard attaching the cup lid to the cup is a pain, and often gets in the way and, frankly, gets very dirty, very quickly. We cut ours off and are much happier. One of our testers fumbled for a bit with the lid too, since putting it on is not intuitive -- yes, the handle of the lid goes over the handle of the cup and won't close any other way, but who knew as instructions provided no guidance. Also, while we appreciate Light My Fire's need for branding, the engraved logo in the bottom of the cup serves only to collect grease and food particles making it that much harder to clean. Bowls, plates and cups must have smooth surfaces inside them for the most part to aid in cleaning. And, the measuring "ledges," although easy to see, could pose a problem with food particles sticking on a ledge.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $22, meal kit (spork alone, $3)
For more information: www.lightmyfireusa.com