Wednesday, January 15, 2014

MRE Review: First Strike Ration Menu 2 Review (Part 1)

First Strike Ration

As convenient and useful as MREs are for supplying nutritional needs in the field, they're not actually great combat rations. The standard-issue MRE contains excess packaging and convenience items that are nice for morale, but which take up space and weight that you just can't afford when you're behind enemy lines, marching across country, and/or hunting orc.

So what do you do when you need to travel light? You ditch all the shit you won't be using anyway, of course. To see how much a typical MRE can be slimmed down, check out this video from a graduate of Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. But it's a bitter compromise, isn't it? Without the flameless ration heater, that potato cheddar soup just isn't going to reach its full, delicious potential.

Enter the First Strike Ration (or FSR.) The FSR is designed from the ground up to put the maximum number of calories into the smallest possible space, with foods that taste good cold and can be eaten on the go. One FSR packs an entire day's worth of food into a space that's not much larger or heavier than an unstripped MRE. To accomplish this, FSR menus features some classic, high-calorie MRE items, as well as some new friends, specially tailored for highly mobile units operating far from any commissary.

Unfortunately for civilian reviewers (i.e. me and virtually no one else,) FSRs are pretty hard to get a hold of. But I'm a resourceful little bitch, and I managed to snag one that couldn't pass QC due to a misaligned vac sealer.

Now I'm going to put this First Strike Ration to the ultimate test. Which is to say, I'm going to put it to the last possible test you would ever think of that retains any merit whatsoever. Oh, did you think I meant a different meaning of "ultimate"? You must be new to this blog.

So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to take this combat ration (designed for long, fast marches away from supply lines,) and test it by sitting in my apartment all day.

Okay, okay, I'll make the test a teensy bit realistic by pledging to consume nothing but water, items from the FSR, and a prilosec tablet. And I will watch nothing but Season 2 of the HBO original series, The Wire. (Which is irrelevant to this test, but I'm really liking Season 2 of the HBO original series, The Wire.)

MRE Review: First Strike Ration Menu 2 in bag
I will consume this and no more.
(Except for the HBO original series, The Wire.)

First impressions: This thing has enough food for three meals, but the same amount of toilet paper as a regular MRE. That, uhh, seems like poor planning. I'll have to worry about that later, though, because right now I'm getting really hungry. It's not surprising, considering I've already marched a simulated distance of five kilometers while I've been sitting here writing this.

MRE Review: First Strike Ration Menu 2: Everything

Let's get to it!

Toaster Pastry (Frosted Brown Sugar)
First Strike Bar (Cran-Raspberry Flavor)
Beverage Base Power (Tropical Punch)
Caffeinated Gum, 1 piece
MRE Review: First Strike Ration Menu 2: Pop tart, first strike bar

This looks like a fucking disaster area right here.

By "Toaster Pastry," they mean that they shoved a Pop-Tart into an MRE pouch and walked away, whistling innocently. It works, though. This cold, shattered poptart bravely took on the mission of getting my sleepy ass going, and succeeded against all odds. It has a chalky texture and a bland, too-sweet taste, but it goes down easy. Quickly, too. I ate it in about a minute, and now I don't feel hungry anymore. Mission accomplished, food. With its compact profile, low weight, and stomach-filling tendencies, this is just about the perfect food to put into an assault ration.

And what the Pop-Tart started, the First Strike Bar will finish. It doesn't go down as quickly as the Pop-Tart, but its texture—crunchy bits embedded in a chewy bar—make it great for nibbling on. I'm loving the taste, too. The cran-raspberry really gives it a sharp edge and, unlike the Pop-Tart, it's only a little sweeter than it should be.

The beverage is lackluster. I'm not usually picky about MRE beverage powders, but this tropical punch is aggressively boring, with hardly any flavor at all.

Now for the caffeinated gum. It has an unnervingly hard texture, making it a pain to chew until it softens up. And the taste is... Ugh. It's bitter and truly awful. I guess that's just what happens when you cram a large coffee worth of caffeine into a single piece of gum. And the taste isn't even the worst part. It's left my mouth feeling numb, and my eyes are starting to itch. My fucking eyes! That is just not natural. There are four more pieces of this horrible gum in the pack, so I'll spread them out between meals.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there are a bunch of chores around the apartment that I suddenly feel like doing. Weird.

Sandwich (Shelf Stable Italian Style)
Nut Fruit Mix with Raw Sunflower Kernels and Infused Fruit
Iced Tea Drink Mix (Lemon Flavored)
Caffeinated Gum, 1 piece
MRE Review: First Strike Ration Menu 2: Italian Style Sandwich and Trail Mix

All right, it's lunch time now, so back to work on this review. Let's see what we have here...

Mmmm! "Shelf Stable Italian" is my favorite style of sandwich, and "infused" is my favorite type of fruit, so this should be good.

The sandwich is a pain in the ass to photograph, but I guess I shouldn't hold that against it. I mean, it's probably rare for special forces to tweet pictures of their food while out on patrol, right? Then again, who knows. Maybe kids these days are posting selfies with their sandwiches, on the way into battle.

MRE Review: First Strike Ration Menu 2: italian sandwich

It looks pretty awful, but it smells delicious—kind of like the inside of an Italian deli. The first bite was honestly a disappointment, but only because the wonderful smell set my expectations too high. As I dig further into this sandwich, I'm feeling pretty satisfied.

It has a very doughy texture, owing to about a 2:1 ratio of shelf-stable bread to meat. It's a little offputting. The middle is a mixture of pepperoni, sausage, mozzarella, and marinara, but a lot of the other ingredients' flavor is lost under the spicy bite of the pepperoni.

Overall, however, it's a pretty solid lunch item. It's not everything it could be, but it has it where it counts. It's tasty and filling, virtually mess-proof, and packs 320 balanced calories into an itty bitty sandwich that you can carry around in your pocket and eat with one hand. For an assault ration, that's a big win.

Next up is the nut fruit mix. In case you're wondering, "infused fruit" means it's infused with sugar and vegetable oil. Uh, yum, I guess?

The peanuts and sunflower seeds are raw and unroasted. You can decide for yourself what you think of that, but I think it's bullshit. If you think unroasted nuts are better than roasted, then you're objectively wrong, and you'll be first against the wall when the glorious nut revolution comes.

The fruit is a mix of raisins, cranberries, cherries, and blueberries, which is all neither here nor there, because they all taste the same. I think that's because of the infusion process. Only the cherries maintain a semblance of their individuality. The only thing setting the other fruits apart is their color and size. I mean, shit, I can barely tell the cranberries and raisins apart, and that's just unsettling.

Still, it's not bad. It's hard to fuck up trail mix, though they sure tried their best.

The tea is okay. I was ready for it to be absurdly oversweetened, but it's only marginally oversweetened, which is a pleasant surprise. If you've ever had powdered iced tea, you know roughly how this powdered iced tea tastes: like real iced tea, but with a single, weird, extra flavor note that you can't quite place. I think it may be from the anti-caking agent.

I capped off lunch with another piece of caffeinated gum. The hardness didn't bother me this time, but it still tastes terrible.

Well, now I'm going to go grab a ladder and retile the roof. I don't even know why I'm doing this. I live in an apartment. The notion just struck me all of a sudden. "Robyn, retile the roof," it said. So I'm retiling the roof. I'm not even 100% sure that the roof has tiles. Oh well, it will soon.

Mid-Afternoon Snack
Peanut Butter
Caffeinated Gum, 1 piece
MRE Review: First Strike Ration Menu 2 : crackers

After I finished retiling the roof, I decided to have crackers and peanut butter as a mid-afternoon snack.

It's tasty, but there's one problem: peanut butter and crackers make you thirstier than any other food except for raw flour with sand in it. Consequently, I drank 24 ounces of water while eating this snack, and another 8 immediately after. That's an entire canteen, or a third of a Camelbak, just to wash down one little snack.

As far as my research indicates, military doctrine on water consumption while marching hasn't changed much in the past two hundred years. You're supposed to drink slowly and steadily throughout the day, sipping at your water to maintain stable hydration. You don't want to drink too fast and be left short near the end of the day, and you certainly don't want to guzzle entire canteens in the space of fifteen minutes. So color me confused by this choice of menu items.

Maybe if you've stopped to rest near a source of clean water, you could scarf down your peanut butter and crackers and refill your canteen before moving on, but otherwise you're kind of fucked. There are two (out of nine) First Strike menus that have peanut butter. Most of the others have some kind of cheese spread, which strikes me as a much better choice for an assault ration.

Now let's finish up part one of this two-part review with a piece of caffeinated gum, which is awesome. On reflection, I don't understand why I ever said anything bad about this gum. This last piece didn't taste nearly as bad. I kind of liked it, in fact. Maybe there's some variance in the quality? Whatever. Anyone who disparages caffeinated gum from now on gets their eyes clawed out by me. Now I'm off to run a 10k for no reason. I just suddenly felt like doing it.

When I get back, it's FSR supper time, but you're going to have to wait to see the results, because this review is already running long. So tune in next month, to find out how it all ends! (Hint: Probably with dessert.)


Like this review? Check out Part Two!
First Strike Ration Menu 2 (Part 2)

Then check out the other reviews in this series.

Fresh Hardtack
3-Month-Old Hardtack
Menu 16, Pork Rib
Menu 22, Sloppy Joe
Menu 23, Pasta in Pesto
Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian)
Menu 15, Southwest Beef and Beans
Menu 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs
Menu 20, Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce 
Menu 19, Beef Roast
Menu 13, Tortellini Vegetarian 
Menu 18, Chicken with Noodles

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