Big Sky Insulite Food Pouch Review: Eat Fresh While Bikepacking
Since 2005, Big Sky International has been creating award-winning ultralight gear. They started with ultralight tents and have recently been diversifying their lineup. They sent us two food pouches intended to keep food hot (and cold) while on an adventure. Such a simple idea, and yet—strangely enough—one we had never before considered for bikepacking.
If you have ever been on a tour or bikepacking trip with me, chances are you know about my love for avocados. Avocados are great to take on a long cycling trip: drop an underripe avocado in your fork bag and give it a few days of bouncing around. Voilà! Ripe avocado treat. A perfect snack on the go to replace fiber, healthy fats, and multitude of vitamins and nutrients.
As amazing as avocados are, they aren't perfectly packable; and as much as I hate to admit, they can get a little tiresome after 3-4 in a row. Every trip, I do my best to experiment with fresh foods in my bikepacking bags. Call me crazy, but I prefer fresh and healthy foods to highly processed and pre-packaged—both off and on the road. Of course, the ability to carry fresh food is dependent on (and potentially dictated by) your itinerary; but it all begs the question—why do we insist on eating such crap on the road?
I'll say it: store-bought, freeze-dried backpacking meals are garbage. Too many times I have been backcountry with so many days worth of dehydrated Mexican Rice that I dread actually sitting down to eat. After a hard day in the saddle, it's hard to look forward to eating yet another over-processed, freeze-dried meal. Every trip I ask, why didn't I just work a little harder to bring something fresh and yummy?
Enter the food pouch. Now, when we started speaking with Big Sky about reviewing one of their products and they suggested their Insulite Food Pouch. I'll admit, I was a bit disappointed. I was really hoping to review one of their ultra-light tents, not a snack bag. However, I am glad they insisted we review the pouches—they were a completely new piece of gear to me, and have managed to change the food game on my rides.
The bags themselves are pretty simple in their design. They weigh a mere 1.5 ounces and are highly packable as they compress down to nothing when not being used. The bags feel super durable, and the insulated, reflective material can take a beating.
It's probably best to think about the Big Sky pouch as a “thermos” bag—it retains temperature for foods that require cool storage, and also allows for a speedier cooking time for hot foods. You can use them for packing chocolate or energy bars on hot days, or literally anything you need to keep from melting away. The PrimaLoft insulation is constructed from 70% post-consumer recycled content, and every meter of insulation used saves 2.5 plastic bottles from landfill. So you can feel pretty good about the way it's made as well.
The bags have a handy freestand construction, which allows for upright cooking, and they come in two sizes. A 25 x 25cm “full meal” version for $15 USD, and a smaller “single serving” size for $14 USD.
When using the larger “full meal” bag, you can ditch store-bought meal packaging before setting out. This is helpful when meal packaging is made for a backpack, and doesn't fit well into a frame bag, and would also help eliminate some camp garbage that would need to be carried out. Win.
The Cold Test
The cold test was easy: get on bike, go for ride, eat cold stuff. Before setting out, I chopped up some apples, oranges and threw in a few sugar snap peas. I set out on one of my larger loops that takes about 4 hours. It was a relatively warm and bright day and my black frame bag was attracting sun and warming up.
I stopped at one of my favorite spots on the loop—a huge moss-covered rock that flanks a fun little single track trail here in Victoria called Electric Avenue. My mind was blown—having fresh (and cool) fruit in the middle of the forest on my rock with the sun coming through the trees, was a small slice of paradise. I honestly couldn't think of any time in my life where I had ever had cool, fresh fruit mid-ride. It was delicious, and exactly what my body needed to get me home.
With an added ice pack, fresh fruit will now be part of every ride I do. This I promise to myself.
The Hot Test
Big Sky's main sell point is that the bags aid in cooking your meal quicker. I will be honest, I was a bit dubious about this claim. For the hot test, I opted to cook some instant noodles to see exactly how quick (and well) the bags rehydrated and cooked freeze-dried food. (Kindly disregard everything I mentioned about eating healthy and fresh up above ;)
Doing this test meant I had to go for a much larger ride. I decided to do a 90 km loop to the top of Mount Quimper. It was my first time to Mount Quimper and I knew by the time I hit the summit I'd be ready for a warm lunch.
I packed fresh fruit and a small cube of butter in the smaller bag. Again, the fruit was super welcomed at a rest point I love overlooking Matheson Lake. The butter is a bit of a joke between my buddy Saltybeard Bikepacking and I. On our last bikepacking trip, we both agreed that to cook anything fresh, with any degree of enjoyment, one requires butter. Fats are absolutely paramount to any home-cooked meal worth it's salt. We had carried a small bottle of olive oil and learnt that high quality olive oil doesn't come from small bottles in small town grocery stores. The cube of butter would be a nice way to add some fats to my noodles, and test how well butter travels in the bags.
The warm bag worked way better than I expected. I boiled some filtered puddle water (really) in Jetboil and added the butter (which kept fantastically in the cool bag). The bag did exactly as advertised: it stood up perfectly, and within 7 minutes I had perfectly cooked instant noodles. It's been ages since I cooked instant noodles at home, but it feels like they cooked as fast if not faster than on a stove top.
The noodles were warm and buttery and really hit the spot. A perfect reward for a hard climb to Mount Quimper summit. Next time, I will probably have my noodles in the smaller bag, and the cold items in the larger bag. The big is quite large and as they say, fits two meals. I ended up rolling it down in order to eat properly. Also, next time I will be bringing more fresh items—because I can.
DIY Thermal Bags?
Doing research for this review, I came to realize that the backpacking community has been on the idea of thermal bags for a long while. You can find a bunch of different DIY options out there. I mentioned this to my friend Michèle who told me how she made her own. She found a reflective, windscreen cover from a dollar store, cut it into a pocket and sewed it together with a bit of velcro. I can't really vouch for the quality of her DIY as compared to the Big Sky bags, but it does seem like a viable alternative for those on the cheap.
Wrap It Up
That said, the Big Sky Insulite pouches do feel like a quality product that are designed to last. They also seem moderately priced, and more than fair for the value they bring.
In hindsight, I feel a bit silly having never tried an Insulite (or competing) bag before on my bike trips. Now that I know, I know. I will be forever indebted to Big Sky for introducing me to the idea, and I will be absolutely adding these bags to my bikepacking setup for the foreseeable future. Of course, I will also keep bringing my 🥑.
|Works as priomised|
|Cheap and handy|
|Could youy DIY your own?|