I’m giving away my top tips & tricks so that you too can make your own backpacking food. This will ultimately change the way you plan for trips and save you SO much money.I’ve been making my own backpacking food for years and I can tell you that I’ve probably saved myself thousands of dollars. The dehydrated meals that you find at MEC and REI are seriously so expensive, are hardly nutritious, and often don’t effectively replenish the calories and energy that you’ve lost throughout the day.
A few years ago, there were hardly any vegan freeze-dried/ dehydrated meals on the market. The lack of options led me to discover my love for dehydrating backpacking meals and being cost effective while traveling. Now, I make myself meals for just about every trip I go on. Additionally, even with the vegan food options by companies like Nomad Nutrition and Good 2 Go, I just don’t find these meals have the macronutrients that I’m looking for on the trail. I enjoy calorie dense and protein packed meals and unfortunately, these meals are often under 500 calories per meal. Dehydrating my own backpacking food has seriously been the answer to my vegan prayers. My hope is that this beginner’s guide will inspire you to dehydrate your own food for your next adventure. What’s the harm in at least trying?
Benefits of Dehydrating Meals as it Pertains to Adventures
- Taking the moisture out of your food will make your meals so light. This is a huge factor for any kind of backpacking or hiking where even the smallest items make a huge difference
- Canned food is so heavy and not realistic when you’re backpacking. I’ve trekked with people carrying canned tuna, beans, etc and their misery could’ve been avoided
- COOK TIME
- dehydrating your meals significantly decreases the cook time. Bringing your water to a simple boil is all that’s required. The benefits of this include less fuel to carry (again less weight). The less fuel you have to carry means the less fuel you have to purchase!
- just because you’re camping or backpacking doesn’t mean you have to eat poorly! It’s incredibly important to give your body the fuel it needs in order to be able to perform to the absolute best of its ability
- Dehydrating your food preserves the nutritional content. Many other forms of food preservation actually strips the food of its nutrients
- You can dehydrate just about anything your heart desires! I love dehydrating smoothies, hummus, and all of my favourite healthy meals to eat as close to how I eat at home
- I’ve already touched on this but to reiterate you will save so much money by making your own meals
Dehydrators 101Ok, so you want to make your own backpacking food. First of all, you’re going to need a dehydrator, so how do you pick one? Since you’re most likely a first time buyer, I would recommend a basic dehydrator that’s fairly inexpensive but will get the job done. With so many dehydrators on the market, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when deciding which one to get. I recommend starting with a basic 4 tray dehydrator. I’ve experimented with a few dehydrators in the past and have really enjoyed my Excalibur 2400 – 4 Tray Food Dehydrator the most. The dehydrator retails for about $100 CAD which isn’t bad considering its quality. Dehydrators typically cost anywhere from $50- $1000+. When you’re making your dehydrator selection, there’s two types of models you’ll likely encounter:
- Horizontal Flow Dehydrators.
- Vertical Flow Dehydrators
Horizontal flow dehydrators, have trays that act as shelf-like compartments. These dehydrators source their heat from the back of the dehydrator. The benefit of the heat source being located at the back is that the heat is more evenly distributed which allows your food to dehydrate at the same pace. Vertical flow dehydrators are a bit different. These dehydrators are stackable and the heat is sourced from the bottom, sometimes it comes from the top. The advantage to vertical flow dehydrators is that they are often more affordable and you can actually purchase more trays to stack (meaning you can dehydrate more at once). The frustrating thing about vertical flow dehydrators is that you have to rotate the trays often to ensure that each tray is receiving heat equally. Because the heat generally comes from the bottom, your bottom trays are the first to dry which means that drying is not even and you will have to rotate your trays.
Special Considerations When Purchasing a Dehydrator
- Is the dehydrator easy to use?
- Will you have to flip the food and rotate the trays often?
- The size of your dehydrator matters because it limits you to how much food you can make. If you’re looking to make a week’s worth of backpacking meals, you’ll have to give yourself a lot of drying time with a smaller unit. The more trays, the more you can dehydrate
- Temperature Control
- Are you able to control the temperature of your dehydrator? This is incredibly important especially for drying meals and mass amounts of food. You will need a higher temperature for dehydrating backpacking meals than you would for drying basic fruits.
- Other Features
- Is the dehydrator quiet? Sometimes the fan can be so noisy, make sure that the one you purchase is quiet as it will be on for hours on end.
- Can you program it to automatically turn off?
AccessoriesYou will need to line your dehydrator sheets before you place your meals on them. To start, you can cut sheets of parchment paper to fit the size of your trays. OR you can purchase dehydrator non stick sheets online. Many Amazon brands carry different sizes so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding the right fit. I like these non stick sheets for my Excalibur dehydrator. You can easily wash them in the dishwasher or by hand in the sink.
How to DehydrateThere are different ways to go about dehydrating your meals. Some people prefer to dehydrate the various elements of a meal separately and then assemble the meal afterwards. Others, like myself, prefer to make a meal and then dehydrate it as a whole. I find this method much more effective and convenient. Pro Tip: double your recipes. When I know that I have a trip coming up that I need to make meals for, I’ll often double my weekly dinner recipes and make enough extras solely for dehydrating purposes. For instance, if I’m making coconut curry, I’ll cook a large of batch of it for dinner and then dehydrate the leftovers for my upcoming trip.
Preparing Your Food for Dehydration
- Tip #1: chop, slice, and cut small. After you’ve washed your veggies/ fruit, the most important piece of advice that I can give you is to ensure that everything you’re dehydrating is in small pieces. This is so important because the bigger the thicker the food the harder it is to dehydrate and it will take a long time. You can also risk over drying certain parts of your meal and under drying others. Big chunks lead to big messy issues so chop everything up small my friends!
If you’re dehydrating sauces, I even recommend blending it ahead of time to ensure that there aren’t massive tomato chunks or anything that could risk uneven distribution.
- Tip #2: I highly recommend dehydrating similar foods at once. If you’re making backpacking meals than you will most likely be dehydrating the same meal at the same time. However, there are times when you might find yourself with an extra shelf or two so it seems like a good idea to dehydrate some apples. Do NOT do this. During the drying process, odours will be mixed and absorbed into the foods meaning your apples may come out tasting like Thai peanut curry. Just wait until your meal is done and dehydrate your fruit separately.
- Tip #3: Stay organized by dehydrating in batches. I like to dehydrate all of my grains together, then fruits, and lastly the larger meals.
- On the topic of grains- cook your grains as you normally would and then dehydrate them! It’s awesome to be able to cook rice and pasta fast on the trail.
- Tip #4: When putting your meals on the dehydrator trays, make sure that you spread them out thinly. Putting too much on a tray will guarantee uneven heat distribution and won’t dry well.
Storing your food
If you dehydrate your own backpacking food, the beauty is that the meals can last for years on end if stored well.
I usually make my meals when I have trips coming up so I don’t typically opt for long term preservation methods such as vacuum sealed bags. Freezer bags with the air removed will work just fine for storing your trail meals. I always try to reuse these as much as possible. I have yet to find a solid zero-waste alternative, but I’m on a mission to change the freezer bag method for 2020.
Ensure you store your airtight bags in a cool and dark place until you’re ready to pop them in your pack.
If you plan on saving your meals for over a year, storing them in vacuum sealed bags with an oxygen absorber will help to avoid oxidation.
- Tip #1: Soak your food when possible
Soaking your food ahead of time will help speed up the rehydration process. Even though I’m usually starving, the first thing I do when I get to camp is pull out my meal, add just enough water to cover the meal fully, and then set up my tent and get camp ready. This usually takes about 20 minutes which is long enough to let the rehydration process begin.
- Tip #2: Boil your water and meal together
Once I’ve let my meal soak, I transfer the meal and water to my pot and boil for about a minute.
- Tip #3: Cover and Set Aside
After boiling, I put my meal and water in my GSI Fairshare Mug and leave it for about 10 minutes until fully rehydrated. The reason I love this mug so much is because it has a screw lid which is necessary for rehydrating.
It amazes me to watch the rehydration process take place and I’m reminded every time just how worth it it was to make my own food ahead of time.