Dehydrating Food for Backpacking: The Good Parts, and the Not-So-Good Parts

I’ve recently started dehydrating food for backpacking, and I absolutely prefer it over store bought meals. However, if you’re considering dehydrating food for backpacking, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into! There are a lot of things to consider, but for me, it’s completely worthwhile to have a home-cooked meal by some beautiful lake in the backcountry!

Dehydrating food for backpacking
Backpacking in the Sierras, fully fueled on dehydrated meals

 

To help prepare you for your journey, I’ve jotted down what i see as the best parts, and the worst parts, of dehydrating food for backpacking.

Dehydrating food for backpacking: The Good

  1. You know exactly what you’re eating

This is obviously a huge deal these days. It’s why Trader Joe’s is so awesome – generally, their list of ingredients is short, and you know how to pronounce them. By dehydrating food for backpacking yourself, you get to choose what you’re putting in there.

Sweet potatoes with oil, rosemary and salt ready for dehydrating
Sweet potatoes with oil, rosemary and coarse salt ready for dehydrating
  1. You get to eat what you like

There are just some flavors I don’t love. Pepper on its own is one of them. I like it mixed with others because it balances it out nicely, but on its own…yuck. That being said, when you make your own food, you get to choose what you get to taste! With store bought dehydrated backpacking meals, you’re at their mercy.

Fresh blend of green beans, artichoke hearts, and sun dried tomatoes - ready to be dehydrated
Fresh blend of green beans, artichoke hearts, and sun dried tomatoes – ready to be dehydrated
  1. It can mean more money for gear

For our group backpacking trips, I dehydrate enough food for everyone, and it is pretty darn cheap. Instead of spending $10/meal/person for dinner, we spend about $10/weekend/person. And our servings are bigger than if we bought the ones from REI.

Eating our dehydrated spaghetti and meat sauce
Eating my dehydrated spaghetti and meat sauce
  1. Experimenting with dehydrated recipes can be fun

I love cooking. I love taking a recipe and thinking of all the ways I can switch it up. And then I love seeing people enjoy my food. So, why not bring that into the backcountry? After a long day of trekking your gear to a serene location far away from traffic and people and work, what’s better than seeing your friends sit with a bowl of homemade, delicious pasta? And yes, it’s dehydrated and a little weird if you think about it, but…it tastes darn good, so just don’t think about it!

Cream sauce, with spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and mushrooms ready to be dehydrated
Cream sauce, with spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and mushrooms ready to be dehydrated
  1. Sharing is caring

Sometimes on trips, I’ve seen people separate off into small groups to cook their food. Since we’ve started dehydrating food for backpacking trips, it’s like one big happy family now. No more need for everyone to bring their own stove and eat at different times while others’ food is still cooking. Now, we cook together, we eat together, we clean together.

Dinner!
Dinner!
  1. It’s incredibly lightweight

If you’ve bought pre-packed dehydrated food from REI or backcountry, you know – they are incredibly lightweight. And if you’re planning to spend a few days in the backcountry, and you’ll be putting in some mileage, every ounce matters. So yes, this isn’t necessarily a competitive benefit from the pre-packaged meals, but it’s a huge benefit in general! However, the pre-packaged foods can have heavier packaging since they’re made to last through the apocalypse, but I usually make my meals a week or two before we go and I just use the vacuum sealed bags which are lighter in weight which is nice.

Dehydrating food for backpacking - pasta sauce which I then break down to a powder and vacuum seal into a small bag
Dehydrating food for backpacking – pasta sauce which I then break down to a powder and vacuum seal into a small bag

Dehydrating food for backpacking: The Not-So-Great

  1. Learning to dehydrate food is time consuming

There are a lot of nuances of how you dehydrate which ingredients. For instance, meats…no matter what you do, they just don’t re-hydrate well. They’ll be chewy no matter what (at least in my experience), and yes I’ve read all the blogs about how to do it right – they still come out chewy and weird. So, do you make the meats anyway, or do you try to compensate with veggies or meat a different way (ie/store-bought bacon bits)?

Dehydrating food fro backpacking - ready to be vacuum sealed
Dehydrating food fro backpacking – ready to be vacuum sealed
  1. Not all food dehydrates well

Some dehydrated food works well, some doesn’t. Cheeses take forever on their own. I tried cheddar and parmesan once and after 48 hours, it still wasn’t dehydrated. However, cheese cooked in a pasta sauce mixed with a bunch of veggies does work. I also still buy the breakfast meals because I’m not brave enough to try dehydrating eggs – I’m pretty sure those are freeze dried anyway. And for meats, dehydrating jerky is great, but if you want your chicken to taste like fresh cooked chicken, I suggest buying the store-bought-already-cooked-and-sealed chicken and mixing it in after.

Dehydrated cheese - way more effort than its worth
Dehydrated cheese – way more effort than its worth
  1. It can spell trouble if you don’t fully hydrate your food, and yourself

I never noticed this with the store bought meals, but they’re pros and I’m a bit of a rookie. The first time we ate my dehydrated food, I hadn’t broken everything down small enough, so it was taking too long to hydrate in the backcountry, and we were hungry. We ended up eating small pieces of still dehydrated pasta sauce which ended up absorbing all the water in our bodies as it digested overnight, which essentially dehydrated our bodies and gave us stomach gurgles all night. We haven’t made this mistake again. Now, I break the sauces down into a powder, and we let it sit in water much longer to rehydrate. And, we also make sure to drink a ton of water which is good practice at altitude anyway!

Dehydrated pasta sauce, ready to be broken down into a powder
Dehydrated pasta sauce, ready to be broken down into a powder
  1. If you don’t pay attention to proper storage, your food may spoil

Unlike the store bought meals which can stay good sealed for, like, ever…you have to be much more careful with your own food. Vacuum sealers are great, but it’s hard to really tell if you’ve removed all moisture, so food may spoil. It helps to refrigerate or freeze your meals after they have been sealed, but to play it safe, I usually eat my meals within 4-6 weeks. I also portion my backcountry meals out so that we don’t have to worry about hiking with an open bag, and instead, we have a fresh meal to open each day.

Dehydrated jerky, vacuum sealed and ready for backpacking!
Dehydrated jerky, vacuum sealed and ready for backpacking!

Well there it is! So, if you have some time (and money to spend on a dehydrator) to test your own dehydrated food, try it out! Happy eating!

Thanks for reading - feel free to add comments or questions below!