Making your own food for a long distance hike is extremely rewarding. It not only saves you money, but you get piece of mind knowing exactly what’s in your meals and can customize your food options.
Making your trail meals can be daunting at first, especially if you’ve never done it before. With a couple of tools and some patience, you can make a variety of meals and snacks you’ll actually look forward to eating on the trail!
You will need two pieces of equipment when dehydrating your own food: a food dehydrator and a vacuum sealer.
If you will be going on shorter trips, like a 2-3 day backpack, you can skip the vacuum sealer as your dehydrated food will be fine in regular Ziplock bags. You can make many of these meals using your oven on a low setting, however, there are very economical food dehydrators and are worth getting. Most meals take 8-12 hours to dehydrate so your oven will thank you!
If you plan on dehydrating all of your own food and plan to take lengthy backpacking trips each year it may be wise to invest in the Excalibur. If you’re supplementing prepackaged backpacking meals or backpack infrequently, don’t break the bank. I have the Nesco Square-Shaped food dehydrator and for under $70.00 I’m very happy with it. Do make sure your dehydrator has a temperature control.
You really can dehydrate just about anything, but there are some guidelines on how to do so.
Fruit: Rinse fruits under cold running water and cut away bruised portions. Remove seeds, stems, and/or pits. On most occasions, fruit skins such as on apples may be used or cut off depending on your preference.
Vegetables: Many vegetables need to be blanched before dehydrating. Carrots, for example, are very hard and will not rehydrate well unless they have been blanched (steamed or boiled in water first). Clean and peel all vegetables before blanching.
Meat: Slice meat into strips no thicker than ¼ inch. Trim and discard any fat as fat does not dehydrate well. Meat can be marinated for flavor and tenderness before dehydrating.
For all your food, use quality ingredients. Use ripe fruit and good meats. Canned chicken will still taste like canned chicken when it’s rehydrated! I have also learned that parchment paper works great for sticky fruits or meals with a sauce. They’re much cheaper than fruit trays and you can still reuse them!
FAQ For Dehydrating Your Own Foods:
How do I know how long to dehydrate it for?
A good recipe will have a range listed. If you are just starting out, I suggest following a recipe to get the right results. The amount of moisture in the air, thickness and size of your food, and heat setting will determine how much time it will take. Check your food to see the progress. On page three of this article is a great dryness test guide.
How much water do I add in to rehydrate my meals?
I recommend weighing your food before you dehydrate it to determine how much water to add back in. I typically add enough to cover the meal and add more if I need. Again, the altitude you’re camping at will make a big difference.
How should I store dehydrated food?
Moisture is the enemy of dried foods. When exposed to air, they absorb its moisture and become limp.
Brittle food is perfectly dried, while soft and pliable probably still has moisture. So leathery foods should be refrigerated to last for months, instead of weeks. Brittle will last for a year in your cupboard.
Always store dried foods in air-tight containers such as moisture-proof jars or zip-lock bags. Lids must contain rubber gaskets to make them moisture proof, e.g. Mason jars. Pop a cotton ball into the jar to absorb moisture.
The downside of glass jars is that light entering the jar can discolor some foods like tomatoes, and steal nutrients. Light isn’t good for the essential fatty acids in dried seed and nut yogurts. Keep long-term storage jars inside brown paper bags (foods you plan to eat in six months, not six weeks).
Store all containers in a dry, dark place with a moderate temperature. A cupboard, rather than an open pantry shelf, is best.
How long can I store my food?
If you completely dehydrate simple foods like grains and vegetables and properly store them, they’ll last for years. If there is any moisture, you will significantly reduce the shelf life. Dried mangoes and apples, for instance, are great chewy, but not completely dried. They can last anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. Foods stored in the freezer will ensure foods don’t spoil. Moisture control is key.
You recommend cutting fat off meats. Don’t you want the fat?
Absolutely! The fat will go rancid during the dehydrating process, though. This includes oils. Bring your favorite oils to add to your backcountry meals. Mix it up- almond and coconut oils are delicious too!
Where can I find recipes?
There are lots of online resources with tips and recipes along with some great books available online or via Kindle. If you’re a visual person, you’ll want to check out my Trail Food Pinterest board for some inspiration!
How do I make my meals more compact?
Vacuum sealing really does wonders for making your meals compact. If you find your dehydrated meals are still too bulky, grab a food processor. After dehydrating your meal, give it a couple whirls in the food processor and it will break your meal up to smaller pieces. This is especially useful for meals that have a rice base.