Dehydrators: Make Your Own Backpacking Meals - North 40 Life

Dehydrators: Make Your Own Backpacking Meals

Dried rice, burger and red sweet pepper for an unstuffed pepper meal_ Dried rice, burger and red sweet pepper for an unstuffed pepper meal.

If you want to be healthy and well-fueled while hiking, hunting, fishing, backpacking or even snowmobiling or skiing, you should consider dehydrating foods and vacuum sealing them into your own custom meals.

Know you what you’re eating

One of the greatest benefits of dehydrating foods and creating your own meals is knowing exactly what’s in the food. This is particularly important for anyone with food allergies or other intolerances because suffering a reaction is the last thing anyone wants when they are miles up the trail and help is a far away.

Chef Glenn Mcallister, author of Recipes for Adventure: Healthy, Hearty & Homemade Backpacking Recipes, as well as the voice of, believes these customized meals are the way to go and suggests, matter of factly, “You’re out doing something healthy. You want to eat healthy, natural foods.”

While commercial freeze-dried meals are can be tasty and provide a caloric infusion, building your meals from scratch allows you to know the exact ingredients, in their various amounts. For instance, making your own freeze-dried meals lets you dictate the amount of sodium, sugar, spices, and other ingredients, and can eliminate unwanted preservatives and other flavor-enhancing additives. In addition, you can customize meals for particular activities and certain days.

For instance, if you are headed into the mountains on a hot summer day, and you’ll be on the trail for 10 miles, you may want to build in a little replacement sodium and the calories you’ll need to keep you going. However, if you are already camped next to a high alpine lake and you’re just going to lounge around and fish, you may want something lighter. You can do that by creating your meals ahead of time.

Make what you like

One of Mcallister’s goals when creating his backpacking meals is to have food that feels good and is good for you. Fortunately, these homemade meals taste terrific because they can be customized to your preferences. And, like any meal eaten outside while camping, it just tastes better.

“Once they’re out in the woods, the meals will be so much more enjoyable and memorable,” says Mcallister. Many times he’s heard nearby campers say they are a tad envious since those who make their own meals are eating like kings with plenty of vegetables, meat, and lots of flavor.

After cooking burger, place it on parchment or fruit leather trays in the dehydrator. After cooking burger, place it on parchment or fruit leather trays in the dehydrator.

Deciding what to dry, including ground beef

Those familiar with dehydrators are typically comfortable drying fruits and vegetables. But you don’t have to be a vegetarian to create dehydrated meals. The benefit of making your own is ensuring a balance, including additional carbohydrates and proteins when needed.

However, Mcallister recommends avoiding high-fat meats. That means sausage might be off the table. But lean hamburger ranging between seven and 10 percent fat content is perfectly acceptable. And naturally lean venison burger dehydrates well, as long as you haven’t added more than 10 percent fat to your deer or elk or other wild game.

Mcallister has a trick when preparing his hamburger. “Ground beef is generally going to taste like gravel,” he said, “but if you mix in dried breadcrumbs before you cook it, it allows it to rehydrate.”

For each pound of ground beef he suggests mixing in 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs—before cooking it on the stove. After it’s cooked, dab off any fat and place the meat on your dehydrator’s fruit leather inserts or parchment paper and then dry at 145 degrees Fahrenheit for roughly six hours. Midway through the process, you may want to mix the meat and dab it with a paper towel to remove any extra fat.

Chicken on the menu

Chicken is another staple of the trail, but dehydrating it is not as simple as drying the leftovers from dinner, because traditionally cooked chicken turns out tough.

Mcallister said he likes canned chicken best because it rehydrates well. When preparing chicken, whether from a can or otherwise, after draining and rinsing away any extraneous fat, which is usually minimal, place the chicken on the trays and dehydrate it at 145 degrees F for approximately eight hours, or until the meat is hard.

How long does meat last

“If you’re going to dehydrate and hit the trail, you don’t need to vacuum seal (the foods),” says Mcallister. “It’s generally not going to go bad within a week or two.”

For extended bulk storage, he recommends using the vacuum sealer with vacuum sealed bags or jars.

“Store individual foods in wide-mouth mason jars,” he says. Attach the jar sealer to the top of the jar and syphon out the air with the vacuum sealer. This allows you to store the food longterm without it molding or going rancid.

Tomato sauce leather is a versatile ingredient Tomato sauce leather is a versatile ingredient.

Making favorites

The best part of dehydrating your own trail cuisine is making what you enjoy. One of Mcallister’s favorites is unstuffed peppers because it reminds him of food his mom often made.

To make this dish use 1/2 cup of rice (instant or dried), plus 1/4 cup of dried bell pepper (he prefers the orange, red, or yellow for flavor and visual appeal), dried ground beef, and tomato sauce leather, (plus parmesan cheese for added flavor). The regular size meal provides 377 calories. Mcallister adjusts the sizes of the meals, sometimes bumping up another 50 percent of volume to meet the caloric requirements hiker often need.

Another favorite meal is dehydrated tomato sauce and ground beef, along with salsa, which makes a great spaghetti sauce. You can add rice and/or pasta to this dish and either is easy to prepare with the dehydrator. Simply place the cooked rice or pasta on trays and dry at 135 degrees F for two-to four hours.

Homemade meals rehydrate beautifully Homemade meals rehydrate beautifully.

Packing for the trail

Meal planning for a big backcountry trip is fun, especially when you make the meals on your own. In preparation you can set our portions for each meal and then place them in sandwich or snack-sized zipped storage bags. Mcallister recommends placing a postage stamp sized piece of paper in the corner of each small bag to prevent them from closing. This way, when they are placed within the larger vacuum-sealed bag, air will be removed from the individual bags, as well.

Mcallister also recommends including a paper towel on the top and bottom of the vacuum-sealed bags with the menu written on the top towel. Packaged in this manner, the meals are good for months and are impervious to damp conditions. Set the day’s meals at the top of your pack for easy access.

All part of the experience

Dehydrating your own meals when dreaming of your next outdoor activity is a perfect way to enjoy the anticipation of the upcoming season. That you get full control over how and with what ingredients you fuel your body is a nice bonus.

Click here to read common backpacking myths debunked.

Want free eMags, exclusive access to gear and fly sales, and updates on the latest river reports in WA, MT & ID? Join Our Email List
Author Image
Amy Grisak is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in gardening, cooking, and sustainable lifestyle topics, as well as a particular interest in anything to do with the beautiful Montana outdoors. Her articles appear in the New Pioneer, Rodale's Organic Life, Camp Cabela's, Hobby Farms, The Farmers' Almanac, Horticulture, the Great Falls Tribune, and many more.
Leave a Reply