For weekend backpacking trips, you can dehydrate and pack all your food during the week before the trip. For a weeklong trip, start drying the food two weeks before you depart. You can’t leave it to the last minute! Getting it done early will give you peace of mind knowing your food supply is all set.
Most of the action involved in dehydrating food takes place inside the dehydrator. It takes less than an hour to cut up fruits and steam vegetables. Once you put the food in the dehydrator, the machine will quietly do the work while you sleep or go to work or school. A timer that automatically shuts off the machine after the programmed amount of time is a valuable feature to look for in a dehydrator. Appliance-grade timers can also be purchased separately if your dehydrator doesn’t have one.
Start with a Menu
Write up a menu for each day of your trip. This will include breakfast, lunch, dinner, four to five snacks and a dessert for dinner. Plain water is the easiest beverage to consume on the trail, but if you want flavored drinks there are plenty of powdered drink mix products available. Pack these in individual servings.
Snacks might include individual servings of trail mix, nuts, Goldfish and dried fruit. Make a list of the dried fruits you would like to eat. Apples, pears and bananas are three favorites. A good serving size is a half-cup of dried fruit, which is close to eating one and a half fresh apples, pears or bananas.
Break the Recipes Down Into Ingredients
Tally up all the ingredients from the recipes you plan to use to determine how much of each dried food you will need. Some items like macaroni, rice and oats you will simply purchase.
Dehydrate the Food
As you become more experienced with drying food, you will learn the quantity any type of food will yield when dried. To get you started, here is a list of the drying yields of common foods mentioned in this series.
Food-Drying Yield Estimator
Food / Starting Quantity / Approx. Yield Dry
Apples / 1 pound (2-3 medium apples) / 1 cup
Bananas / 1 ½ pounds (5 large bananas) / 2 cups
Pears / 1 ¼ pounds (4 medium pears) / 1 ½ cups
Pineapple / 4 pounds (1 large pineapple) / 3 cups
Peaches / 1 pound (3 medium peaches) / 1 cup
Frozen vegetables / 1 pound (any kind) / ¾ cup–1 cup
Tomatoes, diced / 9 medium tomatoes / 1 cup
Onions / 1 ½ pounds (2 large onions) / 1 cup
Bell peppers / 2 pounds (4 medium to large peppers) / 1 cup
Mushrooms / 1 pound / 1–1 ½ cups
Tomato sauce / 16-ounce jar / 1 cup
Ground beef / 1 pound mixed with bread crumbs / 2 cups
Chicken / 12.5-ounce can / ¾ cup–1 cup
Beans / 15-ounce can / 1 cup
Pack the Meals
After your food ingredients are dried, refer back to your menu and recipes to combine the dried foods into bagged meals. Sandwich-size Ziploc bags work well for meals and snack-size Ziploc bags work well for single servings of snacks and any ingredients like powders that get packed in their own bag. Packing snacks as individual servings makes it easy to put a day’s worth in your pockets for quick access. For meals, write the amount of water required to rehydrate and cook the meal on the bag with a permanent marker.
Organize the meals and snacks into daily rations (shown at right), which can be bagged together in a large plastic bag or vacuum-sealed for maximum food security, good organization and tight packing. Write your menu for the day on a paper towel and enclose with your daily rations.
Read more about making your own dehydrated backpacking meals:
Backpacking Chef Glenn McAllister is the author of the book, Recipes for Adventure: The Ultimate Guide to Dehydrating Food for the Trail and the companion workbook, The Backpacking Chef Menu Planning & Food Drying Workbook. Visit his website BackpackingChef.com and sign up for a free monthly newsletter, Trail Bytes.