MAKING YOUR OWN dehydrated snacks and meals require a little advance planning and preparation, but the reward of enjoying great-tasting and nutritious food on the trail makes it all worthwhile.
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:
Tips and tricks to consider when investing in a food dehydrator
Basic ingredients for make-at-home dehydrated backpacking meals
How to make dehydrated fruit snacks for hiking or backpacking treks
Three easy recipes for 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.
How long do these meals last? I would love to put something like this in my earthquake survival gear.
Hi, Pauline. We followed up with Chef Glenn with this question and he says food that’s properly dried should last for several weeks when packed in Ziploc bags. Vacuum sealing can help ensure a longer life — up to a year. Or, you can store dried food in jars at home for up to a year. He also adds that if you’re planning to store dried meats at home, keep them in your freezer for long-term storage until you’re ready to use them. Thanks for the great question!
If you need to store them longer put them into vacuum bags with oxygen packets.
I have personally done them with and with out the oxygen packets. And I have had the same results. I too am and chef, and I have hydrated left overs (spaghetti, meatloaf and chicken) into backpacking or camping food. Some are better than others in taste HOWEVER; you 1, know what’s in your food, 2, you don’t have all of the salt, preservatives and other things in your food, 3, the possibilities are endless and not to mention4, CHEAPER!
You can store the dried foods in a jar with an oxygen absorbing packet and it can keep up to 5 years.
How do you know how much water to use to rehydrate your dried meals?
you weigh the food before dehydrating and after the difference in weight is the weight of the water to add back (plus a little extra for evaporation.steam if boiling)
So, there is shredded cheese added to dehydrated foods in the pictures. I can’t imagine you dehydrated all of the moisture out of the cheese mixed in there, so how does that work? (I don’t see any recipes so I’m just going by what I see)
And speaking of that, this sounds great. Any chance of recipes? I found this was kind of hoping for that to see what you could do like this.
It looks like broken bits of spaghetti noodles to me.
Are you sure that’s cheese?
This article says recipes are coming on December 16th but it’s not December 28th and no recipes – are they coming or where is the link?
Hi, Justin. My apologies for the delayed response. The article providing the recipes has been available, but unfortunately the link on this specific page was not updated. You can find these recipes here: https://scoutingmagazine.org/2013/12/three-easy-recipes-making-dehydrated-backpacking-meals/
Hope this helps. Thanks for your understanding!
-Gretchen Sparling, associate editor
Be careful when combining with grains as they won’t store as long. Grains contain moth larvae which will hatch and leave your dehydrated meal as a buffet for itty bitty little disgusting worms. Freeze the grains for 4 days before packing them with your dehydrated foods.
Why not cook your meal and dehydrate that – make the pasta, sauce and all just as if you were ready to eat it – put THAT finished product in the dehydrator. You have it spiced just the way you like it, There is no question about portion size, because you portion it out into the dehydrator tray. All you do later is add boiling water and let it soak.
The meals can be kept in ziplock bags for several years in a chest freezer (the kind that is NOT frost free).