3 Things I Learned About My Food Before My Thru-Hike

Food is a huge part of hiking. While I’ve never done a thru-hike, I’ve certainly done some backpacking trips that have left me with the infamous “hiker hunger.” However, I’ve been having trouble coming to terms with having to eat Snickers bars and jars of peanut butter for my entire hike. Sure, indulging in these items for a while sounds great, but my diet at home is pretty strict.

So, what was I going to do? Well, after reading Free Outside by Jeff Garmire, more commonly known as Legend in the hiking community, I decided that I would have a go at pre-packaging some dehydrated meals. Here’s how that’s going, and what I’m going to need to change before setting out. 

My Fire Maple stove – pretty much a Jetboil copy. I’ve enjoyed it so far.

To Dehydrate, or To Buy Dehydrated? That is the Question

Let’s be totally honest here – my partner and I bought a dehydrator in November last year, but neither of us had ever dehydrated anything. The process was entirely new, and something that had a fairly steep learning curve. In fact, we’re still learning how to use the dehydrator, and what to expect out of certain foods.

Still, I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to dehydrate on my own, and what I wanted to buy dehydrated or freeze dried already. Many staples could be dehydrated at home, but without the experience doing so, I didn’t want to take chances. As such, I decided right from the beginning that the bases of meals would be store-bought. I have three meal bases:

  • Brown rice noodles
  • Couscous
  • Instant rice

These are all filling, and I don’t tend to get sick of them. I know that there are other options available that may be more nutrient dense, but I’ll be bringing along plenty of dense snacks, too.

Filling Out the Bases

Over the last few weeks I’ve dehydrated plenty of fruits and vegetables, and it has been a ton of fun. I love everything about the process, if I’m being honest. The majority of the prep work I’ve done has taken no more than an hour, and that’s when I’m coring and slicing a dozen or so apples. It isn’t bad. 

Now, at this point, I’ve got my vegetables down. I’ll be dehydrating all of the following in large quantities:

  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Carrots

I find that all of these lose a substantial amount of weight when dehydrated, and they taste great. In addition to these vegetables, I’ve also dehydrated my own chicken! This resulted in jerky chunks, which tasted great.

The Benefits of Dehydrating

When you’re dehydrating your own food for backpacking, there are some substantial benefits to consider. Of course, the biggest advantage is a significant reduction in weight. It’s possible to reduce the weight of some foods down to 10% of the original weight, which is nuts. A good example of this is apples. Sliced apples are light and tasty, and full of the sugar needed to keep going when you’re starting to slow down.

My noodle meal! Brown rice noodles, spinach, carrots, onions, and dehydrated chicken. Seasoning is in there, too, but not enough.

It’s also cheaper than buying freeze-dried backpacking meals. These are delicious when you get the right kind, but often a single meal is around $10 on its own. My meals are running me anywhere from $2 to $3, which is pretty good.

3 Things I Learned From a Test Meal

Today I went to the local trail to have lunch with my partner. We brought along the gear I’ll be using for food on my thru-hike, as well as some food. We brought a store-bought freeze-dried meal for her, and a homemade meal for me. I’m glad I decided to try one of my meals before hitting the OHT! Here’s what I learned, and how I’m going to improve my food.

1. Needs More Flavor

Today I brought some brown rice noodles with assorted vegetables and chicken. I seasoned the meal with what I thought was an adequate amount of spices. I was very, very wrong. While it felt like I was adding a ton of powdered soy sauce, garlic powder, and cayenne powder, I could hardly taste anything in the broth. Not the biggest issue, but something I’ll certainly be fixing.

2. Patience is Key

Hunger got the best of me, and rather than letting the noodles sit for an adequate amount of time, I decided to dive right in. This resulted in chewy, sometimes crunchy noodles and vegetables. I’m going to have to remind myself to wait for my dehydrated foods to soften up or absorb all of the water in the future. Though, sometimes, I’m sure I won’t care about waiting.

3. Dehydrated Chicken is Not Good in These Meals

Unfortunately, while dehydrating chunks of chicken seemed like a good plan, it really wasn’t. I knew that the chicken I’d dehydrated was more like jerky than anything else, but I had hope that it would soften up in boiling water. Spoiler alert, it didn’t. It was just warm, wet chicken jerky. As such, I’ll be buying some freeze-dried chicken to add to my meals. 

I let my meal “cook” in a silicone soup cup. Works pretty well, and it’s really easy to clean.

Learning by Doing

Even though the noodle meal didn’t turn out like I’d hoped, it was only my first try. I like to learn by doing in most cases, and this is clearly an example of that. I know that as I continue to do it, I’ll eventually reach a point where I’m able to make gourmet meals that result in a chef’s kiss in the backcountry. Thankfully, hunger will make most of them seem that way regardless.

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Comments 6

  • Dottie Rust : Jan 19th

    Check BackpackerChef. “Chef Glen” knows what & how to dehydrate yummy meals.


    • Zach Maxon : Jan 19th

      I’ll definitely give it a look. Thanks Dottie! Do you have any personal favorites?

    • Ruth Morley : Jan 22nd

      I learned a lot from Backpacking Chef’s website and books. I dehydrated all my own food for the full length of the AT. I ate paleo (meat) the first 3 summers and vegan last year, all successful. Enjoy! It’s really nice to have healthy food in the trail.

  • Ratbait : Jan 19th

    Ground beef rehydrates very well if you combine breadcrumbs @ 1 Cup per lb of beef. Then cook. It will shorten the shelf life from years to months but rehydrates well. There are a few recipes online. Aslo if you have one favorite store bought meal, the packaging can be reused for the homemade meals. Great post!

    • Zach Maxon : Jan 19th

      That sounds a lot more promising than the chicken! I may have to get some dehydrated before I set out.

      I actually have an old Peak Refuel bag stashed away! It’s not as easy to clean as the silicone cup, but it certainly holds more water. I’ve got a few store bought meals here at home that I’m probably going to repackage, too. They’re just so bulky!

      • Shelli : Jan 24th

        Hey Zach! Try dehydrating canned shredded/chunk chicken for your meals. Even rehydrates easily in a cold soak. I also recommend bringing beef or chicken bouillon for flavor.


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