Eating Well on the Trail

How to feast like royalty, without having to clean up like a scullery maid.

When I began researching what to eat on my prospective thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2015, there seem to be three possible choices.

  • Choice one involved packaged foods such as ramen or noodle side dishes that were basically carbs with very little protein and other nutritional value.
  • The second choice was basically to go cold, and eat things that could be purchased in trail towns, such as tortillas with peanut butter, protein bars, packaged tuna, etc.
  • The third choice was to go with the prepared meals that are offered by a variety of vendors which are generally freeze-dried, to which you only need to add hot water.

There are pluses and minuses to each of these methods. The debate about which is the better choice could rage on indefinitely. For me, with a history of being sensitive to foods with a lot of preservatives, none of these choices were particularly appealing.

I love to cook (when I have adequate time) and I love to eat (always), but I never like cleanup duty. So I tried to find a better option for food for my thru hike. I had almost decided to try some of the lower sodium choices of the prepackaged foods, even though I shuddered at the cost per meal, when I learned about another option. At the ATKO in 2014, I saw a demonstration of dehydrating food and using the “freezer bag cooking” method to rehydrate.

After returning home, I spent some time researching dehydration and I bought a book that had been recommended to us. Written by Linda Frederick Jaffe, the book is called Backpacking Gourmet. I also bought a reconditioned Excalibur dehydrator to use to begin dehydrating food. I had never, knowingly at least, dehydrated any food in my life, unless you count the rather pathetic looking dried-up pieces of macaroni or Cheerios that my kids dropped that weren’t found for weeks.

I began with some of Linda’s more simple recipes to see how they turned out. Living in Florida, I didn’t want to add any additional heat to the house, so I usually ran my dehydrator out in the garage. Because of this, I think it always took longer to dehydrate it would for someone doing this in a cooler climate. Once the meal was made and dehydrated, I then needed to package it up into plastic Ziploc bags. The method I generally used was to take a larger, gallon-size bag and put some of the dehydrated food into it. I then used a rolling pin and ran it over the sealed bag to break up the dehydrated meal into very small pieces. Smaller pieces rehydrate more readily.

Once the meal was all rolled into small bits, I then apportioned between several quart sized Ziploc bags. The amount of food that is put in a bag should never be more than half the size of the bag because once you add water to the meal it will expand. I try to make sure each meal had a minimum of 600 calories.

I then labeled the meal carefully and placed it in the freezer.

A dehydrated meal - double bagged

A dehydrated meal – double bagged

My home made cozy

My home made cozy

Fast forward to being on the AT…

My husband sends me a mail drop of food, including my dehydrated dinners. I make a selection, and heat up water in my JetBoil Once the water boils you add it to the freezer bag, just above the level of food, and seal the bag. Then place the bag into a cozy. You can purchase a cozy or make one (just Google “freezer bag cooking”).


While your dinner cooks you can set up your food for the next day or whatever other camp chores need doing. In 20 minutes, dinner is served! Eat out of the bag and the only thing to wash is your spoon/spork. Your meal may not look like it would “at home,” but it tastes the same and yummy.

Bon Appetit!

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Comments 7

  • David Maltby : Apr 14th

    Great choice on your food plan Kate. I have used recipes and advice from to plan my dehydrated meals. I like to bring along some pemmican to add to my meals for some extra protein and fat. Some people make there own but I get mine from Happy Trails.

  • RokinRonda- RokItArt : Apr 14th

    quite impressed!!! yum!

  • Jeanne Church : Apr 15th

    Sounds great!

  • imin2w8s : Apr 16th

    Thanks for the info! Had planned to bring dehydrated meals along with me on my trip…was wondering how it would do. How often do you have mail drops of food delivered and about how many meals did you do ahead of time for your thru hike?

  • Tricia E. Bratton : Apr 17th

    I am inspired by your decision to hike the AT. I hope to eat mindfully while on the trail as well. I think when we are a bit older we think about these things. We can’t afford to survive on junk food from the shops. I plan to hike the trail in 2020, when I am 63. Do you have a blog? Would love to follow your journey.

  • Kate Balano : Apr 23rd

    Sorry for the slow response – poor access from the AT. I can be found on Trail Journals under “Katwalk.” I plan on mail drops every 3 – 4 days. This is a challenge, but better than Ramen. I did about 90 meals plus another 90 fruit snacks. If I run short I hope my talented husband will do some more for me. Thanks for the tip on the jerky!


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