How to Make Your Own Backpacking Food

One of the greatest joys while backpacking is the myriad of snackage that accompanies every hungry hiker. There is no better feeling than having just walked for several miles and finally sitting down at camp to enjoy your well-earned hot meal at the end of the day. So what’s it going to be? The age old backpacking meals that come $10 a pop?

What if I told you that you could make your own tasty meals for half the cost? Plus, you could add in practically any variation you can imagine!

The answer: make it yourself! Trust me, it’s easier than you think. Last year I invested in a dehydrator and I’ve concocted some of the most delectable backpacking meals since.

The necessities.

  • A dehydrator (These typically range anywhere from $40-$300 dollars depending on the size and functionality)
  • A vacuum sealer (These can range from $15-$150 but you don’t really need anything fancy)
  • Vacuum seal bags (There are lots of different varieties out there: plastic, mylar, foil lined, etc. Find one that you are comfortable with and make sure it is food safe)

 

The process.

Step 1: Dehydrate your meals.

Step 2: Portion out your dehydrated food into individual food safe vacuum sealable bags.

Step 3: Use a vacuum sealer to remove excess air from your bags and to seal the food for longer preservation. 

Step 4: When you’re ready to eat, simply cut open the vacuum seal bag and add boiling water to your meal. The amount of water depends on the meal and your personal preference. I usually add enough water to completely soak all of the dried food, this is typically enough for the food to rehydrate without excess water. In the case of soup meals, I make sure to add in more as desired.

Step 5: Reseal or clip the bag together and let sit for 5-10 minutes to rehydrate. Then bon appetit! 

 

Dehydrating can seem overwhelming at first and there is a lot of information out there that can get super specific on timing and temperature to dehydrate certain foods. I got a lot of inspiration from FreshOffTheGrid.com when I first started and most of their dehydrated recipes specify how long to run your machine and at what temperature. Typically, I would run my dehydrator overnight on a medium temperature setting and by the time I woke up, my food would be dried. Certain meals do require you to flip the food and shuffle it on the trays in order to get even aeration and prevent it from sticking together, so make sure to work that into your food-drying schedule. Once you get to know your dehydrator and figure out a system, recreating your favorite recipes into dehydrated meals will level up the quality of your food in the backcountry!

 

The meals.

Here are some of my favorite breakfast and dinner meals to make with the help of my dehydrator.

Breakfast

  • Peanut butter oatmeal with dried bananas
  • Oatmeal with almonds and dried blueberries
  • Cinnamon quinoa porridge with pecans and dried apples
  • Milk and granola cereal with dried blueberries
  • Milk and coconut chocolate granola cereal with dried strawberries
  • Grits with bacon bits and dried mushroom & spinach

Coconut chocolate granola cereal

Dinner

When putting together a dinner meal, I make sure to include three parts: a grain as the base, some form of protein, and a variety of vegetables. This ensures that I’m getting the calories I need after high-intensity exercise, but also the nutrients from whole wheat grains and colorful veggies. I also add a packet of olive oil (unopened) in each dinner bag, which is an easy way to increase the overall calories with a nutritious and lightweight option. In addition to dehydrating full meals, like soups or stews, you can also just dehydrate pieces of a meal like fruits, veggies or sauces you want to add into your grain and protein base.

  • Marinara pasta with dried veggies and lentils
  • Mediterranean couscous with dried veggies, lintels, olives, and hummus
  • Dehydrated quinoa burrito bowl
  • Chicken alfredo with parmesan and green lentils
  • Dehydrated sweet potato peanut stew
  • Peanut sauce ramen with dried veggies
  • Ramen with beef jerky and dried veggies

Mediterranean couscous

Snacks

  • Fruit leather
  • Dried pineapple
  • Dried mango

 

Helpful hints: 

  • Using powdered substitutes can cut some of the weight for your meals. Powdered milk, powdered peanut butter, and powder cheeses are available at most grocery stores.
  • Make sure to use instant oats or grits, this will ensure your breakfasts cook fast when you add hot water.
  • Try to use thin grains like angel hair pasta, couscous, or ramen. These don’t need to be pre-cooked and dehydrated, they can simply be added to your vacuum seal bag raw and they will reheat within 10 minutes of adding hot water. If you use quinoa, however, it needs to be cooked and dehydrated in order to properly rehydrate.
  • Canned fruits and vegetables are a huge time and money saver, that way you don’t have to spend time chopping at the cutting board.
  • Please take care to do your research when dehydrating meats. This can get tricky and there are many different preservation methods and timelines to be aware of.

 

Granola Bars

Aside from dehydrating your own backpacking meals, there are other ways to make tasty treats at home to avoid purchasing overpriced snacks at the store. Granola bars are super simple to make – all you have to do is mix the ingredients and throw it in the oven to bake for 30 minutes. I use a base granola bar recipe and then add in different ingredients to create flavors. 

 

  • Peanut butter and jelly bar
  • Chocolate chip goji bar
  • White chocolate macadamia nut bar
  • Dark chocolate pistachio bar
  • Pumpkin bar
  • Chocolate chip date bar

Trail Mix

Trail mix is one of the easiest snacks to customize and make on your own. Not to mention, it’s a good source of proteins and sugars, two necessities that will keep you going on long hikes. Here are some flavors I’ve used before, and I can attest, they are all delicious:

 

  • Classic mix (peanut, almond, cashew, chocolate chips, dried cranberries)
  • Honey sriracha chex mix (pretzel sticks, chex cereal, peanuts, honey, sriracha)
  • Chunky monkey (cashews, peanuts, yogurt covered raisins, banana chips, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, coconut)
  • Chickpea cajun mix (roasted chickpeas, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, cajun seasoning)
  • M&M (peanut, almond, cashew, raisins, M&M’s)

 

No more coughing up cash to buy overpriced backpacking meals that you’ve had hundreds of times before. Making your own meals gives you the variety you need in life while out on the trail. 

 

What are your favorite snacks to make for the trail? Is there anything listed here that you’d like to try to make? I’d love to hear about it!

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Comments 2

  • Ruth Morley : Jul 8th

    I enjoyed your post. I too dehydrate my trail meals and snacks. I made all my own food for the full length of the AT the past 4 years. I did the first 3 years while eating a Paleo diet, so I even made several form of jerky. The final year I had switched to a healthier whole food plant based way of eating and enjoyed making my meals and snacks with veggies, fruit, whole grains, legumes/beans and a few nuts. I learned a lot from the website by the Backpacking Chef and his recipes in his two cookbooks. It takes a lot of prep work, but is so worth it on the trail. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Julia : Jul 14th

      So glad you enjoyed it, Ruth! I don’t think I’ll ever go back to buying backpacking meals again. I love how versatile your food can be if you make it yourself – there’s no limit – plus it is so much yummier!

      Reply

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