Why I Dehydrated My Own Food

There are a few ways you can resupply food on the trail: buy as you go , mail food, or pick up food from a hiker box. There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to resupplying your food. Just do what feels comfortable for you- hike your own hike! 

For me, I am lactose intolerant and my body likes me more when I don’t eat soy or gluten. This makes buying food in some of the towns sound a little too risky for me, so I decided to do a combination of mail boxes and buy along the way. After some research, I’ve decided to make 11 resupply boxes and will stop in towns the rest of the time.

The Why

Since I am dairy, gluten, and soy-free, I decided to dehydrate and make my own dinners. There are very few companies whose meals meet all of my requirements and the ones that do are roughly $13-15 a piece. I was able to buy ingredients in bulk and save some money. 

Dehydrating was an interesting learning experience. This was my first time dehydrating backpack meals. To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to try any of them rehydrated yet, so I’ll update you along the way with how they taste. Let’s hope all of my research pays off and they turn out great! Worst case scenario, they taste terrible and I just have to suck it up and eat it to fuel my body or I toss it in a hikers box for another lucky person to have.

Dehydrating Equipment

Luckily, my dad already had a dehydrator so I put it to work over a 3.5-week period. It was an 80-liter commercial food dehydrator from Cabela’s. Having such a large size was very helpful because it allowed me to save time and do multiple meals at once. I purchased non-stick silicone mesh dehydrator sheets from Amazon to lay over the racks. The silicone sheets worked great for the majority of my food. When I dehydrated liquids I had to use parchment paper. Looking back I would have purchased the silicone fruit leather sheets because the parchment paper was a pain to mess with. Every meal was stored in a vacuum sealed bag with an oxygen absorber packet. The oxygen absorber packets might have been an overkill since there is no air in my vacuum sealed bags, but better safe than sorry.

80-liter commercial dehydrator

Vacuum sealed dehydrated meals

Dehydrating Process

There were two dehydrating methods that I used. Depending on what meal I made determined how I needed to dehydrate it. I mainly stuck to a vegetarian-based diet because beans, quinoa, GF oats, and nuts can provide a sustainable amount of energy. Plus I was skeptical about dehydrating my own meat. Some of the meals I made were minestrone soup, tortilla soup, spaghetti, BBQ black beans and rice, veggie rice bowl, quinoa burrito bowl, taco pasta, and white bean and spinach soup.

Method 1: Combining after dehydrating

With this method, I cut up each individual ingredient and dehydrated it separately. From my experience, this method is very time-consuming but does allow you to mix it up and combine different ingredients into a meal. For example, with minestrone soup, I dehydrated onions, celery, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, jalapeños, and beans all on different racks. These ingredients needed to be dehydrated at 135 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 hours (sometimes bell peppers took a little longer than other vegetables).  Once everything was fully dehydrated I would measure out each ingredient into a vacuum sealed bag. Then I added noodles, seasoning, and vegetable bouillon cubes to my minestrone mix before I sealed it.

Tip: cook rice and dehydrate it before adding to meals. Precooked dehydrated rice will be ready much faster than soaking uncooked rice.

Method 1: combining ingredients after dehydrating


Method 2: Prepare meal then dehydrate

This method is exactly what it sounds like. You will fully cook a meal as if you were getting ready to eat it right afterwards, but instead of kicking back to enjoy your meal, you’re going to dehydrate it. I used this method for my quinoa burrito bowls, spaghetti, white bean and spinach soup, and BBQ black beans and rice recipes. This method gives you a better idea of what your meal will (hopefully) taste like when you rehydrate it. It’s also a much faster method when you’re cooking in bulk. When doing individual ingredients it takes up multiple racks in the dehydrator versus having an entire meal on one rack. I highly recommend this method if your meals allow it!




Cooking Meals on Trail

There are two methods for cooking meals while on the trail. You can either cold soak or use your stove to boil water and cook your meals. Cold soaking is when you add water to your food and let it sit for a while till it’s ready. Although this isn’t the most glorious method it’s easy, quick, and gets the job done. Some people prefer this over using a stove. I plan to cold soak some of my lunches because I can strap it on my pack and let the desert heat warm it up as I continue to hike. For the majority of the time, I will be using a stove for my dinner meals.

Shipping Resupply Boxes

As I mentioned earlier, I’m shipping 11 resupply boxes. The majority are going to Oregon and Washington, but I also have a few in California. I packed breakfast, lunch, dinner, 4-5 snacks a day, energy chews, coffee, and electrolytes. I was hesitant to pack that many snacks because I know it sounds like a lot of food, but then I think back to all of the hikes I’ve done in Colorado and I am a snacker! My family will be shipping my boxes out for me.  I made a spreadsheet of locations and estimated times that I would need them.

I’ve read that it’s important to make sure your boxes are well marked so they’re easy to find when you go to pick them up. I printed out a stencil of my name and spray-painted it on each side, top, and bottom of my boxes. It took me about 10 minutes and it’s obnoxiously easy to find now!

Spray painted name for resupply box

Resupply box set up

Final Thoughts

Depending on how my meals turn out, I would definitely dehydrate my own meals again! It required a great deal of preparation, patience, and work but it was very rewarding. I know that I am putting good healthy whole ingredients in my body instead of a meal full of preservatives and words I cannot pronounce. Plus I saved a decent amount of money not buying store-bought meals. I’ll keep you updated on how they turn out along the way!

 

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Comments 1

  • Sam : Apr 11th

    I will be interested to hear how it turns out! I recently tested dehydrating some cooked beans and rice for much the same reasons as you and found that it worked perfectly at home but took a lot longer to “cook” at altitude. I was adding the food and water to a pot, heating it, then putting it in a pot cozy. I am thinking next time I might add the food and hot water to sealable container and let it soak a lot longer while I hike. Trail and error shall we say? Anyway, don’t forget to pack some extra spices and fats (healthy oils) and get some fresh fruit when you can. 🙂

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