Dehydrating Food for Lightweight Backpacking

It can work out quite expensive to buy freeze dried/dehydrated meals all the time for your outdoor adventures. Especially, if you are like me, and are frequently in the outdoors. In March 2017 I started to make my own dehydrated meals. They have turned out to be a huge success and actually taste better than the ones that you can buy. The batch I made in April 2017 lasted me for just over one year and in May 2018 I started the process of making my second batch. Because of the success from the two previous years, in May 2019 I began dehydrating food again for the next year.

The dehydrator, a Stöckli Dörrex, that I purchased came with three drying trays. I purchased three extra trays, totalling six trays, so that I can do more at once. I thought that this would cut down on the drying time. I later found out that this is not exactly true. The drying time is extended a little when you have more trays. But having more trays is more convenient as you can dry more at once; the drying time is just a little longer. The dehydrator can have up to 10 trays in total. I also use some silicone mats which are placed on the trays and stop the food falling down to the bottom of the machine. Some people use baking paper here instead.

I prepare separate ingredients. I do not cook the meals first and then dehydrate.

I do the meats first, boiling them first (not the tuna) and then drain, making sure that all excess fats are taken out in the process, and dehydrate (see below for further details). It is important that the dehydrated finished meat product contains a very low percent of fat. This will ensure a longer storage life.

For variety I decided to try salmon in May 2019. More oily than the tuna that I did the previous year. After 11 hours of dehydrating I had to admit defeat and conclude that salmon is not a great candidate for dehydrating. The finished product is too high in fat content. I’ll stick with beef, chicken and tuna for the best results.

Then I prepare the vegetables. I do onions, thawed and drained frozen peas, thawed and drained frozen corn, canned black beans drained, fresh red or yellow peppers diced, chopped tomatoes, carrots grated, leeks, broccoli etc. (see below for further details with drying times).

The finished product is roughly 120 grams including packaging. I first started doing about 160 grams and this was way too much. I was throwing away half of it. I am approximately 174 cm high and weigh about 74 kilograms just to give you an idea of my size. So if you’re a big eater then maybe you need to portion with 150 or 160 grams instead. I do approximately 25 grams meat (dehydrated), 40 grams vegetables (dehydrated), 35 grams of dehydrated rice (boiled first), couscous, bulgur mix, lentil mix or dehydrated potato (the last item purchased from the supermarket), 10 grams spices & 10 grams packaging.

Then I vacuum pack all the meals and leave them in the freezer until I need them. The vacuum packer I use is called a Status SV2000 and is a semi-professional model.

When out in the field, you just place the contents into your pot, mix with water, let the food stand for ½ hour if possible, boil, take off the heat and then place the pot in your DIY pot cozy for about 15 minutes.

DIY cozy for Evernew Ti Ultra Light Pot (0.9 L) 35 g
double walled DIY pot cozy

If I’m mixing with potato powder then I wait until the last step, when I place the pot in the cozy, before adding this ingredient. Then the simmering process in the cozy is all you need to cook the potatoes. Just make sure that you boil enough water with the meat and vegetables mix if you know you will be adding the potato powder.

Easy peasy.

Skåneleden Trail SL1 Sections 1 & 2
ham, vegetables and mash potato

————————————————————————————

Here’s a couple of the meals that I prepare.

I do the meats first:

Minced Beef – low fat variety (1 kg) will reduce to 20% // 7 hrs  at 70℃

Boil the meat. Break up the mince. Bring to the boil. Then drain it while pouring boiling water over it to get rid of all the excess fat.

Chicken (6 chicken breasts) will reduce to 20% // 6 hrs at 70℃

Do the same as the beef but cook for about 15 minutes. After that, first cut the chicken up a little bit. That will help it to cool off. Then take a couple of forks and pull the meat apart to create very small strands of chicken and eliminate any large chunks of meat. Once the chicken has cooled down, you can use your hands to break it down even further.

Tuna (6 cans) will reduce to 20% // 6 hours at 70℃, then another hour at 65℃

Buy tuna in cans in water, NOT OIL, has to be water. Take the tuna out of the cans and put in a bowl and try to break it up a little bit, just to make sure that there are no really big junks of meat. Makes about 240 grams.

I have also tried with ham as well (see photo above). Remember to cut off all fat.

dehydrated chicken & beef
Stöckli Dörrex dehyradtor here with 3 drying trays, 1 with chicken & 2 with beef

Then load up the trays in the dehydrator, set the temperature to 70℃ and look at it after 3 hours. Turn the meat over and check on how the meat is going. Rotate the trays at the same time as you do this.

Then place the meat into Ziplock bags, label them, and then keep them in freezer until you need them.

————————————————————————————

Dehydrating rice and pasta

  • cooked rice (packets of 15min rice from the supermarket) 6 hrs @ 70℃
  • cooked pasta (cooked and drained) 8 hrs @ 70℃

————————————————————————————

Dehydrating fruits and vegetables

Will take about 8-12 hours

  • thawed and drained frozen peas // 8 hrs @ 65℃
  • thawed and drained frozen corn // 9 hrs @ 65℃
  • onions diced small // 10 hrs @ 65℃
  • canned black beans drained // 10 hrs @ 65℃
  • fresh red & yellow peppers diced // 11 hrs @ 65℃
  • chopped tomatoes 8 hrs @ 65℃
  • carrots grated 9 hrs @ 65℃
  • leeks // 10 hrs @ 65℃
  • broccoli // 11 hrs @ 65℃

————————————————————————————

IMG_1270
Chicken curry with vegetables, black beans and rice

Chicken curry with vegetables, black beans and rice

  • dehydrated chicken 25 g
  • dehydrated onion
  • dehydrated red peppers
  • dehydrated peas
  • dehydrated corn
  • dehydrated black beans
  • dried garlic, chilli, curry powder
  • salt & pepper
  • dehydrated cooked rice 35 g

When packaging the meals start with 25 g of dehydrated chicken first. Then add the dehydrated vegetables 40 g and dehydrated boiled rice 35 g. Then add spices, about half a teaspoon ea. and 3/4 teaspoon of curry 10 g. The end product should be about 120 g or just over of dehydrated food including spices and packaging.

————————————————————————————

IMG_1302
beef & vegetables with pasta and tomato sauce

Beef with potato, rice or pasta

  • dehydrated beef 25 g
  • dehydrated tomatoes
  • dehydrated yellow or red peppers
  • dehydrated onions
  • salt & pepper
  • dehydrated potato, dehydrated cooked rice or dehydrated boiled pasta 35 g

When packaging the meals start with 25 g of dehydrated beef first. Then add the dehydrated vegetables 40 g and dehydrated cooked pasta or dehydrated boiled rice 35 g. Then add spices: oregano, chilli (about half a teaspoon ea. or 10 g total). The end product should be about 120 g or just over of dehydrated food including spices and packaging. If I will be using dehydrated potato or couscous then I will measure 35 g of the ingredient and place in a small Ziplock bag and place that bag with the meat & vegetables in the vacuum packed bag.

————————————————————————————

3
The vacuum packer I use is called a Status SV2000 and is a semi-professional model.

Tip – When I vacuum pack the portions I place the contents in a small freezer bag first, then wrap this up in some baking paper. This will ensure that the “sharp” pieces of peppers and meat (chicken) won’t puncture the “expensive” vacuum bags.

IMG_1323
A batch of chicken curry with vegetables, black beans and rice vacuum packed. These are the large 160 gram packets. I only pack about 120 grams now.

I wanted to make the dinners a little more exciting and varied in May 2018 and thus I tried to do as many different varieties as possible using potato powder, couscous and rice and the other main ingredients. I didn’t use any pasta this time. The pasta didn’t really appeal to me in the trail.

In May 2018 I spent the weekend dehydrating the ingredients ready for the next year’s hiking adventures. The first weekend in June 2018 I vacuum packed the food and produced 25 meals in total.

Here’s the result:

  1. Curry beef, vegetables and potato
  2. Chilli con carne beef, vegetables and potato
  3. Chilli con carne beef, vegetables and rice
  4. Red curry chicken with couscous and vegetables
  5. Red curry chicken with rice and vegetables
  6. Curry chicken masala with rice and vegetables
  7. Tuna, vegetables, couscous with broccoli and cauliflower white sauce
  8. Tuna, vegetables, rice with broccoli and cauliflower white sauce
1
This is the batch I made in 2018
Thy National Park
Photos on Flickr above – use the side arrows to view

Disclosure

Product(s) discussed in this article were purchased by myself from a retailer or manufacturer. I do not accept compensation or donated product in exchange for guaranteed media placement or product review coverage without clearly denoting such coverage as an “ADVERTISEMENT” or “SPONSORED CONTENT.”

15 Replies to “Dehydrating Food for Lightweight Backpacking”

  1. What a great and informative post Brian!
    Thanks for taking the time to provide all these info on dehydrating food for backpacking.

    Where we live, we have our on veggie garden and some animals and we eat mostly from our own produce. Therefore, most of the time, I have been preparing packages of lightweight food for my mountaineering activities.

    Now, is great to have some new ideas from your side.

    Well done and looking forward to more posts like this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Give it a go. Here’s another tip with the chicken; put it in your cooking pot with water when you get to camp while your setting up. That’ll give it a little extra time to re-hydrate sufficiently. Then after the simmering time in the cozy you will be good to go. The chicken is actually my favourite of the two meals.

      Like

  2. Thanks for these great ideas. I am just getting in to hiking again and have a lot of food allergies which means I struggle with commercial products. This will help me heaps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear that Vivienne. I’m trying new food items all the time, so don’t hesitate to explore. Almost anything works (but no fats). I just got back from a 3 day trip trying out my new recipes; they were a success.

      Like

  3. Hi Brian,
    Great post! I’ll have to give it a go drying the ingredients separately and see how it works compared to dehydrating the finished meal that I’ve done previously. How much water to do you add to a meal of approx. 100 gram?
    All the best,
    Maria / CurlyCamper

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Maria,

    When I get to camp, or before if I’m using my screw top Vargo BOT 700, I’ll fill to just above the food line or a little more. That should be enough to re-hydrate.

    Then when I’m going to heat I’ll add some more. How much depends on if I’m adding potato powder or if I’ve got couscous or rice. If I’m doing some mash potato then I’ll make sure there is enough water for that.

    Couscous and rice are re-hydrated with the meal from the start so it’s just a matter of checking after some time of soaking and adding as required. No matter what, when I heat the food then I top up with water so that it is just above the food line. I always prefer the meal to be more on the runny side than dry.

    And remember that I only bring the food to a boil and then cook a further 20 minutes or so in the cozy. That is why I always tend to have a little more water just above the food line.

    When the food is ready after cooking in the cozy it tends to be just right. So I can’t give you an exact amount; you just need to top up above the food line. 👍

    Make sense?

    Like

    1. Yep, that makes sense. Got a lot of trial and error to do this spring when it comes to dehydration and re-hydrating food. Also trying out different cooking systems. What kind of material did you make the cozy of?

      Like

      1. You can use one of those sun screens that they use in a car. I’ve done that a couple of times. You can buy from the hardware shop.

        However, a couple of years ago I ordered a 2 meter roll of Astro foil from the below camping shop. It’s a bit more heavy duty and so a little heavier but it does the job well. They use it to insulate under the carpet in outdoors areas. Isoleringsfolie – underlag til gulvtæppet i teltet/forteltet

        https://www.kg-camping.dk/webshop-campingudstyr/produkt/astro-foil-isoleringsfolie-bredde-1-22-pris-pr-meter

        Then you use some aluminium tape also from the hardware. Think I purchased from T-Hansen.

        Joe Brewer has done a really nice video on how to make a cozy here:

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.