Meet your new best friend for planning your backcountry menu: the food dehydrator.

Planning meals for a trip into the backcountry can be a daunting task. Fresh food doesn’t last long, canned food is heavy, and the prepared options contain preservatives to keep them shelf stable. Who wants sodium phosphate and yellow number 5 in their macaroni and cheese? With a little bit of planning ahead of time, you can use a food dehydrator to make homemade dehydrated meals that taste a lot better, are a lot cheaper, and better for you. 

You’ll first want to invest in a food dehydrator.  These guys run the gamut of anywhere between $35 and $500. This is all dependent upon the features like variable temperature setting, shape, number of trays, automatic shut off capabilities and brand. Choose a dehydrator within your price range and get started. No money to spend on a food dehydrator? You can use a conventional oven to dehydrate, but it takes a lot longer and commandeers your oven for hours at a time.

Once you’ve got access to a dehydrator, you’ll have to think about what kind of meals you want to eat and give yourself enough time to dry everything.  The higher the water content in something, the longer the dry time. Some veggies, like Kale, dry within hours; others, like bell peppers, can take up to 10 hours to dry completely.   If you’re going on a last minute trip, don’t plan on eating something that you’re dehydrating that night.  Some foods even need to be cooked fully or blanched in hot water before you can dehydrate them.

What kind of things dehydrate well at home and translate into tasty meals?

Veggies- Corn, peas, carrots, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans and potatoes

  • While fresh foods are best for dehydrating, you can throw frozen or canned mixed vegetables right onto a tray instead of spending time to wash, blanch and chop.  Only dehydrate things in their raw state if you would eat them that way. Carrots are great raw or cooked. Raw potatoes? Not so much.

Fruits- Apples, bananas, pears, pineapple, peaches, strawberries and mangos

  • The same principle for the freshness of veggies applies for fruit. Canned peaches dry well and make a great trail snack. Apple rings are an easy go to fruit for your lunches at home, and are a great beginner dish to try.

Meats- Lean meats like sliced ham, canned chicken, and seafood like shrimp and crab.

  • Meat can be a tricky one. If you’re making beef jerky you won’t need to precook it, but make sure that you dehydrate it at a temperature of 145 degrees or higher. Jerky will be done when it cracks when bent. Canned meats like chicken and tuna are done when they are flaky and dry to the touch. You’ll want to be sure the meats that you are using are extra lean, as the fat in dried meat is what causes it to become rancid.

Herbs and spices- Cilantro, parsley, sage, chives, lavender, etc. The options are endless!

  • Most herbs and spices have low water content. They take minimal drying time and don’t require you to do anything but wash, pat dry and throw them onto the tray until crisp. You can grind them in a food processor or coffee grinder to make a powder to season your meals.

Dairy- This one is best left to the pros.

  • Most dairy products are high in fat, which makes them unsafe and/or very difficult to dehydrate. But you can purchase shelf stable things like dehydrated milk and dried cheese from your local supermarket. Check the bulk food section.

Dehydrating your own meals is a fun and rewarding process. You’ll be able to save a little money and know that the food you’re fueling your body with is good for you. There are a variety of websites and books with more tips and recipes for what things go best together.  Check it out!

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