Figuring out what to eat in the backcountry is one of the more intimidating parts of backpacking when you first start. Pre-packaged dehydrated meals are expensive and still quite bulky, so it can be a little overwhelming to figure out what to eat. I assumed dehydrators were really expensive, and some of them are, but there are a lot of cheaper ones on the market and my life got so much easier when I finally bought one! I currently use one of these “cheaper” dehydrators, from Hamilton Beach. It has increased in price since I bought it, but it is still relatively affordable and often goes on sale, so I’ve found it to work great for the price, especially if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure you’ll use it much.
Unfortunately, purchasing a dehydrator was only have the battle and I still found it a little bit overwhelming finding good recipes after I got it. There are lots of resources out there, but they are often still a lot of work – involving either specialty items or a lot of steps. I toyed around with lot of different recipes and tried creating some of my own, but I have one big secret when it comes to easy dehydrated meals. Here’s what I think most people miss out on when dehydrating:
Stop trying to reinvent the wheel and start dehydrating all your favourite every day dishes.
Instead of dehydrating all your veggie and protein sources separately and then combining ingredients and spices, just make your favourite chili or rice dish and pop the entire thing in the dehydrator. Making a stew or pasta? Have leftovers from your favourite mexican or curry restaurant? Just put the whole thing in the dehydrator. You don’t even have to pack the pasta or rice separate, just dehydrate the sauce and pasta together and then you don’t even have to mess around with cooking 2 separate ingredients at camp!
Once I figured this out, I stopped using recipes for dehydrated meals altogether. Instead, I look for easy to cook meals that I like to eat at home and then just dehydrate those. You just need to try and stick to one-pot type meals and things that will dehydrate well. For me, that mostly means avoiding things with a lot of oil (as this won’t dehydrate) and good protein sources (you can dehydrate chicken, but it’s tricky and ground meats and beans will dehydrate better). When I find a good dish, my practice is to cook a double batch, share it with Seth for dinner and then dehydrate the rest. That way I know if it tastes good and I can piggyback off a meal I’m already cooking anyways.
The benefit to dehydrating the rice or pasta along with the dish is that it will save you time and fuel later. Pretty much any dehydrated meal will rehydrate with cold water. So if you let it soak for a few hours, the entire meal will be edible already and only require re-heating rather than cooking. This means you don’t have to boil your pasta for 10 minutes or cook your chili – as long as you soak, you can just quickly heat it and eat it right away. Plus then you don’t need to bring a second pot to cook the rice or pasta separately! It’s also great for quick lunches. I will often add a bit of cold water to my lunch at breakfast, let it soak while I hike, and then eat it cold for lunch (as long it’s a meal you don’t mind eating cold, like a pasta or quinoa salad). It involves no cooking or prep, but tastes a lot better then sliced salami on tortilla.
I’ve been experimenting with hydrated meals a lot this year and plan to share some of my recipes (or links to favourite recipes) as a series later in the year, but for now I just wanted to talk about how one-pot meals made dehydrating so much easier for me. It removed a lot of the stress about serving sizes and taste because I could eat some first and then dehydrate the same amount, rather than having to worry about dehydrating everything separately, assembling, and then hoping I got the level of spices right. So if you backpack a lot, I think getting a dehydrator is a great alterative to the expensive freeze dried meals and it didn’t take me too long to see a lot of value from my dehydrator. Plus I love how lightweight my food bag is as a result.