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Dehydrate Your Own Backpacking Meals

First, cook your meal. (Photos by Mary Reed)

When Lance Glasgow set out to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2006, he knew he’d need more than Ramen noodles and instant potatoes to get him through. “That’s probably okay on like a week hike, but longer than that, your body starts getting malnourished,” he says. So for several months leading up to his epic trek, Lance cooked two dinners and dehydrated one – for a total of 150 homemade, dehydrated backcountry meals. You can do it, too.

Get a dehydrator. A lot of people like the Nesco/American Harvest dehydrators, but anything that’s not too chintzy should work – make sure it has a functional fan and a temperature control. You can dehydrate food in your gas oven, but the results will not be as good. If you want to take it up a notch, try building your own dehydrator. The high humidity in the Ohio Valley makes a proper dehydrator a must.

Plan dehydration-friendly meals. “I was surprised at how little went wrong,” says Lance, who had no experience dehydrating food before beginning his drying fest. Still, some foods are better than others. “The best stuff usually had a tomato base, just your basic spaghetti,” Lance says, “I also did stuff like chana masala (and) stir fry.” Oily foods are more difficult to dehydrate. Single-ingredient snacks, like banana chips, are easy and a good place to start.

Size matters. Whatever you prepare, whether it’s spaghetti or a chicken breast, make sure to cut it into small pieces before placing it in the dehydrator. “Cut it much smaller than you normally would for a meal. It will reduce the time to dehydrate it and it will also reduce the time to rehydrate it,” Lance says. For example, if you’re preparing tofu, scramble it instead of cutting it into cubes.

Ready, set, dehydrate. To save time, try to dehydrate several servings of the same meal at once. Spread thin your meal on the dehydrator and turn it on. After dinner, Lance would turn on the dehydrator and then check on the finished product in the morning. “It shouldn’t be too greasy or moist, it should be brittle,” Lance says. (Here’s a dryness test on page 3). Lance suggests six ounces of dried food for a single serving. Store each meal in a resealable plastic bag.

Rehydrate at camp. At camp, fill your bowl with your dehydrated meal, then top it off with an extra inch of water above the food line, bring it to a boil and let it steep for 10 minutes. Be sure to rehydrate a few meals at home before trying it in the backcountry at the end of a long day – that way you can refine your meals ahead of time.