Dehydrating Ingredients for Making Your Own Backpacking Meals

Not only is dehydrating your own ingredients a great way to save money on backpacking food, it’s also a good method for controlling the quality of the items used in meals – as well as being able to tailor the taste of meals to your preferences.

dehydrating shredded potatoes and green onions

Types of dehydrators

When purchasing a dehydrator, there are many options to consider, including the type of dehydrator, features to consider, and overall cost. 

If you are just getting started and don’t want to spend a lot, a round dehydrator with stacking trays is a good option. For this type of dehydrator, I recommend the Nesco brand. On most round dehydrators, the fan is located on the top, so the trays may need to be rotated during the drying process. Feature options include digital temperature and timer controls, and fans with varying wattages. 

Type of Dehydrators

I used lower cost, round dehydrators for several years but eventually upgraded to Excalibur brand dehydrators. I needed to be able to dry larger quantities of foods, and the square-shaped Excalibur trays hold more food than the round-style trays, as well as being easier to load and unload. In addition, the overall quality of dried food is much better with this brand. The fan is located on the back of the unit, which allows for more even food drying, and rotating the trays is usually not necessary. However, a lower cost dehydrator will be able to do a good job, so choose what works best for your budget.

Dehydrator Features

As far as features go, look for models with temperature control, preferably including a range from 95 degrees (best for delicate herbs and greens) to 155 degrees (best for jerky and meats). Unless you need a timer to be able to turn the unit off at a certain time, this feature is not as useful since drying times vary greatly based on many variables.

Silicone or plastic tray liners (also called fruit roll sheets) are highly recommended for drying foods with sauces or that have small pieces that could fall through open or mesh trays. I use these for most of the ingredients that I dehydrate.

Where to purchase

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Dehydrating Tips

Types of food that dehydrate well: Fruit, vegetables, beans, pasta, grains, rice and lean meats can all be dehydrated at home. Fresh fruit and vegetables can be dehydrated cooked or raw, while beans, pasta, grains, rice and meats will need to be cooked first, then dehydrated.

Foods that aren’t suitable for dehydrating: Foods with a higher fat content (including milk, cheese, avocado, and fatty meats) will tend to go rancid quickly so it is recommended to purchase freeze-dried products for these types of ingredients instead.

Food preparation: Cut ingredients into small, uniform-size pieces for the best results. To save time, pre-cut canned or frozen foods also work well for dehydrating. Spread ingredients evenly on dehydrator trays, preventing overlapping and leaving space around items for better drying. For sauces, spread onto a silicone or plastic tray evenly in a thin layer using a spatula.

Drying times: The amount of time it takes for ingredients to dehydrate can vary widely based on many variables, including: the humidity and temperature of the room; whether the food is fresh, canned or frozen; the size and shape of cut ingredients; and the type of dehydrator used. Dry all ingredients in the dehydrator until they are completely dry. This process can take anywhere from 4 hours to over 12 hours, and often means leaving the dehydrator running overnight. Since over-drying is not an issue, it’s better to dry food for longer timeframes versus under-drying and risking food safety.

Dehydrating Ingredients

Beans

dehydrating beans for backpacking meals

Pre-cook beans in a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or use canned beans. Beans should be fully cooked, but not mushy. Drain liquid before dehydrating. Beans will split when dehydrating, which allows them to rehydrate easier. Beans should be completely dry and hard after dehydrating.

Recommended temperature: 125 degrees
Approximate timeframe: 6-8 hours

Meat

dehydrating meat for backpacking meals

Lean meats dehydrate and store better than meats with fat, which can spoil or go rancid quickly. I prefer to make meatballs for use in backpacking meals instead of attempting to dehydrate chicken or beef. For meatballs, cut into 6-8 pieces for better rehydration. I also like to use canned fish such as salmon in backpacking meals. For salmon, drain canned salmon (packed in water, not oil) and break into small pieces, then spread into a thin layer on dehydrator trays.

Recommended temperature: 155 degrees
Approximate timeframe: 6-8 hours

Pasta

dehydrating pasta

It may seem counterintuitive to cook and dehydrate pasta since it’s already in dried form, but pasta that’s been pre-cooked will take much less time and fuel to cook on trips. Almost any type of pasta can be pre-cooked and dehydrated, but in general, I recommend using pasta that cooks in 8 minutes or less so it will rehydrate completely. Pasta should be fully cooked a few minutes past al dente but not mushy. After cooking, drain the pasta and rinse with cold water to prevent sticking together. Spread into a thin layer on dehydrator trays, or for long noodles such as angel hair pasta or spaghetti, shape into small nests.

Recommended temperature: 125 degrees
Approximate timeframe: 4-6 hours

Rice

dehydrating rice

While you could use instant rice in backpacking meals, it’s more economical and provides better nutrition when you pre-cook and dehydrate rice at home. For most recipes, I recommend basmati rice for the texture – it doesn’t clump or become sticky when rehydrated unlike other types of white rice. The thinness of the grains makes rehydrating faster too. For creamy risotto, pre-cook arborio rice in broth and spread thinly on dehydrator trays with a bit of the sauce.

Recommended temperature: 125 degrees
Approximate timeframe: 8-12 hours

Vegetables

dehydrating vegetables for backpacking meals

Fresh or frozen vegetables work best for dehydrating. While canned vegetables in general don’t work as well, there are a few exceptions such as capers, olives, artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers. Most vegetables are best dehydrated raw, such as green onions, carrots, peas, mushrooms, tomatoes, and zucchini. Vegetables that need to be cooked or blanched first include potatoes, broccoli and winter squash. I like to purchase frozen fire-roasted onions and peppers for dehydrating. Cut into uniform pieces or shred vegetables and spread in a thin layer on dehydrator trays.

Recommended temperature: 125 degrees
Approximate timeframe: 8-12 hours

Herbs & Greens

dehydrating herbs & greens for backpacking meals

Greens and herbs are a great addition to backpacking meals. To dehydrate, choose fresh herbs or greens and leave on the stem for drying. Wash and pat dry before placing on dehydrator trays. After they are dry, strip the stems off and crush or break into small pieces for storing.

Recommended temperature: 95 degrees
Approximate timeframe: 2-6 hours

Fruit

dehydrating fruit for backpacking meals

Dried fruit makes a great trail snack. Almost any type of fruit can be dehydrated, including apples, pears, bananas, peaches, berries, kiwi, melons and mango. Fresh or frozen fruits can be dehydrated. For fresh fruits, choose ripe but not overly ripe or mushy fruit. Cut into thin slices or small pieces for better rehydration. To prevent browning, lightly coat cut fruit with lemon juice before dehydrating.

Recommended temperature: 125 degrees
Approximate timeframe: 8-12 hours

Storing dehydrated ingredients

dehydrated ingredients

Unless you plan to use the dehydrated ingredients right away, proper storage will lengthen the amount of time they will keep. Store in an airtight container, such as a heavy duty plastic bag with all of the air pushed out (for short term storage), vacuum-sealed bag, or glass canning jars. For longer term storage, add an oxygen absorber packet to the container, or use a vacuum-sealing jar attachment to create an airtight seal on mason-type jars. Store in a cool, dry location, or in the freezer.

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