Backpacking Food Dehydrator: Everything You Need to Know

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Are you planning a backpacking trip soon? Wonder how you’ll keep your food fresh and lightweight? Look no further than a backpacking food dehydrator!

This compact appliance can help you create nutritious and delicious meals for your outdoor adventures without weighing down your pack.

In this post, I will cover everything you need to know about backpacking food dehydrators. Learn how they work, the best foods to dehydrate, and much more.

backpacking food dehydrator with colorful vegetables on a table and red peppers on the dehydrator tray

What is a Backpacking Food Dehydrator?

A backpacking food dehydrator is a home appliance that removes moisture from foods. Because of this, dehydrated foods weigh less and take up less space. Since you have limited room in your backpack, dehydrated foods are ideal to take on your backpacking adventures.

Dehydrating your own food is a great way to ensure you have healthy and delicious meals on your backpacking trips. Additionally, you don’t have to rely on expensive pre-packaged meals or heavy, bulky ingredients.

How Does a Backpacking Food Dehydrator Work?

Food dehydrators work by circulating warm, dry air over the food. With an internal fan and temperature-controlled heating element, warm air is continuously circulated over, under, and around the food until it is dry.

Dehydrated foods have very little residual moisture, enabling long-term storage without spoilage. This makes dehydrated foods ideal for multi-day backpacking adventures.

There are two main types of dehydrators: stackable and box-style.

Stackable dehydrators consist of several trays that can be stacked on top of each other. They take up less counter space and are easier to store when not in use.

Box-style dehydrators are larger and offer more internal trays for drying food. They also tend to have more advanced features, such as adjustable temperature controls and timers.

No matter which type of dehydrator you choose, the process is simple.

  1. First, slice your food into thin, even pieces to ensure that it dries evenly.
  2. Then, place the food on the dehydrator trays, making sure that none of the pieces are touching each other. Most importantly, don’t pile on top of one another.
  3. Finally, turn on the dehydrator. Let it run for several hours until the food is fully dehydrated, checking periodically to ensure that the food is drying evenly.

image of the book Forking Good- a backpacker's guide to the art of dehydration and gourmet meal creation

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Benefits of Using a Backpacking Food Dehydrator

There are many benefits to using a backpacking food dehydrator for your outdoor adventures. Here are but a few:

  • Lighter Pack: Removing the moisture from your food makes it significantly lighter, making it easier to carry during long backpacking trips. In addition, it takes up less space in your backpack.
  • Longer Shelf Life: Dehydrated food can last for months, making it a great option for long trips or emergency preparedness. Also, it can be dehydrated well in advance of your next trip.
  • More Nutritious: Unlike traditional packaged backpacking food, you have control over the ingredients (packaged meals often include high amounts of sodium). As an added benefit, you can dehydrate fresh fruits and vegetables for more balanced and nutritious meal options.
  • Cost-Effective: Dehydrating your own food can save you money in the long run. Once purchased, a dehydrator lasts for years. You won’t need to purchase expensive pre-packaged meals for every adventure.

How to Use a Backpacking Food Dehydrator

Using a backpacking food dehydrator is a great way to preserve and prepare lightweight, nutritious meals for your outdoor adventures.

The basic steps to follow when using a backpacking food dehydrator are:

  • Prepare the food: Start by selecting the food items you want to dehydrate. This can include fruits, vegetables, meat, or even cooked meals such as casseroles. Wash and slice the food into thin, uniform pieces to ensure even drying.
  • Arrange the food on the trays: Lay the food pieces in a single layer on the dehydrator trays. Leave some space between the pieces to allow air circulation for better drying. Make sure not to overcrowd the trays, as it can hinder the drying process.
  • Set the temperature and time: Refer to the instructions provided with your specific food dehydrator model to determine the appropriate temperature and drying time for the type of food you are dehydrating. Typically, temperatures range from 95 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Start the dehydrator: Once you have set the temperature, turn on the dehydrator and allow it to begin the drying process. Ensure that the dehydrator is placed in a well-ventilated area to allow proper airflow.
  • Monitor the drying progress: Regularly check on the food throughout the drying process. You may need to rotate the trays or shift the position of the food to promote even drying. Keep in mind that different foods require different drying times, so monitor the progress accordingly.
  • Test for dryness: To determine if the food is adequately dehydrated, take a few pieces and allow them to cool. Check if they are dry, brittle, and free from moisture. Fruit slices may still be soft and pliable when fully dehydrated. If other food items are still soft or pliable, they need more drying time.
  • Cool and store the dehydrated food: Once the food is completely dehydrated, remove it from the dehydrator and allow it to cool thoroughly. Store the dehydrated food in airtight containers or resealable bags to maintain freshness and prevent moisture absorption. Because dehydrated meats may contain residual amounts of fat, long-term storage in a freezer is warranted to prevent the fats from turning rancid.
  • Rehydrate and enjoy: When you’re ready to eat, you can rehydrate the dehydrated food by cold soaking, adding hot water, or adding food items to the cooking process of meal preparation. I always write down the instructions required for each specific meal so that I don’t forget. Take note: rehydration times vary depending on the type of food being rehydrated. Meat generally takes the longest.

Remember to clean your backpacking food dehydrator after each use, following the manufacturer’s instructions, to maintain its performance and longevity.

By following these steps, you can effectively use a backpacking food dehydrator to prepare lightweight, shelf-stable meals for your outdoor adventures.

dehydrated backpacking food in bags on top of logs

Best Foods to Dehydrate for Backpacking

A backpacking food dehydrator can be used to dehydrate a wide variety of foods, allowing you to carry lightweight and compact meals during your outdoor adventures. Here are some common types of food that can be dehydrated using a backpacking food dehydrator:

  • Fruits: Fruits are excellent candidates for dehydration. You can dehydrate apples, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, and more. Dehydrated fruits make for tasty snacks or can be added to cereals and trail mixes.
  • Vegetables: Dehydrated vegetables can be rehydrated for soups and stews, or added to pasta and rice dishes. Common vegetables to dehydrate include carrots, peas, corn, green beans, bell peppers, and onions.
  • Meat and Poultry: Dehydrating meat and poultry helps preserve it and reduces weight. Thinly sliced beef, chicken, turkey, or even fish can be dehydrated. These can be used in meals like soups and stews or added to rice and pasta dishes.
  • Herbs and Spices: You can dry fresh herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, and cilantro in a food dehydrator. Dehydrated herbs are lightweight and add flavor to your backpacking meals.
  • Pasta and Rice: Cooked pasta and rice can also be dehydrated. Dehydrated pasta and rice can be rehydrated quickly on the trail by adding boiling water, making them convenient for backpacking meals.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds can be dehydrated to reduce their weight and increase their shelf life. They make nutritious and energy-dense snacks while backpacking.
  • Dairy Products: Dehydrating dairy products like cheese or yogurt is possible but requires special techniques and equipment. It may not be as common for backpacking, but it’s worth exploring. The Geez has dehydrated shredded cheddar cheese for years, using nothing more than parchment paper. I spread it out on the paper and leave it on the counter until air-dried.

Related Article: How Much Food Should I Take Backpacking?

Tips for Using a Backpacking Food Dehydrator

Here are some tips for making the most of a backpacking food dehydrator:

  • Choose the right foods: Not all foods dehydrate well. So, it’s important to select foods that are suitable for dehydration. Fruits, vegetables, tender lean meats, and herbs are commonly dehydrated for backpacking meals. Many dishes prepared at home, such as pasta, rice dishes, meatloaf, and casseroles dehydrate well.
  • Pre-treat the food: Some foods benefit from pre-treatment before dehydrating. For example, blanching vegetables in boiling water for a few minutes can help preserve their color and texture. Acidic fruits like apples can be dipped in lemon juice to prevent browning.
  • Slice food uniformly: Cut your food into thin, uniform slices to ensure even drying. Thicker pieces take longer to dry and may not dry evenly, leading to potential spoilage. In addition, thicker pieces take longer to rehydrate.
  • Arrange food properly: Place the food on the dehydrator trays in a single layer, making sure the pieces don’t touch or overlap. This allows air to circulate freely and promotes even drying.
  • Monitor the drying time: Different foods have different drying times, so it’s essential to keep an eye on the process. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines for approximate drying times. But be prepared for drying time differences based on factors like humidity and the thickness of the food.
  • Rotate trays: If your dehydrator has multiple trays, rotate them during the drying process. Move the top tray to the bottom, and vice versa, to ensure all the food is evenly dried.
  • Check for dryness: Food should be completely dry before packing it for your backpacking trip. Check for signs of moisture or flexibility in the food pieces. You can also do a snap test – if the food snaps easily instead of bending, it’s usually dry.
  • Store properly: After drying, allow the food to cool completely before storing it in airtight containers or resealable bags. Label the containers with the contents and date to keep track of freshness. Store in a cool, dark place to maintain the food’s quality. Meats can be stored in a freezer to prevent the fat from turning rancid.
  • Rehydrate properly: When you’re ready to eat your dehydrated meals on the trail, follow the instructions for rehydration. Some foods require soaking in water for a specified time, while others can be added directly to boiling water. Refer to the packaging, recipe, or written instruction for guidance.
  • Experiment and have fun: Dehydrating food for backpacking allows for creativity and customization. Feel free to experiment with flavors, seasonings, and combinations to create unique meals that suit your preferences. I have a dozen or so go-to meals for backpacking so I don’t have to put much effort into what to take. However, for each backpacking trip, I try to create a new meal entree. One of the joys of creating dehydrated backpacking meals is letting others in the group taste your meal creations.

Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific backpacking food dehydrator model. Temperature settings for properly dehydrating foods can also be found on the internet.

With practice and experience, you’ll become more proficient in using the dehydrator and enjoy the benefits of lightweight, nutritious meals on your adventures.

 Safety Precautions for Using Food Dehydrators 

 Food dehydrators are a great way to preserve food and create healthy snacks. But it’s important to take proper safety precautions when using them. Here are some tips for using food dehydrators safely:

  • Read the instruction manual before using the dehydrator. Make sure you understand how it works and what safety precautions you need to take.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before handling food or the dehydrator. Clean all surfaces that will come into contact with the food.
  • Make sure the dehydrator is clean and dry before using it. Any moisture or debris left in the dehydrator can create a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Use only food-grade materials in the dehydrator, such as silicone mats or food-grade plastic sheets. Do not use aluminum foil or any other non-food grade material.
  • Do not overload the dehydrator. Leave enough space between the food items to allow for proper airflow. Overloading can cause the dehydrator to overheat and potentially cause a fire. In addition, a dehydration term called “stewing” may occur. This is caused by the airflow being restricted due to the overloading. The outside of food items may appear fully dehydrated but their inside is still wet. Spoilage and food poisoning are possible if this occurs.
  • Check the temperature regularly during the dehydration process. Make sure the temperature is within the recommended range for the type of food you are dehydrating.
  • Store dehydrated food in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Label the container with the date of dehydration and use it within the recommended timeframe.

By following these safety precautions, you can safely use a food dehydrator to create delicious and nutritious backpacking meals and snacks.

Conclusion

A backpacking food dehydrator can be a game-changer for those who love to spend time in the great outdoors. The Geez has dehydrated all his backpacking food for over fifty years of wilderness adventures.

That being said, many time-consuming dehydrated foods are now carried in whole-food-type stores, making it easier to purchase instead of dehydrating. Now, foods such as OvaEasy scrambled egg crystals, tomato powder, and dried fruits are readily available, making my life easier.

The process of dehydration is easily understood. A raisin is nothing more than a grape that has been dehydrated naturally by the summer sun. Furthermore, by removing the moisture from your food, it will take up less space, is lighter, last longer without spoiling, and retains most nutrients.

With the right recipes and techniques, you can enjoy delicious and healthy meals on even the longest backpacking trips. Start your adventure into the world of dehydration and enjoy its many benefits.

FAQs

Can I use a regular home food dehydrator for backpacking?

Yes, a backpacking food dehydrator and a regular food dehydrator are one and the same. Standard food dehydrators are used for preparing dehydrated meals and snacks for both home use and backpacking trips.

 How long does it take to dehydrate food for backpacking?

Most foods dehydrate within 6 to 12 hours. The time required depends on the water content of the food, the size of the pieces, and the temperature setting used. Herbs and spices dehydrate rather quickly. Fruits tend to take a long time. You will want to experiment with different types of food to get an idea of how long it takes.

What types of foods can I dehydrate for backpacking?

Let your imagination run wild. If in doubt, just try dehydrating it. The Geez has even dehydrated frozen orange juice concentrate for making orange juice in the morning. My daughters loved that when they were young.

Are there any safety concerns when dehydrating food for backpacking?

Food safety guidelines must be followed when dehydrating foods. Clean all food surfaces prior to dehydrating. Pathogens such as E.coli are often present in uncooked foods  According to the CDC, raw egg products should never be dehydrated. In addition, meats must be fully cooked before dehydrating, using a dehydrator temperature setting of 160°F. Use common sense and stay safe.

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