Updated: Mar 22
Making Great Dehydrated Meals for Backcountry Adventures
In Backcountry Eats, Kevin Ride demystifies food dehydration techniques and outlines everything you need to know to make your own dehydrated meals for backcountry travel.
Like the author, I was tired of prepackaged meals. Just the other day, I was in a store and saw that the "discounted price" is now $12.00 per meal. I have seen some priced at over $20.00 per meal! Many of these "meals" are advertised as serving 2 or 3 - but NOT active hikers or canoers. I routinely eat the full meal. Even at an average of $10.00, 3 meals per day would cost $150.00 PER PERSON for a five-day outing.
On top of the exorbitant cost, these prepacked meals are high in salt and additives. After the first day, everything starts to taste the same. Many people also complain about gastro distress after a few days. The ONLY benefit of these meals is convenience, assuming you don't mind eating out of a foil pouch.
Eating hearty and healthy in the backcountry shouldn't be a sacrifice! Note that "backcountry" is described by me and Kevin as any remote area beyond the day trippers. Excluding fly-in trips or horseback camps, the backcountry is not usually reached until you have completed at least one day of backpacking, bikepacking, or canoeing with multiple portages. In addition, self-propelled backcountry adventurers also face the necessities of limiting bulk and weight.
For all of these reasons, it has become increasingly popular to dehydrate foods to bring some "down home cooking" to the campsite. Electric, counter-top food dehydrators are now readily available. (See the Dehydrator Review article for my choice.) Most campers start by dehydrating individual ingredients, that is, vegetables, fruits, meats and then adding staples like noodles and rice. This "Individual Ingredient Method" is described in the operating instructions of every dehydrator.
Kevin writes, "I embraced the Individual Ingredient Method and ended up with a lot of ingredients scattered in my storage system. I often lost track of what I had and was unable to make some meals when I wanted them because I was missing one or two simple ingredients. Usually they just fell to the bottom of the freezer and were only temporarily lost. I thought that there must be a better way."
The logical alternative is to dehydrate an entire meal. This would produce a homemade variation of the expensive freeze-dried meals. A few through-hikers and backcountry explorers have posted articles and even produced cookbooks centered around this method. Kevin notes, "The Whole Food Method works just fine. Storage is easier to manage because you are storing a few meals rather than many ingredients. This method is also great if you want to use leftovers as your source of camping meals. But because the food is dehydrated at just one temperature each ingredient is not dehydrated optimally. You will often get ingredients in your meal that don't rehydrate as well as others and you might find some ingredients to be a little tough when you are eating your meal. Also, if you are using leftovers, you may be including some fats which will cause the meals to spoil earlier."
This was exactly my experience with dehydrating complete soups, stews, and one-pot meals. Half the food was overcooked and the other half was undercooked. Some was mush when rehydrated and the rest was chewy. (Fruits and vegetables need to be dehydrated at 135-degrees, while meat dehydrates optimally at 160-degrees.) I'm not a "foodie" but I like a satisfying meal at the end of a long day of outdoor activity!
Then I stumbled onto one of Kevin's YouTube videos and found what I had been searching for! (Check out "Kevin Outdoors" on YouTube for more great content!) He describes the video: "My goal was to show the viewer how to dehydrate almost any recipe. In that short video I introduced a hybrid of those two methods that at the time I hadn't seen done before."
Simply, the "Hybrid Method" involves dehydrating the complete meal MINUS the meat, which is dehydrated separately. Then the meal is packaged: typically with 2/3 base and 1/3 meat - assuming this is not a vegetarian recipe. Preparation in camp usually requires only covering the meal with boiling water, then setting it aside for about 15-minutes to rehydrate.
Thankfully, Kevin is not only an avid explorer, he is also a GREAT cook! He shares his motivation, "I get excited about making quality meals in the backcountry. I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I bring friends or family on a backcountry trip and they enjoy a great meal at the end of a long day."
After more than 20 years of backcountry experience, Kevin has now compiled and published Backcountry Eats. "This book is about making food, but the real objective here is to help others access and enjoy the backcountry. This book is intended to help you to up your game with backcountry cooking and enrich your backcountry experience."
Kevin is no slouch in the kitchen! In fact, he has intentionally taken a "hard-core cook from scratch" perspective on his recipes. He makes all his sauces and bases from fresh, whole foods. You might find that some of these recipes will become your new, home-cooked favorites! But the reader is encouraged to make substitutions with prepared foods and add or subtract ingredients to appeal to individual tastes. Vegetarians will also be pleased to find that over half of the recipes are vegan. Obviously, meat can be added to vegetarian recipes to satisfy us carnivores.
I wholeheartedly endorse and recommend the "Hybrid Method" that Kevin has perfected as well as his masterpiece book, Backcountry Eats. Backcountry Eats includes over 100 dehydrated recipes for satisfying one-pot meals, plus extras like fruit leathers, jerky, granola bars and baking breads. Please follow the links to order either the Kindle Ebook version or your deluxe, full-color 236-page paperback edition.
PS. Besides meal preparation, Backcountry Eats also includes complete discussions on meal planning, stove options vs open fires, cooking pots and pans, plus protecting your food from animals. Appendices are also included with recipe conversion charts, ingredient ratios, and even helpful knots!
You will MORE than get your money's worth! Order HERE. You will also be supporting Kevin and the self-publishing niche.