6 Dehydrated Backpacking Recipes Worth Packing

After a long day of hiking, most of us have worked up quite the appetite. Although a five-star meal would be greatly appreciated, there’s often not a large choice of restaurants on the mountaintop. Dehydrated backpacking meals are the most convenient way to get your calories while you’re on the trail, but store-bought meals often don’t taste much better than if you decided to snack on your hiking boots instead. 

It’s so easy to make your own dehydrated meals for backpacking, and doing it for yourself means you can make them exactly how you like, more delicious and even more nutritious. There are so many options and tons of combinations you can try. Dehydrated backpacking meals are lightweight and space-saving, as the old adage goes, just add water. While backpacking, you don’t want to lose precious time cooking, but luckily dehydrated meals usually cook in 30 minutes or less, so they’re quick as well as convenient. All you need to do is add a few cups of boiling water, and you’re away. 

Dehydrating your own food is an excellent way to save money as well. It’s much cheaper to buy fresh ingredients and dehydrate them yourself. The food you’ve dehydrated yourself I can also be much tastier than what you’d get in the grocery store or ingredients bought off Amazon. Because they won’t have spent months sitting in a warehouse, homemade ingredients are far fresher, and there’s also the added benefit that you know exactly what’s going in your food. No nasty preservatives or other chemicals.

We recommend checking through your fridge about once a week, and if there are any fruits, veggies, or even meats that need to be used soon but likely won’t be, dehydrate them for future use. This way you can build up a store of ingredients, so you’ll have lots of choices for your next hike. Even preparing your own backpacking meals using store-bought dehydrated ingredients can be a big money saver, compared to buying ready-made meals at the camping store. Now you can put those extra pennies towards some new camping gear, perhaps a new backpacking knife

First, we’ll outline the basic different types of ingredients you can use, picking out the best ones for backcountry dining. Then, we’ll introduce some of our favorite dehydrated backpacking recipes, we encourage you to try them all, but they can also serve as a source of inspiration. Store-bought dehydrated meals can get monotonous and taste boring, but if you’re making your own, the only limit is your imagination. So get creative!

 

Campers eating during sunset.

Bring along and cooking dehydrated food on your camping trip is a great way to reduce the weight in your backpack.

 

Getting your carbs and forming a base

The base of any good backpacking meal is a strong carbohydrate. You’re looking for as many calories for oz as possible, to really make your meal pack an energizing punch. It’s also recommended to use carbs that will rehydrate without the need to boil water for longer than a minute, to help conserve your fuel. Here are some options:

 

  • Couscous: This is one of the very best options you have for backcountry meals. On a hot day, you can even cook the couscous without any need for heating at all, simply add water, cover, and leave in the sun for 20-30 minutes. 

 

  • Instant rice: Like couscous, it’s possible to rehydrate instant rice with cold water, but the results are much better if you can heat up the water to a simmer.

 

  • Potato flakes: A popular choice for backpacking meals, potato flakes are incredibly versatile and can go with a variety of flavors

 

  • Rice noodles: Also fast cooking, and a great choice if you want a bit of texture.

 

  • Macaroni: Small and thin pasta shapes, like the macaroni from mac and cheese boxes, can be cooked adding them to boiling water, turning off the heat, and waiting 5 to 10 minutes.

 

Seasoning and flavors

The next thing you want to consider is flavor and seasoning. With most store-bought camping meals tasting like something close to cardboard, this is where you can really go all out and make your backcountry meals delicious. 

 

  • Seasoning mixes: A simple store-bought seasoning packet can go a long way combined with the right ingredients. Why not check out your local Asian grocery store, where you can find backcountry blessings such as powdered coconut milk and instant meat broth used for pho- much better than bouillon cubes. 

 

  • Spices: Your spice cabinet is full of flavor, and there’s no reason not to sprinkle a little into your hiking meals. They weigh next to nothing and can make a big difference in the level of enjoyment you get from your dinner. 

 

  • Curry paste: Add it to instant rice for a backcountry flavor sensation.

 

Vegetables and nutrition

The hardest element when preparing dehydrated backpacking meals is getting some vitamins and nutrition in there. Vegetables are heavy, so look for those which have already had their water weight reduced. Sun-dried tomatoes and dried onions make a great choice and a tasty one at that. If you’ve got the cash, online retailers have almost every vegetable you can think of available in dehydrated form, and Trader Joes have a great selection of dried ingredients too. 

 

Calories and fat

When adding oil to your backcountry dinner, you really can’t go wrong. The easiest option is olive oil, just take some in a disposable plastic bottle, don’t bother with the heavy glass. There are plenty of other options too, anything with a high-fat content will do. Just remember your food should be cooked in the water first before you add your oil. You could even try some powdered parmesan for a cheesy twist. 

 

Protein

If you’ve been hiking all day, the likelihood is that you’ll have been snacking on some delicious high protein goodies, like trail mix, and beef jerky. It’s not necessary to add more into your evening meal, but if you’d like to incorporate it, there are a few options. Dehydrated beans in any form are a healthy and delicious way to add some protein to your backpacking meal, or why not try bacon bits, available in most grocery stores. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can give dehydrated ground beef a try.

When you’re preparing your meals for the road, all you need to do is combine all the ingredients except the oil into a ziplock bag. Once you reach your destination, add the water straight in, and cook accordingly, then all that’s left is to add in the oil, and Bon Apetit! 

 

A hiker on a steel bridge.

Choosing what types of food to bring along when camping is pivotal to staying energized while on your trip.

 

How to dehydrate your own food at home

Dehydrating your own food is a great step towards making delicious backpacker meals. It’s best to use a specialized dehydrator, but it can also be done using your oven. Dehydrated food is much lighter and easier to transport, making it an ideal meal or snack solution. Making your own backpacking food is easy, with DIY fruit leather being an excellent snack to keep you going. 

The secret to successfully dehydrating food is doing it at a high enough temperature to get rid of all the water, but not so high that the food cooks. Moisture usually makes up 60-90% of a food’s weight and is what allows food to degrade or go bad. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables make the very best dehydrated foods, drying best between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Before drying veggies, we recommend blanching them slightly, this will help preserve the flavor, color, and texture, however, don’t do this with tomatoes, onions or mushrooms. 

Meat can either be cooked and then preserved, otherwise made into jerky. It dries best at 145 degrees or higher and should be dry and flaky when it’s finished. Save time and fuel by cooking rice and pasta while you’re at home, and then dehydrating. This way, your carbs will cook much faster and easier once you’re on the trail, just rehydrate them with warm water. 

For storage, keep your DIY dehydrated ingredients in airtight containers in a cool, dry, dark place. Fruits and vegetables can last up to a year, whereas dried meats can be kept from 2 weeks to a month. Refrigeration will help extend the shelf life of both.

 

Our top 6 favorite dehydrated backpacking recipies

 

1. Beef or mushroom stroganoff

 

You will need:

  • 1/2 cup noodles
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated ground beef (or dehydrated mushrooms for a vegan option)
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated vegetables (onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers are recommended)
  • 1 tbsp powdered milk (or coconut milk powder for the vegan version)
  • 1 tsp tomato powder
  • 1 tsp mushroom powder (make it yourself by simply grinding up dried mushrooms)
  • 1/2 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cup water, to rehydrate

 

Preparing the meal:

  • Cook the noodles according to the package instructions, then drain and rinse with cold water. Dehydrate at 115 degrees overnight, until completely dehydrated
  • Combine the powdered ingredients in a separate small bag, this is the sauce mix
  • Combine the noodles, veggies, ground beef (or mushrooms) in a larger plastic bag, and store the smaller sauce packet inside.

 

On the trail:

  • Add all the ingredients except the sauce mix into your pan, and let it soak for 5 minutes.
  • Then, light your stove, and bring to a boil for 2 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat, and stir in the sauce mix.
  • Cover, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.
  • Enjoy!

 

2. Chickpea and spinach curry

 

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup dehydrated cooked basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 2 tbsp coconut milk powder
  • 1 tbsp spinach powder or 1 handful of dehydrated spinach
  • 1/2 tsp mild curry powder (or curry paste)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup water for rehydrating

 

Preparing the meal:

  • Combine all the ingredients (except water) in a zip lock bag. It’s that easy. 

 

On the trail:

  • Add the mixture to your pot with 1 cup of water.
  • Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Enjoy!

 

3. Kale mac n cheese

 

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp full cream milk powder
  • 2 tbsp freeze-dried mozzarella cheese, powdered
  • 1 tbsp kale powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of pre-cooked and freeze-dried pasta shells
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp ghee, or any other fat of your choice
  • 1 cup of water for cooking/rehydration 

 

Preparing the meal:

  • Mix the milk powder, cheese and kale powder in a small bag, this is your sauce mix
  • Pack the pasta and ghee separately

 

On the trail:

  • Pour the pasta and water into a pot
  • Bring to a boil and add the salt
  • Remove from the heat
  • Stir in the sauce mix
  • Add the ghee or your chosen fat and combine well
  • Enjoy!

 

4. Mexican chicken or black beans, with rice

 

You will need:

  • 1/2 cup instant rice
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated chicken or dried black beans (vegan version)
  • 1/4 cup dried veggies (we recommend using onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and corn)
  • 2 slices dried jalapeno peppers (optional, but adds a healthy kick)
  • 1 tbsp powdered milk (or coconut milk powder for the vegan version)
  • 2 tbsp powdered cheese (1 tbsp nutritional yeast and 1 tbsp powdered cashews for vegan version)
  • 1 tsp tomato powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp taco seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/4 cups water to rehydrate

 

Preparing the meal:

  • Combine all the powdered ingredients in a small plastic bag, this is your sauce mix
  • Add the rice, veggies, and chicken (or black beans) in a larger bag, put the sauce mix packet inside too.

 

On the trail:

  • Add all the ingredients except the sauce mix to your pan (with the water) and leave it to soak for 5 minutes.
  • Light your stove, and bring the pan to a boil for 2 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the sauce mix.
  • Cover, and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • Enjoy!

 

5. Spicy Fried rice with Thai basil

 

You will need: 

  • 1 cup instant rice
  • 2 tbsp dehydrated onions
  • 1/2 cup mixed veggies
  • 1 pinch of dried Thai basil
  • Seasoning of choice- we recommend chili powder, garlic powder, and cilantro
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups of water for rehydration/cooking

 

Optional extra ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup dehydrated bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup bacon bits
  • 1/4 cup crumbled dry mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup freeze-dried eggs

 

Preparing the meal:

  • Mix together all the ingredients except olive oil, and add to a zip lock bag

 

On the trail: 

  • Boil the water and add in your ingredients.
  • Stir well, cover, and wait 5-6 minutes
  • Add in the olive oil
  • Enjoy!

 

6. Tomato and seafood chowder

 

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp tomato sauce powder
  • 1/4 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1 tsp fish seasoning
  • 1 tbsp dehydrated shrimp
  • 1 tbsp dehydrated canned mussel
  • 1 tbsp imitation crab meat
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/4 cups of water for cooking/rehydration

 

Preparing the meal:

  • Simply combine all of the ingredients (except the water of course) in a medium-sized ziplock bag. 

 

On the trail:

  • Add the dry soup mixture into a pot with the water and stir well.
  • Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat and stir occasionally, cooking for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and cover. Let it stand for 5-10 minutes to rehydrate fully
  • Enjoy! 

 

So there you have some of our very favorite backcountry recipes. These are just a small selection of the many meals you could try on your next hiking trip. There’s no need for your meals to be monotonous anymore, they should be just as tasty as what you eat at home.

To save on washing up, one tip is to add your water and ingredients together inside the ziplock or freezer bag and eat it straight from there. However, you should never put plastic bags directly on any heat. 

 

Final Verdict:

Making your own dehydrated backpacking foods is both an excellent way to save money and make your hiking trips more delicious in general. There are endless combinations of meals, if you’re looking for inspiration, think about your favorite meals to eat at home. For most of them, with just a little effort you’ll be able to DIY your own backcountry version. 

Store-bought freeze-dried meals are often boring and expensive, and you’ll struggle to find anything resembling a vegetable. Instead, you now have plenty of options for high energy, high nutrition backpacking meals. 

If you’re looking for a new destination, to mix up your regular camping trips, why not read about some of the best camping spots in Michigan. We recommend settling down next to one of the Great Lakes, and enjoying some Kale Mac n Cheese in front of that spectacular view! Now you’re well prepared for any camping or backpacking trip, with tons of nutritious meal and snack options, you can concentrate on spending some quality time in nature. 

 

If you need any help dehydrating your own food, use this handy video guide:

 

 

 

Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.