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Advanced Freezer Bag Cooking for Non-Foodies

Dehydrating Ratatouille

In a few weeks I'll be taking one of the longest backpacking trips I've ever been on, a 9 day, 130 mile trek through the 100 mile wilderness and Baxter State Park to Mt Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. There isn't any real way to resupply along the way, so I'm planning on carrying all my food for the duration of the trip with me. Normally, that would amount to about 2 lbs of day of food per day or close to 18 lbs total of food alone, bringing my total pack weight including gear, water, and fuel to around 35 lbs. That's a lot more total weight than I normally carry on section hikes, so I've started dehydrating the hot meals that I plan to bring in order to cut down their weight.

Dehydrating your food is an incredible way to add variety to your backpacking menu and improve the quality and quantity of food that you can bring along on strenuous hikes. Although, I've been into Freezer Bag Cooking for a few years, I'm a recent convert to dehydrating my own food and can't believe that I've only just tried it.

With just 3 weeks to go, I've been cooking and dehydrating food like crazy all weekend: the top photo is a picture of the Ratatouille I made Sunday morning. I've decided to dehydrate both my breakfasts and dinners, in order to reduce the bulk of the food that I need to carry. Normally, I eat granola for breakfast on shorter trips but it takes up a lot of room in my bear bag. So, on this trip, I'll be dehydrating breakfasts made from root vegetables, rice, and fruit, which compress down incredibly small.

Dehydrated Backpacking Meals

To put the weight and compression factors of dehydration into perspective, here are two bags of food that have been dehydrated. The bag on the left is a white bean and artichoke dip recipe from One Pan Wonders. Before dehydration, the ingredients weighed about 30 oz. After dehydration, they weigh 5.4 oz. The bag on the left contains a green pepper, red pepper and onion medley. Before dehydration, the ingredients weighed 32 oz. After dehydration, they weigh, 2.4 oz.

A 9-day Backpacking Menu

Here's a look at the menu plan for my 100 mile wilderness trip which includes recipes from trailcooking.com, one pan wonders, and backpackingchef. They're all pretty easy to make if you have a good dehydrator and a little patience.

DayMeal Item


BreakfastRice Pudding
1Snack 1Ginger Cookies
1Snack 23 Pieces Large Toblerone
1LunchGouda and Crackers
1Snack 3Sunflower Seeds
1DinnerSpaghetti, Sauce & Hamburger/Veggies
2BreakfastPumpkin Bark and Raisins
2Snack 1Cranberry Almond Gorp
2Snack 2Ritter Hazelnut
2LunchGouda and Crackers
2Snack 3Black Licorice
2DinnerRica Canyon Spread and Rice
3BreakfastMashed Sweet Potatoes and Corn
3Snack 1Chili Spiced Mango
3Snack 2Snickers Bar
3LunchChorizo Sausage
3Snack 3Candied Ginger
3DinnerRatatouille and Brown Rice
4BreakfastBanana Nut Bread Pudding
4Snack 1Nut Mix
4Snack 23 Pieces Large Toblerone
4LunchJustin Nut Butter & Crackers
4Snack 3Dried Fruit Mix
4DinnerChicken Adobo (Rice)
5BreakfastPumpkin Bark and Raisins
5Snack 1Cat Cookies
5Snack 2Ritter Hazelnut
5LunchSalami and Crackers
5Snack 3Black Licorice
5DinnerSpaghetti, Sauce & Hamburger/Veggies
6BreakfastMashed Sweet Potatoes and Corn
6Snack 1Cranberry Almond Gorp
6Snack 2Snickers Bar
6LunchSalami and Crackers
6Snack 3Nut Mix
6DinnerRatatouille and Brown Rice
7BreakfastPumpkin Bark and Raisins
7Snack 1Nut Mix
7Snack 2Ginger Cookies
7LunchJustin Nut Butter & Crackers
7Snack 3Bulk Milk Chocolate
7DinnerPhilip's Chicken Curry w Rice
8BreakfastRice Pudding
8Snack 1Nut Mix
8Snack 2Dried Fruit Mix
8LunchChorizo Sausage
8Snack 3Bulk Milk Chocolate
8DinnerSpaghetti, Sauce & Hamburger/Veggies
9BreakfastBanana Nut Bread Pudding
9Snack 1Cranberry Almond Gorp
9Snack 2Cat Cookies
9LunchJustin Nut Butter & Crackers
9Snack 3Bulk Milk Chocolate
9DinnerRica Canyon Spread and Rice

Survival Skills for Non-Foodies

Although I am pretty new at this dehydration thing, here are some tips that I can pass along from recent experience:

  1. If you are not the foodie in your house (I'm not), or if you live with someone who considers the kitchen their domain, they will feel threatened when you take it over for a major dehydration project. If possible, avoid cooking and dehydrating food continuously for 2-3 weeks. You best bet is to build up a supply of staples in the off season and augment as needed for specific trips.
  2. Clean every kitchen gadget, utensil, and bowl immediately after using it. Otherwise they pile up and can become a real source of tension between you and a partner.
  3. My dehydrator sounds like a white noise generator and the sound can be irritating when it runs 24 hours a day. If you have the time, dehydrate your food at night when everyone is asleep.
  4. Siliconized parchment paper is an excellent substrate for drying leathers and bark made from wet ingredients. It conducts heat very well and makes it easy to peel the food from the paper after drying, or at the halfway point when you want to flip it over.

Pumpkin Pie Bark

That's all for now. I've got to get downstairs and cook up the next dish in my pipeline. I'll post the final weight of my food bags broken out by item, so you can see the benefits of dehydration and the variety, calorie, and weight trade-offs that I make before setting out.

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  1. Philip, thanks for the great post. I've been on the brink of purchasing a dehydrater for some time now for exactly the purposes you describe. Could I suggest a reader follow-up post on dehydration machine models, tips, known gotchas and how-tos? Thanks for sharing, always a good read :)

  2. Nice spread. I'm getting hungry just reading it!

  3. Brian – I'll be doing a detailed review of my dehydrator later in the week. In the meantime, check out Sarah's site at trailcooking.com. She has a good dehydrator 101 section. All this is her fault!

  4. Woo-hoo! I'll take the blame in this case ;-)

  5. Thanks Philip, I already follow Sarah on Twitter and her posts. I'll second that it's all her fault. I'm addicted to the point where the only way I can get more is to crack and buy a dehydrator – like you, I've already gone as far as I can with basic FBC. Oh and I believe I owe Sarah a blog post on making a Reflectix pot cosy for the GSI Soloist :)

  6. *cough* If we EVER get the second book finished (we just need a week of nothing else to get the last stuff done) you will get to see FBC in a new light :-D

    The second book was something I worked on for a long time. I had a lot of fun!

  7. All the veggie, fruit, grain items sound great. I'm leery of the dried hamburger and chicken though. Even cooked it seems like a great way to be able to eventually write a blog post about the delights of food poisoning on the AT. Good/bad experiences anyone?

  8. Hey there, I just finished my thru-hike of the AT, so if you have any questions about the Maine section, let me know! Be sure to stay at Shaws before you head out into the wilderness, and tell them 'The Dusty Camel' says hi

  9. Oh and make sure you go to the Appalachian Trail cafe in millinocket after katahdin and check out our name on the board there and get the breakfast burrito and try to sundae summit challenge!

  10. Sarah – I can't wait to see the next edition. I think I have a first edition copy of your first book – brown cover and you have a different last name.

  11. Hey there Ian. Yep, I'm starting at Shaws and counting on them for a shuttle back to my car.

  12. Couchmouse – I wish I had an answer for you about the safety of dehydrated meats. My strategy is to dry the heck out of them and to add them to my meals at meal-time instead of mixing them in at home, as a damage control strategy.

  13. On drying meat..that comes down to how a person feels about it. For example I am quite comfortable with using dried canned chicken – it is loaded with salt, as is jerky. These preserve it.

    Hamburger, cooked properly, defatted and dried at a fast high temp works well.

    But, with all dried meats you will want to cycle through them in 3 months or less and as well, store them tightly sealed in the freezer till trip time.

    What you need to fear most is fat going rancid – which is very obvious when it does.

    Or, to not worry….get freeze-dried versions or flavored TVP which in the "hamburger" form passes well for it. That stuff is shelf stable for years.

  14. I broke down this morning and bought some TVP beef bits at Harmony House Foods. I see what you mean about using them as a last minute FBC food supplier. I also ordered their dehydrated sweet potatoes and corn which will save me a lot of work this week.

  15. Your menu looks awesome! Yum!!! :)

  16. I really like the "beef" from Harmony – most people would not know the difference if not told!

  17. Philip, I just wanted to say thanks for mentioning my site and to wish you well on your hike through the 100-mile wilderness. Looking forward to hearing how it goes. Enjoy the sweet potato bark… and the view!

  18. Thanks for posting such great recipes! You should add more to your site – there are some really good meals and food dehydration tips on it.

  19. I've been thinking for a while now about getting a dehydrator, so your future post on that subject will be much appreciated. Good list there on the food as well – I am sure you've seen the BPL.com article on Groovy Bioic Cooking: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpacki

  20. Hendrik – I hadn't seen that post. Thanks for the link! I hope to get the dehydrator review written sometime this weekend. Been busy this week and I'm still dehydrating stuff furiously. Thanks for your patience.

  21. Looks like a great plan. Maybe I’ll see you on the trail — I’m also planning to do the 100 mile wilderness this summer and have been dehyrating for a few weeks now — have about 12 dinners done so far.
    As for the question about dehydrating meat – I make a pasta with meat sauce (tomato sauce with hamburger in it). I have no problems with this “keeping”. Kept mine in a cupboard (not even refrigerated) for 3 or 4 months last year and it was still good. Think the key is to really dehydrate it fully.

  22. I've been dehydrating food for a few years – last year hubby and I did 85 miles of the Northville-Lake Placid Trail in the Adirondacks in upstate NY, and it didn't take long to realize every ounce you don't have to carry is wonderful! Got our daily food down to 2.4 pounds (for the 2 of us). Instead of heavy gorp (nuts/dried fruits) we opted for beef jerky – Dried spaghetti sauce in the dehydrator (down to 2 oz vs 15)and bought 'corn pasta' with more carbs/energy. also dehydrated ground round – which was added to meals like beef stroganoff and dehydrated beef stew w/potatoes/carrots, etc. The key to dehydrating beef is to use very low fat beef, and cook it well – drain it – rinse it under hot water – and if you still see any fat after rinsing, cook it again and rinse it again – and dehydrated it on a high temperature – and when done put it in seal-a-meal bags and throw it in the freezer until you leave. Happy Hiking!

  23. Another great article with really helpful info. Also a helpful hint that the blue names are links and now I have found Sarah’s site and the backpacking chef site.

  24. Rice pudding for breakfast? Never would have thought of that – do you buy it premade or make it yourself?

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