Benefits of Dehydration
Dehydrating your own backpacking meals is a great way to add variety to your backpacking menu, save money, and eat a healthy diet.
But those benefits aside, I’ve found that dehydrated food help with backpack volume reduction, weight reduction, and fuel savings. The fact is that dehydrated foods take up much less volume in your backpack. The weight of that food is also important of course, but if you need more volume, you’ll need a larger heavier backpack.
Weight reduction comes for free when you dehydrate most foods. Drying a cantaloupe, mashed sweet potatoes, canned beans, and other frozen or fresh vegetables yields unbelievable weight reductions because they’re mostly water. However, you derive a negligible weight benefit by drying cooked grains or pasta. For these foods, your savings come from reduced fuel, since you dehydrate these after cooking them. Not having to boil pasta for 10 minutes can save you fuel weight, since all you have to do is to re-hydrate it in a cozy, fbc-style with hot water.
Anatomy of a Dehydrator (L’Equip 528)
The L’Equip 528 Dehydrator is the Mercedes Benz of the dehydrator world, yet it’s surprisingly affordable ($125). It’s easy to use, fairly quiet, and elegantly designed. It also has a 12 year warranty. That alone makes this product stand out. I purchased mine on Amazon, but you can also find them in many cooking retail stores.
This is the first food dehydrator I’ve owned. I purchased it on the advice of Sarah Kirkconnell, author of Freezer Bag Cooking. She has a great post called Dehyrdrating 101 that I suggest you read before diving in.
This dehydrator’s design is pretty simple. There’s a base containing a motor, fan and 550 watt heating element. The drying temperature can be set from 93 degrees (F) to 158 degrees using a rotating dial on the exterior of the base.
The base model comes with 6 drying trays that are 17 inches long by 11 inches wide and provide up to 12 square feet of drying space. Additional trays, up to 20, can be stacked on one base unit, and are available for purchase separately.
Each tray comes with an additional fine meshed screen that prevents smaller foods from dropping to the lower level as they dry and shrink. In addition, the base model comes with two clear trays for making fruit roll-ups or drying extremely wet foods. These can also be purchased separately, but you can also use silconized parchment paper instead.
All of these components should be washed by hand and are not rated dishwater safe, but dried-on food is easy to soak off and cleanup between batches is pretty simple.
Here are a few tips to using the L’Euip that I can pass a long:
If you’re drying a wet food, like spaghetti, mashed sweet potatoes, or fruit, it’s best to dry it in two stages. In stage 1, line your trays with silconized parchment paper and put the food on it. Make sure to leave some space at the end of each tray for the hot air to flow up and between trays. After the pasta hardens up, remove it from the parchment paper and dry it directly on the mesh tray liners supplied by L’Equip. This will speed up the time it takes to dry the pasta and ensure that it’s properly dried all the way through.
If you plan on eating spaghetti sauce with pasta, mix them together before drying. When re-hydrated you’ll have a better outcome since each piece of pasta will be covered in sauce.
Rehydrating bark (pumpkin bark, shown here) produces a better, more uniform substance, if you pulverize it in a blender after dehydrating it on parchment paper. Dry as shown here, then peel off and transfer to a blender. Don’t store it too long before use or it will solidify into a hard lump.
Drying your food takes a lot of work and over time you’ll figure out that some unprepared or commodity foods are easier purchased than made at home. For example, Harmony House and Packit Gourmet provide an extensive and affordable selection of pre-dried fruit, vegetables, and textured vegetable protein. You still need to combine the ingredients into recipes and prepared meals, but if you’re in a rush or don’t have the time to prepare base ingredients, these folks provide a much needed shortcut.
I hope this post was useful. If you have any advice or comments about dehydrating your own food, please leave a comment below.
Written July, 2009. Revised March 2013.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
I am glad to hear you have been having a great time drying!
It's a lot of work. Toward the end I took your advice and ordered some dried sweet potatoes from Harmony House Foods and added a few Packit Gourmet meals to test. Dehydrating was fun though – like I said I learned a lot during this first mega blast and can refine that on some shorter upcoming trips in the autumn. Thanks for coaching me though this latest adventure.
EarlyLite, you're a genius. I've got a bit trip coming up in September, and have been frantically trying to work out how I will carry the food required. Dehydration could be my savior. The only problem is that I can't find a dehydrator in Tokyo, and they won't ship from the US – so, I made one from scratch yesterday. Foil lined cardboard box, and two 60w bulbs in the bottom. First batch is in there now – smells great, too!!
Fantastic! Sounds like you are the genius. Very creative. I am impressed.
On the food network, Alton Brown said to use a box fan on it's side with the food between two high quality furnace filters. (Not the fiberglass ones. If you did a bunch of dehydrating, it would still be cheaper to get a dehydrator as the good filters run around $10 each.
Glad to see you have come to the dark side of dehydrators :) had ours running recently to dehydrate some stew for this weekend, and hummus! I love dehydrating hummus :)
I have also perfected my yogurt in a wide mouth sig trick :) adopted from "A fork in the trail" with a homemade bubble wrap cozy I can get it to set up, down to about 55 degrees :) heh – not "ultra light" though, but great on a weekend hike with some granola!
I would love to eat yogurt and granola on the trail. You need to tell me how you do this.
Have you ever thought about using a vacuum sealer for your dehydrator meals and throwing in an oxygen absorber tablet to help these meals last longer? I'm wondering if that would be worthwhile.
People do that – I've thought about it, but I don't store my food long term.
Fun isn't it??! :)