Easy Backpacking Meals – Dehydrated Food Explained

Easy Backpacking Meals – Dehydrated Food Explained

In average you burn around 350kcal per hour when hiking with a heavy load. When adding altitude, technical difficulty and long distance this number grows drastically.

To reach your goal proper nutrition and hydration is essential.

In today’s article I explain what dehydrated food is, crash the “unhealthy” myth and show you different options you have for your easy backpacking meals.

Get the FREE Simple and Effective Backpacking Meal Planner!


Warm Backpacking Breakfast Ideas for Cold Mornings

Learn how to quickly and effectively take care of blisters and treat them like a pro.

Cosmic Beginnings

Canned food was a king of backpacking and hiking food in the 80’s. Spam, canned fish, strange rise mixtures created a typical mountain menu. Dry sausage and pickles were the cherry on the cake. The only unchanged classic is chocolate - all time favorite.

Food in a can was nothing strange back in the days - even well known Himalaya climbers were enjoying these type of meals. Everyone wanted to eat like back home. Who would have thought that next century brings a revolution to outdoor meals in a shape of lyophilized or sterilized food. This new technology of preparing food changed the world of backpacking and climbing forever

Dehydrated (or lyophilized) meals had its beginning in US army - only later were they introduced to general public. World War II battlefields were a testing ground for dehydrated meals. US army pioneered in using the lyophilization technology on a mass scale. At the beginning it wasn’t about the food - main focus was blood plasma and its quick and easy transportation to the battlefield.

Easy Backpacking Meals – Dehydrated Food Explained

In the 60’s dehydration process was widely used to conserve food for astronauts. Pioneer testers was a crew of orbit station Skylab (May 1973 - June 1979). High costs of production were the reason why “civil” use took so long. After improving and optimising the process in the 90’s, lyophilized food was introduced to wide public consumption.

Cold as Ice

Most industry dehydrated food is made during the lyophilization process. This is quite a complex process of drying by sublimation - in other words it’s freezing out the water out of the food.

To understand the whole thing let’s have a look into more details.

Firstly food is frozen in a temp. between -50C abd -80C (-58F and -112F). Such low temperature freezes the food but, what’s more important, it kills any bacteria or mould which could destroy it. Then, to start the sublimation process, the surrounding pressure is gradually reduced allowing “frozen water in the material to sublimate directly from the solid phase to the gas phase“. Next stage is gradually providing heat and removing the excess of steam. The end effect is a powdered, non-chemically preserved product. The most important thing here is that it still contains all the nutrients. Lastly such food is packed in a airtight, durable pouch.

Unlike producing freeze dried food, preparing it takes little effort. It’s enough to cook some water, pour it into a pouch, seal it and wait for a given amount of time. Your dried, easy backpacking meals can also be prepared in your pot. Just remember to use a lid and preferably a pot cozy to keep your food warm.

Easy Backpacking Meals – Dehydrated Food Explained

Stereotypes

The word, lyophilized or freeze dried doesn’t really sound encouraging - it kinda makes you want to think of laboratory more than of a nice, outdoor meal.

Many people still believe that dried meals aren’t nutritious at all or that they’re unhealthy. Why is that? Freeze dried food has been wrongly put in the same box as instant soups and all that crappy meals with lots of additives.

Let me clear some things up.

First of all let’s answer one question - does dried, easy backpacking meal taste as good as homemade food? Most definitely not - nothing can beat freshly made, home cooked dinner. Lyophilized meals have their own specific taste to which you have to get used to but they have nothing to do with artificially boosted food. Each freeze dried meal is prepared from fresh, quality ingredients and is preserved due to its preparation process not chemicals. So let us not follow wide spread, untrue stereotypes.

Easy Backpacking Meals – Dehydrated Food Explained

Also there is nothing to be worried about when it comes to nutrients. Dehydration prevents nutrients’ loss - 95% of food’s vitamins, protein and minerals as well as color, shape, smell and taste stays the same. Freezing and water removal kills all possible substances that could cause your food to turn bad. Additional advantage of this process is really long shelf life - which is even more amazing when you think it’s been preserved using no chemicals.

Alternatives

Freeze dried food is a great option when it comes to eating in the outdoors. It’s easy to prepare, light, nutritious and it tastes good. However tastes differ and not everyone has to be a fan of this type of food.

Fortunately there are couple of other options to consider:

Sterilized food - the secret to long shelf life of these meals is again the production process. In order for food to be sterilized it is exposed to very high temperatures exceeding 100C (~212F). Leaving food in such a hot environment kills all possible microorganisms. Next step is rapid cooling which serves preserving as many vitamins and minerals as possible. Treated like that your meal is packed into an airtight and durable pouch. Sterilized food looks and tastes very similar to your home cooked dinner. With shelf life of around 3 years it’s a good alternative for freeze dried meals. The only downside is that this type of food is heavier that dehydrated option and less packable.

Home dehydration - another good alternative is dehydrating your meals yourself. To do that you need to have a dehydrator and good amount of time and knowledge. After initial investment it can be more cost effective than buying ready made backpacking meals. Self dehydrated food is exactly what you want it to be - you decide what and how you cook it. You decide the taste, no surprises. The downside is that you really need to invest your time in preparing your meals and need to know what you’re doing.

“Niche” food - what I mean by niche are the the small companies producing easy backpacking meals. They’re worth mentioning for they produce food quite different from the big, mainstream options. Their meals are interesting and diverse. They’re really worth trying especially if you like your outdoor meals to be of a better quality.

How to Choose?

After you know what freeze dried food is and how to prepare it the next step is to choose your favorite, easy backpacking meal. This can be little intimidating as there are really quite a few options out there.

Below I prepared a small table to give a quick and easy look into the existing offer:

Name

Most Popular Meal

Rating

Price (pouch)

Mountain House

Beef Stroganoff with Noodles

from ~$6

Good To Go

Thai Curry

from ~$7

Campfire Meals

BBQ Beef & Rice

from ~$8

Backpacker's Pantry

Pad Thai

from ~$4

Paleo Meals To Go

Summit Savory Chicken

from ~$11

AlpineAire

Leonardo da Fettuccine

from ~$8

OMEALS

Mexican Style Chicken Stew

from ~$8

Wise Company

Cheesy Lasagna with Meat

from ~$7

Bannock Outdoors

Savory Beef Stroganoff

from ~$8


Freeze dried meals are a great option for your outdoor food. With so many available variations and options you will definitely find something for yourself. A nutritious, good tasting meal is one of the best things you can give yourself at the end of a hard hiking day. Whether self made or bought a hearty backpacking meal will keep you powered up for your adventures.

Get the FREE Simple and Effective Backpacking Meal Planner!


Warm Backpacking Breakfast Ideas for Cold Mornings

Learn how to quickly and effectively take care of blisters and treat them like a pro.

OVER TO YOU - WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE, EASY BACKPACKING MEALS? WHAT DO YOU EAT ON YOUR ADVENTURES? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS, TWEET ME OR WRITE ME ON FACEBOOK!

In average you burn around 350kcal per hour when hiking with a heavy load. When adding altitude, technical difficulty and long distance this number grows drastically.
To reach your goal proper nutrition and hydration is essential.

Meet the Author

Trail Maiden i.e. Karo is an optimistic outdoor fanatic. She has founded trailmaiden.com to share her knowledge and experiences with all the nature loving hikers out there. When not hiking she's planning her next trip or her next tattoo but knowing her it's probably both ;)

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