Dehydrating Your Own Backpacking Meals & Recipes (for Beginners)

We’ve all been there, wandering through the dehydrated meal aisle in an outdoors store searching for something we’d actually want to eat on the trail. Why not try dehydrating your own backpacking meals? 

It might seem overwhelming at first, but there are some really simple and delicious meals you can dehydrate at home for your next backpacking trip. Here are some beginner tips for dehydration and DIY backpacking meal recipes I love!

Text: How to DIY dehydrated backpacking meals. Images show a spoon in front of a campfire, a tray of food being dehydrated and a backpacking stove and pouch of food on the ground.

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Why dehydrate your own backpacking meals?

After years of trying different brands of store-bought dehydrated backpacking meals, I was left unimpressed. While they are better than they used to be, in general they leave me wanting more flavor or just aren’t meals that I would normally eat. Meals on the trail were a task as opposed to an enjoyable part of the experience. 

Dehydrating your own meals means you can have the flavor you want in meals you actually eat in normal life. Imagine actually looking forward to your meals at camp!

Overhead shot of my feet with socks and sandals, a dehydrated meal pouch and backpacking stove on the ground.
Store homemade backpacking meals in resealable foil pouches.

Dehydrating Your Own Backpacking Meals: The Basics

What equipment do you need when dehydrating your own backpacking meals? The main thing is the dehydrator itself. I use this dehydrator from Nesco and like that it allows you to expand to up to 30 dishwasher safe trays. This increases the volume of food you can dehydrate at one time. It also comes with several mesh screens (for smaller food pieces) and silicone trays for liquids.

Pro Tip: Looking for a more affordable option? Check Facebook Marketplace and other places where used items are sold. 

Aside from the dehydrator, the other item you will need is something to store your dehydrated meals in. Some people use freezer Ziploc bags and just add the boiling water into those on the trail. I prefer to use 1 quart sized Mylar resealable bags. They stand up easier than ziplocs, minimizing the risk of spills. If you want larger meals or meals for two, consider upsizing to a 2 quart bag. Many of these have the option to purchase with oxygen absorbers if you plan to store them for a long time. 

Pro Tip: Unless you have your own vacuum sealer, be sure to buy the Mylar bags that have a zip closure.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Minimize the use of fats/ oils when preparing meals for dehydration. They can cause the meal to go bad. If needed, bring a small leak-proof container of oil to add on the trail when preparing the meals. 
  • Search online or refer to the pamphlet that comes with your dehydrator to figure out the best temperature to dehydrate each item. This is essential to ensure items are properly dehydrated throughout, not just on the exterior. 
  • “Cold soak” means that you add cold water and let the meal soak for up to several hours. 
  • Most meals you prepare at home can be dehydrated as long as they are prepared with minimal oil/ fat. Make extra of your favorite recipes and then dehydrate them!

Consider joining the Dehydrating Your Own Backpacking Meals or Healthy Gourmet Backpacking Food Facebook groups for more inspiration and tips!

Easy DIY Dehydrated Backpacking Meals for Beginners

It can feel overwhelming to get started with dehydrating your own backpacking meals. Try these easy DIY dehydrated backpacking meals and snacks to get started.

Tuna Pasta Salad (Cold Soak)

Pasta partially rehydrated in a foil pouch on the backpacking trail.
Partially rehydrated pasta salad on the trail, before adding tuna and mayo.

This is a great option for satisfying lunch on the trail. It’s reminiscent of Suddenly Salad if you remember that brand from back in the day. Feel free to modify the vegetables that are in the recipes to suit your preferences.

Ingredients:

  • Pasta, cooked al dente 
  • Carrots, diced
  • Celery, diced
  • Onion, diced
  • Peas, frozen
  • Mayo packets
  • Tuna pouch

Pro Tip: When selecting pasta for dehydration, choose shapes that don’t have sharp edges, such as elbow macaroni or penne.

Dehydrate the ingredients as follows, noting the different temperatures. All dehydrating times are approximate. Check to see if they are dehydrated and go longer, if needed.

  • Pasta: 135F for 2-4 hours
  • Veggies: 125F for up to 8 hours

On the trail, add cold water just to the top of the pasta. If you plan to eat this for lunch, do this step in the morning. Seal the pouch, shake it and store it upright in your bag. When you’re ready to eat, stir the contents and check the water level. If there is excess water, disperse it using Leave No Trace principles. Then, add a pouch of tuna/ chicken and 2-3 mayo packets. 

Hummus & Pita (Cold Soak)

Small ziploc bag with powdered hummus in it with a forest in the background.
Dehydrated hummus in a ziploc bag rehydrates easily with cold water.

This might be the easiest DIY dehydrated backpacking meal or snack option around!

Ingredients:

  • Store-bought hummus, any flavor (avoid any with extra oil on top)
  • Pita or pita chips

Spread the hummus onto one or several of the silicon tray liners. Make sure it is a thin layer. Dehydrate at 135F for about 8 hours. For the best consistency, grind the dried hummus in a spice grinder and then store it in a ziploc bag or mylar pouch. On the trail, just add water and knead it until it’s fully rehydrated. Consider adding a few drops of oil if you choose to carry some on the trail.

Pro Tip: If rehydrating the hummus in a ziploc bag on the trail, cut the corner off and squeeze it onto the pita to minimize the mess!

Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Rice

Homemade Thai green curry with chicken, vegetables and rice on a spork in front of a campfire - a delicious homemade backpacking meal.
Thai green curry with chicken, vegetables and rice is a simple and delicious DIY backpacking meal.

This meal is delicious and the sauce is entirely made of dry ingredients, making it super simple to prepare. Again, the veggies can be swapped out based on your preferences. Unfortunately, this recipe does have nuts for those who have an allergy.

Ingredients: 

Some of these ingredients may not be cost effective for everyone, but they are all items I will use in other meals at home so I didn’t mind purchasing them.

The only two items in this recipe that need to be dehydrated are the rice and chicken. Before dehydrating the chicken, strain it and rinse it with cold water to remove excess fat or oil. Shred the chicken into small pieces to ensure adequate dehydration.

  • Rice: 125F for about 5 hours
  • Canned Chicken: 145F for about 8 hours

Pro Tip: To make portion sizes easier to estimate, I look at the quantity of food before it’s dehydrated and put approximately one serving of what I would normally eat on one tray (or on half a tray). So, if I plan to eat half a can of chicken with each meal, I put half a can of chicken on a tray. This takes the guesswork out of assembling the meals.

Measure all the dry ingredients into your storage pouch and add in a serving of rice and chicken. On the trail, fill the container just above the food line with boiling water. Seal it and let it sit for 20 minutes. Stir well and enjoy!

Beef Roast with Mushrooms and Mashed Potatoes

Beef roast on the dehydrator tray next to a packet of powdered gravy and powdered mashed potatoes.
Dehydrated beef roast with mushrooms is added to instant mashed potatoes and powdered gravy for a delicious backpacking meal.

This was hands-down my favorite dehydrated backpacking meal I created and it was relatively easy. The hardest part was finding a good marinade to use. The original recipe I found called for “sweet maui and onion” marinade, which I couldn’t find. So I went with similar flavors with what I could find. Any marinade will work if it’s relatively low sugar and fat.

Ingredients:

  • Sirloin roast* (2-3 pounds will make several meals)
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Onions, chopped
  • Sauce for marinade (I used sweet onion salad dressing mixed with Kalbi marinade)
  • 1T Brown gravy mix
  • ¼ – ½ cup Instant mashed potatoes (measure to your preference for a serving)

*Sirloin roast is recommended because it’s a lower fat option and you want to avoid fats/ oils in dehydrated meals. However, sirloin roast can be difficult to find. Any cut of roast will work but look for a cut with as little fat as possible.

Sear the roast using minimal oil to lock in the moisture. Place the roast, mushrooms, and onions into a slow cooker with whatever marinade you choose. Cook it on low for 8-12 hours until it is easy to shred and the liquid is relatively thick. If the roast is ready but the liquid is still watery, transfer the liquid to a pan and let it reduce on low-medium heat. This just makes it easier and faster to dehydrate.

Shred the meat into small pieces and place approximately one serving of the roast (with mushrooms, onions and thick sauce) onto each tray. Dehydrate at 160F for about 8 hours or until complete.

Measure out the gravy powder and instant mashed potatoes into each container. Add one tray (which is about 1 serving) of the roast and vegetable mixture and seal the container. On the trail, fill the container just above the food line with boiling water. Seal it and let it sit for 20 minutes. Stir well and enjoy!

Orange Chicken and Rice

Orange chicken with vegetables is on a dehydrator tray.
Orange chicken with vegetables spread thin on a dehydrator tray.

This recipe originally called for “honey garlic” sauce, which I couldn’t find anywhere. So, I adapted it using something similar that sounded good – orange sauce.

Ingredients:

  • ½lb chicken, diced (or 6-7 oz of canned chicken)
  • ½ cups cooked long-grain rice (Jasmine, White, Basmati)
  • ½ container of store-bought sauce (honey garlic, orange, szechuan, etc)
  • Carrots, diced
  • Green peppers, diced
  • Onion, diced
  • Green beans, frozen and chopped
  • Peas, frozen

If you choose to use fresh chicken, cut it into small pieces and saute it on medium heat with a small amount of oil. If needed, cut the pieces smaller after cooking. Add the vegetables to the pan until just cooked and then add the sauce. Reduce down until thick.

If you choose to use canned chicken, drain it and rinse it with cold water before shredding it into small pieces. Because the chicken is already cooked, start by sauteing the vegetables in a pan over medium heat with a small amount of oil. When cooked, add the shredded chicken and sauce. Again, reduce down until thick.

Dehydrate:

  • Rice: 125F for about 5 hours
  • Chicken and vegetable mixture: 145 for up to 8 hours, or until complete

Add one serving of rice to each container, then top with one serving of the chicken and vegetable mixture. On the trail, fill the container just above the food line with boiling water. Seal it and let it sit for 20 minutes. Stir well and enjoy!

Pro Tip: If you want to make your own version of the honey garlic sauce from the original recipe (since it wasn’t on grocery shelves in the US), try this. Add 1T cornstarch to ¼ cup water in a pot and mix well. Add ½ cup honey, 4 cloves crushed garlic, 2T soy sauce and ginger (optional). Bring to a gentle boil. 

Homemade Dehydrated Backpacking Meals Made Easy

Is dehydrating your own backing meals more time consuming? Yes, but for me it’s totally worth it to have meals I love on the trail. Have fun experimenting with your own homemade dehydrated backpacking meals!

Related content to read next:

Superior Hiking Trail Packing List: A Prepared Girl’s Guide

12 Simple Steps to Create a Superior Hiking Trail Backpacking Food Plan

Best Beginner Backpacking Trips in the USA

Check out my Minnesota travel page for even more inspiration and tips!

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Text: Backpacking meals - tips and recipes for beginners. Image: Spoon of food in front of a campfire in the forest.
Text: How to DIY dehydrated backpacking meals. Images show a spoon in front of a campfire, a tray of food being dehydrated and a backpacking stove and pouch of food on the ground.

4 thoughts on “Dehydrating Your Own Backpacking Meals & Recipes (for Beginners)

  1. This Big Wild World says:

    That’s so frustrating that the store bought meals wouldn’t reseal! Clever solution though. Hair clips are so multifunctional on the trail. We had to use one this year to secure one of the other girl’s rain poncho – worked like a charm!

    I really think I’ll do this before every trip now. It’s pretty easy to do several of a single recipe at one time, so you can make 3-4 of each meal and be set for a few trips pretty easily. These meals were just so flavorful I can’t imagine going back to store bought unless I’m in a time crunch!

  2. Claire says:

    That’s a great idea about the mylar resealable bags. On my Tour du Mont Blanc hike recently I bought dehydrated meals from a store, they tasted fine but the bags they came in would not reseal! It was so annoying. It clearly had a little ziplock zipper thing that you’re supposed to be able to snap together, but it would never stay. To close the bag while the food sat and cooked in the boiling water, I would fold it down and secure it with my hair clip lol.

    This must have been really fun to experiment with dehydrating things on your own, it’s a whole new skill! Do you think you’ll do this before every trip now, did you find it to be that simple? Or will you save it for special occasions?

  3. This Big Wild World says:

    Nice! Your meals sounds tasty as well. For pasta, I recommend using small noodles without sharp edges (I used elbow macaroni). Spaghetti and angel hair can poke through ziplocs and other storage bags when dehydrated. That’s smart to add some extra spice. Store-bought dehydrated meals just don’t have enough flavor for me so love the option to adjust to your preferences when you make them yourself.

  4. Josy A says:

    Oooh great post! I have been meaning to write something similar since we started to experiment with dehydrating our own meals.

    My favourites so far are chili (works sooo well with fake meat), Thai curry and Japanese curry. We tried pasta, but it re-hydrated sooo badly. I think I need to just use super-thin noodles if I try pasta again. Cous cous with Moroccan spices and Mediterranean veggies worked really well too. It sounds like I totally try mash next!

    My main tip is that we noticed that if we dehydrated sauces, they lost lots of their spicy flavour…so now we just add extra spice *after* it’s dehydrated.

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