Backpackers Guide to Dehydrating Foods (& rehydrating)

Dehydrating your food meals before a backpacking trip allows you to cut weight from your pack, cut cooking times, and increase shelf life. Whether you’re going for a weekend getaway, or weeklong outing, you’ll enjoy the nutritious and diverse dehydrated food you’ll get to take along with you on your trip. 

This article teaches curated suggestions on what to dehydrate, types of dehydrators, prepping your food, and how to dehydrate your foods. 

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dehyrated oranges, apples, and other fruits

Best Foods To Dehydrate? [+Temperatures]

The most common foods to dehydrate include:

  • Fruits – 135°F (57°C)
  • Vegetables – 125°F (52°C)
  • Meats/Seafood – 160°F (71°C)
  • Poultry – 165°F (74°C)
  • Legumes/Beans – 125°F (52°C)
  • Herbs – 95°F (35°C)

Dehydrating Tips Before Starting

But before you run off and start setting up your dehydrator, here are some common tips you should follow.

Temperature will be a huge factor when dehydrating foods, so make sure your dehydrator can reach the settings you need, or even adjusts at all.

If you end up dehydrating your food at a temp that’s too low, you could run the risk of bacteria growing inside of your food.

The danger zone is between 40°F and 140°F (4°C – 60°C) where bacteria can double in growth in as little as 20 minutes!

But if you overcook your food, you could cause case hardening. Beginning hikers are more likely to cook food with case hardening.

Case hardening is when the outer layer of your food becomes tough and dehydrated but the inside still contains moisture. 

A good way to check for case hardening is to cut some of the dehydrated pieces in half and squeeze them to see if any water comes out. 

If you’re running short on time DO NOT try to raise the temps because that will cause case hardening.

The only way to truly dehydrate your food faster is to cut it into smaller pieces or put less food in your dehydrator.

But avoid putting different types of food in the same dehydrator, with the same time. Putting foods together that dehydrate at the same temp will save you time in the long run.

  • PRO TIP: Dehydrating certain foods, like onions, in your home will cause a distinct smell! Keep some windows open and your fans on.
cheeses on board

What Foods To Avoid Dehydrating

In order to stay safe from eating rancid or spoiled food avoid the following when dehydrating.

  • Fatty Foods – Fat doesn’t evaporate which is necessary for dehydration so you’ll want to avoid fatty meats, avocados, olives, etc. Very lean meats are ok to dehydrate.
  • Eggs – You’d be getting too close to the danger zone and could cause salmonella to grow if you’re considering eggs so stay away altogether. If you still insist on having eggs there are powdered versions you can find premade.
  • Dairy – There’s a significantly higher chance you’ll cause food poisoning when dehydrating dairy so you’ll want to stay away. Although there are some great alternatives like butter powder or powdered milk.

Choosing Your Food Dehydrator

Consider several factors before dishing out the money to get a dehydrator

After all, they can cost you anywhere from $30 to $500+ so you want to be sure you pick the right one.

If this is your first dehydrator then see if you can borrow a friend or family members to start. 

Get a feel for what features you like or what you feel would be best for the type of outdoor cooking you plan on doing. 

Adjusting The Temperature (Yes, You Want This)

Nothing more important to dehydrating food than the temperature. so make sure your model has an adjustable temp.

But you also want to check to see the range of temperature the dehydrator goes to.

Poultry is a recommended 165°F (74°C) but some of the dehydrators will only go to 155°F (68°C).

Having An On/Off Timer

Some foods can take hours, if not days, to fully dehydrate. 

Making sure that your dehydrator has the ability to turn off when the timer runs out is going to be a time-saving tool that could save your life. Not really, but it’ll feel like it does.

How Much It Can Hold

Some food dehydrators have circle trays and others have square or rectangle trays. 

Obviously the more square trays will hold more food but some models have up to 10 trays while others could have as little as 5 trays.

If you’re just starting with dehydrating your food and only plan on using it for weekend trips then you can stick with a smaller, less expensive model. 

On the other hand, with a bigger model you can always take out some of the trays for smaller batches.

dehydrator taken apart with tomatoes inside

Where The Heater Fan Is Located

With the circular models the heating fan is usually on the bottom or top of the machine. 

The heat is blown through the open column in the middle of the trays which can lead to uneven drying unless you shuffle the columns periodically.

The models that allow you to load your trays from the front of the machine have their heating fan at the back which is much more efficient and leads to more even drying.

The nice thing about the front loading models is they can come with a glass panel so you can check on your food without having to constantly open the door. 

What Material is Your Dehydrator Made From

You can either get a plastic or metal food dehydrator. 

There are several BPA plastic free models you can find but not all of them are dishwasher safe. 

These dehydrators are usually less expensive compared to the metal ones. 

How Does It Fit In Your Home

If you’re a purveyor of kitchen appliances then you’re aware of how much space they can take up. 

The circular dehydrators can completely disassemble into pieces which allows you to store them more easily within your cabinets or pantry. 

If you opt for a front-loading model then you’re stuck with a big box in the middle of your kitchen.

strawberry cut into pieces

How To Prep Food For Dehydration

One of the best benefits of dehydrating food is that it becomes much smaller once you take all of the moisture out which makes it perfect for backpacking.

But some foods require specific preparation before they are ready to be dehydrated so that you’ll have an easier time reconstituting in the outdoors.

Dehydrating Your Ingredients Or Entire Meals

If you’re dehydrating specific ingredients to make into a meal later on in your backpacking trip you’ll want to make sure those ingredients dehydrate at the same temps.

Bundling the same temp ingredients together will avoid case hardening or food poisoning from improper temperatures. 

When you’re trying to dehydrate an entire meal you don’t want to use any food that is too fatty and you also want to keep the same temp ingredients together. 

Clean And Dry Your Prep Station

Sanitize all of your surfaces to prevent cross-contamination and make sure to dry all of your surfaces.

Any extra moisture that comes into contact with your dehydrated food could potentially ruin your entire process.

Cut Food Into Uniform Pieces

One of the best ways to get uniform pieces of your food is to use a mandolin but BE CAREFUL because a mandolin is one dangerous piece of kitchen equipment.

The more uniform your food is the more evenly it will dry and you don’t have to worry about under or over cooking.

Pretreating

Getting the best out of your fruits and vegetables can take an extra step of pretreating them before dehydrating. 

Below is a list of reasons you’ll want to take some extra time before drying them out.

  • Improved rehydration time
  • Improved texture
  • Retains color
  • Retains more flavor
  • Increases shelf life

Soaking in Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid is a vitamin C solution that comes in powder form and when mixed with water will help prevent your fruits from burning. 

You only need to soak the fruit for 3-5 minutes before draining the mixture but you can also use the same mixture for 2 different batches of fruits.

You can actually use the juice of limes, lemons, or oranges but this will change the taste of your fruits.

Blanching Or Steaming Vegetables

This method of pretreatment is usually reserved for veggies that you can’t eat raw because they are too tough like the ones below.

  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Green beans
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes

Blanching involves dipping your fruits into boiling water and then immediately putting them into cold water to stop the cooking process. 

Blanching or steaming your veggies will help them retain color and lessens the amount of time needed for rehydrating.

dehydrated fruits in jars

How To Dehydrate Fruits

Fruits are one of the best things to dehydrate because they taste delicious on their own but you can add them to foods like oatmeal or yogurts.

You can cut them into thin slices like with apples or strawberries, diced like pineapples or apples, or left whole like blueberries or raspberries. 

Whichever way you cut them make sure to wash the ones that will still have the skins left on when you’re dehydrating to wash the waxy coating as much as possible.

Fruits like blueberries or grapes should be “checked” or blanched.

Treat them like you would with veggies so that they crack a little which makes them easier to dehydrate.

When you’re ready to dehydrate, place them on your racks in a single layer at 135°F (57°C).

Each fruit will dry at a different time depending on a number of factors like:

  • Humidity in the home
  • Water content of the fruit
  • How thick or thin the slices are
  • How crispy you like your fruit

Check out a full list of drying time for different fruits but keep in mind this resource recommends drying your fruits at a temp of 105°F-110°F (41°C-43°C).

You should see your fruit become leathery and there should be no stickiness.

A good way to check to see if your fruit is done is by cutting a piece or two in half and squeezing them to see if there is any moisture that comes out.

If you’ve done all this work you might as well “condition” your fruit to ensure there won’t be any issues when you open your pack in the outdoors.

How To Condition Your Food

Conditioning is a word that is an extra safety precaution for your dehydrated foods. 

Just in case there is some left over moisture hanging out waiting to spoil your food.

What you do is take the dehydrated foods at room temp and put them into a non-plastic container like glass jars.

Ideally you’ll put them loosely packed inside and you’ll shake them every day to remove any chances for moisture pockets to gather from the food sitting on top of itself.

Check on the food periodically through the course of about a week and see if any moisture or condensation is gathering. If you see anything just put the food back into the dehydrator. 

If there isn’t any moisture in the jar after a week you’re good to start storing without having to worry about future spoilage. 

dehydarted tomatoes in jar

How To Dehydrate Vegetables

Before you start throwing in your chopped veggies into your dehydrator you’ll need to blanch or steam them like you read in the prepping section.

You won’t blanch or steam soft vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, celery, onions, okra, or zucchini. 

You’ll either thinly slice or dice your vegetables but small veggies like corn or peas won’t need to be cut at all. 

You’ll want to dehydrate your veggies at 125°F (52°C) until they are crisp or hard which should be anywhere from 4-12 hours depending on the vegetable. 

Check out the dehydrating table for what times you should expect.

PROTIP: If you purchased already frozen vegetables then you wont need to blanch or steam them because it’s already been done for you!

How To Dehydrate Grains, Rice, & Beans

You can treat all grains and rice just as you normally would. 

Cook them in water but not as long as you normally would. You want to drain the water before they are fully cooked so they are still slightly hard.

Then you can place them on your dehydrator racks at 145°F (63°C) for 6-12 hours.

Dehydrating Beans & Lentils

You can go through the process of making your own beans but they do take an incredible amount of time. 

On top of that, canned beans will actually work better for dehydrating and rehydrating. 

You can cook lentils as you normally would on the stove or you can also opt for the canned version.

Stick them on the racks and in your dehydrator at 125°F (52°C)until they are hard and crunchy.

Beans could potentially crack when you rehydrating which helps them soak up more water but it’s perfectly normal. 

beef jerky

How To Dehydrate Meats

You’ll want to stick with as lean meat as you can, especially with beef, because as mentioned above fat won’t evaporate and cause your food to become rancid or spoiled. 

Once you’re done dehydrating your food we’ll cover how to properly store it till it’s time to head out.

Dehydrating Ground Beef

Although I haven’t tried it I’ve heard breadcrumbs can help your ground beef rehydrate better if mixed in. 

Take your pound of raw beef and mix in about ½ cup of breadcrumbs and you could also add any dry seasonings that you prefer.

Cook on a non-stick skillet until completely done and throughout the process take a spatula and crush any lumps of meat into small crumbles. Almost like you were making tacos or shepherds pie.

When you’re done, take some paper towels and blot your meat to soak up any of the fat that is still on your meat. 

Now, place your meat evenly on the racks and dehydrate at 145°F (63°C) until hard and crispy.

Throughout the dehydrating process blot the meat periodically to soak up any fat that comes out.

Dehydrating Poultry

Use white meat if possible because of the low fat content. And pressure cooked meat will rehydrate much easier when backpacking.

You can use an instant pot to pressure cook your poultry which I have and absolutely love it. I have the Instant Pot Duo Crisp and I’ve been using it to sauté, sous vide, fry, broil, and slow cook depending on the meal.

Cook your chicken on a pan like you normally would till it’s final temp and set aside to cool on a cutting board.

Shred your chicken after it’s lowered in temp and dry it with a paper towel to soak up any fats or moisture.

Spread the poultry in an even layer across your dehydrator racks and put your temperature to 145°F (63°C) but remember to blot it with a towel throughout the dehydration process to soak up any additional moisture. 

Let it go for 6-12 hours until completely dry and you’ll have perfectly ready poultry to take backpacking.

Dehydrating Turkey

You can treat turkey almost exactly like dehydrating your beef. 

Mixing it with breadcrumbs helps the dehydration process so mix a ½ cup with 1lb of beef and add any dry seasoning you’d like.

Cook in a non-stick skillet while breaking the turkey into small pieces as it cooks. 

As it’s cooking, blot it with a paper towel to soak up additional moisture and fats. 

After it’s done give it another dab with a paper towel and place the crumbly mixture onto your dehydrator racks in an even layer. Cook at 145°F (63°C) until the turkey turns hard and dry and you’re good to store.

How To Dehydrate Whole Meals

You won’t be able to dehydrate entire three course meals like in a Willy Wonka movie or something (at least not yet) but you can dehydrate an entire dinner meal.

Outdoor classics like chili and stews will be good options to dehydrate altogether.

Once your meal is done cooking, spread it evenly on parchment paper so that your meal will dry evenly. 

Most of your meals are going to cook around 135°F (57°C) and take anywhere from 8-10 hours.

While your food is cooking you’ll check on it periodically to break up any clumps to prevent case hardening or potential moisture. 

Blot with paper towels to absorb any of the terrible moisture that’s gathering and planning to ruin your meal. 

PRO TIP: Mix up your meals by including some items you purchased from the store. Dehydrating and rehydrating can take some time and making your trip a bit easier on yourself will allow you to let go a little more.

Timelines, Methods, and Tips To Store Your Dehydrated Food

Now for the fun part of figuring out how to store your dehydrated foods because it’s not recommended to try and dehydrate your foods the same day you’re planning on leaving. 

All food has a shelf life that you’ll want to take into consideration when planning your trip and knowing how much time you have before your food spoils.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has included timelines for how long you should be storing different kinds of dehydrated foods.

Fruits & Veggies – Store fruit comfortable for up to a year before spoilage and store vegetables for roughly 6 months.

Grains, Rice, Beans – Save them comfortably for up to a year

Meats – Only 1-2 months for meats but if you vacuum seal them they could last for up to 6 months.

Different Ways To Store Your Food

You have several options for storing your dehydrated food and it’ll depend on how far away your trip is and the purpose of the food you’re storing.

Reusable Bags With Refrigeration – For shorter term storage within 1-2 weeks of time you can use a reusable bag to leave it in the fridge. Just make sure to let the food come to room temp when you take it out before opening to avoid any moisture or condensation. 

Bell Jars Or Airtight Containers – Any container that can have a screw top or completely removes any way for oxygen to enter is ideal for dehydrated food storage. 

 Vacuum Sealed Containers – Whether you choose bags or jars, vacuum sealing will help prevent any moisture from entering and is one of the best options when storing dehydrated food because of the length of time before spoilage.

What Affects Food Storage

Going through the entire process of dehydration and finding out your food is spoiled because of improper storage can be a major buzzkill in the outdoors.

The best tips for making sure this doesn’t ruin your trip is by implementing the following.

Temperature of Surrounding Area – Keeping the food at a lower temp like 60°F (16°C) because it doesn’t give bacteria as good of a chance to grow. 

Too Much Moisture – Moisture is the worst possible thing that could happen to your food at this point. Keep it away at all costs! Seal it up and lock away the key.

Tooo Much Oxygen – Oxygen is the rascal cousin of moisture. It will slowly eat away at the color, flavor, and shorten the shelf life of your food.

Toooo Much Light – Light will have similar effects of oxygen and moisture and you definitely want to make sure you avoid direct sunlight. But don’t freak out if a light gets turned on in your laundry room.

Adding Absorbent Packs

There are a couple of different packs you could add to your bags that will soak up oxygen and moisture from the air. 

The desiccant packs will absorb any moisture that’s left behind in your bags and can be used when vacuum sealing. 

Not entirely necessary if you’ve done a good enough job throughout the process but certainly a great thing to keep the mind at ease and can also be good for lean meats. 

Oxygen Absorbers will do exactly as they say they will do and are great options if you’re using bell jars or anything similar.

cooking beans outside

Rehydrating Your Food While Camping

The best part of all of your hard work is going to be getting that first taste out in the wild after a long day of hiking. And the rehydration part is the easiest.

When you’re rehydrating you’ll want to use equal parts food and water but you can adjust the amount of water you add at any time. 

The most popular method is to simply take your pot and fill it with water and place your food in with it. 

Let it simmer until the food becomes reconstituted and you have a home cooked meal wherever you end up. 

FAQs

What are the health benefits of dehydrating your food?

Because dehydrated foods keep all their essential fatty acids, minerals, enzymes, most vitamins, and antioxidants they are healthy for you to eat. They can also help save money, waste, and speed up cooking while in the outdoors.

Can food be too dehydrated?

Yes, you could leave your food in the dehydrator for such a long period of time that it will acquire a burnt taste or have an off-putting smell. Follow the recommended times in this article to avoid over dehydrating your foods.

Summary

Dehydrating your food for backpacking or camping trips can make your bags lighter and your meals more delicious. Start with smaller trips if you’ve never had experience dehydrating because you want to make sure your food won’t spoil and you’ll be stuck in the outdoors. Use a dehydrator and use the correct cooking temps and you’ll love how easy cooking outdoors can be.

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