How to dehydrate food for an overnight hike

Mariko has spent the last 10 years writing about travel, outdoor adventures and humanitarianism. When she's not travelling, you can find her on a local hiking trail, exploring the Canadian Rockies, or researching her next exotic destination.

Tasty and nutritious food is the ultimate reward at the end of a long day hiking. By dehydrating food for backpacking, you’ll help fuel your body and maintain your morale, and save money.

But there is one major benefit to dehydrating food for backpacking: a lighter load. For multi-day hikes, food is often the major source of weight, while the necessity to keep much of it accessible at the top of your pack means that it can be hard to keep a balanced bag when walking.

So toss that sweaty cheese aside, because here are some key things to keep in mind for your dehydrated hiking food. 

Using a food dehydrator vs the oven: which is better?

Dehydration will slowly remove moisture from your food using low heat, locking in essential vitamins and minerals. For beginners, a food dehydrator is the better option. It’s easier to maintain a constant low temperature and get more consistent results. 

Food dehydrators are now widely available in most kitchen chain stores. If you’re just starting out, choose a smaller, budget model before you invest in an expensive option.

Most food dehydrators will also include a booklet outlining the appropriate temperatures for different kinds of fruit, vegetables, and meat — and a few recipes to get you started.

Man and woman cooking while camping

The golden rules for dehydrated hiking food

Keep it clean

Contrary to some common assumptions, dehydrating food for backpacking does not necessarily eliminate the risk of bacteria getting into your food. While it does create what is known as a 'low water activity' food, which reduces the opportunity for bacteria to settle in, there are some additional safety measures you can take when you make your dehydrated hiking food.

1. Give your workspace a thorough clean.

2. Wash your hands with soap.

3. Consider wearing gloves when preparing your food.

4. Clean all vegetables and fruit to remove any grit or residual pesticides.

5. Do not prepare different food types on the same workspace (i.e. meat is never prepared on the same board/work area as frood and vegetables). 

6. Regularly wash your tools and workspace as you go. 

Cut it small

Always cut your food into small, uniform pieces so they finish drying at the same time. Besides producing faster, more reliable results, smaller pieces are easier to rehydrate and/or cook at the end of your hike. A mandoline or julienne slicer will help your produce perfect pieces every time.

Avoid high-fat food

Fat doesn’t dehydrate properly and can turn your food rancid. It’s better to dehydrate fruit, veggies and lean meats instead. 

Store your dehydrated hiking food properly

Bacteria thrive when moisture and air are present. After dehydration, it’s essential to store and preserve your food correctly. If done correctly, you can preserve food for several years.

  • To prevent condensation, wait until your food is completely cool before you store it.
  • Store your food in sterilised, airtight containers like silicone pouches, ziploc bags or tupperware.
  • Keep your dehydrated food in a dry, dark place. Heat and light can encourage faster oxidation.

Allow for plenty of time

Dehydrating food should be done at least two days in advance of your planned hike. It can take upwards of 15 hours to completely dry and cool your food (sometimes longer if you’re experimenting with something new).

Tips for dehydrating fruit and vegetables

Jars of dehydrated fruits

Dehydrated fruit and veg are a good choice on the trail. You’ll get a healthy energy boost during your hike and additional nutrition at dinner time.  

Use a low temperature

Fruit and veg benefit from being cooked at a lower temperature to lock in their nutrients, flavour and colour. If your dehydrator allows it, select a temperature between 40-45 degrees. To speed up the process, you can dry fruit at slightly higher temperatures, although you may lose a little in flavour and colour.

Choose ripe fruits for snacking

Dried apple, banana and mango all make for excellent high-sugar snacks on the trail. For a denser sugar yield, choose older, ripe fruits. While overripe fruits don’t make the best snacks, you can whiz them up and dehydrate the puree to produce fruit leather instead. 

Consider what you want to get out of your food when you are hiking. For instance, the chlorophyll in bananas changes as the fruit ripens, so that riper bananas have a higher level of antioxidants. Antioxidants are typically good news as natural anti-inflammatories, which can do wonders for sore or pinched nerves during a hike. 

Research what nutrients certain fruits and vegetables contain at different stages of ripening to create a powerhouse of nutrition during your hike. Raspberries are a great source of melatonin, which can help you produce the Human Growth Hormone, ideal for repairing sore muscles.  

Dehydrated berries

Blanche hard vegetables

While it’s not essential, you can choose to blanche any vegetables that you would usually cook, like corn, green beans, broccoli or potato. If you skip this step, you might need to cook your dehydrated meal for longer at camp.

Kale, beetroot, spinach and red cabbage are great sources of anti-inflammatories, again helping you feel less sore in the morning. 

Use lemon juice to prevent oxidation

If you’re prepping a large amount of fruit and veg, squeeze over some lemon juice to prevent browning. Otherwise, put your food into the dehydrator as soon as possible.

Don't forget flavour

Add seasonings like salt, herbs, or spices to your fruit and vegetables for more flavourful snacks.

Tips for dehydrating meat

Dehydrated meat

Meat can be tricky to master, but as long as you dehydrate and store it correctly, it makes a tasty, high-protein addition to hiking meals.

Choose high-protein, lean meat.

Fat will increase spoilage, so it’s better to preserve lean cuts of meat like lean beef or kangaroo. Dehydrated mince is a popular staple for hikers as it’s easy to dehydrate and integrate into other meals. Choose the leanest mince possible or ask your butcher to mince a particular cut. 

Cook your meat before you dehydrate.

Unlike veggies, it’s essential to cook all your meat before you pop it in the dehydrator. If possible, avoid cooking in oil, butter or any fat (use a non-stick pan instead), and drain the meat to remove excess moisture.

Remove as much fat as possible.

During the dehydration process, use a paper towel to blot and remove any fat from the meat and dehydrator. 

Use a higher temperature

To eradicate bacteria, meat needs to dehydrate at a higher temperature than your fruit and veg. If your dehydrator has a manual setting, set it to a minimum of 60- 70 degrees. Otherwise, cook on high or select the ‘meat’ setting on the dehydrator for 10-12 hours or until the meat is hard.

Tip: add breadcrumbs to your mince mixture before dehydrating for more tender, rehydrated meat.

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