Dehydrate Your Own Camp Meals

WantedGood meals on the trail. Must be hot and filling. Cannot take long to prepare because we just want to eat. Gotta include carbs, protein and fiber. Over-priced packaged meals need not apply; we'd rather spend our money on gear.

-Every Outdoor Person in the World

Family Camping Photo by Rueben Stayer

Can you relate? If you've ever spent time on the trail, you can. Shelling out hard-earned dollars on packaged food when you can make it yourself is a hard pill to swallow, so don't do it. Whatever you make at home you can take on the trail for pennies on the ready-made-meals' dollar. Here are some ideas to dehydrate your own camp meals:

Meal Dehydration Equipment:

  • Dehydrator or an oven with drying trays (trays can be made at home with cheesecloth stretched over cookie sheets; secure with wooden clothespins)

  • Pot to blanche food in or mix liquid foods (if necessary)

  • Ziplock bags or other airtight container (to store the food)

Dehydrate camping food

Easiest Homemade Dehydrated Camp Meals:

Supplement what you already bring. Paul K. likes to add variety to his meals when he's out for extended periods, so he buys the standards, including pasta, then dehydrates veggies at home in his oven. Since dehydrated vegetables are hard to find and fresh don't make sense to carry, Paul says his combination is "like gold" on the trail.

Dehydrate veggies

How to dehydrate vegetables:

Paul says: "Slice veggies thinly on aerated sheet/rack, put the temperature on the oven to just under 200 degrees, and prop open door a smidge. When they don't stick to each other, they're done." For peppers, which are one of his favorite to dehydrate and add to pasta dishes on the trail, this usually takes between five and seven hours.

Want to give your dish a taste of Italy? Melissa uses sliced tomatoes that you can season (or not). Just slice, scrape out the seeds, spread tomato slices on a rack, then dehydrate for around eight hours (pliable but not sticky when done) at 145 degrees.

Intermediate Homemade Dehydrated Camp Meals:

Make a breakfast for your champions. Try dehydrating a classic eggs, bacon and hashbrowns breakfast for your next trip. These are easy to make at home and will be just nearly as simple on the trail. Just add water, then cook. And the bacon can be eaten as is!

Dehydrated Camping breakfast

How to dehydrate breakfast:

Eggs: Grab six eggs and scramble them until whites and yolks are well blended. You can add some seasoning at this point if you like. Pour into an ungreased fruit leather tray that comes with your dehydrator and turn the heat up to 145 degrees. Dry until the eggs are brittle (overnight). You can then crumble into bags or grind into powder. To use, just add 2 tablespoons of water to every tablespoon of egg and cook!

Hashbrowns: You can either grate potatoes by hand & soak in lemon water before drying (to preserve color) or, if you're lazy, buy a bag of frozen hashbrowns and thaw. Either way, spread the hashbrowns thinly over your dehydration trays (or prepared cookie sheets) and cook at 135-145 degrees overnight. Rehydrate on the trail by pouring boiling water over the hashbrowns until they are submerged & let sit until soft. Then just season and cook!

Tip: do both of the above at the same time.

Bacon: Using thin slices, cook the bacon first, then blot off as much grease as possible (grease and oil lead to spoiling). Lay strips in a dehydration tray or prepared cookie sheets and cook at 155 degrees for 6-8 hours until completely crisp. Blot again to remove any grease that may have appeared during the process. Eat as is; it's bacon. Mmm!

Difficult Homemade Dehydrated Camp Meals

Okay, you gourmet chef: No sissy eggs and bacon for you. It's time to take it to the big leagues with full on recipes that will wow your campmates; or incite jealousy (but you're sharing, right?).

When it comes to cooking for the crew, look to Naomi O. This outdoor adventuring mother of four makes dehydrated deliciousness for all members of the family when they hit the backcountry for a few days at a time. The family favorite? Chili -- with meat and all! Surprised that you can dehydrate a liquid-filled meal? Here's a tip with which you can adapt the recipe below: "...pretty much any stew or sauce can be dehydrated," says Naomi.

Dehydrated camp food

How to dehydrate chili:

This will likely need to be done in two or three stages (depending whether you are adding beef and beans) unless you have multiple modes of dehydrating that can be used simultaneously. Plan accordingly!

Gather the ingredients from your favorite chili recipe. Place meat (ground beef in this case) in a frying pan and break up into small pieces. Naomi says they should be no bigger than beans to make reconstituting on the trail easier; adding salt to taste. Once fully cooked, drain off grease and blot with a paper towel to remove the excess oils. Layer the ground beef thinly on drying trays and dehydrate at the highest setting (150-160 degrees) for 12-18 hours. The meat will resemble gravel when finished.

Beans should also be cooked and dehydrated separately. Once cooked (or if you're using canned beans), layer them on trays and dehydrate for 10-12 hours at 140 degrees. They may crack in the drying process -- no problem.

In a pot, mix the remainder the chili ingredients and cook. Once finished, line your dehydrating trays with parchment or use fruit leather trays. Pour carefully, making a thin layer on each tray, and dehydrate at 125-135 degrees for 8-10 hours. You can leave it as is once it is dry, or, if you'd like to make reconstructing it even easier, dry it until brittle, then break it up and put into a food processor, blending into a powder.

At camp, add the different parts together (meat, beans, chili sauce). Add one cup of water for every cup of chili and let sit for a few minutes until it is softened. Then heat and serve.

You're now ready to hit the trail with delicious, lightweight food in tow. If you're just starting, don't be overwhelmed: try substituting one or two homemade meals for pre-packaged camp meals to get into the swing of things.

Final Tip: Before packing any dehydrated food, make sure to let it cool completely. Oh, and try not to let the accolades you're about to get from your camp crew go to your head.

Have a favorite camp recipe? Have any tips about dehydrating? Share it in the comments!

Team Sierra

Find more from Gina on her blog.
Gina Begin
posted by
Gina Begin
Although Gina calls Utah her second home, you're unlikely to actually find her there. Since storing her things over two years ago and hitting the road, she's been on a quest to reach the distant places of North America. She's skied the backcountry of the Chugach in Alaska, slept under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, photographed Nova Scotia's coves, backpacked in southern U.S. wildernesses and munched on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. Follow Gina's adventures on her personal blog or on the Outdoor Women's Alliance site.
Join the Conversation