Drying Food for Backpacking

When it's "time to take a hike," this is when drying food for backpacking safely is key. Being outdoors on a trail means there are no fast-food joints en route. And that's a good thing, right?

family backpacking, taking a rest to eat dried food snacks

It's so easy to dehydrate food at home - no trips to the store - leaving you plenty of time to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, instead of being cooped up indoors.

Dehydrating food not only preserves it - it also makes it lightweight and easy to tote - which is an essential aspect for backpackers, right? No one wants to carry heavy food around, that can also spoil and make a mess!

Using an electric dehydrator makes light work of the task, and pays for itself in the long run.

My friend, Chef Glenn, runs a Solo-Build-It site (just like Easy Food Dehydrating!) and it's all about DIY Backpacking Food.

Why Bother Drying Food for Backpacking?

If you're asking yourself, "Why bother dehydrating food when I can buy ready-made stuff?" That's a good question. Besides saving money, the biggest advantage of making your own backpacking food is that you will know exactly what ingredients are in it. There's no need for preservatives you can't pronounce!

Plus, you'll create trail mixes and the like that suit your taste buds. Also, if you like a bargain, check out the roadside stands that sell fruits and veggies, and don't forget to take advantage of BOGO (buy one - get one) deals at your local grocery store.

grocery store shelves filled with produce

So how do you go about drying food for backpacking? It's a simple process and it starts with fresh fruits and vegetables. Start by cleaning the produce, and slice it into evenly-sized pieces so they all dry out at the same rate.

The dehydrator temperature setting is between 125 to 135°F for just about all fruits and veggies. Let the dehydrator do its magic - which can take anywhere from six to sixteen hours.

Patience, Grasshopper. It's worth it.

Long-Lasting Nature of Dehydrated Food

Dehydrated food lasts a long time - when stored properly. Read more about storing dehydrated food here

When we're hiking, the last thing we want to worry about is food spoiling in the heat, or getting squished. Dehydrating food takes care of that. Also, make batches of dried foods so you're ready to hike at the drop of a hat!

Because we're not carrying around fresh fruit that quickly spoils, and we're not discarding old banana skins along the way (though slipping on a banana skin was funny back in the old days), I know that banana skins will "eventually" disintegrate but... why attract flies and critters unnecessarily?

Which Foods Are Best Suited?

The next step is to think about which foods are best for backpacking. Apples, bananas, and berries work great (and grapes to make raisins). All fruits retain their sweetness even after drying, in fact, they taste even sweeter.

Add some nuts to your backpack for saltiness, and protein.

Click the images below to learn more about how to dehydrate apples, bananas, and berries. Below that is info. on peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini!

dehydrating apples
dehydrating bananas
dehydrating berries

Try bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini for the savory side of you. These types of veggies mix well with dried meats, aka "jerky."

dehydrating peppers
dehydrating tomatoes
dehydrating zucchini

Dehydrate Lean Cuts of Beef, Chicken, or Turkey

Use lean cuts of beef, chicken, or turkey. Don't forget you can dehydrate seafood too. But honestly, I pass on taking fish along on my camping and hiking trips!

The key to making sure the foods are dried properly is to dry them until they're brittle. We need to make sure that all the moisture is removed - so that spoilage doesn't happen. To deter spoilage, we use oxygen absorbers inside our dehydrated food packages.

Pop in an oxygen absorber prior to drawing the air out of the bag. Read more about vacuum-sealer bags here.

For the sweet-toothers out there: Dehydrate fruits and make fruit leathers, aka fruit roll-ups or fruit rolls.

After puréeing your chosen fruit, spread it out on a solid sheet - see the "how-to" here - and experiment with different fruit combinations to keep you and your taste buds happy.

sliced dehydrated oranges in a sealed vacuum-sealer bag

Space-Saving Backpacking Food!

When drying food for backpacking, I appreciate that it takes up far less space - compared to their fresh counterparts.

A major advantage, right? Space is at a premium in the old backpack.

You can easily pack a couple of days-worth of food neatly into a corner, leaving room for other essential gear.

Don't forget about the versatility of dried food. Use it in recipes for stews, soups, and stir-fries. Add to pasta. You will need to rehydrate the food in good, clean drinking water, to make it ready for cooking.

Take a look at my "how to rehydrate" page and just look at how much carrots plump back up!

Invest in a Dehydrator

If you're a regular visitor to Easy Food Dehydrating, you'll know that I'm a fan of Nesco and Excalibur dehydrators. Why? Because they still work (since 2010!)

NESCO™ DEHYDRATORS at Amazon

Nesco FD-80A Food + Jerky Dehydrator

This is a square-shaped food dehydrator, perfect for snacks, fruit, and beef jerky. White with a top black tray edge, with a white lid.

  • 700 watts of drying power
  • Expandable to 8 trays
  • 15.25 x 10.25 x 15.63 inches (LxWxH)
  • Temperature range: 95°F - 160°F
  • Comes with: 1 Clean-A-Screen, 1 Recipe Instruction Book, 1 Jerky Seasoning & Cure Sample

Nesco FD-61WHC Snackmaster Encore Food Dehydrator

This round Nesco Snackmaster comes with a jerky gun kit and 5 trays. It has a very light grey body with a darker grey lid.

  • 500 watts of drying power
  • Expandable to 12 trays
  • 13.5 x 13.5 x 9.25 inches (LxWxH)
  • Temperature range: 95°F - 160°F
  • Comes with: 1 Jerky Gun with 3 tip attachments, 2 Fruit Roll Sheets, 2 Clean-A-Screens, 5 Jerky Seasoning & Cure Samples, Recipe & Instruction book

Nesco FD-60 Snackmaster Express Food Dehydrator

This is the new version of mine as it has an updated lid. It's a light grey body with a darker grey lid.

  • 500 watts of drying power
  • Expandable to 12 trays
  • 3.5 x 13.5 x 9.25 inches (LxWxH)
  • Temperature range: 95°F - 155°F
  • Comes with: 1 Fruit Roll Sheet, 2 Original-Flavor Jerky Spice & Cure Packets

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases with no price increase to you. Read disclosure here.

Excalibur™ Dehydrators at Amazon

Excalibur 2400 Food Dehydrator, 4-Tray Starter

This is a square-shaped food dehydrator, that boasts 4 square feet of drying space. Black textured plastic body. Remove the front panel for access to its four trays.

  • 220 watts of drying power
  • 4 removable trays
  • 16.25 x 13 x 6.5 inches (LxWxH)
  • Temperature range: 95°F - 165°F
  • Comes with: 4 trays, a digital download guide to dehydration

Excalibur 2900ECB 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator

This is a square-shaped food dehydrator, that boasts 15 square feet of drying space. Black textured plastic body. Remove the front panel for access to its nine trays.

  • 400 watts of drying power
  • 9 removable trays
  • 19 x 17 x 12.5 inches (LxWxH)
  • Temperature range: 105°F - 165°F
  • Comes with: 9 trays, a digital download guide to dehydration

Excalibur 3900B 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator

This is a square-shaped food dehydrator, that boasts 15 square feet of drying space. Black textured plastic body. Remove the front panel for access to its 9 trays. Has a built-in on/off switch.

  • 600 watts of drying power
  • 9 removable trays
  • 19 x 17 x 12.5 inches (LxWxH)
  • Temperature range: 105°F - 165°F
  • Comes with: 9 trays, a digital download guide to dehydration

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases with no price increase to you. Read disclosure here.

Don't fret too much about the cost of a dehydrator. Starter models can be had for less than a hundred bucks. Consider it an investment. Not only will you save money on making the meals yourself, but you can use the dehydrator to make healthy snacks for everyday dining.

Every week I dehydrate a bag of grapes (sometimes two!) to make delicious juicy plump raisins.

How about homemade fruit leathers and zucchini chips? (not combined, ha!) and make your own beef jerky too in this podcast episode!

It's not hard to dehydrate food. It's a case of wash, pat dry, slice'n'dice, and dry it. Also, you'll get tons of satisfaction from doing it yourself.

Drying food for backpacking ties nicely into self-sustainability and being resourceful. Remember to take advantage of BOGOs and roadside fruit and veggie stands who offer great deals on produce.

After Drying Food for Backpacking,
Store in a Cool, Dark, and Dry Place

Please keep in mind that it's essential to properly dehydrate your foods and to store them in a cool, dark dry environment - air, light, and moisture are the three enemies we want to keep at bay.

Because drying food doesn't eliminate bacteria completely, it's also essential to properly handle your food.

Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and turning over the pieces on the dehydrator.

Oxygen Absorbers at Amazon

50cc Oxygen Absorbers

  • PackFreshUSA Oxygen Absorbers
  • 200-Pack
  • Food-Grade, Non-Toxic

100cc Oxygen Absorbers

  • Oxy-Sorb Oxygen Absorbers
  • 100-Pack
  • Long-Term Food Storage Freshness Protection

300cc Oxygen Absorbers

  • Oxy-Sorb Oxygen Absorbers
  • Bags of 20 (60 Count total)
  • Super Effective for Dried Goods

2000cc Oxygen Absorbers

  • Oxy-Sorb Oxygen Absorbers
  • Pack of 10
  • I use these for airtight bins and buckets

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases with no price increase to you. Read disclosure here.

When it's time to bag your goodies, pop in an oxygen absorber before drawing the air out of the bag.

When you need to rehydrate your goodies while you're on your hike, take along bottled, boiled, or treated water so as not to add bacteria to your dried food.

DIY Meal Prep = Made to Suit Your Dietary Needs

If you're vegan, gluten-free, or have other food allergies, preparing your own meals means you can cater to any personal dietary restrictions. A big plus in my book!

Man hiking on a trail

Regarding "energy" you get from dried foods: When we dehydrate food, it provides us with a nutrient-dense, high-calorie meal that we need to keep us hiking up those hills.

The dehydration process concentrates the flavors due to the water having been removed, which makes our food super-tasty and nutrient-rich.

Beyond Backpacking...

Dried foods are not only convenient to carry on backpacking trips, but are also great for emergency food supplies! If you're out traveling with the kids in the car, take along healthy dehydrated food snacks.

sliced apples on stacked Nesco dehydrator traysApple slices drying on stacked dehydrator trays

When first starting out dehydrating food, begin with small batches so you can make a note of how long it takes to dry for future reference.

Also with small batches, you'll learn what you do - and don't - like.

Try out new recipes and different combinations.

Make your own trail mix of dried grapes (raisins!), dried apples, dried bananas, and salted nuts.

Add a bit of granola too. Check out this awesome Granola Recipe from Cookie + Kate.

Family hiking in the hilly countryside

Fun Family Activity

Drying food for backpacking is a fun activity to do with family or friends. It's not just about the end result, it's also about the process. Plus, it's a great way to share your love for the outdoors with others.

As a kid (decades ago LOL), I pitched a tent in our back garden. I had my BFF over for the night. Imagine two twelve-year-old girls. Right. To quieten down the noise we made, Dad got the garden hose out and hosed down our tent! Worked like a treat.

Thanks, Dad - I can smile about that now.

No Dehydrator?
No Problem: Do This Instead

apples drying in a regular oven

If you don't have a dehydrator, use your oven.

Set it to its lowest temperature. Bear in mind that it won't be as energy-efficient as an electric dehydrator, and it may take longer too.

Do a test batch or two using your oven. It's a great way to see if you enjoy drying food for backpacking. (I bet you will!)

Once you get the hang of drying your own goodies, you'll discover that it's not just about saving money, it's about adopting a lifestyle that values self-sufficiency, overall health, and respect for the environment that we all share on Mother Earth.

It's very satisfying to open up your own backpacking snacks knowing that it's a delicious and nutritious meal you made yourself.

A Skill that Will Serve You Well

Learning how to dry food is a skill that will serve you well - not just for backpacking - but in everyday life. It helps reduce food waste (no more tossing out rotten fresh fruit that you forgot was in the bottom of the refrigerator drawer).

I hope you get started with dehydrating fresh fruits and veggies - and meats and seafood - but be sure to store it properly and use oxygen absorbers as mentioned in this post.

Thanks for reading - now "go take a hike!"