Dehydrating Food for Backcountry Camping

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picture of a canoe by a lake while backcountry camping in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park in the fall
The serenity of backcountry camping

The following is the transcript from our podcast episode on how to dehydrate food for backcountry camping. You can listen to the episode here or read the transcript below.

Pamela: Hello and good day, eh? Welcome to the Super Good Camping podcast. My name is Pamela

Tim: and I’m Tim

Pamela: and we are here because we’re on a mission to inspire other families to enjoy camping adventures such as we have with our kids. Today, since there is an upcoming backcountry trip happening very soon, we wanted to talk a little bit about backcountry food. So take it over Tim…

Tim: All right, for backcountry, or all camping when it involves me, takes a great deal of planning. Our backcountry trip is in just over two weeks, almost three weeks, and so dehydrating food is the priority. We’ve been doing it for a while now. Plus I had a bunch of food already dehydrated. I am currently whipping the child, the big child…

Pamela: No actual whipping is going on, folks, it’s just a figure of speech.

Tim: Whipping the big child to get on with it and dehydrate more of what’s on our menu. Weight is an issue you don’t want to carry any more weight than you have to when you’re in the backcountry. So dehydrating food removes water. Water weighs nine point something pounds per gallon, and it adds up quickly. Then when you’re backcountry camping you’re filtering and boiling water and you just add it to your dehydrated food and you let it rehydrate. It’s fabulous. If I’m clever, I’ll actually post a short video of a dehydrated meal that Thomas and I made in Algonquin a couple of years ago. It’s dead easy to prepare and it tastes so good. So yes, we are dehydrating currently. You have to dehydrate fruits to go with your oatmeal in the morning, assorted veggies to go with soups or what have you for lunch, and also veggies to go with your dinner. You can do a couple of different types of meat. You can turn it into jerky which is dead easy for snacks, especially if you’re doing long-distance canoeing or things like that or hiking. It’s something you can pull out and snack on, granola bars as well, but it’s nice to have meat with your meals. We often chop up pseudo jerky and throw it in with our soups. What you do is you buy a dehydrator unless you have a friend that can lend you a dehydrator.

picture of a vacuum sealer and dehydrated food for backcountry camping
Dehydrating food and then vacuum packing it for backcountry camping

Pamela: We started out with a dehydrator that Tim found in the lobby of our apartment building.

Tim: It was a freebie. We have a bit of a trading post thing that happens with the community here at our building. Yeah, it was a free one. It wasn’t particularly pretty. I’m pretty sure it had a crack in the lid and stuff like that. But it worked when I turned it on. It had about five or six trays when we started out and progressively as we learned how to dehydrate and what not to do….

Pamela: We melted a few trays…

Tim: We melted a few trays, we got some stuff stuck to it that absolutely would not come off and we ended up having to ditch trays. It was not a particularly good one. That’s not a knock against it. The brand was Salton, I think. It had a lot of miles on it when we got it. It had very uneven heat. Every few hours, you had to turn the trays themselves. The air and heat blew up through sort of a centre chimney in it. But it would arc off and you would end up with stuff totally dried out on one side of the tray and stuff that wasn’t even close to being done on the other side of the tray if you didn’t spin the trays. Not unlike your barbecue perhaps. But it did what we needed it to do. We learned a lot by using it. Or I learned a lot on it about how to do things. How not to do things. Pamela bought me a fabulous book, The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook by Tammy Gangloff. This is quite a few years old now. I’ve just ordered a second dehydrator meal book. It’s by Kevin Ride. He’s known as Kevin Outdoors on YouTube. But he’s amazing. He makes amazing meals, he even does lasagna.

I’ve never even heard of that before. We’ve done spaghetti once. And it was semi-okay. Books are good because there’s a lot of research that goes into what you’re doing as far as dehydrating. Let the experts tell you how to do it. You can experiment on your own. It takes a lot of food to figure it out. And you have to kind of keep doing it. If you spend two months dehydrating stuff, and then you don’t dehydrate stuff for another year, you’re gonna forget half of what you learned. I used to take all kinds of notes. They disappeared in one of our moves. So it’s back to reference the books. The Salton dehydrator, I would say we got three or four years out of it. It did what we needed it to do. We were able to do multiple items. Everything has different drying times, ideally at different temperatures. The Salton didn’t have any adjustable temperature on it. It simply was whatever it was and you had to pay attention. Watermelon dries out at a different pace from say carrots. So you pay attention. You take the drawers of dried stuff out. You pack them up. You could use Ziploc bags and stick a straw in and suck as much of the air out as possible. That’s the poor man’s process of simulating a vacuum sealer, which we have. It depends on how long you’re going to store it. You can store them for 12-18 months if you vacuum them well and you freeze them. At the very least you need to keep them in a cool, dark place. Anyhow, we have stepped up to an Excalibur dehydrator and it’s the bomb. We’ve got 10 drawers for it. It’s square. The heat in it is so much more even. You can slide drawers in and out very easily, no big deal. You can do things that dry at multiple lengths of time. It has an adjustable temperature on it so if you’re drying fruits, you pick fruits in the same drying temperature range. And then you just set a timer on it and when it goes off, you pull that drawer out and you set it again for an additional hour or whatever time for the remaining ones. Preparation wise it depends. Fruits are generally pretty easy. You slice fruits. Everything gets sliced thinly, an eighth of an inch to a quarter of an inch thick, and laid out, not piled on top of each other. Nice and neat. Back to having books. They’ll tell you whether some of them need to have a citrus spray of some type. It may be a lemon-water spray or a pineapple spray, that sort of thing. It keeps them from going brown and getting kind of yucky. Otherwise, you put them on the tray and put them in at whatever temperature it says. Vegetables and fruits are generally around 125 degrees but they can go anywhere between say eight hours and 14 hours to dry properly. Meats are higher temperature but shorter time. They’re about 160 degrees and you’re looking at six to eight hours. Then you usually finish them off at 275 for 15 or 20 minutes in the oven to put a final cure on them. A bit of a side note on meats they’re much better, especially if you’re doing jerky, if you marinate them. Do a marinade for say 24 hours in the fridge after you’ve sliced them, not before you slice them. The less fat the better. Pork can be a bit of a deal. You need to do a really good job of trimming it. You don’t really want marbled meats for dehydrating, as much as it makes for a better steak, it doesn’t make for good jerky. Fish works fine. Take canned tuna, spread it out, and it dries up nicely. It works great and you can turn it into a sandwich down the road. You can do pasta. You have to pre-cook it and then you go pretty hard so about 155 degrees. If you make spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, it’s about 10 hours at 155 degrees after you’ve cooked everything. You just kind of plop the spaghetti in with a blob of sauce on top of it. Somebody referred to it once as a bird’s nest with tomato sauce on top of it. I like meat in mine. I go for extra lean ground beef, it has less fat, so it’s easier. I don’t have to worry about it. It can spoil quickly down the road with the fat that’s leftover that’s the issue there. Yeah, then vacuum pack them, put them in the freezer, stash them away or lots of people store them in their pantry. Again, dark and cool are good. We’ve taken leftover fruit and vegetables from two trips before that we just supplemented by doing more to fill out what we needed for the menu and have had no problems with it. I know the rule of thumb is 12 to 18 months. Just to maybe add a little side note that fruits, in particular things like blueberries, pineapple, and apple, when you rehydrate them are so much sweeter. They’re just wicked yummy. I assume because you end up with less water back in them when you rehydrate them. We’ve had mixed results with strawberries. The other fruits, though, taste amazing in oatmeal in the morning. Every meal outdoors tastes better than a home-cooked meal regardless. I think that’s probably it. I’m looking forward to getting Kevin’s dehydrator book because it’ll have all of those recipes in there. Oh, and here’s another tip – much as we dehydrate meals we also buy Knorr soups, instant rice, and instant potatoes from the grocery store. Then you make that soup and then you throw a bunch of dehydrated stuff in with it. Make sure that you add a little bit more water than the package calls for and it all rehydrates. It cooks up at the same time in eight minutes or whatever you need for the package and Bob’s your uncle. That pretty much covers it. We take tortilla wraps when we’re in the backcountry. For lunch, we take some honey and some peanut butter and use tortilla wraps to make a sandwich. Nothing dehydrated involved there. There is one last little bit. For breakfasts, bacon and eggs are always yummy. The first day you don’t need anything dehydrated, even the second day maybe, but by day three, you’re not looking at fresh eggs and fresh bacon from the store. You can get pre-cooked bacon, it’s wafer thin, but it lasts. You buy it off the shelf, not in a refrigerator or anything. And eggs you can dehydrate eggs. It’s complicated. I personally have not. I can’t be bothered to even do it. We just buy powdered eggs. They are pre-dehydrated or freeze-dried, actually, by big companies that do that. They cost a small fortune. They certainly do this year because I could find none in Canada. I ended up buying them from REI in the States. And it cost me as much to ship them as it did to buy the eggs themselves. So I bought enough to do about three years’ worth of eggs because the shipping was 50 bucks regardless of how much I got. There you go. That’s it.

Pamela:

That’s it for us for today. We will talk to you live from Presqu’ile Provincial Park in about a week. And if you’d like to reach out to us, we’d love to hear from you. Our email address is hi@supergoodcamping.com. And please do connect with us on all of the social media. We’re on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and we have our public Facebook group which is called The Campfire. We’ll talk to you again soon. Bye!

Tim: Bye

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