Lightweight, Nutritious, Sustainable, Delicious

by Ali Gray

Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay
If you’re anything like me, you get super hungry when you’re out in the backcountry. After a long day of backpacking or climbing, all I want is to sit down to a hot meal and load up on calories. An outdoor meal should leave me feeling satisfied and happy. Food that’s local, created sustainably, tastes great, and doesn’t break the bank is a definite plus.

When you’re craving a burger, fries, and a cold beer, re-hydrating a package of freeze-dried mediocre linguine from the store can be a bit of a letdown. But it doesn’t have to be! There are tons of options for do-it-yourself adventure food, and just as many non-corporate, tastier options than the wall of Mountain House at REI.

Enter: the dehydrator.

You can pick one of these up for pretty cheap (around $60 from many online stores), and they’re well worth the investment. Any beginner knows a home dehydrator is perfect for dried fruit of any kind. Apple rings (tip: cut the apple through the core for pretty star patterns in your rings), banana chips, mango, kiwi, strawberry, the list goes on. Feeling adventurous? Try adding some spices—spicy dried mango, anyone? Home-dehydrated fruits are cheap, easy, flavorful, and don’t contain added sugar and chemical preservatives.

After drying some fruit, it’s time to branch out into the wider world of amazing dehydrator meals. Believe it or not, a simple dehydrator is capable of drying all sorts of foods, including vegetables, sauces, meats, soups, and beans (no soak time required).


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  • Trail smoothie: Simply blend up your favorite smoothie and spread it out on a dehydrator tray. Once it’s brittle, grind it up in a coffee grinder and put it in a resealable bag. Out on the trail, add a little water and you have a smoothie, just like at home.
  • DIY oatmeal: Packaged oatmeal is a little…gross. Sugar and mystery ingredients, anyone? Instead, add whatever you want to some instant oats and you’re all set. Some fun ideas are chia seeds, hemp seeds, oat bran (fiber), powdered milk (creaminess), sugar or substitute (if you have a sweet tooth), vanilla bean powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon or other spices, dried fruits, and nuts.

Lunch and snacks

  • DIY trail mix: Home-dried fruits, nuts, seeds, chocolate, coconut...
  • DIY granola bars: Easier than you think to make at home. There are plenty of recipes online, including for KIND bars.
  • Summer sausage or home-dehydrator jerky paired with a hard cheese (safe without refrigeration in cooler temps). Eat on whole grain crackers, or rehydrate some hummus and make a wrap.
  • Consider rehydrating a meal pouch at breakfast and letting it soak until lunch. Many foods are just as good cold as they are warm.


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  • Soup: Use your favorite soup recipe: dehydrate the veggies and add all the ingredients in a resealable bag. If you’re adding meat, consider purchasing freeze-dried meats since they don’t rehydrate very well when dehydrated. I did read that dehydrated canned chicken works fairly well.
  • Couscous, pasta, and instant rice: Same instructions as for soup. There are tons of recipes online—risotto, curry, jambalaya, and many more. Consider dehydrating a marinara or curry sauce in your dehydrator!
  • Ramen: Ditch the nutrient-deficient spice packet, and use the instant noodles with your own blend of dehydrated veggies and spices.
  • Other ideas: Instant mashed potatoes or polenta.
  • Dessert: Rice pudding (instant rice, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, water to rehydrate), fruit leather (DIY), apple crisp (granola, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, dried apples, water to rehydrate).

Online dried ingredient marketplaces

Don’t want to invest in a dehydrator or don’t have the time or space? There are online shops that cater to backpackers and sell pre-dried individual ingredients, reusable rehydration pouches, and single-serve condiments.

These stores are more expensive that doing it yourself, but if you’re pressed for time or don’t want to figure out how to dry some of the more persnickety foods (I’ve always struggled with squash), they’re a fantastic option. I’ve used Packit Gourmet (they also sell tasty meal pouches), but other options are Harmony House Foods and FoodStorage.com.

Other quick tips

Save your boil-in-a-bag pouches. Wash them out and re-use them for your own dehydrator meals.
Organize your dehydrator meals in clear, resealable bags. Write on the bag what is inside (and the day you plan to eat it on a multi-day trip), and place breakfasts, lunches/snacks, and dinners in separate stuff sacks for easy sorting.

Dry dark leafy greens in your dehydrator, then grind them into a powder in your coffee grinder. This is an easy way to add nutrients to your morning smoothie or oatmeal, or into a dinner pouch. “Power green” powders are also available online, but it’s much cheaper to do it yourself. All those grains and nuts take a toll on our digestive systems and adding greens can really help.

Alternatives to Mountain House

Mountain House meals are fine, but they can quickly get old. And 2 servings? More like 1. Found that one out the hard way.

There are plenty of smaller companies producing dried meals popping up in local shops and online.

  • Food for the Sole: Originally a mom making meals for her son hiking the John Muir Trail, they now make “tasty health-conscious adventure foods”. And they’re based in Bend!
  • Backpackers Pantry: Becoming widely available at local stores. They do actually serve 2 people, use high-quality ingredients, and are a member of 1% for the Planet.
  • Heather’s Choice: Small batch, healthy, and handmade in Alaska.
  • Fishpeople: Soups and chowders made with wild, sustainably caught seafood.
  • Packit Gourmet: Tex-Mex inspired meals from a mother-and-daughter team.
  • Outdoor Herbivore: Vegetarian and vegan options with no additives, less sodium, and no artificial anything.

Now get out there and plan some tasty meals!

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