How to Dehydrate Your Own Backpacking Food [Step-by-Step Guide]
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I’ve been making my own backpacking food for years and it’s so much fun! Over on my YouTube channel, I often show you all the food I pack on backpacking trips, so naturally, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I do it. In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to dehydrate your own backpacking food step-by-step.
For this tutorial, we’re going to use one of my favorite (and super basic) backpacking meals as an example – spaghetti!
This post covers:
- features that your dehydrator should have
- the dehydrator I use and recommend
- how to load the dehydrator
- proper storage
- 3 way to package your dehydrated food
- how to rehydrate it at camp
It’s packed with information and tips so you can start dehydrating backpacking food right away.
Why Dehydrate Your Own Backpacking Food?
There are so many reasons to make your own backpacking food.
Not only is it really simple (as you’ll see in this post), but it’s also fun and empowering to be able to control the quality of ingredients in your backpacking meals, and the serving sizes.
In addition, each meal ends up being a lot cheaper than a store-bought equivalent, which will save you a lot of money over the years!
DIY Backpacking Food Video:
This video shows you exactly how I do it! Click play to join me in my kitchen, or if you prefer, read on below for written instructions.
Dehydrating Supplies You Need
Before we start cooking and dehydrating, let’s go over the supplies and ingredients needed in order to make this simple spaghetti backpacking meal.
First up, you will need a dehydrator. There are a lot of dehydrators on the market nowadays, and so I’ve tried a few different brands and styles over the years.
The dehydrator that I use is the Cosori Premium Food Dehydrator.
I love this dehydrator. I don’t think that you need to go out and spend $500 on a dehydrator, okay?
This Cosori dehydrator is a great price, and it’s the perfect size for dehydrating backpacking meals at home.
My favorite part about this dehydrator is that it’s made with stainless steel – not plastic. Believe it or not, that was hard to find.
In addition, this dehydrator also has a glass front door so you can see the food as it’s dehydrating, along with a magnetic door closure.
It’s also very quiet when it runs.
I was reading reviews of very popular dehydrators on the market, and people complained that they had to put it in their garage when it was running because it was so loud. Not with the Corosi dehydrator!
I live in a small condo, and this dehydrator is so quiet, that it’s absolutely no problem to run overnight in my kitchen while I sleep close by.
When you’re looking for a dehydrator for making your own backpacking food, you really want to make sure that it has a timer and the ability to set different temperatures.
Not all food dehydrates at the same time and at the same temperature.
2) Parchment Paper or Silicon Sheets
Depending on what dehydrator you have, you might need some additional supplies for loading the dehydrator.
Parchment paper will work just fine.
You can also buy silicon sheets made for your specific dehydrator size.
Don’t cut silicon baking sheets to fit your dehydrator. (In the past I’ve done this, and while I never had any problems, some sheets are dangerous if cut, so it’s best to avoid cutting them, and only buy silicon sheets made for your dehydrator.)
3) Marinara Sauce
To make the pasta, you’ll need 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce. You can use whatever flavor or brand you like.
For best results, I recommend buying spaghetti, not any other size of pasta. Spaghetti seems to work the best.
If you need a gluten-free option, 100% brown rice pasta works the best. This is the brand I’ve tested and really like:
I wouldn’t recommend doing any other corn, quinoa, or bean pasta for this meal. They tend to fall apart when rehydrated, so stick to the brown rice pasta if you need a gluten free option.
Dehydrating Food for Backpacking (step-by-step)
Part 1: Cooking
Start with a clean kitchen
The first step in this entire process is to make sure that you start with a clean kitchen.
Make sure your countertops are clean.
In addition, make sure your pots, mixing spoons, and all the equipment you’re going to need is clean and dry, and that your dehydrator is free of any food debris from other batches that you’ve made.
Cook the spaghetti
Bring water to a boil and salt, if desired.
Before cooking the spaghetti, take a small handful from the pack, and use your hands to break it in half before adding it to the boiling water.
This will help it rehydrate a little bit better, and make it easier to spread on the dehydrator trays, which we talk about below.
Cook your pasta al dente.
You want to cook the pasta al dente because you’re going to dehydrate it, and then rehydrate it at camp, so it’s going to cook in boiling water again.
Strain the pasta, return it to your pot, and add in your pasta sauce.
Give it a mix, and set it aside to cool slightly while you get the dehydrator ready.
Part 2: Dehydrating
Start the Dehydrator
For this backpacking meal, set the dehydrator to 145°F and start running it.
I like to start my dehydrator before I load it, sort of like a pre-heating, in order to get the air circulating. This prevents condensation from building up in the dehydrator as you add the trays of food.
Set your dehydrator timer to about 9 hours. This meal typically takes anywhere between 8 to 12 hours.
There are a lot of things that factor into the dehydrating time such as, the specific dehydrator that you have, how much food you actually load onto the trays, and the humidity in your air. This is why it’s really hard to give an exact dehydrating time.
What I typically do, is start my dehydrator in the evening, and then let it run overnight while I’m sleeping. Wake up, and it’s done!
Prep Dehydrator Trays
Now we’re ready to talk about loading the dehydrator!
The Cosori dehydrator comes with six metal trays that we cannot spread the pasta directly onto because it will fall through.
We need something on top of the metal tray to prevent that from happening.
Most dehydrators come with plastic trays for this purpose. You can use those if you have them. They’re especially great if you have a really saucy pasta.
If you don’t have the plastic trays, or you don’t have enough of them, another option is to use parchment paper.
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit over your metal trays and spread the food on top.
If using parchment paper, make sure to cut it to fit the tray. You don’t want the parchment paper to hang over the edges of the tray.
The third option is to use silicone mats. Some dehydrators come with silicon mats because they’re great for making fruit leather.
Load the Dehydrator
When loading the trays with food for the dehydrator, it doesn’t matter what meal you’re making, you really want to make sure that you don’t pack your trays with a big layer of food because it’s not going to dehydrate properly.
It will take a really long time, clump together, and then it might not rehydrate as easily.
You really want to make sure that there’s space as best you can between the pasta, and that’s one of the reasons we broke it in half in the beginning, because it makes it a little bit easier to spread on the trays.
See the photo or video above for an example of well loaded dehydrator trays!
Part 3: Storage
Remove Food from the Dehydrator
When the pasta is done, it should actually snap when you break it.
It should not be wet anywhere.
When you take the trays out of the dehydrator, inspect each and every tray looking for any spots that might still be wet, and that need to stay in longer.
If you see any wet spots, let it dehydrate longer.
Next, it is very important that you let the tray cool completely to room temperature.
You do not want to store food that’s warm or hot because it’s going to create condensation in the bag, that’s moisture, and that’s what we do not want.
At this point, you want to make sure that your space is clean and dry and that your hands are clean and completely dry when you’re handling and packaging the food.
There are 3 storage options that we’re going to talk about today.
The first option that’s commonly used is a Ziploc freezer bag. This is an okay option for short term storage only.
If you live in a really humid climate, this might not work at all.
With this specific spaghetti meal, I found that the pasta can actually pierce right through these bags, so you might want to double bag it if you use this option.
The second storage option is a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber. After the bag has been heat-sealed, this is a really great long-term storage option.
If you’re just getting into dehydrating for backpacking, this is the perfect low-cost storage option to start with.
The third option is to vacuum seal the food. For this method, you will need a vacuum sealer and the bags that go with it. This is the vacuum sealer that I use.
Using the Mylar Bag Method
Make sure your food is at room temperature.
Using clean dry hands, carefully break the dehydrated pasta into smaller pieces and put one servings worth into a mylar bag.
One of the great things about making your own backpacking meals is that you control the serving sizes!
You can add as much or as little food as you want to these bags.
Shake the bag a little bit to try and get all the food toward the bottom. With one batch of dehydrated spaghetti, I typically get 4 large servings.
The next step is to add the oxygen absorbers and then seal them up.
You want to limit the amount of exposure to air that the oxygen absorbers get, so it’s important to move quickly on this step.
Put one oxygen absorber into each bag of food and then use your household iron or a hair straightener (set to medium-high heat) to seal the open end of the mylar bag.
The surface you seal the mylar bag on should be able to withstand the heat, and not burn or melt!
Label Your Dehydrated Meal
The last step is to label your bag with what’s inside and the date that you made it.
When you’re packing food for a backpacking trip, make sure to eat the oldest meals first.
This dehydrated spaghetti backpacking meal properly sealed in a mylar bag will last about a year when stored in a cool dry place.
I store mine in my kitchen cabinet. Next up, rehydrating at camp!
Part 4: Rehydrating
With dehydrated food, it does take a little bit longer to rehydrate than food that’s been freeze-dried. You can expect to wait at least 15 minutes (but probably 20) for this meal to fully rehydrate.
To rehydrate, simply remove the oxygen absorber from the mylar bag, and pour your dehydrated food into a pot.
Fill it with enough water until it’s just barely covered, and bring everything up to a boil.
Let it boil for a minute or two, remove it from the heat, and wait about 15 minutes before eating. You can always bring it back to a boil if it gets cooled down or if it needs more time to heat up.
You Can Make Your Own Backpacking Food!
Now you have all the tools and information you need to start making your own backpacking meals. I recommend that you try this spaghetti meal first, then you can branch out to other meals!
If you have any questions about this process, make sure to comment below.
Looks like you need 3 -4 trays for one meal. Pasta doesn’t warrant dehydrating.,it is already dry. Just carry concentrated tomato puree, some italian herbs, cheese ,salami and dried or fresh vegies. Maybe another meal example would be better. Spaghetti like this lacks fat and protein and therefore “staying power”, not satisfying.
what size oxygen absorber per bag do you use?
I didn’t see where you mentioned how much spaghetti to use. It doesn’t look like you used the whole 16oz package, so about how much pasta would be best for a regular-sized jar of sauce? Thanks for posting this! Super helpful!
I use a full 16 oz package of pasta with 1 jar of sauce!
It looks like you use the quart-sized bags for single serving meals. Is that correct? Your post really encourages me to try making my own dehydrated meals.
Yes, the Quart is a good size for single meals!