Often, preparing food for a trip into the wilderness will require you to dehydrate your own food. Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about the dehydration process.

What is a dehydrator?

It is a device that removes moisture from the food you are planning on taking with you on your walk, thus reducing the food’s weight and also preserving its shelf life.

How does it work?

A dehydrator is a box with a fan and a heating element inside it. With the combination of heat and airflow, the moisture is evaporated from any food that sits on the dehydrator’s shelves.

How long does it take?

The dehydration process could take anywhere from 6-12 hours if you use a good dehydrator. When the food has been dehydrated, it should be completely dry without any moisture in it. A good test is to squeeze the food between your fingers; if there is no sign of moisture, it has been successfully dehydrated.

What is re-hydration?

Re-hydration is the process of bringing the food ‘back to life’, usually by adding hot water.

How do you rehydrate?

It’s easy. You add water to your dehydrated meal and bring it to a boil for couple of minutes, then let it all sit in the pot for about 10 minutes with the lid on. (In cold conditions, it may be a good idea to pull a beanie around your pot for extra insulation.) The dried out food will absorb the moisture that has been removed during dehydration, giving you something that will resemble the original meal quite closely. (This will depend on what the food is).

What can you dehydrate?

Almost anything is possible to dehydrate; fruits, veggies, thick soups, stews, pasta sauces, shredded meat or mince. The secret is to have everything sliced thinly or spread thinly on the shelves. The smaller it is, the quicker it will dehydrate.

What shouldn’t you dehydrate?

You can dehydrate just about anything that doesn’t contain too much fat or oil. Animal fat not only fails to dehydrate, it also tends to go rancid and so should be minimised in dehydrated meals.

An additional challenge can be rehydrating your meals. Protein is terrible at re-absorbing water once it’s been dried out. Any meat in your meals therefore should be finely shredded or minced before dehydration takes place.

Note: A dehydrated steak will never rehydrate. Neither will scrambled eggs. I wish it did, but it doesn’t.

 When should you buy a dehydrator?

If you are a regular overnight hiker, you will find benefit in owning your own dehydrator.

What kind of dehydrator should I get?

There are many types of dehydrators out there. This article is not meant to be a complete buying guide, but here are some questions you need to ask before investing in a dehydrator:

Power: How quickly does the dehydrator dry out your meals?

Temperature: What is the maximum temperature setting on the dehydrator? Is it sufficient to dehydrate meat? Here is a discussion on the correct dehydrating temperature to make meat safe to eat.

Size: how much food are you going to be dehydrating and how quickly? How many trays will you need?

Timer: this feature will turn your dehydrator off after the given time frame.

Brand: research the brand you’re going to purchase. Read user reviews and look for positive feedback. My dehydrator is an Excalibur, with 5 trays. I’ve given mine a flogging and it’s done its job beautifully.

What are some alternatives to dehydrating?        

If you don’t have access to a dehydrator, don’t despair!

Here are your options

  1. Assemble your meals from dry ingredients. Good wholefoods or health food shops usually stock dehydrated vegetables including onions, peas, corn, carrots, garlic etc, which you can combine with quick cooking pulses and grains and spices to make an instant meal from scratch.
  2. For overnight hikes, you could carry in your home cooked meal in a food container and simply heat it up. If you are concerned about your meal going off, you could always freeze it prior to departing and it will thaw out in your pack during the day. This should keep your meal sufficiently cold and out of the ‘danger zone’.
  3. Take commercially prepared, freeze-dried or dehydrated meals with you. Due to lack of nutritional value and questionable taste, as well as undersized portions, this is always my last option.
  4. You can also take food with you that doesn’t require cooking. This is an ideal approach for ultra light overnight hikes with a good forecast. Making do without a cooked dinner means you don’t need to carry a stove or pots or fuel, saving you a fair bit of weight!

There you go, hopefully I answered some of your questions about the process of dehydrating your own meals.

If you have any queries regarding any of the content on this post, feel free to comment below and I’ll respond as soon as I can!