The weather turns, the clouds disperse, the sun returns, and one’s thoughts wander to camping, backpacking, and just generally tromping around in the great outdoors. It is the human imperative to conquer the wilderness and to exult in its grandeur, beauty, and danger. The true frontier is mostly gone now, but we can emulate that most fundamental and ancient human experience by going camping.
It restores your circadian rhythm.
It encourages healthy movement outdoors.
It places fire at the center of the communal nighttime setting rather than TV or smartphones.
But you gotta eat out there.
What to Eat in the Great Outdoors: Easy Camping Meals
Camping meal ideas don’t have to be complicated. You can easily get by for a few days or even longer with a combination of:
- Grain-free granola
- Jerky, biltong, pemmican
- Olives or dried olives
- Nuts and nut butter (available in single-serve packets)
- Trail mix, spiced roasted nuts
- Hard salami, summer sausage
- Hard cheese, freeze-dried cheese
- Tuna packets or other tinned fish, canned oysters/mussels
- Whole avocados
- Whole fruits
- Low-carb protein bars
- Low-carb tortillas (or regular corn tortillas if you prefer)
- Cooked potatoes/sweet potatoes (which last for a few days at room temp)
- Hard boiled eggs (which last for a day or two depending on temperature)
- Dried fruits, dates, berries, figs
In fact, you can eat quite well this way. You can certainly survive.
But sometimes you want a bit more luxury. You want something hot and comforting. Rather than squat around the fire gnawing on dried meat and crunching nuts, you want to sit with your people with a warm bowl in front of you and have a proper meal, wilderness style
Yesterday, you learned how to dehydrate food. Check that out if you’re new to dehydrating. It’s easy and economical, but there are a few things you need to know to get started. Today, I’m going to give you a few recipes for dehydrated trail meals. This is trail food—not car camping food. This is stuff that’s lightweight, backpack-stable, and dehydrated. This is food you can carry with you for days.
Making Your Own Easy Dehydrated Camping Meals
Unlike most commercial trail foods, these are nutrient-dense and delicious meals without any undesirable fats or ingredients. No industrial seed oils, plenty of animal protein.
There are a couple ways to make dehydrated camping meals:
- You can make finished meals at home, dehydrate them, and heat them on the trail.
- You can make individual dehydrated ingredients and then mix and heat them together on the trail.
I’ll describe below how to rehydrate food on the trail.
This is almost as good as the real thing. Almost.
- Add 1 part egg powder to 1.5 parts water, dried milk powder, and dried butter powder. (Ingredients readily available online or through a camping supply retailer.)
- Whisk it furiously. You want it totally blended, completely smooth, with lots of aeration.
- Heat oil or butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Add the egg mixture and any other rehydrated veggies you might have and stir continuously. Salt and season as you go.
- Finish with cheese if you have any.
Pressure Cooker Chili
This is a bare bones chili. It doesn’t have any beans, but you can add them if you like.
- Place the leanest beef you can find (top round, London broil, 96% lean ground, etc) in the pressure cooker along with tomato paste, onions, garlic, peppers, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, and chipotle pepper (if you like spicy). Add enough bone broth to cover everything, then pressure cook until the meat is falling apart.
- Reduce the chili until most of the liquid is gone and it’s a thick stew rather than soup.
- Spread the chili in a thin layer and dehydrate it.
The trick here is using liquid and pressure to cook it, rather than fat. When you rehydrate it on the trail, add plenty of fat.
Dehydrated mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes
These make an excellent base for any meal, particularly if you’ve been expending a lot of energy out on the trail.
- Peel and boil your potatoes just like you would when making mashed potatoes.
- When they’re soft, drain them almost completely. Reserve a few cups of the cooking water.
- Mash them with as much water as needed to produce a thick “soupy” textured mash, wetter than normal.
- Add salt and spices if desired, or wait for the trail.
- Do not add any fat, milk, butter, or cream. You can add that on the trail after reconstitution.
- Spread into thin layer and dehydrate until dry and brittle. Break or grind up into powder and store.
To reheat, mix half cup of dehydrated potato with 2/3 cup boiling water. Cover for 5-10 minutes and add any milk, butter, cheese, or seasonings. Adjust texture by adding more water if you want.
This also works for cauliflower. Just be sure not to add any fat until you’re rehydrating it on the trail.
These are just a few ideas. You can do a lot of cool stuff out there if you stick to the basics and follow some fundamental rules.
Use as little fat as possible.
The thing about cooking and dehydrating your own meals for the trail is that you have to go about it a little differently. You can’t use a ton of fat when you cook because fat simply doesn’t dehydrate very well. The whole point of dehydrating is to remove moisture and end up with a final product that stays shelf-stable at room temperature for a long time. Too much fat will retain moisture and go rancid.
So when you’re looking at these recipes, they might seem a little funny. When I make my normal camp chili, I’m searing the meat and veggies in butter and olive oil and really making a rich, thick stew—but that doesn’t fly when you’re dehydrating chili. You can always add the fat afterwards, after the dehydrated meal has been heated up, and I’ll include a list of essential additions to bring along when you head out into the wilderness for enriching your meals.
Use lower fat meat.
When you use beef, go as lean as you can. When you cook chicken, use breast or canned chicken.
Since you can’t really use tons of fat when cooking meals for dehydration, you’ll need to include a good amount of liquid to prevent sticking. Dehydration will take care of the moisture, of course.
Important Additions to Add to Your Pack
These are the cooking ingredients I consider essential for anyone eating well on the trail.
Gelatin powder/bone broth powder
Heat some water on the camp stove and whisk this stuff into it, then pour the gelatin-rich liquid into your soups, stews, chilis, and sauces to add texture, body, and gelatin.
Butter powder (yes, actual powdered grass-fed butter)
Add butter powder to any low-fat dish to enrich and render it more luxurious. You could also just bring real butter if there’s room, it’s not too hot out, and it won’t throw off your backpack weight.
Olive oil or avocado oil in small bottles
Powdered eggs and yolks
Milk powder is another good addition to have on hand.
Cheese powder or cheese
Cheese powder is a nice way to add body and nutrition to almost any dish. You could also pack straight-up hard cheese, which lasts quite well at room temperature. Shelf-stable grated cheese is also an option.
Salt, pepper, spices
At the very least, bring salt, black pepper, and something like garlic powder, paprika, porcini powder, or cayenne. Very easy, very simple, very effective seasoning.
Sun-dried tomatoes provide umami, acidity, sweetness, and that burst of rich tomato flavor that enriches almost any dish it touches. You can also snack on them directly.
Yes, yes, it’s not essential, but if you have the room, keeping some mayo on hand will really enhance your meals.
How to Rehydrate Your Dehydrated Meals
This is quite simple.
- Heat water until simmering in camp stove and add your meal. Usually it’s about 1 part dehydrated meal to 1.5 parts water.
- Cover and heat until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Adorn your meal with any spices, seasonings, oil, fat, and cheese.
Different dishes will have different rehydration requirements, but that’s the basic formula. If you’re just guessing, use less water than you think. You can always add more.
I’d love to hear what you guys are dehydrating and rehydrating out there on the trail. Let me know down below what your favorite dehydrated backpacking dishes are to make and eat!