Food Dehydration for the Backcountry: Lighten Your Carbon Footprint…and Your Pack

As an avid backpacker, I am often frustrated with the lack of food options I have when I enter the wilderness for extended backpacking trips. Furthermore, I am always striving to lower my ecological footprint in various aspects of my life, and sometimes struggle with the idea that by entering the wild I am unintentionally harming it. In an attempt to reduce my ecological impact, but increase my tasty food consumption, I have begun researching sustainable food options and ways to prepare snacks and meals, specifically tailored for eating while hiking and backpacking, i.e. lightweight/high calorie/nutritious foods. Through my research, I discovered the many benefits of dehydrating food.

Food dehydration is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. By removing the moisture from food, bacteria growth is halted, and the food is able to be stored for long periods of times. If done properly, dehydrated food can last for decades. Some of the benefits of dehydrated food include weight/space savings, longer shelf life, ease of preparation in the field, and lower ecological impact. I recently purchased an electric dehydrator, which speeds up the process of dehydrating and enables you to do it in a controlled, safe environment. An electric dehydrator has a heating element and small fan that dries the food slowly from the inside out.

When hiking in the backcountry it is important to bring enough food to replace the calories you burn. Using a calorie calculator, I determined that I usually require somewhere between 2700 and 3700 calories/day while backpacking. Beef jerky is an excellent source of calories and protein and is a great choice for snacking on the trail. In 1 oz there is 130 calories and 9g protein. I usually take a pound (16oz) of jerky on my two night backpacking trips. Granola is another excellent form of quick calories, averaging about 500 calories per cup. For my first attempt at dehydrating, I made granola, beef jerky and green chile stew.

Here are the recipes that I used:

Yummy Granola
What You’ll Need
5 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins (dried grapes)
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup raspberries (dried)
1 cup strawberries (dried)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preparation
* Prior to making granola, dehydrate raspberries, strawberries, and grapes.
*  Mix all ingredients together until evenly distributed.  Spread in a thin layer on a cheese-cloth lined tray.  Dry until crispy.
*  Store in an air-tight container.
*  Eat on the trail.

Albuquerque Jerky
What You’ll Need
2 lbs Organic/Local Grass-Fed Lean Cut Beef (Flank, Sirloin, Top Round)
2/3 cup green chile sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 orange, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce

Preparation
*  Freeze the beef for 2 hours so that it’s easier to cut.
*  Trim away any fat.
*  Cut beef into 1/8 inch slices across the grain.
*  Marinate in a gallon ziplock bag with the remaining ingredients.
*  Let sit for an hour in the fridge.
*  Remove strips and place on dehydrator trays.
*  Rotate trays every couple of hours.
*  Dehydrate for 8 -12 hours…or until strips darken and dry.
*  Store in an airtight container.
*  Makes about 1 lb of jerky.

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Green Chile Stew
What You’ll Need
3 or 4 Potatoes
2 Carrots
Roasted Green Chile
1/2 Onion
Corn
Celery
Garlic Powder
Flour

Preparation
*  Always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat, fruits, and vegetables.
*  Slice or dice all veggies to between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick.
*  Blanch all of the vegetables by immersing them briefly in boiling water. This will help them avoid discoloration during drying, and will speed dehydration and reconstitution times.
*  Arrange vegetables on trays and dry for 1 – 1 1/2 days, making sure to rotate trays.
*  Store your dehydrated veggies in an airtight container.
*  To reconstitute: bring a pot of water to boil, add vegetable, and simmer for 20 minutes.
*  Serve and Enjoy!
*  Makes 2 servings.

Dehydrating your own food is a great way to shave weight off your pack, while at the same time lowering your ecological impact…not to mention the fact that it’s fun and easy!

Posted by Keenan V.

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