Picture this: you’re perched atop a granite slab five miles from the nearest paved road and there isn’t another soul in sight besides one of your closest compadres sitting a few rocks over from you, glassing the same drainage you are. You guys aren’t talking a lot besides the occasional mumble about the landscape and wildlife in front of you.

You’ve been here before and realize you’ve got a ticket to a show no money could buy—the show of mother nature on full display. Two bull elk are vying for the status of the king of the mountain several hundred yards away on a north-facing slope, and three bears are making their way up a thick patch of brush on the south-facing slope. They’re hard to notice at first, but as you adjust the settings on your binoculars, you’re able to make out a sow and two of her cubs following along like spring chicks follow a momma duck. 


Places like this are hard to get to and generally only purchased with the collateral of sweat, determination, and some leg muscle, things all fueled by what you choose to eat during a hunt. Though just about anything can work for fuel, some options are better than others. While the category is ever-growing, there are still a limited number of options when it comes to choosing pre-packaged meals for trips like these. 


Enter the world of DIY dehydrated meals, the place where fuel AND options are genuinely limitless, not to mention the special feeling that comes with sitting down at the end of it all to a meal you’ve made to fuel one more day on the mountain.  


Getting Started

Unfortunately, many people never venture into the realm of dehydrating their food under the guise that it’s a complex process that requires a lot of time, energy, and cash to get started. None of that could be further from the truth.


In this article, we’ll walk through the basics of getting started with dehydrating your meals. We’ll cover topics like how to pick the right machine, what can (and can’t) be dehydrated, storage, and rehydrating the food once in the field. Grab a pen for notes and let’s dive in!


Choosing a Machine

Shape and Features

There’s more to choosing a machine than simply choosing a shape. It’s true that most dehydrators come in either a square or round shape, but determining which is right for you starts by determining what it is that you want to do with it. 


In short, square machines are typically more robust and capable of handling things like full-on meals, jerky, and large volumes of _ (insert whatever it is you're wanting to dehydrate). 


Round machines can work in a similar fashion (I used a round machine when I first started out and had no issue doing full-on meals), but require much more nuanced operation and are a bit more of a pain to deal with if dehydrating anything more than herbs and fruit.


Regardless of shape or capability, I would highly recommend finding a machine that allows you to set the temperature. This can be incredibly helpful when offering versatility, but also in peace of mind and food safety. Some foods (bear jerky being one) have to be cooked at/above a certain temperature to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Save yourself the heartache and don’t even consider a unit without temperature controls on it.


Juggling Features and Cost

The best option I’ve found for balancing features with the cost is the unit by MEAT. It’s super versatile, stainless steel with nice metal inserts. It has temperature control and won’t break the bank at $100.00 with a promo code (obtained by signing up for their newsletter). 


Picking a Recipe

First and foremost, it’s worth mentioning just about anything can be dehydrated. From meat to veggies, pasta to mac and cheese—it all can be done. There’s one place this thinking falls short and that’s with foods that are tremendously high in fat. Fat doesn’t dehydrate well simply based on the fact that there’s very little water in the product. Think back to a mason jar full of oil and water. They separate when left undisturbed. Where food has higher fat content, it likely has much lower water content. 


With that said, you could certainly try to dehydrate them, but the end product will likely turn up a less than desirable end result and give a rubbery texture when rehydrated. 


With that out of the way, the sky is truly the limit in terms of creating a list of foods you can dehydrate.


The Work Before the Work: Cooking Before You Dehydrate

It seems one of the most confusing crossroads a lot of people come to when beginning their quest with dehydrating is how to cook something before it even goes in the machine. I can appreciate where the confusion comes in. It seems only natural to think there needs to be some sort of special, hocus-pocus like hack done before removing the water, right? There’s not. It’s truly as simple as cooking the dish and putting it in the unit. In fact, I’ve even dehydrated stuff straight out of a can to tote up the mountain (here’s looking at you, Spaghetti-O’s!).


The Dehydrating Process

One of the most important pieces of ensuring a good result is in how you lay out the food on your dehydrating trays before putting them in the unit. If I had to sum it all up in two words, I’d say “even” and “consistent.” The more even and consistent your food sits on the tray itself, the more uniform the end product will be. If it’s lumpy and stacked in some spots, it will take longer to dry out than an 8th grader's winter boots on a snow day home from school. Do the work up front and spread things evenly. 


This is also where the square unit trumps the circular units. It’s not just in the geometry of the machine that makes it superior: it’s the placement of the fan. You see, circular units have the drying unit working from the top down versus the square units typically drying from the rear forward. This allows for even heat distribution and far more consistency with drying the food. 


As I’ve said above, I used a circular unit for many years and it’s very possible to dehydrate full meals with this, but you’ll need to be diligent about rotating the trays, turning the food over halfway through, etc.


Knowing When It’s Done

It’s easy to do, but don’t overthink this part. You’re looking for more of a crisp bark than you are a rubbery end result. The latter means the food has a while to go still in the unit before it’s completely done. 


Remember, you can’t “over dehydrate” food unless you’re working with jerky or something you don’t intend on rehydrating with water at some point. I almost always err more on the side of caution by letting it sit longer than I think it needs rather than pulling it early. 


Storage Methods

Some folks buy mylar bags and oxygen packs to seal their meals up once they’re finished dehydrating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but cost savings was a major reason I first started to dehydrate my own food for trips ($10 bucks a hit adds up quickly!). 


As such, I’ve always stuck mine in a sturdy Zip-loc bag and put it in the freezer for long-term storage (greater than 1 year). I’ve dehydrated meals that are older than some of my socks and they taste every bit as good as they did the day I cooked them by sealing them up this way.


The definite advantage of using a mylar bag over my method would be that you have a cooking vessel to rehydrate the meal in. I typically just rehydrate mine in my stove (JetBoil Flash or Mini Mo*) with a koozie, so that’s never been an issue.


*If I’m really ounce counting, I’ll run an MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe with Toaks Ti mug and custom Reflectix koozie I made.



This can be more of an art than a science. For the most part, you’re probably safe to assume 12-16 ounces of boiling water will get the job done. If you find there’s excess water after your meal has rehydrated, simply drain it out and enjoy the meal. 


Like water volumes, time in the water can also be a bit of a guessing game. I’ve had the best luck with 15-20 minutes. Rice I did not cook ahead of time seems to take longer while something like couscous rehydrates almost as fast as I can dump it in the vessel. 


Concluding Thoughts

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making your life easier by picking up packaged meals for an upcoming trip. However, I’d also argue that there’s little as rewarding as knowing the effort you put forth to fuel another day on the mountain.


Dehydrating your own meals is easy, inexpensive, and can provide a boatload of versatility for backcountry meals. What’s more is you’re putting together the very fuel that will keep you in the woods one more day. And, at the end of the day, aren’t we all after just one more day in the place we love?


5 Additional Tips on the Road to Easily Dehydrating Your Own Meals

- Add in ¼-? cup plain breadcrumbs to any recipe with ground meat in it. This is tremendously helpful in the rehydration process and yields a FAR better end product. 

- Use thin or small pastas for pasta dishes. This will not only help ensure the noodles are completely cooked when you go to rehydrate them, but it will also guarantee you’re not waiting 36 hours for the machine to get every drop of water out of the pasta.

- Small chunks are key. Tomatoes, berries, veggies, and the like can take an eternity to dry completely if they’re in giant chunks. The best way to make sure you’re not waiting to use this meal until next season is to make sure the sizes are uniform and not too large.

- Not a cook? No problem! You can dehydrate food right out of the can just like Grandma’s homemade chili! I’ve often taken frozen berries and veggies and put them on trays straight from the freezer to dehydrate for meals.

- Use canned chicken rather than chicken breast you’ve cooked. The pressurized cooking of canned chicken seems to be a key piece of getting the chicken to rehydrate well in many recipes. I once attempted to include chicken breast in a recipe, and there's a reason that attempt happened once. Buy the can. Trust me.


Sante Fe Chicken and Rice


- 1.5-2 cups (dry) Minute white rice (white rehydrates better than brown)

- 2-3 CANS of chicken breast (it DOES matter if it’s canned)

- 1 can sweet corn

- 1 can seasoned black beans

- 1-2 packets of chili seasoning (you can also substitute 1 package of McCormicks taco seasoning)

- 1-2 Tbsp of cumin (if not using packaged taco mix)


  1. Cook the rice per package directions. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to bake it in the oven. Use an oven-safe dish, the amount of rice you want to use, and a ratio of water to rice at 2:1. Bake at 350-375 degrees F for around 30-35 minutes with the dish covered in aluminum foil. Once finished, fluff with a fork and recover with foil. 
  2. Once the rice is finished, mix chicken, corn, beans (previously drained), and seasoning.
  3. At this point, you can immediately dehydrate it or allow the rice mixture to sit overnight and dehydrate it the following day.
  4. Dehydrate at 160-165 degrees F or higher (both rice and meat are included, so this is important) for around 6-8 hours or until the mixture becomes dry and “crisp” to the touch, almost brittle-like.


This is delicious on its own or nestled on the inside of a couple of tortillas if you’ve had a big hiking day!