Freeze-dried foods are awesome for trail meals. They are lightweight, cook very quickly, and retain their flavors. The only problem is that those freeze-dried meals can be really expensive. A way around this is to buy bulk freeze dried foods and assemble your own trail meals.
- How to make your own freeze-dried meals
- Calculating calories and nutrients
- Shelf life and packaging methods
- Combining freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients
- List of Bulk freeze-dried foods
What DIY Meals Work Well as Trail Food?
As a general rule, “wet” meals like stews, enchiladas, or pastas in sauce work best for DIY backpacking meals. It makes sense – you have to cover them with water, and some of that water will likely stay.
I’ve heard of people making scrambled eggs from freeze-dried ingredients, but it usually doesn’t work well on the trail. You’ll end up with soggy eggs. Or you’ll burn the hell out of your pan and won’t be able to clean it.
An easy way to come up with meal ideas is this: Look at what the backpacking meal companies offer. Then just replicate them.
Tip: Start with your breakfast
If you aren’t sure how to get started with DIY backpacking meals, start with breakfast. Those bags of Mountain House oatmeal are really expensive (especially considering how cheap oats are!). You are paying a premium price for what essential is some oats and a few freeze-dried fruits in fancy packaging.
To make your own, just combine some freeze-dried fruits with oats, nuts, and some sugar. You can also add freeze-dried milk powder to make it creamier. I like to add superfoods like chia seeds to my trail oatmeal too.
How to Assemble Your Own Freeze Dried Meals
You will basically just be adding each of the ingredients into trail-friendly packaging. However, you will need to do a lot of math. You should tally the calories/fat/protein of each ingredient you add, and also consider your micronutrient needs (more on this below).
But the basic steps of making your own trail meals from freeze dried ingredients is easy. Just follow these steps.
Step 1: Choose a Carbs
These you will probably be getting in the supermarket. Choose carbs which cook fast, such as instant rice, couscous, or thin pastas (spaghetti). If you aren’t too worried about conserving fuel, then any pasta will do.
Tip: Keep couscous separate from other ingredients. It cooks too fast. It will be done before your freeze dried ingredients have time to rehydrate. The same goes with instant mashed potatoes.
Step 2: Add a Protein
Most freeze-dried backpacking meals suck in terms of protein. One of the benefits of going the DIY approach is that you can really load up on the protein. I’m vegan so my protein is usually beans, lentils, or TVP. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options for veggie freeze-dried proteins. I generally just dehydrate beans instead.
Step 3: Add Veggies and Fruits
This is where making your own freeze-dried meals really pays off. You can omit any veggies that you hate and put in the veggies you actually like.
Don’t skimp on the fruits and veggies. I know that they don’t have a lot of calories per weight, but they are crucial for antioxidants and vitamins. How are you supposed to recover from a long day of hiking if you don’t have nutrients???
Step 4: Add a Healthy Fat
You can buy freeze-dried cheese in bulk. These are a great source of fat (you’ll need about 50% of your calories to come from fat!).
Alternatively, you can just carry a bottle of olive oil with you on the trail. Olive oil has a great calorie/weight ratio and is almost pure fat.
Step 5: Add Flavor
Now add flavors like herbs and spices. The more flavor you add, the less salt you will need. Note that your sense of taste changes at high altitudes so you’ll probably need more salt and flavoring than you normally would.
Calculating Calories and Nutrients
Most backpackers and thru-hikers I know focus solely on calories when doing their meal planning. Hence why Pringles are so damn popular as a trail food!
I’d encourage you to think beyond calories. Without protein and fiber, all those calories will rush into your bloodstream too quickly. This will cause your blood sugar to skyrocket, and subsequently crash. And when it crashes, you will feel tired and very hungry.
There isn’t too much research on thru-hiking nutrition. Most macronutrient recommendations are based on Brenda L. Braaten’s info. She recommends:
- 50% fat
- 35% carbs
- 15% protein (you’ll need about 0.8 to 1g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight)
But don’t forget about micronutrients too. Fruits and vegetables might not deliver much in terms of calories/ounce, but they are crucial for muscle repair, immune response, and mental clarity.
If you really can’t be bothered to get 6 servings each of fruits and veggies into your backpacking meals, at least carry a veggie-based supplement powder. Navitas Superfood blend is popular with thru-hikers.
Shelf-Life of DIY Freeze Dried Meals
The freeze-dried meals you buy can last for years…until you open them. Once the package is open, the shelf life shrinks drastically. Some companies recommend eating opened packages of freeze-dried foods within 1-3 weeks!
So long as you keep the contents of your DIY meals dry (which also means out of humidity), they should still last for months. But any amount of humidity can drastically shorten shelf life. Something to think about if you are mail-dropping yourself food to a humid area!
Storage Bags for DIY Trail Meals
Backpacking meals like those from Mountain House are in foil-lined bags. These are sealed to keep out oxygen and humidity.
If you are just going on a short trip (and not worried about your pack falling into a creek), then you can get by with regular Ziplock bags.
For longer trips, or high-humidity situations, you’ll want foil-lined bags that can be sealed. Mylar bags are great for this. When sealed properly, Mylar won’t let oxygen or moisture into the bag. Sealing can be a tedious process, so you might just go with the foil-lined Ziplock bags. They aren’t air-tight, but should be okay for most trips of 2-4 weeks.
*Many hikers like to put each meal in its own pouch. This makes it easy to portion out meals and prevents you from overeating. But you can also store your meals in bulk and just measure them out before preparing on the trail.
Combining Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Ingredients
For almost all types of food, freeze-drying beats dehydrating. The shelf life is longer, the taste is better, and the texture comes out better when rehydrated.
However, you still can’t buy that many types of freeze-dried foods in bulk. This is especially true of veggies. And any bulk foods you find will still be quite pricy.
For these reasons, I primarily dehydrate my own backpacking meals (a recipes book is in the works now!). Check out some of the delicious, healthy backpacking meals I make using my dehydrator.
For more variety, you can buy a home freeze-drying machine and freeze-dry your own foods. But these machines are very expensive! I would friggin’ love to have one of these!!! Check it out here if you have the budget.
By comparison, home dehydrators are very cheap. If you want to drastically cut the cost of your backpacking meals, you can combine DIY dehydrated foods with bulk freeze-dried foods.
Some things to keep in mind when combining dehydrated and freeze-dried ingredients:
- Dehydrated foods contain moisture. If you mix them with your freeze-dried foods, some moisture will get into the freeze-dried ingredients. This will reduce shelf life.
- Rehydration times may vary. If you boil all the ingredients together, some ingredients might end up mushy. The only solution to this is to store some ingredients in separate bags. The ingredients with the longest cooking times go in the pot first. Dealing with a zillion bags can be a pain on the trail.
Best Freeze-Dried Foods in Bulk
There are a lot of brands which offer freeze-dried foods in bulk containers. There are lots of options for fruits. However, you won’t find many options for veggies. There are mostly just broccoli, corn, and green beans. :/
For this reason, you might need to combine some dehydrated ingredients with your freeze-dried bulk ingredients. It will take some experimentation to get the ratios and cook times right. But, I think it is worth it in the long run – you’ll save money on backpacking meals plus be able to customize them for your nutritional and taste needs. 🙂
Bulk Freeze-Dried Meat
*Note that many companies put fillers like flour in their freeze-dried meat. These options are for 100% meat without fillers.
- Nutristore freeze dried diced chicken: #10 can; 22g protein per ounce
- Mountain House freeze dried diced chicken: #10 can; 21 grams protein per ounce
- Augason Farms Freeze Dried Meat Variety Kit (6 pack of #10 cans includes chicken and beef): Beef 15g protein/oz; Chicken 23.6g protein/oz.
- Mountain House Ground Beef: 15 grams protein/ounce
Freeze-Dried Vegetarian Proteins
*You are pretty limited here. Most products are dehydrated and not freeze-dried. It’s pretty easy to dehydrate your own beans though.
Bulk Freeze-Dried Fruits and Veggies
*I love mushrooms, but they are really difficult to rehydrate. They almost always end up chewy. So keep that in mind if you try to make trail meals with freeze dried mushrooms.
Nutristore Freeze Dried:
- Veggie sample pack (broccoli, corn, peas)
- Fruit and veggie variety pack (400 servings total; one #10 can of each: Apples, Bananas, Pineapple, Peaches, Raspberries, Strawberries, Broccoli, Carrots, Corn, Green Beans, Onions, Potatoes)
Natierra Freeze Dried:
This brand has a lot of freeze-dried products, including
- Chocolate covered fruits
- Tropical fruit
Augason Farms Freeze Dried:
Mother Earth Freeze Dried Products:
- My Food Storage veggie kit (120 servings; peas, corn, green beans, broccoli)
- Emergency essentials freeze dried tomato
- Karen’s Naturals Freeze Dried variety pack (fruits)
Bulk Freeze-Dried Sauces and Cheese
- Backpacker’s Pantry freeze dried whole milk
- Augason Farms freeze dried cheese powder
- Provident Pantry freeze dried shredded mozzarella cheese
- Nutristore freeze dried cheddar
- Future Essentials freeze dried marina sauce
- Future Essentials freeze dried Bolognese meat sauce
Do you make your own backpacking meals with freeze-dried ingredients? What’s your favorite recipe? Let us know in the comments.
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