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DIY Freeze Dried Backpacking Meals from Bulk Ingredients

diy freeze dried backpacking food

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.

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dehydrator backpacking recipes


What DIY Meals Work Well as Trail Food?

As a general rule, “wet” meals like stews, chili, or pasta work best for DIY backpacking meals.  These meals are meanty to be wet so it won’t matter too much if you add too much water when rehydrating the ingredients.

While you can make things like scrambled eggs from freeze-dried ingredients, 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 Carb

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: Some carbs like couscous and instant mashed potatoes cook very fast. You’ll need to package these separately from other ingredients. Otherwise the carb will cook before your  freeze dried ingredients have time to rehydrate.


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. Carnivores can buy freeze-dried chicken or beef in bulk.


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 powder 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. However, you can probably get by with using regular zip bags for packaging your DIY meals.

For longer trips, or high-humidity situations, you’ll want to seal your meals.  Consider getting a vacuum sealer like this one. Alternatively, you can get foil-lined Ziplock bags.  They aren’t air-tight, but should be okay for most trips of 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.

backpacking meal packaging

Just add water and you can prepare your meal inside the foil-lined zip bag.


Dehydrating Your Own Backpacking Meals

Even with the DIY approach, freeze-dried fodos are expensive and you don’t have too many options.

For this reason, I dehydrate my own meals instead.  You can even dehydrate entire meals.  Just add water to rehydrate on the trail!

Below are some of the dehydrator meals I’ve made. You can find all of these in my Trail Recipes eBook.  Buy it here.

dehydrator backpacking recipes

From left to right: Blueberry chia oatmeal, pear cardamom ginger oatmeal, red pepper crackers with hummus, beetroot “salami”, mashed potatoes with white bean gravy, & pasta with buttery white bean sauce

dehydrated backpacking food

Here’s what the dehydrator meals look like packed. These have a total of 13,700 calories and only weigh 6.9lbs dry. Just add water to rehydrate!


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.


Where to Buy Freeze-Dried Foods in Bulk

There are a lot of brands which offer freeze-dried foods in bulk containers.  Your best option is to shop at Amazon.  They have all the major brands, often have sales and you’ll save money on shipping. See bulk freeze dried foods at Amazon here

Below are some other brands and places where you can buy bulk freeze dried foods for your DIY backpacking meals.


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.

  • The Ready StoreThey have a big selection of freeze-dried meats including beef, chicken, sausage, turkey, and bacon.
  • Valley Food Storage: They have chicken, beef, sausage and lots of freeze-dried cheese too.
  • Augason FarmsChicken, beef, and variety packs available
  • Nutristore: Available on Amazon, they have chicken and beef in bulk.
  • Mountain House: They have chicken and beef cans.


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.

  • Valley Food Storage: They have freeze-dried peanut butter, cheese, and some other vegetarian proteins.
  • Augason FarmsFreeze-dried peanut butter, taco mix, black bean burger mix, “bacon” bits, egg powder, and variety packs.


Bulk Freeze-Dried Fruits and Veggies

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many options when it comes to freeze dried veggies. 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. 🙂

*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.

  • Augason Farms: They have the most options when it comes to bulk freeze-dried fruits and veggies.
  • The Ready StoreThey also have a good selection which includes fruit and veggie buckets that include a variety of different products.
  • Emergency Essentials: They have some interesting veggies like freeze-dried yams and cauliflower, as well as the standard selection of corn, peas, and freeze-dried fruits.
  • Mother Earth: Has freeze-dried berries, bananas, broccoli, and some other fruits
  • Karen’s Naturals Freeze Dried variety pack (fruits)
  • Natierra: They have a good variety of products, especially fruits like pomegranate and tropical fruits.
  • Nutristore: They have variety packs, which is a good deal when planning shorter backpacking trips.


Bulk Freeze-Dried Sauces and Cheese


Do you make your own backpacking meals with freeze-dried ingredients? What’s your favorite recipe? Let us know in the comments.


Don’t forget about my recipe ebook! Because you made it to the end of this post, I’ll even give you 50% off. 

Buy the eBook here for 50% off.

dehydrator backpacking recipes

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About the author /

Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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  1. Dael

    These are great for backpacking and super cheap if you buy the bulk box:

    I add these to Dr. McDougall’s meal cups. I aim for 500 calories per meal so I’ll use two cups if it’s low-calorie. All I need to do is add boiling water.

  2. SIL Hiker

    OK, some people are going to think I’m crazy, but here goes. I make my own version of “Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy”. It goes like this….. I buy freeze dried sausage crumbles, powdered sausage gravy, and frozen biscuits. I bake the biscuits, crumble them up, dry them in a dehydrator. I put the sausage and gravy powder in the freezer bag or mylar bag, then put the dried biscuit chunks in a separate baggie and place it inside the first bag and seal it. When I’m ready to use it, I add the appropriate amount of water to the gravy/sausage mix, stir it up, wait 5 minutes, then dump in the biscuits , stir gently, wait another minute or two and eat. If you wait too long, the biscuits get soggy. You can make this in any portion/proportion you like.

    • Diane

      I don’t think you are going crazy. That sounds delicious 🙂 Though I would reduce the work and just use instant mashed potato powder instead of biscuits (the potatoes you can make by just pouring water over it — even cold water if you don’t feel like cooking). You’d just need to let the sausage and gravy powder cook or soak a bit and then do the potatoes.

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