Backpacking Meals DIY: Making Cheap and Easy Meals at Home

Updated on September 5, 2019
KCO profile image

Katy researches healthy foods to build the best meal plans for her family using science-backed studies.

Make Your Own Backpacking Food

Can you make backpacking meals yourself? Yes, you can make light, nutritious meals at home with this guide.

Pre-made freeze dried meals like Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry are perfect for backpacking. They’re super light, a complete meal, you just need to add boiling water and there’s no clean up. It’s a solid solution for a beginner. But at $6-$8 each it really adds up when you backpack often.

Just learn a few dehydrating basics and know how to look for the right products and you can build your own for a tenth of the cost.

Learn to make ultra-light food on a budget.
Learn to make ultra-light food on a budget.

Frugal Backpacking

Backpacking can become an expensive hobby. But experienced hikers know how to keep costs low by buying from discount gear sites like Enwild and making supplies at home when they can.

Cheap Backpacking Food

I've tried a lot of different options for food while backpacking. I've talked to friends, family and almost everyone I've met on the trail. I've scoured online forums and articles to see how other people do it.

There's a lot of creative solutions out there but essentially they boil down to a few options for packing light meals:

  1. Buy pre-made meals

  2. Buy a freeze dryer ($2,500+), which can handle nearly any food

  3. Buy a dehydrator ($50-$150) for select foods

  4. Buy freeze dried foods individually and combine to make your own meals

  5. Bring dry goods that require cooking, and therefore more cookware, fuel, and skill

Pre-made meals are self-explanatory: go to REI and buy one for every meal. So we can skip #1. Next up is the freeze drier, which is insanely cool but also insanely expensive so we'll skip that too.

That leaves us with options 3, 4 and 5. So this guide focuses on how to combine DIY dehydrated foods with some store-bought freeze dried foods with a tiny bit of dry goods, which you can adjust based on your preferences.

Freeze-Dried vs. Dehydrated

Since the freeze-dried vs. dehydrated distinction matters a lot in cost, let’s make sure we grasp the difference. When a food is freeze-dried, 1-4% of the moisture remains. Compare that to 10% to even 20% of moisture left in the food after dehydrating it. And that’s for foods that dehydrate the best (fruits and vegetables).

More moisture left means more weight. Up to 4% might not seem that much better than 20%, but when you’re carrying a week’s worth of food on your back there is a difference. And speaking of long trips, simply dehydrating some foods isn’t enough to keep them fresh as long as freeze dried foods. For example, thoroughly dehydrated meat can only be stored without refrigeration for 2 weeks.

What Foods Can You Dehydrate?

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits (except melons)
  • Non-Fatty Meats

In general, you can dehydrate anything that doesn't have a lot of fat. The fat keeps too much moisture and will go rancid quickly. Beef that isn't lean is challenging to dehydrate at home.

Foods That Do Not Dehydrate Well

These foods don’t dehydrate well and you’re better off buying the freeze-dried version if you want to take a lot on the trail:

  • Dairy (Egg, Cheese, Butter)
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Beans

Purchasing Freeze Dried Foods

Since freezer driers are so expensive but some foods are only practical for backpacking when freeze dried I end up buying freeze dried foods individually. Then I combine them with dehydrated foods to make my own meals.

If you want to try this, check out the prices on Augason Farm's foods. I use them a lot because they have awesome variety and I've been impressed by the quality.

Dehydrate any vegetable to add to your backpacking meal plan.
Dehydrate any vegetable to add to your backpacking meal plan.


Dehydrators can run anywhere from $50 to $200. Since we expected to use ours a lot and sometimes need to dehydrate quite a lot with short notice we chose a solid middle of the line model.

Using a Dehydrator

A dehydrator is essentially a fan and a heat source. Your machine should come with instructions about how much food can be placed on the trays at once.

Prepare the food by cutting in into small, uniform pieces. Some food, especially fruit, will benefit from being soaked in lime or lemon juice before dehydrating.

How long you dehydrate differs for each food. Look up the recommended length for the food you're dehydrating and monitor regularly for the last hour or so. Durations will differ based on the size you cut them in and your dehydrator.

Why Use a Dehydrator to Make Backpacking Food

Making your own backpacking food with a dehydrator has some great perks. For one thing it is one of the cheapest ways to feed yourself on a camping trip.

Dehydrating food right before a trip is a great way to preserve food that would otherwise go bad. Take a look around your kitchen and fridge and take the veggies and fruit that will go bad while you’re gone. Throw them in the dehydrator and plan meals with them.

Also, you know exactly what is going into the food you’re eating on the trail.

Cooking Your Food

Okay so you have all your fancy, ultra-light food ready and packed. But how are you going to cook it when you get to camp? All meat should already be cooked before it’s freeze dried or dehydrated so you’re really focusing on reconstituting the meal.

Reconstituting Dried/Dehydrating Meals

"Reconstituting" is just a fancy way of saying letting your food absorb enough water to get back to its original water content. The closer you can get to the original content, the better the texture, taste and the easier it is for your body to digest it.

Water absorption happens faster when the water is hot, hence why dehydrated meals have you pour in boiling water.

The key to cooking dehydrated or freeze dried meals on the trail is to store them in foil lined bags. They can be Mylar or aluminum foil lined bags. We've been super happy with these 8 oz Mylar Lined Pouches and also got some 4 oz bags from the same company. They’re safe to pour hot water in and can reseal.

Some snacks like fruit don’t need to be reconstituted at all. Thought you may want to go through the trouble of reconstituting fruits if you’re body is having trouble adjusting to dehydrated foods.

DIY Backpacking Food Tips

  • If you don’t like it at home you’re not going to like it reconstituted on the trail
  • Label everything
  • Have everyone on the trip involved in meal planning
  • If you’re trying a new approach, test it on your stove in your backyard first

What are your tips for preparing your own backpacking meals?

© 2019 Katy Medium


Submit a Comment

No comments yet.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)