Dehydrating meals for hiking – some tips and tricks

We have been having an email conversation with Julie about a few of the finer details of dehydrating full meals. She had a couple of excellent questions that we decided were well worth sharing here.

Over to Julie’s email:

I’ve recently bought your ebook “Food to Go”, which I’ve found a huge help for information about dehydrating meals. My partner and I are setting off on a 3-month outback trip and want to utilize dehydrating meals to save space and refrigeration hastles. I’d like your advice, if you can, on drying time for meals.

Last week I bought a Sunbeam brand dehydrator and tried 2 meals on the weekend –  a Sweet and Sour Pork dish and a Honey Mustard Chicken with vegetables – just using the Masterfoods packet sauce. I tried dehydrating both at the same time, so all 5 levels of the dehydrator were used, and I tried copying the pictures in your book as a guide to how small to cut the meat and veges and how full to make the trays.

The Sweet & Sour dish I dried for 12 hours before taking it out, but the other dish still didn’t look even nearly ready. After 15 hours I was worried it was getting too long so took it out, but I’m worried now that it still may not be dry enough. The meat is hard and when packaged in zip-lock bags, no moisture has seemed to accumulate in the bag, but it just doesn’t look quite as dry and crispy as the pictures in your book. I don’t know if you can really tell from photos, but I have attached one of each dish.

Should these dishes be ready after 12-15 hours, or do you think I need to put it back in the machine for more drying? If I do, dry it further after leaving it for 2-3 days, will this disturb the freshness and hygiene of the food?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

We think Julie got her dehydrating spot on.

As Deb wrote in the book, if they don’t accumulate moisture in the bag they are properly dehydrated . It is a good rule to follow. You will also get a “feel” for different meats as you go along so don’t stress!

Different meats and sauces tend to behave differently. For example the chicken curry we use in the guide feels soft and oily but is actually dehydrated. Maybe it is the oil in the sauce (?butter) that that gives it that feel. Mince meat on the other hand, can feel like gravel!

As to the question, should the dishes be ready after 12-15 hours, it depends on the amount you have put in the tray , the density of the meal and the amount of moisture. Spaghetti Bolognaise sauce with meat will take longer than Spaghetti  Bolognaise  stirred through cooked spaghetti. There is more space for air and less density for the air to circulate.

You can add the meal to the dehydrator a couple of days later if you notice moisture in the bag. It will be fine.

And the finished products?
Two great looking dehydrated meals, all done at home.

Dehydrating meals for camping or backpacking

Honey Mustard Chicken – dehydrated and ready to store

Dehydrating meals for camping, bushwalking or backpacking

Sweet and Sour Pork


  1. Georgie says

    Your meals look great, Julie, and what great colours the vegies are. Well done and yum!
    I agree with Frank about the oil, as that does not seem to dry as much. But oilier meals still re-constitute well.
    My Harvestmaid dehydrator has different temperature settings that affect the time food takes to dry, so it might be worth experimenting (or reading the manual) if your Sunbeam has temp settings.
    We are of to the Cape and outback SA in August/September. Are we likely to see you on that part of the road? Havagr8trip. Regards, Georgie

  2. Bill Burnett says

    I have a Sunbeam dehydrator and what I found when drying meals is to rotate the trays around once or twice over the time you have the machine on, ie: top to bottom
    I recently dried mince for a overnight walk with my son and a tip I picked up from the Backpacking Chef website is to mix into the raw mince bread crumbs. When your rehydrating the bread crumbs absorb the water and the mince does’nt end up tasting like gravel.
    Before my wife & I did the Overland Track, I dried some meals and tried them out either at home or on a lead up walk this gave me an idea as to what worked or didn’t.
    Don’t be afrid to experiment.

    All the best for your travels.

    • Frank says

      Thanks for the suggestions Bill.
      We always rotate the shelves in the dehydrator, works a treat.
      Interesting about the bread crumbs, must try it one day!

  3. Richard Crimmins says

    Hi all, I am taking my 14 year old daughter on the OT track next year as a bonding experience. I know nothing about dehydrating meals. My question is- can we get away with carrying dried/fresh foods and I have seen Frank mention that he carries fresh meat. Can you expand on the intricacies of carrying a couple pieces of fresh meet and their expected usable life span, in the Month of April.
    Thanks, I look forward to anyone’s thoughts.

    • Frank says

      Hi Richard,
      Great to see you are heading off with your daughter.

      Some of how you organise fresh meat has to do with how you are getting to Cradle and how long you are in Tassie prewalk. We always try to have meat vacuum packed by our butcher. This is particularly to stop seepage of blood into our packs. Ziploc bags just don’t cut it.

      We only select cuts that don’t have a lot of fat or bones so it is usually fillet steak and sometime sausages. The main reason for this is we are concerned about fat spoiling AND it is a waste to carry bones.

      If we can organise it we take the vac packed meat frozen. Often we have flown from Victoria to Tasmania with well frozen meat wrapped in newspaper and put it in the hotel freezer overnight. April won’t be hot so we would be happy to eat the meat on night one and two. In summer we would usually only take one lot of meat.

      We never take fresh chicken as it spoils quickly BUT you can buy smoked chicken breasts at most supermarkets that work a treat and keep for days. Great for lunch or cut up in a casserole.

      Clare our daughter wrote a short article about fresh hiking food and how she does it over here:

      Not sure if you have checked out our eBook Food to Go – it has everything I noted above and more in it. It is not just about dehydrated hiking food but also suggests a lot of stuff you can modify from the supermarket or use as fresh.

      Again, have a fantastic trip!

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