Matt Johnson

Dehydrated Camping Food: A Complete Guide and Tips

Author: Matt JohnsonPhotos/Graphics: Mike HawthornePublished: Jul 28, 2023Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Dehydrated meals and camping food have become increasingly popular among outdoor enthusiasts due to their convenience, long shelf life, and ability to provide sustenance on the go.

However, there are a few key factors to consider. From proper hydration and nutrition to the step-by-step process of dehydrating meals, we’ve got you covered with this complete guide and tips to help you create mouthwatering meals that will fuel your adventures.

Some might have reservations about dehydrating food, picturing lackluster flavors and bland textures. But let us assure you, today’s dehydrated meals are a far cry from the uninspiring options of the past.

With advancements in technology and an array of mouthwatering recipes, dehydrated meals can be a delicious addition to your camping menu. The key lies in understanding dehydration, choosing the right ingredients, and properly rehydrating the meals.

Factors to consider before dehydrating meals for camping.

Before jumping straight into dehydrating meals for camping, there are a few important factors to remember.

Hydration and nutrition.

First and foremost, consider your hydration and nutrition needs. When exploring the great outdoors, it’s crucial to maintain proper energy levels and stay well-hydrated. Dehydrated camping food may be lightweight and convenient, but you must ensure it still provides the necessary nutrients to fuel your adventures.

Compatible meals.

Think about the types of meals you enjoy and their compatibility with the dehydration process. Some foods lend themselves well to dehydration, such as cooked ground meat, tomato sauce, canned chicken, and dried vegetables. On the other hand, certain foods, like potatoes and pasta, may not dehydrate as successfully. It is important to choose ingredients that will rehydrate properly and retain their taste and texture.

Preferences and requirements.

Consider any dietary restrictions or preferences you or your fellow campers may have. Whether you’re following a gluten-free diet or have certain food allergies, it’s essential to plan your meals accordingly. Luckily, many dehydrated meals are available that cater to various dietary needs.

Calories to weight ratio.

Think about the calories and weight ratio of the meals you’re preparing. Every ounce matters when you’re carrying all your gear on your back. Dehydrated meals offer a high calorie-to-weight ratio, making them an excellent choice for backpacking trips. Be mindful of balancing nutrition and flavor with weight considerations.

Proper hydration and nutrition in dehydrated camping meals.

Proper hydration and nutrition are key for a successful outdoor adventure. While the convenience of dehydrated food is undeniable, it’s important to ensure that your meals provide the necessary nutrients and hydration to keep you going.

One example of a dehydrated meal that offers hydration and nutrition is a hearty tomato sauce with dried vegetables and ground beef. Dehydrating the tomato sauce removes the excess water and concentrates the flavors, resulting in a delicious and flavorful meal. Adding dried vegetables and cooked ground beef provides essential vitamins, minerals, and protein to energize you during your camping trip.

Another option is to include dehydrated chicken in your meals. Removing the water content from the chicken can significantly reduce its weight and increase its shelf life. Dehydrated chicken can be easily rehydrated by adding boiling water, making it a convenient and protein-packed addition to your camping meals.

Consider including various ingredients to ensure a balanced nutritional profile when planning dehydrated camping meals. Incorporating sources of carbohydrates, such as instant mashed potatoes or ramen noodles, can provide a quick energy source. Adding protein-rich options like canned chicken or textured vegetable protein can help repair and build muscle after hiking or exploring.

Remember, maintaining proper hydration is crucial during any outdoor activity. While dehydrated meals offer convenience, drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important to stay hydrated. Hydrating properly will complement the nutritional benefits of your dehydrated camping meals, ensuring you have the energy and stamina to enjoy your outdoor adventures fully.

A step-by-step guide to dehydrating meals for camping.

When preparing dehydrated meals for camping, having a step-by-step guide can make the process much easier. So, let’s dive right in and get you started on creating delicious and lightweight meals for your outdoor adventures. These are the steps we use to package up our backpacking meals for our outdoor excursions.

  1. Choose your ingredients wisely. Opt for foods that dehydrate well, such as cooked ground meat, tomato sauce, canned chicken, dried vegetables, and instant mashed potatoes. Remember to consider any dietary restrictions, like gluten-free options.
  2. Prepare your ingredients. If you’re using fresh food, cook it thoroughly before dehydrating. For example, grill and slice chicken into thin strips if you’re dehydrating chicken. If you’re using ground beef, ensure it’s cooked and drained before proceeding.
  3. Dehydrate your ingredients. Spread them evenly on dehydrator trays, ensuring enough space for air circulation. Set the dehydrator to the appropriate temperature and let it do its magic. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to overnight, depending on the foods you’re dehydrating.
  4. Check for the right texture. Dehydrated camping food should be dry and crispy, without any signs of moisture. This ensures a longer shelf life and prevents spoilage. Let them cool down completely before proceeding to the next step.
  5. Package and store your dehydrated meals. Use airtight containers, vacuum-sealed bags, or Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers to keep your meals fresh. Label each package with the contents and date of dehydration.

By following these steps, you can create various dehydrated meals that are lightweight, space-saving, and flavorful. Plus, you’ll be satisfied knowing you’ve taken control of your meal planning, even when you’re out in the wilderness.

Comparing the pros and cons of dehydration methods.

When it comes to dehydrating meals for camping, there are various methods you can choose from. Each method has pros and cons, so it’s important to compare them before deciding which is right for you.

Food dehydrator.

Magic Mill Food Dehydrator Banner

One popular method is using a food dehydrator. This method offers convenience and precision, allowing you to control the temperature and drying time easily. It also ensures consistent results and evenly dried food. However, remember that food dehydrators can be bulky and require electricity. So you use these at home before packing food and heading out.


Another option is freeze-drying. This method involves freezing the food and removing the moisture through low-pressure vacuuming. Freeze-dried meals retain their taste, texture, and nutritional value better than other dehydration methods. However, freeze-drying equipment can be expensive and unsuitable for every camper’s budget. It might not be for everyone, and some may call it an unpopular opinion, but some of our favorite freeze-dried food is freeze-dried meats.

Air drying.

For those who prefer a simpler approach, air drying is an option. It involves laying the food in a dry, well-ventilated area and allowing nature to do its work. Air drying is a cost-effective method that doesn’t require any specialized equipment. However, it can take longer than other methods and may be affected by external factors such as humidity or pests.

Oven drying.

Oven drying is a common method for dehydrating meals. It involves using your home oven at a low temperature to remove moisture from the food slowly. Oven drying is convenient and requires no additional equipment, but it may not offer the same level of control as a food dehydrator.

Essential equipment for dehydrating meals for camping.

Dehydrating Mushrooms with Food Dehydrator

When dehydrating meals for camping, having the right equipment is crucial for a smooth process.

Let me share a little story about my first attempt at dehydrating food for a camping trip. I borrowed a friend’s food dehydrator, thinking it would be a piece of cake. But boy, was I wrong! The dehydrator was old and had no temperature control, causing some of my one-pot meals to be under or over-dried. It was a valuable lesson: the right equipment makes all the difference.

So, what essential tools will you need for dehydrating meals while camping? First and foremost, a reliable food dehydrator is a must. Look for one with adjustable temperature settings to ensure precise drying. This will help preserve your dehydrated food’s flavor, texture, and nutritional value.

You’ll also need basic kitchen tools like a sharp knife for evenly slicing fruits, vegetables, and meats. A cutting board and measuring cups or spoons will also come in handy. Quality airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags are essential for storing dehydrated meals. These keep them fresh and protected from moisture and pests throughout your camping adventure.

If you prefer a more hands-on approach, you can even dehydrate food without a food dehydrator by using an oven set to a low temperature or by air-drying, as we mentioned. However, remember that these methods may take longer and require more monitoring.

Having the right equipment ensures successful dehydration and makes the process more efficient and enjoyable. You’ll be able to preserve the flavors and textures of your favorite meals while reducing their weight and optimizing their shelf life.

Long-term storage: tips for keeping dehydrated meals fresh.

When it comes to long-term storage of dehydrated meals for camping, proper preservation is key to maintaining freshness and maximizing the shelf life of your meals. Here are some tried-and-true tips for keeping your dehydrated masterpieces in top-notch condition.

  • Store in airtight containers. Use sealed containers like mason jars, vacuum-sealed bags, or Mylar bags to protect your dehydrated meals from moisture and oxygen. This will help prevent spoilage and extend their shelf life.
  • Keep in a cool, dry place. Choose a cool and dry location for storing your dehydrated meals. Exposing them to heat and humidity can lead to moisture absorption, spoilage, and loss of flavor. This is where a good cooler comes into play.
  • Label and rotate. Always label your containers with the type of meal and date of dehydration. This will make it easy to keep track of your inventory and ensure that you use the oldest ones first, maintaining freshness and preventing waste.
  • Use oxygen absorbers. Including oxygen absorbers in your storage containers can further enhance the longevity of your dehydrated meals. These small packets work by removing the oxygen that can cause oxidation and spoilage.
  • Regularly inspect for signs of spoilage. Check your stored dehydrated camping food periodically for any signs of mold, discoloration, or off odors. If you notice any of these, it’s best to discard them to avoid any potential health risks.

Following these tips, you can confidently store your dehydrated camping food and meals for extended periods without compromising taste and nutritional value.

Rehydrating dehydrated meals: techniques and tips.

Hydrating dehydrated meals is essential to enjoy delicious and satisfying camping meals. Since rehydrating your prepackaged meals is more art than science, we figured you could use some tips. Here are some techniques and tips to make the rehydration process seamless and efficient—

  • Use boiling water. Boiling water helps rehydrate the food quickly and effectively. It ensures the flavors are properly infused, and the texture is just right. Start a campfire on your firepit, boil your water, and heat your meal.
  • Let it sit. After pouring boiling water over your dehydrated meal, cover it and let it sit for a 3-5 minutes. This allows the water to penetrate every ingredient and ensures even rehydration. Tougher meals like grilled chicken might take even longer.
  • Stir occasionally. While your meal is rehydrating, give it a gentle stir now and then. This helps distribute the hot water and promotes even and consistent rehydration.
  • Gradual rehydration. If you have the time, consider gradually adding boiling water to your meal. Start with a smaller amount and let it sit for a few minutes, then, add more hot water until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • Use insulated containers. Insulated containers can help retain heat and keep your meals warm during rehydration. This can be particularly useful in colder weather or when camping at higher altitudes.
  • Customize the moisture level. Adjust the amount of water you add to achieve your preferred moisture level. Some campers prefer slightly soupy meals, while others prefer a thicker consistency.

By following these techniques and tips, you can easily rehydrate your dehydrated meals and enjoy a delicious and satisfying camping feast in no time. Remember to experiment and find the perfect balance of water and time that suits your taste preferences.

6 of our favorite dehydrated meals.

We’ve had our fair share of hits and misses with dehydrated meals. But after countless trips to the great outdoors, we’ve narrowed down our favorites that never disappoint. So, without further ado, here are six of our go-to dehydrated meals that deserve a spot in your backpack.

Classic Spaghetti Bolognese.

This hearty favorite combines dehydrated ground beef, dried vegetables, and a flavorful tomato sauce. Add boiling water, let it rehydrate, and enjoy a delicious meal reminiscent of home-cooked comfort food.

Creamy Chicken and Rice.

Rehydrated Creamy Chicken and Rice

Made with dehydrated chicken and instant rice, this comforting meal is a backpacker’s delight. The creamy sauce and tender chunks of chicken create a satisfying dish that will keep you fueled and ready for your next hiking adventure. We always pre-cook our chicken, but it still tastes great once we rehydrate it.

Southwest Black Bean Chili.

Packed with protein and flavor, this vegetarian option is a spicy treat. Dehydrated kidney beans, textured vegetable protein, and an array of spices combine to create a zesty and satisfying chili that will warm you up on chilly nights.

Thai Coconut Curry.

Transport your taste buds to Southeast Asia with this fragrant and exotic dehydrated meal. With a mix of dehydrated vegetables and coconut milk powder, this curry bursts with flavors that will make you forget you’re even camping.

Three-Cheese Mac and Cheese.

Who says you can’t have comfort food while camping? This cheesy and indulgent dish is made with dehydrated pasta and a mix of three delicious cheeses. It’s a pasta lover’s dream come true, even in the wilderness.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad.

Looking for a lighter option? This gluten-free and healthy dehydrated salad is packed with vibrant flavors. Filled with dehydrated vegetables, quinoa, and a tangy dressing, it’s a refreshing and nutritious meal that will satisfy and energize you.

Dehydrated camping meal FAQs.

We all want delicious meals when we’re out camping. To help you get the most out of your dehydrated meals, here are some answers to commonly asked questions:

How long can I store dehydrated meals?

When stored properly, dehydrated meals can have an impressive shelf life. Typically, dehydrated meals can last anywhere from six months to a year. To extend their longevity, store them in airtight containers, preferably in a cool and dark place. It’s worth noting that the quality may slightly diminish over time, but as long as they don’t show signs of spoilage, they are safe to consume.

Can I adjust the seasoning in dehydrated camping food?

Absolutely! Many pre-packaged dehydrated meals come with salt and pepper packets to allow you to season according to your taste preferences. Feel free to add additional herbs, spices, or hot sauce to give it a personal touch. We’re big fans of garlic powder when we make our own meals.

How do I rehydrate dehydrated meals?

Rehydrating dehydrated meals is a breeze. Once you’re ready to enjoy your meal, simply add hot water to the pouch or container, enough to cover the ingredients. Seal it back up and let it sit for a few minutes. You’ll want to follow the instructions for each meal, as the recommended rehydration time may vary. Once the water is absorbed and the texture is to your liking, it’s ready to eat!

Can I rehydrate food without boiling water?

Yes, you can. Cold or room temperature water will take longer to rehydrate your meals, so expect a longer wait time. But this method still works if you’re in a pinch and don’t have access to hot water.

Can I customize my dehydrated meals to suit my dietary needs?

Absolutely! One of the great advantages of dehydrating your camping meals is the ability to customize them according to your dietary preferences. Whether you’re gluten-free, vegetarian, or have any other dietary restrictions, you can easily adapt your dehydrated meals by choosing specific ingredients that meet your needs. Swap out the protein source, use gluten-free grains, or opt for dried vegetables instead of meat. The possibilities are endless!

Can dehydrated meals fully replace fresh food on camping trips?

While dehydrated meals are a convenient and lightweight option for camping, it’s important to recognize that they can’t fully replace fresh food. Dehydrated meals are great for nourishment and convenience, but they may lack some essential nutrients in fresh ingredients. Incorporating fresh fruits, vegetables, and other perishable items into your camping menu is always a good idea to ensure a well-rounded and balanced diet.

Various dehydrated meal options are available, catering to various tastes and preferences. Some popular dehydrated meals include classic favorites like spaghetti with meat sauce, beef stroganoff, chicken teriyaki, and chili. Vegetarian options such as lentil curry, vegetable stir-fry, and black bean tacos are also widely enjoyed. Plus, you can find dehydrated breakfast options like oatmeal and scrambled eggs. And don’t forget about delicious dessert choices like apple crisp or chocolate mousse! The variety of dehydrated meal options is impressive, ensuring you won’t get bored during your camping adventures.

Can I use raw meat with dehydrated meals?

That depends. If you’re looking to add raw meat, it’s important to acknowledge the additional risks of this option. Raw meat has a higher risk of spoilage than dehydrated ingredients and should be handled and stored properly to prevent food-borne illnesses. The best option is to cook the meat and add it to your dehydrated meal once rehydrated. This will help you avoid health risks while enjoying a delicious camping meal.

Can you buy prepackaged dehydrated meals?

Yes, you can. Prepackaged dehydrated meals are widely available in stores and online. Various brands offer various textures, flavors, and meal sizes. These options come in lightweight pouches or packets that make them easy to transport on camping trips.

Dehydrated meals taste great!

Dehydrating meals for camping can be a game-changer when it comes to convenience, nutrition, and taste. By taking control of your food preparation, you can ensure that you have delicious, lightweight, and nutrient-packed meals to fuel your outdoor adventures. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a casual camper, dehydrated meals offer a fantastic solution for enjoying satisfying and nourishing food on the go.

Remember, proper hydration and nutrition should always be a top priority when planning your camping meals. Be mindful of incorporating a balanced variety of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into your dehydrated meals to keep you energized throughout your outdoor activities. And don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

Dehydrated camping food can be a perfect addition to your kit, whether you’re craving a hearty chili, a flavorful stir-fry, or a comforting pasta dish. With their convenience, lightweight nature, and delicious taste, they allow you to enjoy satisfying meals in the great outdoors without compromising on quality or flavor. So turn your culinary skills into a camping adventure, and see how dehydrating meals can take your outdoor experiences to new heights.


Matt Johnson

Senior Content Writer

Matt is an experienced camper and glamping enthusiast with a Master's degree in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University. Authoring posts for GlamperGear, he shares his wealth of knowledge on picturesque campsites, luxurious accommodations, and the best gear for outdoor adventures. His passion for nature and knack for comfort in the wilderness make him an expert guide for your next camping endeavor.

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