I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to spend many days in the backcountry each year. One key ingredient to good living in the backcountry is meal preparation. The past few years, I’ve been preparing and packaging my own dehydrated meals. Like many, I spent years eating the available mass-produced options. I knew there had to be something better. I’ve since eliminated those options and embarked on my own DIY dehydrated meal journey. Each year I prepare and package 100+ dehydrated meals.
Many people I talk to are intimidated by the whole dehydrated meal concept. It’s not as difficult as people think and with the right equipment and packaging it’s actually quite simple.
In this article and companion videos, we cover the basic setup, gear, and a few tactics that I use to make my own dehydrated backcountry meals. We also include how to make our absolute favorite backcountry meal, Pad Thai.
Dehydrator – I use a Cabela’s 80-Liter Commercial Food Dehydrator for my meal dehydration. Of course, there are other good dehydrators to choose from, and this is not a debate on the best unit. Just remember all dehydrators are not created equal. The good ones do get a little pricey. I just don’t feel you can skimp on the dehydrator and end up with good quality meals. Different foods require different temperatures. You want a unit that has a good range of temperature (105° F to 165° F). Uncooked meat is dehydrated towards the high end and I dehydrate most of my pre-cooked meals in the 130° to 135° range. A solid fan, air circulation systems, and a timer are critical in meal dehydration. The Cabela’s unit is pretty darn big, probably too big for the kitchen countertop. It has tons of room and comes with 12 trays. I can easily do 8-10 meals per cycle with this unit. I particularly like the slide-out grid wire trays. I simply use parchment paper on the trays for meals, fruit, and other items. This makes clean up crazy easy.
Link: Cabela’s 80-Liter Commercial Food Dehydrator
Vacuum Sealer – This is not something that is required for dehydrated meals, but if you are planning to use the Mylar bags or some sort of vacuum seal bag as we discussed below, you are going to need a sealer that can seal those bags at approximately 400 degrees. I’ve had a few units, but currently, I’m using the Cabela’s Commercial-Grade 12″ Vacuum Sealer. This unit is very simple to operate and has both manual and automatic functions. You can certainly get by with a cheaper sealer, you just need to make sure it has the temperature range to handle the Mylar bags. I typically do not use the vacuum option. I generally like to just squeeze out a little of the air and seal. I have found that a little air in the bags provides a little cushion for storage and packing in my pack.
Link: Cabelas Commercial Grade Vacuum-Sealer
About The Meal Storage Bags
When I started on my DIY meal journey, I began a search for the perfect dehydrated meal bag, I wanted a bag that could do the following:
- A bag that could store (long term) DIY dehydrated meals
- Big enough for a large meal
- Had an area above the zip lock that could be heat and vacuum sealed
- A ziplock-style closure that would allow me to open and close up the bag before and after eating.
- A bag that I could directly cook in. (with boiling water)
Since then, I’ve packaged and eaten over 100 meals in these bags and they have performed perfectly. I basically utilize two types of bags one is a specific Mylar bag and one is classified as a Retort Bag.
There is a lot of debate on bags and we personally feel pretty safe using several bag options. In today’s world, it seems everything out there will harm or kill you. To be honest, your probably more at risk going to well-run restaurants and eating raw produce than the risks associated with using certain bags. That is for you to decide personally. I just want to put out there that heating up mylar bags may or may not be an issue for consideration. The bags I use are listed as FDA safe.
The 3 mil Sous vide bags might a good option to consider as well. Most name-brand food-storage bags and plastic wraps are also made from polyethylene. This is a hot and active research area and many manufacturers have demonstrated the increasing safety of their products.
I had a comment on my YouTube site that got me looking into using an alternative to mylar bags. It does seem that the inside lining of some Mylar bags could leach chemicals and temperatures over 180 degrees.
The Mylar/Retort Bags – Sorbent Systems (www.sorbentsystems.com) has been my main source of mylar bags, retort bags, and oxygen absorbers. A retort pouch is a type of food packaging made from a laminate of flexible plastic and metal foils. I also get some of my dehydrating and meat processing supplies at www.lemproducts.com
Bag Option 1 – Single Serving Mylar Bags – This is my go-to bag and the one I utilize the most. This bag can be heat sealed above the ziplock to provide a seal and airtight enclosure. I package all my meals with a 200cc Oxygen Absorber and this makes those bags virtually impervious to the elements. The bag itself is 8.5” X 8.75” in size and easily holds 2-3 cups of the dehydrated meal, with plenty of room to rehydrate with boiling water. This bag is the PAKVF4C structure and is 5.0 mils minimum and has an FDA-approved sealant layer. This bag holds enough for a large meal serving. (The same or more than Mountain House) The bags are open on the zipper ends with a fold-over bottom. You can purchase these bags in blocks of 50 and they run about $.50 each. The item number is: #085MFSOZE0875
Link: Sorbent Systems 8.5 X 8.75 Mylar Zip Bag
Bag Option 2 – Multi Serving Mylar Bags – This bag is classified as a retort bag and is much larger and a little thicker. I use this bag to package group/family meals. This bag will easily hold three to four meals. It can also be heat sealed above the ziplock to provide an airtight enclosure. Again, I use a 200cc Oxygen Absorber with this bag. This bag is 9.0″ x 13.375″ x 4.75″ in size and easily holds 7-8 cups of the dehydrated meal, with plenty of room to rehydrate. This bag can hold enough food for a family or group of four. These bags are also open on the zipper end, but they have a stand-up style bottom. Unfortunately, these bags only come in a 250 or more quantity, but they are only $.37 each.
The item number is: FDR0475Z
Link: Sorbent Systems 9.0 X 13.375 Mylar Zip Bag
Oxygen Absorbing Packets – I put an oxygen-absorbing packet in all my meals, long or short-term storage. I think it helps with the overall quality of the storage. The packets prolong the shelf life and help to prevent the oils in foods from becoming rancid. They also prevent the growth of oxygen-using aerobic microorganisms such as fungi. I’m currently using the 200cc packets in all my meal packaging
The item number is: SF200PK50
Link: Sorbent Oxygen Absorbing Packets
Go ahead get started, it will be a very worthwhile journey.
I made the trip down to visit the Wilderness Ridge Trail Llama Ranch in Idaho Falls for a guest appearance on their popular “Llama Life” channel. In this video segment, we discuss all aspects of dehydrating your own backcountry meals. We show the viewers how to make our Pad Thai recipe, our absolute favorite backcountry meal.
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