Monday, January 2, 2012

More On Food Dehydration and On-Trail Meal Strategy

As I am approaching the 100-day mark in the countdown to the beginning of my hike, I wanted to provide an update on my food preparation for the PCT hike.  Here is what has worked for me so far...

I decided early on that I would ship pre-packaged meals to myself in only half of my town stops.  For the rest, I will rely on resupplying in town or enjoying restaurant meals when available.  I am more happy with this decision now after getting a taste for how much work would be involved in preparing and packaging 150 breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks!  Even if you cut that in half, that still leaves 75 days of meals to prepare - no simple task.  For these meals, I am finding that dehydrating food is the most effective way of getting the nutrition and convenience I will need on the trail.  See my previous blog on dehydrating potato soup for a description of one of my first experiments with dehydrating soup.  Some advantages that I like are:  guaranteed nutrition through knowing what goes into each meal (dehydrating preserves the nutrients in the food), lightweight, variety, ease of preparation on the trail, and definitely taste!  I have relied on the following sources for tips and recipes for this endeavor:

Dehydrating Soups and Stews:

Rachel & Scott's PCT Blog - I have to say that the trail meal I am looking forward to the most so far is the Big Bear Beef Stew based on a recipe from Rachel and Scott's Blog.  I couldn't help taking a serving of this stew after it finished cooking, and before dehydrating it, and it was delicious.  Combining this with potato flakes (with added butter powder, milk powder, salt, pepper and garlic powder) is going to make a tremendously filling and satisfying meal after a long day of hiking.  They have other recipes online as well and I plan on making some of these in the coming weeks.  Why settle for mac-n-cheese when you can, with a little effort and planning, have beef stew!

Big Bear Beef Stew and potato flakes in Ziploc pump bag

Backpacker's Gourmet - This book started me on dehydrating food and I have used a couple recipes in my planning, including Potato Soup Parmesan and Thick Vegetable Soup.  I will continue to use this as a resource for future planning.  This book is a little dated (copyright 2002) but is still a great resource for those who have never used a food dehydrator.

Pre-packaged Dry Food Meals - Some great recipes and tips here - not only for dehydrating food but for preparing non-dehydrated trail meals as well using already dehydrated or freeze dried ingredients.  If you have some pre-dried ingredients (mushrooms, blueberries, etc...) you can combine these along with some noodles, rice, orzo, or other starch; add in some dry spices and maybe a soy sauce or other sauce packet (such as an instant Miso Soup packet) and you have yourself a great high-calorie meal! - Pack It Gourmet is a great resource for those hard to find powders and single serving items like soy sauce packets and Parmesan cheese packets.  I purchased tomato powder, butter powder, True Lemon packets, among some other things.  If you have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate your own vegetables and mushrooms at a much lower cost than ordering from a site like this.  Shipping is relatively high for small orders ($0-$50 orders are charged a single rate for shipping, around $7-$8) so plan to make a single order instead of multiple small orders.

Zip-Loc Pump

Ziploc Pump and 1 Quart Bag
I found out about this little device after browsing some blogs and YouTube videos from previous thru-hikers.  It is basically a little plastic air pump that fits specially designed zip-loc bags that have a one-way valve.  Follow this link and scroll down for some feedback on this product.  So far, after just beginning to use this, I find it works as expected.  The only modification I use per one of the suggestions I read about, is to place a square of packaging tape over the valve after you suction the air out.  Also, be sure to keep all crumbs of food away from the zip-loc to make sure it seals correctly.  So far, since I have re-sealed my dehydrated potatoes and Beef Stew several hours ago, they are looking just as snug as they were when I pumped the air out of them.

Snack Foods

On the docket for the next month, in addition to preparing more dinners for dehydration, is to prepare some home made snack foods.  I love a sweet snack just like the next guy, but I can't remember the last time I actually purchased a candy bar of any kind.  I just don't trust the ingredients in these big brand candy bars.  If there are some hand outs at work, I will usually snag a bite size candy bar or two, but I truly don't enjoy eating an entire large candy bar like I did when I was younger. I am sure I will be a little less discriminating on the trail.

Dip in hot cocoa for a nice cold-weather treat

For now, though, here is my plan for snacks:  fruit leathers (made in the dehydrator), apple rings and other dried fruit (purchased in bulk or made in the dehydrator), salmon and beef jerky (made in the dehyrator - shelf life is only a couple of months so need to plan to make this a few weeks before departing), trail mix, Lara Cliff and Odwalla bars, all types of crackers, Pure Butter Shortbread (great source of calories), hot cocoa and instant coffee, dark chocolate (in the colder northern sections), peanut butter fudge.

In Conclusion

I have lot to do over the next 15 weeks!  Dehydrating food has so far been successful, albeit time-consuming.  I need to step up the pace if I am going to prepare enough meals before April to fill my re-supply boxes.  Additional Mountain House meals will round out whatever is left come mid-April.  Since pre-packaged freeze-dried meals are expensive, I am really trying to limit my use of them - using them more as a special treat rather than something to rely on for the entire trip.

Here is the current prepared meal count.

Breakfasts - 12  Mostly variations on oatmeal and dried fruit.  I need 75 total breakfasts to meet my goal
Lunches - 0  I think I will snack throughout the day or make simple lunches on the trail such as peanut butter and honey on a bagel.  I will not want to bother cooking a hot lunch on most days.
Dinners - 37  This includes seven Mountain House Dinners graciously donated by my mom.  Thanks again mom!  I need 75 meals to meet my goal.
Sides - 5   These are hot dishes that do not have enough calories to be considered a full meal - such as dehydrated sweet potatoes with fruit.  Can be used as a breakfast or lunch.
Deserts - 4  Mountain House blueberry Cheesecake - YUM!  I need to find a recipe for rum balls.

That's it for now.  I will try and provide an update before April on my progress.  If you are planning your own long-distance hike, I hope you found something in this post useful.  Thanks for reading!


  1. Hey! Thanks for the link! I'm glad you are finding my site useful. Will you be at KO? Come by and say hello. One (hopefully helpful) comment... That pic of the stew? It doesn't look like enough food for a thru hiker. Double or triple it. No, seriously.

    1. Dicentra: Yes I will be at KO! I'll drop by of course. Regarding the stew...I divided a HUGE pot of stew into six portions. If you saw how much food it was before it was dehydrated, maybe you would change your mind. I think maybe the picture is a little misleading as well because you can't really see how full it is. I'm going to make more so I will do some pre-dehydration pre-portioning make sure it looks right and then re-evaluate. Thanks for your comments!

  2. When I've done food for thrus before, I aimed for 4-5 ounces (of dry food) per serving.

    See you at Ko! :)

  3. Hey Russ,

    Your on the right track for sure. I saw people with all mailed in re-supply and people who bought as they went (which is what I did and will do again this year). Mixing it up like you are allows you to be happier with your diet. For me, between Deep Creek and Cajon Pass was where I started to developed likes and dis-likings for certain things. Keep your options open right?

    See you at Kick Off.


    1. Thanks Dan, yea my thought was that I did not want to prepare all my meals in advance and then come to realize that I had to eat something that I didn't really enjoy for the next several months. I don't want to be loaded down with food that don't want on the trail. But I am having fun and learning a lot by preparing just half the meals at home. I know I won't be starving for nutrition when I get out there!

  4. Great post and helpful tips. I have backpacked for years, but have never entered the world of dehydration. Well... that is going to change soon. Step #1 - buy one of those machines! Thanks.

    1. Thanks Rockin'. Yeah I just started dehydrating 6 months ago and I've learned a lot. The true test will be when I get out on the trail. I'll plan to post a follow-up on how successful this strategy was after I complete the hike.

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PCT Northern Terminus

PCT Northern Terminus
On September 30, 2012 I reached the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thanks to everybody who supported and followed my journey. It was a life-changing experience!