backpacking meals

Sweet Breakfast Rice - Trail Recipe

Breakfast recipes on the trail can be hit or miss for some people.  While some hikers prefer to walk and eat, others prefer waking up with a full breakfast to keep them going in the morning.  Before I became a distance hiker I wasn't much of a breakfast eater.  After I got into my trail routine, however, I quickly realized that if I wanted to have any kind of energy before noon I needed to eat a few times in the morning.  In 2015, when we were setting out to do our thru hikes around the east coast, it was very clear that I'd need to make breakfasts for myself as NoKey definitely falls into the "walk and eat" category of backpackers.  I found myself focusing on flavors I loved and that's where this recipe came from.  

Back in the day, well, back in 2008 when I first started backpacking, there was a brand of commercial foods called Enertia.  They had an amazing breakfast I loved called Cherokee Rice Pudding and it was a sweet breakfast you could eat hot or cold.  I knew when I was setting out to create breakfasts for myself that Cherokee Rice Pudding would need to be recreated.  Sadly, Enertia was bought by Coleman several years ago and the food brand was phased out.  Since I couldn't find the ingredients online I recreated my own special version of Sweet Breakfast Rice. 

Sweet Breakfast Rice (2 servings)

1/2 home dehydrated basmati rice, cooked in vanilla almond milk before drying
1/4 cup dried tropical fruit of your choice (I love to mix it up!)
2 tbsp slivered almonds
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

At home, mix all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl making sure to evenly distribute all flavors.  Split in half amongst two zipper bags and seal. 

On Trail: Add ingredients to your cook pot and bring to a boil.  Let sit until cool enough to eat or until you reach desired texture.  

Dehydrator 101

After my big thru hiking announcement last week I've decided to share some of my favorite backpacking recipes with you guys; however, it occurred to me that while I'm whipping up a lot of these recipes like it's no big deal you might not feel that way too!  In fact, it took me a while to perfect my methods for dehydrating tasty meals.  Once you finally start to master techniques to make your food taste better, dehydrating your own backpacking meals is an easy "set it and forget it" option that not only can provide you better nutrition, but can also save you money on resupplies in tough areas.  Here's my quick and dirty guide to dehydrators - both purchasing and techniques to help you make your best backpacking meals.  

The Purchase

Buying a dehydrator is going to be an investment.  In fact, I'd look at it the way you look at purchasing a major kitchen appliance.  After doing plenty of research about what I'd like to use to make an entire season's worth of hiking meals I chose a 5-Tray Excalibur system with a thermostat.  The thing about dehydrating backpacking meals is that you aren't throwing them all in at one time.  First, you're dehydrating the mixed vegetables for a few days. Then maybe you're doing rice for a few days.  Then, you might be doing a few batches of sweet-flavored rice. You do everything in parts before assembling the meals.  Having a fan and a thermostat will help ensure you're dehydrating fruits and veggies at optimal temperatures to keep nasty bacteria at bay.  Meat, fruit, veggies - they all have optimal temps for pulling out moisture.  The thermostat will definitely make sure you're drying your food at the safest temperatures.  

While there are cheaper countertop models of dehydrators available, I definitely recommend going with a model with a fan for air circulation.  The round tray systems need constant babysitting to move the trays.  If you don't do this in a fan-less model, you'll have leather-like layers closer to the heat source whereas your top layers might not even be halfway dry.  You can definitely do months' worth of food on one of these budget models, but be sure you have the time to dedicate to rearranging the trays.  

Finally, you'll need a set of fruit leather trays for your dehydrator.  You can again go the budget option and use parchment paper.  I went with the generic fruit leather reusable inserts on Amazon.  I've reused them countless times for the past three years and they don't hold flavors and just need a quick rinse.  I highly recommend them.  Aren't planning on making fruit roll-ups?  That's fine - neither did I!  But, you'll need these guys to dry sauces, veggie paste, even condiments you'll want to dry to make them more potent.  Trust me, you WANT these tray inserts!


So you've purchased your dehydrator and you've found a couple of recipes you want to try out.  Maybe you want to try and recreate one of your favorite pasta sides at a fraction of the price you'd pay for them over the period of a distance hike.  Either way, it's time to start dehydrating.


Let's say your recipe calls for you to use your own dehydrated rice for a savory recipe.  Instead of just making plain rice like you'd make at home, I highly recommend seasoning the rice before you get it into your dehydrator.  If you're making a savory dish, I recommend cooking your rice in chicken, beef, or vegetable stock and salting it slightly heavier than you would eat at home for a normal meal.  On trail, you'll wish it had more salt!  After the rice cooks, cool it to room temperature before dehydrating.  Making a sweet rice - maybe for a pudding or breakfast treat?  Try cooking it with vanilla almond milk instead of water!  When it comes time to dehydrate your rice, spread it out thinly and try to avoid clumps of rice.  Clumps will hold more moisture and take longer to dehydrate.  If you're home while it's dehydrating, go out and break up the chunks of rice every so often to help it dry out faster.  


Not all frozen veggie mixes are created equally!  My favorite store, Aldi, has mixed veggies in a bag as cheap as $0.95!  However, their mixed veggies aren't all the same size and, in fact, the carrots are in rounds that are easily four times the size as the other vegetables.  This doesn't make for fast dehydrating OR rehydrating!  On the flip side of this, Wegmans makes a great mixed veggie blend with the exception of the lima beans.  Lima beans are another rehydration nightmare.  I don't care how long you soak or boil lima beans - they never seem to fully rehydrate properly.  When you're looking for mixed vegetables to dehydrate for additions to your meals, I highly recommend looking at the contents and shapes of the veggies in the bag.  BJ's Wholesale has great 4-lb bags that require minimal changes.  The only thing I did to these was cutting the green beans in half to make everything the same size.  When it comes to vegetables, uniform size is key to getting them dehydrated and rehydrated at the same times.  Trust me, there are few things sadder than being hungry on trail and crunching into half-rehydrated corn when the rest of your meal is ready!

Something I did for our meals a few years ago was broiling and blackening bell peppers before dehydrating.  This little something extra really made the flavors taste even more homemade despite being in the backcountry.  My most important tip is to NOT mix different veggies in your dehydrator at the same time if you can help it - especially strong-smelling veggies.  If you want to do a tray of red onions, put them in by themselves or else all your food will taste like onion!

I actually have EIGHT POUNDS of veggies in that second photo. They don't amount to much!

I actually have EIGHT POUNDS of veggies in that second photo. They don't amount to much!


Meat is a tricky, tricky thing to home dehydrate.  If you're doing beef or ground turkey you'll quickly become familiar with the term "gravel".  The reason?  Ground meat basically has the texture of gravel when you do it right.  Buying meat is the critical first step and you've got to do it right.  If you're set on using ground beef, you'll need to buy the leanest possible cut you can find (less than 90%, and 95% lean is more ideal).  Since buying meat this lean is often expensive, I chose to go with lean turkey as my meat choice.  We bought 99% lean white ground turkey.  Now, cooking the meat is also tricky because you'll have to do it low, slow, and as dry as possible.  No oils at all can be added to the pan, as every bit of oil can go rancid in packaging.  Adding dried breadcrumbs to your meat to soak up the oil is a great step you can take during the browning process.  After cooking the meat to well done, you'll need to sop up any oil that happened to cook out before breaking it up to place in your dehydrator.  Like rice, meat has a tendency to clump, so you'll need to break up the clusters every once in a while. Once your meat is completely dehydrated, I highly recommend vacuum sealing each portion to keep it fresh, just in case.  


Like veggies, uniformity is key with fruit.  Having all your pieces roughly the same size will save you time on both ends of the dehydrating and rehydrating process.  One tricky element to dehydrating fruit, however, is browning.  Apples and bananas both tend to brown when they're exposed to oxygen for a period of time.  I solved this problem by brushing easily browning fruits with lemon juice on both sides before putting them on trays in my dehydrator.  I liked seasoning my fruit as well.  A sprinkle of ginger and cinnamon on apple slices comes out delicious!

Me with my bounty - an entire summer's worth of meals for two hungry hikers. 

Me with my bounty - an entire summer's worth of meals for two hungry hikers. 

Just like with any good recipe, mastering skills with a dehydrator will take time and a few errors will happen as well.  It's all part of the journey!  Have you experimented with dehydrating meals?  What is your favorite backcountry meal? 

More food prep!

14 servings of mushroom stroganoff and a box full of hiker condiments at my house today! 

14 servings of mushroom stroganoff and a box full of hiker condiments at my house today! 

More than 7 pounds of mushrooms are cooked down and in my dehydrator this morning.  My box from showed up this morning too!  I've got individual sized packets of Franks, Cholula, lime juice, sriracha, and salsa for our meals this summer. 

Two weeks of food done... only six more to go!

This afternoon, in between making my own bacon bits (yes, really!) and dehydrating more frozen vegetables, I was able to bag up 32 trail breakfasts.  This means NoKey and I have 16 days of breakfast all ready to pack up and mail!  

Breakfast Rice and Breakfast Couscous Ready to Go!

Breakfast Rice and Breakfast Couscous Ready to Go!

So, while it may  not look like much, these 32 meals were a big undertaking.  I did the rice dehydrating myself so we could use a brown rice instead of a minute rice.  When you dehydrate things yourself you not only control the quality of the ingredients, but you get a little more flexibility on what goes into the rice.  For this batch of breakfast rice, I actually cooked it in sweetened vanilla-flavored almond milk!  It gives the rice a nice subtle sweetness and the sugar energy hikers need at breakfast time.  I've posted recipes for the breakfast rice and couscous below!

Breakfast Rice Pudding (adapted from Backpacking Chef Glenn) - One Serving
-3/4 cup rice of your choice, cooked in vanilla almond milk and dehydrated
-1/2 tsp sugar
-1/4 tsp cinnamon
-1/4 cup dried fruit of your choice (I mixed it up and did some tropical mix, apples and cranberries, blueberries and coconut, and currant with coconut)
-1 tablespoon slivered almonds
+At home prep - combine the first 3 ingredients into a labeled freezer bag
+Put the dried fruit and almonds into a snack-sized zipper bag; put this smaller bag into the bag with the other ingredients and seal, making sure to remove as much air as possible
+Trail prep - Remove the bag with the fruit and nuts and set aside.  Pour the rice mix into your cook pot and let it reconstitute for 5 minutes.  Turn the heat element on your stove up and bring to a near-boil. Just before boil, shut off the heat and cover.  Let it sit approximately 10 minutes.  Devour!

Breakfast Couscous - One Serving  
-1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
-2.5 TBSP milk powder (use whatever kind you like - I mixed whole, skim, and coconut powders for this recipe)
-1 TBSP brown sugar
-1/4 tsp HEAPING cinnamon
-2 TBSP slivered almonds
-2 TBSP dried fruit
+At home prep - Combine all ingredients above into a labeled plastic zipper bag and seal, getting out all air completely. 
+Trail prep - Bring approximately 3/4 cup of water to a boil and turn off the heat.  Carefully, add the water to your bag and seal.  Squish the bag around to make sure all ingredients get water.  Let it sit approximately 5 minutes.  Fluff couscous and eat. 

Logistics - the not-so-fun part of hike planning

Here I am, three days into my 'fun' employment and I'm going stir crazy.  Over the past few days, I've managed to spend several hundred dollars on pieces of gear we need for our hike and the beginning of our food budget.  I've spent the better part of last night and this morning preparing our menu.  Turns out sending yourself food is harder than I thought it would be!

On our AT thru hike and then working in the most remote part of Maine, we learned a very key piece of information for resupply - a good grocery store is really only a hitchhike away.  Sure, it might not be in the guide book, but if someone is willing to pick up a smelly hitchhiker, they're probably willing to give you information and a ride to the nearest real store.  Unfortunately, we also learned that sometimes these small town groceries just aren't going to cut it for trail food.  I've planned to dehydrate meals for the first two of our three hikes.  Even though the Benton MacKaye Trail is starting to get more popular, the fact of the matter is that it isn't as established as the AT yet and getting a hitch will probably be tougher.  On the Finger Lakes Trail, especially the eastern portion, towns and stores are nearly nonexistent.  Once we get to the Ithaca area we'll have an easier time getting resupply, but some of these places in rural New York have notations in the guidebook reading "skip the hitch, there's nothing here." (Seriously, it says that!)  

For our resupply boxes, I've done the math allowing for three weeks on the BMT and five weeks on the FLT, a total of 8 weeks of meals - three meals a day plus two snacks.  This means 56 breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and 112 snacks per person.  This is overshooting a bit, which means we'll probably have extras we'll bounce back home, but that's okay!  That means we'll have a bit of leftover for the more rural northern sections of the Long Trail.  I've devised a meal plan that allows for 8 rotating meals, meaning we'll repeat each 7 times during the course of the summer.  Not too shabby for hikers who are used to eating the same things over and over and over to the point of exhaustion!  

Right now, the logistics include making conversions.  Since I'm going to be cooking, dehydrating, and portioning our food, I have to make conversions as to not overbuy supplies.  For example - one cup of dried rice equals approximately 3.5 cups cooked rice, which dehydrates down into 1.75 to 2 cups of rice depending on a few variables.  Now, since the rice I bought comes in a 5 lb. bag, how much rice do I need for all of these meals...? Feels like high school  math, right?!  Since my head was starting to spin, I decided to take a quick break and write a blog post to update everyone on what we were planning.  I'm going to do a post in the future with all our meals and how they look in a few weeks when all the cooking is done.  

Have any of you done any dehydrating?  I'd love to hear how it went, how many extra meals you ended up with, etc.  

Trail recipe review: Vegetarian Brunswick Stew

After lots and lots of hard work, I had a batch of six dinners made up for some overnights.  Brunswick stew is traditionally a southern dish made with chicken or pulled pork, beans, okra, onions, etc.  There are many variations on the stew and I adapted my recipe from Tim and Christine Connors’ version in the book “Lipsmackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin’”. Here’s what you’ll need for my version:

-1 lb bag of baby lima beans
-1 lb bag of frozen corn of any variety
-1 lb bag of frozen hash browns (southern style or regular)
-1/2 cup of dried mixed bell peppers
-6 vegetable bullion cubes
-3/4 cup of TVP (textured vegetable protein); I tried to find a ham-flavored or a bacon-flavored, but had no luck - those flavors would be great!
-1/2 cup dried onion
-8 teaspoons of tomato powder (really crazy expensive, it’s best to make your own by dehydrating tomatoes and pulverizing them in a blender)
-1/2 cup of instant potato flakes
-Fresh black pepper to taste

Pre assembly prep work: You’ll have to dehydrate all the frozen and fresh stuff first.  The beans, corn, potatoes, bell peppers, and onions will all have different drying times as according to your dehydrator.  Be sure to consult your book for precise temperature settings and hourly times to get your stuff dry.  Also, do the onions on their own!  Otherwise, everything in the dehydrator with them will taste and smell like onion! On onion day, I highly recommend putting the dehydrator outside.  The smell is incredibly strong!  

For the tomato powder, I took five large heirloom tomatoes and sliced them thin, about 1/8 of an inch, and put them in my dehydrator for about 10 hours.  You’ll want to keep checking them to make sure they’re drying evenly.  You want them to be extremely brittle and breakable. After they’re completely dried out, put them into a blender or Magic Bullet and pulverize them.  Voila! You have tomato powder, which is extremely rich in flavor and takes up so much less space in the pantry. For  a more detailed explanation how to make it, check out this YouTube video:

So, all your ingredients are dry and ready to be mixed! Here we go:

In a large bowl, combine the dry beans, corn, hash browns, and bell peppers and mix well.  Using a 1 cup measuring cup, divide the bowl into six freezer bags.  This will be your storage bag for the meal.  

Now, on six pieces of plastic wrap, place one bullion cube in the middle and crush it.  Now evenly divide up the dried onion, add 3 tablespoons of TVP, 2 teaspoons of tomato powder, 1 tablespoon of potato flakes, and some fresh ground pepper.  Wrap this bundle up.  Now you have your two separate bags.  Put the plastic wrap bundle into the large freezer bag.

Directions for camp cooking: 
We always presoak our food to save on fuel.  Remove the bundle of plastic wrap and set it aside.  Pour 2 cups of water into the freezer bag with the dried vegetables and let it soak, up to 30 minutes.  Dump the bag of water and semi-rehydrated veggies into your pot and bring to a boil.  After about 3-4 minutes, check your veggies for softness.  You’re looking for a good “al-dente” texture to them.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and add the contents from your plastic wrap bundle.  Stir in well, cover, and let it set up for 3-4 minutes.  The reason the bundle is added in after turning off the heat is to prevent the contents of this bag from scorching or sticking to your pot.  Of note, I would recommend abbreviating these directions and writing them on the freezer bag, like in my photo above.  That way, you won’t be stuck remembering how to cook it in camp!

We liked this meal quite a bit.  It is vegetarian and we aren’t, but man was it filling!  The fiber from the beans and the protein from the beans and TVP kept us both full all night after hiking a 15-mile day.  The only thing we wished we had was salt.  I feel like salt would really bring this meal a little bit more together.  Clean up for this wasn’t difficult at all due to the instant potatoes, which act like a scouring agent in the pot and make it easy to wipe out with a baby wipe and rinse clean.  Hope you enjoy it!