Backcountry Kitchen Essentials: The Benefits of DIY Backcountry Meals and Nutrition Performance
DIY Backcountry Meals
Packaged food has gotten a bad reputation as of late; however, I'd be the first guy to admit that shoveling in a Mountain House after a tough hike tastes like a gourmet meal. I'm talking gourmet as in five-star restaurant where your name has to be on 'the list' for months before you can even hope of getting a table- type of gourmet; all 975mg of sodium taste luxurious. It's shortly after day 3 and 16 pounds of water retention that I second guess my decision to haul 5 days' worth of this stuff up the mountain. It's also in these moments I personally contemplate two investments: The first is diuretic and second is a dehydrator.
The benefits of dehydrating your own meals range from cost to versatility. You can custom tailor any menu to meet not only your taste needs, but also your nutrition needs. You can avoid ingredients that don't sit well with you or up the nutrient content for days you know will be a long haul to camp. Regardless of your reasons, dehydrating your own meals is definitely something to consider.
Benefits of Dehydrating your own meals.
Customization and limitless menus.
There are very few things that cannot be dehydrated, so your options on meals are literally limitless. Rumor has it that few life experiences will make a guy (or gal) feel more self-sufficient than cooking up a pot of elk chili from an elk you pulled off the mountain the year prior, dehydrating it, and eating it 5 miles into the backcountry.
Tweak to aversions/allergies.
You're keenly aware of food that doesn't sit well with you and I'm certain you don't need me or any other Dietitian telling you to avoid these on backcountry trips. Food intolerances can range from mild to so sever they're worthy of one of those shiny medical bracelets given out by doctors. Conversations among hunting partners with the later usually start something like this, "Dave, I don't want to make you worry, but I do want you to know I've got one of those epi pens in my pack if my throat closes up…"
A dehydrator lets you customize meals so you know exactly what's going in the bag. This allows you to branch out far beyond the 2 packaged meals that so happen to not contain the ingredients you're looking to avoid. I believe it was the great theologian Aladdin that said it best: "it's a whole new world…"
You're going to spend somewhere between $5-10 per meal you take into the backcountry. I'd agree if you said the meals were convenient, but $40 for a four day trip?! That's a new headlamp, 6 containers of Anti-Monkey Butt Powder, a new pair of Red Desert boxers at First Lite, or another tag in the pocket for that late season hunt.
The cost of dehydrating your own food is essentially the cost of the food itself; a cost that's inexpensive when pitted against the convenient packaged meals. Sure, sure; there is some electricity cost in using a dehydrator, but we're not talking about powering an industrial air conditioner here. The cost for a heaping portion of dirty rice (recipe at the bottom) assuming you've harvested your own protein is less than $1.00. The price only jumps another $1.10 if you're like me, had tag soup this past year, and have to rely on the grocery for some decent protein.
Customize to meet your nutrition needs for optimal performance.
If you haven’t checked out the free meal plan we put together with Exo, download it here. You'll see that the nutrients you need are individual and specifically aimed at helping you perform optimally in the backcountry.
Need more carbohydrates than what's listed on a packaged meal? Gone are the days of adding additional instant potatoes to your packaged spaghetti to up the carbs. The flexibility of DIY dehydrated meals allows you to simply throw more pasta in the mix to meet your needs, restore your muscle glycogen, and ensure day two will be as effortless as day one was.
Need more protein? Add more ground beef or ground elk. Need more fat…you get the picture. Arguably the greatest perk of dehydrating your own meal is the ability to tailor it to meet your needs.
The list of benefits found in DIY dehydrated meals is certainly endless. Keep your eyes open over the next few days as we talk about the best carbohydrates to dehydrate (and how to do it), proteins that hold up best in rehydration, pro-tips, hacks, and some recipes. We'll also help answer questions like 'what about fat?', 'are nutrients lost in the dehydrating process?' and chat about what doesn't work well in the dehydrator. To wrap things up, you'll find a review on a dehydrator that won't break the bank or the entire unit on the second batch of dehydrated chili.
Dirty Rice Recipe
1lb lean ground beef/elk, etc. (93% lean or greater)
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped bell pepper
4 cups of minute-rice
2 tsp Cajun seasoning (like Tony Chachere's)
¼ tsp thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Brown the ground meat in a skillet with onion and celery. Drain the grease and put mixture back in the skillet.
2. Add salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, and thyme when mixture is back in the skillet.
3. Add rice to the meat mixture and cover with appropriate amount of chicken stock. (about 1:1 rice-to-liquid ratio).
4. Cover with lid and bring to boil. Leave lid on the mixture and set aside until rice has soaked up all of the liquid.
5. Evenly spread mixture in the dehydrator trays so nothing is overlapping.
6. Dehydrate at 140°F for 8-10 hours checking periodically to ensure the mixture is done.
7. Evenly portion the dehydrated meals out into separate baggies.
8. On the mountain: Take about 2 cups of the mixture and bring 16 oz of water to boil. Place the mixture in the water and allow to rehydrate. Note: You may need to add more/less water, so keep an eye on the mixture.
9. Send me an email with your thoughts on the recipe and a picture of the elk double-lunged.