Best Freeze Dried Food for Backpacking
It doesn't matter if a hike is just an afternoon stroll or if the journey takes several days, you'll want to stay properly nourished. It's vital that your body has proper caloric content, fats, and nutrients when you are exerting energy. The best way to have nutritious meals available without adding tons of weight to your backpack or requiring a bunch of tools is to pack freeze-dried meals.
Freeze-dried meals have come a long way in recent years and you can buy commercially-made freeze-dried meals that actually taste good. Like any product, you'll want to pay very close attention to the ingredients and the per-serving nutritional value so you're sure to get the appropriate nutrients.
Is Freeze-Dried Food Good for Backpacking?
There are lots of benefits to freeze-dried food for backpacking. They offer a nutrient-dense food source that is lightweight and doesn't take up lots of room in your bag. Good-quality products also taste good, and nothing makes a long day of hiking more enjoyable than a satisfying meal.
Important Nutrients, Fats, and Caloric Content
Getting proper nutrition on a hike is often difficult. It takes time to make meals and every ounce of food you bring is an ounce you have to carry. Since you don't have access to refrigeration and an ice chest is cumbersome on anything longer than a walk from the car to the camping spot, the amount of fresh food you can bring is seriously limited.
A key advantage of freeze-dried meat for backpacking meals is they retain nearly all of the nutritional value of the original product. That's because the freeze-drying process removes moisture without causing the nutrients to break down. The result is shelf-stable food that weighs about 20 percent of the original weight.
Fats are an important part of your diet and that is even more important when you are doing a physical activity like hiking. Fat doesn't freeze-dry very well, so you should take precautions with fattier foods and make sure they aren't rancid.
What You Need Per Day
Hiking and backpacking are physical activities and your body will need the right nutrition at the right times in order to provide the most energy and wellness. You should plan on eating small amounts of nutrient-dense food every few hours rather than all at once. Spacing meals out helps improve digestion and provides you with more even levels of energy and blood flow.
Experts recommend around 500 calories per meal starting with a pre-hike meal that is high in carbohydrates while being low in fat and fiber. You should also plan on having a post-hike meal that is high in calories and protein. A protein-packed meal eaten within 45 minutes of a hike has been shown to provide excellent muscle repair.
It's also critical to stay hydrated when hiking. Hydration is key to proper digestion, so don't forget to drink plenty of water when hiking.
How Long Does Freeze-Dried Backpacking Food Last?
A key benefit of freeze-dried food storage is the long shelf life. If you store the freeze-dried food correctly, you can expect it to last for one to two years. Commercial products usually include a "best by" date. This date refers more to quality than food safety, but you should be cautious eating freeze-dried food that is out of date.
Store freeze-dried food in cool, dark places like a cupboard or in an opaque box. Exposure to high heat, like when you store stuff in your garage or storage shed, degrades the quality. This is particularly important for products that include freeze-dried meat because heat can create evaporation and the moisture can cause the meat to spoil.
Properly freeze-dried food that is stored in an airtight container may last as long as 25 years before it will have started to decompose. While we don't recommend letting your meals sit that long, it is comforting to know that even after several years, your freeze-dried backpacking meals are probably still safe to eat.
Meats for Backpacking
Freeze-dried meats are a great way to pack light and get plenty of nutrition. Making good decisions when packing meat for your backpacking trip is just as important as making good choices at home. Some meats are better freeze-dried than others, however.
Chicken is the go-to for the best freeze-dried meals. It still tastes like chicken when it's rehydrated and sort of has the same texture, but most importantly, freeze-dried chicken packs lots of good protein, fats, and nutrients while offering good levels of calories per meal. Chicken is usually cooked before freeze-drying.
Few things are better than making camp after a long day and then grilling up a steak. Freeze-dried steaks are uncooked meat that has been dehydrated to remove the moisture. Adding a little water or Worchestershire sauce rehydrates the meat, then you cook as normal. Excellent protein and a delicious flavor make freeze-dried steaks one of our favorites.
Freeze-dried fish is another alternative that offers tons of amino acids and healthy fats while also being easy to store and pack without refrigeration. These are raw fish fillets that are freeze-dried to remove moisture and create a long shelf life.
Making Your Own Complete Freeze-Dried Meals
If you are turned off by the meal replacement options from brands like Mountain House, you can put together your own complete meal options. You can add things like instant mashed potatoes, instant rice, and dried vegetables to create a full meal.
Dried pasta packs easily and is simple enough to cook. Dried herbs and spices are also easy and lightweight to pack, so you can get your gourmet on regardless of how far you are from the kitchen.
Adding Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are one of the better ways to increase your nutrient and caloric density while on the move. Removing the moisture from fruits like strawberries, bananas, and mango retains the nutrients while preventing spoilage. You can snack on the dried chips or add a little liquid to rehydrate them for other meals. The extra calories from fruits are particularly good when hiking.
Some of the better vegetables for dehydrating are carrots, onions, corn, and peas. Use these ingredients to make your meals better or eat them as snacks or sides on your hike. Adding dehydrated ingredients to your meals isn't hard and can take a boring meal and make it an exciting part of the journey.
Freeze-Drying Your Own Backpacking Meals
It is possible to freeze-dry your own meals, but it isn't the easiest or most cost-effective process. Some freeze-dried ingredients are more affordable to purchase, but there are several ways to do it yourself if you want to make sure only the best ingredients are used.
Using a Freeze-Drying Machine
The best way to go if you are serious about making your own backpacking meals is to invest in a machine to complete the task. These are not cheap devices, with most designs running anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, but they are the right way to go if you are trying to get the most out of your dehydrated food preservation. Check out the machines from Harvest Right.
The Difference Between Dehydrated and Freeze Dried
There are several key differences between dehydrated and freeze-dried ingredients. Dehydration uses low heat to evaporate moisture and it typically will remove 80-90 percent of the moisture. Freeze drying is done at minus-40 degrees and uses dry ice and pressure. Moisture is removed as a gas without becoming a liquid, allowing for nearly all of the moisture to be removed.
Freeze-dried products will last substantially longer and tolerate heat better than dehydrated foods, but dehydrating foods at home is much easier and cheaper. A good quality dehydrator can be found for about $150 dollars.
One way you can save money and still get great meals for long backpacking hikes is to use both dehydrated and freeze-dried foods. Jerky and dehydrated fruits and vegetables make excellent additions on hikes as tasty meal replacements, while dehydrated nuts are one of the best sources of important fats and other nutrients – no freeze-drying required. Adding a couple of steaks, some smoked chicken breast, or a pork chop that has been freeze-dried gives you better-quality options for those special meals.
For some more suggestions, check out our list of the best dehydrating backpacking meals.
The best freeze-dried foods include a good mix of high-quality meat, vegetables, and vegetables. You can also add lots of useful ingredients to your meal planning (things like dried Worchestershire sauce, powdered milk or sour cream, and dehydrated herbs and spices) that help transform an otherwise bland piece of meat into a delicious meal.
The key thing to remember about freeze-dried food is that it usually requires boiling water. That means you'll either need to pack water in or have access to a supply – which should always be treated before using. You'll also need something to make hot water in and the ability to make fire.
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