Dehydrating Canned and Frozen Food for DIY Backpacking Meals

By Kyle Kamp, RD, LD • Updated June 20, 2022

This post may contain affiliate links.
Did you know that you can dehydrate canned and frozen foods to make quick and easy backpacking meals? Here are a few ideas, including a bonus dehydrated canned tuna recipe. #dehydratedmeals #backpackingfood #backpackingmealideas #hikingfoodideas #howtodehydratefood #backcountryfoodie

Canned Food | Frozen Food | Dehydrated Tuna Salad Recipe | Dehydrating Food Instructions

Is there anything more exciting than preparing for a trip to the mountains?  The mere potential of seeing wildlife and setting foot in places that few others have wondered about is reason enough to keep me coming back for more.  In the same breath, I’d say there’s very little that produces as much anxiousness in me as the backpacking meal preparation required before venturing into these remote places. However, dehydrating canned and frozen foods can be a quick and easy way to reduce the anxiety of backpacking meal prep.

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Dehydrating Canned Foods for Backpacking Meals

It seems too good to be true that the sodium-laden cylindrical cans lining the middle aisle of supermarkets may have a place in your pack, but they do.  Of course, I’m not suggesting to a group of gram-counting outdoorsmen and women to throw a can of soup in your pack and head to your favorite hunting spot.  Instead, I’m asking you to consider the possibilities lingering in that aisle if you remove the water and heavy aluminum can.   I’ve dehydrated cans of store-bought chili, pulled pork, and other goodies to add to meals for the backcountry.  Some of these have had sub-par results, while some have been standouts.  Here are a few good suggestions to get you started.

Canned Chili:

I prefer Hormel Chili for two reasons:

  • You can pick it up with 99% fat-free ground turkey.  This is like dehydration-gold.  Other canned chili products you’ll find use ground meat with high-fat content making the package prone to spoilage after dehydrated and stored.
  • You can get it with or without beans, depending on how tolerant your camping buddy is of your flatulent choral ensemble in the middle of the night.  And, if we’re honest, the smell from your sweaty pits will be the last aroma you’re worried is chasing elk off. The one drawback to going chili without beans is trading in 20 grams of muscle-fueling carbohydrate per can.  You can offset this by throwing some rice in with the chili mix at camp.

Spaghettios:

Google “Spaghettios,” and you get over 600,000 results.  No wonder we’re so confused about what to eat.  Go for the plain version; there’s no need to overcomplicate this.   One can of this stuff yields 10 grams of protein and a whopping 70 grams of rapid-digesting carbohydrates.  Neither of these numbers is what you want to aim for at supper time with the family.  However, when you’re in the mountains, this equates to fuel shoveled on top of a furnace burning white with heat.  Consider adding textured vegetable protein (TVP) to bolster the protein content of the meal.

Canned Soups:

Unlike its aforementioned canned counterpart, the best part about dehydrating canned soups is the variety it offers without the mess of cooking.  Canned soups generally have a reasonable carbohydrate-to-protein ratio and decent sodium content to replace whatever was lost via sweat, urine, and exhalation on your trip up the mountain. We recommend dehydrating broth-based canned soups as cream-based soups can go rancid due to the higher fat content.

Canned Tuna:

Canned tuna is an excellent way to increase the protein content of backpacking meals. You can dehydrate or freeze-dry canned or pouch tuna packed in water, but not oil. Tuna packed in oil will be more likely to go rancid due to the increased fat content. For the same reason, fattier fish like salmon is not a good option for dehydrating. 

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    Using Frozen Vegetables in Backpacking Meals

    Maybe it’s the dietitian half of my brain, but I’m constantly looking for ways to add fiber and nutrients to backcountry meals.  I think we’ve all probably experienced the results three days in the backcountry after munching on nothing but packaged foods with little fiber.

    Freeze-dried vegetables are a great addition to DIY backpacking meals, but the cost can add up rather quickly.  A cheap but little-known alternative is to dehydrate frozen store-bought vegetables.

    Frozen vegetables can be spread onto dehydrator trays as-is without defrosting. However, defrosting will speed up the dehydration process.

    If you have fresh vegetables on hand, they oftentimes need to be blanched before dehydrating. Blanching is kitchen-speak for a rapid cook and cooling process which begins by bringing a pot of water to a boil. 

    Steps for blanching vegetables:

    • Place the desired vegetables in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. 
    • Next, you’ll want to remove the vegetables from the water with a mesh strainer and insert the vegetables into a bowl of ice water to rapidly cool.  This simply stops the rapid ripening of the vegetables by enzymes. 
    • Finally, you’ll end the process by dehydrating the vegetables as you would anything else and adding them to meals as you see fit.

    I fully recognize cooking isn’t everyone’s forte, and some would prefer to just take leftover slices of cheese pizza up the mountain than cook dinner.  I also won’t be the first guy to argue that grabbing a few packaged meals off of the shelf is easy and cuts back on the amount of planning needed for a trip; however, I’d also argue that the simplicity and versatility offered by dehydrating already cooked meals make the process much more appealing to a lot of folks.  Bon appetite!

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    Give this Backcountry Foodie dehydrated canned tuna recipe a try.

    Keto-Friendly Tuna Salad

    Backcountry Foodie
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    NUTRITION (per serving)

    cal/oz 205
    cal/gram 7.2
    Calories 246 kcal
    PROTEIN 19 g
    CARBS 0.7 g
    Fiber 0 g
    Added Sugar 0 g
    Fat 14 g
    Sodium 699 mg
    Home Prep Time 3 mins
    Field Prep Time 30 mins
    WT/SERVING 1.2 oz (34 g)
    MEAL PREPCold Soak, Cook
    Diet TYPESBariatric, Gluten-Free, Low-Sugar, Nut-Free
    Servings1 serving

    INGREDIENTS
     
     

    OPTIONAL

    INSTRUCTIONS (per serving)

    HOME

    • Put the dry ingredients in a bag or container to be used in the backcountry. See meal prep tips below.
    • Pair with 1 packet (14 g) of mayonnaise to be added when the meal is rehydrated.

    FIELD

    • Add enough water to cover the tuna mixture and stir to mix well.
    • If using cold water, let the meal stand for 30-60 minutes, allowing the meal to rehydrate fully. If using hot water, let the meal stand for 10-15 minutes. Rehydration times will be much shorter if freeze-dried tuna is used.
    • Once the meal is rehydrated, properly drain any excess water following the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.
    • Add 1 packet (14 g) of mayonnaise and stir to mix well.
    • Pair with your favorite crackers, wrap, or pita bread and enjoy!

    NOTES

    MEAL PREP TIPS

    • If preparing the meal for long-term storage, we recommend packing the parmesan cheese in a separate container just before leaving for the trip. This will greatly lengthen the shelf-life of the meal. Single-serving packets, such as those used by pizza restaurants work well.
    • This is a low-volume meal. Consider making two batches for a hungry hiker.
     

    INSTRUCTIONS FOR DEHYDRATING TUNA

    • Drain the juice from the can or pouch.
    • Transfer immediately to dehydrator trays.
    • Dehydrate at 145-155℉ (62-68℃) until completely dry.
    • Allow the dried tuna to cool for 30-60 minutes.
    • Package in an airtight container.
    • Dehydrated tuna is shelf-stable at room temperature for 1-2 months, 6 months in the refrigerator, or up to one year in the freezer. Freeze-dried tuna stored in an airtight container is shelf-stable for 10-15 years.

     

    NUTRITION

    • Please note that the nutrition information above does not include crackers, pita bread, or a wrap.
    • Total sugar (per serving): 0.3 g with no added sugar

    MY NOTES

    Did you make this recipe? We’d love to see it!Share photos from your kitchen or the backcountry below.

    READY TO SEE MORE EASY-TO-PREPARE BACKPACKING RECIPES?

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

    Kyle Kamp, RDN, LD, is the owner of Valley to Peak Nutrition, where he offers nutrition packages to help you lose weight in preparation for an upcoming season or bulking up to prepare you for the demands of a backcountry hunt.  He also offers a meal planning service to help map out some of the points discussed above and other consultation services.  Check out Kyle’s personal story about weight loss and backcountry adventures.

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    One Comment

    • In the soup category, Cream of X soups don’t re-hydrate well, just stay as lumps, probably because of dairy products used.

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