By Mikaela Ferguson
You’ve been paddling for hours. It’s cold and raining and somehow it doesn’t matter what direction you paddle, you always have a headwind. After several false calls, you finally see that campsite sign up ahead - your salvation.
What are you most looking forward to - is it changing out of your wet clothing… or maybe taking off your waterlogged shoes? For me, it’s food. There is nothing I love more than a home cooked meal after a long day on the water.
But as canoe trips get longer and harder, bringing quality ingredients to craft delicious meals can get tricky. While it may be tempting to reach for a pre-packaged freeze-dried meal, let me introduce you to the world of dehydration (not for you, but for your food).
While it’s more work than simply adding hot water to a pre-packaged meal, cooking a meal from scratch over the fire can be a great activity. Get everyone involved - kids too - and go over the day while you cook. It’ll be more rewarding - and tastes better - than the alternative.
The Easiest Way to Make Great Meals… While Saving Money, Space and Weight
Vegetables, fruits and sauces are critical ingredients for most backcountry dinners. However, they pose two problems for the avid canoeist. First, their freshness doesn’t last very long in a barrel (hello moldy peppers and fermented pasta sauce). Second, they are bulky and potentially heavy.
The easiest way to avoid both of these problems is to dehydrate your ingredients ahead of time - and you don’t even need a fancy dehydrator to do it.
My Road to Oven Dehydration
I’ve been canoeing for the better part of my life. I used to work as a canoe guide for youth camps and now I primarily do my own trips. Working for a camp - particularly a non-profit camp - meant I wasn’t working with a large food budget. We couldn’t afford dehydrated meals or fancy dehydrators, nor could we make fresh food last on 2-4 week trips. All this resulted in a lot of oven dehydration, which turns out to be both an easy and low-cost way of preparing ingredients for backcountry camping meals.
Backcountry Pad Thai - Rice noodles, homemade peanut sauce (not dehydrated, but made with shelf-stable ingredients), rehydrated zucchini, peppers, onions and chickpeas (for protein).
How to Dehydrate Ingredients
Below you’ll find the general steps for dehydrating different types of ingredients. But first, what exactly can you dehydrate? Basically any ingredients that don’t have a considerably high water or fat content. Here are some things I’ve had success with:
- Vegetables - peppers, onion, zucchini, carrots, sweet potato, spinach, kale, mushrooms
- Fruits - strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, peaches, pears, apple slices, bananas, apple sauce (turns into fruit leather)
- Sauces - pasta sauce, tomato sauce, salsa, hummus
- Protein - chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, refried beans
- And more...
Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables
Simply line a baking tray with parchment paper, evenly scatter chopped vegetables / fruits on top and then place it in the oven on its lowest temperature (preferably on the convection setting). Check on them after 3 hours, and then once per hour thereafter.
A look inside my oven while I’m dehydrating mushrooms, green peppers and zucchini. Try to cut the vegetables to an even thickness so they will dehydrate uniformly.
Dehydrating Sauces and Beans
For sauces, like salsa, pasta sauce and hummus, you can evenly spread it on the parchment paper and then peel it off when completely dry and no longer sticky.
Before and after photos from dehydrating pasta sauce. You want the sauce to be spread thin over the parchment paper, however, you don’t want it to be too thin or have gaps in it. Once the sauce is done, I peel it off in strips and put in a plastic bag.
For beans, rinse them with water and then scatter on the parchment paper. They’re done when they’re completely dry and crispy.
Beans are super easy to do. You can also use this method for canned peaches, pineapples and pears. These fruits are great for snacking in the afternoon or on oatmeal.
While dehydrating ingredients is very easy, there are a few tricks to keep in mind.
For starters, try to only put one type of vegetable / fruits on each baking tray. Different vegetables and fruits have different moisture content, and as such, will need a different length of time to fully dehydrate. Also try to chop them finely - this will make them dehydrate and rehydrate faster.
Next, don’t put anything into the oven with onions - unless you don’t mind a little onion taste in everything else. I don’t mind doing onions, mushrooms and green peppers at the same time. However, you don’t want to do onions at the same time as, say, pineapples.
You can either pack all of your vegetables together, or you can individually pack them. Personally, I prefer to pack them individually, as this makes it easier to mix and match different vegetables for different meals. However, this also increases the number of plastic bags you need.
We can’t talk about dehydrating ingredients without talking about how we’ll rehydrate them. It’s really easy to do, although it takes a little practice to get the heat, amount of water, and time right.
I like to throw all of the ingredients (sauce + veggies + beans / TVP) into a pot or deep pan and cover them with water. Stir periodically, and add water when most (but not all of it) has been absorbed. Start this process first (and then while it’s rehydrating, do other tasks like cooking pasta or chopping cheese) as it can be a little slow.
Don’t forget about spices and hot sauce! I like to carry a spice kit complete with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, curry powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, sriracha and anything else I have in the cupboard. Add the spices in once the rehydration is almost complete.
Some items shouldn’t be rehydrated. Fruit leather (dehydrated apple sauce) and most fruits (like strawberries, pineapple and peaches) don’t rehydrate nicely and end up having a weird texture and consistency. Plus, they’re so tasty when they’re dehydrated that you don’t need to rehydrate to enjoy them.
Final Thoughts and Additional Resources
I hope this has been helpful and has inspired you to do a little dehydration ahead of your next camping trip! If you would like to learn more about backcountry cooking, I encourage you to download a copy of The Voyageur’s Backcountry Cookbook or check out the blog posts linked below:
- Canoe Camping Meals: 10 Easy Canoe Trip Recipes
- Everything You Need to Know about Dutch Ovens
- How to Dehydrate Food for Camping Meals (without a Dehydrator)
Mikaela is the voice behind Voyageur Tripper, an outdoor blog that aims to teach people how to take longer and more challenging trips in the backcountry. She previously worked as a wilderness guide, leading canoeing and hiking trips in Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut. Mikaela currently lives on the West Coast. You can find her on Instagram at @voyageurtripper.