Friday, May 1, 2009

Dehydrated Dinners for Gourmet Bushwalking

Dehydrated food is all about flavour, weight and convenience.
  • Flavour - On a recent 11-day bushwalk, we ate a different dinner each night, most as tasty or tastier than meals we would make at home.

  • Weight - We each carried 2kg of dinner food, packed into a single shopping bag, not full. This included 11 dinners and 6 desserts.

  • Convenience - At the campsite, the only preparation required is opening packets and boiling water. No chopping or peeling or tin-opening is needed. The only rubbish is empty snaplock bags and a few packet mixes, all dry.
Upon arriving at your campsite for the night, boil up some water for tea or soup, and make some extra to rehydrate dinner. Empty your pre-packed snaplock bag of food into the pot, add boiling water, stir, pop on a lid and leave for at least half an hour, though an hour is better.

Then boil up the rehydrated stuff, add the packet mix sauce if there is one, and simmer for 3 - 5 mins. Add the carbs (rice, pasta, noodles or cous cous) and simmer a further 5 mins.
Of course this does take some preparation! This is me packing the dinners at home.

Tips for success
Other food to dry
Shop-bought goodies
Contact me

Tips for success


I have an EziDri FD1000 Ultra. I have 8 trays and 8 mesh-sheets which make it much easier to get things off. I bought a timer switch for $10 from Dick Smith which makes it easy to leave it running overnight or when you're not home.

Leathers / Rollups

My dehydrator came with one solid sheet for leathers and rollups. For the other trays, you can line the tray with 2 pieces of gladwrap. Don't use lunchwrap as the sauce will soak straight in and the paper will never come off. It will help the drying if you peel the leather off and turn it over partway through the drying. You can put it back on a mesh sheet instead of the solid sheet / gladwrap if it is stiff enough as it will dry better this way.


Some kind of oil makes a big difference to the flavour of the meals. Most meals have very little fat when dehydrated. Take a Nalgene of olive oil or butter, or little butter sachets so you can put a little in each dinner. I'd appreciate tips on where to get the butter sachets (those plastic peel-top ones), other than knocking them off from a hospital or aircraft.


We used mostly Moccona coffee jars. These are quite airtight and can be free if your office has Moccona coffee. Keep veges and fruit in jars in a cool dark place like the back of a cupboard. Keep dried meat wrapped in 2 layers of bags in the freezer.


Add about the same volume of water as the volume of vegetables. More water is better. Any extra water can be soaked up by the cooking carbohydrates.


We allowed about 80g of dried vegetables per person per day, or slightly less if most of that was sweet potato or pumpkin. Meals that have lots of sauce (such as Chilli Con Carne) requires less weight of veges than a lighter meal like the Moroccan Cous Cous. We put at least 4 different vegetables into each dish. As long as you have a couple of vegetables well suited to the dish, the choice of the others doesn't matter too much.

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Noodle soup

This is really easy. Make a bag of dehydrated vegetables (approx 80g pp). Soak these at camp and cook the noodles in the water according to the directions. We used a Tom Yum noodle packet.

Suggested vegetables: Mushrooms, spinach, eggplant

Red curry

Pack a bag of dehydrated vegetables, with some coconut milk powder and the crumbled dried red curry paste leather. Soak these and then cook for 5 mins. Add rice or cous cous and cook 5 mins (rice) or 2 mins (cous cous).

Suggested vegetables: Eggplant, sweet potato, zucchini, green beans

Sweet and sour

This one's a real winner if you have lots of pineapple, and it goes very nicely with beef mince and noodles or rice. Make up a bag with the dried meat (packed in its own little bag to prevent contamination if it goes off), some dried pineapple pieces and the vegetables. Mix the sauce mix in, then add hot water to rehydrate.

Suggested vegetables: Pineapple pieces, pumpkin, spinach, mushrooms

Chilli con carne

One of my favourites. Loaded with protein and super tasty. It's even better if someone has some tasty cheese to sprinkle on. Make up a bag with a chilli con carne sauce leather (see recipe), a little bag of meat, lots of kidney beans and some veges. Rehydrate all together, then cook, adding rice. I would use less rice than usual for this dish.

Suggested vegetables: Red kidney beans, carrots, capsicum, sweet potato

Tomato vegetable pasta

Sorry, weather was too inclement for an action photo ... but it was so easy to cook even in those conditions. Pack a tomato pasta leather with assorted veges. Some powdered parmesan cheese (the non-refrigerated variety) travels well and adds flavour and fat to the meal. This works nicely with ramen noodles.

Suggested vegetables: Carrots, capsicum, pumpkin, spinach, mushrooms, zucchini

Spaghetti bolognaise

This one's really popular. Pack a bolognaise leather and a bag of dried mince. Works well with ramen noodles, spaghetti or penne.

Suggested vegetables: Carrots, green beans, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant

Satay noodles

Especially good if there is some leftover peanut butter later in the trip. Pack a packet of satay sauce mix, some cakes of noodles and lots of veges. Soak the veges on their own. Make up the satay sauce in a cup and tip it on just before serving. For added flavour put in some vegetable stock.

Suggested vegetables: Spinach, capsicum, mushrooms, sweet potato

Tikka masala

Start with a packet-mix sauce from an Indian grocer. You will note that the packet calls for chicken and cream. Make do with a bit of full-cream milk powder (and no chicken!, It doesn't really need it.) Put the milk powder in a snap-lock with the veges. Soak the veges and add sauce mix when cooking (it is likely to have some thickeners in it). Cook with rice.

Suggested vegetables: Pumpkin, sweet potato, eggplant, green beans

Moroccan cous cous

Simple but very tasty. Pack veges with a tablespoon of garam masala powder (from an Indian grocer), some currants and some vegetable stock. Soak the veges in not too much water - you want to end up with about the same volume of water left as there is of cous cous. Bring to the boil and add cous cous, which will swell up, and probably be done in under a minute. This dish is not very filling so make sure there are some extra vegetables in it, and if you have some butter, add that to improve the flavour and texture.

Suggested vegetables: Capsicum, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, sweet potato

Mushroom risotto

Not the quickest or easiest of dinners, but good for a fine-weather day when you know you have some spare fuel. Pack some short-grain rice and some porcini mushrooms, vegetable stock and butter or oil. To cook, soak the mushrooms and other vegetables. Fry the rice briefly in the butter. Add the vegetable stock and vegetables, and cook on low heat until the water is absorbed, stirring constantly.

Suggested vegetables: Pumpkin, mushrooms, spinach

Banana curry

Yeah right ... as if you'd make something you could use a knife and fork with! This is actually at Jackman and McCross in Hobart. (Fantastic for a breakfast/lunch/afternoon tea (preferably all of the above) following a walk.) Banana curry is simple and filling. Dry some banana in crossways slices. Alternatively use banana chips from the shop. Mix some curry powder (I like 'Clive of India') and some coconut milk powder. Add some kaffir lime leaves and chilli flakes for the more discerning eater. Soak the lot and then cook with rice.

Suggested vegetables: Capsicum, mushrooms, pumpkin, zucchini

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Instant pudding

Quick and easy and loaded with sugar. Cottee's chocolate instant pudding from the supermarket works best. Take some milk powder instead of fresh milk. Make the pudding up with a little less water than suggested to encourage it to set. It's not too bad as a thickshake if it doesn't! Whip with a fork for about 5 mins for best results.

Fruit custard

I've made this with strawberries and mangoes. It'd be good with banana as well. Soak the fruit of your choice in boiling water for about half an hour. Check the custard packet mix so you don't end up with too much water. Add the custard packet mix (I use the Foster's instant mix) and extra water if needed. You can also add coconut milk powder for extra flavour. Strawberry custard benefits from a little extra sugar to counter the tartness of the strawberries. With mangoes I used a leather, and for strawberries dried slices.

Fruit rice pudding

No photo of this! It got eaten too quickly :-) This one was extremely popular and very easy to make. We rehydrated pudding for 5 people in a 1L Nalgene bottle. In a snaplock bag, mix the dried fruit (leather for mango, dried slices for strawberries), some full-cream milk powder, some sugar (brown for strawberries, white for mango) and some extras - coconut milk powder and/or desiccated coconut is good with mango, and cinnamon and currants are good with strawberries. Add some dried rice to the mix. To prepare, tip into your Nalgene. Pour in boiling water and leave while you have dinner. Shake about occasionally. Heat up before serving.

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Dried fruit

See the Fruit section! Too much to choose from here. Mango in particular makes a good snack, and is excellent to trade for chocolate and the like, except if you lent your dehydrator to someone else who did their own ...


Macadamias are excellent. Cashews taste better than peanuts, and don't make the whole bag taste like peanuts. Sugared peanuts on the other hand are the best bushwalking snack ever (just edging out Kool Chocs which are losing ground due to their unavailability). Buy them at the supermarket or fruit shop. They're those funny looking pink things.


I like Salvital, a salty drink powder available from some supermarkets and most chemists. It fizzes up and is perfect after a sweaty day. Mix with some orange Tang (but beware of the sugar-free varieties) for some DIY Gatorade.

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Carrots add a nice sweetness to dinners. Cut into 7mm dice, boil for 5 mins, drain and dehydrate for about 10 hours. 5mm slices are also possible though they don't dry as evenly.


Pumpkin and sweet potato are great for filling out a meal and giving it colour. Cut into 7mm dice, boil for 5 mins, drain and dehydrate for about 10 hours. Dice work much better than slices which tend to not dry properly.

Sweet potato

Cut into 7mm dice, boil for 5 mins, drain and dehydrate for about 10 hours. Dice work much better than slices which tend to not dry properly.


Use silverbeet ("Aussie spinach"). Tear roughly and boil in a tiny bit of water for 1 min to soften. Spread on trays (it doesn't matter if there's a little overlap) and dry for about 6 hours. You can buy dried spinach from some Asian grocers.


Zucchini soaks up sauces nicely. Cut into 5mm round slices, boil for 5 mins, drain and dehydrate for about 8 hours. Excellent also to snack on.


This is most easily dried in thin sticks, however it tastes better and has a fantastic texture if you cut the eggplant across ways (5mm thick) and then chop further if the eggplant is large. Boil for about 8 mins (eggplant is not so nice if it's not cooked through), drain and dehydrate for about 10 hours. I usually chuck out a few bits that didn't dry.


Capsicum is excellent for giving flavour and colour to dishes. Cut into thin strips (~8mm wide) and dry for about 10 hours. I have also dried capsicum successfully in a conventional oven. Use a variety of capsicums and hotter peppers (often sold cheaply in mixed bags) for extra flavour.


You can buy dried mushrooms at Asian supermarkets and continental delis. The Asian mushrooms have a strong flavour that is not suitable for non-Asian dishes. Porcini mushrooms from the deli are great for risotto but quite expensive. I have dried ordinary button mushrooms, cut 5mm thick, for about 8 hours. When rehydrated, they produce a rich brown liquid that gives a deep flavour to dishes.

Green beans

Don't even bother doing these at home. The Surprise brand dried beans from the supermarket are excellent.


If you really must, you can put Surprise peas from the supermarket in your meals. I think they go mushy and taste lousy so I leave them out.
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Mango dries really well. It's a bit messy to slice as the juice goes everywhere. Peel the mango and slice 5mm slices off each side. Dry for 10 hours. Cut the rest into smaller pieces or put in a bowl to puree to make a roll-up. The roll-up is excellent in desserts. Expect it to be a bit sticky even when dry, which can take 14 hours.


Strawberries dry easily sliced into 5mm slices. It makes paper-thin pieces that go very well in desserts.

Plums, Nectarines, Peaches

5mm thick slices dried make an excellent snack.


Slice lengthways into 5mm slices and dry for about 10 hours. They will be a little soft and sticky after this time. Sprinkle with nutmeg before drying for extra flavour. For curries, slice into 5mm circles.


Fresh pineapple trimmed and cut into 5mm slices dries into a really yummy snack. A tin of pineapple pieces in syrup is easy and makes a good snack, as well as an essential ingredient in the sweet and sour dinner.

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Basic tomato sauce

Make your favourite tomato pasta sauce. Here's my recipe. This made 6 leathers which was 3 meals for 4 or 5 people. The sauces take about 8 hours to dry. Turn over towards the end of drying. It doesn't matter if it breaks up a little.

4 tins chopped tomatoes
2 carrots, chopped finely
2 brown onions, chopped finely
5 bay leaves
6 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp sugar
3 tsp chicken stock powder
Small quantity chilli
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tsp olive oil

Gently fry the onions and carrot in the oil. Add the tomatoes and their juice and all the other ingredients., Simmer for up to 2 hours. Remove bay leaves before drying.

Tomato pasta

Take basic tomato sauce, and add a few chopped leaves of fresh basil before drying.


Take basic tomato sauce, and add a few tsp of dried rosemary, sage or oregano before drying.

Chilli con carne

Take basic tomato sauce, and add a few tsp of dried coriander leaves, cumin powder and dried chilli flakes (or fresh chilli) before drying.

Red curry

Take a jar of red curry paste. Try to find one that is more concentrated as these tend to have less oil and more flavour. Spread the curry paste onto the leather tray or gladwrap. Dry for about 6 hours, turning during drying. It's likely to break into a bit of a powder.

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Other food to dry


Cooked white rice dries very well. It's about the same weight as uncooked rice, and perhaps a little more bulky, but it cooks in 5 mins instead of 15, and it soaks up the sauce nicely for a one-pot dinner. I just filled the rice-cooker and spread it out on the mesh sheets. Try to break it up a bit but it doesn't matter if it's a little clumpy. Dry for about 6 hours.

Kidney beans

Take a tin of large red kidney beans, drain, rinse and dry for about 6 hours. They may split open while drying but will still rehydrate fine. Red kidney beans rehydrate quickly and have lots of protein.

Minced beef

Take lean minced beef. Boil for a couple of minutes. Drain and put into cold water and leave for about an hour so that the fat congeals on the top. Skim off the fat, stir the meat and leave to settle again. Repeat skimming and stirring a couple of times. Spread meat on mesh sheets. Dry on highest temperature for about 6 hours. It will look like TVP mince (or like kitty litter) when it's done. Store in the freezer.

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We used Ramen noodles instead of pasta on our last trip. The Ramen are Australian made and are 97% wheat flour. The 90g portions are just right for one person. The noodles cook in 5 mins, hold their shape well and don't seem to mind having only a little water. We successfully made one-pot dinners with them. These are Hakubaku brand, Australian made, about $2.50 a packet. Some brands of quick-cook pasta are available but tend to be spirals which are bulky to carry and expand a lot when cooked so can overfill the pot. They do cook quickly and taste pretty good. Allow about 125g per person.


See 'Rice' in the 'Other food to dry' section above. Allow about 100g of dried rice per person. Ordinary white rice takes ages to cook on a stove especially with too little water. Brown rice can take up to 40 mins.


Noodles go really well in a one-pot meal. Watch out for the 2-min varieties that are half oil as they go soggy and leave your pot greasy. Packets of multiple cakes of wheat noodles are available from Asian supermarkets and fit nicely in a pot. Allow about 100g of noodles per person, or 80g of oily noodles.

Cous cous

Cous cous requires little cooking. Add boiling water (or add to sauce), approx 1:1 water to cous cous volume. Allow 80g of instant cous cous per person. Cous cous tends to soak up sauce so make the sauce a bit more runny.

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Shop-bought goodies

Coconut milk powder

Useful for lots of dinners and desserts. Find it at a supermarket or Asian supermarket.

Indian dinner mix

Indian video/spice shops sell all sorts of great spices and spice mixes. I used a Chicken Tikka Masala mix from an Australian company "Curry Masters". This was basically tomato powder, dried onions and other spices. Very tasty.

Instant noodles

Asian supermarkets sell a huge range of instant noodles. Try to get some that can be eaten as a soup, and that come with an oil packet as well as the seasoning packet. We used a Tom Yum noodle soup.

Sweet and sour sauce

This is getting harder to find as it usually comes in a liquid-sauce sachet nowadays, but the dish is so tasty with the pineapple in it that a liquid sauce might be worth its weight, or you could try drying one (I haven't tried this).

Satay sauce

Many of these are liquid now. Watch out for the Continental/Maggi brands that don't have any peanut butter in them. I used a Dutch brand in a yellow packet from larger supermarkets. Mix up the sauce in a cup as it tends to get absorbed if cooked into meals.

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Contact me

I'm in Melbourne, Australia. Leave a comment on this blog or email me at Please send me any comments, suggestions or your favourite recipes. This page was previously found at

Keywords: dehydrated dried food meals bushwalking hiking trekking


  1. Your May 1 post mentioned weight as a consideration for dehydrated food and bushwalking. Agreed. Here is a calculator I've used to estimate food weight post-dehydration

  2. So glad I discovered your site. I am doing the Bibbuleman next month so I'll try some of your food before I go. Thank you Anthea

  3. I really enjoyed reading all about your cooking ideas. I've always lived on Army ration packs, but can't do that any more so I'm having to get ideas on how to make my own meals from scratch. Looks like I'll have to get a food dehydrator. Any ones you recommend I avoid?

  4. You are a god sent!!! Doing the overland track in December, and that's only 6 days! We have so many recipes to choose from now! Never knew you could dehydrate sauces - thats awesome. Thanks to you we'll be eating like Kings, and carrying less weight, cheers! Nico & Nath

  5. Hey great blog! I hope you continue to post these jewels of information. Though I've walked for a while, I'm new to this dehy thing...

  6. Terrific ideas and recipes. Recently I did a bushwalk with someone who doesn't eat lots of things, including wheat/dairy. A great dessert we had was good quality dried banana in hot coconut cream (use little water in dried coco milk). Another favourite of mine is stewed apple in muesli, saves having to take dried milk.

  7. wow thankyou so much. Three of us are going to bike the c&o and Allegany rail trail, 6-8 days carrying our gear and would like to eat well.

  8. Marcelle, thats the best information on quality bushwalking food i've ever seen, and i've been at it for 30 yrs. Well done and thank you, i'll be dusting off the food dryer this weekend.

  9. Great post. The coking ideas are really great and the taste buds start tickling just by reading you post. Awesome photographs.

  10. HI there.
    I just came accross your site! very cool recipes.

    If you are willing to take the time to comment and leave your best hiking recipe - I have a competition running on my blog here:

    I am giving away a book that was given to me. Would love you to enter - you've got some awesome recipes.

  11. This is a great post. Emergency food supply and Food Security are much more important that people know. They are not aware that they can purchase dehydrate food security packages from places like . Keep up the great posts !!

  12. Your site is great, and one of the few that have made dehydrated foods look and taste very appealing. Your recipies are awesome, and the photos make you just want to try it immediately.

  13. Great to have an Aussie take on flavours so readily available. Thanks for all the recipes. I'll look forward to trying some.

  14. Thanks for the inspiring info. I tested a couple of meals on an overnight walk: chilli red kidney beans, spag bol both with the pre cooked dried rice. Also a noodle soup (dried miso, noodles and dried vegies) and they all tasted great. Others on the walk agreed the meals were much better than the store bought freeze dried ones. So now I am working on meals for 2 x 5 day tassie walks. Just dried a yellow Thai style mince chicken curry. Thanks Again Bernie

  15. love your blog site. First time here...u have nice space and wonderful collection..

  16. Great blog, very inspiring. We have the same dehydrator and are very keen to do meals. One thing that my husband and I are unsure of, and would love someone to answer if they could, is how long the meal and sauce leathers last? You mentioned about drying the meat leather out and storing it in the freezer. Then how long does it last once it comes out of the freezer? We've just done our first soup and powdered it up. That was exciting!!

  17. I like to use some boiled water on dried fruit at the start of dinner in an insulated pot.
    Then after dinner, add instant custard powder for a great desert.

  18. Visited your blog for the first time and loved your collection. Thanks for sharing it.

  19. In case you havent found it yet, i think you can buy those little sealed butter packets at costco

  20. Not a member here, but I noticed the local IGA supermarket has 2L bags (wine casks) of olive oil. I'm guessing this is an easy way to carry a small amount of oil.