This was my 6-day backpacking menu for a hike on the Appalachian Trail from the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina to Dick’s Creek Gap in Hiawassee, Georgia.
First Meal: Tuna Mac & Cheese cooked under the fire tower at Wesser Bald.
Food preparation included precooking some of the food before drying it or simply cutting fruit. I dried ground beef, canned tuna and canned chicken for this trip, so I only had to cook the ground beef. I precooked my starches – rice, potatoes and macaroni – as well as all the vegetables. Precooking enhances flavors in the finished product such as cooking rice in chicken broth or sautéing mushrooms in balsamic vinegar and red wine. Vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and peas hold their colors better when steamed for six minutes and rehydrate well in meals on the trail.
I tracked the amount of time it took me to prepare the food for the trip to give you an idea of how much time you could expect to invest in a similar trip of your own. It took four loads in my 9-tray Excalibur Dehydrator to dry the food – one load in the morning and one overnight for a total of two days. I didn’t count the time the food was in the dehydrator in the prep time since I was free to do other things while the machine did the work.
Day 1 - Snacks, fruit cocktail, Tuna Mac & Cheese. I started hiking at 11:30, so I only need to pack dinner and snacks.
Day 2 - Scrambled Eggs & Polenta w/ Beef, Veggies & Salsa Verde, Chicken & Rice Cacciatore, Chili, snacks, fruit cocktail.
Day 3 - Apple/Cranberry Oatmeal, Unstuffed Peppers, Cheddar Hash brown Potatoes w/ Chicken & Broccoli, snacks, fruit cocktail.
Day 4 - Scrambled Eggs & Polenta with Zucchini, Mushrooms & Cheddar Cheese Sauce, Pasta Marinara with Beef & Veggies, Mexican Beef & Rice, snacks, fruit cocktail.
Day 5 - Apple/Cranberry Oatmeal, Chili Mac, Curry Chicken & Rice, snacks, fruit cocktail.
Day 6 - Scrambled Eggs & Polenta w/ Beef, Veggies & Salsa Verde, Hash brown Potatoes & Chili, Taco Mac & Cheese w/ Chicken, snacks, fruit cocktail.
Snacks: One cup of trail mix in a snack-size Ziploc bag for each day. I varied the ingredients including almond M&Ms, yogurt covered cranberries, granola, mixed nuts, smarties (like M&M, Swiss candy), pretzel goldfish, wasabi peas.
Fruit Cocktail: One cup of mixed dried fruit which I rehydrated in the thermos for late afternoon treat.
You will find all of these recipes and many more in my book, Recipes for Adventure.
Dehydrator Load #1: Proteins
Beans, Ground Beef, Tuna, Peas & Broccoli, Chili, Chicken.
Total prep time: 3½ hours.
Cooked the ground beef. Cooked a batch of chili. Steamed peas and broccoli. Canned beans, tuna and chicken required no cooking. It took 2½ hours of cooking, ½ hour tending the food while it dried such as consolidating the chicken from two trays to one tray midway and spreading out the chili to the extra tray since that was the wettest food being dried, plus ½ hour measuring and moving the dried food to bags for temporary storage.
Dehydrator Load #2: Starches
Potatoes, Rice and Macaroni.
Total prep time: 2½ hours.
Steamed & grated potatoes. Cooked two pots of rice in beef and chicken broth. Cooked two types of macaroni. Precooking the macaroni ensured that it would rehydrate well in the Thermos with the addition of boiled water. It took 2 hours of cooking plus ½ hour to measure and bag the dried food.
Dehydrator Load #3: Scrambled Eggs, Sauces and Vegetables.
Total prep time: 4 hours
This load took care of my scrambled eggs & polenta, marinara sauce, salsa verde, sliced cherry tomatoes, a can of fire roasted diced tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, mixed bell peppers, mushrooms and onions.
The pots and pans were flying - I boiled the polenta and then baked it with the egg mixture. I broiled the diced peppers, diced red onions and the julienne cut zucchini. I steamed the julienne cut carrots. I sautéed the sliced mushrooms in red wine and balsamic vinegar. I sliced the cherry tomatoes. The sauces were from jarred products. The salsa verde leather was for my scrambled eggs. It took 3½ hours cooking plus ½ hour to measure and bag the dried food.
Dehydrator Load #4: Fruit
1 Pineapple, 4 Pears, 6 Apples, 5 Bananas, ½ pound seedless grapes, 3 oranges.
Total prep time: 3 hours
I spent 2 hours cutting and handling the fruit plus ½ hour measuring and bagging the dried fruit and ½ hour cleaning the trays. I sliced the grapes crosswise and cut the oranges into small pieces. They were stickier than the other fruits, so I peeled them off the mesh sheets and put them back in the dehydrator for an additional four hours.
I didn’t eat any of my dried fruits dry on this trip. I ate some of the dried apples rehydrated for breakfast with oatmeal and the rest I rehydrated as fruit cocktail in a Thermos Food Jar.
Total assembly and packing time: 3 hours
Photo above: Ready to assemble meals. Fruit across the top, starches left, proteins middle, vegetables on the right.
Photo above: Assembled meals packed in sandwich size bags. Snacks and fruit cocktail packed in snack size bags.
I vacuum sealed daily rations into two bags per day - breakfast, lunch and snacks in one and dinner and a snack in the other. This made the vacuum sealed bags easier to pack since I could position them better. The paper towels helped to keep sharp dried food from piercing the vacuum bags and I also used them for clean-up.
Total food weight came in just under 9 pounds or an average of 1.5 pounds per day. I didn't have time to figure the calories, but it was plenty to eat. I would have had trouble eating any more. My snacks other than the fruit were mostly dense and heavy - nuts, chocolate, granola, etc. Seventy-five percent of the weight was in meals and twenty-five percent in snacks. I gave away my last fruit cocktail and dinner to a hungry thru-hiker since I only had four miles to go after lunch on the last day.
Thermos Cooking & Rehydration
In the past, I sometimes skipped cooking lunch on the trail because of bad weather or a desire to take a short lunch break. On this trip I used a thermos food jar to prepare hot lunches in the morning while I had my stove out during breakfast. This was simply a matter of putting the dried meal in the thermos and adding the required amount of boiled water – 25% more water than normally called for in the recipe. The hot lunches were a resounding success – delicious, fortifying, convenient and easy to clean up.
Unstuffed Peppers for lunch with a fruit cocktail on deck.
Hot Thermos Lunches: Chicken & Rice Cacciatore, Unstuffed
Peppers, Pasta Marinara with Beef & Veggies, Curry Chicken &
Rice, Hash brown Potatoes & Chili.
Fruit Cocktail: After I cleaned the thermos after lunch – a quick shake with a small amount of water followed by a wipe with a sheet of paper towel – I put one cup of mixed dried fruit into the thermos and topped it off with cold water. I opened the thermos late in the afternoon and enjoyed a healthy, high-energy fruit cocktail consisting of a cup of sweet fruit juice and nicely rehydrated fruit. I included one teaspoon of sugar with the fruit.
Was it worth it?
Total prep and packing time for this 6-day backpacking menu was approximately sixteen hours. That worked out to about thirty minutes per meal counting the fruit cocktails and a few extra meals that I could assemble from the surplus of dried ingredients that I had on hand after I packed the meals for the trip.
In exchange for the time invested in preparing the meals in advance, I ate delicious meals on the trail that were hearty and nutritious. Because I dehydrated the meals, six days of food weighed only nine pounds. Vacuum sealing the food scrunched up the daily rations nice and tight for packing and kept the food well-preserved. I spent about $100 on high quality, real food.
Those benefits make it worthwhile for me to start my journey at home in the kitchen. Because I enjoy cooking and testing new techniques and recipes, I don’t consider it work. It’s fun and gives me a sense of accomplishment when the food is packed up and ready to go. As a bonus, when Dominique goes with me I get a lot of praise as we share pots of goodness together on the trail.