For long section hikes involving mail drops, packing daily rations in vacuum seal bags protects my food supply in the boxes that I mail ahead as well as in my backpack when I load up. I carry between four and six days worth of food, stopping at trail towns to pick up mail drops for the next four to six days. Whenever possible, I send boxes to hostels instead of post offices, because post offices can be closed when I get to town.
If heading out for only a few days and not doing resupplies, packing daily rations in gallon-size Ziploc bags is sufficient for most conditions and will still keep you organized. Canoe and kayak campers can see the advantages of vacuum sealing food for trips of any duration.
Recommended Bag Sizes:
Bagettes brand plastic zip bags can be purchased at most craft stores in 2 X 3, 3 X 5 and 4 X 6 sizes, but they are not FDA approved for food storage. I have used these and I’m still alive, but it’s a better idea to go with food grade.
An online source for 2 X 3, 3 X 5 and 4 X 6 plastic zip style food grade bags is Clearbags.com.
Single serving meals fit in 4 X 6 or sandwich-size bags, but if you are packing double portions for two people then quart-size bags work best.
Tip: Glad brand snack-size bags can be cut into two 2 x 3 inch bags for packing milk and cheese powders. Cut the bag in two places two inches from each side. Reseal the cut sides with tape.
Ziploc and Glad brands are good quality bags to pack meals and snacks in. Wal-mart Great Value brand plastic bags are too thin and puncture easily. Dehydrated food may have sharp parts, so using thin plastic bags may cause the outer vacuum seal bag to fail.
Assemble Meals & Desserts
Pack Sides & Snacks
Now it’s time to fill your plastic bags with all that healthy goodness you have dried or purchased.
Write down each day’s menu on a paper towel and pull the items needed from the piles around the kitchen – it will look like an assembly line. Remember to allow anything that was in the freezer to return to room temperature before opening.
Refer back to your recipes and load up the bags with the ingredients. (1/2 cup of this, 1/4 cup of that, etc.)
Tip: A clean anti-freeze funnel (has a wider opening than an oil funnel) can make it easier to add ingredients to the small bags.
Photo: Mexican Beef & Rice packed in a sandwich size bag. Seasonings packed in 2 X 3 bags.
Leave bags unsealed. Put a small slip of paper between the seals of the bags to keep them from sealing all the way. When you vacuum seal the outer bag, the air will get squeezed out of the small bags inside. Exception: Close the 2 x 3 bags containing powders since the powders will have displaced the air already and you don’t want any powder to get sucked into your vacuum sealer.
Daily Rations go into Vacuum Seal Bags
Results are not perfect. In my experience, the seals fail about 25% of
the time. This is usually the result of sharp food. If a seal fails, you
will know it within 24 hours and you can see that the contents of the
bag are no longer scrunched up.
Each day’s rations weigh about a pound and a half.
The inside of my FoodSaver® Vacuum Sealer
A. Compartment for continuous vacuum seal bags
B. Sliding bag cutter
C. Vacuum channel where you place the open end of the bag
D. Sealing strip
E. Knob locks lid and holds bag in place while sealing
For under $10, a great accessory to use with your vacuum sealer is the FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer. Your vacuum sealer needs to have a canister tube port in order to use one. The jar sealer attachment slides down over the top of the jar and sucks out the air which seals the lid tightly to the jar. It's not hard to pry off the lid, use some of the food you need, and then reseal the jar. No need to waste vacuum seal bags.
Vacuum seal bags make great camp water bags.
The Backpacking Chef Menu Planning & Food Drying Workbook helps you estimate how much food to purchase and dry for your next adventure.