Dueling Dehydrators

 

It is 1 AM and my alarm just went off.  My wife mumbles something in her sleep to the effect of “you’re not going to be an idiot and get up to dehydrate more food at this time of the night?”  I assure her that I am not.  Then, naturally, I get up and go into the kitchen because, well, my dehydrators (yes, two of them) just finished and it is time to vacuum seal the food.  In other words, yes, I am being an idiot.  Not to worry though, she turns over and goes back to sleep.  In the morning, she has completely forgotten, and I will need to remind her that, yes, I was an idiot (or just anal) and got up to work on dehydrating between 1 and 2 AM.

The question of course and the one that has plagued existentialists for eons, is Why?  Why am I doing this? 

Well, the short answer is that I am starting my AT thru hike in a few months and I have decided that I cannot live on Mountain House’s or any of the other freeze dried food purveyors’ offerings, nor do I want to eat ramen for 135 straight days, so I am making my own food for the hike.  All of it.  Given the length of time that I will be out on the trail, the logistics, when contemplated, turn out to be, uh, significant.

This all started out innocently enough – I had read some stuff on line a few years ago about making your own backpacking food and thought it sounded like fun.  So, I bought a Nesco dehydrator and tried a few things – they turned out okay, in fact, they were pretty tasty, especially if you just spent 8 hours hiking 15 miles in the woods.  But it did place me a little further out on the fringe.  I remember the reaction a couple summers ago while on a climb of Sahale with RMI in the North Cascades.  As we sat around camp at night, getting food ready for dinner, I pulled out my FoodSaver bag filled with my version of hamburger helper.  The rest of the party had Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, whatever.  The guide looked at me and carefully said, “hmm, I don’t think I’ve ever had a client bring home-made dehydrated food before”.  The subtext, of course, was, “well, this guy is a little odd, I wonder what other weird shit he has in mind, I better check his equipment again in case he also made his own crampons and ice axe.”

The problem was, it actually turned out pretty well, so it encouraged me to do more of this.  Weekend then, 1 and 2 week backpacking trips followed, all with my own concoctions to eat.  I didn’t die of food poisoning, in fact, I didn’t even get nauseous.  This was a bad thing because it encouraged me to go further, or as my wife might gently suggest, to approach the deep end of the pool without water wings.

I did some quick calculations and figured out that if I was on the AT for around 135 days, a rather substantial amount of food would need to be processed.  My one dehydrator became two when I added what seemed to be the Cadillac of dehydrators – the suggestively named “Excalibur”.  I needed both and fortunately, my wife humored me in this regard.  Several months later, I am closing in on the final stages of food prep and have an entire upright freezer filled to the limit with all the dinners and most of the breakfasts I plan to use while on the trail.

I ended up feeling a bit like an Army quartermaster – 30 cans of chicken, 64 hot dogs, 70 apples, 65 bananas, 8 pineapples, 25 packages of frozen veggies – all prepared, then dehydrated, assembled into single serving bag meals with other assorted ingredients, with an oxygen absorber packet thrown in for good measure, then vacuum sealed.  This doesn’t count all the other food I dehydrated in smaller quantities or the stuff I chose to add like 50 cups of macaroni, 40 packages of ramen, 40 cups of instant rice and 65 cups of instant mashed potatoes, that, thank god, just went directly from the box to the vacuum sealed bag.

One problem, of course, is that I did all this shopping, mostly in bulk, in my local grocery store, where I am still kind of the new guy in town, lowering their expectations for who I am.  What do you say to your fellow shoppers when you are in line to check out with 50 bananas, having just decimated the grocery store’s supply in one shot?  More to the point, what are they thinking about you?  For example, when I put 5 bags of apples on the checkout belt, the person behind me remarked – “ah, getting ready to bait some deer?”  Remember, I live in Wisconsin, and deer hunting season just ended.  Some folks up here aren’t that “sporting”, so to speak, when it comes to deer hunting and think there is nothing wrong with training deer to come into your backyard day after day in the off season to get a snack.  Ultimately, the deer learn, tragically, that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Your question is probably what did I learn after dehydrating 5 bags of apples?  I refuse to answer that question.

So, here I am, freezer almost full, still married to the same woman and philosophically contemplating another one of the “Big” questions – “what happens two weeks into my thru hike if I don’t really like my home grown “food for the sole?”  To mix metaphors, I believe, as they say, that I’ve now made my bed, and I will be sleeping in it, repeatedly.  That’s probably better than stepping in it but I’ll keep an open mind on that as well.

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6 thoughts on “Dueling Dehydrators

  1. Nice post! I’m intrigued. How did you make sure your calorie intake is sufficient? menu has enough variety/versatility? What kind of vacuum sealer do you use? Are you hoping to minimize your trips into town by carrying more than 5 days or as much as 10? Thanks for humoring a future (202?) thruhiker. Happy Trails! MG

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    1. Thanks – these are good questions! I am very concerned about variety so I have a total of 10 different menus for dinner – I developed them over the last couple of years while doing short backpack trips. Total calories is also an issue – I found that out while out on these shorter trips and adjusted up the size of the meals, mainly by increasing the amount of potato, macaroni, ramen or rice that is in each meal. I have a FoodSaver Gamesaver sealer – not the greatest but I have a pretty low seal loss rate that improved when I added an inner mylar bag to protect against punctures. I also use third party bags since they are 4 mil and the standard Foodsaver bags are a measly 3 mil in thickness. I want to minimize trips into town so will average 9 days between resupply if my schedule holds – this is against most of the advice I have read but I can be a bit stubborn (:-) ). I wrote an earlier blog about a field test that I did – a 12 day trip out west that I did without resupply to see what it would be like to carry 12 days of supplies in my pack. It ended up fine so I decided to stick with my plan – that trip did lead me to increase the # of calories I pack since I was a bit hungry on the trip (the blog was titled “The Wonderland Trail: Field Test for the AT”).

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      1. Awesome insight, thanks! I’ll check out the other post too. Anywhere I can find a head to head test on which dehydrator is best? I’m on the fence about getting into dehydrating, but this is leaning in favor of them. MG

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  2. The Excalibur dehydrator, in my opinion, is clearly the best. Because I have both it and the Nesco, I’ve had the chance to compare their performance head to head on different food items. The Excalibur is clearly better but it also costs more. The best website for using a dehydrator to prepare food for backpacking, in my opinion, is http://www.backpackingchef.com/ – I’ve used his recipes and his recommendations for how to dehydrate food – particularly how to make “bark” – e.g., from spaghetti sauce or baked beans. Good luck!

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