DIY Freeze-Dried Meals for the Backcountry Hunter

It’s that time of year again. Hunting season is barreling down on us, and in a couple short weeks it’ll be go time. Hopefully at this point in the year your gear is dialed, the body is physically prepared, and hunt plans have been laid out to maximize success. I don’t know about you, but the entire process of prepping for the season is addicting and something I absolutely look forward to every year.   

Your gear is good to go, but how about the food?

One huge part of my personal hunt preparation going into the fall season is building both the meals and snacks that I’ll be scarfing down during my trips. It’s been about 10 years or so now that I’ve been experimenting with building my own backpacking meals. When I began the journey into DIY food building, I started by using a cheap little round dehydrator that was inconsistent to say the least. No timer, no temperature control, and limited air circulation were things that brought much frustration when creating some of my favorite meals.

Dehydrators have come a very long way, and they actually do work very well if you want to make your own meals on the cheap. My trusty Meat Your Maker 10-tray digital dehydrator has built a massive pile of meals as well as some of my all-time favorite snacks. My personal go-to snacks from the dehydrator are leathers mostly. I love dehydrating fruit and berry leathers, but my all-time favorite snack is sweet potato leather. Simply take some puréed cooked sweet potatoes or yams, blend it with puréed apple, a bit of honey and cinnamon to taste and viola. Now you simply spread the mix onto the silicone dehydrator sheets and dehydrate until done. A somewhat healthy yet delicious snack that I’ll forever look forward to eating on the mountain.

I still use my dehydrator to this day, but it has some serious limitations. These limitations are what ultimately got me to part with my hard-earned dollars and to invest in a Harvest Right personal freeze dryer. When weighing out the pros and cons, I found they tipped heavily in favor of the freeze dryer.

PROS

  • 25-year shelf life vs. 1-3 year with dehydrator
  • Taste and flavor retention much better than dehydrated (in my opinion)
  • Ability to preserve dairy, eggs & cheese
  • Minimal nutrition loss vs. up to 50% with dehydrator
  • Rehydration time ½ that of dehydrated meals
  • Overall weight of food is less
  • Food doesn’t need to be diced into tiny pieces like when dehydrating
  • Ability to freeze dry gummy bears and skittles! Just for the kids of course.

CONS

  • Cost! $2,800 avg vs. $250 dehydrator
  • Freeze-dried food is bulkier than dehydrated
  • Freeze drier machine is much bulkier and heavier than a typical dehydrator

It’s my opinion that the food I eat plays a major role in many of the successes I find on the mountain. Most of my trips are built to be 10+ days in the field and I’ve often found that I need my body to perform on day 10 as well as it did on day one. The nutrition I take in through these hunts are what keep my body and mind in the game, and that’s why I’ve gone to using a freeze drier. Building clean, nutrient-rich meals loaded with wild game meat and garden veggies is of big importance to myself because it’s what I rely on to keep my body performing at its highest level.

Wild game spaghetti with egg noodles, home-canned red sauce, elk heart and elk burger.

Yes, the cost is a major consideration and what kept me out of the freeze dryer world for the longest time. But if you’re one that travels, hikes, and hunts quite often, it might very well be worth the investment. I’m fortunate to average well over 100 days on the mountain each and every year. I’ve found when building my own meals, it’s less than ⅓ the price of buying the same freeze-dried meals from a shop. This of course will pay off down the road for most, but with many store-bought meals now fetching $15 per meal, it actually doesn’t take all that long to come out on top. Split the equipment costs with a buddy or two, and it’ll take even less time.

Wild game stew, bear meat spaghetti, elk quinoa curry, turkey and rice, and the go-to breakfast of choice, egg/veggie/sausage scrambles are but a few of my favorite dishes. When it comes to snack building, I absolutely love dicing up bananas, peaches, pears, apples, mangos, pineapple, melons, kiwi and just about any fruit or berry you can think of and freeze drying them for easy, delicious snacks. Simply build the meal how you like it, spread it out on the freeze drier racks, and basically just hit the start button. Thirtyish hours later and you have meals or snacks you know you will enjoy, all ready to bag up and take on your next hunt.

- Ryan Lampers, sthealthyhunter.com