Applicational Hiking: The True Weight of Dehydrated/Freeze-dried Meals

A typical graph for my long distance hikes. Showing the high percentage of how consumables (food mostly) is such a huge part of my overall backpack weight.
A typical graph for my long distance hikes. Showing the high percentage of how consumables (food mostly) is such a huge part of my overall backpack weight.

Greetings Hikers,

For me the weight of food while out on a long distance trail is typically 60-65 percent of the total weight of my backpack. This revelation has been causing me to evaluate the wisdom of some of the food I have been using the last few  years.

As with all of my “Applicational Hiking” articles, what I do within these articles is purpose a few ideas, none of them any better or worse then another, and try to draw out thoughts and ideas from other hikers, so that we as a world-wide hiking community may be able to gain wisdom and insight into better methods of how to approach hiking.

Within this article I am going to take a very simple example of how dehydrated or freeze-dried food can potentially result in a heavier backpack, and a greater ounce-to-calories weight ratio than off-the-shelf food bought in just about any local trail-town.

What I have is a single serving pro-pak bag of Mountain House ‘Chili Mac with Beef’ – a freeze dried meal of chili, beef, macaroni and beans. By far not the best meal out there, but one that stays in my food back for one of those long hard wet trail days. On my scale it is 136 grams (4.797 ounces) for the entire package.

Now, here is where I want us all to stop and go “hmmm” for a moment.

Is 136 grams, or 4.8 ounces, really the true weight of that meal?

No, am not talking about the weight of the bag…

Rather, I am talking about the weight of the water and water container required for us to carry for potentially miles and miles, so that at the end of the day we can enjoy that hot cooked meal of chili mac and beef.

Stop and ponder on that a moment. It is not just the weight of the bag of food that we have to take into consideration, but we also have to take into consideration, as long distance hikers, that we typically do not have a nice creek, river, or water source sitting right next to our campsite every night out on the trail. We might have to carry the 14 or so ounces of water needed to hydrate the meal, for potentially miles and miles.

The weight of the water to cook your single meal, carried inside of a smart water bottle is around 500 grams, or 17 ounces.

This just took a single meal from around 136 grams to around 636 grams (4.8 oz to 22.5 ounces).

Seriously, think about that for a moment.

Now I am not out to be some kind of evil person set on destroying the “food in a bag” outdoor industry – I have bought thousands and thousands of dollars of food-in-a-bag over the last few years, and for Christmas I acquired the very awesome Excalibur dehydrator and have been using it a lot to make myself meals in a bag for the 2013 hiking season.

Part of my process of dehydrating my own food has been the process of grinding up food such as corn, peas, beans, pasta and such, in an attempt to move away from consuming solid food and into a quest to consume power-style-drinks. I have been doing so mostly because it allows the body to process the foods easier and, from what I have come to understand, the body can obtain more of the healthy parts of food when it is in a powder form. One of the interesting aspects of this, however, is that it results in much less water being needed per meal. Instead of using 14-20 ounces of water to rehydrate a given meal (soup, spaghetti, whatever) I only end up using 8 to 10 ounces of water – thereby saving myself at least 236 grams per meal. Is this a viable approach to consuming food for a long distance hiker? I have no idea, I have never tried it before. I have heard of vegan long distance hikers taking similar approaches, but I do not think I have ever read of any long distance hiking consuming 100% powder based meals. I would love to talk to anybody that has.

I suppose all of this is an indication to me that this whole idea of what is the true weight of the food that we carry is a serious indication to me that it is time to stop and really start thinking about how I approach the issue of food. To see if I can find ways to obtain the high calorie and high protein levels needed as a long distance hiker, yet do so in a manner that does not require the additional weight of such a large quantity of water per meal.

And lets just be honest here, what it is I am presenting is nothing new, far from any new revelation to the hiking world. It has been discussed and hashed out for years. As of late though I have seen very few people talking about this matter, and thought this would be a great time to bring it up and see if we can get hikers thinking about this again.

So, what are your thoughts on this topic?

38 thoughts on “Applicational Hiking: The True Weight of Dehydrated/Freeze-dried Meals

  1. I could see how this could make sense however I never carry my water miles to rehydrate a mile. I make it a point to eat my single rehydrated meal of the day, whether it be dinner or lunch, by a water source. The only deviation would be if I have a meal I need to soak in order to save fuel but even that is rare.

  2. I dehydrate my dinner and breakfast meals, this way I know I’m eating healthy, I don’t carry any of the freeze dried commercial meals. I don’t know why anyone would carry water weight for meals unless he/she plans to camp at a dry camp. I along with the many long distance backpackers I know eat near or at the water source, this also makes clean up easy.

    As far as 100% powder based meals. I took a backcountry cooking class when I started kayak touring/camping. The instructor lead and cooked for rafting groups on the Yukon river and other long rivers in South America. According to him and his experimentation with various groups the lack of texture greatly effected physical and mental output, more texture increased mental outlook and in turn increased physical output. He described it this way, people got tired of mush and ate less.

    1. This. I think if a person is already in an extreme UL mindset, drinking shakes and eating mush would be psychologically acceptable. For most people, however, I suspect that mush is bad for morale.

  3. Like many things we bring on the trail, weight is only one of the criteria for its inclusion. Certainly the ear buds I bring are not a necessity but they add to my enjoyment of the hike. The same goes with food. While Mountain House isn’t exactly an epicurean delight (try Fuizion for that I hear, though I’ve yet to try them), the act of sitting down and eating a meal has a profound psychological effect after a long day. Drinking a reconstituted power shake just wouldn’t be the same for me. Honestly, a basic couscous with some vacuum packed chicken weighs only a few ounces and requires 1.25 cups (10 oz) of water.

  4. “…to rehydrate a given meal (soap, spaghetti, whatever….) ”

    I’ve never tried dehydrated soap. How did that work for you? Cleanest digestive tract in the state no doubt.

    This typo notwithstanding, you advance any interesting concept. The greater surface area of the powder makes for easier rehydration, hence less water is needed.

  5. Hi John!

    I have invested a few 1000 dollars to get under 5 lbs base weight so if I’ve done so much work to accomplish this I don’t want to throw away all my hard work and carry a heavy backpack because of food. The solution to not carry water for your dehydrated meals is to cook at a spot near water before your reach your camping destination if the camp area does not have water. It’s that simple. In fact I RARELY carry water at all, maybe half a liter because I always CAMEL at every water source that I find. And funny how my friends wonder how I have so much energy after a 20+ mile hike! Also, carry stuff that has a lot of calories/ounce: nuts, peanut butter, add olive oil packets to pasta, stuff like that. Ok, keep up the hard work and posting articles, every time I log onto your website it’s a bummer when you haven’t posted an article!!! Haha!

  6. Really great thought provoking discussion! Personally I deal with the issue by keeping an empty 1L platypus bottle in my bag and stop to grab some water for dinner when I get to a likely waterring hole near the end of my day. I also do not eat in camp but rather more like 4 or 5pm and then continuing to hike for a few more hours. This allows me to carry the excess water for less distance and also keeps food smells, and thus critters, away from my camp. Doesn’t always work but certainly keeps things a little lighter.

    I am intrigued by your power drink idea. I also have the above mentioned dehydrator and would love to get some of the recipes you come up with for testing on the trail. Any move to drop a few more ounces!

    1. Hey Justin,

      Really great thought provoking discussion!” — that is really great to hear, that is the purpose of this article!

      Yep, I try to always do the same thing you explained. For the last few years I actually pre-soak my breakfast before I go to bed, than start pre-soaking my lunch just before I leave camp, and than pre-soak my dinner just before I depart from my lunch break. I would never use hot water so the extra few hours would make the rehydration of the food actually work because of the longer times soaking.

      Once I get enough food worked up into ground powder and start having a chance to taste-test some of it, I plan to throw up some articles with whatever concoctions I come up with.

      The last month I have been testing out the viability of Chia Seeds for hiking. These pose some huge advantages — throw a small handful into a little baggie at night with some water and consume them throughout the next day to help keep yourself hydrated. Thoughts on that??? (anybody)

      1. This “pre-soaking” sounds like it means you need to carry water that is already mixed in with your food. I would want to avoid doing that, and it’s not hard to do: just use food that requires mixing with water only immediately before it’s eaten. You’ve spent lots of time, money, and effort to shave ounces off your pack weight, then you cancel out a good portion of that effort by packing food that needs to be rehydrated on your back while you’re hiking? I don’t get it.

        Maybe the food you’ve chosen does have some small advantage over conventional hiking food. IMO, even if there is some real advantage it’s too small to overcome the weight penalty from “rehydrating while hiking”.

        1. Again, the point of this article, and all of my “applicational hiking” articles is not to focus on what I do, so I will keep my response very brief: The method I described in the above comment has worked for me for thousands of miles over the last few years. What works for me, might not, and probably will not, work for the next hiker walking down the same trail.

          How about sharing some of your thoughts on the actual primary topic of the article (???)

          1. Yes, I must have misunderstood. I couldn’t figure out whether your “applicational” inquiry was to question the use of dehydrated and freeze-dried backpacking food (1) generally, or (2) whether it was limited to the particular case where water wouldn’t be available on a hike so you’re packing it all in. I guess I’m still not clear about this.

            If we assume water will be available on a hike, then I don’t see how the question of whether carrying dehydrated foods is preferable is very interesting. In this case I see no advantage of water-laden foods that offsets their extra weight.

            I do see how the unavailability of water on a hike changes the issue, though. If you’re packing in all your water intake It can free you up to consider whatever food you want, without regard to whether it’s “water laden” or not. Interesting.

  7. I think at a basic level our bodies require a certain amount of water. So saying that you can take dried powder and re-constitute with less water than a commercial freeze dried meal requires doesn’t get around the fact that your body still needs to get the same amount of water. So whether you drink that as plain water or you get it through the food you eat you still have to get it.

    1. I agree, carrying water to rehydrate your food is no different from carrying water to drink with a no-cook dinner. The only situation where the effort is wasted is if you would otherwise carry no water in the evening, which seems unlikely.

      1. 1000% agree. I don’t see the difference between eating water and drinking it. If I’m going to have a wet dinner I drink less water.

  8. John,
    I have some thoughts on this. Food spoilage is caused by the growth of bacteria which is fueled by oxygen and water. Remove or limit one or both and bacteria’s growth is stopped or slowed to a proportional degree. The “sell by” date of a bag of dried beans sitting in the grocery store is 1-3 years from when you pick it up. The “shelf life” of a freeze dried entrée is 5-10 years from when it was packaged. The difference lies in the processes used to preserve the product. All this we know. Given-What is taken out, must be put back. Freeze drying removes far more moisture than traditional drying. Take a look at a piece of beef that has been freeze dried, and then take a look at one that has been air dried. See what I mean? The amount of water needed to reconstitute a freeze dried product is proportionally greater than what would be required for a similar amount of traditionally dried product. In my experience, as a vegetarian,(yeah I used beef as an example, sue me), although my individual meals may weigh 1-3ozs more than similar freeze dried options, they require 2-6ozs less water to prepare. You do the math as to whether or not this effects a weight savings. It sure tastes better and is ALOT kinder on the wallet. As to powders, 4.3oz of feathers weighs the same as 4.3ozs of iron, and no one likes to eat glop. Have fun with the new dehydrator. You’ll eat better for it. Your site is a constant source of inspiration, and I hope I’ve given you a little back. Although I’m convinced the only thing you’ll be saving with powders is fuel, try sticking whatever comes out of the Excalibur in a Vita-Mix with a dry blade. That could be tons o fun! Turkey dinner sprinkles anyone:)

  9. Hey All,

    Some great discussions so far.

    For those new to my website, allow me to explain that every so often I write articles that are “applicational hiking” articles, which are never ever intended to be guide-lines or ‘how i hike’ type of articles. They are meant to get myself, and my readers and fellow hikers, to consider different approaches to hiking. I have never advocated anything should be done/followed within this series, they are strictly designed to be mind-thought style articles.

    Ok, that explained…

    Regarding the comments regarding eating all-powered food. I do realize that some of you, probably the vast majority of you, would have serious issues doing this. Please remember that I am typically a long distance hiker, and that by default means my brain works a bit differently than a weekend hiker that might only spend a couple dozen nights out on the trail per year. Eventually, if not naturally, the brain reworks itself to except certain things on the trail. As a number of comments have already said, long distance hiking is, for most hikers, a mental challenge more than it is a physical challenge.

    It has not been uncommon for me to do 200 to 250 miles eating nothing more than jars of peanut butter and Santa Fe Bean Instant Southwestern Style Refried Beans and Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey.

    Now I have tried to stop doing that, but I still to this day could do it, my brain just does not typically care what it is that I eat.

    So that explained….

    My idea behind going with all-powered food/drinks was an illustration that, for somebody such as myself that is already conditioned to consume such types of food, if I could come up with a few different powders that could be mixed together and provide high levels of calories and protein, it would be something I would give a try – and something I intend to give a try later this year.

    For those who have made the statement that powdered food would consume the same amount of water because you still have to have “x amount” of water to keep yourself hydrated, I think you are thinking way outside the box of what it is I was presenting. Obviously a person has to carry water to keep themselves hydrated. In all of my years of hiking I have never considered “cooking water” to be apart of the necessary daily intake of water. You might and that is fine, HYOH, but that is not my style of approaching how much water to carry.

    Here is a photograph of some corn that I put through my burr grinder:

    Oh, and bob… if you have never tried dehydrated soap… man, you really gotta try some one of these days ;)

    1. John
      Thanks for the article. Am planning on the NM section of the CDT start April 1.

      Did you mix the whey powder with just water or powdered milk or . . .

      Did you dehydrate onions or ? to put in the beans? Any seasoning tips?

      PS I hope no one slips a candy bar in my pack as I don’t want to have to carry it until it can be tossed.

      1. Hey JD,

        I almost always mix the Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey with Nestle Nido Milk Powder (get the imported if you can, it is slightly better as it is made in Holland and outside US health restrictions).

        I use the same Nido for Nestle Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials, which is part of my typical morning food consumption.

        I have not yet dehydrated onions – not a fan of them. I have dehydrated beans, part of a chicken hominy soup that I enjoy.

        As for seasonings… thankfully, I can taste very little, so when I do want to taste something, I use some Lawry’s Seasoned Salt or an A1 Steak Sauce (packet) and sometimes some salt packets.

        I agree with the candy bar. It was a nice juster on the hikers part, but it has been years since I have eaten a candy bar and I probably would have tossed it out too. These days I am a huge fan of the ProBar. I think my favorites are probably the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Wholeberry Blast, and Superfruit Slam. I still have not tired the Oatmeal Raisin, which is one I really want to try. I have also not tried any of the new ProBar Core ones, which are freaking loaded with protein!!

        Enjoy your NM hike!!

  10. I also enjoy sitting down at camp after a long day and rejoicing in the fact that I have a delicious meal waiting. However, at the point when I am this famished, I could care less if I were eating “mush” or a rotisserie chicken as long as it is spiced correctly and is, my favorite word, tasty. I actually welcome the texture.. presuming it would be something like cream of wheat. Yum! I like idea John but I need $300 for a dehydrator!

  11. I base my backpacking meals on lightweight dry quick-cooking grains like oats, quinoa and kasha. I save more fuel by soaking those grains before cooking. I do use dehydrated instant beans because dry whole beans take 3 hrs to cook. I add cheese, fish or jerky and olive oil, or the usual dry fruit and nuts to the oatmeal. This is pretty similar to how I cook at home, and costs little more. All the packaging of commercial freeze-dried meals is heavy and wasteful.

  12. I think the other piece that you’re missing is that the 17 ounces of water weight that you carry for that one meal is, at most, an extra 17 ounces for the entire trip. If you are out for five nights the most water you would ever have to carry for all dinners is that 17 ounces because you don’t have to carry (unless you’re in the desert) all the water you need for all meals.

    Keeping the math simple, let’s assume your freeze-dried meals are all 5 ounces for a five-night trip. After you get your water for the night on the first night your total dinner weight is 42 ounces (5 * 5 + 17).

    If your alternative is something other than freeze-dried your per meal weight is likely to be a little higher AND you’ll still need some water each night (let’s say 1/2 pint or 8 ounces weight). If your dinner weighed just 7 ounces per meal your total dinner weight the first night is 43 ounces (5 * 7 + 8).

    Granted, your net weight will be lower nights 2-5 with the second option, but only if your dinner weight is 7 ounces or less. And, as other posters have mentioned, you’re only carrying your dinner water from your last fill-up until you eat and, at least for my PA backpacking, that usually isn’t very far.

    1. Kevin,

      That was my thought as well. You don’t carry an extra 17oz per meal, you only carry the extra water between your last water stop and your next meal. As mentioned by many people here, they often make that the same place, so they’re not carrying the extra water for any distance at all. This is an interesting thought exercise, but it doesn’t really apply to the way that I typically hike with multiple water stops in a day (I’m not a big desert hiker).

  13. Modern food packaging techniques bring added benefit to our long walks in the woods. We don’t get sick as much as we do when human hands prepare everything. Barrier bags like the ones Mountain House uses are superior to ordinary plastic bags, too, because home dried foods will gradually acquire chemical contamination

  14. In response to your question if anybody had done some truly LONG distances on a fully dehydrated (mush) diet, let me share this. In September 2007, I was hunting near the CDT in Montana and bumped into a backpacker who had just completed the entire CDT. In fact he had gone from Mexico to Canada and arrived earlier than expected so he simply turned around and started hiking south. Anyway, I started asking him about his gear and experiences. He informed me that he did the entire CDT on a 100% protein powder diet. He said he lost 14lbs in the first 2 weeks on the trail and then his weight stabilized. He was about 6′ tall and I am guessing around 160lbs when I saw him. I do not recall the name of the protein powder concoction that he used. When he set his pack down and wandered off to pee, I snuck a Butterfinger candy bar into his pack. To this day, I wonder how much he enjoyed finding that unexpected treat at the .end of his day.

    1. Hey Josh, very very interesting!

      I know that Garret Christensen has done a CDT yo-yo, and of course Francis Tapon.

      He said he lost 14lbs in the first 2 weeks on the trail and then his weight stabilized — that is a rather interesting bit of information. I wander if he was at a normal peak physical condition when he started. I tend to loose 15-20 pounds in the first couple of weeks, but that is usually because I eat very little the first 200 or so miles – which is of course stupid and one of those things I am trying to change each year. But anyway, I do find it interesting that he potentially attributed the lost of weight to the powder diet. My goal in all of this is to find a way to keep the calories AND protein high. It took me way to many years of hiking to realize that my calories where up where they needed to be, but my protein count was way to low.

  15. Sorry – I don’t think any of the hydrated v non-hydrated makes too much sense. Firstly, if you take fresh stuff with you, you’re really going to carry the water all the time, for all days. With dehydrated, at worst, you carry around the water for a day or one or two meals. Hence, you’re never worse off. Secondly, take you’re sample meal. Well, if you don’t need to rehydrate, where are you going to cook your fresh pasta in? Still need just as much water!
    Simply, since all the dehydrated stuff is food minus some water, you are always better off, especially because even if you have fresh ingredients, in many or most cases you’ll still need water to cook them in … My 2 cents.

  16. This just doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to me that whether straight from a bottle or from your food, you are still going to be consuming that water. You can drink 0.5L or put it on your food, but if you are sleeping away from water then you are going to be carrying that water anyways. Are you saying that you would not consume that water if you didn’t have to cook with it? Are you concerned about carrying some water that you might lose to vapor while cooking?

    1. Hey Andrew,

      I am not “saying anything” within this article – it is an article designed to get hikers to think, not to follow what it is I am saying. To quote myself: “I have never advocated anything should be done/followed within this series, they are strictly designed to be mind-thought style articles” — this article is to spur you to think, not to actually use any of the issues talked about while out hiking.

      How about sharing your thoughts on the issue, rather than just questioning mine – that could be beneficial for all of us, and is the real purpose of this “applicational hiking” articles. Shared knowledge.

      From my experience while out hiking for 200+ days a year, I think a very small percentage of hikers actually think about the water going into food as part of their “daily water intake”. It might be something they like to tell themselves when reading this article, or when pondering on all of this, but rarely have I encountered weekend hikers (I define weekend hikers as those who spend less than 50 nights a year on the trail) who think in this manner. Long distance hikers approach the issue from water from a much different perspective.

      Likely the only “me” aspect of any of the article was this sentence: “To see if I can find ways to obtain the high calorie and high protein levels needed as a long distance hiker, yet do so in a manner that does not require the additional weight of such a large quantity of water per meal.” and that still holds true. It is not that I care all that much about how much water I carry — because I live in the middle of a rain forest and almost rarely carry more than 700ml of water, so the weight of water actually means very little to me (regardless of what the topic of this article is about) — but rather more an issue of wanting to see if I can find food that will be easier for the body to process. My thinking on that is that if I can switch to an all-powdered diet while hiking, it could/might (????) allow my body to process food using less energy and potentially gaining more nutrients from the food being consumed (???). To be honest, I have not yet given this a try on a long distance hike, I just started grinding food a couple months ago and the 2013 hiking season has not yet started for me.

      Also, for those who question, or support, the method of “cameling up”, I would recommend reading this thread about it.

      1. Thanks for the prompt reply. I am sorry if my post came off as angry or combative, it wasn’t meant to be. My questioning was simply meant to further my understanding of what you were thinking. I’m still curious though. It seems like regardless of what someone thinks about hydrating or how much water they want to consume, eating food containing water would still contribute to their overall hydration level.My thoughts then would be to carry the water and cook with it. If you are consuming the water used to cook with then you will still be contributing to your overall hydration. I have also heard anecdotally that protein requires the most water to digest of the three categories of macronutrients so limiting protein to your minimum requirements could help save in water weight

        1. Hey Andrew,

          My questioning was simply meant to further my understanding of what you were thinking. I’m still curious though. It seems like regardless of what someone thinks about hydrating or how much water they want to consume, eating food containing water would still contribute to their overall hydration level.My thoughts then would be to carry the water and cook with it.“.

          Honestly, I have no idea how much percentage of water with the food we consume is actually processed by the body, so I would have to defer this issue to others out there with knowledge of that.

          It is so far outside the scope of what this article was intended to be about, that it was something I did not give any consideration too.

          Could be worth pondering on a while though.

          Thanks for taking the time to share the thoughts you had on the matter (!!) and sorry I am clueless about what it is you are bringing up.

  17. Shouldn’t make much difference–your physical water needs are similar whether you are drinking the water straight or getting it in food. That’s why you can count the water in, say, a fresh apple, if you are on a dry carry-all-your-water trip like some here in Texas. If you have water sources on the land, you can “camel up” as noted above, and cook near water, to save carrying as much water in your pack. (You might want to carry at least *some* water even if sources are frequent, to reduce the hazard of dehydration if you are stuck for a while due to injury or other emergency.)

    *If* you want to go the powdered-food route for other reasons, such as convenience or compacting more into your bear canister, one thing to be aware of: You shouldn’t just drink your dinner slurry right down. You should consume it slowly and “chew” each mouthful before swallowing. Why? Thorough mixing of food with saliva is the first in a series of chemical digestive processes, and skipping it can give you indigestion.

    No I am not a nutrition science professional but I do remember some things I learned in college.

    1. Hello Mina,

      If you want to go the powdered-food route for other reasons, such as convenience or compacting more into your bear canister, one

      You know, that is a topic I had wanted to mention, but totally forgot to address… volume space of powered food. In my initial bagging of powdered food, it is looking like I will be able to get three meals worth of food for the same volume space that one meal worth of food would normally take. For me, and for a lot of hikers, that is huge.

      As I presented in the graph, 65% of my weight is food, but what I did not present was the fact that around 50% of the volume of my backpacks are typically food, at the start of each section of a trail.

      Just a couple months ago I ordered up a whole new backpack because all of my previous backpacks were too small in volume to carry enough food for where I will be hiking at this year. It really sucks to have to buy a larger backpack just for the sake of food.

      If it does work out that I will be able to reduce my food volume space by 25-50% by switching over some (all??) of my food to powder based food, especially on certain longer sections, that could be of huge benefit.

  18. Hello Friends,

    I’ve “hiked” (climbed, walked, ran and crawled) 1,700 miles of the Appalachian Trail. In two sections. Not once did I carry any water between camps.

    I drank from springs and streams along the way through a Frontier Filter Straw and utilizing the A.T. Shelters water source at days end.

    I also used “running” shoes (non-Goretex) in all weather conditions in combination with NEOS overboots. Most people are simply not interested in actually learning anything from anybody… unless they pay for it at “school”.

    – The Thriftstore Mountaineer

  19. First of all, I always try to camp near water – a lake or a stream. Not only does it mean I can arrive at the campsite dry, but also I enjoy the sponge bath at the end of the day. Second, I converted to Sara Kirconnell’s Freezer Bag Cooking about 4 years ago. I would much rather cook my own meals at home (I’m a pretty good cook) and dehydrate them than buy Mountain House or some such. Plus, my cook kit got quite a bit smaller when all I have to do is boil 1 – 2 cups of water. Third, backpacking is my vacation. Part of enjoying myself is eating good food in the outdoors. If I have to carry 1-2 lbs extra in order to enjoy that so be it. I’m not a long-distance hiker but, if I was, I’d plan my trip around the resupply points so that I could still eat well.

  20. great blog!

    As a former pro cyclist, I have eaten thousands of energy bars and thousands of liters of shakes, so this is what I am used to.

    When hiking, surprise surprise, I stick to what I am used to. I eat bars to provide texture and mouth feel, and have meal shakes to provide the bulk of my calories.

    This requires no fuel and only requires me to only find-carry water for food for the “dinner” meal. It is very convenient and aside from getting water and purifying it, it can be done on the move or if I am dead tired or if it is a heavy cold rain all day. Can also put the powder in you mouth and drink as you walk. Food is fuel.

    I have found this regimen to be demoralizing if it is 0 degree rain/snow for days on end. Cold chili is just as bad as a cold powdered drink psychologically for me. So I think my options are to have a positive team around me to improve moral, get mentally tougher so I maintain my own morale, or take the weight penalty of a stove.

    Also the powders are hard to clean up. They turn into a sticky goo. So plan for some sort of plastic bag or something and don’t get any on your self-hands.

  21. Yes, powdered food will give you more nutritional value than “chunky” food. Peanut butter has more calories than peanut nuts. The reason is simple: the powder is pre-digested. Your teeth can’t crush peanuts to peanut butter. Which leads to that powdered meals contain more calories per weight (and powder packs better). Because you need less powder, you need less water.
    But more important is, what nutrients are the meal composed of? Protein and carbohydrates contain 4 kcal per gram, fat does 9 kcal per gram. So if you want to reduce your food-weight, use fatty food.
    The extreme of this would be for example powdered butter.
    Back to reality. Powdered ingredients are good. But the most important thing is, that you are eating it. Protein, carbohydrates or fat doesn’t matter. Food is one of you few luxury items on long distance hikes. You must like it, and tastes differ. If you can process a meal you like into powder an rehydrate, that’s awesome. If not, please don’t do it. Food you bring because you didn’t like it is heavier that the water you needed to carry for it.

    Yes, proteins need more water than carbohydrates or fat to digest. The kidney is responsible for the re-absorption of amino acids (protein). And the kidney needs a lot of water.

  22. Any update on the powder foods and how they worked for you? I am starting to focus on food weight and this sounds like a viable option for my tastes.

    1. (wow, three years since the last comment… had forgotten I wrote this)

      Hey Jeff.

      All of my ‘applicational hiking’ articles were meant to be ‘topics of discussion’ and not ‘what i do’ type of articles, so have to take a lot of the discussion as just “lets talk about it”.

      I have done a lot of ‘powder foods’ over the years. Since this article was posted I have become a non meat eater. The last couple of hiking seasons I have mostly done Soylent, with honey peanut butter, different types of bars, and lots and lots of fruit. If I could afford it, I would probably be on a Soylent+Fruitarianism style diet. I think too many hikers see fruit as being too heavy, but I would challenge that bags of that freeze dried stuff are probably heavier and contains far more stuff in it that I do not want in my body. Fruit, nuts, and powders also result in significantly less trash you have to carry to the next trail town (or back to your car).

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