What kind of Food Should I take Backpacking?

23 02 2011

Story Headlines

  • What is the best type of food to take backpacking?
  • What is the difference between dehydrated and hydrated food?
  • Advantages and disadvantages to both dehydrated and hydrated food
A watched pot never boils

A watched pot never boils

This very question has been brought up multiple times on both Facebook and Twitter the last few weeks: what is the best kind of food to take camping?

What is dehydrated food?

Before the question can be answered, dehydrated and hydrated food must be defined.

Dehydrated food is food that has had the water taken out of the food item.  Examples range from something as common as beef jerky to backpacking meals sold at camping stores.

One local place to buy backpacking meals is Mountain Air Sports in San Luis Obispo.  They are also sold online.

What is hydrated food?

Hydrated foods are foods that have water in them and include items such as fruit, vegetables, and cheese.

The natural question then is, well which is better and the answer is there is no real one size fits all answer.

Everyone has their opinions on the matter and there are both advantages and disadvantages for dehydrated and “real” or hydrated food.  The key is finding what really is the best for backpacking.

Dehydrated Food

If food is not well thought-out and properly planned for, the trip will be long and miserable from a lack of calories and other nutrients to keep the body going.

Keith Avery, 18, of Santa Barbara prefers taking dehydrated foods out on the trail because it is typically lighter than taking hydrated food.

Cooking dinner

Cooking another not too good tasting dehydrated meal at Philmont Scout Ranch

Dehydrated food is lighter and more compact, because you don’t need to carry any water in the food. You can then add the water to the food when you arrive at your campsite, therefore you can save the weight while hiking,” Avery said.

Weight is a key element to backpacking too, Avery said, because a lighter backpack will allow a hiker to hike farther than he could with a heavier pack.

“The weight you will save with the right food will help you hike every day, and will save your knees and back in the long run. You can also save yourself a lot of time and energy once you make camp, with the right food,” Keith Avery, an 18 year-old Eagle Scout of Santa Barbara.

While dehydrated foods have their benefits, they also have their disadvantages.

“It takes a lot more preparation to cook dehydrated foods then real foods because you need to rehydrate the ingredients before the meal.Rehydrating takes 1 to 2 hours in cold water and about 10 to 20 minutes in boiling water,” said backpacking enthusiast Will Callen, 20, of San Jose, CA.

Hydrated Food

If dehydrated food is not someone’s cup of tea, than the natural alternative is hydrated “real” food.

“The biggest advantage I see with real food is that the flavor is well, untempered with. Real foods are also often easier to prepare as they do not require as much prep time because you do not need to rehydrate them before cooking,” Callen said.

Breakfast Instructions

Cooking a hydrated meal

With the hydration though comes added bulk and other negatives that go along with the territory of using “real food”.

“Real food is bulky and heavy. On a long expedition my pack space is precious and I do anything I can to save space,” Callen said.

Hydrated foods also tend to spoil faster causing problems on longer trips where food has to be carried for several days.

A Mixed Solution

One solution to the debate offered by Quinn Tanner, 19, of San Luis Obispo is to use a mix of dehydrated food and hydrated food.

“I like to bring a mix of both. Fresh foods to start out with, and dehydrated to end with. That way my pack just gets lighter and lighter and my digestion doesn’t get killed from the get go,” Tanner said.

Ultimately, the debate of dehydrated and hydrated food comes down to the universal backpacking debate of comfort versus utility.

“Necessity is much more important to me than flavour. You only taste the food for a few minutes, but you carry the weight for many, many hours over the course of your hike,” Avery said.

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5 responses

26 02 2011
Peter Tewskberry

Have you thought of taking any dehydrated water when you go hiking?

27 02 2011
1 03 2011
Laurie Ann

One thing that you can do is dehydrate your own foods – in a way this gives you the best of both worlds. If you want some free recipes give me a shout as I would be happy to help. Happy Hiking.

1 03 2011
John Zuchelli

Peter Tewskberry? Are you the man who used to produce “Father Knows Best”?

21 11 2011
C Mills

I also find a combination of hydrated food, in the form of Millenium energy bars that are lightweight and perfect for traveling, camping, hiking, and disaster preparedness kits; as well as dehydrated ‘cook in the pouch’ meals that have a 7 year shelf life and are great for any outdoor or emergency type situation I may encounter while hiking. Just add water!

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