When most people think of backpacking food, the first things that comes to mind are freeze-dried meals that can taste pretty good but can also be rather expensive.
But when I think of backpacking food, I think of Detroit Eastern Market, local Middle Eastern Markets in Dearborn, area super markets and my food dehydrator.
First off, freeze-dried food is expensive. Consider that a prepackaged dinner runs around $6 and though they're light in weight, the cost can quickly add up. Then, as with any packaged meal, whether freeze dried for camping or from the supermarket, there are a lot of additives in them. So for me the bottom line is eating healthy and cost.
I've taken to drying many of the foods I take backpacking and either using them as the main component, as in vegetarian spaghetti sauce or like peas, carrots, mushrooms and green peppers, as parts of a mix. I've also made beef and wild game jerky (venison) which is a wonderful high-protein treat on the trail.
Dehydrating foods goes back to the first early humans using the sun to dry their foods. This ancient way of drying things is still used and demands a high price (think of how much sundried tomatoes cost). Now fast forward a few thousand years and we have dehydrators that do the job quicker and safer.
I use an Open Country food dehydrator that I've had for a few years. With its adjustable thermostat and the ability to add trays, I can get the job done quickly. It comes with a very good cookbook, is easy to clean and it is made in the United States. Customer service at Open Country is absolutly top notch and I honestly will never again be without one of their dehydrators. Often times during the harvest season you'll find it humming away sitting on top of the refrigerator in my kitchen.
But you can also dry many foods in your oven by setting the temperature to the lowest “warm” setting, no higher than 140 F for electric ovens and gas ranges without pilot lights. Gas ovens with a pilot light are usually warm enough that they do not have to be turned on. Then you spread the product to be dried on racks set on baking trays and prop the oven door open to allow moisture to escape.
As I said, I dry items like vegetarian spaghetti sauce by making a pasta sauce leather. The reason I do vegetarian sauce is very simply because the fat in food can become rancid. Drying works by dropping the moisture content of food below the level at which bacteria and other nasties can easily grow. But you can not affect fats in the same manner. So with vegetarian sauce all I have to do is add a bit of olive oil when I'm cooking on the trail and I'm ready to go.