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Guide: How to Prepare Freeze-Dried Meals?

May 2024 - reading time: 7 minutes

If you're a regular on hiking trails, into trail running, bike-packing, or even bivouacking, you might think this article isn't really necessary and can be summed up in one sentence, boiling water... Think again! While preparing freeze-dried meals is indeed simple, it's still quite an art! Here are some reminders and tips for preparing a freeze-dried meal while hiking.



1. Boiling water 

2. The subtle art of rehydration

3. Kitchen equipment

4. Additional tips to enhance your freeze-dried meal

5. Don't forget dessert 

6. DIY insulation and keeping warm

7. Conclusion


Boiling water…

So yes, you're going to boil water with your preferred stove, using solid, liquid, or gas fuels.

About the water:
First of all, if you're using water from a natural source, filter it; even though boiling will purify it, this process won't remove suspended particles in the water that could "season" your meal in a rather unpleasant way (I mention this obvious point in memory of an old YouTube video where the protagonist collected water with his cooking pot before boiling it without addressing the debris in the water). Filtration and purification are key for a good base for freeze-dried meals.

The subtle art of rehydration

  1. The right amount of water
    You'll add the amount of water indicated by the manufacturer. Generally, lines are printed inside or outside the packet by brands to mark the level where you can add water. In the absence of these lines, or when they're on the outside, the measurement is less precise, hence the importance of having a graduated bottle that allows you to heat the right amount of water without wasting fuel.

  2. Mix thoroughly
    Another step is to mix thoroughly to moisten the entire preparation and not leave any dry pieces. A long-handled spoon can be useful for reaching all corners of your packet.

  3. Let it rest
    Lastly, let it rehydrate for the necessary time after sealing the packet. Rehydration takes longer for dehydrated meals (dried by heat) than for freeze-dried meals (dried by cold).

Tips to fix a flop
If despite all your precautions, upon opening, the meal still seems dry, add a little hot water and mix. Conversely, a recipe that's too moist can be salvaged by heating it briefly in a pan (if you have one, of course).

Kitchen equipment

This paragraph may not appeal to ultralight fans, but bringing along a few utensils (of reasonable weight, of course...) can not only enhance your dishes but also sometimes salvage a preparation that's too "wet" as discussed earlier by reheating it in a pan or pot over moderate heat.

Additional tips to enhance your freeze-dried meal

I invite you to consider your freeze-dried meals as a real cooking moment. Don't hesitate to add fresh ingredients, season them by bringing a small spice kit, mix recipes, sauté them... The "ready-to-eat" aspect doesn't prevent a form of culinary improvisation. Be creative and enjoy!

I like to add a few ingredients to freeze-dried meals; for example, with the classic macaroni and cheese, I rehydrate some jerky (dried meat), which I then sauté in a pan with onions or shallots. I sometimes bring one or two fresh eggs that I dip in the water of a wide-mouthed bottle like a Nalgene. I can also add a source of fat (often duck fat, an excellent source of fat that easily adds calories to menus).


▶▶ Freeze-dried pulled pork ◀◀


▶▶ Freeze-dried meals and snacks pack for long hikes ◀◀

Don't forget dessert 

Adding quick sugar provides an undeniable energy boost and a little comfort after a busy day, and if you include a freeze-dried dessert to your menu, remember to plan ahead for its preparation. Even though most recipes rehydrate with cold water, some require hot water. Consuming a lukewarm custard when you prefer it cold is always a shame, so before reheating your main course, prepare your dessert and let it cool, either by opening the packet or, if you're near a stream, placing the tightly closed packet in the water, thus making the most of your sweet break.

Keeping warm with a DIY insulation sleeve (tutorial)

In cold weather and at altitude, keeping your dish warm, including during its waiting phase while rehydrating, can be crucial. It's very simple to make a sleeve (called a "cosy" by Anglo-Saxons) that will insulate your freeze-dried meal. Use mylar foil insulators like those placed on windshields in winter, take the template of your largest freeze-dried meal bag, cut out two sheets of mylar making sure one of the cuts is longer than the other to create a flap, and assemble them with duct tape to create an envelope shape. It's very easy to do, inexpensive, and will allow you to keep the heat of your freeze-dried meal optimally in adverse weather conditions.

In conclusion

As you've understood, you do add water to rehydrate a freeze-dried meal, but not just any way. Just because it's "ready-to-eat" doesn't prevent you from being creative to enhance it and enjoy yourself. Without needing a ton of equipment, equipping yourself with a few but good items allows you to prepare your freeze-dried meal well and enjoy it in good conditions.

Yves JEAN, hiking and bushcraft enthusiast

"I've been interested in survival techniques and outdoor equipment for over 25 years: making fire, building shelters, using axes, knives, and saws effectively and safely, navigating with map and compass, tracking animals... A fan of open canoeing (or Canadian), I enjoy family descents, especially with my daughter."

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