A food dehydrator and a vacuum sealer are two luxurious pieces of equipment that can turn your camp meals into something enjoyable rather than something you just need to choke back for the sake of calories.

Truth be told, you don’t even really need a food dehydrator as a convection oven – an oven with a fan as opposed to a conventional oven – will do the trick. You just have to set the oven at 140 degrees or less and let it cook for several hours. You can even get by with zip-lock bags rather than a vacuum sealer.

Lots of brands on the market want to sell you pre-packaged dehydrated meals similar to “meals ready to eat” or MREs that are issued by the US Military where you just add hot water, stir and wait. While tasty and convenient, these products are often loaded with preservatives and can be expensive.

Dehydrated food helps to save weight and space in your pack. But that’s no reason to sacrifice flavor. For great camp meals you can make yourself and dry at home consider these six dishes on your next backpacking trip.

Pasta and meat sauce

Ground beef works great in the food dehydrator because it can be broken up into tiny pieces that dry quickly and easily. For a meaty pasta sauce at camp simply cook the ground beef, then pour it onto a tray in your food dehydrator or a baking sheet in your oven. Pour half a cup of spaghetti sauce onto another sheet. Once it’s all dry, just put the contents of each into separate ziplock or vacuum-sealed bags. When it come times to eat it, simply add hot water and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, cook your dried pasta in boiling water.

Chili mac and cheese

One of the most popular meals in the pre-packaged variety is chili mac and cheese, one of those dishes you might not eat at home but a hearty choice after a long hard day on the trail. For the homemade version of this dehydrated meal, try making your chili from a can of beans, diced tomatoes, herbs and spices. Combine with cooked elbow pasta but don’t add the cheese yet as dairy products and fat do not dehydrate well. Pour the contents of the pot onto a dehydration tray or cookie sheet and dry. What results won’t look too appetizing at first, but as soon as you add hot water at the camp site and then freeze-dried cheddar cheese, which you can find at any specialty store, you’ve got some cheesy chili mac goodness for sure.

Chili and quinoa

For another variation on the theme, try dehydrating the chili on its own. When you’re back at camp, simply cook up a batch of quinoa. This ancient grain takes no time to cook so it’s perfect for your backpacker meals, and the combination of quinoa and chili work well to leave you satisfied and full of energy of the day to come.

Red beans and rice

Wars were won on red beans and rice, so were civilizations forged and entire generations survived off the cultural staple all over the world. To make this meal for a dehydrated backpacker dinner, simply make the red beans in a crockpot or get them from a can. Drain whatever liquid there is and pour the beans onto a drying rack. Whenever you dry something liquid, it’s important to flip the food about half way through the drying process to ensure a nice even dry. Then when you’re at the camp site, just combine with instant rice, add water, wait 15-20 minutes and enjoy.

Shepherd’s pie

Here’s another classic backpackers meal. Spread cooked ground beef on a drying rack and let it go until fully dehydrated. Freeze dried mashed potatoes is already a thing, so no need to reinvent the wheel here unless you really want to be authentic and dehydrate some bits of cooked potato. Freeze dried corn and peas can already be obtained. So when you’re at the camp site all you have to do is cook up the mashed potatoes combined with evaporated milk and some freeze dried cheddar cheese. Combine the beef, corn and peas into a pot with hot water. Once the water is absorbed, pile the mashed potatoes on top and you’ve got one of Great Britain’s most popular meals.

Curry and rice

The truth is basically anything can be dehydrated and taken into the woods for safe keeping. Try dehydrating your favorite Thai or Indian curry dishes. Thai red curry and chicken masala are my favorites. Simply pour the contents of your takeout order onto a drying rack. Combine with hot water and instant rice at the campsite and voila.

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