When planning an expedition, hike, or overnight stay in the wild, freeze dried food could be your best friend. We’re going to look at why, and the benefits of eating it when you’re wild camping.

Freeze Dried Food for wild camping

Lots of budding adventurers focus on the landmarks they wish to see, the most suitable rucksack, where best to sleep for the night. Food for wild camping is often not researched and a bag thrown together from what you have at home. Doing a little homework can pay dividends like reducing the weight you’re carrying. Freeze-dried food has the right balance of nutrition and can contain loads of much-needed calories.

Freeze dried food
Freeze dried food – wild camping in a cave

What Exactly Are Freeze-Dried Foods?

The simple mention of freeze-dried may bring thoughts of apocalyptic nightmares and wartime to mind. There is a clear, yet erroneous, picture painted of freeze-dried food as containing an abundance of unhealthy additives such as a ghastly amount of salt and a heart-stopping quantity of MSG. This may have been true in the past. Powdered eggs were enjoyed (or not) by the majority of the population during times of rationed food supplies. So much could not be said for the freeze-dried food of today. Expedition foods have changed.

Family hammock wild camp in the woods
Family hammock wild camp in the woods

You don’t need to search high and low before you find a product catering to your specific dietary needs or preferences. Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, Halal – the selection is endless and can be more than satisfactory. With big brands like Mountain House, Bla Band and Real Turmat competing for your bucks with endorsements by such expedition royalty as Ranulph Fiennes you can expect the food to be tasty and nutritious.

How does freeze-drying work?

Food contains water. When warmed this moisture evaporates, the water turns to gas, and the food becomes dehydrated. A dehydrator will do this in your home and take 90% of the water out of the food. If you freeze the food first and reduce the ambient pressure, the ice crystals will skip the ‘turning into water’ bit and become gas, this is called sublimation. 99% of the water content of the food can be removed in this ‘freeze-drying’ method.

Furthermore, the lower the heat used in the process, the less the nutrients will depreciate. Dehydrating food will deplete the vitamin C in a food, for example, while freeze-drying doesn’t, you simply can’t reduce the pressure when dehydrating.

A hallmark of modern freeze-drying is that you can technically freeze dry anything containing water. This can be proven by the simple science of the method. Lower the temperature to freeze the food and then lower the pressure surrounding the food. So this naturally extracts up until 99% of the water contained within the food products – regardless of its composition. Though the food is now almost entirely dehydrated – it retains its former shape. The food products thus lose a majority of their weight – something you will be thankful for when you feel like your knees could give way ascending a mountain!

Why Switch To Freeze Dried?

You may be thinking “why would I switch from the more common method of hydrating?”. The concise and straightforward answer is that it’s all down to nutrients. Freeze-dried food simply retains a vast amount more of its original goodness. There is no need for high temperatures during the freeze-drying process. Therefore all of the nutrients are left tightly packed within until ready to eat.

The longer and more intricate answer would include the shelf life of freeze-dried food. Water and oxygen in food cause it to rot. Known to last up to 24 years, you’ll not be left high and dry or up a creek without a paddle. Your freeze-dried food will hold as long as it is kept in an airtight bag. With exposure to air, oxygen begins to cause the food to degrade.

Another factor in the maintenance of freeze-dried foods is the humidity of the environments it is kept in. To avoid premature spoiling, keep the freeze-dried product in a dry and low-temperature area.

Is it really worth the extra cost?

Let’s consider a day’s food may consist of breakfast, lunch and supper. Three wet meals alone for the day will weigh 1300g while freeze dried meals will come in at less than 400g! Over a three day expedition, I would be carrying 1200g instead of nearly 4kg. Why carry water around with you in food pouches if it’s running in the rivers?

Wild tarp camp on Dale Head
Wild tarp camp on Dale Head

For me, the weight I carry is one of the most important considerations in my planning. The cost difference is more than worth it.

Freeze-dried food also takes up less space in your ruck-sack. If you just bought a 38L pack, you’ll soon fill it with essentials. Don’t omit the first aid kit or an extra layer for wet food, you’ll get away with it for a while, but one day you will regret it.

One more thing I didn’t mention, freeze-dried food doesn’t need cooking. This may sound obvious, but I mean all you do is add hot water and wait a few minutes. In cold weather, I put the pouch inside my coat so as the food cools to an edible temperature the heat warms me up a lot, a similar tip to putting boiled water and a Red Bush tea bag in my flask then popping that inside my sleeping bag while I do the food.

Can I Freeze Dry Food Myself?

As previously mentioned, as long as food contains moisture – it can be freeze-dried. A freeze dryer will set you back at least a few grand, it’s a pressure chamber at the end of the day, and they don’t come cheap.

The closest you’ll get to do it yourself will be to buy a dehydrator like the Excalibur or Biochef. You’ll need airtight aluminium bags or a vacuum kit with a pump to store your product adequately, then a vacuum sealer would remove more air and oxygen to ensure the shelf life. Even these machines can be pricey, but I would recommend you buy a cheap one first and have a go. You will find that it is worth every penny starting off and you’ll discover that there are so many things you can dry, like banana chips, although they can be more like poker chips. Considering the ease of use, nutritional retention and benefits, and money saved in decreasing food wastage over time – the dehydrator would be a great buy but don’t fool yourself though, it’s still not a freeze dryer.

So Where Can I Buy Freeze Dried Meals?

Taking people on expeditions and wild camping I’ve had lots of freeze-dried and ready to eat meals. I’ve shopped around a lot and bought stuff from several places (I even had that trash they sell in GoOutdoors).

As I say, in my opinion, GoOutdoors sell cheap meals, but I’ve not found any of them tasty.

ExpeditionFoods.com sell there own stuff a little cheaper than other places do, and there is a good selection, but you pay £3.99 shipping in the UK so order enough to make it pay. The ‘One Day’ or ‘Seven Day’ Ration Packs might be an excellent option to have a look at.

SummitToEat.com has an excellent, easy to use website. Their food is very good and as long as your order is over £25 the delivery is free.

Freeze-dried Real Turmat food

Well if you have any concern about weight and size of your pack you’ll be pleased to hear that making a change to the food you eat is one of the things in it that can change not only these things but can transform your thinking altogether. While a Bla Band ready to eat chicken curry meal can weigh 430g, a Real Turmat chicken tikka is 133g and takes up less space in your bag.

Base Camp Food

I found Basecamp Foods, however, to be the best supplier in my opinion, so I just go back there every time. They supply foods from all the manufacturers. You’re free to buy a range of products at mostly the same price as on their ‘home’ website. I’m busy ALL the time and leave ordering food until the last minute. So, the ‘next day delivery’ box has been ticked a few times over the Summer. Standard 2-3 day delivery is free.

Selling a massive range of breakfasts, snacks, meals and desserts, I think there’ll be something for every occasion. Including vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-free selection filtered through a drop-down list, you’ll also find something that suits your ‘dietary requirements’. You’ll find a main meal for as little as £5.49 and breakfast for only a few quid.

Because I buy so much from them, I gave them a ring for a chat and arranged a trip down there. Watch out for the blog in the next couple of weeks.

When you order anything over £20 from BaseCampFood.com use this discount code – WildFire10

5 Benefits Of Taking Freeze Dried Food

So we’ve looked at what freeze dried food is and the process needed to make it work properly but let’s face it, what we really care about is how it can improve our trips, our wild camps and expeditions.

Let’s conclude with 5 benefits of eating freeze dried meals in the wild:

  • Freeze dried food is lighter
  • It takes up less space in your bag
  • Nutrients are almost the same as the original state food
  • It’s conveniently packed
  • It lasts up to 30 years on the shelf

Hope this helps you get more out of your adventures.

Fancy the Coledale Horseshoe? Read about my two day Winter expedition doing the extended, 12 Wainwright, Coledale Round with a wild camp.

The Coledale Horseshoe from Whiteside
The Coledale Horseshoe from Whiteside