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Putting it All in Context

In previous installments in this series I’ve written about the physics of freeze-drying, the chemistry of nutrition and flavor, challenging food types to freeze-dry, storing freeze-dried foods, and the economics of freeze-drying your food. Today I’ll try to wrap up these subjects and talk about the place of home freeze-drying in the wider context of trail food strategies.

As I see it, there are four categories of trail food sources:

  • Grocery store food
  • Commercial freeze-dried food
  • Home dehydrated food
  • Home freeze-dried

I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each category, but those pros and cons only make sense within a context of values. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “hike your own hike”. Eating is very much a part of hiking, and if you are satisfied with how things are working out for you on that front, then I, as the author, too am satisfied. I have a point of view, but I am no more going to force it on you than I would ask you to carry my pack for me. This article is intended as a conversation, not a lecture.

Hikers’ attitudes to food vary widely. At one end of the trail food spectrum there are the true food minimalists: folks who are happy to subsist on protein powder doused in olive oil, slugged down cold and stoveless, all in the service of minimizing weight and maximizing miles. For them, food is just fuel, a means of stoking the boiler and keeping the engine turning. Food has no greater value; it has no soul and life of its own. Mealtime is a distraction, not an event in its own right.

I suppose food maximalism is what we should call the other end of the spectrum: bringing (or hunting and gathering) fresh foods to be enjoyed at leisure, and very much at the expense of making miles. Hiking, in this case, is a means to the end of enjoying food in a beautiful setting, usually with amiable companions.

Of course most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes. We want food that is lightweight, easy to prepare, tasty and nutritious, and is inexpensive. As with most things in life, getting everything we want is not a realistic expectation. But getting three out of four is very much within the realm of possibility. We just have to decide which compromises we are willing to make. This article is about laying out your options as you hike your own food journey.

Food Strategies Evaluation Chart

The table above summarizes what I think are the relative merits of each different food strategy based on the most salient attributes for most hikers. I started with just a number (1 is best, 3 is worst) but realized that there are a range of outcomes and approaches to each strategy. The colors (red is worst, green is best) are an attempt to convey this range.

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