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Freeze Dryer... Talk Me Off the Ledge!

So I have this problem. See I like to find problems and then solve them with clever gadgets. It's made me very successful in my day job but it also means I sometimes go overboard with my hobbies. Point in case: freeze drying foods for backpacking.

I'm seriously considering buying or building a freeze dryer. It's not as crazy as it sounds at first; I have a machine shop and have previously built vacuum systems for Fermilab and various particle accelerators at universities in the Midwest. I have experience with laboratory cryogenics and UHV and - in fact - the company I now work for has pioneered water vapor mass flow rate sensors for freeze drying in the pharmaceutical industry (Google "LyoFlux"). 

Whether I build it myself or buy a small one for home use, it's going to be expensive. So expensive that I could probably buy a year's worth of Mountain House meals before I break even!

So... I was wondering... what about some kind of freeze-drying co-op for people like us? Some way to open up freeze-drying technology to local backpackers and hikers without the individual having to make a huge investment. Obviously there are many logistical and likely legal issues to address but - what do you folks think? Could it be useful and fun?

Asked another way, if freeze-drying were something you could do yourself, would you do it? Do you like freeze-dried foods on the trail or do you prefer other foods?

If you want your own for home and can afford it then go for it. I do think some foods rehydrate better when freeze dried rather than plain ol' dehydrated.

I don't see the need for a coop, there are vendors that sell individual ingredients that allow you to create many dishes from the building blocks. Can't really answer if I would do it myself or not, depends on cost.

I looked up freeze drying  and found these; 

Check out this White Blaze thread made by someone describing their experience using a Harvest Right freeze drier at home. With your background you may be able to make your own, but buying a finished product is also an option.

I think the main question is whether the time as well as money you would have to invest to get it right is worth it to you. I'm guessing that making good, calorie- and phsyically-dense (food needs to be physically dense to fit in bear cans at least on longer trips), driable-rehydratable meals a la Mountain House et al. is not an easy thing, and there will be a fairly hefty failure/success ratio at first (but I haven't looked at any the info above). If you think that it will satisfy your inner engineer, go for it! Me, I'm moving more toward Andrew Skurka's light, cheap, simple approach, and could see myself trying to engineer a few meals more in that category.

I seriously checked out the home based freeze drying route, because I want certain food staples not commercially available.  I determined a dryer purchased turn-key and a dryer built from components were both $expensive$.  The energy cost to produce a given unit of food in the low volumes implicit of small scale dryer units obviates any logical argument based on ROI.  But if one has the $cratch it seems a fun hobby: imagine enjoying medallions of beef in a cabernet sauce, at 11,000' somewhere remote along the JMT.


Two grand for the lowest model of Harvest Right...What have you figured for cost out the top of your head if you built one?

If you really hunt around on eBay and wait for bargains you can hobble together used vacuum pumps, chamber, and heat exchanger for about $900, but you may need to repair these items.  And all the used control modules I saw were broken.  The cost of DYI from working, sub components runs higher than new Harvest models, as such componentry typically is intended for industrial/laboratory use.  You may do better at an equipment auction for a closed aerospace or laboratory facility, and get a working system to boot.


October 25, 2020
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