Red Lentil Chili

This dehydrated chili is a great DIY vegan backpacking meal. It's flavorful, full of plant-based protein, and easy to make at home in a dehydrator.

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Dehydrated Red Lentil Chili is a warm and hearty vegan backpacking meal that is loaded with plant-based protein to keep your muscles fueled on the trail. Cheap to make, quick to cook, and guaranteed to fill you up!

Lentil chili in a backpacking pot with two spoons

We like incorporating a few plant-based options in our backpacking meal plans. They’re relatively inexpensive to prepare and tend to be less susceptible to spoiling while hiking.

The only problem is they can be light on protein. That’s not such a big deal for quick overnight trips, but on longer multi-day hikes, getting enough protein can be critical – especially if we are really working our muscles. But if we wanted to bump up the protein, then we would have to get creative.

A lot of vegan and vegetarian hikers use protein bars to supplement their trail diet. While this approach definitely works, we find ourselves suffering from protein bar fatigue mid-way through Day Two. So the idea of having another protein bar for dinner just doesn’t sound appetizing to us.

What we’re looking for is a meal, a vegan meal, a vegan meal with a LOT of protein. And that’s where this Red Lentil Chili comes in!

How to make dehydrated lentil chili

Using a combination of red lentils and kidney beans, this vegan chili is filled with over 20 grams of protein per serving. (Twice what you’ll find in most protein bars!) Red lentils are a great source of plant protein but can take a long time to cook (around 25 minutes) Not very practical on a tiny backpacking stove with limited fuel. So we opted instead to cook everything at home and then dehydrate it. Then on the trail, all we need to do is add water and boil for 10 minutes.

red lentil chili on dehydrator trays

Now when it comes to chili, everyone has their own preference. Some like it hot, some like it mild, and some like no spice at all. And that’s another reason why this particular recipe is so great. By making this recipe at home and then dehydrating it, you’re able to test the final product before fully committing to it. Because the last thing anyone wants when backpacking is to discover the bowl of chili you packed for your dinner is too spicy to eat!

A man adding oil to a backpacking pot full of chili.

Gear spotlight: Choosing a dehydrator

From making jerky and fruit leathers to drying fresh fruits and vegetables for longer term storage, or even creating dehydrated just-add-boiling-water for backpacking trips or emergencies, there are dozens of ways to use a dehydrator.

As with most kitchen appliances, there are a number of options to choose from. There are two that we see over and over again. If you’re budget conscious (🙋) the Nesco Snackmaster Pro is probably your best bet. If you will be doing a lot of dehydrating, you’ll likely be able to recoup the cost of one of the Excalibur model dehydrators, which has long held the position of best-of-the-best in the dehydrating community.

A backpacking pot full of red lentil chili.

More dehydrated backpacking meals

Dehydrated Risotto
Red Lentil Marinara
Backpacking Pasta Primavera
Quinoa Chili
Tortilla Soup

Lentil chili in a backpacking pot with two spoons

Red Lentil Chili

This dehydrated lentil chili is a warm and hearty backpacking meal that's loaded with plant-based protein to keep you fueled on the trail. Cheap to make, quick to cook, and guaranteed to fill you up!
Author: Fresh Off The Grid
5 from 7 votes
Print Pin Rate
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Dehydrating time: 10 hours
Total Time: 30 minutes
4 servings


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 cups sliced zucchini
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 14oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 14oz can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 + cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste


  • Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions, peppers, and salt and saute until beginning to soften. Add zucchini and cook until vegetables are soft and beginning to turn golden in spots. Add garlic, cumin, and chili powder and saute until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
  • Add the tomatoes, beans, tomato paste, and 2 cups broth, stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then add the lentils. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, adding more water if needed. Stir in sugar and adjust seasoning to taste. Remove from heat.
  • To dehydrate, spread the chili onto dehydrator trays lined with solid fruit leather sheets, ensuring the chili is in a thin, even layer. Dehydrate at 135F for 8-12 hours, until the chili is dry and crumbly.
  • Package in sealable bags and store in a cool, dark place or your freezer for longer storage.Pack the dehydrated chili and a small bottle of olive oil (3-4 tablespoons total) in your bear barrel.
  • To prepare in camp: At mealtime place the chili, ~1 cup water per serving (enough to mostly cover the chili), and 1 tablespoon oil per serving in a cookpot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the beans and lentils and tender.


Tip: If you have time, you can let the chili soak for a bit before bringing it to a boil, which will reduce the simmer time, therefore reducing fuel consumption.

Nutrition (Per Serving)

Calories: 520kcal | Carbohydrates: 66g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 19g | Fiber: 26g | Sugar: 11g
*Nutrition is an estimate based on information provided by a third-party nutrition calculator
Main Course
backpacking food, backpacking meal, dehydrator, lentils
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  1. I haven’t had success re-hydrating beans after I dehydrate them. They always end up being little rocks in the meal. I’ve used canned beans and home cooked beans. I did find “instant refried beans” at Natural grocers and it looks like dried smooshed beans and keep meaning to buy it and see how it’ work for backpacking meals. If you have any tips that’d be great, chili on the trail is perfect!

    1. We’ve had similar problems with beans not rehydrating well in the past. You can lightly mash them with a fork before dehydration in order to open them up a little bit. You can also cold soak the meal prior to cooking on-site. Just put the meal into cold water in a pot before setting up camp. Any extra time in the water will help. Also worth noting, we last tested this recipe at sea level, and it is possible at elevation the bean will take longer to rehydrate.

      1. I think the nutritional info needs to be recalculated? If this recipe makes 4 servings, the calorie count seems really high… Just making sure my protein math for the trail is accurate!

        1. Hi Sarah,
          Thanks for catching that! The downside to using internet nutrition calculators is that they can be preeetty incaccurate sometimes!

          I just ran this recipe through the calculator on and got these results (this assumes one tablespoon olive oil added per serving on the trail):

          Calories: 520 | Fat: 19 | Carbs: 66 | Fiber: 26 | Protein: 22
          Vit. A: 58% | Vit. C: 61% | Calcium: 47% | Iron: 45%

          Hope that helps! I’m updating the recipe card as well 🙂


    1. If fully dehydrated and properly stored, this meal should keep just fine unrefrigerated for at least two weeks. So if you are planning a backpacking trip, you could make it a week in advance and still have a week on the trip.

  2. THIS. RECIPE. ROCKS. Easily rehydrated on the trail during my recent trip to the Sierras!! (The trick was that I over cooked the beans a bit, so they all split before I dehydrated them.) Definitely the tastiest thing I’ve had in the backcountry – EVER!5 stars

  3. I’d like to make this as a add-boiling-water-to-a-rehydrate-bag. Has anyone done that with this recipe with success? I was wondering if it would work if I slightly mashed the beans as one
    person previously commented.