FOOD & CRITTER PROTECTION – RATSACK

This is written for venturing into the Havasu Falls area of Arizona, USA.  But much of this subject applies to backpacking anywhere.  You need to know the specific wildlife of the area you intend to visit.

A sure sign of a rookie backpacker/tent camper is leaving food or smelly things like soap products, toothpaste , etc in their tent.  Critters of all sorts will destroy your gear trying to get to it.  The Havasu Falls area campground is well known for this problem.

If you make this error in bear country you most likely will have a lasting memory.  A memory that might be terrifying?  Or result in a total loss of food or gear.  If you are in bear country you best have an approved container.  Even then you better hang it well away from your tent and sleeping area, and practice a leave no trace campsite.

Many of these general precautions apply just about any place you backpack.

This includes packs and sleeping bags.  Anything left on the ground or simply hung on a tree.  Anything with a “Smell” no matter how well sealed or even unopened.  It all needs to be removed from your gear when unattended or when your are sleeping.  Then other prevent measures taken.

Although you may not be in bear country when visiting Havasu Falls.  There are numerous critters at this specific location, that have had generations worth of training.  All due to visitors not practicing food storage protection.  A variety of critters are expert at chewing through gear.

A Ratsack or other food protection method is often a necessity.   Just a good habit to always follow.   There are a variety of critters lurking, waiting to snack on what you transport in. We have hit all seasons. From blistering summer heat, to bone chilling times of the year with snow. We have found all seasons have critters looking for easy food pickings. Namely your backpacked food.

While the squirrels are the most prevalent and most destructive.  There are also ring tailed cats (similar to a raccoon), actual raccoons, skunks, mice, rats, roaming horses, coyotes,  various undomesticated cat breeds, and even dogs.  Other areas come with their own specific critters.

While all times of the year have their hazards, the warmer months see the highest activity.

You want to protect your tent, packs, and sleeping bags from damage. While in your campsite, keep all food and smelly items such as toothpaste, soap, cosmetics, lip balms, etc out of your tent, sleeping bags, and packs that are left unattended. Forget for even 5 minutes and it may be too late.

They will chew through tents (the rodents), drag your pack away (ring tails, racoons and canine breeds), and trash your tent (horses). 

The first line of defense is to get your food and toiletries away from your expensive gear.  Keep those items from leaving lingering smells on your gear too.

Our most successful method of prevention so far for the rodent type, is to purchase a Ratsack,   Then stash/hang your “stuff”. Use a length of 100lb test mono-filament fishing line over a high tree branch. Hoist up the sack high enough. Keep in mind some larger animals will stand on their hind legs to reach up and try to snatch goodies.  The horses even are adept on their hind legs.  If it is hung close to the trunk or branch many of the small creatures can jump an incredible distance.

All of our items are first put in ziplock freezer bags. Even our “Pack it out Trash” is ziplock bagged and kept in your Ratsack too.

We ordered our “Ratsack”off Amazon. Only the large size was available at the time. When it arrived it looked overly large. It probably is too large for a single person. In hindsight I am glad that was the one we purchased. For two people it is very ample. We hadn’t thought through the trash issue until we were actually on the first trip with it. Then we were glad for the larger ratsack. We had plenty of room for both food and trash, times 2 people, for a 3 night backpacking trip.  But it might be gross to some to mix good and trash together?

Bear proof containers are another option.  Though Bears are not a worry in this Havasu Falls area.  If you have such a container, and don’t mind the additional weight, they are doable.  I would opt for the Ratsack in lieu of the Bear proof container in areas that I can do that.  I have both to pick from.  Its all about weight, and the critters you might run up against.

Keeping with Leave No Trace. Whatever you bring to hang your food. Containers, string, rope, or what have you. Be sure to take it down and pack it out when you hike out. Don’t leave any of it behind for the “next person”. You may want a second Ratsack to contain your opened product wrappers, leftovers, and waste you need to pack out?

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DEHYDRATED -FREEZE DRIED MEALS

Do you backpack and use Dehydrated Freeze Dried Meals?  Here is a concept to help lighten your load. Freezer grade Zip Lock Bag cooking for virtually no clean-up eating.

I have tried several brands of dehydrated freeze dried meals over the years but my favorite is Mountain House. This is my own personal preference and not a paid endorsement.  There are several meals that are truly my favorites, and none I would turn down.

I buy the 4.8 oz size dehydrated meals that are in the $6 to $7 range. You can often get a 10 pack for around $40 to cut down on your expenses.

If you check the label, these are the 2.5 servings size bags. When I was younger I could down the whole meal. Now I find half is very satisfying. If you are a couple backpacking or camping together it is easy to cook the one bag and share.

I solo backpack, or travel with friends that have a partner to share their own with. So I have found a great way to handle the meal sizes, plus cook in such a way I have no dishes to clean up.  I use the “Zip Lock Bag Cooking” technique.

I am also not pitching uneaten portions of the meal and wasting it.

At home before a trip, I take the 2 1/2 serving size bags and open them. I pour them out on foil and divide the ingredients in half. Paying attention to make sure equal amounts of seasoning, noodles, veggies, and meat are roughly equal in both piles.

I pour one of the two piles into a gallon size freezer grade zip-lock bag. I pour the second pile into a second gallon size zip-lock. I take a sharpie and mark the zip lock with the appropriate amount of water (half remember) and the cooking time. I only open just enough for the trip. Once the manufacturers foil pouch has been compromised, these  meals no longer have the shelf life they originally had.

Each one of these zip-locked meals get put inside an additional gallon zip-lock that I have placed one clean paper napkin, and a folded up piece of aluminum foil that is large enough to fold a complete pocket over the “cooking” zip-lock bag. You could actually skip the double bag and napkin if you need to cut weight.

To use, I boil water in my Jetboil stove (No food ever goes in my stove/pot). Once boiling I pour the appropriate amount of hot water into one of the zip-lock food bags containing the dried meal.  I then seal the bag, slip that into the foil pouch I have constructed, and seal the foil all around.

The foil helps retain heat and re-constitute the food. Shake and knead the bag several times while being re-constituted with the hot water to make sure the freeze dried food all gets mixed with the water. Let the foil pouched zip-lock “cook” for the prescribed time.

Once ready to eat, remove the zip-lock from the foil, open the zip lock bag and eat directly from the bag. Save the foil for the next meal if need be. Your dirty spoon can be cleaned using boiling stove water.

You don’t need to carry soap, dish cloth, or dish towel. Your napkin can be used to dry your spoon and stove pot. Any cooking/food waste goes in the used zip-lock including the now used napkin.

Seal the waste zip lock and place it inside the other zip lock. This trash can be put in the bottom of your pack and packed out for Leave no Trace camping. You won’t be dumping soap or food particles on the ground. Save your foil for the next meal if you only brought 1 piece. I usually make sure I have at least two meal packs with folded up foil in them.

Bon Appétit !

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