Mountains of Australia

Know the wild, know yourself.

Month: April 2015

Dehydrating your own meals

Often, preparing food for a trip into the wilderness will require you to dehydrate your own food. Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about the dehydration process.

What is a dehydrator?

It is a device that removes moisture from the food you are planning on taking with you on your walk, thus reducing the food’s weight and also preserving its shelf life.

How does it work?

A dehydrator is a box with a fan and a heating element inside it. With the combination of heat and airflow, the moisture is evaporated from any food that sits on the dehydrator’s shelves.

How long does it take?

The dehydration process could take anywhere from 6-12 hours if you use a good dehydrator. When the food has been dehydrated, it should be completely dry without any moisture in it. A good test is to squeeze the food between your fingers; if there is no sign of moisture, it has been successfully dehydrated.

What is re-hydration?

Re-hydration is the process of bringing the food ‘back to life’, usually by adding hot water.

How do you rehydrate?

It’s easy. You add water to your dehydrated meal and bring it to a boil for couple of minutes, then let it all sit in the pot for about 10 minutes with the lid on. (In cold conditions, it may be a good idea to pull a beanie around your pot for extra insulation.) The dried out food will absorb the moisture that has been removed during dehydration, giving you something that will resemble the original meal quite closely. (This will depend on what the food is).

What can you dehydrate?

Almost anything is possible to dehydrate; fruits, veggies, thick soups, stews, pasta sauces, shredded meat or mince. The secret is to have everything sliced thinly or spread thinly on the shelves. The smaller it is, the quicker it will dehydrate.

What shouldn’t you dehydrate?

You can dehydrate just about anything that doesn’t contain too much fat or oil. Animal fat not only fails to dehydrate, it also tends to go rancid and so should be minimised in dehydrated meals.

An additional challenge can be rehydrating your meals. Protein is terrible at re-absorbing water once it’s been dried out. Any meat in your meals therefore should be finely shredded or minced before dehydration takes place.

Note: A dehydrated steak will never rehydrate. Neither will scrambled eggs. I wish it did, but it doesn’t.

 When should you buy a dehydrator?

If you are a regular overnight hiker, you will find benefit in owning your own dehydrator.

What kind of dehydrator should I get?

There are many types of dehydrators out there. This article is not meant to be a complete buying guide, but here are some questions you need to ask before investing in a dehydrator:

Power: How quickly does the dehydrator dry out your meals?

Temperature: What is the maximum temperature setting on the dehydrator? Is it sufficient to dehydrate meat? Here is a discussion on the correct dehydrating temperature to make meat safe to eat.

Size: how much food are you going to be dehydrating and how quickly? How many trays will you need?

Timer: this feature will turn your dehydrator off after the given time frame.

Brand: research the brand you’re going to purchase. Read user reviews and look for positive feedback. My dehydrator is an Excalibur, with 5 trays. I’ve given mine a flogging and it’s done its job beautifully.

What are some alternatives to dehydrating?        

If you don’t have access to a dehydrator, don’t despair!

Here are your options

  1. Assemble your meals from dry ingredients. Good wholefoods or health food shops usually stock dehydrated vegetables including onions, peas, corn, carrots, garlic etc, which you can combine with quick cooking pulses and grains and spices to make an instant meal from scratch.
  2. For overnight hikes, you could carry in your home cooked meal in a food container and simply heat it up. If you are concerned about your meal going off, you could always freeze it prior to departing and it will thaw out in your pack during the day. This should keep your meal sufficiently cold and out of the ‘danger zone’.
  3. Take commercially prepared, freeze-dried or dehydrated meals with you. Due to lack of nutritional value and questionable taste, as well as undersized portions, this is always my last option.
  4. You can also take food with you that doesn’t require cooking. This is an ideal approach for ultra light overnight hikes with a good forecast. Making do without a cooked dinner means you don’t need to carry a stove or pots or fuel, saving you a fair bit of weight!

There you go, hopefully I answered some of your questions about the process of dehydrating your own meals.

If you have any queries regarding any of the content on this post, feel free to comment below and I’ll respond as soon as I can!

Lost and Found in the Thompson Valley

The helicopter flew overhead, high and fast. It was from search and rescue. I wondered who it may be looking for. I hoped that there hasn’t been a tragedy.

The hills in this section of the Australian Alps were remote; it’s been four days since I’ve seen another person. My phone has been out of range for three days and I was relying on my satellite messenger to check in daily with my emergency contacts. My device allowed me to send an OK message out, but not to receive any messages in. I could only hope that my messages were getting through. As far as the outside world was concerned, I was completely in the dark.

I was 6 days into my 74 day solo trip across the Australian Alps and was traversing the catchment area of the Thompson River in the Victorian Alps. This section of the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) was characterised by monotonous forestry roads, 4WD tracks and plenty of elevation change.

Steep 4wd tracks characterized this section of the AAWT.

Steep 4wd tracks characterized this section of the AAWT.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I underestimated the difficulty that the hills would present me due to the bulk of my pack. The climbs were proving grueling and I was covering less ground than I anticipated. I knew that the walking would eventually get easier as my body adapted to the weight of my pack, but I wondered how long exactly this process might take. After six days on the track, I was only getting wearier, not stronger. I was looking forward to my first rest day.

While putting one foot in front of the other during the endless climb up to Mt Victor, I was day dreaming about reaching my first food drop; 4 days of walking away. Hidden in the scrub near Rumpff Saddle, in tightly sealed containers were the provisions required for the next leg of my journey. Reaching this location would represent hitting the first real checkpoint of my walk. I was looking forward to celebrating this occasion with a couple of beers, which were treats I placed alongside my food and fuel in the tubs four months previously.

An old trig marker on the summit of Mt Easton, one of the steeper climbs of the AAWT.

An old trig marker on the summit of Mt Easton, one of the steeper climbs of the AAWT.

I was brought out of my reverie by the appearance of the first person I’ve seen in four days. He was an older man, rolling down the hill towards me on his motorbike. Rifle slung across his shoulder, the old hunter was riding an old Honda with a well worn sheepskin draped over the seat. As he came to a halt next to me I wondered which one was older, the man or the motorbike. He squinted at me through his glasses and said:

‘You’re not the fellow they’re looking for, are ya?’

Suddenly, there was a cold pit where my stomach was only a moment before.

‘Who are they looking for?’ I asked intently. My words felt unnatural. I haven’t spoken in four days.

‘Young fella, walking the alpine trail. They haven’t heard from him in two days.’

I knew it had to be me. I haven’t seen any other hikers in days.

I said goodbye to the old hunter and wished him luck with the deer. As I continued to trudge up the hill, the pieces of the puzzle slowly began to fit together in my head. The helicopter I saw the previous day started making sense.

My satellite messages must not have been getting through to my designated contacts, triggering the alarm. It was our arranged plan after all. Should they have no contact from me for 48 hours, their job was to alert search and rescue. This would account for a scenario where I was unconscious and unable to set off the SOS message on my satellite messenger. My contacts could not have possibly known that I have been sending the OK messages and they simply weren’t getting through. To them, my life could have been in grave danger.

My suspicions were confirmed three hours later, when I gained the peak of Mt Victor. Up there on the summit, I received phone service for the first time in days. My phone began buzzing furiously as the influx of messages came through. I had over 20 missed calls and a number of text messages saying that search and rescue has been initiated. I was horrified at the extent of the effort that was taken to locate me, while I was blissfully enjoying my walk through the hills.

After a number of lengthy phone calls, the situation was cleared up. I spoke to the coordinator of the search effort, who orchestrated the police and volunteers. He was understanding and said he wasn’t particularly concerned for me, upon seeing my background and preparation for the trip. The police at the time however, saw it differently. And so the search was initiated. It was called off the next day, when one of my check in messages eventually went through. To prevent another false alarm, we agreed that the period of no-contact should be longer than 48 hours before emergency services are alerted. This would allow for the failure of technology, as any emergency plan should.

I spoke to my friends and my family and assured them I was well and intent on continuing with my walk as planned. We changed the time of no contact from 48 to 168 hours. While this minimised the likelihood of triggering another false alarm, it also meant that if anything did happen to me and I was unable to use my satellite messenger, it would be a full week before a rescue effort was initiated. No solution is ever perfect.

A flower at the sight of the abandoned Violet Town in the Jordan River's valley.

A flower at the sight of the abandoned Violet Town in the Jordan River’s valley.

It was three days later, when the emergency scare was already turning to a memory, that I reached the location of my first food drop. I had walked a long way that day and the light had long since faded into night. I began looking with a single minded determination, despite the lack of visibility. At first, I couldn’t find my plastic tub and for the better part of half an hour I believed my supplies have disappeared; that someone had found it and knocked it off. Then, to my elation, I spotted it amongst the scrub and patches of snow; intact and undisturbed. The stress of the last week escaped me with a single exhalation. With fresh supplies, I could continue my journey as planned.

I cracked the cold beer open and sipped with satisfaction. I had walked for 10 days and had 64 to go. The world was literally at my feet. For a brief moment, anything seemed possible.

The author, on top of Mt Victor, with 10 weeks remaining of the Australian Alps traverse.

The author, on top of Mt Victor, with 10 weeks remaining of the Australian Alps traverse.