Archive for the ‘Blog Entries’ Category

A note about DEET

January 4th, 2010

In a 2002 New England Journal of Medicine report on exhaustive testing of insect repellents, DEET was found to be the strongest repellent, and 28.5% percent DEET was enough. After that, the ‘skeeters stayed off the same, no matter how high the concentration.

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December 30th, 2009

Blisters can strike at any time on the trail.  Here are a few tips to help you prevent them or,  if needed,  treat one in the field.

Once you have found a pair of boots you like you will have to break them in. A good rule of thumb is to walk at least 50 miles in your boots before wearing them on an extended hike.

Hiking Socks: Many hiking/backpacking socks provide extra cushion at the heal, ball, and toes of your foot for added comfort, and support and can also help with moisture. Your liner sock will also help keep the abrasion between your outer sock and your skin to a minimum, and hopefully keep the blisters away.  I personally like Smart Wool socks – they keep my feet dry and offer a good deal of padding for extended trips.

One of the staple products of any seasoned hiker is mole skin. While this product does not treat a blister, it allows you to protect your blister from your shoe, and hopefully keep it from getting worse. It is important to treat a blister as soon as you can to keep it from getting worse.  If you feel a hot spot, address it right away.

Start by reducing friction:

  • Duct tape: If you know you’re hiking many, many miles, try putting some duct tape on your trouble spots. The smooth outer surface is a natural friction fighter, and the tape provides a foot-protecting barrier.
  • Body Glide: This can be purchased at sporting goods stores and is applied to the feet before hiking.  It reduces friction and hence prevents blisters.
  • Trim your toenails

Cool your heels

  • Get the right shoes: Unless you’re carrying a 30-pound-plus load and/or have weak ankles, you really don’t need heavy-duty hiking boots.  Light, good-fitting shoes with ample ventilation go a long way toward preventing blisters.
  • Get grit out of your shoes now: The tiniest burr, pebble or bit of grit can rub through your skin in minutes — especially in areas like the back of your heel where the skin is not as tough. As soon as you feel something in there, stop and get it out.
  • Rest and rub: On an all-day hike,  just taking off the socks and airing things out cuts heat considerably.
  • Superfeet insoles: Provide more arch support than the typical insoles.  Come in different colors with correspond to different arches and usage expectations.  I use the green color and they work very well for me.

Types of blisters and treatments:

The skin-rubbed-away blister

This has the most obvious treatment: clean it thoroughly with alcohol wipes and antibiotic ointment, put some gauze over the exposed area and tape the whole thing closed to prevent further friction. The exposed flesh will harden a bit when exposed to air, so let it breathe awhile before you apply the dressing and tape over the wound. Be extra careful not to tape over any loose skin, because it’ll just peel back off when you remove the tape.

The fluid-filled blister

On most day hikes of no more than a few hours, you’re probably better off taking it easy and letting the blister heal on its own, but if you’re going to be on your feet for a long time (all day or on a backpacking trip,) draining a larger blister is going to be pretty much mandatory.

Standard advice: Clean your hands and the wound area; using a lighter, burn the tip till it turns red, then let it cool, using matches can cause contamination. Make a tiny puncture at the edge of the blister and let the fluid drain.

Once you’ve done all that, clean the wound with your alcohol wipes and antiseptic ointment and let the remaining skin protect the wound. Cover with gauze and tape it closed, taking care not to tape any loose skin.

A milder fluid-filled blister might best be left alone or taped over to reduce friction. Walk more slowly, take more rest stops and air out your foot to cool it down when you rest.

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Using GPS

December 17th, 2009

There are many different styles, types and sizes of GPS units available.  Here are a few practical things you can do with a good GPS unit while exploring the woods:

  • Pinpoint your exact location in longitude and latitude even when its dark, foggy, or you don’t otherwise have the slightest idea where you are.
  • Determine the distance and direction from your location to another specified point.
  • Mark where you park your car, so you always know which way to get back.
  • Establish your altitude, and track your elevation history as a profile.
  • Mark locations along your route, or intended route, with “waypoints”
  • Show what direction you need to go to get back on track.
  • Offer traditional navigation assistance with a built-in digital compass, if available.

But here are a few other real-trail things that GPS ads won’t always tell you:

  • You must still carry a map and regular compass. GPS units don’t always work the way you might expect, and you don’t always have the coordinates you need for a destination, so you need a paper map for reference and a compass as backup.
  • GPS units don’t work well, if at all, in buildings or under tree heavy cover. So if you’re in a forest, you may need to find a clearing to set your position, which isn’t always easy.  One thing to look for is a high sensitivity receiver when purchasing a unit.   This can help with some of these problems.
  • GPS units go through batteries if you keep them on for extended times – which you need to do for tracing routes, for instance.  Always carry extra batteries.
  • When a GPS unit indicates you are one mile from a designated spot, that is an “as the crow flies” mile, not a trail mile.
  • Don’t take it out for the first time without learning something about it at home first.
  • The first thing a GPS unit does when you turn it on is to start looking for satellite signals, trying to nail down its position. You may get a signal meter like on a cell phone, or it will tell you how many satellites it is communicating with – most need 3-4 out of the 12 to be accurate.

The basic GPS skills:

  • How to set a waypoint of your current location;
  • How to enter the coordinates of a different location from a map or other reference source;
  • How to determine directions from your current location to another waypoint;
  • How to use the built in compass and altimeter;
  • How to replace the batteries.

One of the great things you can do with a GPS unit is record your “track” as you walk.  This is analogous to a digital bread crumb trail and can be set at any interval you choose.  The immediate benefit to this in the field is that you retrace your steps if you wander off the path and don’t have any waypoints marked in the vicinity.  Most websites dealing with this topic suggest setting the interval to .10 miles – meaning every .10 miles it records your position.  All these points are strung together at the end of the trip and can be saved as a .gpx file.  These .gpx files can then be uploaded to popular trail sites such as or   You can also link pictures to your GPX tracks if the clock on your digital camera and your GPS unit are matched. and talk you through this and it’s really easy.  Another huge advantage is that you can search out trips that people have already uploaded and download them to your GPS unit before you go out.  You can also preview the waypoints (marks along the track) and view the track in Google Earth – allowing you to get a 3d view of the trail and elevation profiles.   Very cool stuff.   See the trails section of this website for examples of this in action.

Additional resources:

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Sleeping Bags

November 19th, 2009

Down versus Synthetic:

Goose down is very warm. It is lightweight to carry and can be easily compressed for travel and quickly regain form when shaken out.  However, goose down is also more expensive and loses its insulating properties when wet – a consideration if sleeping outdoors or traveling in inclement weather.

Synthetic filled bags are cheaper than goose down and retain their warmth even in wet conditions. They dry faster than down and are good choices if  sleeping outdoors on the ground such as with a tarp tent or bivy.  However, synthetic bags are heavier and larger which can be a downside if you are hiking long distances with the bag.

Rectangle, Tapered or Mummy?

As with the insulating materials, the shape of bag you choose will depend on your specific needs with pros and cons for each type.

Rectangle bags are most similar to bed sleeping and most familiar to the average user.. However, rectangle bags are the biggest and not the best option for carrying on extended hikes.

Tapered bags are somewhat narrower towards the feet area of the sleeping bag. This shape provides less freedom of movement but more warmth because of the restricted space.

Mummy bags are the smallest and lightest to carry. They are very snug to the body (as the name suggests) with a hood that can be fitted around the head to conserve the greatest amount of body heat. While the average user may find the mummy bag uncomfortable to sleep in because of the restriction, they are the best choice for cold weather camping and long hikes because of their warmth and small size.

Which Temperature Rating?

Sleeping bags will list the coldest temperature they are suitable for sleeping in. Depending on if you are camping in the summer or colder months you will need to choose a bag accordingly. Also take into consideration if you are normally cold or hot when sleeping and make the adjustments.

In most cases it is recommended to choose a warmer bag since you can always open it for venting if it is too warm. The temperature rating is based on using a sleeping pad under the sleeping bag which conserves body heat from the ground.

I use the North Face Cat’s Meow +20 degree synthetic bag

Kids Bags?

You may be temped to keep camping costs down by buying a discount sleeping bag for your children. But, if you want your kids to grow up enjoying camping out, buying a discount sleeping bag could lead to their discomfort, and even a dislike of camping.  Don’t be tempted to use that slumber bag you use for sleepovers, either.
Think of it as an investment in the future, and in your camping future! When you buy a kid’s sleeping bag, make sure it fits your child properly, and has some room for your child to grow. A sleeping bag like this should be able to grow with your child for several seasons, and still keep your child warm in the coldest camping conditions you face. You can find a kid’s sleeping bag in both mummy and rectangular styles, so choose what makes your child feel the most comfortable and secure.

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Lightning Safety

October 31st, 2009

There are three different ways that of lightning can harm you: direct cloud-to-ground strikes, side flashes, and ground currents. In a cloud-to-ground strike, two arcs of energy meet, an upward leader, emanating from a high point such as a tree or mountain top and one emanating from a cloud. These complete a circuit and create the flash of a direct strike. Direct strikes like this are relatively rare but can cause serious burns and stop the heart.

Side flashes occur when the cloud-to-ground strike fails to meet the upward leader and is attracted to another high point which is more conductive. Side flashes can arc through the air or travel over the ground and carry the same energy as a direct strike. Injuries due to side flashes are much more common than direct strikes.

Ground currents occur once the lightning has hit the ground. From there, it emanates from the point of the strike, dissipating along pathways such as wet rocks, crevasses, and tree root systems. Injuries from this type of lightning strike are also quite common and are just as serious as side flashes and direct cloud-to-ground strikes.

To minimize your risk from lightning, you want to get away from tall trees and away from mountain peaks or high ridges. If you are near or on the water, you want to get to shore and avoid wet areas that can conduct ground current. And if you are in a field, you want to get out of the open to avoid being the high point.

You can further protect yourself by squatting on top of your pack or a sleeping pad or on a boulder that sits on top of other boulders. If you can squat without your hands touching the ground, ground current will travel up one leg and down the other rather than traveling up your torso and cooking your major organ groups.

NOTE: The Following Lightning Safety Guidelines Have Been Adapted and Excerpted from “The National Outdoor Leadership Schools Wilderness Guide” by Mark Harvey (1999)

  1. Stay off high peaks and ridges. The higher you are, the greater the chance of getting struck.
  2. Stay away from shallow caves and overhangs. Although they may look safe, the electricity can jump these small gaps and electrocute you.
  3. Stay away from lone, tall objects like single trees in an open field. They are likely to be hit, and you could be hit by the ground current. If you can’t avoid this situation, then crouch in the “cone of protection”. Project a line from the lone object, often a tree, at a 45 degree angle. This forms an imaginary circle around the object that you should stay at.
  4. Avoid metal objects and bodies of water. They are good conductors and can attract lightning. This includes metal pack frames, trekking poles, canoes, tent poles, etc.
  5. If you are in a group, separate yourselves by at least 30 feet. That way, others can give first aid if one person is struck. If you stay in one big bunch, then there will be nobody to help if you all get struck.
  6. Avoid wide open spaces. You are at a greater risk of being struck if you are the only thing around. The best place to be during a lightning storm is in a large group of trees.
  7. Assume the Lightning position by insulating yourself from the ground with your sleeping pad. This will help with ground current, which is what kills most people in lightning-related accidents. Crouch on this pad with your toes pointing down hill and your heels together. This will allow the current to run through your feet rather than your whole body in the event that the ground current finds you.

Additional resources:

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Yosemite High Sierra Camps

October 22nd, 2009

When I was a kid, I remember my parents taking trips into Yosemite and staying at the High Sierra Camps.  These camps are located in the back country and you need to hike to get there.   I think these can be good family options because they allow someone not familiar with backpacking to venture into the wilderness but still have a bed (cot) to sleep on  and a hot meal.  These camps are very popular and there is a lottery system to get reservations.  Some people go to only one or two on their trip, others make the whole circuit of five.  Below is information about the High Sierra camps from their reservations site.

Located high in the wilderness, obtainable only by foot or by saddle, are five unique hike-to camps spaced 5.7 to 10 miles apart along a loop trail in Yosemite’s beautiful High Country.

Overnight accommodations in Yosemite at the High Sierra Camps includes full dinner and breakfast, served in cozy dining tents. Box lunches for the next day on the trail are available at an additional cost and may be ordered the night before departure.

All lodging is in canvas tent cabins with dormitory-style steel frame beds with mattresses, pillows, woolen blankets or comforters. The staff makes every effort to keep members of a party in the same tent(s), but sometimes splitting a party is necessary.

Guests must provide their own sheets or sleep-sacks and towels.

Camp descriptions-

Merced Lake (1916)

Located along one of the largest lakes in Yosemite, this camp is encircled by granite ridges and domes. Because of its lower elevation, it is relatively warm and has slightly different vegetation, such as large white firs, aspen and lodgepole pines. With the largest occupancy it’s great for groups and often this camp has last-minute availability.  Merced Lake High Sierra Camp is also the furthest camp from any trailhead.  With roughly 14 miles of steep hiking to get to Merced Lake from either Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows, most visitors choose to stop at either Vogelsang or Sunrise first, and then continue on to Merced Lake the following day.   Merced Lake has 19 cabins with accommodations for 60 guests. Elevation: 7,150 ft.

Vogelsang (1924)

Located along Fletcher Creek, just beyond Fletcher Lake, Vogelsang is often named as one of the favorite spots in Yosemite by many a veteran visitor. It’s in an alpine setting with peaks and vistas, lakes, meadows and passes within close proximity and sits at the highest elevation of all the camps. Vogelsang has 12 cabins and accommodates a total of 42 guests. Showers not available.  Elevation: 10,300 ft.

Glen Aulin (1927)

Meaning “beautiful valley,” this camp is set alongside a stunning waterfall and lucent pool on the Tuolumne River.  Campers enjoy catching the sunset from a nearby promontory with a view of Mt. Cones.  Glen Aulin has eight cabins with a total occupancy of 32 guests. Showers not available.  Elevation: 7,800 ft.

May Lake (1938)

Named for the wife of Charles Hoffman, the first man to climb the peak that now bears his name. Mt. Hoffman is also the geographic center of Yosemite National Park and is an excellent, though challenging, hike for May Lake visitors. Located on a quiet high mountain lake, perfect for relaxing, swimming and fishing. The easiest camp to access via a short, one-mile hike from the parking lot off Tioga Road. A great family destination.  May Lake has eight cabins and has accommodations for a total occupancy of 36 guests. Elevation: 9,270 ft.

Sunrise Camp (1961)

Well-named for the spectacular morning views as the sun creeps over the mountains casting alpine glow on the Clark Range. Sunrise offers numerous vantage points for incredible vistas, including Echo Peak, Matthes Crest, Cathedral Peak and the Clark Range.  Sunrise camps has nine cabins for a total occupancy of 34. Elevation: 9,400 ft.

The camps fill up quickly and in order to maxmize your chances of getting the dates you are looking for, it’s best to enter the High Sierra Camp lottery.   Here is some information from their website.

  1. The deadline to request an application is typically late November of the prior year
  2. Applications will only be accepted on the official Yosemite High Sierra Camp Lottery Application Form.  They must be received by the Yosemite Reservations Office sometime in December.  Check the website for exact dates.
  3. A maximum of eight spaces (six for meals-only) may be requested on one application form.
  4. Please do not send payment until requested.
  5. Applicants will be notified in late February as to their standing in the lottery.
  6. You will receive notification once we receive your lottery application.  Please DO NOT CALL or email to check on the status after that. Due to the volume of applications received, we ask that applicants wait until the lottery is complete to make any inquiries.
  7. Any canceled space will be filled by a second round lottery using applications which were not awarded during the first round. Any available space not awarded during the first two rounds will be filled by phone inquiries on a first come first served basis beginning in early April.
  8. All reservations must be paid in full within 30 days of lottery award.

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Hiked Mount Baldy today

October 17th, 2009

Today I took a day trip from San Diego to Mount Baldy. Hiked up the Ski Hut trail and down the Devil’s Backbone to the chair lift. It was an excellent day and I took some video footage for a future report. Glad I was able to get this trail in before the first snow of the season. Look forward to cutting the footage, sunny all day long, not a could in the sky. Could actually see the ocean.

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Pee Perimeter

October 10th, 2009

I was always curious about this topic and found this Q/A exchange with an expert on

Q.} Are bears, mountain lions, and other predators attracted to, or repelled by human urine? I often ‘set up a perimeter’ when camping in bear country by peeing in different locations outside of camp. Is this effective or am I just watering a lot of different rocks?
A.} Pee, by any other name, still smells the same, and bears, lions, and other predators are interested in anything that smells interesting. Stephen Herrero’s book “Bear Attacks”, considered the definitive work by many authorities, says “human excrement/urine attracts bears and should not be near your campsite.” The National Park Service promotes that belief as well, adding that the salt in urine attracts wild animals (including bears and lions) and should be deposited well away from camp. There are some folks, however, who disagree with urine-as-attraction. The Get Bear Smart Society is one. They say human urine deters nosey bears. But the majority of experts oppose this view.Two other no-no’s that you should be aware of: You don’t have to bury urine; and you shouldn’t pee on vegetation. Urine is harmful to many species of plants. Move about 100 yards from camp to urinate in big predator country, and you should be far enough for a safe deposit.

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Topo Maps

October 3rd, 2009

A good topographical map is essential to have on any hike, but only if you know how to read it properly.  Lets look at what all the lines and scales are about.

Contour lines

The heart of a topo map is its overlay of contour lines, each line indicating a constant elevation as it follows the shape of the landscape. Contour lines that are close together represent steep slopes.

topographic map


Topographic maps almost always carry a grid of lines which divides them up. This is either based on degrees of latitude and longitude or a special grid developed by the mapping authority such as UTM -Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system.

Simply defined, scale is the relationship between distance on the map and distance on the ground. A map scale usually is given as a fraction or a ratio—1/10,000 or 1:10,000.  These “representative fraction” scales mean that 1 unit of measurement on the map—1 inch or 1 centimeter—represents 10,000 of the same units on the ground.  The second number (ground distance) is different for each scale; the larger the second number is, the smaller the scale of the map. In the small-scale map (1:316,800), there is less room; therefore, everything must be drawn smaller, and some small streams, roads, and landmarks must be left out altogether. On the other hand, the larger scale map (1:63,360) permits more detail but covers much less ground.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) publishes maps at various scales. The scale used for most U.S. topographic mapping is 1:24,000. USGS maps at this scale cover an area measuring 7.5 minutes of latitude and 7.5 minutes of longitude and are commonly called 7.5-minute quadrangle maps. Map coverage for most of the United States has been completed at this scale.  Maps at 1:24,000 scale are fairly large and provide detailed information about the features of an area, including the locations of important trails and most campgrounds. Footbridges, drawbridges, fence lines, and private roads are also shown at this scale.   I’ve included a USGS scale grid on the website to give you an idea of what scales are used where.   US sectional maps are 1 : 2,000,000 scale. where 1 inch represents 32 miles.


Series Scale 1 inch represents
1 centimeter
Standard quadrangle size
(latitude by longitude)
Quadrangle area
(square miles)
Puerto Rico 7.5 minute 1:20,000 1,667 feet 200 meters 7.5 by 7.5 minute 71
7.5 minute 1:24,000 2,000 feet (exact) 240 meters 7.5 by 7.5 minute 49 to 70
7.5 minute 1:25,000 2,083 feet 250 meters 7.5 by 7.5 minute 49 to 70
7.5 by 15 minute 1:25,000 2,083 feet 250 meters 7.5 by 15 minute 98 to 140
USGS-DMA 15 minute 1:50,000 4,166 feet 500 meters 15 by 15 minute 197 to 282
Alaska Maps 1:63,360 1 mile (exact) 633.6 meters 15 by 20 to 36 minute 207 to 281
County Maps 1:50,000 4,166 feet 500 meters County area Varies
County Maps 1:100,000 1.6 miles 1 kilometer County area Varies
30 by 60 minute 1:100,000 1.6 miles 1 kilometer 30 by 60 minute 1,568 to 2,240
1 degree by 2 degrees or 3 degrees 1:250,000 4 miles 2.5 kilometers 1° by 2° or 3° 4,580 to 8,669
State Maps 1:500,000 8 miles 5 kilometers State area Varies
State Maps 1:1,000,000 16 miles 10 kilometers State area Varies
U.S. Sectional Maps 1:2,000,000 32 miles 20 kilometers State groups Varies
Antarctica Maps 1:250,000 4 miles 2.5 kilometers 1° by 3° to 15° 4,089 to 8,336
Antarctica Maps 1:500,000 8 miles 5 kilometers 2° by 7.5° 28,174 to 30,462T

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Bear Canisters

September 26th, 2009

You need to take some precautions with your camping and hiking gear if you’re camping in bear country. Bears have a tremendous sense of smell, and they are so strong they can rip out a car window or tear off a car door a lot easier than you might think. Don’t store any food inside your vehicle or tent.  Bears have learned how to get to food caches suspended from tree branches, so this old backpacker trick is no longer safe, either. Most parks recommend these bear canisters for all food, and some even require them. If you’re going camping in an area with bears, don’t take any chances.

What is a bear-resistant food canister?

Bear canisters are light weight (less than 3 pounds), cylindrical, high impact plastic, aluminum or carbon fiber containers designed to fit inside or on the outside of your pack.  One canister of this size can hold 5-6 days of food for one person or up to 3 days worth of food for two people.

Canister use is now required by many park agencies, including Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Inyo National Forests.

Reminders on using canisters

Besides being careful to lock all bear attractants in the canister you should store the canister a safe distance from your camp – 100 feet. However, do not hang them from a tree since ropes or bags attached to the canister will enable a bear to carry it away, possibly out of sight.

Remember, when you are using a canister ALL scented items – food, toiletries and garbage – must fit inside the canister throughout your entire trip unless you are in attendance or actively preparing your food.

  • Carry the first two meals outside of the canister: lunch and dinner.
  • At the trailhead, make sure that ALL food, trash, toiletries and scented items will fit inside the canister the first night.
  • Put the canister and your kitchen at least 100 feet from your sleeping area.
  • Leave the canister on the ground.  Do not hang the canister from a tree.
  • Never leave canisters open and unattended, rather leave them locked unless actively retrieving items or putting them away.
  • Likewise, never leave backpacks unattended along the trail while making a pit stop.
  • Remember to check pockets of clothing and backpacks for any forgotten scented items and place them in your canister.
  • When it is time to eat, take out only the foods that you need for the meal, repack the remaining contents, and re-lock the canister while cooking and eating.

Popular and approved models include:

Garcia Machine Backpacker’s Cache
Bear Vault

Additional resources:

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