Posts Tagged ‘health’

Swelling hands

September 10th, 2010

When hiking Half Dome a few years ago, my wife, Sarah, experienced “sausage fingers,”  each of them much fatter and larger than normal.   Maybe some of you have experienced this on the trail.  What’s going on here?

After some research it’s likely she experienced peripheral edema, a swelling caused by lymph fluid pooling in the hands, feet, or face. It’s common among backpackers, often the result of too-tight shoulder straps or standing for long durations. The symptoms typically disappear within hours after a hike. Adjusting her pack to place more weight on the hipbelt, and using trekking poles for better hand circulation could have helped in that situation.

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Nike + iPod

June 21st, 2010

Many people these days have iPods and some of us like to listen to them while hiking.  I do think that on special hikes or hikes with friends using a iPod can be inappropriate at times, but for all the training days, you can listen to your music and chart your mileage at the same time.  Nike makes a small receiver that fits on your shoe and transmits a signal to a receiver that fits into your iPod Nano.  You can choose a goal or you can just start the recording and walk.  At the end of the workout it syncs to your iTunes account and charts your walk, including the speed, distance, etc.  This is a really cool way to chart your miles over the months and years.  You can also post your workouts on your blog or send them to your friends.  They even let you set up challenges with your online friends.

The only drawback that I’ve found is that when you stop for longer than 1 minute the workout pauses itself.  If you don’t have your headphones in you won’t hear the robot voice saying “your workout has paused.”   So that 20 mile hike is logged as 4 miles.

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Wilderness Survival

April 16th, 2010

You never know if you’ll be in a wilderness survival situation, but if you mentally prepare for it you’ll have a better chance at making it through.   Most of these tips are common sense but in the heat of the moment might not come to mind.


It must be large enough and level enough for you to lie down comfortably.
It must also have escape routes.
Provides protection against wild animals and rocks and dead trees that might fall.
Is free from insects and poisonous plants.
Avoid flash flood areas in foothills.
Avoid avalanche or rockslide areas in mountainous terrain.
Can be seen by rescuers from the air.  For best results when signaling for help, select a signal site close to your shelter with good visibility such as a clearing, hilltop, or a lakeshore.

Low ground such as ravines and narrow valleys could be damp and collect the heavy cold air at night and are therefore colder than the surrounding high ground. On the other hand, the tops of mountains are exposed to higher winds. The best is to seek shelter somewhere in between.


Finding water is critical. If not, dehydration will inevitably occur. The first symptoms you will face are weakness and decreased mental capacity. Your health problems will become more serious until they result in death.

To prevent water loss just rest, keep cool, stay in shade, seek shelter. Avoid fatty foods and alcohol as they can cause water consumption by the body when broken down. Do not wait until you run out of water before you look for more.

First look for surface water such as streams, rivers and lakes. Running water such as springs or streams in isolated areas at high altitudes is probably safe for consumption. Be aware that melted water from ice and glaciers contain bacteria in abundance.

In areas where no surface water is available, dig into damp soil and allow this muddy water to settle and become clear.  If you have iodine tablets or a filter then use it.


Use food from the nature as your food survival supply before using your rations.   This can include insects, edible plants, fish, bird eggs.

Hot rock cooking

Simply light a fire above a bed of non-porous rocks. Don’t use soft, porous stones with high moisture content, which might explode on heating.

Let the fire burn for half an hour or more. Meanwhile, prepare your food. Brush away fire and embers with, for example, a handful of long grass.

Cook food directly on the hot rocks. Use it in the same fashion as you would a frying pan. This survival cooking method is ideal for fish, thin meat slices and frying eggs.


Visual signals

If you do not carry a two way communication radio, cellular phone or a whistle as an emergency signaling device, you mainly will have to use visual signals. Depending on your situation, and the material you have available, you can use either fire and smoke, signal mirror, flares and flashlight or strobe light to create your visual distress signal.


Will there be a search for you? Put yourself in the searchers place. Will they be looking for you from air or ground? A search will probably start from your last known location and sweep over your proposed route.

SOS signal

SOS (Save Our Souls) is the best known internationally distress signal.  Everyone who ventures into the wilderness, should be at the least familiar with SOS. The SOS signal can be transmitted by any method, visual or audio. The code for SOS is 3 short, 3 long and 3 short signals. Pause. Repeat the signal.

The SOS signal can, for example, be constructed as a ground to air signal with rocks and logs, or whatever material you have available. At night you can use a flashlight or a strobe light to send an SOS to, for example, an aircraft. At day you can use a signal mirror.


If it is difficult to produce long and short signals you should know that almost any signal repeated three times will serve as a distress signal. Use your imagination.

Signal fires

When signaling for help, the most noticeable signal is your fire. It is easily seen at night, and during the daytime the smoke from your fire can be seen for many miles.   Green branches give off more smoke.

Build three fires in a triangle, or in a straight line, with about 30 meters (100 feet) between the fires. Three fires are an international recognized distress signal.

Signal mirror

On a sunny day, a mirror is your best signaling device. Any shiny object will serve – polish your canteen cup, glasses, your belt buckle, or a similar object that will reflect the sun’s rays.

A flash can be seen at a great distance. Sweep the horizon during the day. If a plane approaches, don’t direct the beam in the aircraft’s cockpit for more than a few seconds as it may blind the pilot. Use the code for SOS.

Use your signal mirror properly when signaling for help. Determine where your signal is going, use your free hand as a sight line.  As with any wilderness survival skill this one also requires some practice to master, long before you really have to rely on it.

Audio Signals – Whistle

Never forget that your brain and your ability to remain calm and not to panic are your most important survival skill.

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February 26th, 2010

If you are in cold conditions you are at risk for frostbite, which is a freezing of the skin and deeper body tissues. There are varying degrees all with similar treatments. In any case, the real degree of the frostbite usually won’t be known until after it is treated and the damage can be determined.
The first sign of frostbite may be a loss of feeling in the affected area. White patches on the skin are the next obvious symptom. Watch for a white tip of the nose. The skin will appear pale and waxy. The fingers may even clack together like pieces of wood in serious cases.

Quick re-warming of the affected areas is the usual treatment. This can be as simple as putting your frostbitten fingers under your arms in mild cases. In more serious cases, the treatment of choice is hot water. Frostbitten toes can be effectively warmed against the bare stomach of a good friend.  Refreezing of thawed body parts can cause substantial tissue loss. Therefore it is important to not only treat the affected areas, but to have a plan for protecting them from the cold thereafter. For this reason, there are times when it may be best to leave the affected parts frozen.

There are four main stages of frostbite. The first stage is “frostnip” or superficial frostbite, which ultimately does not result in tissue loss. The affected area will turn from red to pale. Do not expose this area to windburn, as this might aggravate the condition. When the area becomes numb, this is first degree frostbite. Second degree, or partial thickness frostbite, can only be diagnosed during thawing, and is recognized by the formation if blisters. In third degree, or full-thickness frostbite, skin tissue will be purple or black, indicating tissue necrosis. As is stated in the article, thawing and refreezing of any frostbite can cause mummification and pretty much assures tissue death and possibly amputation. First, remove cold or wet items. Use loose dressings and splints (improvise) to transport the patient if necessary. If you are ABSOLUTELY sure that you can prevent refreezing, thawing should be performed in a warm water bath of 104 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Never use dry heat, like a fire, because frostbitten areas are extremely susceptible to burns. All thawing is extremely painful, so if the water is too cold, thawing will be unnecessarily drawn out in terms of time. Aspirin is useful for preventing clotting during this process, but it is also a risk to administer any medication the victim has never taken before. Also, the affected area should not touch the walls of the thawing bath.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and all this information has been sourced from the web.   Use common sense and discretion when treating frost bite on yourself or friends.

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Mosquitos and dark clothing

January 29th, 2010
Question: Does dark-colored clothing really attract more mosquitoes then light-colored clothing?

Answer: Mosquitoes are more attracted to people in dark clothing than in light-colored clothing.   They use sight, smell, and heat to find a blood meal, and those people that study mosquitoes agree that the bugs see dark objects more easily than light objects.

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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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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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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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Water Purification

September 15th, 2009

Giardiasis is the most common and widespread disease and is caused by microscopic parasitic cysts called giardia.  Giardiasis has an incubation period of seven to twenty-one days. Some of the symptoms for giardiasis include bloating, diarrhea, headache, vomiting, cramping, low-grade fever, and loss of appetite.  It’s a good idea to have purification tablets as well as a filter as a backup in case the filter gets clogged.     Here are some common methods of purification.

  • Boil the water – This is the good old standby. The main disadvantage of boiling your water is carrying enough fuel to provide ample water for your trip. It also makes the water taste flat.
  • Chemical Disinfectants – Iodine or chlorine dioxide. Some of the most popular and effective brands are Potable Aqua Tablets, and Aqua Mira.  One of the main problems with using iodine or chlorine is the taste they give the water. If using iodine, one effective method for reducing the taste of the iodine is a secondary tablet placed in the water after the initial treatment is complete.  The KlearWater treatment is a liquid that is made from chlorine dioxide, which doesn’t impart a chemical taste to the water.  One disadvantge is that you need to wait 30 minutes for the treatments to be complete.  Not as big of an issue if you plan ahead a bit.
  • Filtration – This is the method I’ve used for years. The flavor is maintained, or even improved, by the use of water filters. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the perfect water filter.  Because there is no perfect water filter for every situation, be sure to compare and buy one suited to your needs. Where will you be using it most? How often will you use it? How easy is it to use by yourself? How comfortable is it to use? These are all very important considerations.  Another thing to think about is the ability to clean the filter in the field. Another thing to consider is the availability of replacement filter cartridges.  My personal favorite is the Katadyn Hiker PRO.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) Light – This is a relatively new process for treating water in the backcountry. Innovations in design have minimized the size and weight of these water treatment devices, making them an excellent choice for the backcountry.  The SteriPen Adventurer has some excellent features geared specifically for those of us who need something durable and lightweight as well as effective. It weighs only 3.6 ounces with the included batteries and will purify .5 liter/16oz of water in 48 seconds, or 1 liter/32oz in 90 seconds. It will destroy viruses, bacteria and protozoa, but it is less effective in murky water. If you will be treating water that isn’t clear, it is imperative that you filter the water through the optional SteriPEN Prefilter or fabric, such as a bandana or cheesecloth, before using the SteriPen.

Here are several more tips for water usage in the backcountry:

  • When brushing your teeth, be sure to use purified water.
  • Remember that you do not need to treat water used in cooking or hot drinks as long as it comes to a rolling boil before you drink it.
  • Filtering your water directly from a stream or pothole can be very difficult.  you can use a high sierra cup to scoop water into a nalgene with sill filter, then treat with iodine, or filter pump into another nalgene.   If you are in an area of stagnant water, try lifting up rocks or digging holes in the mud to allow water to come in.

I normally bring two nalgene bottles.

Additional resources:

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