Posts Tagged ‘tip’

Cold clothes tip

November 15th, 2011

You’re hiking alone and crossing a knee-high stream on a cold, rainy day when you slip on a mossy rock and fall backward into the icy water. You reach the opposite bank–but you, your clothes, and your pack are totally soaked.

Your biggest worry is hypothermia, which can kill in temps as high as 50°F when you’re wet. Strip down, wring out clothes, then put them back on (if you don’t have dry ones). “The water in dripping wet clothing will suck the heat out of your body much more than damp clothing,” says Gordon Giesbrecht, PhD and the co-author of Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Other Cold Injuries. Wring out the rest of your clothes and layer them on, saving waterproof gear for the outer layer to protect from wind and rain.

Make a fire, if possible. If not, pitch your tent and take shelter. Get on top of a sleeping pad to insulate from the cold ground. If your sleeping bag is synthetic, wring it out completely and get in (a wet down bag loses its ability to insulate). Maintain body heat with food and exercise until the weather improves enough to walk out. Snack on foods with sugar, fat, and protein (like gorp with chocolate), sip a hot drink, and do sit-ups or push-ups in your bag.

Blog Entries

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.

Audio ,

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.

Blog Entries ,

Sleeping Pads

March 26th, 2010

Choosing the right backcountry sleeping pad is vital for two reasons:

Cushioning while sleeping on the naked earth, and just as important

Insulation against the chilly ground, which can be really cold.
Certain mattresses offer more insulating value than others, so make sure you look into this.

There are estentially three types:  Self-inflating, foam and manual-inflating.

Self-inflating mattresses, blowup or foam pads all of which can vary in weight and thickness.  So you need to balances weight against comfort and price of course.  While self-inflating mattresses are two or three times pricier and heavier than manual inflators and foam pads but are more popular.  Self-inflaters inflate in minutes at the twist of a valve, though you usually have to firm them up with a few breaths.  Thermarest is the leader in this category and the ProLite 4 is their flagship backcountry pad.   It weighs 24oz and has a mummy shape.  You can also buy a kit that converts the pad into a chair.


Common are ridged pads that look like a washboard and are very popular and durable, and an egg-crate pattern, which is comfortable but provides little pockets where moisture or water can collect if it gets wet or you have lots of condensation inside a tent on a cold night.   Thermarest also makes one of these.


I personally own the insulated air core inflatable mattress made by Big Agnus.  It comes in a mummy shape that fits into a Big Agnus sleeping bag, but I have the rectangular version.   It’s about the same weight as a Thermarest and is a little less expensive.  It offers about 2.5 inches of loft off the ground.  It also packs up really small and comes with a stuff sack. Thermarest makes an award winning inflatable called the NeoAir. It is very warm and comfortable, but also expensive at $150.

Another tip if the weather is really cold is to lay out a emergency space blanket on the bottom of your tent, then put your mattress on top.  These blankets can be purchased for a couple bucks and pack up really small. They kind of look like aluminum foil.

So best of luck choosing a sleeping pad that’s right for you.


Uncategorized ,

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.

Blog Entries ,


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.

Blog Entries ,

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:

Blog Entries ,

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:

Blog Entries ,

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.

Blog Entries ,

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

Blog Entries