There’s nothing like a trip to the great outdoors. As any avid camper, hiker, backpacker, or paddler knows, stepping out
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Table of contents :
Professor Biography......Page 3
Table of Contents......Page 6
Lecture 1—The Call of the Wild......Page 12
Reasons to Go Outdoors......Page 13
Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Health Benefits......Page 14
Common Perceived Barriers......Page 16
Suggested Reading......Page 19
Lecture 2—Backpacking and Trip Planning......Page 20
Planning a Backpacking Trip......Page 21
The Art of Hiking with a Pack......Page 24
Making Backpacking Easier and Safer......Page 27
suggested Reading......Page 28
Lecture 3—Canoe or Sea-Kayak Camping......Page 29
Venturing Out onto the Water......Page 30
Boat Selection and Loading......Page 32
Paddling on Different Bodies of Water......Page 33
Keeping Your Gear and Body Safe while Paddling......Page 34
Suggested Reading......Page 36
Lecture 4—Campcraft: Selecting and Organizing Gear......Page 37
Selecting Camping Gear......Page 38
Packing Your Gear......Page 41
Suggested Reading......Page 43
Lecture 5—Clothing and Footwear for Outdoor Adventure......Page 44
Clothing System for Summertime Backpacking......Page 45
Clothing for Different Climates and Conditions......Page 48
Appropriate Footwear......Page 49
Suggested Reading......Page 51
Lecture 6—Basics for Wilderness Safety......Page 52
Addressing Basic Physiological Needs......Page 53
Avoiding Unpleasant Encounters with Animals......Page 55
Having an Emergency Plan......Page 57
Checking Your Skin......Page 58
Suggested Reading......Page 59
Lecture 7—Weather Forecasting and Moon Phases......Page 60
Keeping an Eye on the Sky......Page 61
Thunder and Lightning......Page 63
Tracking the Sun and Moon......Page 67
Suggested Reading......Page 68
Lecture 8—Introduction to Navigation......Page 69
Basic Awareness Training: SLOWS......Page 70
Practicing Navigation......Page 72
Estimating Distance Traveled......Page 74
Suggested Reading......Page 75
Lecture 9—Navigating with Topographic Maps......Page 76
How to Read Contour Lines......Page 77
How to Choose a Map for an Adventure......Page 78
How to Use a Compass......Page 81
Suggested Reading......Page 82
Lecture 10—Assessing and Managing Risk in the Outdoors......Page 83
The Risk-Matrix Model......Page 84
The Dominoes Model......Page 88
Suggested Reading......Page 91
Lecture 11—How Emotions Affect Your Decision Making......Page 92
The Emotional Part of the Brain......Page 93
Heuristic Traps: FACETS......Page 95
Managing Risk in the Backcountry......Page 98
Suggested Reading......Page 99
Lecture 12—Selecting a Campsite and Pitching Shelter......Page 100
Choosing a Campsite......Page 101
Setting Up Camp......Page 102
Setting Up Your Kitchen......Page 106
Suggested Reading......Page 107
Lecture 13—Outdoor Kitchen Setup and Safety......Page 108
Handwashing and Safe Cooking......Page 109
Waste Disposal and Dishwashing......Page 113
Suggested Reading......Page 115
Lecture 14—Building a Campfire......Page 116
Where to Build Your Fire......Page 117
The Four Ds of Firewood Collection......Page 119
Breaking and Splitting Wood......Page 121
Lighting Your Fire......Page 122
Suggested Reading......Page 124
Lecture 15—Safe Drinking Water in the Wilderness......Page 125
Water Treatment......Page 126
Water Filters......Page 127
Chemical Treatment......Page 129
Other Ways to Make Water Safe......Page 131
Suggested Reading......Page 132
Lecture 16—Outdoor Menu Planning and Cooking......Page 133
Unrefrigerated Food Options......Page 134
Menu Choices......Page 136
Planning and Packing Food......Page 139
Suggested Reading......Page 142
Lecture 17—Minimizing Your Impact on the Wilderness......Page 143
Principle 1-Plan Ahead and Prepare......Page 144
Principle 2-Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces......Page 145
Principle 3-Dispose of Waste Properly......Page 146
Principle 5-Minimize Campfire Impacts......Page 148
Principle 6-Respect Wildlife......Page 149
Principle 7-Be Considerate of Other Visitors......Page 150
Suggested Reading......Page 151
Lecture 18—Hygiene on a Camping Trip......Page 152
How to Avoid Sharing Germs......Page 153
How to Keep Your Body Clean......Page 154
How to Practice Good Bathroom Hygiene......Page 157
Suggested Reading......Page 159
Lecture 19—Wilderness First Aid: Handling Emergencies......Page 160
The “Big Three” Systems......Page 161
The Nervous System: STOP EATS......Page 164
Suggested Reading......Page 168
Lecture 20—Wilderness First Aid: Nonemergency Care......Page 169
Stable versus Unstable Injuries......Page 170
How to Construct a Splint......Page 171
Simple versus High-Risk Wounds......Page 173
How to Clean and Dress a Wound......Page 174
First Aid for Blisters and Burns......Page 176
Suggested Reading......Page 178
Lecture 21—Navigating with a Compass......Page 179
How to Shoot a Bearing......Page 181
How to Follow Back Bearings and Get around Obstacles......Page 185
Suggested Reading......Page 186
Lecture 22—What to Do When You’re Lost......Page 187
How to Avoid Getting Lost......Page 188
Self-Rescue or Stay Put?......Page 189
Finding Shelter and Water......Page 191
Suggested Reading......Page 194
Lecture 23—Maintaining and Repairing Your Gear......Page 195
Caring for Your Gear......Page 197
What to Do about Gear That’s Wearing Out......Page 198
Thoroughly Checking Your Gear before Use......Page 200
Basic Repairs in the Field......Page 201
Lecture 24—Connecting to the Wild within You......Page 203
Visual Connections to Nature......Page 204
Solo Connections with Nature......Page 206
Looking Up at the Sky and Down at Plants and Animals......Page 209
Nature Reading......Page 211
Suggested Reading......Page 212
Lecture 4: True or False?......Page 213
Lecture 8: True or False?......Page 214
Lecture 13: True or False?......Page 215
Lecture 17: True or False?......Page 216
Lecture 21: True or False?......Page 217
Lecture 24: True or False?......Page 218
Image Credits......Page 226
Topic Better Living
Forget the concept of “roughing it.” Learn to “smooth it” in the great outdoors with a practical guide to almost any type of excursion.
“Pure intellectual stimulation that can be popped into the [audio or video player] anytime.” —Harvard Magazine “Passionate, erudite, living legend lecturers. Academia’s best lecturers are being captured on tape.” —The Los Angeles Times “A serious force in American education.” —The Wall Street Journal
Outdoor Fundamentals Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe Course Guidebook Professor Elizabeth K. Andre Northland College
Elizabeth K. Andre is an Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department at Northland College. She earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction of Science and Environmental Education from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Andre has led wilderness expeditions, field courses, and outdoor training in backpacking, mountaineering, climbing, canoeing, kayaking, ski touring, and dogsledding. She is a consultant for the Outdoor Safety Institute and has published several chapters in textbooks on outdoor education.
Professor Photo: © Jeff Mauritzen - inPhotograph.com. Cover Image: © Offset/Cavan Images. Course No. 9702 © 2019 The Teaching Company.
THE GREAT COURSES ® Corporate Headquarters 4840 Westfields Boulevard, Suite 500 Chantilly, VA 20151-2299 USA Phone: 1-800-832-2412 www.thegreatcourses.com
Subtopic Hobby & Leisure
THE GREAT COURSES Corporate Headquarters
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Phone 1.800.832.2412 | Fax 703.378.3819 | www.thegreatcourses.com
Copyright © The Teaching Company, 2019 Printed in the United States of America This book is in copyright. All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of The Teaching Company.
ELIZABETH K. ANDRE, PhD
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Associate Professor of Nature and Culture Northland College
lizabeth K. Andre is an Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department at Northland College, an environmental liberal arts college on the South Shore of Lake Superior. She earned her MA in Outdoor Education from Griffith University in Australia and her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction of Science and Environmental Education from the University of Minnesota. She served for four years on the board of the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE), including one year as president. She is also an associate editor of the Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership. Dr. Andre has led more than 2,000 days of wilderness expeditions, field courses, and outdoor training in backpacking, mountaineering, climbing, canoeing, kayaking, ski touring, and dogsledding. Before working at
PROFESSOR BIOGRAPHY | i
Northland, she instructed field courses for Outward Bound in Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Maryland, Canada, Costa Rica, and the Austrian and Italian Alps, as well as for the Wild Rockies Field Institute in Utah and Texas. She also served on a technical rescue team based in the White Mountains of Maine. Dr. Andre is a level-4 whitewater canoe instructor for the American Canoe Association and competes frequently at the Open Canoe Slalom North American Championships, where she has won medals in both solo and tandem races. As a consultant for the Outdoor Safety Institute, she conducts safety reviews of summer camp paddling programs and serves as an expert witness for paddling and river-related litigation. Dr. Andre worked for two years with National Geographic explorer Will Steger to plan and execute a three-month dogsled expedition in 2007 across Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic to raise climate change awareness. She published a curriculum to support the expedition and joined the expedition team as the education coordinator, sending daily dispatches from the ice to classrooms around the world. Dr. Andre wrote additional curricula to support Steger’s 2008 expedition to Ellesmere Island, Steger’s 2009 youth contingent to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and National Geographic explorer Jon Bowermaster’s Antarctic expedition of his OCEANS 8 project. Dr. Andre has won the Northland College faculty award for teaching and has been the keynote speaker for numerous conferences, including the Outdoor Orientation Program Symposium; the Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming and Environmental Education gathering; the Midwest Environmental Education Conference; the AORE Women’s Leadership and Mentor Institute; and the Student Outdoor Educators Conference. She has also published several chapters in textbooks on outdoor education and environmental philosophy.
ii | OUTDOOR FUNDAMENTALS: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe
his series of lectures is intended to increase your understanding of the principles of outdoor fundamentals. These lectures include demonstrations in the field of outdoor fundamentals, performed by an experienced professional. These experiments may include dangerous materials and are conducted for informational purposes only, to enhance understanding of the material.
WARNING: THE DEMONSTRATIONS PERFORMED IN THESE LECTURES CAN BE DANGEROUS. ANY ATTEMPT TO PERFORM THESE DEMONSTRATIONS ON YOUR OWN IS UNDERTAKEN AT YOUR OWN RISK. The Teaching Company expressly DISCLAIMS LIABILITY for any DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES OR LOST PROFITS that result directly or indirectly from the use of these lectures. In states that do not allow some or all of the above limitations of liability, liability shall be limited to the greatest extent allowed by law.
DISCLAIMER | iii
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Professor Biography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i Disclaimer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iii
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14
The Call of the Wild��������������������������������������������������������������������� 4 Backpacking and Trip Planning������������������������������������������������� 12 Canoe or Sea-Kayak Camping������������������������������������������������� 21 Campcraft: Selecting and Organizing Gear������������������������������� 29 Clothing and Footwear for Outdoor Adventure������������������������� 36 Basics for Wilderness Safety����������������������������������������������������� 44 Weather Forecasting and Moon Phases����������������������������������� 52 Introduction to Navigation��������������������������������������������������������� 61 Navigating with Topographic Maps������������������������������������������� 68 Assessing and Managing Risk in the Outdoors ����������������������� 75 How Emotions Affect Your Decision Making����������������������������� 84 Selecting a Campsite and Pitching Shelter������������������������������� 92 Outdoor Kitchen Setup and Safety����������������������������������������� 100 Building a Campfire����������������������������������������������������������������� 108
iv | OUTDOOR FUNDAMENTALS: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe
15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Safe Drinking Water in the Wilderness ����������������������������������� 117 Outdoor Menu Planning and Cooking������������������������������������� 125 Minimizing Your Impact on the Wilderness����������������������������� 135 Hygiene on a Camping Trip����������������������������������������������������� 144 Wilderness First Aid: Handling Emergencies��������������������������� 152 Wilderness First Aid: Nonemergency Care����������������������������� 161 Navigating with a Compass����������������������������������������������������� 171 What to Do When You’re Lost������������������������������������������������� 179 Maintaining and Repairing Your Gear������������������������������������� 187 Connecting to the Wild within You ����������������������������������������� 195
Quiz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212 Image Credits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
TABLE OF CONTENTS | v
vi | OUTDOOR FUNDAMENTALS: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe
eing outdoors can improve your health—mental, physical, and emotional—increase your creativity and focus, and connect you emotively with the natural world. And being outdoors with others can build lasting social bonds. But many people perceive barriers to outdoor recreation. Perhaps they lack confidence in their skills or physical ability, fear encountering wild animals or getting injured or lost, or worry about the expense of outdoor clothing and gear. This course will give you the skills and confidence to begin adventuring outdoors or to step up to the next level of exploration. With the help of clear explanations and imagery, you’ll learn how to select gear and clothing, plan trips over both land and water, set up cozy campsites, cook easyyet-delicious meals, manage risks, and respond to mishaps. Stories from previous outdoor adventures—both successful and otherwise—let you learn from others’ mistakes and innovations so that you can avoid much of the more painful part of the learning curve. First, you’ll explore the many benefits of being outdoors and discover some of the myths about who can recreate and just how dangerous it is. You’ll find that the outdoors is for everyone and that, with basic skills and preparations, nature can be a welcoming and safe place to call home. Next, you’ll whet your appetite for outdoor adventure and gain an appreciation for the end goals of recreation by learning to plan backpacking trips and paddling trips, both by canoe and by kayak. Then, after glimpsing the final product, you’ll take a step back to consider the individual pieces that go into executing a successful backcountry experience. Starting with gear, clothing, and footwear, you’ll learn how to choose from the dizzying array of products available, depending on what
SCOPE | 1
type of adventuring or camping you’d like to do. You’ll focus on developing a system for your gear and clothing that meets your needs in the most efficient, simple, adaptable, and reliable way so that you can spend less time dealing with products and more time enjoying the outdoors. You’ll learn basic navigation, campcraft, strategies for good hygiene, and methods for minimum-impact camping. Next, you’ll consider basic safety, including providing for your basic physiological needs, avoiding unpleasant encounters with animals, maintaining awareness of your surroundings, and having a contingency plan. You’ll also learn how to use clouds, wind, temperature changes, and other environmental observations to forecast the weather and take action to protect yourself from lightning, tornadoes, and flash floods. You’ll learn how to use the position of the sun to estimate hours of remaining daylight and to know how much moonlight you’ll have. This basic awareness and attention to safety will make you much more likely to have positive experiences in the outdoors and help you avoid many of the common mistakes that often get beginners—and even experienced outdoorspeople—into trouble. Much of what will help you be safe in the outdoors is appropriately conservative risk management. You’ll discover several different conceptual tools for decision making and risk management and work to develop the humility that is warranted when you are far from society’s safety net. These strategies can transfer to your frontcountry life, too. It’s likely that, if you’re using the strategies mentioned above, you’ll never need to address any backcountry medical emergencies or deal with being lost. But a competent outdoorsperson should be prepared to perform basic wilderness medicine and to survive an unexpectedly longer trip. You’ll learn basic wilderness first aid—for both emergencies and for more routine issues—that will help you distinguish between something you can manage in the field and something that demands evacuation. You’ll also learn how to increase your chances of being found or rescue yourself if you get lost.
2 | OUTDOOR FUNDAMENTALS: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe
Finally, after learning the how of outdoor travel, you’ll circle back to the why. You’ll explore various methods to connect with nature in meaningful ways that provide the restorative mental and emotional benefits you may be seeking. You’ll discover how you can work to protect the natural areas you’ve come to love and make sure that new generations also make connections with the outdoors.
SCOPE | 3
THE CALL OF THE WILD The goal of this course is to give you the knowledge and skills to not just survive a trip into the outdoors, but to enjoy your time there.
REASONS TO GO OUTDOORS
There are nearly as many reasons to go outdoors as there are people, and no single reason is the “correct” one. The stereotypical reason to venture out is to test your mettle against the forces of nature. Western culture has a fascination with the hero’s journey. People love to read accounts of explorers, both historical and contemporary, and the hardships they endure. As many people read such accounts, they wonder what they would have done in a similar situation. One way to find out is to try some sort of wilderness challenge of their own. Wilderness schools carry this legacy—the outdoors as a place where you can develop character. For some people, part of the appeal of the outdoors is escaping the daily grind of society. Going into the wilderness can be an opportunity to have an adventure that adheres to a dramatic narrative arc— complete with rising action, a climax, and a resolution—a structure that is mostly missing in our day-to-day existence. Paulo Coelho understood this when he wrote, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal.” For people who labor with their minds rather than their hands, goals in the outdoors can be more tangible, and perhaps more immediately satisfying, than what they experience through their career. For some people, the appeal of the outdoors is as a place to escape rigid societal hierarchies. A mountain doesn’t care about a person’s net worth or job titles. And within outdoor subcultures, including outdoor clubs, a person’s social standing is based DIGITAL DETOX on competency; everyone The American Psychological starts from scratch and Association found that more than 8 improves slowly through out of 10 Americans are attached experience. to their gadgets and that those who are the most attached are the most Some people go to the stressed. And 65 percent of people backcountry to temporarily believe that periodically unplugging disconnect from their hectic is important for mental health. lives. Once you’re in the
LECTURE 1 — The Call of the Wild | 5
outdoors, your entire world shrinks to contain only your immediate surroundings; you no longer have to worry about your inbox or to-do list and can begin to live much more in the present moment.
MENTAL, PHYSICAL, AND SPIRITUAL HEALTH BENEFITS
There are numerous mental and physical health benefits of getting outside. Of course, there are the obvious benefits from physical exercise—for example, one hour of cross-country skiing can burn more than 400 calories—but the benefits go well beyond simple calories burned. Some of the best research on these benefits is pulled together in Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle, a follow-up to his enormously popular Last Child in the Woods. For example, exposure to natural areas has been shown to help with recovery from illness and injury, and it can even enhance the immune system, lower inflammation, and reduce blood pressure.
6 | OUTDOOR FUNDAMENTALS: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe
In the cognitive realm, Louv cites environmental psychologists who have found that time in nature can help your brain recover from the fatigue of continual stress. It can restore your ability to process information, focus, and remember. It can reduce the irritability, impulsivity, and impatience that sometimes lead to bad decisions. It can help you be less confused and more creative. If you’re working on a problem in your office and find yourself stuck without any good ideas, try going for a walk in the woods. Sometimes the solution will present itself to you. As for mental health benefits, Louv cites researchers who’ve found that being in nature can help people have a more positive outlook on life and better life satisfaction. Studies that compare people exercising in an urban setting with people burning the same number of calories in a natural setting find that those exercising in nature are in a better mood and have increased self-esteem. They also have significantly lower feelings of anxiety, anger, depression, and tension. Another set of reasons to explore the outdoors is more spiritual. At the most basic level is the joy of being alive that you can feel when you’re in the outdoors. Joy can sometimes be in short supply, and the outdoors is a good source for it. Closely tied to joy is the concept of biophilia, an idea most associated with Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson. Biophilia is simply the innate and emotional desire humans have to connect with other species. Many people have experienced a deep connection with a pet; biophilia takes this type of connection and extends it to wild animals and plants. Many people find outdoor experiences to be sublime, sacred, or even numinous (the awe-inspiring feeling of being in the presence of divinity). Various religious traditions have aspects of communing with nature—for example, using time in the natural world to grow closer to or even communicate with God or to discover one’s purpose and path in life.
LECTURE 1 — The Call of the Wild | 7
Even without a belief in God, many people find that the outdoors allows them to find clarity around life’s larger questions. In a natural setting, with life pared down to the bare essentials and free of all the distractions of modern life, many people feel better able to reflect and gain perspective.
COMMON PERCEIVED BARRIERS
There are some common barriers people perceive that may keep them from venturing outdoors—namely, that the outdoors is not for them, that it’s far too dangerous, and that it’s uncomfortable. It’s no wonder the perception that the outdoors isn’t for everybody exists. If you pick up an outdoor magazine or catalog, you’ll probably see images of almost exclusively young, fit, able-bodied, relatively wealthy white people. These images are elitist; they’re marketing an image. The outdoorsy ideal has become sexy, fashionable, and big business. Beautiful people in urban areas dress in puffy coats and hiking boots from outdoor brands to ride the subway to the coffee shop. But in the real outdoors, you’ll find people of all ages, sizes, abilities, and colors. It’s not just the images that contribute to this misconception that outdoors isn’t for everyone. ○○ If you are a person with a larger body and you try to buy clothing from an outdoor retailer, you might find that they don’t have anything in your size. ○○ If you are an older person, you might look at the very thin foam mattresses sold at camping stores and assume you won’t be able to get a good night’s sleep in a tent. ○○ If you use a mobility device, you might assume you won’t be able to access backcountry areas. ○○ If you are on a tight budget, you might look at the retail prices on gear and assume you won’t be able to afford to outfit yourself.
8 | OUTDOOR FUNDAMENTALS: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe
○○ If you are a person of color, you might worry about whether you’ll be welcome in natural areas.
None of these challenges is insurmountable, and this course will help you figure out ways to overcome hurdles that might be keeping you from venturing out.
LECTURE 1 — The Call of the Wild | 9
Beyond these concerns, perhaps the most important factor in realizing that the outdoors can be a place for you is recognizing that nobody is born being an accomplished outdoorsperson; everyone starts from the beginning. Learning is incremental and fun. There’s no need to compare yourself to others who are summiting high peaks or hiking the Appalachian Trail. You’re on your own journey at your own pace. Start easy and then build your comfort, skills, and fitness. Hopefully, you’re now convinced that the outdoors is for you. But you might still be afraid to start venturing out, perhaps because of a fear of being attacked by a wild animal or even assaulted or murdered by another person. Most people drastically overestimate the likelihood of these threats. And with some simple precautions, you can reduce even further the already very small odds of having an unpleasant encounter with an animal or person in the wild. The one common barrier remaining is the perception that being in the outdoors is uncomfortable—that it’s an ordeal to be “survived” by digging deep into reserves of character. For many people, the idea of unnecessary suffering, understandably, doesn’t hold a lot of appeal. But regardless of the weather conditions, terrain, or bugs, there are always strategies to make outdoor living more comfortable.
According to the National Safety Council, a person’s odds of dying at home during the next year are one in roughly 8,000. In contrast, a person’s odds of being killed by a venomous snake in that same period are one in roughly 96 million, and odds of a bear attack in Yellowstone National Park are one in roughly 2.7 million visits. And the frequency of violent crime in the national parks is about one attack per million visitors. If the entire country had that same crime rate, there would be only about 320 violent crimes per year total across the entire country!
10 | OUTDOOR FUNDAMENTALS: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe
Nessmuk, a 19th-century outdoor adventure writer and guide, wrote, “We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home; in towns and cities.”
You don’t need to suffer—especially not just for the sake of suffering! Discomfort can usually be resolved with a minor adjustment in gear or technique, and good advanced planning and preparation will help you avoid many of the common pitfalls that give camping the unnecessary reputation of being rough.
READING SUGGESTED Louv, Last Child in the Woods. ————, The Nature Principle.
LECTURE 1 — The Call of the Wild | 11
BACKPACKING AND TRIP PLANNING For some people, backpacking is not just something you have to do to get to somewhere beautiful and secluded, but an enjoyable pursuit in its own right.
PLANNING A BACKPACKING TRIP
Setting yourself up for success in backpacking is the same as with any other new pursuit: Ease into it, building skills slowly and sequentially. Try a one-night trip with low miles and easy terrain before planning a longer or more challenging trip. This short “shakedown” trip will let you know if you need to make any adjustments to your gear—or expectations—before you are fully committed to a major journey. Whether it’s that first shakedown trip, a major expedition, or something in between, the first step in planning a backpacking trip is to research the area where you’d like to go. ○○ Do you need a reservation or a permit? ○○ Are there area closures, group size limits, requirements for carrying a bear-proof canister, or other regulations? ○○ What maps are needed, and where can you get them? ○○ Is there a guidebook? ○○ What is the typical weather for that time of year? ○○ What are the common hazards to be avoided? ○○ Is hunting allowed in the area, and will you be there during an open hunting season?
For most destinations, all of this information can be found on the internet, but it’s also a good idea to talk with people who have experience in the area. Perhaps make a call to a park office or to a local camping store or outfitter. The next step in planning is to figure out what type of experience you’d like to have. ○○ What are your goals for the trip?
LECTURE 2 — Backpacking and Trip Planning | 13
○○ Do you want to push yourself physically? ○○ Do you want to spend time observing nature? ○○ Do you want to just relax around camp, telling stories and cooking delicious food?
Your goals should determine your itinerary. During the planning phase of the trip, make a time-control plan. Beginning backpackers almost always underestimate how much time things will take around camp and how quickly and how far they’ll be able to hike. A timecontrol plan helps you set more reasonable and realistic itineraries. Start creating your time-control plan by figuring out how many hours of daylight you’ll have. Unless the goals for your trip involve something unusual, such as a sunrise from a summit, you’ll likely want to plan to do all of your activities, other than sitting around the campfire, during daylight hours. Everything gets more difficult in the dark, including cooking and cleaning dishes. In calculating amount of daylight, you can choose to pay attention to either sunrise and sunset times or to the start and end of civil twilight—the time when the sun is just below the horizon and, if the weather conditions are good, you can do things outside without artificial light. If you’re trying to fit in as much action as possible on your trip or if you’re planning the trip during the short days of winter, you might want to base your time-control plan on hours of The US Naval Observatory civil twilight. website has data on sunrise and set, twilight Once you calculate the number of hours, and moonrise and hours you have of light, the next set for any location. step is to subtract the hours you’ll spend on camp chores—setting up and taking down shelter, cooking, washing dishes, securing food from animals, completing personal hygiene routines, and packing bags. Experienced groups often take two hours to get out of camp in the morning, even with a cold breakfast. And less experienced
14 | OUTDOOR FUNDAMENTALS: Everything You Need to Know to Stay Safe
LECTURE 2 — Backpacking and Trip Planning | 15
groups often take three hours, even if they’re trying to move efficiently. In the afternoon, upon reaching camp, it will take about the same amount of time, if not more, to set up, cook, and then clean things and get camp ready for the night.
Thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail average almost 17 miles a day.
Use the time-control plan to find an appropriate distance to hike for each day. The base pace of an average group hiking with packs is about two miles per hour, which allows for a typical amount of stopping to consult the map, drink water, and enjoy the view. But that base pace assumes a flat trail and doesn’t consider elevation gain. For every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, you should add an hour to the time you estimate you’ll need to complete it. As you get more and more experience backpacking, you’ll get a feel for the pace and length of hiking day you prefer.
Consider hiking into a base camp where you can stop for a few days and do day hikes with light packs. There’s no need to move camp every day if you don’t want to.
THE ART OF HIKING WITH A PACK
When hiking with a pack, at the most basic level, you need to make sure your body stays healthy. Backpacking subjects your body to stresses it doesn’t normally have, so make sure you’re giving it the hydration, electrolytes, and calories it needs to function. Keep water easily accessible. If you have to take off your pack to access your water, you’re less likely to drink adequate amounts. Similarly, keep a few snacks in an easy-to-access location. Snack regularly, especially if you’re sweating heavily, to help you maintain energy and blood sugar level. The amount of water and food you’ll need to consume will vary widely based on your body, the environmental conditions, and how
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strenuously you’re exercising. A general sign of adequate hydration is urine that is clear and does not have a strong smell. Signs of mild dehydration can include not only thirst and a dry mouth but also headaches, lightheadedness, and lethargy.
When you sweat, you’re not only losing water; you’re also losing salts, also known as electrolytes. You can replace electrolytes by eating foods with salts—not just sodium, but also potassium and magnesium—such as dried fruit and salted nuts. After making sure you’re hydrated and have the electrolytes and calories you need, the next most important thing to take care of is your skin. Of course, there’s the issue of sun protection, but beyond sunburns, you need to take care to avoid blisters and chafing, both of which are caused by repetitive friction. The key to avoiding blisters and chafing is noticing when the friction starts and fixing the issue before the skin can start to get damaged. After friction problems, your biggest focus should be on your joints. Try hiking with a trekking pole—or even two poles if your pack is especially heavy or the trail is especially rough. Trekking poles help take the force off your joints on the downhill sections and can
Most hikers call early-stage friction areas hot spots. If you catch a hot spot early enough, before the skin has been damaged, cover the area with one layer of duct tape. It stays in place better than any other kind of tape and will come off easily when you want it to. Duct tape works especially well on heels, Achilles tendons, toes, and lower backs. If the duct tape doesn’t seem to be stopping the friction, try adjusting other things, such as changing socks or other clothing layers or tying your boots in a different way. If that doesn’t fix it, try moleskin or moleskin foam; the idea with this adhesive padding is to try to physically separate the skin from whatever is rubbing it. Depending on where it is, you might try covering the area with moleskin or surrounding the area with a moleskin “donut” that leaves the blistered area uncovered but transfers the pressure to the skin surrounding it.
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help save you from twisting an ankle when a rock shifts. They also help you maintain balance while jumping from rock to rock when crossing a stream.
Think about your back while taking your pack on and off. Avoid lifting and twisting at the same time.
MAKING BACKPACKING EASIER AND SAFER
If you’re using trekking poles, try using them without the wrist straps. This will allow you to adjust your grip up and down the length of the pole as needed. On uphill sections, take smaller steps where possible rather than large ones. This will save energy. Downhill sections are where most injuries take place. This is because you shift your balance before placing your foot, so if the foot placement is unstable, you’re already committed to it. For this reason, as you descend, make sure you keep your pace slow and in control. Trekking poles make it easier to go slowly downhill. On flat sections of trail, maintain a loose grip on the poles and swing them forward, one at a time, in a pace that seems natural. This leaves one pole in contact with the ground at all times so that if you do start to twist an ankle or slip, you can transfer some weight to that pole to stabilize yourself. If you need to ford a stream, you’ll be very glad to have trekking poles. If there are dry rocks you think you can use to cross while keeping your feet dry, you can use the trekking poles to help you keep your balance. If there are no dry rocks to use as stepping stones, you’ll have to get your feet wet; either keep your boots on or change into lightweight shoes to protect your feet and ankles from injury.
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TRAVELING AS A GROUP
When traveling as a group, it’s recommended that you stay together on the trail for safety. But this can be tricky, especially if there are group members who hike at different paces. Designate someone to hike in front who feels comfortable exercising leadership—the kind of leadership that keeps an eye on everyone in the group and picks a pace that the slowest member of the group can maintain for the number of hours needed. In general, this pace is one where everyone can maintain a conversation while hiking. If anyone is breathing so heavily that he or she can’t talk normally, the pace needs to be slower. One thing that can cause a group to fail to arrive at camp in a timely manner is taking breaks too often. The more people that are in the group, the more of a problem this tends to be. Again, leadership can fix this problem. When someone needs to stop, a good leader will ask if anyone else needs to shed a layer, adjust their boots, or eat a snack. They’ll then determine how long a break is needed and let everybody know a time goal for when the group will start hiking again. It can also help to set a goal of how long the group will hike before taking another break. Finally, any time you reach a junction in the trail, whoever is hiking in the front should stop to get a count of the group and make sure that everyone goes the correct way. Even on clearly marked trails, people who are lost in thought can fail to make the correct turn and get separated from the group.
READING SUGGESTED O’Bannon, Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book.
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CANOE OR SEA-KAYAK CAMPING Traveling by paddle allows you to explore the backcountry in more comfort than you might when backpacking and to reach places you might not be able to on foot or in a car—but paddling involves more gear, more required skill, and more objective hazards.
If you would like to get into paddling, consider taking an introductory course from the American Canoe Association, British Canoeing, a local university’s outdoor center, or a city’s parks and recreation program. You might also consider joining a local paddling club, many of which host clinics and festivals, message boards for finding paddling partners, and forums for buying used gear.
VENTURING OUT ONTO THE WATER
Before venturing out onto the water, educate yourself about the risks. Water is inherently dangerous—you can’t breathe it!—and just wearing a life jacket doesn’t mean that you won’t drown. When you do venture out on the water, be conservative in your judgment. Part of this precaution happens during the planning phase of your trip. Plan an itinerary with built-in flexibility for unexpected conditions.
Drowning while wearing a life jacket can result from being pinned by flowing water against or under something like a tree or a rock or from repeatedly inhaling water while trying to swim through large waves or whirlpools.
Another part of being conservative in your judgment involves what you are wearing. You should always be wearing your life jacket, which needs to fit well enough that it won’t slide up over your head in the water. Tug on the shoulder straps to check the fit. As with any safety gear, make sure it’s in good condition. The material shouldn’t be frayed or sun-damaged, and the foam should be supple, not brittle; you should be able to squeeze the foam and have it spring back quickly. Your clothing is also an important precaution. For paddling, the guideline is to dress for the temperature of the water, not the temperature of the air. Sometimes this means wearing a wet suit or a dry suit, even on a relatively warm day. This is especially important if the water temperature is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or if the
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combined temperature of the air and water is 120 degrees or lower. In these temperatures, hypothermia is a real threat, especially if you can’t get yourself out of the water quickly.
BOAT SELECTION AND LOADING
You’ll need a boat that is appropriate for the type of travel you’re doing. Before buying any boat, read online reviews and talk to knowledgeable staff at a paddling shop. If the only places you’ll be paddling are small lakes and flat, easyflowing rivers, you could get away with a recreational, or rec, boat. These boats are generally made out of polyethylene plastic, making them heavy but durable and able to handle abuse. Rec boats are generally wide and short, with a flat-bottomed hull, which gives them good primary stability; in other words, on calm water, they won’t feel tippy. But the trade-off is that they won’t have good secondary stability, which means they’ll want to capsize in big waves or if you lean too far over to one side. Being wide and short also makes them slow. If you think you might want to paddle in anything other than small lakes and slow-moving rivers or if you think you might want to do trips that are longer than a day, you’ll need a touring, or tripping, boat. These boats can be made out of any different number of materials—polyethylene, ABS plastic laminate, fiberglass, carbon composites, Kevlar composites, or even wood or aluminum. Each material will have trade-offs in cost, weight, durability, and reparability. When compared with rec boats, touring boats are better able to handle rough water and the demands of multiday travel. This means they’re longer and narrower, making them faster than a recreational boat, and they have either a shallow-arch or v-bottom hull rather than one with a flat bottom. Touring boats might feel a little more tippy initially, as they might have less primary stability than a rec boat, but they will have good
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secondary stability, meaning that they will be able to be leaned on an edge to carve through turns or to respond to waves.
Once you have your craft, you’ll need to think about how much flotation the boat has and whether you’ll need to add more. Flotation is what will keep you and your boat from sinking if you swamp with water. Added flotation can be anything that displaces water and will securely stay in the boat if the boat swamps, including air-filled float bags, closed-cell foam blocks, or even food or gear stored in waterproof bags. As long as it is waterproof and weighs less than a comparable volume of water, it will work for flotation. Whatever flotation you choose, make sure it is securely attached in the boat. When loading gear into the boat, work to make the boat level, or trim, from bow to stern and from side to side. Part of this calculation includes the weight of the paddlers and where they’ll be sitting. If one end of your boat is significantly lighter than the other, it will catch the wind, making it difficult to steer. You’ll also want the boat to be as aerodynamic as possible. The final thing to remember while loading a boat is to make sure you can get out of the boat quickly and easily, even if it’s upside down. Avoid any loose straps, ropes, or nonlocking carabiners that could snag you, trapping you in the boat.
PADDLING ON DIFFERENT BODIES OF WATER
Each different type of body of water—rivers, lakes, and oceans— has its own hazards. Make sure you educate yourself about the risks specific to the places where you’ll be boating. Rapids aren’t the only hazards on rivers. Boats and swimmers can be pinned against a strainer—anything that has fallen into the current that lets water through but traps and holds a solid object— and pulled under the water. Undercut rocks can also pin and hold a boat or a swimmer. Low-head dams or weirs can create deadly currents downstream that can trap boats and drown swimmers. Taking a training class with a whitewater school or club will help you learn how to avoid these hazards.
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Even if you’ve done your research in advance, be willing to change plans if a river looks to be in flood when you show up to the banks. Lots of debris floating down the river or water up over the banks into the trees is likely a sign that the river might be potentially unfriendly. Lakes have a different set of hazards, mostly having to do with wind, waves, and cold water. Before boating on a lake, research the local wind and weather patterns. Plan your route to stay close to shore when possible and to minimize crossings.
The International Scale of River Difficulty classifies rivers on a scale of I to VI. Check guidebooks and websites to find the class of a particular river, but keep in mind that the difficulty of a river can change dramatically with its water level. For some rivers, you can find flow information on the US Geological Survey’s website or on American Whitewater’s website. For others, you may need to ask a local outfitter, call a power company that operates a dam on the river, or check a local message board.
Practice rescues and techniques for reentering your boat—but don’t rely on them. The best choice is to be conservative with your route and decisions about when to make crossings so that you don’t get caught in the wind and waves in the first place. Ocean travel takes all the hazards of lakes—wind, waves, and cold water—and adds a few more: tides, fog, and shipping lanes. Research the area where you’ll be paddling. Know the timing of the tides and what hazards they might create, such as standing waves or whirlpools. Obtain all the safety devices required by the coast guard or local authorities.
KEEPING YOUR GEAR AND BODY SAFE WHILE PADDLING
To keep your gear in good condition while on a paddling trip, one option is to purchase dry bags, which work very well, especially when they’re new, assuming you close them correctly. The clear
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bags make it easy to find your gear, but they aren’t nearly as durable as the opaque bags. Dry bags with a silicone zip closure will be more reliably dry than the bags that roll down and clip.
If you don’t want to spend money on dry bags—or if you want to cut down on the amount of gear you own that has a single purpose— you can just line your other bags with trash compactor bags. If you are careful to not get a puncture in the plastic by not putting sharp or hard-sided things inside it, it should last for many trips. If you are confident that your hatch covers don’t leak, you can forego buying expensive dry bags and just line nylon stuff sacks with plastic bags and then roll the tops of the bags over and shove them down the inside of the stuff sack. Things that don’t need to stay dry—such as pots, pans, dishes, utensils, tent poles, cans, and bottles—just go inside a nylon stuff
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sack or pack, not inside a dry bag or plastic bag. They have sharp and hard edges that will damage anything designed to keep gear dry.
When you’re in camp for the evening or even stopping for a lunch break, make sure your boat is safe. If it’s not tied up, it could float or blow away when you’re not looking. If it’s rubbing against a stick or rock as it’s floating, or even if it’s just gently rocking back and forth on something hard, it won’t take long for a hole to wear through the hull. Your boat will be safest when it’s completely out of the water, well away from the water’s edge, and tied to a tree. In addition to protecting your gear, you’ll want to protect your body while paddling. The most common injuries while paddling are overuse injuries. Keep a loose grip on your paddle and make sure you’re using proper paddling form. This is where taking a course will help. Also, when lifting a boat, make sure you’re lifting with your knees and not your back.
READING SUGGESTED Huser, River Running. Jacobson, Canoeing & Camping. Johnson, The Complete Sea Kayaker’s Handbook.
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CAMPCRAFT: SELECTING AND ORGANIZING GEAR When it comes to camping equipment, there is usually a trade-off between weight and comfort or convenience, and the type of camping you want to do will tell you where your gear should fall on that continuum.
SELECTING CAMPING GEAR
Once you’ve decided what type of camping you’d like to do— ultralight and nimble, heavy and decadent, or somewhere in between—the goal is to develop a system. This means being deliberate about what gear you bring, where you pack it, and how you use it and working toward doing it the same way every time, within reason. As you reflect on and tweak your system, you become more efficient, more comfortable, and safer. If you always pack your pack in the same way with the same things in the same places, you don’t have to worry about forgetting something and you don’t have to struggle every morning to figure out how to make everything fit. You’re also more likely to have the most appropriate gear for the moment, and that gear is more likely to be in good condition and readily accessible. To begin creating a system for a particular type of camping, you’ll need to first acquire gear. Even if you are planning on exclusively car camping, aim for simplicity. Having less gear means not only less expense, but also less time spent packing, setting up, tearing down, cleaning, and maintaining gear. To work toward simplicity while still meeting your needs, look for gear that can do more than just one thing. ○○ Instead of buying a purpose-built lantern, create your own lantern by strapping a headlamp to a clear plastic water bottle so that its light illuminates the inside of the bottle and shines outward. ○○ Instead of buying a firewood tote, carry your firewood inside a stadium chair, which can also be used not only as a chair but also as an extra sleeping pad or as a pad for kneeling. ○○ Instead of bringing a cutting board, you could use a Frisbee, which, in addition to being a fun diversion, can double as a plate. ○○ Instead of buying camp pillows, consider folding your extra clothing into a pillow and sliding it inside an extra stuff sack, which doubles as a pillowcase.
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○○ Instead of bringing a bowl and a mug, try bringing just a bowl and, after eating your oatmeal out of it, pouring your hot coffee into it, effectively cleaning the bowl for you. ○○ Instead of buying a purpose-made solar shower, you could get an MSR dromedary bag that will work not only as a shower but also as a handwashing station, a water hauler, and even a pillow in a pinch.
One caveat to the suggestion of looking for gear that can serve multiple purposes is to try to avoid gimmicky gear that tries to do too many things but doesn’t do any of them well, such as a spork. In addition to aiming for simplicity, another way to try to decide what gear to buy or bring on a particular trip is the three-piles method. Arrange all the gear you’re considering into three piles: one pile of absolute necessities, one pile of things that would be nice to have, and one pile of luxury items. Take everything from the first pile, nothing from the second pile, and one thing from the third pile (if there is an item that will bring you joy, bring it). If you’re car camping instead of backpacking, weight and space aren’t as limiting, so you might decide to take more than one item from your luxury pile. But be careful to not go overboard; you don’t want to spend too much of your time dealing with gear. As you’re selecting gear, you’ll also need to consider the typical conditions in which you’ll be camping—the climate, the bugs, the remoteness—and how long the trips are that you think you’ll be doing. If you’re planning on doing long trips in remote areas, it will be especially important that any gear you bring be durable and repairable by you in the field. If you’re planning on traveling in places where (or seasons when) biting insects are not a problem, you might decide against buying a standard tent. If there are no bugs, you can manage with just a groundsheet under a tarp for shelter from the wind and precipitation. This will be much more lightweight and more compact than a tent that has walls and a floor.
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Your selection of shelter will also depend on your patience for rigging and constructing or your desire to have something that sets up the same way every time. A freestanding tent can be erected on any surface; it doesn’t even require a tent stake to keep it standing (only, perhaps, to keep it from blowing away). A freestanding tent can just be picked up and moved to a It’s possible to find different location if you realize four-person tents there’s a sharp rock under your back or a dead tree leaning over that weigh as little you. To be freestanding, a tent as 8.5 pounds. requires at least two poles, which add weight. If, instead of tent poles, you’re willing to use your trekking poles or trees in combination with tent stakes (or rocks or downed logs) to hold up your tent, you can ditch a lot of weight. In addition to bugs and ease of setup, the temperatures and the likelihood of storms with strong winds will determine what type of shelter you want.
If you care for it, a high-quality tent can give you many years of service.
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Finally, you have to factor in price. As with many commercial goods, you get what you pay for. If money is tight and you just want to do occasional weekend trips in areas that are not very remote and not prone to severe storms, a low-end tent might be a reasonable choice. If, however, you want to camp more regularly and have more versatility, comfort, and security, it’s worth buying higher-quality gear.
PACKING YOUR GEAR
Once you have selected your gear for a particular trip, the next step in creating your system is to think about how you’ll pack the gear. You should consider how you’ll keep the gear protected yet accessible when needed. For a backpacking trip, choose the most lightweight gear you have that will still keep you comfortable and safe in the conditions.
In the summer, you might aim for a total pack weight, without food, of under 25 pounds.
When you pack your backpack, you want it to be densely packed so that you’re efficiently using all the available space and creating a pack that is well balanced. Your visual check for this is smooth sides of the pack—without any wrinkles, folds, or gaps—and a pack that stands up on its own without falling over. You want everything to fit inside the pack, rather than attach to the outside. This allows you to duck under tree branches without getting hung up and keeps you from accidentally losing or damaging gear. If you’re hiking in an area with a lot of rain and river crossings, you want to make sure that you can keep your sleeping bag and clothing dry, so rather than relying on a pack cover to keep out the rain, choose a pack liner. This way, even if you drop your pack in a stream, your important stuff will stay dry. The only things that go inside the pack liner are things that need to stay dry and don’t have sharp edges that might puncture the pack liner.
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Pack items into your pack in an order that keeps the things you might need during the day accessible and buries the things you won’t need until camp at the bottom. Put your sleeping bag in first. Then, add a deflated sleeping pad and a sack of extra clothing layers that you don’t expect to need until the evening. If your tent is dry, it goes in next, along the outside of the pack liner—minus the poles, which slide down inside the pack. If your tent is wet from a rainstorm the day before, close up your pack liner before adding the wet tent to your pack. The final things that go inside your pack liner are your food, other than snacks for the day, and a first aid kit. Once the pack liner is closed, anything that doesn’t need to stay dry goes in. For stability and comfort, keep heavy items as low and close to your back as possible. Try to minimize any gaps—for example, by storing your stove and cooking utensils inside your cooking pot—and keep things that need to be quickly accessed near the top. The last thing you add to your pack is your rain gear, such as rain pants and a raincoat, so that if it starts raining, you can pull it out without having to unpack anything.
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In the lid of your pack, keep a water-resistant stuff sack with things you’ll need frequently throughout the day, such as sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, knife, compass, bowl and spoon, bandanna, and ibuprofen. You can also keep your headlamp and lighter in there just to make sure you have them handy when you need them. This water-resistant stuff sack not only keeps your headlamp dry but also keeps the small things in the lid from accidentally falling out and getting lost. Pouches on the outside of the pack are reserved for things that don’t need to stay dry and that need to be quickly accessible, such as water bottles and extra shoes for stream crossings. In this system, because you know where everything is and pack it in the same way every time, even something a bit deeper in the pack can be retrieved quickly. This system protects your most important gear and keeps the most frequently used gear accessible. If you’re car camping instead of backpacking, your system will look a bit different, but the underlying goals are the same. The key is thinking deliberately about how and where things should be packed to be the most efficient, making slight adjustments if needed, and then doing it the same way every time.
There is no one correct system for all types of camping and all people; there is only the correct system for you and your goals. Balance weight and cost with convenience and comfort. Then, do a few short local trips to fine-tune your systems before heading out on any longer or more remote trips.
READING SUGGESTED O’Bannon, Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book.
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CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR FOR OUTDOOR ADVENTURE The numerous options for outdoor clothing can seem overwhelming, but once you understand the goals of a clothing system and the characteristics of different fabrics and styles, you’ll be able to pick the right clothing for the occasion. And with individual pieces that are versatile, you can mix and match to the conditions without having to own too many clothes.
CLOTHING SYSTEM FOR SUMMERTIME BACKPACKING
There are three goals to any clothing system: maintain a comfortable body temperature, manage moisture, and protect your skin. Sometimes you’ll need to promote heat loss while other times you’ll need to prevent it, and your desire for one or the other can change from one moment to the next as you change your level of activity or as Polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes said, “There is no bad weather, the wind shifts or the night only inappropriate clothing.” falls. So, having a clothing system that does both well is important. If you’re planning a summertime backpacking trip, your clothing is going to need to be able to efficiently dump heat, handle sweat, and protect you from sunburn (and probably mosquitoes, too). Depending on the location, you might need your clothing to also keep you warm in windy and cool conditions. It could also rain during your trip. To have the right clothing for all these situations, it may seem like you’d need a massive suitcase. But your clothing system will be lightweight and compact enough to leave lots of room in a pack for equipment and food. Let’s start with the base layers and work outward. The most important aspect of a base layer is that it dries quickly; you don’t want moisture trapped next to your skin. This means avoiding cotton, which takes a very long time to dry and will not keep you warm when it is wet. For this reason, choose lightweight nylon for your underwear, and try to pick underwear that has flat seams that won’t rub under your backpack. For long underwear, one good option is lightweight wool. Wool long underwear may be the last thing you visualize when you think of summer clothes, but it doesn’t weigh much and hardly takes up any space. Modern wool isn’t itchy, and lightweight wool long underwear will dry relatively quickly. If the weather stays dry and warm, you may never wear it, but it’s there in case you get cold or wet.
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Another good option for long underwear is a synthetic, such as nylon, polyester, polypropylene, or rayon. Synthetics are generally less expensive and more durable than wool, and they dry more quickly. The downside to synthetic base layers is that they tend to retain odors, and they melt if they come into contact with flame or extreme heat. There are some synthetic base layers that are treated to be antimicrobial, which can help with the odor problem, but there is no way around the melting problem. Base layers made from silk are a step above cotton, but silk won’t wick moisture away from your skin as well as either wool or a synthetic would. Silk can also get a bit stinky, and it’s relatively fragile. Regardless of what material you choose, pick base layers that fit snugly; their main job is to wick moisture away from your skin, and to do this well, they need to be in contact with your skin. Moving outward from the base layers, hiking pants and shirts are worn to protect your skin (and your base layer, if you’re wearing
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one). A lightweight nylon is durable, dries quickly, and provides protection from the sun. Pick pants with flat seams on the waist so it won’t rub under your backpack hip belt, and choose long-sleeve, vented shirts with enough room that you can use the full range of motion of your arms. Light colors are cooler in the sun, less attractive to biting flies, and allow you to notice ticks more quickly.
In anticipation of wind or rain, you’ll want to bring a shell layer. Even if you’re not expecting rain, you don’t want to go camping without a shell layer. Bring a lightweight rain jacket and rain pants made out of a waterproof, breathable fabric. Choose a jacket that is long enough to go over your behind and roomy enough to fit over multiple layers. A bright-colored raincoat helps you be more visible if you were to get lost or injured and makes you less likely to look like a deer to a hunter. The base layer, hiking pants and shirt, and shell layer will be largely the same regardless of the climate and weather conditions. The main thing that will change from one trip to the next will be how much insulation you bring. On a summer backpacking trip, you should bring a lightweight sweater, a lightweight puffy vest, a lightweight Puffy layers work by puffy jacket, and a thin fleece hat. trapping air inside the fibers of the insulation, There are only a few other things to add much like the fiberglass to your clothing system: wool hiking or cellulose insulation in socks, a sun hat, a few bandannas, the walls of a house. and a t-shirt and shorts for sleeping. You can sleep in a cotton t-shirt if you want, because you know that in your tent you can keep it dry. If you choose quick-dry nylon shorts, they can double as swimwear if needed. Cotton bandannas can provide sun protection for your neck and, when wet, can help keep you cool. A sun hat not only keeps the sun out of your face but also makes you look a little more presentable after a day or two of not showering. And if the bugs are bad, you can spray repellant on the bandanna and hat, rather than on your face and neck. Through mixing and matching the layers, you can be comfortable in a range of temperatures and activities with only these few items of
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well-selected clothes. They’re compact, lightweight, and easy to fit into your pack. They’re easy to clean, quick drying, and odor resistant.
CLOTHING FOR DIFFERENT CLIMATES AND CONDITIONS
With a few small tweaks, this clothing system can work for more challenging climates and conditions. ○○ desert: Bring a cotton long-sleeve sun shirt that you could dunk in water, put back on, and then enjoy the extended time of evaporative cooling. Also maybe bring a lightweight yet durable backpacking umbrella for staying out of the sun. Leave the rain pants at home, but still bring the raincoat—mostly for warmth after the sun goes down. Also add ankle gaiters to keep sand and gravel out of your boots. ○○ tropical rain forest: Bring a backpacking umbrella. Maybe substitute a poncho for the raincoat, which will be stuffy to wear in a hot, muggy climate. A poncho could double as a tarp when you stop for lunch. Still bring the puffy layers, even though the chances of needing to wear them would be slim, because you can use them as a substitute for a pillow. ○○ location with lots of ticks: Consider buying hiking pants, a hiking shirt, and gaiters that are treated with the bug repellant permethrin. If you expect lots of mosquitos, black flies, or nosee-ums, throw in a head net or a bug shirt with a built-in head net. Maybe even bring some lightweight gloves and a thin neck gaiter so you can protect Ironically, your biggest challenge for cold-weather even more of your skin from the clothing systems will be biting insects. keeping yourself from sweating. Shed layers ○○ snow: Add insulation. Substitute before exercising so that a thicker puffy vest and a thicker when you stop moving, you puffy coat, and add a pair of won’t get cold because heavyweight long underwear you’re damp. tops and bottoms, wrist warmers,
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glove liners, mittens, a neck gaiter, winter boots, and full-length gaiters.
Perhaps the one thing that can ruin an outdoor trip faster than inappropriate clothing is inappropriate footwear. Footwear has to be comfortable, and it has to fit your foot well. As tempting as it might be to save money by ordering boots online, it’s worth going to an outdoor store with employees who are trained in fitting boots. They’ll measure your foot—not just the length and width, but also the volume—and suggest boots that will work. They’ll also help you fine-tune the fit, if needed, by adding insoles or changing the lacing pattern.
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Try to go footwear shopping near the end of the day, when your feet are a bit more swollen than they are in the morning. And bring the socks you’ll wear hiking as well as any orthotic inserts you might use. Most stores will have some sort of artificial terrain where you can see how the boots respond to walking up and down inclines. When trying on boots, don’t ignore a pressure point or some movement of your foot against the boot as you walk; it may feel fine in the store, but repeated over the course of hours, any rubbing or pressing can do serious damage. In addition to getting footwear that fits well, it’s important to pick the appropriate shoe or boot for the occasion. If you’re going to be doing a variety of different types of outdoor activities, you’ll likely need a variety of different shoes. Shoes exist on a continuum between support and flexibility, and where they fall on that continuum determines their purpose. Boots designed for backpacking with a heavy pack on rugged terrain will give you much more support than boots designed for light hiking or shoes meant for day hikes. But that support will come with more stiffness, more weight, and likely more time needed to break them in. But you’ll be happy to have that support when you’re carrying a heavy load over sharp rocks or down steep inclines. Besides choosing between a backpacking boot, a light hiker, or a walking shoe, you’ll also get to choose between materials. Full-grain leathers will take longer to break in than either splitgrain leathers or synthetics. But they’ll last longer and be more waterproof. There are some lightweight hiking boots that claim to be waterproof because of a membrane inside, but some people feel they make their feet sweatier and that, once the boots do get wet inside, they take a long time to dry. If you really want good water resistance for the long haul, it’s hard to beat full-grain leather, especially if you add a gaiter over the top. Whatever footwear you buy, make sure you spend lots of time breaking them in before embarking on any extended trips.
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If you’re going on a multiday trip, consider bringing a second pair of shoes to wear around camp. No matter how well broken in your hiking boots are, it will feel heavenly to trade them out for some lightweight tennis shoes at the end of the day.
You don’t necessarily need to spend money on an outdoor-specific brand; nylon is nylon, and wool is wool. You might already have a lot of suitable clothing in your closet.
READING SUGGESTED Cunningham, Sea Kayaker’s More Deep Trouble. O’Bannon, Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book. Tilton and Gookin, NOLS Winter Camping.
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BASICS FOR WILDERNESS SAFETY Any time you venture outdoors, it’s important to see to your basic needs, know how to avoid run-ins with animals, and have a plan for if things go poorly.
ADDRESSING BASIC PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS
There are no hard-and-fast rules about how much water or how many calories a person should have in a day; each individual has different requirements. At the most basic level, the Institute of Medicine, affiliated with the National Academies of Science, recommends that men take in three liters of liquid and women take in just over two liters per day. These totals encompass all liquid, including what is contained in fruits and vegetables. How much water you need on any given day will vary depending on the temperature, the elevation, and the amount you’re exercising. The best way to judge how much water you need is to pay attention to your body. Your urine should be only slightly yellow, and you should urinate at least six times throughout the day. Also, if you’re dehydrated, you might find yourself feeling fatigued, being in a bad mood, or just not thinking clearly. Or you might have a mild headache or overheat easily. In the outdoors, it’s easy to get dehydrated; you’re often exercising more than you typically do, and you may be distracted from your physiological needs. Having your water bottles easily accessible helps you drink regularly. It also helps to have a way to purify water, even on a day trip, so that you can refill from a creek or lake. To keep your energy levels up in the outdoors, you need to snack throughout the day, taking in a variety of different types of foods, including simple sugars, such as honey; fruit; complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables; and proteins and fats, such as nuts, cheeses, and meat jerkies. Rather than eating only a few larger meals, eat small snacks regularly throughout the day. Keep a small bag containing snacks easily accessible in the lid of your pack or on your hip belt, and eat a few handfuls of snacks whenever you stop to drink water. As for food, your body of course needs calories for physical performance, but your brain also needs energy for judgment and mood control. Especially late in the day or before a big push,
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remember to eat something; you’ll be less likely to make errors, get hurt, or get into an argument.
And brains need more than just calories; they also need electrolytes, or salts, for basic functioning. When you sweat, you lose not only water, but also sodium, magnesium, and potassium. You can best replace these by snacking regularly on things like dried fruits and salted nuts.
Check the weather forecast and radar before going outdoors. Lightning, strong winds, hail, and heavy rains can be deadly when you can’t seek shelter inside a modern building.
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AVOIDING UNPLEASANT ENCOUNTERS WITH ANIMALS
Before heading outdoors, research what types of wild animals live in the area and what the current recommendations are for dealing with them.
At times, your imagination will run wild. Remember that in most of the places you’ll go, you are much scarier to any animals than they are to you.
Despite fueling fears about going outdoors, grizzly bears have a relatively small range. If you are going to be outdoors in grizzly habitat, check with local land management agencies about what precautions to take. This will likely include making noise as you hike so you don’t surprise them, hiking in groups, staying on trails, looking for signs of bears and avoiding them, not hiking between dusk and dawn, minimizing food odors, knowing how to appear less threatening, and carrying bear spray to ward off an imminent attack. Local agencies can also help you know how to respond if you’re actually attacked—which does not include running or climbing a tree. Recommendations might include avoiding areas that are known for bear encounters and bringing bear-proof food containers or portable electric fences to protect your camp.
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It’s more likely you’ll be in the realms of black bears than grizzlies. Unless black bears have been habituated to humans and human food, they are most likely afraid of humans. If you keep your food secure and don’t threaten, harass, or sneak up on black bears, they will most likely leave you alone. If you’re in an area that is known for high numbers of black bears, you might talk, sing, or wear little bells as you hike to make sure you don’t startle a mother with cubs. Even if you’re in the habitat of mountain lions—also known as pumas, panthers, or cougars—you’re unlikely to see them. They are most active from dusk through dawn, do not typically consider humans to be prey, and tend to be reclusive. Attacks by mountain lions on humans are rare. People targeted are usually small in stature or are running. The best way to avoid being a target is to hike in a group. If you do encounter a mountain lion, don’t run! Instead, look as threatening as possible: Use intense eye contact, shout, and raise your arms above your head. Usually, this will cause the mountain lion to retreat. If you are attacked, fight back, even with just your bare hands. Wolves and coyotes mostly hunt at night and tend to be afraid of humans. If you do see them during the day, they are likely just moving from one part of their territory to the other, and when they catch a whiff of you, they typically run away. All you need to do to be safe in the territory of wolves and coyotes is avoid provoking them. Don’t get close to them or feed them. When it comes to snakes, spiders, scorpions, and stinging insects, research the varieties that are present where you’ll be. Learn how to identify them, how to avoid them, and what to do if you’re bitten. ○○ The risk posed by venomous snakes can be managed by leaving snakes alone; they are not aggressive and will bite only when threatened. If you’ll be hiking through tall grass or rocky areas or over log piles, where snakes might be hiding, wear boots and long pants or gaiters. And don’t pick them up! Use a flashlight if you’re walking at night, and don’t spread your sleeping bag out before you’re ready to get in it. If you are bitten, wash the bite with soap and water, try to keep the bite below your heart,
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and get medical attention as soon as possible. If you can snap a photo of the snake, that will help the doctor with a diagnosis. ○○ The risk posed by most spiders and scorpions can be managed by shaking out clothing and shoes before putting them on and avoiding sticking hands into leafy debris or wood piles or reaching blindly under rocky ledges. If you are bitten by a venomous spider, wash the bite area with soap and water, cover it with antibiotic cream and a cold cloth, and elevate In North America, there are it, if possible. Then, make only two species of venomous your way to medical spiders: the black widow and the attention. If you are able to brown recluse (also known as snap a photo of the spider the fiddleback or violin spider). to show your doctor, that Neither spider is aggressive, and will help in diagnosis. bites on humans are rare.
HAVING AN EMERGENCY PLAN
The vast majority of the times you’ll go outdoors, everything will go smoothly, but it’s important to have a plan in case things go badly. On the most basic level, any time you head away from civilization, you should have an emergency contact who knows your plans, at least one communication device, and an emergency kit. Tell your emergency contact where you’ll be going and what time you expect to return. If that person doesn’t hear from you within a given time after your expected return, he or she can alert authorities, who can start a search, if needed. You should also have at least one communication device with you when you venture out. This could be a cell phone, a VHF radio, a satellite communication device, or even a whistle. Blasting a whistle three times is a widely recognized signal of distress; repeated over the course of hours or days, there is a good chance that someone will hear your signal. You should also have a small emergency kit with you any time you head into the wild, even if you’re planning on being out for only
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a day. The kit should include rain gear, a Mylar thermal blanket, a headlamp, a knife, and a fire starter. These items will make life more comfortable for you as you wait for rescue should something go wrong.
CHECKING YOUR SKIN
Your skin can take a beating outdoors, from cuts, blisters, and scrapes to poison ivy and ticks or immersion injuries from being wet all day. Left untreated, these issues can cause serious issues. At the end of the day—whether you’re still in the backcountry or back indoors—check your skin, clean it off, and dry it out. If you think you may have come into contact with a plant like poison ivy or poison oak, thoroughly wash your skin, using ample soap and scrubbing vigorously. If you’re especially sensitive to poison ivy, you should also wash any clothing or gear that came into contact with the plant. If you’re in tick territory, tuck your pants into your socks and spray your shoes, socks, and pants with a bug repellent that contains DEET. Also, wear clothes or gaiters that are treated with permethrin. If there’s a possibility you might have picked up a tick, do a very thorough check. Rub your hands over every part of your body, paying special attention to your feet, legs, groin, waist, and hairline. If you feel anything suspicious, use your headlamp to investigate. If it’s in a spot you can’t see, either use the mirror from your compass or ask a friend to look for you. If you do find a tick that is already attached to you, you’ll need to remove it very carefully—in a way that doesn’t squeeze its belly, stress it out, or otherwise cause it to decide to back out on its own. The safest way to remove a tick is to take needle-nosed tweezers and grasp it gently but firmly as close to your skin as possible and then pull back smoothly and gently in a straight line with its body. If you accidentally break off the mouthparts or the head of the tick, just remove them separately with the tweezers. Once the tick is
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out, dispose of it, and then clean the wound with soap and water and an alcohol wipe.
Continue to monitor for the next few days or weeks. If you develop a rash, a fever, a headache, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, or joint pain after being bitten by a tick, let your doctor know. There are a variety of different tickborne illnesses, although Lyme disease is the most well-known. Only your doctor, through diagnostic testing, will be able to determine what you might have and the best way to treat it.
There are many popular methods for removing a tick that are not safe— including burning it, smothering it, or spraying it with something it doesn’t like. All of these methods make the tick decide to leave, and when it backs out under its own volition, you’re in the most danger of contracting a disease.
READING SUGGESTED Caudill, Extreme Wilderness Survival. Graham, Outdoor Leadership. Kick, Desperate Steps. Renner, Mountain Weather. Smith, Backcountry Bear Basics. Tremper, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.
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WEATHER FORECASTING AND MOON PHASES Severe weather is one of the greatest hazards in the backcountry, but you can manage it by paying attention to the forecast and to your surroundings.
KEEPING AN EYE ON THE SKY
You should check the forecast and the radar before heading outdoors. If you’ll be out for more than a day, consider bringing a smartphone with weather apps, a weather radio, or a satellite communication device that can receive weather reports. If you’re about to start an open-water crossing or a hike for a summit, check the most recent forecast. Even if you have access to a professionally issued weather forecast, you should learn to recognize general patterns and know what type of weather they might bring, how quickly it will arrive, and how long it might stay. This will be helpful not only if your technology should fail you, but also if the conditions in your immediate area differ from the conditions at large. A basic understanding of what makes weather will help you make your own forecasts. Clouds are formed when air rises. As it rises, it cools, and the water vapor in it condenses. There are three main causes of air rising: ○○ Air bumps up against a mountain and has to go up and over it. As it climbs up the slope, it cools, and clouds form on the upwind side of the mountain. ○○ If the sun heats up the ground over the course of the day, air will rise, often forming thunderheads in the afternoon. This is local convection. ○○ Two air masses—air with similar temperature and humidity— meet, forming a front, which can cover hundreds of miles.
For the backcountry enthusiast with only minimal tools for forecasting, there are really only two types of fronts that you can predict based on your observations: a cold front and a warm front. ○○ A warm front is where a warm air mass runs into a cold air mass and slowly pushes the colder air out of its way. If you were standing at the leading edge of a warm front and looked up, you would see high, wispy cirrus clouds. As the front continued its slow march, the clouds would get lower and thicker—the stratus
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clouds that layer across the entire sky. As the front continued to move and lower, you might eventually see nimbus clouds— the heavy, dark rain clouds that let you know you’re about to get soaked. Or, if you’re lucky, it could be only a weak warm front, which might dissipate after only threatening rain. The precipitation associated with warm fronts is usually steady but not violent. It can take several days for a warm front to pass a given location, but it’s not likely to make you significantly alter your route. ○○ A cold front occurs when cold, dense air runs into warm, lessdense air and bulldozes underneath the warm air, moving quickly and shoving the warm air up and out of its way, with the front sometimes moving as quickly as 20 miles per hour or more. As the warm air gets aggressively lifted, it turns into thunderheads, often with the classic anvil shape. Cold fronts can be violent—sometimes with thunderstorms, hail, squalls, and even tornadoes. The temperature can also drop significantly in the course of just a few minutes. But the band of precipitation in a cold front is usually narrower than that in a warm front, so it’s more likely to pass by quickly and then clear up. Whereas a warm front might not impact your itinerary much, an impending cold front is a good reason to alter plans.
As any front passes—whether warm or cold—the clouds will start to break up, and the precipitation will start to clear. The wind will shift, and the atmospheric pressure will rise. After the front passes, you might consider resuming whatever activity you were doing before, but continue to keep an eye on the skies. Be especially alert after a warm front passes, because a cold front often follows, although the timing would be impossible to predict in the backcountry. There are two other types of fronts: stationary and occluded. Because you can’t simply read the clouds ahead of their arrival, predicting these is more in the realm of the professional meteorologist than the backcountry enthusiast. ○○ A stationary front is where the battle line between the two air masses stalls in one spot. If you find yourself in a downpour that just never seems to end, you might be under a stationary front. In
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that case, keep an eye out for flooding, and be prepared to move to higher ground if necessary. ○○ In an occluded front, a fast-moving cold front sneaks up on and overtakes a slow-moving warm front. The rain of the warm front can block from view the thunderheads of the approaching cold front, so you won’t know the cold front is coming until the first crack of thunder. In addition to keeping an eye on the clouds, another way to predict what weather might be coming your way in the backcountry is a sudden shift in the direction of the wind or the temperature of the air. And if you notice signs of low atmospheric pressure, unstable weather— and precipitation—could be on its way. During low pressure, smoke from a campfire or a chimney will swirl back down toward the ground, rather than rising straight up. Also, insects will fly lower to the ground, and fish may feed enthusiastically.
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Thunder is nature’s wake-up call, telling you to find shelter, and lightning is one of the most dangerous things you’ll encounter in the outdoors. Without a modern building over your head, lightning can be deadly; there simply is no safe place outside during an electrical storm. This is why it’s important to check the forecast before heading out and alter your plans if thunderstorms are predicted. But if you spend enough time outdoors, you will eventually get caught in a thunderstorm. There are some things you can do to reduce your risk of being injured. If you can get into a modern building, that would be best. Inside a car would be second best, as the metal of the frame directs the electric current around you and into the ground.
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Counting the seconds between the flash of lightning and the crack of thunder can give you a reliable indicator of how far away the storm is: Every five seconds equals a mile of distance between you and the strike. When the strikes are five miles away (25 seconds between flash and bang), you should be actively trying to get to a safer location. When the strikes are three miles away (15 seconds between flash and bang), if you’ve made it to a safer place, you should assume the lightning position. If you’re still in an exposed location, you should keep moving toward a less objectionable spot.
If a building or car is not available, make sure you’re not in a highrisk location, such as a high peak or an exposed ridge. You don’t want to be the highest point around—for example, in a boat or in the middle of a field—or next to something that is the highest thing around, like an especially tall tree or a cliff face.
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Picnic shelters, porches, underpasses, overhangs, and shallow caves are also dangerous spots. If lightning hits the roof of one of these, it could jump to you as it tries to find its most direct path to the ground. Because metal conducts electricity, sitting on a train track is a bad idea, but wet rope is also a good electrical conductor, so swinging in a hammock or being roped into a climb are similarly bad. Once you get away from these highrisk areas, look for a less objectionable place to ride out the storm. Options could be a deep gully, a ravine, or a forest where the trees are all of similar height; just make sure you’re not sitting on the roots of a large tree.
Ground current contributes to half of all lightning deaths.
Once you’ve found a less risky place to ride out the storm, your next task is to try to further reduce the likelihood that you’ll be injured by electrical current. There are two ways to do this—and you’ll want to do both, if possible. ○○ Keep your feet close together and avoid touching the ground with other parts of your body if you can. This will help protect you from ground current, should lightning strike the ground near you. If you’re asleep in your tent when a lightning storm arrives, you should at least sit up and pull your feet in close to your bottom. ○○ Crouch on a foam pad or life jacket with your feet close together—often called the lightning position—to insulate you from the ground and make you less tall. If you find it difficult to hold this position, the next best position is sitting on your foam pad with your knees hugged tightly to your chest, your feet close together, and your hands off the ground.
A person who is lying down will receive a much greater shock from ground current than a person who is standing with his or her feet close together.
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If possible, spread out at least 20 feet from other people in your group. This will reduce the chance that all of you will be hit at the same time, leaving some people to do first aid on anyone who has been injured. If the strikes are very close, cover your ears with your hands to protect your hearing.
The odds are good of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) working on a victim of a lightning strike. And as a rescuer, it’s safe for you to touch the person; he or she doesn’t hold any electrical current after the strike.
Stay in the lightning position until you are confident that the storm has moved away from you. Listen for a general pattern of the strikes getting farther and farther away and no close strikes for quite some time. Remember that lines of thunderstorms can be very wide, and there can be strikes several miles in front of or behind the main line.
If you feel the hairs on your arms or the back of your neck stand up, see a faint blue glow on objects, hear a faint crackling sound, or smell ozone, quickly step away from any tall objects, spread out from others, and drop into the lightning position. You might have only seconds before a strike.
Even though your chances of encountering a tornado while you’re in the backcountry are quite low, if you’re in tornado country, it’s an especially good idea to have a weather radio or another device that can give you a professional forecast and weather alerts. Look for something to protect you from flying debris and to keep you from becoming airborne. If you can get inside a modern building, that’s better than being outside. If you’re at a campground, a cement outhouse would be a good option. If you’re in the wilderness, a low-lying depression on the ground might offer you some protection from the wind; just make sure it’s not a gully that might channel a flash flood. If you have a helmet, put it on; if not, protect your head with your arms.
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When it comes to flash floods, sometimes the water can rise even when your particular location hasn’t received any rain. Before making camp, make sure you know the topography of the land around you and, if you’re camping in a drainage, how far back the watershed reaches. If there’s a chance of rain, make your camp on high ground and make sure there are escape routes where you can hike to even higher ground if the water should start to rise.
TRACKING THE SUN AND MOON
Tracking the sun’s movement and the moon’s phases while you’re outdoors can let you know when you will have light for traveling or camp chores.
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At the end of a day, as the sun begins to sink toward the western horizon, you can estimate how much time remains before sunset by stretching your arm out toward the sun and, with a straight elbow and flexed wrist, measuring how many finger widths remain between the bottom of the sun and the horizon. Each finger width represents about 15 minutes of time before sunset. The moon, like all heavenly bodies, appears to rise in the east and set in the west. On the full moon, the moon is rising at the same time the sun is setting. A rough estimation is that the moon will rise about 50 minutes later each day, with the exact time varying by latitude and season. With a waxing moon, you’ll have moonlight immediately after the sun sets. With a waning moon, you’ll have increasing periods of darkness after sunset before the moon rises. If you’re not sure if the moon is waxing or waning, determine whether the part of the moon that is illuminated more closely resembles the round section of a d—in which case the moon is diminishing, or waning—or a b, in which case the moon is getting bigger, or waxing.
SUGGESTED READING Renner, Mountain Weather.
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INTRODUCTION TO NAVIGATION In the backcountry, relying exclusively on GPS (Global Positioning System) and mapping software, perhaps accessed through your phone, for navigation encourages you to mindlessly follow its arrow rather than actively build a mental model of your surroundings. Instead, you can learn how to navigate in the backcountry using a map, a compass, and your brain.
BASIC AWARENESS TRAINING: SLOWS
The foundation of navigating is learning to be aware of your surroundings. You need to develop the ability to use a variety of your senses to create a mental model of where you are. If you develop that skill first, you’ll be less likely to make an error when you start using maps and compasses. This basic awareness training involves noticing things like landmarks, prevailing wind, the direction of the sun and the length of the shadows, and even sounds and smells. It involves paying attention to how much time you’ve been walking and at what pace to get an idea of how far you’ve traveled. Techniques such as these are what allowed people before the advent of modern navigation tools to find their way. Humans are certainly capable of using these senses to navigate, but most people in the modern world haven’t spent much time or effort developing that skill. The good news is that practicing these skills is enjoyable; it involves taking a walk in a park. A good place to practice would be a public natural area with a variety of well-marked trails. To make sure you won’t get too lost, pick a place to practice that is not incredibly vast and that has clear boundaries on all sides. For your first practice hike, your learning objectives will be simply to start paying attention with all of your senses, practice building a mental model of your surroundings, and practice keeping track of your location within that model. On a later hike, you’ll work on estimating pace and distance traveled. Before you start, pick up or print a hiking brochure or a small map that shows the trails. As you would any time you venture into the outdoors, tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back and bring a communication device like a cell phone. Before leaving the trailhead, take a few moments to activate your other senses. The acronym SLOWS—sounds, landmarks, odors, wind, sun—will help you remember what to notice.
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○○ sounds: Listen for traffic sounds from nearby roads or highways, the crashing of waves, the roar of rapids, or noisy colonies of breeding birds. You might find that you naturally tilt your head to one side or another or rotate to the left or right as you try to get a fix on the sound. This is your natural instinct for locating the source of sounds. ○○ landmarks: Study the map to begin to build your mental model of the place where you’ll be walking. Notice the orientation of prominent features, such as a river or creek or a road or train track. Spend a few moments with your eyes closed trying to visualize the area; then, open your eyes and compare your mental map to the printed one. Next, look for landmarks that may be outside the area of your map but that you should be able to see for at least part of the time while you’re hiking, such as a highway, a distinctive hill or mountain, or a radio tower or fire lookout tower. ○○ odors: Are there people tending to a campfire or a charcoal grill? Is there a restaurant nearby with an exhaust fan pumping kitchen smells into the air? Is there a pine grove or a sage thicket? These smells can help guide you back to the trailhead. ○○ wind: Notice the direction of the wind. Because buildings, valleys, or other low features can influence the direction of ground-level wind, high clouds will be a more reliable indicator of the wind direction. Look to see what direction the high clouds are moving and then add that information to the mental model you’re building of the area. ○○ sun: Notice the location of the sun and the length of the shadows. Of course, the sun moves across the sky and its relative direction in relation to you will change over the course of hours, but it can tell you in a very general sense which direction is which. This can help you avoid walking 180 degrees in the wrong direction.
In the Northern Hemisphere, around noon the sun will be generally south, with shadows being their shortest. As the sun moves toward setting in a more westerly direction, shadows become longer.
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Now you’re ready to begin your hike and start practicing navigation using your senses and your general awareness of the land around you. If needed, take one more look at your map and then put it in your pocket and begin walking away from the trailhead. Although there might be many reasons you like walking—for exercise, to mull over a problem, or to catch up with a friend—this particular walk has a specific purpose: to practice awareness and navigation using your senses. This might mean that you need to walk more slowly than you might otherwise, force your attention to stay present, and avoid engaging in conversation. When you begin walking along the trail, note anything unusual—an oddly shaped rock, a strangely bent tree, an unusually strong
As a general rule, always have your map out while you’re hiking so that you can reference it continually. But for this particular exercise—the goal of which is to develop your less dominant senses and your ability to create a mental map—put the map away.
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odor, the sound of a creek tumbling over a steep drop—and add that landmark to your mental map.
Every few moments, stop and look behind you at the trail you just walked. A trail can look very different on the return trip, and it is smart to look backward occasionally so you can recognize certain features when you’re retracing your steps. As you walk, visualize your mental model as you move through it. Constantly update your mental model using all the data available to your senses. Can you still see your landmarks? Have you been walking in a constant direction, judging by the sun and the prevailing winds, or has the trail been arcing to one direction or bending back on itself? Can you still hear your reference sounds? You may need to stop walking and rescan to get a fix on your reference sounds or to discover new sounds. None of these data points on its own should be relied on to give you a solid idea of where you are; rather, each is another piece in the puzzle. What you’re hoping for is a consensus of all your available information. If you come to a trail junction or another obvious feature that will show up on your paper map, stop! This is a good opportunity to check how accurately you’re navigating by your senses. Visualize your mental model and place yourself in it. Use SLOWS. Next, point both to the direction you think is north and to the direction of the trailhead. Estimate how far you are from certain features and in which direction they lie. Then, pull out your paper map for a cross-reference. Hopefully, your location in your mental model agrees with the paper map, but if it doesn’t, that’s OK. You’re out there to learn, and this is good feedback. Take a moment to reflect on where you went wrong. Eventually, begin to retrace your steps back toward the trailhead. See if you can recognize the features you noticed when you stopped to look behind you on the hike in.
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If you’ve been hiking for more than an hour, try to notice the changing location of the sun and the changing lengths of the shadows. See if you can anticipate your arrival at the trailhead before you’re able to see it by noticing any sounds or smells. When you get back to the trailhead, congratulate yourself on taking the first step toward effective navigation: developing an awareness of your surroundings and beginning to use more of your senses to tell you where you are.
ESTIMATING DISTANCE TRAVELED
You can use a GPS, including the one built into your phone or watch, to get a very accurate measurement of how far you’ve traveled, but there are good reasons to learn to navigate without a GPS: They can fail to work properly when you need them, without them you tend to be more aware and can build a better mental model of your surroundings, and sometimes you just don’t have your GPS with you and need to calculate distance. Two ways to calculate distance are counting paces and measuring elapsed time.
Björn Kjellström provides a thorough description of both methods of estimating distance traveled in Be Expert with Map & Compass.
○○ If you’re calculating distances in miles, counting paces is the easiest method to remember, as a mile is based on 1,000 paces (for the average Roman soldier). If you’re using the metric system, each kilometer is 625 paces. A pace is defined as two steps, a right and a left. To measure distances using paces, count every time you plant your right foot. If you want to be more precise with this method, you can figure out the actual distance of your pace by measuring a 200-foot-long stretch of pavement using a measuring tape. Count your paces as you walk there and back, using your normal stride. Divide the distance walked, which is 400 feet, by the number of paces.
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The word mile comes from the Latin mille, meaning “one thousand.”
○○ The other method involves measuring elapsed time and knowing about how quickly you walk in a given type of terrain. To begin to get a feel for your normal hiking speed, each time you go out for a hike, take note of the time you leave the trailhead and the time you reach a To help you known location on the map, such as a trail junction or a campsite. Calculate keep track when the distance you’ve traveled on the map counting paces, and then divide it by the time it took you put 10 small to get there. To get the most accurate pebbles in one results, make multiple checks as you pocket and move begin any new hike. one pebble to the other pocket each The elapsed time method outsources time you reach the task of counting to your watch, but counting paces can be more accurate for 100 paces. When short distances, where you need to be all 10 pebbles very precise, or for off-trail travel, where have moved to it’s difficult to maintain a constant speed. the other pocket, Become comfortable with both methods. you’ve walked about one mile.
Caudill, Extreme Wilderness Survival. Caudill and Trimble, Essential Wilderness Navigation.
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NAVIGATING WITH TOPOGRAPHIC MAPS Topographic maps may be intimidating to read at first, but with some practice, the topographic lines will transform in your mind into ridges, peaks, valleys, and canyons.
HOW TO READ CONTOUR LINES
On most topographic maps, the topographic contour lines are printed in brown. Each line follows a particular elevation above sea level. One way to conceptualize this is to visualize the sea rising 20 feet, for example. The new shoreline would be at the 20-foot contour line. When contour lines make concentric circles, you know that is the top of a hill. When the lines are shaped like a bunch of u’s stacked inside each other, it is a ridge, with the round part of the u pointing downhill. When they are shaped like a bunch of v’s stacked inside each other, it is a drainage, and the v’s are pointing uphill. When contour lines are spread out from each other, the land is relatively flat. When they’re crowded together, the land is steep. And when they merge, it’s a cliff.
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HOW TO CHOOSE A MAP FOR AN ADVENTURE
There are numerous companies and organizations that produce topographic maps, so any time you open a new map, it’s worth checking the details in the key, or legend, because it may be different from other maps you’ve used. The key will show you the symbols and colors used to denote different features. It will also tell you the scale, the date the map was last updated, the datum, the contour interval, the north arrow, the magnetic declination, and the names of adjoining maps. The scale will tell you the relationship between a given distance on the map and the corresponding distance in the real world. It’s often given as a ratio—for example, 1:24,000—or as a ruler divided into miles and fractions of miles (or kilometers), or as both. In a Topographic maps of 1:24,000 scale map, one inch on the the United States were map represents 24,000 inches in the real first made in 1927 by world, which is 2,000 feet, or about twosurveyors on foot, and fifths of a mile. 2,000 feet was an easy distance for them to The amount of detail you can see in measure. That legacy a 1:24,000 map will be much greater continues to today, than what you’d be able to see on a and many of our maps 1:250,000 scale map, where one inch retain this scale. equals four miles. The sheets of paper are the same size for these two maps, but the 1:24,000 map will show only around 50 or 60 square miles of terrain, whereas the 1:250,000 map will show around 7,000 or 8,000 square miles. With the 1:24,000 map, your view is like being in a hot-air balloon; with the 1:250,000 map, your view is like being in a commercial airliner. While you’re planning a trip from your kitchen table, a 1:250,000 scale map would be very useful. It would help you decide which general route you’d like to hike to see the best sights and where to leave your car to pick up a week later. But for intricate navigational decisions while you’re exploring outdoors, you’re much better off with the 1:24,000 map.
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Maps come in any number of scales. Check the scale and select a map with a scale that will be appropriate for how you want to use it. The map key will also tell you the date the map was last updated. The United States Geological Survey stopped updating its topographic maps in the 1990s, and in stores you can still find maps that were last updated in the 1950s. If you’re using the map only to see landforms, an old map is probably still fine, but if you’re using it to see human-made features, it’s probably out of date. Companies that make recreational maps update their maps regularly, but it’s still a good idea to check the date. If you’re going to be using GPS waypoints or latitude and longitude coordinates from a guidebook, it’s also important to check the map’s datum to see if it’s the same datum used by your GPS or guidebook. The datum is the underlying mathematical model of the shape of the earth that a map uses to determine coordinates of any given place. Many recreational maps, even recently published ones, use the North American Datum of 1927 (NAD27). Back then, surveyors calculated the coordinates of any given place based on how far it was from Meades Ranch, Kansas. But almost all GPS units, by default, use a different datum, the World Geodetic System from 1984 (WGS84). It calculates the coordinates of any given place based on how far it is from the center of the earth. So, your GPS coordinates might agree with your map, or they might be significantly different; luckily, you can change the settings on your GPS so that it uses the same datum as your map. Next, check the contour interval—the difference in elevation between one contour line and the next. In areas that are very flat, it may be as little as five feet. And in very steep areas, it could be 40 feet. If you’re used to reading a map with a small contour interval and you switch to a map with a large contour interval, you may not realize just how steep the terrain is. Then, check the map’s north arrow. Most maps have true north at the top—but not always, so it’s good to check. Some maps are oriented to grid north instead of true north. If your map is oriented
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to grid north, it will likely show the difference between true north and grid north on the north arrow.
True north and grid north are just two different ways of projecting the round surface of the earth onto the flat map. In most places, the angle between the two is no more than a degree or two. For all practical purposes while backpacking, you can ignore the difference between grid north and true north. Compasses aren’t precise enough to have that one degree make a difference. The final thing to check on your map is the magnetic declination for the area. Declination is the angle between true north and where your compass needle points. The earth has two north poles: the geographic north pole and the magnetic north pole. Maps are generally oriented to the geographic north pole, or true north—the point from which lines of longitude emanate. But compasses point to the magnetic north pole, which migrates from year to year but is generally in the Canadian Arctic north of Hudson Bay.
To compensate for declination when you’re orienting your map, rotate the bezel until the orienting arrow is at the correct declination, or angle, relative to true north. • If you’re on the West Coast of the United States and have east declination, you’ll move the orienting arrow toward the east on the compass bezel. This has the effect of subtracting degrees from your bearing. You can use the mnemonic device “declination east, compass least” to remember that you subtract the declination. • If you’re on the East Coast of the United States and have west declination, you’ll move the orienting arrow toward the west on the compass bezel. This has the effect of adding degrees to your bearing. You can use the mnemonic device “declination west, compass best” to remember that you add the declination (adding is positive, and so is “best.”
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A good map should tell you the magnetic declination for your area as well as what year it was calculated. If the declination is more than a few years old, you should look up the current declination. Depending on where you are, declination can change significantly over time. Your map will be most helpful to you if you always have it out while you’re traveling and you consistently track your course on it. If you put your map in your pack and hike for an hour and then pull it back out and try to figure out where you are, it’s potentially going to be difficult. Ask yourself as you travel what you expect to see and then confirm that you see it. This way, you can catch any mistakes when they happen and retrace your steps to avoid following the wrong trail for too long.
HOW TO USE A COMPASS
While it is possible to navigate well with only a topographic map, adding a compass will make it easier. The most basic way to use a
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compass with a map is to use the compass to help you orient the map to the real world.
In a place with no magnetic declination and with a map where true north is at the top of the map, this is as simple as placing the side of the compass along the edge of the map. Make sure both the direction-of-travel arrow and the orienting arrow are pointing at north. Then, rotate the map with the compass sitting on it until the magnetic needle spins into the center of the orienting arrow. As you hike, you can keep your map oriented by folding it to a manageable size and holding your compass and map in the same hand. Keep the side of the compass lined up with the side of the map. Keep the direction-of-travel arrow pointing to north on the map and then rotate the entire package—map and compass—as you walk to keep the magnetic needle inside the orienting arrow. When you have your map and compass in your hand the entire time you’re hiking and you work on keeping the map oriented to the real world as you walk, you’ll have many pieces to add to the navigation puzzle. In addition to paying attention to the landforms around you, you’ll know which cardinal directions you’ve been walking. On a trail with a variety of turns or on a meandering river, this can help you pinpoint your location.
READING SUGGESTED Caudill and Trimble, Essential Wilderness Navigation.
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ASSESSING AND MANAGING RISK IN THE OUTDOORS When you venture into the backcountry, outside help might be slow to arrive—or even unavailable. This isn’t a reason to be unduly afraid or to avoid going to wild areas, but it is a reason to adopt a more mindful and cautious approach to risk management than you might use in the frontcountry.
THE RISK-MATRIX MODEL A matrix with the likelihood of an accident or incident on the x-axis and the severity of the potential loss on the y-axis can roughly be divided into four quadrants: accidents that are not very likely and would not be very severe if they were to happen, accidents that are quite likely but not very severe, accidents that are potentially very severe but not very likely, and accidents that would be very severe and could be considered to be quite likely.
From a risk-management perspective, the easiest quadrant to consider is the high-severity/high-likelihood quadrant. Actions that fall into this quadrant are dangerous and should be avoided. An example of this kind of risk would be storing your food inside your tent while sleeping in grizzly bear country. The other quadrants pose more interesting questions about risk management. Consider the high-severity/low-likelihood quadrant. Examples of common backcountry risks from this quadrant include paddling a canoe on a large body of water and hiking along a cliff edge. In each case, the possibility exists for a severe loss—a high-
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consequence accident or incident. But there are actions you can take to minimize either the likelihood or the severity of an incident, and once you’ve managed those risks, you can then decide whether or not you are OK Different people with engaging in the activity. will make different decisions about In the remaining two quadrants, the severity how to manage a of the potential loss is low. In the highrisk, depending on likelihood/low-severity quadrant are risks their personal level like getting a blister from new shoes. In the of risk tolerance. low-likelihood/low-severity quadrant are risks like turning an ankle while walking. In the frontcountry, people tend to not pay much attention to managing the risks in either of these two quadrants because the
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consequences of an incident are so small. In the backcountry, however, these two low-severity quadrants deserve more attention from a risk-management perspective, as even minor incidents can have cascading impacts. A blister on an extended backcountry trip could get infected and become a more serious medical issue. A turned ankle, miles from the trailhead, could slow you down enough that you don’t make it back before dark.
The good news is that simple risk-management decisions can minimize the risks. For example, you can reduce the risk posed by blisters by taking the time to break in new boots and by stopping to address hot spots when you first notice them—before they have a chance to turn into blisters. And you can further reduce the risk of turning an ankle by paying attention while walking on uneven terrain, using a walking stick, and choosing boots with good ankle support. The approaches to dealing with the two high-severity quadrants— either avoiding them completely or consciously and deliberately managing the risks—will be generally the same in the backcountry as they are in the frontcountry. But for most people, successfully managing the risks in the lowseverity quadrants requires a change in attitude and behavior when entering the backcountry. If you carry your frontcountry nonchalance about these low-severity risks into the backcountry, you can find yourself paying for it. By taking an extra few moments to avoid even seemingly small incidents or injuries, you maintain your ability to complete your trip in good health. Being able to use this risk-matrix model to assess and manage risk relies on the ability to accurately judge both the severity and the likelihood of risks. Many beginners in outdoor pursuits misjudge risks. Some people overestimate how dangerous it is in wildlands, and that keeps them from trying things they would enjoy; other people underestimate the risks in a certain activity, and this can get them in trouble. You can’t appropriately manage a risk if you don’t understand its likelihood and severity. If you’re going to get into a technical outdoor pursuit—a pursuit that involves a high level of objective
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Ironically, safety training might make you less safe by making you overly confident.
risk, such as water that is cold or fast or terrain that is vertical or slippery—educate yourself first about the risks. You can do this by taking a course with a certified provider, joining a club with a strong focus on developing skills, or even reading books, including ones that feature accident reports so that you can learn from others’ mistakes.
In addition to understanding the likelihood and severity of risks, making a decision about risk management using this matrix requires you to know if your strategies for managing the risks are effective. If you overestimate how effective your safety systems will be, you might think you’ve appropriately managed a risk when you haven’t, and this might encourage you to take a larger risk than you actually should. This is a phenomenon called risk homeostasis, and it was first described by a leading researcher in the psychology of risk-taking, Gerald Wilde, who believes that everyone has a target level of risk they want to maintain. Risk homeostasis explains the surprising fact that accident rates don’t decrease when curvy mountain roads are straightened or bright reflectors are added on dark highways. People respond by driving more quickly or paying less attention.
People can overestimate the effectiveness of their safety systems and take bigger risks than they should because of the overconfidence that comes with an electronic communication device, such as a cell phone or a satellite beacon. From a risk-management perspective, you should bring your communication device with you but completely forget about its existence when you’re trying to decide whether to take a risk. If you’d be happy taking the risk knowing that no one would come to your aid if something went wrong, then it’s probably an OK risk.
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THE DOMINOES MODEL
Picture a line of dominoes stacked closely enough together that if one should fall, they would all be knocked down. The dominoes represent risk factors—whether environmental, equipment-related, personal, or interpersonal. As more and more dominoes stack up, the potential increases for a serious incident. A cold rain, for example, isn’t likely on its own to cause a problem for a pair of hikers who are properly clothed, satiated, and hydrated, but throw in leaky rain gear, cotton sweatshirts, hunger, and dehydration and the stage is set for an incident. In this model, your goal as a manager of risk is to be aware of when too many dominoes start to stack up and take action to lower the risk of them toppling over.
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Noticing dominoes, or risks, seems easy. Most people believe they are observant and can accurately perceive the world around them. However, humans are not nearly as keen and accurate observers as we think we are. This overestimation of our abilities to read our environment can lead us to be overconfident or to miss cues. You would be overwhelmed if you paid attention to all the information coming through your senses; instead, you filter sensory inputs to screen out anything you believe is not relevant to you. These choices about what is relevant occur at a subconscious level based on your mental model of the world—which is informed by what narrative you are using to make sense of the situation, what you expect to see, what is important to you at the moment, who you are, and what past experiences you’ve had. When you construct mental models, you simplify complexity. These mental models determine what you see and can lead you to miss important details. The concept of selective attention describes how you see what you expect to see. It could mean that in a state park campground—a site that is regularly inspected and is expected to be safe—you may not notice a large dead tree leaning over your tent because you are not expecting to see anything that is dangerous. A related concept, the proofreader’s error, describes how, especially when you’re an expert at something, like reading, you don’t actually look at each part of what you’re seeing—instead, you skim. This is why you can fail to see misspellings or missing or repeated words. In an outdoor setting, proofreader’s error could take the form of failing to see a log jammed in the bottom of a whitewater drop that you’ve paddled frequently. The conscious processing centers of your brain can deal with only a handful of items at a time. This means that if your attention is focused somewhere else, you will fail to notice things that you really should. This inattentional blindness can explain how a canoeist who is daydreaming can canoe past a take-out he or she has used many times before and that is marked with a large sign and a gravel ramp.
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The closely related concept of change blindness describes how you can fail to notice large changes in your environment if your attention is focused elsewhere. Change blindness can explain how a mountaineer focused on group dynamics and technical systems can fail to see severe weather building in the distance. Despite how limited human perception actually is, many people believe that they are attentive to and aware of their surroundings. Most people think they are above average in their judgment and abilities. Many people suffer from what psychologists refer to as an illusion of control, which has been demonstrated in experiments where subjects report believing that with practice, they would be able to influence the results of a coin flip with their minds. In outdoor adventure pursuits, people can be even more susceptible to this illusion of control because the dominant narrative is one of overcoming challenges through perseverance, focus, and selfdiscipline. Of course, the storm or the rockslide is indifferent to you and immune to your efforts to control it. You need to remind yourself that you are limited in your perceptive and cognitive abilities and that you cannot control your environment. Even though humans are very limited in the ability to accurately perceive the world and to make decisions about complex issues, there are some things you can do to reduce errors and accidents. You can try to remain humble and notice if you’re feeling overly confident. You can remind yourself that you’re probably failing to notice some dominoes that are stacking up, and you can ask yourself to look a second time at the situation. These fresh eyes will help you be less likely to suffer from selective attention. You can ask someone else to double-check your safety decisions so that you’re less likely to be caught by the proofreader’s error. You can notice when your attention is somewhere else and consciously refocus on the present so that you’re less susceptible to inattentional blindness or change blindness.
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This humility will also help you be more conservative in your use of the risk matrix. And in the backcountry, where outside help might be unavailable or slow to arrive, humility and conservative riskmanagement decisions can help keep your adventures safe.
READING SUGGESTED Caudill, Extreme Wilderness Survival. Cunningham, Sea Kayaker’s More Deep Trouble. Damasio, Descartes’ Error. Ghiglieri and Myers, Over the Edge. Gonzales, Deep Survival. Graham, Outdoor Leadership. Hallinan, Why We Make Mistakes. Kick, Desperate Steps. Tremper, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. Wilde, Target Risk 2.
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HOW EMOTIONS AFFECT YOUR DECISION MAKING Humans aren’t purely logical and rational, so a conscious weighing of the severity and likelihood of a risk is only a small part of how we make decisions. We also use emotions, memories, images, social cues, and learned patterns.
THE EMOTIONAL PART OF THE BRAIN
Knowing why you’re feeling like doing something can help you better assess whether it’s a good risk to take. This is the work of the emotional part of your brain—the limbic system. It’s not tied to logic; it’s tasked only with identifying threats and rewards. It is evolutionarily primitive, strong, fast, and difficult to ignore. It may be tempting for you to try to suppress the emotional part of your brain. After all, Western culture tends to glorify logic and shun the irrational. But not only is it impossible to fully ignore your limbic system; it isn’t desirable. Using the patterns it has learned, your limbic system predicts pretty well how things will turn out and guides you with gut instinct. Where it can get you in trouble is where the patterns it has learned no longer apply; the outdoors is not like the built environment where you spend most of your life. The assumption that humans decide in logical and rational ways— that we think rather than feel—is erroneous. The emotional part of the brain is powerful, and it will force a decision unless the logical
There are scores of accident reports of visitors to the Grand Canyon accidentally falling thousands of feet to their deaths because their actions were guided by their limbic system, which makes them feel like sitting on the edge with their feet dangling over. These accidents happen despite warnings posted on signs, handed out in brochures, and reiterated by park rangers and tour guides.
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part intervenes. But the logical part of the brain is weak and easily overpowered by the emotional part.
For example, many of the people who are caught in avalanches while skiing in the backcountry have taken training courses in avalanche awareness and safety; some even teach these safety courses or work as avalanche forecasters. Yet they decide to ski despite clear warning signs. To understand how they could decide to take this risk despite knowing about the risk, you have to factor in emotions. Most people who survive a terrifying ride in an avalanche change the way they approach that risk going forward. Some stop backcountry skiing. Others continue but become more cautious in their decisions. Is there any hope for you to be able to make good backcountry risk-management decisions the first time, without having to survive a harrowing near-death experience? ○○ You can sign up for outdoor training where you get to experience something that will cause you to feel fear but in a safe, controlled way. For example, taking a course in whitewater canoeing might involve swimming down a short section of whitewater where you’ll be able to experience the power of the water but where reasonable safety systems have been set up to protect you. After such an experience, you might find that you’re better able to decide whether you should paddle or portage around any given rapid. ○○ You can also help your limbic system learn by exposing it to stories of other people’s mistakes. But for it to be your limbic system that is learning, the stories have to produce an emotional, physical response in you. So, reading a technical, dry report of an accident won’t do. You also don’t want to be producing more fear than is warranted, so steer away from Hollywood wilderness survival films or sensationalized survival TV shows that overhype incidents. But finding good documentaries, podcasts, or books about true outdoor incidents can help your limbic system
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learn patterns that will help it help you make good decisions in the backcountry. ○○ Reading accounts of other people’s outdoor misfortunes can also help your neocortex—the logical part of the brain—learn to recognize and understand the emotional factors that go into human decision making. This might give it a better chance of recognizing when the instinctual action being suggested by the limbic system might not be the best idea. But for this to work, you have to read accident reports not with an aim to judge, but rather with an aim to understand. You have to avoid hindsight bias, which, because you know how the story ends, makes the right choice seem obvious. You have to try to figure out what they were feeling. It’s likely they were feeling OK about their decision because of the presence of one or more heuristic traps.
HEURISTIC TRAPS: FACETS
Heuristics are decision-making shortcuts that the limbic system uses to weigh risks and rewards. They work well with routine tasks in predictable settings, so you’ve come to rely on them for most decision making where you don’t have the time or expertise to consider all the data. Heuristics become a trap when the situation is new or unique and the old patterns no longer apply. Recognizing heuristic traps can give you a chance of avoiding them. The acronym FACETS can help you remember the heuristics that are most likely to trap you in the backcountry. This acronym was coined by researchers who study human factors in avalanche accidents and was built from research in social psychology. ○○ familiarity: You tend to feel more comfortable and safer in places you know. And when you’re in a place that you know, you tend to rely on your past experiences in these places to guide your current actions. This saves you
Backcountry skiers take significantly more risks in familiar terrain.
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all the work of making new decisions from scratch every time. In the frontcountry, where life is more structured, this usually works for you. You may drive a certain route home because you know it usually has less traffic. But in the backcountry, the same location could have much different dangers from one day to the next, depending on the conditions. ○○ acceptance: Humans are social animals and are taught from a very young age to do things that gain them acceptance from others. In normal day-to-day life, this desire to be accepted is usually beneficial, but in the backcountry, some of the same skills you employ to be socially successful can backfire. If you’re focused more on what people think of you than on what you need to do to keep yourself safe, this heuristic can become a trap—encouraging you to follow your friends farther and farther down the river, even though you know you don’t have the paddling skills. ○○ consistency: It’s easier for you, cognitively and emotionally, to stick with a decision once you’ve made it. That way, you don’t have to stop to consider every new piece of information, and you don’t have to appear to be indecisive. When the situation Practice making is largely the same, staying the contingency plans. Do course is usually a good idea. this from the comfort of But the consistency heuristic your home; spread out becomes a trap when conditions the maps and think about change or when critical new what options you might information presents itself but have if things go wrong. you doggedly stick to the plan. ○○ expert: Society has standards and structures that help assure you that certain professionals—such as doctors, scientists, and financial advisors—have certain skills. But in the backcountry, in groups without a professional guide, a de facto leader often emerges who might not have any more knowledge or skill about the situation than the rest of the group. The leader may just be the person with the biggest personality or the highest social status. But the expert heuristic makes you feel that you should trust
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that person’s judgment, and it encourages you to ascribe skills and knowledge to the person that he or she might not possess. Groups of inexperienced people in the backcountry would be safer if they made decisions by consensus rather than following an inexperienced leader.
Groups of inexperienced backcountry skiers that make decisions by consensus expose themselves to far fewer avalanche dangers than groups where a de facto leader emerges.
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○○ tracks (as in the desire to be the one to get the first tracks down on fresh snow): This heuristic tells you that if there is a low supply but a high demand for something, it must be a good investment. It certainly works in the market. But in the backcountry, just because something is prized doesn’t mean going for it will turn out well for you. Backcountry skiers are more likely to ski a potentially unstable slope if they can see other people climbing behind them who they think might get the first tracks if they don’t. This scarcity heuristic becomes a trap when your desire to get the prize makes you ignore risks. ○○ social facilitation: The mere presence of other people, regardless of their skill level, can influence your risk-taking behavior. This heuristic is interesting because it doesn’t always work in the same direction: If you are confident in your skills, the presence of other people around you makes you more likely to take risks, but if you are not confident in your skills, the presence of others might make you less likely to take a risk.
MANAGING RISK IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
Now that you know about the emotional part of the brain and how it decides, be on the lookout for its influence. When you feel that you want to do something risky, stop and ask yourself why you feel that way. Are you inadvertently taking patterns you’ve learned from the frontcountry and using them to guide your decisions in the backcountry? Do you need to revisit your initial assessment? Once you’ve done that, practice thinking negatively. Humans have an optimism bias and tend to visualize everything turning out OK. This makes it very difficult to accurately judge the likelihood or severity of an incident. To help you think negatively, when you’re considering whether or not to take a risk, visualize the news headlines if it were to go badly. Finally, make sure that you are rested, satiated, hydrated, and appropriately warm. The logical, executive part of our brain is very sensitive to sleep deprivation, dehydration, low blood sugar, and temperature challenges. It doesn’t take much to impair our
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judgment. If you’re about to make a difficult decision about risk, first eat a granola bar, drink some water, and check your shivering. If you’re tired, get some sleep and then revisit the decision in the morning.
At the very foundation of risk management in the backcountry is the need to be conservative. Remember, you’re far from the societal safety net.
READING SUGGESTED Caudill, Extreme Wilderness Survival. Cunningham, Sea Kayaker’s More Deep Trouble. Damasio, Descartes’ Error. Ghiglieri and Myers, Over the Edge. Gonzales, Deep Survival. Graham, Outdoor Leadership. Hallinan, Why We Make Mistakes. Kick, Desperate Steps. Tremper, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. Wilde, Target Risk 2.
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SELECTING A CAMPSITE AND PITCHING SHELTER Setting up a campsite is a cross between building a fort, like you did as a kid, and designing your dream house, except it won’t take months and you won’t have to deal with contractors.
CHOOSING A CAMPSITE
Some backcountry areas require you to camp only in designated areas. Others allow you to camp anywhere. Others have a combination of designated sites and zones where dispersed camping is either allowed or not. Check the regulations If you’re going to camp somewhere that in your destination. is not a designated site, make sure you practice additional minimum-impact When you arrive at a camping techniques so that after you potential campsite, the leave, others won’t be able to tell that first thing you’ll want to you camped there. check is whether or not
it is safe. Just because it may be a designated site doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. For example, it might have a large dead tree leaning over it. Also look for signs of recent rock fall, avalanches, or flash floods, depending on the terrain. And do your best to determine if the site will be sheltered from any oncoming severe weather.
After safety, consider comfort and convenience. Are you in an area with a lot of biting insects that will likely come out at dusk? If so, see if you can find a spot with a light breeze. Is it easy to get water? Once you decide where to camp, spend a few moments visualizing what you’d like in which spot. ○○ Think about traffic flow. Site the kitchen out of the way so that people won’t need to walk through it for any reason. Don’t string a hammock right in the walkway between the tent and the outhouse. And don’t pitch the tent downwind of the fire pit. ○○ Which spots will have afternoon sun or morning sun? If it’s summer and you’re hoping to sleep late, don’t pitch your tent somewhere where the morning sun will cook you out of your slumber. If it’s winter and you know you’ll need the extra warmth to motivate you to get out of your sleeping bag, consider a spot with a clear line of sight to the east.
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○○ What happens if it rains a lot? Is your potential tent location in a depression that will turn into a little lake? Is it directly at the bottom of a hill that will funnel rain runoff into a river that will soak you?
SETTING UP CAMP
Once you decide what will go where, empty your pack and put all the kitchen items in the kitchen; otherwise, you’ll spend half your time cooking trying to find things. Next, set up your tent. Get the tent set up early in case it starts raining later, and get your sleeping pads and sleeping bag safely inside, where they’ll be dry and can start to loft. Just don’t set up your sleeping bag early if you’re not using a tent or a bivy bag that zips closed. Snakes have been known to crawl into sleeping bags that are left unattended. Make sure to stake your tent out to its full size and to stake the rain fly out beyond the edges of the tent. A tent that is not staked out to its full dimensions will sag in rain and might accumulate puddles on top, which will eventually leak through. Also, if the rain fly isn’t staked out beyond the edges of the tent, any rain that runs down the fly will end up on the body of the tent, getting you wet. If you’re using a groundsheet, make sure its edges are tucked fully under the floor of the tent; groundsheets that extend out beyond the floor will catch water and direct it under your tent, trapping it there. If your tent has a shape other than a perfect dome, it probably will handle wind better from a particular direction. If you’re anticipating wind, make sure you orient your tent to catch the least amount of wind as possible. Even if you’re not using a rain fly, make sure your tent is staked out well. Freestanding tents are basically box kites, and with a strong gust of wind, even with your sleeping bag and extra clothes inside, they can blow away faster than you can chase them. If you’re not able to get stakes to go into the ground, you can tie the tent’s stake-out points to heavy logs or rocks.
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If there’s a chance of rain, you might also want to set up a tarp. This can be a dry place for cooking, socializing, and storing gear. To set up a tarp for shelter, first pick two sturdy trees where you can attach the ridgeline. Attach the first end of the ridgeline to a tree using a tensionless knot, also called a no-knot, because there really is no knot: You’re just wrapping the rope around the tree enough times that the friction of the rope on the tree bark is enough to hold the rope in place. After you’ve wrapped the rope around the tree a few times, you can just tuck in the end or tie it loosely around the standing part of the rope. For the other end of the ridgeline, use a trucker’s hitch. This knot is adjustable, can make the rope very taut, and is secure—it won’t slip under tension. The trucker’s hitch gives you the mechanical advantage of a pulley.
For detailed instruction on knots, consult the video lecture.
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Once you have the ridgeline taut, pull the corner lines out and secure them. Ideally, you’ll want the corner lines to pull equally on both sides of the corner. Imagine a line bisecting the corner of the tarp and extending out, away from the tarp. In a perfect world, there is always a tree in the exact right spot. You can use the trucker’s hitch again on the four corners. If you’d like to give the corner of the tarp more height, you can slip the rope around a stick using a clove hitch.
If, for one of your tarp corners, there is not a tree in the perfect location to be an anchor, you can bring the rope down to a stake, or a rock, or a large log. Or sometimes there are two trees, each one just slightly off to one side of ideal. You can run your rope around both of them and then tie the trucker’s hitch through the tab on the corner of the tarp.
If you wanted your tarp to be pitched differently, you can use these same knots and techniques along with some creativity to construct any number of variations.
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Knowing the bowline knot can make your tarp setup, and the rest of your backcountry life, easier. At the most basic level, the bowline just forms a loop. Unlike other ways of tying a loop, however, the bowline won’t slip yet is very easy to untie. This makes the bowline perfect for attaching the rope to the tabs on your tarp. It’s easy if you decide you want to move the rope to a different tab, even after you’ve loaded the knot.
When you’re ready to pack up your tarp in the morning, all the knots you tied are relatively quick-release ones. Pull the tail of the trucker’s hitch to release the hitch, and then pull out from either side of the pulley to untie it. Wiggle each end of the clove hitch back and forth until the knot loosens. Loosen the bowline by flipping it over and popping the bottom loop down. And the no-knot just unwinds once you free the end. Before repacking your tarp, coil the rope.
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SETTING UP YOUR KITCHEN
You’re going to want your kitchen to be in a low-traffic area. For safety, you’re also going to avoid putting the stove on top of a picnic table, if there is one. Picnic tables are great for prepping and eating food, but they’re dangerous for cooking food. Camp stoves are often wobbly, and the surface on which they’re sitting probably isn’t perfectly level. Pots of boiling water have a nasty tendency of tipping over or sliding off a camp stove. It’s safer to place the stove on the ground. You can kneel next to it on a folded-up sleeping pad or a soft folding chair. This will allow you to spring out of the way if the pot starts to dump. If bending or kneeling is difficult for you and you decide to take the risk of putting the stove on the picnic table, put it at the very end of the table. Then stand in front of it, as you would stand at a kitchen counter. And don’t let any of your campmates sit near you with their legs under the table as you cook.
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You’ll also want to set up a handwashing station in your kitchen. For this, use an MSR dromedary bag. Fill it with water and then hang it from a nearby tree. Because you’ll be using the water just for washing, rather than drinking, it doesn’t need to be purified; you can take it directly out of a stream or lake. Even though camp soaps are biodegradable, to biodegrade properly, the soap needs to be in the soil, not the water of a stream or lake. So, make sure your handwashing station is placed well away from the water’s edge. If you’re camping in a designated spot, some other camper has probably put a nail in a tree. Hang the bag with the nozzle pointing down. If there’s no nail, look for a broken-off branch; even a thin branch will hold the water bag if you slide the webbing straps down to the very base of the branch. If there are no broken-off branches, this would be a great time for you to improvise with a few of the knots you know. Pry open the narrow spout for a thin, constant stream of water. If you accidentally unscrew the medium-sized opening, you’ll be very surprised to discover how much water pressure can be generated by a few gallons of water trying to squeeze out through an opening that’s half an inch wide! Hang a small bottle of biodegradable soap from the bag so that it’s always handy. Leave a short piece of rope tied with a bowline to the webbing on the bag. Then, make a clove hitch in the end and cinch it over the cap of the soap bottle.
Your campsite will soon feel like home— except in some ways better! There are no stacks of bills to pay, no dings of incoming emails, and no piles of laundry waiting.
Marion, Leave No Trace in the Outdoors. O’Bannon, Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book.
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OUTDOOR KITCHEN SETUP AND SAFETY Whether you’re car camping or backpacking—or something in between—your backcountry kitchen should allow for four key functions: handwashing, safe cooking, waste disposal, and dishwashing.
HANDWASHING AND SAFE COOKING
For handwashing, hang an MSR dromedary bag from a tree branch and use a piece of rope to attach a small bottle of biodegradable soap to the bag. For safe cooking, the first step is to choose a location for your kitchen that is out of the traffic flow. People walking through the kitchen risk knocking over pots of boiling water or kicking gravel into the food. You’ll also need to make sure your stove is as level and stable as possible. This is often very tricky on uneven ground. You may need to try a few different locations or maybe even move some rocks around to stabilize the stove. It’s alarmingly common As you set up the stove, think for backcountry campers about minimizing the risk of burns, to injure themselves in the especially from boiling water. One of kitchen with boiling water. the easiest ways to reduce this risk is to avoid putting camp stoves on top of picnic tables. When you sit at a picnic table while cooking, you’re effectively trapping your legs and groin underneath a large pot of boiling water that is precariously resting atop a tiny stove, which is set on an uneven surface. If you do decide to put your stove on a picnic table, use the table like a countertop and place the stove on the end so that you can use it only while standing. That way, if you do end up knocking over the pot, you can hopefully jump out of the way and avoid a pot of boiling water in your lap. It’s safer to put your camp stove on the ground and kneel on a foam pad while you cook. If the pot spills from this height, the boiling water will be less likely to splash onto anyone nearby. Regardless of where you place your stove, make sure that any time you’re stirring you’re holding onto the pot. In a backcountry kitchen, the pots are lightweight, the stove tops are slanted, and there’s often not much surface area of the stove that actually contacts the
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bottom of the pot, so pots often seem to fly off a stove with the slightest stir.
Many camping pots don’t have handles so that they can nest with other pots and fit easily in your pack. If your pot doesn’t have a handle, use either a purpose-made pot grip or the pliers on your multitool. Another simple way to manage the risk of boiling water is to wear closed-toe shoes while cooking. This is a strict policy at almost every outdoor program, simply based on the number of incidents of participants spilling boiling water on their feet. Once you’ve finished cooking and turned the stove off, take the pot off the stove and place it on a level surface before letting people dig in. Remember that camping stoves are precarious platforms, and there’s no need to leave your dinner sitting in a risky spot when you’re no longer using the stove.
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Avoiding injuring yourself with boiling water is just part of stove safety. Camp stoves are, by definition, a source of fire. If they’re misassembled or misused, they can cause serious injury. Before lighting the stove, double-check all the connections and the setup. There are several connections where it’s possible for fuel to leak out if they’re not assembled correctly. Even if you’ve assembled the stove correctly, it is still possible to cause a stove fire if you don’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions for lighting it. Because every design of camp stove will be slightly different, make sure you thoroughly read the instructions for your particular stove. It’s also a good idea to practice lighting the stove a few times before you head outdoors—perhaps on your driveway or in another place where a flare-up won’t cause any damage. No matter what kind of stove you choose—petroleum-based fuel, canister fuel, or alcohol— don’t leave a running stove unattended. Also, keep anything flammable away from the stove when it’s running, including dry leaves and pine needles.
Nylon and other synthetic fabrics are made from petroleum and can catch fire or melt, so keep a burning stove far away from any tents or tarps. And consider wearing naturalfiber clothing while cooking; wool is a good choice.
Depending on where you’re camping, you might decide to cook over a campfire rather than a stove. If there are established fire rings and ample firewood, this can be a good choice. It is possible to do this with lightweight backpacking-style cooking gear, but it will be easiest with heavy equipment that is best suited for car camping or a paddling trip that doesn’t have many portages. If the fire ring has a grate in place, that makes cooking over the fire easy. It’s then just a matter of keeping the fire at the right heat and moving the pot to one side or the other of the grate to increase or decrease the amount of fire underneath it. Leather work gloves will make this safer and easier.
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If there isn’t a grate, consider bringing your own foldable grate or using a tripod. Most commercially available tripods have a set of chains that hangs down. You’ll need a pot with a sturdy bale to hang from the chains. You can adjust the height of the pot above the fire by shortening or lengthening the chains. You can also move the pot away from the hottest part of the fire by picking the pot up by the bale and carefully moving it around the outside of one of the legs of the tripod so that it hangs off-center. Again, leather gloves will make this safer and easier. You can also cook directly on top of the coals, without the use of a grate or tripod. This works best with a heavy-duty pot like a cast-iron or cast-aluminum Dutch oven that will help disperse the heat. This is the trickiest of the three methods, because it’s difficult to regulate the temperature. Unless you’re just boiling water, you won’t want your pot to be sitting directly in the part of the fire that has open flames. Your food will likely scorch. To get a lower heat, first build up the fire and then start to let it burn down so you develop a deep bed of coals. Then, use a long stick to separate a pile of coals from the fire. Set the Dutch oven on top of the bed of coals. Rotate the pot a quarter of a turn every five minutes or so to compensate for any hot spots. If the heat starts to get too low, lift up the pot and use your long stick to drag a few fresh coals from the fire over into your bed of coals. As with the other methods, heavy-duty work gloves will make this easier and safer. If you only have a lightweight backpacking pot and no grill or tripod but still want to cook over an open fire, you can try to find three rocks to fashion a tripod. Just make sure you don’t pick extremely porous rocks or rocks from a riverbed or lake; although rare, there have been stories of rocks with a high moisture content exploding when placed in a fire. Some people try to cook by placing food directly onto a bed of hot coals. Sometimes they wrap the food in aluminum foil, and sometimes they place it directly into the coals. More often than not, this doesn’t turn out well. There are just so many variables that are
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difficult to control. If you do want to try this method, perfect it in your backyard before trying it on a camping trip.
Cooking over an open fire increases the risk that any grease in your pot will catch fire. Have a tight-fitting lid ready to smother any flames, especially if you’re going to be deep-frying anything in oil.
WASTE DISPOSAL AND DISHWASHING
Waste disposal and dishwashing are the two kitchen functions that will be most different from what you likely do at home. Unless you’re at a campground with garbage cans, you’re going to need to carry out all of your waste. So, you’ll want to make sure it’s as compact, Use the durable plastic clean, and odorless as possible. To bags that are used to sell do this, use four separate plastic ice cubes. The size made bags for waste—divided into food for eight pounds of ice waste, recycling, other trash, and is just the right size for reusable plastic bags. backcountry use. ○○ Before putting any food waste into your compost bag, roll the sides of the bag all the way down. This keeps the sides of the bag clean. Because there is only food waste in this bag—and not rigid and bulky things—it should compress well. You should be able to squeeze most of the air out before tying it shut; this will keep the odors to a minimum. ○○ Before putting food cans into your recycling bag, open them on both ends, rinse them, and flatten them. Also flatten any cardboard boxes. Because everything in the bag is flat, it is not very bulky and is easy to pack. ○○ Anything else goes into the general trash bag. ○○ Plastic bags that are reusable go into a “bag of bags,” which you’ll be glad to have when one of your other bags leaks.
Put all four of these waste bags inside one brightly colored stuff sack so that everyone can easily find it.
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Dishwashing in the backcountry will make you appreciate your sink at home. But it doesn’t have to be terrible. Easy cleanup starts with menu planning. Avoid greasy foods like bacon or sausage. Vegetarian meals are much easier to clean up, not to mention easier to pack without refrigeration. Also, avoid burning foods onto the bottom of the pan. As you stir, make sure you’re scraping the food off the bottom of the pot with each pass. Also, be ready to lift the pot off the stove the second you smell burning. When you’re ready to clean the pots and dishes, do the majority of the cleaning with a pot scraper before adding any water. Put the food you’ve scraped off the sides into your compost bag. Then, you can add just a small amount of water for a The water you use for final rinse; you may not even need to add washing your dishes any soap. If you do add soap, use only a should be purified. few drops of a biodegradable soap—just enough to cut any grease. You can also clean dishes with tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. After finishing the meal, use your pot scraper to get the pot as clean as possible. Then, boil some water in the pot while using the pot scraper to get your bowl as clean as possible. When the water boils, pour it into your bowl, along with a tea bag or a drink mix. The hot water sanitizes both the pot and the bowl and removes any lingering food odors. And you get to enjoy a hot drink. This avoids dispersing dishwater and leaving food odors around camp. If you are going to use rinse water, rather than just a hot drink, after you’ve finished rinsing, walk a short distance away from camp— and, in most cases, at least 200 feet from any surface water—and fling the rinse water into the bushes. Don’t just dump your dishwater into the creek or lake. You want to protect freshwater sources and keep them free of soaps. Also, food particles dropped into water don’t decompose very quickly, and the next visitors will see them.
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READING SUGGESTED Marion, Leave No Trace in the Outdoors. McAllister, Recipes for Adventure. Smith, Backcountry Bear Basics.
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BUILDING A CAMPFIRE Fire is an elemental force, and there are few sensations more appealing than gathering around the fire with your friends as night closes in.
WHERE TO BUILD YOUR FIRE
If you decide to have a campfire, think about a way to do it that minimizes the impact your fire will have on others. Don’t transport firewood from more than a few miles away; invasive pests can be hidden inside. If there’s an existing fire ring, use it rather than building another one. If there’s not an existing fire ring, try to build a fire in a way that when you leave in the morning, you can hide the fact that you had one.
Researchers found that people’s blood pressure lowered even just by watching a video of a campfire!
One way to do this is to build your fire with a fire pan. There are some commercially available foldable fire bowls that are shaped like a collapsible vegetable steamer but without the holes. On their own, they sit too close to the ground to protect any vegetation underneath, so you’ll want to prop them up on a few rocks. You could also use the metal lid of a trash can propped up on rocks. Carrying a trash can lid isn’t practical if you’re backpacking, but you can use this method when you’re winter camping and hauling your gear in a sled. It also works for car camping. Whatever you use for a fire pan, when you’re setting it up, choose a place away from overhanging trees and clear away all dry leaf litter and other organic matter. Make sure the pan is stable on top of the rocks so that it doesn’t tip over once it’s hot. Consider bringing leather work gloves so that you can adjust the pan once the fire is lit if needed. Once you’re finished with the fire, cleanup is easy with a fire pan. Make sure the fire is completely out by drowning it with water. After making sure that the ashes are cool to the touch, walk away from camp and use the pan to fling the ashes over a broad area. The next campers in the area will never know that you had a fire.
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If you’re backpacking and don’t Make very sure that the ashes want the weight of a fire bowl, a from your fire are completely mound fire is a good option. The cool to the touch before idea is to pile mineral soil on top scattering them; embers can of a tarp and build your fire on relight days later if they’re not top of the mound of soil. The only fully extinguished. purpose of the tarp underneath is to allow you to return the soil after the fire is out. The tarp shouldn’t come into contact with too much heat; the soil on top will insulate it from the fire. To build the mound fire, collect mineral soil from a dry riverbed or a beach or from underneath the roots of an upturned tree. You can use a stuff sack to carry the dirt. Again, pick a spot away from overhanging trees and clear away any leaf litter. Spread out the tarp (a heavy-duty plastic yard-waste bag will work here, too) and then make a mound of soil about two feet in diameter and six inches deep. In the middle of the mound, make a slight depression to contain the fire. Tuck any edges of the tarp under the edges of the mound to protect them from sparks. When the fire is out and the ashes are cool to the touch, you can scatter the ashes, return the soil to where you found it, and pack the tarp for the next fire. The grass underneath your fire should still be alive.
THE FOUR Ds OF FIREWOOD COLLECTION
The general guidelines for firewood collection are the four Ds: dead, dinky, down, and distant. ○○ dead: There are ethical considerations of not damaging live trees, but even from a practical perspective, live wood doesn’t burn as well as dead wood. For best results, avoid wood that has died relatively recently: If it still has brown needles or brown leaves attached, its wood might still be pretty green, and even if it does catch fire, it will likely produce a lot of smoke.
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○○ dinky: Pick firewood that is the diameter of your wrist or smaller. This is partly about minimizing the visual impact of your fire on the next visitors. Huge, thick logs likely won’t fully burn down to ashes by the time you put your fire out before heading to bed. Also, it’s difficult to fully extinguish a large, burning log. Practically, dinky firewood is easier to carry back to the campsite and doesn’t require any extra work to saw and split. ○○ down and distant: Walk down the trail a bit before collecting wood and then look for a big tree that has fallen over. If you find a big enough downed tree, you can likely get all the wood you need from that one spot. In the end, it’s probably less work to gather wood from that one distant tree than to try to gather enough scraps from the area immediately surrounding your campsite.
When you find that big, dead, down tree, break the branches off next to the trunk. Don’t break that branch down any further; you can do that back at the campsite to avoid dropping little pieces of wood. As you continue to break off branches near the trunk, make a stack of them, with the broken-off ends all together and the smaller branches all pointing in the same direction. Then, you can pick up the bundle close to the broken-off ends and tuck them under your arm. As you’re gathering wood, there are a few types of wood to avoid: ○○ Poison ivy can grow as a vine or even as a shrubby tree. Even without leaves, the wood can cause reactions in people, especially if they inhale smoke from burning it. Luckily, vines of poison ivy are easy to spot: They look hairy—thickly covered with thin brown tendrils. And poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac all have pale-yellow, cream-
If it’s cut, split, and stacked, birch makes great firewood. But if you find a birch log on the ground in the forest, it probably won’t burn.
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colored, or white berries that they tend to keep over the winter. ○○ You’ll also want to avoid any firewood with waxy, resin-filled bark—such as birch and alder—because it probably won’t burn well. The small twigs from birch and alders have a waxy, shiny appearance and often have a slightly purple hue. If you roll the twigs between your fingers, the bark might separate from the wood underneath. These small sticks will burn if your fire is already hot but are lousy for getting a fire started.
Give any stick you’re thinking about burning the snap test: If it breaks with a snapping sound, it is dry and will likely burn well. If it just bends, or if the bark peels off it as you try to break it, it’s still pretty green, and even if it does burn, it will be smoky. There are many other options for tinder. Keep an eye out for good tinder as you hike during the day. When you find some, stuff it in your pocket or into the lid of your pack. It’s not always so easy to find when you’re at camp. Any dry plant material should work.
If you happen to find an abandoned bird’s nest, you can use it as tinder. Birds rarely use the same nest in another season, so you’re not doing any harm.
If you plan ahead, you could even bring some tinder from home; there are commercially available fire starters. But you might not like carrying the extra weight.
BREAKING AND SPLITTING WOOD
Once you’ve gathered your firewood, you’ll need to break it into shorter lengths. The small-diameter stuff is easy to snap with your hands or against your shin. But be careful if you’re trying to break anything much thicker than a carrot. People commonly get hurt by trying to jump onto or kick a stick. A better method is to find a tree with a fork in its trunk that’s low to the ground. Put one end of the stick into the crotch and then walk the other end around until the stick breaks. You could also use a saw if you have one.
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If you need to split wood, there are a few methods you can use. Remember that you’re in the backcountry and medical help might be very slow to arrive or even not available. If you’re using an ax, do so from your knees. This way, if you miss the wood or if it splits too easily, you’ll avoid taking an ax blade in the shin or toes. If you’re using a hatchet, don’t use your foot or hand to steady the log you’re about to strike. If the log won’t stand up on its own, use the blade of the hatchet to steady the log, and then strike the butt of the hatchet with a baton, driving the blade through the log until it splits. Any solid stick will work as a baton. Even if the log you’re splitting stands up on its own, you’ll want to use the baton method to finish the split if the log doesn’t split on the first strike. The baton method will also work with a sturdy sheath knife with a fixed blade. Don’t try this with a folding knife. Place the blade on top of the log as close to the knife’s handle as possible and then strike the spine of the blade with the baton. Using a fixed-blade knife and a baton is a great way to make dry kindling if all the wood you find is soaked from days of rain. The inside of a large-diameter stick will still be dry, even after a soaking rain. Finely splitting the stick into strips will give you dry material to start your fire. You can even use the knife (without the baton) to produce fine shavings for tinder. Experiment with different angles of the blade to get different-size shavings. Just make sure you are not cutting toward any part of your body, including your legs. And make sure that no one walks into the area where your knife, grasped in your fully extended arm, could reach.
LIGHTING YOUR FIRE
There are almost countless ways to structure a fire—shaped like a bird’s nest, a log cabin, a teepee, a lean-to, or even just a big pile of sticks. What method you choose is just a matter of preference;
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there’s no single right way. But every successful method gives the fire the three things it needs—oxygen, fuel, and heat—in appropriate proportions.
This requires the fire to have some sort of three-dimensional structure that keeps enough space between the pieces of fuel that air can flow through the fire—but not so much space between the pieces of fuel that one burning stick won’t also catch its neighbor on fire.
If, despite your best efforts at finding tinder, you’re still having trouble getting your fire started, you could try burning some alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or even some duct tape, or perhaps some oily potato chips. But don’t use gasoline or the fuel from your camp stove; the vapors are explosive, and you can get severely injured.
Of course, none of the fire-starting methods will work without the initial spark. Bring a few different methods of producing that initial spark, such as a cigarette lighter (or two) kept in a dry place, a waterproof container full of strike-anywhere matches along with a
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few cardboard striker strips cut from the original matchbox, and a piece of flint with a steel striker.
Once the fire is going, keep safety in mind. Everyone should have closed-toe shoes. Have your leather work gloves handy to grab a hot stick that might roll out of the fire. And before leaving the fire, make sure it is fully extinguished and cool to the touch. This likely means drowning it with ample water while stirring the ashes with a stick.
READING SUGGESTED Marion, Leave No Trace in the Outdoors. O’Bannon, Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book.
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SAFE DRINKING WATER IN THE WILDERNESS If you’re out in the wilderness for more than a day, you’ll likely need to gather and treat drinking water.
Water weighs about eight pounds per gallon (one kilogram per liter), so each of your quart-size water bottles adds about two pounds to your pack when the bottle is full. Unless you’re on a raft or sailboat or have some other way to carry a lot of weight, you simply can’t carry enough water from home for more than a day or two.
Backcountry water treatment methods are designed only to remove, kill, or disable microorganisms that can make people sick—no backcountry water treatment method will adequately remove toxins from water. Pesticides, pharmaceuticals, or other chemicals; heavy metals; and nuclear waste will not be taken care of by boiling or filtering or any other backcountry method.
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But in the vast majority of backcountry areas, especially ones that are a bit more pristine, you can find and treat water with confidence. There are many treatment options available, and most of them take hardly any time and cost very little. Which treatment method you choose will depend on objective criteria—such as which pathogens you think might be present and other characteristics of the water—as well as on subjective criteria, such as how much hassle you can deal with, how much weight and bulk you’re willing to carry, and how much money you want to spend. Knowing the pros and cons of each method will help you decide on the right method for you and for the circumstances. There are three main types of microorganisms in drinking water that could make you sick: protozoa, bacteria, and viruses. All three cause gastrointestinal illness—diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting. All three contaminate water through animal feces, so you should be most worried about them anywhere with livestock or wildlife or where humans or dogs travel. This is basically everywhere, except for the most remote areas.
Most water filters made for backcountry use have a pore size of 0.2 microns—the size needed to catch bacteria. These tiny pores are also more than small enough to catch protozoa, which are 5 microns. They are not, however, small enough to catch a virus, which can be as small as 0.004 microns. This is why the devices are called filters, not purifiers. The only water treatment method that can reliably remove protozoa, bacteria, and viruses is boiling. The CDC recommends a rolling boil for at least one minute. But in the backcountry, boiling drinking water comes with a cost— both in time and in fuel. You’d have to carry a lot of fuel to boil enough water for more than a few days. If you were in a place where campfires were allowed and you could find ample wood, you could boil the water over a fire rather than carrying fuel, but that
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comes with its own inconveniences. Plus, unless you’re going to carry all of your water with you for the entire day, you’ll need to set up your stove or build a fire midway through the day to refill your water bottles.
Given the inconvenience of boiling water, most backcountry enthusiasts decide to go with a filter, even though it won’t catch viruses. The rationale is that in relatively pristine areas, away from large populations of humans, the chance of picking up a virus from drinking water is low. If they’re worried about viruses—perhaps they’re traveling in a more populated area, near agricultural runoff, or in a developing country—often they’ll treat their water with a chemical like iodine or chlorine dioxide to kill the viruses and also filter the water to catch the protozoa and bacteria. Combining filtering with a chemical treatment is, for all practical purposes, nearly as reliable as boiling. The odds of a virus getting through are very, very low. Using a filter in the backcountry has a few minor downsides. There’s the up-front cost and also the added weight and space in your pack. Also, most filters require some field maintenance and cleaning, and some varieties of filters can break if they’re dropped or allowed to freeze. If the filter cracks, nontreated water can sneak through into your water bottle. As most filters get older and start to clog, they become more difficult to pump. Some filters rely on pins to hold the pumping handle in place, and if the pins shear, the pumps can be impossible to repair in the field. And if the filter does break in the middle of a trip, you can be in trouble if you don’t have a backup method.
If you’re going to use a filter, make sure you know how to maintain it and fix it. And most certainly bring a backup method.
Even though there are some potential downsides to a filter, most of them can be avoided with proper maintenance and care. That’s why filters—either alone or in combination with chemical treatments— remain one of the most popular methods of backcountry water
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treatment. And combined with a chemical method, they are the only method that approaches the effectiveness of boiling.
But many people often leave the filter at home and opt for a standalone chemical treatment instead—usually either iodine or chlorine dioxide. The chemical option weighs less, is not as bulky, and has a lower up-front cost. It also takes up virtually no space in your pack, requires no maintenance, and can’t break. But there are some serious downsides to chemical treatment, so it won’t be the right choice for everyone or every situation. The biggest drawback is that while chemicals will kill viruses and bacteria, they are less effective against protozoa. Another drawback is that chemicals must be used correctly, and there are many opportunities for user error. The chemicals will take
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longer to work if the water is cold or cloudy. If there are large particles in the water, the chemicals might miss pathogens that are hiding inside the particles. And iodine can be rendered useless if it comes into contact with vitamin C before it has finished purifying the water. Furthermore, chemical treatments have a shelf life and can expire.
Some people also dislike the taste of the chemicals. If the taste bothers you, you can add a drink mix, a tea bag, or an orange peel—just make sure you wait to add any flavorings until after the water is purified. Some iodine tablets are sold with a flavorneutralizing tablet that you can add after the water is purified; these tablets are just vitamin C, but with a higher price tag. Any other source of vitamin C will work just as well. Also, iodine is not recommended for people who are pregnant or who have thyroid abnormalities. And it is not recommended for continued use for more than a few weeks and might cause problems for some people who have an allergy to shellfish. Chlorine dioxide, on the other hand, doesn’t create any health concerns. Given all these drawbacks, the reason many people often opt for stand-alone chemicals rather than a filter or a filter/chemical combo is due to a cost-benefit analysis and a weighing of risks. The payout comes from the simplicity of not having to deal with a filter and from the incredible light weight: A one-ounce kit of chlorine dioxide drops, along with their activator drops—which can treat 30 gallons of water, or 120 quart-size water bottles—is small enough that it can fit easily in the pocket of your life jacket or in the lid of your pack. If the water source has sediment in it, you can filter it first through a clean cotton bandanna. And after adding the solution and swirling the bottle to mix it, turn the bottle upside down and carefully unscrew the lid a half turn or so until water starts to leak out. This removes any untreated water that might be trapped in the bottle’s threads. Given the opportunities for user error, chemical treatment alone still carries some risk of getting ill, so you’ll need to decide for yourself whether the simplicity is worth the risk. In relatively pristine places, people who use only chemical treatments seem to be fine the vast majority of the time. And unless your immune system is
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compromised, most healthy adults will not have any long-term problems from ingesting protozoa—but it certainly won’t be pleasant in the short term.
Using chemical drops is not as safe as boiling or a combination of filtering and chemicals. If you have a compromised immune system, you should not take the risk associated with stand-alone chemical treatments. Boiling or a combination of filter and chemicals would be much safer.
OTHER WAYS TO MAKE WATER SAFE
Although boiling, filtering, and chemically treating water are the most common options for making water safe for consumption, there are a few others. Pump purifiers work just like typical filters but have a smaller pore size of 0.02 microns, which is small enough to catch many viruses; this is why they can be called purifiers rather than filters. But they won’t catch all viruses; only a filter with chemicals will kill the smallest viruses. And the price of these purifiers is as much as 10 times the cost of a basic filter. They’re also heavier and bulkier than the typical filter. And in a place like a developing country or near agricultural runoff, you’re likely going to want to use a chemical in addition to the pump to make sure you get any tiny viruses. Battery-powered pens use ultraviolet (UV) light to sterilize water. UV light will disable all three types of microorganisms; in fact, it’s the method used in some municipal water treatment plants. UV pens are lightweight and speedy, typically taking less than a minute of swirling in a bottle to leave the water safe to drink. But—as with anything electric or mechanical—it can malfunction. The bulb will eventually wear out, the batteries will drain, and the battery compartment even needs to be kept dry on some models. So, as with filters, if you choose a UV pen, you should also bring a backup treatment method.
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Also, UV light pens don’t work as well in water that isn’t clear. You can strain out some sediment using a clean cotton bandanna, but that won’t remove tannins, which are common in backcountry water and make it the color of tea. The tannins aren’t harmful on their own, but they will cut down on the amount of UV light that passes through, making the sterilization incomplete. If you know you’ll be traveling in a place with a lot of tannins—for example, near wetlands or bogs—you probably won’t want to rely on UV light. Also, with a UV pen, there is no easy way to treat any water trapped in the threads of the water bottle as there is with chemically treated water. The odds are quite low of getting sick from the tiny bit of water that is trapped in the threads. It’s probably not much of a concern, but it does cause some people to bring one bottle for treating the water and then pour the water into a separate clean bottle for drinking.
Rather than water treatment methods, it’s much more likely that group or person hygiene is at fault when sickness occurs in the backcountry. All of the microorganisms that can make people sick can be passed directly from person to person, not just through water. Make sure you’re establishing norms of washing hands with soap and water and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers both after using the restroom and before touching food. Also establish the expectation that no one reaches into a bag of group food; instead, pour food out of the bag into your hands or bowl. And make sure you’re not brushing teeth or washing dishes with untreated water. If you do wash dishes with untreated water, give all the dishes a quick dunking in boiling water to kill anything that might be hitching a ride.
O’Bannon, Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book.
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OUTDOOR MENU PLANNING AND COOKING Humans lived for a long time without refrigeration, and there are many kinds of foods you can bring camping that don’t need to be kept cool.
UNREFRIGERATED FOOD OPTIONS
If you are car camping or going on a raft trip where you can carry lots of gear, coolers are an option. Having the option to keep food cool means you can cook many of the same meals you would at home. But then you have to deal with the weight, bulk, and expense of the coolers and the ice. If you prefer simplicity and ease, focus on backcountry meals that do not require a cooler. This gives you much less to worry about, and with all the varieties of foods that do not need refrigeration, there is plenty of variety, nutrition, and even flavor to be had.
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Most mainstream grocery stores have many options for shelfstable foods, including ○○ pasta, couscous, and orzo;
○○ bags of sun-dried tomatoes;
○○ quick-cooking grains, such as rice, barley, quinoa, polenta, bulgur, oatmeal, and farina;
○○ powdered mixes of soups, sauces, and gravies;
○○ dried lentils and beans;
○○ powdered milk;
○○ nuts and nut butters;
○○ instant mashed potatoes;
○○ dried fruits;
○○ beef jerky;
○○ hard cheeses;
○○ summer sausage;
○○ foil pouches of tuna, salmon, and chicken;
○○ unrefrigerated boxes of tofu; and
○○ dried mushrooms;
○○ no-bake desserts.
In addition, our ancestors kept durable vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and cabbage in root cellars for months. Those veggies will last a long time in your pack. Even less durable veggies—such as zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, bell peppers, and brussels sprouts—will make it for a day or two if you’re careful to pack them out of the sun. At a specialty grocer, you can find dried mixes for things like veggie burgers, refried beans, hummus, falafel, and tabbouleh. And an ethnic grocery will have even more options—powdered coconut milk, various curry pastes and chili pastes, packets of peanut sauce, powdered sauce mixes, and more kinds of dried mushrooms. If you plan ahead enough to shop online, you can order powdered tomato paste, powdered eggs, powdered cheese sauce, freeze-
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dried vegetables and fruits, just-add-water cake and brownie mixes, and even powdered hot sauce and powdered sour cream.
There are also ready-made meals, such as boil-in-bag Indian dinners; camping-specific freeze-dried meal pouches; and military MREs (meals ready to eat), which civilians can find online.
With all these options, how do you decide what to pack? To some extent, the answer to that question is a matter of personal style and preference. Some people think of food as nothing more than fuel. They’ll calculate how many calories they’ll need each day and then plan just enough carbs, proteins, and fats to carry them through. Other people feel that the fuel aspect of food is only part of its purpose.
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They prefer to pack meals that bolster morale and make memories in addition to filling bellies.
You don’t have to be solidly in one camp or the other. Planning different meals across the range of prep times means you can make an easy meal after a long day and then spend another evening more leisurely cooking and dining. Beyond your philosophy of food and cooking style, your menu choices will be constrained by logistics. Different types of travel allow for packing different types of food. Before you can plan a menu, you have to think about how much space you have and how much weight you can carry. If you’re rafting or car camping, you’ll have more capacity to carry heavy and bulky items than you would if you’re backpacking. You’ll also need to think about how many calories you’re going to need each day. Every person will be different in how much food they need, but it is safe to say that if you are being more active in the backcountry than you are at home, you’ll burn more calories. How many calories you burn will depend on your age, height, weight, and sex as well as how strenuously you’re exercising. Do not severely limit your caloric intake in the backcountry with the goal of losing weight. To be comfortable and safe in the wilderness, you need to keep your blood sugar and energy stores up.
Even guiding companies that specialize in taking people who are overweight on backpacking trips with the express purpose of losing weight provide at least 2,500 calories per person per day. And even eating that much, participants still lose fat, gain muscle, and drop inches.
Don’t underestimate how many calories you’ll need to be comfortable. There are websites where you can calculate how much energy you’ll burn doing various types of activities. It’s worth running some rough numbers before you begin menu planning.
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On a shorter trip, it’s OK to plan for a substantial calorie deficit. But if you’re planning a longer trip—two weeks or longer—you’ll want to try to approach replacing the calories you’re burning. Once you know about how many calories you want to eat each day, think about how much space you have to pack food and how important it is to you to keep the weight of your pack light. If you need to squeeze the greatest number of calories into the smallest, lightest bag, choose foods that are efficient in their delivery of calories. Websites for long-distance hikers have charts that list foods by their caloric density. People who want to get the most calories into the smallest bag pack a menu that is heavy in fats. When the human body is working hard over a long period of time, it will burn that fat, so if you need to keep food weight and volume low but still bring enough calories, don’t be afraid of fats.
The first person to hike the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail in a single calendar year ate only Snickers bars during the days and had a three-meal rotation for dinners.
If you’re not as concerned about food weight and volume—maybe you’re canoeing or sea kayaking instead of backpacking—you can be less concerned about caloric density. If you’re trying to be lightweight, think also about minimizing the number of pots and the amount of fuel you’ll need to prepare your meals. Fuel is heavy! Long-distance backpackers who are trying to cut weight will often eat a cold breakfast and only instant dinners. If you are trying to minimize fuel weight, read the specifications for your stove to see how many liters of water it can boil per ounce of fuel and then try to bring just enough fuel. But be aware that cool temperatures, wind, and altitude will mean you might burn more fuel than the stove specifications would suggest, so you might want to err on the side of carrying more fuel than you think you’ll need.
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PLANNING AND PACKING FOOD
Regardless of the type of menu you’re planning, there are some universal suggestions for planning and packing food. For planning, write out the days of your trip and then count how many of each meal you’ll need. Some people like to bring an extra emergency meal in case they get waylaid and have to spend an extra night out. This especially applies to long trips or trips where your ability to travel on any given day depends on the weather, as it would while sea kayaking. Bring a printed copy of your menu with you into the field and strike through items as you eat them. It’s easy, even on short trips, to lose track of what food you have and either eat too much too quickly or go hungry for days, only to realize when you get back to the car that you have a bunch of food left over. Consider eating your heaviest, bulkiest, and most perishable meals early in the trip. If you have a large bag of something like snack mix that is supposed to last for a certain number of days, each morning consider separating out the day’s ration into a separate container. Having the snack in a smaller container allows you to keep it accessible in the lid of your pack, and separating out the day’s ration keeps you from eating an entire week’s worth of the snack on the first day of the trip. You’ll want to minimize the amount of trash you have to carry out of the backcountry. This could mean buying in bulk or repackaging your food at home. Any time you repackage something, make sure that you’ll be able to tell what it is when you’re on the trail. Because permanent marker doesn’t reliably last on a plastic bag, you can double-bag an item and then slip a piece of paper between the two bags where you write the name of the item, the ingredients, and any specific instructions or cooking times. Also label cans— permanent marker does work well on aluminum—so that if the label falls off the can, you’ll know what’s inside. Consider not repackaging certain fragile foods, such as crackers. The cardboard box helps protect the crackers from getting
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pulverized in your pack; just gently crush its corners so they won’t puncture other plastic bags nearby.
As you plan your menu, don’t forget drink mixes, teas, and coffee. Having a hot drink in the mornings and evenings can boost morale, and a small amount of drink mix can encourage you to stay hydrated. To cut down on waste, choose tea bags that don’t come individually wrapped. When it comes to coffee, depending on personal preference, you can bring a French press, a reusable drip filter, or instant coffee.
Many wilderness areas don’t allow glass, but even if it is allowed, bringing a glass container is not worth the risk of the glass breaking. Camping equipment stores sell virtually indestructible plastic bottles with lids that screw on tightly.
For basic backcountry meals, all you’ll need is a pot or maybe two pots that nest. But there are a few pieces of specialty cookware that can open up many more possibilities, especially for longer trips or for eating on a budget. These are the pressure cooker and the Banks Fry-Bake. Camping-specific pressure cookers are made of a lightweight anodized aluminum alloy. They are around three times heavier than a regular camping pot of the same size, but on a longer trip, they will save their weight in fuel and allow you to cook dried beans, which are hard to beat in terms of weight, volume, durability, and versatility. Without a pressure cooker, the long soaking and cooking times of beans make them impractical. A Banks Fry-Bake is a lightweight anodized aluminum deep-dish pan with a tight-fitting, domed lid. By placing it over a heat source and building a small twiggy fire on top or putting coals on top, you can bake cakes, lasagnas, pizzas, and breads—anything you could cook in a Dutch oven but at a fraction of the weight. Whereas cakes and lasagnas are a bit of a luxury, breads are where the Fry-Bake really earns its keep.
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Prepared breads are bulky and perishable. If you were wanting to do a long trip without picking up more food along the way, it would be almost impossible to bring enough prepared bread. Dry flour, on the other hand, is easy to pack and will last almost indefinitely.
Thai Peanut Sauce You can make a delicious and filling Thai peanut sauce to ladle over sautéed carrots, onions, red cabbage, and quick-cooking brown rice. All you need for the peanut sauce is a packet of powdered coconut milk, a few tablespoons of peanut butter, and a tablespoon of Thai seasoning mix. Perhaps add a dab of brown sugar, a veggie bouillon cube, or some crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Fresh-Baked Bread Using baking powder (to make a quick bread) or yeast (if you have time), mix the bread’s ingredients in a pot. Then, knead the dough either on the hull of an overturned canoe or on a thin, flexible, plastic cutting board. Flour the inside of a Banks Fry-Bake to keep the dough from sticking, put on the lid, and then place it in the sun to rise. If it’s too cold for it to rise, set the FryBake on top of a pot of warm water. Then, bake it with very low heat on the bottom and moderate heat on the top. Turn the bottom heat off after about 13 minutes and then stop feeding the twiggy fire on top at the 20-minute mark. Let the top fire slowly burn down to ashes before opening the lid. Baking times will be less for a quick bread and could be significantly more if it’s windy and cold. Pressure-Cooked Beans The easiest and most fuel-efficient way to use a pressure cooker to cook dried beans is to bring it up to pressure and then turn off the stove and let it slowly come back down from pressure. Then, open the lid, stir it, add more water if needed, and then bring it up to pressure a second time. Keep it at pressure for a few more minutes—a bit longer if the beans are very large— and then let it come down naturally again.
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READING SUGGESTED Absolon, Outward Bound Backcountry Cooking. McAllister, Recipes for Adventure. Smith, Backcountry Bear Basics.
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MINIMIZING YOUR IMPACT ON THE WILDERNESS Part of being a skilled outdoorsperson is knowing the etiquette of how to enjoy the outdoors without diminishing other people’s enjoyment of it. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics offers instruction on minimum-impact practices and distills its teaching into seven principles.
Every year, more and more people are venturing into natural spaces, parks, and wilderness areas. Minimum-impact camping techniques are an important part of preserving the aesthetic experience for the next humans to come along.
PRINCIPLE 1—PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE
Do some research about the place where you’ll be recreating. Read guidebooks, scour park websites, and talk to local outfitters and organizations. Find out what regulations there are, what times are best for visiting, and what particular considerations you might need to take to protect the flora and fauna. Talking with land management agencies and local camping stores can keep you from inadvertently showing up during mud season
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when the trails will be soft or with a group size that is too large. It will also help you pick a route that is appropriate for your abilities so that you don’t end up being the target of a search and rescue operation—which will really impact other people.
Doing your research can also help you avoid negative encounters with animals.
PRINCIPLE 2—TRAVEL AND CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES
Where a trail exists, this means staying in the center of it. It may be tempting when the trail gets muddy to walk off to the side, but then the trail gets wider and braided. It may also be tempting to cut off switchbacks, which are places where the trail contours back and forth along the side of a steep slope, rather than heading directly up it. Switchbacks are especially tempting to cut when hiking downhill. But when people cut across switchbacks, the slope starts to erode. If you have to travel off trail, perhaps to go to the bathroom or to gather firewood, try to walk mostly on rock; barren surfaces, such as sand, gravel, or snow; or leaf litter or dry grass. Avoid stepping directly on plants, and pick a different route every time you walk through the area. Sensitive vegetation can be easily trampled by footsteps and has a hard time recovering. Once a few people walk through a vegetated area, they leave a barely perceptible trail, which later visitors are likely to follow. Eventually, networks of unplanned trails develop, and the area no longer looks pristine. Avoid walking on moss, lichen, wildflowers, or other herbaceous plants. If you are in a group that needs to travel off trail for a distance, spread out abreast of each other and each pick a separate path. This is less likely to create a trail.
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Camping on durable surfaces is easy if you’re in an established site. You’ll probably be able to see areas where the vegetation is already completely gone. It may be tempting to put your tent on the soft bed of moss, but if the next people—and the next people after them—follow your lead, eventually that spot will be just bare dirt, and the campsite will have lost its intimate feel. Instead, choose bare ground for your tent, kitchen, and pack. You can move downed sticks before setting up your tent, but leave the leaf litter there. It will help protect the area from eroding or getting muddy in the rain. If you have to camp in a nonestablished site, look for a place where your tent, kitchen, and other high-traffic areas are not likely to trample sensitive vegetation. Limit your stay in that spot to one night and then try to camouflage the site as you prepare to leave by helping any grasses you squashed stand back up, replacing any downed tree branches you moved to make room for tents, brushing out any footprints, and maybe even sprinkling a few piles of dried leaves or pine needles over impacted areas. The goal is to make it less likely that another party will notice the site and also decide to camp there. This will, hopefully, give the area time to recover.
PRINCIPLE 3—DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY
The saying is “pack it in; pack it out.” Bring a trash bag. Don’t plan on burning your trash; it often doesn’t burn completely. Campfire rings filled with scorched aluminum and melted plastic are gross. Even uneaten food often doesn’t burn completely in a campfire. For human waste, use the outhouse, if there is one. Toilet paper can go down the hole, but not menstrual hygiene products. If there isn’t an outhouse—and assuming you’re not in a place like a high-traffic river canyon where regulations require you to pack out human waste as well—you’ll need to dig a cathole for solid waste. Find a spot at least 200 feet away from water. Try to find
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somewhere where other people are unlikely to walk—perhaps in dense undergrowth or under a downed tree—and where water is unlikely to run during a rainstorm. Dig a hole about the depth of the blade of a garden trowel and about 6 inches in diameter. Try to dig the hole in organic soil rather than in mineral soil; organic soil will be dark in color and will have more organisms that can start to decompose your waste than light-colored mineral soil. If you’re in the desert, you probably won’t be able to find organic soil. In this case, make your cathole a little shallower so that the heat of the sun can work to kill any pathogens in your waste. You can help the sun do this by picking south-facing slopes or exposed ridges for your cathole. If you’re camping in the winter and the ground is frozen, you won’t be able to dig a cathole. In this case, make sure you are far away from sources of surface water and from campsites and trails that will be used in the spring. Then, dig a hole through the snow until you reach the ground. Cover your waste with snow and then place two similar-sized sticks on top of the spot in an X to signal other winter recreationalists to stay away.
Anything you use as natural toilet paper, such as leaves or smooth rocks, should go into the hole as well. When you’re finished, use a stick to replace the dirt over the top of the hole and then camouflage the top with leaf litter; perhaps even drag a small downed branch over the top to make it even less likely that someone else will decide to dig a hole in the same spot. In most environments, urine does not cause much of an issue. But if you’re camping in an especially arid place, avoid urinating too close to your campsite. Because rain is so infrequent, desert campsites can start to stink if people urinate too close to camp. In some hightraffic desert river canyons, local regulations require that people urinate directly into the river to protect small beaches and campsites. Again, check local regulations before starting any trip.
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PRINCIPLE 4—LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND
It can be very tempting to pick flowers, strap moose antlers to your pack, or fill your pockets with colorful rocks. Many natural areas, however, are so heavily used by people that if everyone did that, the natural beauty of the place would be diminished for the next visitors.
The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona has been picked largely clean of petrified wood. Once these sticky-fingered visitors get home, many of them regret their theft and return the petrified wood through the mail along with notes confessing their guilt. The park has a display of these returned rocks and the accompanying letters.
This principle also applies to historical evidence of human habitation. Part of the excitement of traveling in backcountry areas is finding potshards, arrowheads, stone shelters, or tent rings—or even old, rusty Model Ts or piles of antique junk from old mining camps. Leaving these treasures in place preserves the context and allows future visitors to enjoy the same thrill of discovery. If you’re tempted to pocket something, take a photo or spend time sketching it in a journal instead. If what you find is modern trash, the most considerate thing for other visitors would be to pack it out. This principle also applies to the appearance of your campsite: When you leave, it should look just as pristine as it did when you arrived. Don’t use your axe or saw to construct camp furniture. Don’t dig trenches to redirect water away from your tent. Don’t carve your initials into anything or cut a bunch of pine boughs to make a bed. Don’t construct a fire ring if there isn’t one. What you may see as an improvement, others may resent as a desecration.
PRINCIPLE 5—MINIMIZE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS
This principle is covered in detail in lecture 14, but remember to never cut or damage live trees and to completely drown your fire before leaving it for the night.
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PRINCIPLE 6—RESPECT WILDLIFE
Try to minimize the amount you disturb animals. Observe them only from a distance, consider leaving your dog at home, and keep your noise to a minimum. The one exception with noise would be if you’re hiking in bear country, where you’ll want to have bells or be singing as you walk to avoid surprising a bear. Be especially considerate around animals that have young or are sitting on nests. If you hear birds making a commotion or pretending to be injured to draw your attention, it’s likely they have a nest or young nearby. Move away, if possible. Some animals leave their young momentarily unattended. If you come across a fawn or a bird that is out of its nest, leave it alone. It is likely that the parents are nearby or will be returning shortly.
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Respecting wildlife also means making sure they don’t get access to any human food. An animal that has become habituated to human food is at risk of eventually being killed. If you’re going to be traveling in bear country, read about the local regulations for how to keep food safe from them. In desert areas, respecting wildlife means camping at least 200 feet away from a water source and avoiding making trips to the water source at night, when desert animals might be the most active and most in need of a drink. And with any water source, be careful to keep soap and food debris out of the water. These can pollute the drinking source for other animals and damage aquatic life.
PRINCIPLE 7—BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHER VISITORS
Simply pausing to think about others can help you remember to do things like not take the last of the toilet paper from the outhouse. It can help you remember to close the gate behind you to keep the livestock enclosed, to put the lid down on the outhouse seat to keep the flies out, to either leave your dog at home or keep it on a leash and pick up after it, to switch your phone to silent or to airplane mode, and to avoid loud phone conversations. There are also some basic courtesies while using trails. Downhill hikers yield the trail to uphill hikers—who are laboring the most. Bicyclists yield the trail to hikers, and everyone yields to anyone on a horse or anyone who is herding animals. You can minimize your visual impact on others, especially in crowded areas, by choosing muted, earth-colored clothing and gear. But you might intentionally choose brightly colored clothing for personal safety if you’ll be in an area with a robust tradition of hunting or if you’re concerned about search and rescue teams being able to find you.
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In addition to these seven general principles, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics publishes specific booklets for particular types of terrain— such as deserts and canyons—and for particular activities, including fishing, geocaching, hunting, mountain biking, canyoneering, rock climbing, and sea kayaking.
READING SUGGESTED Marion, Leave No Trace in the Outdoors.
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HYGIENE ON A CAMPING TRIP There are two main goals when trying to maintain good hygiene in the backcountry: avoiding sharing germs with others in your group and keeping your body clean.
HOW TO AVOID SHARING GERMS
One of the easiest things to do to avoid sharing germs with others is to avoid touching group food. Instead of reaching into a bag of snacks, you should establish the norm that you pour the snacks out of the bag into your hands. Keep a personal bowl near the top of your pack so that when you stop for a quick snack break, you can pour some group trail mix directly into the bowl and use a spoon to eat it. Many people rely only on hand sanitizer when they’re camping, rather than water and soap. Consider keeping a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer near the top of your pack in case someone needs to relieve him- or herself while hiking and a handwashing station is not set up. But all other times, use water and soap. Most camp soaps are so concentrated that you need only a drop or two to get your hands full of lather. Even though these soaps are biodegradable, they take a while to biodegrade, so try to minimize the amount you use. And even though camp soaps are biodegradable, they need to be kept out of water sources like streams and Establish the norm lakes. They are designed to biodegrade on your camping in the soil. That’s why your handwashing trips that if you’re just station should be set up far away from coming back from the water’s edge. the outhouse, ask someone to assist If you don’t have soap available or can’t you with washing your hands. get far enough away from the water’s edge to guarantee it won’t pollute the water, washing in water without soap is a good option. If you vigorously scrub your hands together in water for the amount of time it takes you to sing the “Happy Birthday” song in your head, you will have gotten rid of most germs—even without soap. Avoid sharing water bottles, plates, or utensils. Even if you are good friends with everyone else on the trip and no one is showing any symptoms of being ill, you never know what viruses you
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might pick up from sharing water bottles. Make sure everyone has adequate water at the beginning of the day so they won’t need to use someone else’s.
As for plates and utensils, rather than having a group set, everyone should have his or her own personal bowl with a lid, ideally one where his or her spoon will fit inside. This will avoid any possible germ transmission from stacking plates and utensils. If you don’t like this system and want to have a group set, you’ll need to make sure everything is sanitized after each meal. This will likely involve boiling a lot of water. This takes not only time but also fuel. And on longer trips, that extra weight can add up. In addition to—and completely separate from—everyone’s personal utensils, you’ll want to have a few group utensils, such as a lightweight plastic measuring cup to double as a ladle and a scoop, a sturdy spoon to double as a cooking and serving utensil, and a nonfolding knife for spreading peanut butter and cutting cheese and veggies. These group utensils get washed with the pots and pans after meals using hot, soapy water.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR BODY CLEAN
If you’re lucky enough to be camping or traveling where you have access to water you can swim in, try to take a quick dip once a day. Even if the water is cold, it will just take a minute or two to dunk under and aggressively scrub your face, armpits, groin, and scalp. Remember—no soap should end up in the water source. If you’re planning on using dips to keep yourself clean, bring a pair of shoes you can wear in the water. Bare feet are a tough combination
When camping, try washing your face with a warm tea bag. After you steep the tea bag in your mug, pull it out and let it cool slightly. Next, lean over and gently wash your face. Then, wring out the remaining water and throw the tea bag into your bag of food waste.
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with sharp rocks or abandoned fishing lures, and a cut to your feet will be hard to manage.
If you would like to use soap or shampoo, fill up your water bag, a cooking pot, or even a few water bottles with water from the lake or stream. Then, wearing your water shoes, dunk yourself quickly in the water, getting your hair fully wet. Then, walk far away from the water—ideally at least 200 feet from the water’s edge. Lather yourself using your soap or shampoo. Hang the water bag from a tree branch and then open the spout to rinse off. If you don’t have a water bag, ask a friend to slowly pour water over your head. If you don’t have access to bodies of water where you can dip, you can use the bird bath method. Dip your cotton bandanna into some water and wash your face, neck, armpits, and groin—in that order—rinsing your bandanna in water each time.
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On his 221-day crossing of Antarctica, Russian explorer Viktor Boyarsky scrubbed his entire body with snow once a day.
Alternatively, some people choose to use single-use disposable wipes for their bird baths. As long as they’re fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, this can be an OK option. But like all trash, you’ll need to pack them out. This adds weight and is not very convenient. Another key to keeping your body clean while out on the trail is changing your underwear regularly. Consider bringing three pairs on a trip: one to be wearing, one to be washing, and a spare pair just in case. Lightweight nylon underwear dries very quickly after being washed; avoid pairs with heavy waistbands or lace or anything else that will take longer to dry. After your daily quick dip or bird bath, change into your clean pair. Then, return to the water’s edge and scrub out the pair you wore. Again, don’t use soap; just scrub them in the water. Then, wring them out and hang them on a drying line if it’s sunny or underneath the rain fly of your tent if it’s raining. If you’re out on the trail for more than a few days, you might want to wash other clothing items. Wash your shirt and pants in the same way you wash your underwear—just scrubbing in water without soap and then hanging to dry in the sun. If they’re not completely dry by the time you go to bed, hang them inside your tent or spread them on top of the body of your tent under the rain fly. Put aside a set of clothes that will always stay clean—one pair of shorts and one shirt for sleeping or for use while doing laundry only. After a few days of putting on a new outfit every morning, you don’t want to be left with a bunch of clothes that are all equally dirty. If your clothes are so stinky that the scrub in the water without soap doesn’t cut through the stench, consider bringing a collapsible
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bucket or a Scrubba, which is a bag designed for washing a few clothing items at a time. These two options will allow you to do the washing away from the water source, which means you can use soap. The collapsible bucket will also be handy for hauling water and washing dishes, and the Scrubba can double as a dry bag.
To keep your skin healthy out on the trail, make sure that your skin has at least eight hours a day where it can breathe and be dry. Sometimes on paddling trips or trips in rainy climates, you can be damp all day. Feet, groins, and buttocks are especially sensitive to prolonged dampness. But even on water-based trips or after days of constant rain, you should still have the eight hours in your sleeping bag where your skin can breathe and dry out. Just make sure you’re not wearing wet underwear or socks to bed.
HOW TO PRACTICE GOOD BATHROOM HYGIENE
Backcountry oral hygiene is not much different from what you might do in the frontcountry. Bring a toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, and dental floss. The only thing different about brushing your teeth in the backcountry is what to do with the spit. If you are camping in a designated site where there is a fire pit, you could spit your toothpaste into the fire pit. If not, try walking away from camp and aerating Dental floss can your toothpaste foam as you spray it like double as thread if an elephant; ideally, you shouldn’t see any you need to repair a noticeable drops of spit on the ground rip in a piece of gear. after you finish. If you’re somewhere with outhouses, they might be stocked with toilet paper; if so, you can drop toilet paper down into the pit of the outhouse, just as you would drop it into a toilet. If you’re somewhere without outhouses and you choose to use toilet paper, you’ll need to pack it out. Even if you bury it, it might get dug up by animals and strewn around. It’s worth at least trying to use a natural alternative. Leaves work well; just make sure you’re n ot using poison ivy or poison oak. Other natural alternatives to toilet paper include smooth rocks,
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the sides of smooth sticks, moss, or even a snowball. Anything you use as natural toilet paper should get buried in your cathole or dropped into the outhouse.
The hygienic challenges of being in the backcountry can make some infections more common—specifically, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and vaginitis. But if you practice good hygiene in the backcountry, you’re likely to be just fine. One of the best ways to prevent a UTI is to make sure you stay hydrated; frequent urination will help. While camping, unless you’re somewhere with an outhouse where you can dispose of toilet paper, it’s not very practical to use toilet paper after urinating. Some people elect to drip-dry after urinating; others use a cotton bandanna as a dab cloth after urinating. You can then tie it to your pack to air out. You could also rinse it in fresh water and then hang it to dry. The other type of infection you might worry about is a yeast infection or another form of vaginitis. Many people hike in compression tights or leggings, but that tight-fitting, somewhat-damp environment can allow yeast to thrive. Making sure you’re clean and dry for at least the eight hours you’re in your sleeping bag will help prevent vaginitis. Consider sleeping in loose-fitting shorts rather than underwear. There are many options for managing menstruation in the backcountry. Three of the most popular options are pads and tampons, menstrual cups, and—more of a long-term solution— methods of birth control that eliminate menstruation altogether. Menstrual cups are great for the backcountry because they don’t generate any trash that needs to be packed out, unlike pads and
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tampons, and they need to be emptied much less frequently than pads and tampons need to be changed.
There is no evidence that bears are attracted to menstrual blood more than other odors, but in bear country, all things with odors—including toiletries, food, and garbage—need to be kept away from bears.
READING SUGGESTED Marion, Leave No Trace in the Outdoors
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WILDERNESS FIRST AID: HANDLING EMERGENCIES Anyone who plans on recreating in the backcountry should have at least a basic understanding of wilderness first aid to help determine what is truly an emergency and what is not.
If you plan to be in remote areas, consider taking an in-person course in wilderness medicine, in which you get practice in realistic scenarios and with hands-on simulations. Courses range from two-day wilderness first aid (WFA) courses to eight-day wilderness first responder (WFR) courses.
THE “BIG THREE” SYSTEMS
Any time you’re dealing with a medical issue or injury, the first consideration is your own safety. Before rendering help to someone else, make sure it is safe for you to do so. You’ll be no help to them if you turn yourself into another casualty. And protect yourself from any transmission of bodily fluids by keeping a pair of nonlatex exam gloves and a CPR mouth shield with you. If you decide it’s safe for you to help, the first step is to try to determine if there is a life-threatening problem with one of the person’s “big three” systems: circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems. If there is, try to fix that first before worrying about any other issues. Because these three critical systems each rely on the others, problems with one will eventually affect the others. For each system, you’re looking to see if the person’s vital signs are within normal ranges and for any changes over time. The respiratory system is the easiest of the three critical systems to assess; you can see or feel if the person is breathing adequately. If the person is not, you can breathe for him or her—ideally through a mask. As long as the person’s heart is still beating, you can continue breathing for him or her for as long as it takes to get more advanced medical help. Be careful not to get overly excited and breathe too rapidly and too forcefully. The person only needs about 10 or 12 per minute. Each breath should be given slowly over two or three seconds. Then, you should wait to begin the next breath until the person has the chance to exhale. This can also help a person who is not adequately
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breathing on his or her own—perhaps due to an injured chest wall or toxins in the brain that are depressing respiratory drive.
If the person’s difficulty breathing is due to asthma, you can help the person find and use his or her rescue inhaler, which is a fastacting bronchodilator. It is distinct from an inhaler that might be used daily; daily-use inhalers do not act quickly enough to help in an attack. Hopefully, the person has a spacer—a plastic tube that contains the vapors as the person inhales—but if not, you can improvise one from a plastic water bottle with the end cut off or even the cardboard tube from the inside of a roll of toilet paper. If the person is not able to inhale the medication or if his or her symptoms don’t resolve within a few minutes, this is now an emergency. If you’ve been trained on the use of epinephrine, that is the next step. Either way, you’ll want to get the person to advanced care as quickly as possible. A person’s airway can also become obstructed by swelling or fluids leaking from damaged lungs. Swelling can happen if someone has an anaphylactic reaction to a beesting. Hopefully, the person has an EpiPen; you can assist him or her with it if needed. Epinephrine will improve the person’s ability to breathe and swallow. He or she should then swallow 25 to 50 milligrams of Benadryl, which is an antihistamine that can treat the underlying cause of the anaphylaxis. Anyone who requires epinephrine for anaphylaxis should leave the field and see a doctor. Airway obstruction from fluids leaking from damaged lungs can happen after near-drownings where a person lost consciousness and inhaled water into their lungs, or after smoke inhalation, or from lung infections. Such people will have shortness of breath on exertion and may develop a persistent cough. You can’t fix this in the field; these people need medication, so you’ll need to start evacuating them. The circulatory system needs to have the fluid, the pipes, and the pump: the blood, the blood vessels, and the heart. If the fluid is leaking out in large amounts, that is the first thing to fix, as you won’t be able to replace it in the field. Well-aimed, direct pressure is
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the best way to try to stop external bleeding. With a gloved finger, press firmly on the source of the bleeding and hold pressure there until the bleeding stops.
If it’s been a while since you’ve learned first aid for choking or CPR, your local Red Cross or American Heart Association likely offers classes.
If a person’s heart stops pumping but his or her critical systems are still largely intact, he or she needs CPR. In the wilderness, CPR will be most effective in cases of drowning and lightning strike. In addition to what is taught in frontcountry CPR courses, there are two backcountry considerations. ○○ Confirm that the person has no pulse before you begin CPR. If the person’s heart is still beating on its own, chest compressions could injure him or her unnecessarily. ○○ Determine when to stop CPR. Help may not be on its way, so you can stop if the person hasn’t regained a pulse after 30 minutes—after which point the odds of the person recovering are extremely small. You can also stop CPR if the situation starts to pose a threat to rescuers.
Finding a pulse can be difficult if a person is wearing a lot of clothes, in shock, or very cold. The easiest pulse to find might be the carotid (on either side of the Adam’s apple in the neck) or the temporal (on the side of the head, just in front of the ear).
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THE NERVOUS SYSTEM: STOP EATS
A person’s nervous system is the most difficult of the three critical systems to evaluate in the field, because you can’t see it working, like you can with the respiratory and circulatory systems. So, you use a person’s mental status to make inferences about how well his or her brain is working. The acronym AVPU describes a downward slide in mental status: ○○ awake ○○ responsive to verbal stimuli ○○ responsive only to painful stimuli ○○ unresponsive
The further down the AVPU scale a person goes, the more serious the situation is. Ideally, you want to notice any deteriorations in mental status well before the person loses consciousness. Someone who is still awake but confused, lethargic, strangely irritated, or combative likely has some challenges to his or her nervous system. If you can figure out the reason why, you might be able to fix the underlying issue. Once you notice an altered mental status, you can use the acronym STOP EATS—sugar, temperature, oxygen, pressure (from traumainduced swelling), electricity, altitude, toxins, salts—to try to figure out the cause. ○○ sugar: If low blood sugar is the problem, the solution is simple: Give the person something to eat that can give the body glucose, such as carbohydrates or fruit. ○○ temperature: If too much heat is the problem, aggressively cool the person. Dunk him or her in water if possible, or get the person into the shade, apply cool compresses, spray him or her with water, and fan the individual. If he or she is able to drink, give him or her fluids with electrolytes. If the person is too cold,
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get him or her out of any wet clothes and into a sleeping bag and let him or her shiver to warm up. If the person is able to eat and drink, give him or her high-calorie foods, such as chocolate or sugary drinks; he or she will burn these calories while shivering. If the person is too cold to shiver, place hot water bottles or chemical hand warmers next to the person’s main arteries (groin, armpits, and neck) while he or she is in the sleeping bag or get into the sleeping bag with the person. ○○ oxygen: If a person is not breathing at all, that will be pretty obvious. But if a person just isn’t getting adequate oxygen, his or her skin may be a little pale or even bluish. In a person with dark skin, this paleness may be noticeable only in the lining of his or her eyes and mouth. ○○ pressure: In the backcountry, pressure on the brain is most likely due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion. Anyone who loses consciousness after a blow to the head or has any degree of amnesia has a TBI and is at risk of swelling in the brain and loss of brain function. Ideally, you’d get a person with a TBI to a hospital for evaluation. If the evacuation is low-risk, immediately start that process. But if you’re in a remote place where evacuation is risky, you should be more worried if the person’s mental status remains altered or if he or she continues to be disoriented or have amnesia. Look for signs of increasing pressure on his or her brain: mental status deterioration (combativeness or restlessness), severe headache, nausea, or sensitivity to bright lights. ○○ electricity: Being struck by lightning can cause a TBI. Anyone who gets electrocuted should see a doctor. ○○ altitude: High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and cerebral edema (HACE) are the leaking of fluid from the cells in the lungs and in the brain, respectively. If you don’t live at altitude but are planning to travel above 3,000 meters, you should educate yourself about the risks and the options for both prevention and treatment. These high-altitude illnesses can be confusing to diagnose because their symptoms mimic other issues: HACE can appear as a headache, vomiting, and altered mental status,
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which is the same as dehydration, hypothermia, or exhaustion, while HAPE looks like bronchitis or just a bad chest cold. The definitive treatment for these illnesses is to descend to a lower elevation. ○○ toxins: Neurotoxins—whether they are taken on purpose by a person, as in a drug overdose, or come from an animal sting or bite—can cause the brain to fail to remind a person to breathe or can even paralyze the muscles used to breathe. There is not much that can be done for this in the backcountry, other than begin an evacuation and assist the person with breathing. ○○ salts: The human brain needs sodium, magnesium, and potassium to function. If you sweat profusely and don’t replace these electrolytes or if you drink excessive amounts of plain water, your brain can start to fail. This will appear at first as weakness, nausea, headache, slow thinking, and confusion; later symptoms can include seizures and loss of consciousness.
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If you catch this early, you can give the person rehydration salts mixed into water or have the person eat salty nuts and dried fruit.
Other than issues with the brain, which you can figure out with the STOP EATS acronym, the nervous system can also have issues with the spinal cord, which is protected by the bones of the spinal column. If a person takes a fall that is greater than their height, has something very heavy fall on his or her head, or is involved in a high-speed crash, you should worry about whether the person may have damaged his or her spinal column bones. The person should get checked by a doctor, but that alone doesn’t mean it needs to be an emergency evacuation. It becomes an emergency if you have reason to think that the damaged spinal column might be unstable and could damage the spinal cord. Red flags could include palpable deformities in the spinal column, severe pain, or persistent neurologic deficits in the extremities, such as tingling, numbness, or weakness.
If a medical issue arises, your initial first aid is to try to stabilize and support the person’s “big three” critical systems. Your success, or lack thereof, in stabilizing these will help you decide whether the issue demands an emergency evacuation or a nonemergency evacuation or if it’s something that can be managed in the field. A red flag for an emergency evacuation would be any problem with the “big three” that you’re unable to stabilize quickly and easily. A red flag would also be something where you anticipate it will start to get worse and where you’ll be unable to treat the worsening condition. If you can initially stabilize these systems, your next job is to monitor. You want to make sure that the person continues to improve by looking for any changes in his or her mental status and by recording vital signs at intervals and looking for patterns over time.
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READING SUGGESTED Isaac and Johnson, Wilderness and Rescue Medicine. Wilkerson, Moore, and Zafren, eds., Medicine for Mountaineering & Other Wilderness Adventures.
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WILDERNESS FIRST AID: NONEMERGENCY CARE The vast majority of medical issues experienced in the backcountry aren’t life-threatening emergencies. In these cases, the goals are to avoid making the issue worse and to make the person as comfortable as possible.
STABLE VERSUS UNSTABLE INJURIES
Backcountry medicine worries less about what exactly is wrong and more about what the issue means for the person. Can he or she still use the affected body part? Will it heal on its own in the field, or does the person need to get to a doctor? With musculoskeletal injuries, it isn’t really relevant whether it’s a tendon strain, a ligament sprain, or even a small fracture. You can leave that diagnosis to the doctors in a clinic. What is relevant is whether the injury is stable or unstable. A stable injury might be sore, or even painful, but the person can still use that body part. The treatment for a stable injury is RICE— rest, ice, compression, elevation—with rest and elevation being the most important parts. Stable injuries should get steadily better each day. If they’re not improving, the person might be overdoing the activity, or perhaps
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there is a small fracture. If, despite rest, the injury isn’t healing quickly, it’s time to see a doctor.
In an unstable injury, some internal structure has been broken, ripped, or displaced. The person might describe feeling things moving around in a way that is not normal. He or she likely won’t be able to use that part of the body. You might even be able to see some deformity or angulation or hear the sound of bone fragments grinding against each other. There might be an impairment of the nerve signals or blood flow to the part of the body distal to the injury. A person with an unstable injury is not going to be able to continue on the trip and needs to see a doctor as soon as possible. So, your goal with first aid is to make the person as comfortable as possible and to make sure he or she doesn’t get further injured during the evacuation. The best way to do this is to construct a splint that can stabilize the injured part of the body.
HOW TO CONSTRUCT A SPLINT
You can construct splints out of any combination of items— clothing, bandages, handkerchiefs, tent poles, stadium chairs, sleeping pads, sticks, etc. If you have a well-stocked first aid kit, you might even have a SAM splint, which is a long, skinny roll of thin, flexible aluminum that is padded on both sides with foam. You can shape the splint to fit ankles, wrists, and arms. If the injury is to a joint, to fully immobilize it, you’ll need to build the splint to include the bones on either side of the injured joint. If the injury is to a long bone, you’ll need to build the splint to include the joint on either side of the break. Before starting construction of any splint, check distal CSM—the circulation, sensation, and movement distal to the injury. Deformed body parts can pinch blood vessels and nerves, impairing circulation, sensation, and movement in the extremity. To figure out if this is an issue, ask the person if he or she has any numbness or tingling distal to the injury. You can even gently poke
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the area with both a sharp and a dull object to see if the person can feel the difference. Also see if the skin seems significantly paler and colder distal to the injury or if the distal pulse is either very weak or missing.
If the distal CSM is compromised and you can’t get the person to a hospital within about an hour, you’ll need to try to restore CSM before building a splint. The best way to do this is to slowly and gently pull traction on the extremity as you try to move it back into an anatomically correct position. Before starting to pull traction, get the person’s permission and trust, and let him or her know that you’ll move slowly and stop if he or she tells you to. Gently traction it into position, stopping if you encounter significant resistance or if you’re significantly increasing the person’s pain. Look for the CSM to be restored; the improvement should be significant, just like when a nurse unties the rubber band from your bicep after drawing blood. Hold the injury in that position until you can get the splint in place. Another time you might need to pull gentle traction on an injury before splinting it would be with an open fracture, where the bone end is sticking out of the skin. The person is going to be much more comfortable, not to mention easier to transport, with that bone end returned back inside. Before tractioning it back into position, thoroughly irrigate it with potable water to clean off any dirt. With most musculoskeletal injuries, you probably won’t need to pull traction. As long as there is no impairment of distal CSM and as long as there are no bones sticking out, you can probably just splint it in whatever position is comfortable for the person. If the person is conscious, he or she is probably already holding the joint in the position that is most comfortable. The splint should be well padded; use the person’s spare clothes for this. Any pressure points can damage the person’s skin. And ideally, joints should be in a neutral position, somewhere in the middle of their range of motion.
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The splint should also allow you to monitor the distal CSM. Even if the area had good CSM when you put the splint in place, swelling could eventually make the splint too tight and start to cut off circulation. An easy way to monitor circulation is to keep the person’s toes or fingers visible. If it’s cold, you can roll a thick wool sock over them that you can remove easily when you need to check CSM.
SIMPLE VERSUS HIGH-RISK WOUNDS
There are a few unstable musculoskeletal injuries that can be life-threatening, such as a broken femur, a broken pelvis, and an unstable injury to the spine. These are dangerous because of the risk of the displaced bones cutting large arteries or damaging nerves. To keep those areas of the body fully immobilized, the person would ideally be on a backboard or a litter. It is possible to improvise a litter from materials in the field; this is one of the skills covered in a multiday wilderness first aid course. But carrying a person out of the backcountry in a litter is grueling, so unless you have a very large group, you’re likely going to need to call in a rescue team anyway, and they’ll bring in their own backcountry litter.
With wounds to soft tissue, wilderness medicine is most concerned with whether the wound is simple or high risk. The immediate first aid for both is the same: Stop the bleeding with well-aimed, direct pressure. Then, inspect and clean the wound, dress it, and monitor it for infection. The difference between the two is that a person with a simple wound can probably continue the trip, whereas a person with a high-risk wound needs to get to a doctor, ideally within 48 hours. A simple wound is one that does not go deeper than the skin and subcutaneous fat. With a simple wound, there is no contamination of muscle, bone, tendons, or joints. It is easy to clean and will probably heal on its own over a week or so as it scabs over and drains.
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A high-risk wound is one that is likely to get infected. Examples might be an animal bite, a puncture wound, a wound with crushed or shredded tissue, one that is deep, or one that you’re not able to get clean. Whatever the type of wound, you’re going to want to clean it before you dress it—unless it’s associated with life-threatening bleeding, in which case, once you get the bleeding to stop, don’t do anything that might make it start up again. Even if the cleaning takes a lot of time, if it prevents infection, it will save you time in the long run.
HOW TO CLEAN AND DRESS A WOUND
To clean a wound, wash the surrounding skin surface with soap and potable water, being careful to not get any soap inside the wound itself. Then, irrigate the wound with copious amounts of potable water. Your goal with the irrigation is to flush out any dirt or bacteria, so you’ll want to make sure the water flows easily out of the wound. This is one of the things that makes puncture wounds high risk: You’re not able to irrigate them without risking driving the contaminants deeper into the wound. If your first aid kit has a 60-cc syringe—one of the large syringes that doesn’t have a needle attached—you can use it to create a pressurized stream of water to better irrigate a wound. Irrigation might make the wound start bleeding again if it disturbs the clot. For this reason, don’t try to clean any wound that might cause life-threatening bleeding. If the stream of water isn’t enough to clean out any debris, you could also use tweezers.
Remember to wear personal protective equipment like gloves and glasses if you’re helping someone else with a wound.
It may be tempting to irrigate with iodine or hydrogen peroxide, but these chemicals can kill body cells as well as bacteria, and the dead tissue can then increase the risk of infection. In the backcountry, potable water is best for wound irrigation. The one exception to
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this is with an animal bite where you are worried about rabies; in that case, clean the wound vigorously with warm water and soap and follow it with irrigation with a povidone-iodine solution.
When you’re cleaning the wound, try to see if it has penetrated the fascia. This is an important distinction between simple and highrisk wounds. The fascia is easy to spot: It’s a tough, dull-white layer. Underneath it you might see the shiny surfaces of tendons, bones, or joint surfaces, or you might see the deep-red color of muscle. If there’s a hole in the fascia, risk of infection is high, and the person needs to get to a doctor. After the wound is cleaned, you can cover it with antibiotic ointment and a sterile dressing to keep it clean and to absorb drainage. Most first aid kits have white gauze and a roll of cloth tape. This might be adequate for the frontcountry, but in the backcountry, gauze and cloth tape tend to get dirty and wet and don’t stay in place very well. If you are planning to be out for more than one overnight or if you’re planning on being in wet environments, it’s worth spending extra money to get bandages designed for long-term care of open wounds. Some first aid kits include supplies for closing wounds, such as butterfly bandages or wound closure glue. But in general, wilderness medicine discourages closing a wound in the backcountry; it might trap bacteria inside, keep the wound from draining as it heals, and lead to infection. In the backcountry, it’s generally better to leave the wound open—but protected under a sterile, breathable bandage. There might be some times in the backcountry when you decide to temporarily close a wound—for example, if the wound is on the person’s hand or foot and leaving it open makes travel painful. In this case, you could tape it shut during the day and then remove the tape at night so that the wound can drain. But before closing a wound even temporarily, be sure it’s a simple wound, rather than a high-risk wound.
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FIRST AID FOR BLISTERS AND BURNS
Blisters are another example of an issue where the demands of travel may make you decide to take an action that you wouldn’t otherwise. In general, it’s best to leave a blister intact so that the skin can do its job of keeping out bacteria. But if the blister is large and painful and is preventing someone from being able to, for example, put on a hiking boot, you might decide to drain it. If you do decide to drain a blister, first wash the area with soap and water and then sterilize a sharp blade with an iodine swab or a flame. Make a small cut in the lower edge of the blister and let the fluid drain out. Leave the skin from the top of the blister in place so that it can protect the wound from bacteria. Then, cover the area with antibiotic ointment and a bandage, and monitor it for infection. If you have a blister that breaks open on its own, rather than being drained in a sterile way, it’s at risk of getting infected. In contrast to the blister that you purposely drained, with a blister that broke open, you’ll need to trim away the dead skin and irrigate it to remove bacteria. Then, you treat it the same: with antibiotic ointment and a sterile bandage. Immediate first aid for a burn is to stop the burning by, ideally, submerging the burn in cool water. Then, as with other wounds to soft tissue, determine whether it’s a simple or high-risk wound. If it’s a simple burn, you can treat it just like any simple wound— clean, dress, and monitor. If it’s high risk, then the person needs to get to a hospital, ideally within 48 hours. Knowing how deep the burn is will help you determine if it’s high risk. ○○ If the skin is inflamed and sensitive but there are no blisters, it’s a superficial burn. ○○ If there are blisters and the skin is sensitive, it’s a partial-thickness burn. ○○ If the skin is black or leathery with reduced sensation, it’s a fullthickness burn.
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Any full-thickness burn is high risk, as the skin is dead and can cause infection. A partial-thickness burn can also be high risk if it’s on the face, genitalia, hands, or feet or if it completely circles an extremity. Burns in these places can cause lots of swelling that can reduce circulation. Also, any burn that covers more than 10 percent of someone’s body is high risk because the large area of damaged skin might make it difficult for the person to regulate body temperature or stay hydrated. Any burn where the respiratory system is involved is high risk because swelling and draining could interfere with breathing. If you see singed facial hair, burned lips, or sooty spit or if the person suddenly develops a persistent cough after the burn, treat it as an urgent evacuation. Chemical burns and burns from human-made electrical current are also high risk, but you’re unlikely to encounter these in the backcountry.
What to Include in Your First Aid Kit In wilderness medicine, the most perplexing issues are often internal medical issues with no easily identifiable cause. You’re not likely in the backcountry to be able to determine what exactly is wrong with someone who doesn’t feel well, but you can look for red flags to know if you should start an evacuation or just let the person take a rest day and assume he or she will feel better soon. For this purpose, keep a wilderness medicine field guide in your first aid kit. It’s small and lightweight and has notes on common medical problems as well as how to assess their urgency and how to treat them. A field guide designed for wilderness medicine focuses most on helping you make the distinction between an issue you can safely treat in the field, an emergency evacuation, and a nonemergency evacuation. Whichever field guide you choose, it should include a few blank SOAP— subjective, objective, assessment, plan—note forms, which have spaces
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for you to write a brief description of what happened as well as record the person’s identifying information, symptoms, allergies, medications, and last ins and outs (oral intakes and toilet visits). You can also record observations from any physical examinations you do, including vital signs over time. Your first aid kit should include two different types of medications for managing pain, along with information about indications for each. Over-thecounter pain medications come in two basic types: acetaminophen (also known as APAP or paracetamol) and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin). The recommendation would be to alternate between the two types of drug, taking each at its maximum dose for the recommended interval.
READING SUGGESTED Isaac and Johnson, Wilderness and Rescue Medicine. Wilkerson, Moore, and Zafren, eds., Medicine for Mountaineering & Other Wilderness Adventures.
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NAVIGATING WITH A COMPASS The human mind has an unflagging ability to convince us that what we think is in front of us is actually in front of us—to make the land match the map. But if you always know where you are, you’ll never be lost.
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HOW TO SHOOT A BEARING
You should never leave a known location without having a specific destination that you can see and that you know for certain is what you think it is—or, if you can’t see it, at least have a bearing you can follow to get there. Luckily, it’s not difficult to learn to use a compass to shoot a bearing, which involves using your compass to calculate the exact direction from one point to another. But be careful not to get so excited about calculating your bearing that you forget about the other pieces of the navigation puzzle. Sometimes when people learn to shoot a bearing, they focus so much on that one technique that they forget to pay attention to their surroundings and to maintain their mental model of their location. They neglect to orient the map or to read the contour lines and match the features on the map with the physical features in the real world. It is easy to make a mistake while shooting a bearing. But if you have been maintaining your mental model of the world, you should catch your error right away. Calculating a bearing is just the final confirmation that you are heading in the correct direction. When you’re standing in any given spot, you are at the center of a circle of all the different directions you could travel. Just like any circle, it can be divided into 360 degrees. If you assign north the position of zero (or 360) degrees, then east is 90 degrees, south is 180, and west is 270. Your compass marks these degrees on its housing, or bezel, which can rotate. All you’re doing when you calculate a bearing is using your compass like a protractor to make a precise measurement from where you’re standing of the angle between true north and where you’d like to go.
Maps can be oriented to true north or grid north. These are simply two slightly different ways of projecting the round earth onto a flat map: The north-south lines on a map oriented to true north will be lines of longitude, and the north-south lines on a map oriented to grid north will be Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) grid lines. It’s usually no more than a degree or
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two of difference between grid north and true north, so it doesn’t make a practical difference for backcountry navigation. For ease, this lecture refers to grid north as north on the map. That way, the instructions will be accurate for whatever map you’re using, whether it’s oriented to grid north or true north. And the UTM grid lines are referred to as north-south lines. That way, the instructions would be the same if you were using a map that had longitude lines marked instead of the UTM grid.
The main error people make when they’re learning to shoot a bearing is that they get distracted by the magnetic needle when they are trying to calculate the bearing. When you’re calculating a bearing from a map, you should ignore the magnetic needle. This is because it doesn’t matter where north is in the real world; all that matters is the angle on your map between north and the place you want to end up. To make it easier for you to remember to ignore the magnetic needle, before calculating a bearing, purposely rotate your map so that it's not oriented to the world around you. This makes the magnetic needle less distracting. To help you remember the steps in shooting a bearing, use this mnemonic: estimate, calculate, declinate, navigate. ○○ estimate: Before grabbing your compass, make an educated guess about what the bearing will be. If, later, when you use your compass to calculate your bearing, you get a number that is way off from your original estimate, you know that you probably made a mistake in the calculation. If you haven’t taken the time to estimate your bearing before calculating it, you might not catch your mistake—and then you’ll start walking in the wrong direction. To estimate your bearing, use two pencils, putting the erasers of both on the spot where you’re standing. Point one pencil toward north on the map; this is usually the top of the map, but look at the key to double-check. Point the second pencil toward where you want to end up. Then, estimate this angle.
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○○ calculate: To calculate the exact bearing using your compass, line up the edge of the compass with the line of travel, making sure that the direction-of-travel arrow is pointing toward where you want to go. During this step, it’s easy to accidentally flip your compass around, which would give you a bearing that is 180 degrees off, but if you remembered to estimate first, you’ll catch that mistake right away. After you’ve lined the edge of the compass along the line of travel and double-checked that the direction-of-travel arrow is pointing the correct way, rotate the housing, or bezel, until the orienting arrow and orienting lines point toward north on the map. The orienting arrow and lines are printed on the bottom plate of the rotating capsule. If your map has north-south lines printed, you can use them to help you be as accurate as possible—by making the orienting lines parallel with the nearest north-south line. Remember to check the map key so that you know what the vertical lines represent and be careful that you are looking at actual north-south lines, not some other lines. Once you rotate the bezel to point the orienting arrow to true north, you can read your bearing. If it’s close enough to your estimate, you’ll know that you didn’t make a major mistake in the calculation. ○○ declinate: If you’re in a place where there isn’t enough magnetic declination to worry about, you can skip this step. But if you’re in a place with significant declination, you need to correct for that before setting off on your bearing. In places with significant declination, your compass’s magnetic needle doesn’t point directly at north on the map. For practice, assume that you’re somewhere with 10 degrees west declination—for example, western Pennsylvania. You’d need to add 10 degrees to the bearing you calculated by rotating the bezel west. With west declination, you can think about moving north on your compass toward the west. Or, if you were somewhere with 10 degrees east declination—for example, central Colorado—you’d need to subtract 10 degrees by rotating the bezel east. With east declination, think about moving north on your compass toward the east. Now that you’ve calculated your bearing Declination is also and adjusted for declination, don’t covered in lecture 9. rotate the bezel any more. If you leave the bezel where it is, the compass will
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“remember” your bearing for you; it’s the number on the bezel that lines up with the “read bearing here” marker. ○○ navigate: Use the compass to identify the physical feature in the real world that corresponds with the feature on the map to which you just shot a bearing. This is the first time in this process that you will pay attention to the magnetic needle. Hold your compass with two hands in front of your belly button so that the direction-of-travel arrow points directly out from you and then rotate your entire body until the magnetic needle lines up inside the orienting arrow. Then, raise your eyes up and look at what is directly in front of you—this is your bearing.
People often make two common mistakes at this point: ○○ In their attempt to get the magnetic needle to line up with the orienting arrow, rather than rotating their body, people rotate the bezel. That’s effectively erasing the bearing you calculated and replacing it with some random bearing of whatever direction you happen to be facing at that moment. Remember, once you’ve calculated the bearing and adjusted for declination, leave the bezel alone! ○○ People simultaneously rotate the compass as they rotate their body. When they get the magnetic needle into the orienting arrow and then look up, although their compass is pointing in the correct direction, they are not.
Once you reach your target destination, you’ll want to shoot another bearing to your next target. That way, you’re always shooting a bearing from a precise, known location. You may not want to travel directly on your bearing—and that’s OK. As long as you shot your bearing from a known location and got a good look at your target and can keep the target in view as you travel, you can choose the easiest or most enjoyable path to travel. You don’t need to travel in an exactly straight line. But if your visibility is limited or could become limited without much warning, you’ll need to walk on your bearing to keep track of where
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you are. To walk on a bearing, pick a point in front of you that is on your bearing and that you can easily see as you walk. When you reach that spot, pick a new point that is also on your bearing and walk to it. In a very dense forest or in a heavy fog, you might need to have a partner walk in front of you as you stand in one spot. Then, you direct the person to the left or right until he or she is lined up on the bearing. Next, your partner stands still as you walk to him or her. Then, you repeat the process. This process might seem cumbersome, and you might think that you check your bearing just once and then walk on a straight line by just paying attention, but humans are notoriously bad at walking in a straight line. Even being as careful as you can to stay on your bearing while traveling in a place with limited visibility, you will likely not be exactly on your bearing. If there is a linear feature in the real world that you can use as a handrail—such as roads, rivers, creeks, lakeshores, prominent trails, or steep cliff faces— you can aim off with your initial calculated bearing so that you intersect the handrail to one side or the other of your target. When you intersect the handrail, you’ll know which way to follow it to find your target. If you don’t aim off, then when you get to the handrail and you’re not exactly at your target, you won’t know which way to turn to try to find it.
HOW TO FOLLOW BACK BEARINGS AND GET AROUND OBSTACLES
There are a few more basic skills you’ll want to know if you are going to travel off-trail using a map and compass: how to follow a back bearing and how to get around an obstacle that you encounter while you’re following a bearing. ○○ You might want to follow a back bearing if you need to retrace your steps after walking on a bearing. You don’t need to rotate the bezel on the compass; you can just navigate by rotating the
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entire compass until the traditionally white or black end of the magnetic needle lines up inside the orienting arrow, rather than the traditionally red end of the magnetic needle. Then, follow the direction of the travel arrow. ○○ If you encounter an obstacle while you’re walking on a bearing, you’ll need to figure out a way to get around it without getting off your intended route. •• If you can see across the obstacle, pick a prominent feature on the other side that is in line with your bearing. Walk around the edge of the obstacle until you get to the mark. Then, resume walking on your bearing. Because navigating •• If you can’t see across or over the off-trail with just a obstacle, you can walk around it map and a compass by walking three sides of a square is an advanced skill, and counting your paces as you find places to practice go. When you first encounter the where you have a obstacle, walk at 90 degrees off safety net. Consider from your initial bearing, counting bringing a GPS or a your paces until you reach the end smartphone with a of the obstacle. Then, turn back to GPS app for backup— your original bearing and walk until but don’t rely on such you clear the side of the obstacle. electronic devices, To get back on your original route, because they can fail. walk at 90 degrees in the other direction for the same number of paces you walked at your initial bearing. That should bring you back onto your original route but on the correct side of the obstacle. Now you can continue walking on your original bearing and know you’re back on course.
READING SUGGESTED Caudill and Trimble, Essential Wilderness Navigation.
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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE LOST There are two main approaches to dealing with being lost: Don’t get lost in the first place, and make sure you’ve told someone exactly where you’re going and when to expect you back just in case you do get lost.
HOW TO AVOID GETTING LOST
People often get lost when they leave the trail, perhaps to relieve their bladder, set up camp, or gather firewood. If you are going to leave the trail, be deliberate about it. Look at the lay of the land and for notable features that can help you remain oriented, and turn around regularly to look back to make sure you know how to retrace your steps. You might also consider using your compass to note the direction you’re traveling as you leave the trail; this is an especially good idea if the vegetation is dense or if you’re going to walk far enough to lose sight of the trail.
Not getting lost in the first place means having basic skills with a map and compass, and perhaps also having a GPS for backup. It also means being mindful of not getting lost—paying attention to your surroundings and being deliberate about your movement. And consider always going out with a companion; solo hikers are much more likely to get lost than those in a group.
People also get lost easily when they’re walking at night with a headlamp or flashlight. The light ruins their night vision, effectively shrinking their world to the small circle of light. In this limited world, it’s easy to get turned around and not know which way to walk to get back to the tent. If you need to leave camp at night, consider doing so without turning on your light; there is probably enough ambient light for you to walk a short distance away from your tent without losing sight of it. Or, if you need to walk farther and need a light to do so, leave a second light lit at camp and make sure you don’t lose sight of it as you walk. Or ask your campmate to stay awake until you get back; if you get turned around, you can shout, and he or she can direct you back. People also get lost when they accidentally get off the trail but keep walking. As soon as you start to wonder whether or not you’re on the trail, stop walking!
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When you realize you don’t know for sure where you are, use the acronym STOP: sit, think, observe, plan. ○○ sit: Sitting will help you calm down and help you resist the urge to wander farther. Take a drink from your water bottle and eat a snack. ○○ think: As you sit, think about where you might be. Could you reliably retrace your steps? Look at your map and think about when the last time was that you were certain about where you were. How long ago was that? Given your walking pace, how far could you have walked since then? Note the general area on the map where it’s reasonable that you could be. ○○ observe: Use all of your senses to observe your surroundings. Can you hear a highway or a river in the distance or the voices of other hikers? Do you see any landmarks? How long will it be before it gets dark? What does it look like the weather will do in the next few hours? ○○ plan: Survival experts disagree on whether it’s better to stay put and wait to be rescued or whether you should try to find your way out. You’ll have to make that decision based on many different factors. How confident are you that you could find your way out? Does anyone know where you are, and will someone notice when you don’t return on time? Is where you are safe? What supplies do you have with you? Could you spend the night out and be OK?
SELF-RESCUE OR STAY PUT?
Some experts suggest that if you are confident in your ability to find your way out or if you are sure that no one will come looking for you, you should self-rescue. If you are relatively confident that you could retrace your steps, you can try to find your way back to the trail. If you’re going to try this, leave markers behind you as you walk so that you can find your way back to your current spot in case you don’t find the trail. These
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markers could be intentionally broken branches, sticks propped up at odd angles against trees, or small piles of rocks. As you walk, stop frequently to look behind you and make sure you can see the previous marker from where you are.
If you have a compass and a good idea of which direction to walk to intersect a road, you could walk on a compass bearing. Even if your smartphone has no service, the compass will still work, as will any GPS-based navigation apps you have loaded on it. Or you could use the North Star or the sun to figure out cardinal directions. If you don’t have a compass, you could just walk downhill; this might make sense if you are in a mountainous yet densely populated part of the world. If you decide to walk downhill and come upon a creek or river, follow it.
how to use the North Star to figure out where you are: https://www. markford.net/2017/12/29/how-to-navigate-at-nightwithout-youriphone/
how to use the sun to find your direction: https://modernsurvivalblog. com/survival-skills/find-your-direction-with-a-stick-and-the-sun/
If you’re not confident that you could retrace your steps to find the trail or otherwise navigate yourself to safety, most survival experts would agree that it’s probably best to stay put, especially if someone will be missing you soon and starting a search. If you stopped walking as soon as you started to feel Three blasts like you weren’t confident in your location, you’re of a whistle probably not far from the trail. If you stay where is a widely you are and shout or blow your whistle in bursts of known signal three, it’s possible that another person will find you. of distress. If a search is organized, people will start looking in the most likely places. You don’t want to inadvertently wander out of the search area. It’s very easy for people to get turned around and walk in the completely wrong direction. If you don’t have good navigation skills and a compass or clear terrain to follow, it is probably best to stay put.
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Studies of people trying to walk in a straight line in the woods show that most end up walking in circles.
If you have a cell phone but there’s not enough service to make a call, try sending a text; texts can often get through, even with only very spotty coverage. But don’t go traipsing off in some unknown direction to try to find a signal; this could get you even more lost.
FINDING SHELTER AND WATER
As you make your plan to stay put, consider the rule of threes: Survival experts say that a human can survive for three minutes without air, three hours exposed to the elements without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Your first priority should be shelter. This doesn’t necessarily mean constructing an elaborate structure, but it does mean making sure you can maintain a safe body temperature and not damage your skin. If you’re in the hot sun, this will mean finding or constructing some shade. If you’re in a chilly location, it will mean finding insulation. If you’re in a cold, wet place, it will mean finding a way to stay dry.
No one plans on getting lost, so even if you’re just going out for a day hike, wear appropriate clothing and fill your pack with a raincoat, a knife, a lighter, water-purification drops, an emergency blanket, a headlamp, a whistle, a mirror, and a compass.
Look around you to see what nature is providing that can be used to protect you from the elements. See if you can improve the spot by dragging over some tree branches to add to the roof or walls. Gather piles of leaves or pine needles to use as insulation; shove them into your clothes, compress them into the walls of your shelter, and heap them into a big pile for sleeping.
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There’s no one right way to make a sleeping shelter. It could be as simple as two logs lying parallel on the ground, acting like side walls to contain a massive pile of leaves. You can just burrow into the pile when you’re ready for bed. If you don’t have much time before the sun sets, this “squirrel nest” might be all you have time to build. Whatever you’re building for a shelter, remember that you’d really like to be found before you have to use it, so as you work, keep occasionally blowing your whistle in bursts of three. After you’ve constructed your shelter, your next priority should be to make yourself visible to would-be rescuers. If it’s getting dark and you don’t have much time to construct a signal, this could be as simple as tying a brightly colored or shiny piece of clothing or equipment from a tree branch before crawling into your shelter to go to sleep. Then, the next morning, set about devising more elaborate ways to get the attention of would-be rescuers. Look for a nearby place with a clear view to the sky where you can make a signal and then think of something that would draw the attention of a search plane. Could you use your space blanket
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or your bright-red bandanna to make a flag? Are there objects of contrasting colors that you could use to make a large X?
A boy lost in the Grand Canyon was rescued after he made a large X with rocks on a sandy beach.
If it’s safe to make a fire, you could prepare a signal fire. But make sure it’s safe to do so—there have been several instances of lost people making fires to try to get attention and then accidentally starting a wildfire. If it’s dry or windy, pick a different signal method.
A lost hunter in California was charged with starting the 2003 Cedar Fire, a wildfire that killed 15 people.
If you believe it’s safe to prepare a fire, choose a place with good visibility. Clear away any leaf litter. Prepare a fire with dry tinder that will make as much smoke as possible once it’s lit. A mirror is another good way to get the attention of searchers. Purpose-made signal mirrors even have a sighting lens that helps you aim a flash of light at your target. After you’ve created shelter and a way to signal to rescuers, your next priority will be water. There aren’t many reliable ways to collect water if you don’t know where to go to find surface water. There are some techniques, but they can’t be relied on to produce adequate amounts of water. ○○ Rig up a rain-collection system using your raincoat, a plastic sheet or bag, or even a big sheet of tree bark.
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○○ Spread your absorbent clothes out in the rain and then repeatedly wring them out into a water bottle. Or use a handkerchief to sop up dew and wring it into a water bottle. ○○ Look for a seep or a spring—or even a dry streambed. If you dig a hole there, it might fill in with water. ○○ Drink your own urine. Many survival manuals advise against it because of toxins that will build up in your kidneys and eventually cause kidney failure, but there are some documented cases of people in survival situations doing this for a few days.
If you can find surface water but don’t have a way to purify it, you’ll need to weigh the risks. You could try digging a small hole next to the stream or pond and letting water seep into it; the soil might filter the water slightly. If you’re not able to find water and you haven’t been rescued after a few days, you’ll need to move to try to find water or to reach a road. If you are able to find enough water, experts would suggest that you continue to stay put. Don’t worry about food—just stay hydrated and sheltered and conserve your energy.
Caudill, Extreme Wilderness Survival. Pewtherer, Wilderness Survival Handbook.
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MAINTAINING AND REPAIRING YOUR GEAR If you don’t properly care for and maintain your gear, even expensive gear won’t serve you well for long.
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CARING FOR YOUR GEAR
For any piece of gear you buy, read—and save—the manufacturer’s instructions on how to care for it. It’s frustrating to waste money by damaging gear through improper care, but even worse, improperly functioning gear could put you at risk. Leather hiking boots should be occasionally cleaned and conditioned. Camping equipment stores sell footwear-cleaning gel and leather conditioner. For soft goods—such as sleeping bags, rain gear, tarps, tents, and backpacks—the most important consideration is making sure they’re stored properly. The fabric needs to be clean and completely dry before being stored away. When you come home from a trip, it’s tempting to just pull your tent out of your backpack and toss it, still in its storage bag, into the basement. But, if it’s at all damp or if it’s very dirty, it might start to mildew or the waterproof coatings might get damaged. Usually, this is as simple as brushing off any dirt, using a damp cloth to wipe off any mud, removing any tree sap with rubbing alcohol, and then draping the material over a drying line. The next morning, flip the material over to make sure both sides have a chance to dry fully. Or, if you have a large space, such as a garage or a basement, you could even set up the tent inside to dry overnight. Then, store it somewhere dry and out of the sun, ideally loosely stuffed inside a breathable storage bag. If the item has more dirt on it than you can take care of with some brushing or spot-wiping, you can fill a bathtub or utility sink with fresh water, dunk the item, and give it some vigorous swirling. That will take care of most normal levels of dirt. If you feel you need to add soap, visit a camping store to buy soap that is formulated for the type of gear you want to clean. There are specific soaps for tents, synthetic and down insulation, waterproofbreathable fabrics, and wet suits.
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Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the amount of soap as well as the method of washing and rinsing and, if applicable, drying. You might find that your waterproof-breathable rain gear recovers much of the waterproofness it had when it was new just by being properly cleaned and dried at the appropriate heat setting. Sometimes, even after washing with soap, your item might still be stinky. This is common with wet suits, synthetic long underwear, and even tents that have been stored too long while damp. If that’s the case, visit a camping store to buy Revivex Odor Eliminator, formerly called MiraZyme, which is a blend of water-activated microbes that removes the bacteria that is causing the odor.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT GEAR THAT’S WEARING OUT
Making sure your soft goods are clean and dry before storing them is the most important part of maintenance, but occasionally you have to go a step further. When waterproof fabrics start to lose their waterproofness, you can give them a bit more life through spray-on treatments. These are available for tent flies and rain gear and are called durable water repellent (DWR) finishes. When seams on tent flies or tent floors start to leak, you can coat the seams with seam sealer, a glue-like substance that you squeeze from a tube and then spread along the seam with a small brush after prepping the seam with rubbing alcohol. There are different kinds of seam sealer for silicone-impregnated nylon and for urethane-coated nylon, so make sure you get the correct kind. And give the seam seal plenty of time to cure before packing the tent away. Sometimes, on an old tent, the waterproof coating on the floor or fly might start to flake off. To squeeze a bit more life out of the tent, you can reseal the areas that are flaking. Use rubbing alcohol and a green scrubby to remove the flaky parts. Then, reapply a thin coat of liquid tent sealer and let it dry for a day or so.
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Zippers are another area where soft goods start to wear out. If zippers are sticking, you can apply a zipper lubricant; plastic zippers and metal zippers need different types of lubricant, so make sure you buy the right kind. If the zipper teeth keep pulling apart in the middle, the problem can often be solved, at least for a while, by using pliers to gently squeeze the front and back of the slider closer together. If the problem persists, you can replace the slider by removing the end stopper, pulling the slider all the way off, working a new slider onto the zipper, and then squeezing a new end stopper through the fabric using pliers. Check the back of the old slider to see what size slider to buy, and make sure it’s a slider for the correct kind of zipper—metal, plastic, or waterproof. Rips in nylon are one of the easiest things to repair. Just prep the area with rubbing alcohol and cut a rounded patch out of a sheet of repair tape—nylon fabric with a sticky backing. You can find repair tape in regular, rip-stop, or even waterproof-breathable versions. Or you can get clear repair tape that is made of polyurethane plastic. The adhesive on repair tape is amazingly strong, and it’s likely your patch will last for the life of the item. If the patch will be under high tension, you can make it even stronger by patching both sides of the rip. Repair patches also exist for bug mesh—no sewing skills needed! Small holes can be fixed even without repair tape by using a small dab of seam seal. You can patch numerous small holes in dry bags, bivy sacks, tent flies, and dry suits by putting a temporary piece of tape on the back of the hole to provide a backing for the seam seal and then just dabbing seam seal on top and letting it dry overnight. This repair isn’t as pretty as a nice patch, but it’s easy to do in the field. If the amount of repairing your soft goods need is beyond your skill level, look for a local business that specializes in repairing outdoor gear. Some outdoor stores have a gear-repair service, and some shoe-repair shops will also agree to work on outdoor gear. Also, many manufacturers of outdoor gear will repair their own gear, even years after its sale.
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THOROUGHLY CHECKING YOUR GEAR BEFORE USE
Before you head out into the field, give all your gear a thorough check. Even if it was fine when you put it away, it’s worth checking one more time before heading out, especially if you’re going out for more than a day trip. Not only is it more comfortable to be cleaning and repairing gear indoors, but you’ll have better access to tools, spare parts, instruction books, repair videos, and advice. ○○ Pump some water through your water filter. If it is starting to get clogged, you’re going to be much happier cleaning it in your kitchen sink than you will be crouched on the side of a creek. ○○ Test-fire your stove. If it doesn’t have a clean, blue flame, you’re going to be glad you’re not trying to clean it in the dark with freezing hands. ○○ Set up your tent. It might save you from not realizing until you arrive at camp that you stored the tent poles in a different spot and forgot to grab them or that you accidentally grabbed the poles for the other tent.
Gear does get old and, even when cared for well, can start to be unreliable. This type of subtle wear can be tricky to notice. For example, silicone-impregnated nylon, even if kept out of the sun, can start to become porous after seven or more years. And synthetic insulation, even if stored properly, will start to lose its loft after as little as three or four years. You might not notice the degradation until the weather turns bad. If you have gear that is getting toward the end of its life expectancy and are planning on going out for more than just an overnight or if you’re going out in inclement weather, it would be worth doing a trial run with the gear. You could set up your tent in the backyard and let the sprinkler run on it for a while or spend one night in your sleeping bag in your backyard—or even do a one-night “shakedown” trip before heading out on the longer trip.
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BASIC REPAIRS IN THE FIELD
No matter how well you maintain your gear, you’ll want to be able to perform some basic repairs in the field. For many repairs, duct tape will at least solve the problem long enough for you to get out of the backcountry and do a longerlasting repair. So that you reliably have the duct tape with you when you need it, you can store it wrapped around a water bottle. Add to your repair arsenal some parachute cord (p-cord) and a multitool, and you can jury-rig an astounding number of field fixes. Good nylon p-cord has a breaking strength of 500 pounds, and a multitool with an awl can drill holes in almost anything. With just those two items, you can field-fix most of what you can’t fix with duct tape. If you’re headed out for more than an overnight, it’s a good idea to bring a more substantial repair kit with you. In addition to the duct tape, p-cord, and multitool, a basic repair kit should include a few safety pins, an extra buckle for the hip belt of your backpack, a few feet of sturdy metal wire, a small sewing kit, a tube of seam seal, a sheet of repair tape, a splinting sleeve for a broken tent pole, and a repair kit for your stove. If you’re canoeing, add extra nuts and bolts for your canoe seats and thwarts. If you want to be prepared for slightly more potential repairs, you could also throw in scraps of different kinds of material—rip-stop nylon, rain gear material, tent fly material, bug screen, heavy-duty canvas, and a few feet of two-foot-wide flat webbing. Also consider a Speedy Stitcher, which is a sewing awl that will allow you to sew through multiple layers of thick fabric or even leather. With a well-stocked repair kit and some ingenuity, you should be able to figure out almost any gear-related setback.
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Being able to whittle effectively and safely opens up many possibilities for dealing with malfunctioning or missing gear. Whittling can also be very dangerous if you don’t have good technique, and the backcountry is not where you want to try it for the first time. If you would like to develop whittling skills, read a book or watch a video to learn proper technique and then practice at home. Use a fixed-blade knife that is designed for whittling; a folding knife is not safe for whittling.
The most valuable resource you have for gear repair in the field is your resourcefulness. When you’re trying to figure out how to fix something, be expansive in your thinking about what you have at your disposal. It’s not just what’s inside your designated repair kit; consider using your dental floss, the drawstring on your pajama pants, the thin plastic sheet you’ve been using for a cutting board, or even the empty plastic bag left over from dinner.
Much of the equipment we deal with in our daily lives—cars, furnaces, refrigerators—is too complex for the average person to repair. But in the backcountry, things are simpler. It’s a great feeling to be able to diagnose a problem, think of a solution, and get the thing working again.
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CONNECTING TO THE WILD WITHIN YOU There are some simple practices you can adopt when you go outdoors that can help you notice and appreciate the world around you.
VISUAL CONNECTIONS TO NATURE
A camera can be a help or a hindrance to being present and feeling a connection with nature. Cameras can be a distraction, causing you to focus on the images you’re capturing instead of fully enjoying the moment, but used in certain ways, cameras can help you notice and remember things better.
Research shows that people don’t automatically feel a connection with the outdoors through being outside. In fact, sometimes outdoor pursuits make people feel antagonistic toward nature.
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Researchers are just starting to understand how cameras affect experience and memory. Researchers found that people visiting a museum remembered fewer details if they’d been snapping photos while inside. But visitors who were instructed to take zoomed-in photos remembered more details. In the outdoors, maybe if you use a camera to help you hone in on small details, you’ll remember more of the experience. Instead of a camera, you could also use a small hand lens to magnify details. Another idea is to limit the number of photos you allow yourself to take. Maybe give yourself the challenge of taking only one photo every day, and spend 15 minutes studying your subject before snapping the shutter. The intense focus on the visual can come with a cost. Researchers find that people using cameras—even in ways that help them better remember the visuals—recall less from their other senses. If you are going to use a camera in the outdoors, remind yourself occasionally to listen, feel, and smell. Also, consider deciding in advance that you’re not going to post your photos online. Researchers found that people enjoy the act of taking photos less when they are planning to share the photos— perhaps because they become self-conscious. Take the photo for you. What’s more, the act of posting the photos subtly changes the way people remember the moment; they start to remember it from a third-person, outsider perspective, rather than through their own eyes. One way to focus on the visual in a way that keeps you present in the moment, enhances your memories, and maybe even makes you happy is nature journaling. Bring a sketchbook and pencil and sit for a while focusing on some small detail, such as a pine cone or a gnarled juniper tree. If you’ve never tried sketching, it may be intimidating at first, but give it a try—no one has to see it but you. Think of it as an enjoyable meditation rather than as art.
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To start drawing, try some of the drills art teachers commonly use with new students. continuous line drawing: Once you put your pencil on the paper, don’t take it off until you finish the drawing. gesture drawing: Give yourself a very short amount of time—for example, 20 seconds—to draw something, and don’t let your hand stop moving. value drawing: Instead of using a line to draw, only shade, paying attention to the relative lightness and darkness of each area of the object.
Don’t worry if your drawings don’t look like art. Their appearance isn’t what’s important—rather, it’s the act of drawing and its ability to help you truly see, experience, and remember. And the more often you do it, the easier and more natural it will become. Eventually, you may even want to show people what you drew.
SOLO CONNECTIONS WITH NATURE
Another way to connect with nature is to purposely separate yourself for a short while from the social aspects of your group. Perhaps you can suggest that one day after finishing lunch, everyone spread out along the shoreline or atop the cliff’s edge and spend 15 minutes in solo reflection. Even if you weren’t using this time to commune with nature, you could probably use the break to digest your food and to let your bare feet air out. Once you commit to spending the 15 minutes alone and stationary and without anything like a journal, a book, or a map to occupy your time, you’ll eventually start to notice things you might have missed before. You might even choose to spend a few moments with your eyes closed to heighten the awareness of your other senses.
In groups, people tend to focus inwardly on the group dynamics and never spend much time focusing outwardly on the beauty around them.
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There are also other ways to experience solo time while in a group in the outdoors. You can set up solo hikes by choosing a section of trail that is very well marked and that intersects a very obvious feature, such As counterintuitive as as a bridge or a lake’s edge. it may seem, setting the timer on your Have each member of your group set out individually on the trail with about a watch before doing five-minute gap between each person. a solo sit allows Plan to reconvene at a designated and you to more easily impossible-to-miss spot. Everyone lose yourself in the agrees that if they need to step off moment, because the trail to relieve themselves, they’ll you’re not worrying leave their backpack next to the trail. that too much time The final person on the trail makes has passed or that sure everyone has made it safely to the other people in the rendezvous point and carries the medical kit and communication device. your group might be waiting for you. These types of group solo hikes allow you to experience the solitude of hiking alone while still having the safety of a group. But don’t do this if you’re in grizzly bear country, where solo hikers are more likely to startle a bear, or if you’re a petite person hiking in mountain lion territory. If you’re going to do this, make sure the section of trail you’ve chosen doesn’t have any confusing intersections along the way where people could get lost. It’s also a good idea to have the first person down the trail be someone who has As fun as it is to hike in a copy of the map and is good with a group, it’s also good to have the solitude and navigation. If he or she comes to a communion with nature spot that might be confusing to the of hiking alone. It’s like a people following behind, that person walking meditation. should wait there to make sure everyone stays on the main trail. Even if you aren’t able to be physically separate from your companions, you can experience some solitude and nature
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awareness by choosing to travel together for a time in silence (again assuming that you’re not in bear territory). Traveling in silence offers the added benefit of seeing more wildlife that wasn’t scared off by your group’s noise. Making the explicit decision that everyone will travel in silence for a while frees the extroverts from feeling that they need to keep the conversation going and reminds everyone to focus on their surroundings.
Another memorable way to connect with nature is to do an alpine start—named for mountaineers who, on summit day, wake up well before sunrise to start toward the summit so that they have time to make it back down before dark. You don’t need to be heading for some massive summit to do an alpine start; just wake up a few hours before sunrise and get camp packed away in time to be on the move as the day starts to break. But don’t hike before dawn if you’re in bear or mountain lion country. Nightfall is also a time when some simple practices can help you connect with nature. It’s tempting to bust out bright lanterns and blinding headlamps as soon as it starts to get dark, but if you choose to keep artificial lights off, your eyes can adjust surprisingly well. Bright lights at night can narrow your attention to only your immediate surroundings, making you feel shut off from, and even vulnerable to, the world around you. If you must use an artificial light, try to use a red light that preserves your night vision. As pleasant as it can be to sit around a campfire, it’s also nice to occasionally skip the campfire and instead lie on your back, just staring at the stars. Consider memorizing a handful of constellations and learning how to find the North Star.
LOOKING UP AT THE SKY AND DOWN AT PLANTS AND ANIMALS
There are apps that allow you to point your smartphone at the sky and learn the names of the heavenly bodies in your view. There is also the low-tech version in the form of a cardboard star wheel that you can rotate based on the hour of night. Knowing the names of the constellations and planets can help you feel a connection with
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the cosmos as well as with your human ancestors, who gazed at the same sky. Just make sure you eventually put the guides away and let yourself experience the moment without distraction.
Just as knowing a few constellations can help you feel connected to the night sky, knowing a few plants and animals in each area where you travel can help you notice more and feel a connection with other living beings. If this appeals to you, pick up a field guide to your region. There are also apps that allow you to use your smartphone to identify plants. But before you eat anything, be certain you know what it is; taking a class from a local expert is the best way to do this.
In addition to some common plants, you might enjoy learning about wildlife that lives where you’ll be traveling. Part of this is for
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your own safety, but it’s also so that you can notice and appreciate what you see.
Animals are pretty good at detecting your presence before you detect theirs, and they’ll often make themselves scarce before you come around, so sometimes the best way to “observe” them is through their tracks, scat, or other signs. Learning some basic tracking skills allows you to learn the stories of what walked the trail before you. There are good field guides as well as apps for smartphones that you can use as references. Being still and listening is also a good way to detect nearby animals that you may not be lucky enough to see. Before heading out, spend some time on websites where you can listen to the sounds of wild animals that live in your region. More than just being academically interesting, knowing animal calls can save you a lot of unnecessary terror. There are many animals that sound much scarier than they are. The calls of owls, the screams of foxes and badgers, and even the vocalization of an elk can be spine-tinglingly scary if you hear them at night without knowing what’s making the sounds. Once you can recognize the sounds of the animals in your area, it feels cozy to hear them at night. Even during the day, when your imagination is less likely to go wild, it’s fun to be able to identify the calls of birds. Before heading out into an area, research the five or six birds you’ll be most likely to hear. Being able to pick out a few specific songs turns the soundscape from a nondescript din to a chorus of individuals.
Another suggestion for connecting with nature is bringing a book by a writer or poet from that region. In general, it’s not recommended that you spend too much of your precious time outdoors reading, which mentally takes you away from your surroundings. But a wellchosen book can help you see the area where you’re traveling in a new way. If you are going to bring a book, save it for the tent at night; don’t break it out in the evening and accidentally miss the sunset.
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Local bookstores near wilderness areas often have well-curated collections. There are also traditional nature writers, such as John Muir, Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, and Sigurd Olson. If you step outside the canon of traditional nature writers, the right book can help bring alive the historical interactions of humans with a natural space.
There are many ways to connect with nature while in the outdoors. Go enjoy the natural world in whatever way resonates with you!
By helping you visualize humans who came before you and who made their homes in areas that currently appear to be wilderness, these writers help you connect with the land—making it easier for you to see nature as a place that is home rather than as just a backdrop to your adventures or, worse, as a place to be overcome or conquered.
READING SUGGESTED Cornell, Sharing Nature®. Leslie and Roth, Keeping a Nature Journal. Louv, Vitamin N.
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LECTURE 1: True or False? You are statistically more likely to be injured or killed outdoors than indoors. The benefits of being outdoors are predominately physical benefits, such as increased cardiovascular fitness and weight loss.
LECTURE 2: True or False?
A time-control plan for a backpacking trip should take into account the planned distance (mileage), the base pace of the group, the elevation increase on that section of trail, and the number of hours available for hiking. The only way to keep a group together on a trail is to have the slowest person be in the front of the line.
LECTURE 3: True or False?
When paddling, you should dress for the temperature of the water, not for the temperature of the air. A wide, short, flat-bottomed boat would be a good choice for a large lake.
LECTURE 4: True or False?
When selecting gear for a trip, you should consider the length of the trip, the remoteness of the location, the weather conditions, the bugs, and the significance of weight to your mode of travel.
Find the answers at the end of this quiz
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It’s more important each day to be creative in your gear packing rather than to try to stick to a system.
LECTURE 5: True or False?
If you’re not expecting rain, you don’t need to bring a rain jacket and rain pants. If you spend enough money, you can get one pair of boots that will work for all the types of outdoor activities you will want to do.
LECTURE 6: True or False?
Using petroleum jelly to smother a tick that is biting you is a good way to remove it. Eating dried fruit and salted nuts is a good way to replace electrolytes after sweating during exercise in hot climates.
LECTURE 7: True or False?
Clouds in the distance that have vertical accumulation are nothing to worry about as long as the sky above is clear and the winds are light. A picnic shelter or an overpass is a good place to seek shelter from an electrical storm.
LECTURE 8: True or False?
Before the advent of modern navigational tools, humans navigated by using their senses, noticing landmarks, and judging the amount of time they’d been walking. Two methods for measuring distance are counting paces and measuring elapsed time spent walking at a certain pace.
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LECTURE 9: True or False?
All points along a given topographic line are at the same elevation above sea level. Magnetic declination is constant over time in any given location.
LECTURE 10: True or False?
To appropriately manage risks in the backcountry, you will likely need to change your typical approach to low-severity risks. Carrying safety equipment with you and being trained in self-rescue techniques will always make you safer.
LECTURE 11: True or False?
Although emotions contribute, people’s decision-making abilities are driven by logic and reason. Heuristics, or decision-making shortcuts, that work for you in the frontcountry can trap you in the backcountry.
LECTURE 12: True or False?
A widow-maker is a dead tree that is at risk of falling into camp. To keep you dry, the groundsheet for your tent should extend well beyond the tent and rain fly.
LECTURE 13: True or False?
The safest place for a camp stove is on the ground, rather than on a picnic table. Unless you are in a high-traffic desert river canyon like the Grand Canyon, you should disperse your dishwater and any soap 200 feet away from surface water.
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LECTURE 14: True or False?
If your campsite does not have an established fire ring, you can make a fire in a portable fire pan or on top of a mound of mineral soil on a tarp. The general guidelines for firewood collection are the four Ds: dead, dinky, down, and distant.
LECTURE 15: True or False?
The biggest drawback of chemical water purification treatments is that although they are effective against bacteria and viruses, they are less reliable against protozoa. The microorganisms in water that can make people sick cannot be passed directly from person to person—only through drinking contaminated water.
LECTURE 16: True or False?
If your goal is to lose weight while backpacking, you should eat fewer calories per day than you typically do. Your menu choices should be influenced by your capacity to carry heavy or bulky items, how much effort you want to put into cooking, and what cookware you can bring.
LECTURE 17: True or False?
When you find items left in the backcountry by other humans, whether you pack it out or leave it for others to see should depend on how old it is. Minimum-impact camping techniques are the same in all backcountry areas and biomes.
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LECTURE 18: True or False?
Cleaning your body, wearing clean underwear, and cleaning your clothes occasionally are important steps in keeping your skin healthy on the trail. Even on paddling trips or in wet climates, you should make sure your skin is dry for at least eight hours per day.
LECTURE 19: True or False?
Any issue with a person’s “big three” systems (cardiovascular, pulmonary, or nervous) should be treated as an emergency evacuation. STOP EATS is an acronym that can help you remember potential causes of problems with a person’s nervous system.
LECTURE 20: True or False?
With musculoskeletal injuries, it’s important in the backcountry to distinguish between strains, sprains, and breaks. With wounds, wilderness medicine is most concerned with whether the wound is simple or high-risk.
LECTURE 21: True or False?
If you’re traveling off-trail, you should not leave a known location without having a specific destination that you can either see or follow a bearing to reach. Once you’ve become really good at using a compass to calculate a bearing, you can skip the estimate step and go straight to calculate.
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LECTURE 22: True or False?
As soon as you think you might be lost, it’s important to try to get back to the trail as quickly as possible. Your first priority once you realize you’re going to need to spend the night out unexpectedly should be finding food.
LECTURE 23: True or False?
Modern materials like silicone-impregnated nylon can be put into storage while being slightly damp without suffering damage. Once tent seams start to leak, it’s time to retire the tent.
LECTURE 24: True or False?
No matter how you use a camera, it disconnects you from your experience and makes you remember less. Even though the social aspects of a group may distract you from the natural world, there are no safe ways to separate yourself from the group while in the backcountry.
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ANSWERS LECTURE 1
LECTURE 13 1. True 2. True LECTURE 14 1. True
1. False 2. False
LECTURE 6 1. False 2. True
1. False 2. True
LECTURE 12 1. True
LECTURE 16 1. False 2. True
LECTURE 17 1. True
2. False LECTURE 18 1. True 2. True
LECTURE 19 1. False 2. True
LECTURE 20 1. False 2. True
LECTURE 21 1. True
2. False LECTURE 22 1. False 2. False LECTURE 23 1. False 2. False LECTURE 24 1. False 2. False
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Absolon, Molly. Outward Bound Backcountry Cooking. Guilford, CT: Morris, 2011. A new edition of this book will be coming out in late 2019. In it, the author gives guidance on menu selection, amounts, food packing and storage, backcountry baking, cooking over fires as well as stoves, and foraging wild edibles. Caudill, Craig. Extreme Wilderness Survival: Essential Knowledge to Survive Any Outdoor Situation Short-Term or Long-Term, with or without Gear, and Alone or with Others. Salem, MA: Page Street Publishing, 2017. The author shares insights for developing a survivor’s mindset, increasing awareness of one’s surroundings, taking responsibility for personal safety and avoiding danger, and providing for basic needs. Caudill, Craig, and Tracy Trimble. Essential Wilderness Navigation: A RealWorld Guide to Finding Your Way Safely in the Woods with or without a Map and Compass. Salem, MA: Page Street Publishing, 2019. This textbook provides clear instructions and graphics that can give you a solid base of knowledge and skill in backcountry navigation. Cornell, Joseph. Sharing Nature®: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2015. Combining and expanding on the author’s two previous books, Sharing Nature with Children I and II, this book provides guidance on building nature awareness through observation, activities, and games that are predominately targeted toward children but that could be adapted for all ages. Cunningham, Christopher. Sea Kayaker’s More Deep Trouble: More True Stories and Their Lessons from Sea Kayaker Magazine. Blacklick, OH:
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McGraw-Hill Education, 2014. Twenty-nine different accident reports and analyses will allow you to learn from others’ mistakes in coastal kayaks. Damasio, Antonio. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. London: Penguin Books, 1994. This book explores how our brains and our decision-making processes are not as logical and rational as we tend to believe they are. It outlines how emotions and somatic markers aid in our decision making. Ghiglieri, Michael P., and Thomas M. Myers. Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon. 4th ed. Flagstaff, AZ: Puma Press, 2012. Accounts of all of the known fatal mishaps in the Grand Canyon allow the reader to learn from others' mistakes. Gonzales, Laurence. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. This highly readable book explores wilderness implications of the human brain’s cognitive limitations. Numerous accounts of different wilderness survival incidents illustrate key points. Graham, John. Outdoor Leadership: Technique, Common Sense, and SelfConfidence. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1997. This is a classic, now in its 10th printing. Although the chapter on women in leadership is outdated, the remainder of the book provides valuable insights on courageous and caring leadership, communication, decision making, and conflict resolution. Hallinan, Joseph T. Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average. New York: Broadway Books, 2009. This book explores the reasons behind human error and can help you remain humble as you try to manage risk in the outdoors (and in other aspects of your life). Hostetter, Kristin. Backpacker Magazine’s Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair: Step-by-Step Techniques to Maximize Performance and Save Money. Guilford, CT: FalconGuides, 2012. This book gives easyto-follow instructions, with clear illustrations and photographs, on storing,
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maintaining, and fixing outdoor gear. It covers backpacks, tents, boots, sleeping bags, cookware, stoves, trekking poles, zippers, and various other odds and ends. It also gives guidance on when gear might be beyond repair. Huser, Verne. River Running: Canoeing, Kayaking, Rowing, Rafting. 2nd ed. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 2001. Although the sections on equipment are now a bit outdated, given recent innovations, the rest of the book contains valuable overviews of river dynamics, river safety, and different types of paddling. Isaac, Jeffrey E., and David E. Johnson. Wilderness and Rescue Medicine. 6th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2013. This is the textbook for wilderness first responder courses offered by Wilderness Medical Associates. It covers critical body-system problems and field treatments, trauma, backcountry medicine, and environmental medicine. It would be a good adjunct to in-person training. Jacobson, Cliff. Canoeing & Camping: Beyond the Basics. 30th anniversary ed. Guilford, CT: FalconGuides, 2007. This book will help you select a canoe and other equipment, understand basic and applied skills, and help with trip planning. Johnson, Shelley. The Complete Sea Kayaker’s Handbook. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. This winner of the National Outdoor Book Award covers equipment, paddling strokes, rolls and rescue techniques, navigation, surf, currents, wind and waves, fog, and boat repair. It has numerous clear illustrations and photographs. Kick, Peter W. Desperate Steps: Life, Death, and Choices Made in the Mountains of the Northeast. Boston, MA: Appalachian Mountain Club, 2015. Twenty accounts of outdoor adventures gone wrong are each followed by an analysis by search and rescue professionals. This book will help you learn from others’ mistakes.
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Leslie, Clare Walker, and Charles E. Roth. Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World around You. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2003. Practical, inspirational, and beautifully illustrated, this book will guide you through starting a nature journal that will help you observe and connect with the natural world through all the senses. Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from NatureDeficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2008. In this book, the author coins the term nature-deficit disorder, pulling together research from various fields illustrating the importance of time spent playing and exploring outdoors to children’s mental and physical health and documenting the deleterious effects of too much time inside in front of screens. ————. The Nature Principle. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2011. The author compiles a vast amount of research from various fields demonstrating the importance of nature connection to adults’ mental and physical well-being, creativity, community health, and business success. ————. Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2016. This is a compilation of ideas, resources, and websites for connecting with nature. It will be most relevant for people who work with or raise young children, but others will find insights as well. Marion, Jeffrey. Leave No Trace in the Outdoors. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2014. This brief guide covers minimum-impact camping techniques and provides additional resources for continued study and involvement. McAllister, Glenn. Recipes for Adventure: Healthy, Hearty & Homemade Backpacking Recipes. Waleska, GA: Glenn McAllister, 2013. This chef provides 75 recipes that you can prepare largely at home to make meal preparation on the trail easy and keep packs lightweight. O’Bannon, Allen. Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backpackin’ Book: Traveling & Camping Skills for a Wilderness Environment. Guilford, CT: FalconGuides, 2001. This is an approachable reference with fun illustrations for basic skills,
BIBLIOGRAPHY | 215
including campcraft, trip planning, selection of equipment and clothing, and avoiding backcountry hazards. Pewtherer, Michael. Wilderness Survival Handbook: Primitive Skills for ShortTerm Survival and Long-Term Comfort. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. This book is divided into two parts: The first covers seven-day survival, and the second covers more long-term living off the land. The first part will be the most relevant to the material covered in this course, including setting up basic shelter, finding water, and navigating to safety. Renner, Jeff. Mountain Weather: Backcountry Forecasting and Weather Safety for Hikers, Campers, Climbers, Skiers, and Snowboarders. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 2005. This book explains mountain weather, winds, and snow; suggests strategies for surviving thunderstorms, flash floods, and wildfires; gives regional guidance for different areas of North America; and has a cloud identification chart. Smith, Dave. Backcountry Bear Basics: The Definitive Guide to Avoiding Unpleasant Encounters. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 2006. This book covers how to safely travel, camp, cook, and recreate in bear country. It also has chapters on bear evolution and behavior, how to respond to close encounters, and the pros and cons of guns and pepper spray. Tilton, Buck, and John Gookin. NOLS Winter Camping. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2005. This book covers winter clothing, gear, expedition planning, and skills for traveling in winter conditions. It has clear explanations and numerous illustrations. Tremper, Bruce. Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. 2nd ed. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 2008. If you plan to travel over snow (even by snowshoe or cross-country ski) in mountainous terrain, you should read this book (or take an in-person avalanche training course). Wilde, Gerald J. S. Target Risk 2: A New Psychology of Safety and Health. Toronto: PDE Publications, 2001. In this academic text, Professor Wilde
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explores the theory of risk homeostasis, which explains why safety training and equipment may encourage people to act in riskier ways. Wilkerson, James, A., Ernest E. Moore, and Ken Zafren, eds. Medicine for Mountaineering & Other Wilderness Adventures. 6th ed. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 2010. On an extended wilderness expedition where evacuations might be slow or cumbersome, this book is worth the weight. It helps you diagnose a variety of different conditions and make decisions about whether to treat in the field or evacuate.
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vectortatu/iStock/Getty Images Plus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 deimagine/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 franckreporter/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 franckreporter/E+/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 mapodile/E+/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Fiverr.com/barbara_dj . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Fiverr.com/barbara_dj . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Fiverr.com/barbara_dj . . 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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 robynleigh/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Mike_Pellinni/iStock/Getty Images Plus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Drazen_/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 phleum/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Kerkez/iStock/Getty Images Plus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 Oleh_Slobodeniuk/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 Andrey Danilovich/iStock/Getty Images Plus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 blazekg/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 AlexBrylov/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 Fiverr.com/barbara_dj . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Fiverr.com/barbara_dj . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96 Fiverr.com/barbara_dj . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 Carmian/iStock/Getty Images Plus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98 Fertnig/E+/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102 AJ_Watt/E+/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 azgek/iStock/Getty Images Plus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 yenwen/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118 Photawa/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 Kamionsky/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126 RosetteJordaan/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128 franckreporter/E+/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136 Vassiliy Vishnevskiy/Getty 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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184 apomares/E+/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188 mixetto/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 196 stock_colors/E+/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200 ferrantraite/E+/Getty Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 202
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