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Backpacking Tips

Animal (All of these tips come from a 1999 issue of Backpacker Magazine)

If you encounter an elk in the wild don't get closer than 100 feet - further is better. If an elk heads toward you or snorts, slowly walk away while keeping an eye on the animal. If it looks like it might charge, stand your ground, wave your arms, shout, or even throw rocks.

If you encounter a moose in the wild get no closer than 100 feet and either wait or find another route if the animal blocks the trail. If the moose looks aggressive, leave quickly but keep an eye open. If charged, run for cover behind a big rock, or climb a tree if you have time.

If you encounter an alligator keep away at least 15 feet. If the alligator hisses or opens its mouth, you are way too close. Back away slowly. Since the animal assess their prey by height and go for the smaller ones one should make themselves tall and large by raising your hands above the head and waving hiking poles. Scoop up small children. If attacked, fight back so the gator understands there is easier prey.

If you encounter a bison in the wild keep a distance of at least 25 yards and give the animal space if they are heading towards you. If charged there is not much you can do except put your pack between you and the horn's.

First Aid These tips all come from a Backpacker Magazine in 1999

  • Use a knife to flick away a bee's stinger - tweezers can pump more venom into the wound.
  • Carry a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug such as Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.  These are sold as generics or in the common brand names Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Anacin, and others.  These are good for alleviating pain and inflammation to include sore muscles and joints.
  • If the aspirin you are carrying smells strongly of vinegar it is outdated - DON'T take it.
  • Carry aloe vera gel in a film cannister to soothe mild sunburn, scald from boiling water, and mild frostbite.
  • Anytime you make a moleskin or duct-tape patch, round the corners with a pair of scissors to prevent it from peeling.

Staying Warm (Before going on a cold-weather overnight, follow these tips to sleep warmer)

Bag ratings. Sleeping bags are "rated" to their lowest comfortable temperature.  Keep in mind that "comfort" is a relative term, so use these ratings as guidelines, rather than absolutes. These ratings are often optimistic, so cold sleepers should purchase a bag that has a more generous rating. Use the ratings as guidelines rather than absolutes.

Consider a liner. Consider purchasing a fleece liner that can add up to 15 degrees extra insulation to your bag without much bulk.  The liner is also easy to throw in the washing machine when you get home.

Indulge yourself. Your body needs sufficient carbohydrates to stay warm at night, and sufficient fats to metabolize these carbohydrates effectively.  Half a peanut-butter bagel and some hot chocolate will give your body the fuel to stay warm all night.

Warm up before getting in. Sleeping bags keep you at the same temperature you were when you got in.  Don't put a cold body in a sleeping bag.  Do some sit-ups or jumping jacks to get your blood moving before you get in your sleeping bag.

Breathe OUT. It's tempting to breathe into your sleeping bag to warm it up - but it's a bad idea.  The moisture in your breath reduces the loft of the insulation and makes you colder over time.

Clean Up. Some swear there is extra warmt after washing the body and wearing clean clothes.

Weather: When enjoying the great outdoors the weather can sometimes be a pain.  These two rules can help.

Camping under a forest canopy rather than in an exposed field will likely be warmer at night because trees reduce heat loss from the earth and block winds that lower the temperature through wind chill.

Mountains are prone to afternoon thunderstorms.  If you hear or feel electricity, get below timberline fast, but don't hang out under the tallest or most lonesome tree.  Avoid anything metal, including the metal frame on your backpack.  If you become trapped in the open, kneel on an insulated sleeping pad and don't touch the ground with your hands.  Don't lie with your spinal cord against the ground and don't seek shelter in a cave or a ditch, because lightning travels across the ground.

Move your tent every day to keep from compressing ground and depriving a single spot of light and air.
Set up your tent out of site of any trails and at least 200 feet from water sources.
Choose the most durable surface available for your campsite: rock, sand, or dry grassy meadows are your best options.
Always select a heavily impacted site over one with little signs of use.
Vary routes to and from water sources, and between the cooking area, food storage, and tent so you don't create paths.
Take a water bag or expandable bladder to minimize trips to the water source.

Staying Found: So you are out on a nice backpacking (or hiking) trip and suddenly realize you don't know where you are.  You know - the trail you were following just is not visible and when you turn around you can't see it that way either.  What to do?

  • Protect yourself for immediate danger.  Treat injuries and stay out of nasty weather.
  • Calm down and get oriented.  Sit, relax, and do nothing.  Sometimes a change in attitude reveals important clues you overlooked.
  • Stay put.  One of the few times you should move is if there is almost no chance of a quick rescue.  Another is if you can safely get to a much more visible location, like an open meadow.
  • Provide clues to assist searchers.  Break branches, tie ribbons, and build rock cairns in obvious locations.  Light a smoky fire, blow a whistle, or use a signal mirror.  Make a big X on the ground (universal sign of distress) with gear or by digging an embankment in snow.
  • Improve your comfort.  Set up a tent or build a shelter to get out of the weather.  Make sure you are still visible, however.
  • Respond to searchers.  Believe it or not some hikers are too embarrassed to be found.


Bear Cannister: Ever tried to get a weeks worth of food into a bear-proof canister? Try these ideas:

* First, make sure all air is squeezed out of zipper-lock bags and that all excess packaging is removed.
* Load in the reverse order that you'll be eating, so the last day's food goes in first.
* Place the first day's lunch, snack, and dinner elsewhere in your pack, unless you are in grizzly country, then all food goes in the canister.
* Squash each layer as far as it will go.
* Pack malleable items around the outside edges and line the bottom with tortillas or other flat items.
* Fill small spaces with bags of spices, flour, hot chocolate or oatmeal packets.
* With luck you'll be able to get 7 days worth of food in the canister - 5 days for sure.

Misc: On average, you lose 3 to 5 degrees in temperature for every 1,000 feet you gain in elevation.

The typical backpacker travel 2 MPH on a level surface; for every 1,000 feet of vertical gain, expect to add 1 hour of hiking.

For the best night vision you need to wait 15 minutes for your pupils to adjust and another 45 for the light sensitive nerve cells in your retinas (called rods) to fully activate.

Bugs: I generally don't get too bugged by bugs when I'm backpacking or hiking but here are a couple of tips to prevent the bugs from being interested in you.

  • Wear light-colored clothing - it attracts fewer bugs than dark clothing.  Mosquitoes seem to like the color blue.
  • Sweaty clothes release ammonia, a suspected mosquito attractant.  I don't have any tips on how not to sweat but this is a fun fact to know and tell.

Boots and Feet: By following these tips the chances of having happy feet are greatly increased - a good thing when backpacking or hiking.

  1. Let wet boots air dry, preferably out of direct sunlight.  To hasten the process with thoroughly saturated boots, remove the insoles and laces, open the boots as wide as possible, and stuff newspaper inside to absorb moisture.
  2. Never place wet boots close to a heat source.  Leather can contract, rendering your boots a half-size too small or splitting them.
  3. Brush off dirt with a stiff nylon brush and use a toothbrush to get in the small areas.
  4. Sprinkle baking soda inside to absorb moisture and odors.
  5. If the leather starts to look dry and light-colored, moisturize them to prevent cracks.
  6. Store boots in a cool, dry, dark place.

Feet: Don't underestimate the pain and agony that having a small issue with your feet will cause when backpacking or hiking.  A couple of tips from a Backpacker Magazine from 1999 to help prevent major issues:

  • Before any hiking trip, trim toenails using straight-edged - not curved - clippers.  Leave an extra bit of nail on the outside corner of the big toe (the side with no toe next to it) to avoid an ingrown toenail.
  • Keep your feet dry by wearing synthetic socks since they're cooler and wick sweat from your skin faster than wool.
  • Change socks throughout the day as they get wet.
  • Apply underarm antiperspirant to your feet  but try this at home first - to  check for an allergic reaction.
  • Finally, add "trim toenails" to your packing list so you don't forget at home.

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