Hike Hacker

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Archive for August, 2008

Know your knots

It used to be a pain to learn knot-tying if you didn’t have an Eagle Scout handy to walk you through all the twists. Books and pamphlets with diagrams were incomprehensible enough to convince you you’d just do something like tying your shoe in a pinch. These days the Web has tons of video knot instructions. I’m fond of a site called I Will Knot (less fond of the cheap puns but hey, it’s unavoidable). The vids are soundtrack free and straightforward.

A guy named Dan from someplace called Expert Village (great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there) has crafted a collection of knot videos for advanced loopers. Dan sports a long beard, ties loops to his legs (and his piano’s) to demonstrate, and has a slightly junky backdrop that fairly screams “real live hiker and camper.” He also pronounces “bowline” as “bow-len” like all good sailors.

One more handy link: Seven knots every Scout should know.

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Tom posted at 11:54 am August 29th, 2008

Blister treatment

While a a meter of prevention is worth a kilometer of cure, even the most careful hikers still get blisters.

Never forget that blisters are a medical condition that require first aid. They can get infected, and infection can put you in the hospital and (a Pacific Crest Trail through-hiker was nearly killed by septic shock resulting from infected blisters in June 2007 — an extreme case but it shows they are not to be trifled with).

The best thing to do about a blister is to stop making it worse and let the body’s healing powers take over. Few humans have the time or inclination to do this because blisters always happen in the middle of a hike with several miles of foot punishment between them and the trailhead.
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Tom posted at 11:27 am August 28th, 2008

Blister prevention: once you’ve got one, it’s too late

a heel blisterBlisters seem inevitable: the farther you hike, the higher your odds. Once they get going, they don’t go away and they generally get worse. So, the best thing to do about a blister is make sure you never get one.

Blisters are the body’s natural defense against excess heat and friction. Tips on avoiding them:

Start by reducing friction:

Duct tape: If you know you’re hiking many, many miles, try putting some duct tape on your trouble spots. The smooth outer surface is a natural friction fighter, and the tape provides a foot-protecting barrier.

  • Bar of soap: Rub some bar soap like Ivory inside your boots just before you start. Don’t get carried away or your foot sweat will turn your shoes into lather factories.
  • Read the rest of this entry »

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    Tom posted at 9:17 am August 28th, 2008

    Emergency blankets: extra warmth in a pinch

    Sarah Kirkconnell left this excellent tip on the Lend a Hacks page.

    • Staying Warm When It Is Colder Than You Planned For:

      A couple years ago when I was first going UL I spent the night shivering, wondering if I would survive the night. My problem was I had a 45-degree bag and it dipped below 32 that night! I was utterly miserable. Lesson learned.

      I now always carry one of the disposable emergency blankets ($1-2 at Walmart or any outdoor store) in all of my packs, be day or overnight.

      Last fall I used it finally – I was caught in a snow storm with a warm bag but howling winds/wet ground. Read the rest of this entry »

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    Tom posted at 8:08 am August 28th, 2008

    About those low-discharge batteries

    “Low-discharge” is the latest craze in rechargeable batteries: old-fashioned rechargeables would discharge over time without even using them. Low-discharge batteries — many of which come pre-charged in the package — hold a charge far longer: weeks, months, up to a year perhaps.

    They do this at a price: rechargeables are rated by how much juice they store, rated in mAh: 2,900 is the highest number I’ve seen. Low-discharge batteries are rated at around 2,000 mAh, which means they store about a third less power, but they store that power a lot longer. If you use your digital camera every day and always keep a bunch of high-powered batteries charged, low-discharge probably won’t matter and you’ll be able to take a lot more pictures.

    But if your camera, like mine, sits on the shelf all week and you take it out on weekends, you’ll get sick of “low battery” messages resulting from your batteries losing their charge.
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    Tom posted at 11:50 am August 27th, 2008

    Compass basics

    compassFor hikers, a compass is like car insurance: you never need one except when you do. Say you’re going uphill into a fog bank and suddenly you lose all visual references of your location. You’re flying blind now. Then the trail splits. Which way to turn?

    Novices who’ve just tossed their shiny new compass in their pack think they’re covered till they break it out in the middle of said fog bank and realize they have no earthly idea which way to go, based on what that little floating magnetic arrow is telling them. So, it points north. Then what?
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    Tom posted at 8:26 am August 27th, 2008

    Healthy trail mix tip

    Susan Alcorn shared thusly at the Lend a Hack page:

    • Don’t Reach In, Pour It Out!
      When you are sharing GORP/trailmix and other bags of food with others, everyone should pour out what they want, not reach in. Experts suggest that improper hygiene (not washing hands thoroughly after bathroom breaks, etc.) causes many backcountry illnesses such as E-coli and Giardia.

    Susan is the author of “We’re in the Mountains, Not Over the Hill.” Check out her backpacking site.

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    Tom posted at 11:36 pm August 26th, 2008

    How many uses for duct tape can we count?

    Duct tape Duct tape is the universal hiker’s do-all. The most obvious uses:

    1. Patching: tents, tarps, packs, etc.
    2. Preventing: Blisters. Tape your trouble spots.
    3. Splinting: Help immobilize a broken bone. (I shudder to think of how it would feel to peel it back off your skin, though.) Best to know how to immobilize a broken bone first, though.

    Duct tape advice known to hikers the world over: wrap some around your hiking pole and you’ll always have a bit ready and won’t have to carry a big roll.

    I know the rest of you have some duct tape tips: click on comments and add yours.

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    Tom posted at 9:19 pm August 25th, 2008

    Improving gas mileage: the 2000 RPM challenge

    TachometerBurning less gas in city traffic all week equals more gas for long drives to trailheads on the weekend. How I’ve been scrimping on gas consumption: minding my tachometer, and trying to make sure my engine never spins faster than 2000 revolutions per minute while in town.

    Stop-and-go driving is fiery death to fuel economy. It’s basic physics: it takes far more energy to get 3000 pounds of steel moving from a dead stop than it does to keep it moving because the car’s momentum helps keep the car in motion. A car’s engine generates motive power by spinning; the fewer times it spins, the less gas it burns. Easing the beast up to urban speeds has got to be more economical than kicking the throttle wide open.

    When a light turns green I prefer to hit the gas, sending the engine racing to 3500 or 4000 RPM. A couple weeks back I wondered what would happen if I just picked an even number like, say, 2000 RPM, as my engine speed limit.

    How it’s working out: Read the rest of this entry »

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    Tom posted at 7:18 pm August 25th, 2008

    How to find gear made in somebody’s garage

    The question answers itself: Why would gear crafted by hand be better than gear mass-produced in a Chinese sweatshop?

    Over at my hiking blog, I amassed a nice list of links to folks who make packs, tents, gaiters, stoves and a host of other cool outdoor gadgetry. Most of it is price-competitive to high-end gear, though you can always buy a $19 tent at Wal-Mart (till 1 billion Chinese realize communism is supposed to help working people; then all bets are off).

    Here’s my list of links (not all of these are specifically garage/basement/backyard built, but they are home-built businesses:)
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    Tom posted at 5:28 pm August 25th, 2008