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Archive for the ‘The hacks’ Category

Water crossings: don’t go down the river

Creek crossing, Henry CoeA water crossing is often reason enough for newbie hikers to turn back and find a less obstacle-ridden path. I have abnormally cold feet but I manage to get across, which tells me pretty much anybody else can.

Not to diminish the danger: a wrong step can get you in deep doo-doo even in shallow water. From a survival standpoint your No. 1 concern is always to preserve body heat (hypothermia will kill you faster than just about anything but a grizzly attack or lightning strike). Water is body heat’s Public Enemy No.1, so walking into it is never a trivial matter, especially given Murphy’s Law of the Outdoors, which is: the harder you try to stay dry, the higher the likelihood that at some point you will get wet.

A stream crossing is just a way to embrace the wetness. On long hikes when your feet feel like they’ve been baking in Mom’s oven, a stream dip can be downright refreshing. A few things I figured out the hard (and wet) way: Read the rest of this entry »

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Tom posted at 1:39 pm August 16th, 2008

Your first hike: what every newbie needs to know

The snake was THAT longHiking is just walking farther from the neighborhood, right? So why bother?

  • No car exhaust: The air’s cleaner the farther you get from the main road.
  • Much better exercise: Hills offer better resistance, and uneven terrain works far more muscle fibers than flat surfaces like asphalt and concrete.
  • Nature is more interesting: You learn how the world really works by watching seasons change, experiencing the pull of gravity, seeing wild animals.

Before you leave the house you have to answer three questions:

  1. Where are you gonna go?
  2. Who are you gonna go with?
  3. What will you take along?

Each one, in order: Read the rest of this entry »

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Tom posted at 10:37 am August 15th, 2008

Protecting your ankles

ScienceGuy288 asks: “I want to purchase a set of Merrells. Now, I personally wanted some ankle support, but the mid-height ones seem to go really high and limit your movement. Any suggestions?”

Good question, Guy, because “which is better, high or low tops,” is one of the great unsolved debates in the hiking world. I did some poking around on the Web this morning and found no clear, convincing evidence that high-tops provide a lot of ankle protection; some hikers think they make your ankles weaker precisely because they provide support, but I saw no science to back it up. They may also provide a false sense of security that encourages risky behavior, like seatbelts and bike helmets (both of which, mind you, people still use for obvious reasons).

Main thing is: do you really need that extra protection? Read the rest of this entry »

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Tom posted at 8:05 am August 15th, 2008

Lightning: don’t get struck

A lightning strike Numero Uno advice for avoiding a lightning bolt is to get your fanny indoors. Not much help for hiker types for whom being away from indoors is the whole point. Prime concerns:

  • Huge anvil-shaped thunderheads coming your way are lightning factories: bad, bad news.
  • Mind the “30/30″ rule: if you see a flash and hear the thunder within 30 seconds, you’re potentially in danger, and you will be for 30 minutes after you see the last flash.
  • Enclosed, hard-roofed areas with the windows closed are generally safe; convertible cars — and tents — are worthless.

Really, there is no protection from lightning as long as you’re outdoors. All you can do is reduce the risk of a strike: Read the rest of this entry »

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Tom posted at 11:14 pm August 14th, 2008

Great for lunch: the smashed sandwich

This is my wife’s tip:

On day hiking trips you probably don’t want to use your regular backpack but still want to carry something more than energy bars and water. Hence the invention of the “smashed sandwich”.

Place two slices of your favorite cheese, cut in half, in the center of a soft burrito. Top with lettuce and thin slices of tomato. Roll up the burrito and wrap it in foil. Place “sandwich” in your hiking bag cramming into the bag as needed. As you hike, the burrito will get softer, the cheese will get warmer and by lunch time you will have a delicious, nutritious smashed sandwich.

(These are quite good).

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Tom posted at 11:56 am August 14th, 2008

Beat the stink with baking soda

Two great ways to fight the funk quotient, courtesy of Arm & Hammer:

In the gear closet: Place a box of Arm & Hammer Fridge-N-Freezer baking soda in the closet . This box sells for under a $1 at Target. It is much cheaper, more environmentally friendly and doesn’t have the heavy perfume odor of many of the other products in the air freshener aisle. The box of baking soda also includes a handy area on the side of the box to write in the “change by” date. Make sure to put in a new box as needed to keep your hiking closet smelling fresh. Discard the contents of the used box by pouring it down your garbage disposal or drain to keep that fresh as well.

In the bear vault: To remove odors from a bear vault, wash the vault and the lid by hand with a mild dishwashing liquid such as Ivory, Dawn, etc. Dry thoroughly with a soft dishtowel. Place a box of Arm & Hammer Fridge-N-Freezer baking soda in the vault. Cover with the lid but do not close the vault completely. After 3 to 4 days the vault should be odor free. Remove the baking soda and discard.

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Tom posted at 10:40 am August 12th, 2008

Scoring a permit to hike Mount Whitney

You wanna climb the highest peak in the Lower 48? So does every other hiker, so you have to go through some rigamarole to hike the peak.

The Whitney Portal Store BBS offers a complete guide to Mount Whitney. You can’t go wrong with these tips.

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Tom posted at 10:32 am August 12th, 2008

All you need to know about backpacking stoves

The Zen Stoves site has all you need to know, including tips on how to choose a stove, how different fuels work, how various stoves work, how to build a stove from a Pepsi/Coke/Heineken can.

Go there and get cooking.

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Tom posted at 10:30 am August 12th, 2008

Prevent AA batteries from exploding in your pocket

This almost happened to me: I had coins in my pocket and a couple of rechargeable batteries. I noticed a very hot sensation in my pocket, pulled out the batteries and noticed they were super hot. Apparently the coins touched the poles and created a closed circuit: eventually they could have exploded.

Easiest hack: put tape over the battery poles to keep this from happening. But better yet: avoid carrying batteries in your pocket (stow ‘em with your camera case if possible). Some brands of rechargeable batteries come with carrying cases, which are way handy and will prevent this too.

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Tom posted at 10:28 am August 12th, 2008

Wash your down sleeping bag

Dirt, grit and body oil ruin a sleeping bag’s ability go keep you warm, but they don’t ruin the bag. “Loft” is your bag’s giver of warmth: filth takes it away but a good cleaning and drying brings it right back. Down sleeping bags are washable and dryable, though it is a tiny bit complicated. (Don’t bother trying to get one dry-cleaned).

First of all, find a way to keep trail gunk out of your bag: use an interior liner as a barrier between your bag and your body funk, and an exterior cover as a barrier between your bag and campsite crud (backpackers who don’t want the extra weight will have to endure extra wash cycles).

Down is downright fickle: dirtiness reduces loft, but washing it too much has the same effect. Either way, your bag stops preserving body heat (if you liked shivering in your own stench you wouldn’t be here, right?)

So, don’t wash the bag a lot, but do launder it at the end of the season before long-term storage, or after your annual two-week backpacking trip. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tom posted at 10:25 am August 12th, 2008