To Filter or Purify? That is indeed the question! A conundrum many that are new to backpacking face. So how exactly do you decided which safety measure to take when there are countless options available to you? It is actually very simple if you break it down in answering these three questions: Where are you going? What sources of water will be available to you along your route, at camp? What do you see yourself realistically using?
First it’s important to know where you are going, as that automatically reduces half of your options upfront! In most cases, hiking within the Unites States it is generally safe to use Filtration only. If your adventure finds you oversees, that’s when you typically want to Purify your water. Each have pros and cons just as everything does in choosing gear so let’s break it down even further, so you understand the differences and the why’s behind the answers!
Filtration: A filter either gravity fed or mechanically pushes water through an internal filter, straining out bacteria, protozoa and debris. Typically filtration alone will NOT filter viruses, as the pores sizing within the filter are not small enough to deter it slipping through. Filtration options range from lightweight to moderate weight though they are easy to use with guarantee of a quick return on clean water.
Purification: A purifier is generally an approved method that treats both bacteria and protozoa as well as eliminating viruses. It typically includes chemicals in the form of tablets or through the use of a UV light source. Most purification methods also treat Cryptosporidium, though this is only effective after an extended waiting period. Chemical treatments however do not strain out any preexisting particulate, and typically can negatively affect the taste of the water. Tablets are your lightest weight option while UV light sources require batteries (extra weight and costs) adding more functioning pieces equaling possible failure on guarantee to work properly.
Here’s a different look at the breakdown of each system since the types of harmful pathogens you’re likely to encounter wherever you go should be your biggest concerns in choosing your method.
Bacteria – eliminated by all the above systems – filters, chemical treatments, and UV purifiers.
Viruses – eliminated through iodine, chlorine dioxide and UV purifiers. Very few filters on the market eliminate viruses and are typically much heavier and more expensive.
Cryptosporidium – eliminated by filters, chlorine dioxide tablets (4hrs wait time), drops (1hr wait time) and UV purifiers (technically speaking they only paralyze or break down the toxic DNA of organisms, halting its reproduction only short term if exposed in great length to sunlight). Iodine tablets are useless in this case.
Particulate aka floating particles of the great outdoors – technically not necessarily harmful to you, but not necessarily something most people find to be appetizing. Eliminated by filers only. Back flushing your filtration system regularly is important to keep filtration effective.
You may ask the question, well why not just BOIL it?! You can, absolutely…and we DO! Often, we both filter and BOIL. Boiling water is certainly the safest method of purification. Whether you’re out camping, or in a country with inadequate or un-sanitized drinking water, boiling water will kill all germs bacteria and parasites. Giving a general rule of thumb by rapidly boiling your water for one to three minutes you’ll have water safe enough for drinking. Though in actuality the correlation of time to temperature truly does matter if you want to get technical (30mins at 160°F/ 3mins at 185°F/ instantaneously at 212°F)…but in actuality who’s bringing a thermometer with!?! Boiling water uses a significant amount more in fuel and therefore if the amount of fuel you bring is a concern to you or you don’t have a reliable source of heat, this may not be your safest method to rely on. It is generally a good idea to use boiling as a back up method, not your main source of purification. One last mention is boiling water will NOT remove chemical toxins nor will it remove any seen sediments or particulates.
Basically, we have a Four Levels of Water Identification in accessing a need for BOIL:
Level 1. WALK AWAY! This is never safe to drink! An exception might possibly be in a dire emergency situation having knowledge there is still risk in getting sick, boiled three times a charm or not! You’ll know it when you see it – these are typically stagnant agricultural ponds with animal excretion nearby or in and sediment film on top.
Level 2. SAFE TO FILTER! And maybe also BOIL! This is not a creek or river, instead is a stagnant pool but you know it’s filled fully or partial with fresh rain water. You have no way to know what or who has contaminated the water, other than the debris and particulate on top but it’s a fresh pool. This is when we opt to boil in addition to filter if this is our only water source.
Level 3. GREAT FOR COOKING! Typically a questionable creek. This is a viable water source, due to its movement of flow, but not entirely trustworthy for reasons identified nearby. If you’re already planning on cooking a hot meal for dinner, save time filtering your water and just boil instead! You’ll be just fine, unless you really just feel more comfortable doing both.
Level 4. GO FOR IT! This is your best possible scenario! Typically a fresh water lake, rivers or creeks actively flowing at a good rate per second. Mountain springs are not exactly abundant all over, but when you do find one (bubbling upward from the ground) that is already filtered fresh spring water. In many cases this is okay to drink from without filtration…if you dare! However, if downstream from the initiating source of the spring, use caution and filter – you just never know what is cascading down from above…
Now, with the decision made – filtration vs purification – you can now focus on what type of system you prefer using within the retrospective grouping. It helps to pay attention to your habits at home, simply because you want to stay as true to what you will be most comfortable with when you’re out there. Close your eyes…visualize yourself using each system from beginning to end – is this system realistic for you, will it be a good option for YOU? In regards to Filtration, you’ve got the Life Straw – Sawyer Mini/ Squeeze – Katadyn Hiker/Hiker Pro/Gravity Camp – Platypus Gravity Works – MSR MiniWorks EX – just to name a few…
So how exactly do you choose from all these options!!? That’s where knowing what sources of water will be available to you along your route is key! Will you be crossing along several small creeks or rivers along the way or are you in higher elevations where your source of water is further below you? Knowing this can answer definitively what system will be best for you!
Reviewing now only our own personal favorite Filtration Systems, rather than continuing on with talk of Purification. First and foremost, the Sawyer Mini – our personal favorite when hiking in the Southeast or even lower elevations because we are sure to cross several accessible streams along our path! It’s a quick and easy way to grab a safe and refreshing water refill. With the Sawyer Mini weighing only 1.4oz it’s an extremely lightweight and convenient option to carry. Often we combine that in a gravity fed filtration system inserted in between a dirty and clean platy bag. This saves us significant cost in comparison to buying pre-packaged gravity systems and allows for multi-use of our gear = the accessibility of the Sawyer Mini on the trail, turning no-hands required gravity fed system in camp!
The Katadyn Base Camp gravity fed filtration system is our choice system when we have large groups with us, as it is large enough to supply a large amount of filtered water without resupply. It’s best feature is its wide mouth entry to easily and quickly access enough water to fill the 10Litter capacity it holds. This system uses a carbon filter, the same as in the Katadyn Hiker/Hiker Pro pump filter. The only downside to this is weight, especially when packed out after use.
Slightly heavier in weight but a necessity when in higher elevations when our water source is slightly more inaccessible below us, the Katadyn Hiker pump is a fool proof way to ensure safe drinking water. Being a bit bulkier as it has slightly more components involved, this carbon based filter total weight is only up to 11ounces. This requires you to do all the work in filtering your water – but perhaps that means you’ll appreciate it more!
Are you that Backpacker/Hiker that loves to play in deep snow? I am. So when I wanted to buy my snowshoes and snowboots I automatically look lightweight. There are many choices out there when buying a snowshoe boot. However, with the hundreds of choices you have, what is the most practical? For most of us, this piece of gear may not be used as much as other gear items. Unless you live in the Tundra, you may want to look at just how much you will use your Snowshoe Boot. In the “Gear World”, one thing is for sure, some one will come out with better, lighter boot. So find a boot that is comfortable, and make it your best winter friend. I bought the best snowshoes that I could afford based on how much I use them.
Heavier & Warmer vs. Lighter & Less Warm:
For myself, this is an easy question. I asked myself: How long will I be out there? How many miles, and how cold will it be? When I answer those questions, my answer is heavier & warmer. Nothing is worse than having cold feet. Not to mention it’s highly dangerous.
The best boot you can find is the one that is going to be flexible at the ball of your foot. What kind of terrain will you be in? If you are going on a long multiday trip in the backcountry, will you experience a lot of snow? You can choose leather boots, plastic mountaineering boots, snowboarding boots or even running shoes. Since the snowshoe bindings fit most types of boots, you have a large selection to choose from and you may already own boots that are comfortable as well as work well with your snowshoes.
Remember that backpacking up a mountain is a lot different than flat. Choose a boot that will be fit the terrain that you most hike in. You might wear a much different boot when backpacking (Mt. Washington) for example, than on a long distance in trip in Minnesota. Even with no snow, I would change boots depending on the terrain.
Test your boots. Before you buy, bring your snowshoes with you. Make sure your snowshoe straps will fit around your boots. Before you go out into the backcountry wear your boots. More importantly, make sure your boots fit properly. People often make the mistake of buying boots that are too tight. This is bad. The tighter the boot the less circulation your feet get. Make sure you have plenty of room. Wool socks, with a liner perhaps will make your feet cozy and warm.
A good boot manufacturer I like is Baffin. I use the Baffin Tundra and these boots have always worked for me. They are warm and sturdy. You can even buy an insert if your feet are prone to get cold.
When I set out to Thru-Hike the entire Appalachian Trail in 2003, one of the things I first did was get in shape. I mean, you are walking over 2,000 miles up and down every day right? However, not that long into my hike I realized I wasn’t battling the physical part of it. Although, (and let me be brutally honest here), I hurt like nobody’s business the first four weeks. What really took me by surprise was the mental part of the hike. The loneliness, isolation, being wet all the time, being hot all the time, being cold all the time. One could say it’s physical, but the mental hardiness is as important as the physical part of your long distance hike.
There are two dominant schools of thought when it comes to the necessity of physical conditioning before a long distance hike. The first one asserts that the only way to prepare the body for the rigors of hauling a heavy pack up and down mountains is to haul a heavy pack up and down mountains. This being the case, the long distance hiker simply limits mileage and duration for the first few weeks, slowly increasing both as the body adjusts, increases its fitness, and hardens. You will get in shape as you go. No doubt about it. I prepared physically, but nothing does it compare to when you are actually out there.
My recommendation is: Do your best to prepare physically. Take your time in the beginning. You are NOT in a race and hike your OWN hike. Getting to know your gear before you go is VERY important. Practice a number of weekend trips before you carry a pack up and down mountains. Do you know how to pack your backpack up in a pouring rain without getting your sleeping bag wet. Nothing will give you the mental shit’s than knowing you’ll be sleeping in the wet spot tonight. Know your Gear!
The truth is — I’ve been backpacking for years and I’m still learning and five to six months is a long time to hike in the backcountry. You will be hot, cold, tired, wet, lonely, and scared. You will itch, ache, and smell bad. The smell bad part is a huge one by the way. You will be hungry all the time. You will get homesick. After awhile, hiking becomes your job, and you’ll be bored. You’ll want to quit. The hardest part of completing a thru-hike is knowing you don’t have to. No one is making you hike day after day. You can go home anytime. The trick is to keep that far-away goal in the back of your mind while focusing only on the immediate day’s hike. Don’t think of hiking 2,000 miles; the longest trail is just a series of week-long hikes. From one town to the next. Rest. One day at a time. Just this next climb. Beating the Mental breakdown is keeping a positive attitude about why your hiking in the first place. It can be a journey where you will meet and become friends with people from all different parts of the world. You will see the beauty of the trail and what it brings YOU. Laugh when you hurt, smile when you smell, and enjoy it. You may only get one change to hike your long distance hike.
My recommendation: Bring your Ipod and regularly download new songs to listen to at camp. Laugh at yourself. Don’t be seduced by town you are re-supplying in. Have all new clothes brought you to half way in. This gives you a good feeling and reduces the odor you’ve been hiking in for awhile. Stay in contact with others and let them be inspired by you. They may be living vicariously through you.
Mix up your food choices. I seriously could eat anything out there and still be hungry. However, I became sick of freeze dried food out there. I started buying pre-cooked food and started cooking gourmet. Was the food heavier, yea a little, but I really enjoyed cooking it. Spaghetti, sauce, sausage was eaten a lot on the trail.
THE BIG TIP: Don’t buy ANY BOOKS, OR BELIEVE ANYTHING YOU HEAR Before you’re Thru-Hike. IT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE AND YOURS ALONE. Nobody can tell you how to psychologically prepare. They think different than you and everyone’s experience on the trail is different. Sure, they can give you some pointers, and some advice, but in the end all your planning will probably go out the window anyway.
If I had to instill one thing in a new backpacker or a wanna be Thru-Hiker (AT or PCT) makes no difference, is this: BE GRATEFUL YOU ARE EVEN OUT THERE. Gratefulness when it sucks the most will be your most important piece of gear. And nobody can teach you that.
Wow! 2017 will mark 20 years of backpacking for me. That’s crazy!!! No wonder I make sounds when I get out of a chair. What I’ve learned from all those years out on the trail? Backpacking is hard!
I’ve been on this earth for 50+ years. What I’ve learned about life after 50+ years? Live is hard! But the single most important thing I’ve learned from both. Trusting the trail makes life a lot less fearful and lot more plentiful. “the trail” isn’t always something you are just hiking on. Sometimes, it’s the journey your on.
Not sure of the day it struck me that completely and without a single guess, trusting the trail was a no brainier. It was as comfortable to me as a good pair of hiking boots. Maybe it was all those miles, all those trails, all those locations deep into the wilderness, that always showed me how to get home. Even the times I was a little lost, the trail always pointed me in the right direction, when I was hungry, it provided food, and when I was alone, provided company. Although truth be known, it hadn’t always been that way.
I grew up on the concrete sidewalks of Chicago. City boy for sure. Not what you would call “the Wilderness”. I didn’t even start backpacking until I was in my 30’s. Moreover, my camping experience was pretty limited. Once or twice at the most. 1998 afforded me a job working for an IT company in central Illinois when Internet was just beginning. The years previous to that was working in the Insurance business selling insurance. Words can not describe how much my blood boiled at the thought of sitting in a cubicle for the rest of my working career without doing something big. Putting on a tie everyday for work brought me deeper and deeper into the abyss. I just wasn’t living the kind of life that was calling to me. Who was calling, I had no idea, I just refused to answer. That inner voice that whispers in your ear “what are you doing”?, where are you going? We all have heard it, and we all have ignored it. Even at my earliest age, I remember wanting to do something creative and different from what everyone else was urging me to do. Learning to ignore that inner voice I think is called denial.
Denial of who you are and what you can do is, the single biggest mistake one can make in their life.
The most common phrase I have ever heard in my life is “Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it”. I hate that saying. Makes me want to scream. However, so true. I probably said outloud everyday how much I hated my job. Hated, hate, disgust, every negative adjective in the world to describe how much I couldn’t stand what I did to earn a living. It was cut throat, brutle, ugly, and manipulative. I was in the middle of a Merge and Acquisition and the new owners were demons from the outer banks of hell. Everyday I wanted to quit and go.
On a night of cocktails and more cocktails, a freind had mentioned she had just got done backpacking the Appalachian Trail.
I literally asked her “what the hell is an Appalachian Trail”?
It was 1997 and the answer to that question changed my life forever. The Universe gave me everything I wanted. I wanted out, it put me right on the trail. Camping, hiking, backpacking for the next 4 years was all I did dreaming about Thru-Hiking the AT.
In 2002 our company was sold, and they immediately starting laying off key employees. I was one of them. That voice once again started bantering at me repeatedly, and through a much heated debate with my inner voice, in the Fall of 2002, I sold everything I had, and I began to prep for a Thru-hike on the AT. In March of 2003 I left Illinois for Georgia and arrived at Springer Mountain to finally do something that was bigger than myself, to face my biggest fear, to calm that inner voice, and to hike 2168 miles.
Things I’ve learned after 20 years of backpacking:
All the books is the world that “supposedly” tell you how to “psychologically prepare” are just crap until you decide to get out there. It’s your journey!
Nothing like hiking in the snow and soaking up the beauty of winter. It’s one of my favorite times to go backpacking. Last year, I went up into the GSMNP in January with 12 inches of snow up by Newton Bald. I couldn’t even find the fire ring. With no leaves on the tree’s, I was able to watch a beautiful sunset and sunrise.
However, large, late-lingering snowfields that obscure portions of the trail are a possible hazard in winter. In the early morning, such snowfields can be frozen ice-hard, and be just as slippery. Even mountaineers equipped with ice axes, which supposedly give them the ability to stop a slip while snow climbing, have often discovered at great cost how easy it is to slip, fail to catch themselves, and immediately accelerate out-of-control on steep snow. Usually snowfields that obscure trails will have a deep, rutted path pounded into them by hikers who cross after the snow softens in the midday sun. Following the beaten path can be safe at any time. Danger arises, however, when unwary hikers venture off the path onto steep snow when the snow is frozen hard.
When the snow softens towards midday, a snowfield can present an additional hazard. Very often the edges of the snowfield, and even the center, can be undercut by melting, particularly if water is flowing underneath. It’s easy to break through the thin remaining bridge of snow and drop abruptly a foot or more to the rocky ground underneath, endangering your knees and ankles. Tread lightly, particularly near the edge of the snowfield and in low-lying areas where you suspect a stream may be flowing underneath.
After the snow melts, steep mountain slopes present a different hazard: rock fall. In regions where the rock is naturally rotten, rock fall frequently occurs spontaneously, particularly during a hard rain or when the sun melts the frost holding shattered cliffs and gully walls together. A bigger threat, even in regions where the rock is basically sound, is hikers dislodging stones that then tumble onto hikers below them. In loose terrain, hikers should never travel with one person directly above another. If a gully is too narrow to permit side-by-side travel, one person should move at a time, with the others waiting in a safe place.
Experts say one the best times to hike in winter snow is late winter, around March. Specifically in the Northern regions. National Parks such as Yellowstone, and Glacier Park offer great winter snowshoeing. By March, the snow is more compact, and has more layers.
In recent post’s, I’ve posted on some common mistakes new backpackers have made while wandering into the backcountry. While it’s important to make sure you have proper equipment, it’s even more important to let people know where your going, and how long you will be out. I found this web site that has some good common sense tips to avoid mistakes.
Not Having a Plan:
Yes, this I do call a mistake. Having a plan can prevent you from getting lost and go a long way towards ensuring your safe return.
Plotting your route ahead of time on a map, assessing the difficulty and perhaps technical nature of that route, making sure you have all necessary gear given the terrain and weather potential, and estimating the time necessary to complete the route are all part of an effective plan.
This may seem like overkill when it comes to a fairly short hike on a trail you’ve been over umpteen times before, but it’s still a good idea to think things over and make a mental review, not to mention make sure the trail map–or, better yet, the topo map of the area–is in your pack. You never know when you may need to look at what’s near the trail if, for example, a section is impassable and you’re forced to re-route, or if you need to look for a short-cut or alternate path due to weather.
Noone Knows Your Plan
If, on that rare occasion, something goes wrong on your trek, what good would an itinerary be if no one else knows about it?
It’s not uncommon that Search & Rescue teams get called to look for an overdue hiker, climber, skier, etc. and the reporting party has little to no idea of where their friend or loved one went. “He went to hike the Inner Basin Trail from Lockett Meadow to Fremont Saddle and back, starting at about noon” is obviously much more helpful to SAR than “he’s hiking somewhere in Northern Arizona.”
Leaving an itinerary and expected time of return (with a little buffer for that unplanned stop for pizza), can literally make a life or death difference.
Being Unprepared for the Unexpected:
In the mountains, I’ve experienced days that have literally gone from summer to winter in a matter of hours–from t-shirt weather to snow squalls between valleys and summits. Calm sunshine to driving rain and lightning in mere minutes.
A carefree walk in the woods can turn into a long night with a broken ankle, waiting for help.
That log jam you carefully crossed on your way out may actually be gone by the time you come back.
Who knows? Stranger things have happened, believe me. So it’s always nice to be prepared with extra food, clothing, first aid supplies and a little bit of emergency shelter just in case. I also like to bring along about 50 feet of tough but lightweight nylon cord, which has a myriad of uses.
Do I know how to use ALL my equipment? (ALWAYS test your gear)
The thing about maps, compasses and most GPS’s (except maybe for some fancy-shmancy auto types) is that they don’t talk much. So carrying them with you is only one half of the equation; the other is actually knowing what to do with them. Watch our video on the 10 essentials
When I say know how to use your gear, the first things that come to mind are navigational tools. One common misconception, for example, is that a compass always points north. No, in fact it points wherever you point it. Know how to use your GPS, if you are even carrying one. One error that many hikers make after buying that pricey new GPS with all the bells and whistles is that they become out-of-the-box users. If nothing else, learn how to set waypoints and do “go to’s” in order to return to your starting point.
Something to keep in mind is that mechanical devices can fail and break. The batteries can run out and maybe you forgot to pack extras. So it’s always a good idea to bring lower-tech backups like that compass and most definitely a map.
Knowing how to use one’s gear would also apply to things like water purification products and tools, ice axes, crampons and snowshoes, backpacking stoves and firestarters, and so forth. If it’s in your pack, know what to do with it.
Leaving the Group
There’s safety in numbers.
And I say, if you go with a group, stay with the group … or at least let someone know if you’re going to stop for a break or step off the trail to see a waterfall or something.
When hiking with a group, I believe in having a prior agreement amongst all members about how to handle different paces and preferences for stopping for breaks, so everyone is on the same page. Keeping at least one group member in sight at all times is the way I prefer to do it.
Backpacking/Hiking can be fun and rewarding, but just make sure that you do your homework. If you are new to backpacking, make sure you sign up for our video series 3 biggest mistakes new backpackers make.
This weeks inspiration comes to you from Mountainsmith Gear. It’s truly a awe inspiring video shot in some rarely seen areas “between the three political and economic powerhouses of Iran, Russia and Turkey called the Caucasus region.
After four tree climbing expeditions to three different continents, professional tree climber, explorer, and cinematographer Dave Katz ventured into the Republic of Georgia on a mission to fuel his love of exploration while raising awareness for at-risk forests.
Dave goes on to mention on their blog site:
In November of 2015, however, my grant application from the Petzl Foundation was approved and, for the love of exploring, I was on my way.
This video is truly inspiring, and that is why we picked it for our inspirational video of the week.
When someone first try’s out backpacking for the first time, often they get a “sticker shock” when they start pricing out gear. Of course, the first thing they get is the 10 essential list that they run out and buy at REI or their local outfitter. That’s why we wanted to do a show on buying the 10 essentials on a budget. Let’s face it, gear can get a bit pricey, so there is no reason why you need to run out and spend a ton of money. Some are not even sure backpacking is going to be a regular thing for them, so the 10 essentials often sit in a box somewhere deep in your closet.
The first step to remember is the 10 essentials can be found in a lot of different places. For example: did you know that Walmart has a pretty big camping section and that most of your 10 essentials can be found there or on their online store.
First, let’s list the 10 essentials: We have linked all the items on this list with what can be found at Walmart for a LOT LESS money. AND it’s good quality gear.
Navigation (map and compass) *Always carry and emergency whistle
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen) *Get this at CVS or Walgreen’s in the Travel Section.
Insulation (extra clothing) *Learn the 3 Layering system
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles) *We use Firesticks that you can break up use
Repair kit and tools *Make sure Duct Tape is in your Pack
Nutrition (extra food) *Always a good idea to bring extra food that you don’t need to cook.
Hydration (extra water)
Hydration and Insulation are important features of the 10 essentials and would advise to do your research first.
The Emergency Shelter is a big one. I have always used the Space Blanket since I can make a shelter and use it to reflect heat.
TIP: Think about what if your Backpack goes missing. Or a Bear carries it away. Or you just get turned around and can’t find it. Where are your 10 essentials? I always carry my space blanket, first aid kit, and the ability to make fire in a small bag that fits into my Hiking Pants or a hanging on a Carabiner hooked on to my belt loop. That way I always have the ability to have shelter, fire, and first aid if I loose my backpack.
As technology has brought us more connected, is often why we head for the wilderness also. It’s often argued that we are becoming desensitized to our surroundings. Often we want to just get away and renew our soul with nature. However, with all the folklore of what happens to people while hiking alone in the woods, sometimes we look for people to hike with us. While backpacking/hiking clubs do have different meanings, a hiking club is often used to describe a group of individuals who regularly enjoy hiking, often together in groups. If you are an avid hiker or if you just enjoy going hiking, you may want to think about joining a hiking club. For one, hiking with someone that loves hiking just as much as you do can be fun and exciting. It is also important to mention safety. When you hike with multiple individuals, especially experienced backpackers/hikers, you are less likely to have an accident or find yourself in a dangerous situation. I have been on several long hikes before, and often wondered “what if I get hurt right now”. Although, one has to argue, hiking by yourself is very rewarding also.
One of the better places to find backpacking clubs is Google obviously. However, there are alternatives. Meetup.com has many hiking/backpacking clubs. You can tell right away if they are current or older clubs, how organized they are, and how many are expected are going on each outing.
The positive aspect of joining a outdoor club:
When examining all of the benefits of joining a hiking club, it is important to remember that not all hiking clubs are the same. There are some hiking clubs where members only meet up for hiking adventures, but then there are hiking clubs that do much more. For instance, there are hiking clubs that have monthly or even weekly meetings. These meetings are often used to plan hiking trips, discuss the latest in hiking gear trends, and so forth. In all honesty, you will find that the benefits you are presented with will all depend on the hiking club that you choose to join.
When it comes to choosing a hiking club, there are a number of important factors that you should take into consideration. For example, you will find that many hiking clubs charge their members small monthly or yearly fees. You will want to find a hiking club that is easy to afford. You may also want to take your schedule into consideration as well. Do you have time to attend all monthly or even the weekly meetings? If your hiking club has scheduled meetings, you will want to attend them, not just attend the scheduled hiking adventures. This will help you grow comfortable with those that you will hike with and visa versa.
The negative aspect:
Some hiking clubs don’t understand the impact they have in the Wilderness. They will bring 30 or more people in the wilderness with little regard to Leave No Trace principals. These are the hiking/backpacking clubs to stay away from. These clubs are not concerned with being good stewards of our wilderness lands, they are more interested in being a dating service. Make sure you understand what kind of club you are joining.
Remember, meeting new people and sharing the backcountry can be a lifetime worth of memories. Have fun, but always make sure you are a voice for practicing good outdoor ethics.
One of the more popular comments we get when we teach backpacking is “what happens if I get lost”? It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Any Search and Rescue person would tell you it’s normally day hikers, but on occasion it happens to backpackers. The Geraldine Largay who got lost on the Appalachian Trail should all remind us it can happen, and to be aware of our surroundings when backpacking, even on a well marked trail.
Before you set out into the backcountry, here are a few tips to make sure you don’t become lost. Learn how to use a map and compass. Call ahead, read a guidebook and study maps of the area you’ll be hiking to become familiar with trails, roads, rivers, streams, mountains and other features. Use these as reference points as you hike. Once you’ve planned your hike, leave your trip plan with family and friends – then make sure you stick to this plan. Learn how to use a GPS. They are good investments if you plan on hiking a lot. NEVER rely on your Cell Phone. If you don’t have service you may not be able to call out. However, you should always dial 911 even though you cell phone say’s you don’t have service.
Take your map, gps and compass with you. That way, if you become disoriented, you can stop, refer to your map, or gps and try to reorient yourself. Experienced hikers say that most people find their way after studying a map and the surrounding terrain for five minutes, so don’t panic if you can’t immediately figure out where you are. Also, take a whistle; if you become lost, blow it loudly at regular intervals to attract attention.
You may need to be on higher ground in order to identify landmarks such as streams and ridges. Just don’t wander far from your original route; remember, this is where rescuers will start looking for you if your friends or family tell them your planned route.
Still lost? S.T.O.P: Stop, Think, Observe and Plan. Decide on a plan and stick to it. If the last known location is within a reasonable distance, try to go back to it. If you can’t find any recognizable landmarks by backtracking, stay put.
IF YOU CAN’T RESCUE YOURSELF
1. Stay warm and protect yourself from the elements. If possible, stay near an open space; move into it to be visible from the air and ground. Make sure that if you are in a clearing, you can light a signal fire. Fire is good, but know how to make smoke. Helicopters can see smoke, not a small fire. Just don’t burn down the forest. A reflective CD also works to alert aircraft that maybe searching for you. Just in case you can’t get a fire going.
2. Try to remain hydrated.
3. Put bright clothing on, or put out something that’s bright to attract attention.
4. Continue to blow your whistle at regular intervals.
5. Don’t lie on bare ground. Use the equipment you brought to protect yourself from the elements. Wind will make things much worse. If anything keep yourself from wind. Use leaves or pine to make insulation.
6. Stay together if you are in a group. Common mistakes are separating.
One of the things I do is to carry a small bag outside my backpack. Just in case I loose my backpack. Usually carry it on my belt. I have a small first aid kit, a space blanket, lighter, some kindling, and a piece of cotton soaked in Vascaline. A soaked piced of cotton soaked in Vascaline get can wet and still be used to get a fire going.
If you do a lot of backpacking, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a Wilderness Survival Class. They are not that expensive and will teach you a wonder of good practices for the “just in case”.
The majority of hikers, and backpackers never get lost. But it’s always good to plan and prepare. The most important part, is to always make sure people know where you are going.
Lots of websites out there to reference for getting lost. Research before going, may save your life.
Wow! Lot’s of info on how to choose a backpacking stove right? What’s the best, which one is the lightest, or the fastest too get water to a boil. It really is a daunting process if you are new to backpacking. We put this video together to explain how to choose the right one for YOU!
Backpacking stoves are pretty simple in their logic right? Small, packable, and they need to boil water. Where it get’s complicated is which one do I use? Or better yet, what fuel is the right one?
Ask yourself 3 basic questions first:
Where am I going?
How long will I be gone?
Is weight important?
Where you will be going is important because it will automatically help you in choosing the right kind of backpacking stove. Why? Will you be in cold weather, warm weather, low elevation or high elevation?
How long will you be on the trail is important also since it’s the amount of fuel you may need to carry.
And of course, is weight important to you. Why? Because there are plenty of stoves out there that are extremely light weight and you can make yourself.
For new backpacking just getting started, we recommend the MSR Pocket Rocket. It’s sturdy and easy to use. Not a lot of moving parts so it won’t break down in the field. The drawback is the MSR fuel canister that is NOT refillable. Yes, you can recycle if you rip the can apart and separate the metals. But they are NOT environmentally friendly.
However, there are much lighter stoves and fuel that is better for the environment. We love the White Box Alcohol Stove for people that don’t have to boil water in under a minute. You can also make your own alcohol stove with a little DIY project and some creativity. Why not?
Do you have favorite backpacking stove? We would love to hear your story or see your comments. Let’s talk stoves!!
You might be surprised how fast you can overpack your backpack. There are 3 “big ticket” essentials as I call them, that are not only important, but impact your total pack wieght. Keep in mind, though, it is a process. You have to be willing to be flexible with your gear. You will, undoubtedly, think of something new practically every trip. Here is a compilation of Backpack Weight Reducing Tips.
2-3 lb Pack, 2 lb Sleeping Bag, 2 lb tent: These are my “big ticket” items. These 3 very important items are going to be half your weight. Choose wisely. Your gonna carry it. Seek out a good 2 -3 lb pack that is relatively comfortable with 30 lbs in it. Since, most of the time, you will be carrying less than that, the suspension of that 2-3 lb pack should be adequate for you. Get a quality 2 lb, goose-down (or dry-down) sleeping bag. How do you choose what rating it is? When season do you do most of your backpacking in? Normally, if you go for a 20 degree bag, you will be fine in almost all 3 seasons. (Spring, Summer, and Fall) I generally bring my 20 degree bag almost all year round since I’m higher in elevation and mountain weather can be cold at night even in summer months.
Look for TITANIUM cookware: Pots, stoves, anything metal, if made of titanium, will be significantly lighter than any other metal. It ALL counts
Water Is Heavy: (1) If you know the area you’re in and can be sure there are watering holes up ahead, pack only enough to get to the next water hole. Also, (2) if you drink as much as your innards can hold before you hit the trail and at each water fill-up, thereafter, you won’t need to carry as much, after you get going. This is a crucial step before any hike anyway. I use the Sawyer Mini. I love this because I can drink water on the go. I don’t neccessarily have to carry a lot of water if I am going be crossing a lot of creeks and streams.
It’s all about Compression: Use the right size compression sack–wasted space means unnecessary weight. Compresson, compression, compression. How you pack your pack is as important as what you put in it.
Go tiny: Sunscreen, bug-juice, toothpowder/paste, condiments, prescription medicine, antacid, vitamin I (ibuprofen), toilet paper, and anything else for which you can measure usage according to time (weeks, days, hours). Weed out portions of these items that will be appropriate for the time you’ll be in the backcountry. In other words, know the environment your in? Are you in the woods where there are tons of Mosquitos? or in alpine country where blistex might be better.
WANT VS NEEDS: This is the decision I make every trip. What do I want to carry and suffer with, or what can I leave home. All the little stuff they sell at your local camp store, like little battery operated fans to keep you cool, and the solar shower, is going to be left at home. About the only extras I carry are emergency blanket, compass, whistle, and special needs, like asprin.
Just remember this article when your hiking up hill for a few hours. See you on the trail
Trail etiquette is huge! It separates you from knowing what you’re doing, from people not liking you. I have seen this a hundred times on the trail. For example: If you bring your dog, leash it during meal time. Some other questions I get such as, “Can I take this shortcut off the trail”? The first answer is NO, the second answer to this is to read and learn the principals of Leave No Trace. In fact, when we take our new students out on the trail for their first backpacking trip. We have a Leave No Trace Awareness Class right there at the trail head.
On of the first rules of trail etiquette is simple: stay on the trail. The more heavily used the wilderness and the more fragile the landscape, the greater the importance of this guideline. Some beauty spots, like that flower field, should be treated like works of art. Few people are so boorish that they would trample across a painting if it were laid out on the ground in front of them. Alpine meadows should be treated with equal respect.
Staying on the trail also means refraining from cutting switchbacks, the places where a trail makes a hairpin turn and almost doubles back on itself. It’s tempting to the ill-informed to leave the trail just before the turn and take a “shortcut,” regaining the trail just after the turn. This too is an invitation to severe erosion, which, once started, is extremely difficult to stop. For the same reason, you should avoid walking side-by-side on a trail unless it was built to accommodate such traffic.
Trail etiquette includes a few other pointers, some of which are backed up by actual regulations. Harassing wildlife is also prohibited. Enjoy animals from a distance. If you want to photograph them, buy a long lens (300mm or longer) or content yourself with composing a landscape photograph with the animal as part of the scenery. It’s not worth a Selfie and disturbing wildlife. Wildlife doesn’t care about your Facebook Selfie. Feeding animals is also prohibited. Handing out tidbits corrupts the animals’ normal eating habits and increases the population artificially, beyond what the land can support in the off-season when all the tourists are gone. In wilderness areas and national parks, every facet of the land is protected. That means that visitors shouldn’t pick the flowers. It also means leaving antlers, bones, wind-sculpted driftwood and all historic and prehistoric artifacts in place. This includes pot shards and arrowheads as well as other objects.
Respect the trail, it respects you. It gives you everything that you need. Make it better for the next person who comes along. Pick up garbage if you see it on the trail. 🙂
See you on the Trail.
One of the quickest ways to say “the hell with it”, when you attempt a long hike is by buying into the notion you must have the best gear.
If leaving the comforts of home, your Starbucks Latte, and a warm bed means breaking the bank, stay in bed! It’s not worth it.
Let’s face it, gear can be expensive. Here is some ideas to get out there on the cheap. One caveat: don’t be foolish. The outdoors isn’t your living room. Don’t think that reading about a hiking adventure in a book equals actual experience.
“Hey my love, wanna hike up to Dante’s Peak and have a few craft beers?” That will cost you alot more than the price of the micro brew. Don’t go out and invest in a huge trip without getting a feel for the backcountry first. A day hike requires little, just water and a good pair of hiking shoes. (Comfort is more important than name brand) Start slow.
Once you make your adventure plans, check out some gear forums and see what other people bring. Then GO DIRECTLY TO E-BAY. Or, a Facebook Page I really love, Backpacking Gear Flea Market. Gear does not have to be new to be effective.
Some gear buying tips: Walmart!
2 liter Camelback water platy
spare tent steaks (aluminum)
Water tablets to purify water.
First Aid Kit
AND FOOD. I could blog about all the small little food items that are already packaged for me at Walmart. Be creative. A little cheese, pepperoni, and pita bread and you have food you don’t have to cook. Snacks, and tuna also make great meals to eat without breaking the bank. If you have to cook, buy some Ramon Noodles for heavens sake and throw some chopped onion and green pepper in there.
TIP: Re-Purpose your Mountain House Freeze Dried Bags. YES! don’t throw them away. Bring them home, wash them out, and now you have a new bag you can pour hot water in and put some Knorr foods in. Knorr foods are $1.00 per bag.
You should also have a map of the area, a compass, a flashlight and a first-aid kit. These items, along with matches and a pocket knife, are like American Express – don’t leave home without them.
Can’t afford an expensive tent?
For less than $100.00 you can buy a Equinox Tarp Tent. Boom! Done! OR, head over to REI Garage Sales. Stalk Online Gear sites like www.thebackpackerstore.com They have deals everyday.
A good sleeping bag I recommend for the Summer and early Fall is the Aspen 40 Ultralight by Marmot bag. It cost’s approximately $99.00 at Dicks Sporting Goods.
See YOU on the trail.
The road to Ultralite backpacking is simple: carry the lightest gear possible and carry only what’s necessary.
Most backpackers who practice lightweight techniques have little problem with that statement; it only makes sense that if you reduce the weight of an item your pack will in return be lighter. This approach alone can reduce your pack weight enough to allow the use of lightweight packs GoLite (Rest in Peace) or Ultralight Adventure Packs. The latter, however, proves to be more problematic. To know what is necessary requires judgment and practice:
So what are some techniques in packing lighter? What do you mean by “Judgment”. It simply means this: Multi-purpose your GEAR, and I mean almost all of it. Let’s take your sleeping shelter for example. I use a Tarp. So, how could I make a tarp into a multi-purpose piece of gear?
Five Advantages of Poncho Tarping
Keep in mind that there some some other things to consider. Like ground cloth and the fact you may not have a bug net. I haven’t had a bug net in years, however, I tend not to get eaten a live like others I’ve seen outdoors before.
The best Poncho’s I’ve seen out there are the Sil Nilon one’s. They are light, easy to use, and have made great shelters. The Ultra-Sil Nano Poncho weighs a little over 8 oz. That is an amazing lightweight shelter system.
This is the best of the best when it comes to multi-purposing your gear. It really comes down to practice, practice, practice. Imagine it’s pouring. You have your poncho on, and how you need to make camp. Your Poncho is your Tarp. Are you going to be able to set up your Tarp when it’s your Poncho keeping you dry? Well, the bad news is, probably not. However, it’s not going to be too bad. With some practice, odds are you will be able to pitch your Poncho/Tarp pretty fast. Look at the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape. It comes in at 12 oz and sleeps one very comfortably with some head room to boot.
There is something beautiful about packing your shelter system in a nice little ball that fits in the side of your pack for easy access. Remember, this is your rain gear also, you may need to access it quickly for pop up thunderstorms.
5. Multi-Purpose Your Hiking Poles
Here is where you are going to look like a Backpacker Superhero. How many times have you set up camp and then leaned your hiking poles against a tree? Well now, use them to set up your Shelter. Congrats! You have multi-used 3 pieces of important gear. Rain Poncho, Tarp, and Hiking Poles.
TIP: Don’t try poncho tarps until you’ve mastered tarp camping with an 8 x 12′. Then maybe shoot down to 8 x 10′. There’s no margin for error with a small tarp. With larger tarps you can sleep in the center and be more or less insulated from blown rain and the splash factor. You’re about as close as you can get to the weather with a 5 x 8; learn the tricks of the trade before you push the envelope. I use a regular “Paint Plastic Tarp” you buy at the hardware store for my ground cloth. Why? Ground Clothes are expensive, and if they get a hole in it, get out your wallet. Regular paint plastic can just get cut into new pieces.
Also, make sure you always bring an extra large garbage bag with you. These are great to put your empty pack in at night when it’s raining to keep your pack dry.
Guy lines are essential. A 5 x 8′ tarp gives maximum area when it’s pitched as flat as possible. Guy lines help to keep the fabric taut and water draining instead of pooling. Prop sticks can be used in a pinch; find them before you go to sleep.
If I have learned one thing after 20 years of backpacking. It’s that everyone has their own gear preference. Every backpacker that I have ever met on the trail has their own system and has their favorites when it comes to gear. I mean, we can never get enough of gear talk right? But I would argue this: That most important piece of gear that you will ever carry isn’t in your pack.
For us that love backpacking, we hit the trail in some of the most remote places on earth, we are custom to the up’s and down’s of Mother Nature. We got the whole “plan and prepare” down at this point. For us, it makes no difference if it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, or whatever, we just go. Are we a bit crazy, of course we are. But for new people just getting started, or for people prepping for their first long distance hike, I say this.
The most important piece of gear a backpacker will ever need is a POSITIVE ATTITUDE. No piece of gear will ever help you embrace the trail and Mother Nature than a positive mental attitude will.
Let’s face it, sometimes there is a suck value to hiking in a cold rain storm that seems to last forever. But the one thing that you have going for yourself is your ability to be grateful for that suck value. I mean really, you are out there! You are doing what you wanted to do! Of course it’s going to have suck value. All things worth while do. But it’s going to be your positive mental attitude that will make or break how you experience your hike.
In 2003 when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, it was one of the wettest Springs on record for the AT. It rained, and rained, and then rained some more. In fact, it was almost an entire month before I realized it WASN’T raining. I never did see the Great Smokey Mountains. Fog, yes, lot’s of fog, but rarely did I see sun for the first month. Sometimes I had a hard time getting up and finding a reason to keep going. But the choice was simple, get going or get off the trail and quit. It really was my attitude that I needed to check, not the weather. The weather is going to the weather, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It was then I started being exceedingly grateful for the rain. It changed hike going forward.
A positive mental attitude is going to get you where you want to be. Whether it’s in your personal life, or on the trail. Life happens, and sometimes it rains on your parade. Your attitude is what is going to get you through the rough times. Let’s face it, backpacking is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be out on the trail. Hiking up a mountain, hiking down a mountain, hiking in the rain, the snow, the sleet, (we would make great mailperson’s by the way) hiking in the cold, and in the heat. Mother Nature doesn’t care about your thru-hike attempt. She certainly doesn’t care about your backpacking weekend. It’s going to be your positive mental attitude that will make your adventure on the trail amazing.
So next time the rain starts falling, or the cold wind blows, or the hot sun starts shining, just smile and whisper, “bring it on, I love this shit”. You are doing it.
We love our backpacking community so when we get a chance to actually talk to a fellow backpacker, we jump at it. Recently Scott Gauvin from www.hikingforward.com reached out to us about his passion for getting gear to our Youth. Scott is the Executive Director for Gear Forward. What is Gear Forward?
Gear Forward, simply is about providing the next generation of stewards, adventurers, Scoutmasters and Girl Scout Leaders the resources they need to get outdoors. No child should be denied access to all the outdoors has to offer because they don’t have the necessary equipment. Through the collection of gently used outdoor gear, Gear Forward will work with other worthwhile youth and outdoor focused organizations to get donated gear into the hands that need it.
In this interview Scott explains how you can help donate your un-used gear, or old gear to kids that perhaps want to go camping but don’t have the money or racecourses to go.
So, what can YOU do to Donate: First, clean out your gear closet. WE all have one, and we all have gear we don’t use. Then go to www.gearforward.com and click on the GET INVOLVED Link.
So when you donate your old gear, and maybe looking to buy some new gear. You can visit Teton Sports and purchase gear using the coupon code LHX2017 to get 15% off your order.
Recently we had the pleasure of touching base with Film Director Garrett Martin who is the brainstorm behind the project UNBOUNDED: Patagonia Documentary We were fascinated about how 4 people came together and said “yes” to trekking through Patagonia, not to mention trekking over 350 miles. We also wanted to know more about how to help promote his Kickstarter Project that is raising money for the Conservacion Patagonica, an organization that works to establish national parks in Patagonia for the protection and restoration of the environment and wildlife of the area
In this interview, Ariane Petrucci and Scott Janz discuss how he came up with the idea, when it starts, and how he got 4 people to participate in the film.
From the Unbounded Web Site:
‘Unbounded’ is an adventure-travel documentary following an unaided crew of four hailing from different corners of the globe as they hike and pack-raft over 1,500 km through the Patagonian region of South America. The expedition will take place from mid-December to mid-April, documenting the extreme and unique conditions of Patagonia and the surrounding area. The crew will base their trip along the “Greater Patagonian Trail,” (see below) trekking it in its entirety until their journey comes to an end in Patagonia National Park.
The interview that last’s about 15 minutes has some very cool moments as Garrett explains how he got the idea for the show. The film starts shooting in December of 2016. It was really fun to meet Garrett and we really hope that the whole team at Unbounded have a safe and exciting time on thier adventure.
To learn how you can help his project, please go visit his Kickstarter Project and help them raise some funds.