When most of us hear the term tree hugger, we think of an environmentalists. Whether we hear the term as derogative or effective is not the point. The point is that the tree hugger is trying to save the tree.
There is another tree hugging movement whose objective is not to save the tree, but to save the tree hugger. The focus of this movement is not big huggers, but little huggers, between the age of 7 and 11.
In Feb of 1981, 9 year old Jimmy Beveridge and his two brothers hiked a popular nature trail on Palomar Mountain. Merely a half mile from where their parents were preparing lunch, Jimmy became separated. The brothers, assuming Jimmy was racing them back to camp, quickly returned. Jimmy did not. After 4 days of intensive search and rescue (SAR) efforts, Jimmy’s body was discovered 2 miles from camp. He had died from hypothermia.
Tragedy and grieve are sometimes catalysts for noble plans of action. Ab Taylor, who participated in Jimmy’s search, was determined to do something to prevent similar tragedies. Working with a team, he created the Hug-a-Tree and Survive program targeted at very basic survival skills. In 2005 Ab donated the rights to the program to the National Association for Search and Rescue.
The principle of the program is simple: A lost child who stays put is easier to find than one who keeps moving. Initial searches typically focus where the child was last seen. If the child keeps moving, that information becomes less and less helpful. Once an area is searched, resources focus on other locations. A moving child may enter a previously searched area, making the search and rescue more difficult.
Targeted for young children, the Hug A Tree program is designed to be delivered in about 30 minutes. It typically covers these main points:
Hug A Tree: When you are lost stay put. Find a tree and hang on to it. Since the tree won’t move, neither will you. A tree is alive, just like your pet. You can name your tree and talk to it. It will help protect you.
Always Carry a trash bag and whistle: A trash bag is easy to carry in your pocket and easy to make into a jacket. It will provide you protection from water and cold. A whistle is easy to carry and can be heard from a longer distance than yelling.
Your family will not be angry with you: Anyone can get lost. Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed. Do not hide from your rescuers. Get comfortable and remain calm, knowing help is on the way. Your family loves you and will be very happy to see you.
Make yourself big: Make it easier for others to find you. Wear bright colors. Blow your whistle. Make a big X in the ground with sticks or rocks.
Animals are afraid of humans: If you hear a noise blow your whistle or yell. If it is an animal, it will run away. If it is a rescuer, you will be found.
You have hundreds of friends looking for you: If you hear people yelling your name they are not angry. They are trying to find you. Yell back, or blow your whistle.
Parents also play a key role. The messages for parents include:
Prevention is key. Make sure your child understands the main points of the program. Help arrange a presentation at your school, church, or youth organization.
Footprint your child. A small piece of aluminum foil can be used to create a imprint of your child’s shoe. Place the foil on a towel and have your child step on it. It can be an extremely valuable tool for searchers.
Call for help right away. If the child is moving, the search area will be expanding exponentially. The sooner the search starts, the more quickly the child will be found.
Be available for interviewing. Searchers rely on clues to find lost children. You are the best source for clues. Be available to provide them.
There is nothing scarier to a parent than the loss of a child. A few minor steps can significantly increase the odds of a happy reunion. If your child remembers to hug a tree, you may very well get another chance to hug your child.
In terms of wilderness safety, there is only so much you can do. And yet, there really is so much you can do. If doing so for yourself is not motivating enough, then do it for someone else. Do it for a loved one waiting at home, or a traveling companion depending on you, or a total stranger, such as the Search And Rescue volunteer who may be called into harms way.
As a commercial guide I have an obligation to do all I can to ensure the safety of my traveling companions. I have to be Wilderness First Responder certified, CRP certified, and even Food Handler certified. I carry an expedition sized emergency kit and usually a satellite phone. I am an Eagle Scout, and “Be Prepared” seems fairly apropos.
This summer I helped guide a two week trip into the backcounty of Yosemite. On the trip, one of my companions was carrying and reading Eric Blehm’s The Last Season, the tale of Randy Morgenson. If you are not familiar with the story, Randy was a Backcountry Ranger with 27 years of experience in Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. He was an expert in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, yet ironically disappeared, causing one of the largest SAR efforts in Sequoia and Kings Canyon history. It was 5 years before his remains were finally discovered in a remote part of the park. Circumstantial evidence suggests he may have fallen through a snow bridge and died of hypothermia.
Randy was 51 years old, the same age I am. Sometimes it is the little connections that make things real.
I recently joined a LinkedIn™ group called Pack6 Science Drop for Hikers and Backpackers. Pack6 was founded by Honor (Kori) Boone to honor her brother Michael Ficery. When I Googled Michael Ficery the first link presented was for a website called Instant People Finder. Oh, if only it were so easy. Further down the list reality sets in. On June 21, 2005 Michael Ficery, who was backpacking in the Yosemite backcountry, was reported missing. A massive SAR operation was launched, reported as the most expensive in Yosemite history ($452,000). Michael’s backpack, map, and camera were found near Tiltill Mountain. Nothing else was ever found. John Dill, probably the most famous and experienced Yosemite SAR, was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle as saying of the case:
“It drives us nuts, of course,” Dill said. “Our goal is to find them, first because we want to save them, second for the benefit of their families and third for our own egos.”
Like Randy Morgenson, Michael Ficery was 51 years old.
The stories of Randy and Michael bring home the sobering reality that wildernesses are wild and things can happens. Bad things. It is also this wilderness wildness, however, that attracts us. So what can we do to maintain the thrill of being in the outdoors, and yet at least partially decrease the risk?
The mission of Kori Boone’s PACK6 is to educate the public while offering compact, pre-assembled kits of essential tools for hikers. It’s more than a business opportunity. It’s personal.
Certainly carrying emergency essentials, whether the PACK6 six items, the Boy Scout 10 Essentials, or your own experience-based outdoor essentials kit, provides two major advantages. The first is the actual utility of the items themselves, but perhaps as important is the conscious reminder that being prepared matters.
Appropriate items banging around in your pack, however, means nothing if you do not know how and when to use them. HowTo training is critical. Also, as you can imagine, a kit of safety items is only one part of a plan to reduce risk.
Although not a comprehensive list, as you purchase or pack your emergency kit, consider these additional recommendations:
Plan your trip appropriate for the skill level of the participants
Plan for likely risks including health, weather, swift water or avalanches
Carry emergency contacts and medical treatment / insurance information
It would be naive to think that simply following these and similar precautions would have prevented the tragedies of Randy and Michael. We will never know. Not knowing, however, is not our excuse for not knowing what we should do. Reducing risk may prevent a tragedy. And even if it doesn’t, knowing you did what you reasonably could may bring some small form of comfort.
The term flashpacker usually refers to an urban backpacker with an upscale budget.
An urban backpacker, as opposed to a wilderness backpacker, is someone traveling in a low cost manner with the primary objective of extending the trip. Imagine a college student resting his weary head against a ragged old backpack on the floor of a European train station, holding a piece of cheese in one hand and a youth hostel guide in the other, and you pretty much got the picture.
A flashpacker maintains the urban backpacker’s adventurous attitude, but does so with bit more money and a significantly higher standard for comfort. The flashpacker would more likely lounge by his new gadget filled backpack in the hotel lobby, iPhone in hand, multi-tasking between surfing for the nearest zip line, and updating his Facebook status.
A traditional wilderness backpacker is often motivated by a desire to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday urban life. The objective is to connect with nature in its rawest form. In the past, limitations of weight and bulk required backpackers to strip their life’s possessions down to the bare necessities. For many this minimalist existence and the powerful feeling of simplified self-reliance are part and parcel to the wilderness backpacking experience.
What happens when the wilderness backpacker has access to discretionary funds, and an itch for techno comfort? A wilderness flashpacker is born.
Advances in technology have significantly changed the items which will easily fit into our backpacks, if not our skimpy budgets. These devices often represent, on steroids, the very things we previously jettisoned in exchange for our mobile outdoor experience. After all, how much does an iTune actually weigh? How much physical space is taken up by an electronic book? How about 100 of them? or 1,000? or 10,000? The potential economies of scale seem frankly ridiculous. I will not likely be in the back country long enough to listen to 100 books on tape or 50 days worth of classic rock, but what the heck, they fit.
Some items are simply high tech versions of things we previously carried. A set of physical topographic maps can be replaced by a handheld GPS. A collection of nature field guides can be loaded on our eReader. Our clunky 35mm SLR camera with film for 48 pictures can be more than replaced by a tiny digital camera with the potential to take 32GB of still and video memories. As these gadgets find their way into our packs, we begin to take on the flashiness of a wilderness flashpacker.
More impactful than the modernization of existing clutter is the inclusion of things never before possible in the wilderness. With advances in electronic connections, whether satellites, cell towers, or emerging technologies, escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday life now requires a conscious effort. You carried your PDA because of the built in GPS and map, but what the heck you seem to be getting some bars, why not check your email or shoot out a quick tweet? After all, everyone deserves your status update. Surely they are desperate to know how many calories were in that snack, the size of the fish that just got away, or how your last bowel moved you in the wilderness. Right?
It is difficult to discuss the use of technology in the back country, without sparking a bias which often roars into a wildfire. Smokey the eBear may need to reminds us: only you can prevent flashpacker fires. Disagreement usually come down to “good witch” versus “bad witch” conclusions.
The iPod music distracts me while hiking, leaving me much happier and more pleasant to be around. Good Witch!
The music distracts me and I do not hear your cries for help as a bear mauls you. Bad Witch!
After getting bite by a rattlesnake, the electronic beacon allows me to quickly reach out to search and rescue. Good Witch!
The beacon provided me a false sense of security, and I pushed way beyond my skill and training, placing both my party and the entire search and rescue team at risk. Bad Witch!
The ability to leap from cause to effect is an imprecise art. Generations face off from opposite sides of a continental divided. The young whipper snappers pitch their ultralight tents in the pro tech camp, while the old fogies dig in their high laced leather boots. How can the same flash of facts result in such different reactions?
Technology in the wilderness is likely to be more than a mere flash in the pack. In the immortal words of the King… Rodney actually: “Can’t we all just get along?” And if we can, how long is it, and who’s gonna carry it? Frankly, there really should be an app for that.
There are a wide variety of tent shapes and sizes, each reflecting the personality and style of their owner.
In spite of their apparent differences, most tents are designed to solve a common fundamental challenge – how to efficiently protect the tent occupant from the elements.
A wilderness shelter can be thought of as a collection of layers, each with a specific purpose.
These typically layers include:
A relatively flat durable surface to provide stability
A tarp to serve as a moisture barrier and tent protector
A main tent body to provide insulation and protection from insects
Poles to provide structure and strength
And a rainfly for added protection from rain, sleet and snow
Depending on the weather conditions and your tolerance for adventure, you may or may not deploy all of these layers. If the weather’s great and you like to sleep out under the stars, you may want to use only the tarp. If weather’s great, but mosquitoes aren’t, you may setup a mesh tent with no rain fly. If you are traveling ultra light, you may have only brought the tarp and rainfly, and left the tent body at home.
Regardless of what you deploy in the field, a good understanding of your layer options is critical.
Selecting an appropriate location for your tent is the first step. You want to make sure the location is safe, not in an area prone to rock slides, water runoff, lightening strikes or falling tree branches.
To decrease your impact on the environment, you should follow the leave no trace principle of camping on durable surfaces. Select an area that is relatively flat. You can remove surface stones, pine cones and sticks, but gone are the days of digging and excavating a tent platform. Do not dig trenches. They scar the environment and rather than protecting you from water runoff are more likely to create miserable muddy trenches and moats.
Once you have established your ground layer, it is time to setup a moisture barrier. There are a variety of tarp options. They may be designed specifically for your tent, including structural elements such as grommets and precise sizing. In general, a tarp should be slightly smaller than your tent. Tarps that stick out from your tent can actually catch rain water and moisture, and channel it right under your tent. That changes your tarp from being a water barrier, to a swimming pool liner. If the tarp is too big, fold it under.
You can create your own tarp from hardware store plastic sheets. 6 mm thickness seems to be a nice balance between durability and weight. I prefer clear plastic tarps because they make it easier to find and remove stray sticks and stones you missed when clearing the ground, but black works fine too. A tarp not only keeps ground moisture from making you cold, it also protects the bottom of your tent from damage and wear. It is much cheaper to replace a tarp than a tent.
Tent bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. When removing from the bag pay attention to how it was folded so it will be easier to repack later. Some tents are folded in thirds, some in fourths, etc. When spreading the tent out on the trap arrange the door in the direction you want, usually uphill.
Every tent needs a structure. It may be old school poles pushing up on the tent, poles feed through sleeves in the tent body, or more popular now, free standing pole structures which the tent body can be clipped to and hung from. Most modern poles have a built in elastic cord which keeps the pieces together and ensure proper alignment. These poles are surprisingly flexible and strong, but fiberglass can break, and metal can bend if mishandled.
Some tents require stakes to hold the poles in place, but most modern tents are free standing structures. This means even after erected, the free standing tents can be moved and repositioned. Stakes are required to keep these tents from being blown away in the wind, like giant and expensive tumble weeds. To prevent stakes from being pulled out in the wind, they should be pushed in at an angle, somewhat perpendicular. You may need to reposition the tent slightly if you encounter resistance from underground rocks. Try to avoid pounding stakes into the ground with a rock. They are likely to bend, and weaken. Also, make sure your stakes do not become tripping hazards.
A rainfly provides an additional layer of protection from severe weather such as rain, sleet and snow. To be effective the rainfly should not come in direct contact with the tent body. Where the rainfly and tent touch, water can seep through. It is important to stake out the rainfly to maintain the proper spacing. To avoid the buildup of condensation, many rainflys and tent bodies have vents. Some rainflys also provide additional protection at the entrance in the form of a vestibule. The patio like covering can serve as a great place to keep your backpack or other gear dry.
Brush out the tent before taking it down. Free standing tents can be picked up and shaken over your head, letting the debris fall out the unzipped door. Just watch your eyes! Tents stored wet will develop musty mold, shortening their life and making them miserable to sleep in. Whenever possible, tents should be taken down and packed away completely dry.
Before putting a tent back into long term storage, it should be set up in a controlled environment and throughout checked out.
Wipe down any dirt
Verify poles are correct and in working order
Very the number of stakes and tie down ropes
Check for and make any minor repairs to zippers and seams
Make sure tarp, tent and rainfly are thoroughly dry before re-packing.
When well maintained a tent should provide years or sound sleeping service.
These guidelines are generally true for most tents, but you specific setup may be slightly different. Follow the manufacture directions and check out our demonstration videos to see if your specific tent is covered. Better to struggle setting up a tent in the comfort of your own backyard or living room, that to find problems in the wilderness. Practice makes perfect, and will help ensure you pitch a tent, rather than pitching a fit.
Poor Bob Wallace, the 88 year old inventor of Polar Pure. Bob has been making, packaging and distributing Polar Pure, a crystal iodine based water purification solution, since 1983. I was first exposed to Polar Pure in 2000 when my son and I joined local boy scout troop 916. Polar Pure was the troop’s standard solution for wilderness water purification. A small bottle of Bob’s magic crystals was light to carry, never expired, and could treat over 2,000 quarts of water.
Working from his garage in Saratoga California, Bob became a folk hero to backpackers, outdoor enthusiasts, and natural disaster victims everywhere. His product, which has prevented countless cases of the runs, is now facing its own legal case of the runs from the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
We are currently in the process of new permitting requirements and are unable to ship Polar Pure at this time. We do not know how long this process will take or what the outcome will be – this is dependent on the governmental agencies involved.
So what did Polar Equipment do to warrant this unwelcome attention from the DEA. Nothing. The problem is that criminals might be purchasing and using his product in their illicit meth labs. Bob has been declared merely collateral damage by the DEA. According to the San Jose Mercury News:
“Methamphetamine is an insidious drug that causes enormous collateral damage,” wrote Barbara Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman. “If Mr. Wallace is no longer in business he has perhaps become part of that collateral damage, for it was not a result of DEA regulations, but rather the selfish actions of criminal opportunists. Individuals that readily sacrifice human lives for money.”
I doubt too many people are sticking up for rights of the meth labs, but what about the backpackers, outdoor enthusiasts, and natural disaster victims? What about Bob? Are we really willing to accept shutting down a product and destroying a career and company simply because the product might be used in an illegal manner? Seriously?
I am pretty sure Polar Pure could be transported to meth labs in cars. We should probably do something about that. And aren’t these meth labs usually in peoples homes? Seems like another opportunity for improvement. Since DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno seems quite content accepting collateral damage, I suggest we start by taking possession of both her car and her home. After all, it would all be in the name of fighting the potential of a future crime.
Or perhaps that logic is pure malarky. Or in poor Bob’s case, Polar Pure malarky.
It is not unusual for people new to outdoor trekking to innocently ask:
What should I bring?
Even experienced trekkers are likely to stumble before this open-ended totally-depends how-much-time-do-you-really-have question. The requester probably just wants a simple check list of gear and yet there is so much more. What should I bring? may trigger:
Less than you think.
Why, what do you have?
Where are you going?
How long are you going?
How do you satisfactorily respond to a questions whose only answer is: it depends? Rather than providing the definitive list you find yourself discussing all the conscious and unconscious tradeoffs that come with that one word depends. Every item chosen potentially pushes another worthy item out.
Certainly we can put in a another day’s supply of food. Would you like to get rid of the rain fly or the first aid kit? I think fishing gear is a great idea. Should we get rid of your book or your camera?
Yes there are a variety of gear lists which can and should be shared. They represent the collective experience, priorities, and previous decisions of those providing you the list. To widen your access to wisdom you may want to examine multiple lists, looking for common themes and priorities that align with your own.
I once knew a guy who always carried a huge D-battery Maglite. Yes the same one the police carry and can use as a riot stick to take down a three hundred pound drunk. When I asked how he could justify carrying such a heavy and bulky light his answer was simple.
I am responsible for the safety of the youth I lead on these wilderness outings and we spend half our time in the dark. If something seriously goes wrong, I am not going to be depending on some stupid little pen light.
I am not suggesting that we all should carry monster Maglites, but I do appreciate his passion and the clarity of his priorities.
Here are some basic rules of thumb which illustrate the problem.
Weight: Target Backpack Weight = 25% to 30% of your body weight.
If you weigh 150 lbs, your loaded pack should weigh between 37.5 lbs and 45 lbs. If you are a 13 year old boy weighing all of 90 lbs soaking wet, your loaded pack should only weigh between 22.5 lbs and 27 lbs.
Bulk: Even if you can manage the weight, the size of your backpack will determine the volume of space you have.
Small Pack (40-50 Liters – 1 to 2 Nights)
Medium Pack (50-65 Liters – 3 to 5 Nights)
Large Pack (65-80 Liters – 5+ Nights)
To manage the weight and the bulk some pretty tough priority decisions are going to have to be made.
Outdoor Hierarchy of Needs
One way to start considering your own priorities is to think in terms of a hierarchy of needs. Your needs may vary, but mine goes pretty much like this:
Setting the word depends aside for a moment, there is an expression that is at least illustratively true:
You can go 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.
Clearly the need for air is more immediate than the need for food, and the need for shelter is more immediate than the need for luxury.
When traveling in the wilderness, you are likely to find a readily available supply of high quality air. However, for those with asthma or serious allergies, accessing it may become an issue. Make sure medication, inhalers and Epi-pens are being carried by those who may need them, and that everyone else on the trip knows where they are and how to administer them.
Unless you are going on an extremely short trek, you will not be carrying as much water as you need. This means in addition to the couple of quarts per person you are carrying, you need to be carrying a way to purify additional water. This may be by boiling, filtering, chemically treating, or zapping with a ultraviolet light.
Participating in high adventure activities you may burn between 3,000 – 5,000 calories per day. How you replenish these calories will be up to you. What you ultimately select will have an impact on weight and bulk, but you should probably count on somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 to 2 lbs of food per person per day. Some ultra light backpackers target 1 lb per person per day. To get 3000K in 1 lb of food takes some creativity, and a frankly a fair amount of fat.
Keeping dry and warm is critical to your health and well being. How you provide that to your body can be thought of as shelter. Proper clothing and rain gear may play a part, but most people think of shelter as where they will sleep. This will include choices about tarps, insulation pads, sleeping bags, and tents. In survival or primitive situations, it may mean snow caves or debris piles.
Support items are the things that help you provide the “higher up” hierarchy needs. It might be things like first aid kits, utility knives, cooking stoves or pots and pans. Depending on what you pick for the higher items will increase or decrease what you need for support.
You may think that by the time you care for all the other hierarchy needs there will be no room for luxury. But don’t forget that even on the TV show Survivor contestants were allowed to bring one luxury item. Depending on how you have done in the other categories will determine how much weight and bulk you can allocate. It may be a simple as a deck of playing cards, a small Frisbee, a paperback book, fishing tackle, or that plastic coffee press. Enjoying yourself in the wilderness is the reason you go, and if there are items that will greatly enhance your pleasure they are worth figuring out how to bring along.
Bull’s Eye Packing
There are a variety of factors, conscious or unconscious, which help us determine if we include or exclude a particular item from our packing list. In many cases, there is a tradeoff inter-dependency between the criteria. For example, the heavy pot may be less expensive than the lighter pot. The bulky sleeping bag may be less expensive than the highly compressible one.
Our goal is to find the holy grail. To find those items which meet all of our criteria, putting them smack dab in middle: the bull’s eye items.
Criteria Based Examples
Although you will probably never get this mathematical or anal retentive in your approach, looking at a few examples may help illustrate the mental process. I will score each item 1 to 3, with 3 being the most positive score, and 1 being the most negative. In other words, high value would score 3 (excellent) , but high weight would score 1 (poor).
1 = poor, 2=good, 3=excellent
Using water treatment as an example, boiling scores high for value because it is very effective, even against viruses. It scores low on convenience because you either have to be at camp or set up a stove along the trail. Chemical treatment is very inexpensive, light and not bulky, but the taste is absolutely awful. Pleasure scores very poor.
Blue Jeans are inexpensive, especially considering you probably already have several pairs sitting around at home. Denim however is bulky and heavy, a poor insulator, and gets even worse when wet. Denim take forever to dry. Hiking pants are light, compact, and dry quickly.
For each item you are considering on your personal gear list, make sure you test them against these basic criteria.
Playing Nice With Others
One often overlooked aspect of packing is group gear. More times than I can count, inexperienced backpackers have shown up with completely full packs, and no room for group gear. How much room each person will need for group gear depends on your groups gear strategy. Are you sharing everything except clothes and personal items? Are you sharing food, stoves, pots, pans, pumps, shelters? Depending on the strategy, each person may need from between 40-60% of their load capacity for group gear.
The Goto Learning Resource for Outdoor Enthusiasts