In most of our United States anyone serving food to the public, including a wilderness guide preparing meals in the backcountry, should be Food Handler Certified. The goal is preventing food borne illnesses. The industry certification covers standard topics such as causes of food borne illness, factors that contribute to food related diseases, and basic food safety measures to decrease risk. Like water born bacteria in the wilderness, food bacteria cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. The appropriate approach is better safe than sorry.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education refers to their food safety strategy as the FightBAC!™ Guidelines. Get it? Fight back and fight “bac” – as in bacteria. The four principles are:
Adventurers who have spent any time in the wilderness will immediately recognize the challenges to these four food safety tenets.
Clean –Wash Hands and Surfaces Often
Wildernesses contain a far greater abundance of dirt than of clean. In fact, I am pretty sure my fingernails have never been packed with clean. For environmental reasons, soap is discouraged in the wilderness. Even so called bio-degradable camp soaps can have a negative impact. It is possible to create a sanitizing solution with 1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water, but wilderness disposal may be an issue. So what’s an ethical packer to do? Two effective sanitation techniques are ethyl alcohol (such as Purrell®) for hands, and boiling water for food surfaces (including pots, pans, and cutting utensils). It may be possible to clean hands with boiling water, but it probably involves the extra resources of a first aid kit. One thing you may have to get used to is the idea that clean and sterile are not the same thing. It is possible to sterilize some pretty dirty surfaces, including you hands.
Separate – Don’t Cross-Contaminate
The push for separate but equal food is designed to prevent raw meat contaminates from migrating to other foods and surfaces. Cross contaminated foods such as produce, which are not cook, will significantly increase food illness risk. Fortunately most backpackers do not bring raw meat on outings, and dehydrated foods are far less likely to cross-contaminate. Even so, you should clean surfaces and utensils when switching between the types of food being prepared. If you catch fresh fish, it should be treated careful, and cooked and consumed quickly before bacteria can develop.
Cook – To Proper Safe Temperatures
When it comes to food bacteria, the smart approach is retardation. In other words, we want to keep food in a state that retards bacterial growth. Oxygen, temperature and moisture are key factors. Dehydrating food retards growth, and allows us much more flexibility in wilderness storage temperature. Once food is re-hydrated, however, we need other means to increase safety. Two ways to keep food out of the danger zone are cooking and chilling.
Most meats are safe if cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F. degrees. Ground meats and poultry should be cooked to 160-165 F. degrees. For some backpacking food, the pre-trip cooking, dehydrating and storage are probably bigger risk factors than the wilderness “re-heat” temperatures. However, better safe than sorry, so reheat foods to the appropriate and safe temperature.
Chill – Refrigerate Promptly
Unless you are snow camping, refrigeration is probably not an option. This means foods which normally require refrigeration may not be appropriate for backpacking. Some items, like air sealed hard cheeses for example, are probably safe for a few days. Dehydrated foods are safer (and lighter to carry) than foods with moisture.
Leftovers, although useable at home, can be dangerous in the wilderness. Once re-hydrated, many foods become unwanted growth opportunities. Fortunately, most backpackers are hungry enough to consume the food they have carried. This is especially true when reminded that if they do not finish it, depending on local regulations, they may have to bury it or carry it – neither of which is particularly fun.
Being in the wilderness makes sanitation challenging. Being far from the civilized comforts or your own personal bathroom makes the consequence of poor sanitation even more challenging. Do yourself and everyone else on the trip a favor – remember to clean, separate, cook and chill. In fact, chilling in the wilderness is the primary reason I backpack.
Permits? We don’t need no stinking permits! Or do we?
Backpackers love to travel in spectacular remote wildernesses. These highly desirable lands however are not controlled by a single entity. Understanding the mountainous range of permit requirements can feel as wild as the wilderness you want to backpack. As an example, your target land may be private, a State Park, a National Forest, a National Park, a designated Wilderness, or controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. To make matters worse, even where wilderness areas are controlled by the same land agency you may find completely different rules and regulations.
Navigating your pre-trip permit adventure without the equivalent of a trail map and compass can leave you lost and confused. To assist in your journey for a journey, I offer from my own experience a list of questions to ask the land manager. The variety of responses may surprise you. After each question I share various answers I have received, not to confuse or discourage you, but rather to motivate you to seek the clarity necessary to avoid the high altitude headache of wilderness permit sickness.
Is a wilderness permit required?
Perhaps surprising, the answer is not always yes. Parts of some National Forest lands do not require camping permits at all. The most popular areas usually do, but not always for the same seasons or activities. Some areas, such as the Emigrant Wilderness, only require permits for overnight trips in the back country. Others, such as the Desolation Wilderness, require permits for any activity including day hikes. Some require permits all year round, while others only during certain peak seasons. Other areas may require additional permits for specific activities, such as climbing the cables to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
How do I acquire a permit?
The adage “ask and you shall receive” is true in many but not all wilderness areas. Some, such as Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, do not have a quota. The demand is typically well within the “capacity” of the wilderness, and you can simply ask for and receive a permit on the day of your outing. Others, such as Joshua Tree National Park offer self-registration walk up kiosks, making the task particularly simple. In high demand areas such as Mount Whitney you will find strict quotas controlling the number of people per day per trailhead. Yosemite National Park uses an advanced registration lottery system, with hopeful backpackers requesting dates and alternatives as far as 6 months in advance. Some land agencies hold back a certain number of “walk on” permits to be issued each day, but you are not guaranteed to receive one. You can literally find yourself all dressed up with no place to go. Some land managers require you to appear in person to pick up your permit, while others will send the permit to you in advance or place it in a drop box where you can pick it up outside of normal business hours. Rummaging with a flashlight through a ranger station drop box at 4 am, hoping to find your name, adds an element of excitement to any adventure.
Are there wilderness permit fees?
The simple answer is some charge and some don’t. The Carson-Iceberg Wilderness has no permit fees for individuals and family’s, while the Desolation Wilderness require fees for everyone. Most require fees for commercial use. If you are going to make money off the land owner they will want their fair share, typically in the 3-5% of revenue range. The King Range National Conservation Area requires fees for every organizations, even non-profits such as the Boy Scouts. If fees are charged they may be on a per trip basis or on a per person per day basis.
Are there any other fees?
Although you hate to ask because it might encourage them to think of additional fees, it usually is better to know in advance. Land managers using third party reservation systems, such as Yosemite National Park, may include registration service charges. National Parks and State Parks often have entrance fees, not covered by your wilderness permit. Some spots, such as Big Sur Ventana Wilderness, also have parking fees. Some special use permits such as Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome permits require additional fees. Even if you have a current state fishing license, you may find some land managers and regional parks charging additional fish stocking fees.
Although you will spend the majority of your wilderness time far from vendors and services, you may need to pull out your wallet several times just to get there.
Are there any location restrictions?
Possessing a wilderness permit does not actually mean you can camp anywhere in the wilderness. There may be area restrictions, sometimes marked on your map and other times described in the fine print of your permit. The restriction may describe the only places you can camp, or perhaps the only places you can‘t. For example in Henry Coe State Park you may only camp in designated campsites. In other parks you may be able to camp anywhere but certain areas. For example in the Emigrant Wilderness you can camp close to Buck Lake, but not Emigrant Lake. In Yosemite National Park you can not camp within 5 miles of the trailhead. To help disperse backpackers in the Desolation Wilderness your permit requires that you spend the first night within a certain designated “zone”. In almost all areas, you are required to camp at least 100 feet away from water.
Are there any time limits?
Although some of you may want to live in the wilderness permanently, land managers place time limits on how long you can stay. This covers your overall trip duration, but may also include limits to specific hot spots. For example, in the Emigrant Wilderness you can camp at Maxwell Lake for weeks at a time, but only 1 night at popular Bear Lake. Wandering rangers will check your permit and chase you out if you overstay your welcome.
Are there group size limitations?
Although I have never heard of a height or weight limitation, there are certainly limits to the number of people in a group. These can also vary greatly. For example, in the Emigrant Wilderness the limit is 15 people traveling together, yet in the Desolation Wilderness the limit is 12. In Yosemite National Park if you are traveling “cross-country” you are limited to 8 people, but if you agree to stay “on-trail” at all times, you can have a group of 15. To prevent people from simply requesting multiple permits to overcome these limits, land managers may require groups that know each other to have different itineraries and never be closer than 2 miles from each other. There are also limitations to the number of pack animals and pets in a group.
Are there fire permit requirements and restrictions?
In some areas your wilderness permit is also your campfire permit. In others such as National Forest lands which do not require a wilderness permit, you are still likely required to acquire a campfire permit. However even if you have a campfire permit, there are often campfire restrictions. Some areas, such as Desolation Wilderness, require that you only use backpacking fuel stoves. Others require that you only build fires in existing fire rings. Many restrict fires in areas with limited natural fuel sources, such has highly impacted popular lakes or when camping above the tree line. For example in the Emigrant Wilderness you are not allowed to have fires above 9,000 feet or within 1/2 mile of Emigrant Lake. Some areas, such as Joshua Tree National Park, do not allow you to gather wood for fires, even for use in designated fire rings. Areas that do allow fires, may require that you carry a shovel.
Are their specific bear protection requirements?
In order to protect both humans and animals, backpackers are responsible for keeping food out of their reach. In some areas, such as the Emigrant Wilderness, backpackers are encouraged to use various bear bag hanging techniques. In other parks, such as Yosemite National Park, bears have learned to foil such techniques and land managers require the use of approved bear canisters. This may also be true in areas where there are not trees available for hanging food, such as above 9,000 feet elevation or in locations such as the California Lost Coast.
What about crossing land manager boundaries?
Many adjacent land managers have reciprocal agreements. For example, a permit for a trip starting in one wilderness may be recognized in another wilderness. You will be responsible for knowing and following the rules and regulations of each wilderness you enter, but will in all likelihood not require multiple permits. For example when issued a permit for the John Muir Trail, you may cross through Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Sequoia National Park.
As you can see from the above examples, what is actually permitted, even if you are wilderness permitted, can vary greatly. Knowing what questions to ask before hand can help you acquire and actually understand your wilderness permit.
You don’t just want to be a star gazer. Anyone capable of tilting their head back at night can be that. You want to be a Rock Star Gazer. A Rock Star Gazer is a gazer who says:
That red star is Betelgeuse. It represents the arm pit of the great hunter Orion.
The typical star gazer is more likely to say:
Oh, that pretty one is twinkling, I think it’s… ops, no it’s just an airplane.
The primary requirement to be a Rock Star Gazer is that you appear to know more than your gazing companions. One strategy of course is to simply hang out with slightly stupid people. The reason I caveat “slightly” is that if they are actually “totally” stupid they may not be able to appreciate and acknowledge your star stardom, which pretty much defeats the whole purpose.
Assuming your companions have cleared the 70 IQ hurdle, you probably need to actually learn something about star gazing. If on a hot summer evening you say with confidence:
Castor and Pollux sure look bright tonight…
and one of your gazing companions mumbles something remotely sounding like idiot, it should be clear you have given up your Rock Star Gazer title. Otherwise you would have known Gemini appears in the winter evening sky. Lamely offering up that you meant from Australia is not enough to recover.
Our goal here is not to teach you everything you need to know about stars, but rather to give you a framework to accelerate your journey. Remember you don’t have to actually get there, you just have to be ahead of the others.
Star Gazing Applications and Tools
Yes, I am aware there are star gazing applications which allow star wannabes to point their PDA towards the sky and declare: “There is Cassiopeia!” The problem is that pointing the PDA and reading is a dead give away. It is clear you have no idea what you are looking at other than what you are reading, which the woman gazing over your shoulder can do faster and frankly with better retention. Use these applications to practice your star gazing skills, but never let others see you. It’s too much like the Wizard of Oz begging us to “ignore that man behind the curtain.” Too late, star status lost.
There are some other freely available study resources that can help rock your star world. Sky charts can be found and printed at http://skymaps.com/ The charts show the current month view of sky, including location of visible planets. Again, great resource, but study at home.
Rock Star Basics
Establish some street cred by working these facts into the conversation. At times it may feel awkward and forced, but more than likely they will be mumbling “Wow, I never realized that.”
A star is a burning ball of flames so far away it appears to us as a point. As such, it has no real shape and is subject to atmospheric interference, causing it to “twinkle.” Magnifying with binoculars may reveal additional stars, but does nothing to provide more details for the ones we can see. The color of the star revels its relative temperature. Hot to Cold, Blue->White->Yellow->Orange->Red.
A constellation is a region of the sky as viewed from earth. There are 88 modern constellations. Any star within the region is considered part of the constellation. It does not matter if the star plays a role in some bizarre connect-the-dot version of a flying horsey or a mythical dragon. If it is in the region, it is in the constellation.
An asterism is a subset of stars that make a well known shape. The Big Dipper is an asterism, not a constellation. The constellation Big Dipper is in is Ursa Major (Big Bear).
A planet is a sphere circling the sun. Those visible to our naked eye are close enough to have a shape, which is a small disk or sliver of a disk depending on the phase. As such, they do not really “twinkle” like the “pointy” stars. The color of a planet does not reveal its temperature, but rather the color of its surface or atmosphere.
Remembering stars and constellations is a challenge because most of us don’t do it often enough, and the dang things keep moving. Or at least they appear too. To help with navigation, we will divide the sky into 3 regions:
Your first opportunity to present as a rocker is to point out that the earth rotating on it’s axis makes the stars appear to move. Everything appears to rotate around the north star like a giant backwards twenty four hour clock. Great, but since the clock is moving super slow, it’s not like you can look up and tell which one everything is turning around. Therefore, being able to identify the north star is your first and most important sky skill. Contrary to popular belief, the North Star (Polaris) is not a particularly bright star, and most people rely on the pointer stars from the Big Dipper to find it.
Since everything appears to rotate around the North Star, there is a disk of the sky that is visible all year round. The North Star is the center of this disk (or rather close enough). The radius of the disk is equal to the distance from the North Star down to the horizon. The further north you are on the planet, the higher the North Star appears in the sky, and therefore the larger the circumpolar region. As you move south, the North Star gets lower, shrinking the size of the “always visible” disk. Side Note: the angle from the ground to the North Star tells you your latitude.
This circumpolar region is your friend. Learn the stars, constellations, and Greek mythology of this region. It is time well spent. Regardless of the season, you will always be able to show off your incredible knowledge of this always-visible region. Focus on the Ursa Major (Big Dipper), Ursa Minor (Little Dipper), Cassiopeia, and Cepheus. For extra credit, point out Thuban, a minor star that used to be the pole star long before the current one.
The Zodiac Belt (aka ecliptic) is where the action is. Because our solar system is relatively flat, with all planets circling in essentially the same plane, everything appears to pass through this belt. The sun, the moon, and the planets all travel along this solar super highway. The reason this is important is to keep you from looking like an idiot. If you ever look for a planet outside this belt, you are in fact looking like an idiot.
Using your sky chart aides, you can determine if and where the five visible-to-the-naked-eye planets are located. The five visible are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Mercury and Venus are on closer orbits of the Sun than Earth. That means we have to look kinda towards the Sun to see them. Therefore, you can only see them just before sunrise or after sunset. Mercury is ridiculously hard to see but Venus (the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon) is often refereed to as the Evening Star or the Morning Star. If you are looking for Mercury or Venus in the middle of the night, you are again looking like an idiot. The other three (Mars Jupiter and Saturn) are in further out orbits of the Sun than Earth and therefore have the potential to be visible at any time during the night.
The ancients recognized the importance of this action packed belt, and started tracking where the sun was relative to the stars behind it. This constellation / sun connection defines the calendar of the zodiac.
Apr – May
May – Jun
Jun – Jul
Jul – Aug
Aug – Sep
Sep – Oct
Oct – Nov
Dec – Jan
Jan – Feb
Feb – Mar
Mar – Apr
A challenge of being a Rock Star Gazer is that people will often say something like, “I’m a Libra. Where is my constellation?” This is where your study aid can help. If you know during the evening of a particular month which Zodiac Constellation is rising and which is setting, you can approximate the location of the visible ones in between. And for goodness sake, do not get caught looking outside the Zodiac belt for a Zodiac Constellation.
The southern sky is like the astronomical clearance rack. None of the major brand Zodiac constellations are available there. None of the big wig wanders (Sun, Moon, or any planets) are ever caught passing through. Unlike the consistent and reliable Circumpolar North, the Southern Sky is constantly changing with the seasons. Here you may find little known irregulars such as Eridanus, Lupus, and Grus.
That’s not to say there aren’t some great deals in the southern sky, because there are. The great hunter constellation Orion (a crowd favorite) is there every winter season. The spectacular winter hexagon of stars (Sirus, Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Pollux and Procyon) are also on full display.
After slimming your way to Rock Star Gazer status, you may feel the need to cleanse your soul with a meteor shower. A meteor is a small piece of dust or dirt brilliantly burning up in our atmosphere. Passing through the tail of an old dirty comet increases the chance of “dust ups” creating spectacular displays. Some of the more common displays include:
To be a Rock Star Gazer is a great responsibility. Simpleton star gazers will be looking up to you, then back at the stars, then back again to you. Probably with a puzzled expression. Your ability to speak confidently, if not actually competently, is critical. Information is dangerous and you now have enough to be on the night time wilderness most wanted list. Congratulations.
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.
I recently helped guide a 50 mile trip through Joshua Tree National Park. If you have not been to Joshua Tree, you may not know it as a national park made up of two distinct geographic terrains, both of which happen to be deserts – the Mojave and the Colorado. Yes, there are some places in the world where one desert just isn’t dry enough, you have to have two!
Because water is so sparse in these deserts, even if you can find it you can’t legally drink it.
It is strictly reserved for the local wildlife, who clearly knew enough to make advanced reservations.
So what’s a thirsty backpacker to do?
Carry On Luggage?
One option for water is simply to carry it. In a hot desert there are probably not many things you will be carrying more important than water. Traveling in heat most backpackers require at least a gallon of water a day. In the unlikely event that you don’t remember, a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. On this particular trip we came across a solo female backpacker who was carrying 4 gallons of water. Yes, 4 x 8 = 32 pounds of water. This was of course in addition to the rest of her gear, bringing to mind two words: stud and nutjob.
Our week long trip in the desert would therefore require 7 days x 8 pounds = 58 pounds of water per person. A standard rule of thumb for pack weight is 25% to 30% of your body weight. So if your body weighs 150 pounds, your pack (with water, food, tent, stoves, fuel, sleeping bag, etc) should weigh between 37 pounds and 45 pounds. Unless you are carrying a lot of helium, I am not sure how you squeeze 58 pounds of water into that total weight range.
So again, what’s a thirsty backpacker to do?
Cache for Gold?
Although cache sounds like cash, it’s not about money. It is, however, about a hidden treasure even more valuable, water. By hiding water at strategic locations along your route you significantly decrease the amount you need to carry.
This perhaps raises some immediate questions I will attempt to anticipate and address.
If I can’t carry enough water during my trip, how can I carry enough to go hide it?
Good point. Caching water does not usually mean hiking the exact same route carrying all the water you will need. It usually involves multiple shorter trips, carrying only what you will need when you reach that particular location. For our 50 mile hike we made a cache advance deposit of water in 3 different locations. Between each location, we got back in our car and drove somewhere closer to the next cache site. Although our total ultimate trip would be over a 50 mile route, the furthest we had to carry water jugs for caching was a couple of miles.
How do I know the water I hide will still be there when I need it?
Short answer: you don’t. Long answer: you hide it well enough that no one else will ever find it. As a practical matter most fellow backpackers who stumble upon your cache will respect your need and leave it alone. If however, they feel an even greater need than yours they may be tempted to make a cache withdrawal. It is possible you may find a thank you note or an apology note instead of your water. I highly doubt it though. No one writes notes anymore.
If I hide it really well, will I be able to find it?
Good question. Maybe you won’t. One point in your favor is that you will be highly motivated to find it. Some techniques to help find it, in ascending order:
bring someone with a really good memory and sense of direction
take really good written notes, describing milestones and markers
take a digital picture of the location and surroundings
take a GPS waypoint of the cache (my preferred method)
As encouragement for your search, I offer this tale of truth. On our Joshua Tree caching expedition the lead guide remembered caching water 3 years previous, which was never retrieved. Given there is no time limit on leave-no-trace guilt, he was determined to find the stray plastic jug. His search strategy was based on the following:
I think it might have been up this wash
No, wait, actually it might have been that one
I remember a tree, but I think it was bigger than this one
I am happy to say he did not take me up on any of my financial offers regarding the odds of a find. To my total amazement he dipped behind a Joshua tree (which looked to me no different than the thousands of others available) and calmly said “found it.” In case you are wondering what three years of UV light in the desert does to a plastic water bottle, let’s just say it did not improve it. The water, clearly tired of waiting to be found, was long gone. None the less we carried out in victory the remaining pieces, restoring the desert to its original pre-plastic state.
Are there rules for caching?
Yes. Each land manager has their own cache and carry rules, but they usually involve:
what, if anything, can be cached (water, food, gear)
how it must be marked (name, date, phone number)
how long it can be cached (how far in advance, total time)
pack it in, pack it out
As you recover and use your cached water jugs, you will have to carry out the empties. You can simply cut them up and hide them in your stash of trash. Another option to consider, however, is to display them proudly on your pack, making your water caching cleverness clear for all to see… or at least to the two or three others backpackers you might stumble across in this wonderful waterless wasteland.
This is without doubt the number one or number two challenge in the wilderness. Many of us wish we could avoid the subject, but in the end, it’s not our call; it’s nature’s call. Try as we might, there is simply no avoiding voiding.
Does a Catholic bear poop in the woods? And what about the Pope? What does he do? This picture ought to remove all doubt. Or at least some of it.
If it is not of bear, it certainly bears something ickumenical.
There are standard hygiene practices which should be followed in the wilderness. Although urine is relatively sterile, most of us do not want it in or near our water. After all, this is the same water we use for our hot chocolate, coffee, and pea soup.
Feces carry pathogens which can make their way into our body via various routes including hand-to-mouth-contact or soiled-water. After doing your business, it is highly advised that you wash your hands far from any water source. To decrease the odds of contamination, the US Forest Service recommends disposing of human waste:
far from lakes, streams, and campsites–at least 100 feet (200 feet recommended).
Knowing that our call of the wild may be just around the corner, what are our options?
The avoidance option is simple: don’t go. And by don’t go I mean don’t go in the wilderness. For health reasons, it is better not to go in the wilderness, than to go in the wilderness and not go.
Number 1 Option
It seems nature was kinder to men than women, at least regarding equipment to support option number 1. You might say that women got hosed, but it turns out it was actually the men. Marketeers have funneled in to provide women aiming options mother nature simply missed. These funnel products and their names are real. You can not make this stuff up.
Magic Cone (www.magic-cone.co/)
You realize of course what this means. When you see Jerry or Terry or Sam written in the snow, you’ll be left wondering if it was a he-weer or a she-weer.
Note: You can find YouTube demo videos for these products, and no I am not providing those links. Even I have to draw a line in the snow.
Number 2 Option
For most wilderness settings, cat holes are the preferred method of human waste disposal. A cat hole is a 6 to 8 inch hole dug in the ground with a small travel trowel. In this wilderness version of putt-putt, your goal is to make a hole-in-one. Efforts requiring several strokes with a stick are rightly shrouded in shame.
The theory of a cat hole is that it should be dug in bacteria rich soil which will help breakdown the waste. Burying waste in a cat hole also spares the rest of us the sights and smells of your latest production. In some areas, toilet paper can be buried along with your waste. In other areas, it may need to be burned or packed out.
In the Trenches
Rather than individual cat holes, some backpackers prefer a group latrine. This does not mean the backpackers go together at the same time, but it does mean they share a common location. This typically involves digging one long trench. Each person who uses the latrine makes a deposit at the end of the trench and buries it, leaving the remainder of the trench for future customers. The downside to this approach is that rather than scattering the impact over a broad area (as with individual cat holes) it concentrates the human waste. On the plus side, however, it may be easier for some children or inexperienced packers. They do not need to figure out where or how to dig, and if they do not cover their load properly others are likely to discover and correct.
Believe it or not, there are some people who rationalize a dogpile technique. Rather than digging a hole they simply make a surface deposit. The theory is that exposure to direct UV light will accelerate the decomposition of the human waste. In fact, some go so far as to recommend increasing the UV surface area by use of a smear campaign. Suffice it to say I do not think you will see official literature recommending this approach. I have a feeling most people that use this technique are also known as “solo hikers.”
In some environmentally sensitive and high traffic wilderness areas personal deposits are no longer legally accepted. In other words, after you are done holding it, you will still need to be holding it, only now in your own personal carry on bag. By the way, contrary to perhaps other times in your life, if someone offers you paper or plastic, choose plastic. Pack It In and Pack It Out has just taken on a whole new meaning.
As an experienced cat-holer I offer the following advice:
Dress Appropriately. What you are about to do will probably involve taking off some clothes and perhaps your shoes. Shorts and sandals are easier to deal with than long pants and high laced boots.
Take The Necessary Equipment. You will want a small trowel, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. If you are near mosquitoes you may want to apply insect spray to certain areas before you get out there.
Seek Higher Ground. You should plan to be at least 200 feet from camp, trail, or water. Given a choice go uphill. It is better to find a place where you can look down on others, rather than the other way around. Besides, windier high points have fewer insects.
Find an Appropriate Dig Site. You want soft bacteria rich soils. Do your best to avoid roots and rocks, which make digging difficult. Watch for ant hills. The soil may be easy digging, but the resulting frenzy may be more than you bargained for.
Dig a 6-8 inch deep hole. The depth of the hole is to ensure you get down to the proper soil and have room to bury your offering. The width of the hole will depend on the size of your burden, but 6 inches is usually enough.
Clear the Runway. Take time to remove tall grasses, sticks, twigs, or other things that may rub you the wrong way when you squat. Do it before you remove your clothing.
Toilet Paper within Reach. Keep toilet paper within reach and in its plastic bag until you are ready. After you have started is not a good time to realize you left the paper way over there.
Remove your clothing. Do not simply drop your pants to your ankles and expect a successful outing. Get your pants and underwear completely off and out of the way. The last thing you want is a constant reminder all over your clothes.
Balance and Aim. Straddle the hole and squat. You may want to put a hand down on the ground for balance.
Be Patient. Do not expect results right away. Stage fright takes on a whole new meaning in this position. Also, many people have delayed this moment so long that it may take a while to get it going. Look around. Enjoy the view. The wilderness is spectacular.
Adjust Your Aim. If you do miss, shift your position. This is a skill you will acquire over time.
Use Toilet Paper Sparingly. Be mindful of the days left and the number of people sharing the paper. Leaves and soft pine cones can be used, but they are not my first choice. If appropriate for your location, deposit toilet paper into the hole. You can also use it to guide any off target items into the hole.
Get Dressed. Most people feel uncomfortable naked in the wilderness, so will want to put clothes back on quickly. Others may relish the cool breeze. The sense of urgency is up to you.
Bury your Evidence. Fill the hole with the dirt you removed creating the hole. Many people like to place a large rock on the spot to discourage animals from digging it up. Just remember, the rock you just pick up may be the marker from the previous persons efforts.
Wash Your Hands. Use hand sanitizer.
Declare Victory. Congratulations. Now go back and join the group. They are all probably waiting to hear how it went.
If you ever wondered what it’s like to be swept up in a snow avalanche, watch this 9 minute “point of view” video from Verbier Switzerland in Feb 2011. The fact that it is only 9 minutes long is very good news. It takes about a minute and a half for the skier to get swept up in the avalanche. It is not until about five minutes later that his friends finally break through to him. If this video were much longer the rescuer’s face at the end would surely be minus the smile.
Avalanches are the ultimate in equal opportunity. They don’t care if you are downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, mountaineering, or snowmobiling. Given the right conditions they appear quite happy to crash your party.
Although they may appear as unpredictable as earthquakes, lightning strikes, and lottery tickets, there is a science to snow avalanches. There are four things generally required for an avalanche:
A slab of snow
An unstable or weaker layer below
A steep slope (between 30-45 degrees)
A trigger event
Unfortunately, those 4 conditions are not that difficult to meet. Therefore, anyone intentionally heading into avalanche country should, like a boyscout, “be prepared“. In the simplest form, there are two main objectives.
Rescue / Recovery
The obvious goal is to do avoidance so well that rescue is never required. Proper planning, understanding risks, reading the warning signs and making the right decisions greatly increases your odds of having a smile at the end of your own outdoor snow movie. Because we are not born with these avalanche skills, acquiring them requires some form of training.
Avalanche Research and Education
There are several organizations dedicated to avalanche research and education. Two of the main ones in the US are:
Prior to their existence, there were no real standards for Avalanche training curriculum in the United States. AIARE has defined a multi-leveled training program, which many wilderness training organization deliver.
Avalanche Awareness (1-2 Hours)
Introduction to Avalanche Safety (1-2 Days)
Level I (3 Days) – Focused on Decision Making
Level II (4 Days) – Focused on Analyzing Snow Stability and Hazards
Level III (7 Days) – Focused on Advanced Professionals
As a quick starting point, you may consider this online awareness tutorial:
In addition to skills, you also need to have and know how to use proper equipment. This includes the things you would expect in other outdoor activities such as helmets, first aid kits, repair kits, food, water, etc. But it also includes very avalanche rescue specific equipment such as:
beacons – electronic transmitters/receivers to help rescuers identify the above snow location of a buried victim
probes – extendable poles to pinpoint the victim’s location under the snow
shovels – tools to dig the victim out, with a goal of freeing an airway
Imagine you are living the scenario in the Verbier Avalanche video. Research shows you have about 15 minutes to:
Realize you have lost a party member
Confirm the search area is safe
Switch your beacon transmitters to rescue mode
Perform a primary and secondary beacon search
Pinpoint victim location with a probe
Dig the victim out with shovel
Establish an airway
Administer first aid
All of this requires a great deal of training and practice. Unfortunately, the survival rates can be depressingly low. If swept up, you should do everything possible to stay on or near the surface. Point your feet down hill, dig in, swim and fight to stay on the surface. According to avalanche.org, if you get completely buried your chance of survival is only 30%. It quickly becomes clear why avoidance is preferred to rescue.
Avalanche Warning Signs
The first signs to watch for to avoid an avalanche are the signs provided by professionals. There are teams of professionals who regularly survey the snow and provide avalanche risk advisories and bulletins. A great place to check is:
They provide links to various Avalanche Centers, including some in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Argentina. In North America, the following warning system is used to indicate danger levels:
Extreme and High Danger areas should be avoided completely.
Considerable Danger areas require advanced training in snowpack evaluation, routes and decision making.
Moderate and Low Danger requires the ability to read warning signs and local conditions.
If after reading the bulletins you still decide to venture out, you should be watching for the classic danger signs. These are often refereed to as the Red Flag Warnings:
Signs of Recent Avalanches – The most accurate indication of avalanche danger is sign of a recent avalanche. The risk is clearly no longer theoretical.
Signs of Unstable Snow – Cracks, hollow sounds, and “whumping” are clear sign of instability. “Whumping” is the sound made when a section of snow collapses onto itself.
Intense Precipitation – A significant build up of fresh snow or rain can create very unstable conditions.
Wind Blown Snow – Even if there has been no recent precipitation, snow moved by wind activity can load the leeward slopes, causing a similar instability.
Rapid Temperature Rise – quick temperature changes can cause snow to shift and slip, becoming less stable
Participating in snow sports can be a blast. That blast may be the adrenaline rush that comes from skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or mountaineering in the great outdoors. If, however, you are not appropriately trained to read the warning signs and make good decisions, that blast may be from a freshly triggered avalanche. This unintended rush of more than just adrenaline may bring new meaning to the term “ride of your life.”
The shocking thing about shock is that most of us have a fairly muddled understanding of it. When we think of shock what often comes to mind is a sudden anxiety producing surprise – something that generates a reaction to fight, flight, or faint. It might be the way you feel after:
a near miss traffic accident
seeing a loved one bleeding at an alarming rate
realizing your required final examination was yesterday, not today
Types of Shock
This type of shock may be psychological (of the mind) rather than physiological (of the body). Because of this, it can also be seen by others as a weakness. Not everyone goes into shock at the sight of blood. Experiencing this type of shock may suggest your mind is just not tough enough to take it. Chuck Norris would never experience psychological shock.
Stress and anxiety can produce very real shock-like symptoms such as elevated heart rate, rapid respiratory rate, and pale clammy skin. The treatment for this shock is to calm the patient. For example you may:
have them lie down
cover them with a blanket
gently elevate their feet
if appropriate, provide fluids
The cynical view is that you simply need to baby this baby. Viewing shock as a mere mental weakness is dangerous, however, because there are in fact physiological causes of shock with very similar symptoms, which are indeed life threatening.
Circulatory shock, also sometimes referred to as medical shock, is caused by a lack of perfusion. The root for perfusion is French and it means to “pour over.” Perfusion simply means pushing blood under pressure to bathe our cells in oxygen. In the wilderness a lack of bathing is usually a bad thing, but a lack of oxygen bathing the cells is a very bad thing. This is not simply a weak state of mind, but a real threat to life.
Proper perfusion relies on a successful cardiovascular systems. We need to keep oxygenated blood pumping through our body. The proper medical terms may be confusing, but the the basic concepts are fairly clear:
Is there enough volume of blood in the body?
Is the pump (heart) working properly?
Are the pipes (vascular system) clear and properly sized?
Hypovolemic shock means you do not have enough volume of blood for successful cell bathing. This may be caused by things such as bleeding, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and sever burns. Quickly addressing the cause of the lack of blood volume is critical for treatment.
Cardiogenic shock means the heart is not adequately pumping blood through the system. This could be caused by a heart attack or a heart trauma. Treating this root cause in the field may not be practical, so evacuation is key.
Distributive (or Vaseogenic) Shock
Distributive shock means the blood is not being distributed properly through the vascular system. Proper blood pressure is key to distribution, and under normal operation your pipes can constrict or expand to adjust to the right pressure. There are a variety of situations which can disrupt this system, such as nerve damage (neurogenic), infection (septic) or allergic reaction (anaphylatic). Where possible, treating the cause is critical. For example infections may need antibiotics and anaphylaxis may require antihistamines and epinephrine.
The Shocking Reality
Regardless of the cause of shock (failure of volume, pump, or pipes) left untreated patients will slide down a predictable slippery slope. Early treatment is critical to prevent this progression towards death. The progression has three major states:
Progressive (or Decompensatory) Shock
Refractory (or Irreversible) Shock
Compensatory shock means there is something seriously wrong, but your body is managing to keep your blood pressure relatively normal by doing some pretty crazy things. In other words, it is frantically “compensating.” This compensation comes in the form of higher respiratory rates, higher heart rate, tighter vascular constriction – anything to keep oxygenated blood bathing those cells.
Progressive (or Decompensatory) Shock
In progressive or decompensatory shock, your body is beginning to lose the battle. Your compensation efforts to keep blood pressure normal are failing. Less oxygen is getting to the cells, including your brain, and aggressive treatment to turn things around is critical before it is too late.
Refractory (or Irreversible) Shock
Bummer. The title pretty much gives this one away. At some point the lack of oxygen causes your organs to die, including your brain. Some refer to this stage as the “slow circling of the drain.” It is irreversible and death is inevitable. On a brighter note, you won’t be alone in this journey, because by definition everyone will eventually get here. It is essentially how we die.
General Shock Treatment
Shock treatment should not to be confused with shock therapy, which you may want after reading that last depressing paragraph. There are things that can be done to treat circulatory shock (or at least delay if for a significant number of years). Much of the treatment for physiological shock is the same as for psychological, with one significant addition:
treat the cause
have them lie down
cover them with a blanket
gently elevate their feet
if appropriate, provide fluids
Patients who do not show vital sign improvements should be evacuated.
There are a wide variety of causes of circulatory shock, but they can all progress down a slippery slope towards death. To be on the safe side, anytime someone appears in distress, you should probably assume shock and treat for it until proven otherwise. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a calming voice, a warm blanket, and chance to lie down with their feet up.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and do not pretend to be. For more information, ask your doctor, and check medical online references, such as www.webmd.com.
A Wilderness First Responder, sometimes referred to as a “woofer,” is an individual trained and certified to provide extended emergency medical care in a wilderness setting. In comparison think of an urban first responder as focused on providing care during the “golden hour” – that critical hour of support before definitive care arrives, usually in the form of an ambulance carrying equipment, EMTs and paramedics. By definition a wilderness setting is more than an hour from care and depending on the remoteness of the setting and communication systems available, it may be days or weeks away. The nature of the wilderness activity may also limit the equipment and resources available. For example long distance backpackers, mountain climbers, and whitewater kayakers do not usually have readily available things like traction splints, backboards, spinal collars, blood pressure cuffs, or automated external defibrillators (AEDs). A Wilderness First Responder has to be very creative and resourceful when providing extended care.
Who is a WFR?
Woofer’s are usually individuals who are in leadership positions for outdoor adventures such as backpacking, mountain climbing, river rafting, skiing, and similar remote activities. They may be in roles such as trek leader, river guide, or ski patrol. Many reputable outdoor organizations now require Wilderness First Responder certification for their outdoor employees.
Who certifies WFRs?
There is no one certification body for Wilderness First Responders. A variety of medical and wilderness training organizations appear to have co-operated fairly well in creating training and testing standards. A typical WFR certification requires 72-80 hours of classroom and practice training, as well as both a written and practical exam. Although all certified individuals are called WFRs, the actual certification is controlled and tracked by the organization providing the training. Most require re-certification within 2-3 years, and not all organizations recognize the others certification for re-certification, although the major players (such as NOLS/WMI, SOLO, and WMA) appear to play nice.
What content is covered?
Each training provider’s website offers a detailed course outline, but some common themes include:
Patient Assessment System
Head and Spine Injuries
Bone and Joint Injuries
Soft Tissue Injuries
Topics are covered with a combination of lecture and mock rescue practices, some of which are very elaborate and surprisingly realistic.
What is the difference between the organizations?
Because the schedule and location worked for me, I certified through NOLS/WMI. They are the only organization with which I have first hand experience, but during my research I found very strong advocates for each of the major players and some of the smaller ones. I suspect their curriculum and exams are similar. One piece of advice I got early on was to focus on the quality of the instructor, as that would potentially have a greater impact on my experience. Although I agree, I am not sure how practical that is to implement. I lucked out and ended up with an excellent instructor.
I recommend you do your own research, but to help you out I offer these potential major providers and their own website positioning statements:
National Outdoor Leadership School – Wilderness Medicine Institute http://www.nols.edu/wmi/ “The nationally recognized standard in wilderness medicine education”
Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO) http://www.soloschools.com/ “The oldest continuously operating school of wilderness medicine in the world.”
Wilderness Medical Associates http://www.wildmed.com “The definitive wilderness course in medical leadership and critical thinking for outdoor, low-resource, and remote professionals and leaders.”
You should also consider quality smaller regional providers, although cross-organizational re-certification options may be more limited. As an example, in the San Francisco Bay Area Foster Calm has an excellent reputation. There are probably others in your area.
After experiencing through mock rescues and practice the wide variety of things that can go seriously wrong in the wilderness, I find myself wanting to add more and more things to my first aid kit. The reality, of course, is that my pack has limited space, but my brain is still relatively empty. The sign of a good “woofer,” I guess, is a continued focus on practice and skills rather than gear. I think being a Wilderness First Responder is a life long journey, but one I am willing to undertake. Besides my kids would probably say, a life long journey for me might not in fact be all that long. I may now be a First Responder, but somehow the my kids always have the last response.
I just learned about an incredible organization in the San Francisco Bay Area known as Environmental Traveling Companions. Their charter is to provide disadvantaged youth and people with disabilities wilderness adventure opportunities, regardless of physical or financial limitations. Your first reaction might be:
Oh, how nice – an organization that pushes wheel chairs down paved nature trails.
Not so! When ETC says adventures, they mean adventures — Whitewater rafting, cross-country skiing, and sea kayaking. The vision started with three river guides in 1972, and formed into a formal non-profit organization in 1975. According to their website (http://www.etctrips.org):
ETC has offered our life-changing programs to more than 60,000 people with special needs including visual or mobility impairments, developmental disabilities, cancer and other life-threatening illness, and youth from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Check out this inspirational video of their organization.
I am sure there are many organizations around the world dedicated to helping people experience the great outdoors. Let us know about your favorite.
Although a strong urge to perform math is probably not what drove you to leave civilization, there are times when guess-ti-mating is an important skill:
Your wilderness permit says your campsite must be at least 100 feet from water.
You are wondering if that tree branch is really high enough to counter-balance a bear bag 10-12 feet off the ground.
Your son wants to jump of a cliff into the lake and you want to know how high it is, either for bragging rights or for potential insurance paperwork.
You have just finished setting up your camp and you want to know how much time you have before the sun sets behind that ridge line.
Whatever your reason, the skills to estimate measurements in the wilderness can come in handy.
Body Part Measurements
Okay, that may not have come out right. I am not referring to what you do in the privacy of your own home. I am however referring to how you can use socially acceptable body parts for quick measurements in the wilderness.
Body part measurement has been used for centuries. It did not take long to figure out that humans come in a variety of sizes, including different than me. To solve the standardization challenge important people, such as kings, were used for “good measure.”
Inch = tip of King’s finger to first knuckle
Hand = width of King’s hand, about 4 inches
Foot = length of King’s foot, heel to big toe
Yard = tip of King’s nose to thumb, or some say circumference of kings waist (though that would certainly be subject to inflation)
Common Cubit = distance from King’s elbow to tip of middle finger
Since you probably will not be bringing a king with you to the wilderness, knowing your own standard measures can be helpful. If nothing else you will be more convincing when describing that spectacular rainbow trout:
I am telling you it was four hands wide. The thing was practically a cubic.
For wilderness measuring, knowing the distance of your own stride is probably the most helpful. Certainly your stride will vary depending on the steepness of the grade and the burden of your load, but with a little practice you can acquire a fairly consistent “measuring stride.”
Stretch a tape measure across the ground, then casually walk ten steps. Don’t exaggerate your steps, don’t reach for maximum distance, just keep it very natural. After 10 steps look down, identify the distance, and divide by 10. (If you do really enjoy math, take 13 steps and divide by 13 instead). For me, in 10 steps I travel about 25 feet, or 2.5 feet per step. So a campsite for me should be about 40 steps from the water (40 x 2.5 = 100 feet).
It is a lot easier to pace out a distance on level ground than to say walk up a tree or the side of a cliff. To convert a height to a pace-able ground distance, you can use the “stick tilt” method. Hold a stick at arms length such that the tip of the stick is at the top of what you are measuring and your hand grips the stick at the bottom. By keeping your arm fully extended you keep the visible ratio of the stick and the object being measured consistent.
Once you have the correct ratio, tilt the stick 90 degrees (from vertical to horizontal) so you can pace off the distance on the ground. It works best if you have a helper you can position (a little to the left, no no your other left, that’s it, perfect) otherwise you need to look for visual clues on the ground to pace if off yourself, all the while wondering why you no longer have any friends.
How many Brian’s tall is it?
Another technique is to use an object or person of a known height, positioned the same distance away. For example if Brian is standing at the top of the cliff you can use him as a reference. To improve the accuracy, position yourself a reasonable distance back from the cliff. (Besides, if Brian happens to fall off the cliff you will be able to time how long it takes him to reach the bottom, figuring acceleration at 32 feet per second per second.) Holding a stick at arms length you can measure how many “Brian’s” tall the cliff is. If Brian is 6 feet tall, you multiple the number of Brian’s by 6 to get the height. Five and a half Brian’s equals 33 feet (5.5 X 6 = 33). Personally, I recommend bringing someone along who is 10 feet tall, making the math much easier.
New Meaning to Wrist Watch
A quick estimate of time can be made with your hand stretched at arms length. The earth rotates 360 degrees in a 24 hour period. In other words, every hour is represented by 15 degrees of movement across the sky. Assuming you have relatively normal body proportions, a fist at arms length is equal to about 10 decrees of the sky. (Yes, if you are a big person your fist will be bigger, but your arms will also be longer, so the ration is about the same for most people.)
If your fingers are spread out as wide as possible, they cover about 20 degrees of the sky. Whatever method you are using, test it by measuring from the horizon to straight over your head. If you have worked it out correctly, that should be 90 degrees.
When you are setting up camp or preparing dinner and wondering how long the sun will be up, you can simple measure the distance between the sun and the horizon in degrees.
30 degrees means you’ve got about 2 hours
15 degrees means you only have 1 hour
A beautiful sunset means you’re pretty much screwed
In preparation to take a Wilderness First Responder certification course I started thinking about Samaritans, not that I know any personally. When I looked them up in Wikipedia I was surprised to learn that as of Nov 2011 there were only 745 of them in the world, mostly near the cities of Nablus and Holon. I am sure as with any group there are good and bad ones, but I am mostly interested in the good Samaritans- the ones with the legal doctrine that is either going to encourage and protect me or set me up for complete and total financial ruin.
I started thinking about the golden rule:
Do unto other as you would have others do unto you
It sounded pretty good when I was thinking about others doing unto me things such as pulling me out from under an avalanche of snow, performing CPR to restart my pathetic little heart, or simply splinting my broken leg and carrying me out of the wilderness on a litter fit for a king. It seemed a little less compelling when I thought about others doing unto me things such as dragging me by the leg compounding a spinal injury, CPR-ing my ribs into my spleen, or dropping me down the face of a cliff, making litter of my litter.
Why is it that intent and impact can have such different outcomes?
Clearly there are attorneys who can only survive by feasting on yummy rich tortes. Fear of legal peril has put at risk our willingness to aid an injured fellow traveler. The theory of the good Samaritan doctrine is to encourage voluntary assistance by offering some degree of immunity from legal damages.
Good Samaritan laws vary by country and state. The trick is to craft Samaritan law in such a way to consider both intent and impact when a volunteer renders assistance. If judged only by impact, any mistake would leave the volunteer at great peril, so much so, many would simply choose not to act. By removing all risk, however, we might encourage the volunteer to engage in reckless and even wanton behavior. Balance is the key. As an example:
Any person who in good faith renders emergency care, without remuneration or expectation of remuneration, at the scene of an accident or emergency to the victim of the accident or emergency shall not be liable for any civil damages resulting from the persons acts or omission, except for such damages as may result from the persons gross negligence or wanton acts or omissions.
This seems to capture the spirit, protected if reasonable, but not if grossly negligent or wanton. But how does this type of language hold up in court. Let’s consider an example from California: Alexandra Van Horn v. Lisa Torti. At the time California law stated:
no person who in good faith, and not for compensation, renders emergency care at the scene of an emergency shall be liable for any civil damages resulting from any act or omission.
On Nov 1st, 2004, Alexandra Van Horn was a passenger in a car that crashed head on into a light poll. Lisa Torti, in a following car, pulled her then friend Alexandra Van Horn out of the car, fearing it would catch fire. Alexandra claimed Lisa’s actions were reckless and compounded her injuries, which included paralysis. The trial court ruled in Lisa’s favor, noting she was protected by the Good Samaritan law. On appeal, however, Alexandra won on the grounds that the law only applied to medical aid, and Lisa’s aid was non-medical and therefore not protected. The California Supreme court heard the case in March 2008 and in a divided 4-3 decision sided with Alexandra, meaning no protection for apparently Bad Samaritan Lisa.
The potential repercussions for Samaritans good and bad was staggering. The California legislation, not exactly known for speed of purpose, immediately introduced and passed bills reversing the Supreme Courts ruling. In the process, they also added language regarding gross negligence and wanton misconduct. One hopes that future courts will rule as the legislators intended, but given Lisa’s earlier experience, one has to wonder.
The decision to render aid or not is personal. For my sake, I hope you are trained and decide to help me. For your sake, I am enrolled in the training, and hope never to have to use it.
Legal Notice: I am not an attorney and have never even played one on television. For advice on Samaritan laws specific to your situation and region, consult your own attorney, mileage may vary, batteries not included, and objects in mirror may actually be closer than they appear.
Leave No Trace, taken literally, would mean Leave No House. To have no impact on the wilderness would mean never to enter. Never hike the trails, never climb the cliffs, never paddle the waters, never fish the streams, and never camp out under the stars. Even the basic credo to “take only pictures and leave only footprints” would violate a literal reading.
Fortunately, Leave no Trace is not a No Trespassing sign on a barbed-wire fence, but rather a philosophy and guiding principle of conservation for those encouraged to enter. John Muir said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” I’m pretty sure he meant go into the wilderness and not a demand to go out.
Leave No Trace: the Seven Tenets
Once you overcome the confusing title, the principles of Leave No Trace are pretty easy to embrace. There are seven basic tenets:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What you Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Together they could be thought of as how to minimize your impact when traveling in the wilderness. In fact that might be a more accurate name for the cause, but it’s not very catchy. Besides, they already have a Leave No Trace organization and pretty cool website (www.lnt.org).
There are a variety of organization that provide Leave No Trace training, including the Boy Scouts of America (www.scouting.org) and the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.nols.edu/lnt). I will not attempt to compete or repeat what these organizations offer, but encourage you to explore them.
I will share from my own experience a few observations on each tenet.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Poor planning can lead to poor decisions in the field. I didn’t bring my rain fly, so I am going to just dig a big trench around my tent. I didn’t bring a bear canister, so I am going to just leave my food on the ground. I didn’t bring a trowel so I am just going to leave my excrement behind that big rock. Proper planning can significantly reduce unnecessary environmental impacts.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Although it may sound like you are suppose to march and camp in the trailhead parking lot, that’s not exactly the point. It is true that trampling can damage plants and create erosion in sensitive areas, but let’s face it, some areas are pretty much pre-trampled. Hiking trails and existing campsites are pre-trampled. Clustering in pre-trampled areas actually prevents them from expanding. When traveling or camping off trail, in un-trampled areas, your strategy should be the exact opposite: spread out. By not clustering, you decrease the concentration of trampling in one spot. An area will recover quicker from wide minor trampling than concentrated major trampling.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Most of this can be summed up as: pack it in, pack it out. If you brought it, then take it when you go. And speaking of when you go, in most areas human waste should be deposited in 6 to 8 inch deep cat holes. These holes are deep enough so as not be be disturbed, but shallow enough to mix with top soil micro-organisms which help break down the waste. Some high impact areas require you to carry out all waste, including human waste. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “holding it”. Either be at peace bearing this load, or plan your trip to a less impacted area.
Leave What you Find
Let’s clarify. If what you find is trash, don’t leave it. But in most wilderness areas, plants, flowers, rocks, and animals should be appreciated where they are and left for others to enjoy. In areas that allow fishing and hunting, participate legally, carry your license, and know that your fees are used to help sustain the resources for future generations.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Let’s not go all crazy here. The philosophy is to minimize, not eliminate. There are areas in the wilderness where campfires are allowed, and areas where campfires are prohibited. Campfires are usually prohibited where wood is scarce, either naturally (such as elevations above the tree line) or in areas of heavy use (such popular lakes and camping spots). In prohibited areas campfires should not be created, plain and simple. In other areas, however, small cooking fires may be an acceptable part of the outdoor experience.
Fires are a natural part of the wilderness life cycle. Certain plants can only reproduce when exposed to fire. Past land management experience has shown when we over suppress fires, the underbrush fuel builds up to dangerous levels. When natural fires eventually occur, and they always do, excessive fuel can cause extremely hot fires which overwhelm the natural fire resistance of large trees. Fires are not inherently bad.
Minimizing campfire impacts means if you don’t really need a campfire then don’t make one. Use a small stove instead. If you need a small campfire for cooking, try to use an existing ring. If you need to create a fire without a ring, do so in a way that all traces can be eliminate when you leave.
Not that they have a Rodney Dangerfield complex or anything, but animals should be quietly observed from a distance, and never fed. At least not by us. In addition to hygiene, a reason to camp 200 feet from water is so animals can easily access it, undisturbed by us.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Basic common courteous and respect will care for most of this. One area people struggle with is what do with stock? Yes, I know, buy low and sell high, but what about on the trail – horses, mules, lamas and goats. Livestock have right of way on trails. If they, however, are dead, I assume you can go first. Where safe to do so, hikers and backpackers should step off the trail to the downhill side. The objective is to make yourself as small and nonthreatening as possible to the animal.
Leave A Legacy
My father backpacked. I backpack. My three boys now backpack. I think we are in fact leaving a trace. And it’s one I hope will continue.
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.
When I come upon a bird I don’t recognize, it flutters in and out of my consciousness with very little impact. I make no emotional connection other than to notice: a bird. However when I come upon an old friend, a bird I recognize and know, the reaction is completely different.
Ah look, a little nut hatch. One of those amazing acrobats who can forage through trees upside down. I remember the time my kids, using sunflower seeds, coaxed one to land on my wife’s back as she slept on a lounge chair.
The same thing happens to me with trees. When I see one I do not know it is nothing more than a big stick with leaves. But when it is one I know I experience a connection.
Oh look, a Jeffery Pine. The one with gentle pine cones that don’t prick you like the Ponderous cones and if you stick your nose right into the bark it smell’s like vanilla. I remember showing my kids how to to that, and they still do it today.
Crazy as it sounds I feel the same way about trails. Most of us walk on them without really ever noticing them. With limited knowledge of the art and science of trail making we miss an opportunity for a connection, not only to the trail, but to the people who poured their sweat into it its creation. I suppose on the one hand our lack of noticing is a validation of good design. If and when we notice, it is usually for the wrong reasons: massive ruts, standing water, washboard surfaces, or collapsed switchbacks.
So what makes a great trail?
Some of it comes down to simple things; things that don’t require new knowledge or insights; things like:
Is this trail going where I want to go?
Is the trail through an area I find aesthetically pleasing?
Is the trail appropriate for my skill level and mode of transportation?
There is also, however, an entire language of trail design and maintenance. Knowing some of these terms can raise our consciousness. You are probably well familiar with some, such as switch back. Used in a sentence: Oh no, not another switch back. But what about other terms like grade reversal, kick, slough or partial bench. They are all a part of the language and science of trail design.
Design science is required to make trails low maintenance. What is it that conspires against a trail? Erosion – from wind, and walking, and critters, and water… but mostly water. Water is the true enemy of the trail.
To know a trail is to know the water. Where does it come from? Where does it go? What can we do to keep it off the trail? Water is like a lazy person, it takes the path of least resistance. The goal of the trail designer is to make sure that path of least resistance is not path of the trail.
Tread is the part of the trail you travel on.
Slough is the stuff that collapses down on the tread.
Berm is the build up on the downhill side of the trail
Trail creep is what occurs when the slough is not removed, encouraging the traveler to walk closer to the down slope. Unless corrected, over time the trail has a tendency to creep down hill. If the berm is not removed and the trail’s proper out-slope maintained, water will be trapped and travel down the trail. A trail that becomes a river will experience significant rutting and erosion.
When rainfall saturates the ground it travels down the hill in sheets, known as sheetflow. A good trail design, using outward sloping, will encourage the water to quickly flow across the trail in sheets, and not alter its course to join the trail.
One technique to encourage sheet flow rather than trail flow is the half rule (made popular by the International Mountain Biking Association). The half rule states that the slope of the trail should be no more than half the side slope. So if a hill is sloping at 16%, a trail crossing the hill should be sloped no more than 8%. When a trail is sloped with a grade similar to the hill, it is known as a fall line trail. Fall line trails are most susceptible to water erosion because they are almost always the path of least resistance, at least for water.
10 Percent Rule
There is a practical limit to the slope of a trail, and most designers will suggest that it should not exceed 10 percent. So even if the half rule allows for more (a side slope of 30% would allow an trail slope of 15%) it’s probably not a good idea.
Another technique for keeping water off a trail is a grade reversal. A grade reversal is a temporary reversing of the trail slope. On a downhill trail there is a short uphill portion, before continuing down. If you are coming the other way on the trail, the opposite is experienced; on an uphill trail there is a short down hill section, before continuing uphill. Designed well, a grade reversal will seem completely natural, nothing more than matching the rolling contour of the surroundings. Rest assured, however, that trail designers take particular care in looking for and creating opportunities for these rolling grade reversals. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, they force the water, which only travels down hill, off the trail during these anti-gravity portions.
Oh so long ago, when I was a young scout, we occasionally did trail maintenance work. At that time one of the key techniques for moving water off a trail was a water bar. The idea was to create an obstacle on the trail which diverted the water off. The obstacle might be a log, a row of rocks, or even a built up berm of dirt. The problem with most water bars is that they are not built at the correct angle. When water rushing down a trail hits a bar causing a sharp redirection, it often deposits the sediment it is carrying. This sediment builds up and eventually spoils the bar, allowing future water to overflow it. It turns out that in most cases a water bar is not a very good low maintenance solution. Thinking back on all the probably completely incorrect water bars I helped create, I could just, well, kick myself.
Standing water is also a significant problem on a trail. Not only does it create the potential for a muddy bog, it also encourages traffic to step around the mess, widening the trail and the size of the mess. It is actually better for a trail if you walk right through a puddle rather than around, but not many do.
A kick is a technique to create a slopped exit for the water from a puddle prone area. Well designed, it is a subtle large dug out semi-circle, with significant enough drainage slope for the water, but not so significant it trips the traveler.
When a trail is cut into a slope, it can be with a full or partial bench. If the tail is built with a combination of removing dirt from the uphill side, and re-using that dirt to build up the downhill side, the results is a partial bench trail. In theory it takes less work to create, but results in a less stable and sustainable tread.
In the full bench tread the dirt is removed until the trail has the appropriate out-slope, and does not require artificially building up the downhill side. More digging and removing of dirt is required, but the end result is a much more stable and sustainable tread. Most trails created now use a full bench approach.
In areas where the ground is particularly susceptible to erosion, rocks may be used as reinforcement. Examples include creek crossings, switchbacks, or trails on extremely steep side slopes. A tremendous amount of manual labor goes into these stone jigsaw puzzles. If only as an excuse to rest, occasionally stop to admire this amazing work.
Travelers do not always stay on the trail. Some land managers see these creative travelers as the problem, some travelers see the trail designer as the problem. When a trail meets the needs and expectations of the travelers, they tend to trod on the tread. However, a poorly designed trail will encourage travelers to find their own path. This may be a perceived minor improvement, a short cut or slight re-routing. Or it may be the creation of a entirely new trail. These user created trails and routes are often called social trails.
Well designed trails subtly prevent this socialization. If travelers can see far ahead, and the trail seems the most logical route, they will stay the trail. If they can see a better way, a shorter or easier path, they will be tempted to alter the course. Switch backs are common areas where a short cut is tempting. By limiting sight lines to the trail ahead, and by intentionally routing switch backs around obstacles, such as rock outcrops and trees, the short cut becomes less alluring.
Even a well designed trail requires maintenance. Crews of workers, paid and volunteer, are required. With a raised consciousness of trail maintenance you can help by spotting and correcting minor problem in the field. Or at a minimum, you should know enough not make them worse.
Great source of trail design and maintenance information:
U. S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration: Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook:
Analogies can be dangerous, especially mine. I love the simplicity and clarity they purportedly provide, but must confess when pressed they usually degrade into pretentious gibberish. Again, especially mine. At the risk of gibber-dome, I offer this example:
Fishing is a religion, and there are atheists, agnostics, and believers.
Fish atheists are clear in their belief: They simply do not believe in fishing. The reason may vary. It may be derived from personal moral standards of life, death, and torture; it may be based on environmental concern for the unnecessary consumption of limited resources; or it may be philosophically rooted in a constitutional desire for the separation of fish and man. Some fish atheists are extremely helpful in their communications. As an example, raise a question on any backpacking forum about the best places to catch fish and you will most likely find yourself receiving a very thorough analysis of your moral fiber and detailed recommendations on how to reposition your head from its current location.
Fish agnostics are not nearly as clear thinking as the atheists. In fact, you might question whether they are committed to a cause at all. They probably do not fish, or if they do it is a form of social fishing, simply to be polite. Fish agnostics are easily distracted. For example they may prefer actually sleeping to fishing, something completely unfathomable to the true fish believers. When pressed you may find a fish agnostics secretly hoping for the fish to escape, not on moral grounds like a fish atheist, but rather to avoid the whole unpleasantness of gutting and cleaning.
Fish believers are active participants in the epic battle of man versus wild. Human intellect, advanced technology, and years of honed specialized skills versus, well… a fish. Okay, but not just a fish. The fish is merely symbolic of our greater battle against adversity, our ability to face potential death from starvation with confidence in our own self reliance. The fish allegory could easily be replaced by one of say a small rodent, but clearly not as tasty and frankly harder to catch. True fish believers acknowledge a higher power, a provider of sorts, which makes available the bounty for our harvest, assuming of course we paid for and are carrying the proper fish and game license.
In the Tasting
The proof of the pudding is in the tasting and I think it is clear I have provided an insightful bowl of instant. Regardless of your status as a fish atheist, agnostic, or believer, I think you all will agree with my original premise… my analogies are in fact pretentious gibberish.
The subject of food can be very complicated, or it can be fairly simple. It depends on what you are trying to achieve and how scientific you want to be.
Your daily caloric burn will fluctuate based on a variety of factors. According to the side of a box of cereal, US recommended daily allowances are based on an intake of 2,000 calories. While outdoor trekking your burn rate may be significantly higher depending on the the weight you are carrying, the distance you are carrying it and difficulty of the terrain you are carrying it over. A typical range for a summer trek may be 3,000 – 4,000 calories per day; for winter it may be closer to 4,000-6,000 calories per day.
For sake of argument, and we do like to argue, let’s assume a summer time daily burn of 3,500 calories. If your goal is to gain weight on the trek, you’ll have to carry more than 3,500 per day. If you are willing to lose some weight, you can go for a under 3,500 a day. The longer your trip, the more these daily loads of calories pile up and compete for your pack’s capacity for weight and space.
Food comes in some fairly standard forms: Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. You may have determined, from your own experience or through consultation with your doctor, what you believe the optimal balance is. Recommendations vary widely. Here is a sample of some I have recently seen:
Carbohydrates 60 % 50% 50% 40%
Proteins 25% 35% 27% 30%
Fats 15% 15% 23% 30%
If you don’t like these numbers, keep looking. You can pretty much always find someone recommending whatever you want.
You may find, however, that your opinion regarding optimal distribution while outdoor trekking may be different than your normal optimal distribution. Frankly, the difference comes down our old friends weight and bulk.
So how much does a calorie weigh?
It depends on the source of the calorie.
1 calorie of Carbohydrate = .25 grams
1 calorie of Protein = .25 grams
1 calorie of Fat = .11 grams
1 pound = 453.6 grams
Using these guidelines, to get to our target of 3,500 calories per day would require:
Many of us have been taught to think that fat is bad, but in terms of calories to weight efficiency, fat is awesome.
Most foods we carry are not pure forms of carbohydrates, proteins or fats. They are usually a mixture of the three, and probably also contain water and fiber, which add weight but not calories. Food labels are a great way to help you compare energy to weight efficiencies.
Calories Per Ounce
Using some basic food items I had in my house, I calculated the calories per ounce using the following formula: grams per serving * .03527 = ounces per serving; calories per serving / ounces per serving = calories/ounce.
2 lbs requires an average of 109.4 calories / ounce
1.5 lbs requires an average of 145.8 calories / ounce
1.0 lbs requires an average of 218.7 calories / ounce
Some backpackers take great care to figure out the calories per ounce of every food item they carry and create elaborate spreadsheets to track and balance the distribution by day, by meal and by category (carbohydrates, proteins and fats). How retentive you get in your approach is probably driven by how close to the limit of your weight and bulk capacity your trip plan is pushing you. For example:
If you are relatively healthy and traveling on a short weekend trip you pretty much have all the weight and bulk flexibility you need. You can still attempt to minimize weight by optimizing calories per ounce, but you risk giving up some significant food pleasure in the process. Unless you are practicing for some future longer ultra-light trip, enjoy yourself. Go ahead, throw in that subway sandwich, that fresh avocado, that box of Pop-tarts, that entire loaf of garlic bread, or whatever floats your boat.
As your trip plans get longer, however, weight and bulk do become more important. A 3-5 day trip may require that you start thinking about getting your pounds of food per person per day back closer to 1.5 lbs. As you can see from the above calculations, you are not going to be able to do that with just dried fruit and Raman.
If you push up the mileage and days of duration, you are probably going to have to take a serious look at ultra-light backpacking, where it is not uncommon to target closer to 1 lb per person per day.
To get to this level of efficiency takes some serious planning and calculation, not only by increasing the fat content in your food, but by optimizing in every area. For example, if you carry foods that do not need to be cooked, you can save on the weight of stoves, fuel and pots. Carry a lighter tent and a lighter bag, and you will burn fewer calories and therefore need less food to replenish.
Whatever your food strategy, paying closer attention to calories per ounce can be eye opening. Clarified butter, oil, peanut butter and Nutella just may move up a notch on your food chain.
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.
When traveling in the wilderness, you are probably not going to be carrying a lot of heavy fishing tackle. Luckily, to have great success catching fish, you don’t need to. Nothing adds to the pleasure of being in the wilderness like catching your own dinner.
Fishing with a spinner
With a small collapsible pole and minimal gear you can catch trout with a spinning lure.
The Goto Learning Resource for Outdoor Enthusiasts