Western Traveler

Tips and Tricks

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HIGH-TECH BACKCOUNTRY – As big a fan of doing things the “old school” way, I have to admit that some of the new technology sounds pretty cool.  Specifically, I’m referring to the assortment of solar-powered devices now available for the backcountry.  You’ll find: battery chargers, water bottles that have LED lamps built into the lids, portable showers and much more.  It’s okay to play with new toys so long as you get outside to do it.

CREATE A HYDRATION HANGER – This trick is taken verbatim from BACKPACKER magazine, and is an awesome idea!  This will allow you to properly dry out your hydration bladder between hikes.  Convert a plastic coat hanger into a device that holds the reservoir open for faster and more complete drying. Saw off one arm and wrap the rough edges in duct tape. Feed the other arm into the reservoir; drape the hose over the top and hang it up to dry

BROKEN TENT CLIP – This TIP comes thanks to my friend Rachelle Campbell, an avid camper.  In recent years tent manufacturers have replaced full-length sleeves with plastic clips, making the pitching of tents much easier and quicker.  The problem is that they sometimes break, leaving you “in a lurch” as they say.  Rachelle came up with an easy and ingenious way to remedy this wilderness emergency; use a small metal carabineer-type D-ring as a substitute.  You merely insert it into the existing webbing loop and you’re back in business.

COLD-WEATHER ZIPPER – Without a doubt one of the hardest things to do in the world is to pull a zipper in cold weather with your gloves on.  Let’s face it; the design just isn’t good for gripping.  Having said that, I came across a hint in BACKPACKER magazine that makes life easier.  Simply tie a parachute cord loop through the eyelet or pull tab of the sipper and use it instead, problem solved.

FIRES WITHOUT TINDER – There absolutely-positively times when you have to have a fire. What do you do if you’re forced into that situation and don’t have any tinder available?  The answer is simple; scrounge through your pack for some non-traditional fire starters.  Believe it or not, the following things will burn: hand sanitizer, DEET-based insect repellants, cooking oil, white gas (no surprise there), toilet paper, any paper trash and even steel wool.  Use any of these in addition to cotton strips torn off of your clothing (t-shirts work best) and now you can kick back and enjoy your nice & warm campfire.

REDUCING PACK WEIGHT – Every backpacker knows, OUNCES COUNT!  Here’s a few things you can do to reduce your load.  First, get rid of all tent stuff sacks; you can substitute rubber bands instead to hold the poles, rainfly & stakes.  As a matter of fact, you can totally eliminate tent stakes when camping in rocky areas by using stones to weight down your tent (make sure to carry enough parachute cord to extend the existing tie-down loops).  Lastly, in non-buggy areas, lose the tent totally, just sleep under your rainfly on a lightweight ground cloth.

MAN’S BEST FRIEND– Contrary to general opinions, a dog is not man’s best friend, at least not in the backcountry.  Your truest companion needs to be a good knife.  Obviously you can cut with it, use it to make shelters, light fires and of course defend yourself (to some degree) from wildlife.  When choosing a knife look for the following traits; a fixed blade with a tang (backbone) that runs the entire length of the knife, carbon steel as it can be sharpened in the field on a rock as well as create a spark for fire starting.  There’s a cliché that says “the right tool for the right job” and this is especially true for the knife you’ll be depending on in the wilderness.

PUNCTURED SLEEPING PAD – One of the most important things in the backcountry is getting a good night’s sleep.  Many campers go into a state of panic if their trusty, inflatable sleeping pad dies on the trail.  Many times you can repair the damage (f you carry the proper repair kit) at camp, but not always.  Take a deep breath, relax and realize it’s not the end of the world, campers haven’t always had pads.  Even in my lifetime, I’ve camped many nights out without one, especially in the early Scouting days.  Back in those days we’d improvise and do such things as; gather pine needles, make a pad out of small twigs and even scoop out the ground a bit to accommodate the hips and shoulders (don’t try this with a tent with a floor).  Think back to the Old West when cowboys slept on the hard ground with only a single wool blanket, kind of puts thing in perspective doesn’t it?

SURVIVING A WILDFIRE– One of the most dangerous things in nature is a wildfire.  They can fly across a landscape faster than you can run, destroying everything in its path.  If you’re in the situation where you can’t get away from it, try to find some water to submerge yourself in, preferably in a zone where there’s minimum fuel.  Also, if you’re wearing synthetic fabric, get rid of it and get down to anything cotton.  Synthetic fabrics tend to melt, making for worse burns.  Lastly, if the fire is less than five feet tall, and you can see a clear area on the other side, you may have to try a “jump or run through” to escape.

LIGHTNING TIPS – Lightning accounts for more injuries and deaths in the backcountry than anything else.  Here are a few things you should do if you’re caught in a storm.  First, if you’re in a group, spread out to minimize the chances of everyone being hit.  Second, DO NOT sit on the ground or lie down, this gives you much more contact with the ground which could increase the amount of electricity you’re exposed to during a strike.  Lastly, do not return to open areas until the storm has been gone for at least 30 minutes, many times lightning is still in the area, even after the rain is gone.

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Last modified on: September 27th 2023.
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