Western Traveler

Tips and Tricks

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INSTANT SNOWSHOES – There are times when you may head out for a multi-day hike in the winter and be surprised to wake up to deep snow.  This can make the hike out exponentially more difficult, if not impossible.  The problem is trying to hike and not sinking in.  If you get caught, try tying some small tree branches (like pine or spruce, with the needles still on them) to your boots, running parallel to your feet.  Three foot sections should suffice.  This will give you a much larger footprint, reducing the pounds per square inch downward force and reduce your chances of sinking in while walking.

LIKELY WATER SOURCES – Water is the single most important thing you need to survive……….period.  If you’re out in the backcountry and run out, you can improve your odds of survival by looking in certain types of terrain.  Obviously, along stream beds, even if dry.  Many times you can dig down a few feet and find the liquid of life.  Give the water a few minutes to seep into your little man-made well, may not be instantaneous.   You can also check out north-facing cliffs where water tends to condense and collect or look in and around rock depressions.  One last thing, if you don’t have purification gear with you, drink anyway.  Bacteria can take up to a week before doing their damage, you can die of dehydration much faster.

STEEP SLOPES – Backcountry hiking can be as exciting as anything, sometimes more than you want.  I’ve always enjoyed hiking up to amazing vista areas, only to find that the trip down was much harder than the trip up.  We tend to think of the hard climbs only in terms of the physical effort need to make the ascent.  More importantly when “going for it” should be consideration of the down slope, which may be too steep to descend safely.  Humans are basically “top heavy” and as such prone to falling down easier when traveling down a grade vs. going up.  Add to that the face that it’s pretty easy to use three-point contact climbing going up, not so much when going down.

STRETCHING YOUR FUEL SUPPLY – One of the challenges in successful backpacking is making sure you take enough gear with you, but not carrying more than you need.  To get more mileage out of your fuel (no pun intended) try heating up your pots in direct sunlight while at base camp.  This reduces the amount of fuel you’ll go through getting the them hot.

MOUNTAIN DEW – Not to be confused with the soft drink of the same name, mountain dew can be used as a water source if you’re running low, no kidding.  At the break of dawn, tie a clean t-shirt or other cotton garment on your legs like chaps and walk through the undergrowth.  It’s impossible not to collect water from the plants.  When saturated, wring out the water into a bottle and repeat.  This also works in lowland forested areas, just liked using a familiar product name.

SCROUNGING FOR FOOD – If by some turn of bad luck you get lost in the wilderness survival becomes Job #1.  Contrary to popular belief (and some so-called survival expert shows) you can usually last up to 25% longer in the wild by conserving your energy vs. looking for food.  The average human can live up to a month on body fat (some of us much longer).  Your priority should always be finding water.

WET WOOD FIRE STARTING – I know I’ve dedicated a lot of time to starting fires, but in the wild the importance of keeping warm and dry can’t be overstated.  If you’re car camping and have a pile of wet wood, try setting some charcoal underneath it before lighting.  Not only does the charcoal dry the wood above it, pretty much guarantees the fire will take off at some point.

KEEPING THE HEAT IN – One of the worst things that can happen to you is that your feet get really cold at night while sleeping, makes it hard to get a good night’s sleep.  Though this suggestion doesn’t rate very high on the comfort scale, it will work.  Take a couple of plastic grocery bags and put them on your feet, underneath your socks.  This acts as a heat barrier, keeping your feet warm on those cold nights.

LAWN BAG LIFE SAVER – If your pack (day or back) is properly equipped you’ll always carry large trash (or lawn) bags with you. In a pinch, you can actually make a sleeping bag/pad out of these in an emergency. Crawl in if there’s enough space, otherwise get on top of the bag, drag in dry leaves, pine needles or anything else that can help hold in body heat. Make sure to put some of the insulation material under you to get off the cold ground.

CANDY WRAPPER SIGNALING DEVICE – Most of us carry energy bars with us on hikes, which can turn out to be a life saver. Several of these come with a foil-lined wrapper which once turned inside-out can be used as a signaling device on a sunny day. Yet another reason to “pack it out” when in the backcountry. You never know what other uses the throw-away products have until you need them.

WATER SOCK – Water is everything in the world of survival, but finding it in adequate quantity can be problematic, though most of the time it’s nearby.  In central Kentucky where I live surface streams are few & far between (Karst topography).  However the ground is almost always saturated from frequent rains.  Though this may sound pretty icky, you can fill a sock with wet mud and actually squeeze out drinkable water.  That’s another reason to carry a spare pair of clean socks with you, always a good practice.  Keep in mind that this no guarantee of bacteria-free water, but dehydration can kill you much faster than most “bugs”.

TRASHY FLOATATION – The known uses for trash bags are almost countless, yet here’s another one to consider. If you have to cross a river and aren’t a great swimmer, try making a PFD (personal floatation device) out of your handy-dandy trash bag. Open it up, fill it with air and tie off the top. You don’t need to make it taunt, just put in enough air to give your body additional floatation when crossing. It could literally be a life saver. When you get to the opposite bank, untie the top, shake it dry and put back into your pack for the next need.

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Last modified on: September 27th 2023.
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