Western Traveler

Tips and Tricks

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CAN OPENER – I’d love to take credit for this one but I saw this on a Russian Survivalist web posting. It turns out that you can open tin cans without an opener. What these guys did was to invert a can and rub the top on a concrete block, basically filing off the bead that holds the lid. If you’re in the wild and don’t happen to have a concrete block with you, try using a rock and scraping the bead off the top of the can. Once you’ve done that, simply squeeze the top together (gently, or you’ll have a mess) and the lid will pop out, giving you access to the contents of the can, very cool indeed.

STICK & CORD SHOWSHOES – Getting caught in the High Country with a surprise overnight snowfall can be both exciting and dangerous, especially if you didn’t pack in any show shoes. If you wake up to deep snow, grab some small pine boughs and some parachute cord and lace up a quick, but effective pair for your hike down. Make sure to NOT make them too wide or you’ll trip the whole way down, more length, less width

HEAD INSULATOR – One of the worst things that can happen to you is to go out on a hike and the weather “breaks” on you. This is especially bad if you forgot your hat. Here’s a great way to keep your head warm, though it won’t win any fashion awards unless it’s in the Mad Max realm. Take a plastic bag of any type, fill it with dry leaves, dry moss or any other material that has good air space in it. Place it over your head, tie off the bottom under your chin and voila, you now have an insulated hat, of sorts. As odd as it looks, it can stave off hypothermia.

DRY HANDS – It happens, you’re fording a stream and you drop your keys into the water.  This isn’t necessarily a big deal, unless you’re hiking in sub-freezing temperatures and you really don’t want to get your hands wet.  Grab a bread sack, trash or Ziploc® bag, stick your hand in it and reach into the water.  With a proper seal, your hand will stay dry and you’ll reduce the chances of frostbite.

LEATHER VS. NYLON – It’s always a good idea to carry some types of extra cords with you in the backcountry. There’s advantages to both nylon & leather. Having said that if I have to choose only one type of cord to take with me, it will always be leather. The main reason for that is how much better it handles high temperatures. For example, you can use leather to hang a pot over a fire and you won’t have to worry about it melting. Also, if you’re making a fire with a bow, same thing; the nylon can melt when rubbing against itself where the leather won’t.

BACKCOUNTRY WOOD SPLITTING – My buddy Jeff is a master of fire making and I’ve come to appreciate the value of properly split firewood. When car camping it’s no big deal to carry an axe or maul, but what do you do in the backcountry? First and foremost, always carry a good knife with a strong spine. You can use this as a wood splitter by setting the edge of the blade on the wood and then smack the spine with another piece of wood (NEVER USE A ROCK). If you forgot your knife look for a sharp-edged stone.

MY FAVORITE FIRE STARTER – According to Backpacker magazine there’s a really great dual-function fire starter that no backpacker should be without………….whiskey. I know this sounds like a joke but it’s a serious suggestion. Apparently any “beverage” over 80 proof makes a good accelerant. As I come from Kentucky (Bourbon capital of the Universe) this seemed like something I should pass on. My favorite accelerants are Jim Beam and Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum in case anyone cares, and wishes to donate to the cause.

CRAYOLA CANDLES – Sometimes camping with the kids offers up new resources that you may normally not have with you. Say for example you need a candle but don’t have any with you. Grab one of your kids’ crayons, take a lighter and melt off the tip onto anything flat making a pool of wax then stick the crayon into the pool. Light the paper on the crayon and now you have a nice candle that will burn longer than you think, very cool.

LAYERING – One of the most important things you can do while hiking is to regulate your body temperature, which can be especially difficult to do in the Spring and Fall. If you’re going to hike in one of these transition seasons it’s very important to carry additional layers of clothing with you to insure that you don’t get too hot, or too cold while hiking. I suggest that you start with clothing that keeps you coolest and have the appropriate outerwear which you can add as needed. Many times you’ll start with short-sleeved shirts and layers over that but as the heat of the day builds you’ll be removing the outer garments. Subsequently, if you hike into the evening hours you’ll be putting those same layers back on.

FRITOS FIRE STARTER – You may think I’m kidding about this but it may be a good idea to hang on to one or two of your Fritos corn chips after a hiking meal. Seriously, it turns out that Fritos make pretty good fire starters as they contain enough oil to burn effectively for a couple of minutes. So, if you forgot your fire starters but remembered your Fritos, you’ve still got a way to get your damp tinder going.

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Last modified on: September 27th 2023.
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