Western Traveler

Tips and Tricks

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DRY PLACE TO START A FIRE – Most of the time you’ll have a hard time finding a perfectly dry place to start you fire, especially using a spark system. Try carrying a piece of aluminum foil in your pack to make a dry fire-lighting platform for your needs.

EMPTY LIGHTER FIRE STARTER – It happens, you go into the backcountry with the best of intentions carrying your liquid fuel lighter. But when you try to start a fire you find out that it’s empty. All is not lost. You can make a fire with just a little ingenuity. First, take out the cotton batting and spread it out. Next use the flint from the lighter to make a spark and ignite the cotton. End result, you get a fire from an empty lighter.

CAMPGROUND CASH – Every now and then I’ll find myself actually camping at a commercial campground, which is fine, especially in the “off season” when everyone else is gone. But, just because it’s not the main season doesn’t mean you get to camp for free. Anytime you’re out camping, make sure to carry a bunch of small bills ($5.00 and $1.00) with you. That way when you use their Honor Box you’ll have exact amount in-hand. I’ve actually not done this and filled envelopes with loose change, which didn’t work out very well. Also, make sure to totally fill out the registration form on the envelope. That information will be added to a database somewhere and the next time you camp at a commercial campground, it’ll make it easier for them to register you.

MAKESHIFT GRILL – Sometimes when backpacking you may need a grill to heat food up on. You can actually make one by using metal tent stakes and laying them across two like-sized logs. You can then put your cooking pot/cup right on the stakes and cook to your heart’s content. SAFETY MESSAGE – Make sure to let them cool off before handling them and putting them back in your pack.

GROSS WATER CLEANUP – If you’re going to be backpacking in an area that has really nasty water that you have to use, try carrying some charcoal in with you. If you add the charcoal to the boiling water it’ll greatly improve the quality for consumption. WARNING: do not use charcoal briquettes with lighter fluid in them, you want PLAIN charcoal only for this application.

SUPER SHELTER – If you’re caught out in the backcountry and have only a tarp, Duck tape and a space blanket with you it’s possible to make a shelter that not only keeps the rain off you, but also keeps you warmer. Take your tarp and hang it between two trees. Then take your space blanket and tape it to the underside of the tarp. This will help reflect heat downward to where you’re sleeping.  Make sure to put down tree boughs on the ground to keep you warmer as well.

NIGHTTIME RESCUE LIGHT – If you’re caught out at night and need to signal for help from the air, take a light stick and tie it to a 3-foot piece of parachute cord. Then, swing it around over your head.   From the air this looks like a 6-foot disk of light, sure to catch the pilot’s attention.

WASTE NOT WANT NOT – When collecting firewood don’t waste your energy with an ax or hatchet to make them a more manageable size. Just put one end up on a log or large rock and stomp it down to size, result. In a wooded area you can also break smaller limbs on a tree trunk.

CAMPSITE SELECTION – There are several factors that come into play when selecting a campsite. One important one is insect activity. Try to avoid camping next to water, especially stagnant water. If possible move to higher ground where the wind will keep bug activity to a minimum.

ROCK KNIFE – Ever wonder what you’d do if you ended up in the wilderness without a knife? This could be a very bad thing as knives are some of the best backcountry tools you can have with you. If this happens, take heart. You can actually make one in the field. The most important factor is picking the right rock. The best place is along streams and rivers. Try and find a nice flat rock that can be shaped into a blade. One good hint, knock rocks together and use the one that “rings” upon impact. You can use sticks for handles and even grasses to bind the rock to your handle.

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Last modified on: September 27th 2023.
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