Western Traveler

Tips and Tricks

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FIGURING REMAINING DAYLIGHT – One of the most important considerations when hiking and/or backpacking is making sure you have enough daylight to reach your destination safely. Here’s an easy way to calculate how much time you have. While facing the sun, place your hand out at arm’s length with the palm facing you. Place the bottom of your hand (visually) on the horizon. Count the number of fingers that it takes to align with the bottom of the sun. For every finger width, you have approximately 10 minutes of daylight.

FIGURING DISTANCE – For many of us, trying to decipher a topo map can be frustrating, especially when trying to figure out actual hiking distance. Try this trick on for size: cut a piece of string or light-colored rawhide into a 2-foot length. Mark it with a black Sharpie® at intervals of one inch. Then, mark it with another color at intervals of one centimeter. With the ease of bending it to shape, you can actually lay it directly on your map along your planned route. Make a mental note of how far you’re going according to the cord (by whichever system you prefer) and calculate the distance based on the map’s scale.

STREAM WATCHING – While lightning strikes on mountains result in most fatalities, flash flooding in canyon country is the greatest danger. One thing you can watch for in slot canyons is the condition of any small streamlets that you see. If the water was initially running clear and then turns muddy, HEAD TO HIGH GROUND IMMEDIATELY! This change in water clarity can indicate a thunderstorm miles away setting up conditions for a flash flood.

GLARE BUSTER – When taking photos (or digital images) and the sun is in a bad position, it’s not uncommon to end up with a glare spot on your photo. Many times this can be prevented by simply placing your hand between the camera and sun (out of the frame) and creating a temporary shadow/shield for the lens.

NIGHT HIKING – When I first started night hiking I found the bright light from my headlamp was making it hard for my pupils to adjust to the darkness. The easiest way to deal with this is to wear my lamp on top of the brim of a baseball cap. This shields your eyes from the bright light, allowing for needed dilation.

SHIPPING AHEAD – If you’re going to have to travel via airline to your outdoor destination, and if you have cooperative friends waiting for you, make your life easier and ship your outdoor gear ahead. You can purchase large, plastic tubs at most retailers which are perfect to ship your gear in. Not only do you reduce delays at the airport, you can travel lighter, making for a much nicer travel experience.

PLANNING AHEAD – If you’re going to be hiking at high altitude, here’s some things you can do to get ready and insure a more enjoyable trip. First, make sure to get at least a couple of nights of good rest. Second, make an effort to fully hydrate your body before hitting the trail. Lastly, once on the trail, find a pace that you’re comfortable with. Everyone hikes at different speeds. If you’re with someone who is faster, let them go ahead and catch up when you can. DON’T PUSH BEYOND YOUR ABILITIES!!

BYOT – This Tip is for car camping only, don’t try this with backpacking. If you’re heading out into the wilderness make sure to take the following tools with you: a shovel (to clean out fire pits, remove unwanted debris from your campsite or make an emergency latrine), a maul or axe (to split firewood into small, easier-to-burn pieces) and a saw (to cut down longer pieces of wood to fit into your fire pit).

FIRE STARTER TRASH – Almost anyone who has ever tried to make a fire in the backcountry has found out how hard can be to locate dry tinder for starting a fire. One trick I’ve learned over the years has been to hang on to all the paper trash I generate. You’ll be amazed how handy a discarded candy bar wrapper can be in starting a fire. As a matter of fact, when choosing snacks for hiking and camping I often factor in the container material when making my selection.

HIKING HELPER – Many hikers (especially older ones like myself) like to utilize some type of hiking pole(s) to assist in navigating through rough terrain. Speaking from experience, it can be a real “hike downer” to show up at a trailhead without your trusted helper. When you arrive at the trailhead, (and if you’ve forgotten your hiking pole) look around the signs and maps that are usually found there. Many hikers will leave a good hiking stick behind that they picked up along the way for others to use.

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Last modified on: September 27th 2023.
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