Western Traveler

Tips and Tricks

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CHARGING ON THE ROAD – One of the great inventions of the modern era is the portable battery charger. My personal favorite is the type that plugs into the cigarette lighter, “power outlet” in newer vehicles. This allows you to keep your rechargeable batteries ready for every great shot that awaits you on your road trips. There are also models that work off of solar cells. Not only does this technology greatly reduce your photographic costs, it’s also much better for the environment, reducing the number of batteries that you send to the landfill.

BRACKETING YOUR SHOTS – One of the great challenges in outdoor photography is getting exactly the right exposure on your photos in difficult lighting conditions. For years professional photographers have used a technique called “bracketing”. Basically this means setting your camera to manual mode and adjusting the aperture through several “f stops” on the same image, making sure to keep your shutter speed on the same setting. If you do this, you’ll greatly enhance your chances at getting the proper exposure, and the perfect photo.

SWITCHING HANDS – I’m a big fan of hiking poles. I find they help me navigate though difficult terrain, reduce strain on my knees, and generally give me a better sense of security. One problem you may encounter with using a hiking staff is that you’ll get fatigued in the shoulders if you use the same hand all the time. I’ve found that by alternating hands this problem is greatly reduced. It’s also helpful to be ambidextrous with your pole while on mountain slopes, sometimes you’ll need to switch hands to gain the most benefit from your pole.

FIELD FLOSS – Dental hygiene on the trail can be hard to achieve. If you forget to bring your floss with you all is not lost. It’s a fair bet though that you’ll have either tea or coffee bags with you. Try using the attached string (the one that you use to dip the bag into hot water with) and you’ll find that it makes a fine flossing tool.

CABLE TIES – Sometimes you have to improvise repairs while in the backcountry. Duct tape by any standard is awesome stuff, but does have limits, especially when it gets wet. Try carrying some electrical cable ties with you for emergency repairs. You’ll be amazed at how many ways you can use them in a pinch.

THE RIGHT SIZE FOR SLEEPING – A common error in backpack planning is to try and make a single piece of equipment work in all conditions. This is especially bad when you try to use a single sleeping bag for all seasons. Spend the extra money and purchase bags designed to operate in a certain temperature range, lightweight bags for warm weather and heavier ones for the cold. Also, make sure that your sleeping bag has enough, but not too much air space in it. The more air space you have, the more you have to heat.

A GUARENTEED BAD HAIR DAY – I’ve discovered that I really prefer cold weather camping, fewer people, no insects and generally more peace and quiet. The problem is that you tend to sleep poorly if you head gets cold in the middle of the night. Do yourself a favor, wear a hat or balaclava to offset the effect of losing body heat through your unprotected head. You’ll sleep better, though your hair will certainly pay the fashion price in the morning.

SLEEPING IN YOUR CLOTHES – Many outdoors-oriented people like to crawl into their sleeping bags, fully clothed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, assuming you factored in the extra bulk of the clothing into your buying considerations. If you wear too much clothing in a sleeping bag you may actually reduce the loft by stretching the insulation taunt, reducing its efficiency.

COLD WEATHER VENTING – One of the more interesting things I’ve discovered while backpacking is how much moisture we exhale during the night. On more than one occasion I woke up to a shower, inside my tent. My respirations had condensed as the nighttime temperature dropped, making for a small rainstorm inside the tent. To avoid this make sure to keep your tent vents open at night. The moisture you release will have somewhere to go, instead of being trapped under your rain fly.

PEN PROTECTOR – Many outdoor people like to keep a journal, or take notes on areas they photograph. One big problem is trying to carry an ink pen without breaking it. When this happens it can make for a big-time mess on the trail, ruining packs and/or clothing. If this is a problem you’ve run into, go buy a toothbrush travel carrier. This sturdy, easy to open tube is the perfect transport device for your writing instrument of choice.

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Last modified on: September 27th 2023.
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