Western Traveler

Tips and Tricks

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DRYING YOUR SOCKS ON THE MOVE – I’ve found that having a nice, dry pair of socks available is invaluable on long hikes when your feet tend to get most sweaty. The hard part is trying to find a way to dry your socks when you’re actually hiking. Go to your favorite retail outlet and pick up a small, mesh bag to place them in. The mesh material will allow for airflow over the socks, and if you find a black bag, the sun can actually help on the drying process. You can attach the drawstring of the bag directly to any number of tie-off points on your pack, eliminating the possibility of losing a sock on the trail.

SWEAT RAG – This is going to sound a bit gross, but for anyone who has hiked in a hot and humid climate under a dense forest canopy, you’ll appreciate the idea. I’ve found that carrying a small, cotton cloth for wiping sweat away from your eyes is the best way to keep your vision clear, without having to wear a hat or sweat band. As most of your body heat is lost off of your head it only makes sense to keep your head bare when in super-hot and shady conditions. An old t-shirt works great.

FOOT CARE – One of the quickest ways to end your outdoor adventure is to “trash” your feet early on. To prevent this, prepare before heading out. First, always break in your boots before a big hike; wear them around town, for evening walks, shopping, etc. This should have them ready for the trail. Next, learn the proper times to tighten and loosen your laces, depending on grade and terrain. Lastly, if you feel “hot spots” developing, IMMEDIATELY put moleskins or tape over them to reduce blistering.

CONDITION FIRST – For those of us who like to hike, it’s important to try and keep as fit as possible. I’ll admit, I’m not nearly as committed to this as I should be, but having said that, do your best to train before a big hike. Whenever I’m heading West I try to hike as much as I can prior to flying out. You should also work on your upper body strength to make handling the pack weight easier. You’ll be amazed how just a few training miles can make a big difference.

PACK SMART – Going into the backcountry is something you really need to think about; where you’re going, what you’ll need, and when you’ll need it. For example, put items in the bottom of your pack that you won’t need until the end of the hike. Keep items like food, sunscreen, bug spray and camera gear handy in the top, side and belt pockets.

TRAIL NAVIGATION – It’s not uncommon to be on a great trail and suddenly it’s gone. This usually happens when you’ve missed a switchback along the way. Many times animal paths look like your trail, but aren’t. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Simply turn around and backtrack the way you came. Many times you’ll see the missed junction on the way back down; things in the backcountry do look different when traveling in the opposite direction. If you can’t find the main trial, make your way back to the trailhead, don’t push into unknown areas. This is when Search & Rescue get called in. It’s better to cancel your hike then to push your luck.

HOW SWEET IT IS – One of the biggest backcountry problems you can encounter occurs when you get a nasty cut and are miles from the doctor. According to Backpacker’s medical expert, Buck Tilton, sugar or honey can be applied to the wound (after cleaning out of course) to keep infection down. It turns out that bacteria cannot grow in the sweet environment. Apparently it’s a technique which has been used for centuries. He does make it clear however that you need to get to a physician ASAP for follow-up treatment.

SCARING OFF BEARS – One of the most exciting (and horrifying) experiences you can have in the wilderness is to come across a bear. If this happens at close quarters and you surprise it, you have a problem. Some writers have forwarded the ideal that breaking a stick will startle the animal and send it packing. According to experts, this is not necessarily the way to go. Bottom line, the best tool you have to get the bear to leave is the sound of your voice. The reason this works better vs. the stick thing is because a stick breaking is a natural sound in the woods, whereas the human voice is the oddity. Many experts advise you to talk loudly when hiking in dense growth, just so the bears can hear you coming and get out of your way.

GERMS & DISHES – Many times in the backcountry fuel availability is an issue and as such you try to conserve where possible. If you’re worried about getting germs from washing dishes in cold water, relax. As long as you’re using some form of soap, drying the dishes with a cloth, and letting them totally dry off before usage, you should be okay. Most germs that live in the water cannot survive in the open air. It’s also important to dry out the towel completely too, for the same reason.

HANG YOUR PACK – It’s not uncommon for backpackers to hike into and area, set camp then spend the next few days exploring with a fanny pack (usually a removable top pocket from their main pack). Normal thinking would have you leaving the remaining section in your tent……..BAD IDEA. Any foods you carried in the backpack will have deposited their aromas into the material, ergo, animal attractor. When leaving camp, hang the main part of your pack high from a tree limb. If you’re worried about the remaining contents getting wet, put a trash bag or pack cover over the top when you leave.

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Last modified on: September 27th 2023.
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