Western Traveler

Tips and Tricks

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EMERGENCY STOVE FIX – It happens, you’ve hiked miles into the backcountry and your liquid-fueled stove won’t “pump up” to cook. The odds are that your leather gasket has dried out to the degree that it no longer seals. If this happens, take the plunger completely out and soak it in a small container of whatever you have that will re-saturate it. Cooking oil is the best thing you might have with you. In a pinch you can use almost anything though, so long as it doesn’t contain any form of alcohol (which would dry it out further). When you get home, buy a new gasket.

CAUGHT OUT AFTER DARK – I can’t count the number of times I (or friends of mine) have over-estimated the amount of daylight remaining and ended up on an unplanned night hike. If this happens to you, here are a couple of things you can do to increase your odds of getting out in one piece. First, delay the use of your headlamp or flashlight (you should ALWAYS have one with you) until you have to. You can see better in dusk conditions than you think, so long as you don’t fire up a bright light too early. Learn to hike moving your head side to side (peripheral vision works better in low light).

WIND BLOCK – Trying to cook in windy conditions with any stove can be a bear (no backcountry pun intended). To make your life easier, place a large object (backpack, rock, log, etc.) upwind from your stove. You’ll find that it makes the conditions more manageable, plus it’ll save you a lot of wasted fuel fighting the breeze.

CANNISTER COOKING – There are several types of cook stoves on the market, ranging from heat tabs to canister and multi-fuel stoves.  Each has advantages, and disadvantages.  On canister stoves, the problem is cold-weather lack of performance.  If you want to get more bang for your buck with one of these, keep it warm.  You can put it in your pack next to your back while hiking, or even tape a hand warmer to it.  Either way, you’ll have better luck with it if it’s already warm.

WEIRD FIRE STARTER – There are tons of ways to start a fire in the wilderness, but I recently came across a new one, at least for me.  An article in BACKPACKER suggested carrying Vaseline-coated cotton balls in a film canister.  According to the piece, this will burn, even in the rain.

SNOW GEAR – On a recent trip toUtahI learned the very important lesson of having the right gear for the right conditions.  To make a long story short, go ahead and buy snow pants, snow boots, and a good, breathable windbreaker.  Though you can survive your hikes without them, it’s not a lot of fun hiking while water logged.

SLEEPING IN BEAR COUNTRY – Part of the draw in heading into the backcountry is the danger factor.  Even so, don’t be stupid when in bear country.  Here’s a few things you can do to increase your safety.  First, don’t sleep in the open air, a tent presents a psychological barrier to the bear. Also, don’t sleep against the wall of the tent as a bear may poke it and if it doesn’t find something hard may move on.  A bivy isn’t a good idea as it’s too small to intimidate the animal.  Lastly, store ALL food in hanging bags or canisters well away from your tent.

TRASH BAGS & YOU – I carry trash bags in all my packs, and for several good reasons.  In a pinch they can be used for a variety of functions; extra moisture barrier, shelter, floatation devices if crossing a river, signaling devices (if brightly colored) and emergency gaiters material.

SUNSCREEN & BUG SPRAY – Using sunscreen and bug spray in the backcountry are a “no brainer”.  The question is, which goes on first.  Simply stated, put on your SPF first, let it dry and then apply your insect repellent of choice.  This gives you maximum protection from UV and BUGS.

GETTING UNSTUCK ON SKREE – Mountain hiking brings with it many challenges, not to least of which is navigating on skree (very loose small rocks on a super-steep slope).  If you loose traction and slide downhill, eventually you’ll stop……..no really, you will.  Once this happens the trick is how to get back up to the trail.  Here’s a few things you can do that’ll help.  First of all, catch your breath and collect yourself.  Second use a three-point contact system for moving upward (only move one limb at a time).  Keep your weight on your feet while facing uphill, not your hands.  The more vertical you are, the more traction you’ll have.  Look for patches of grass or dirt, which will give you a better climbing surface.  If you’re hiking with someone else, they can drop a line down to you, but DON’T LET THEM COME DOWN TO HELP.  There’ll be more than one hiker with the same problem if that happens.

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Last modified on: September 27th 2023.
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