Some of the best lessons in life are the tough ones...."The School of Hard Knocks" as some folks call it. I had a hike yesterday that became dangerous, and I have been pondering it and thought I would share some learning points. To begin, here is what happened:
I had attended a public hike put on by a local organization. I was familiar with the trail, Reservoir Canyon, and have hiked it before. Last time was I think 2013, so I was 5 years younger. The group was good sized, maybe 18 people of varying ages, and it went well. We hiked, I don't know, maybe 2-2.5 miles to the Hermit's Cabin and the group took a break and some photos.
Lord's Candle - Yucca
I had noted an elderly couple that wasn't taking sufficient water. They had a pack with two 1 Liter bottles, one for each of them, in side pockets, no apparent bladder. They appeared to be struggling. It was a very warm day, and getting hotter. I would guess upper 80's at that time. When we got to the Hermit's Cabin I advised the hike leader of my observation and it seems the whole group was ready to go back down.
I was humping a 17# pack, 4 lbs. of which was water, and had a full hydration bladder in my pack when I started the hike. Halfway through, I still had a good amount in it and a quart USGI canteen reserve, but I was about to learn it wasn't going to be enough.
The hike leader decided it was too hot to do the loop and announced we'd be going back down the way we'd came, but that people were free to go on if they wished. I chatted up another hiker, an athletic younger male, and he seemed interested and had familiarity with the trail from having done some work on it. Three women indicated they wished to go along...a young woman in her 20's and 2 middle-aged women. We were agreed to do the full loop, which I think was 6 miles, not sure.
The hike leader queried us if everyone had or needed extra water. I felt I had enough for my needs but was unaware of the others water on hand.
We splintered off and kept going up the trail. It was going to top out at 1300', was steep inclined, rough, rock strewn, and sun exposed. It made for very hard hiking and I started pulling heavy on my bladder. I was completely surprised when it went dry well before the top.
At that time, the group had spread out. Two younger, fitter persons had gone on ahead. Another woman was between us and I was hiking with a trim, athletic, woman about my age, and she was a medical professional. It was taking forever to get to the top. I don't know, maybe she sensed I was struggling. It was then I realized I felt myself running out of blood sugar. I'd had a banana and a roll before the hike...not enough for the arduous hiking I was doing.
I tried to eat some power bars. I could barely eat them; my mouth was dry and I was mildly nauseous, but forced myself to keep chewing and they gave me a boost and I avoided blacking out, which was definitely coming on. I know this because it has happened to me twice before during hard exertion and I recognize it. Not diabetic...just not taking enough calories to sustain the activity.
The view from the top
We reached the top and enjoyed a small break and some cooler breezes for a little while. We started down and on the downhill, which was equally hot and rough, some of our group began to run out of water. I think the three women hikers only had small half liter bottles.
The water in my steel canteen had been heated by the sun and was like hot tea. One of the women, heavyset and middle-aged, kept asking me to share my water and I was shocked when she passed my canteen back empty...she'd drained it...I was now out of water with at least 2 miles of hard trail to go.
The last 1-2 miles was horrible. I was so dehydrated I had stopped sweating and was getting chills. I realized I was probably heading for heat exhaustion....all I could think of was GET TO THE CREEK! Just kept putting one foot IFO the other.
By this time, the medical woman and other man were up behind me...I caught glimpses of them for awhile and then never saw them again. The younger woman had run on ahead, and the other woman that had drained my canteen was somewhat behind me.
I literally had started to stumble and trip down the trail, Several times I had to negotiate tricky rocks and went slow because I knew I could get hurt if not very careful. Finally I broke into the canyon's Oak cover and could hear the stream in the distance and knew I was all right.
FRONTIER Survival Straw
When I got near the stream I dropped my pack, broke out the FRONTIER survival straw I carry and sat in the stream and began dumping water over my head. I cared not a whit about getting soaked. Then I started drinking through the survival straw until I was sick of water. It wouldn't fit my canteens small mouth, and I didn't have a cup, so I cupped my hand and drank from it.
After about 5-10 minutes I became aware the younger woman was sitting below the falls just watching me. She appeared amused and I have to admit, I probably was a funny sight sitting clothed in the stream dumping water on myself. More's the point, I was so confused my situational awareness had crapped out.
The woman that drained my canteen came in behind me and I think she might've drank from the stream, but not sure. The three of us waited at the falls but the other two of our group never showed. I had last seen them behind me, moving pretty slow. We waited for an hour but they never appeared. I was concerned but had seen both with cell phones and service was good so I was not too worried, knowing they could call for help.
I called a friend on the local Search & Rescue team and he notified the SAR on-call coordinator, who called me direct. I explained the circs and he said check the p-lot, thinking they might've skirted around us. We did and they were not there. I notified him and he suggested I call SLOSO Dispatch and they would do a call-out, and they could request a CHP fly-over. I said I would first call the hike leader whom I knew had a roster with phone numbers and could check on the overdue hikers.
At that point, the bizarre happened and I dropped my cellphone and broke it when I needed it most. Unable to communicate, I went home and e-mailed the hike leader who responded and made contact with the 2 hikers and advised me they'd made it down the mountain safely, to my great relief.
This was the first time I've ever run completely out of water on a hike and it was a real horrible learning experience. Learning points?
1.) Eat sufficient calories before a hike; take additional calories along the trail...you are burning calories whether you feel it or not. You will when you "hit the wall" and by then it is too late.
2.) Don't underestimate heat. It can really sneak up and surprise you.
3.) Don't overestimate your abilities as a hiker. Nature is a bigger badass than you will ever be.
4.) Electrolyte beans would've been very handy to have. Pretty sure my heart was working harder pumping sludgy blood as my body robbed my bloodstream for water.
5.) Accept/realize bad things can happen even on a front country hike...you don't have to be in the sticks to become incapacitated
6.) Make sure the people you are hiking with have more than adequate water for their needs. I know the other male was providing water from his bladder and last I knew he was down to half a liter.
7.) Have names/phone numbers for the people you hike with; carry some 3x5 cards and distribute to all in case you get separated.
8.) Stay together as a group. Pretty sure if I was not thinking clearly, at least a couple of the others were struggling too.
9.) Listen to others. For just a moment, I'd pondered going down with the group. The hike leader made a good call and I should've deferred to his judgment.
Anyways, just a few thoughts, which I thought I'd pass on.
I had coffee with my friend, Jason [Tactical-Bushcrafter] last night and he showed me a 5ive Star Gear T1 survival knife. Jason said he was considering including it in a line of survival kits he is assembling and preparing to market online. He said it is priced below $20.00 USD and seems to be a decent inexpensive knife.
5ive Star Gear T1 Survival Knife
The T1 is a paracord-handled skeletal knife, constructed of 420 stainless steel and having a 3.25" blade and an overall length just under 8". It comes with a nylon sheath and the whole package weighs under 6 oz. Jason said it has about 5' of paracord wrap on the handle and came with a ferro rod set into a whistle handle. On the downside, he said the plastic whistle handle broke and the ferro rod fell out the first time he used it.
Jason passed the knife to me and asked me to test the knife. "Abuse it", he said, so I took it home.
First examination revealed the cutting edge had a typical factory grind. I spent about an hour tuning it up on my stones and it delivered a nice edge. A lot of people don't like 420, but 420 stainless is easy to sharpen and maintain. It won't hold an edge too long, but the rust resistance and easy sharpening aspects make the steel attractive to me. My opinion is 1.) You need to develop knife sharpening skills and, 2.) if it is too hard a steel, you won't be able to sharpen afield which does you no good. It never ceases to amaze me people who purchase knives but won't learn to sharpen them.
Blade profile is a kind of wedge tipped drop point. The blade is 3/16" thick and the tip looks strong. There is traction jimping on the spine. The handle is skeletal and has lashing point for fashioning a spear, something I would never do. I would suggest making a thrusting spear as a walking stick and defensive and/or hunting tool. Can't imagine anything that would be worse than seeing a wild animal run off, wounded, with your knife in it's side...goodbye knife, goodbye meal.
The sheath is soft nylon, and the snap closure is very hard to engage. I added a paracord loop with a cord-loc to trap the knife in the sheath so it would be less likely to fall out and become lost. I think I would only carry this set up in a pack and not on my belt for safety and security. At the price point, it's not worth commissioning a Kydex sheath unless you can make your own.
To test the T1, I tried chopping, batoning and carving various woods including Oak and Eucalyptus. I had some dry, hard nasty pieces on hand and the t1 did a good job of making camp wood of them. I tried prying the tip and it did not snap or bend. I found no chipping or deformation of the cutting edge at the end of the testing. The edge carved satisfactorily, making curls and a tent stake. the knife has a Titanium coated finish which seems to be holding up well to wear and tear.
Overall, I was pleased and would say this is a fine choice for a number of applications: as a trainer for the person new to bushcraft; a good B.S.A. Scout fixed blade; a good choice for a trail hiker's day pack; a good Bugout kit knife; a great knife for the person on a limited budget or seeking a quality knife at an inexpensive knife. Sheath and whistle/ferro rod issues aside, I'd say the knife is a fine blade for the money.
Anyway, enough chatter...here's my video testing the T-1 to see what it can do:
Also, here is Tactical Bushcrafter's T1 testing video:
In 2015 I received this BALLAST multi-tool from Kilimanjaro Gear. Kiligear manufactures and markets a line of innovative outdoors gear including knives, multi-tools, flashlights, and packs, as well as Tactical Gear. In fact, some of their gear is approved by the National Tactical Officer's Association and one of their folding knives, the UTAC, was developed with input from U.S. Navy SEAL Joel Lambert. That's some pretty impressive credentials folks!
Kilimanjaro Gear BALLAST multi-tool
After receiving the BALLAST for evaluation, I took it out on the trail and used it on a couple of outings, which can be found on my YOUTUBE channel, BushcraftWoodsDevil.
Well, it's been 2 years and this knife has been in more or less continuous use throughout that period, so I felt it was time for a review. I can't name my employer as I am not permitted to endorse commercial products, but I can say that I do work as a Park Ranger and this sheath and knife have rode on my belt and been used & abused regularly. It has pruned trees, cut wire, loosened nuts, cut rope, sharpened pruners [file], tightened screws, and yes, has even opened the occasional can of pork `n beans, which anyone who follows my channel knows is an outdoors dietary staple for me, lol.
Lets review the technical specifics of the BALLAST. There are 2 models, 910053 with a black coated finish, and 910052, which has a satin metal finish. Mine is the black coated model. Both have an overall length of 6.2", a closed length of 4.2", and weigh in at about 9.5 oz. As to tools, they are outfitted as follows:
Long Nose Pliers
Double Cut File
Single Cut File
Medium Flat Head Screwdriver
Large Flat Head Screwdriver
The multi-tool comes equipped with it's own nylon belt pouch:
BALLAST and belt carry pouch
After 2 years riding on my belt and sliding in and out of the truck, the sheath continues to serve. I had fully expected the belt loop to fail and am very impressed it has not. the loop has stretched a bit as nylon is want to do, but has not separated from the body of the sheath. A bit of rust has formed on the snap due to weather exposure, and the sheath body has worn and frayed a bit from seat abrasion, but it still works fine. Not a problem even if it did fail because Kilimanjaro Gear offers a LIMITED LIFETIME WARRANTY to the original retail purchaser and are guaranteed be free from defects in materials and workmanship for as long as owned by the original purchaser and is used for the purpose intended, under normal conditions. Not bad!
Getting back to the knife and it's featured tools. The "Heart" of any multi-tool is it's pliers unction. Indeed, this is what most multi-tools are built around...the "chassis" so to speak. BALLAST pliers are kind of a long-nosed pliers...not needle nosed and not the typical blunt-nosed pliers either. This seems to try to bridge both tasks and does a fair job. Especially impressive to me is the wire cutter beneath the pliers jaws, which for me has cut soft and hard wire and shows no deformation to the teeth to date. When deployed, the handles remain stiff and don't fold or flop in anyway, allowing good use of the pliers.
BALLAST pliers and wire cutters up close
The primary blade is a Sheep's Foot style blade, straight edged and measuring at about 1-7/8". This blade accepted a nice sharpening and became razor sharp with just a little work on my stones. It's a bit small but adequate for many cutting and carving tasks. But of course, it would be wise to carry a fixed blade sheath knife on the trail for tasks demanding a larger blade. The beauty here is it is compact and "socially acceptable" and thus can be used on the job, in town, or in many other "non permissible" environments. Nestled next to the knife blade is a can opener, a small slotted tip screwdriver, and a two-sided file having both smooth and cross-cut functions, about 1-1/4" working surfaces. IMHO, the file could be better, and have a bit more distinctive teeth, but for the money are adequate for average tasks a file this size would be tasked to perform, say wood and soft metals.
BALLAST's Sheep's Foot knife blade
On the opposite handle is found a small wood saw and a serrated blade, both measuring in again at 1-7/8". The saw is a decent cross-cut saw and I have used it effectively pruning small branches, for camp projects such as crafting tent stakes, and for making notches in a bow drill hearth-board. I tuned up the Serrated blade with my SMITH'S diamond serration sharpener and it has been useful cutting rope and preserving my straight blade. Between these two blades rest a bottle cap lifter and a Phillips head screwdriver. My only complaint here is that the Phillip's head is one of those funky half-width blades, narrowed to fit into the narrow space remaining. I find it tends to slip out of the screw head. frankly, I'd rather have had a good punch blade.
Really useful features!
Overall, I think this knife is a very good bargain. Just scanning the Internet I found them, quite incredibly, ranging in price from $16.20 to $28.12 on a random SHOPPING search inquiry. I believe this knife to be a mid-range price & quality multi-tool...not a high end product which might fetch 50-100 bucks+ and not a sub-20 dollar Chinese knock off either. It fits a niche for the person that wants a higher quality multi-tool but whose budget can't go over the 50 dollar mark. I just don't think you can go wrong on a BALLAST, especially seeing some of the online price opportunities. I made this video which recaps what has been said here, so check it out!
Finally, if you own a BALLAST I would be very interested to hear what your thoughts and experiences are, so feel free to post up in COMMENTS below.
I have been a bushcrafter for about 5 years or so now. As I grew in experience, I evolved. I think when I started it was all about the gear. I would tear down trails just to see how fast I could cover a distance. But as I learned more skills and knowledge from folks, especially here on the forums, I gradually pared away the gear and became a minimalist. I also had my eyes opened and my awareness of the beauty of the natural world increased. Nowadays, I never hurry, and sometimes take a couple of hours to cover a mile, studying plants, taking a knee and watching the wonder or wildlife listening to calls and such. I usually come back with a bag of trash too, as I now can't bear to see litter and not remove it.
Through bushcraft, I have come to feel a deep spirituality when I am outdoors [I'm not sure you can be a true bushcrafter without an appreciation and reverence for the gift of nature?]. I know many of the indigenous peoples here in the USA had a different view than westerners. They didn't see a creator in the person of a deity, but they saw that there was a life force that birthed and regenerated the natural world, and they felt connected to it and to each other. The Lakota, for instance, called that force Wakan tanka, or "The Great Mystery", and while they didn't understand who or how it worked, they strongly felt it was due respect and prayers of thanks.
I think that we've lost that reverence for nature and the miracle of life. Everyday people have become disconnected from it. They rush about to work and their hurried lives and fail to see what bushcrafter's know....that there is a beautiful natural world that heals and regenerates our soul I know bushcraft has helped me to find it in myself.
Anyways, the point is lately I have been worried about the state of affairs here in the world and in my own country. So many angry hateful people. World leaders threatening war and nuclear weapons. People here at home arguing and insulting each other over politics. It is horrible to ponder, but we could lose our home, this Earth, in 30 minutes with just the push of a button.
This past Thursday was the National Day of Prayer here in the U.S.A., and while I am not a religious person, I felt obliged to go to the woods and offer Prayers & Smoke, and ask for wisdom for our world leaders and healing for our people. To turn people's hearts away from anger and hate. To ask for our world leaders to guide us to better care for our Earth so that we can leave a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren to live in. I made two videos of my prayer outing, which are below. The first is intentions, the second making White Sage smoke.
I hope you will join me in sending good thoughts and intentions, however you believe. Blessings on you all!
Packs with hydration bladders have been the standard for several years now. Hikers, backpackers, bikers, walkers, trail workers, even warfighters wear them on their packs to hydrate while engaged in some activity. Many people still carry bottles of water or a canteen, but by far, I see hydration bladders being used nowadays.
Hydration bladders are a great and useful hiking tool. They allow you to sip water while moving and not have to remove your pack to access a canteen or water bottle. But, there is a downside. They can be punctured. You could slide off the side of a trail or trip and take a mechanical fall, rupture your hydration bladder, and lose some or all of your drinking water.
But I am going to argue that I believe that having an old fashioned hard canteen is a good idea to carry a reserve of water in a container; one that is not likely to rupture in a fall, such as a stainless steel bottle or canteen.
As well, a metal canteen [single walled] can be used to achieve a boil and disinfect water you gather from questionable sources, such as streams. You can chemically treat your water in a canteen and then transfer it to the bladder, and then gather more water and add tablets to treat it as you hike.
Nalgene [plastic] bottles are fine, but you can't easily do a boil in one, although I have seen people boil water in plastic bottles. A sunlight U.V. disinfectant treatment is a possibility with a clear bottle I suppose.
Carrying a small bottle that you can add flavored drink mixes too is handy and doesn't contaminate your entire drinking water supply, if you want plain water later, such as for cooking. I like the military Pilot's Flask, a 1-pint plastic kidney shaped bottle. It easily fits into a pants back pocket or cargo leg pocket. HAWAIIAN PUNCH low sugar mixes are handy for making crappy tasting water more palatable.
It's not a bad idea to carry a GAW [Give Away] bottle, in case you come across someone on the trail who has run out of water and is desperate for water [which I have encountered]. It also gives you yet another backup source of water, just in case you burn through yours faster than anticipated. We never know on a particular day, how weather may change and our body's need for water may change as well.
Finally, assuming you have told someone where you are going and have given them a time to expect you back, you will likely be found within 48-72 hours, IF you have stuck to your hiking plan and searchers have a good idea where to start a search. In that instance, hydration becomes critical, and if you have no means to treat water and are forced to drink raw water from a stream, it's likely you'll be recovered before any illness onset. As it is, most waterborne illness is temporary and uncomfortable, but not likely fatal.
Ever felt the hair stand up on the back of your neck? It's a strange sensation of concern and even being a little bit scared. You may even have found yourself frozen in your steps. It's happened to me on the trail at least once that I recall, and there is a very real reason why this happens. It is extremely important to heed that *warning* when you receive it, so lets talk about it...
The *signal* comes from a pair of little almond-sized nodes in our brain that read emotion that are called the Amygdala. When we talk with someone, our amygdala are reading the person's face and assessing their mood and truthfulness. That's why e-mail communication *fails* so often...we can't visually assess what is being said from written communications alone.
At the same time, the amygdala function to read danger and prepare us to act. When you feel that hair standing up on the back of your neck, that is your amygdala reading something in the environment that is threatening, such as an angry person walking toward you. Several years ago my Niece was walking down a street and a saw a man coming toward her. She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up, but she brushed it off. As he came alongside her on the sidewalk he suddenly wheeled and punched her in the face. She knew something was wrong, but failed to heed the signal.
You may even not see the threat...just sense it. A few years ago my wife and I were hiking a trail when she suddenly stopped and focused on a hillside a distance away. I asked her what was wrong and she replied, "There is something up there watching us." I asked her what she saw and she said, "I didn't. I feel it." Before you laugh, understand the U.S. Marine Corps calls this "Mountain Gaze" and they are taught to recognize it and act on it, because it may be an enemy that has them under observation. Likewise, they are taught to observe enemy troops with their peripheral vision and not to stare lest they alert the enemy they are under observation.
As to what was on the hillside, my best guess would be a Mountain Lion. If you spend any time at all hiking back country trails, you have at some point, been observed by a big cat. The bottom line is this: Mother Nature has equipped you with a wonderful self-preservation gift, so recognize and obey that signal when it pops up on your personal radar!
Awareness & Avoidance are always your first choice in personal safety. The best fight is the one we do not have to fight. If I can maneuver and avoid contact, I am ahead of the game. Along with recognizing warnings, its a very good idea to have a "tool kit" or personal inventory of skill sets for dealing with an assailant. These skill sets could include communication/negotiation/verbal dissuasion, physical combatives, or improvised/environmental weapons, just to name a few.
Weapons are a sticky wicket. Not only do they require extensive training to use, bear in mind that a powerful and/or determined attacker may be able to overpower and disarm you. Thus, they may turn your weapon against you, so it is always wise to be careful what you bring with you. Below, I have placed a video I made concerning a very simple impact weapon, the Pocket Stick, which can easily be crafted and provide a tool that can be used against an aggressive person.
At the beginning I mentioned having personally experienced this strange uneasiness on the trail. I was hiking a back country trail and was traversing a section when a sudden intense sensation of dread filled me. It literally froze me in my tracks. I was afraid to move and began looking all about me. To this day I have no idea what it was. Were I to venture a guess, I would again have to say Mountain Lion. After a few minutes of nervously scanning the area, I found my courage and moved off, all the while scanning and checking my back trail every few seconds. It was a seriously unnerving and eerie feeling.
Fortunately, most trail outings are peaceful, enjoyable, and uneventful. However, strange things can and do happen and it is wise to be aware of your surroundings, people in your vicinity, and any uneasiness you may feel. When that occurs, it is vitally important to heed the warning and ACT ON IT IMMEDIATELY. Either leave the area, join a nearby group of hikers, but whatever you do, DO SOMETHING.