Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Scaling" your gear...determining what to take for a safe dayhike.

Often when I go out hiking I always find myself studying other day hikers to see what gear they might be carrying. In my observations, this usually this means little or no gear whatsoever. I would say the average day hiker carries a cellphone and *maybe* a  half liter bottle of water. This might be acceptable for some hikes, but I am always surprised when I am 5 or 6 miles out on a back country trail and encounter someone with water and no gear whatsoever.

The further out you go, the more gear you should take.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that this is an especial pet peeve of mine, and that I have often suggested that there is "No such thing as a day hike"; in other words, plan & prepare for an overnight stay. My wife is an experienced obstacle racer and trail runner and we have had several discussions about this. She is of the opposite opinion; that you really don't need any extra gear...just a bottle of water and a knife is adequate for most outings. And for some people that may be all right.

In this blog post, I am going to provide some thoughts and ideas for selecting and scaling your gear for the level of hike you are taking to ensure a safe and enjoyable outing.

To begin, I think we need to consider is "What is the purpose of gear?" Basically, gear is intended to facilitate the outing so that it is done safely, comfortably, and enjoyably. The reverse is also true: too much gear can make an outing unsafe [pack weight impair balance or exhaust bearer] and/or unenjoyable. Some people develop "Kit Mentality", in which gear becomes the focus of their outing, rather than enjoying the natural outdoors.

What we are talking about is "Scaling your gear"; Striking a balance, and taking only what might be needed given the dynamics of the hike we are planning..  

Next, I think we need to define what types of hikes we might find ourselves on. I consider hikes to be of three levels:

LEVEL 1 - Short hikes, usually less than 3 miles [5K] total distance, on heavily foot trafficked trails within more or less constant sight of a community or habitation. These would be hikes in open space areas, such as public parks, located within or adjacent to an urban or suburban area. Trails are well defined and cared for. Cellphone service is assured, and you can easily reach a location where you can signal assistance [yelling, whistle, mirror flash]. These are outing of less than 2 hours duration.

LEVEL 2 - Medium hikes which will usually be less than 6 miles [10K] round trip with moderate traffic [occasional mountain bikers and/or hikers].  These would be trails that will take you out of sight of roads or habitation. Trails are worn and intermittently marked with the occasional sign. A map is useful but not necessary.  Cellphone service will likely be spotty and unreliable.

Can you yell this far and be heard?
LEVEL 3 - Long hikes more than 6 miles [10K] in one direction on isolated trails with little or no likelihood of encountering other hikers if assistance was needed. These would be outings of several miles and several hours duration which would take one well out into wilderness or back country regions. Trails may be very rarely marked, not maintained, overgrown, and a map is an absolute necessity.  Cellphone service would likely be non-existent.  These are day long outings. 

Next, I am going to provide some suggestions of what I would recommend one take for each of these levels of outings:

For a LEVEL 1 hike, I think one probably can pull off a hike with, as my wife has suggested  little more than a bottle of water and a knife. Of course, having your cellphone along is very helpful. In the photo below, I show items carried on a recent L1 hike: A fleece jacket, water bottle, wallet cutting tool, sun hat, warm knit cap, small flashlight, cellphone. A pack is not required...all of these items can easily be carried in one's pockets.

Light kit for a quick hike
On a LEVEL 2 hike, I think a small day pack or hydration pack or fanny pack will suffice. Besides those items shown in the L1, carry a few snacks, extra water, a whistle and a small First Aid kit [read cuts and scrapes].

Finally, on a LEVEL 3 hike I recommend you "go heavy" and treat it as an overnight stay, just in case that becomes a reality. In the photo below I have laid out my kit for such an outing. We see that the kit covers First Aid, shelter material, fire making, hydration, food, signaling, cordage, and many other useful items for surviving a night or two lost or injured on a trail.

Overnight Trail Kit
I think we need to consider that there are always variables that we need take into account, and should always adjust our kit to accommodate:

- Weather: Hot or cold conditions, precipitation. It may be that you live in a region where weather can change dramatically and quickly. In that case it might be wise to carry a bit of extra clothing, perhaps a jacket with hood.

- Fitness: Your level of conditioning [or lack thereof] medical issues, required medications. Do not exceed your ability. If invited on a hike assess to determine whether it is within your ability. Make any hike host aware of your limits or medical issues in advance of the hike. 

- Terrain: elevation gain, trail conditions and strata [loose rocks, deep sand, etc.] not only affect shoe choice, but whether a hiking stick or trekking poles should be carried. Obviously these would not be needed on a flat, smooth park path.

- Dangers: Dangerous wildlife has increasingly been seen coming into the front country of many areas. You don't just see them in the back country anymore. Be aware of tracks and how to deal with wildlife should you encounter them on the trail.

Coyote track along trail
A final word: Nothing I have said here is intended to dissuade anyone from carrying more gear should they decide to do so. In my own case, I prefer to always carry a day pack equipped with some extra clothing,  a GRABBER "Sportsman" reflective blanket, extra water, some food, medical supplies, a sheath knife, signaling and fire making tools; essentially everything needed to spend a night on the trail if it were necessary to do so and to care for myself or render aid to another were an injury to occur.  I have on at least one occasion provided water to a person suffering dehydration. I have arrived late at 2 injury scenes where help was being provided, but expect someday it may fall on me to help with a trail injury victim. 
I hope you have found this article helpful and useful.
Happy Hiking!

Monday, May 4, 2015

ACTION WIPES - Powerful trail hygiene in a compact pouch!

About a month ago, Nic Beem, owner/operator of S.L.O. Camp `N Pack Army Navy Outdoor Store asked me to try out a product he is now carrying on my next outing. The product is called ACTION WIPES and is billed on the website as, "...a refreshing, natural travel wipe for the entire family as well as athletes, campers and people on the move!" The wipes come in a sealed foil pouch, like a wet-nap, that measures a compact 3" by 5" and weighs only .5 ounces, so very light in the pack as well. 

Nic said they are made with a proprietary formula that uses Tea Tree Oil, so they are an alcohol free body cleanse, are completely natural and additionally have bug-repellent qualities...I especially like that! Nic gave me 2 wipes to try out. I checked out the company's website and it stated the wipes were invented by Martha Van Inwegen after she recognized the need for, "a natural wet wipe to clean and refresh the body after a ride, run, hike or a long plane ride."

Skipping ahead, this past weekend, me and my buddy Chris hiked into the Santa Lucia Wilderness to do an overnight camp out, so I took the packets of ACTION WIPES along to give them a try in the field. Water can be scarce and/or suspect where we were headed due to Mercury mining operations in the region, and we had to conserve the water we carried for consumption; there would be no trail bathing with water.

On the Trail

My pack load...46 pounds
The hike in was warm, about 82 degrees and we were mostly hiking sun-exposed trails. I had a 46 pound pack load, and it wasn't long before I was breaking a decent sweat. After a couple of hours of hiking we arrived at out campsite and set up for the night. Winds were strong and sustained all throughout the day, so there was a fair amount of dust in the air.

My tarp shelter
Having established our camp, we set about to have some fun. We spent some time throwing knives at a target plank I'd brought along, as well as exploring the local terrain and mineral rich rock formations in the area, which hosted a Cinnabar mining operation.
Throwing blades [I broke the target plank...whoops!]
Interesting rock formation with a Yucca
 Plant [also called The Lord's Candle
And Spanish Bayonet].
As evening fell I decided to wash up and change into some dry socks and clean moisture wicking long underwear. I cannot stand to sleep dirty and itching in a sleeping bag, so I was anxious to try out the ACTION WIPES and get a comfortable night's sleep. I stripped down and opened the package, removed the wipe, and unfolded it. It opened into a large 9" X 10" square wipe, and was saturated with the solution. The wipe itself is a very soft fabric material, not that abrasive paper one usually gets in a typical foil wrapped wet-nap. I also later discovered the wipe is very tough...more to follow on that.
The unfolded ACTION WIPE
I found the Tea Tree Oil fragrance very pleasant and began wiping myself down, top to bottom. The wipe was completely adequate for cleansing my entire body and I also rubbed my scalp/hair to ensure no hitch-hikers were hiding there. The ACTION WIPES web page bills each wipe as having the cleansing equivalence of a 25 gallon shower. Given the drought, it's been a long time since I helped myself to a 25 gallon shower, but I will say I felt completely clean after wiping down.  Clean again, I enjoyed a very pleasant and itch-free sleep that night.
Packing out the next morning, I took the spent wipe and placed it in my pack. Upon arrival home I began cleaning my gear, which had been soaked and dirtied by a thick fog that had rolled in during the night. I used the fabric wipe with a bucket of soap to clean my camp tarps and other gear. It not only held up, but it retained the Tea Tree Oil scent even after 2 bucket loads of soapy water. It occurred to me that I probably could have dampened the wipe with fresh water and re-constituted or at least extended the life of the wipe, and thus my camp bath, the night before had I wished to. The spent wipe certainly would've functioned as a camp kitchen scrub for my mess kit and utensils.
Having cleaned my gear, I then placed the wipe on the dashboard of my truck and allowed it to completely dry. I then decided to see if it would take a spark from a ferrocerium rod and function as an emergency tinder for lighting a fire. On the third strike, the dried cloth ignited and burned very well for about 1 minute.
ACTION WIPE as fire tinder
Even after the wipe appeared consumed, it continued to smolder with bright red embers for a few minutes, and likely could have been blown back into flame.
Red-hot embers still glowing in fabric
In conclusion, I think this is an excellent product of great use to the outdoors enthusiast who wishes to perform personal hygiene at the end of a trail run or a day's hiking and where water is not abundant or need be conserved. Plus, it is compact, lightweight, and easily stowed in a pack.  I am convinced of this product's utility and will definitely be adding some to my pack kit for future trail outings.
If you wish to purchase some ACTION WIPES and are not in the local area and thus are unable to visit S.L.O. Camp `N Pack, not to worry! You can order ACTION WIPES online direct from the company, or you can visit Nic's excellent online business CNP TACTICAL and order through them, as well as peruse their quality line of outdoor and tactical gear products.
Happy Hiking!