TIPS ON GEAR
"The forest is to me
the sweetest college.
Wisdom doth here in
all its branches grow."
- Backpacker magazine sells tight-fitting gloves which are
great when the temperature drops, or for traveling through prickly vegetation.
These light-weight gloves have nubs on the palms to aid in picking up small
objects and to assure firm grip on warm objects like a candle lantern hook
or pot handle.
- Headgear while sleeping
- Especially for those like me who are folically challenged on the top
of the head, heat loss at night in colder climes is a problem. Since so
much body heat is lost through the head, a wool watch cap or parka sweatshirt
work well and are easily removed if you are too warm.
Capturing panoramic vistas
- The vistas we encounter after achieving the mountain top, or the magnificent
expansive valleys we enjoy from ridges are not done justice by normal camera
lenses. The lightweight disposable Kodak Panoramic cameras provide 15 shots,
each 3" by 8", twice the length of normal photos. You can even
use the camera vertically to get shots which emphasize altitude differences,
as with deep canyons or waterfalls. The purchase and development expense
works out to about $1.40 per shot, but it is worth it! I carry mine in
a zip-lock bag to keep it dry and dust-free.
Zip 'em up!
- Zip Lock freezer bags now come in sizes from pint to 2 gallon. To guarantee
that clothes stay dry when rain is likely, putting clothes in zip locks
provides confidence that the clothing will be dry when you need it. They
weigh little and can be recycled on the trip, being used to segregate wet
or smelly clothes from the rest of the pack's contents. They also can be
used to keep reading material and paper products dry. The larger sizes
work perfectly well for carrying a trowel and toilet paper. Dozens of other
uses will become obvious also if you carry a few extra bags in your pack.
- You no doubt carry spare batteries for your mini-mag flashlight, but
do you carry a spare battery for your camera? Would you like to be 3 days
into the most magnificent scenery in the world and be unable to capture
your experiences on film? Would you feel badly that you were lugging that
damn camera and couldn't use it?
- Bandanas can be purchased at K-Mart, etc., for under 2 bucks each,
yet can be valuable accessories on the trail. They are lightweight and
colorful. I always carry 8 or so with me, some in Zip-locks to keep them
dry and clean for use later in the trip. I wear one around my forehead
to catch perspiration (since I have no hair to do this.) Another is used
as a handkerchief, another cleans my glasses, another is used for handling
hot cookware, another for first aid use, another to strain water before
treating with Iodine tablets. Many more uses become obvious as you hike.
- I carry a very lightweight heavy gauge nylon tarp. I wrap it around
my Therma-Rest mattress which is attached to the outside of the pack. The
tarp protects the mattress from being punctured by low branches, etc. At
rest breaks or lunch break, if it is wet, the tarp and mattress provide
a dry and comfortable resting place. If one of those daily Rocky Mountain
storms hits, we sit under the tarp with the ends wrapped around us. It
keeps us dry and warm and protects us from the occasional hail we encounter.
It can also serve as a replacement tent, God forbid it be destroyed or
damaged. If the tent floor suddenly springs a leak or gets wet, the tarp
can again come to the rescue. It is a good, multi-purpose piece of equipment
which is inexpensive and lightweight.
Ron Drysdale bought a small Moss ParaWing. It is compact, lightweight,
sets up fast, is stable due to its parabolic sides, and prevents you from
feeling confined and claustrophobic like in a tent. It also is a nice shady
spot for a lunch, picnic, day at the beach, etc.
- Hiking staffs are becoming more popular every year, and perhaps some
day I'll become a convert. For now, though, I find it easier to locate
a branch when I need the use of a staff to cross a creek or whatever. One
is usually readily available, discarded by previous hikers, and I likewise
leave it available on the other side of the creek for the next traveler
who needs it.
- Dr. Martin Rosenthal (retired) uses ribs from downed, dead Sajuaro
cactus plants as hiking staffs. A bit of sanding, staining, and a hole
for a leather strap finishes it nicely. I thank him for sending me one
after we met on a Volunteer Vacation (American Hiking Society) in Montana's
Gallatin National Forest in 1998.
- You can carry your liquid gas, and refill and prime and pump and clean
orifices all you like. I prefer the simplicity, convenience, and reliability
of propane/butane canisters and my wonderful, trouble-free Gaz Bluet stove.
Sure, I have to carry a spare canister and carry out empty canisters, but
don't you also end up carrying a metal can with spare gas? And don't you
have to carry that can out with you too, whether empty of partially full?
Same difference! Except mine ALWAYS lights on the first try, never clogs
or flares up, and has few moving parts to break off or malfunction. I love
it! And I trust it! My stove is the old- model which uses the single-puncture
cans. The newer models allow you to unscrew and remove the gas canister
if you wish.
- Mole Foam
- Most backpackers know about and use moleskin to forestall or solve
blister problems. The same company also makes Mole Foam, a thicker version
which provides much more padding and protection for tender areas. You can
even cut out the center of one of the patches making a donut hole around
a really sensitive location. It is especially useful to cushion the occasional
- Tent pole splints
- Did your tent come with a hollow tube? It's for splinting poles which
are damaged during a trip. Resist the temptation to leave it home. It doesn't
weigh much and is worth its weight in gold when needed. I carried it for
years and finally actually needed it on Isle Royale National Park, halfway
through a 50 mile backpack. (And yes, REI replaces broken poles free -
even gave me a new tent stuff sack which had ripped after 6 years of use
-- they really stand behind their products!)
- Resist the urge to wear or carry blue jeans. Though they provide comforting
warmth when the temperatures dip, and though their hardiness resists thorns
and rock edges and the like, they are absolutely worthless when wet and
take forever to dry. They are also very heavy to tote when wet.
- A first aid kit is carried by everyone. But do you carry prescription
pain killers and antibiotics? Perhaps your doctor will write you a prescription
for a few pills for severe pain should you break a bone or really twist
a knee, and write you another RX for some strong antibiotic in case you
get a bad infection and high fever on the trail. Its always better to be
prepared than be unprepared and sorry.
Internal pack disorganized?
- Do you sometimes have a love/hate relationship with your internal frame
pack? You love its fit and how it hugs your body and distributes the weight
to your hips and legs, but despise the disorganization inherent with one
large compartment into which everything seemingly disappears forever? Use
color-coded stuff sacks and develop the habit of always packing the backpack
the same way. I use a red bag for cook set, blue bag for clothes, green
bag for food, and gray bag for emergency and repair items. I also pack
needed items together. For example, handiwipes go in with the moleskin
and more handiwipes go in the food bag, the cord for hanging the food bag
goes right in the food bag, matches go in the cook set bag, etc.
- Jeff Wilson sent this tip: A square of vinyl (about 18" square)
covered with cloth backed table cloth material with a sandwich of newspaper.
It is a good insulator and convenient to sit or kneel on, so hence its
name. To reduce weight, Jeff uses 2 layers of metalized bubble pack (available
in hardware stores) in place of the newspaper. It provides insulation,
comfort, and reflects body heat back to you.
- Key chains
- Those cute key chains you get from businesses, etc., but you have no
need for -- can be used as zipper pulls on backpacks, sleeping bags, and
jackets when the originals break off, or just so you have a larger pull
to hold on to. The key chains with small compasses attached can be useful
when attached to the backpack pack strap at chest level and easily referred
to while hiking the trail without having to get your "real" compass
out of the pack.
- Fanny sack: alternative use
- When I do a solo backpack, I put on a large fanny sack rotated so it
sits at chest level before I put on my backpack. Into this fanny sack are
2 water bottles, my 2 cameras (35 MM and panoramic camera), zip lock of
jelly beans for trail snacks, map & guidebook & compass, Advil,
lip balm, and anything else I might want to use while on the trail and
for which I don't want the hassle of stopping and taking off my backpack
to reach. An added benefit: this lowers the weight in the backpack and
redistributes part of it to my front, acting as a counter-balance and eliminating
that tendency to lean forward.
- Backpack liner and moleskin replacement
- Elizabeth Jane Stephens of New Orleans suggests that you line the inside
of your backpack with a plastic trash bag. Compress it to remove the air,
twist the top, and your clothes are waterproofed! She also suggests you
wrap some duct tape around a water bottle and use the duct tape as a replacement
- John Caldwell suggests : Wear a pair of thin acrylic dress socks beneath
your heavier wool socks. Your feet stay dry and the socks rub against each
other rather than against your feet.
Making a "hot seat"
- Daniel Simmons suggests you make a "hot seat" from heavy
gauge, waterproof plastic filled with small Styrofoam mailing pellets.
They last forever, won't compress, and keep you off the cold wet ground
during deer season or for ice fishing.
- That old mouse pad
- R. Selman suggests you use an old neoprene rubber mouse pad for sitting
on the ground, rocks, or logs. It is dry and comfortable and you are recycling!
- Stove stabilizer/reflector
- Mike Wilson suggests you take a 12 inch square of closed cell foam
sleeping pad and cover it with duct tape and then use it as a stabilizing
base for your cooking stove. An added benefit is its reflecting of the
heat upwards. You can also use this as a sitting or kneeling pad and even
- Duct tape blister stopper
- Marcus Hayes suggests putting duct tape on hot spots when you feel
a blister forming. It stops the friction and the duct tape can easily be
carried around a film cannister or around a water bottle.
- Lightweight tarp
- Jon Snyder carries an emergency tube tent from CampMor ($6) for possible
use as an emergency signal (orange colored) or as a ground cloth, tarp,
or emergency shelter.
- Duct tape holder & misc. tips
- Will suggests carrying duct tape wrapped around a spare pair of boot
laces so you don't gunk up the outside of a water bottle. He also carries
metal key rings and 20 gauge wire for repair jobs on the trail, as well
as a replacement hip belt buckle (cheap and light.)
- Cooking pan for the trail
- Keith Corliss of West Fargo, ND, was looking for a non-stick fry pan
for backpacking. Instead he got a pie tin in the cooking section of his
supermarket. It was cheap, light weight, durable, fit well in the pack,
and performed its job well. Steve Allison from Georgia uses a cheap $10
nonstick frying pan from one of the large discount chains. He removed the
handle and instead uses his pot grabber
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are the opinions of the individuals who posted them
and are not the views of Scouts Canada.