How to Backpack for more fun!

Strategies for newbies-to-geezers to enjoy it even more!


The system approach to backpacking

Layer to outwit cold
On the runway
What other colors does it come in?
The art of staying dry
Trekking Poles
Where to buy stuff
Camp shoes
Choosing a backpack
How to get it on
Getting loaded
Breaking camp into the pack
Soft tissues warmup
Know thy tent
Sleeping bag
How to sleep
Camp food
FOTC (Foods Other Than Chocolate)
Fiddly foods
Water works
Water Filtration
Water plus
Clean system
What, no shower?
Bug off
So what other delightful bugs await Out There?
The light fantastic
Battery of choice
Containers and stuff sacks
Planning Distance
First Aid
The site of blood
Preparation A-H and beyond
Boot Camp
Map software
Boldly going
Time out
Campfire talk
The charming night
Keeping score
Camp security
Food security
Not in the mood
The Dark Side of Backpacking
Car stuff
For the record
Home again
Make a list of all that stuff
How much is it?
Last list



Black type cuts right to the chase.

Brown type takes you through some chatter on the subject or otherwise offers contextual stories and/or entertainment.

Welcome, and enjoy!





Wilderness may be one of the safest places a person can ever be. You do want to realize that however far you may have walked in, crawling out is a lot farther. You might be hours or even days from medical assistance, or, as the Forest Service might post on the trailhead, it may not come at all. While the greatest danger surely inures to the part of the trip on four wheels, you could get hurt backpacking. Proceed at your own risk.


Choosing gear 50 years ago was a simple task--there wasn't any. The ground was softer my first backpacking trip. Fewer bugs. Cotton didn't feel so sticky after a day's trekking. Making camp meant kicking the bedroll out on the ground. Done. If it rained, you got wet. You had a few cans of food. You drank out of the creek or lake, swishing aside whatever happened to be floating. If you got tired of sitting on a rock you found a log. You didn't feel good about waking up, except being in the lap of nature's beauty. At eleven, you can't get enough.

As 30 beckons you start noticing things aren't very comfortable. You begin to accumulate stuff to make the weekend more fun. The light but torturous little daypack gives way to a larger bag to lug the burgeoning weight. Thirty's still young.  You can take it, if only a few miles.

By the time you hit 40 your pack hits 100 and you smack the wall. You have every conceivable comfort, from shower to hammock to a chair fit for wading into 'War and Peace.' The weight makes you wonder why you didn't stay home and clean the gutters.

I never finished the novel, and I nearly quit backpacking.  I'd be so exhausted when I got somewhere I couldn't do anything but hope somehow to find the horsepower to get back out.  I needed lots of stuff to be comfortable and indeed I was, in camp.  The crush of all that weight made me think I might have to resort to car camping.

The scare compelled a new way of looking at things.  All during the years my machinations focused on how to have even more fun next time out. Adding stuff is one way to increase camp comforts. The smarter approach requires system thinking to make the walking part fun too. An aging body demands progressively greater comforts while balking at toting the tonnage. The answer came to me as soon as I started working in an outdoor shop: System thinking adapted to new technologies. Duh. Getting smarter provides necessary comforts at a weight and inventory of stuff more easily managed. I cut weight to well under half and began having more fun than ever.

Here's how you can get a 50-year head start on having more fun backpacking!  Of course you don't have to be a geezer to get the good out of this advice. You just need comfort as a high priority.


Twenty-something men can lug 90 pounds uphill all day if they want. Or they can live for a week out of the handle of their pigsticker. They can pick bugs out of their ears and laugh how they crunch when eaten. What about the rest of us? What of people who need high levels of comfort to have fun, but can't or don't want to suffer the drayage to buckle knees of oxen?

Those people would be the rest of us. We may be smaller in numbers out there, and may be smaller. How do we get out there and enjoy ourselves for a weekend or a week? We engage a bit of study. Learn what to take where for a pleasant experience and how to carry it. Making the right choices puts you out there having fun in great comfort, and having fun is what backpacking for the rest of us is all about.


Huckleberries ripen in the hot August sun that burns the bugs out of the high country. Little berries smaller than peas packed with a burst of flavor explode in sensations ricocheting back from fingertips and toes into your tummy with joy on par with the cheery o.

The berries are too small and sparse to get a mouthful. Forget discipline to fill a cup. Gorge one at a time. Pluck with two hands like a crankshaft turning faster and faster until the flavor god peels the side of the brain loose that contains all emotions spilling them into a thrashing cascade of tumultuous wet splendor.

Yes, it would be generous at this point to share the remainder with the deer slavering for their cut. They must fatten for winter. But they know which mushrooms to eat. Throw sticks and rocks at these greedy creatures for they are but goats in a pretty package, and beauty compensates not for the abomination of consumption of the true taste treat by an animal as happy to chomp dried pine needles.

Breakfast is coming. The bell tolls. Arise from your placated gorge and pick a cup of les hucklesberrie to mix in the morning's take-off meal. Oats, M&Ms, Reece's Pieces, almond roca, and the coup de grace, heaping spoons of fresh, gleaming berries bursting in your mouth like fountains of joie.

August is the month for long trips. Heavy with food, you may not be able to tote fixings for pancakes, turnovers and crumbles. To make them right in paying due homage to the huckleberry god requires a kitchen-proper fry pan, spatula, Pam and a few shots of maple syrup, all weighing in at five pounds or so. It's worth the weight on a short trip. On a longer jaunt, fold the huckleberries into your morning gruel.

This compilation of backpacking history touts the sole virtue of doing it because it feels good. Spartan is fun if you enjoy torturing yourself with marathon treks every day. In this case, you have little choice but to slash the drayage to those items required for survival.

A high hedonist, however, adjusts distance and difficulty to lock step with stuff requisite to comfort on arrival. To be sure, if you've trod 30 miles for the nth day in a row, merely getting off your feet may be all the comfort you can endure. But where's the truffles in that dish for the rest of us?

For the rest of us, every step under our load is one closer to the merry fun of camping with all the comforts that make being there as much fun as getting there. We break no distance records and we brook no discomforts. We pop corks more often than blisters.

Toting weight is delightful amusement when every ounce adds to your comfort. Toting it uphill provokes even more fun. Of course there's a limit to what you can carry, and that's where this advice starts. How much weight can you wisely carry under the conditions you plan to visit? Save your answer. There are things that must be working properly before calculating the optimal number. Once divined, then it's time to match that number to the type of wild and wooly place you want to go.


Ah, backpacking, the image of bliss; those huckleberry pancakes call. Then questions begin their unseemly distortion. How do I carry the stuff I need? What do I sit on? What about bugs? Bears? How do I stay warm? Dry? What do I eat? Is it safe to go alone? How do I keep from getting lost? I can't carry 50 pounds. I can't walk 20 miles. How can it really be fun when there's no bathroom?

All of these questions will be answered. If you're of a mind to feel a little texture along the way, there's plenty of discussion on each topic. If you're in a hurry, most questions get a recapped answer at the beginning of the section or paragraph.


1.            The system approach to backpacking.

a) Duration, Distance, Weight & Difficulty.  Blending these guys together for a great trip can be a little bit chicken and eggy. Consider them in concert to derive the right plan; but you can always start with the one that's least flexible. For most of us most of the time, that's probably duration.

Duration is the window of time you have; we're saying a week here. What preparations regarding shelter and clothing will you need to feel adequately secured against plausible weather events? How much food? How many hiking days?

Distance becomes a factor of how many days you will hike and the average number of miles you want to hike each day; tempered by the overall anticipated difficulty of the route. As easy as this is, failing to appreciate distance may be the most common mistake backpackers make. You might fine tune your calculations by thinking about the number of hours you want to hike each day; factor that times the rate you think you can average. You are the world's expert on your appetite for exercise. If you aren't sure what rate you'll average, start with 1.5 to 2 miles an hour. Probably 90% of backpacking days end within 5 miles of the start.

Weight comprises the stuff you need for the route, distance, destination and duration. This tome stipulates 35 pounds; you can add or subtract as you like.

Difficulty embraces the totality of the endeavor from how far, how long and how heavy. It also includes weather, altitude, trail surface and condition; and of course your level of fitness, motivation and comfort requirements.

The suggestions offered here would be intended for a healthy person able to endure physical strain for several hours a day; wanting to be very comfortably camped.

b) Everything works with everything.  Think of what you need for the specifics of the trip you are planning. Dump everything you have on the living room floor. Empty every pack pocket. Sort through the pile and make every item earn its keep.

1) Prioritize items that solve more than one need each.

2) Leave out redundant stuff.

3) Leave out stuff you don't need.

Percy Prudence asserts propriety of emergency rations. How about extra clothes? A shovel's always handy. Extra laces. Splints for the broken-boned--never is anyone more than a step away from exceeding limits of calcium cohesion. An umbrella adds comfort, not to forget the wisdom of a supplemental tarp. No one should ever leave the security of home without a satellite phone and roll of duct tape. Spare glasses, more tape, second toothbrush and backup batteries for the gps. Unless you're a paramedic, a first aid guide could save a life. Wonderful would it be to have all these things, just in case. But you're most likely to blow a gasket trying to carry it all.

Being prudent and practical, maybe you anticipate higher risk of a certain kind of disaster and accommodate. The rubber-ankled would carry a brace in near certainty of need, for example. (Perhaps half of incidents in the woods relate to sprains and strains.) Otherwise, a person cannot foresee all possible disasters and cannot possibly be prepared to the most desirable degree for each. Don't take all this 'just-in-case' or 'under-thus-and-such-circumstances-then-this-could-be-nice-to-have' stuff. Take a chance. Take chocolate. Anything else requires a concrete (word deliberately chosen-everything except chocolate is heavy) reason for going into the pack. Lighter is better for body and makes for more fun walking.

Too light is no fun camping. You would not eliminate band-aids, hand cream, tweezers, etc. Think need. You need to be prepared for potty, burns, blisters, slivers and so forth. For casual summer backpacking you don't need extra food and double rain protection.  Lighter is always better for walking, but you must balance the weight you want to carry with the need to be comfy in camp.

This balance comes from measuring and merging distance, weight, difficulty and duration. If you must be in motion to have fun and your goal is 20 miles a day, you will not be concerned with camping comfort. If your hunger for adventure can be addressed in a junket of 2-5 miles or so a day, you want the camping to pay big comfort dividends. Geezers for sure tune into being comfy. We have to pack heavier; and we compensate by going shorter distances.

A wee stretch it is to see your house as a system designed to resolve virtually the same issues as camping. Weather, bugs, dirt, aches and pains, food, water, laundry, crawly things, bogeyman, privacy, bathroom matters, unwelcome animals, injury, boredom and peace of mind we resolve in our home. Surely it's no surprise to want the same outdoors. We take much for granted at home; and we can't take that much on our backs because home weighs like a zillion pounds. Therein lies the first gigantic leap towards fun backpacking: Getting all those issues resolved in a system of prudent weight, bulk and inventory.

Start thinking system, and you're well on your way. Start with the Number 1 bogeyman: Cold.

(All those other issues are #1 too. They won't matter if you can't get past worrying over being cold. Not many thinking persons yearn to leave the comforts of a nice warm bed, hot shower and toast to go lay on the ground shivering.)


2.            Layer to outwit cold.

Three layers in your pack keep you warm in the cold and cooler in the heat without a steamer trunk of stuff:

a) synthetic or wool base layer;

b) wool or polar fleece warmth layer;

c) weather resistant nylon hard shell.

A) Base layer.

We called this stuff underwear when I was starting out, long johns. Get a long-sleeved, preferably collared and zippered top in a weight that makes sense for you, where you're going and the season. Long-legged bottoms. Fit should be snug without feeling tight or restrictive for best wicking and long term comfort.

In summer, a mid-weight synthetic works fine. (No cotton, and that's that.) Synthetics cost less, keep you dry by moving moisture off the skin, dry quickly and can be wind resistant. They develop stink, tend to feel a little sticky even clean, don't breathe well, burn easily and pill.

Spend a bit more than the best synthetics to enjoy premium Merino virgin wool. Good wool feels great on the skin for a long time, keeps warm when wet, breathes best of any fabric; has very high resistance to burning and incredible durability. Light wool is not very wind resistant. Cheap wool feels like this morning's hair cut stuck under your shirt; and some people find themselves in the exceedingly unfortunate position of being allergic to the fab fiber.

In summer you might never hike in base layer. You will find it always very comfortable to sleep in.

B) Warmth layer.

Top: Polar fleece offers a bundle of insulation and wind resistance at minimal weight, though it can be a bit bulky and clammy. If it gets wet, it will still help keep you warm, and when the sun comes back it will dry quickly.

Down compresses beautifully, breathes well and weighs very little. It is the best insulation value for the buck. You must not get it saturated though, and for this reason it may not be the best choice. Wet down takes too long to dry, and like wet cotton, robs body heat as greedily as a CEO after your pension fund. It is possible to die in wet down and wet cotton.

A warm-enough wool top that blocks wind will be too heavy and bulky. However, a premium quality wool shirt usually cuts all the chill likely to bite around a summer campfire. (Pendletons are plentiful and cheap at second-hand clothing stores.) A wool shirt's lighter and smaller than a fleece, and breathes better for more comfort. If it isn't warm enough, you still have two other layers. Very few cinders are willing to waste themselves on a $5 thrift store shirt that's nearly impossible to burn, making it the ideal garment around the campfire. I rarely carry a fleece in summer. I always carry a wool shirt.

Bottom: Choose a lightweight pair of synthetic long pants. They block wind, resist water and dry fast. Be careful around the fire, they get burn holes very easily from popping cinders. Wool makes sense here same as top, though lightweight wool pants are not so easy to find.

Warmth layer should include a sleeping hat such as silk or wool sock hat; clean socks for sleeping; and lightweight synthetic gloves for sleeping or hiking. Light wool gloves are great for sleeping, but they won't keep your pinkies perfect while sitting around in a bitey breeze.

Chances are you will not hike in the warmth layer, either. It's too warm. If you need to wear it breaking camp, pack it last to avoid getting chilled before you hit the trail.

C) Hard shell

Rainwear in the old days, now called third layer and hard shell. It's a hooded top, ideally with a tail long enough to keep your behind dry when you lean over. Pants should be baggy enough to fit over other clothing and with zippers far enough up the leg to slip over boots. The hard shell will be synthetic, most likely nylon.

A fun question is whether to have breathable, water and wind resistant; non-breathable, water and wind-proof; or breathable, water and wind-proof.

Breathable, water and wind resistant. This will be lightest, smallest, most comfortable under most summer conditions. It may be most economical and durable as well. Of course the drawback is getting wet in prolonged precip, as it is not waterproof.

Non-breathable, water and wind-proof. Light, small and inexpensive earns consideration. It will keep all moisture out as effectively as it keeps all moisture in. It works fine for a half-hour thundershower in camp. For hiking, think of it as a membrane to hold in body heat. You'll pig out rather ferociously, but as long as you're working hard you'll stay warm. In lower temps give yourself a maximum of ten minutes to get into a change of dry clothes once you quit hiking. Getting chilled when wet is very easy and quickly courts stupidity. (More on that later.)

Breathable, water and wind-proof. The very best of this stuff is still bulkier and heavier than the other two. It's usually pretty crinkly, too. The lightest of it tends to have little durability (one layer of cloth with a coating layer that can wear off relatively easily.) It's great for hours of sitting in camp. It cannot breathe off vapors fast enough to keep you dry inside when hiking. The outer DWR (durable water repellant) finish must be kept robust to avoid breatheability-blocking saturation. This choice is the most expensive, causing it to act as a magnet for nylon-melting cinders popping out of the campfire. If it's not raining, you might wear your wool shirt on the outside to protect the hard shell from cinders.

Consider your preferences and risk tolerance in deciding which shell to choose. Non-breathable in the context of an emergency blanket custom fitted to the body can make a lot of sense for summer camping. It gives time to get shelter where you can change into dry layers. If cost is not your primary consideration, give plenty of thought to ultra-light shells like Marmot PreCip. It's nearly as light and tidy as non-breathables, and while it may not last to see your grandkids in the woods, who cares? (The durability argument will come up many times. As long as it doesn't fail while you're using it, lightweight trumps durability. If your jacket only lasts for a dozen outings, think about how many years it would take to accumulate that many!) 

When summer hiking in hard shell, wear only hiking clothes under it. Added layers get wet from perspiration and won't be available when needed to get comfortable in shelter.

Hiking clothes:

Hat. Select either a felt broadbrim or synthetic baseball cap with curtains. The hat's main purpose is to keep sun off your head, neck, ears and face. Secondarily for summer, if weather turns, a hat holds heat in your head, which can be one of the fastest places to lose it.

Felt breathes wonderfully for comfort in high or low temps. It stays warm when wet, though gets heavy and may stretch, and after prolonged wet will even leak. It also lets you look raw-West, which in any other venue makes you look, well, you decide.

Synthetic broad brims can be torture in heat, though they can be waterproof and light.

Broadbrims do a great job of keeping the sun out. But because there's a brim in back, every time you look up or bend over, the pack pushes the hat at least over your eyes if not off your head. They keep rainwater from running down the inside of the shirt collar. Wearing a broadbrim under the hood of the hardshell bends sides down over the ears, which can add some comfort. However, this also tends to push out the sides of the hood, which can gather a facing wind. Several vendors make hats with a bill around the front half and a curtain around the back. This hat's great for off-trail scrambles where you'll be doing a lot of looking up while bending forward, a movement that always pushes a broadbrim off your head. Like the hybrid baseball cap, though, you have to tolerate the curtain draped on your neck. (You can usually fasten it up, but then where's the sun protection?)

Baseball caps alone leave too much skin exposed. The WWII Japanese soldier type of cap works well for minimizing exposure, but can be a little tiresome when it's wet and floppy. It's the best cap under a hood.

In summer conditions, most of the time the best hat will be the felt broadbrim. You won't be watering your horse from it, but it makes a great fan for the fire.

Shirt: High-collared, long sleeved. You might choose a second base layer top, either synthetic or wool. Or you might reach into the closet and resurrect one of your synthetic hippie shirts. Lighter colors are better for spotting any bugs that might be wanting a free ride, most meaningful in tick country; and tend to be a little cooler. If you gave away all your hippie clothes, the thrift store will have a fine selection, perhaps the ones you threw out. You can buy brand new great shirts for backpacking for around $100. The cinder devil will love you and you'll look and feel terrific in a high tech garment made for business!.

Bottom: Long pants. Hikers bent on shaving weight will use the same pair of hiking pants as for camping. By the time you get to camp, your pants are wet, certainly in the waistband, across the back and in the crotch. These areas are slow to dry, making you feel sticky. If you don't like sticky, either carry two pair of long pants, or don't hike in the one pair you have.

Zip-off legs present the problem of keeping you in the same nasty pants at camp that you got all wet hiking. For some folks, the bulky seam of the zipper causes irritation at the kneecap as fabric rides over skin with each step.

Long pants cut down scrapes and abrasions that somehow can't be avoided. There's always that one time you forget about stobs, you step over a tree, and there it is, sharp, splintered branch letting enough blood loose to wet sock top. Pant legs over boot tops also cut down, though don't eliminate pebbles and dirt getting inside shoes. In the bug section, we can talk about the benefit of keeping skin covered as a defense against bites of all kind.

Long pants keep sun off skin. Sun burns skin quickly at altitude.

Short pants have all the sticky issues of long pants with the benefit of being cooler and less restrictive. Pocketed swim trunks work great if you like bare-legged hiking. They wash easily and dry fast. Pockets warm fingers if there's a bite to the evening air or you get caught in a cool cell. You'll want gaiters, covered in footwear.

Of course nasty elements make cold, but most summer time won't be nasty elements. Most of the time, all you need from weather, if anything, is something to cut the teeth of those lovely and refreshing cool mountain sprites. Most of the day you'll be in a single layer. Rarely will you need all three, though only the most intrepid and optimistic comfort campers would leave home with less.


3.            On the runway

Whoever came up with the mantra of finding 'old shirt and pants' for hiking obviously never understood the merit and meaning of feeling well dressed. Sure you can find an old wool shirt, or maybe even a new one, at the thrift store for a small fraction of retail. When was the last time you prowled the wrecking yard to find parts to build a truck? An old wheel can be just as round as a new one.

Right around the very next corner could be P Charming giving his or her white charger a welcome rest. You want to show up tattered and spook the horse? Admittedly you will likely be forced into concessions in the matter of color coordination, but the horse can't talk and if PC's a man-color blind. You want stuff that works, and stuff that looks good. Color counts. Last.

Someone's also sure to say grampa has a tent you can borrow from when he got back from the war. Say thanks, and make a mental note to banish them to your Christmas e-card list. Any functioning mind understands why airplane motors cannot be used until they quit and why gear cannot be used until worn out. This is true with tent, sleeping bag and all manner of gear in which you place trust for reliable service. You don't even have to wait until you are tired of looking at it, because you want a new outfit to match your new perspective of you. All gear. New. Clothes included.

Clothes have to work well. So once again, forget cotton. Cotton kills. The only cotton in your pack should be for feminine needs or wound dressing. Anyone recommending cotton because it's absorbent and dries the skin is talking about getting from his air-conditioned Caddy to the cigarette counter at 7-11.


4.            What other colors does it come in?

Camping and color have not yet married. Hard as it may be, one must become color blind when selecting camping gear. You cannot afford to fudge on the absolute of practicality when living out of what you carry. Gear must function perfectly and feel good in use. It therefore must look right, which in part will require being a pleasing, but not necessarily perfect color.

Once having come to appreciate the virtues of a product for the practicality of its function, you will come to appreciate it for all its affects. If in fact you do come so to appreciate, yet still wonder about the color, try thinking about something else.


5.            The art of staying dry

Given there's no way to stay dry in sun or rain while working your fanny under a load, many packers accept wet as part of the day. You ain't goin' stay clean and dry, so plan on not. Save non-hiking layers for night, when temperature makes the merit of that suggestion fairly evident. Arriving at camp, change out of your wets and gear up as you first begin to feel chilled, or in advance of it.

Almost never would you hike in all three layers, as you will overheat dramatically. You'll not only make yourself thoroughly and disgustingly wet, you'll have no drys when you get to camp.

Include defense for your pack, too. While buying a Duck Back cover costs a lot and works with the highest degree of convenience, you probably won't be willing to use it for anything else, such as a porch for the tent. Consider a garbage can liner. (See, you can be frugal!) Stow this for ready access, preferably without having to open your pack. Slip it over the top of the pack and slit it to let the shoulder straps come through. Remove the swatch between the straps from where they attach at the top of the pack to about a foot below. Don't cut apart the mouth of the bag or it'll flap. Do this at home. You know what will happen if you whip out your knife in a hurry to beat the rain.

Certainly being clean and dry generates joy of staggering proportion, but you'll also want to expand expectations. Squeaky hot water shower clean won't happen every day. Clean's a concept of relativity, like dry, and to a certain extent, warm. The Saturn's going to sit at the trailhead and get some dirt on it. Once you leave, you'll get some on you. You won't have a button to close the sky or a temperature adjustment to set a steady 80 degrees.

Much of the quality of life in the woods relies on your trusty pack towel. (I once had trouble finding my towel on the first morning. I was about to walk several miles back to the car to see if it had fallen out when I realized I would never be that careless. I found it tucked away so securely that a more determined search finally produced it.) No matter your affinity for wool socks, they don't work so well as towel. However, the truly in tune backwoodser may enjoy the ritual mopping of dusty legs with sweaty socks. Now you're camping, Marge!

Hiking clothes get dirty in the home-clean sense. Manage this by hiking in synthetics. At camp, sponge off and change into cleans. Rinse hiking gear to dry overnight; or an hour in the sun.

Now comes the question of weather, meaning any meteorological condition fomenting circumstances not perceived as comfortable.

Fact #1: The human body generates heat through exertion.

Don't bundle up in every shred of clothes you have and then put on your pack for the day's hike. Accept the reality you may be cool a few minutes until you've burned enough calories to warm up. A bit of planning considers the entire hike rather than the first few minutes. You're back's going to sweat no matter what. Don't wrap up so tight you get waterlogged inside your clothes. You don't want to stop every few minutes to adjust clothing; and you don't want to dampen and dirty your cleans unnecessarily.

Certainly for summer camping rain's the villain. Rain's like criticism, a little goes a long way. Any landing on you is probably too much. It brings on despair, self-doubt and the crack where the devil worms in, self-pity.

Rain can be fun to hike in. For camping it's torture. Nothing works right. Everything's stubborn. The devil keeps reminding you except for the rain, everything would be perfect. Except for choosing the wrong time to go, everything would be jake. Once again, he harps, you screwed up. Another choice rotten as a potato fallen behind the freezer. Junk decision. Bad girl. Deserve punishment. Get wet. Let rain wash off sins.

Tell him bugger off. How many things in life you control raises a question worthy of deliberation, perhaps, but not weather. Weather's luck, good or bad. That's all. Resist the devil's incantations not to care how wet you get as punishment for the sin of getting wet.

Backpacking in the rain all day, you may wear little more than your PreCip jacket and pants. For a refreshing thundershower from an otherwise clear blue sky, you may not bother with rain gear. You will not shrink, stay permanently wrinkled or melt from getting temporarily wet on a warm day. Do, however, bear in mind the following:

Fact #2: Get too cold, you can't warm up.

Summer conditions to cause hypothermia are wet and wind. They especially like to romp with their friends, exhaustion, hunger and lower temperature. Get all together, time to defend yourself may be minutes. Be smart. Know the symptoms.

Conditions making you feel initially cold have not gone away, but feeling cold has. You may not feel comfortable, but probably no pain. You don't care you're wet. You feel sorry for yourself, and confused. You want to flop on your back and let the weather have its way with you. Speech may be impaired. (Sounds a lot like being drunk. Never ever never ever drink alcohol when seriously cold. Alcohol encourages blood to seek the core and abandon the limbs). You'll feel cold, shiver a while, then feel fine. You may feel relieved to find warm rain running down your legs. If you're not in Belize, you have a problem. Act quickly.

Ignore the devil's sweet assurances to trust your thinking as you would ignore a drunk insisting on capacity to drive. Do not allow yourself to believe conditions have changed. Fetch the tent quickly and cover the pack again. Pitch expeditiously, forcing yourself to remain patient. Take particular care to ensure the fly's right. (With sleeve tents the fly can be left on from the previous de-pitch, offering the significant benefit of keeping the tent dry when pitched in rain. The devil's in dampness, however, and he'll take no prisoners trying to thwart rain-wetted poles from slipping through sleeves). Fingers won't work well, knots happen in everything and your rain hood keeps falling over your eyes.

Plop your butt inside the tent, keeping feet out. Drag the pack under the fly and zip up. Pull the duckback or liner off the pack and lay it out as a groundsheet for the pack. Dig into your pack for dry clothes. Remove boots and stow them under the fly. Strip. No exceptions. If you just don't feel uncomfortable enough to bother taking off wet clothes, you're probably already heading to deep doo.

Mop puddles and contain wets in PGB's (plastic grocery bags), then wriggle into your drys, all of 'em. Roll out your mattress and sleeping bag. Get in. If fingers are stiff but don't feel cold, you might want to grab a chemical heat package, tear it open and hold it to your stomach with knees bent to chest. You may get a cramp, but you have to convince your body the core's getting warm and start sending blood back to the extremities. This cannot be done through insulation--you must apply heat for the body to find this assertion credible. However, you'll rather die of hypothermia than burns from lighting yourself afire. Do not attempt to warm yourself inside the tent with any device that makes fire. You're confused and fingers don't work well.

Campfire? Hypothermic in a wet storm, you probably won't be able to get a fire going. Trying wastes valuable time. Standing near fire burns up rain gear. Go straight to shelter and chemical warmth. Don't waste a pad on goose bumps. When you're near your car on the last day, go ahead and use it up. Start each season with a new package of two. Stow where you can easily get 'em, and nothing can poke the package. Don't carry reusables. Sure as the neighbor kid's smoking dope will you forget to recharge it, and for that the devil saves the millennium's worst summer storm.

If it's not raining and firewood's handy and dry, start a fire and warm up. But if everything's that easy, conditions are such that you probably aren't hypothermic.

As you recover from hypothermia you'll start shivering again and may feel nauseous. Consider gagging a good sign and nibble a food bar or chocolate. You just got close enough to glimpse the color of the Grim Reaper's eyes. Tell him he's knocking on the wrong door.

Staying dry requires concentration and attention. Wet things rarely dry in the rain or cold, so keeping from getting wet becomes the top priority. Wet is almost always cold.


6.            Trekking Poles

Carbon fiber, no shock.

Essential equipment for stream crossing and rough terrain, poles earn their keep on all hikes. Poles provide balance and propulsion, engaging arm strength to help with the load and ease strain on legs. Lighter is better, and more expensive. Look for titanium-aluminum alloy at least; and carbon fiber for the lightest shaft. Cheapest poles often have hard rubber handles, which get nasty in hot weather.

Many poles have shock absorbers very suitable for sidewalk power workouts. For woods walking, shocks add an increment of unnecessary weight and rattle without a corresponding contribution. If your poles have shocks, turn them off when cruising uphill. Perhaps leave them turned off all the time. Even off, your poles still have about 1/8th of an inch of travel, and that's enough all the time.

Forget Uncle Roids four-pound walking club. If carbon or ti costs too much, grab a set of decent, all-aluminum poles for roughly half the price. They work just as well, except for being heavier.

Komperdell (also available as REI-brand) poles are all around easiest to use, but must be tight to avoid collapsing under pressure. This pole will be finicky at times, especially the carbon fiber. Expanders like to play games and rotate instead of staying put. Overcome this by sliding the section in and out as you turn it. If that doesnt work, then pull the sections to the end and tweak the pole at the joint. Twist the section until you feel resistance, and that should have you back in the pink. If there's too much resistance to moving the shaft in and out, then yank it all the way out and wipe off the expander. Clean out the empty shaft when you get home.

Lekis dont have to be twisted as tight to stay put; but if you get a pair with shocks, turning the shock on and off is nearly impossible. Black Diamond (and some newer Komperdell and Leki) poles use levers, which are hard to operate if your fingers are old, cold and arthritic; and the mechanisms like to get caught in brush. Even the snow basket base on any pole is enough to grab stuff. Unless you are intent upon using the poles for snowshoeing as well, consider taking a wood chisel to the tip and turning it smooth. Bevel the top of the tip to the shaft, and very few grabbies will get lucky in their evil efforts to trip you up.

Adjust trekking pole length so your forearm is about parallel to the ground. Reach through the strap to the grip. Pull the strap snug enough you can relax your grip completely and the pole remains inside your fist. This allows you to relax your grip as you trek, and also ensures the strap will take weight if your grip lessens in a stumble.

Walking with poles comes pretty naturally. Start with one pole until you get the rhythm, which is not difficult, then maybe two. You'll most likely have to buy a pair to get what you want. If you never graduate to two, you have a spare to replace the one Junior breaks trying to pry off hubcaps. Just be sure on the flat or uphill to plant the tip behind the handle. Planting in front of the handle applies braking force. On a casual pace and trail a pole in the right hand will plant at about the heel or instep of the left foot. Downhill, plant farther out in front to take advantage of the poles power to brake.

Poles come with a plastic cover over the tip. This cover minimizes the chance of snagging something in the store, and serves no other purpose. Remove it. For sidewalk power workouts, add slip-on rubber tips. A wrap of duct tape will help ensure they don't come off as you hurtle down the boulevard.


7.            Where to buy stuff

Serious shopping beckons, with certain items of great importance highlighted along the way. None of this gear comes from neighborhood garage sales. It's OK to get all of junior's stuff that way for Boy Scouts. You want new, high-tech, light, small, really cool stuff, and that you don't find on eBay any better than your local retailer. You need to handle this stuff and have it demonstrated.

First, survey your closet. You may not find any camping stuff there, but look at all the shoes and clothes. Do you wear everything for every outing? Likewise, you don't have to load up every item you have every camping trip. Just because you bought something for backpacking doesn't mean you must always take it. Purely for the advance of accumulating knowledge may you purchase things you might never need, same as your mother or some relative will give you things you will never want to take. Cute things. Thoughtful. Useful. But in the end, imprudent. Not imprudent to buy, one must hasten to understand, only to take. Such would include shower bag, hammock, saw, campfire grate, fry pan, egg case, etc. Other items, such as pillow, stove, varmint-resistant food can and tent footprint  earn their keep based on circumstance.

 This book and others that you will find online offer much information to help you educate yourself. When you feel smartened up, then pack a lunch for a long trip to a specialty store. Find a friendly clerk with the capacity to understand you have needs easily outweighing your body's ability to carry the attending stuff. This person has keenest understanding how best to gear up while keeping weight down.

The last thing you want to be reminded every time you extract a piece of chocolate from your pack and start to swallow is how much you disliked the turd who talked you into it. You have a weight budget, which should be under 35 pounds total for seven days. Unless you are an ultra-light maniac, you cannot be helped by the twenty-something guy who can live for two weeks on the fumes of braggadocio. Beware the clerk so envious of your freedom she finds the most ill-fitting gear to ensure you suffer.

Ask for help from someone who has experience backpacking and making recommendations regarding same. Look him or her in the eye to see if they flinch when asked if they know a lot about both. Luck into the right clerk, he/she's your most valuable resource. Odds of finding her start higher in a store catering to the needs of the backpacker. Buy your travel-size tube of Sensodyne at K-Mart, but most of your hardware won't come from department stores.

If you have plenty of time to look about, like doing it and have no concerns about frustrating a salesperson willing to spend hours with you only to hear you will buy somewhere else when it's on sale, then by all means devote yourself to an acquisition plan premised on sales. If you haven't the time or inclination for such a plan, then you might ask yourself if the last time you bought flowers for your secretary, were they on sale?


8.            Socks

Light weight wool liner socks with wool outers provide the best way to keep feet happy. Happy feet put a smile on your face.

Wear liners and outers, and carry a spare pair each. Liners let much of the friction reside between the layers of a snug liner sock and slightly looser outer.

Liners. All the benefits of wool work for your feet. Most importantly, damp wool socks still feel warmer than synthetic. If you really don't like wool, you might consider synthetic liners. They'll keep the wool off your skin, but when they're damp, they won't feel as warm. Either way, carry an extra pair to rinse out each day and still have a clean, dry pair for sleeping. You might not rinse outers everyday, but you want a fresh pair of liners to launch each day's hike. Ankle socks cut down on bulk above the ankle, which may or may not be best, depending on the amount of free space between leg and boot.

Silk liners feel great the first day. By the second they'll look like mice got 'em. Feet have so many nerve endings they may object to feeling holes in the socks. Most importantly, silks just don't last long enough.

Outers. Mid-weight wool hikers. Thick expedition weight feels spongy and lets the foot squirm: Friction = blister.

Non-wool outer socks will be too hot or too cold; won't give near as cushy a ride as wool; feel gummy right away; and get cold when damp. If you think wool socks itch even through liners, you haven't spent enough. Good socks run about $20. The best I've tried are Darn Tough, with SmartWool ankle socks for liners.

Roll sock tops down in three layers above the anklebone. Stiffer boots especially can irritate the thin skin over the ankles. By shoring up the space above the ankle, the natural protrusion of anklebones will not be taking all the stress of the shoe being tied snugly. You'll likely find the socks tend to get wet and stay wet around the ankle as this tactic does inhibit breathing and wicking. Your more comfortable and better-protected ankles will proclaim the value worth that price.

Socks on, you're ready to start trying boots.


9.            Boots

Firm-sole, at-least-over-the-ankle footwear. Thumbs-down any boot regularly priced under $100. Cheap can look good, fit good and even be made well, but won't have great support or billy goat traction. Take a few steps in a good boot and feel the difference.

Consider the health of your feet and the surface they will negotiate as you think about the best footwear for you.

The foot is one of nature's biomechanical wonders--a web of tendons, ligaments and muscles tying twenty-six bones together into a strong and flexible platform; innervated by a network of extra-sensitive nerves. The feet want to adapt to the surface they're on,twisting, straining and bending every step. We spend most of the day walking on firm, level, smooth surfaces like floors, sidewalks and parking lots. Finding such accommodating terrain in the outback is not the norm.

Think of stepping on a golf ball centered under your metatarsal arch, the fat part of the foot behind the toes. All the pounds of your weight, pack weight and propulsive force pile onto that spot.

If the thought of your foot trying to bend around that ball makes you think 'what?', you have wonderfully strong and healthy feet. While it may not do much to maintain them in that order, you might feel satisfied enough with trail runners. (Not street runners, they are for nearly-naked running on smooth, hard surfaces, not toting cargo over sand and rubble.)

Perhaps you feel a twitch in the tummy. Step up to an expedition hiker. Stiffer soles stabilize arthritic pinkies, taking pain out of rubbly walks. You should be able to put all your weight on a golf ball without feeling foot discomfort or unsupported stress at the ankle. These are very popular boots easy to find from many vendors, such as Vasque.

You say you have wretched! You probably have arthritis, plantar fasciaitis and all the itises that come with not being early-age. Maybe the terror in your stomach throws up images of torn ankles. You realize the most common injury in the wilderness is sprain and strain; and that ankle sprains top the list. You want a lightweight mountaineering boot like Zamberlain Civetta.

Aggressively stiff soles let you pounce on knife-edge granite without feeling any sharp pressure. Super-sturdy uppers (along with slightly wider soles) mitigate the forces ripping at your ankles. These monsters weigh a bit and might cause blisters on extended walks. Tape up and keep mileage down. (The alternative concession is to quit, sacrificing a lot more than a few miles. Plus, you'll be able to edge in where others fear to tread, biting into the tiniest cracks for really terrifying traverses of high granite.) Cavort about the store for at least 30 minutes shopping for other stuff, like a pack. If the boots are too stiff, you'll find your knees beginning to ache in front, at the bottom edge of the kneecap.

You want no pinching or skidding inside. Your foot should feel snugly cradled, not cramped. Make fine adjustments with lacing. At the third or fourth eyes from the bottom, tie a (double) two-turn overhand knot to allow lacing top and bottom at different tension. The bottom lacing holds the toes back from bumping into the front of the shoe. (Yuck! The evil Black Toenail awaits!) For a wide foot, loosen bottom laces on flat terrain, but beware of the aforementioned EBT. For a narrow or 'thin' foot, draw laces tighter. Laces at the crook of the shoe hold the heel of the foot against the inner sole as the shoe resists bending. Around the ankle and higher draw laces to hold the shoe close, but not 'tight.' Tight chokes off circulation, turning feet green and moldy. Loose allows excessive heel lift and drift, causing hemorrhagic blisters.

If you are lucky enough to have healthy feet, you might not leave the store until you've tried a lighter boot. I've had great luck with Oboz Bridgers.

Here's a note of caution regarding your footwear: Keep your hands or at least your eyes on it! I've had a lizard crawl in; ultimately more harm to him than me. I've had the laces chewed by rodents. I've even found some unfortunate camper's shoe several days' hike from the car!


Perhaps one of the more popular innovations in recent wilderness history remains the adaptation of Gore-Tex or successor fabrics to footwear. The question becomes whether the stuff matches your footwear needs. Avoid jumping to what seems a logical conclusion.

WPBF (waterproof breathable fabric) works perfectly when the body's cool. Perspiring piggies overwhelm WPBF's capacity to pass vapors. Moisture builds up against the inside of the WPBF lining and makes fabric not breathable. The result's a wet foot; usually a hot foot, or at least hotter than in a more breathable boot. Miracle it is, WPBF does not breathe as well as fabrics which are only water resistant. If a quality boot fits perfectly and happens to be on sale at a killer price; and has a WPBF liner, snatch it up and store the bargain in your basement where no one else can steal the glory of a good grab. Save it for a rainy day.

WPBF outer surface must be maintained with durable water repellant (DWR) to make water shed. Thus one asks the benefit of having to make the outer surface hydrophobic anyway on a boot that will at most times be hotter if not wetter due to the liner. Also, while any boot will take a long time to dry on your feet, WPBF liner takes much longer.

For the camp-bound, WPBF-lined (often labeled GTX) boots work splendidly. If you like to walk about, and certainly in dryer climes, avoid boots with waterproof breathable liners if you have a choice. (The geezer predicts that in a few more years the market will get savvy to this issue and begin demanding more choices of non-GTX footwear; and perhaps eventually integrated gaiters, too.)

Stream crossings often necessitate the security of firm footwear. Tender feet cringe at toting loads over slippery rocks; and the colder the water, the less they like it. Barefoot is a poor choice in any case, even more so if you cannot clearly see the bottom. Take off boots, remove socks and insoles; and restore shoes. Once across, pour out the water, dry your feet, put on the dry socks and be miles ahead to the comfort of a dry fit again.


10.       Gaiters

Ardent foot care requires gaiters, especially hiking in shorts. Gaiters look like mountain man spats. Unless you have a high boot laced tightly up the leg, and/or pant legs down over the boot tops well below the ankle, you need gaiters to keep dirt and pebbles from insinuating into the seam between leg and boot. Gaiters add a bit of heat, but keep feet clean and free of rubble trouble.

Mini's work fine for keeping out rubble. For brush protection go for full length. Make sure to get breathable water resistant (not waterproof) fabric.


11.       Camp shoes

Flip flops weigh little, require no effort to get in and out of during night, and provide relief for many blisters. They keep sharps from penetrating the soles of your feet. They don't protect piggies from stubs or dropped hatchets, so they are more appropriate for people who have a natural tendency towards being careful.

Wear flips for camp casuals and in water--never know what sharp, rusted and wicked litter lurks. Sharp sticks and cone leaves keep their nasty needle tips for years. Indians didn't have flips, I've heard. They also didn't have glass, pop tops, cans, fish hooks or the tender feet of an urban cowboy. And if they were to poke or slice a foot, they were already home.

Flips tend to slow a shore wader down as they get stuck in muck. Be patient, they will come loose.

While you don't have to splurge for $25 flips, why not? Teva Mush is light, feels good, has durable construction and the all out required cloth thong.

Teva/Chaco/Keen sandals work wonderfully for easy fording, but they're not Type A handy for getting in and out of the tent. They are heavier than flips, and might annoy blisters.

Crocs weigh little and give the feet better protection than flips and most sandals. The air holes make targets for wicked sticks, though. For summer camping these things must be hot. Feet may remain sticky, not the right way to get those blisters healed. And what if someone sees you in them?

Though tennies work far better than flips for stream crossings, they run a bit heavy. They allow little relief in camp from blister aggravation. Tie loose enough for night use to slip feet in and out without having to fuss with laces. Tennies are most suitable in cooler weather or for campers who know they stub toes a lot.

Some backpackers suggest hiking in sandals and killing all birds with one lighter stone. Sport sandals can offer fine support to the bottom of the foot. Maybe hike all you want in these. Perhaps don't backpack. Sandal fanatics are not prudent to leave ankles so fully exposed to sprains. Footwork on steep granite becomes tenuous as sandals don't edge as reliably. Gravel loves to get between the foot and sandal, requiring a lot of stopping. Talk about dirty feet. And off-trail especially, sticks lie in wait for years to penetrate that space between toes and sole to cause a trip at least; and a bloody one at worst. Sandals are such a bad idea for backpacking you should consider reducing the amount of food if weight is your motivation.


12.        Blisters

Walk far enough and blisters happen. Blisters prefer tender, moist skin, but can develop even under a callus. Prevention's the best management, accomplished with a bit of experience and determination. And tape.

Before blasting off, hike several times in your new shoes. Get your feet used to the shoes, revealing most likely locations where blisters might appear. Out in the woods, cover these spots with tape before they pop out. Half-inch soft medical tape adds miles before a blister develops. Know your boots, and know where to tape. Stopping a blister is always better than dealing with it later.

Perforated medical tape breathes; provides exactly the right thickness of defense; and can be gentler to pull off than duct tape. Don't hesitate to put it on or to do it again if you think it's slipped out of place. Hold the fingers of one hand over the bottom corners of the tape as you pull the sock on with the other hand. Otherwise the sock will roll the tape into an out-of-place wad.

Do not tape between toes as edges annoy neighbors to worse insult than you endeavor to preempt. Medical tape can stay put without being anchored all the way around a pinkie. Indeed, this tape sticks tight. Apply it the moment you feel a hot spot. Over a blister you often won't get dry tape off without taking loose skin with it.

'Hot spot' literally means a spot on the foot that begins to feel extraordinarily hot. A blister beckons. Do not ignore this tell tale, fully reliable indicator. Another reason to know your boots and tape defensively is the human desire to push onward. No one wants to stop to remove boots and socks and put on dressing. You probably won't, especially if you think you are 'almost there.' Here's when you are most likely to precipitate upon your trusting feet the most damage from behaving as an irresponsible custodian of your most precious asset.

In all matters related to feet, preventing blisters measures capacities both intellectual and physical. Preemptive should not now be universally regarded as the realm of deceitful politics. If anything's to make you feel better than chocolate in your billy, it's tape on your feet. Do it before you blister.

Moleskin's popular and stays put for about a mile. It's a little thick, fine if the blister's from slop, not so fine from tight. Carry a few square inches of it. Waterproof Band-Aids outlast Moleskin and offer the advantage of being useful for other purposes, but beware the thickness of the gauze. Where there isn't any gauze they can be too thin. Carry a dozen band-aids. Spyroflex has no thick spot but only sticks a little while.

Tincture of benzoin doubles staying power. The stuff's messy enough to produce a powerful incentive to wait until tomorrow to use it. A spill inside your pack is barely short of disastrous.

Duct tape deserves comment as the most versatile stuff on the planet. It provides blister coverage to a nuclear degree-it just doesn't want to come off. When it does, any skin remaining may be sticky with residue which itself does not want to come off. Gummy goo in the vicinity of oozey wounds may not encourage fastest healing. Edges tend to be somewhat stiff and cause problems on tender feet, especially near toes. But it works. It's much stronger than medical tape when applied to other purposes, for which there are many. And of course it can be applied over the sock, which I have found can be very helpful in minimizing aggravation of a nasty blister.


13.        Choosing a backpack

Two things rack up most or least points for importance of fit and comfort, or better put, the least amount of discomfort. Footwear ranks second to nothing else as you're in deep doo if you compromise mobility. Second would be the backpack. Same as not all shoes of the same size offer the same fit and therefore you try on shoes before buying, so should you try on packs until you know you have the right one because of the feel.

Visit an outdoor store with a blithering array of packs, and do your very best to dial down color vision. Finding the right pack requires letting your back make an unimpeded choice. You will notice internal frames far and away most popular. Quite literally, the frame's built as an integral part of the pack, generally inside, i.e., internal. You'll see a few 'old' external frames, meaning, as you would guess, the frame's outside the bag with the bag hanging from it. Before you buy a pack, make sure you understand these differences, and then ignore them. All you need is enough information to make you feel informed. The choice will be made by your back.

In the beginning Trog toted his stuff in a ruck sack. These torture devices hung from the shoulders with no frames at all. Buffalo hunters or maybe even their predecessors developed the idea of a pack board, allowing them to lug heavy skins of prey they otherwise left to rot on the ground. Army packboards boasted substantial capacities with canvas webbing for shoulder straps and a canvas sheet strung in place for a back pad. Luggers loaded the weight high, then leaned forward. As long as the lumbar didn't explode, the packer could carry very heavy loads.

Then about half a century ago a fellow got the idea of hanging a bag from a lightweight frame. Next came the idea (most successfully marketed at the time by Dick Kelty) of hooking a hip strap to the bottom of the pack, transferring the load to the hips and saving the lumbar from suffering the full weight. Finally someone figured out how to pull the weight off the tops of the shoulders using load-lifter or stabilizer straps.

Along the way somebody else figured out how to transform the external frame by inserting vertical stiffeners and/or a frame sheet into the pack bag. The advantage sought was a load that would not shift on the back, important to climbers and skiers and others where balance augurs critical. Due to the nature of their needs, these folks also wanted a narrow profile to squeeze through tight spaces on their way to altitude heaven. They did not care that with the pack smack on the back, no air circulates; and they happily forewent the convenience of external pockets in order to be narrow.

If you climb, snowshoe, ski or frequently scramble through heavy brush, you might choose an internal frame pack for reasons of function. The pack rides against your back and can be adjusted very nearly to eliminate wobble. It will be hot.

If you plan to stay on trails most times and turn back at any potentially treacherous crossing, you can choose an external frame pack. They ride off the back and let air circulate. They usually have external pockets great for keeping things handy. Of course if you plan to stay on trails and turn back at any potentially treacherous crossing, you wouldn't be reading this. Because the pack rides off the back about an inch or so, gravity has greater leverage and the bag might have a bit of untimely wobble, if only a little, after yarding on the load lifters. 

FWIW, this geezer prefers external frames for summer camping in all environments. They are cooler. Cooler is more comfortable in summer. However, they run a bit heavy for loads under 35 pounds or so.

A pack does nothing but haul stuff. You don't eat it or sleep in it or use it for shelter. Single-use tare weight. Your super human body will tote only so many pounds. Certainly the effectiveness of the pack makes a difference in how long you are willing to carry the load, and to a lesser extent the amount of it. But no matter how diced, you must reckon total weight. Subtract the weight of the pack and you have net weight, the capacity available for stuff you actually want.

This is nature teaching you to have fun. The more stuff you think you need, the heavier the pack you'll need to carry it. And vice-versa. Get with versa.

In reasonably good shape and weight, you can carry easily 20% of your body weight for several hours. Strong, fit and determined, you might have 30% and still think you're having fun. More than 30% will not likely be fun and you'll soon be thinking of reasons why you need to go home. Smaller persons may rise up in cries of anguish that just because a person weighs less does not confer fewer needs for comfort or survival. Not everyone gets to be a super model or a quarterback, and not everyone can carry the same amount of weight. If you have the money, hire help. But then you're not alone.

Let's say you weigh 130 pounds. You can walk from a parking lot without hot flashes. You've the strength to open your own car door. You can heft a case of Sam Adams from cooler to cart. You can carry 35 pounds. Dipstick may revel in his glory years of being able to bench press double his weight, but we're not talking about bruting an engine block a foot and half. We're talking about what you can carry uphill, downhill, across streams, over logs and around rocks for hours on end and have fun doing it. Certainly you can lift 40 or maybe even 50 pounds on your back, but you will tire quickly. Maybe you can cut your weight to a third or fourth of that if you get seriously into long distance trekking and develop the will to be comfortable with nothing but a toothbrush and a jacket.

OK, 35 pounds.

Ultra-light  packs weigh around 2 pounds. Anything over 20 pounds will be torture, with a maximum carry of about 30 pounds, netting 28. They often require stuffing  a ThermArest as the framesheet, clever if not altogether comforting creativity. UL's are for the super minimalist who cuts her hair short and spits a lot to save weight. Give one a try if you want to be a minimalist.

Three-pound-range offers many choices in bags that will hold the volume, but may not be very comfy, especially in the early part of the week.

Four pounds or so gets a day bag or climbing pack, often referred to as technical packs. The increase in tare weight delivers additional space and more padding and support. More padding and support carries the load a little more forgivingly. Climbers often are long lanky dudes so if you are not a LLD, you may have difficulty finding a technical pack with accommodating torso dimension.

The base recommendation is the Osprey Ariel made for smaller bodies; and Aether for larger. Load precisely and it will hold your stuff for a week. At 4 1/2 pounds it weighs in a bit beefy, but offers good padding and load support. You might compare it to an REI Flash 50 or 65. Either is quite a bit lighter, but also will not provide quite the same level of carry support.

At about 5 1/2 pounds you can lug the Kelty Coyote, a great internal frame pack for loads under 40 pounds. Although one must constantly fight the Universal Law that stuff accumulates to fill space available, more room lets you pack faster than if you have to figure out the Chinese puzzle each morning. The lid's a fanny pack and you've got huge pockets outboard, defeating part of the functional purpose of an internal frame as they significantly widen the profile while enhancing organizational efficacy. Fabrics are industrial strength compared to lighter packs. Torso length is sensibly adjustable (meaning the anchor point of the straps slides up and down instead of simply extending straps from a fixed point.) Removable frame stays can be bent to your exact body shape if necessary. Attempt this feat with the help of a learned accomplice.

About the same 5 1/2 pounds puts you in a Kelty Sierra Crest external frame. You might try on this pack to see if you like it. Over five pounds means you're under 30 pounds remaining in your weight budget.

By far the gravity of choice must be based on fit. Start with an empty pack. Make certain the hip belt's centered over the top of the hip bone. For pre-med students, that's the Iliac crest. For men, that's way above your cowboy buckle. If fat gets in the way, jerry rig an extension. This is no time to cheat by forcing the belt below belly. If the belt's not centered over the hip bone, you'll be plagued with a load hanging on your shoulders. Your hips won't like toting weight, but shoulders will kill you for making 'em try. People (generally women) with pear-shaped bodies have a big advantage here, where the belt spreads weight over a larger surface area than people (generally men) with carrot-shaped bodies, where the weight tends to hang from the top corner of the hip bone. Men often have intrinsic advantage in this sport, but not in this area of critical mass.

Next, standing sideways at a mirror and with load lifter straps completely loose, pull the slack from shoulder straps. With an internal frame pack you want to see the shoulder straps anchored to the pack at about the top of your shoulder blade. This will probably be an inch or so below the top of your shoulder. On an external frame, the anchor point should be about even with the top of the shoulder as part of the wobble reduction strategy.

Now take the slack out of the load lifter straps to check their angle. You want to see about 45 degrees, although somewhat more or less can still be OK. These straps should anchor to the shoulder strap at about the point of your collar bone. If you can't adjust the strap and it's either nearly flat or straight up and down, you won't get the marvelous benefit they offer, covered in a moment.

Finally, snap the sternum strap together and snug it to pull shoulder straps into the 'valley' of each shoulder. This prevents the instinct to hunch shoulders forward to keep a strap from slipping off. Too tight will cause the shoulder straps to chafe the neck. The sternum strap carries no weight, it merely prevents shoulder straps from spreading too far apart. This strap's ideally situated an inch or two below where your neck joins your torso. Too high and you'll choke like taking your first driver's license test. Too low and you'll think you're nursing Chucky.

Now you're ready for a fit test with weight. Men, take off the pack and jam a hundred testosterone-soaked pounds in it to show that you can. Ladies, the purpose of this exercise is to check fit. You can't feel how a pack fits through the pain of a crumbling spine and trembling muscles. The good test weight is about 12-15 pounds total. Distribute ten pounds in the pack and strap up again.

Check load lifters to see they do their job. Pulled tight, the shoulder strap should be kinked up off the top of the shoulder, and you feel pressure in the front of each shoulder where it's more easily endured. If lifters won't do that and can't be adjusted, keep shopping. Bad fit also denies range to tighten and loosen the pack for airflow and stability accommodation.

All things fitting so far, walk around the store at least ten minutes. Shop for other stuff. Go up and down stairs if you can. If something starts to hurt, the next phase of fit comes into play.

Isolate the disturbance. If in the lumbar, something pushing hard means the pack has more padding there than the curve of your spine wants. This means you are not like the other nine people out of ten for whom the pack was made. You are an individual. Celebrate your unique qualities. Try other packs. If you feel nothing in the lumbar, the pack doesn't have enough padding. Ideally you feel a firm push that indicates the inward curve of the lumbar is helping to support pack weight. Packs that do a great job here often have some type of gripping fabric over the pad.

If you see too much light through the lower part of your back; and poked in the shoulder blades, the frame does not follow the contour of your back. Not to worry if you otherwise really love the pack as frame stays in many internals can be removed and bent to fit.

Ask the salesperson for assistance. First have her check exactly where the pack rides, then take off the pack.

Get the stays out; probably two. They will be strips of aluminum about 16 inches or so in length, an inch wide and about as thick as a slice of cheese. (This will be rocket science, so make sure your help is up to the task).

Position one stay against your back in precisely the place it would be were it in the pack (and thus the importance of noting the exact position of the pack before taking it off). Using the corner of a cabinet, bend the stay into the same curve as your body. This will probably take several tries. Bend the second stay to the first. Reinsert, taking care not to bend them out of their new shape. Presto, you have a custom fit. You might be able to bend stays without removing them, but it's much more difficult. Most people won't need to bend stays, and most who do prefer trying on packs until finding one that fits off the shelf.

On external frame, check that the mesh back panel rides high enough to keep the cross bar off your shoulder blades. Pull the panel tensioners tight as you can. (Won't be any good to have the salesperson yank 'em into place unless she's going with you). Still no good means try a different pack.

Keep the faith. You don't buy every pair of shoes you try on. Eventually you will find a pack meeting your criteria and body dimension; or the salesperson will put a Duck's Back over your head and choke off all your oxygen.


14.       How to get it on

So you get the time off, the taut thighs and the wind to spend a week in the woods, only to blow a muscle trying to load up at the trailhead. Not smart. Not necessary. Here are directions to keep your back happy.

Thigh mount. Keeping back straight, right-knee lunge at your pack. Grab the tops of the shoulder straps. KEEPING YOUR BACK STRAIGHT, yard the pack up your shin, onto your thigh, which will be bent about 45 degrees. Get the hip belt all the way to the top of the leg to 'bite' into the crevice between leg and thorax.

Keep holding the right shoulder strap (meaning right when it's on) with your left hand and twist your torso to your left as you reach through the right strap with your right hand. If you've done your flexibility exercises as detailed later, you will be able to get your right shoulder under the right strap before the pack comes off your thigh, at which time all the weight will be hanging on your right shoulder. Stand tall, leaning slightly forward at the waist.

Change the grasp on the right strap from left hand to right hand. With left hand reach behind and through the left strap, which remains loosened from the last time you came out of the pack. Situate the strap; 'jump' up to take the weight off your shoulders and taking advantage of the slack produced by this maneuver, yank your left shoulder strap adjustment until it finds the 'remembered' spot. (Subtle touch, but straps will soon begin to 'bend' where you wear them and you'll feel when the strap pulls through the buckle at that spot). The right shoulder strap remains tight from the last time you took it off.

Raise your shoulders, like a teen answering why he took the car when told not to. Pull the hip belt tight. Hunch and pull to settle the weight in the right spot, which is hip belt centered over top of hipbone. Many belts offer looped arrangements allowing you to yank the belt ends forward. Sometimes you do this and the belt slackens when you let go. Yank forward on the strap and with the other hand, pull the buckle outward on the same side as the pulled strap.

Clip the sternum strap. You're ready to rock.

Never drop your pack to the ground to come out of it. May feel like the right thing to do, but you risk breaking all kinds of things and not the least of 'em could be bones. In the absence of a table dismount, do this:

Take a long step forward with the left leg. Lean forward slightly and straighten the right leg, which is going to serve as a ramp to lower the pack. Unfasten the hip belt and loosen it for when you want to put it back on. Unsnap the sternum strap. Fully loosen the left shoulder strap. Taking pack weight on the right shoulder, and holding the top of the right shoulder strap with right hand, pull left arm out until you catch the strap in the crook of your elbow. Pull forward to help hold the pack against the body.

Slump right shoulder and pull arm loose to elbow. Slowly lean your torso back, letting the pack slide off the back and down your right leg. Practice this with an empty pack until muscles get the rhythm of what to do in this gravity dance.

The human body will carry more weight safely than can be lifted by the muscles of the back. Avoid using those muscles to mount the load and you will not find that hot knife sticking you in the morning.

Table mount. This may work at the trailhead, where there could be a table, stump or log; or an accommodating red neck with a tailgate still on his truck. Stand the pack on the edge of the table, put your back to it and strap in. Super easy. Tree stumps and the ends of sawn logs work maybe not quite as well. You won't be finding picnic tables once you leave the trailhead and for that matter, not many accommodating stumps, even if they aren't all pitchy.

Turtle rise. Stand the pack upright on the ground, preferably with it's front stabilized against a tree or rock. Sit down, scoot into the shoulder straps and tighten them. Fasten the sternum strap. If you didn't already, fully loosen the hip belt and then snap it. Don't tighten it yet. Bend forward as you roll onto your hands and knees. Take the weight off one knee and pull that knee up until you have a foot underneath your approximate center of gravity. Place the corresponding hand on your thigh. Before you topple over, straighten up with your leg at the same time you push with both hands into your thigh. You may need to grab a few steps forward to keep your balance as you rise, so this doesn't work well at the edge of a cliff. Requires some rolling around in the dirt; and it isn't pretty, but there's no one watching. Reversing this maneuver to get out of the pack will cause body damage.


15.        Getting loaded

Any method you prefer works fine. Ergonomically speaking, having the heaviest part of the load closest to the middle of the back allows gravity the least leverage.

Consider this order, loading from bottom to top:

a) clothes

b) gear

c) food

d) tent

e) sleeping bag.

First morning out will cause you to survey your mountain of stuff in pure amazement. How on earth will that heap get jammed back in? Some folks treat their backpack like a big stuff sack and start the day cramming. Their pack looks like dynamite went off in it. They will decry as anal the more careful packers who fold, fit and pamper everything into place as if they are loading dynamite. Cramming's fast, and what you do in the rain. Anal's slow, but once you begin to feel the language of the woods, you'll enjoy the process as part of the pleasure.

You're alone. You don't give a damn. Take all the time you want with fiddly piddly straightening the creases in your sleeping bag. Or shake the larger pieces out of your pants and jump in your boots for a rapid take off. Even better, you can do one this day and the other the next with absolutely no reason at all. You can even start one way and finish another. For that matter you can fiddle around until dark if you feel like it and unpack in the same spot. If you are stuck with a partner who bugs out too fast or takes too long, be the one with the map and compass (and car keys) and take off whenever you want.


16.       Breaking camp into the pack

Look at packing from the perspective of a person who feels the language. Assume 'average' circumstance, no duress.

Mop up any condensation inside and outside the tent, as well as the fly if you put it on. Crawl back inside to sleep a while longer. If you don't feel like sleeping, try adjusting the air in your ThermArest.

Upon concluding from a meeting of the board that all body parts agree to get up, begin the exercise routine described in later detail.

By the time you're done stretching, the tent should be dry, except the bottom of the bottom. Drape your unzipped sleeping bag over the tent to let it air out. Quite often you will find dampness at the foot and head from contact with tent fabric wet from condensation, if not something more sinister.

Shake out your clothes and hang them anywhere not on the ground to air out. Get your shoes and socks for the day in the sun so they will be dry if they haven't dried over night. On hot days keep footwear in the shade.

Torch up the stove if you want hot water. Collect breakfast fixings from your food sack.

Toss back half-a mug of cold water with three tablespoons of bran. Pour in half-a mug of oats and whatever type of chocolate, dried fruit and nuts to complement. Immerse with hot or cold water, cover and set aside where you won't kick it.

If you fired the stove, wipe any condensation off the bottom of the fuel canister and lay it aside to dry as the stove cools. Don't unscrew the stove until it's cold.

Grab the ThermArest by the scruff and whack it backside hard as you'd have to hit Dipstick's wallet to knock out a $20. This frees many feathers, bits of skin, ear wax and such other things as accumulate in a small enclosure. Open the valve. Use both hands (and a knee if necessary) to roll tight as you can. At the end, squeeze out remaining air, then close the valve. Stick the mattress in or on the pack. (Folder types won't fold it in half for fear the crease breaks down the foam). With smaller packs place it along one side underneath the compression straps (which, of course, you won't pull tight until the packing job's complete). Or you might strap it to the bottom of the bag. Logistically that's a good spot as long as you remember not to drop the pack or skid down granite. If you are a folder, the mattress can fit inside.

Scope the area to see nothing's in a tree, behind a rock or somehow otherwise in the grip of the devil. Find at least one piece of litter. Nest it in an applesauce cup and PGB it in your food sack.

Shake the bugs out of clothes, and PGB. Hug out the air and twist the first bag shut. Turn it upside down and stick it in the second bag. Twist this one shut and turn it upside down to stick in the bottom of pack. This procedure maintains bug and reasonably liquid-resistant protocol.

Keeping out a tangerine, de-bonk gel and snack bar, pack up food. Food, especially anything with moisture, can make a mess, and thus the importance of wrapping clothes in PGB. (But don't give gravity any opportunity to drain muck down on your sleeping bag.) If food's in a bear can, load it same. Strict discipline with a bear can requires that you have stuff sealed in a food-grade odor-resistant bag, which will also be leak resistant. The closures on these bags can be fussy, so make certain you've done it right. Best balance in the pack will likely come from laying the standard-size can on its side. If that won't work, or if you know you have leaky stuff like eggs or steak, stow the can upright. It probably won't fit well in the center of the bag and leave enough room for other stuff, so you'll most likely be feeling a bit off center. Not likely you'll have compensating weight to fill the space available opposite the can until you've chewed off some food. With an upright can, consider loading mattress and tent roll upright on the opposite side.

Fold sleeping bag to width and roll up using hands and knees a la mattress. Stick it in two PGB's same procedure as clothes. Solid PGB technique makes airtight enough to impede the bag's efforts to breathe. If you need to cinch the package tighter, yank it up in a length of parachute cord. If you are willing to spring for the dough it takes to buy a silnylon stuff sack, the geezer acknowledges this application superior to PGBs. Set it aside. Note that no mention is made of using a compression sack. Don't. Needless weight, and the excessive compression will make the feathers give up. "You want squished," they say, "we'll give you squished!"

Make sure you've pulled, wiped and sacked any tent pegs. Take off the fly if you put it on. If free standing, and with one door open, grab the tent by the poles, lift it overhead and shake it out. Set it down, zip up the door and lean it on a side, propped off the ground to the extent possible, such as against a tree or rock, bottom side facing the sun.

Relax in your Sling-Lite. Enjoy breakfast.

Rinse the mug and spoon; don't toss the water, this is still food! Also drink any remaining water from your pot. Position in sun to dry.

Pack up the stove and fuel canister, which nest inside coffee pot if otherwise empty. Wrapping each in PGB prevents rattles and dampens any that might occur. Triple PGB pot to keep any soot and residues from mucking up the inside of your pack and gear the pot would otherwise touch. Morons toss all their stuff from the ground into the pack, either oblivious to or merry about things getting awfully dirty. And then they complain about the difficulty of keeping things clean.

Put in your contacts. Feed a tree. Brush your teeth.

Nest anything that fits (applesauce, candle, toothbrush, etc). into mug. Snuggle this and pot into pack nearest your back. Fill in spaces with miscellaneous like cordage, glasses case, etc. You've probably left the lid packed with first aid, water filter, headlamp and other gear you want at the ready.

Fold up the dew cap* and set it aside. Break down the tent. For a sleeve tent, pull each pole gently enough it won't separate and hang up inside the sleeves. If clips of a nature that do not grip the pole, undo only as necessary to extract the poles; typically all clips on one side. Fold up each pole as extracted. Never mind them getting entangled, that's what they do.

*If you're toting a full fly, fold it half best you can standing up, and finish inside of the tent. Of course if the ground is suitable, fold it up outside of the tent. As practical, situate the folds of the fly so the Fasten-8 loops and vestibule webbing end up sticking out of the folded fly. Take care not to bend the vent strut the wrong way, otherwise fold the fly any way you like for it to wind up the width you want. Fold width of tent into third or fourth, depending on desired size. Fold that in half the other way. Webbing straps should all be at one end, especially important if they remain damp. From the other end, roll up tent with poles wrapped in along the way. This makes a tight roll without squishing the tent so much at the beginning, and the resulting wad of tent around the poles helps prevent pressure from bending them in ways you don't want. The last bit of air as you finish the roll wants a minute to escape. Never allow a moron in this process, who will feel compelled to cut the bubble with his Swiss Army knife swearing 'I'll fix you, you son of a what.' If you like keeping your tent rolled up in a single package, place the tent roll and the fly roll on top of the footprint. The footprint can be nasty on the bottom side, so you might want to fold that side together, end-wise. Place the tent and fly on the footprint and roll them up akin to wrapping a present.

Alternatively, PGB tent pieces separately and fit them in the top, last only to sleeping bag. Place poles vertically in a corner. Avoid lashing poles outside or under compression straps. They don't take up that much room, and the risk of loss or damage, while remote, perhaps, leaves your outing exposed to a nasty consequence of far less comfort than planned.

If you are visited by the rain gods in any degree of profusion, you may want to leave the fly on. Release any attachments, but don't remove it. Extract the poles and bag 'em. As quickly as you can, and noting the need to keep any fly vent struts positioned parallel to the roll, fold the tent and fly together, along with the footprint, over the poles, and then in half length-wise. Keep wiping muck off the footprint as the roll proceeds. This package will be a wet pill, so best to PGB it a time or two, but the procedure outlined will minimize the amount of water that can leak out of the package and into the pack. The canopy will be wet inside, but less so than if uncovered during take down. It's now also prepared for a rainy pitch with minimum hydrologic interior intrusion; and you may consider this arrangement even when dry if you anticipate having to pitch under leaky skies.

Retrieve sunglasses from boots (safest place to store 'em overnight) and put them in your hat for now. Also extract tape and Band-Aids for blisters and prepare feet for socks. Clip any toenails grown too long overnight or which have burrs or in any other fashion need, require or just feel like having attention. A little massaging might be in order. When you thoroughly feel like it, tape up, sock up and install boots and gaiters.

Pack flip flops situated to make a shelf over the pot and any things possibly sharp, and of course inside a PGB.

If you had a campfire last night, check to see that it is absolutely cold. Pour water on it and stir the muck until there's no sizzle anywhere. If you dug a new firepit, kick the dirt back in and disperse the rocks.

Hug your sleeping bag like it's your favorite teddy bear, slowly squeezing the absolute last breath out of it and place it in your pack. Put the top of the Sling-Lite under the lid and cinch the lid straps, threading one through the handle of your gallon jug.

Cinch compression straps tight all the way around. Pull bottom tight around chair frame bottom.

You are packed!

(If you are one of the few (geezer-like) packers with an external frame, the procedure remains similar. You'll probably roll up tent and mattress inside your footprint and strap this to the bottom part of the pack. You'll parcel out first-aid, water filter, etc., in side pockets, which most internals don't have.)

Revel in this achievement as you scrutinize the area for any overlooked item. You don't want to be two hours down the trail when you remember putting the water filter on a rock at the edge of the creek. Look to see that any cordage you used to hang food does not remain in the tree. Never trust your recollection as after several days, memory of such trivial things begins to confuse which days they might have happened.

Strap on the pack. Put on your hat and sunglasses. Grab your trekking pole. Take a last look that you absolutely have left nothing but tracks.

Blast off, tooting 'America the Beautiful' as the oatmeal begins to kick in.


17.       Soft tissues warmup

Not the ones in your purse, the ones holding your body together. A lot of you is gelatinous goo. Ligaments, tendons, cartilage and muscle fibers either are goo or trust goo to attach, hold or slide. Goo cold loses elasticity and strength. Hello sprains, strains and tears.

When you crawl out in the morning, is your goo nice and warmed up? Yes, if you take a twenty-five minute pleasure cruise of mild stretching. Stretching, not strength. Make muscles relax, not mad.

Lumbar rotator. This mild stretch feels good and requires little strength or motivation. Stay in your bag for this and welcome it as a pleasant way to wake up. Lie on your side with knees drawn perpendicular. Rest your head on the underside arm. With other arm, reach as far as you can, trying to touch ground with the top shoulder. This stretches arm, shoulder and back. Keeping knees in place, rotate until the back side of the hand and shoulder touch ground. Twelve reps each, holding a five count. In a two person tent, situate yourself on a diagonal to give most room for reach, though you'll certainly have to chicken-wing. In a solo you have to stretch from shoulders only.

Leg lift. Warmed up, peel off the sleeping bag and spread it over the top of the tent to air out. Alternately lift each leg high as you comfortably can and hold to five. Do 30 each leg. In a low tent, cheat and bend the knee. Newbies may want to place palms down near the hip for leverage. Vets rest head on hands.

Crunch. Hands behind head, knees together, bring knees and head up as close as you can without seriously straining. Breathe out as you crunch, hold to twelve. Do twelve. Then a dozen more alternating left elbow past right knee and so forth.

Pull. Grab right knee with both hands and pull arms firmly straight for a count of twelve. This melts kinks out of your upper back and shoulders. Relax to ground and do left knee. Six times each.

Quad tuck. Grab right knee with both hands and pull knee to chest for a count of twelve. This relaxes the lower back. Extend to ground and do left knee. Six times each. Maybe more as this feels really good.

Lizard squish. Stretch out on your back with hands at your sides. Imagine a lizard wants to crawl under your lumbar. Press into mattress so he can't. Twelve times to a count of twelve. Focus on flexing only the muscles in the lumbar; you're not trying to contain a fart. This strengthens and massages muscles of the lower back.

Swan dive. Flat on your stomach, stretch both (chicken-winged) arms to front. Raise left arm and right leg, keeping both straight as possible within the confines of the tent. Hold to a count of five. Then right arm/left leg. Do six each. After the last rep, raise both arms and legs as you try to balance on your belly button. Do twenty quick reps of this, then hold the last one for a count of twenty.

Push ups. Plenty of choice, so don't fear it may require muscles you don't have. Do classic hand/toe pose if you can. If too difficult, try hand/knee. And if still hard, simply push up with your hands. Do 50 in any combination it takes to get the reps without seeing spots popping in your eyes.

Cobra. Yes, it's yoga, but won't turn your car into a Volvo. On your last push up, put your belly to the ground. Using arms and back to push/pull up, lift your head as high as you can and hold to 50. Bend in the back as far forward as possible. Don't expect to be able to bite bugs off the ceiling the first day.

Cat back. Hands and knees. Rock forward arching high as you can, then rocking back, arch low as possible. Twenty and repeat in opposite direction.

Lift off. Exit tent. A jumping jack without jumping, raise to toes as you swing arms up. Fifty.

Shoulder roll. Hands at sides, rotate shoulders up, forward, down and back 20 times in one direction and 20 more the other. Use gallon jug half-full and two-liter full for hand weights.

Tick tock. Feet apart and arms held out straight to the sides, bend each way to touch the side of the lower leg. Twenty-five each side.

Slow punch. Rotating torso only, punch to the opposite side of your body. Make a fist each time to work the fingers. Fifty each side.

Modify to please, including adding or deleting exercises. When done, goo's hot and you're ready to rumble.


Not so long ago--30 years, maybe 40--some folks began hatching a grand design. A grand design in response to the loving exhortations of parents to fledge into the world and do best. Remember? Falling asleep dreaming by the time you're as old as grandpa, it'll take a page the size of a movie screen to list all your worldly achievements.

Are you middle age now, wondering what happened? Are you trying to remember middle age wondering what happened? Or are you wondering what it will be like when you get there? What's going to happen is you'll wake up one morning to find more hair in your ears and less on your head.

At that point, a person no longer questions mortality. She questions what to put on that page, what seed to plant that will grow to fill the movie screen.

 Those who did, were lucky to grow up in a family environment of encouragement to go forth and do best. Not necessarily to become richest or most famous or best in any field. But rather, to do personal best.

The standard of achievement is therefore not to be the best in the world, but simply better than before. That seed is made fertile in the belief that the greatest achievement in life is to be better today than yesterday. That seed will grow to fill any movie screen or side of a mountain. One need only believe in the business of life that each day better is a profit of happiness. Success begins with a step.

A sophomore tried out for her high school's first wrestling team. She wasn't very strong. Wasn't very athletic. Wasn't good enough to make the team, in her weight class. But, two weight classes up, the team had no one. She maybe wasn't very smart either, because she didn't seem to wonder why if she wasn't good enough for 130 pounds the coach would put her at 142. Coach would only say, Well, we're going to help you get better.

Finally one night, whole school watching, she walks out to face a hairy gorilla for her umpteenth loss of the season. The opponent's knuckles drag as he slavers probably for the district record of the fastest pin. Coach patted his 130-pounder and said, Get better, fast.

At the whistle she explodes with such fury to catch Gorilla off guard and win the take down. Of course, it makes him mad enough to pin the tart even faster. She loses again. But people cheered! She performed better this time. Even in defeat, they reward her that victory.

If you want to lose weight and weigh less today than you did last year if by only an ounce, count success. If you can carry your gear two miles and two feet, that, if it is your goal, is better than two miles. And really, if you can only carry it from the car to the trailhead, that's a victory over watching another hour of As The Turd Burns. Being only a tiny bit better builds success on a framework of greater happiness and self-recognition.

And the more remarkable thing about striving to be better? Time's a friend. You may never run a marathon, or even a mile, for example. But if you want to run and add just one second a day to how long you can, then when you're a year older, you'll be able to run six minutes longer than as the younger person you are today. Plug in the goal. Time ticks by, as you have come to know it will. You get better.

A plucky but unfortunate woman suffered an aneurysm at age 31 and was paralyzed. Doctors said she would always be. In the face of that prognosis Molly never indicated she expected to recover. She stubbornly maintained she could get better. With that goal, to be better today than yesterday, she slowly regained her speech and eventually began to walk. With that goal, to be better today than yesterday, even twilighters can eagerly anticipate the progress of time.

People say they're not getting older, just better. But as a teen you could grow muscle from corn dogs and soda pop? And now in middle age you look for sales on bran. What's better?

The light of Middle Age, of any age, is deciding what makes life better, and determining to be better at it today than yesterday. One needn't be anxious as years roll by. One can only be eager. Can only say, "It's never been this wonderful, and it keeps getting better!"

That plucky woman may be the more fortunate, as she said of her circumstance: "I saw my child learning to take her first steps. I thought, what better time to take mine!"

You're not out to scale the highest peak or finish a hundred-miler. You're out to do something you've never done before. You get it done one step at a time. One foot forward, then the other. A whole bunch of times gets you as far as you want to go.


18.       Shelter


While there may be no single lynch pin of comfort when it comes to camping comfort, if there were, surely it would be a tent. Tents keep out bugs, resist weather and dirt, and afford a reasonable degree of privacy for the times you aren't lucky enough to have the whole wonderful forest to yourself.

Demand side entry, ever more important the smaller the tent. Many ultra-lights have front door ingress and egress requiring a shoehorn. The people who designed these evidently have never once in their lives tried to get out in the middle of the night. If it doesn't have a side door, keep looking.

You want bug tight, no-seeum mesh to block the tinier biting bugs. Imagine being cleaned up and chemical-free, enjoying the solace of your tent, and you feel prickly as niacin rash. No amount of solace consoles while insectivores take their liberties.

Bug tight and bear tight are not the same thing. Give no thought to keeping a bear out of your tent other than have no food in it. Tent fabric's hardly thicker than panties, and if a drunken Dipstick can have his way through them, what's to stop a curious bear sticking his head through? A tent for all its virtues is no more a barrier to animals wild or domestic than Saran Wrap is to a rat.

Mesh should be black if you want the best star view. More mesh means more ventilation, a good thing in the warm. In the cold, or for privacy, you want to cover mesh with a fly or cap.

The fly is a waterproof cover stretched over the tent, typically including an area outside the door to create a vestibule for shoes and pack. The more of the tent the fly covers, the less chance of rain sneaking through. However, fly material may be heavier than tent material due to waterproof coating. (Some newer tents feature a super-lightweight fly of high-tech nylon substantially reducing weight). Only will the most optimistic of campers leave the fly at home, though this will cut perhaps 40% from the weight of the tent. The fly is the second wall of a double wall tent.

Hybrid tents employ the strategy of topping the tent with a waterproof skull cap over bug mesh. You can see out nicely when weather's fine. Non-watertight canopy material breathes better for a more comfortable environment and cuts down on condensation issues. However, moisture can seep through the fabric. Seepage may lessen as the material saturates and becomes 'virtually' waterproof. Consider this type of tent a good choice when you expect no weather, but still want to be minimally prepared if it happens.

Low weight makes consideration of a single wall tent deliciously tempting. Expect to encounter persistent problems of condensation rain or shine. It will also be hot and smarmy if not downright uninhabitable most of the summer. Breathable waterproof material will mitigate but not resolve these issues; and both materials tend to be heavier than comparable strength single layer uncoated nylon. Single wall tents leave little opportunity for stargazing. These tents are wonderfully light, but with comfort as a priority they get a very low geezer rating.

Insist on aluminum poles or the newer choice of carbon fiber. The latter will save an ounce or two off the poles for taking a very healthy bite out of your wallet. Few tents come this way. Little need to discuss fiberglass poles that weigh more and probably have metal ferrules that tend to grab at the fabric in sleeve tunnels. Generally, a backpacking tent with fiberglass poles will be in the lower end of the cost spectrum, typically under $50 if not way under. Aluminum poles cost more than that, and carbon fiber even more. Backpacking tents with aluminum poles from reputable brands will likely start at $100.

A note along the way: Tents typically aren't 'built' to order in the store. There's not often a menu. Either buy it, or another. The suggestion to insist on aluminum poles does not therefore mean 'give me that tent and I want aluminum poles with it.' It means only consider a tent that has aluminum poles and don't consider it if it does not. (Unless you've got Sugar Pop's credit card and you're talking carbon fiber). Or, seek out a vendor who does offer menu choices.

Easton, DAC, Atlas or generic aluminum poles? You probably won't delve so deeply into tent matters as to analyze the differences between the offerings of these vendors. Once again, the tent maker decided which, and you most often accept their choice or choose another tent. In terms of top quality lightweight poles, one's Breyer's and one's Dreyer's, and if you want either, does it really matter which?

Sleeve or clip? Debate this issue along with chicken or egg coming first. Some tents have given up on the matter and employ both. That would be chicken.

Sleeves. They apply even stress across the arch. Sleeves are all fabric with no hard edges to pinch and abrade fabric in packing and transit. They are not bulky pieces. Because sleeves guide the pole to its destination, there's hardly any chance of a bad erection. (Though in small tents with only two poles, you can figure out what 4 holes to put 2 tent poles in if you can find your way to the trailhead.) Sleeves work best with patience. When pitching a sleeve tent, always push the pole through the sleeve. Pulling unseats joints, though you may not notice. A partially seated joint weakens the pole at the same time making it a bit longer, requiring additional pressure to fit the tip into the grommet. This can tear the female side of the joint, compromising the structure and leaving sharp edges to cut the sleeve on the way out. This nasty consequence is 100% avoidable by pushing instead of pulling. Of course you must pull to remove the poles (gently, especially when wet), but you won't be putting pressure on the pole to make it bend and raise the tent.

Often you might want to help the tent up instead of jamming the pole with all your force. Pole tips can catch at any structure in the sleeve, such as a vent or Velcro tab fly attachment. In continuous sleeve tents, (far superior to sectioned sleeves) the under pole may try to go over the over pole, which doesn't work. A little manual intervention is required.

Pitching a sleeve tent in wind presents no obstacle if you peg the far end down facing the wind. Don't peg corners nearest you as you won't be able to insert the poles into their sleeves.

If you have no patience and expect everything to work without help, a clip tent might suit you better.

Clip tents can be faster and easier to pitch in wind. Peg all corners down, plug in the pole tips and clip the tent up. For what little ventilation occurs between tent and fly, clip tents block less of it. Clip tents are easier to take down wet. Clips are bulky for their size and pack at random. It is possible for fabric to get pinched and abraded between two clips, or a clip and pole set in packing and transit. Clips focus pressure at specific points on the pole and canopy. Good tents almost never fail from a clip anchor tearing out, but they can be subject to bent sections where a substantial force causes the pole to try to "squirt" out between clips. (Ultra-lights like Hubba Hubba, for example, are prone to this insult. Most people smart enough to be able to count out all the dollars for one of these tents should be smart enough to avoid a "squirt bend.")

This geezer rates sleeves higher. Choose a tent you like for other reasons, and never mind which it has.

Free-standing or peg-out? People who like fiddling with things may revel in engineering to reduce weight at any cost of convenience. Poles are heavy; peg-outs have fewer. If you want a tight fly, you have to peg out any tent anyway. Pessimists laud the virtues of fewer parts, since one not there can't be broken or lost. Peg-outs require a little practice in setting up, but once you've got the hang of it, they're pretty simple.

What could be simpler than erecting a 2-pole tent that stands on its own? How about if you crawl in and feel a lump you didn't notice? Get out, pick up the tent and move it. Pitch on solid rock or sand, where pegs can be tricky. If you want the capacious life style of a two-person tent, you'll have far more choices in free-standing and the peggers have lost much of their weight advantage. If you want the lightest possible shelter, then you'll go solo where most of the peggers reside. (Pole weight for a free-standing solo makes the tent relatively heavy). If you camp in generally mild and dry conditions, a two-person skull-cap freestanding tent may weigh even less than a typical one-person pegger; though the latter would probably be more weather resistant.

Pegs. Better tents come with aluminum pegs, most of which will be hook style. Perfect. Angle peg away from tent and press all the way into the ground, including the hook, with the open side of the hook facing away from the tent. This minimizes twisting, the devil in this style of peg that can cause shock cord to pop off. Pull these pegs easily by inserting the hook of a free peg through the buried peg; or by pulling on the grommet or loop through which the peg's inserted. Pegs don't cost much. If a tent you like doesn't come with hook style pegs, buy 'em.

Pegs of the CT style are nearly impossible to bend and they won't twist, but the sharp top requires pressing them with boot only. That's less handy than being able to wiggle and worm the peg by hand through rocks and roots and other obstructions. CT pegs don't have a 'handle' for easy extraction. These pegs have notches to hold the guy line or grommet, and once out of the notch, no tension.

Plastic Durapegs feature a hook to hold line and make fine anchors in loose stuff. More often, they'll be too hard to press into the ground and nearly impossible to pull out. You'll want these for snow camping, but not for summer except at the beach.

Footprint (groundsheet) extends tent floor life, typically adding half-to-three-quarters of a pound. Never mind, because the tent will not survive your kid borrowing it. Rather than carry the weight of a typical groundsheet, use your tent new, then let someone borrow it who will wreck it anyway and owe you another new one.

If you don't let people borrow your stuff, then always use a footprint. Yes, a footprint tailored to your tent costs about as much as a cheap tent. Even if you think your tent isn't worth the cost, your comfort is.

At the very least, cut a piece of polyethylene tarp (the green or blue stuff flapping on pickups going to the dump). Tyvek is much more puncture resistant, though heavier and not as waterproof. Cut to fit about two inches shy of tent edge all the way around. This requires tremendous discipline as the natural force of intuition demands extending the footprint beyond tent edges. If you do, expect a lot of rain to puddle between footprint and tent floor. The pressure of you on your ThermaRest will force a lot of this water through the tent floor coating.

While you're shopping tents, pay some mind to the manner of material selection. Lighter tents often rely on broad expanses of mesh. Think about whether you want to have to put a fly on for wind or privacy. When the mesh is all covered, then you can't see the stars.

Be wary of tent weight terms. Most vendors extol so-called minimum weight. This is the weight if you aren't going to use it. If you aren't going to use it, carry even less weight and leave it in the trunk. Ignore minimum or trail weight and look for total weight, sometimes referred to as packaged weight. What you don't have to carry will be stuff sacks and line tighteners. Minimum or trail weight also deletes pegs and guy lines, but you want these for the fly. For peg-out tents, omission of pegs and lines to extol the lightness of a tent is simply deceitful.

Freestanding or peg-out, replace or supplement any guy lines with a loop of 1/8th inch shock cord. Cut lengths one at a time to make sure you like what you're getting, and make the loop with a simple half hitch. (Hold the two ends of the line together, both pointing in the same direction, and make a knot). Add a loop for each guy line to pull flexible tension. Feed the loop through the guy and then the other end of the loop through that and pull it tight. This anchors the loop to the guy without having to make another knot. Likewise loop in the guy line and send free end to peg. Pull in enough tension, then press the peg into the ground.

You now see that 1/8th inch is plenty heavy enough because it's doubled. You've done away with those silly line tighteners or a book of knots even a sailor couldn't make. Leave these loops always attached so you can't misplace them; and to save time in setup and takedown.

Shock cord also prevents rips. Guy lines beg for someone to trip. Stretchy lines give before fabric tears. You'll also get a faster, tauter pitch to flex in the wind should you have the opportunity to experience a mountain sprite.

Bivy sack 

Maniacs spurn tents for all reasons, blathering on about the benefits of a bivy sack. To get a water and bug tight bivy (a sock for your sleeping bag) you'll be toting two pounds plus, nearly as much as an ultra-light solo tent for a shelter with about as much room as a wedding veil. While they can be light, they should be called survival sacks. If you bother with a bivy, be sure to get a breathable waterproof cover. If it's not breathable, you'll feel clammy in about an hour. If it's not waterproof, what's the point! The lightest bivy weighs only a pound and is bug proof, but you'll have to sleep on your belly to keep rain off your face. And while it is difficult enough to keep water out of a tent while getting in and out, the challenge becomes exponentially more difficult in a bivy.


A tarp keeps rain off and some add wind protection. They put nothing between you and the ground, offering no respite from bugs or groundwater. You'll live, though you may wake up with a potato bug in your ear. Snow Peak and Outdoor Research both make sturdy tarps, but if a tarp is good enough, spend $100 on a spa visit and $6 on a green tarp.

The good ole green tarp earns merit for lightweight, waterproof protection. A fly can't ventilate well enough to prevent condensation, accumulating droplets to splatter through the mesh when rain, wind or you flopping about shudder the tent. A properly-pitched tarp, on the other hand, more often allows breeze to blow vapors away before they condense. In mild conditions you stay perfectly dry in the heaviest of downpours or sustained rains. In sun you have a perfect awning. An 8x10 green tarp weighs the same as a very light fly. You may decide to carry the tarp instead of the fly if you are willing to bet you will not encounter heavy wind and will be able to find at least one solid anchor point, like a tree, keeping a side of the tarp to the wind. Tarping thus taxes creativity where to put it and still have good ground for the tent.

Prepare the tarp at home, visualizing the end result erects an A-frame over the tent. Loop the 50' parachute cord through the center grommets, meaning go through the first grommet twice and then the opposite one twice. This lets you pull the tarp taut by stressing the parachute cord instead of the tarp. With no tension on the cord, the tarp slides easily along the cord to assist perfect placement. With tension, it locks in place.

Cut six pieces of 1/8th inch shock cord about two feet long. On each of four pieces knot the ends to make a loop. Feed the un-knotted end through the bottom of a corner grommet, then the rest of the loop through the part that's sticking through the top side of the grommet. Pull tight for a firmly attached loop at each corner about a foot long.

Tie a small loop into one end of the 5th piece and similarly loop it into the grommet that's half-way between the corner and the parachute-corded center. Leave the free end loose. Save the 6th to secure any other grommet that turns out to need it. If you worry about not having enough lengths of shock cord, carry more.

Pitching a tarp requires at least one solid anchor point, ideally a tree. Make sure a side of the tarp faces the wind; and of course, situate the tent to have a door at the open end of the A. If a second anchor point's not handy, extend your trekking pole as necessary and put the bite end through the grommet where the parachute cord is; handle down. Keeping tension on the cord, find a spot on the ground--root, rock, shrub--where you can tie off. Before you tug the line tight, adjust the tarp to fit exactly over the tent. And position the tarp on the line such that all the wrinkles pull out, but most of the strain's on the line and not on the tarp. Parachute cord stretches significantly more than tarp. Done right, the tarp will bunch up at the start, but when the line's pulled tight, the tarp will just be taut.

Guy out the corners using the loops and tent pegs. If you're good at finding rocks, leave the pegs home. If you need longer loops, tie in a guy line. You brought the 6th piece of cord with you, but if you run short, use the laces from your boots. As long as you've a foot-loop of double shock cord, any longer length can be static (no stretch) line. One grommet along the bottom of a side may be pegged directly to ground; but avoid this on corners and never do it on front corners. Tie off the 5th piece to the opposing grommet at the back of the tent. You don't want to fuss with which end is front and which back, so if the 5th cord winds up in front, that's why you don't knot it to the grommet. Pull it loose from the loop and restring it at the back. Snugging up the back prevents flapping.

Fast pack

You may come across a good deal of touting for 'fast pack.' This arrangement for free standing tents takes the footprint for the bottom, and tent poles to hold up the fly. This eliminates the weight of the tent body, but leaves you fair game for bugs, dirt and weather blown rain. It's fine for survival; not adequate for enjoyment.

What if you say to hell with any kind of shelter and carry a sleeping bag only? You are either one very tough backpacker or not very smart. Which will be determined by the weather.


19.       Know thy tent

Frame your mindset in the confidence of preparation. Before heading into the woods pitch once at home to make sure everything's snuff and up. Never ask Dipstick to help. He'll grab hammer and hack saw, items having no place near a tent. You want absolute confidence that you know how to set up your tent in the dark; and that you have all pieces to do it.

Out in the boonies, survey a level spot large enough to accommodate. Smooth is also good, but second. If you can't find level enough, scrape duff to build the low side. Find a tree or a big rock on the downhill side in extreme cases, to obstruct your body from a free fall out of a wonderful dream. (Beware possible trip hazard, of course.)

For the sake of keeping your tent bottom free of holes, check for prickly things. Waking up on a cone needle's worse than Dipstick's pretzel crumbs. Of course you have a mattress pad, but the sharpest of things find the exact spot where you put a hand down to prop up to a sitting position.

Have a look about for things that could conceivably test Newton's Law. Forest etiquette further requires camping at least 100 feet from water; 200 with a campfire. Depending on how alertly you wake up, pitching a few steps away from a potential stumbling or eye hazard could add an increment of insurance to your policy of injury avoidance.

On a surface that won't hold a tent peg, like sand or granite, lay the peg flat, pointed end toward the tent and plant a heavy rock over it (and under the cord) to pinch it in place. Now the peg has to lift the rock to get loose, instead of just slipping out from underneath. To peg the tent corners, put the peg half-through the grommet, lay it perpendicular to the webbing, then set a rock on to cover as much of the peg as possible.

When the tent's up, flop the ThermArest over it to breathe itself 3/4 full. Unzip the door enough to stuff in your PGB'd clothing and other in-tent gear. Finish inflating the ThermArest and stuff it in the tent.

After your good night's sleep, pull pegs with a free peg or a stick. Never do it the way your kid does, which is to yank on the tent and see how many pegs come. This tears seams where webbing's sewn in. You don't want to do this until the last day of the last trip you want this tent.

Find the minimum number of clips to remove, if you have clips and not a sleeve, pulling the pole through half the clips instead of all. Hold poles at center and break them down together.


20.        Sleeping bag

For summer camping in mild climes, a 20-something-degree down bag should be enough for the cold-blooded. The bag insulates a body overnight to slow the loss of heat obtained from sun during the day. Around two pounds is about as light as you'll find for an honest mid-20 degree bag that has a chance to live up to its rating. Consider the Halo series at REI. (Ratings can be tricky, and not all are the same. The EN rating will probably be more representative, and the bag will weigh more as a result. Not all companies use it. Comparing two bags requires knowing whether either or both use EN. Marmot and REI use EN; most other companies don't yet.)

If you sleep hot, save some weight and be more comfy in the lighter end with a 40 degree bag of 750 fill. Merely 1.25 pounds or so and tidy enough to stuff into a coffee pot, though this is for an image of size and not a recommendation of how to treat your bag.

If you are always cold and your research gives you reason to suspect you may encounter overnight lows under 40, beef up to a 10 bag, still under three pounds for high-fill down and well worth the weight.

Being cold is never fun. Take stuff so you won't be cold, not the advice of a moron whose brain stem hasn't connected enough to feel anything.

Don't bugger your brain with all sorts of technical matters on sleeping bag fill. Unless you plan to get saturated, get down! That would be goose down as ducks, cuter though may they be, make stinky feathers. Cheap bags probably won't have a fill rating. The higher the fill rating, the more feathers per cubic inch. Six hundred fill may be the most comfy. Seven hundred is even lighter and more compressible, not to mention more expensive. A twenty degree 800 fill bag will fit in your hat as it empties your wallet.

Some companies use feathers from live birds, but your salesperson won't likely know for sure. Don't think about it, but live pluck is no good. Dead birds don't mind, and you needn't, either. You ate Bessie for lunch, why fuss over sleeping in dead Donald's feathers? Be certain to buy only firmly established, high-end brands for the best feathers geese can make. Go cheap, get poked all night and wake up to a smelly sneezy snow storm.

Those birds have had a million years to perfect their product, so it's understandable humans haven't figured out how to better them. However, no bag will be absolutely down tight. If you sneeze at the thought of feathers, get synthetic. Stick to the highest-rated synthetic, which at the moment would be PolarGuard Delta or PrimaLoft for lightest and most compressible synthetic. Try The North Face Cat's Meow for a 20-degree bag or Snowshoe for a 0, although the latter especially is mighty bulky to manage. You'll find synthetic bags heavier and much larger than down, probably not as comfortable since they don't breathe as well. They dry quickly and provide warmth even when wet, factors to consider if you plan on dunking your bag.

'But I have to flop around a lot.' Great! In bed you cavort about under the covers. In a sleeping bag, the thing moves with you. Nothing in the world says the sleeping bag must remain flat on the ground, unrumpled. Get in it. Flop around all you want. The only restricted move is pulling one knee at a time to your chest. Think of your sleeping bag as an extended layer of skin, not a comforter. You don't hear a deer complaining about not being able to flop around in her skin, after all.

Oft asked is the question of whether sleeping naked will keep you warmer. In many years of communing with nature, never has this writer seen an animal losing its skin at night or shucking feathers. It might be quite safe to suggest that anyone promoting sleeping naked has an agenda unrelated to overnight comfort.

Comfort in a bag of flimsy and filmy nylon requires a body sock of wool or synthetic MTS (moisture transfer system) fabric. Always pack this lightweight base layer no matter the weather, for splendid sleepwear. If you're hot, it absorbs moisture and helps keep bag fabric from sticking like Cellophane, which blocks skin's breathing and causes profuse moisture accumulation. Cold, it'll keep in more body heat. Colder, put on pants and tops. If you expect warm nights but want to be prepared for cooler, carry a silk bag liner to add eight degrees of warmth for under six ounces.

Still cold? Wrap a campfire rock in the clean paper bag you used for the frozen chicken breast and stuff it in the bottom of your bag. Make certain the rock's not so hot it scorches the paper. Pick grapefruit-size to stay toasty all night; and you only have to tote it from campfire to tent. Or fill your Nalgene bottle with heated water for a couple of hours of warm. A baked potato's also good for an hour or so, plus you can eat it in the morning. But spuds are heavy and rocks are already there.

Never put anything on fire inside your tent or sleeping bag. Synthetic's made from the same stuff as napalm. Synthetics react instantly to a flame source, melting to intensely hot drops you can't shake loose even if they don't flame up. No candles, matches, stoves, pocket warmers, etc. If it's meant to be on fire, it's meant to be away from your sleeping bag and outside your tent.

Washing a sleeping bag.

Down and synthetic both agree to washing by hand in your top loading home machine using ONLY the FILL and SPIN cycles. Do NOT allow the agitator to run, which tears apart the internal construction of the bag if not the outside as well. Agitate by hand. (A front loader can do the whole thing). Do not lift a saturated bag from the tub as water weight strains seams; first spin or squeeze out as much water as possible. Use down wash or non-detergent soap as down requires natural oils to maintain loft. Mild detergent does a better job of removing body vapor muck from synthetic fiber.

Dry on low heat if you're Type A or want to punish the bag for getting dirty. Otherwise line dry in the garage. Out in the woods if you have need of it, direct sun dries more quickly. At home you're in no hurry and should not expose the delicate nylon to hours of solar radiation.

Spun dry, a down bag feels like all feathers must have been sucked out. Fear not. Pull the clumps apart several times a day. Never let feathers dry clumped. Some moron might suggest a tennis shoe in the dryer. This is a great way to beat the crap out of your bag should you have such an objective. A minute or two in the dryer once the bag is nearly dry will help fluff feathers more.

Thus the second most important answer (the first being no, it doesn't come in a different color) is that you can wash the bag. As each washing will incrementally diminish loft, consider damp-wiping as a more routine level of maintenance.

And don't let anyone borrow your bag until you don't want it anymore. They will fart in it. Have sex in it. Puke in it. Let their dog sleep on it. Probably stash it in the trunk on top of acid-encrusted jumper cables. And their cat will pee on it.


21.        Mattress

ThermArest ProLite Plus R.

In any contest of temperature between body and Earth, which is likely to win? Correct. Camp anywhere in North America any time of year, bodily comfort requires insulation from the ground if you are female or over 30. Someone twitching with authority may say otherwise, and in a second breath further assert that watching football is stimulating intellectual activity.

The ProLite Plus R's not lightest at one-pound-eight, but here's no place to skimp. Sleeping on ground comes of necessity, not preference. Carry a little extra mattress weight and bulk, and marvel at how comfy camping can be.

Properly inflated, the ThermArest holds your relaxed body slightly off the ground. This provides greatest cushion. An over-inflated mattress gets hard. Hard still keeps you warmer, but not comfy.

Twice as thick, you'll find Altrec's Exped down-filled air mattress more comfy than the ProLite. But it's nearly a pound heavier. Take more chocolate if you've a pound to spare, and frolic on your ProLite as you gobble the goodies. Sure, you'd get to spend a lot more money on the Exped, but who says you should be buying cheap chocolate?

Size matters, and one must consider Big Agnes AirCore mattress. It's not lighter, so no points there. It is an inch thicker between cell apexes, but the geezer comfort rating is not any higher. Rolling to the edge of the mattress causes a sensation it's about to squirt out from under you. It makes crinkly noises. It requires about 14 deep breaths to fill properly (compared to about 3 on a ProLite.) It's cold (torture below freezing) notwithstanding a claim to be good to 15 degrees. Pop a leak, it's a ground cloth.

Some mattresses have larger length-wise tubes on the outside edge, which I find actually help keep the body in place. REI Stratus is an example.

Lighter product comes from Exped and ThermArest in their SynMat and NeoAir models respectively. Cells run sideways on the NeoAir, which slightly mitigates the feeling of being squirted off. SynMat feels like it would be a bit more resistant to tears and punctures and comes with a patch kit. A heavier NeoAir model appears much tougher, but is, then, heavier. Geezer comfort rating for the NeoAir after several trips is high; hasn't tried SynMat. Confidence rating is not very high for either product. Probably a tough call if you narrow your choice down to these two. Geezer has no experience with SynMat customer service; ThermArest over the years on those few occasions when contact was necessary has been excellent.

If your budget priority for a great sleep exceeds being weight miserly, you might consider the REI Trekker. It is relatively inexpensive, comfy and tough, but a lot of folks would (perhaps reluctantly) turn away from the weight and bulk. LiteCore would be the geezer choice when several ounces heavier than ProLite matters less than getting similar comfort at about 25% less cost, plus a patch kit and stuff sack.

Pillow. You need one. Wrap your fleece jacket into a loose roll and put it under the mattress. If you're wearing your fleece, put anything else under your mattress to elevate the head, such as bagged flip-flops. Not boots, they need air. And not directly under the head as this will fill up space in the hood of your sleeping bag. If you put it between the sleeping bag and mattress, it'll squirt out. Put it under the mattress and it'll stay.

Sleeping isn't all about what goes on inside the tent. The first couple nights it'll be what goes on outside.


22.        How to sleep

Coyotes yip. Bushes rattle. Scratching in your pack awakens you. Creaks come out of the trees. The lake sloshes like some hairy creature with really big feet's trying to catch frogs. Not commonly you might hear snorting outdoing anyone with whom you've ever slept. Occasionally you may hear a high-pitch scree or a throaty warble. Maybe you hear a colon-contracting scream making you spit your night guard or something chewing underneath the tent that makes you swallow it. Oh the beasts that may rustle you from sleep!

Creatures large and small and things preying on them visit the night. None has in mind to hurt you. Trees often speak to the breeze. Elk enjoy wading in water for succulent wee hour snacks. Now and then a deer takes exception with the presence of a human and demands explanation. One must admire a goat-size animal drawing to itself attention of the specie with the most heinous juju in the wilds. That scream is more likely remnants of your daughter told she can't pierce her tongue, and probably isn't a cougar. Have a dry pack towel at hand just in case.

Fear knocks. Faith answers. Nothing's there.

Faith can be religious. Few might honestly never recall a circumstance when a final plea for mercy in the night was a promise to go to church on Sunday if the marauder would turn its attentions to less pleasing nosh; only to find the locus of anxiety a cricket rummaging a plastic grocery bag.

Faith can be powers of reason. Nothing wants to hurt you. No animal woke up that afternoon thinking, 'Now, what shall I do for the terror and suffering of Mickey Jones?' Far greater dangers knock at the door of your urban residence than shall ever jiggle the zipper of your tent.

You will likely pass two nights in apprehension. Compensate by finding a soft and flat site for your tent. If you lack conviction in your powers, soften problems the old fashioned way, a few belts of scotch. You will soon eschew the chemical adjustment in favor of a keener sense of harmony with environment. As FDR assured your parents, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.


In that seam between sleep and alert, she felt the ground shudder, as when her father would jump off the porch under which she hid. The snorting, a wheezing and whistling sneeze, reaffirmed a raging man with bulging eyes and hairy arms reaching to snatch out a whimpering toddler. Perhaps nothing's there. The man's been dead for decades.

The ground trembles again, as echoes of stomps crack through the seam and demand alertness. The stomping sounds closer now than when it first seeped into the seam. The sneeze-wheeze more frequent. More aggravated. Whatever's there seems to be getting more mad.

'My porch too.' The yell, not so much a scream as affirmation, bursts through the seam. She hears it. Knows the voice. For rippling moments the yell ricochets into the night. The stomping stops. No snorts.

'That's all,' she mutters past the frog in her throat. 'Tell the demons to go to hell. They will go.'

The stomping returns. Closer. The tent is being warned of a charge. She grabs a last breath, pulls knees to chest and covers her upside ear. Death may or may not be proud; seems imminent all the same.

The ground stops moving, though she cannot be certain. Perhaps her heart has stopped. A wheeze surely close enough to shoot spittle through the nylon rattles the tent. Again and again. Again. Another time.

'Do it,' she yells. 'Get it over.'

More snorts. Ground bumps. At least the heart hasn't forsaken her. She remains so far alive. Time to face the demon. Confront whatever threatens. Let the forces of nature prove the better.

A jerky hand fishes the Blast from the side pocket. Whatever's out there will face a photon cannon of Star Trek proportion. She unzips the door. Aims. Twists light to life.

Darkness recoils. Two orbs glisten yellowy green, like iridescent marbles. Suspicion confirmed: Demon doth exist. Peeved. It snorts. Stomps. It's much taller. Of course, she's flat on the ground and the beast stands. Stands the size of a goat. It is a goat. Goat in nature's package of deer.

'Deer me.'

She laughs to let the fear out. She respects an animal so much smaller in stature than her tent so willing and determined to take said tent to task for being situated where the host chooses not to afford welcome.

 'Bugger off,' she says. 'You may have the spot tomorrow. Share. Or I tell hunters where you live.'

The orbs bounce off through the trees. She twists the Blast to sleep. Lies back on her mattress and breathes deeply of the clean, cool air.

She draws another decontaminating breath to rinse out jitters percolating up her throat. 'Demons beware.'


23.        Camp food

One of the funny things about the human body revolves around heavy exercise and fuel. It would seem the harder a person works, the more she'd want to eat. Not necessarily so, in the short term, at least. Tramp a couple miles off trail and you won't want anything but a few M&Ms. Bear in mind, then, the need to eat even when you aren't feeling all that hungry. Of course if you're sitting around the campfire on a day of rest, the urge to eat will not be difficult to summon.

One must exercise discipline in the assemblage of food supply. The point of being in the woods is not to impress anyone with food abundance. If you're going to cook something, no one else will know you've prepared far more than you need to eat; and no one will love you more or less for it. None of the starving children in China will sleep better if you cook more food than you can eat. Leftovers present a wilderness hazard that must be dealt with responsibly. Do not tempt animals to enter your camp in search of food. Do not bury the food where they can dig it up. Do not burn it as the odor will waft miles and disturb the natural balance of animals in their habitat. Thus, to sum it all up, cook only as much food as you will eat. Multiply that amount by the number of times you will eat, and there's your food supply. That's what you carry. No more. No less. Make most of it non-fiddly food and you've substantially mitigated the question of how much to cook, as non-fiddly food requires no cooking.

Your body wants chocolate. Craves chocolate. It will not let you work or rest without adequate blood levels of chocolate. Thighs swell and billow in absence of chocolate. Only by eating enough chocolate will muscles restore.

Science has long known the relationship between chocolate and the brain chemical S.E.X., Seratonin Easing of anXiety. Few men have stumbled across it, as the male brain operates on BEER. Whereas the latter swells the abdomen, chocolate streamlines the female body, tightening it to the wiry hardness of a whip.

No matter how cold the female body, chocolate still melts in the mouth. This proves the efficacy of chocolate under diverse conditions, and a study of the technical reasons for it provides interesting insight.

The body's built of a trillion cells. Within each reside components called myto connivials and myto carniveros. In balance, they work like opposing armies, whacking each other senseless to generate the very wonderful process of metabolism. This activity produces energy to fuel performance, and its byproduct, heat. Carniveros advance to eat connivials, which race around to escape. Connivials evading too successfully multiply out of control, causing thighs to swell. Carniveros always want to eat connivials, but aren't particularly smart and find themselves easily outwitted.

Enter chocolate. Chocolate attaches chemical tracers to connivials allowing carniveros to find them. With as little as three nanograms of high-quality chocolate per liter of blood, carniveros increase predatory success up to 48 per cent. This boost assures better nutrition for carniveros and a smaller number of connivials, bringing the two kinds of mytos in balance, increasing metabolic efficiency and reducing thigh swelling.

In short, eat chocolate until you are thinner and more active. While theoretically possible to eat too much chocolate, years of research dating back to Mayans indicates excessive consumption improbable. Very likely, mytos develop energy in the presence of chocolate not so much from warring as from dancing. Thus, the more chocolate, the more dancing, the warmer you feel and the lighter on your feet.

Having mentioned Mayans, chocolatologists document numerous records of chocolate as the world's first kind of lipstick. The process used to refine the product, though refine probably stretches the meaning of the word in this context, left a red stain on the lips of consumers. This stain became a status symbol as chocolate refining required high finance. Red lips meant big bucks as poor women could not afford the concoction. The behavior migrated across the world and remains in effect. This has nothing to do with camping.


24.        FOTC

You might at first think there are no Foods Other Than Chocolate. However, what if you come across a victim of other-than-happy circumstance? You feel obliged to help the victim with the maternal offering of food. Your only food is chocolate. What do you do? The moral dilemma finds quick solution in the backpacker's universal axiom. You reply to the unfortunate like so: You didn't carry it, so you must not want it.

On reflection, somewhere deep in the soul, you may feel a tug of mercy if the sacrifice is less than forgoing a taste of your own Toblerone. With fruit leather or gorp, sharing is less painful. While only you can determine how much FOTC you should carry to mitigate any kind of need to share, follows a listing of types to consider. One might expect this list to be shorter than Dipstick's attention span in a home decorating store, but having just visited the possibility of being in need, one probably wants to feel she has put some in the bank in the event of ever needing some back.


a) Three large tablespoons of wheat bran mixed with one large tablespoon of Tang in 8 oz of cold water. Toss this back and feel your tummy go Yummm!

b) Gruel. Make it up at home. The base is half regular (not quick) rolled oats. The other half is any mixture you like of anything which might include: Kirkland Fruit & Nut Mix; Ghiradelli white chocolate drops; M & M's; Reese's Pieces; dried fruit of any kind, especially blue berries, pineapple and papaya; Wheaties; chocolate Cheerios; SpoonSize Shredded Wheat; smoked almonds; walnuts; you get the idea. Fill the mug about 3/4 full and pour boiling water to the top, stirring a little as it fills. Let it steep while you break camp. If you prefer not to mix at home, forego all the individual additives and simply stir in a Kar's Sweet & Salty Mix. If that isn't enough chocolate to start your day, substitute or add a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup or two. Finish with a Mott's 4 oz. apple sauce. While hot water blends the chocolate, cold can be even better on a warm day and saves time. Avoid the temptation to crush the emptied plastic applesauce cup. They actually take up less room nested. Three full ones fit perfectly in your 22-oz Tiger Mug, bottom cup foil up, second foil down and top foil up. For a seven day trip, keep two others wrapped face-to-face in a PGB held in place with a rubber band, until you've emptied two of the three in your cup. A rupture would be untidy, especially when so easily avoided.

Early snack: Nature Valley granola bar in your choice of flavor. This should be the sugariest piece of FOTC in your pack. Sugar is bad. Bad. Bad. Protein's good. Sugar's bad. Luckily, chocolate is all protein and no sugar.

Lunch: One package of peanut M&M's.

Afternoon snack: Tangerine. Might also have a couple bites of Oberto's Teriaki Turkey. Packers partial to the applesauce idea may not have room in the weight budget to tote any fresh fruit. Don't toss those peels, though. Dry tangerine or clementine peel in the sun, maybe even spice 'em up with a bit of smoking.

Dinner: a) Waiting for water to boil, nibble dried banana chips, peanuts and chocolate drops.

b) Crush a package of top ramen. At altitude it'll feel like a bloated frog. Tear it open, dump into mug and pour boiling water to the top of the noodles. Don't use the salt pack-it'll pucker lips like movie theatre popcorn and make your heart pound like you've seen Tom Cruise in the shower, with Nicole. (In fact, don't take it. Crush the package at home; slit the package, remove the packet and insert whatever flavoring you choose; scotch tape the slit.) After a few minutes, spoon in a can of tuna. Costco's albacore you may find most particularly tasty, though it's not available in small size. Vegans might prefer adding a package or two of Taco Bell sauce instead. (No it isn't stealing. TB spends a lot more than a dozen packages of sauce to get most folks into their store. They'll be glad for you to fill a water cup with sauce packets. Like any good cooks, it would hurt their feelings if you failed to appreciate their efforts in concocting sauces with the flavor power to drive you to visit their kitchens). If you take canned tuna instead of risking poisoning yourself on home-dried, take along a P-38 can opener. Yes, your Leatherman Juice S2 includes an opener, but if you lose your Juice, some poor fish died for no use to you. You might think the P-38 does a better job of opening a can, and though everything does weigh something, the original Army-type of opener's very small and nearly floats. Works perfectly on bear can locks too. Foil envelopes of tuna don't require a can opener, but they do need several hot water rinses to clean them enough for packing out, and that creates a lot of fishy water.

Late snack: Treat yourself to dried papaya, cantaloupe, pineapple and any assortment of delights costing more per pound than any piece of meat ever burned on the barbie.

De-bonk: Remember when you had to kiss Lance Welting in the 8th grade play and close your eyes to keep his pimples from spraying goo into 'em? Sweat, nausea, jitters, jumpy stomach-you know the feeling. Always have a couple of Power Gel packets handy for when you bonk. Don't mess around with the cutesy stuff-go for the double caffeine. It's stupidly expensive and shot-for-shot compares to store-bought whisky. But unlike Dipstick's knocking himself on his butt for a dollar a swallow, this stuff'll kick you back into gear for another mile. Luscious as a half-pint of Haagen-Dazs and doesn't have to be frozen. Empty packet's a little messy, but easily nests in an emptied Kar's package.

Food bars: Original PowerBars pack the most punch per ounce. Not everyone thinks they taste great; and some people feel too much sugar. They get soft when hot, and very hard when cold. But for most folks, half a PB knocks the teeth out of hunger without causing a sugar crisis. They are absolutely bar none the best thing to put in your mouth when you are tired, hot, hungry, sticky, dirty and crying.

Otherwise they're all pretty good, especially Harvest and Odwalla, though the Key Lime Luna Bar deserves a spot on the inventory taste-wise. Food bars cost 3-4 times as much as granola bars and do about the same thing, from less sugar and more protein. In case you want a reminder, sugar's bad. Sugar meaning the white refined stuff or the high fructose stuff. Tipple a taste of high octane refination and your pancreas thinks the body's being attacked by Asugar the Honeybun. The resulting flood of insulin is like being really hungry and getting one bite of pizza. Insulin overdose plummets blood sugar. You soon have more of the same problem-jitters, spotty vision and headache. Twenty years of this, along with a zillion extra calories, adds up to the morbid obesity and diabetes plaguing much of the developed world. Your body will be happier with PowerBars.

Sport drinks: GatorAid Fruit Punch mixed at twice the water tastes good and provides horsepower. The devil will cause any hydration bladder accidents to happen when you have something sticky and colored in it. If you decide to go with an inline water filter, make certain your sport drink has no sugar.

Cereal. Cheerios give you something crunchy to chew. Wheaties taste better, but take up more room and don't travel quite as well. Spoon-size Shreaded Wheat holds up best and swallows easily with M&Ms. Cereal's another FOTC carried nicely in your Open Country coffee pot, though by the time you've finished the tangerines, you may also have knocked off the cereal or beaten it to dust anyway.

Granola. Also known and commonly referred to as gorp, though it isn't, granola's often poisonous. Shop for it at Trader Joe's and always read labels carefully. Health food store bulk bins harbor evil, tricking you into thinking they sell only good stuff. You'll want peanut butter M&Ms and bite-size Reese peanut butter cups. A base of bulk blueberry granola (look for low sugar and reasonable fat content) extends the recipe, bolstered with an equal amount of Costco's Kirkland Fruit & Nut mix. Add other dried fruits you like, increasing the papaya and pineapple and adding cantaloupe. If you love banana chips, don't add more though-make a separate bag with chocolate drops, to which, yes, you could also add carob chips if you must. This would be somewhat like adding Seven-Up to your Glen Livet, though, wouldn't it?

Gorp comes from good old raisins and peanuts. Probably then, it should be gorap. Said fast enough, it sounds right. Take the raisins out and put in some chocolate, gorp can be made to taste right, though gocp is impossibly difficult to pronounce unless you live in eastern Europe.

Sugar. Yes this is nagging, but only because it's good for you. High sugar-content FOTC weigh a lot, rot your teeth, spasm your stomach and cause muscles to jitter. Taking a dose of sugar's like kissing Brad Pitt and going to bed with Dipstick. Your internals think big time food's on the way, all your cells get excited and then nothing happens but hotflash. Eat chocolate coated peanuts instead for a quick and enduring shot of go-power that won't spike your hormones.

Fruit leather. Great idea. Sample before thinking you'll want to take any with you. History may eventually record someone who will eat this not under duress. So far, chickens walk away from it.

Kashi. This, or any fabricated soy product promising to slim the hips and tighten the thighs, comes from soy product. Come on! Soy product. You're going to work your butt off carrying soy product into the woods? You think you can live on hardened tofu when there's chocolate being thrown out in the real world? Chew on fir twigs instead-they're already there and they have less salt.

Notice some things about the FOTC in this list. First, none requires cooking. (Dry ramen's tasty and crunchy, in fact). Get a full dose of bulk, fiber, protein, carbs and a prudent portion of fat. Tuna gives great protein for durable go power; and if you dry it in a food dryer you can reduce weight from about 8 oz a can to about an ounce in a baggie. Or you might carry the individual-size can if cat food grade suits you. Tangerines keep your teeth from falling out; compact packages of flavor and vitamins with disposable if not altogether edible wrappers obliging minimal tare weight. Garbage amounts to plastic wrappers that nest together in an empty applesauce cup. Everything's quick, tidy and fit for a week with no special attention.


25.        Fiddly foods

Grape tomatoes, kiwis, grapes, etc. These are heavy and require special treatment, but you might have a craving and a reason to take a portion or two. Use a baggie as a primary container, and transport in your coffee pot to minimize bruising and consequent leaking.

Pita bread with Swiss cheese or mozzarella. Make in advance and they're not fiddly food as they can be eaten with no further prep, though better when heated. Pitas travel well. Check them daily. If moisture builds up and you find any beginnings of mold, dry them in the sun, making sure to guard them at arm's reach. One-ounce mozzarella sticks make great snacks with chocolate.

Chicken. Cook a skinless boneless chicken breast and freeze it the night before you leave. Transport in a cooler to the trailhead. Triple-wrapped in plastic and then once in a paper sack, wrap in fleece at the trailhead. It will stay frozen for hours. (So you risk getting a little food odor on your jacket-add a whiff of adventure to your life). Plop it in your coffee pot of boiling water for a few minutes and enjoy a high-brow dinner your first night out. Rinse the primary baggie and save this for your garbage sack. Burn the paper bag, or, if it's perfectly unadulterated, maybe save it to wrap a campfire rock that you stuff in your sleeping bag to toast your toes while you await your prince. Probably one in twelve campsites will have a rack of some kind for braising the chicken over fire, or you might skewer it on a stick. Served in a warm onion roll with heated cheese, this kind of malibu will make a person far happier than the one your college roomie got knocked up in.

On cooking over a campfire: Use care. You never know what pcb's and pvc's remain actively poisonous from some moron's inferno of plastic, batteries, beer cans and anything else he was stupid enough to throw in the fire. This adds up to yet another reason to avoid car-close and horse or 4x4 camps. You might find yourself needing such a camp, but don't expose food to it. Not the worst idea for several reasons is cleaning the firepit first, a procedure covered later. However, it won't help backpacking to clean up after horse and 4x4 pigs. Camp there if you have to. Don't heat food over their fire pits.

Rice. Buy Uncle Ben's minute rice in boil bags. You'll have cous cous the next night, so cut the bag open cleanly to be able to close up with a twist tie for re-use. Boil bags cook perfectly with almost no cleanup. Be sure to keep an eye on the water level, as you will have a serious mess if the bag melts against a dry pot wall. Rinse the bag in the cook water before pouring the water around the edges of the coals. Spoon the rice in your mug and season with a packet of TBS.

Beans. Cook and season same as rice. This meal takes longer, but you have time to eat more banana chips and chocolate drops. Soak the beans during a rest day so they'll cook faster at night, about 90 minutes. Or zip 'em up in two or three bags and carry them soaking in your upright coffee pot during the day so they'll cook faster when you get to your next camp. If you do follow the suggestion for a rest day, put 'em in water in the morning and let 'em soak all day in camp instead of carrying soaked beans around all day. Plastic vegetable bags make good soakers, though you can't be certain they won't leak. That's why to carry them inside the upright coffee pot, so nothing ugly will come of it.

If TBS packets bring images of Dipstick gagging down his gorditas or the stench of the aftermath of burritos, try a pinch of salt from the nuke packet left over from top ramen. Or season with a tablespoon or two of a freeze-dried bean dinner.

Freeze dried. A miracle of modern technology, these foods require only boiling water and ten minutes to reconstitute their original, kitchen-cooked taste, texture and appearance. Be prepared for puckery lips, which may be fine if you anticipate a showing of the handsome knight. Trying to live on these for much more than a day will make your heart hammer and you'll accumulate a lot of packaging.

Instant soup. Marachan instant soups require careful handling in transit, and like other freeze drieds can't be gobbled without water, main reason being first to triple-rinse cold the salt overdose. They are tasty and otherwise wonderfully convenient. Also, the leftover Styrofoam cup nicely stashes moron-left glass shards that you as an enlightened camper carry out. You could repackage to Ziploc's, but when you crush the noodles to make 'em fit, sharp ends poke the bag.

Now about those fancy cookbooks that make backpack cooking sound wonderful-get real. If you have a mule with you to carry all that stuff, how alone are you? You have a coffee pot, a mug, a plastic spoon and some packets of TBS. Save the soufflé for back at the ranch. Your mission's to relax, not to impress the ants.

Food's high-weight and the longer out, then of course the more you carry. Having wallowed through a litany of food choices, how much food do you really need to enjoy a seven day outing? Not very much. Mostly, something to set your mind at ease, keep the sugar level balanced; and ooze out enough protein to fire the metabolic rate.

Chocolate. Pounds of it. Anything not tasting good with chocolate should be left for Dipstick with a note on how to get it out of the garbage.

Remember rodents have nothing to do but find food, and sex once in a while. Hmmm. Well, never mind him. Rodents aren't too finicky about what they will have their way with. They'll eat lip balm and toothpaste and soap. If it smells like it could be food, rodents behave like a high school wrestler, they eat it.

Initially you might think you wouldn't mind sharing a bit of your ration with the cute and always hungry varmint. Look beyond what you're thinking in that regard. You don't want rodents in your rice--hard to pick out the black pellets, especially wild rice.

In many areas you won't need to take much more precaution than you would at home when relatives come. Don't leave food in sight. Don't put food in your tent even if you're in the tent. Odor lingers. Bears follow their nose. Rodents will chew through while you sleep. Rodents and birds will not bother food that's hanging tied shut (as later discussed) from a six-foot-high limb because the bag's slick and they know they can't get traction on it. This does not mean they won't chew the cord to make the bag fall, but life offers few certainties.  Six feet is not high enough to keep a bear out of your food. Remember that a fed bear is going to be a dead bear.


26.        Cookware

The human body and mind desire ritual. Though you may need no food cooked, you may feel a need to cook something anyway. Boil water for your hot chocolate. The actions to make this happen, and gurgling water put your mind to ease about the necessity of preparing food and the stomach's demand for it. After a few days you will become accustomed to a feeling in your stomach not the familiar nagging to put something in it but rather a signal it's not overly full. Science cannot explain why, but out in the wilds, this signal does not create the kind of alarm that at home sends victims flailing through the Tupperware. It merely means to say the stomach is there if you need it, and long as you boil water you won't. Maybe you nibble a few banana chips and M&M's while you tend the fire.

Multi-tool. If fussy how you open packages of chocolate, you want a new Leatherman with scissors. Swiss Army has the right idea on knives and scissors. However, you will find pliers as necessary as scissors. Get a Leatherman Juice S2 with cutters and pinchers. It includes a multitude of other useful tools, minus the stabby corkscrew you don't need, all at a weight just under 4 1/2 oz. The Juice line's smaller than gorilla-sized and slightly curved. It fits smaller hands better. You also need new. Older handles have square edges. If someone at home says 'here, save 60 bucks and take mine,' you have the perfect response: 'They hurt when I squeeze the handles.' Besides, he's only offering because he thinks you'll lose it; so he can buy an even bigger tool while you're gone.   

Pot. Open Country 40oz coffee pot. No need to carry the innards, of course, as you'll be getting your caffeine from the Double Chocolate Power Gel you had as a mid-afternoon snack. When you use the pot in a campfire, be sure to screw the plastic knob in the lid from the underside just far enough up to make it stay. Otherwise, fire will lick over the top of the pot and melt this. (Or smash a wad of clean crumpled foil into the hole to fill it). Never scrub with sand no matter how many boy scout manuals you've read. This pot's going to get very black on the outside, which helps it absorb heat, meaningful for when you have to carry the fuel you use to cook. Stow the pot in several layers of plastic bags. At home, wash out the inside with a synthetic scrubber and dish soap.

For bonus points, this pot works fine for washing socks and individual garments (come on, you're boiling it later), filling the gallon jug from shallow sources, adding an increment of water lugging capacity and cleaning firepits.

If you are mad at Dipstick, buy Snowpeak's Titanium 40-oz pot. It doesn't work noticeably better, doesn't weigh particularly less and crushes more easily in the pack. But it's stupidly expensive and no one else will have one. You can always remind him of that stuff about cooking in aluminum. If he can't remember, say 'That's what I mean.'

Cup.  Tiger Mug 22oz. Don't drink from your pot for several reasons. First and foremost, it'll burn your lips. Who needs blistered chops if Princess Charming shows up hungry for a lip lock? Second, you want to keep your pot in production, especially if you have to boil water for the next day. The mug's relatively light, won't burn your lips or hands, keeps stuff hot for a long time, feels good in the lap when warm and the tight-fitting lid limits spills. Think how important it is to have a hot cup of chocolate in your hands for half of the hour and a half it takes to cook beans and you'll see why you need this. When you realize how badly, you will be less likely to set it close to the fire.

Spoon. PermaWare. Remarkably light, and one's enough, as these don't break easily. If you're dainty, take the teaspoon. No need for fork or knife.

You might bring along a pair of chopsticks from your last Chinese outing. You may not use them to eat, but if you need to get a fire started, you have the beginnings of kindling.

So pleasant after dinner, now, with no dishes and no kids to fight with over doing 'em. No broken china or spills. The only whine you have to think about is whether you should have brought a chardonnay to go with the tuna.

Stove. Never use ANY KIND OF stove inside your tent, no matter the conditions outside.

Maybe a stove isn't really cookware, and it has applications offering benefits beyond immediate sustenance. But here's a good place to cover it. You want SnowPeak's Gigapower with the piezo, of course. The option to light with the push of a button's always fun and in the rain can make you feel less clumsy than trying to strike a wet match. (Which is the reason to carry a dozen Storm Matches and a Bic lighter; and if you're in a wet environment, magnesium fire starter). Gigapower weighs under a quarter-pound and costs less than half of one truck tire.

With a laundry marker write a number on the bottom of the fuel canister. One is a good number to start. The next can, in the event you have more than one at a time in your pack or house, would be two. Never use number two until number one is empty. If number one isn't empty but may not last the trip, draw a line through its number and save for a picnic. You can't tell how much fuel's in a can, you just 'know' from the times used how much ought to be left. When in doubt, drop five bucks for a new can. This is not a big money matter, though having adequate fuel is potentially critical.

Whether to carry a stove when you can have a fire is a question only you will be able to answer from experience and circumstance. With a fire, of course, you don't need a stove. Fire isn't always safe or convenient. In a turn of bad weather, being able to get hot water fast can make the difference between quick comfort or half-an-hour of suffering. In a deluge, a campfire can be hard to start. For under 3/4 of a pound you have heat for bringing to boil about ten mugs of water. If the weight doesn't matter, though surely it must, you might well carry a stove for insurance.

Unless you are an expedition camper, meaning well-seasoned and needing lots of heat in extreme conditions, do not consider liquid fuel. These stoves require more attention to operate and (unlikely as it may be) risk leaks and mass ruination of gear. Skip to the beginning of the next chapter if you are satisfied with this suggestion.

Green fanatics complain that fuel canisters are not refillable. True. You carry out moron-left trash, which compensates. Liquid fuel users have a container of fuel at home which itself is not recyclable and probably they have no way of refilling it without burning up an awful lot of SUV gas trying to find a place that sells bulk white gas.

Weight misers decry the necessity of carrying out the empty canister. They seem to forget that liquid fuel stoves require round trip toting of a fuel container.

The number of things to remember and do when operating a canister stove are so few as to make them more user-friendly than a match. In dark, wind, cold, and a hurry when matches won't stay lit long enough to light the liquid fuel stove it becomes a virtual certainty the devil will have his way. The only question's whether you burn up a few twigs or your face.

Canister stoves also burn clean instantly, requiring no sooty warm-ups and emitting no smoke into the atmosphere, another consideration for the truly fanatical green. They may not work adequately in snow unless you put a chemical warmer on the can. Snow camping is another matter.

Budget misers note canister fuel costs about ten times as much per unit of heat output. However, the Gigapower costs half or less than an adjustable flame liquid fuel model. You probably will not use a stove as many times as necessary for the total cost of liquid fuel to be less. And the difference is 40 cents for your mug of chocolate instead of four. Each time you drink up you're spending a few bits more on fuel. Each time you put liquid fuel in your pack, you risk wrecking a thousand dollars of stuff; not to mention second degree burns if you make a big boo boom.

This book's about spending a summer week alone in the wilderness where you can have a campfire. A liquid fuel stove makes no sense.


27.        Water works

If you're disposed to wearing a hard hat to protect against the possibility of being struck by meteorites, you may be concerned about the hazards of excessive water intake. It may be possible to flush vitals from the body. And next time you're in the shower and the doorbell rings, it's probably Publisher's Clearing House delivering your $10,000,000 check.

Drink until pee's clear. GatorAid and others are great if you like it and want to carry it. Plain old water's the grandpappy of all hydration. Drink and be merry.

Don't drink, from being stubborn or poorly prepared or unlucky, and risk difficulty. Muscles cramp. You'll soon stop up tighter than tamped sawdust. You might not like stopping to piddle. You'll really not like quads seizing the moment you leap from one rock to the next; or breaking a nail digging a potty hole you can fill with nothing but unrewarded resolve.

When your mouth feels brushed with Elmer's Glue, hit the hydration hose. Or, drink three quarts a day in reasonably even increments. If the turkey jerky makes you thirsty, drink more.


28.        Water Filtration

Katadyne Hiker for performance, weight, size, reliability and economy. Gallon jug, 2-liter bottle, paint strainer.

Not in 30 years has it been safe to drink raw water if ever it was. You may not be well advised to try now. Treatment chemicals taste terrible. Iodine takes half-an-hour and chlorine requires waiting four hours. Boiling isn't always convenient, especially if you want a cool draft of sparkling mountain aqua. You may even find a spring, but you can't be certain it's safe. You are now in the Crockett family, but still, if you found it, so did other creatures. Some of them may go potty right there in the spring.

For highest protection, get a First Need purifier. It's also the fastest, among the more reliable and accommodates no maintenance. It's not lightest or smallest or most popular, and costs more. Purifier means it traps viruses. These bugs aren't common in the US, though if unfortunate enough to get one, you could have an uncommon amount of difficulty.

If you feel comfortably confident a virus is a piece of bad luck without your name on it, reach for the Katadyne Hiker. You'll have a fast and reliable filter among the lightest and requiring no maintenance.

Algae, which you never know when you'll encounter, offer a reason worth considering in your choice of filters. The MSR and Sweetwater units can be cleaned of this muck, perhaps compensating for taking nearly three times as long to fill a 2-liter bottle-about 9 minutes compared to about 3 1/2. These filters can be cleaned in the field, and must be frequently. Cleaning's always a hassle and usually required at inopportune times, such as in a hurry to get things done before dark when bugs are swarming. Cleaning in the field exposes the filter to the possibility of contamination. Going to the trouble of filtering water and getting a bug anyway would really be the, ah, well, you know. First Need suggests backflushing to eject junk, a process requiring clean water and that seems not to accomplish much. Swish the Hiker element in hot (not boiling) water and flick it to get it going again if it begins to feel a little stiff. Perhaps the better idea is to save green or brown water for boiling, since running it through any filter risks incapacitating it anyway. And just be careful not to suck up any frog hair from the bottom of the stream or lake.

Manufacturers bold enough to make a claim about a product that can be ruined in one cup of muck like to claim up to a hundred gallons of capacity or even more-even a million. Using care to avoid the muckiest stuff, assume a capacity of 50 gallons. You'll use half-a-gallon a day of filtered water on average, (the other half boiled at night) but be safe and double that. Expect a capacity of 50 days of camping. If you're able to camp 10 days a year, your filter element should last 5 years. Clean the leaves of the filter in the shower spray at home, and probably double that.

One needn't fuss over when to replace the element. When effort to make water go through it becomes noticeable, put in a new one next trip. MSR Mini-Works provides a measuring device to determine when to replace the element. Sweetwater has you eyeball for black streaks showing through.

Newer filter technology from Sawyer employs tubes that, they claim, will never fill up. However, a careful reading of the fine print says it will never fill up so long as you don't contaminate the filter with the types of muck that can fill it. It's new, offered in a variety of configurations and not deadly expensive. One adaptation puts a filter in your hydration bladder hose, so you dump raw water into the bag. Convenient. Super light. Not going to work with sugared mixes in the water, and you've put potentially contaminated water in your hydration bladder, an issue if you can't use the filter for any reason.

If you can look at water and know when safety requires chemical virus treatment, you can tote a small bottle of iodine pills called Portable Aqua. (Take 'em only for emergency use in circumstances where boiling is not an option). You know how iodine smells. That's how it tastes. The advantage of iodine is that in only half an hour it can kill anything, with the possible exception of the evil crypto cyst.

If you prefer the tang of swimming pool water, look for chlorine tablets. Or carry commercial liquid drops or household bleach dare you risk spillage of such nasty stuff in your pack.

A quart of water usually takes two pills or 3-5 drops of bleach. Wait a few minutes. Shake the water bottle with the cap loose. Wait 30 more minutes for iodine and 4 more hours for chlorine and enjoy. Pray the water does not contain cryptosporidium that can survive cold water (non-iodine) treatments as long as four hours. So doing the math, you are already figuring that carrying a quart of water for 4 hours that you can't drink does not offer great advantage over carrying a water filter that weighs less than half a quart of water and allows you to drink the output immediately.

Another innovation not much larger than a cigar shoots a battery charge through chemical solution to create a killer for bugs. What happens if the battery dies? The fiddle factor reaches high on the scale too. And like any kills vs. removes treatment, all crud in the water goes down the gullet; not much of a reward for a 4-hour wait.

UV light products at least work fast, a minute or two. They don't remove anything, and their effectiveness diminishes as water clarity lessens. Again, consider the battery issue. This tome centers on summer camping where cold temps are unlikely, but weaker batteries may stop working when chilled. In that event, they may begin working again after half-an-hour or so in an inside pocket. Check out SteriPen as you formulate your decsion. The Geezer knows campers who love it. The Geezer has used it with mixed results--specifically that it works great until batteries weaken, then it won't work at all. Maybe the best application is to carry the SteriPen as a virus removing backup to your filter.

Back to square 1: Account 3/4 pound for a Hiker.

Also carry a gallon jug such as from buying water for a primary jug. Gently side-submerge it and let it fill, preferably with gurgles. With no gurgles, the in-rushing water creates current collecting lots of flotsam. When full, gently lift it out and back in to get it more full as water pressure partially collapsed the empty jug.

Inspect the product of this effort to be certain you gathered no 'frog hair' or algae. Frog hair's brown fluffy stuff living only to sneak into the jug, especially in the dark and especially when the filter's brand new, to clog the element. Algae typically float as slime that can be pre-strained; or their sinister cousins casting a brown or green hue that cannot be strained.

If you spy such muck, empty the jug. Haul out your handkerchief-size swatch of pantyhose (paint strainer works better--get it at a building supply store or place that rents paint sprayers) to put over the mouth of the jug. Stuff it in as far as your finger goes. Dip the coffee pot and pour into the jug, screening the biggest gnarlies and saving the filter for important stuff. (Don't use your mug to fill the jug as the insulating cover is not completely watertight and may harbor crept-in bugs). Coffee filters work, but are slow and not as easily reuseable as paint strainer.

Hiker's pre-filter screen fits in the jug. (While Katadyne got their act together building a good product, they must have hired a consultant to finish it. They put a weight around the screen. Weight! Who wouldn't want to be in the room when the genius says 'Let's put a weight on our backpacking product?' Toss that and replace with a film roll canister. Cut a hole in the bottom of the canister just big enough to stick the hose through it and re-install the screen). Should you choose to forego the pre-filter in preference for always straining first, snip the jug end of the hose unevenly so the hose can't suck dead against the plastic).

Pump from the jug into the clean water bottle, a two-liter lemon-lime soda bottle with label stripped. Now you know never drink water from the gallon jug, and water in the soda bottle is always clean.

But there's nasty chemicals like BPA in soda bottles? Probably. Consider that every hard plastic container in your fridge contains the same chemicals. Decide whether the exposure to 'em in a week or weekend of camping is less than you'd get at home; too much to add; or too little to care about.

You want two liters of morning water for breakfast, brushing teeth, restocking the pack bladder and getting hydrated for beginning the day's hike. Ready the night before works best. If you have an evening fire, you have time to boil a last liter of water at night that will cool while you sleep. Never pour boiling water in the 2-liter as this will cause a meltdown.  (Hot or even warm water may also exacerbate chemical leeching.)

If you just can't drink out of something called a bladder, buy a 20 ounce plastic bottle of diet 7-Up. It's the perfect size and shape, tough and reliably watertight. It's not as convenient as an on board bladder as you probably will have to stop and remove your pack to get at it. This means you will probably not drink enough, always putting off the stop until some never-occurring next event. Some one liter bottles are tall and skinny, fitting well into most pack pockets.

Nalgene bottles are tougher and reliably watertight if you prefer a vessel of greater tare. (Also, if you have perpetually cold feet, a Nalgene bottle holds a lot of warm water for your night-time piggies. The 2-liter, of course, holds even more, but you might have concerns this bottle could decide to crack inside your sleeping bag. That would lead to a very unhappy result.)

Now if you want to camp on a mountaintop, you have the capacity of a gallon jug, and a half-gallon clean bottle (the 2-liter) for the 6 quarts that should be plenty. If not, you have the 2-3 liter pack bladder and even the coffee pot if circumstances warrant, for a total capacity exceeding two gallons at remarkably stingy tare weight. You'd rarely need a second trip, meaning you can camp way beyond the limits of most other backpackers who seem curiously committed to their one-liter Nalgene bottle.

It now strikes you as curious why the Forest Service doesn't enforce requirement of a means to transport water. How likely are those others to camp 100 feet or more away from water when they haven't the predictive capacity to bring a system of transport? So far, the more politically acceptable measure seems to be closing off areas to camping rather than requiring campers to carry a water transport system.

Stagnant water or running? Your mother always told you to avoid stagnant water. She probably said running water purifies itself after a certain distance, though that distance she may never have quantified. Consider this: Two containers have water from the same source last night. Shake one. Which now seems cleanest? Sediments and muck settle out of still water, and you will know from reading the directions in your filter that letting water stand helps prolong element life (assuming, of course, you don't suck up settled muck). The gallon jug lets you eyeball what you've scooped up; and offers an option to let water stand perfectly still overnight.

Cloudy water kills filters.

Still water refers to a lake or a stream pool. If you're looking at a snow-melt pond teeming with bug larvae, tree snot and webs of algae, that water's not going to settle out. Be glad you brought your pantyhose strainer.

All this talk about filters is wasted, of course, if you splash unfiltered water into your mug. Since you'll wash in raw water and swim and cook and such, there's probably no reason to get maniacal. But be sure to cap filtered water before shaking out the filter hose. You get the idea.

(Some buzz in the hiking community suggests more people sicken from poor hygiene than foul water.  One finds numbers such as 2/3 of campers who say they don't wash hands routinely after potty visits wind up with intestinal compromise. Of course we don't know what percentage of bp'ers would actually admit to a stranger such astonishingly boorish behavior, and perhaps the real resolution is then not to admit it. To be on the saner side of the deal, though, washing hands in the woods ranks very high on the priority list. Regarding bathroom tactics, avail yourself to any of several titles on the subject should you crave greater detail than discussed later herein.)

You will be most happy hiking with a water reservoir inside your pack, hosed out to your mouth. This marks a splendid invention by some biker guy, recorded in history as the only significant contribution ever made by a biker guy. (You could say Wilbur and Orville were biker guys, but they saw the better of their ways in switching to airplanes). HydraPak and Nalgene make a very light bladder with capacity for 3 liters. The former has an opening to allow reaching all the way inside for cleaning. It crimps closed, a strategy that is not fully watertight.

CamelBak makes one of the strongest and watertightest, with a big opening letting you stick your hand inside to clean the reservoir. It weighs slightly more. Compare buying a complete pack vs. just the reservoir. Never would you use a pack in your backpack; but for few dollars more you might think it worthwhile at home for power walking. Stick the bladder inside your pack, many of which have an accommodating envelope and buttonhole. Voila! Water on the go. The convenience alone makes this option wonderful. Optimize your body's utilization of water (and therefore be able to carry less) by taking small amounts frequently vs. the more typical large amount infrequently. Efficient use of water results in particular convenience to women.


29.        Water plus

The proliferation of potable potions offers wide choice of taste and mixtures. Tablets can be most convenient. Powder's more economical and maybe messy. I've tried, Nuun, CamelBak, GatorAde and Endurox, all of which seem to keep the pep going longer than straight rations of water. Mixing the solution at half-strength  and drinking only about a quart a day of such potions seems best. The Geezer's partial to CamelBak tabs.

Other things to drink

Tote your wine in a liter-size soda bottle to save weight. (BPA leeching? Maybe. But alcohol is not really a health drink, is it.) No need of a corkscrew. Empty serves as additional water storage and a watertight bean soaking vessel. The tough plastic also provides a safer container for sharps. Cut the bottle 2/3 of the way around at the shoulder so you can hinge the top up and stuff in larger pieces of glass and sharps left by those others.

Scotch goes in a smaller soda bottle because a little Glen Fiddich goes a lot farther than a glug of grape. Mix any water, if you must, in your mug.

If you prefer sweet, Yukon Gold may be the ticket.

Beer hasn't much octane-to-weight. You might consider a celebratory can or two for first night, but then you've empties to carry rest of trip. Maybe instead stash a thirst quencher for the return. Be wary of sloshing at the car. You're at altitude, won't have much in your stomach and will be light-headed with the euphoria of triumph. You wouldn't want to survive a week in the wilds unscathed only to jam the Jeep under the bumper of a log truck.

Stash a soft drink a hundred paces up the trail. Hide it under a log and have something to pull you along that last day as you trudge so otherwise reluctantly toward civilization. Burn into your memory if not the gps exactly where you put it, mindful that over the next week you will fill brain cells with lots of other data.

One may find on the street a certain inhalant quite capable of softening the ground as the best of any libation. While light enough to deserve consideration, the commonly corresponding stimulation of appetite must be accounted. Cutting vice weight to a fraction of an ounce won't help if food ration must triple or you get slivers from biting bark off trees.

Now having covered the topic of such substances, none is recommended and no weight increment for such included. You will find chemical adjusters unnecessary to achieve the mindset you seek. You want all your senses for this trip.


30.        Clean system.

Pack towel.  Possibly the single most important item in your cleaning arsenal is a swatch of pack towel.

Surely you cannot afford the weight of a shower bag, a tantalizing option to achieve clean. A pack towel, on the other hand, weighs mere ounces. Buy the cushy one at twice the price and be four times as happy. Cheaper ones soften with use, but maybe you deserve the best out of the box. Pack towels lap water and wring almost dry.

Tote only a small towel for sponging off and drying; eight inches wide and long enough to whisk your back. A saturated towel wrung out and hung in the sun dries in minutes. At night you'll want a hot face refresh before you go to bed.

Preferably you show up a couple hours ahead of sundown. Water and rocks have had all day to warm, and there's still time to soak up some rays after you've sponged off. (Nothing wrong with swimming, but you never know what's down there if you walk on the bottom. Those others have been everywhere, and their rusty cans or broken bottles lurk in the muck to slice open a bare foot).

Sponging with a saturated pack towel swatch should do the job well enough. If you need soap, do that business at least a hundred feet from shore and with a biodegradable like CampSuds or Dr. Bronner's. Peppermint is most refreshing.

Laundry.  Rinse hiking pants, shirt and socks. The first day do this away from a water source as soap residue from home laundering lingers. Be an especially green camper and do home laundering of camp clothes with biodegradable soap. On your rest day, wash everything in soap in your pot and hang on parachute cord to dry.

Your coffee pot works fine for smaller items. A bear can makes a wonderful washtub for more or larger items, especially the Backpacker's Cache. The lip tends to curl water back inside as you thrash the dirties about. (The press-button hole can shoot geysers-be wary.) Rest day is a good one to do laundry. Do it the night before if you can plan it that well, and dare cavorting about in your sleeping cleans. Otherwise, make it your early chore so clothes have all day to dry. Most of your stuff will dry in only an hour or so, but heavy socks take a long time.

Be mindful of making so much work of getting clothes clean that you become reluctant to dirty them by bolting off on the next leg of the trek. It'll take about an hour to empty the can, get water, add soap, agitate, soak, wring, rinse and hang. The can accommodates a full ration of daily hiking clothes-shirt, pants and socks. Do all of this at least a hundred feet from water.

Laundry is not alone a sufficient reason to carry a bear can, but offers a secondary use if you otherwise need it.  Keep an extremely close eye on food while it's out of the can, which can be a trick when you're solo and it's a hundred feet away and you're at the water. If a bear gets on your food pile, it will not be driven away. Some people may not care about the bear. Some may simply refuse to accept that a bear could be in the area. Nobody will have much fun half-way through their trip and having their food taken. You may feel silly walking to the water and back lugging the can in one hand and the plastic-grocery-bagged food in the other, but it is the surest way to make sure no varmint gets it.

The geezer found himself at a spectacular wilderness lake with almost no sign of human activity. Lovely morning after a challenging day's grunt to get there; lots of reason to lollygag in the tent. Then the bear bell starts jingling. In his daze he first thinks it an alarm going off, but awakening, realizes it's no clock type of alarm. Only one animal could make the Ursack's bell go off with the bag tied four feet above ground to an overhanging dead tree. Still groggy, the geezer stumbles out of his tent toward the food bag. He speaks firmly but politely to the bruin yanking the holy crap out of his food supply. "No good, Bear. No good."

Geezer marvels that the bear continues violently tugging at the bag instead of running from his human enemy. Geezer thinks the double overhand knot followed by a figure eight will keep Bear from snatching the food. The bear flings slobber as he jerks the bag about. This can't be all good, the geezer fears, worrying the determined beast may masticate the nosh to saliva-infected goo. He steps closer to the bear than feels comfortable, but wants the bear's attention diverted from the food. If the bear succeeds, Geezer will be karma-certified a moron; and on short rations for nine more days.

Finally the bear lets loose, but much to Geezer's surprise and developing chagrin, still does not run. Instead, like a dog making bed in a basket, the bear turns a couple of circles, then plops on his butt, sitting with his paws on a log facing the two-legged intruder. Snot flings as the animal attempts to keep his gaze on the geezer and at once the bag as well.

Geezer interprets Bear's behavior as a statement that the latter will defend against the former if former presses latter any more deliberately. "OK, Bear. I might as well get some pictures of you squishing up my applesauce."

Bear leaps back on the prize and continues his aspirations while Geezer returns to get the camera he'd not thought to take in the first place. He tramps back toward Bear, hoping the distraction will exacerbate the bruin's apparent exhaustion. "Leave it be, Bear. You're burning up calories for lost cause." Before the anxiety-muddled geezer can divine the movie operation of his digital camera, Bear relents, but will not budge. Geezer cannot make his fingers work the right buttons, and he thinks twice about taking his eyes off the beast.

"You're wearing yourself out, buddy. You need to find some mushrooms or something. Get along. Please."

The bear takes a long look at the geezer, then the bag, then the human. At last the bear pants and turns his back to his adversary. He takes a step away from the bag and the human presses toward him. Geezer expects this boldness to cause the weary bear to run, but the bear merely sulks to the next tree, then the next as Geezer follows. When the bear is finally driven several hundred yards from the bag, still not running, Geezer backs off. "And don't come back."

Bears are not known to follow human commands in the wilds, and this one later gave no cause to change history.


31.        What, no shower?

A persuasive argument from body to brain in favor of feet never leaving civilized surfaces regards the absence of shower facilities. You feel sticky when you wake. Campfire gummies eyes and hair smells like the inside of a wood stove. Let's talk about this. Brain requires facts to calm the body.

This isn't an exercise in shallow urban hedonism. You aren't at Palm Palace stretching the limit of your AMEX card. You're finding your own. The payoff's that your limits run much higher than you think. Life away from plastic has merit too. Trust yourself, not an ATM, to have more of what you need.

You wouldn't show up at the Snootie Club cocktail evening in sweaty jogging shorts. Think how much better will you look in a skimpy frock having done time getting jogging shorts sweaty. You look better, you are better and you feel better to make you look ever better. Everything's better. That's the point in blasting past what you think are your limits and going solo a week in the woods. Grab life's horns because they're about to gore you; or because it's fun. After a week in the woods people are going to look at you differently in the boardroom because you are different. You've changed. The kitty's a tiger. Poised. Sinewy. Sharp and gorgeous.

Go back to Chipter 5 discussion on being clean. Add these suggestions to the dopamine buzz you'll have. You needn't be and won't feel dirty.


32.        Bathroom.

Your parents probably pooped in a hole they dug, or certainly their parents. If you have really blue-blood roots, maybe they went in a pot. Only in the most modern of times and places do we use the newly invented commode concept to cut loose our innards. Parts of the world that squat over a hole would take great offense at any suggestion their way is anything but best. And when you actually stop to think about it, as probably you like rather not, how cool is doing a dump inside your house?

'You know, Minerva, someday man will invent a way to move his bowels inside the home.'

'A man would think of that. Thomas Krapper don't you ever say such a thing again.'

'You wouldn't want to give up that trip in the dark to the outhouse?'

'Never inside this house I sleep and serve food will any person ever perform such an act which clearly belongs to the domain of the outside. Certainly not. It is ungodly, to say the least.'

'Well it don't seem so bad an idea, Ma.'

'Hmmph! Next you'll be carrying on about man flying off in the air. Gives me a headache, it does.'

For those who may find it not self evident, manage needs at least 200 feet from any campsite. Downhill from the nearest water source is better than uphill as out in the woods just like back in the office, it rolls downhill.

Preparing a stealth depository.

MontBell Scoop. Effective, tiny, 1.4oz!! and indestructible, $8.

The orange Snapper (least expensive and perhaps most common) trowel weighs little and moves a lot of loose stuff in a hurry. If you can discipline yourself never to exert a prying motion, you might like it well enough. GSI green trowel is stronger and kudos for recycling plastic bottles, but heavy. The U-Dig-It probably will withstand any form of punishment, but will dish out same to your back to carry it and your wallet to buy it. One admires the spirit of the I-Pooed, but the name invention outstrips the product's engineering for weight and space.

Use your sanitary trowel to scrape back an area about 12x15 or so. Many times in forested areas this can be done even better by stabbing a cut in the duff and then peeling away the layer like a beaver pelt.  Dig a 6x6 hole, piling the dirt in the scraped area. Squat over the hole and let go with your duty. Use the littlest amount of paper possible, if any, and stowe it in a freezer zip lock bag inside an Opsack (expensive odor-resistant bag that you will want to reuse) to carry it back home. (Burning TP could be OK, except too many forest fires have been started this way by people who fail to realize how easily dry duff ignites.) Trowel the excavated material back in and restore the pelt or otherwise sweep needles, dirt and gravel back into place. Don't stomp it down. Evidence of your visit becomes invisible to the senses of all creatures. You have a 2-oz bottle of CampSuds and your gallon jug to freshen things better than if you were on the hopper at home. You're done. Surrounded by beauty uninterrupted, you have just had a spiritual movement.


33.        Toiletries

Sanitary trowel.

Toilet paper.

Preparation H in case you forget your daily fiber ration.

Toothpaste and dental floss in travel size.

Tooth brush. Don't drill holes or cut handle too short.

Bic razor with plastic cover rubber banded in place.

CampSuds or Dr. Bronner's.

Comb; brush if you're really fanatical.

Fingernail clippers if you aren't good with S2 scissors.

Band-Aids, in case the rubber band on the Bic breaks.

Tincture of benzoin to toughen skin and glue tape in place; and to cement dirt under your fingernails.

Neutrogena in two-ounce tube. Use morning and night to keep hands from chapping. Apply to dry skin on feet at night.

Body-Glide can occasionally be comforting, unless you're a super model with thighs far enough apart an SUV could drive through without the side mirrors touching. It's probably not worth it's weight for this trip.


34.        Chairs!


While cold could conceivably send a person to bed early, the leading cause is not so much the desire to rise early and eat worms as the aching muscles from not having a proper means of taking weight off one's feet. Man has stood on the moon, and thereafter devised efficacious means to sit in the wilderness.

Account in your weight budget one 18 ounce SlingLight chair. It's a very comfy lean-back chair, though requires some attention to find the most comfortable lounging position. Stable enough to snooze in, it allows back muscles to relax. It sits too low on the ground, like a sand chair, inviting tired leg muscles to cramp when struggling to rise. Only the most sure-footed or foolhardy attempt an in or an out with fewer than two hands free to hold the chair. Why this chair? Eighteen ounces and tons of comfort. It also needs no assembly or break-down, attaches easily to the pack; and the folks who make it offer excellent customer service if you've let the breeze put it in the fire. And it's stupidly expensive. Never mind the optional head rest which in geezer mind does not add an appreciable degree of comfort and buggers clean attachment to the pack. (Note the video you may have watched from above shows slightly if not artfully bent back struts. On deep snow, you would want to put a snowshoe under the back leg.)

Fully to appreciate the SlingLight notwithstanding the humiliations suffered in ingress and egress and the bite it will take of your wallet, consider the 14-ounce Pack Stool as an alternative. Cut off the carry strap you don't need anyway and you've got your butt off the ground for 13 ounces. You won't want to read War And Peace in this baby, but you can use it to get your Zambie's off and on. It's not that much better than a rock or log.

The Ultimate Slacker's a better version of a three-legged stool with a back. It weighs three pounds and because the back of the seat is anchored too high, you slide forward to the narrowest part of the seat. That's fine if you like sitting in a thong. It's way too heavy for the comfort delivered.

Alite offers an interesting chair if you don't care to nap or get too scotched to maintain a two-point balance. It requires a little bit of assembly, which is no problem. The seat's on the ground when you get in, then you lean back to find your balance point. It is comfy for as long as you hold your balance. You won't like taking your shoes off in it--might as well sit on a rock. At only 18 ounces it equals the

ThermArest wraps the mattress you already carry into a stadium chair that's OK for an extra pound-and-a-half if you like sitting ground-level, getting your $140 mattress/chair dirty and probably cinder-holed.

Crazy Creek makes some of the best and REI some of the least expensive stadium chairs. There's no fiddling with a mattress to make a chair, and you can even find models that will serve as rudimentary mattress when laid out flat. The latter may be best for the ultra-light maniac, who by definition, then, won't want to carry a chair.

The most comfortable chair has armrests and canvas back and seat blocking breeze and not pinching like the thatched type. You can write the sequel to War And Peace in this chair. You probably can't carry it, at over six pounds. This is a car camping chair.

You need a way to sit that will allow your back to relax. Find the best solution for that within the confines of weight, and you'll be happy enough. At the technological moment, that would seem to be SlingLite. Account the cost as less than a visit to a physical therapist.


35.        Bug off

Mosquitoes certainly count as the most prolific and perhaps universally annoying bug. They're worse in certain places at certain times of the year, but always everywhere. Encounter more in wet areas, fewer in dry, hot areas. Some summer places, spectacular as they are, may not be worth the bug price. You might include Alaska, and 'til mid-August in the Northwest, for example. Minnesota boasts a summer of skeets suitable for taxidermy. Florida may have the highest concentration. Dry, high mountains like the Sierras typically have fewer skeets, especially after July.

Mosquitoes like medium temperatures and little wind, making them most annoying at daybreak and evening. Of course in their prime, they can be bothersome all day. Late spring to mid-summer usually comprise peak times for these varmints.

Your tent may be your only non-chemical refuge. Deet products usually work, and most of the time nothing else does. Carry 3-M Ultrathon for moderate bugs. For bad bugs carry Jungle Juice. (Once Jungle Juice is opened the container may seep, so carry the container in a leak-proof bag). Apply enough to keep them driven back a foot or so in order to remove them from your activity. In torturous conditions be sure to put the stuff everywhere you don't want a bite. OK, maybe not there, but all around it. And if you don't put it there, they're going to bite it.

Less than torturous conditions may find adequate relief with Jungle Juice applied to clothing and not skin. This will fail in bad bugs. Spendy synthetics may discolor from deet and in very long term exposure, fabric could suffer damage. Don't leave a bottle in your pocket where it will have a year or two in storage to seep, which means don't loan your jacket to your kid. Likewise, do not leave a bottle of deet in your ears, eyes or mouth for a year or two for the same reason. If you can remember that, using deet for a week or so in a year minimizes the carnage at a low level of risk.

Read and follow directions. In buzzillions of applications of deet to human skin, CDC has only a handful of records of reaction and none serious. If you are a sensitive person, slather some on at home for an hour or so to make sure it's OK. If you insist on non-deet chemicals, definitely apply at home first. The stuff probably won't deter bugs, and there's really no point in carrying what your skin can't tolerate.

Mechanical defenses can be helpful, though cumbersome. You may see people with socks over hands, rubber bands around pant legs and sleeves and a head net. You can't eat or drink wearing a net and you can never be sure a bug hasn't found a way in. Outside of the tent, non-chemical defenses won't provide enough relief to allow peace of mind. The bugs have nothing to do but find a way in.

Smoke can help, but it's not reliable. If you can find a place out in the breeze instead of back inside the woods, you'll be much better off. These critters are lightweight and can't hover in wind. They can hide on the lee side of trees and rocks.

How about West Nile virus? Aids? Malaria. How about a migrating goose having a heart attack and crashing onto your head and breaking your neck? Some people live to obsess on risk. The reality's simple enough: Bug transmitted human inspired viruses prosper in population density. You're safer in the woods.

Black flies make some of the worst flying pests because they don't heed deet. They usually aren't as prolific as mosquitoes and succumb to swatting more readily than houseflies. They are extremely temperature sensitive and most pesky during the day. About the time mosquitoes take flight from higher temps, black flies take over as the pest du jour.

They bite hard. A regular-type fly will land on you because you are closer than a piece of poop. Black flies see you as premium meal. They want a piece. Fortunately they do not live everywhere nor perpetrate their misery all camping season. The local ranger can tell you when black flies make a trip not worthwhile.

A tent's one of the key defenses to make mosquitoes and flies tolerable. You can certainly manage better than putting up with Dipstick's farts all night or the neighbor's grandkids. Life is a puzzle of options. Lots of the fun in backpacking is figuring which pieces make the prettiest picture.

Keep your bag stuffed until inside the tent. Keep clothes in bug tight if not watertight wrap until inside. Never leave clothes or sleeping bag or towel on the ground for crawling bugs to explore and into which insinuate themselves. When going out to water the lilies, zip the door. You're like 50,000 times bigger than a spider; he doesn't need much opportunity, and has nothing to do but wait for one. Or the more evil tick.

Waking up to a tick burrowed into your hide's like waking up to a stranger in bed. You don't have to feed a tick or give it a ride back to its car. You can legally kill it in any way you find satisfying instead of giving it money for cab fare. You have much better odds of not developing a disease, and often ticks are less troubling to make let go.

Notwithstanding these advantages, probably the worst ground bug is the tick. Avoiding them totally is unlikely. You may hear of certain areas more heavily infested. Tick bites will help distract you from the poison oak prospering in lower elevations. You might also loiter at length in tick habitat never bitten. Some people are as evidently untasty to ticks as others are immune to poison oak. Wear light colored long sleeve shirt and pants. Ticks are dark and easily seen on light background. Depending on specie and life cycle, they can be tiny as a poppy seed or large enough to cover the top of a pencil eraser. They like to hang out on branches or leaves wherever traffic might pass, sensing carbon dioxide from passersby as the signal a meal's in reach. They are slow moving bugs easily brushed off.

Try Permethrin if you find yourself a tick magnet. This nasty chemical in typically a .5% solution repels these devils with such potency it ultimately kills them if they can't get away. Spray it on clothes, hat, shoes, pack and around tent doors a day or two before leaving home. Do not spray it on you, and be sure gear dries completely before packing or wearing. Don't spray it around water or fish tank-it's toxic to fish. Laundering treated garments releases residual chemical into the water supply, so be conservative. Use it only when your research indicates tick abundance. Don't carry it with you; a proper treatment will last a couple weeks through several washings.

Even with chemical defense, check very frequently for ticks. The best way to get 'em off is before they burrow in. For that, take a pair of tick tweezers (pointed and with built-in magnifying glass) and keep them handy. If you happen to find one in you, tweeze it as close to your skin as possible. Pull firmly for as long as it takes, which could be fifteen minutes. Try not to yank the bug apart in your zeal to extract it as this may leave parts behind. If that happens, resist the urge to whip out the Leatherman and carve away. Your skin will eventually eject foreign matter more efficiently than you can augur it out.

Some people profess the virtues of Vaseline to smother the bugger, forcing him to come up for air. It works, but consider the possibility the solvent the bug squirts to loosen the glue he's used to fasten himself may contain nasties you don't want set loose in your hide. Such professors will then point to the probability of the bug's puking into your skin possibly more sordid substances when squeezed. To which the contrary argument follows that when the bug's neck is squeezed shut by the tweezers, it can't squirt. And on and on through the anals of tick history and several more beers.

The dreaded Lyme's Disease. It's probably more common than most doctors think, and not common enough to keep you out of the woods. The disease may be caused by the same type of bug as syphilis, a spirochete, doing its damage in much the same way. Maybe it's a tick dissolving your liver, maybe it's a bug you got from Dipstick. Very unscientifically speaking, the chances probably stand even, if you spend a great deal of time in the woods. The bad part is that Dipstick can pass his bug on to you, but the medical industry presently opines you won't have the pleasure of returning the favor from a tick bite.

Avail yourself to tomes on ticks if you like. If you get a 'bull's eye' rash, take a picture of this tell-tale symptom and see a doctor who knows something about Lyme's. Freeze the corpse for posterity or possible forensics; and keep your notes of when, where and how you got the nasty thing.

If otherwise you find yourself in symptoms emulating other illnesses and not responding to treatment, see a doctor who knows more about Lyme's. The spirochetes can be killed with a highly specific treatment regimen, but damage cannot be reversed. This means don't wait for years before getting treatment as you won't remember what caused the problem and you'll suffer bombardment of off-cause meds that won't work. On the other hand, you'll find no point to visiting the doctor every time you get a tick bite. A free-market quack will happily exhaust your bank account on tests that in the end cannot reliably establish Lyme's; and your HMO will give you Prozac to make you forget why you were pestering them. If your brain starts dribbling out your ears, see a doctor; hand her your bull's eye picture, your notes and the tick.

Before getting too flushed over potential tick issues, realize that many hikers never encounter them. They are not universally prevalent. Also think about this: The far more lethal woodsy circumstance is bee sting. Do you cloister indoors to avoid being stung? You have enough experience with bees, meaning you have familiarity, not to fear them. You don't invite a sting, but you don't let possibility of a sting keep you from living the way you want.

So, bees. Hornets attack to defend. You may walk in the woods 20 years and never encounter any. If you do, turn around and walk (do not run) away. If you see big bugs buzzing around, don't go there. Cut a wide swath around that area. Hornets hit at high speed and sting hard.

Some places seasonally swarm with yellow jacket variants. They usually aren't aggressive; they can get so thick it's hard not to offend one every now and then. Be happy for yellow jackets as hornets live on them and not you. Avoid bee season if intolerant of stings.

The devil lives in the stinger and keeps pumping folic acid even when no longer attached to the bee. Extract it as quickly as possible, avoiding the reflex to pinch with thumb and forefinger as this squirts the full ration of venom. Scrape the dart out with a fingernail instead, starting just above where it sticks in, toward the guts hanging from the other end. This empties the injector away from the hole in your hide. If that doesn't extricate the dart, pucker up the area with thumb and forefinger and work to the stinger, pressing thumbnail to the lowest part of the stinger possible against the forefinger. When you get traction, lift it out.

Be calm. Cheeks flush like you've seen the Headless Horseman and the site of the sting will begin to, ah, sting. Suck if you want, though it serves only as distraction. Don't hack away with the Leatherman. As with snakebite, don't increase the wound area inviting venom to soak in. Apply StingEze. Sit in shade. Drink water. Have a piece of chocolate. You'll swell, ache and itch. Stay calm and live. Panic, get found face down with crows pecking your neck.

Ever hear of anyone croaking in the outback from a bee sting? No? It's one of the more common killers. Therein lies the good news. A common cause of death is very uncommon. However, if you know you're one of the few folks deathly allergic or for any other reason prone to anaphylactic shock, have your trusty doctor prescribe an epinephrine cartridge. Don't be a guy and cheat on this. He who jabs himself with an unneeded eppy may just as well break his neck trying to kiss his butt goodbye. The chances you would need an eppy and would apply it correctly are so small, that knowing an inappropriately applied shot will kill you for certain should be reason enough not to have one.

People who've been soldiers in war maybe have chances to figure out who they are. A soldier lies in a trench next to a buddy's body parts and wonders why not him. Or you're cloistered with one turd from finance and another from HR and you wonder why you. Maybe you lie awake at night listening to the flapping orifices of Dipstick and wish you had been born any other time and any other place.

If you've ever wondered anything, you crave to wonder everything. You've sat on the deck staring at the starry sky. But when the chill overtakes the chardonnay, there's always the safety of indoors. That's why you should tear off into the woods alone. That's right. Jump naked from the bed and bolt into the brush. Get some stickers between your toes. Poke a few holes in your hide. Get far enough away from your car in the dark you can do nothing but last the night where you are. It'll change how you look at things.

Arnold Dorfman's a jerk for standing too close behind you when you use the copy machine. Your boss changes her mind and expects you to know without being told. Your kid's mad because you wouldn't get a stereo upgrade in the new car you bought him. The bank can't seem to stop charging that two-dollar fee they agree to drop every time you call. The guy in front of you at the stop light won't go quick enough when the light turns green and the one behind you has to shove his grille through your rear view mirror. The only McDonald's in the world not honoring a national promotion is the one you stop at for a two-minute bite. Your neighbor's dog kills every shrub you plant and instead of doing anything about his piddling mutt, he complains you don't keep up your yard. Your mommy said you could grow up to be anything you want; somebody's president of Exxon, and it's not you.

Hex 'em.

You walk into the conference room the table's surrounded not by tall trees none of which wants to fall on you but by little teensie-minded bigots of all persuasions whose lunch will settle best seeing someone get the sack. They don't care who, so long as not them.

Hex 'em all.

You will never be better attended or more in grand company than by yourself in the woods. Nothing wants to hurt you. Nothing hopes to see you stumble. Leave your lunch unguarded and something may take it. That's somehow different from leaving your purse in the shopping cart while you squeeze the tomatoes?

The safest, friendliest, happiest environment's one you find alone in the woods. Get that, and stroll into the conference room glowing with confidence. In all the ways people can talk, talk can't hurt you. All that can is what you do. That's where being alone in the woods and being in the conference room find exactness. You alone are responsible for you. You control you. You do not control outside yourself. Chances are slim of learning this lesson in a psyc session of whining yuppies grouping together to pay a thousand dollars for a seminar on how to become a better individual. Out in the woods alone, you will get it by the third day. Fate has no destiny of good or bad things in store. The store is merely there for you to purchase what you think best. Your medium of exchange is the effort you apply to constructing your own choices and accepting their rewards and retributions. Out in the woods you will begin to believe in yourself.

You are not alone. You ply an environment as much yours as any other creature's. You have you. When you have that, people can't hurt you. Because there's only one person who can, and you'll know better.

Nothing wants to hurt you. Whatever might, only does what it does because that's its place in the world at that moment. Sleep under a leaning tree in a high wind, who had control over whether you got squished? Lose your temper in a meeting, who had control over whether you gained the confidence of people you need to accomplish what you want? Spill tuna oil in your sleeping bag, can you blame a mink for tearing it up?

The really cool thing about being alone in the woods is learning to understand who controls what, not who to blame. At home if somebody stinks, you can argue whether it's him and he's the one to fix it or it's you being too critical. Alone in the woods is about figuring out how to succeed.

You won't like bugs. Deal with 'em. It's worth it.


36.        So what other delightful bugs await Out There?

Fixate on bugs a while. Knowing everything that might bite and kill you ultimately creates conviction in your strength and capacity for good fortune the longer you go without anything happening.

Spiders. You could pick up a pair of Dipstick's gooey shorts and a Texas Brown could leap out and bite you, so it's no good thinking that staying home keeps you safe from spiders. Think of spiders this way: They eat bugs.

Earwigs. Who cares!

Hanta virus. Don't go around sniffing chipmunk turds. Don't feed 'em and don't leave food where they can crap in it. Chimpmunks, cute as you may think them, are mice in a different package. You surely do not worry whether you can remember not to sniff mice turds. If so, you can remember what to do in the presence of same from chipmunks.

Maybe you shouldn't breathe any squirrel scat either. They are, as now you know, rats in a different package. You've wondered at PTA and at the office how vermin can come in such a wide array of presentation. Don't be too chagrined to find Nature showing you a few more.

Leeches. They're among friends and cohorts, they're everywhere! Chance of contacting a wilderness one is small and only if you stand in the muck at lakeside long enough for one to find you. You won't feel him attach, so check your feet whenever you've been long idle in the muck. Tug on him until he lets go. You might feel a bit of burning sensation. Risking the probability of nasty lacerations from rusty cans and broken glass, you needn't give a second thought to cavorting in muck in which might reside a leech. Many people never encounter this creature.

Marmot. These are like rats in a much bigger and certainly more attractive package. Marmots are always fun to see and should take great offense at being included in this list of otherwise-less-than-endearing creatures. They rarely bite unless you fall asleep with salt on your fingers. Since you've adopted a low salt diet, no problem? Not exactly, for as the geezer learned (well, it was in the Olympics at Marmot Pass) they will chew your pack for salt. So will their smaller cousins the squirrel gnaw away with the same industry as on a pine cone; and rodents of any kind, crows, etc. In off-trail settings these varmints usually haven't learned to get food from people. Don't teach them, don't tempt them, and they'll leave you alone. Assume those others have spoiled them, however, and hang food and toiletries and meds in a bag animals can't reach. You don't want to lose anything to them and you don't want them to lose their independence.

'But they're so cute.' Yes indeed. Consider: Feed a varmint, it has more babies, because nature's planned that populations reach the limit of food supply. Increase the food supply for rodents, increase the number of rodents. You leave, the food goes away, the extra babies die. Feed a squirrel, kill baby squirrels. Not a pretty picture. Be a nice camper and tell the rodents to find their own food. Look what you've had to do to have yours.

Bears. A ranger in Denali will tell you there are two ways for a grizzly to get food from a human: Out of your pocket, and out of your skin. A grizzly's like a 28-year-old 42-22-32. They get what they want. Anyone in the way gets trampled. Outside of Alaska and a small part of Montana, you won't encounter one of these beasts (grizzlies).


Bear with me.

Few places in the entire world will a person have any chance of confronting a grizzly bear in its natural environment. One of those places remains Denali Preserve.

Grizzly indoctrination sharpens the teeth of tourist control in this Alaska park. Animals roam free. Visitors abide with restraint. Yellowstone may be littered with signs exhorting people not to feed the bears. But people want to feed the bears so they can get a picture of little Johnny communing with nature. No signs in Denali. The rangers will loan you bear-resistant food containers and tell you if you follow the rules Little Johnny most likely won't slip into the food chain. "It's their park," the rangers will say. "The bears do what they do. We do nothing."

Camping requires a permit. Megan got there on Labor Day. The ranger replied the only permits left were Primrose Ridge.

"Of course, you can have any one of them you want," he said with a smirk. "First, you must sign off on your bear orientation."


"This isn't Yellowstone or Glacier, you know," the ranger said. "This is frontier. The bears' park. If a grizzly attacks here, it's your fault. It's their park. Got it?"

"Where do I sign?"

"Not yet," the ranger sniffed. "The grizzlies go where they want. They eat what they want. They're known to eat each other. If a grizzly sees you, he knows you have food. You are food. If a bear is hungry and finds you on Primrose Ridge--and there's nowhere to hide--what do you think will happen?"

The ranger waited a delicious moment, not long enough for Megan to answer.

"Why do you think every permit in the Park is gone except for Primrose Ridge?" The ranger lapped another breath. "Do you snore? Do you whistle when you snore?"

"I don't know," Megan said. "Maybe if I'm tired..."

"Whatever you do, don't whistle when you snore."

"I don't really know..."

"If you whistle," the ranger said, "a grizzly thinks you're a squirrel burrowed inside your tent. Squirrels are candy to a bear. When a grizzly thinks he's on a squirrel burrow, there's nothing but a bigger grizzly going to chase him away. When he rips through your tent, play dead. Maybe he won't kill you. Got it?"

Megan chewed her lip. "I got it."

The ranger had more. "It's real windy on Primrose Ridge. If there are any bears, they're going to find the lee side of a rock pile to break the wind. Keep that in mind. Sign here. Have fun."

Primrose Ridge rose steep as the ranger said-no kidding there. Megan exhausted herself on a two hour scramble to the top, hurrying to beat darkness. She felt whipped. Sopped. Chilled. Rain froze on her hands. She needed shelter from vicious wind--fast. That she had no idea where she was could be fixed later.

She stumbled to a spot on the lee side of a rock pile, a break from the wind. She fought freezing lines and obstinate fingers to pitch the tent. Finally it was up, floppy as a peasant dress.

Biting cold ate at her resolve. Persevering on the bear orientation bleached her mind of common sense. She couldn't stop thinking how vulnerable she was, how alone she was.

Megan drifted in and out, to sounds of a bear sniffing at the front of the tent. Or was it only loose nylon rustling in the lee wind--where if there was a bear, it would most likely be? She wondered if bears eat granola. She held some, knowing her body needed fuel to fight the chill. Her throat wouldn't swallow. It occurred to her to put the granola outside. It was the only food in the tent--except her.

But what if that was a bear sniffing? It could be sitting there waiting. It has nothing else to do. Waiting--until Megan moved--to swat off her head like a melon off a vine. No. She must think. She must break the fear.

She parted the tent flap; peered into the night. Odds of a bear there were quite remote. Attack even less likely. Besides, it could never happen to her.

To her amazement, from the sleet and the sniffing came a woof. It was a bear! So close Megan could feel the bruin's breath on her face. Nose-to-nose with a quarter-ton biting machine. Her body locked, stiff as a candy cane. All functions ceased--except one. Violently allergic to wet animal hair, Megan sneezed with the force of piston-driven spittle into the grizzly's nostrils. The giant jerked into a backwards somersault, rolling far enough into the sleet-shot haze of twilight Megan could not see.

She yanked the sleeping bag around her head; tucked into the fetal position. Maybe the layers of clothing and the padding of the bag would save her from the wreak of havoc certain to come. Her blood curdled. She gasped in spurts.

Dawn came at last, shedding no light on how long Megan had waited. Or if the bear was still out there...licking a sweet tooth. Megan saw herself with one leg missing, the other all gone. Left arm bleeding; right one not on.

Muscles soaked in the agony of cortisol and a rocky choice of tent sites conspired to force Megan to uncover and peek out. About a quarter-inch of snow had fallen everywhere, except for a spot bare right in front of the tent. Flakes were just beginning to accumulate in that spot. A spot about the size a bear would make. A bare spot. No bear.

Megan felt her molars prickle as a flush of relief heated her cheeks. She wondered if she'd had a dream; if the bare spot was simply the result of being in the lee of a large rock. Muscles felt too miserable and consciousness too proud to deny her this victory.

"I stared into the teeth of death," Megan said to the gray dawn, "and escaped. By a sneeze!"

         Gesundheit, Megan. A warrior is born.


You may encounter black bears. Smart and curious as their grizzled cousins, they have nothing of the temperament. Except for moron-ruined places like Yosemite where spoiled bears present severe nuisance in high-use areas, black bears are most often quite timid. You won't likely see anything but occasional piles of scat, a track now and then and maybe a fleeting glance every ten years or so. They want nothing to do with you. Don't tantalize them with clues of food opportunity. Be smart enough to realize unarmed humans do not set the rules in a bear encounter. While black bears are timid by nature, don't bet on it. There's always the possibility an animal for some reason cannot compete for food and must resort to desperate acts to obtain it. Of course if you insist on sealing seams with tuna oil, you could have a visit from an array of obliging animals.

Mountain lion. There are probably more double lottery winners than people attacked by cougar. Don't win the lottery again, and maybe you won't be lunch for a lion. Few people ever see one. If you do, stand tall, don't run, make noise and wave arms. You'll later regret not taking a picture of one of the forest's most elusive animals.

Raccoon. Mink, ferret, wolverine, badger, etc. In wilderness you won't have problems with these animals as long as you don't tempt them with food. Morons sometimes leave fish in a snow bank overnight. Well duh! They were not able to imagine a hungry fish eater would eat a fish. Putting the fish inside the tent does not deter the critter. It only causes a hole in the tent. As the considerate camper would expect, these animals set the rules of encounter. You'll be better off letting them all alone and behaving in a way that allows them to avoid you. Raccoons may be cute, and they may be one of the few animals you might outrun. They have incredibly nasty attitudes and carry such awful diseases as rabies and distemper.

Snakebite only has to happen to you to be a jumbo-sized problem. The backpacker's options are limited. Certainly among the best are to maintain awareness and never mess with any snake that even remotely looks like one. (Gopher snakes are similar in appearance, but you risk your life confusing a rattler for a harmless gopher snake.) A friend of the geezer had the misfortune of stepping on a four-footer because for some reason it did not rattle and, taking in the beauty of Yosemite instead of the dust at his feet, he also didn't see it. Mr. Rattles took umbrage at being stepped on; the helicopter took him to hospital; and hospital took him for the big ride. That was for (no doubt a full-dose injection from a serpent mightily peeved at being trounced) a bite on the little toe treated in 90 minutes for a 10-day hospital stay.

Probably the most common deadly crawler will be a type of rattler. These are pit vipers. Their bite is potentially lethal, extremely painful, always troublesome and likely to result in permanent damage. Depending on who you read, 98% of people who get treatment survive, and 98% who don't, don't. A bite serves up a real conundrum, especially for the soloist. You need treatment, but if you exert yourself after a rattlesnake bite you are likely to die on the spot. A Sawyer Extractor may help lessen the amount of venom injected, though some authors suggest not using one. Unless you have medical training, there's little else you can safely do except wait for help.

If you believe in a calm and considered state of mind that you must evacuate yourself, do so with the least amount of physical strain possible. Leave your backpack, or at the very least, empty it to the most minimal of absolute essentials. Walk slowly and rest frequently. Keep your heart rate down and chances of survival go up. After three days, which probably would be the longest a person might ever spend, the venom will have lost its punch. However, the next problem becomes the onset of gangrene and blood poisoning from decomposing tissue in the vicinity of the injection site.

You can hope you've been bitten by an adult that decided not to waste any venom. Adults can measure the release. Since they can't swallow you, they sometimes save their venom for a meal. Youngsters don't have this control, and their juice packs the full wallop. A bite from a baby rattler is the worst of bad news. The head has the distinctly triangular shape of a rattler and in coloration they look like little adults without rattles. They may coil, but don't assume that a snake that hasn't coiled must be ok. If you aren't an expert snakeologist, leave 'em all alone.

If you can imagine crawling up to an elephant and biting it on the foot, you may have an idea of the world from a snake's perspective. The snake does not want to bite. It rattles to give notice. It will not attack and will strike only if you bug it. Whether you intended to bug it will not be a matter of consideration to the snake. You may never encounter a rattler, but if you do, you will know exactly what that sound is and without even thinking you will know to back off.

Parts of the country have coral snakes. These guys tend to chew rather than strike; and they don't rattle. If you're in this snake's country, always see where you're putting your hands and avoid walking barefoot in grass or leaf litter.

Snakes are an important part of the health of the forest, so be glad they are there. Just give 'em their due.

Trees. A tree has branches and a stem, and will never stalk you. Look around--trees everywhere on the ground. Spend enough time and you will be rewarded with evidence of the oft pondered question: Yes, a tree falling in the woods makes noise. Quite a noise, in fact. A couple people a year don't live to describe it. Some may have put themselves in obvious harm's way, others not. On a certain day a tree will fall. You decide whether it's the day you pitch your tent under it.

Here's an image to keep in mind as you ponder the risk of camping in the most beautiful spot you've ever seen, save for the leaning tree: You're pinned tight to the ground by a tree across your thighs. You can breathe, but you can't move except to sit up. The raccoons know you can't reach over the tree to push them away. They eat you from the toes up. Good thing they are so cute.

If ground's showing stress signs around a tree, that tree's about to fall. Stress signs are fissures that look new; cracks in the duff. The danger recipe is lots of rain, some wind and tall (especially lonesome) trees.

Often a tree falls into another. You can see where the falling tree plans to go when it lets loose. Think about whether the supporting tree can take the weight of itself and a mooch. You know the stress of carrying a leaner.

Trees may fall because some bug takes the last bite holding it up; a breeze nudges it; the last drop of rain was the one it couldn't hold. Sometimes these trees look really rotten and sometimes they don't. You drive down the road you face cars coming at you and you can't be certain none of them will steer straight into your headlights. You're mindful, but your only real hope is to remain lucky. Yet everyday for hours you expose yourself to this deadly risk even knowing tens of thousands of people get killed every year.

Pay some mind to how trees look before you pitch camp, and then forget about them.

Mushrooms. About one in a hundred mushrooms is deadly. About one in ten people on the street is crazy enough to kill you. You've been defying death all your life. You've scrambled over rocks all day any one of which could be the lynch pin to set loose the entire tectonic plate. You won't eat the best looking mushrooms you ever saw? You will forego the pleasures of nature's best nosh? If you're smart. Eating fungus you can't identify represents an imprudent risk under the best of circumstances.

Lightning. Lightning's like your boss-no consistency, lots of noise, hardly ever effective. Pays to keep the head down anyway. If you can walk away from the storm, you may enjoy the exercise. Caught in it, shuck any metal or electronic objects and enjoy the show. That hogwash about lightning striking only high points is no more than that. It can hit anywhere. Think about how pretty your toenails look and ride it out.

Protozoa. The measures covered in water treatment for giardia and cryptosporidia also address bacteria and other parasites. Evade waterborne bugs by using a filter. Swim all you like, just avoid swallowing untreated water. Some may not hurt you as your body may kill off smaller amounts of these bugs. How lucky do you feel?

Falling. This is the risk category over which you have total control, and none. It's like dealing with kids: You're the boss, yet they do whatever they want. Here's the first rule: Don't do anything that scares you to the point you can't remember the name of your first love. A little tinge in the tummy's fine. Scrambling's covered later.

Small falls, like from stumbling, present an ever-present threat no matter where you are. Some of the advantages in the wilds include not having to be in a hurry and having few distractions to keep you from watching where you're going and no one watching you and you're wearing perfect footwear. Most stumbles happen from not seeing, which can be caused by sight seeing or brush. To sight see, stop. If for any reason you can't see where your foot's going to land, stay balanced on the back foot until the front foot's solid. Ferns and the like obscure ground. The last thing you want is to land off-center on a rock and put your pack weight into a turned ankle. Don't do that, and you've cut risk to a minimum.

Mohammed Ali ought to know, and he says 'ain't nothing wrong with going down; it's staying down that's wrong.' If he can take a spill or two in his agile life, don't get down on yourself for a fall. If you can, land on your side or back with arms tucked in and hands over face. Practice this arm maneuver (without the fall) until grooved into muscle memory. Falling is not good. You risk a very high probability of radial fractures to the ulna and the infamous boxer's break from reaching out to shunt a fall when laden with a pack. Let your pack take the force if you can; though don't try to twist if your foot's caught or you might take out a knee. Though you may not feel a choice in the making, breaking walking bones foists upon you the greater inconvenience.

The moment of losing balance happens in an instant. Falling actually takes a wee bit of time. There's time to think if you already know what to do. Walking gives you time mentally to drill. Include visualizing how your body should react to a fall, so when one happens, plan trumps panic.

Traps. Knees beware. Roots grow across the trail. Water washes away the dirt. Never step into one of these traps. The devil wants you to slip. The trap fastens the foot in place while momentum sends the body onward. Something's going to give, and it won't be the root.

The next buggers waiting to reach out and hurt you are commonly called stobs. A stob is usually the jagged end of a broken limb. These will leap farther than Stephen King's imagination to poke a hole in your hide. Such devils reside on or about trees fallen across the path, particularly when the tree is large and requires a big step to get over. The offending stob may be on either side of the tree, eagerly anticipating the chance to snag an easy victim. Do not yank in frustration to get away. Stop moving and get a good look how it has you. Most of the time you can escape with only a scratch if you stay calm and carefully plot your way loose.

Of course it is possible to fall down and pierce skin with the jagged end of a broken bone. Toting supplies to address every conceivable circumstance of injury and illness would likely damage your back, but it probably makes sense to have a dressing for one site of gushing blood.

Bugger heads. Anything catching part of the sole to throw your footstrike off center can cause severe ankle sprain. Imagine what would happen if your foot caught a quarter-inch of an edge of sidewalk or step. If you've got weight bearing into that step, liggies and tendons in the ankle tear like parchment. The really loud popping noise is bones breaking. Bugger heads prosper in vegetation, but they're everywhere.

Slickernsnot. Where granite looks shiny, don't step. Gravity gets its way. Water also decreases traction. Leaves and needles can be quite slick. Pebbles over hard surface behave like marbles. Sand can do the same thing. The worst of falls might happen on a well-traveled path of hardpan covered with BB-like grit. The knee's going to take a shot. Let it happen and try to use momentum of the fall to turn the pack toward the landing. Resourcefulness finds fixes for what breaks in the pack.

A trekking pole will save you from half the spills you might take. Prevent yourself from treating it as a third leg. It's not meant to hold you up and never count on it to do so. Tighten the pole securely enough to take your weight. Lateral strength is not great, meaning you can snap it. You don't need the fractured ends of a trekking pole adding to your incident. The business tip bites into most surfaces, but it can slip and will when you need it most not to. This sounds like a disclaimer for those others, doesn't it? Since you aren't, a trekking pole will only be your friend.

You can also poke your eye from a limb across the trail. A rock can roll down hill and bounce on you. A landslide could cover you. A flash flood can drown you. Is it even possible to cover every imaginable risk? Did you hear about the jet engine falling from the sky? It's happened. The point is that you certainly can get hurt. People who don't know to avoid reasonably foreseeable danger are a living for legal maggots. You know how to cook without cutting, electrocuting or frying yourself. You realize cruise control doesn't mean you don't have to steer. You intuitively grasp not to swallow an aspirin still inside the bottle, even though there are no specific instructions to remove the pill first. You understand life entertains risk of injury most often mitigated by a modicum of common sense.


37.        The light fantastic

Tikka Plus or BD Spot headlamp; photon key chain light.

You may never expect to be caught in the dark. The devil's haunt lies in the void between preparedness and stupidity, however, and those not gifted with exceedingly high quotients of intelligence best not tempt him without due cause and the capacity to afford retribution.

Find that double D-cell flashlight out in the garage and put it in the trunk. That's where it belongs.

Choose either the Petzl Tikka Plus or the Black Diamond Spot headlamp. The Tikka's a teensy bit teenier; the Spot offers the option of a lot more light. You want an LED headlamp with a band only around the head (not over it) to keep hands free. Wearing the lamp over a brimmed hat keeps glare out of your eyes; actually more important as a defense from being blinded by other campers. Either runs on three AAA's and provides great light for at least 20 hours. No need to carry spare bulbs or batteries. Plenty of light to walk around in the dark, do camp things, read, find your way to potty and so forth.

LED's emit a clean glow, making ideal reading light. They don't shoot a beam, meaning they will not illuminate whatever snorting animal's cracking around in the brush out there and to find your way out of the woods if you get disoriented in the dark. If you anticipate such need, carry a Princeton Tech Blast. This small hand-held light's a photon cannon that'll knock the eyes out of a girl-eating wolf at 50 yards. It fires a beam through the trees lighting a field of vision broad enough to give you the clues you need to figure out up from down. It offers a convenient source of spares for your headlamp as it runs on AAA's. Powering a xenon bulb, battery life's a scant. Blast sparingly.

Your final line of defense against being totally in the dark will be Photon II key chain lights. Don't scrimp-there's good reason to pay more for this light. Carry several. Keep one on your sternum strap to pinch anytime you need to see quickly. Keep one in your toiletries bag to fish for floss in the night. Of course you have one on your key chain.


38.        Battery of choice

You might think engineers smart enough to miniaturize devices would grasp the efficacy of designing them all to run on the same battery. Alas, global thinking has yet to reach this level in the matter of backpacking materiel, forgivable enough given the matter of world peace, energy gridlock and the mess still in junior's room.

Therefore, any strategy of selecting devices which all run on the same battery severely limits choices and will leave your pack with a great big fat dog wagged by one really efficient tail. Unless the multitudes of competitors somehow manage to overcome the conspiracy of the battery makers, you'll be toting several power options.

Give 'em their due, however. Just two standard sizes manage all primary devices quite nicely, AA and AAA. Certainly you want NO devices requiring C, D, 6-volt or 9-volt as these are either too heavy or will power nothing else in the world except an off-brand smoke alarm.

Should you choose to follow the suggestions, you will need AA's for your Vista gps; AAA's for the Tikka Plus and Princeton Blast; and the proprietary battery for the Canon Elph. You might decide to try a slightly larger camera running AA's.

Some old guys would argue if everything ran on the same battery, people wouldn't be smart enough to carry an adequate supply of spares. Possibly. However, a bit of diligence obviates need of any spares. All the suggested devices will serve a week's purpose on fresh batteries, and the carrying of spares becomes a question of risk tolerance.

If you have trouble remembering details like turning off something, you might carry one set of spares. That'll get you through one act of stupidity. Only those others need more spares; they'll do the gene pool a favor allowing subsequent stupidities to eliminate them from it. No amount of intention infuses any power to drained batteries.

The three in your Tikka Plus shine brightly at least 20 hours, which for six nights means more than three hours a night. If when the bear bites your head his tooth smashes the on button, you have two back-ups in your Blast if you don't bleed to death before the Tikka gives up.

But don't take batteries out of the Tikka and put 'em in the Blast. That only gives about an hour of the photon cannon, after which you'll be in the dark for good.

Not quite for good, as you have at least one Photon II pinch light. Don't carry any spare batteries for this.

Fresh non-rechargeables provide the most power for the weight. Rechargeables work fine in the devices, but won't last as long. (You'll need to tell your Vista if you use rechargeables).

If you're reasonably mindful of your Elph's battery life you won't need a spare. Don't try to be Scorcesi or view every picture every night and it'll last the week. A 1-gig card holds all the pics you need.


39.        Containers and stuff sacks

It's tempting to go a little nuts on containers and stuff sacks. A bit of creativity and a smattering of restraint keeps you fully organized and straight at minimal tare weight.

Persons entering wilderness alone with educated aspiration for safe return will by nature be careful. Careful people require fewer idiot-proofings. Thus, not everything in your bag requires protection from everything else. The more common sense you use, the fewer pieces of tare you'll need.

PGB's (plastic grocery bags) are splendid organizers and protectors. They slip in and out easily and when properly used offer contents modest protection from attack by bugs, dirt and moisture. They are readily available within any household and two dozen of them weigh little. PGBs make great wraps for food, clothing and gear. Stick a small amount of stuff in one, then roll it up. This provides multiple layers of protection and cushioning.

Triple-bag-plus food; i.e., wrap up snacks in one bag, TBS packets in another, nest 'em with ramen packages in yet another, then bag this and add to other bagged foods.

Triple-bag Zip-Lok'd frozen chicken breast and wrap in the one paper bag you carry. Nest in food bag, or if many hours until use, your fleece.

Bag fresh fruit or veggies separately, carry in food bag. Assume and defend against leakage.

Bag first-aid.

Double-bag night hat, fleece jacket and pants.

Double-bag spare shirt, socks, gloves, mts bottoms.

Bag rain jacket, pants. Keep handy, perhaps in lid. With self-stuffing pockets, forego the bag.

Bag stove.

Bag fuel canister.

Bag coffee pot; double-bag if used in campfire.

Bag flip-flops.

Double-bag tent pegs/guy ropes.

Bag multi-tool.

Bag Hiker water filter if no dedicated pack pocket.

Double-bag sleeping bag.

Must she use PGB's, one might ask? Sometimes you find a plastic bag that might be better in an application without handles. Not often. Handles work great for tie-ups, hang-ups and hold-ons. Use any bag you like, of course. Shy away from bread bags and the like as these are already impregnated with food odors. Carry no spares. As you eat down your food supply you'll generate extras.

Do not carry factory stuff sacks for:

Tent pegs, since they're PGB'd.

Tent poles, which wrap up in the tent roll.

Tent (unless you are an external framer and therefore carry it on the outside).

Mattress (As you are by nature careful, the odds of snagging a hole in the mattress are slight. Unlike the tent, you can live through a flat mattress).

Stove, which is pgb'd.

Water filter.

Sleeping bag, pgb'd.

This may at first feel naked, but it saves up to a pound. Another pound of chocolate will help munch through any lingering reservations.

You'll have a gallon plastic jug, two-liter jug, mug and hydration bladder. You need no other water containers. Don't carry miscellaneous food containers no matter how cute.

If you have severe sensitivity to crush issues, that's part of the purpose of the coffee pot. Always putting something in the pot is easy enough; deciding what merits such quality carriage can be nettlesome.

No pot holder. Use your pack towel.

Don't forget a hard case for your glasses/sunglasses.

Carry one plastic garbage can liner for a pack cover.

You may need to repackage CampSuds or sunscreen. Avoid bottles with the tippy-dimple lid closure. They open on contact. Use the flip-up type of spout if any and always carry in a liquid-tight wrap that will also keep the spout from creeping up. Squeeze-test any bottle to verify no air escapes.

Get a holster for gps and REI small accessory pocket for camera, hanging both from the sternum strap. Don't otherwise add pockets, compartments and cargo holds. Accessories after the fact add too much weight in fabric and attachment devices.

No pillow pocket or pillow. Use your fleece. If you have to wear your fleece in bed, you're too cold to care about keeping your head up.


40.       Fixings

Zippers. Most tents, sleeping bags and jackets tout self-correcting zippers. You won't likely yank the slider off track, but if you do, all's not lost. Simply feed the slider back onto the track and it'll work. The reason you don't want a tent ever used by Dipstick or Junior is they get up to pee in the night. They have to hurry. They yank. Yanking tears teeth loose from the mounting. Loose teeth jam the slider and prevent closure. Tent's not bug tight anymore.

Poles. You checked before you left home to make sure nobody else had taken out a pole or damaged one trying to fish his underwear out of the trees. About the only way to damage a pole would be to step on it if you're a woman; or to snap it trying to force it to fit the wrong grommet if you're a man. If you bend a pole so much it cannot be used, go ahead and bend it back. It will snap. Splint with a tent peg tied with dental floss or parachute cord held in place with medical tape. Tents often come with a splint tube, but you won't damage a pole because you aren't with any stupid people. Don't carry the splint.

Shock cord. These never break unless really old or someone's trying to see how far he can pull the poles apart until the shock cord breaks. Though inconvenient, especially in a sleeve tent, structural integrity does not rely on shock cords. You won't try to fix this in the woods. At home, it's an easy repair that you can easily diagnose. If there's little elasticity left in the cord, replace it.

 Lay the pole out fully extended. Using a cloth to keep from scoring the tips, grab with pliers and wriggle them out. Undo the knot and remove the shock cord. Replace that with a cord 2/3 the length of the extended pole. Knot one end to a tip. Feed the other end through each pole section. When you run out of slack, pull the cord to stretch it, step on it at the last section end to hold it in place. Repeat a section at a time. Knot the cord through the tip. Tap the tips back in.

Seams. You would have noticed any impending disaster from checking the tent at home. Seams will leak, but rarely rip. If you insist on using an old piece of crap tent because sentimental value requires, carry enough nylon thread to sew it up. Seams come pre-taped on new tents and probably won't leak the first season or two. Thereafter, a nice messy application of seam sealer may be required now and then. Or, buy a new tent. Six nights at say, $250 is $42 a night. That's the cost of Motel Six, minus all the body fluids squirted around by strangers who have no money.

Mesh. Put a cigarette in contact with mesh and you've got instant hole big enough for a cockroach migration. This tells you something about cinders popping from the fire, which really should be the only way you get a hole in the mesh or any part of the tent with the possible exception of the floor. Round off two pieces of tape, and sandwich the mesh. This won't last long, but may keep the bugs out for the night. When you get home, stitch in a mesh patch; send the tent to a repair facility; or get a new tent.

While you may never car camp, Coleman Lanterns offer the best way to burn instant plate-size holes. Walk up to the tent, put the lantern down, unzip the door, poof. If you see a new tent that comes in a color you like better, let Junior borrow your tent for a weekend with his buddies. You can then replace the tortured shelter with the new one.

Body. Your good tent's body boasts ripstop nylon, so tears shouldn't run. The patch of nylon tape will work for permanent repairs. Permanent means until you get home and buy a new tent.

Floor.  Tape both sides with adhesive nylon. Stitch it in if you must, and tape over the stitching on the outside. At home, you can fuss more to get it better. Cello tape the uncoated (out) side of the tear to get the fabric right. Flatten the material over a smooth surface and press nylon tape onto the other (in) side. Remove the cello tape and run a slight bead of seam sealer over the tear. Let that dry, and then cover it with nylon tape as well. Tape won't stick as tight to the uncoated side, so make sure to check it after each use. Always round off the corners of tape before applying it.

Fly. Tape should stick to this, too, especially the coated underside. If you happen to trip on a guy line and rip the fly, you'll know why you should have traded out the guy lines that came with the tent for 1/8th inch shock cord. Tape may help; or tape and sewing. As the devil would have it, trip-caused injuries to the fly happen most readily and repairs don't come easy. One more reason to go alone.

Pegs. Only morons can wreck something made of solid metal. Pegs bend when hammered. Don't hammer. Press in with hand or foot.

Tensioners. Throw them away.

Guys. If a rodent takes a liking to guy lines as nest material, you've discovered another of the myriad uses of parachute cord.

ThermArest. You could drop your Leatherman knife point on the mattress and that might make a hole. You could leave it at the campfire while you go pee, and you can expect a cinder hole. Otherwise, how could you hurt it? Don't carry the factory patching kit, which does work very well for repairs at home. You might get help from tape, but you're probably sleeping the rest of the time on a deflated mattress. You won't die. Sleeping on a flat ThermArest will help train a person to be more careful.

Sleeping bag: See the discussion on tent zippers. Nylon patching tape makes very good permanent repairs for non-seam holes. What would put a hole in your bag? Maybe a rodent chews it. Yes, when you cover the cinder hole with tape no one will be able to see there are no teeth marks. They'll go 'Oh aren't they cute' instead of 'are you smart enough to be in the woods alone?' Be sure to cut the corners off the patch to minimize rolling. You can also sew with needle and thread where necessary, which could be the case if you find a hypothermic Olympian and you must save him or her by naked body contact inside your bag.

Another reason never to loan your bag to junior is that yanking the hood or chest draws tears the grommet loose. Tape may tender some relief from the storm of feathers to follow. The only good lasting fix is not to let him use the new bag you're going to buy. (Yes, if you are a mom, it's wonderful he was once inside you. But never should he be allowed inside your sleeping bag, except for the express purpose of having it wrecked so you can get a new one.)

Boots: Inspect at home for any sign of sole separation. Should this catastrophic failure occur in the woods, take solace the devil had to settle for less than broken bone. Rig a lacing of parachute cord over the top of the shoe and/or around the heel to minimize further separation and flapping. This very unhappy circumstance could cause you to evaluate the prudence of getting any farther from the car. Good boots simply do not fail unless defective. Return them clean to the manufacturer if the retailer refuses your polite and reasonable request for replacement of clearly defective--not worn out--merchandise.

Check laces at home and replace if badly frayed. Parachute cord or tent guys save the day out in the woods.

Clothing: You have needle, thread, dental floss, tape, nylon patching tape and a safety pin. You know what to do.

Water filter: Old hoses crack where joined to inflexible parts. Trim off damage-no need to exhaust yourself in a probably fruitless search for replacement hose. Surgical tubing is easy to find at hospital supply stores and works. It's floppy, and breaks down in a couple of seasons.

 Test filter at home to make sure it works; and if the element's new, to flush carbon dust. If it won't prime, or it's more than a few years old, lubricate seals with silicone gel. In the field an application of lip balm may temporarily restore a worn, dry seal. With the Hiker the only other repair in the field, or at home, for that matter, is to swish the filter in hot (not too hot or the plastic stabilizer will melt) water and shake it out. Get a new element next time you're in the store.

Pack: Buckles. About the only way buckles break is to slam the car door on 'em. It may be possible to lose a buckle if you leave it dangling loose. The lid of many internal frames doubles as a fanny pack. Its buckle's the same one as for the hip belt. Either way, don't carry a spare for a failure almost certain never to occur. Sew parachute cord to the webbing and tie a bow knot.

The rest of the pack's buckles are smaller but all the same size. Prioritize and rob. Parachute cord may come to the rescue as not a pretty fix, but a way to get things tight.

Straps. While not common, the more likely strap failure would be pulling loose from its anchor; or a rodent chew. Maybe you can sew it back in place if you have the patience to push the needle through multiple layers of heavy fabric. More likely you'll need to fabricate an alternate anchor using a loop of parachute cord tied off to any fixed point.

If Chewy left enough material, double over a strap at the end and sew a loop for a parachute cord anchor or lap the pieces with thread for a shorter but serviceable strap. If a strap pulls loose from your new name-brand pack, return it. Don't expect sympathy if the strap shows teeth marks from Vice-Grips and boot prints on the pack.

Pack body. Unless you let Dipstick use your pack to carry an old car battery, there's not much a person can do to damage the body of the pack. Rodents will chew holes to get at food. Better to leave access for the little buggers to snoop at will. Stuffed taut as drum skin, fabric dragged over granite will abrade nearly instantly, especially sandwiched between rock and something hard-edged inside the pack, like mug, coffee pot, etc. Nylon patching tape inside and out helps hold things in. Stitching may be required.

Some manufacturers apply waterproof coating inside. This eventually crumbles. If you love the pack, think about other things. If you don't like it, the thing's falling apart and Dipstick should put a new one on your birthday list.

Clevice pins: External packs use clevice pins and retainers at approximately 10 points. The two anchoring the bottom ends of the shoulder straps are most vulnerable to wear. Check them before every outing. Carry one spare pin and retainer if you are a pessimist and question your ingenuity. Make sure it's long enough for the bottom anchor.

Vista: Plopped in water and retrieved quickly, restore service by removing battery cover and batteries to dry out. You can't do anything if it otherwise fails in the field. Send it back to Garmin with a nice note if you hope to get warranty service. Realize satellite locks can be temperamental. Be sure the problem is not operator related. Try batteries proven to have power.

Stove: Canister stoves rarely fail. They are generally not serviceable. If your Giga Power pukes, contact Snow Peak and they'll give you a new one. No help in the field, but cook comfortably knowing that's how good a product you have.

If for some ridiculous notion you have a liquid fuel stove, tote along the cleaning kit's wrench, jet cleaner and lube if you really worry a lot. The most common problems are jet clogs or dry seals. If more serious problems arise, hammer it with a rock.

Compass: Wrecking a compass in the wilds would be like tossing your parachute out the door. Don't be near anyone with such a penchant. However, given the importance of the device and the fact it's not actually connected to the body and can potentially be left on a rock somewhere, carry a spare. Many items like trekking poles, key fobs and whistles build in a compass. If you can make your sewing needle float in your mug, it may divine North-South. Yep. Carry a spare.

A compass must be level. Some contain a leveling bubble. If from bobbing around the bubble gets under rotating parts, reliability goes South.  


41.       Navigation

About 200 years ago Merriwether and his buddy William and crew went on a walkabout from parts known to those otherwise, all at the behest of President Tom Jefferson and, presumably, the call of nature. After some months of brush beating the party happened upon a clearing occupied by persons of an aboriginal bent. Those persons rose to say 'We are Shoshone. Who are you?'

Merriwether, famous for his ability at dead reckoning and thus knowing how far he and company had gone, but lacking any clue as to where, replied in haste 'Where the fuquarwi.'

The name morphed to mean any person not of an understanding as to their extant location. In fact, of course, the person very well knows his or her location as they stand on it. The part missing is where is that in relation to where they expected they should be. Where the pure delight of playing with one's self turns otherwise at the moment of being caught red handed, so does the will of a backpacker expire the exact moment of perceiving the devil's grip of being lost.

The first impulse is to look around to see who can be blamed. It's the stupid ass forest service who can't erect a proper sign, no matter you're off trail. There probably was a sign, and some damnable vandals tore it down and burned it. Some idiot put up a duck just to make you go the wrong way.

Next comes the re-ignited conviction that in light of the consequences which cannot be tolerated, being lost therefore cannot be the case.

Then, 'You stupid, stupid fool.'

Probably, 'I never should have bought that dumbass book. Boy when I get out of this am I taking that thing back to the store with a piece of my mind.'

Finally, 'What now?'


Take off your pack.

Nibble chocolate and peanuts.

Sip water.

Take a few deep breaths.

Turn on the gps.

Dig out your map.

If it's late, consider camping where you are.

Rule #1 of being lost: Plowing forward won't help.

Though most people walk in circles, you may not recognize where you've been when you return. Stubbornly trekking does little more than put you more at a loss, with a few more blisters and less energy to think.

Try to figure out on the map what you did. Put your finger on where you camped last night. Advance to the most recent last known point. Estimate how much time you've walked and how far that likely would be even if you went in a straight line. Make a circle around the point. You're somewhere inside the circle.

Compass-orient map to ground. The MapSource map you printed, and the topo map you purchased for the area both show arrows designating True North and Magnetic North. Align the latter to your compass needle, and map's oriented to ground. Now orient body to map, meaning face True North. Peaks and other markers showing on the map may be visible on the ground. 'If that's Groundhog Ridge over there, then Whistler's Peak should be over, yep, there. So what's behind me is Dodge Valley. That should put me about here.' Unless you're on flat ground enveloped by trees, you should be able to narrow down your location. Although maps are a flat depiction of what's on a big ball, verified sighted points evidence your location precisely enough.

While this procedure provides proof, any human can construe any sighting to be anything she wants to see. You must sit down and calm yourself to 'see' reality.

By now the gps should either have locked on to enough satellites or given you the nasty message it has decided to give up trying. With a lock, decipher the screen. With map cartography in your unit, does the unit's map show the same contours and features as the paper map for where you think you are? If so, you're not lost anymore. If not, keep working at it until the gps verifies your position.

If you did follow the suggestion to get a Vista gps and load maps into it for the area you chose to visit, and you further created a route with many waypoints that you printed and have with you, now you know why. Find the nearest waypoint showing on the gps, and locate it on the printed map. Voila! Couldn't be simpler. Now that you've established where you are and where you want to go, proceed.

If you don't have map data in your gps, at least you filled the unit with a dozen or more waypoints to help you see where you are, relative to the waypoints you entered and printed on your map.

And if you didn't do any of that, who are you mad at?

So the gps won't lock and you've tossed it over the brink of despair into the gaping abyss of frustration. You still have a map. What does this Magnetic and True North stuff mean? First, North only matters as a point of reference. You could as easily pick South or East Northeast, but maps are always (almost) oriented True North; and compass needles always point Magnetic North. But you left your compass back at the spring and trying to find it got you lost. Start with finding North.

In summer, in the US, the sun sets very close to west. Point to the setting sun with your left arm straight out from the side, and you'll be facing close enough to North. Scratch an arrow in the dirt. If you spend the night, point to the rising sun with your left arm and you'll be facing south. Scratch another arrow. The two arrows should be roughly parallel. If they are, you've got directions. If not, you either aren't in the US or it's not summer.

For a faster fix, plant your trekking pole tip deep enough to hold the stick upright. Holding your watch flat (if you bother to carry one), aim 12 at the direction of the sun. Observe the shadow from the pole. About halfway between the shadow and 12 should be approximate North.

Never trust the sun directly as a guide for hiking. You're on a spinning ball spinning around the sun.

If you can see points of reference on the ground, orient the map to them. As you lost your compass and cannot verify, confirm enough points of reference that you cannot be wrong. Try to prove wrong instead of right, to overcome the devil's desire to make you see what you wish instead of what's so. Intention means little to geography.

Estimate the distance you are from two points on the map that you can see on the ground. Triangulate yourself on the map as the third point. For example, if Point A and Point B are two inches apart on the map, and looking at the ground you're about twice as far from A as from B, that will help locate your spot on the map. Now aim to where you need to get. Find two places on the ground to use as reference points to keep you going in a straight line.

Forever after you will carry a backup compass, such as might accompany a whistle, for example. Even the most rudimentary instrument, held away from all metal, helps you chart a path better than you might without.

Compass reads magnetic field. Anomalies in the Earth's magnetic field cause readings to deviate from True North. The red end of the needle's always going to point to Magnetic North. The amount of deviation, if any, depends on where you are on the Earth. In Minnesota declination runs about zero. In the California Sierras it tracks about 15 degrees East. Walk 15 degrees off course all day, or 30 because you turned the declination ring the wrong way, you won't wind up where you want. Avoid this easily.

A map oriented to True North automatically orients to Magnetic North, and vice-versa. Do not fuss over orienting compass to True North. Declination's tricky at the best of times, and confusion reigns in fear of being lost. Simply set a heading based on Magnetic North. Center compass over a line between where you are and where you want to go. If the compass has a declination ring, turn it so 0 sits on the line facing the direction you want to go. You might not actually draw a line; it might be an imaginary line. Note the degree number now indicated at the point of the compass needle. This is compass navigation at its simplest, for you alone. If you're a fighter pilot coordinating headings for your squadron, you probably want more complex instruction.

To navigate, hold the compass steady and level in front of you. Adjust your body orientation to keep the red end of the compass needle on the proper degree number and walk toward 0. Thus in theory, you are walking the exact line on the map. In practice, there will be stuff in your way you have to walk around. Since you won't know how much off course the obstacles force you, navigating by compass alone leaves plenty of room for error even in the absence of mistake.

Enter the beauty of gps. Tell it to seek a waypoint, and follow the arrow. It doesn't care how far off course an obstacle forces you because it doesn't work on a heading. It simply points to where you told it you want to go, and adjusts to your movement. This assumes a tight satellite lock, which will not be a safe assumption.

Enter the frustration of gps. Sometimes the needle points exactly and sometimes it doesn't. You won't know. 'Average' the swings of the needle and you'll probably get exactly where you want. Do not respond to every twitch of the needle; and realize it may swath as much as 180 degrees, especially in trees. Use compass to ensure you are walking in a relatively straight line and to confirm gps.

A gps is as certain as a dog following its nose, only you don't know what smell the dog decides to follow or when. Do you need one? If you want to hike off trail, yes. You also need to understand how to navigate by map and compass. Some people have a built-in sense of direction, but most need the assist of technology. Merriwether Lewis could look at a lump of dirt in the distance and know how far, but he's not going to be there to help you figure whether that next ridge is half a mile or two miles. There are times when you need to know, and with map, compass and gps, you can nail it. Much of the time you will know from gps alone, but unlike what you did with Dipstick, you don't want to risk your life betting on uncertainty.

GPS stands for global positioning system. Or Get Positively Situated. Or Go Pretty Sure. Buy one of these miniaturized marvels with enough memory to load map cartography.

Garmin's etrex is great if all you want is to mark where you are and be able to navigate back to that point. The Vista is two-and-a-half times the money, but ten times the navigational value with accessory map software. Under six ounces, easier to operate than a cell phone and smaller than a pack of Virginia Slims it puts a map in hand to provide reference data along with the locator icon. You can use it mark locations you aren't at; and to check distances.

What lost morons do:

Drop their pack. Think about this. A backpacker lost or not has right on her back everything to enjoy a pleasant night in the woods. So they get disoriented, drop their pack to check something out up the ridge or down it, and presto! The pack's still where they left it, but they don't know where that is. The person not wanting to spend the night huddled against a tree will never let her pack out of sight. Not for any reason. Not just to get a quick peek from the top of the hill. Not just to see if there's water down in that hole. Not just because rodents may chew holes and steal/contaminate food. Not just because another moron might come along and take it. Not just because it might be hard to find. Not for any reason! You're lost. It's getting late. You can't afford precious time looking for your pack. Use what daylight you have to find the best campsite for the night. Being lost presents the backpacker no hazard. Being lost without a pack promises a long night at best, and calamity at worst.

'Just to the right of the sun.' The earth's spinning. The sun's no more reliable than a cloud. One thing you know the sun will do is change lighting. Never expect to find something again by remembering how things look. Find things by locating them on the map or gps.

Straying from camp at night. Unless you poop in your pup tent, you may have occasion to walk a ways from camp in the dark. Even on moon-lit nights, never lose sight of your tent. Do not expect that because you are under the tallest tree, all you will have to do is find the tallest tree to get back. If you have a campfire, that should serve as a beacon, though a moron will stoke it 'just to be certain' and light the entire forest afire while away. If you don't have a fire, leave your headlamp on, hanging from a branch or in some fashion fixed so that it can't roll over on its lens. Always carry your Blast into the night-you want a photon cannon to bore a big enough hole in the dark to glean orientation. If you want to turn the Blast off for any reason away from camp, zip it into a pocket or string it around your neck first. If the light's out and you drop it or lose track of exactly where you put it, how you going to find it? A moron would never bother to carry a pinch light for backup.

Ask Prince Charming. He's no help when you're lost. Sure you may find most delightful sleeping the night away with him. But much of the preceding discussion amounts to what he will think are directions. Map = Directions. He won't tolerate looking at the map and you'll spend a lot of time flopping around lost.


42.        Planning Distance

Two miles an hour on trail; 1/2 mile XC.

Remember sitting in the back seat with your bladder screeching in agony and your dad consoling with the assurance of 'almost there.' Your walk in the wilds will help you overcome the lingering need to press on without due consideration of consequence.

Hiking Rule Number 1: To get somewhere, move toward it. The part that's different, different from when Dad found himself consumed by an unyielding will to make time, is that in the wilds there are no required destinations. You may very well decide you have found a right spot to camp. Indeed, you may not even like it, but may stake it out anyway. When you don't want to go any farther, don't. That's Rule Number 2.

You practiced a bit of walking around the block at home. You conditioned your body to handle exertion for several hours, with short breaks at certain intervals. You're comfortable with an elevated heart rate. Getting sweaty does not strike fear your body may be liquifying.

How far to go? How much do you want to hurt to get there? Wouldn't it be great to shuck your Calvinist conscience and believe fun is fine and suffering not necessary to enter the kingdom of pleasure? If you've not conditioned your back to carry a load; if you've not developed your lungs to the point past burning as soon as you hit a second flight of stairs, you can still go in the woods. You probably won't go as far.

You don't need to go far. Greatest pleasure comes from several hours of exertion each day, getting a dopamine kick. Should you practice carrying your pack? Not obsessively, as walking around with a load on your back to get prepared for walking around with a load on your back could be just about as much fun as a treadmill. Read an issue of 'Shape' that talks about lower back strengthening. That alone, the reading, will not gain much, so ease into the actual regimen. Start with one Hershey's Kiss between your lips as you tighten into a crunch and work up to maybe three. Then a couple of times in the weeks before you head out, try a one mile hike in pack to make sure everything's fit.

A short hike in pack also notifies tender skin covering hip bones that a new style of activity's on the way and don't get too overly excited and blister up over it. Those cells have never had to do anything but gather water and they need to be shown who's boss.

The certain fact underlying plausible route plans is how far you can expect to walk each day. Consider all of these components: Physical condition, load, motivation, determination, weather, altitude, gain/loss, trail condition. The first four things you must ruminate within. Altitude and gain/loss you can divine from MapSource and usually as well from hike descriptions in books. Weather and trail conditions can change and you aren't likely to know what you're walking in and on until you get there.

All that in mind, assume average speed two miles an hour over the full route round trip on trail. How many hours a day do you want to walk? In the event you aren't sure, assume three yields the desired exercise buzz for six miles, probably, at the outside. Best advice would be, for your virgin outing, about 2-4 miles a day.

That's trail. Your route reaches out to really cool places off the trammeled path. Conditions vary widely, but for planning purposes assume one-half mile per hour. Off trail's certainly not any less physically demanding, and three hours likely would be the limit for most reasonably fit and rationally motivated backpackers. One and-a-half miles.

Assume day one's hiking hours may be shortened by the drive to the trailhead; you'll want a rest day; and that half your hiking time will be on trail and half off. That rounds out to 16 miles on trail and 4.5 off. Thus, you'll want to plot a route of something in the range of 20 miles for the week if you are fit, determined, zealous and intrepid. Since it's all in pack, you can expect this route to melt off a full pound, and, while on the subject, you'll eat less. You could very well pare off 2-3 honest pounds. Tone your muscles and shuck some flab. How bad's that?

The next most important thing to realize about carrying a pack and walking is that you make headway to a spot only by moving toward it. This may seem substantially similar to Rule One. Consider it in the context of the maniac who slams the trunk lid and bounds away to the trailhead. He probably will have to stop before he gets to the sign-in board. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the trekker who can maintain a mile an hour will beat the rabbit running off at a blistering velocity of three or four. Don't worry about being slow; don't even think it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Now to reckon this with your protestant penchant to 'make time.' The difference lies in the mind. You aren't thrashing your way into the woods unmindful of everything but a driving hunger to get to Waypoint A in Timeframe X. Being in a hurry charts the fastest way to nowhere. Haste almost always makes hikers camp somewhere other than planned. No hurry. No harm in not making Waypoint A. No shame in adjusting a route to suit how you find yourself feeling. Remember, you've everything you need right on your back. You don't have to get anywhere.

Don't set yourself up for disaster on the final leg of your route. Treading new turf every step can be the most fun, but if you're having second thoughts on day three about getting to half-way by day four, adjust the route. Never leave yourself with several days of hiking for the last day. A real man might do that, anticipating a surge of adrenaline from the motivation of need. Men enjoy making themselves suffer. A smart hiker wants to be home before anyone calls out the militia. (Indeed there could be people in the militia you would be pleased to meet. Join the volunteers who hunt for the lost if you like, but don't make them find you).

Veterans will tell you they don't do a lot of sight seeing on the trail. Watch your feet. Stop if you want to gawk at the pretty waterfall or the splendid panorama. Think of walking as if you were piloting a vehicle on a narrow mountain road: Watch where you're going. Every third or fourth step you can glance up the trail to avoid walking into a horse's butt or off a cliff or past the trail junction. If you spy something worthy of stopping to see, stop.

The splendor of the wilds offers reward for the trek, of course, but the journey through them is where you find yourself. Establish a rhythm of watching your feet and glancing up; maintain an even rate of exertion; and find the mind traveling at great speeds to new places. Looking at pretty trees is nice, but you won't break your fascination with how much the feet want out of your boots. Find autopilot to get out of the body and reach a new kind of joy.

Off trail you're fully occupied finding the next step. Clutching knick-a-nick on a steep traverse leaves whiny body little audience with brain. Brain can't hear a naggy little blister when eyes feed it data computing 'We're gonna' die.'

On or off trail, think of forward motion as requiring a certain rate of 'burn.' Maintain burn over changing terrain, varying speed. Feel no urge to maintain a certain speed, but rather a steady level of energy output. What level? One you can maintain for three hours without exhaustion.

One foot in front of the other. Eat a chocolate elephant one bite at a time. When you feel like stopping, say you will, just around the next corner. Do, if you feel like it. On autopilot, you'll probably forget. Body has no determination. It wants to slack off, sit down in the shade and shuck the pack. Put your brain in charge. It will not forsake the body, and will guide it to new horizons.

Tricks to outwit the body? Think of it as your temple, certainly, and also a tormented four-year-old. Sure it wants candy, and you're going to let it have some. All it has to do is walk another hundred steps. Yes it's hot and sticky and if it doesn't quit with the whining, it's going into the next pool of melt water to float with the ice. Yeah, the shoulders ache some, but what exactly is the relationship between fairness and love and war?

Level is easiest.

Uphill is safest-you haven't as far to fall if you trip. You can also learn to rest on your back leg by bringing your weight over the knee and holding it there a fraction of a second. Multiplied by the two thousand times a mile you do that for each leg, there's rest in it.

Downhill's hardest because gravity works against weaker muscles. Take a header, you've a long way to go before you land, and the pack's going to land on top of you. Resist gravity and maintain enough control to fall backwards if you must. Straighten your back as you fall to make the pack take the landing and not your tail bone.

Be extremely mindful during off-trail traverses, which means walking with downhill to your side. Such angle of declivity requires precise and persistent concentration. Needles, leaves, loose dirt, grass and such can make a surface slippery, not to mention stumbling over sticks and in gopher holes. Skidding downhill with ankles sideways risks a boot edge grabbing and your ankle not stopping. This easily blows the joint apart and requires knives and needle and thread and screws and bolts to put it back together. Never attempt to slide sideways on your feet. Maybe you'll get away with it. Maybe you will have to ride a horse out. You won't like the latter unless zipped inside a bag tied over the animal's back.

That's a lot of stuff to think about without having to chew gum.

Should you think about wearing a bell for walking? The racket can't be assured to keep a bear from launching an attack on you and will more likely provoke one from any hiker you encounter. After 15 or so bear encounters in the last 5 years, none of them less exciting than the last, Geezer has decided to strap one to his wrist for hiking at night and when alone and not talkative in heavy brambles. It has spooked a few deer. For bears, it seems to work as well so far as standing on the street corner blowing soap bubbles to keep away the elephants.


43.        Scrambling

You know how to scramble eggs-no thought to where you're going with 'em. Same in the outback. Crawl over rocks as if you're a centipede with a candy bar on it's back. The major difference will be the number of ground contact points. You have four. You scrambling are a quadrapede.

Never scramble in dark. You will die. You don't have to like Darwin to prove out his postulates.

Scrambling's superlicious exercise engaging every muscle of your body. Challenge balance, coordination, strength, stamina and mind control. Get to places no man has ever been. Reach into the sky higher than Godzilla. Rinse out your lungs with air thinner than the plot of an Arnie movie and gorge eyes on feasts of colorific panoramae. Saddle the crest of a continental divide with a foot hanging over each edge and marvel 'Holy bananna, how'd I get here!' Have a piece of chocolate and feel your adrenaline surge into the stratosphere. You be top dog.

Off-trail's typically what you do to get to the point where you begin scrambling. That's the difference, to make the etymological point. You'll most likely be off trail when you're scrambling, clinging to a ridge like fuzz to Velcro. Scrambling to off-trail's like freefalling to parachuting, to make a simile which may not be all that comforting. Scrambling, alone, pushes the envelope. Are you intrepid; or are you a moron? Depends on the result.

Easiest scrambling happens above tree line. You might be on solid granite, but then it's not really scrambling if you can hump along without a hitch. Crossing a mountain range gives the best scrambling, where great big rocks require you, get this, scramble over. Risks include rock fall, body fall, shifting rock, sharp rock and stumbling into spaces too small to get back out. The guy who cut off his arm was scrambling. The list of people faring as poorly is pretty short, and you with your wits and good luck will not lengthen it.

Scrambling Rule Number One: If matters get so intense you can't stop shaking, rethink your route.

Not uncommonly will you scratch and sniff your way to the top of a hog back only to peer into space on the other side. Plenty of topo study beforehand helps. Looking for a good time, you never know until you see whether you can negotiate a face. Just remember that going down taxes abilities more than going up. Stubbornly going ever up could lead you to a long and windy night practicing your guru pose.

Something else to remember: Gravity doesn't like rocks in the sky. Standing on nothing but your tippytoes, hugging a boulder and chinning your way up over it, you have to know that rock may stay there a millennium or a second. Gravity's real mad about anything being up. It's pulling and conniving and persistent like the reasons to get a divorce. You might outlast 'em, but they never go away. Think about that when you're on the downhill side of an uphill rock.

Think before you leap.

Avoid sticking your foot between two rocks. What happens if one shifts?

There are reasons why you are standing on turf never before trodden.


44.       First Aid

Nothing you carry will be enough if you wind up needing it. Don't try to cover every conceivable circumstance. Here's a chance to take a chance, because that's life.

Plenty of waterproof Band-Aids. Stash 'em throughout the pack and always have several quickly at hand.

Medical tape in a one-inch width upstages duct tape.

Sewing needle's a great complement to tweezers for removing splinters and doubles for gear repairs. Poke it in an edge of cardboard wrapped with a couple feet of thread.

Dental floss makes decent repair string and can help hold bandages in place. Also cleans between teeth.

Bactine kills bugs in cuts and scrapes.

StingEze calms bites and stings.

Aspirin keeps your heart from clogging after an attack.

Ibuprofen helps against swelling.

Scotch makes everything feel better.

One small bandage and one big one just in case.

Sun screen on your nose all day and tops of feet when you're in flip-flops at camp.

One pair of latex medical gloves.

Contact lens cleaner, conditioner, case.


Pinch light so you won't confuse Prep H with toothpaste.

Space Emergency Blanket will be worth its three ounces in gold if you need it. You have high performance outerwear and a high risk tolerance, so you could leave this out.

Aluminum foil may help signal attention. Tear off a foot and fold to nest in your paperback. Nest in cook pot if you carry a stove, and use as a ground reflector. Do take care to keep it reasonably smooth, however, so it will actually reflect sun. Or carry a featherweight Signal Mirror which sort of works for putting on makeup and shaving and features an aiming aperture if you do need to signal. Consider a compass model with sighting mirror, Silva Guide 426, for example, obviating need of foil or mirror.

Lip balm, kept handy as you need it often for keeping lips hydrated and comfy. Also works to soften dried, cracking fingers and feet if you run out of Neutrogena. (If you choose an external frame pack, the lip balm fits perfectly in the top tube. Remove the extension bar if it has one, which is useless weight anyway. Or remove the plug. Get a balm with a cap that has a string, ordinarily used for letting the product hang from the neck. Tie the string to the frame. Now you can reach the lip balm any time you need it; and even if it falls out when you take off the pack, the string keeps it from being lost).

Parachute cord, or any three-millimeter cord, in one 50-foot length if you tarp; and one 30 and two 10's. You need this to tie splints and any bitten off pieces. Most frequent use will be food bag hanging, but it has surprising utility.

PGB (plastic grocery bag) stuff by frequency of need. For example, toothbrush and comb go in one plastic grocery bag, needle and thread in another, along with the other stuff you hope you won't need. Anything opened or otherwise emitting odors goes in the food bag, which would be a logical place to put the 30-foot cord.

Now you may be wondering how to brush your teeth and leave a campsite not looking as if a flock of seagulls had roosted. Never spit at the campfire or around the site. Go off a bit, grind out a little hole with your heel and make your deposit.


45.        The site of blood

While there may be some similarities in an allegorical sense between bears and sharks, and...well, let's talk about this. Bears will eat anything, as opposed to fussier sharks. Sharks can't run on land, but bears can outswim humans. Sharks don't have claws. OK, there aren't so many similarities after all. Probably the single likeness resides in the irrational fear of these animals. Rational fear means don't tempt or provoke them. Thus, if blood's coming out of you anywhere, don't go in the ocean. Maybe it's not convenient to go in the woods, as the manner in which you mop up the flow may leave residual. Paper and cloth dressings can be burned. Plastic containers for such should not. This means you must carry out feminine applicators, for example, as evidently not even the chipmunks will chew them.

Bears being pretty bright it's perhaps reasonable to suppose they can draw the relationship between the smell of blood and the possibility of meat. As people pose the worst of bad juju to black bears, they pose little threat to bleeding humans. Ants and crows certainly will eat you if given the opportunity. Larger creatures in the forest will not attack you because you are bleeding.

Nevertheless, an injured person will in most circumstances be best advised to address the issue as promptly as possible. Perhaps the leading cause of blood loss is chapped skin. Maybe a torn fingernail.

The most probable site of blood will be the hands, suffering miscue with a sharp object. Tuna can lids want to cut and go to great lengths to achieve what appears to be their chief purpose. Those others will leave such sabotage in and around fire pits-beware! Never fish around in any kind of debris with unprotected hands. Lids or their known associates of glass shards literally snag any chance to do their work.

Carry one larger gauze dressing and enough Band-Aids to fix at least one nasty cut (which you won't get if you're careful) in addition to blister management.

Here's where going alone gets exciting. If you lose your ability to walk while bushwhacking, the odds of being found in time may not be in your favor. However, do not immediately give up hope. You were careful to leave a detailed route with someone and instructions for when to notify authorities should your absence be extended. Before you abandon your pack and try to crawl back to your car, consider whether you are better off to stay put. Exertion compounds blood loss and may exacerbate injury. The distance you can crawl with a pack on your back is very short under any circumstances, and shorter still when the exercise results from necessity. Consider whether you can expect to find your circumstance improved by nightfall if you plan to shuck the pack for easier crawling.

There's no certain answer. If you're injured the first day out on a seven-day outing, can you last a week before rescue? You're as close to the car as you're going to be for a week. If you've broken an arm, get up and walk. If your shoe's upside down and your foot's still in it, maybe you'll have to lash a stick to your leg and hobble out. If you're on trail, someone will probably come along. Set your priority to stopping any blood loss and making yourself as comfortable and warm as possible until they do. If you're off trail, you have to assume no one will be in shouting distance until someone comes looking for you. Stop the bleeding (lots of first aid manuals on this, no reason to cover it here) and get calm enough to think your way through at least two alternatives.

Think on how to be as warm as possible. It's best to get on your back if you can, and elevate your feet. Even a minor injury when alone can lead to shock, impairing powers of judgment. If you decide your best option's to wait for rescue, take stock of your water supply. Think about the best way to set camp-you can't drag the stuff very far, but you can't crawl back and forth to water, either.

You'll want the best way possible to attract attention to yourself, so try to find an opening if you're in trees. Carry a whistle. Rather than scream yourself to death, cover your ears and blow about three seconds, take a breath and count to ten, blow three seconds, take a breath and count to ten, blow three seconds. Uncover your ears and listen for at least a minute. Then repeat the procedure maybe two more times. How often and long to keep this going depends on your condition and location. Blowing a whistle takes energy and will remind you of your injury. Exhausting yourself will not make anyone come. Save your most exuberant blowing for when you get a response. A source of noise can be very difficult to pinpoint, and rescuers may need to hear it several times to figure out from where it comes.

You'll feel smug--probably a good thing lying stranded in dark woods--putting out a strobe for attention. The Tikka Plus will blink many nights, which could help passing aircraft spot your location. (Not jets-too far up). If a plane changes course, vary blinking by turning the lamp on steady and using your hand. This would confirm you require assistance and are not simply sleeping with your lamp blinking. In sunny daylight signal for miles with foil, survival mirror or compass mirror. For close aircraft or a hiker, wave both arms and madly. This reflex is the universal sign for help. Over wilderness, aircraft are not supposed to fly below 10,000 feet. While there may be some ambiguity as to whether this means above sea level or ground level, it surely means your being spotted by casual passing aircraft is not tremendously likely.

Light a forest fire? How fast can you crawl? Keep this in mind if you feel a need to light a fire for warmth.

Remember you are more likely to get trapped in a car fire than a mishap in the woods. Really, the most likely injury will be a burn from picking up a piece of firewood you think isn't burning. Don't do that, and you have nothing to fear but a sinkload of dishes when you get home.


46.       Preparation A-H and beyond.

Keep planning simple, in chewable pieces, and getting prepped for the fun can be fun too. Follow this summary of things to do before you leave, not necessarily in any order of priority.

Peruse a Gazeteer and select general area.

Select area book and study with Gazeteer.

Buy detailed topo map of area.

Buy map software and gps.

Shop for stuff.

Power hike until you can manage three hours of elevated heart rate; set and follow compass heading; mark and find gps waypoints; interpret topo lines.

Make a will, leaving everything to chance.

Shop for stuff.

Hydrate fingers and heels for at least two weeks prior and sand alligator hide with emery board or pumice stone.

Plot route and waypoints, print map detailed with where/when. Copy for someone you trust. Download route/waypoints/cartography to gps.

Shop for food.

Make sure everything fits in your pack.

Seal new shoes; new tent won't need it.

Check coolant, oil, tire pressure including spare.

Put lawn chair, shovel, flashlight, water, wash cloth, towel, drive-home clothes, 2nd flip flops and sealed can of almonds in trunk.

Broil and freeze skinless boneless chicken breast.

Print a checklist of everything you need to remember when you leave the house.

Buy a gushy romance paperback.

Shop for a new weather jacket.

Flush the Hiker water filter and let it dry.

Print a checklist of everything Dipstick needs to do while you're gone.

Call Ranger regarding permits, closures, quotas, campfires; snow, gates, fires or wash-outs affecting access.

Print directions to the trailhead and put them in the glove box.

Double check that gps map and topo map are in pack.

Buy something really expensive from Nordies.

Check pack for everything and lock in your bathroom until you put it in your car to leave.


47.       Boot Camp

Walk the block briskly a few times in your new hiking boots. Let your feet get acquainted with an enclosure likely lots stiffer than they've ever known. Boots will of course be infinitely more comfy than spike heels, so your peds shouldn't put up too much of a fuss even if you skip this.

Prepare the back with a regimen of stretches. You could build strength lugging around the pack for practice. That sounds fun. Chew air doing this and pretend it's chocolate.

You do need air in the lungs; stamina to reach the endorphin level requisite to elevate torture to amusement. Jogging may be most efficient. Biking. Swimming. Walking. You want capacity to walk for three hours uphill. Only occasionally on your week in the woods might you do this, but you need this capacity to think you're having fun.

Burning chest, wobbling knees and hurting everywhere is not fun for most people. A sedentary person packed with glucose and cholesterol strapping a tote bag of stuff may get to the edge of the road before cratering. Be in some semblance of shape to have the most fun outdoors.

Outdoors? Yes, that would be the place to train. But it's raining? Get used to it. It's not very warm? Take it. Put the bon bon down and get your feet down on the sidewalk. Park paths are better if you have convenient access, but get that butt out in the air.


48.       When?

Summer provides satisfactory challenge your first wilderness week. Mild conditions forgive venial mistakes and require less gear. You will visit higher elevations, where snow matters. In many parts of the country and years of average snow, you'll find openings in the latter part of May. Advantages of going early include beating the bug hatch; hiking on firm (dust-free) trails; the most plentiful supply of readily available firewood; and water ever-present in lingering snowdrifts or melt pools. The probability of instable weather in May and even June might exceed risk tolerance if your plans included granite scrambles or you dissolve when wet. You may find yourself walking on snowdrifts; be careful to avoid walking at the edges.

By July most destinations become accessible if not completely snow-free. Firewood's dry, testing one's skills less and generating more confidence along with heat. Weather's more likely settled. Bugs fly in force.

Heaviest crowds develop in August, often the warmest weather and when bugs die down. However, the forest may become dry and closed to campfires. Trail-side camps will be picked clean of fuel. Trails may be at their worst condition, churned to dust. Quotas and reservations can become obstacles. Getting a permit for your preferred route, especially starting on the weekend, can be iffy. August often brings the most intense thunderstorms, which can be titillating.

Post-Labor Day traffic thins out like a furniture store with no sale. September's a striking month as leaves begin to change color. Frost can happen, so a heavier warmth layer should go in the pack, though it might not get used. Men wanting to poke Bambi with arrows could be afoot; or worse, ahorse.

October days can be scintillating under blue skies and red and yellow leaves. Only the sturdier backpackers frequent the woods, making it easy to go a week seeing no one. Nights grow longer and air turns crisp as temperatures dip. Full winter gear would be smart. Snowstorms become possible, and probable by Halloween. People wanting to poke animals with bullets will be prowling many trailheads, but they rarely venture far from the beer cooler.

November's too late for a neophyte's week in the woods as conditions could easily turn serious in that time.

Ten-day forecasts provide only three days notice before you leave for your week. Picking a month historically light on weather offers the best chance, though certainly no guarantee of the gods blessing your choice. If you like being around as many people as ever go in the woods, choose August. To marinate in the solace of nature, go in September.

Mid-week accommodates greatest route choice. Start Wednesday, chances of getting what you want run high compared to Friday or Saturday. Road and trail traffic will be light. Park in the best spot. Be farthest from the trailhead by Saturday; farther than most hikers venture on a weekend.

Consider cycles of the moon. Start several days before full moon, for example, and you'll never be in the dark.


49.       Where?

Unless you don't mind disposable diapers under every rock, you have to go farther than anyone will carry a kid. The car must be far enough away you will suffer no temptation to run to it during the night. (This would apply to your first couple of outings. Thereafter, you have earned your stripes and will be entitled to run to it all you want). You have to get farther than Buster and Hackoff can carry a case of Old Stumpblower. Obviously you don't want to go anywhere bikes might show up.

You also probably don't hunger to walk eight hours a day or wind up sidling in next to a busload of cub scouts, much as we need the next generation to grow up green. But many of us haven't the muscle mass to carry weight a long ways, which for most backpackers is anything over five miles. Probably 98% of backpacking nights get spent less than 5 miles from the trailhead, and that's during the week. On weekends, maybe 1% make it past 5 miles, and if the person's in that good of shape, maybe you'd fancy a meet-up anyway.

The solution's quite simple if not deceptively so. Get off the trail. Stay on the trail for six miles, you might have fellow hikers within snoring distance. A hundred yards off the trail, chances are slim to none of anyone within 100 yards.

You may also appreciate the aesthetics off trail. High traffic grinds trail to a floating talcum of horse manure and dust. We're not just talking dirty. Gasping second-hand crap's not for smelling and tasting high air at its best.


50.        Map software. 

Garmin's Mapsource. Current product allows you to peruse at a view of 1:100,000 (1 inch on the map =s 100,000 inches on the ground) to comb more carefully through the wilderness after selecting a page out of the Gazeteer. Learn topo (topography) lines. These diagram the third dimension, altitude, on the two dimensional map. (Think of looking down on a multi-layer wedding cake). Lines squiggle to follow a contour-a specific measure of altitude. Where in reality the ground level goes up and down, map lines move together and apart. The more lines on the map, the more detailed the depiction. Map legends show how many feet of altitude separate each line, usually referred to as interval. In any case, lines close together means the going is steep. Touching means too steep for casual backpacking and likely requires ropes and stuff for those other types trying to defy gravity. (All geezers know this: Falling is never comfortable.)

Discerning uphill from downhill can be confusing. Maps often provide bold lines every 500 feet, for example, with altitude marked on the line. Also look for smaller circles that indicate peaks, and then you know lines progressing from it are downhill. Look for blue lines indicating streams. Blue lines always originate uphill and go down. Blue lines are always in the valleys between ridges and mountains. If you find a blue line, the topo lines on either side are always moving uphill to the top of a ridge or mountain. Of course if you are using your computer or map-enhanced GPS, toggling to where you want to go provides elevation readouts along the way.

Creek crossings can be guesswork. In melt season, water runs high and swift; passage may not be prudent or even possible. Doing your homework, mouse up to where the stream originates. Note how many feeders run into it along the way and how many mountains drain to it. Valley streams often start from a lake, and the larger the lake, the larger the stream, probably. If the stream you want to cross originates only a half-mile or so above the crossing and it's late summer, chances are water won't even be there. On the other hand, if it's June and the head's two miles up from where you want over, you probably can't wade it. Valley trails nearly always cross the attending stream, and in early parts of melt season, these crossings may not be appealing.

The water may look pretty, clear as nail polish thinner. Maybe wedding-veil white in some rapids. Sounds like you're inside a seashell. Early in the year especially, this water is icy cold. Feet go numb quickly. Balance becomes all the more tricky in swift water. If it's more than knee deep and flowing fast enough to make noise, crossing's risky. Regaining one's composure in fast water can be troublesome. It is a lesson best learned from reading. That lesson is to continue upstream until a more somber crossing can be located. If such a crossing cannot be found, pull out the map and chart Plan B.

If you follow the suggestion to trek in August or September, high water likely won't be an issue. Otherwise, consider plotting ridgeline treks. Water runs downhill; hiking ridgelines even at peak melt avoids water hazards.

There's no error in doing your homework only to find actual terrain impassable. This can happen due to high water, lingering snow, erosion fissures not showing on topo, or too much brush. Coastal mountains, for example, choke with tangle. Same for wetter parts of northern mountains, especially lower elevations. The Rockies and Sierras, particularly at elevations high enough for heavy winter snow, tend to be more open. Granite's often quite accommodating. You won't know until you get there. On a pioneering trip, always have Plan B.

The most inviting off-trail conditions flourish at higher elevations. Fewer trees, less brush, lots of granite. Like taking a walk in the park. This would be a generalization with which, when trapped in tentacles of manzanita, you may take exception.

Prudent planning requires a telephone chat with the appropriate ranger station. Don't necessarily assume their advice can be relied upon as rock solid. With no comprehensible rating for terrain you have no way of knowing the context in which an answer will be couched. You are a neophyte calling to ask a stranger about bushwhacking a section of turf you know nothing about. What must the duty-bound ranger feel obliged to advise?

Before calling, educate yourself with enough homework to know standard answers, often not the ultimately correct answer. Your gear store should have a book and map section. Maps list phone numbers. Online is the ubiquitous resource of contact information. Do not assume other info is correct unless it comes with a date.

Sit down with a Gazeteer. Look at the back cover to find a general area. Study each page of that area to find points of interest, such as a cluster of lakes.

Browse the shelf to find hiking books for that area or that include a hike in that area.

Spread out the topo map for that area and find the spots talked about in the hiking book that look interesting.

Buy the book with the most information on your chosen area. Buy the map, too, even though you'll be printing a piece of it from MapSource.


Books aren't always current. In the new age of the Forest Service having no money, ways to extract it from visitors vary by district, change frequently and affect what users may do. Study first. Then ask specific questions and take notes on the answers. Be patient. Ranger Rhonda can visit upon you great and significant inconvenience try otherwise as she might, as well as possibly being a volunteer not trained in customer service or paid to learn it. Be precise. To an educated caller she can be more forthcoming. Where in your woods should I go? and Is it steep? provokes a different line of response than Will you have the Cherry Creek gate open from August 20th through the 28th? Will 3245 from Iron Head likely be free of snow all the way to Coppertail? Will Miner Creek likely be passable at Drowner's Gulch? Can I get a permit at the Oakhurst office on Monday the 14th around 3?

Homework in hand, you are prepared to discuss the following kinds of important questions:

a)      Campfires permitted? (Yes is better).

Horses/dogs/bicycles permitted? (No is better).

What kind of permit is required and where/when can it be obtained?

Quotas on permits?

Road closures, gates, washouts or situations that may affect access to trailhead?

Required gear, such as shovel, pail, ax, animal resistant food container, etc.

Are they aware of an inordinate number of vehicle break-ins at the trailhead?

About where will cell phones quit working? (Though you might leave the thing home anyway).


Call during the day, long before five. Realize the person you talk to most likely has little if any personal knowledge. She's relying on what she remembers being told by visitors (who may or may not know what they are talking about) and workers (who have a bet to see who can get her to swallow the biggest tale). She probably has a visitor in the lobby and two calls holding; or she's on the line trying to talk her daughter out of bed with an unemployed married mill worker who wrecked his truck last night trying to elude the local gendarme in a chase home from the tavern.

Settled on a trailhead, plan a specific route and daily destination. You want to camp near water. Maybe one night you want to visit a mountaintop, but unless you're willing to pay a high cost of inconvenience, these remain the province of gurus and plane crashes. Too much wind, not enough water. If you're there for the view, there won't be any trees, which means no firewood and you'll freeze your piggies after sunset.

Water's what you want, either standing or stream. Snow works, but takes a long time and a lot of fuel to bring to boil. Get off the trail and find a spot rarely used. It's cleaner, softer and quieter. Busy sites are always dusty and hard because traffic grinds off duff, the needles and twigs and cones that make humus, the soft layer over the dirt. Quiet sites have more firewood readily available. Not uncommonly you'll have all you need within spitting distance. You'll never see a bicycle track off trail, and if there's anything worse than a bike it's a horse. You might like breathing horse biscuit dust on the trail, and you might not mind sleeping on it. You won't like camping in the mess left by those others who make animals carry them.

Hmm. Is that also an over-generalization? From experience, probably yes. But no matter how sincerely an equestrian may apologize for Silver's sneezing snot on you, it's still snot. And there does seem to be an incontrovertible relationship between how hard humans must toil to get there and the amount of mess they leave.


51.        Boldly going

Your body's no mindless organism. About the time the front wheels of the Plymouth leave the pavement, body starts talking to brain. It's putting two and two together, having noted the sleeping pad and now realizing the purpose behind such a device. The tent. The water filter. The single bag of food. Body conspires to turn brain against your plan. When your dog has a choice, does it sleep outside on the ground or does it curl up on the bed? You can love your dog all you want, but give some credit to your body's being at least as smart. Body does not want what brain thinks it should have, and body uses all it's guile to get you wheeled around and headed back home.

'You know, there's bugs out there.'

'You don't want blisters for Miranda's wedding.'

'Dipstick's humping that realtor. Hope it's the wife and not the husband. Won't know unless you go home to look.'

'You know, the reason you've got all that first aid stuff is because you might get hurt.'

'How long will it take for someone to find you if you break your foot and can't walk?'

'Kids need you. Aren't you selfish? You want them on drugs and pregnant and their way to hippie communes?'

'Are you sure you won't be attacked by a rabid bear?'

'You want to wake up with a snake in your sleeping bag?'

'Someone's going to take the tires off the Toureg and how will you get home?'

'Maybe Dipstick isn't really all that bad and part of it's your fault and if you cook a better pie he will be a better husband.'

'Do you really want to go a week without any Breyer's?'

'Look at all those fallen trees. So many left to fall. Every one does. You don't know which one next. Get out now!'

'Dipstick's going to give you the clap and it'll be your fault for not being there when he needed you.'

'You're spending your vacation alone sleeping on the ground. What will people say?'

'What will they think!'


You'll feel a rubber band pulling harder each step you take from the car. No one escapes the traction a car exerts. To minimize the time it has to develop, preparation will be somewhat different from a seasoned sojourner.

Where the vet might leave sleeping gear loose until the trailhead and thereby maximize its life, the neophyte adventurer packs everything but the frozen chicken breast the night before. (Make sure your water bottle or hydration bladder doesn't leak). Stop at the last town to change into hiking boots, having already donned hiking clothes for home departure. Pack the chicken breast. Apply any ointments such as sunscreen, mosquito repellant, lotion, lip balm and such. Everything's now primed. Guzzle water from a car jug. The only thing left to pack is the keys.

Accept you are human, for as little or much as being human entails. Trailhead dawdling diminishes resolve. Finish all details before leaving pavement and your body won't yet get what's about to happen. It'll whine when first gravel spatters fender wells, but won't start really working the brain until the car's locked and the pack's on. At that point brain's telling feet to get going before body has a chance to say Wait, we haven't talked about this.

You are not actually brave to keep going. Courage implies something to fear. You operate on resolve. You have resolved to break habituation. To spend a week with yourself, by yourself, vetting yourself and understanding better why you think what you think and the relationship between humans and environment. Monday to Friday you may not feel like rolling out of your nice warm bed in the morning, but you do. You may not feel like writing those checks to the private school, but you do. You may feel like having a package of cookies but you reach for a cup of yogurt instead. You are resolved to do something splendidly good for you and you tell the willies to go to hell. They don't, but you've told 'em.

Don't leave the house late or take a wrong turn or get a speeding ticket only for the excuse of arriving too late to hit the trailhead. But things can happen on new horizons. Whatever else you do, don't spend the night in the car. Go back to Pineville and get a room. Regrip. Realize there's more cockroaches in the bathroom than all the wilderness acres combined. The bed's lumpy and the proprietor doesn't even have the decency to put in his teeth before making a pass at you. You're still in the world as you know it, and poised to hit the trail tomorrow for an early start. Not every night will you sleep where planned.


52.        Solo

You'll add up the merits of going alone as you spend each day out. Not the least of what you'll realize will be how the world has managed to fill with negative thinkers and fraidy cats. Tell someone you're going alone, they gasp in their finest effort to make you feel as afraid as they are. Take 'em and they'll convince you the moon coming up is actually a serial rapist with a flashlight. (A star's light reflecting off a lake into the trees also makes a convincing show of somebody else out there). This is not an exercise in fear. Certainly you can make it one, and on your first night out, you probably will.


A person on the ground her first night in the woods hears munchers chawing away down there. Grizzly moles, she might surmise. Ugly buggers. Gray skin--no hair--wrinkled over bony bodies. Big teeth. They lurk below, sneaking in underneath while victims sleep.

They bare curved round teeth, like giant cat claws in a nasty overbite. Yellow eyes, dirt in the nose. Long, spindly claws torn and bleeding from scratching too frantically. They clutch at your throat, snatching you into their dens to exact a slow and painful death as they nibble a life to extinction.

At that moment of Mindy's nightmare her first night alone, a cougar screamed. Echoes played over the skitter of varmints scattering into the night. They could see well enough to run away. Mindy could not. Flashlight's heavy, didn't deserve drayage. She'd carry the weight in warmer clothing. Half-way into Fall in high mountains, that would be smart.

Skin prickled like cucumber as screams echoed through the forest. She stoked the fire plenty, and then some.

Fire flinched as darkness jumped at it. The owl hooted. The night hawk screed and the forest smiled.

'Mother Nature sings to me in safe harmony,' young Mindy gloated. Had she more experience she may not have forgotten Mother Nature's more mischievous streak.

Mindy screamed as cougar claws raked her face. She felt the weight of its body straddling her soon-to-be corpse. But it wasn't cougar. She'd stoked the fire too high. When the load caught it lit reserves and tree trunk too, against which she'd piled the chilly night's firewood. Against all common sense to avoid bridging fire to the forest, she'd stacked fuel from the campfire ring to the tree under which she camped. Easier to reach the wood without leaving the sleeping bag, she'd calculated. The inky black night welcomed the season's first freeze. The chill bit sharply. And now her sleeping bag was on fire.

At least she'd had foresight to gather up a ration of water in a cache of old cans. She sloshed the conflagration, restoring calm before much damage claimed the night. But calm would not last.

In the cold, and the water-doused bag, she had trouble sleeping. She'd doze a few minutes at a time. After a while she realized she'd been hearing methodical, muffled crunches in the meadow grass, coming up from the lake. Save for the trembling she felt too afraid to move.


Without turning her head, she peered into the night for the reassurance of critter eyes reflected in the diminishing flicker of campfire light. She decided she could see some.


Critter eyes, she felt certain, indicate the approaching thing probably isn't a prowling bear. Almost for sure probably not actually a real cougar. Critters don't hang around to become midnight snack. They can see in the night, she reasoned, even though she cannot.


On the other hand, cougars don't go hungry for long. They must know how to trick snack food.


Perhaps critters know they needn't outrun a hungry cougar. They need only outrun a human in a sleeping bag.


Too heavy for a deer. Must be man or elk.


What man would be out in the dark sneaking up on a campfire during hunting season?


Has to be an elk. Mindy had neither plans nor hardware to hurt it. The elk needn't know that, of course. It would not be bold enough to hurt her. Not on purpose.


Mindy shuddered each time the sound came closer. Her heart hammered. She could barely hear anything else. She tried to clench her mouth shut, but could not breathe fast enough through her nose. She mustn't scream. If the elk were to step on her and she screamed, the heavy animal with sharp hooves might panic. Trampled to death. In the dark. In the woods. Alone.


She determined to let it come close as the plastic sheet she'd put under her bag. Do nothing before that.


It's on the plastic, inches from her body. The elk's next pondering step will plant a hoof on her throat.

Mindy thrashes and screams as loud as she can. She jolts to her knees, hearing the terror in her voice echoing up the meadow. Critters skeedaddle. Flailing both arms she fully expects to feel hair and hopes to hell not claws. But nothing. No breathing. No sound at all. Even her heart has gone quiet.

A dream?

No. Dead cold awake. She's getting panicky. What if her heart refuses to start? She knows something is there. Tastes it. Her mind races to sort through all the animal smells she knows. Any second should register a whiff of the invader.

She thinks of slashing the dark with her Juice S2. Hollers so. But even scared, she knows better than to injure a big animal just curious and not necessarily responsive to English. She feels something heavy bounce off her side. Hears it drop back on the plastic. A flicker from the fire reveals the object of her palpitating disquietude. A frog.

But a big frog.

A person can be afraid of a big frog first night out alone in the woods. No shame in that.


53.        Time out

Getting lost in mind heightens the experience. Checking time disrupts that connection. Suppose the White Knight shows up at your tent, and as you open your eyes to drink in his love, he's checking his Rolex. Nice would be knowing he rolls in dough, but presentation is everything, isn't it?

You don't need to know time unless you want to hike for ten hours. Then it matters what time you get up, leave, stop, etc. For your fun seven days out, don't give a rip. Get up when you feel like it; leave when you're good and ready; hike until you don't want to. Where's needing to know time in that?

You may cut to finer edges of map reading and field decisions requiring a close estimation of distance and time. You may find yourself at the planned campsite, for example, and wonder if you can make it to that mountain top over there or that lake down there. In such events, time can matter in making a prudent call. Again, however, you'll be engaging the gps for developing the scenario, and among other secrets revealed to you will be the time.

Break yourself from needing to know the minute. Doesn't matter. For example, instead of setting a goal of walking for ten minutes, pick a spot you see ahead or count the steps or wait for the next eagle to pass over. Time keeps you tied to fax machines and work schedules and rush hour. Don't bring that baggage. Get time off your back. Keep it off your wrist.

No better time than not knowing the time happens when sitting out a squall. Watch on wrist, you get antsy. You keep looking at it and you know what gramma says about a watched pot. The weather will never end.

Time for notes instead. Write down the Vista's elevation reading when you know you're going to be in the tent for a while. Here's why. You wrote it down last night, and then again this morning as part of your daily journal. If altitude's going up, barometric pressure must be going down, because you haven't moved. (The Vista tells you everything except whether you're pregnant). This may be an indication of a change in weather, and not for the better. Here's where being smart matters.

Under gray sky all day and rain progressing from sprinkles; and the gps keeps reading higher elevation, you may want to consider the merits of skeedaddling. While nothing makes weather improve like being back at the car, sitting out days of rain dilutes the spirit of the most committed camper. The last thing you need to know is time, unless you decide to bail. In that case you need to know sufficient hours of daylight remain to make the break now or tomorrow.

If you aren't sure, wait until morning. Avoid the devil's wooing to make a rash decision just because you've been sitting in the tent all day with nothing to do and the sudden prospect of otherwise feels suddenly delicious. Skeedadling to break boredom means you are not 'with' the experience.

So what do you do in the tent all day? Slowly work through your stretches. Take on a thought project, like constructing the plus and minus side to an argument. What would you say to an audience of 10,000 people if you were asked about capital punishment, for example? What 150 ways could a man improve to make the relationship more satisfying? Maybe think on two you might consider.

Break out pen and paper. Start writing. You may have in you seeds to the Great American Novel. Write anything that feels good. Make a list of the ten things you most want to do in the remainder of the year.

Read. On hiking days you find little time to relax into the pages of a paperback. Lounging in the tent offers plenty. Get to know a character and write a letter to her or him.

Sing. Rain pelting the fly sounds a lot like being in the shower. Belt a few tunes.

Study the map. Read into the contours. Plot route choices of how the weather may change your plans. Must you cut back due to chilling a few days in the tent? If you were to call it quits, how would you head back? Based on the experience now, what routes would you plan for a second trip?

Sew up any loose seams in clothing or gear.

Tweeze hair from your legs.


Sort through your first-aid gear and your other-gear to remind yourself of what you have as you check to see that nothing's leaking or accumulating moisture.

Rub your feet.

Practice your pitch for a raise or for Dipstick to sleep downstairs or in another state.

Comb your hair. It gets the knots out and lets you know how your underarms are seasoning.

Pick the chapped skin off your lips.

Get in your raingear and hike around. See the lake and watch the resident ducks splashing about. Weather may be too nasty to pack up and head farther in, but don't stay tent bound. Rain's never as bad as it sounds clattering away on the fly. Light a fire if you can, though keep in mind the pyrophobic nature of your outerwear.

First day's tolerable. You're chicken to go home and you'll hate yourself. You haven't tasted the suffering, you've only run from it. The devil will forever tell you that you can't make the cut.

Second day is not tolerable. Now you have an investment in staying, like, say, fourteen years of marriage. If you leave the second day, you wasted all that resolve to remain the first. Be stubborn. Peer into the drizzly blowing gray and taunt 'That's the wettest you got, Devil?'

Third day's the kicker. Everything's damp and smarmy. Farts cling to tent walls. Skin itches. Fabio has wrinkles you didn't notice before. Things need to look up. See some blue sky or cut your losses. Bail. You paid your dues. Called the bet. Quit for the car, every step closer knowing skies clear and temps warm. Clever thinkers consider breaking for the car the first day to get the devil out of the sky. But the devil knows these tricks.

Rain makes the forest smell better than Thanksgiving. You'll live. You won't melt, mold or rust. You're much tougher than you know.


54.        Campfire talk

"No, Myrtle, these new matches, you know...not worth a wart."

"You sure are right about that, Marsha. A lady wouldn't be out with a bunch of these in her pocket."

"Not if she liked her smoking."

"No indeed, they don't make 'em like they used to."

"They sure don't. They just make these one's that break all the time."

"Grain goes the wrong way on these new ones."

"That's what it is."

"Can't do anything but break."

"You wonder why they'd make 'em that way."

"No sense in it, Marsha. That's what's wrong with the whole country, wouldn't you say?"

"No sense in it. None...since the Republicans took over."

"When was that, Marsha?"

"I don't know, Myrtle. About the time they started making these no-account matches."

"These here are the good ones."

"They are. Can't make a better match."

"Sure can't."

"Wouldn't do much good if you could."

"Probably wouldn't."

"People gone to hell now. Wouldn't know how to strike a right match."

"Used to strike 'em on our hip, didn't we, Marsha?"

"We did, Myrtle. Can't do it now."

"Poor matches."

"Grain's wrong."

"That's what it is."


Synthetic fabrics and fire don't mix. Synthetics melt instantly into droplets of searing, sticky muck. Wool Shirt Wilma may reach into fire without reprisal. Synthetic Sammy risks severe burns and loss of needed clothing. Sparks always pop from campfires and sparks always damage synthetics (though not necessarily torch them). Have fun, though.

Ah yes, the warm joy of stretching out under the stars watching the darkness dart in to lick the flames of campfire. You'll still find wonderful places where campfires remain legal and within good conscience, notwithstanding liberal evidence of why they now so often are not.

Avoid starting new fire rings. Do not use anything for fuel except down and dead wood. (Stuff  that is already on the forest floor no longer showing any sign of life due to its condition of being clearly dead). Do not use the campfire to burn garbage. Do not use the campfire as a garbage can. Contrary to the evident mindset of morons, glass does not burn no matter how shattered. Aluminum foil will not disintegrate and will remain in the fire pit for many lifetimes. Poly vinyl chlorides from burning plastic may be invisible, but remain deadly and hopefully most so to the perpetrators of the crime. Steel cans may disintegrate in 75 years, or perhaps as little as 10 or 15, but why should subsequent campers suffer the accumulation of detritus deposited by the intellectually insufficient? Well, once again, nothing's perfect.

Fire in the midst of heavy accumulation of fuel, such as a forest floor or a meadow of dried grasses always poses substantial risk. Fire can creep out under rocks. Sparks spit yards and can cause fire where fire shouldn't be. Never start a fire during strong winds. Never, ever, never start a fire against a live tree, which kills the roots even if the tree does not flame up. Never, ever, never start a fire against any woody matter such as a stump or log. Fire goes deep and you may not be able to extinguish it. Avoid campfires in streambeds or other areas where ashes might wash out. Do not throw ashes into water. Do not throw ashes into woods. Do not leave a campfire still warm. Do not kick ashes out of the fire pit; hot for obvious reasons, and because ashes make nasty dust. Do pile campfire rocks on the bodies of people shot for violating these rules.

Start a fire that rips out of control, or that you aren't there to control, you have broken the law of the land and good conscience. Fire starters, whether having intended a conflagration or not, can be held accountable if caught. A poor decision leading even to a small blaze will burn right through Mistie's college fund before you can say 'But I didn't mean to.' Sure she'll get knocked up by some football flunkie before she gets her sat scores, but killing trees and your wallet won't stop that. You have no facility to manage an out-of-control fire, so don't let it go.

Stay with fire until out cold. Cold means no warmth. Pour water over the coals, of course. Slosh it over the campfire rocks and into nooks and crannies around the edges. Anywhere you get a sizzle, pour more. Dig in with a stick. Coals absorb huge amounts of water and surprising heat can survive below. Stir things up to make certain every coal is out and there's no creepage of fire into the duff around the edges.

Avoid picking up the ends of burned sticks to put them closer to the fire-the devil sometimes burns the bottom side and you won't see it until he's burned your fingers. Stack your main woodpile at least several feet from the fire. Make sure your tent is at least 20 feet away and preferably upwind. Do not leave your ThermArest chair unattended at the fire. Don't cuddle up to a fire in your sleeping bag-close enough to feel warm is close enough to catch fire.

Fire's fun and makes for the most enjoyable outing. Boil water, warm the body and stoke the spirit in radiant fire. Fire is to camping what chocolate is to Valentine's.

Very few places you want to camp will have no campfire ring. Most have several. Pick one a hundred feet or farther from water and not under a tree. The most popular sites will be the safest, because anything bigger than a needle has already been burned. The ground's bare and wouldn't light save any effort but a gasoline spill. On the other hand, we're talking about being alone in the woods off trail where sites have lovely accumulation of stuff called duff. This is the inch or so layer of needles, twigs and leaves making ground soft to sleep on and much cleaner than dirt. It will burn and can smolder for weeks before that circumstance becomes evident. With adequate precaution, you can enjoy these sites in perfect safety.

First, be a good camper and restore the site. Scoop out the ashes with your coffee pot and PGB 'em into the woods to dump in a stable repository such as the hole left by a toppled tree or any kind of natural depression. (Digging a hole nearby works even better for stowing what can be a project of up to five bag loads, but you don't have a shovel and your plastic potty trowel makes for painfully slow excavation). Mix in dirt to rot the char faster.

Sort out foil, cans, plastic globs and shards of glass. Nest it in candy wrappers, ramen bags, apple sauce cups. Stow it in the liter soda bottle emptied of wine. Fortunately, the farther off trail you are, the less garbage you'll find. Clean a camp a day and still carry out less weight than you carried in. Every speck you remove counts another bit of character. Down with morons, up with you!

You might consider using your latex gloves during this operation, though they will only survive a few cleanings until they themselves become garbage. Very certainly wear a dust mask, or wet the ashes to control dust.

Emptied, the fire pit will be six inches below ground. Morons will have built the rocks up to knee high, rather than removing the accumulation of ash and charcoal. At this level, the fire sits high above ground, making a fantastic launching pad for cinders. Even at moron-blast-furnace proportion, heat rises. To warm toes by the fire, they can't be twelve inches below it, can they? Deconstruct the fire ring to one row high of six-inch rock. Leave one part open, facing your best guess of from where the evening breeze will come. What you have looks something like a horseshoe, the top of which rises a foot above the pit bottom. Butt the rocks to minimize spaces between them. You will come to appreciate your artistic capacities in selecting and placing rocks to fit tighter than Alabama orthodonture. Rocks already fire-seasoned work best. Stream rocks especially spit pieces all night. This can be uncomfortable if not mildly entertaining as hot tidbits find their way into collars, jackets or the open lap.

Guessing evening wind direction? Mostly, wind wants to run uphill during the day, down at night. By your second night, you will construct the fire ring with flexibility in mind, to change the opening to suit wind direction. (Wind means the oft present light breaths tickling your cheeks. It doesn't mean gusts sailing your tent across the lake. In such a blow you should never start a fire). Face the fire with your back to the breeze for most warmth without smoke.

The open space does offer more opportunity for cinders to pop out. However, your body's there to protect the forest. You made several gallon-trips to water for wetting this area; and you rock it off when not sitting there.


Freeing the arsonist in you.

With a little effort and patience you will nearly always be able to start a fire with a match. When you get smug about the matter you'll keep out only one. The best fire starter in the world is the stuff surrounding you. You're standing on it, sleeping on it. Red needles. Spanish moss. Leaf stems. Twigs. Carefully (cause the stuff is called needles for a reason) pick up a fistful and fluff it into a pile in the bottom of the fire pit. Arrange over this a handful of twigs no larger than toothpicks. Then some the size of Q-Tips and then pencil. Torch it off. Let it flame.

If you can't get a flame due to dampness, resort to magnesium. Using the straight blade from your Leatherman, shave off an accumulation to fill a thimble at least. This stuff flashes like gunpowder--be prepared to get your butt in the dirt as you lurch backwards. Do not take some of Dipstick's gunpowder, though, as that concoction burns only when dry as his mother's chicken. Magnesium burns even under water. Use the Philip's head screwdriver tool in your Leatherman to spark the shavings, over which you have piled pinches of tinder. Let the tinder flame, then add progressively larger fuel until you're stoking regular stuff.

A few words about firewood. Best burnables run an inch or so in diameter; barkless branches deteriorated enough to show signs of crosswise cracking. These break easily over the knee into the foot-long pieces you want. (Never try burning sticks in two unless prepared to sit there with your water jug to keep the burn inside the fire ring). Bark is OK, but leaves teensy slivers irritating invisibly and persistently as you work the wood.

You do have three dangerous ways to break wood that won't give over your knee.

Stand and pull. Boots on, stand mid-stick and pull up on one or both ends. You may tear a muscle or stab yourself with a stubborn stick, but the latter's not likely.

Smack a rock . Best is a rock with a sharp edge sticking up several inches at least, where impact can be isolated to force a failure of the fibers. An ideal rock will be shaped like a large cowbell on its side. Always tap first to find the sweet spot or you'll rattle your dentures out from a sting worse than electric shock shooting from palm to elbow and through the shoulder. Hit the sweet spot, the stick breaks exactly and cleanly at the lip of the rock. This is the theory. In practice, it will break wherever it wants and pop up to poke your eye should the devil so wish.

Variations for large pieces in high-use sites include a baseball-bat swing at a tree; or hold to body the branch to be broken and rotate to a spin, velocity sufficient to accomplish the break from the impact of a sudden stop. (Sweet spot sampling again recommended). Saplings may bruise, or give to absorb energy and defeat the attempt. Solid trees take blows better than the swinger. You could find yourself on the ground knocked out of wind by a branch that did not break and instead demonstrated that thing about action and reaction.

Prop and smash. Place one or both ends on a rock. Pogo jump on the span. This breaks most sticks the size you should use for a responsible campfire. It may also break the fifth metatarsal, making your trek out somewhat difficult. You might sprain an ankle. Ends might spring up like a Viet Cong booby trap. This is not safe. Neither is the variation of dropping a rock. Load energy in a stick, surprises may not be happy ones.

All these methods work. With reasonable care and good luck you won't get more than a nasty scratch or your contacts knocked out. At least you'll have light from the fire to wipe off any blood and apply your bandage.

Some people say you aren't camped until you have fire.

 Hear that?

Night fell silently over the horizon like a cool blanket. A lone backpacker snuggled into her tent, having toasted the munificence of Mother Nature with libations of tea and chocolate and a certain strengthener not generally taken at the same time. Michelle marveled that a mattress could be so thin and comfortable with the application of just a few ounces of carefully placed spirit.

She regretted almost immediately her choice of words. The rustle of nylon, she knew, would not be a bear sniffing at the door of the tent. A bear knows not the door from the back. A bear doesn't care which part of the tent he rips apart. Bears don't zip, after all.

They bite. They can open their mouths way over 90 degrees. Even a small bear grows canines bigger than a huge dog. Bears eat anything. Bears eat everything. Omnivores.

'Think about something else,' Michelle told herself.

'You're sure we won't see a bear here,' Michelle said, exhaling what she hoped would be her last breath until waking in the morning.

'No way.' She didn't mind talking to herself. She never felt alone. A person can always have two points of view. No reason to keep one silent.

Michelle's bag twitched as her nose slid from under the cover. 'No way we'll see a bear? Or no way you're sure.'

'Food's four-way wrapped in PGB's,' Michelle said. 'Tied fifteen feet off the ground.'

She felt herself shudder in the beginnings of a snore.

That it? Snore? Girls don't snore. Must be something else. Something outside the tent.

Michelle's mattress felt thinner as her butt bottomed on a clump of grass root she hadn't noticed before. A postage stamp would be thicker. The sand in her eyes washed out. The cool, she figured, from the night air. Always made her eyes water, sometimes hard to sleep.

She closed her eyes and visualized the bag hanging in the air. Yes, the branch was too small for a bear to scamper out. Big enough, though, even a determined marauder would lose motivation before chewing it off. Cord's tied to another tree. Bears wouldn't find it. They don't see very well. The night's pitch black. No bear can find the cord.

Michelle willed calm. She was proud she could find it on command. She pictured herself afloat on Magic Lake, drinking in the sun and lazing half-asleep on her ThermArest.

Her stomach jumped. Swishing. No problem. Hanging bag sways in wind; might swish a frond. The picture in her mind's eye showed it. No bears in that picture. She cleared her throat to cut the ache at the top of her windpipe.


'What what?'

'That noise.'

'Plastic. Swishing.'

'You shouldn't have ignored the grizzly warning.'

'Doesn't mean anything. For liability, that's all.'

'There's nothing for plastic to swish against.'

'Morons want to sue for everything.'

'I checked to make sure the bag couldn't swing into anything and tear open.' She was sure she had.

'Hear that?' Michelle's throat tightened. Her heart pounded her ears.

'Something's pulling the bag. Go look.'

'You go look.'

'Don't be an idiot. It's a raccoon. It'll run off with the food.'

'No food. Leave early. Spoil the trip.'

'All right, but, I mean, can you hear THAT!'

'Yes,' Michelle squeaked, bolting upright. She felt the dampness of the tent as her cheek brushed it. Felt remarkably like a wet panty, she thought, wondering how such a thing could come to mind at such a moment.

She pushed her elbows into her stomach, held her breath tight and willed herself to listen to something besides the hammering in her ears. There seemed little doubt she could hear plastic giving way.

'No. Too subtle. You hear nothing.'

She heard what sounded like a page turning in a book, then a swish like an evergreen branch falling to ground.

"Birch tree," she said aloud. 'Maybe aspen. This is Montana. Nobody reads. No page sounds in Montana.'

Before her mind computed the reality of being surrounded by all kinds of trees and culture-bound cowboys she heard the unmistakable whump of a laden plastic sack smacking ground. She put hand over mouth to keep from messing the sleeping bag. With her other hand she yanked at the tent's zipper. Her head in the freshening air, she managed to quell the upsurge from a faltering stomach.

She remembered choosing a hanging site partly for the reason of being able to illuminate the food bag with the Blast. She was wishing she'd hung the bag far out of range. Her hand fumbled for the light in the tent pocket. It knew the light was in there somewhere, even if the mind couldn't recall placing it there.

She twisted the light on and exploded the darkness around the tree. 'Nothing. No problem.'

'The problem, Fool, is you don't see the bag!'


'That white string? You think somebody else put it there?'

Michelle's stomach turned over. She could feel a hot wetness like boiling cement draining to her colon. Fecal ain't funny. She would have to fix this before something hit the fan. Next time don't drink.

She peeled off the sleeping bag, rolled out of the tent onto her feet. The grass was dewy. That would itch later.

Michelle felt her feet on the grass and barely more. Her legs were heavy, almost numb. Knees wobbled.


'I should do what when I get there? Spit at it?'

'You shouldn't have ignored the warning sign.'

'I didn't ignore it or you wouldn't have seen it.'

'Hurry up.'

'Shut up.'

'Where's the bag?'

'I can't see it.'

'Eyes? Animal eyes shine at night.'

That she hadn't yet felt the puncturing bite of big teeth into her flesh or raking claws across her chest caused Michelle to assess the circumstance more calmly.


'It's hiding around the tree.'


'It's dragging off the bag. Listen for it.'

Michelle stopped. The cord still dangled twenty feet in front of her. She focused on the dark below it.

"Get your damn muddy paws out of my eyes," she snarled. "You're making me see things not there."

'Yeah? So what is there, Ms. Bigshot?'


'You already said that.'

Michelle stepped over a fallen log. She remembered standing on it to toss the line over the branch. It obstructed the view of the ground beneath the cord, she realized now, even when standing at the tent.

"Nothing," Michelle said, feeling fright flush out her fingertips and off her tongue like acrid fumes. 'Bag's straight below the line.'

'You know what you did.'

'You're going to make sure.'

'Nylon cord to plastic sack. No traction. Should have tied through the handles.'

'It held a while.'

Michelle picked up the bag and tested its ability to hold the weight of the contents. 'No rupture. I don't think the fall hurt anything.'

'Figure that out in the morning. Find a stick.'

Michelle held the handles of the bag in her fist and spun it to wind the slack into a rope. 'Think I'll find a stick. Loop this around it. Tie cord below the stick. Harder gravity pulls, harder the cord knot pulls into the stick. Squeezes traction on the bag. I don't trust the handles.'

'I told you double-bag the handles.'

'You told me nothing.'

'It was. Nothing.'

'So far.'

'Did you mess your pants?'


55.        The charming night

You lived through your own nightmares the first night and rattles in brush keeping you awake the second. Welcome to the third. Three consecutive nights alone starves fear of nourishment. You overcame jitters to tear yourself away from the car. You cruised up two thousand feet to make your first day's objective. You taped up the cut from the tuna can lid. You've gotten over the need to have the smell of soap all over you minutes after getting out of bed. You found the trekking pole you left back at the spring. You no longer fear waking up to a rattlesnake on your chest. You like blowing your nose with your thumb. You drop trou without expecting the skies to split and St. Peter to crush you under tumbling rocks.

You know you can make it on what you have; inside your pack, inside your self. You can pitch a fine tent in under three minutes. You can walk for three hours off trail and hit the dot you'd circled on the map. You can march uphill until gravity gives up. You know exactly which sticks to gather for fire and how many. You can torch 'em off in one match. You can swim naked without going to Hell. You do not melt in the rain. You do not despair because you get lost; you break out a compass and map to figure out where you are. You are not afraid of animals; you wish they would come closer. You do not fear dark; it's the best time to see stars.

The third night glows warmer. You don't flinch at sounds, you welcome them as words from the woods. You see Mars on the horizon and do not fear it is the nearing flashlight of the killer rapist. Your stomach has no knot. You feel more relaxed than you can remember. Fire's warm. Ramen's tasty. Chocolate tingles. Skin feels fresh. A tree creaks and you say hello.

You stretch out on your mattress and soak in clear air. The ground softens. The sleeping bag caresses. You tune your ears to the notes in a nighthawk's scree. You feel full. You cross your arms on your chest and smile. No longer foreign do you find this forest. It is your partner.


Camp fire kisses the night, embracing with warm arms and tender touch. Into its eyes Mirantha peers, through the orange coals and beneath the flickering skin. Deep into the soul of precious fire, the foremost of the four elements engaging passion in form, she carries her gaze, imploring the gods to feed her heart as the coals nourish warmth.

Heat burns inside her. She aches to touch the man who can flame her passion with the spirit of his will. His will to capture her. To steal her from the bounds of earth. To absorb her into his skin and stage her the star of the theatre playing his mind.

Time is nigh. Nay? Indeed yes, the soft whinny of an approaching knight.

"M'love," whispered he on the nape of her neck.

"Christain?" replied she, melting to his embrace.


"Close enough," she said. "Have you what I most desire?"

"Indeed, m'love. And so much as you need not specify that desire, neither need you address my affections with instructions of how much or when."

"Oh Christain, I so much love you." Mirantha reached to stroke the golden locks of his hair, shining in the light which also danced from his breastplate and from a golden eagle medallion clasping Claude's cloak.

"Princess, I come for you."

Claude plucked the medallion from its perch at his neck and flung his cape to the ground. Mirantha loved black velvet for its supple caress. And she had particularly tired of sitting on the three-legged stool given to her as an anniversary present by her husband. Gladly would she repose to earth with this knight.

"You knew I preferred black," she cooed as Claude pulled her close.

"Of course." He retrieved from his purse a shiny foil and as he propped himself on one elbow, proceeded with haste if not dexterity to pull the string at the top. "I would have died to bring you this," he said. "And happily."

"Oh Christian. Hurry. Put it in my mouth."

Mirantha opened wide. Claude fumbled with the foil wrapper, finally extracting the prize.

"A Kiss for you, m'love," he said, plopping the chocolate into her maw. "I live only to see you satisfied."

"More," she implored. "More. Faster. Now."


56.        Keeping score

You may read of men suffering a week in their tent to outlast a storm, and in their circumstance may have made the best choice. People get up in the freeze of early morning to solid water bottles and frosty boots. If you hanker hiking 20 miles a day, cold's a condition to reckon rather frequently. Other books tout the virtues of abiding uncomfortable forces, where the worse something feels, the more fun it fosters.

When sun's heated tent until skin beads up like a broiled hot dog, you may think it time to get up. When feet want free of boots, you may decide it's time to camp. When tummy gurgles you may drop pack and fish out the stove to make hot soup. You have a route; and no obligation to complete it. Success means arriving back at your car the day you want. How many miles logged is not the score.

You're smart. You didn't oblige yourself to an inhuman regimen of miles per day. You chose a route with bail-out points in case terrain's tougher than it looked on the map. You have intellectual capacity to grasp the purpose of the endeavor's to have fun. No one ever cares you could show a map with miles felt-penned in pink. No one understands distance in any context but how long by car. You understand it one step at a time. Every mile is 2,000 steps on each foot whether feet hurt or not. You've given birth. You haven't much testosterone. You don't need to prove how much you can suffer. If you want to suffer, stand in line at DMV. No need to put up the falderal of a walking trip.

You're looking to find how you handle yourself a week in the woods alone. Maybe you bump into someone, but have you ever gone a week with no human contact? Learning you can, and to enjoy it, makes social experience all the more pleasing. You are not dependent. You choose to offer company. You earn theirs, and they yours. If not, move on. Simple.

The further point of doing whatever you want means you have the potential to hurt yourself for any reason. That you don't means you have your wits packed onboard. That you spend six nights alone in the woods and thrive with only what you carry does not define your character but rather teases it to clarity. Ditzy cannot survive leaving the car. Helpless has no idea how to find a campsite. Stupid cannot overcome an equipment failure. Careless croaks from exposure. A week in the wilds alone will cause you to understand you don't need to find yourself. You were never lost.


57.        Camp security

Leave purse/wallet at home with all your credit cards except two. (One's enough if you're the only one who uses it and you know it's got plenty of room). Never leave anything in sight that looks like a purse and never put your purse in the trunk at a trailhead. This is not to say you can expect thievery, but as WC Fields once said, 'Trust everyone, and always count your cards.' Very heavily used parking lots often require more common sense against loss due to the possibility of persons of poor character watching for unsuspecting campers to 'hide' valuables in the trunk. Your spare tire being a large exception, if you aren't toting it, don't take it. If you don't want to follow this suggestion, at least stick stuff in your trunk before you get to the trailhead and not when you're there.

You're not really thinking of toting every key from the meat locker to the executive potty? Shuck all but your house key and car key, which you stow on a ring attached to an internal pocket. After a week of thrills in the outback, you will not be able to remember what you did with your keys. Force yourself to put 'em where you can find 'em and where you know from which place they cannot inadvertently slip.

No valuables in your car, and what you've got in your pack, rubber banded and secured in a pocket safely as your keys, will be your driver's license, insurance card, any phone or account numbers you might need, credit card or two at most, health insurance card, five $1's, two $5's and a $10. There could very well be a sale at Nordstrom's on the way home and you could very well die from missing it. More likely would be someone else making off with your credit cards to buy lots of stuff that won't be on sale.

Due to the nature of cellular technology, phones won't work in many wilderness areas. If you choose to leave it in the car, activate whatever security measure it offers.

Some high-theft areas post advice to leave open the glove box, console and other storage compartments. Thieves less likely bother to break in if they see mischief anticipated. You might not want to leave a sign saying so, as to be too blunt with 'em could lead to a spite strike.

Not much can you do to ensure a person won't violate your property rights out in the wilds beyond minimizing their opportunity. If you day hike, your stuff's at risk. Sorry. So knowing, never leave your keys or credit card out of your reach, though out of sight's always a good idea. Try not to tantalize anyone with a full display of wonderful things anyone in the woods would love to have. Putting everything inside the tent will not deter theft. This may even suggest to persons of larcenous intent that the camper's left on a mission and everything's free for inspection.

While losing stuff to thieves may not be likely, the result could be disastrous. How important is that day hike?

Thieves you must be prepared to encounter include all sorts of varmint. Not the rodents in the sales department who keep telling you they want to nibble your panty hose. (Isn't it too bad the sales department brings in the revenue!) Every kind of creature from bug to bear feels bound by your absence to investigate for edibles. While they do not seek other stuff, history has recorded many losses due to the careless keeping of such in the same bag as food.


58.        Food security

Every animal wants your food. Given enough time, even the tiniest animals can shrink or even decimate food supply. Chipmunks and mice may not eat it all, but will leave evidence and you may wonder the prudence of consuming foods dribbled with it. Assume a varmint of some kind will make its best effort to break into your food supply. Even the sworn herbivoric deer munches turkey jerky if snooping out your site he finds any.

Keep food out of the reach of ze animaux sauvage when not actively involved with it. Certainly the simplest and most convenient means is the animal-resistant canister, aka bear can. It's a passable chair for short stints, keeps food fully safe from varmint of all kind, and doesn't have to be strung up a tree. On the other hand, the thing weighs nearly three pounds unless you want to pony up about $300 for one that weighs 3/4 of a pound less.

Back to bears. If a grizzly can't get into your food, it's happy enough to eat you. Other large varmints won't do that. They will tear up your tent, sleeping bag, pack, anything whiffing of nosh. They'll drag away anything that might have food in it. In high-use areas varmints know you have food and look for it even if your camp shows or smells of no evidence. Bears can be the worst menace, and the best strategy for dealing with the worst kind of bear is avoid where they live. Don't go to grizzly country, and never mind popular spots in national parks starting with Y.

If you insist on backpacking the backwoods of Yosemite, and indeed there are reasons why you might, along with Sequoia/Kings Canyon and an ever-increasing number of sites across the country, you will be required to carry a bear can. Morons caused this and now everyone gets to pay. Weight-wise, you'll have to give up something to compensate. Maybe the tangerines. Cost-wise, your friendly ranger usually rents them for a pitance if available; or you can buy one at an outdoor store for around $80. That's a chunk, but consider the cost of getting to the ranger station and they're out of cans. No can, no permit, no week in the wilds.

If you're going to purchase the thing, Garcia's Bear Cache seems to have the present advantage. One hand to open; won't roll in a straight line (making it harder for a porcine perp to paw it off to obscurity); no sharp edges; dent-proof; big lip makes lugging water easier and suppresses laundry splashing. The somewhat oval shape finds its way in and out of the backpack a bit easier. It's a pretty good stool, though you want to remember to turn it upside down (or cover it with your frisbee) when you go to bed in case it rains. Lid is secured by two pins requiring a tool, such as a coin, P-38, key, etc.

Bear Vault offers one big plus, perhaps, in its half-size, 3-day model; shorter but in all other respects exactly the same as the 6-day size. The full size model is also slightly larger and slightly lighter than the Bear Cache. This can has been accused of penetration by a little bear in the East known as Yellow- Yellow. The can was already hard enough to open with one cog, but to address YY, the manufacturer added a second. (Whether the bear knows how to open it, or she is very persistent in looking for cans that are not latched would be a matter of conjecture. A latched lid is difficult to open and one might wonder how disciplined backpackers are in keeping the lid secured.) This is the second time the product has undergone additional engineering resulting from bear interaction with it. Rain won't seep into an upright can, but to use the can as a stool requires the lid be screwed all the way down lest the threads break. Gritty threads must also be avoided to maintain smooth operation. No tool is required to open it; just another person willing to give it a try.

For the backpacker with money to burn, the geezer gives the nod to Bearikade. It's almost stupidly expensive, and also nearly miraculously less heavy. The expedition size model holds the same volume as a standard Bear Cache and a half-size BearVault; yet weighs the same as the half-size BearVault alone. Or get the standard size Bearikade and save about 3/4 of a pound compared to the other two standard size cans. A tool is required for 3 pins; though it can be a coin, P-38, key, etc. The edges are sharp and may wear through the pack in a disconcertingly short period of time; mitigated by making sure when cinching the pack up that no edges are visible from outside. It's virtuous as a stool. Like the others, it is not fireproof and campfire heat can damage it.

Finding means to carry these bulky things serves up major challenge. They're meant to be clumsy, and engineered perfectly to that intention. The best place for is pack center. If it won't lay sideways, center it upright. It's heavy to put on one side of the pack, but that may be the only way it fits. Compensate by putting as much heavy stuff as possible on the other side.

For everywhere else, tie food in a tree. No trees? Are you prepared for hand-to-canine combat defending your food? Really? Have you tried to take food away from a hungry dog? Then you have an idea of the irascible nature of raccoons, skunks, marmots and other varmints with nothing to do all night but figure out ways to grab your grub. Sharing, by the way, is a concept foreign to 'em. They take it all.

Bears are very smart. They have nothing to do but figure out how to manage twelve months of eating in about 8 months. Certification of a bear can requires only 24 hours of successful deterrance in the cage of a monstrous black bear known as Fisher and known to be extremely inventive in his efforts to break in. Evidently the assumption is that if he can't, probably wild bears won't be able to either. A bear can is certainly the best strategy when used as directed.

In areas not requiring certified animal resistant containers, the Ursack may be a good choice. It costs about the same as standard cans, holds about the same volume, but weighs only half-a-pound and can be folded smaller as it empties. From an unintended but actual field test, the geezer is convinced that a bear is almost certain to give up before he suceeds in snatching a properly secured bag. The material is Kevlar, bullet-proof stuff that is so strong even a bear cannot tear it. For a little more weight and money, you can add an aluminum liner that will make it hard for the bear to get his mug over it (but then you lose it getting smaller.) Otherwise, it seems the animal feels encouraged by his ability to chew it even though he can't get teeth to go through it. This is not wonderful for the integrity of food inside the bag; and rodents have no trouble chewing through. Hang it only from a dead tree about 4" in diameter. The bear will pull the bag so hard as to uproot a green tree; or "ring" the tree with the cord and cause the tree to die. Short of that, perhaps tie it to an appropriate size of wood on the ground (where, remember, rodents might get to it) in the hope of making the bag easier to find if the bear drags it away.

For all but bears, hanging victuals high as you can reach, a foot below a limb too small for a cat-size animal to shinny out, frustrates food prowlers. Varmints don't like crawling down parachute cord. Birds and chipmunks fear slipping off the bag. Dangle a cord end just below bottom of the bag, and tie the bear bell. If a marauder's determination starts to pay off, you can hope the bell awakens you from your dreams of white knights.

Higher is better, as one might assume even a varmint will find a longer drop somewhat deterring. Tie one end of parachute cord around a pickle-size rock using two winds. Bite the other end of the cord and hold the remainder in loose coils. With the other hand, lob the rock up and over a branch. Underhand works best. If you do this right, the rock will pendulum perfectly and smack you in the face, so be careful in the dark. The rock must be heavy enough to pull the cord down far enough you can reach it; yet light enough you can throw it ten or more feet up in the air with reasonable accuracy.

Parachute cord loves to snag; hold it off the ground. Have plenty of slack to prevent the rock from spinning around the branch, in which case you lose however much cord above your reach. When parachute cord snags, the harder you pull, the tighter it knots. Like Chinese thumb torture.

Ditch rock, tie cord through handles of doubled-at-least PGBs. Don't pull all the way to the branch; leave room to swing without snagging. Tie off to another tree. If you tie to the trunk of the same tree, a climbing varmint will find the cord and chew it. (Yes, they are that smart). Down drops the bag. Varmint wins, you lose. Dark color helps conceal cord; and guarantees you won't see it during departing scrutiny.

The Forest Service offers instruction in their version of a proper hanging technique that unfortunately relies on several assumptions any one of which seems hard enough to realize in the field. The technique requires a four-inch limb 20 feet off the ground tapering in 10 feet to under two inches, with no obstructions beneath it. The next part of the government rigging requires a counterbalance. Instead of tying to an anchor point, tie off to a counterweight pushed up with a six-foot stick, leaving the weight and food bag 12 feet off the ground. In the morning, use a 12-foot stick to push the counterweight up six more feet so the food bag will come down six feet and within reach.

Sound plausible? If so, split food into two nylon bags, and all the weight is food. Otherwise, with seven pounds of food, for example, you need seven-pounds of counterweight. That requires a limb strong enough to support fourteen pounds, plus the friction of forcing taut line over limb.

If you use this method, consider a breeze causing the weights to wind their cords together. One may slip down as the other goes up, snagging the limb and locking a wind knot. You won't recover food except what you can bat out of the lower bag. Maybe you like piñatas. You can't use plastic to make the bag split open easily because that's what happens when you try to push plastic bags into position with a jagged stick.


59.        Not in the mood

The question is not might you possibly have a bad time, but rather what can you do to ensure having a good time. First and most notably, a week in the wilds can be done entirely satisfactorily on one's own. Out in the wilds you can have pleasure with yourself all you want.

Second, the whole point of the endeavor's to glean the prize and avoid the price of peril or poor performance. Here's how to avoid the major pitfalls in packing.

Getting wet. Nothing dampens the spirit more quickly than unwanted wet. Here presents the opportunity to learn what you control is what you do to prepare yourself in partnership with the vagaries of weather. You can't dry the bushes or make the rain stop. Carry gear to minimize the impact of wet to mere annoyance.

Getting tired. Push to exhaustion and you will not think you're having fun. Body wins over brain and you feel sorry for yourself. You do stupid things like falling down to break an arm so you have irrefutable reason to stop. You won't care if you're cold or wet or lost. Pitch camp.

Getting dehydrated. You'll be grumpy, confused and crampy. Constipation won't spread a broader smile across your rosy cheeks if you've denied your system water for any longer than several hours. Carry enough to make it to your next known source.

Getting hurt. Pain's the devil's lever. Here's where you find how tough you really are. Not that you aren't, but that you really are. Certainly you do not want to add to your challenge the realization you're hurt because you're stupid. Don't do stupid things, and you can hurt in much greater peace of mind.

Getting lost. Denial works wonders, but the moment you accept the fact you have no idea where you are, panic knocks at the door. Carry a map, compass, gps and the knowledge you studied terrain before choosing the route, and nothing will be there when you answer the knock. If you're lost, sit down and stay put until you have evidence to support a decision of what to do next. Evidence would be a solid fix on the map consistent with visual continuity of map to what you see; a satellite lock for your gps and an unquestionably correct choice of waypoints; or bumping into someone who gives you confidence in knowing where they are. Getting lost becomes far more likely and much harder to undo when compounded by any of the other gettings.

Getting dirty. Generally not fatal, but often not fun. Be mindful where you sit and where you put stuff. Eat leaning forward. Sponge off when you can.

Getting hungry. You've sat in front of the TV and thought you were going blind from hunger. Discover you really can discipline mind to control body. 'Stomach, keep whining about being hungry I'll never feed you again. Shut up. I'm busy.'


Young spurts. Friendly enough. Got on at Manning Park, they say, the Canada-end of the Pacific Crest Trail. Melissa meets them at Tolo Mountain, mid-Oregon, six miles south of Windigo Pass where she got on, trudging toward her meager goal of North Crater Trailhead still 24 miles and four days away. They're touting October 15 to Mexico, some two thousand miles more in ten weeks. They stop to talk, not seeming in a hurry. She stopped to re-Band-Aid her blisters. She tells 'em all her years of wisdom say to carry lots of Band-Aids. The spurts laugh. They don't hurt. They don't get it.

Melissa's logging a stretch of the PCT for the Forest Service. The day before she launched she had to keep up with a trail crew on a day hike for a logging primer. They didn't say so. A voice inside her head badgered away if she can't do anything else right, at least keep up with three guys chopping trees off the trail and digging out waterbars. (Waterbars are flumes diverting rain and snowmelt off the trail. They preserve the trail for easier walking if you don't sprain a joint getting over one). So she kept up with 'em digging and hiking for miles in the teens until she realized getting back to the green rig she hadn't done that right either. Her boots were hibachis. She asked for a store stop in Crescent to stock up on Band-Aids. The crew all bought candy bars and pop.

Through-hikers have names, the two youngsters tell her. They're the Puppy Chow Team. They like to run off the trail to look at stuff. They've never seen anyone carrying a chair before. They giggle and call her the Chairman. They tote 20 pounds, they say, in packs carrying credibility and make 30 miles a day. Mel carries nearly twice that and tries to joke their ages don't add up to hers. Why should their packs?

Listen, she tells them. She was lighter then too. She remembers having a pack under 25 pounds including fishing raft. She'd since garaged-saled the fishing stuff, but now has to lug Preparation H, night guard and glucosamine. 'They cram a lot of shark into those pills making 'em big and heavy. Plus you have to carry enough for three a day.'

 The youngsters nod politely as if being offered a seminar on retirement fund options. They dash off at a speed to throw gravel. Melissa gets ticking again.

Tick tick tick goes the measuring wheel, a tick every foot. It's enough to drive a person nuts. Except if she doesn't hear it, she'll never get her blisters in the bathtub. She feels hydraulic pressure forcing apart more meat and skin. Each step generates two ticks on the wheel and a bee sting on the heel; then the fat part of the metatarsal arch and on to the outside of the big toe. That's called a hallux, but it's an old word no one ever seems to know. She makes the ticking go faster. Maybe three stings will meld into one. Then ignore it long enough, maybe it'll go away.

She tries to compensate the more truculent blister with a limp, working up a raspberry at the apex of her legs that feels right at home with her feet. Sweat lubricates the raw skin, but the salt burns without mercy. She can't find a way to limp around it. Shouldn't have left the Body Glide back at the barracks.

She figures 175,000 more ticks. She plays with 'em in her head now that she's learned to cock a finger for each waterbar. That way she only has to stop every fifth waterbar to record the count, free otherwise to let her mind wander. Trail problems, signs and such require the foot-measure, but waterbars she need only count. So that throbbing buzz in the middle of her right arch takes weight half of the 87,500 footfalls since each one is two ticks. She'll land on it and each of its nasty little comrades 43,750 times. 'I can because I'm not strong, I'm not speedy and I recover slowly. But I won't give up.' Yes, she muses. That, and stocking up on Band-Aids, accounts the wisdom of all her years.

Tick tick tick.

She looks up from the counter into the midriff of a day hiker striding toward her in rainbow spandex shorts. She blinks. He's not the endless trail she expects to see. He carryies the fat of a 16-penny nail. Mannequins jiggle more. Ticking stops. Burn at the apex feels hotter.

"Isn't that hot?" he asks, not even leaning to rest hands on knees.

She knows he's nodding at her coveralls in general, not just that particular burning spot. They are lighter than a shirt and pants and keep sun off. She has joked to older people she doesn't want age spots blemishing her wrinkles.

"Hot anyway, isn't it?" A drip of sweat twists her face as it tickles running off the tip of her nose.

"Measuring the trail?" He has a smile that made his orthodontist retire early and his father late. He's handsome and friendly and engaging. Mel feels instantly defensive and feels like snotting she just enjoys pushing the thing. She doesn't. "Why?" he persists.

Her instinct is to say for the money. Conditioning from years of pass-overs in promotion nearly prompts her to say because she thrives on challenge. In fact she's trying to count and push the Rolatape at the same time. She doesn't wait to wonder if he means why would a woman be doing it.

"Congress," she says through a slight wheeze. She doesn't mean to be curt. She's having trouble getting breath. Maybe anxious without the solace of the ticking. The answer is correct. Congress ordered the Forest Service to inventory its trail system. Maybe they're afraid someone might take some. She doesn't care why. She's knocking down $15 a day-paid to camp out. It feels good to earn money and no matter whether for bureaucratic barnwash or what.

"I thought wilderness excluded wheels," he says, nodding at the bright orange Rolatape.

It ticks. She's not sure if guiltily or because she let it roll back a bit and then pushed forward again. She's troubled with balance as he ponders a political object in the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness. At the moment she doesn't know if she'd rather get her hands on the body three thousand miles away in D.C., or the one three feet away.

"Congress." They make rules for little people to follow and them to break. She gasps for words. They don't come. He would know. She doesn't need to spell them out.

She doesn't mind seeing a guy sweaty and he's only barely. She can't help wondering what it would feel like to be one of those droplets licking down his chest. She bites her tongue and stumbles aside for him to pass. He has a butt tight enough to crack walnuts. Mel coughs and shakes her head, trying to clear the image of herself as a water drop.

She hasn't a free hand to pinch herself to reality and the head-shaking only threatens her balance. Ah, the stinging in the boots. That works. Ouch! Just take a step into reality. 'I hike,' she says. 'Therefore I am.'

Tick tick.

Her husband complained she never wants to go with him anywhere. 'So he's taking me to the cleaners.' No, not really. He's being very nice about it, which in some respects isn't nice at all. She thinks of Mr. Spandex and feels somewhat better at the thought of a second divorce. For a moment. She wouldn't know where to go with a tight-butted guy, either. She thought her husband the most beautiful man she'd ever known and couldn't keep her hands on him even though they were hardly ever not.

Tick tick tick.

The kids on the trail tease her for all the stuff she carries. They haven't shed two husbands, a couple of houses and half a dozen jobs. They don't know what weight is. Not until they've made 30 years of payments one grueling month at a time. Three-hundred-sixty times. It's a lot of stamps, even. It's a lot of hurt to cut it in half and walk away just as you finally get to the end. It hurts every step.

She meets a guy at Maidu Lake who asks if she's 'not hot in that?'

"Yeah." This one's not handsome. She can talk to him. "Not as hot as a coat and tie."

He eyes her like a mother-in-law and squirms on the piece of log he's trying to believe will ultimately reveal its secret of comfort. It won't. That's why she has a chair. At last. She's done something right. She's comfortable in her chair, even if it kills her to carry. 'I'm the Chairman. I must have a chair.'

The shoulder straps resume their progressive pinch as if a rubber band anchors gravity and the farther she goes the harder it pulls. She could loosen them, but then the lap belt will burn the hips more. Straps wouldn't pull so tight if maybe she could lighten the load just a bit. She can't go as far with the chair. But as the Chairman, she can think further than the spurts can sprint in their girly packs.

Maybe she should have tried harder to get the Neosporin on those blisters last night. They hurt too much to touch. She put the tube at the bottom of her sleeping bag, right next to the blisters, hoping for healing osmosis. She thinks of her husband--ex as he is. Loved him all she could. It just wouldn't osmote. Somehow it couldn't get from where it was to where it needed to be. Close never counts. She wonders if that makes marriage so painful.

Tick tick.

What's at the end of 30 miles? No pension. No COBRA, party or watch. They'll say 'thank you,' and if they're really polite they'll wait until she's out of the building before putting her meticulously marked log back into the file where they got the blanks; the file marked "Congress" in a cabinet behind the pile of gopher traps and hula hoop wax. She feels no better wondering if a single ad campaign she ever sold wound up in quarters as gracious.

She wants to be a writer. Did Papa put his feet in hibachis to get inspired? 'Doesn't seem to work for me. Maybe I should drink a lot.' Thirsty enough. But she won't shoot herself like Hemmingway. No gun. Too heavy. A woman wouldn't have done that. 'Why don't we have a woman Papa?'

She tunes in to ticks and doesn't hear her pulse pounding. She runs a little every week. Heart's pretty strong. Legs'll go before the heart. She feels little pinches in it though. Now and then the trail wobbles and seems to fade. Can't be heart. Must be dust, troubling delicate sensitivities. Writers are supposed to be sensitive, so she sneezes several times.

She crosses the crest over 8,000 feet. She lives at sea level. Must be why she can't get her breath. Sure. And for how beautiful the world is here. That too. She hurts everywhere and marvels at the majesty of where she is.

Water's the big deal. She budgets three quarts a day and from Maidu left with seven, finally getting it that little water flows uphill to the Pacific Crest where lies the trail. It's heavy, but she drinks it off. She's getting about two miles a quart. Her brother's first car did that. Girls loved it. Maybe she ought to look at getting a muscle car. Those new Camaro's don't look bad, you know. Probably get better than eight miles a gallon, too.

Tick tick.

She did pare off about ten pounds for this trip, betting on fair weather and wanting less food. She could have left off her mini-mag. But she knows some things. She knows leaving a flashlight even on moonlit nights invites a confrontation with the law of reality that few things are where they should be and none where last put. She's pleased at learning to avoid hurting herself by accident.

She doesn't know if she'll marry again. Can't think about it now. Mustn't mess up waterbar counting. Important, they said at the office, to hold an accurate count of waterbars. Zillions of 'em. They need to know exactly.

Tick tick.

She could jog the wheel back and forth to keep it ticking. Who'd know? She's done a lot more jerking off for a lot more money. Like re-evaluating the strategic marketing analysis for a tactical deployment of redefined opportunities or a color coordinated contemplation of the precise hue of the king's pants. She couldn't do it to pay for a trip to Europe. How could she do it because she hurts?

They'll think it. Everybody does it. Of course it isn't what we want to do, but it's what we can do tied up in a bucket of tar. She won't admit it. Afraid of the guy in the Spandex shorts because he's maybe too handsome and young to want her and otherwise only afraid of getting caught. Lots of huffing and puffing, then in the end, more afraid of Spandex than getting caught jerking off.

And she's the Chairman. In charge of jerking off.

Hard counting to five time after time while trying to divide miles by feet, blistered as they are. Melissa sees a pretty mountain. 'Bet it would be fun to hike up that.'

Tick tick.


60.       The Dark Side of Backpacking

Few things are more disconcerting than being lost. One is to compound that circumstance with the development of dark. Factor three for rain, twenty for fog and a hundred for snow. Your mind becomes your worst enemy unchecked in the dark. You see things not there. Hear things not happening. Though you may not be able to see fingers, you feel an urge to run. Even most-blistered feet dance as if spring loaded and gravity-phobic. Downhill is up. An airplane means a road must be near. Gollum is not a friendly spirit and lurks behind every shadow for the moment to strike at your throat.

Night walks provide the most exhilarating highlights of adventure. Know that risk of mishap increases. Probability of becoming disoriented approaches 100 per cent. You can never be certain of obtaining your destination in dark, but the endeavor offers substantial satisfaction in trying. Overcoming instinctive reaction to darkness, especially under other stresses like weather, being lost or hungry and tired, kicks self-confidence into overdrive.

Try night walking and you may become a summer nocturne. You'll visit with more of the forest's creatures as they, being terrified of all predators, expect less contact with the dreaded two-legged devil at night. Even night-savvy animals usually don't see as well in dark, so they become more curious. Animals often freeze until you are nigh upon them, at which time they explode. A rabbit in high gear sounds like an army in attack. Not to mention spooking elk.


Vasil, a pleasant young man with heavy accent and light heart, told his campmate he'd be back before dark. Didn't need a light. Would find spring water. No pocket for a candy bar as summer temps required no jacket. No worry, he'd assured.

Three sides of an enormous alpine cirque cradled a crystal sparkle of lake. Vasil wished to see the lake from atop the mountain.

"Why need compass?" Vasil questioned. "Can see lake."

Night fell. No Vasil. Midnight, still gone. His campmate became alarmed. He tried to muster a search party from the two other people sharing the sole spot in the cirque flat enough for sleeping.

"No," they reasoned. "We can't see each other in this tar. How would we find him? Or our way back?"

Hours pass, until came screeches which might have been any annoyed animal, and sloshing. As that grew nearer, screeches evidenced themselves as the return of Vasil.

"That you?"

"It is."

"Something following you?"


"The splashing?"

"I trip over sunken logs."

"Why did you go in the lake?"

"Cannot see nose. Walk in water, must come to camp."

"Weren't you afraid?"

"Hah!" Vasil scoffed. "I escape through mountains this steep, this dark, where people shoot if hear you. When people shoot, be afraid. This is not be afraid."


Not likely you'll overcome the sensation of heart clogging airway. Thrill, eh? Feet dance but rubber knees collapse and you lean on your trekking pole to keep from tipping over. Stepping on a sleeping grouse or hearing a black bear sniff goes a long way to establishing enduring regularity.

Plot your maiden voyage into the night over a full moon. Save dark treks for short, open, easy terrain or stick to trail. Make sure your Tikka Plus has full power, along with the Blast. Keep at least one pinch light on your shoulder harness. Have a full quart of water; and chocolate handy.

Expect to average a fourth the speed as in daylight. Caught in fog, force yourself to remain alert and conscious of trail, and if you cannot, stop and spend the night. If you begin to feel an urge to run, sit. Feel the comfort of night. Taste dew in the air. Hear trees growing. Calm yourself with continuous affirmation that nothing wants to hurt you and nothing will happen as long as you keep your wits. No one's shooting at you; no reason to be afraid.

Acknowledge success. Applaud your achievement. Six billion people on the planet, no other has grit to be where you are. You're in control, and things are fine.

Salute you, the explorer!


By his look, the pained smile and narrowing eyes, he didn't want her there. He could probably tell from her buckling knees and the sweat running off her nose and hands that she couldn't go any farther. She needed a place to camp. She didn't have the energy to care if he liked it or not.

"I reserved this site." He fished proof from a pocket.

"A little consideration," she pleaded. "I need your help. Can't make it to Ridge Camp."

"It's not that far."

"Couple miles. Dark soon. I'm shot. Might as well be twenty."

He stared up and down, seeming to consider she hadn't dropped her pack. She couldn't tell if he appreciated a sense of needing approval; or if he thought she didn't expect to get it and wouldn't. She wrestled loose of the harness and let the pack slide down. Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

He crossed his arms. "I don't feel you're giving me a choice."

"If I was hurt? Would you help?" She stepped forward to let the pack off her calf.

He broke eye contact momentarily. "Hurt how?"

"What difference how? If I was hurt, you'd help."

He stomped the ground. Vasque boot--nice shoe. "I don't appreciate your tone."

"Rhett, I'm afraid I don't give much of a damn about my tone." She tried smiling, but he didn't come along. "It will bother you that much to know you've helped a person who really needs it? Because I'm not bleeding?"

His hands returned to hips. A camper alone has some grit, even in a thoroughly managed wilderness designated by signs rather than distance from urbanity. "It's my site." He stretched an arm, proffering the paper.

She bent over to release webbing straps holding the tent. Maybe she breathed too loud. Maybe out of breath from the exertion of carrying a too-heavy pack too far.

"It's your site because you rented it for the night from High Ridge Parks & Rec. They got it from a rancher. He took it from the Indians." She straightened. "You know why?"

His eyes widened. Maybe she was talking too loud. She seemed to have that tone thing around righteous men.

"Because he could."

She didn't mean to blow out her chest like showing off her first training bra. She didn't mean to have the tent poles in her hand like a club. She didn't mean to be there. She didn't mean anything. Damn 'em. They always say they don't mean this or that and they expect you to let it go. Why shouldn't it work for her?

He turned and ran.

She left an apple in the morning. She hadn't meant for him to overreact that way. She felt a little bad about it. Next time, go to a real wilderness.


61.       Car stuff

Escape cannot be achieved where go automobiles.


War. Certainly, with no word spoken across camps, it was war declared by actions, none of which under the best of circumstances would be construed even among rogues as within parameters of congeniality.

Eighty miles from nearest civilization, Frenchie's Toe attracted those of a mind to enjoy the serenity of quiet solitude in the only fashion possible--solitude. Yet the Forest Service, bound to its mandate of multiple use, squeezed not one but two campsites on this elbow of Mission Creek, and if anyone's to blame for what happened, it must be the voters who elected the politicians who told the Forest Service that national lands are large enough to accommodate more than one person at a time.

No matter Jones in 2 has only that weekend of the year to make the trip. Equally unimportant, Smith in 1 yielded last night's camp to a family and by right of natural law deserves these to himself. Smith got there first.

He'd demonstrated canting a pickup and camp trailer in such fashion to serve notice anyone else is damned unwelcome. Smith could imagine no one being so foolish as to violate the crevice between his bumper and the ancient Doug Fir, a slit to thwart weasels. He flopped in his hammock comfortable in the security of solace, smug at how nicely he'd blocked #2 from access, if even from view. He deserved such good fortune as finding the place for himself. As a matter of fact he deserved a few beers. Each time a car or motor home pulled through and out, he'd deserve a few more. On the last three-day camping weekend of the year, he got to finding himself very deserving.

Jones had been pedaling fourteen hours by the time he pulled in Frenchie's Toe, and that was enough. He stood on his toes, staring at all the hulking sheet metal, and Smith. "You'd think if they have to have everything of home, they'd just stay there," he muttered quite loudly enough for Smith to hear as he squeezed through that tiniest opening possible. For the record, he did try not to touch Smith's truck.

"Goddamn hippies," Smith growled back. "Can't afford a veehickle, ought to be working for the money."

"Stinking redneck," Jones hissed as he snagged the hem of his pants on the bumper. "Hope he doesn't have a gun."

The law of the land is simple: There for anyone to use, 'except while I'm there.' Smith and Jones would agree. They were equally free to use the site, and equally right to feel violated by trespass. The place had one too many campers. Each displayed prowess playing a script for driving out the other.

Smith belched.

Jones shot a red eye changing his torn pants.

Smith smashed a beer bottle on a rock between the sites.

Jones started up the Star Spangled Banner on his kazoo.

Smith fired up his chain saw.

Jones lit off every stick of incense in his pack, smothering the air like only oily hibiscus smoke can.

Smith flipped a bottle cap on Jones' turf.

Jones piddled on the corner of Smith's bumper blocking the site.

Smith demanded Jones leave immediately.

Jones flipped Smith the finger.

Smith got his gun and shot Jones in the chest.

Jones died.

"Why did you shoot him, Mr. Smith," the county mountie asks?

"All I wanted up here was some peace and quiet."

A motor home with California plates rolls into Frenchie's Toe. "This site open?" the driver queries with the dull edge of tourist anxiety.

"No," the officer replies. "It'll be closed now. Please move on."

"Just some goddamned peace and quiet," Smith mumbles as the mountie drives him away.

Both sites at Frenchie's Toe would be empty, on the busiest three-day camping weekend of the year.


Check all the stuff your car needs to get there and back-oil, gas, water, properly inflated tires and spare.

Make a spare key and wrap tightly in plastic wrap to keep it clean and free of muck that buggers door locks and ignition. Put it in a magnetic box and hide it somewhere outside the car--frame, wheel well, grille, anyplace it likely won't fall off, isn't easily seen and where you'll be able to get it when parked.

Stash five one-dollar bills and three or four Lincolns somewhere inside the car where you can find them, but your lout son and alcohol-withdrawl crazed husband or boyfriend cannot. (Of course you don't tell 'em you've hidden money in the car, but they always look). Include four quarters for phone change.

You don't want your cell phone with you. It won't work in the woods, and you need to sever the link. But if you leave it in the car while you're gone, some malicious moron will sniff it and break in to steal it.

Toss a lawn chair in the trunk for a more comfortable way to change into your boots and when you get back, into your clean clothes for the drive home.

Include a change of clean clothes and sandals in the trunk, along with a washcloth and towel.

Have a gallon of water in the trunk to wash up, and water to drink. Don't leave soda or any kind of carbonated beverage in the trunk. Trunks get hot and fizzy drinks explode, making a mess attracting bears, panthers and demons which linger to haunt you.

Toss in a small or folding shovel. You never know where the devil may lurk once you leave pavement. Make sure the jack's in place with all parts, including your knowledge of how to use them.

Tires on your car now are most likely steel belted, which can withstand the punishment of forest roads. If they aren't, take Dipstick's truck. If he doesn't like that idea, or worse, you don't want him thrashing your ride for a week, buy new tires with steel belts to handle ruts, loggerheads and rip rap.


62.        For the record

'Bzzt Houston, we're here.'

'That's great, guys. Can you snap a few pix up there?'

'So, ah, Buzz? You bring the Kodak?'

'Gee, no, Neil. I thought you had it.'

'Bzzt Houston, we have a problem.'

You're taking more than one step. Take a lot of pictures. Picture-taking provides reason to stop and rest. Get a small digital camera and an accessory pocket to hang it from your sternum strap. This is bigger than your wedding, and you'll always want to look at these.

You'll want to read about your feats later and narrate the slide shows and movie clips for all the relatives who tortured you with a stream of kids' confirmations, graduations and weddings. Carry five or six sheets of paper and a working pen. Fold sheets in half, write small. Jot date, location, altitude, weather, distance, terrain, things you saw, etc. Chat it up. When you're old and crumbling in your wheel chair, this journal will fill your heart with joy.


63.        Home again

Soon as you're back to the car, uncork the ThermaRest for a minute or two and release the sleeping bag. These guys have served you well; give 'em air. A big pillowcase works fine for the sleeping bag if you've no storage sack. Same for mattress, only small size. Shake out the sleeping bag, shove it in the big sack and tie shut to make sure no bugs can get in. While you may well have used a plastic bag for toting, store the sleeping bag in cotton. Cotton's king at the car.

Pull off dem boots and have a short breather in the lawn chair you left in the trunk.

Mop off with the washcloth and water stash from the car and change into cleans. Pull a few swigs on the CamelBak bite valve and in fact drain the bag into yourself if you can. Have a Dr. Pepper as you drive off (that you stashed somewhere outside the car). Shed a tear if you like, but now that Dubya's out of the White House, wilderness should be there when you want to come back.

If you had dry conditions to pack up, little's left to do at home. Rinse the bladder and hang it open to dry. Buy the holds-it-open tool or bend a coat hanger. Check for any food anywhere in the pack. Remove any laundry as well as the pack towel if it's damp at all. Screw the filter out of the Hiker and let everything dry. You might take the filter into the shower and rinse it off under a bit of hot pressure; and if you're really fussy flush it with bleach water. Remove the batteries from gps, headlamp, Blast and camera. Remove anything that could leak, which would include deet, sunscreen and soap. Doesn't hurt to write in big letters on a sheet of paper what you removed from the pack, so you will know what to restore for your next trip.

If you're wet, hang the tent in the garage, cover all the furniture with sleeping bag and rain gear and mattress. Get everything dried out before it can mildew.

Sit in the tub full of bubbles for an hour while you stuff yourself with chocolate truffles trying to regain some of the weight you lost.



64.       Make a list of all that stuff

Follows a summary of stuff you'll need, with approximate item weight. First list reinforces the concept that everything weighs something. You're out a week and can't prudently carry more than 35 pounds, so you'll need denial to make budget. Weigh everything except those things you have to have that 'don't weigh anything.'

Ignore items added at the last minute. Wool shirt, for example. Included at weigh-in such an article could register upwards of 3/4 pound. Stuffed under compression straps at the trailhead where a body might sense impending chill, it weighs nothing. The apple you bought when you stopped for a snack weighs nothing. Oreo's don't weigh anything. The peanut butter sandwich you didn't eat cannot be left to waste or attract marauding animals, and therefore weighs nothing. (Peanut butter sandwich may not seem so delicious when confronted with the alternatives at the AM-PM gas stop. At the trailhead, however, its nutritional esteem blossoms in culinary merit).

Managing priorities of capacity and comfort resists staying below a threshold of 20 pounds dry weight, which accounts all the stuff you need except food and water. Tweak your own load, but here's a start for a six-night, seven-day summer outing; pounds on the left, stuff on the right. Items commonly available at low weight are not identified by brand and model. Specific ID may otherwise accompany the reference. Weights are approximate.

3.8    Osprey Ariel & Duck's back

3.2    Tiger Min tent

2.3    REI Halo 25 sleeping bag

1.5    Pro-Lite Plus mattress

4.0    Precip jacket/pants; mts top/bottom; fleece; sox; wool hat, gloves; flipflops

 .6     Giga-Power stove, small canister, matches

1.4    Pot, mug, spoon, Juice S2

1.0    First aid, deet, sunscreen, tweezers, etc

 .8     Toothbrush/paste; soap, washcloth, tp, trowel

 .8     Compass, map, Vista, whistle

 .4     Headlamp, Blast, Photon II's

1.0    Water filter (when wet), screen

 .7 Camera, accessory Pocket

 .4 Cord, tape

 1.1 Sling-Lite chair

 .5 Pen, paper, trashy paperback

 .5 Gallon jug, 2-liter, pgb's (no other stuff bags)

1.4 water, bladder

9.0 Food

 35  Total



65.        How much is it?

It's your turn.

How much did Dipstick spend on the fancy wheels for his truck? Didn't improve gas mileage, did they? Run longer? Rounder? Or he just felt like it?

That's why. Because you feel like it.

Walk into a retail shop with your list and walk out about $2,000 lighter. That buys the best, including some great electronics; and none of it on sale. Sleuth out deals and probably still get the best stuff new for around $1,500. If you have time on your hands, an inclination to trust people you've never met and enjoy using stuff they don't want anymore, check ebay, craigslist, yahoo and REI used gear sales. You might get under a grand for everything. A warning: Unless you feel confident in your powers to inspect a piece of gear for potential faults, don't buy it used. The more expensive pieces of gear in your pack come new with warranties from the retailer and/or manufacturer. You won't save much if you buy a recycled Vista for $100 that pukes.

Two grand? What's it cost to gear up and golf for a year? How about a season of skiing? How much were those ballet lessons for Perestroika? If Dr. Shrunk offered you a deal to load you full of confidence and self-esteem for a week seminar at $3,500 with a view, you'd take it.

You want the experience, pay the fare. Simple as that. Don't think about what it costs. Think of what it's worth.

Develop final selections from an assortment including, though not necessarily limited to or all inclusive of the following. Any dollar amounts shown intend only to indicate a range for items with which you may not be familiar.


Tent $100

Shock cord $5

Tarp $5

Sleeping bag $250

ThermArest Pro Lite Plus  $100

Sling-Lite chair  $90



Precip jacket  $125

Precip pants  $100

Fleece top     $150

Mts top  $35

Mts bottom  $25

Sport bra

Wool shirt  $70

Wool hat

Wool gloves

Broad brimmed hat  $35

Hiking shorts

Long pants  $50


Boots   $140

Liner sox, 2 pair $15

Sox, 2 pair  $30

Gaiters  $30

Flip flops  $20

Vapor Light Tennies  $90


Pack  $200

Duck back   $25

Sun glasses

Trekking poles $150

Giga-Power stove  $50

Fuel $5

Storm matches

Book matches


Magnesium fire starter  $5

Pot  $20



p-38 can opener  $1

Juice S2  $60

Gallon jug

2-liter jug

CamelBak bladder $30

Hiker water filter  $70

Panty hose swatch

Map  $10

Compass  $20

Vista gps, holster, Mapsource  $400

Camera, card, battery  $400

Pack towel  $15

Tikka Plus headlamp  $35

Blast hand held light  $10

Photon II  $15

Pen & paper

Nylon patch

Health & beauty:







Trowel  $2


Lip balm

Neutrogena hand cream


Body glide

Prep H

Night guard






Latex gloves


Second skin

Medical tape


Benzoin tincture



Chemical warmer

Space blanket

Signal foil


Elastic wrap

Allergy mask



Chocolate chips

Chocolate drops

Chocolate mix

Carob chips

Banana chips




Dried turkey

Food bars


Granola bars

TBS packets


Sweet & Salty's







Frozen chicken breast


Sport drink


Dry milk



Dried fruit


66.       Last list

Tidy up with a list of to do's not directly related to your pack, but to the exercise in getting there.

At home checklist:

Call ranger

Copy route

Leave instructions

Check weather

Seal shoes

Seal tent

Shock cord fly or tarp

Road map to trailhead

Sand and hydrate feet

Check tire air pressure

Check spare

Check oil

Check water

Check spare car key

Check money stash

Sealed can/jar of peanuts for return snack



Clean clothes



Lawn chair

Dr. Pepper to stash

Chicken breast to freeze


Out the door checklist. Devil loiters incessantly hoping to hide in his shadows at least one thing you must have. Resist his wooing to slam the door and be gone. Remain calm, notwithstanding others in your presence may be assisting him. Force yourself to double check these items: 

Maps in car

Pack in car

Boots in car; sox in boots

Hat in car

Water in car for there and back + bladder fill

Lunch in car

Chicken breast and pitas in car

Driver's license/credit card/cash

House key


Once you're satisfied everything's on board, absolutely do not remove anything.

You will not forgive yourself if you fall victim to one of these tricks:

Switcheroo. You probably will sack your boots, sox, tape and gaiters. You think you remember the bag and you don't bother to pull it open to check. You get to the trailhead, you have Junior's football shoes.

Vaporization. You have in your mind's eye a very specific picture of the backpack nestled into the trunk. The remote release is locked off; and you know you did it to keep anyone from getting in the trunk. You forget you asked Dipstick two weeks earlier to check the spare. He does, but not until after you've loaded your stuff. He takes the pack out to get to the spare. He sets it in the back of his truck and gets distracted by finding a ratchet wrench he thought the neighbors had borrowed. He's mad at himself and slams the trunk in disgust. He's ranting and you can't leave fast enough.


See you out there.