Maps–Don’t hike without one

Map reading necessary in Rocky Mountains on Continental Divide Trail

Continental Divide Trail

Remember that hiker who was injured and lost in the Oregon woods? She had broken her leg and spent three days and nights alone. The available details were posted here on August 9th. Turns out that the injured girl and her boyfriend had become separated for a different reason (a spat), which explains how she really got lost—not by merely looking for a better place to set up a tent. See the follow-up article here.

Note what she says about maps. “My biggest mistake was failing to review maps of the area with my boyfriend before the trip.”

Besides proper clothing, water, and nourishment, you should always bring a map, or some type of field guide, when you hike. Have a map of where you will start, where you intend to go, and where you will finish. I keep my maps ready to see and protected in a transparent zip-loc bag. If I plan to follow a particular trail, I hi-lite it in yellow ahead of time. And when I invite my friends to hike, I provide extra maps, should we become separated.

Here’s another idea to avoid getting lost by Tom Mangan, who writes the hiking blog Two-Heel Drive. The ubiquitous digital camera can save the day.  “If the trailhead has a map of the general area you’re hiking . . . just take a picture of the map, then use your camera’s playback function and zoom into the area where you are hiking.” There are other excellent ideas on how to avoid getting lost in his post.

Easy for me to say, but work together when you hike with others. Arguments and disputes can happen, but if you are out in the wilds, try to suck it up and join forces, so you don’t get in a jam. In any event, bring maps. You wouldn’t want to hike in areas shown in the pictures without maps.

Hikers, backpackers must use maps on long-distance trails

CDT-New Mexico

A Backcountry Checklist

Former NPS director Mary A. Bomar in her park ...

Image via Wikipedia

Hiker in redwood forest, inside Redwood Nation...

Hiker in redwood forest, inside Redwood National Park, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Hiker in Bob Marshall Wilderness Area...

English: Hiker in Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Montana, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)












Think ahead before you step off on a hike. Leave an itinerary for loved ones, and and list your plans in case of emergency. If you prepare thoroughly before stepping off into the wilderness, you will have the best chance of returning safely. That old “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” thing.

There are tons of hiker checklists; I’ve seen some lists stretch to multiple pages. Some checklists are so involved that a casual backpacker or weekend camper doesn’t know where to begin and will ignore them.

The Backcountry Checklist below, taken from the Adirondack newspaper Embark, covers the basics and includes other reminders. In particular, it alerts hikers, backpackers, and campers to get the short-term weather forecast and to get current information from the local forest ranger. Just think of all the tragedies that could have been prevented in the backcountry if one had done these two things before stepping off. Even if a storm has ended and it’s sunny and mild out, a Ranger can tell you what rivers may give you trouble, what trails may be closed because of damaged bridges, what other problems to expect.

Note the item–non-cotton clothes–on the list. We’ve all seen young people, and children, in cotton T-shirts climbing mountains. Clueless. You need to wick off that sweat, especially if it turns cold and stormy. I once saw a young hiker and his girlfriend, both in commercial T-shirts, heading up a mountain path in the afternoon. I stopped to ask their intentions, and before I got a word out, he asked me if they would be able to make it up to the peak and back before dark. The young woman was drinking from a 20 oz. Seven-Up bottle. That’s the only liquid they had!

I would add two other reminders to this list: 1) Be physically ready if you plan to do serious hiking. 2) Hike with friends.


wilderness checklist for hikers, backpackers, campers

Survival and Rescue: A Growing Problem

Mahoosic Notch-Maine


Mt. Shasta– California–from PCT

A couple of years ago, an injured hiker was rescued after spending three nights on Mt. Hood in Oregon. At the same time on the East Coast, it took rescuers nine hours to bring an injured hiker to safety after he fell on a Maine mountain. More and more, we hear these stories. Why?

Some believe that the ubiquitous cell phone lends a false sense of security to hikers. The cell phone is the first line of defense for the backpacker who thinks he can rely on that more than maps, extra clothing, water, nourishment. Hikers forget that most cell phones don’t work in the mountains.

Also, with hiking and backpacking a growing interest, there are more hikers out there. And many of them haven’t taken the time to learn the basics, what to pack, how to handle bad weather, how to read field maps, how to prepare a backup plan, etc.

We aren’t given every detail in the first incident referred to above, but according to the article the young woman is an avid hiker who “ate berries and bugs and covered herself with moss to stay warm.” She deserves a lot of credit for surviving, but here’s the thing: She was found wearing only a T-shirt and shorts! True, she became separated from her boyfriend after dropping her gear to look for a better campsite, but when they got out of shouting range, it may have been a good time for her to go back and get her pack.

In the second incident referred to, an experienced hiker fell off a mountain on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. He was injured and couldn’t move but, luckily, was able to call for help with his cell. Unfortunately, he was three miles from the nearest road. We aren’t given all the details here, either, but it appears that he was hiking with just one other person, his niece.

I’ve hiked alone, but not anymore. And you always put an outing at risk when you hike with just one other person who is dependent on you, especially if you can’t get your cell phone to work. What could his niece have done then? She would have had to leave him and tramp on alone to try to get help. Another risk.

Not only is it safer, it’s more fun to hike with a group. You learn things, and you’re ready to help others.

So, study your maps; prepare, pack smartly, and stay alert; hike with friends.

Hiking in Virginia mountains with Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Virginia, near the Appalachian Trail

Pets on Trails


pet dog      JBWA-JayAnderson016

Hikers with dogs are common, but some parklands don’t allow dogs on established trails. If you are thru-hiking the AT, for example, you are not supposed to bring your pet when you hike through Smoky Mountains National Park. It is wise to check beforehand and make proper arrangements.

Dogs on an extended hike with their master usually carry their own food and supplies. The dog in the picture on the left carries her own collapsible bowl, food, and a mat. The dog in the other picture, Danny, loves to run through brooks and streams, so he is equipped with a waterproof food bag.

On rocky terrain, claws and paws can get beat up pretty bad. To avoid this, on the rugged John Muir Trail, I saw dogs with “paw boots,” little leather booties velcroed around their paws. You can buy them at hiking stores.

Dogs give warnings of other animals and possible problems. Most of all, they are great company for a lone hiker. Who else would listen to your sermonizing?

Self-inflating mattress or Foldout Pad


Most hikers on an extended hike will carry either a self-inflating mattress, or some type of non-inflatable pad. The pictures show a purple mattress (not inflated) and a yellowish foldout pad. Either item goes under your sleeping bag.

If you are looking only for comfort, the self-inflating mattress (this one from Therm-a-rest) is the way to go—hands down. But there are advantages to the pad, and this Z-lite pad (also made by Therm-a-rest) is very popular.

I’ve settled on the non-inflatable pad, and here’s why.

Light weight–Pads weigh less than inflatable mattresses; this pad weighs less than a pound.

Indestructible–No worries about puncturing it, or wrecking the valve.

Convenience–Shake it loose and it’s ready to go. When I take a meal, especially in wet or rocky areas, it’s the first thing I grab to sit on.

Pack Support–As more hikers go ultralight with frameless rucksacks, this pad provides pack support.

I admit that I miss the cushy comfort of an inflatable mattress when I sleep. For convenience, however, especially on breaks, when you want to smother ants and insects with something other than your pants, when you want to rest and air out your socks and footwear, nothing beats the pad. So why not carry both? Well, one day I may.

Hiking Tip–Sandals



日本語: クロックスの模倣品(偽物)。

日本語: クロックスの模倣品(偽物)。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crocs Sandals Male Português: Sandalias Crocs ...

Crocs Sandals Male Português: Sandalias Crocs Masculinas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






What’s one of those items you keep forgetting to pack for a hike? Or, perhaps, you haven’t realized their versatility and don’t take them. I bet it might be sandals.

Hiking Tip: Pack Sandals 

You come to a stream. It’s not very deep and it is fordable, but the water will fill up your shoes or boots and drench your socks. So, you think about going barefoot. But wait; isn’t that how you aggravated a blister or bloodied your foot on a rock the last time? Now, don’t you wish you had packed sandals?

Crocs are my sandals. The ones you see in the pictures are similar to the ones I bought in Georgia in 2003 (back before they became a fashion statement) in a hiking store on the A.T. And I still wear them—around the house and on hikes. They are indestructible. I submit, and I’ll probably be corrected, that crocs were first sold in outdoor stores. That’s where I and many other hikers first saw them.

Sandals have other advantages. They provide the perfect way to air out your feet at the end of the day. And you won’t stub your toe walking about camp. In the black of night, if you have to void, sandals are quick and convenient as you exit your tent or shelter, and you don’t have to worry about stepping on sharp stones and twigs. Most of all, sandals are relaxing. Put them on your pack list, and end the day in comfort.

On a previous post, Paulo commented on trail shoes and inserted an excellent video that shows a unique way to lace low-cut shoes to give better ankle support. Thanks, Paulo.

Shelter or Tent?

The Tricorner Knob Shelter, just below the sum...

The Tricorner Knob Shelter, just below the summit of Tricorner Knob (el. 6,120 feet/1,865 meters) in the Great Smoky Mountains. The shelter is one of the most remote structures in the state of Tennessee, being a 9 mile hike from the nearest parking lot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


hiking shelter registers

A.T. Shelter

In January 2012, I posted about whether it’s better to shelter or tent. I’ve reproduced the discussion below. But now there may be a big disadvantage to sleeping in a shelter versus choosing a tent. Hantavirus! This nasty affliction is spread by rodents, especially mice. Mice habituate shelters, and hikers tolerate them.

In the picture above, hikers can hang their food, but hikers are exposed to mice scurrying around during the night. Hantavirus is a severe illness.

Most hiking trails don’t provide shelters. The Appalachian Trail and The Long Trail (Vermont) have many shelters.

They are convenient, but a tent, especially for sleeping, has advantages.

Privacy – You aren’t a stuffed sardine when it gets crowded.

Warmth – A tent with a rain-fly is warmer than an open shelter.

Better Sleep – You are not poked, or kicked, or outsnored.

No Mice – Those critters can drive you nuts!

So why choose a shelter to sleep in?

Convenience – Less hassle. No need to unpack and set up a tent; no need to dismantle and re-pack the tent in the morning, possibly in the rain.

Clothesline – Many shelters have them already. Easy to rig up, or simply hang garments from nails and hooks provided. Clothes are protected from outside weather.

Ease – Can sit and lean against a wall to read, journal, contemplate (I’m sore, I’m tired, I wish I had pizza and beer.)


“THE Trail”


TheTrail_designsB1 for Patriot Ledger                                                           IMG_1505[2]

I hope my readers will permit me a departure from the usual post. Happy to say that my Appalachian Trail thriller, The Trail, from Turner Publishing, appears to be doing well. It was a long siege from first draft to publication, and the easiest part was the actual thru-hike of the A.T.

This is a thriller. I’ve put a mean and nasty fugitive, wanted for murder, out on the trail. In my afterword, I explain that I had a wonderful thru-hike and did not meet any problem characters. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to remain alert in the wilds. No one wants to meet my villain “Moonwalker” anywhere.

As many of you know, I conceived and fleshed out the plot as I thru-hiked. When I started out in Georgia, I had no plans to write a book, much less a thriller. But three weeks in, I was hiking alone in dense forest. The wind picked up and the sky darkened as a storm brewed. I felt vulnerable and nervous, and wondered if I could defend myself if I were attacked by another human. And that’s how this all started.

My research revealed that 11 documented murders have occurred on or near the A.T. since 1976. Sad but true. I advise anyone not to hike alone; go with at least one friend. That way you can look out for each other and be there if someone gets sick or injured. With friends you can enjoy those special moments and record them.

You can order The Trail by clicking here:

To all hikers everywhere–Happy trails!

IMG_2591       katahdin

Trail Maintainence Crews: Lots of work; very little credit.

Who paints all the trail blazes? Who clears all the blow-downs and debris? Ever seen the occasional ladder and handhold of rebar? Where does that come from? Trail maintenance crews, that’s where.

Behind all that beautiful scenery is the hard, grunt work of men and women who maintain your trail. My hiking buddy in New Jersey is a volunteer trail maintainer for a section of the Appalachian Trail. He scouts his section regularly, clears debris, refreshes blazes with white paint, notes any larger problems, and files a report to his manager.

Some improvements are major and require the paid (minimum wage) services of restoration crews. Check out this article on the remaking of “Tuck’s Trail” in New Hampshire. As you can see, this is a huge job, which also includes the delicate relocation of fragile plants.

Yosemite maintenance on the Pacific Crest Trail

Yosemite maintenance on the Pacific Crest Trail

I took the photo above on the Pacific Crest Trail, in Yosemite. The man riding the lead horse was on his way to saw up a large pine that had fallen across the trail .

The worst hiking day I ever had, was thru-hiking during a windy, late-season snowstorm on the Appalachian Trail. Blow-downs covered the trail everywhere, and hikers had to crawl in the snow, under, over, and around busted limbs and branches. Only two days later, while recuperating in town, I met several hikers just coming in. When I asked them about the blow-downs, they said most of them were already cleared; branches and limbs had been cut and pushed to the sides of the trail.

Hats off to all trail maintainers!

Pacific Crest Trail--Yosemite

Pacific Crest Trail–Yosemite

Stoves–think small; think simple


Pocket-size collapsible cooker (Solid Fuel)

Pocket-size collapsible cooker (Solid Fuel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just two fuel tabs

Just two fuel tabs                                                           

Esbit stove

Esbit stove

The Esbit Pocket Stove continues to be a well-kept secret. I have no idea why hikers who try to shave every fraction of an ounce from their pack, ignore the mighty little Esbit. This dependable tiny stove, which can fit in your pocket, has been used around the world since WW II.

TIP: To reduce pack weight and increase pack space, get a tiny stove.

I’ve used the larger, quick-firing stoves that require liquid fuel. I admit those stoves probably work better for serving several people, especially if you are in a hurry. Their “simmer” advantage is also convenient. However, the Esbit is always reliable, and it will never clog. Most of all, it’s small and light!

I remember on the A.T. having to clean and maintain my high-end stove; having to watch my fuel–hoping it lasted until the next supply stop, then over-supplying and hauling extra, bulky canisters. Yes, stoves have gotten smaller and better. But the Esbit is one of the simplest, easiest, most reliable stoves out there. What’s more, the fuel for the Esbit is portion controlled; it uses little fuel tabs that you unwrap and place on the floor of the stove. One tab will cook your meal. I sometimes light two and re-use them the next time, as shown in the picture.

The Esbit provides a foolproof system for cooking in the wilds. Check it out.