Hiking Tip–How to avoid blisters

Hiking without blisters

Pacific Crest Trail

Most long-distance hikers, at some point, will get blisters on their feet. The usual precautions are: break in new footwear, start slowly and build up to bigger mileage, wear a liner sock, or don’t wear a liner sock, keep band-aids and bandages handy. All well and good; do whatever works. But if you really want to head off blister problems, practice the tip below.

Tip: Air out your feet. Yep, that’s the best advice I was ever given on avoiding blisters, and I learned it at a seminar in New Hampshire that prepared AT thru-hikers. The advice has served me well. In the photo above, I’m at Kearsarge Pass in the Sierras on the Pacific Crest Trail. My boots and socks are airing out; my feet are absorbing air and sunlight. After break, I will put what was my left sock on my right foot and reverse the process during my next break. I will also wear my socks inside out after the first break and reverse this several times a day.

This may seem like overkill, but I’ve never gotten a raw blister on my feet. Bacteria thrive in moist, stinky, air-deprived spots. And these are the spots that chafe and turn into blisters. The trick is to air out your feet, and keep your socks dry. I probably carry too many socks, but I change out of wet socks, hang the wet ones on my pack straps, and put on new socks. Like you, I hate blisters.

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Backpacking Lite

Pacific Crest Trail logo

Pacific Crest Trail logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take a look at the backpacks in the pictures. Both packs are empty, but the red one, with external frame, is already twice as heavy as the green one. And, because it is much bigger, you will cram extra stuff into it.

The red pack is almost identical to the one I used on the Appalachian Trail in ’03, and it topped out around 47 pounds (including food, but not water). I don’t think I ever got it under 40 pounds, and this contributed to a knee problem I had out there.

I learned the hard way to buy a light pack and to pack light. I used the smaller, no-frame pack on the Pacific Crest Trail and topped it out at 31 pounds. I doubt my knees would survive the A.T. today carrying over 40 pounds plus water. Today you will find ultra-lite long-distance hikers who carry less than 20 pounds!

Ray Jardine was the early guru of light backpacking. I studied his 1999 book Beyond Backpacking and learned a lot. And I’ve since read his later one, Trail Life: Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking. Reducing pack weight is the number one issue for any long-distance hiker. If it isn’t a necessity, don’t haul it. Modify what you have. Rather than the old Boy Scout metal fork and spoon, buy a plastic spork. Think tarp rather than tent in milder weather. Get a tiny stove. Do you absolutely need a stove?

What a difference a light pack makes.  Happy Trails!

My Second Hiking Thriller–Mayhem along the Pacific Crest Trail

Available October 2016

Awol thriller-Available Oct 2016

This blog is about hiking, so it makes sense to me to introduce you to my newest Awol hiking thriller, Sierra. But first, I should back up a bit and tell you how these novels all started.

How does a retired Coca-Cola salesman living a quiet life near Boston, Massachusetts become an author of thrillers?  It all started in 2003 when I hiked the Appalachian Trail after taking an early retirement at age 60.  As I walked alone one day, I began to wonder “what if…?” and conjured up a serial killer loose on the trail, stalking other hikers. He collides with a Gulf War vet with PTSD who calls himself  “AWOL.”  That scenario became The Trail, my first novel published last year by Turner Publishing.  It’s doing well and has made Boston’s South Shore top-ten fiction listings several times.

This month, Sierra, the second novel in the series, releases. Sierra pits “Awol” against a drug cartel on the Pacific Crest Trail – which I’ve also hiked. I’m now working on the third novel in the series, set on the Continental Divide Trail. And I’m still hiking.

I hope my blog followers will check out Sierra. It’s available (as is The Trail) from bookstores as well as Amazon and other outlets. I’d love to hear from you about the novel. Thank you, and happy trails!

UntitledMA31117610-0015TheTrailcover4-30-15

My Second Hiking Thriller–Mayhem along the Pacific Crest Trail

Available October 2016

Awol thriller-Available Oct 2016

This blog is about hiking, so it makes sense to me to introduce you to my newest Awol hiking thriller, Sierra. But first, I should back up a bit and tell you how these novels all started.

How does a retired Coca-Cola salesman living a quiet life near Boston, Massachusetts become an author of thrillers?  It all started in 2003 when I hiked the Appalachian Trail after taking an early retirement at age 60.  As I walked alone one day, I began to wonder “what if…?” and conjured up a serial killer loose on the trail, stalking other hikers. He collides with a Gulf War vet with PTSD who calls himself  “AWOL.”  That scenario became The Trail, my first novel published last year by Turner Publishing.  It’s doing well and has made Boston’s South Shore top-ten fiction listings several times.

This month, Sierra, the second novel in the series, releases. Sierra pits “Awol” against a drug cartel on the Pacific Crest Trail – which I’ve also hiked. I’m now working on the third novel in the series, set on the Continental Divide Trail. And I’m still hiking.

I hope my blog followers will check out Sierra. It’s available (as is The Trail) from bookstores as well as Amazon and other outlets. I’d love to hear from you about the novel. Thank you, and happy trails!

UntitledMA31117610-0015TheTrailcover4-30-15

Hiker-Hobble: Handling Knee Problems

Hiking the Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Falling Waters Trail–New Hampshire

On any extended hike, you risk knee problems. And, as mentioned in an earlier post, if you hike without trekking poles, you are asking for a knee problem. What do you do when a knee, shin, or leg begins to fall apart? This happened to me six weeks into my Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

What frustrated me was that I’d used my poles religiously. Further, I had read that an A.T. thru-hiker is at his or her physical peak at the six-week point. After that, it’s a struggle, the book said, to take in enough nutritious food to replace the calories you burn every day. So I wasn’t happy that now I had to baby a shin that felt like a spike was being driven through it.

I did two things wrong: One, I ignored the first signs of discomfort. I was at my physical peak and felt the growing shin pain in my right leg would pass. I kept hiking sun-up to sun-down.

Two, I still kept hiking when I began favoring the other leg. Hikers call this hiker-hobble. I figured I could tough it out. Bad idea, and I had to get off the trail.

I did three things right: One, I went to the nearest clinic for an evaluation. X-rays determined that there wasn’t a stress fracture. Nevertheless, I was told to stop hiking immediately; it would only get worse, the nurse said.

Two, I did exactly what she told me to do. Stay off the leg; bathe it in warm to hot water, then ice it, three times a day; use an ointment like Ben-Gay. I got the cheapest room I could find that had a bathtub.

Three, I started out slowly when I went back to the A.T. one week later.

Although I’d lost my hiking buddies, and knew I’d never catch them, I realized I was lucky. I found out later that some hikers who had developed knee injuries never made it back that season. On my first day back, I hiked only three miles. I’d felt twinges and immediately set up camp. The next day I went five miles before twinges in my shin acted up again. In a few more days I was up to twelve miles and the twinges had left me completely.

The big lesson I learned: If you want to avoid hiker-hobble and worse, reduce your mileage and rest your legs at the first signs of discomfort.

Tip: Before an extended hike, do a shakedown with all your equipment.

IMG_0187

Before leaving on an extended hike, do yourself a favor–take a multi-night shakedown hike with all your equipment.

Unless you hike overnight several times a year, don’t try to wing it. And if you have new equipment, give it a test run. Set up your tent under trail conditions and sleep in it. The best way to make sure that you will sleep comfortably, is to test your pad and bag, and your sleep wear, on an overnight. Fire up that stove, whether it’s old or new. If you bought a new GPS unit, now is the time to learn how to use it.

During shakedown, you can organize your pack and gear the way you want it, so you’ll be ready to roll when you go on that long hike. You will be able to act quickly when the weather turns. You will be surprised at what you learn on a shakedown hike. Why doesn’t this food taste right? Should I bring seasoning? Is this water filter going to work, or do I want another option? How could I forget my packets of hot-chocolate? Yikes–I didn’t bring band-aids! I can never find my head lamp. I’m always losing my map.

You get the idea; it’s better to get the kinks worked out ahead of time. Or would you rather look confused and befuddled in front of your kids, the guys, your significant other?

Happy trails!         

Hiking Tip-bottle clip

Hiking tip--water bottle clipBackpacking and Camping tip: water bottle clip

Ever had to twist and reach to grab your water bottle? Ever had trouble slipping a canteen back into your pack without having to take the backpack off?

Hiking Tip: Use a bottle clip.

The green clip you see in the pictures fits snuggly around the necks of water or soda bottles. Look closely and you can see a thick black elastic, which keeps the container secure. I’ve hiked thousands of miles with this clip, and I love its convenience; my water hangs right from my pack belt, at my side.

In the PCT desert areas, I had four plastic water bottles clipped to my pack belt. For hikers who use a different hydration system, such as CamelBak, the clip may not be appealing, but I’ve seen even these folks carrying a spare bottle. I think most long-distance hikers go with plastic bottles to reduce pack weight. Other hikers may stick with canteens, or use wide mouth Nalgene bottles. Use whatever works for you, but a clip like this is light, inexpensive, easy, and convenient. That’s also true for the common plastic bottle.

I was able to order these “Quick Draw Bottle Clips” right off the internet. But now the site has disappeared. I did see them in a hiking store in New Hampshire. If anyone out there knows of a new web site, please alert me.

 

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

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.

Hiker Killed by Grizzly

A lot of you are out hiking trails now, so I’m running this post again, which appeared last year.

YELLOWSTONE GRIZZLY KILLS HIKER.  An autopsy confirmed that a 59 year-old man was killed while hiking near the Mary Mountain Trail in Yellowstone National Park. This is the second fatality from a grizzly at Yellowstone this year (2015).

Grizzly bears are aggressive. Black bears, which are found in the east, are smaller and shy away from humans. Being attacked by a black bear is unlikely, but there have been 63 fatal black bear attacks in the United States and Canada between 1900 and 2009.

In any case, grizzly and black bears will do anything to get food. Because of this, there are two things you need to do when you hike in the wilds.

1) Camp for the night several miles beyond where you cooked your last meal.

2) Hang your food at your campsite.

grizzlyAs the sign in the picture says, Food Odors Attract Bears. If you cook and tent in the same spot, you’re asking for trouble. Always. Bears zero in on the odors and will wreck a camp looking for food.

I realize that on the Appalachian Trail and on other trails, hikers will congregate at some of the shelters to cook and camp for the night. I do that also. That brings us to the second point. While there is safety in numbers, you must hang your food, and hang it sufficiently high, out on a tree limb (not next to the tree, which a bear will climb). We picked limbs away from tents and shelters, so we could sleep in peace.

From all that I’ve read and seen (saw black bears on four separate occasions while thru-hiking the A.T.), bears simply want food. If you practice these two things–camp beyond where you cook, and hang your food–you will greatly reduce the chances of a bear encounter.