Monday, October 31, 2011

Helpful Hints For Winter Hiking

Helpful Hints
        If this section is here for one reason it's to prove that much of what's required to be safe and have fun when out in the woods in winter is nothing more then common sense and more importantly, experience! When are you so cold that you should put on more clothes and when are you just a bit chilly and more clothes would only lead to sweating? No one, not even you can answer that until you have hiked up a trail in winter and stopped to put on more clothes only to have to stop again in 30 minutes because you were sweating profusely! So, all I'm saying is, take each of these "hints" as just that, a hint, a pointer to get you going in the right direction. Hopefully they'll help you become a learned, experienced winter hiker just a tad faster than you would without them.

Start Cold: Ok, I know this sounds foolish and it even sounds like it contradicts advice I've give elsewhere on this page but it's another lesson that took me a while to get down! I get to the trailhead, get out of the car, put on my boots, adjust my poles, grab my pack etc. etc. etc. By then I'm thinking its freezing cold out so I put on my jacket, or shell, or whatever and head up the trail. Almost without exception within 15 minutes I'm too warm and have to stop to take something off. Trouble is, if I stop that soon by the time I get the jacket off, put it in the pack and start out again, I'm chilly! And on it goes. So I've just learned that when I leave the car I put on what I think I'll need a good half hour down the trail. For me, if it's in the 10 - 20 degree range that's my zip turtle neck and maybe the vest. If it's near zero, the turtle neck and undoubtedly the vest. I will not put on more to start the hike unless the temp is zero or below as I've learned what's coming!

Stay Warm: No, this does not contradict the first "hint." Staying warm may sound obvious but I know how many times I was thinking, "Boy I'm getting cold," but kept going either hoping to warm up or just plain being lazy and not wanting to stop to put on more clothes. Trust me, it's much, much easier to stay warm than it is to get warm once you're cold. IF you're a bit too chilly either stop and take care of it or at the very least pick up the pace for a few minutes to see if that warms you up. If not, stop! As for the balance between this "hint" and the previous one, there's only one way for you to find the balance and that's for you to get out there and see how your body responds. I'm simply hoping to share a bit of personal experience to hopefully speed up your learning process a bit. It wont take long for you to realize that regulating your temperture is one of the biggest challenges and yet another of those things that can only be learned by doing.

Stay Dry: Another point that seems pretty obvious but I'm going to mention it anyway. That little bit of snow that falls on your shoulders as you duck under the tree, the dusting of snow on your mittens from grabbing that branch, all of it quickly melts and makes you very wet! It's very beneficial to make an effort to brush it off a.s.a.p before it melts. Simple? Yup! Worth it? Yup!
        Another area that the "stay dry" rule applies to is perspiration. It's common to hear or read how important it is for you to adjust your clothing to make sure that you never, never allow yourself to become damp or yikes, worse yet, wet from sweating! All I can say is that many years of winter hiking has taught me that the concept is sound, the application impossible for many of us! If I put 15 or 20 pounds on my back, snowshoes on my feet and then climb a moderately steep trail I am going to sweat big time! It can be 10 degrees and I'm wearing only a T Shirt and I WILL be dripping sweat! Many other's are the same way. So, be as careful as you can and certainly don't have on that huge down parka as you plod up the hill but you may just have to be realistic about it. Some people are going to sweat, that's all there is to it! Strip down as far as you can and make sure that you do have a dry layer to put on incase of emergency but there's not too much else you can do. That's why it's not uncommon in the dead of winter to see people hiking in shorts! I've seen it more than a few times!
        A pointer...I DID say to have something dry with you but don't make the mistake of being an hour into an 8 hour hike and being all sweaty and putting on your dry clothes. If you do that you no longer have the dry clothes! You just come to accept that when you stop for a break you're going to get cold faster than the person that is bone dry. What I do is to have a down jacket in my pack to pull out during breaks if needed but I try to not put on so much that I prevent my wet clothes from breathing and drying out. One thing that is very helpful is to anticipate the break coming and slow waaayyyy down for the last 10 or 15 minutes so that you stop perspiring and your clothes get a chance to dry a bit. Here's the big reason I love the newer synthetic fabrics. I can have a base layer that's more than damp and within 20 minutes of not sweating and the breeze blowing it's totally dry. I've tried many but so far the best that I've used is "Micronamics" by The North Face. Expensive? Yep, but it dries so much faster that I'll never use anything else. If you come across some other amazing secrets that help to keep you dry, please let me know!!

Gear Access: This may sound obvious or perhaps not necessary but the first time that your fingers are so cold that they won't seem to do what you're telling them to do and you're elbow deep in your pack searching for your dry mittens, you'll feel very differently about it! I make certain that things like extra mittens, a hat and the like are always in an outside pocket and ready to grab quickly. If the temps are very cold I'll take a pair of my heaviest, warmest mittens and stuff them, wrist end down, into the mesh side pockets of my pack. That way IF my hands get so cold that I can't seem to undo a zipper I can grab those mittens and stuff my hands into them until they warm up. When I use a pack that doesn't have lots of pockets I take things like mittens and put them all in a colored mesh stuff sack. Maybe something like mittens in yellow, hats in red, etc. That way when I have to get into the pack I can just search for "red" and not have to spend so long trying to find a couple of simple pieces of gear.
Dry Bag: This is something that most hikers do year round but in winter you'll really want to have some nice comfy, warm, dry clothes awaiting you back in your car! That way if you get wet from the elements or simply from perspiration you at least know that all you have to do is to make it back to the car and you'll be comfortable again. Even if your car has great heat, when it's 5 degrees out you will not want to be trying to dry out your wet clothes on the way home as you may be able to when the temperature is much higher!

Zipper Pulls: You'll find it extremely beneficial to attach some type of "zipper pull" to all zippers on your pack, clothing etc. You can purchase commercially made pulls or you can simply take a short (2 or 3 inches) piece of old boot lace, run it through the zipper and knot it. This makes it possible to find, grasp and pull the zippers without having to remove your mittens! A very handy thing when the temp is 10 below!

Warm Power: Warm Power? Ok, what I mean is if you're using batteries to power your camera, head lamp or anything else you'll find that keeping the batteries warm makes a huge difference in their performance. When using my digital camera I keep one set of batteries in the camera and another set in a pocket as close to my body as possible. That way they are warm and ready to use if needed. Another pointer...lithium batteries function in much lower temperatures than other common battery types.

Practice: Trust me it's much better to find out in the warmth of your home that your shell doesn't fit over your insulating layer and many similiar lessons. Things like putting on your snowshoes with mittens on can be quite tricky until you've done it a few times. Sooo, practice at home!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winter Hiking Essentials Snowshoes,Crampons & Emergency Gear

Emergency Gear: Ok, here's another category that is quite varied from one hiker to the next so I'll give you my idea of what "emergency gear" consists of. Many people carry next to nothing others carry the kitchen sink. The one thing I ask myself if I'm going to be any further than a short walk from "civilization" is what would I need to survive an unplanned night out without too much discomfort. I by no means think that I'll be enjoying myself but I do want to have enough that I don't end up with frostbite! In that vane, here's what I may be carrying at any given time.
Food: A bit of chocolate & a few hard candies. I'm not looking to chow down I'm simply trying to have a little something to keep my metabolism up if I end up out for longer than expected.
Extra Clothes: Just enough to ensure that I will not freeze if forced to spend the night out. Many people carry a sleeping bag and/or a tent for this purpose. There are pros and cons of both techniques. By carrying a down jacket, a pair of fleece pants and some extra socks in a waterproof bag I know that even if everything else gets wet I still have some dry clothes to keep me warm for the night. The advantage of this system is that they can be used at any time, not only for an emergency bivouac. If it just turns out to be colder than planned I have that extra clothing. The down side to this technique and the best reason for opting to go the sleeping bag route is that in the case of an injury or if I were mildly hypothermic it would be extremely difficult to strip off my wet clothes and get into dry ones. Where as it would be comparatively simple to pull out the sleeping bag and climb inside of it.
Shelter: If you're out in winter you really should have some means of shelter if you're forced to spend the night. Some people carry a tent, yes even on day hikes. Personally I carry a bivy sack. The idea is to be prepared for whatever may happen.
Fire Starter: Sadly, starting a fire is becoming a lost art and it certainly can not be counted on as a possibility in all circumstances but in some situations it could literally be a life saver! I carry some water/wind proof matches, a small "Bic" lighter, a small piece of candle and a piece of "fire starter" that can be purchased at most good outdoor stores. It's also important to get some practice in using these items.
Repair Kit: It needn't be terribly extensive but it's a good idea to be able to make basic gear repairs while in the field.
Duct Tape: I have a couple of yards wrapped around the top of my trekking poles.
Cable Ties: These are the handiest little items imaginable for repairing everything from a broken snowshoe to building a basic splint
Cord: I carry about 20 feet of nylon cord, again handy for many purposes.
Safety Pins: 3 or 4 of assorted sizes
Emergency Blanket: I prefer something a bit more sturdy than the conventional emergency blanket. For about $20.00 you can purchase one that is designed like a sleeping bag with a Velcro "zipper" that even has a sort of lining. Much more rugged and much less likely to blow away than the more basic ones.
Chemical Heat Packs: These little things are amazing. They are simply a small packet of chemicals that produce heat when opened. They come in various sizes that can be inserted into your mittens to warm your fingers or your boots to warm your toes. If forced to spend the night out somewhere they may make the difference on whether or not fingers or toes get frost bitten.
Large Trash Bag: These can be used for a multitude of purposes including; Pack Cover, Rain Coat, Bivy Sack, Water Collection Aid
Cell Phone: Yep, that's right, I put it as the last item of emergency gear because that's where I believe it should be. Hiking, especially in winter should be a sport of self reliance. You should be prepared to take care of yourself no matter what happens! I generally do not carry a phone but if you do decide to carry one, please be advised that your chances of getting a signal in the mountains is 50/50 at best. So again, be prepared and I the way I figure it, if I need to be prepared to take care of myself if the phone doesn't work, why even carry it?

Head Lamp: Any type of flashlight will do the trick but a headlamp is so much simpler to use and it allows you to keep your hands free that it's my choice. I also carry a spare bulb and spare batteries. In winter you'll find that lithium batteries will last much longer in the cold and it's a good idea to keep any batteries in your pocket to keep them warm. For that reason there are headlamps designed specifically for winter that have the batteries in a unit that attaches somewhere under your jacket and has a wire that leads to the light itself. That way the batteries are kept warmer at all times.
Foam Pad: Even if you are not going to be out overnight you're still apt to enjoy having a foam pad along. What I've done is taken an older foam pad and cut about a two foot section of it off. This is just fantastic at break time to give you a nice dry, insulated place to sit down. It can also be an extremely handy piece of emergency gear, used to keep you off the snow if you're forced to spend the night out in the elements!
Food: This is one thing that many people love about winter hiking, no worries about food spoiling in the high temps! But, don't forget that many foods will freeze so hard you'll never be able to eat them out on the trail! For that reason and the fact that it's not quite so easy to stop and take a leisurely lunch break, I tend to bring very simple foods on winter hikes. I stick with your basic gorp. I fill one bag with a salty mix, things like pretzels, crackers, precut bites of cheese etc. Then I fill another bag with sweets. Another method is to carry the gorp in a wide mouth nalgene bottle that is attached to the outside of your pack thus enabling you to grab a snack without even having to take the pack off!
Ice Ax: Whoa, did I just say ICE AX? Yes I did but it's very important that you understand that there are only a handful of general hiking trails in all of New England that really require the use of an ax. Even more importantly, if you do not know the proper techniques for using one then it actually becomes more of a hazard than a help and you should just leave it's use to the more experienced! IF you do decide you are going to be climbing Mount Washington and you want to purchase an ax then make sure that it's a general mountaineering ax and not a technical ice climbing ax. Let me point out though that there are more than a few people that have climbed all of the 4000 foot peaks in New Hampshire in winter and have done so without ever using an ax!
Snow Shoes: Yet another very diverse gear category. There are so many types of snowshoes available today that once again you're going to have to make some type of decision as to which are best for you. If you don't own a pair and can't borrow a pair, let me suggest that you try renting before you lay out the money for new shoes. That will give you some idea of what works best for you. You'll also have to make some type of decision on what you will be wanting to use them for. If you want to go off into the wilds after a fresh new snow and not have to worry about a trail you'll want a large shoe with a lot of "floatation". Floatation is simply a term used to express how well the shoe will keep you "floating" on top of the snow. If you're going to be hiking mostly on well used trails then they will generally be packed down and you can use a smaller shoe.

Snowshoe Terminology:
Frame: The most fundamental part of the snowshoe, the frame holds everything else together.
Decking: This is what provides the flotation on the snow. On wooden shoes it's generally made of rawhide or a synthetic equivalent stretched between the sides of the frame. On newer shoes it's generally a sheet of some type of synthetic that is attached to the frame with rivets. On the newest plastic shoes, the frame and decking are all one and the same.
Crampons: Similar to the crampons that would be attached to your boots these crampons are attached to your snowshoes to aid you in climbing steep and/or icy terrain.
Bindings: This is what holds your boot to the snowshoe. On wooden shoes it's a simple leather strap system. On newer shoes it varies how they choose to hold your boot in. Make sure it's something that will hold your boot tightly and more importantly make sure it's something you can get in and out of with a minimum of hassle even with cold, mittened hands!

Basic Snowshoe Types
Wooden: Here's a picture of my classic wooden shoes. These are the classic old style of snowshoes that you see hanging as decoration on the camp wall. They are still made and still used and are actually the shoe of choice if you're going to be breaking trail on two feet of fresh powder. They provide lots of floatation, can be easily repaired in the field and last for years with proper maintenance.
Aluminum: Here's a picture of my "Atlas 10 series" aluminum shoes.These are what you'll see the most of these days. Once upon a time these were considered the latest and greatest but now there are even newer technologies showing up on the trail. The advantages of this type of snowshoe are that it is immeasurably more durable than the old wooden shoes, they are often much lighter and they generally have a crampon system that provides a level of traction that the old timers never even dreamt of!
Plastic: Here's a picture of my "MSR Denali Ascent" plastic shoes.This is the newest type of shoe out there. The entire shoe, frame, decking and all is molded from some type of plastic. The advantages are, weight, simplicity and added "gimicks" like a heel lifter. That once seemed foolish to me but after purchasing a pair of these shoes and using the little lever that essentially helps to level your foot even when you are climbing a steep hill, I was sold! It truly makes a difference on how beat up your calves get on a long up hill! The other great thing about this type of shoe is that on many of them you can vary the floatation by adding tail pieces. This way you've actually got two or three pairs of snowshoes in one!

Size/Floatation: The size, more commonly the length of the shoe you choose determines to a large degree how well you'll stay on top of the snow. Let me clarify here though that if you're unfamiliar with snowshoeing you're going to discover that no matter how large of a shoe you use it will not keep you entirely on top of the snow! The method used to determine the right shoe for you is based on your weight. Actually that will be the entire weight on the shoes, i.e. you, your clothing, your pack etc. Each manufacturer has a formula to determine that a person of "X" weight needs a shoe of "Y" length. Larger shoes will undoubtedly help keep you on top of the snow but keep in mind that many times the trail will be packed and the shoes will not be on your feet they will be attached to your pack. The larger they are the more they weigh and the more of a challenge they will be to carry. Also, the longer they are the more difficulty you'll have when trying to negotiate sharp turns, step over fallen trees and generally maneuver in the woods. So, my advice would be to by the smallest shoe you can get away with. Or to put it another way, if your total weight is 200 lbs and the manufacturer says that one shoe is rated for 150 pounds to 195 pounds and the next size up is for 200 to 250 pounds, go with the smaller ones! You'll see many, many people on the trail that are using shoes that are really too small for them by the manufacturers standards. More often than not I wear a pair of shoes that is rated for a maximum weight that is 20 to 30 pounds below what I weigh.

Traction: Unless you're only planning short walks in local fields you're most likely going to be doing some degree of climbing and you're also likely to encounter times when the snow is packed and hard as ice. That's where you'll want to have some type of crampon attached to the shoe. On the old wooden shoes the best you can do is a very basic steel attachment that does help, but not very well when compared with the newer shoes. This is a very important point to consider if you plan on using the shoes to climb New Hampshire’s 4000 footers or do any other significant climbing. You'll most likely observe that this is one of the most fundamental changes in the less expensive or "recreational" shoes and the more costly "back country" or "mountaineering" shoes. Again, if you plan on climbing, spend the extra and get a pair with a good hefty crampon. This is an area that the plastic type of shoes excel at. Due to the way they are molded there is much more attention paid to giving you lots of braking power!
Crampons: If you're going to be doing any climbing and especially if you're going to be tackling some four thousand footers or going above treeline, you'll most likely want some type of crampon. Let me say though, unless you're going to be doing technical ice climbing or you plan on doing some glacier travel, you do not necessarily need big 12 point step in crampons! You will want something that attaches firmly to whatever boots you will be using in the winter so my suggestion would be to take those boots to a good outdoor retailer and ask what they sell for crampons that would work with them. There are numerous types of crampons but the basic division would be between flexible and rigid. Unless you are planning on ice climbing with them I would recommend you stay away from the rigid ones. If you're going to be using them with a softer boot that has some flex in the sole you will need to get the flexibles anyway. The next major difference is in how they attach to your boots. If you're using a plastic boot or a very stiff leather boot with the right sole attachment then you will be able to get a type of crampon called, "step in". All that means is that they will attach to your boot in a manner not too unlike the way you'd attach your boot to a ski rather than with a system of straps. The big advantage there is that you will be able to put them on and take them off much more quickly if you get the step in kind. When it's 10 below, that'll seem much more important than it may right now!

Crampon Terminology
Rigid: Rigid crampons are exactly that, rigid. There is no flex to them and they are designed primarily for ice climbing and must be used on a boot that has a completely rigid sole. For general hiking, stay away from this type.
Flexible: Flexible crampons will have some arrangement that allows them to flex or bend to some degree making them much more comfortable to use on a non rigid boot. This is the type that most hikers choose.
Instep: Here's a picture of my Grivel Gripper 6 point Instep Crampons.These are essentially mini crampons that have a small number of short spikes that point downward from your instep. If you're not doing anything too steep and you're willing to turn around if things get too icy then these may work excellently for you.
Step In: This type of crampon uses varying systems to allow you to attach then to your boots much more rapidly. Essentially by simply stepping into them. This is very handy when it's cold and you're on a "mixed route" that forces you to put the crampons on and then take them off again many times a day. They do require a rigid boot with a welt that allows attachment.
Hybrid: Here's a picture of my Kong 12 point Hybrid Crampons. This is an arrangement designed to allow you to have a nearly step-in binding without having to have a welt or groove on the front of your boot.
Strap On: This was the only type of crampon there was for many, many years but now is quickly becoming obsolete as newer, faster methods of attachment are being implemented.
Points: The number of points or spikes on each crampon varies from 4 for a simple instep crampon to 6 for more elaborate insteps and on up to 10 or 12 points. Many prefer 12 point crampons but unless you're doing some pretty technical climbing most people doing general hiking in New England will be perfectly happy with a pair of 10 point crampons. The big difference is that they have two less points aiming forward. Why's that a big deal you ask. Well it's those front points that seem to find a way to trip you, to slice up your pant legs or gaiters and to generally make you change your stride more as you walk!
Antibotts: These are plastic plates that attach to your crampons to help keep snow from balling up under your foot which can become a real problem in the right conditions.
Crampons: If you're going to be doing any climbing and especially if you're going to be tackling some four thousand footers or going above treeline, you'll most likely want some type of crampon. Let me say though, unless you're going to be doing technical ice climbing or you plan on doing some glacier travel, you do not necessarily need big 12 point step in crampons! You will want something that attaches firmly to whatever boots you will be using in the winter so my suggestion would be to take those boots to a good outdoor retailer and ask what they sell for crampons that would work with them. There are numerous types of crampons but the basic division would be between flexible and rigid. Unless you are planning on ice climbing with them I would recommend you stay away from the rigid ones. If you're going to be using them with a softer boot that has some flex in the sole you will need to get the flexibles anyway. The next major difference is in how they attach to your boots. If you're using a plastic boot or a very stiff leather boot with the right sole attachment then you will be able to get a type of crampon called, "step in". All that means is that they will attach to your boot in a manner not too unlike the way you'd attach your boot to a ski rather than with a system of straps. The big advantage there is that you will be able to put them on and take them off much more quickly if you get the step in kind. When it's 10 below, that'll seem much more important than it may right now!

Winter Hiking Gear You Might Need

Boots: One of the most important pieces of gear you'll need is a warm pair of boots. There is much debate over just what type of boot is best and much of it once again comes back to the type of hike you'll be doing and the type of person you are. There are several options and here they are in no particular order.
First is to winter hike in regular summer weight hiking boots. I know that many think this type of boot doesn't provide enough warmth but I also know that I've used them and know of dozens of others that have also. Now, if you your summer "boots" are a lightweight, low, fabric type then I am by no means saying that they will do. For years I used a pair of all leather mid to heavy weight summer back packing boots for winter hiking. It's important to note that they were purchased in a size large enough to allow me to wear a liner sock, a vapor barrier sock and then a very heavy wool sock. They kept my feet warm and toasty on every hike I did as long as the temps were not below zero. If they were, I simply didn't hike that day.

Second is to use a "pac" type of boot like a pair of Sorels. I do know people that use these and I have seen them on the trail on occasion but I personally prefer something with more support. I don't think my feet could walk all day in a boot that's as loose and floppy on my foot as these types of boots are. But, if you're doing shorter hikes or your feet are not like mine then these may work fine for you. You can certainly buy them that are rated to temperatures much lower than anything you may encounter in the average New England winter.
Third is an all leather insulated hiking boot. These are becoming more and more popular as many people discover them and find that they can be much more comfortable than a plastic boot and fit much better than a "pac" boot. They don't have nearly the insulation but that can be over come in other ways and if you're going to be hiking up a mountain you will most likely not want a boot that's rated for 100 below anyway. This has become my boot of choice and I've tried probably a dozen different boots and boot combinations over the years. Many find that the biggest obstacle to using this type of boots it their price. They can often be $250 to $400 but if you shop wisely you can do much better.
Fourth is a plastic double boot. For those unfamiliar with this type of boot think of a ski boot. Well it's not exactly the same it is a rigid plastic shell with a softer, removable inner bootie. If you're doing any serious alpine mountaineering, going out for longer than a day hike, ice climbing or just tend to have very cold feet then these may be the boot for you.

Base Layer: In winter as in any season the best way to stay comfortable is to use a layering system rather than to try to stay warm with one big heavy jacket. As you hike more in winter you'll learn that staying cool is more of a challenge than staying warm! If all you've got is that big arctic down jacket you'll be nice and toasty when you start up the trail but in no time at all, especially if you're snowshoeing and carrying a heavy pack you'll be much, much too warm. Then you begin to perspire, get damp and then come time to stop for a break you'll be freezing in no time at all. So I start with a pair of long underwear made of one of the many modern synthetic fabrics. An important point to note here is that you should really try to avoid cotton clothes of any type when winter hiking. There's an old mountaineering adage that says, "Cotton kills!" Cotton loses nearly all it's insulating qualities when wet. Where as fleece or wool will insulate even if wet. If you don't have, don't like, or simply can't afford fleece then don't forget that wool is what was used for years and will keep you warm even when wet. The big advantage of the newer synthetic fabrics is that they not only insulate even when wet but they dry astoundingly rapidly! For me, it's impossible to not sweat while hiking and these types of fabrics dry amazingly quickly so even if I'm cold all I have to do is to slow down for 20 or 30 minutes to the point where I'm not sweating and in that amount of time the base layer is nearly dry! Up top I generally wear a synthetic T Shirt and over that I wear a long sleeve zip turtle neck shirt of the same fabric. That way I can vent the turtle neck and if I really start over heating I can strip down to just the T Shirt. Yep, it's true, it's not uncommon to be climbing up a trail on a winter's day and see people in T Shirts and even shorts!
Insulating Or Middle Layer: Again this one varies depending on the temps and just what you're doing but you will want at least one layer of fleece and perhaps more. What I do once the T Shirt and Turtle Neck aren't enough to keep me warm is put on a mid weight fleece vest. That generally does the trick in all but the coldest conditions or when I'm stopped. If not, I also carry a mid weight fleece jacket. For those times that I'm at rest, or for an emergency I also carry mid weight down jacket if I'm going to be out for long, am going very far, or if I'm venturing above the treeline.
Wind/Rain Or Outer Layer: On top of what ever you need to keep you warm you will often need some type of wind and/or water proof layer. In winter this will be worn much more for it's wind shedding qualities than for it's waterproofness. Especially if venturing above treeline, as it's there that you'll find that the wind is seldom still in the winter! The big question is, is it necessary to buy the modern, high tech, waterproof/breathable fabrics or not. Unfortunately, once again, there is no set in stone answer here. If you are the type that tends to sweat very little in winter than I would say, no you don't need to spend the extra money on the high tech fabrics. Of course on the other extreme, you may sweat like I do in winter, profusely! In that case you'll want every advantage you can get to help rid yourself of perspiration when the winds force you to wear some type of shell layer. Personally I DO use a waterproof/breathable shell BUT I want to make sure to make it known that there is no way that it "breathes" nearly enough to keep me dry! The only solution for folks like me is to avoid putting the shell on until it is positively necessary! A very handy feature to look for when purchasing pants is that they have zippers that run the full length of both legs. This makes it much easier to put them on without having to remove your boots etc.
Head Wear: I called it head wear because there is such a diversity of products out there to wear on your head that it's not adequate to refer to the entire group simply as hats anymore. What I find works best is to have some type of lighter hat for the times when you're climbing or the temps are high. Some people use a simple headband in this instance. Then you'll want a good heavy hat of either fleece or wool that covers your ears well. And, for those really cold and/or windy times you'll want something like a balaclava. If you don't go the balaclava route than you can use your hat with a simple inexpensive face mask but it is important that you be able to cover every inch of exposed flesh if the temps get too low. When the temps are below zero and there's a wind it's quite possible for exposed flesh to freeze in as little as a minute or two! Yes, that's what I said, freeze! Frostbite can happen just that fast!
Mittens/Gloves Personally I seldom wear gloves other than as a base layer. By wearing a thin "liner" glove you can avoid ever having to expose bare skin. Even if you must take off your mittens you still have something to protect your hands and to keep them from freezing to steel crampons or snowshoes. You should most likely have at least a couple of pairs of liner gloves, a pair or two of good warm fleece or wool mittens and a pair of shell mitts to cover everything and keep the mittens etc. dry. If the trees, branches and everything else is snow covered it's important to either make a conscious effort to not grab things to pull yourself along etc. unless you put on the shell mitts right away. It takes very little time to end up with soaking wet mittens that become very cold, very quickly!
Gaiters: These are a occasionally handy to have for hiking in the other three seasons but they are almost a necessity in winter. I rarely hike without some type of gaiters on. The primary reason to wear them in winter is to keep the snow out of the tops of your boots. All it takes is a tiny bit of snow on this step, a bit more on that step, a bit of melting and the next thing you know the tops of your socks, and eventually all of your sock is completely soaked! The big advantage of super gaiters is that they cover the entire boot and basically "seal" around the soul of the boot. This keeps everything, laces etc. from getting snowy and icy. In addition it provides a bit of warmth for your feet, especially if you buy a pair of insulated super gaiters. One pointer, it's almost inevitable that the toe section of the gaiter works its way up to the top of your boot leaving your toes sticking out and basically becoming a great little snow scoop! The solution that I and most others use is to put a dab of barge cement or contact cement on the tip of your boot and the tip of the gaiter. As that clearly implies, super gaiters are not something that you are frequently putting on and taking off your boots. I tend to put mine on when the real cold and snow season starts, say mid to late December and they stay there until it warms up a bit in mid March. Not to worry though, even with the glue it's quite easy to pull them off and it does no harm to the boots. Just remember when applying it that you're not trying to bond them for life, you're simply trying to keep that toe section from wandering up your boot.

General Gear
Pack: What you choose to use for a pack will depend of course on what type of hike you'll be doing and on just what you feel you need to carry. Personally I find that for anything other than the shortest of day hikes, my pack needs to be in the 3000 cubic inch range and generally weighs between 20 and 30 pounds with snowshoes and crampons attached. An important consideration in picking a pack for winter would be that it have some means to attach your snowshoes when you don't need them on your feet. This can generally be accomplished by using mini bungee cords or accessory straps of some sort.
Trekking Poles: These certainly are not needed on any hike and are down right foolish on others but let me say that if you've never spent much time on snowshoes you will find the poles very helpful in keeping the number of times that you plant your face in the snow down to a bare minimum!

Water Bottles/Bladder: Having enough water to drink can become a real issue even on a winter day hike. I have tried many different methods and found that for me the most effective is to carry my water in a wide mouth nalgene bottle inside some type of insulation and placed upside down in my pack. I generally carry one liter this way and then have another liter in a water bottle parka that's attached to the bottom of one of my packs shoulder straps thus enabling me to get a drink of water without taking off the pack. The "parkas" are widely available and cost between $10.00 and $20.00. They will keep the water from freezing for most of the day as long as the temperature is not too far below zero. I also occasionally simply place the water bottle inside a couple of heavy socks. This method does work but does not seem to work quite as well as the insulated parkas do. By placing the bottles upside down in your pack you at least assure that if the water does begin to freeze the ice will be at the bottom of the bottle and thus not hinder you from drinking the remaining water.
        I've also tried using a hydration pack but have been unimpressed with this method of carrying water in the winter. Even though I purchased an insulated bladder and the "thermal kit" that covers the tubing and the gulp valve I've found it will still begin freezing if the temperatures are in the single digits or below. In my opinion the safest, easiest and most effective way to carry drinking water is the good old fashioned way, in the nalgene bottles! Another handy tip, if you add some type of drink mix to your water like Gatoraide, the sugar will allow the temps to get a bit lower before your water freezes.
        This would also be a good place to mention that water filters will freeze up and be destroyed by the winter temperatures and also that purification tablets work much more slowly in cold temperatures. Personally I use iodine tablets and in winter put in one extra and leave it for at least 45 minutes. That's if I'm forced to get more water. For these reasons I find it easier to just carry all the water I'll need for a day hike rather than try to get to a frozen stream, fill the bottle, treat it, etc.

Hiking In Winter Basics

Get The Right Gear: I'll cover this topic further in the winter gear list and perhaps even the glossary if you're unfamiliar with some of the terminology of winter hiking. By placing Gear first I do not mean to imply that it is the most important topic when it comes to winter hiking. I don't think that it is, but I do think that having the right gear will help you to enjoy your first winter experiences so much more that it could make the decision as to whether or not you continue to winter hike! IF all you have is summer trail shoes, a light weight pair of cotton pants, perhaps a fleece jacket and a shell, then please, get the proper gear first and assure that you'll be warm and safe and have an enjoyable outing your first time out.
        No, I do not think that you need to go out and spend a fortune to purchase all the "needed" gear. I think that with some scavenging through the closet, some judicious shopping, a bit of borrowing and maybe even a trial rental or two, you can have all that you need without breaking the bank. I confess I do prefer many of the newer fabrics and high tech gear but I also know that people were hiking and enjoying the outdoors in winter long before any of these products were even imagined!
        Remember though, when winter hiking you may well find yourself in a rather cold and possibly uncomfortable environment and the only means of escape is a long walk back to the car. Even that's assuming that you don't get momentarily misplaced or a minor injury slows you down to the point where you will have to be able to keep yourself warm for as long as it takes. That's why it's so important to have at least a modest amount of the proper gear and to consider the next topic on the list...

Find Some Experienced Companions: All right, I must say that for those of you with little to no winter experience, this point is actually more important than the gear point. When I stressed the importance of the gear being first I was going under the assumption that if you were looking to winter hike than you most likely had some basic experience with the outdoors. If not, just swap this with the gear point and you'll be fine! Sure, you can learn on your own and from reading books but you'll learn much faster and have a much better time if you take your first few real winter hikes with someone that has some winter experience. If it's very cold out you'll find that simple things you never gave a thought to before are suddenly quite challenging! Things like having a bite to eat for example.

Start Small: It's much better to get out and have some fun, enjoy yourself and get comfortable with the winter environment on shorter, safer hikes than it is to plan Mount Washington as your first excursion. You're also going to find that you'll be carrying much more weight in your pack even if it's just a for a short day hike. Also, if you've never tried snowshoeing you may find that it's often much more tiring than regular hiking. You'll have an extra five or six pounds on your feet!

Leave An Itinerary: It's a good idea to practice this on all your hikes but in winter it becomes even more important. No need to make a big deal of it but make sure someone knows where you're planning on going and what to do if you don't return as scheduled.

Understand Hypothermia: Why is hypothermia listed in the basics you ask? Because it is the number one killer of winter hikers and it is also a subject that most outdoors people know too little about! Simply put, hypothermia is a potentially fatal condition that results from your body being unable to maintain its core temperature. When that happens it begins to restrict blood flow to the extremities like your hands and feet in an attempt to keep your vital organs warm. The clinical definition would be, "Hypothermia: A decrease in the core body temperature to a level at which normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired." It's vital that you realize that this condition can and does happen in ambient temperatures in the 40s and even 50s. It does not have to be 10 below for you to be concerned. The best advice I can give you is to learn as much as you can about hypothermia before you get too involved in any outdoor activity that does not provide one with access to immediate medical attention if needed.
Have Fun!: Yep, that sure sounds pretty basic but you need to know that hiking in the winter can be an absolute blast! So please, don't let all the details get you confused. They're not nearly as daunting as they at first may seem. If you start slow and get out there for a sunny afternoon stroll in the woods you'll love it and quickly be wanting more. In no time at all you'll be having so much fun you'll be wondering why it took you so long to try this!
With the basics covered above you're ready to start thinking about what you'll need for gear. This can get a bit confusing simply because it depends a great deal on exactly what you decide to do for a hike. Climbing a four thousand footer or venturing above treeline may require substantially more gear than a simple, level, couple mile hike into a pond or ledge or what have you. For that reason I'm going to try to give you enough information about the gear that I would say you should have for a short 3 or 4 hours out in the woods to what you'll need for climbing K2. Ok, perhaps not K2, but something in the Presidential Range for example. Just keep in mind that if you're going to start with a nice short walk on a well traveled trail to a nearby outlook you probably won't need to be as concerned with some of the points I mention. The point is to get out there and have fun! Be safe, be cautious but do not let that detract from seeing and hearing the beauty of the forest in winter!
        I'll tell you right up front that the gear list or any similar list is a very personal thing. Some people take much less, some much more. In my opinion it depends greatly on your level of experience with hiking in general. If you've been hiking in the Spring and Fall for years you're probably pretty familiar with how your body responds to cold, wind, etc. You're also more likely to know what you feel you should carry for first aid and other "emergencies."
        There's also the risk factor to consider. Only you know how much risk you are comfortable with. I know of many winter hikers that carry much less than I would feel is adequate in winter but they look at it differently. In their opinion the worse thing that can happen is that they have to spend a cold night outdoors or something similar. For me, it's not worth risking my toes or fingers to frostbite or worse, risking my life, in the name of having fun or trying to prove something out in the winter wonderland!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hiking With Snowshoe Basics

If you think that your hiking days are over you are completely wrong. There is a whole new world of white waiting to be explored. All you need is your current hiking gear, appropriate clothing and boots, and snowshoes. Whether you want to trudge around the closed roads of your favorite park or take an extended hike deep into the woods, snowshoes can get you there quickly and effectively. You also gain the additional benefit of getting a tremendous aerobic workout, which will help you keep in shape for the coming spring.
The first thing you need before hitting the trail is the right clothes. Dressing in layers is critical. As you heat up through physical activity you can open or shed layers to prevent sweat build up. Protecting your feet, hands, face, neck and head are extremely critical. Fifty percent of your heat loss is through your head. Improper clothing can lead to hypothermia or frostbite, and in extreme cases can cost you a limb, or even your life.
Wearing the right layers also means being able to stay dry. Snow is frozen water, your body's warmth, sweat, and even your breath work against you creating moisture against your skin. Your first layers should be silk, Capilene or DryClime. Cotton should be avoided. If you are on a budget consider a wool blend if you can deal with being a little itchy. On the outer layer you should avoid letting moisture come through your protective layers. Gore-Tex is best, but if you can't afford it nylon or nylon blend that has been treated will do. If you're snowshoeing in the Mid-West or areas that are windy make sure your outer layer properly protects you form the heat robbing properties of the wind.

The next thing you need to do is select a snowshoe. Snowshoes came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes depending on the conditions you will be experiencing. The most important factor is the, "float," the snowshoe you are considering provides. The float is what keeps you from sinking down into the snow, also known as postholing. If you're postholing, you're losing precious time, traction, and energy.

Float is rated on most snowshoes in terms of total pounds the shoes can carry. This is a very important point, because the reference point is total pounds. If a snowshoe is rated for 225 pounds and you weigh 200 pounds, better make sure your gear and clothing doesn't push you over the top. In other words add up the total weight, including your cold weather gear and pack. If you plan to do backcountry camping, be especially careful to factor in the additional weight the heavier pack and gear will add. The snow you are trekking on has an effect too. Colorado champagne powder is going to require more float than the wet heavy snows of the Olympics and western Cascades.
Another thing to consider when selecting snowshoes is the shape of the snowshoe itself. Rounded snowshoes will provide better float than tapered ones. However tapered ones are easier to walk in because you can maintain a natural stance, versus having to stand ever so slightly bowlegged. If you are large framed or heavy, look for more rounded shoes, the added float will be more important than the slightly awkward gait you will have to walk.
When looking at snowshoes if you expect to find the wood and leather ones hanging on the wall as a decoration at your grandfather's hunting lodge, you are going to be in for a big surprise. Today's snowshoes are made with high tech components. Most are made out of durable plastics, aluminum and synthetic rubber. Some advanced models are made out of exotic materials including titanium, but be prepared to pay a lot of money.
On the subject of money buying a pair of snowshoes is not cost prohibitive, even on a tight budget. High quality models that can carry 190 pounds can be found for under $200. Models that can carry 275 pounds can be found for under $250. It's even inexpensive to get the whole family involved, snowshoes for children can be found for under $50!

The next thing you need to consider is your boots. Unlike skis, you don't need to spend more money on specialized boots that latch into your snowshoes. Many people elect to use their backpacking boots that they would normally use in the summer months. By wearing layers of socks and making sure they are completely waterproofed, your regular backpacking boots can provide a moderate level of service.
If you have money to burn you may want to consider getting some mountaineering boots. Made out of waterproof materials like Gore-Tex and polypropylene, lined with Thinsulate or wicking materials like DriClime, and specifically designed for cold weather, mountaineering boots can provide traction, support, warmth, and protection from moisture that no backpacking boot can provide. If you live in an area with an extreme winter climate, you should strongly consider getting mountaineering boots.
Another item that you should absolutely have before hitting the trail is gaiters. Gaiters fit over the top of your boots and go roughly halfway up your calves. They keep snow from getting into the top of your boot and prevent cold and moisture from building up around your ankles. They also help keep your outer layer dry, which is important, as your lower legs will be in an endless shower of snow as you trek. If you invest in gaiters you can use them year round, especially if you hike in wet, damp, muddy conditions when the snow isn't flying.
Don't hit the trail without a set of trekking poles. If you ski you can spare the investment of buying trekking poles and just use your ski poles. Quality trekking poles will allow you to change out the baskets; those are the, "rings" at the bottom of the pole. You can use snow baskets to keep the pole from postholing every time you press down during the winter. Because most trekking poles telescope, you will be able to adjust the length for uphill and downhill climbs, which is something ski poles can't do. In the summer you can remove the baskets all together, or replace them with more appropriate ones to the conditions you like to hike in, and use your trekking poles to take the pressure and weight off of your knees. If you are on a tight budget cruise yard sales and swap meets trolling for ski poles. You won't have a hard time finding a pair and you won't spend a lot of money.

So now you are ready to hit the trail, but just how do you walk with snowshoes on? The good news is there really isn't any specialized training required. If you can walk and chew gum, you're ready. It may seem a little awkward at first but once you get use to having to walk just slightly bowlegged, it is pretty easy. You will be able to turn, start and stop normally. However there is one technique you can't do in snowshoes, and that is walk backwards. Because snowshoes have little metal cleats on the bottom of them, the cleats can catch as you step back, and can put you on the ground fast. If you have to turn around, all you need to do is simply pivot in a tight circle.
This leads to one of the first questions of a novice to snowshoeing, how do you handle hills? The reality is that unless the incline is extremely steep, it is pretty easy. Because snowshoes have those little cleats, they act like crampons and grab the surface, even offering you traction when things are icy. The best way to go is straight up or straight down, using your poles to balance and add traction if needed. Walking along an incline can be very difficult in snowshoes with gravity wanting to pull you downward so avoid crossing hills and move with the terrain.
Your first trek shouldn't be a grueling trip into the backcountry. Keep things simple. You are going to move slower in snowshoes than you will if you are hiking. The snowshoes and the layers of clothing complicate simple tasks like taking a rest break, or even going to the bathroom. And then there is the danger of the cold. If you plan to hit the backcountry you should seriously consider taking a winter survival course. Never snowshoe without notifying a responsible person of your plans and always carry adequate gear. Even if you are going for a short afternoon jaunt, have enough to get by for at least 24 hours.
Another safety issue you should follow is the weather. In higher elevations the weather can change very quickly. A sunny afternoon can turn into a blinding blizzard or a cold miserable rain. The wind and cold can cut through like a knife, and if your body can't maintain it's core temperature, you'll start to get hypothermia. In other words check the weather forecast before going out the door and trust your instincts when you are on the trail.
Another threat to consider in some parts of the country is avalanche. Every year avalanches kill several people across the United States. If you are hiking in a hilly or mountainous area know the avalanche risks and don't take any chances. Listen to the recommendations of area officials or people you know as trusted experts. A group of people moving through a dangerous area does not mean it is safe for you to pass.
If you live in an area that is prone to avalanches, you should carry a shovel and an avalanche beacon with you at all times. In the event that you are buried in the snow, the beacon will send off a signal that rescuers can use to home in on. Remember that an avalanche beacon is not a life insurance policy; it only helps rescuers find you faster. The survival rate of people buried in the snow by an avalanche is extremely low so don't take unnecessary chances.
If you are already enjoying other outdoor sports like skiing or snowboarding, you are probably less than $200 away from starting snowshoeing. The benefits of trekking through the quiet forest, fields, and mountains are endless. Cold, crisp clean air offers spectacular views free of insects and free of most other people. The hiking season hasn't ended - it has just begun.

Hiking In Bear Country

When humans enter bear country, our status of being on the top of the food chain changes.  Bears are very cunning creatures who will go to great lengths to get to food.  Bears that live in areas that are impacted by humans pose a special problem.  Many people wonder what they should do when going into bear country.  The first thing is to relax.  Your odds of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning are much higher then being mauled by a bear -- let alone killed.
It is a reality that every year hikers and campers are killed by bears.  If you study a little bear philosophy you can greatly reduce your chances of being a target.  So many bear encounters are caused by humans that simply did the wrong things.  It is the exception, not the rule that a human was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As you move further north into bear country, especially states like Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, and Maine as well as most of Canada, bears spend a large amount of their lives asleep or in a twilight sleep.  During their active period, which in some parts of the world can be as short as four-and-a-half months bears are eating machines.  They are on a mission to pack in as many calories as possible before the next winter.

The next thing that you need to learn in bear philosophy is that bears have an acute sense of smell.  They can smell one-thousand times better than humans.  Bears use this sense of smell to detect food.  When you combine the quest for food attitude of a bear, with their keen sense of smell, and then add humans into bear country with our perfumes and delicious food, one can quickly learn why bear encounters are so common.
In North America there are black bears and brown bears.  Black bears aren't always black, and brown bears aren't always brown.  Black bears can be brown, red, yellowish, and  honey in color.  Brown bears, or grizzly bears can be black in color.  Black bears have longer snouts then brown bears and are smaller, on average two-hundred to two-hundred-and fifty pounds, but can weigh over five-hundred pounds.  Brown bears have a distinctive hump on their shoulder and shorter noses.  They are much larger then black bears and weigh in around three-hundred-and-fifty to four-hundred pounds, but can weigh over one-thousand pounds.
Depending on your location and altitude, bears can be active from as early as late February through to November and December.  In most parts of the mountains where bears are common, such as Glacier NP, Yellowstone NP, and Yosemite NP, bears are typically active from mid-April to mid-November.  Bears in general do not have a more dangerous time then others when in the forest.
 For example in Yellowstone bears are dangerous from April through May as they are bulking up from the winter hibernation.  Then in June and July bears are dangerous because it is calving season and they are after easy prey.  August female bears will be roaming the woods with cubs and in September and October the bears are bulking up again for the long winter hibernation.  The bottom line is you must always be prepared.
If you are going to go hiking in bear country, there are a number of procedures that you should follow:
Tell a friend, co-worker, parent, neighbor or someone where you are going.  You should set a specific date and time that if you do not contact this person that they should contact a specific authority.  You should also make use of trail head registers if available.  If trail head registers are not available, you should register or notify the controlling authority of the area you are entering.
Check with the local park service or controlling authority on any reports of bear activity.  You should heed any specific warnings you are given.  If you spot bears or signs or recent bear activities like tracks or fresh droppings, you should report this to any other hikers you meet and the controlling authority.
Never hike alone in bear country.  In some places like the eastern part of Yellowstone NP it is required at least four people travel on certain trails that have very high bear activity.  Thousands of years of evolution has taught bears that humans are formidable opponents in a group and are more likely to avoid groups of humans then a lone traveler.
You should wear a pack when you enter into bear country.  Even if you are going in for a day hike.  In the event that a bear charges you the pack can save your life if you sacrifice it as a diversion for the bear.  A small, inexpensive daypack is more then adequate.
When hiking you should make a lot of noise to alert bears of your presence.  This is very important in dense vegetation or forest, where the trail turns, bends, or rises, around rivers, lakes and streams, or in thermal areas.  Bells, whistles, clapping or loud talking are all excellent ways to alert bears.  On windy days the bears acute sense of smell can work against them.  If you are coming upwind on a trail (the wind is blowing in your face) you should be especially careful of surprising a bear as you scent will be masked and your sound muffled by the wind.
Do not wear perfume or use scented products when hiking in bear country.  There are a number of unscented products on the market today including deodorant, shaving cream, sun tan lotion and insect repellant.  The flowery and sweet smells in perfume and common household products like deodorant can attract bears.  You will also cut down on the number of insects bothering you if you stay away from scented products.
Make sure any food you pack with you is stored in well sealed plastic bags and does not have a strong odor.  Most experts recommend double sealing your food stores, even on a day hike.  If you stop for a break make sure you pick up any food you may drop.  Not only does this follow Leave No Trace protocol, it discourages a wandering bear to find the rest of the food source.
Bear spray is optional and should only be carried for peace of mind.  When purchasing bear spray make sure the product you are buying is specifically for bears.  Typically these products will come in a twelve-ounce or larger can, have a shot gun style spray pattern with a range of 25 feet, and cost between $40 to $60 US.  Smaller products with a targeted spray designed for humans require the bear to be even closer and precise aim.  Keep in mind also that 25 feet is a very short distance and if will require nerves of steel and good weather conditions to accurately deploy the bear spray.
If you are hiking in an area where there are established trails, stay on them.  You increase your odds of encountering a bear the further away you move from human contact and deeper into bear country.  The combination of this plus backcountry terrain adds to the risk.  If you must leave the trail, for example to go to the bathroom, try to traverse a sparsely vegetated area and make noise.  Be especially alert and try to move down wind (wind to your back) so your scent and noise will carry further.  Remember, part of Leave No Trace protocol is to move at least 300 feet from the trail and bury your waste in a six to eight inch hole dug with as little impact to the top soil as possible.  Carry out all toilet paper and feminine hygiene products in double wrapped plastic bags.
Menstruating women should wear tampons while hiking in bear country

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kids Group Safety

Every year millions of children across the United States visit the outdoors with youth groups. It might be the Boy or Girl Scouts, a church, the YMCA, Adventure Quest, Civil Air Patrol, Boys and Girls Club, a school or college, or any other number of groups across America. Sadly every year thousands of children are injured and dozens are killed. Some of the injuries and deaths are tragic accidents, a bee sting that turns into anaphylactic shock, a boulder shifting unexpectedly pinning a teen, or an unexpected lightning strike. However many of these injuries and deaths could be avoided.
Because children's bodies are still developing, and healthy children lack a lot of body fat, they are far more susceptible to several different outdoor related injuries than their adult leaders. Hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration, heat related injuries, and altitude sickness are all points of risk.
Hypothermia is caused when the body can no longer maintain a normal temperature. Just a 1.6 degree change in temperature can have adverse effects, and a 3.6 degree change in temperature to 95 degrees can be immobilizing. Preventing hypothermia is a parental responsibility. If your child is going on an outdoor adventure, be sure they are adequately clothed and they are wearing layers. Hypothermia can happen even on a summer day, and wind and moisture can increase the effect. One of the best ways to help maintain body heat is to wear a hat, and be sure your child understands to wear it. Identifying hypothermia and taking proper action as early as possible is the responsibility of the group leaders. People who suffer from hypothermia typically deny they have a problem, and can even be combative. Hypothermia is not a sign of physical weakness; it is a serious medical emergency that needs to be treated.

Frostbite is caused when the fluid inside the cells of body tissue freeze. As the fluid freezes it expands, rupturing the cells. Frostbite typically starts on the extremities, the nose, earlobes, toes, fingers, cheeks, and moves toward the core of the body. Frostbite typically has a cascading effect. As a part of the body becomes chilled blood flow is restricted in an attempt to save heat and prevent hypothermia, which lowers the temperature further increasing the problem. Frostbite prevention is also the parent's responsibility. Once again making sure your child has the proper clothing is key. Exposed flesh equals frostbite on a cold windy day, so gloves, a hat, and in more extreme environments scarves, ski masks, and even ski goggles to protect the eyes may be needed. Children should be briefed on the symptoms of frostbite, and group leaders should also know how to identify and treat it.
Dehydration is probably the most senseless of injuries that can happen to a child. Proper hydration out in the field is the responsibility of the leaders. When your child goes out for an adventure make sure they will have an adequate water supply. Buying a couple bottles of Avian at the convenience store may save you some time, but it is doing your child a great disservice. Take the time and spend a few dollars on some proper water bottles. One quart water bottles can be found at stores like Wal Mart or Target for as little as two dollars. If your child is hiking or backpacking, seriously consider investing $15 to $25 in a two-liter hydration system. A good rule of thumb is one gallon of water per day, or one quart of water for every two hours, more if you are in extreme hot, cold, dry, or at high altitude. If it is a struggle to get your child to drink water, invest in some powered sports drink mix. Soft drinks, especially caffeinated ones should be avoided.
Heat related injuries are the opposite of hypothermia. Instead of the body not being able to stay warm, the body can no longer stay cool and overheats. Heat exhaustion is a serious problem, and heat stroke is a very serious medical emergency that can cripple or even kill in minutes. Just like hypothermia denial is one of the symptoms so it is up to the leaders to watch for these medical emergencies. Many children who die from heat related injuries were simply pushed too hard, the early symptoms of nausea, dizziness and feeling weak can be ignored as an excuse to want to stop and take a rest. Just like hypothermia, heat related injuries are not a sign of weakness; they are serious, life threatening emergencies.
Altitude sickness also affects children more than adults. Sudden changes in altitude over a very short period of time can bring on life threatening emergencies. Fortunately the most serious condition, HACE or High Altitude Cerebral Edema doesn't typically occur below 18,000 feet, but can. Children need to be watched for AMS, Acute Mountain Sickness, and in elevations over 12,000 feet, HAPE, or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. It is up to the leaders to watch for these conditions. Once you get over 7,000 feet, elevation change should be limited to 1,000 feet per day, with jaunts of 2,000 to 3,000 feet in change acceptable as long as you return to your starting altitude. Bigger changes than this can bring on illness.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bites & Stings On The Trail And Outdoors

When you are out camping in the great outdoors sooner or later you're going to get stung or bitten by any number of flying, creeping, crawling, or swimming creatures. Whether it is the sting of a scorpion in the southwestern desert, the bite of a copperhead in the Adirondacks of New York, the sting of a Portuguese Man of War at Padre Island National Seashore, or a bee sting in the alpine meadows of Glacier National Park, you should always be prepared whether you are camping in a recreational vehicle or hitting the wild backcountry.
Bites and stings can be divided into five distinct groups. Insect bites and stings, like those from ticks, chiggers, flies, ants, bees, wasps, hornets and mosquitoes. Spider and scorpion bites and stings. Like those from a variety of spiders, the more famous being the black widow and the brown recluse, and a variety of scorpions. The next is marine life stings. This can be from jellyfish, Portuguese Man of War, or stingrays. Snakebites can be from any number of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous. And finally animal bites from little critters like bats, rats, squirrels and chipmunks.
Insect bites from fleas, flies, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes and others are pretty evident. Ticks and chiggers may be found still attached. Larger black flies, horse flies, and fire ants may cause a sharp pain when they bite and leave a small welt. Fleas, May flies and mosquitoes are more insidious, slowly torturing you with itchy bites.
The good news is that most insect bites in North America are not medical emergencies. If a person has a particularly bad reaction the area bitten may be sore or very itchy. Fire ant bites leave behind pimples similar to a poison ivy infection. Topical Benadryl is very effective in stopping the symptoms of a bite. If the bite is more serious, say from a large horsefly, the area should be cleaned and bandaged. If a person receives a large number of bites from nastier insects like fire ants they should be watched for severe reactions.

Bees, wasps and hornets will offer a nastier encounter. Whether you are stung by the lowly honeybee or by the aggressive white-faced hornet, which may sting a person five or ten times in quick succession, it is not a pleasant experience. Bee stings will leave a barbed stinger behind which can be removed by scraping the skin with a nail or credit card. Wasp and hornet stings may leave a distinctive red circle with a small puncture mark on the skin. The effected area should be treated with an ice pack to reduce swelling and the victim should be watched carefully for a serious reaction.
Spider bites and scorpion stings are more serious. Any person that spends enough time in the outdoors will wake up one morning with a swollen hand or foot for no apparent reason. There are a number of spiders that can bite and can cause a rather nasty reaction when they do. Although the daddy long legs is the most poisonous spider you can handle, its mouth isn't big enough to grab on to a human. Black widow spiders, brown recluse and tarantulas are the most famous poisonous North American spiders you can encounter. The southwestern United States is also blessed to have a number of scorpion species, none that are fatally poisonous, unlike some of their African cousins which can pack a lethal punch.
Scorpion stings are also relatively common in the southwestern United States. In some areas scorpions are common household pests and are treated like termites and roaches in other parts of the country (yikes!). When a spider or scorpion bites/stings a person the victim will experience swelling and sharp pain in the affected area. In more serious cases fever, nausea, vomiting and difficult breathing can follow. Some spiders like the brown recluse can cause serious tissue damage around the area bitten.
When bitten by a spider, especially a brown recluse, tarantula or black widow, or when a scorpion stings you, you should seek out medical attention. Put a cold pack on the bite area. If the victim is having a serious reaction, make sure to keep the effected area below the heart.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kids Hiking And In The Outdoors

Any parent who has traveled any distance with their children has gone through the special joy that only traveling with your family can bring.  Although there are the negatives of getting to your destination, "are we there yet," or, "I have to go to the bathroom," and then there is always, "you child has been kicking my seat since take-off, can you please make them stop!"
But arriving at your outdoor destination opens up a world of new wonderment to a child.  With some careful planning, patience, and understanding, a trip to the outdoors can be made a wonderful experience filled with life long memories, versus a death march that will scar a child for life into never visiting the outdoors again.

How Far In One Day ?
In planning an outdoor adventure, this is usually the first question a parent asks to themselves.  How far can my child go in one day?  This article can not provide you a mystical number, but some common sense can.  The average adult in average health can travel on foot from eight to twelve miles on any given day.  Terrain, weather, load, and motivation are all factors that can effect how much ground can be covered.
When traversing ground of foot with children, you should not expect them to move more than five miles in a day.  You should equip your child with good footwear, proper wool socks with Wick Dry or Cool Max weaved in or liner socks.  Cotton socks retain moisture which make for uncomfortable feet and blisters, as does cheap, "department store," footwear.  The best rule of thumb is the, "whine factor."  If your child is complaining a lot and looks distressed, they probably are.  Another good gauge is your own body.  Are you feel tired or sore?  If you are, your children probably started fading a long time ago and may just be suffering in silence.
You can increase the distance a child can cover by preparing an interesting route with frequent stops.  Hiking through five miles of woods might be a good time for quiet reflection as an adult, but to a ten-year-old mind it is hell on earth.  Stopping at formations, waterfalls, rivers, little known historic sites, ghost towns, etc. all break up the trip, and make it more exciting for the grownups.  Another good approach is to setup camp early and do some short distance solo hiking to clear your personal mind and move at a pace your more comfortable with.

How Much Can They Carry ?
Unlike distance, this is an easier question to answer.  For every five pounds of person, it is acceptable to expect them to be able to carry one pound of gear comfortably.  Some factors like the quality of their boots and pack, and physical condition weigh (no pun intended) into this equation.

For every five pounds of body weight, the average child can carry five pounds.  In the below example your child could carry 16 lbs.
80 lbs. / 5 = 16 lbs. gear
If a child is overweight you need to factor for this.  For every five pounds overweight, you need to subtract one pound.  So if your child had an ideal weight of 80 lbs., but weighed 100 lbs. you would use the example below:
(ideal weight / 5) - (actual weight - ideal weight /5)
(80 lbs. / 5) - (100 - 80 / 5) = 12 lbs. gear

 There are two examples to the left that outline this formula.  If your child is overweight (this is a major problem in the United States) you need to factor this equation for the excess body weight the child has to carry in addition to the gear.  In the example to the left, a child that should weight 80 lbs., but weighs 100 lbs., can only carry 12 lbs. of gear comfortably.  Now this may seem like ample weight on paper, until you realize that one gallon of water weighs close to nine pounds (including the container to hold it).  The bottom line is that especially in younger children, you should not have major expectations on them carrying a lot of gear.  If you can get them to carry the twelve basic essentials for hiking, you probably should not expect them to carry more.

The quality of the pack is also important.  If your child is under five feet tall, you will probably have a very hard time finding a pack that fits them properly.  If you plan to get a day hiking type pack, you should try to get one with a sternum strap.  The sternum strap on higher quality packs helps keep the shoulder straps on the shoulders, and with young children who have not gone through puberty, this is a major issue as their shoulders have not gotten broad and the packs tend to slip on the shoulders causing a lot of stress.  A good day hiking pack that does not have a frame, will cost between $45 and $150 depending on the features you select.

2 Miles Away What Now ?
This is the worst dilemma a parent can face.  When a child has, "had it," there is no logic or reasoning with them.  An exhausted eight year-old does not care about spending the night in the woods, all they care about is stopping.  The first thing you can do is take their pack.  You can carry your pack plus your child's, readjusting the straps so your pack is on your back, and you child's is on your chest.  In the absolute worst case scenario, you may have to carry your child for a while.  Distance heat and boredom can take their toll on young travelers.  The most important thing, don't let it get to this point - which due to variables like the weather and injury, can make things very difficult.

How Can you Compromise ?
There are a number of things you can do to make the overall experience better for your children.  Set rewards for reaching your daily goal, or do fun activity during your trip.  If your visiting Yellowstone National Park, endure the crowds at Old Faithful to give your children a thrill.  Then go on that backcountry hike in geyser country.  When the child can stand closer in solitude to see a geyser go off, they appreciate the hike even more.  Acknowledge your child's accomplishments at the end of the day.  Show them on a map how far you have gone.  They will have an incredible appreciation for the time and distance they covered.

Tried All Of This And Still Not Working ?
The sad fact may be if you have tried everything is your children just may not like being in the wilderness.  Approximately 40 million people today participate in camping, which is one of the top ten exercise mediums in the country.  That leaves a lot of the population that doesn't.  If your children are miserable on your outdoor adventures, you might want to seriously think about leaving them with a relative when you go on your trips.  The worst thing you can do is force them to participate, because you can scar their attitudes on the outdoors forever at an earlier age.

Junior Ranger Program In Your National Park
The United States National Park System has a program for children ages four to fourteen they call the Junior Ranger Program.  Almost every National Park, and some National Monuments participate.  Visit any ranger station and ask to sign up your child(ren).  Your child(ren) will be given specific activities to perform through the day on their own geared towards their specific age group.  Most programs require sitting through at least one ranger led program, which at most parks are of excellent quality.  Believe it or not, picking up trash, which is typically one of the requirements, is one of the most popular activities for children who will eagerly compete over who can find the most trash, and they provide a valuable service at the same time.  The Junior Ranger Program is free and includes a certificate of completion, although some parks do require a minimal fee of one too two dollars to get a patch when the program is completed.
Remember It's A Different Era
Children can have a wonderful time in the outdoors filled with cherished memories of wonderful sights and time with their family.  A little careful planning, proper selection of equipment, and realistic expectations all make for an easier time in the outdoors.  Realize you will have to travel at a slower pace and will not cover as much distance with a child as you would with a group of adults.  Make sure your child has quality, comfortable, and well fitting footwear.  Try to do fun things on your outdoor adventures and plan things around your children.  Don't get frustrated with their shortcomings in the field, and let them know when they are doing a good job.  By following these simple steps and ideas, your children will have a wonderful time in the great outdoors.But you also need to remember that kids these days are kids of technology.It will take alot to keep them interested in the outdoors but something that they will never forget........ I never did !

WildFire Safety

Have a good plan and be aware of your situation. If you're hiking, camping, or backpacking in an area that has a high fire risk or wildfires burning in the area, be aware of the situation. Have multiple routes planned with a variety of exits. Don't intentionally put yourself in harms way. Be sure to use trailhead registers and stick to your route. This is critical in the event authorities search for you or have to evacuate you.

Follow the rules. Although this is nothing more than common sense, this is often overlooked with tragic consequences. If an area is closed to camping or hiking than change your plans. If there is a burn ban in effect than only use a controlled source of flame like a stove. In extreme cases all sources of flame, controlled and uncontrolled may be banned.
Look for warning signs and have a plan If you smell or see smoke during the day, or a red/orange glow on the horizon at night a fire is nearby. Remember that fire travels faster uphill so try to move downhill and in the opposite direction of the wind. If you hear cracking or see sparks in the air a wildfire could be less than a mile away and you may be at extreme risk.
Find a place to make your stand. You will never outrun a wildfire, period. Your biggest risk of injury and death is not from the flames, but from superheated air, which can sear your lungs. Find a wet area to lie down in. A swampy, boggy area away from forest fuels is best. If there is a larger body of water like a pond or lake, swimming out to the middle and treading water is also effective. If you're on a paddling trip, getting under your canoe and getting into the river can shield you from the heat and provide you with a pocket of cool air to breathe. If all else fails find the largest opening you can. Your odds will improve if you can find a pocket of cool air to breath and can be shielded from burning debris. Sand bars, gravel washes and rocky areas can offer some protection.
Remove synthetic clothing Wool offers the best protection against the flames and heat. Synthetics can melt at relatively low temperatures resulting in severe injury. If your choices are wearing no clothing or synthetic, keep the clothing on, as it will offer some protection from mild heat. Never cover yourself in a synthetic poncho to create an air pocket or to protect yourself from the heat. Wrapping your face with a wet cloth can help you breath. Every effort should be made to protect your feet, lungs, and eyes.
Don't panic. Always remember that heat rises. If you get up to run you can breath in superheat air and cause severe injury to yourself. People who have been trapped in wildfires describe the roaring sound, intense heat, and difficulty to breath. You must fight your natural urge to run. As the wall of flames passes over the entire time you're in the wildfire typically ranges from just 30 to 60 seconds.
After the fire passes, remember danger still lurks. Even though the flames have past, the danger is not over. Burned trees and snags can fall easily. Debris on the ground can still be white hot, and logs can split sending embers, sparks, and burning sap into the air. Travel through a recently burned area very carefully.
Notify the authorities. If you had become trapped in a wildfire and hike out, notify the authorities immediately. Trailhead registers can be burned and records lost. If you simply go home people may risk their lives looking for you in the fire area.
Report fires immediately. Yes, there can be severe consequences for starting a wildfire, even if by accident. However you should consider it your duty to report any wildfire you see or start. Early intervention can prevent major disasters.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Right Hiking Equipment For The Trail

The right equipment can make a day of hiking an extremely enjoyable experience.  The wrong equipment can make you feel like you are on a death march!  There are a lot of equipment lists on the internet that call out everything you need to have a safe hiking experience, but a lot of these lists don't explain why you need these products.

There are twelve "must have" items when you go for hike, even if it is in familiar territory and only for a short time in perfect weather.  There are another ten optional items that you should carry when you are hiking.  No equipment list is perfect.  Keep in mind that if you are going for a day hike in the Painted Desert in July, your needs will be much different then going on a day hike in the Garden of The Gods State Park, In Colorado, or Acadia National Park in Maine.
The twelve "must have" items should be carried at all times.  It may seem ridiculous to carry rain gear in a desert, but if that sudden shower were to come up, you will be glad to have it.  You may have hiked an area one-hundred times and know it like the back of your hand -- but find out about an unexpected trail closure, and you will be wishing you had a map.
Naturally you will also need a pack to carry your equipment in.  A well thought out packing and equipping job can allow the hiker to hold the twelve essentials in a small fanny pack.  If you are hiking in special conditions like cold weather (which will require bulkier gear) then a day pack may be required.  High quality day packs can be had for $50 to $75.  Generally if you spend less than that on a day pack, you are risking getting a lower quality product, or worse one that beats you to death when hiking.
•Number one, a plan.  You should never hike without a plan.  You should plan your route, check the local weather, get trail conditions, and notify a friend, relative, neighbor, or ranger of your plans.  If there are trailhead registers on the trail you should use them.  Try to stick to your plan.
•Number two, a map.  Even if you have hiked a trail a hundred times, you should carry a map.  Unexpected trail closures, an injury requiring a shorter route, bad weather, or animal encounter can all result in a sudden change of plans.  Having a map assists in this greatly.  You don't have to carry topographical maps for a regular day hike.  Practically every state and national park provides hiking maps of trails and features for free or a nominal fee.  Some of the best maps I have ever used I paid 25 cents for at Yellowstone National Park, and they are some of the most low tech maps you will ever use.
•Number three, a compass.  Carrying a compass with you is not enough, you need to know how to use it properly.  Adjustments for declination, field interference, the metal on your equipment, and poor handling can make a compass a dangerous tool to use.  You should find a good orienteering class and take it to learn about using a compass in the field.  If you do not have experience with a compass, you should stay away from lensatic models (ones with a flip up view finder) until you have more experience, and further they don't work very well when overlaid on a map.
•Number four, a pocket knife.  I am partial to the Swiss Army style knives, but almost any kind of pocket knife will do.  You should keep your blade length around three inches and the knife should have a locking blade.  A pocket knife can have a million uses in the field as the need arises.  You should carry your pocket knife on your person, and not in your pack.
•Number five, a whistle.  A good survival whistle is essential to carry when hiking.  The sound a whistle makes travels much further then your voice ever could in an emergency situation.  When walking through bear country you can blow on it to alert the bears that you are passing through.  You can also use it to communicate with others in your group, say some one is too far ahead, or falling behind.  A whistle can be the best $2.00 to $7.00 piece of hiking safety equipment you will spend.  You should always carry your whistle around your neck, and not in your pack.
•Number six, a personal first aid kit.  A good first aid kit does not have to be large, elaborate, or expensive.  The basic kit should include antiseptic wipes, sting relief, burn cream, band-aids of various types and sizes, cotton balls, sterile pads, gauze, tape, pain reliever (a.k.a. aspirin or Tylenol), antacid (tablets), Benadryl (tablets), mole skin (for blisters), one pair of latex gloves, and tweezers.

If you are hiking in an area with a large poisonous snake population and will be more than one hour away from help you should also carry a basic snake bite kit but only after receiving proper instruction on it's use.  A snake bite kit in the wrong hands can cause more damage then the actual bite.

Oral Benadryl should be carried for insect bites or stings.  If yourself or a person in your party has never had an insect sting before (a.k.a. bee, wasp, hornet) the Benadryl can be administered to slow down an allergic reaction, but medical attention should be sought out at the first sign of a severe reaction.

You can contact your local Red Cross Chapter for basic first aid courses that can be completed in half-a-day and around $25.00.  A good basic first aid kit can be found for as little as ten dollars with a waterproof container.  A basic snake bite kit can be found for as little as five dollars.

Number seven, a flashlight with spare batteries.  The large lantern style flashlight has been replaced by micro flashlights with alloy skins, xenon bulbs, and a battery life of eight hours on two AA batteries.  You should carry a flashlight with you regardless of the time of day your are hiking or your plans.  A severe storm can require you to stop while you wait for it to pass.  What would you do if night fell and you did not have any light.  It is also essential to carry spare batteries that are known to be fresh.  A good, reliable, compact, waterproof flashlight can be purchased for under $20.

 Number eight, waterproof matches.  Carrying waterproof matches is done to expect the unexpected.  If you become lost, delayed, or injured, a day hike can turn into an overnight stay in the wilderness.  Accidentally fall into an icy river, or get pelted by an unexpected rain storm, your ability to make a fire to warm up may mean the difference between life and death.  Genuine waterproof matches should be carried.  If you transfer your matches to a match holder, be sure that you have a surface to strike the match on if a special surface is required.  A cigarette lighter is not a good substitute for matches, but can be carried as an alternative source of flame.  If you want to feel truly prepared, you can carry a flint and steel kit with some cotton and cork for fire starting as a third backup.

 Number nine, emergency rain gear.  Your equipment does not have to be elaborate.  A simple poncho left in it's store packaging is more than adequate for most regions of North America for three season hiking.  If you are hiking at high altitude, in an area that is prone to rain a lot (the Northwestern United States, New England coast, Northwestern Colorado, Southeastern United States in the spring and summer) or where the temperature will be below 60 degrees, more adequate rain gear should be carried.  If you are caught in a sudden shower you should cover up in your poncho, and wait for it to pass.  Make sure you are not standing in a dry riverbed or wash while waiting.  If you are caught in a thunderstorm you should move away from high ground and tall objects (like trees) immediately.  Find a low spot, ravine, or thin place in the woods, cover up with your poncho, stay low and wait for it to pass.

Number ten, insect repellant and/or sunscreen.  The joy of hiking, fresh air, scenic vistas, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, and sunburn.  Insect repellant and sunscreen are vital to carry when hiking.

When using insect repellant it is best to treat your clothing with a spray before entering the field, and to use a cream based repellant on any exposed skin upon entering the field.  Cream based repellants pack better and take up less room.  A variety that contains anywhere from 20% to 35% DEET should be effective in most cases.  DEET masks carbon-dioxide which most biting insects use to detect their next victim.  DEET in high concentrations (a.k.a. 100%) and used over extended periods of time in large doses has been proven to cause medical side effects.  You should use insect repellant sparingly and if you are pregnant you should consult with your physician.

If you also use sunscreen, you should use a low scent/no scent variety.  The perfumes that are put into sunscreen will only attract insects, and worse may attract bears.  No Ad sunscreen which can be found at Wal-Mart is an excellent product for it's ability to protect, be waterproof, and have virtually no odor.  It also happens to be very inexpensive.

There are a number of combination products appearing on the market today that act both as sunscreen and as insect repellant.  Off brand is the most popular and these products work moderately well.  At the time of preparing this article, there was no independent data on the effectiveness of these combination products when compared to their stand alone counterparts.  Further, there is no real data on using separate sunscreen and insect repellant at the same time.  You should draw your own conclusions and use what works best for you.

 Number eleven, water.  Water is essential when you are hiking.  For every two hours you plan to spend hiking you should carry at least one quart of water.  For a full day you should carry a gallon.  There are a number of solutions for carrying water.  Simple one quart water bottles can be found almost anywhere on the internet or in a store for just a couple of dollars.  Hydration systems, backpacks with a water bladder and a bite valve can also be used.  Camelbak makes a very popular hydration system that holds one-hundred ounces of water (about 3 quarts, 1 cup) that runs anywhere from $60 to $80.  These hydration systems offer many benefits but may complicate your ability to carry a pack.  You also need to keep in mind that your water supply will be the heaviest thing you carry on a day hike.  A gallon of water weighs close to nine pounds!

 Number twelve, food.  Food is also essential when you are hiking.  Not only does eating food on the trail help keep your system balanced, it provides a cushion if there is an emergency.  Complex carbohydrates and proteins make the best food to carry.  Dried fruits, jerky, nuts, peanut butter, whole grain mini bagels, prepared energy bars, candy bars with a high protein content (nuts, peanut butter) and crackers make excellent field rations for a day hike.  A self opening single serving can of tuna, a mayo packet, and some creative mixing in a plastic bag can make for a compact and good meal.  Raisins and peanut butter on a bagel is also an excellent energy fix.  You should try to carry at least 2,000 calories worth of food when hiking.  Also, you should double pack your rations in plastic bags and remember to carry out all trash.  If you drop food on the ground by accident you should pick it up and pack it out.