Trail Tip: Don’t Pee in the Tent!

The title of the post may turn off some of you. But I’m trying to not only share the usual stuff you hear from experienced backpackers, but also the little things — done incorrectly — that can make your life miserable on the trail.

I have always hated to get up in the middle of the night and drag myself out of my warm sleeping bag for nature calls. So, early on I decided to bring a small Nalgene container as a “pee” bottle.

Here’s the problem — one you might not consider: if you miss, the result is pee rolling around on your water proof floor, soaking into your mat, sleeping bag, clothes and generally making a mess.

If you decide to use this method, have some absorbent material read to soak up a spill.

Better yet, just get up and find a spot away from any water source, enjoy the darkness and the millions of stars you’ll see on a clear wilderness night.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Trail Tip: Snake Bite

I’ve only come across rattlesnakes on two backpacks. In both cases, I saw them before they saw me and gave them a wide berth.

Although I have a healthy respect for them, I learned in a wilderness medicine class that less than a dozen people a year are killed by snakes and most of them are children — under 65 pounds (at least this is the number I remember). The rare adult death is from an allergic reaction.

At the same time, we learned that when a rattlesnake bites, about one-third of the time they inject no venom; another third they inject a small amount, and then only a third of victims get a full dose. Adults rarely die from snake bites; those from a severe allergic reaction.

To find out more, check out

The message here: don’t panic if you’re bitten.

Still, venom is designed to digest the victim’s flesh, so it is important to get to a medical facility for treatment as soon as possible to minimize the damage.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Justin’s Nut Butter: Organic Peanut Butter in Lighweight Packs

There are all kinds of ways to save weight on your backcountry kitchen. You can transfer food such as cookies, crackers, trail mix and pasta to zip lock plastic bags. Or you can take less food. But what fun is that?Justin's Nut Butter

My wife, Gerry, just brought home samples of Justin’s Nut Butter Jr.’s — organic peanut butter in 1.15 ounce foil packs. They cost $6 for 12 packages and currently come in three flavors:

Classic Peanut – unsweetened and unsalted
Heavenly Honey – a blend of dry roasted peanuts, honey, organic palm fruit oil and sea salt
Sinfully Cinnamon – a blend of dry roasted peanuts, honey, organic palm fruit oil, sea salt and organic cinnamon.

In jars, they also offer pumpkin pie and honey almond.

You could get one of these jars and put your peanut butter in a refillable tube you can buy at outdoor stores. But they are a mess to fill and a mess to clean up.

Combine one of these nut butter packets with some cheese, nuts and an apple and you’ve got a great lunch.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Trail Tip: Common Sense Uncommon

Ken, an Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster from Raleigh, N.C., commented on my post about gear lists not necessarily preparing you for the backcountry.

He wrote that his Boy Scout training focuses on being prepared, but he has found himself trying to balance taking everything but the kitchen sink to taking a more common sense approach.

Part of what he writes at

As I prepare for a backpacking trek, I try to gather all the pertinent information. What is the normal weather patterns for the locale? What is the weather forecast? What types of wildlife may I encounter? How crowded are the trails? What are the options for campsites? etc, etc.

I use to carry anything I thought I might need and anything that one of the boys might need or forget. Now, I try to evaluate the possible need against the cost of the weight. I still want to be prepared, but I want to be prepared in under 25 pounds.

After each trip, I unload my pack, taking a good long hard look at what wasn’t used. That’s right, I evaluate everything I didn’t use. Most of the time that includes my First Aid kit. I will not omit a First Aid kit, but no longer carry enough bandages to wrap King Tut!!

My “mess kit” has been reduced to one pot, a bowl and spoon. I have learned that with a pocket knife and spoon, you can eat anything. I do still carry a mug for my tea/cider.

I have reduced the amount of clothing I take. But I still carry my rain gear and depending on altitude, season and location, my cold weather gear.

Common Sense!! That is the ticket for balancing Preparedness with Light Weight Backpacking. Of course, Common Sense is very uncommon.

Trail Tip: The Shivers and Hypothermia

Some people mistakenly believe that you can only get hypothermia when it’s snowing outdoors.

At Caribou Lakes Wilderness last year, backpacking buddies Duke, Wild Bill and I walked a 10-mile day-hike loop in t-shirts. When we returned to base camp, the sky was clouding up and Bill decided to go for a quick swim in the lake next to our camp.

The combination of cold water and no sun led to uncontrollable shivers, an early sign of hypothermia.

He quickly dried off and dressed in warm clothes. Duke and I started a fire and gave him some hot tea to drink. Experts say getting warm liquids down quickly increases your inner core temperature and staves off hypothermia.

I’m no expert, so click on these links: and Princeton University to find out more.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Trail Tip: Protecting Your Trail Map

Putting you trail map in a plastic bag will protect from tearing, rain and dew. A simple idea, but one you might not think about as you jam it into your pocket or stuff it into your pack.

Some maps are made of waterproof material. However, I often Xerox a copy of the portion of the trail I want to take with me, cutting down on weight and eliminating all the parts I don’t need.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Trail Tip: Matches and Other Fire Starters

It’s simple to obtain gear lists, fill your pack and head out on the trail. Problem is, that approach doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the real conditions you’ll face. Let me share one of my own experiences with starting fires.

A few years ago, on a backpack in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, I set up camp at Garnet Lake and day-hiked. On the way back to camp it started to rain. No problem since I was prepared with rain gear. But when I arrived back at camp I realized I hadn’t covered the wood I had collected for my evening fire. I ignited dryer lint and steel wool to dry out the wood. Didn’t work and my matches were running low. The lighter was no help either. Then I ripped out 104 pages of the book I was reading as fuel. Finally, the wood dried out and I was able to get a tiny fire going. Small, but enough to warm up.

Lesson: take a plastic bag with you and fill it with dry kindling and larger pieces of dry wood if you can find it. The Sierra is known for summer storms. Even overnight drizzle or moisture can make it difficult to get a fire started in the morning.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Bear Warnings for Mammoth and Yosemite

The California State Department of Fish and Game is advising campers, hikers, hunters, fishermen and golfers to take extra precautions and keep alert for bears while in the Yosemite and Mammoth areas.

People are advised to wear noise-producing devices such as little bells on their clothing to alert, but not startle, bears unexpectedly. The department also advises carrying pepper pray in case of a encounter with a bear.

It is also a good idea to watch for fresh signs of bear activity and know the difference between black bear and grizzly bear droppings.

Black bear droppings are smaller and contain berries and possibly

squirrel fur.

Grizzly bear droppings have little bells in them and smell like

pepper spray.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack. Smile