All posts by Scott Wallace

Welcome to the Black Bear

This blog post on the black bear is the first in a series of articles that will help you do some fill-in to your brain attic (see blog post…Hiking Vision-To See or Not). The brain attic is the repository of our memory that we fill with key furniture that gives us discernment.

When hiking and we look at something it is the furniture we have deposited in our brain attic that gives us the foundation to understand what we are seeing and how to respond appropriately to it. In my blog post…Have You Hiked Today, I reviewed the necessity of knowing the Fauna and Flora of the habitat you are hiking. Todays post is spot-on the key subject of both articles noted above and that being an introduction to one of the most prevalent and interesting of the Fauna (wildlife, animals) that inhabit the hiking habitats of North America, the Black Bear.

My focus in today’s blog will be on characteristics, habits and hiking in their presence. I will dig more deeply into the subject of their lifestyle and life cycle in a subsequent post. First we must understand how to respond to their presence and then we will dig into how to discover their activities and trace their presence.

The black bear is the most prevalent bear in North America.

Their population is over twice that of the combined populations of all other bear species. So, if you are going to have a bear experience, it will most likely be with a blackie. Not that all black bears are black. They come in all shades black, brown, cinnamon, blond, blue-gray, or white.

So, where will you most likely find them?…Eating. They are opportunistic eaters, meaning they take advantage of whatever is available. They are carnivores by their taxonomic order but their diet is omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. 85% of their typical diet is plant material and 15% animal protein. They are much more likely to take a kill from a weaker predator than to stalk and kill themselves. Now for your autumn hikes, know that during that time of the year they often forage 20 hours a day seeking to increase their body weight by 35% in preparation for winter. It is called hyperphagia, the gorge themselves. Salmon, whenever available, are an important food source especially in the fall since they have a high fat content.

Bears have excellent memories for food sources. They learn about food types and locations, and reapply that knowledge. So if they have found that campers have food and they leave it out frequently, guess where they will be looking. Always use bear bags when in bear country and keep especially meats high and away from your tent.

Bears have good eyesight but not the best. They have exceptional hearing and their sense of smell is seven times greater than a dog, particularly for food-related scents. They poop in piles that are usually chuck full of seeds and other plant materials. Thus their scat is very discernible from that of herbivores (plant eating animals like deer) because the bears digestives system is designed for meat protein and is very inefficient in digesting plant materials. Thus their diet is expressed in their scat.

Black bears habitat is primarily forest, forest edges, and forest clearings. They have shorter curved and sharp claws. Thus they are good at climbing trees, which they do to escape predators, to find food, sleep and rest. Their claws are excellent for shredding and taking apart decaying logs in order to reach insect colonies, small mammals, etc.

But not only are black bears good tree climbers but they can also run 30 to 35 miles per hour and do so going up or down hills.

Also of note, bears are territorial. Males will range from 10 to 60 square miles and females usually 2.5 to 10 square miles. The males mark their territories by scratching or clawing trees as high as they can reach. The highest claw marks are those of the dominant male.

So how does this help those of us that are constantly hiking in bear country to remain on the good side of these fast, hungry, tree climbing critters?

First, an aggressive black bear is very rare; a bear will defend its young or food source if it feels threatened. A startled bear most often will flee rather than confront.

But, why put yourself in a position to be checking out their paw prints in person.

What we know is that when we see their scat, you know there are bears around. If you see rotten stumps torn up, you are likely seeing relevant signs of their presence. If you see claw marks on trees, they just left you a note of their presence. They are hungry all of the time and they love berries, blooms and bugs. So, if you are in a blueberry/ huckleberry patch in the mountains, make noise and watch for their activity. They do not want to see you so let them know you are around.

Black bears wear their emotions on their big furry sleeves and you’ll see signs of distress such as jaw popping, head turning, huffing or vocalizing, or aggressive slamming of their paws on the ground. If you see this activity, they are telling you to back off. But back off does not mean run.

The “don’t do’s” in a black bear encounter where stress is expressed include:

  • Do not look the bear in the eye; this is perceived as a challenge and a sign of dominance.
  • Never turn your back to a bear. If safe to do so, slowly walk backwards and give the bear as much space as possible.
  • If you are hiking with small children, pick them up (so they don’t scream or panic).
  • Talk calmly and quietly so the bear can identify you as a human. Do your are best to diffuse the situation.

The key is to never get yourself in a situation where you have stressed a bear. They don’t want it and you don’t want it. By being aware of their presence and giving them both notice and distance, you will likely never confront these generally shy and stable critters. Hiking afraid is not the answer. Being aware of what is going on in the habitat around you both protects you and opens the opportunity to enjoy and become exposed, always at a safe distance from wildlife, in the adventure of the neighborhood.

Respect and understanding the habits and characteristics of individual wildlife is the door to both cooperation and delight. With the correct furniture in your brain attic, you will comprehend what you are seeing and know how best to respond and respect your circumstances.

From what you have learned just in this post, you know the most effective defense from a bear attack.

Your ultimate redemption from the worst of circumstances rests on your understanding of your opponent’s weakest link. The black bear has one sense that is seven times more vulnerable than that of a dog. It is through knowledge and the application of that knowledge to your circumstances that you both see with comprehension and act with understanding. Bring your bear spray and know how to use it if you are going into the valley of the bears in the spring when the cubs are out and the valley is narrow.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With Hiking Stick In Hand,


Hiking Vision-to See or Not

Before I dig into the subject of hiking vision and the ability to see the eyes of the forest that are watching you, I want to reintroduce you to a coming event.

I have not said much about the Haunt lately nor have I gotten in-depth into the process of discovery for the last few months. The Haunt, by the way, is both a location on my website that has been up, to now, empty and a bit of a magical location where Rupert Walker lives and where Dr. Jon Jonathan, his hiking companion, and scribe, hangs out. It is from the stories that Jonathan has written and will be writing, about the exploits of Rupert Walker that we will learn far more than I can teach you about the enormous delight and wonder to be found in becoming fully engaged in adventure hiking.

Jonathan will have one of his first narratives available in coming weeks. I am presently doing some prep work to assist (Editor Work) in getting the first adventure published. “Published” does not mean, at this stage, going public but because of the ties to my work on adventure hiking, Dr. Jonathan is developing each narrative for us with an attachment that will demonstrate the tools of the process used by Rupert to record his discoveries and the discovery methodology. These will be available on our website. I will keep you posted.

I will also post on the website and in the Haunt section an introduction to Dr. Jonathan and his chance meeting with Rupert Walker. It will introduce you to the two men and give you a glimpse of what is coming.

But the question before us is: Hiking vision, the concept of seeing? When you get into discovery hiking from the perspective of what Rupert sees as compared to what I see or you see we will discover that we really don’t see well at all.

And the reason we don’t see well is that we have not trained our eyes to focus. To train our eyes to focus means we have trained our brains to focus and therein lies the issue.

Our brains are like an attic’s content or furniture. The attic’s furniture are those things we have taken in from life and that we’ve experienced in our lives. Our memories. Our past. So when we see something our knowledge base and experience and discipline come together to decipher what we are looking at. And that is where purpose must come into the development of our attic’s furniture to construct the content and the habit of seeing.

I have, in earlier articles, spoken about the necessity of asking in our minds the: who, what, when, where…questions as we experience events through our five senses while hiking.

Asking questions such as, what is going on about me? Who made that noise? What did I just hear? Where did that movement come from? And who or what is there? Asking those questions is a habit that you must develop to start seeing what is happening about us.

Our attic needs content to apply the questions in context to the activity we are sensing. Thus my advocacy in the “Have You Hiked Today” blog post about your getting to know the fauna and flora that live in the habitat you are hiking.

This knowledge base is critical to your truly seeing what is before you. I know this is an elephant to eat but by doing it purposely and one bite at a time you will build an amazing system in your attic with furniture that will fit together and give you incredible insight. This insight into what you are seeing happens because you experience events or activity in the context of what you understand or know about them. So as you build content and have relational experiences through your senses in the context of your knowledge about the object, you strengthen the process of analysis and your understanding and seeing.

For example, you are hiking and the wind is coming at our face and all of a sudden you smell something putrid. If you are unfamiliar with the flora and fauna, your first thought will likely be something is dead up ahead. You have discovered in the past that dead things stink. However, if you are familiar with the inhabitants of the habitat you are hiking, you are aware that there are brown bears about and you know that brown bears often roll in rotting and putrid things to disguise their scent. You, all of a sudden, will see in your mind a different alternative that has very different implications.

Another example is the squirrel in my blog post “Listening To Your Hike“.

If you aren’t familiar with the activity of squirrels, you would not know that they get active with chatter when something new or concerning is wandering through the neighborhood and that they can also go berserk with chatter when in danger. I saw or comprehended that the chatter was unusual and, by being present but not manifest, I was able to introduce myself into the scene and see the great horned owl that was the object of “Mr. squirrel’s” anxiousness. It is about having the content in the attic to fit the context of the moment. And this builds in your attic exponentially as you experience more seeing. The events while hiking start relating together and insight becomes almost instant as you see the signs before you.

It is all about taking your hiking to the next level and being purposeful in developing your brain attic. By chucking out the irrelevant furniture and adding the relevant furniture we can develop a keen sense of seeing that will open the door to whole new experiences in your hike.

Check out the Haunt for an introduction to Rupert and Dr. Jonathan.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,


Have you hiked today?

This is the question that elicits our desire not only to say yes I have hiked today, but also to tell our story.

We are a community of comrades bound by our love for the out-of-doors and particularly that of hiking, backpacking, trekking, etc.

As many of you know already, my particular niche in this wonderful lifestyle is adventure or discovery hiking.

It is to that end that my hiking this last week has been focused on what I originally thought was trail riders (horse people tramping the trails). I was aware that there were some range mules roaming the thousands of acres of open country where I was hiking but their presence was not apparent except for the find of an occasional neck bell. These critters apparently often have large bells attached around their neck to make their presence known.

During my last two hikes this week, I was, as always, asking myself what I was seeing, hearing, smelling, etc.

Continually striving to perceive what was going on around me. One of the inquiries that often open my mind to seeing more clearly is to ask myself what is incongruous about what I am seeing. I had been hiking  two days this wee and seeing lots of horse signs but what I was not seeing was man signs. Not only no man signs but the horse travel was often through brush and in areas not normal for the trail riders.

My prior supposition, based on little to no evidence, was that the occasional bell sounds usually far off were the singular ringing of a small band of range mules. My proper deduction should only have been that there were range mules in the area with no hypothesis as to their number, their activity, etc.

This week I went off trail, which is my particular delight in hiking and particularly in investigating the activity in the habitat. I followed a spoor of prints so obvious and plentiful that you would trip over them. As I came around a blind of trees I saw movement. One of the key principles in adventure hiking is to be present but not manifest. So I dress in colors that blend with the habitat that includes my pack, hat and shoes. I am cognizant of the noisemakers in my hiking and I am constantly asking what am I hearing, seeing, perceiving, smelling, etc. Over time I have found that the questioning becomes a behind the scene activity taking place in my head and almost unconsciously. I am often even aware of the wind direction.

As I was following the tracks before me I saw a slight movement, which at first I could not discern. It was 6:30 AM and I was in a relatively heavily wooded area so it was dusk like. As I watched and waited a large mule appeared, it was grazing within 40 feet me. As I was taking a picture, which turned out quite indistinct due to my turning off the flash, I saw further movement behind the mule. To my delight I was in the midst of some 20 to 30 mules and horses milling about in a treed area. I did not hear a single ding or jingle.

After taking some further pictures, I passed on intending to revisit the site later in the day. After further review of the trails throughout the area, most of which were shared both by the equus caballus (horse/mule) and the mule deer, the evidence further demonstrated that it was a rare occurrence that trail horses were ridden in this area. Most all this activity was from a range version of a solid-hoofed plant-eating domesticated mammal with a flowing mane and tail.

It is in this arena of seeing, not just looking, that is so important as we hike the hills with the purpose of entering into the activity about us.

There were two distinct clues as to what I was looking at that I did not immediately see. Part of that takes place in us because we often don’t spend time studying Ethology…the study of animals and their behavior in their natural environment and Botany…the study of plants. I am here not talking about some formal education but that of being aware (studying up a bit) on the animals that live in the habitat we are hiking and also understanding the various plant types and their interrelationship (who eats what). For example, when I am hiking in an area that I am aware that porcupines live, and I hike in the early morning (porcupines are largely nocturnal but often feed in the early morning) I am automatically looking for signs of porcupines. If I see small fresh prints in an area where there are willow or similar deciduous stands of trees about or I see fresh nibbles on new shoots of low greens or grunt sounds, I am likely seeing the signs of a porcupine. By following the grunts or prints you may just be invited to observe their breakfast meal that is if you can be present but not manifest. It is also a great help if you have a basic animal prints and scat chart with you for reference.

The two signs I alluded to above were first that the hoof prints did not display any sign of shoes (horse shoes). The second, as I noted earlier, was that nowhere were their signs of man associated with the hoof prints. I found no shoe or boot prints, no paper or other associated debris or signs. Lastly, the movement through heavily brushed or treed trails with downfalls etc. isn’t the pattern for the normal trail rider.

The goal is to think through all of the alternatives to what you are seeing. Eliminate all that are not confirmed, and likely the remaining alternative is the correct one.

If you keep working on your seeing, your evaluating, and your discerning, you will likely enter into a world of activity heretofore unavailable to your past hiking experience. The eyes of the forest are watching but it is to our cunning to discover who they are and what they are up to. This is what hiking is all about for me.

I hope to meet you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,



Packing your Backpack

Packing your backpack is a follow up to last weeks discussion on how to choose, fit, and adjust a backpack to meet your needs.

You now have chosen a backpack and you are ready to embark on a journey. What do you put into the backpack and how much do you put in, where do you put it and why do you put it where you do? These are the next key questions you want answered to be assured that you will have a great experience and that you are prepared for an adventure. These same principles apply to the day hike because all of the above attributes are our desires for every trip. We want to be comfortable, not painful; safe not short sighted, and prepared not to miss any opportunity to engage in the providential adventures offered on each trip out.

In addition to how and why to pack what you pack, we will discuss the care and feeding of your backpack, storing it, and waterproofing. I will also discuss hydration, though it is not directly a part of the backpack question; it is an optional item that can be included in your backpack selection and packing preparation.

Last, but by far not the least, I want to impart the concern of weight. The lighter the gear and supplies the lighter the pack, the lighter the pack the lighter the shoes/boots required. The issues of balance in difficult terrain goes down and the stamina goes up and so does the experience of freedom. The process of going light is developed individually by evaluating your gear and supplies after each trek. First, always include the 11 essentials. This is your safety net. Then make two piles of your gear and supplies. One pile for those items you used and one for those you just carried around. Decide if you really need all of the items in pile two and discard what you can. When your next buying season comes around evaluate what you can replace that is lighter and more efficient. Over time you will discover two things. The first is you will develop a list of gear and supplies that are essential to you and likely must be on every adventure. The second is that you will discover you can become quite creative in meeting your needs and going lighter. A lighter backpack makes hiking a ton more fun.


Loading an External-Frame Pack. The major consideration in loading a pack is how best to distribute the weight.

There are two basic principles: for trail hiking over flat ground, the weight of the pack should be high and relatively close to the body. The heavier items should sit between your shoulder blades. For consistently steep or rough terrain, carry the weight lower to give you better balance and avoid falls from having a higher center of gravity. In this case, heavier things should be placed more toward the middle of your back. To achieve either arrangement, load the heavier, bulky items into the large top compartment in the position where you want most of the weight. Then fill this and the remaining compartments with lighter items. Tents and tarps can be lashed to the extender bars at the top of the pack and sleeping bags can usually be lashed to the frame at the bottom of the pack. In either case, the horizontal weight distribution should be balanced so that the left side of the pack is in balance with the right. A woman’s center of gravity is generally lower than a man’s. So, for women, the heavier items should be placed close to the body but lower in the pack, as in the case for rough terrain, described above. Packs designed especially for women take this into account by lowering the pack bag on the frame. Load these packs as described above and then lash sleeping bags and tents or tarps to the extender bars at the top and bottom of the pack.

Loading an Internal-Frame Pack. The key thing to remember is that you can’t fight the basic laws of physics. Try and keep the heavyweight as close to your body as possible.

The further the weight moves from your body the heavier it feels and the more difficult it is to control. For easy, level hiking, a high center of gravity is best. To achieve this, load bulky, light gear (e.g. your sleeping bag) low in the pack and stack heavier gear on top of it. For steeper terrain, a lower center of gravity is best because it lessens the chance of falls from a top-heavy pack. In this case, place heavier items a little lower in the pack and closer to your back than normal. Women may prefer this arrangement under all circumstances.


A well-loaded pack is as skinny as possible. A skinny pack is easier to carry and control. Use every compression strap and pull it as tightly as possible. A poorly loaded pack will cause you to spend far more energy and endure unnecessary pain.

Packing a backpack


Develop a color-coded packing system. There is nothing more frustrating than having to go through your whole pack to find the gear you need.

I suggest you use colored stuff sacks. Red is for an emergency. Pack your medical kit and survival kit in red bags and mark them on the outside. Put clothes into another color, food into a separate color, etc. This not only identifies your contents but it helps fill all the voids and avoids content shifting.

  1. Develop a pocket strategy. My day hiking backpack, for example, has about 8 pockets. I carry the same gear in the same pockets all the time. Within the pockets are stuff sacks where practical. So my navigation gear is always in X pocket, my snacks, my camera, etc. Most often the priority is based on a need-strategy so, for example, in my case, I have my camera in my most accessible pocket.
  2. The horizontal weight distribution should be balanced so that the left side of the pack is in balance with the right side.
  3. Avoid hanging things all over the outside of your pack—no one wants to listen to you clank and clang your way down the trail; also, all that junk can snag branches. If you find yourself having to tie things on all the time, either your pack is too small or you are carrying too much (or both). This is also a direct violation of the principle of stealth. Being present but not manifest.
  4. For protection from rain, line your sleeping bag stuff sack and main pack compartments with plastic garbage bags. They also work as emergency shelters.
  5. Fuel bottles should be placed below any food items or in pockets on the outside of your pack.


How much weight you should carry depends on your size, weight, and physical condition. It also depends on your need and hiking strategy.

The general rule for a multi day backpacking trip is to carry no more than 15 to 25 percent of your body weight. On longer expeditions or trips with more gear (such as winter camping), this figure may go up. The bottom line is, don’t carry more than you need or more than you can handle. Many a hiker has blown out knees, ankles, or backs by hauling more weight than they could handle. Here are some things to do to make your trip as comfortable as possible:

TIPS…Before you hit the trail

  1. Try on your loaded pack at home before you leave and, if possible, do a mini hike to evaluate. An hour climbing through some brush and up a hill or two will tell you a lot about your pack weight.
  2. Fiddle with the pack and adjust it at home (you probably won’t take the time to do this at the trailhead while your friends are waiting).
  3. Weigh your pack and compare that to your body weight. Figure out the percent of your body weight that you are carrying. Is it too much?
  4. Take a good look at what you are bringing. Prune out the nonessentials.
  5. Look and see what other people are carrying and how the whole group can share the load in a way that makes sense for each member, given size, weight, physical condition, and experience.
  6. Checking Your Pack Before a Trip:
    1. Take a look at the shoulder straps, hip belt, and other compression and load-carrying straps. Check all buckles, zippers and seams.
    2. Check the pack itself for rips or tears.
    3. If the pack is an external frame pack with a pack bag mounted onto the frame, check the attachment pins (typically clevis pins and split rings).


With this in mind, when the season is over, place your pack in the tub with warm water and some scent free laundry detergent and let it soak for a while. Rinse it and hang it upside down so it can air dry. This is the perfect time to inspect the pack for any loose strap or signs of problems. DO NOT PLACE YOUR PACK IN THE WASHING MACHINE OR THE DRYER.


After each time the pack is used, turn it upside down and shake out all the crumbs and other remnants of all things edible. During a long cold winter, mice will smell those little morsels. (FYI, we only have one documented case were a mouse has unzipped the pack to enter.)


Your pack, unless it is made of rubber, is stitched together. Normally off the shelf a backpack will have the seams and zippers sealed and taped, and reasonably waterproof. Reasonably waterproof means, in most cases, that they can withstand rain for 1 to 3 hours and then things start getting wet. If you have an older pack, you’re in trouble likely within a half hour. The reason is that your seams are made of threads and threads act like small wicks which absorb water and eventually soak through and, guess what, you have wet gear, clothes and food. The plastic bag liner I mentioned earlier will assist to keep things dry and the stuff bags, if water repellent, will also be a good line of defense against moisture. But tramping along on a multiday trip with a wet bag is just asking for trouble; extra weight and dirt sticking to everything. So, each season as you pull your backpack out in preparation of that year’s adventures, spray it, spray your stuff bags, and anything else that needs it (like boots and clothing, tents and hats) with a nonchemical waterproof spray. The key here is to get a waterproof spray that smells like dirt! If you don’t do the dirt smell you’re going to have a tough time being present but not manifest if you smell like daisies. I am not here discounting your first line of defense, which is to put on your waterproof cover that most modern internal frame packs have built in. The trouble in relying solely on the cover is that it can be a pain to work with when you need to access your gear or while taking a rest break and forgetting to put it back on or putting your pack down on soaked ground. The opportunities for forgetting to adequately protect your sponge, which is what an unprotected non-waterproofed backpack becomes, is not worth the potential impact on your trek. You may need to recoat your backpack during the year if you are using it a lot, especially under wet conditions. A dry pack interior is a bit like dry clothes, for then everything works better.


Dehydration is one of the most preventable backcountry problems but also one of the most ignored. Do not allow yourself any excuse to keep you from proper hydration and proper hydration properly.

Failure to stay hydrated can lead to serious and even life-threatening problems including heat-related illnesses, hypothermia, hyponatremia, and death. Stay Hydrated. So what does that mean? We will get into an extensive discussion about hydration in another venue but as related to picking a backpack a good standard is 10 to 12 ounces of water every 1/2 hour. But taking it properly means you don’t just stop every half hour and drink down 12 ounces of water and then press on. You will feel crummy and it is not meeting the bodies need. You really want to be consistently taking in water with the goal of consuming the allotted quantity of water every half hour. The most efficient means of doing this is to use a water bladder. Consider getting a backpack that has a bladder compartment built into your backpack. Not only is it accessible for constant use but also moving back to one of our key principles of discovery hiking and that of being present but not manifest, water bottles are noisy particularly when half empty along with being inconvenient. Remember our pocket strategy! See if you can find a pocket that allows you to conveniently, and without lots of movement including taking your pack off, access your water every 10 minutes without undue noise and distraction.

The ultimate goal of adventure hiking is to have your equipment be a facilitator of discovery, not a deterrent.

You want that pack to fit comfortably both on the trail or in the backcountry where there is no man made trail and you are laying on your stomach watching porcupines (baby porcupines) enjoying their morning munch.

I hope to meet you on the trails of adventure.

With Hiking Stick in Hand,






The Right Backpack For You

This blog post begins a two-part series on the  backpack.

Lately,  my blog posts have been focused on gear and preparation. This to some degree is a diversion from my passion for adventure hiking, but to be prepared for the adventure we must be prepared for the hike.

Foundationally what we want is to be: FIRST, Physically prepared for the adventure we are engaged in; SECOND, Prepared with the right gear to both make our adventure safe and enjoyable.

There is nothing like pain to divert your attention from discovery and broken or deficient gear just messes things up. THIRDLY, We need the skills to provide both the framework for adventure as well as the confidence to enter into it.

We covered the subjects of planning and physical preparation in the following blog posts.


  1. Planning your Hike, the key to success
  2. Backcountry Trip Planning


  1. Spring Hiking Preparation
  2. The Hiking Stretches

These are beginning points; not an exhaustive study.

Last week I discussed key issues relating to hiking boots, the foundation of our hiking gear. Today, I start a two-part series on the backpack. This first post will cover:

  1. The basic types of backpacks available and their pros and cons.
  2. Pack sizing for various hiking conditions and events (loads and volume)
  3. Sizing your pack to fit you.
    1. Fitting the backpack to your body
    2. Fitting the backpack on your body

I will follow this post with a second post dealing with:

  1. How to pack your backpack
  2. How much weight to carry
  3. Care and feeding your backpack
  4. Storing
  5. Waterproofing
  6. Hydration
  7. Tips etc.

The backpack is likely the second most critical item of gear that needs to be right for you.

If it fits you, and it carries the weight right, you will find it can become a key measure of your success in adventure hiking. So today within the context of discussing the right backpack and how to make it fit you and your conditions, I want to also point out the related elements of discovery necessary for a good adventure. What I am speaking to is that you can have the right fit and the right suspension but the wrong backpack.

Three critical elements, usually not considered in choosing a backpack, are the impact of color, noise, and convenience.

The prey side of the animal world largely survives on their hearing, smell, and sight.

Have you ever noticed how big a deer’s ears are or noticed that their eyes are on the side of their head, not in front?

As you hike into a habitat, what you do not want to do is announce your arrival. The eyes of the forest are watching and you will want to be as discrete as possible so as to not unduly attract attention. I was, just the other day, moving into the sight lane of a mother great horned owl and her two chicks. They were totally unaware of my presence. I was present by not manifest. So, being prepared for such moments, I grabbed my camera, which was in a convenient location, to start taking pictures. Unbelievably, meaning I overlooked something important, I had just purchased a new case for the camera and, by not thinking through the impact, I purchased one whose flap was held shut by Velcro. I opened my case and the noise of the Velcro parting was like a siren going off, as off did go my great horned owl family.

Your gear must compliment your intent and if you are looking for the adventure, purchase gear that compliments your strategy of discovery.

Therefore when you are looking for a backpack, get one that is present but not manifest.

No bright colors especially blue! Purchase a pack with the subdued color(s) of your environs; deer brown, dull leaf green, dirt gray, etc. The same context should be considered with all your clothing, hats and shoes. The more they move the more color integration is important… Like walking sticks.

I noted color, noise, and convenience as aspects of a backpack purchase. I spoke of the color above. The noise comes from things like crinkly fabric, items attached to the outside of the pack, moans of pain, Velcro attachments and the like. Think through what you are purchasing and consider the impact on noise.

Lastly convenience.

Purchase a pack or attachments that will allow you to have ready access to your critical tools. Items like camera, water, map, compass, binoculars, etc. Each of us will have a different list but if you are on a trail of something and you need to record a track or scat, for example, you do not want to have to take your backpack off to get to your camera. This is particularly so if you want to get a picture of a mother great horned owl as she is training her chicks.

The Backpack:

There are two basic types of backpacks; the external-frame and the internal frame.

The purpose of the frame is to stabilize your pack and transfer most of the weight of your gear from your shoulders to your hips where the strong muscles of the hips carry the load. The ideal distribution is 70 to 80 percent of the weight on your hips and 20 to 30 percent on your shoulders. Today’s technology advances in backpack design provide a wide range of options in design, size, and fit. Ultimately, the suspension is the most important part of any backpack.


The external-frame backpack is designed to provide the foundation for carrying lots of weight in different parcels. Attached to the frame is your pack bag usually in the 3000 to 4500 cubic inch range (49 to 73 liters), then, separately, items like your tent, your sleeping bag, your mattress, etc. The result is a large capacity platform that you attach the various elements to as needed for the intended hike. The external frame revolutionized backpacking for it allowed much larger volumes and weight to be carried easily and comfortably for long distances. Present day designs have good lumbar padding, a conical hip belt, recurved shoulder straps and chest compression straps. They can work well. Additionally, they allow you to carry a smaller pack compartment, which means a lighter backpack (almost a day-pack) for your excursions away from home base once you have set up camp.


  1. Good for carrying weight
  2. Allows more airspace between pack bag and back thus better cooling and less sweating.
  3. Weight is carried higher in the pack, allowing for a more upright posture.
  4. Frame extension bars provide space for strapping on lots of additional gear like sleeping bags and tents, making the backpack more versatile.
  5. Usually less expensive than internal framed packs.


  1. Since external framed packs carry the load higher, they raise your center of gravity, making you more “top heavy” and less stable.
  2. Most external framed backpacks don’t hug your body as well, so you get some sway as you walk which can be a problem with snowshoeing or skiing.
  3. Airplane baggage-handling machines like to bend stuff, so don’t send your external frame pack via the airlines unless you have your pack separately boxed.
  4. External-framed packs tend to get caught in brush and are more difficult to maneuver in tight places.
  5. Most all external framed packs do not have load lifters.


Internal-frame packs use a wide variety of materials-aluminum trays, carbon fiber, polycarbonate, plastic sheets, and foam to create a rigid spine to which the hip belt and shoulder straps attach. The pack bag runs the full height of the internal-frame though it may be divided into separate compartments. Pack volumes range from 3,000 to 7,500 cubic inches (49 to 122 liters). Present day internal-frame backpacks come in a variety of sizes, some with fixed spine lengths and some with adjustable spine lengths. Key features to look for include good lumbar padding, a conical hip belt, and recurved shoulder straps with good padding, chest compression straps, and side compression straps for carrying smaller loads and load lifter straps.


  1. Good for carrying lots of gear
  2. Conforms to the body for better balance
  3. Generally more comfortable to wear for long periods
  4. Your gear, particularly your sleeping bag, is inside your backpack thus not so exposed to the elements. Many internal- frame packs come with a built in rain cover to maintain a dry interior.
  5. They generally have load lifter adjustments allowing you to shift weight between you shoulders and hips


  1. Because the pack frame and pack are directly against your back, they have less air circulation and likely more sweating.
  2. The weight is carried lower in the pack thus causing you to walk not quite as upright as you would in an external frame pack.
  3. You can’t put as much gear on the outside of the pack so its capacity is largely confined to the internal volume of the pack bag.


Almost all daypacks are internal-frame packs if they have any frame at all. The larger the capacity the more rigidity is provided which helps distribute weight to the hips. In most cases you will be looking for a daypack in the 1,200 and 3,000 cubic inches range for any serious day hikes. There is no way to come properly equipped with anything much smaller than a 1,200 cubic inch pack. Unless you are using your daypack for a book bag or to carry your lunch and some wraps, you will want to look for the same qualities in your hiking daypack as you would a backpack used for multiday hikes. Remember the 11 Essentials are important to have in you pack every time you venture out be it a short day hike or an extended adventure. There is absolutely no excuse to gamble with your health and safety or miss out on the excitement of discovery.

Pack Size:

It is important that you obtain a backpack that can both carry the volume of gear and food necessary for your trip as well as fit you comfortably carrying the weight. Keep in mind that the external- frame pack bag will be smaller than the comparable internal-framed pack bag. The external-framed pack is designed to be a platform upon which you attach other larger gear directly to the frame thus giving you the added capacity. For example, a sleeping bag in a stuff bag may be anywhere from 700 to 1500 cubic inches (11 to 25 liters). Below are some rough guidelines on pack size related to trip length.

Trip Length External Frame Pack Volume Intern-Frame Pack Volume
2-4 days 1,500+ cubic inches (25+ liters) 3,500+ cubic inches (57+ liters)
5-7 days 2,000+ cubic inches (33+ liters) 4,500+ cubic inches (73+ liters)
8-10 days 3,000+ cubic inches (39+ liters) 5,500+ cubic inches (90+ liters)

Sizing the Pack:

It is imperative that you get a properly fitting backpack. The major measurements you want to consider include:

  1. Spine length…Some backpacks have adjustable spine lengths. On others, it is a matter of selecting the correct spine length backpack.
  2. Waist size…This affects the size of waist belt. You need to have sufficient length to adjust it tighter or looser depending on the need.
  3. Shoulder width…Your straps must not cut into your neck or slip off your shoulders.

Make sure you review the manufacture’s instructions for both adjusting your pack and loading it. Some backpacks come with a variety of options for hip belts and shoulder straps and you should be able to find specific combinations designed for women’s bodies.

Remember the key objective of the backpack is to transfer the weight from your shoulders to your hips and legs through your hip belt.

General fitting guidelines for an internal framed pack:

  1. Load your pack with 10 to 15 lbs. This will allow the pack to sit firmly on your body and will provide you the most accurate representation of how it will carry in the field.
  2. Put the pack on and pull the shoulder strap adjustment strap ((1) See illustration below) downward at about a 30 degree angle backward (see diagram). This will cause the hip belt to rise on your body. Once the center of the belt is level with your hipbones stop pulling and buckle up the hip belt. (2) Wearing the hip belt higher transfers weight onto major muscle groups. Wearing the belt too low on the hips can compress arteries and nerves and lead to poor circulation and numbness in the legs.
  3. Reach behind your head at about the height of your ears and pull the load lifter straps snugly towards you. (3) Note: this is a key step in the performance of your pack, as it engages the frame and causes the load to be transferred to your hips. These straps are also responsible for stabilizing the pack as well as pulling it into your natural center of gravity. When you do this, you should feel the top of the shoulder straps lifting off of your body, and there will be a small gap between the straps and your shoulders. If you can avoid it, never carry too much weight on your shoulders, as this is a common cause of spinal injuries.
  4. Now buckle up the sternum strap across your chest and pull it snug. The sternum strap should cross your chest below your collarbone.
  5. The last step to a good the fit is to place your thumbs on the shoulder strap adjustments at the bottom of the shoulder straps and slightly loosen them. Once again snug up the sternum strap to take care of any excess slack. (4) At this point the frame stays or frame structure should extend 2 to 4 inches above your shoulders.

Backpack Adjustments

Super summary by diagram number:

  1. Pull down & back. The belt will rise.
  2. After buckling, there should be a minimum of 2” on each side of the buckle before it runs out of adjustment.
  3. As you pull forward the shoulder straps will lift. Weight transfers to hips.
  4. Sternum strap keeps it together. The sternum strap should cross your chest below your collarbone.
  5. Slightly release the shoulder strap adjustment. Retighten sternum strap.

General fitting guidelines for an external framed pack:

  1. Put on the pack and adjust the hip belt to fit your hips. Wear the hip belt on the hipbones just underneath the rib cage. The center of the hip belt is about at the crest of your pelvis. The buckle will be about at your navel. Wearing the hip belt higher transfers weight onto major muscle groups. Wearing the belt too low on the hips can compress arteries and nerves and lead to poor circulation and numbness in the legs.
  2. With the hip belt on and properly positioned, tighten the shoulder straps and note their position. Some packs will allow you to adjust the height at which the shoulder straps attach to the frame to fine-tune your fit. For an external-frame pack, the straps should come off the frame about even with the top of your shoulders. If the straps drop too far down, the pack is too small and too much weight will be pulled onto your shoulders. If the straps go too far up, the pack is too large and too little weight will go onto your shoulders.
  3. Be sure the width of the shoulder straps is positioned so that they neither pinch your neck nor slip off your shoulders.
  4. The sternum strap should cross your chest below your collarbone.
  5. There will be no load lifter straps on an external framed pack. Adjustments must be made by the location of the straps on the frame, the shoulder straps, and hip belt.

Jump up and down, put more weight in the backpack, and sit down with your pack on. Make sure before you leave the store that the pack is comfortable, convenient, colored right, and not crinkly. The next test is to take the backpack home and fill it as if preparing for a trip.

My next upcoming blog post will provide instructions on how and why to pack your backpack for maximum comfort, stability, and use.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,



Hiking Boots: What you need to know

Your hiking boots are among the most important pieces of equipment that you bring into the backcountry.

There is an infinite array of heights, weights, materials, soles, etc. The key is to select your hiking boots according to your need, which may mean you will need multiple pairs of hiking boots. No hiking boot fits all conditions and as you will discover if you haven’t already they are an investment. Likely the single most important investment on your equipment list is your hiking boots. Some of the variables you will want to take into consideration in defining the hiking boots or shoes you need include:

  • Types of hikes they will be used on including day hikes, multiday hikes, and extended treks.
  • Pack weight, terrain; season and temperature all affect your boot type and need.
  • Your hiking style (traditional or Ultralight) will have an impact on your boot selection as well as the cost. Ultralight gear is generally more expensive.


There is no single hiking boot that does it all. It is a key to your comfort and endurance and ultimately your health that you wear a hiking boot or shoe that matches trail activity. For every 1 lb on your foot you have an equivalent energy expenditure of adding 5 lbs on your back. Lifting your feet for thousands of steps takes a lot of energy. Therefore get the lightest weight boots that will meet your needs. Some considerations include:

  1. If you are carrying a heavy pack, (50 plus lbs) on an extended trip you will want a stiff boot with high ankle support. Boot weight and stiffness provide muscle support for the weight on your back.
  2. Multiday trip carrying 40 lbs, a lighter weight boot that extends just over the ankle may be ok for you though even here I prefer an above ankle style boot.
  3. Day hike or ultra light multiday with less than 20 lbs a “Mid” style Hiking boots, trail shoes or running shoes may be ok for you. Key here to remember is that none of these is going to give you significant ankle support.

The key in each case is the “for you” and “what are you doing”. Weak ankles make a difference in the height of boot for ankle support. Off trail hiking makes a difference in ankle support because you are walking on rougher terrain over obstacles not found on a well-groomed trail. And lastly the weight of pack and length of travel all make a difference in the best hiking boot combination. The path to maximizing your flexibility, comfort, and endurance on the trail is using the lightest gear that will meet your needs and your budget.

At the end of a day of hiking a second pair of camp shoes may be a good addition for around camp. They will allow you to air out your boots, especially if wet from rain or sweat, and air out your feet releasing them from their cocoon of heat and pressure. The heavier the hiking boot the more important it is to allow them to air out thus camp shoes, flip-flops, sandals, etc. Sandals or flip-flops are also handy at stream crossings to keep your hiking boots dry.


Waterproofing works both ways. If you get sweaty quickly your waterproof hiking boots will be wet. And once your feet are wet, blisters come easily. Or if water does get inside, like coming down the sides of your boot or shoe, it doesn’t come out. In wet weather, gaiters can keep both hiking boots and socks dry.

Waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex clog and corrode without seasonal washing. Sometimes having shoes that dry off in ten minutes is more useful then waterproof hiking boots that when wet on the interior take many hours to dry. Waterproofing also traps heat, and releases it slower. This can help keep your feet warmer in cold conditions, but it also means that on hot summer days they can get pretty sweaty.

Leather is another great method of waterproofing. Leather is breathable and waterproof if needed by waxing it regularity. Waxing has the added benefit of restoring the strength and durability to leather and extending its lifespan. But leather is more expensive and heavier. As noted above every shoe is a tradeoff.


Most generic ankle injuries are a result of torsional forces; either a twisting of the lower leg and/or simultaneously a twisting of the foot. We have a series of ligaments around the ankle and torsional forces can stretch or tear these ligaments.

Ankle protection is essential to avoid injuries. To test the shoe, take the heel in one hand and the toe in the other and twist it. The stiffer the more stable and the better the ankle protection. The main advantage of the hiking boot over the shoe is that it offers better support and stops debris and wet from getting into the boot easily. When you add weight (geared up for a multiday backpacking trip) you need to add ankle protection. You need both support (boot) and you need hiking boots that lace tight around and above the ankle. This arrangement confers a lot of muscular support. This works similar to compression socks. Basically, it compensates for the muscles. Thus if you are doing long days with a heavy load (which increases your risk of ankle injury), a heavier stiff hiking boot that laces above the ankles will protect your ankles and take some of the strain off your legs.

Beware of “Mid” style hiking shoes/boots. Unless you feel tension around your ankles, there is no ankle support. Mid style hiking boots can provide a good foundation for weight and are decent for stopping debris and moisture, but that’s where the benefits largely end. I do not recommend a mid style hiking boot for off-trail hiking.


A proper fitting hiking boot is essential. Understanding how shoes/boots are sized and fitted can be helpful particularly when you find you need a variety of hiking boots. Hiking boots are constructed based on a representative “average” foot mold called “lasts” (length, width at toes, width at heals, etc.) and each boot is usually built around the same lasts formula for each shoe size and model of a particular brand. Some brands use unisex averaged for each shoe size and some have separate lasts for men and for women. The secret here is that most manufacturers use the same representative “average” foot mold, lasts, for all their various styles of boots. So if you find a lightweight hiking boot for example that fits you particularly well it is likely that the mid weight and stiff boots of that brand will also fit your foot well.

Try new hiking boots on in the afternoon since your feet swell during the day. Select your liner sock and outer sock combination that you will generally plan to wear with the boots you are purchasing and bring your own sock with you to the store. Using a store’s random socks combinations may leave you with ill-fitting boots when you get home, not good. With the hiking boot unlaced slide your foot to the very end of the boot, toes touching, and you should be able to get your index finger between your heel and the back of the boot. Next, lace up the hiking boots with moderate tension; you should be able to both tighten them further and loosen them up so you can adjust your boots as conditions dictate. At this point, you should be able to wiggle your toes inside your hiking boots. With your foot flat on the ground holding the boot heel down with your hand, you should be able to lift your heel inside the hiking boot. The heel lift at this point should be only ¼” to ½”. Too much heel lift causes friction and blisters.

Hiking boot length needs also to be checked. With the hiking boot firmly laced, do some good hard kicking against a post or the floor. Do your toes smash into the front of the boot? If so you have discovered “boot bang”. This can be a serious problem. Whatever boot bang you experience in the store will be magnified going down hill with a heavy pack. Smashing your toes against the end of your hiking boot can result in lost toenails and other serious foot problems. If you are getting boot bang, try lacing differently, try another size, different sock combination, or another brand of hiking boot.

As you get older your feet tend to get longer. Your arches begin to flatten out thus extending your foot due to the loss of the arch curve. Beware of hiking boots you have not worn for 5 years or so. Break them in again before heading out on any extensive hiking. If they don’t fit well, consider getting new hiking boots.


With new hiking boots start wearing them around the house to make sure you have the right fit. Once you are comfortable with the fit, it is time to break the boots into your feet. If they aren’t fitting comfortably consider returning them and getting a pair that do. It is critical that your boots fit.

Always break in a pair of new hiking boots before a trip. Most medium to heavy weight boots require some use to conform them to your feet and to soften them up.

Old boots not worn for a while should be run through a break-in period. Begin with short walks and gradually increase the length of time you wear them. Easy day hikes are a good way to do this adding pack weight with each outing. Each time you lace your boots, take the time to align the tongue and lace them properly. If you fail here often the tongue gets set in a bad position, which can lead to sore spots and blisters. Give yourself five to ten hours of walking and day hiking if possible before taking a serious multiday hike in new boots. This is less an issue for lighter weight hiking boots you are using for day hikes because your boots will be softer and more flexible. But even here if at all possible, give all new hiking boots a good break-in trial before carrying significant weight or going on a long hike.


The key to top performance in most any endeavor is to know your equipment. One of the first steps in boot care is to know your boots. Are they leather, synthetic leather, nylon or a combination of these? If they are all leather boots are they Oil-tanned or Chrome-tanned leather. Oil-tanned leather usually is treated with wax and oil. Chrome-tanned leather is usually treated with silicone wax (a beeswax-silicone mixture is recommended). Treating boots isn’t necessarily to completely waterproof them, but to make them water repellent and to nourish the leather to prevent drying and cracking. Boots should be treated when new and on a regular basis to keep the leather supple.

Wet boots should be air-dried slowly or with minimal heat. Do not cook your leather boots by the side of a fire or on a heater. The different thicknesses of leather will shrink at different rates and likely pull your seams apart. At a minimum, you can get cracking and curling. At the end of a day of hiking open your boots up as much as possible to help them dry out. Leaving them upside down for the night will prevent dew from forming inside.

When you return from a trip always clean your hiking boots before storing. Dirt left on the boot can corrode the seam stitching. Use a non-wire brush to get dirt deposits off. For leather boots, rub them with moistened saddle soap. Wipe off the residue, air-dry them thoroughly, and then apply a generous coating of wax or sealer. Store in a cool dry place to prevent mildew. A boot tree can assist in maintaining shape. A cedar boot tree will also absorb moisture inside your boot and wick it out, thus again helping them to dry slowly.


  1. Use polypropylene sock liners and wool socks. They will keep your feet dryer as the polypro wicks the moisture away from your feet as does wool.
  2. Often using aftermarket insoles like Superfeet, which give you arch support, will add more to your comfort and endurance than the boots themselves.
  3. Remember that if you have found a brand of shoes/boots that really fit your feet it is likely that any other model of that same brand of boot will be comfortable. They generally use the same “lasts” for all models.
  4. Before long uphill climbs, lace boots snugly below the mid-foot (use a double overhand knot if your boots don’t have locking laces there) and looser around the ankles. For long descents, tighten laces back up around the ankles.
  5. If you are having issues with too much heel activity a suggestion to get a snugger fit in your hiking boot is to lace the upper laces using a runner’s lock. Unless your boots are really mis-sized the runners lock will solve excessive heel movement. I have attached a YouTube demo of three useful boot knots that can help with various boot fitting issues common to the hiking genre.
  6. To minimize foot friction a foot lubricant like Hydropel or Gold Bond and also look at Bodyglide or BlisterShield. The objective is to keep your feet drier and not developing hot spots. At the first signs of hot spots I suggest using moleskin to avoid at all costs getting blisters on your feet.

Well-fitting hiking boots make for happy feet.

Happy feet make for good hikes. Good hikes are the stories that are told over and over.

Click here for a PDF copy of this blog


We have moved from the day hike to an overnight or multi-day adventure and backcountry trip planning is the agenda. The strategy for success is being prepared, being equipped, and traveling light.

There is no universal blueprint by which each and every multi-day hike can be planned but there are certain basic questions and issues that need to be addressed that are common to backcountry trip planning:

  1. Purpose
  2. Alone or with a group
  3. Conditioning
  4. Research
  5. Equipment
  6. Food
  7. Weather
  8. Leave trip details
  9. The Unexpected


The fundamental question for each of us as we head out to the trailhead or backcountry is; Why are we going? What are our goals and expectations for making the trip and are we achieving them?

A key first step in “Backcountry Trip Planning” is to set out the goals for the trip. During the trip it is good to review those goals and evaluate how you are progressing. By reflecting on your situation you can maximize your opportunities to achieve your goals, or if appropriate, making mid-course adjustments, as needed.

If you are with a buddy or a group, check in with your companions and get their read on the progress; are we going at too fast a pace? How are you feeling? Etc. Lunch break is a great time to get into an informal discussion on progress. If you are alone, this is a good time to write in your trip journal and reflect on progress.

The key, as we discussed in the prior blog on planning, is to have a plan for your hike and have a plan with a purpose. The goal will greatly enhance the accomplishment of the plan and greatly increase the satisfaction in the achievement.

Back at home base, after gear clean up; take the time for some reflection. Ask the questions: What happened on the trip? If there were others on the trail with you, discuss the highlights; bring back the memories about the experience.

Then ask So What? Asking the question as to why certain events were important or had an impact. What did I or we learn? Why am I reacting to the experience the way I am? How did I grow in some skill or insight from the trip?

Lastly ask yourself and your companions; Now What? What comes next after this experience, how can I or we take what we have learned back to other parts of our lives. How will I apply what I have learned, discovered and been challenged by to enhance my next trip or my next week?

Taking time for reflection puts the pieces of life back into a whole and allows your experiences to become both the teacher for the next time out and the inquirer as to why you do what you do and is it what you want from it.

Alone or with a Group?

The mantra of the day is “Walk not your own path but come follow us”.

There is clear wisdom being expressed as it relates to hiking if you are a beginner or even an experienced hiker facing unfamiliar circumstance or challenges. This is not however the only all-encompassing truth. Your choice of solo or with companions ultimately largely depends, as one world traveler stated it, on three principal factors:

  1. Your level of experience
  2. The prevailing conditions
  3. Personal preference

Walking alone in the wilderness can be immensely rewarding. However, problems can occur when hikers venture solo into terrain and conditions for which they are not prepared. It is, therefore important to always balance intangible considerations such as freedom, self-determination, and connection with nature, with a realistic assessment of your backcountry skill set.


You will either take it in or it will take you out. An essential of multi-day hiking preparation is to have yourself physically and mentally fit for the trip. Why? The fitter you are the less of a struggle both physically and mentally. Plan the time to be ready and the best way to be fit is progressive hiking. Start early in the year with the day hikes and slowly build up distance, difficulty, and pack-weight. Supplement with the gym if needed, working on your weak points.

You will find fitness of particular advantage during the first few days of a backpack trip. The last thing you will want from an adventure is to be so exhausted you can’t enjoy your surroundings, missing not only the beauty of it all but the mental acumen to be focusing on the discovery that is lying before you.

Your pre-hike conditioning will also minimize the likelihood of injury.


One of the keys to a safe and enjoyable backcountry experience is pre-hike research.

The first research is to get a clear footing of where you are going, what you are going to face along the way as far as physical challenges, and what preparation is needed to accommodate the route.

Guidebooks, maps, historical weather data, trip reports of other hikers and checking in with the local forest service all provide foundational information to build your route upon.

Backcountry travel can be unpredictable, but by arming yourself with the necessary knowledge before setting out, you improve your chances of successfully dealing with whatever providence may throw your way.

Your research then leads to the planning of the trip. The key element of trip planning is to work out the details of the proposed route; research and route details drive equipment, food, safety issues, skill sets etc.

Once you have obtained all the general information pertinent to your journey, it’s time to work out the details of your proposed route:

  • Estimate times and distances; break this down into the various legs of the trip.
  • Evaluate opportunities for campsite locations.
  • Identify your options for water and if possible the quality of the water.
  • A key to map reading and thus staying on course is identifying key landmarks and points of reference along your route.
  • Natural and not so natural hazardous areas such as spires and rock falls should be identified and likely avoided. If you chose to or must pass through them make sure you have a what if plan in place to cover worst case situations.
  • Check out regulations, restrictions and permits required for your route.


Your research will drive your equipment choice. Pack according to terrain and conditions you expect to encounter. Keep it simple, keep it light and keep it fun. Your starting point is the 11 Essentials.

Ask the two gear questions as you go through your final inventory for the trip. Do I need it? What will happen if I don’t have it? Ultimately your own backcountry experience and personal philosophy of hiking will be your best guide.

Pre trip preparation: Test run your key equipment to make sure it is all working and that includes your water filter and boots. A clogged filter or new boots can be a harbinger for a difficult trip.


Food, as with equipment, function under the same model: keep it good and keep it light. Based upon three season backpacking requirements in general, you will consume 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day. This mix, depending on the length and difficulty of the trip will run 50% Carbs, 25% fats, and 25% protein. Remember to be regularly snacking and drinking water to replenish your energy supply and keep you hydrated. The key accident times are 11 AM and 3 PM due to low blood sugar and dehydration. I like a good mixture of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits as a trail mix. Fluid intake should average 10 to 12 ounces every half hour or more under strenuous or hot conditions.

Weather & Weather Hazards

On trip day, check the weather before you head out. From your prior route evaluation consider your options and challenges if weather conditions turn to the worst.

  • Emergency shelters or campsites.
  • Emergency food supplies if you are delayed days due to weather.
  • River crossings that may become impassable during heavy rains.
  • Canyons that may pose a flash flood danger.
  • Exposed areas during a lightening storm. Where is accessible cover and how do we get there with an impending storm?
  • Evacuation route options.
  • Communication options.

Leave Trip Details

Who knows your destination, route, and expected return time? Include also the name of all parties on the trip and cell phone numbers and as much of your literary as possible.

What: 1.Leave this information with a contact person who will be concerned of your situation and checking that you return on time. 2. Leave it in your vehicle where parked at trailhead.

When you return make sure to inform your contact person that you have returned.

Expect The Unexpected

No matter how confident you are that you have covered all bases, nature has forces beyond your predictability or your capacity. When entering the wilderness as with any adventure be aware of what is going on around you. Adjust your agenda and schedule both to accomplish your goals and accommodate your conditions. Safety is a prime consideration  in your backcountry trip planning and reasoned forward progress is far more profitable than stubborn determination.

The Hiking Stretches

Hiking stretches are needed if we want to stretch our hiking.

In my last post, I spoke about fitness, how to get your body in shape for the hiking season.

The key to making fitness work is the activity taking place 15 minutes before and after the hike, hiking stretches.

Hiking is no different than any other sport. It is essential to warm up and stretch the muscles before using them to avoid stress, cramps, and ultimately injury. Most of us forget to stretch. We are too busy anticipating the next rendezvous or breaking camp or just itchy to get on the trail. The most successful beginning is one that is warm and loose.

My friend and cohort Rupert has an attitude about beginnings. He views the preparation as the petrol (remember he is English) for the pace.  And the pace is everything to efficient hiking. If you aren’t warmed up you will not keep pace and if you can’t keep pace you are not prepared for the unexpected and if you are not prepared for the unexpected you may miss the adventure. So be ready, not just to limp up some trail but to engage the unexpected and enter into the pace of discovery.

So what does it mean to be warm and loose? The warm is a secret to the loose. You hear lots of discussion about stretching before the hike but the key to hiking stretches is warm. So here is the routine to really get yourself ready for the pace.

  1. Take three or four minutes before your hiking stretches and do some aerobic activity. Jog around camp; do push-ups, jumping jacks, etc. The key is getting the heart rate up and the blood flowing to the muscles before you stretch.
  2. Stretch slowly and smoothly, not jerky and bouncy. No forced stretches!
  3. Control your breathing; rhythm is the key to hiking and it is the key to stretching. With each exhalation move deeper into the stretch.
  4. Don’t be thinking about getting gone, but concentrate on counting to reach the stretching goal. Your focus will get you ready for the fun.

Now from Robert Anderson’s excellent book on Stretching, here is where you need to go. Don’t just do it for the big hikes; make it your hiking habit. The five-point hiking stretch:

  1. Squat (this covers the lower back, shins, Achilles tendon) Squat with your heels 8 to 12 inches apart and toes slightly pointed out. Your knees should be over your toes and your arms hanging down in the middle. Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat. If you are tending to fall over, hold onto a tree.
  1. Hamstrings Sitting with one leg straight out, toes pointed up and the other leg bent and facing the straight leg with both legs flat on the ground. Now bend from the hip without curling the back, keep it straight. Hold with your hands where you feel the stretch in the hamstrings. Do both legs. You want to make sure the foot of the leg being stretched is upright, not lying over. Hold each stretch for 5 to 15 seconds.
  1. Calf and Achilles Stretch Lean forward into a tree with your foreleg bent and your back leg straight. Make sure your toes are facing forward and you are keeping your back straight. You can rest your head against your hands. Now move your hips forward into the tree and you will stretch both your calf muscles and your Achilles tendon. An alternative is to take this position with your legs and then put your hands on the tree and slowly bend your elbows thus stretching the same muscles. Hold an easy stretch for 5 to 15 seconds and then move slightly further into a deeper stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat with both legs. Don’t overstretch.
  1. Quadriceps Stretch Stand on one foot. Grasp the ankle of the other leg with the opposite hand and pull the foot up to your butt. You should push forward with your knee so that the thigh stays vertical. Do both legs. Grab a tree if you are tending to fall over.
  1. Groin Stretch Sit on the ground. Clasp the soles of your feet together holding your toes together with your hands. Gently lean forward from your hips while you contract your abdominal muscles slightly. Initially hold for 5 to 15 seconds then increase the stretch and time as you loosen up. No jerky or bouncing movements.

Stretch by the feel of the stretch not by how far you can stretch. Start with 5-15 second intervals and move up with longer and deeper stretches.

Recovering today will make for a stronger tomorrow

One of the challenges for those of us that go on multi day adventures, backpack trips or do rotational hiking is entering into the day after. The objective is to recover at the end of each day so we are even stronger for tomorrow’s trek.

The key is to Eat, Drink and be Stretching, for tomorrow needs to be an even stronger day.

  1. Transition The oats are in the barn but take your time to get there. The last 5 to 10 minutes of your trek needs to be a cool down time. Like a racehorse, take the extra lap, don’t just head for the paddocks. This gives your body time to transition from activity to resting. This few minutes of lower intensity slows down all of the systems, keeps the blood from pooling in the lower extremities, and reduces the risk of fainting and cramping.
  1. Stretching Pack-Off time is investment time. Five minutes of stretching right after dropping your pack and after drinking down 16 ounces of water, Gaiter aid etc. can dramatically reduce soreness and cramping by restoring your muscles to their normal positions. Go through the same pre-hike routine only now you are hot so move into the stretch until you feel mild to moderate tension and then hold it for 15 to 30 seconds. This will encourage your muscles to relax to a resting state. As recommended with your warm up drills avoid bouncing in and out of your stretch.
  1. Rehydrate …like your capacity tomorrow depends on it. You most likely will arrive at camp or the end of the trail, mildly to moderately dehydrated. It is much easier to build up your body fluids in camp than on the trail. A good goal to achieve long-run performance is to get 16 to 24 ounces of water per hour. Try to do this for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours slowing down your intake as you get close to bedtime.
  1. Fill up your Reservoir You have a window of up to an hour once your pack is down when your body will maximize absorption of carbohydrates, proteins, and liquids. Your muscles are craving protein to repair muscle tissue, carbs to refuel the energy level and liquids to start replenishing muscles for the following day. A reasonable pre-dinner quick fill should include about 2 ounces of carbs for every 100 lbs. of body weight. Grab some nuts, peanut butter, beef jerky or similar protein usually ¾ of an ounce to an ounce will get your muscle systems healing along with 16 to 24 ounces of water. This routine will supercharge your recovery and minimize your muscle soreness for a long day on the trail.
  1. Have a Hearty Meal Go for a full meal deal within 2 hours of leaving the trail. You want to get a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats packed in before bed. Most freeze-dried or dehydrated backpacker meals will provide sufficient sustenance but check the package and don’t hesitate to have seconds to make sure you are refueled adequately for tomorrows adventures.

Planning is the key to successful hiking/backpacking, and planning includes not only packing the necessary stuff, but also incorporating a sound routine. Be prepared when you leave and prepare after each day’s hike for the adventure of tomorrow. A healthy routine of stretching, rehydration, and rebuilding your body’s systems is a key to sustainable long run hiking stamina and health.

Planning your Hike, the key to success.

Planning your hike is key to success! I am looking out of my cabin window at the mountains that make up my front yard. The snow is going, going, and almost gone. The green grass and wildflowers are replacing the white of winter. The temperature this week will hit the high sixties, maybe more. Wafting within the spring breeze is the hint of pine and wildflower mixed with avian songs as our feathered friends collect the fruits of spring all about us. It is time to prepare…the soul of the hiker is awakening!

Within the 11 Essentials Report (manual) , is a section entitled The Rest of The Story. It gives you the Basics of a Strategy for planning your hike.

So, beyond having the essentials for a safe and productive and adventurous hike, we need to consider the strategy of Who, What, When, Where, and How we will accomplish the hike. I encourage you to bone up on that section of the manual for, therein, lays the foundation of successful hiking.

In reading up on the statistics from S.A.R. (Search and Rescue) missions for 2015, it is apparent that many, if not most, hikers do not go out prepared for doing much more than following a trail and watching the ground and getting some exercise, in a beautiful though often crowded escape from a weary week. And yet, even in that circumstance, we find the beauty of the creation about us spellbinding at times. The SAR report I was reading stated that 57% of all the hikers they rescued last year did not carry a compass! The more startling part of the story is that 43% of those they rescued that did carry a compass didn’t know how to use it to get them out of their fix. One of our upcoming studies will be a course on terrain travel using map and compass.

The content I want to convey with this message is that there is so much more out there for those of us that want to really discover the adventure of hiking in the wonderful wilds of our hiking paradises if we are ready. And it doesn’t take a six-day hike, off-trail, to get there. But one essential that is key to the process of discovery and adventure hiking is to be prepared. What being prepared doesn’t mean is to bring everything you could possibly use to be cozy, clean, and safe. What it does mean is that preparation of mind and body will precede effectual discovery and preparation, via the right equipment and skills, will insure you have the confidence to become involved in the adventure. Thus, with spring training in sight, let’s start working on the mind and body part and then move to the equipment and skills section. In light of the main theme of today’s blog, (planning), I am encouraging you to go through the planning section of the 11 Essentials manual and lay out a model plan that you can plug into any hike in your bucket list for the season. The process is to build your personal hiking plan using the strategy worksheet provided: Who, What etc. We are each different and have different skills, needs, relationships and goals for our hikes. Start simple and expand on it as you move from training hikes to more gripping ones. The key here is to get convicted that you are going to purposely upgrade your skills, knowledge, and preparation so that you can and do enter into discovery and adventure as opportunity opens the door.

As Rupert would say: “The time is now, and there is no time like now to get ready. Who knows what tomorrow will bring and for sure I don’t want to miss it!” It is usually about this time, when he is philosophizing, that Pinecone will knock something off the shelf or??? If you haven’t met Rupert and Pinecone yet, you will soon. Rupert is the very essence of adventure hiking and a personality very much involved in what takes place in Hiking To Adventure.

I hope to meet you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,


Dust Trail: Is it the key to “Who did it?”

Sometimes, even just a dust trail can lead to the discovery of an event, exposing what really happened to whom.

It may be just a matter of looking at the evidence (the effect) in context and in the right light. One late afternoon looking out of my large picture window, I discovered a very sizable dirty spot in my vision. It appeared that a dust bomb had hit the window. Now, it was not an unusual situation that we would have dust smudges from bouncing birds who seem to delight in ricocheting off the window as they fly past, but this was a direct hit by, it was a dust trail.

We live in the woods in the shadow of a mountain and just off our screened porch is a bit of a bird haven where we have provided both cover via trees and bushes and also chicken wire meshed sanctuaries where the song birds, can eat without the threat of the hawks and other flying predators that might, and do, hunt this area. We have had numerous hawks hit the screen mesh in a power dive assuming it wasn’t there and ricocheting off in dismay. Watching the birds interact, it is very curious how they compete, yet assist one another in the big picture stuff. This is curiously true of the prey-class of many species but not so much of the predator-class.

Watching the birds interact, it is very curious how they compete, yet assist one another in the big picture stuff. This is curiously true of the prey-class of many species but not so much of the predator-class.

One of the more obnoxious birds that visit our feeders is the Black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia) or camp robber, as it is known. It is noisy, pugnacious, and sneaky-greedy for food with the other birds. Yet when a small hawk snuck into one of the trees awaiting a bird hors d’oeuvre of junco, the magpie started squawking and screaming and bouncing around in the vicinity of the hawk to the point that the hawk gave up and went its way.

There is a curious symbiotic relationship between the birds of the prey-feather where they stick together when a predator bird is present.

In my blog post “Listening To Your Hike” I observed a very brave red squirrel drive a great horned owl crazy to the point that the owl left the immediate habitat due to the squirrel’s constant agitation. The squirrel wasn’t doing this to save its hide; it was announcing to the rest of the forest that a bad guy was present and to stay away/watch-out!

Meanwhile back to the dust bomb or dust trail my experience with bird-predators is that they get highly focused in their aerial attacks. I have also noticed that birds love to take dust baths. They use dust as a cleansing agent and you often will see them flapping up a storm of dust.

Perceiving that the effect, the dust bomb, was likely relevant and deducing from the evidence of activity I was familiar with in the interplay between bird predator and bird prey my inclination was that the dust bomb was in fact, a trail in the dust that was likely caused by a misguided missile. So when the sun came out the next day I attempted to view the dust trail; from every angle to see if I could ascertain a description of the cause.

This interplay between effect and cause is the essence of deductive reasoning.

You are not just seeing but observing and then contemplating what you are seeing, looking for further evidence, and then grappling with the facts you find in your mind. This is the path to discovery. This is the key to unlocking the secrets and discovering the adventures going on in the habitat of your hiking. This is the same interplay you will learn is necessary with each of your senses. You will start listening to what you are hearing; tasting what you are smelling; and asking, “what is that, who is talking and why, where is it coming from, or maybe how long has it been there or why is it missing?”

Seek and you will find, ask and you will receive; don’t just walk the path, but experience the activity that is being lived right before your eyes.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,