Posts made in August 2018

Military Poncho

The Military Poncho and its Survival Uses

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

A military poncho is a multi-purpose piece of survival gear that all wilderness backpackers should have with them on their adventures. I started carrying a military poncho when I was in the Army, and I have carried one ever since.  A military poncho is lightweight and easy to pack. My poncho is 7 feet long by 4.4 feet wide.  I carry my poncho in my Go-Bag.

There are a variety of materials used in military ponchos.  They are made with Ripstop, Nylon, Canvas, and Rubberized fabric. Military Ponchos were designed as raincoats to protect soldiers and their gear from the elements.  Military Ponchos have evolved for many other invaluable uses.

Uses for a Military Poncho.

1.  Use it for what it was designed for and that is to keep you dry in wet weather. Ponchos are very roomy and they will cover and protect your backpack when you are wearing it during a rainstorm. Military ponchos are very easy to put on and take off especially when you are wearing your backpack.

2.  A Military Poncho can be used with other gear during cold weather to keep you warm.  A poncho can be filled with leaves or moss to act as an insulator to help retain your own body heat.

3. They can be used as ground cover for you to lay on or to put your gear on it for protection. It can also be used as a make shift cover to protect your gear if you want to keep it outside your tent.

Military Poncho
Ground cover using a military poncho

4.  They can be used to hold water temporarily depending on the material it is made from.  Rubberized type ponchos or those treated with a waterproof sealant work well for holding water.  Ponchos can assist you in retrieving water from sources difficult to access.  A Military Poncho can also capture drinking water during rainstorms.

Military Poncho holding water
Military Poncho holding water

5.  A Military Poncho can be used as a backpack in an emergency.  The poncho can be loaded with gear and cross slung around you.

6.  A Poncho can be used to carry and transport items in a wilderness area.  If you are gathering branches or wood for your fire a poncho can expedite and limit your trips, (just be careful on sharp points damaging the poncho).

7.  It can be used as a mattress to sleep on.  You can fill the poncho with leaves, moss, etc. and make a field mattress out of it.

8.  Military Poncho’s can be used as a shelter system.  There are various configurations you can use.  It can be set up in a Lean To, Canopy, or Tent style configuration.  Depending on the area you are in the best configuration is to string some 550 cord between (Two trees and drape your poncho over it.  You can also use your hiking poles (pictured below) to set up a shelter system if there are no trees around you.

Setting up a Poncho using your hiking poles:

  •  Tie off the 4 corners of your poncho with 550 cord and stake the 550 cord into the ground.  Use the grommets on your poncho to attach the 550 cord.  If you do not have grommets use a rock to tie off the 550 cord, (see picture below).  I am using some Nite Ize (cam Jams in the picture below).  You can also use a Tautline Hitch instead of the Nite Ize to keep tension on the poncho.
  • Use one of your hiking poles and put it in the center of the poncho.  Insert it into the head portion of your poncho and make sure you tie off the portion where you put your head tightly to prevent water from coming into the shelter.

9.  The Military Poncho can be used for medical emergencies.  If you sustain a broken arm you can use the poncho to make an improvised sling to put your arm in .

Conclusion

A Military Poncho has many uses and it easily adapts to different terrain and environments.  A poncho is lightweight and easy to pack.  In a survival situation a Military Poncho can save your life or sustain you until you reach safety.  There are various types to choose from and they also come in different configurations.  They are not expensive ranging in price from 10 to 40 dollars.  I highly recommend that any wilderness backpacker who heads into the wilderness have one.

Land Navigation using the Sun to Navigate

Using the Sun to Navigate

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Land navigation is a skill based on the use of a compass and topographical map.  Navigating through a wilderness area requires that you have a basic skill set to do so.  What happens if for whatever reason you do not have a map, compass or even a GPS? How can you navigate?

There is a navigational tool that you will always have in a wilderness area and that is the sun.  The sun has been used navigate wilderness areas for thousands of years by adventures.  The sun will help you determine your cardinal directions of North, South, East and West. Knowing your cardinal direction can get you to safety or to water in a survival situation.

In this article, I will discuss a technique that I learned in the Army in helping me determine the cardinal directions.  Before I do so, everyone should know that the sun always the sun always rises in the east and it sets in the west no matter where you are on earth.  The sun rises in the east because the earth rotates on its axis to the east.  Knowing this will give you the information on determining where North, South, and West are.


The Sun Rising in the East

The problem you will encounter with this is determining where the sun was rising if it is noontime.  At noon the sun will be directly over you making it impossible to figure out where east is.  That is where this second method comes in. This method is called the Shadow Tip Method.  

Shadow Tip Method

This method uses a stick (3 feet in length) and (2) marking objects such as some small rocks.  In most wilderness areas you should be able to find these objects with no problem. 

  1.  Find an open area that allows you to visually see the sky.

Find an open area with a view of the sky.

2.  Take your stick and push it into the ground.


Land Navigation using the Sun
Place the stick in the ground.

3.  The sun will cast a shadow off the stick.  Place a marker on the tip of the shadow.  (I am using a rock).


Mark the first shadow tip. I have a blanket on the ground so you can visual see the tip of the shadow better. 

4.  Wait 15 minutes and then mark the second tip of the shadow with your second marker.  This becomes your east/west line.


Mark the second shadow tip (This is my east west line)

5. Take your left foot and place it behind the first marker you put down.  Then take your right foot and place it behind the second marker you put down.  You are now facing north.


You are facing North (If you are in the North Hemisphere)

Once you determine north than you will be able to get the other three cardinal directions.   The important thing that you must remember  when using this method is which hemisphere you are in.  If you are in the north hemisphere then you will be facing north when you have situated your feet (above).  If you are in the south hemisphere than you will be facing south when you have situated your feet (above).

The equator determines your north and south hemispheres.  The equator is an imaginary line that divides the earth in the center. Everything above it is in the north hemisphere and everything below it is in the south hemisphere.  The equator runs through the country of Ecuador that is located in South America.  Here in the United States we are in the North Hemisphere.

Conclusion

Using the sun can be an effective way to get you out of a bad situation when you do not have a compass, map or GPS.  If it is a cloudy or rainy day then this method will be difficult to use.  This technique is simple to set up given the materials needed and it is another is a survival tool you can add to your skill set.

Wilderness Backpacking Fitness

My Fitness Workout

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Being fit is important when it comes to actively exploring a wilderness area.  Fitness does not only apply to wilderness backpacking but all aspects of living a healthy life. I stay in shape for the latter

Backpacking in itself is a workout and my article on getting in shape by going backpacking is a great way to get fit.  This article focuses on exercises you can do when you are at home without getting a gym membership. All the equipment you need is in the privacy of your own home.

My workout routine consists of a 30-minute workout not including your cardiovascular exercise.   I recommend doing these exercises at least three times a week giving yourself 2 to 3 days off.


EXERCISE ROUTINE

Push-ups

A Push-up is a basic strength and body toning exercise that most of us have done.  Push-ups build the major upper body muscles consisting of the chest, shoulders, and upper back.  Push-ups should be done using proper form. If you are having difficulty performing this exercise there is a modification you can do. 

The modification is where you do the push-up off your knees.  This reduces your overall body weight allowing you to do this exercise.  Once you can do 25 modified push-ups then you can begin working on doing your push-ups in the basic formatted style.

*4 Sets o f 25 Repetition’s

Push ups

Modified Push ups
Modified Push ups

Planks

Planks are a core strength exercise that works the entire body.  Core muscles are those consisting of the midsection, (abdominal region, and back).  This exercise also works other muscles such as your shoulders, chest, and gluts.

Planks are a timed exercise. Your goal should be to do 4 sets each consisting of 2-minute durations.  The key to this exercise is to tense your abdominal and glut muscles.

*4 Sets of 2-minute durations

Planks

Pull-ups

Pull-ups can be a difficult exercise to do.  They focus on the upper body muscles (upper back, arms, shoulders).  It is an excellent exercise for backpackers who do mountaineering tasks, (climbing, rappelling, etc.).  You should not shy away from trying this exercise because you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.

If you cannot do a pull-up then here are some modifications you can do.  The first is the inverted pull-up.  The inverted pull-up uses a lower bar with your legs positioned in front of you.  This modification allows you to pull-up a reduced amount of your body weight.  The second modification is for you to jump up as you pull yourself up.

*4 Sets of 6 Repetition’s

Overhand Pull ups

Modified Pull ups

Step-ups

Step-ups are a lower body workout.  They work the muscles of your legs, (Quads, Ham String, Gluts).  Step-ups should be done on a solid and safe platform. You can do step-ups on a ladder, step stool, bench, etc.  Step-ups can be done at varying heights.  You select the height comfortable for you.    You should do 25 on each leg or you can alternate the repetitions.

*4 Sets of 25 Repetition’s each Leg

Step ups

Cardiovascular

Walking with a backpack in a wilderness is a cardiovascular exercise so why not incorporate it into this routine. Put on your backpack and load it with 30 to 50 pounds, and go for a walk in your neighborhood.Walking with your backpack prepares you for your wilderness adventure. You should do this exercise a minimum of 3 up to 5 times a week. When doing this exercise vary your pace as you walk.

You may want to conduct some type of interval training while doing this.  For example, walk every other a tenth of a mile at a faster pace.  Shoot for a minimum of 2 miles when performing this exercise.

*2 miles 3 to 5 times a week

Cardiovascular Fitness with a Backpack
Cardiovascular Fitness with a Backpack

Workout Routine Synopsis

  1. Push-ups                4 Sets of 25 Repitions (3 times a week)
  2. Planks                     4 Sets of 25 Repitions (3 times a week)
  3. Pull-ups                  4 Sets of 25 Repitions (3 times a week)
  4. Step-ups                 4 Sets of 25 Repitions (3 times a week)

*Do the above 4 exercises one right after another for your 4 sets*

  • Cardiovascular               2 miles 3 to 5 times a week (3 times a week)

CONCLUSION

Backpacking and its health benefits
Joshua and I after a workout

You can modify this fitness routine to meet your needs.  It is a routine that is quick and can be done in the privacy of your own home.  It utilizes basic exercises that have been around for many years.  The simplicity of this routine is what makes it appealing to me.  I have seen great results doing this routine, and I believe that it will help you physically live a healthier life.


My Fitness Routine 
Garmin inReach Explorer Plus

Garmin GPS inReach Explorer Plus

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus is modern technology that all wilderness backpackers should have with them on their wilderness adventures. As a solo backpacker I always carry a GPS Satellite Communicator with me. There are various types of satellite communicators in the market. I have used different types and the Garmin inReach Explorer Plus is my first choice when I decide to head into a rugged and remote wilderness area.

The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus is the newest version of the older Delorme InReach Explorer. Garmin acquired Delorme and they merged companies. Garmin then came out with the new InReach Explorer Plus.

The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus has many new features with an upgraded ergonomic look and feel. One of the new features this unit has is the 24K topographical map. The earlier version (Delorme inReach Explorer) did not. The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus uses a text messaging system to communicate with family and friends using satellites.

A paid subscription is required to use this feature. This unit will also allow family and friends to track you on a map anywhere in the world. The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus can connect to your phone via Bluetooth so you can type with ease and view a larger screen. The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus uses the Iridium satellite system to send and receive texts.



As with all GPS communicators, there is some lag time when sending and receiving these messages depending on where the satellites are positioned in the sky. If you are indoors or in an area without a clear view of the sky sending and receiving a message may be difficult as well. The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus allows you to do some of the following:

• Send and Receive text messages 
• Get weather forecasts based on where you are located.
• View a built-in Topographical map.
• Send SOS messages in emergencies (subscription required).
• Set waypoints and routes.

The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus uses a subscription service for its data capabilities. The unit can be used with its GPS functions without paying for this service.  If you do not have the subscription then the data communication to include SOS features will not work. 

Garmin offers different subscription plans. One of the plans is called the Freedom plan. This plan allows you to use the Garmin inReach Explorer Plus on a month-to-month basis.  Utilizing this plan allows you to put the unit in a suspend mode and you do not insure any fees. For further information on the plans go the Garmin web page at https://explore.garmin.com/en-US/inreach/

Garmin inReach Explorer Plus
Garmin inReach Explorer Plus in the Ocala Wilderness

Conclusion

The Garmin inReach Explorer Plus is a vast improvement over its predecessor. The ergonomics of the inReach Explorer Plus mimics many of Garmin’s other top-selling GPS units. I have posted (2) videos below. The first video is my review of the functions and features of the unit.   The second is my field test. These videos will give you a better insight on the Garmin inReach Plus Explorer.


Garmin inReach Explorer Plus (Functions and Features)

Garmin inReach Explorer Plus (Field Test)
Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Getting in Shape by going Wilderness Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Wilderness backpacking can provide you health benefits that a gym membership cannot.  Backpacking can be physically and mentally challenging.  These challenges allow you to be an adventurer and you get to see scenic wonders that a gym does not offer.

I believe that an individual’s overall health relies on them being physically fit and having mental stability.  Having one without the other can cause imbalances in your life.   Someone can be physical fit but if they are mentally depressed that imbalance can lead to many serious issues.  So how does backpacking support overall health?  I will discuss how this is accomplished.

Physical Health

I stay physically fit to take on the challenges in a wilderness area.  Staying fit can be difficult for many people who have families and careers.   Our modern day technological advancements have made life easier for everyone but it has also made us lazy and sedentary.  Many people find themselves avoiding fitness because of their daily routines.

In the past, pioneers did not have gym memberships to stay in shape.  Pioneers settled in rugged wilderness areas and they worked the land to stay fit.  Backpackers are like pioneers they carry their own gear traversing the rugged wilderness landscape.  Backpacking makes you use many muscle groups to include your core muscles. 

The core muscles are the muscles located around your midsection (abdominal, pelvic, and lower back).   Core muscles are your stabilizer muscles which help you walk, run, bend over, and keep your balance.  Some individuals who go to a gym neglect these core muscles and focus more on their arms and legs.  Backpacking with a weighted backpack is a continuous exercise.  It requires that your core muscles maintain your body posture while balancing the added weight.  Backpacking is also a very efficient way to burn off many calories which means weight loss.

Another important muscle in your body is your heart, (cardiovascular system). The cardiovascular benefits of walking with a weighted backpack can be far more beneficial than running on a treadmill.  Putting on a backpack and walking up and down inclines and through rugged terrain is a great way to build up your cardiovascular system.

When you workout at a gym usually you workout by yourself.  Backpacking on the other hand allows you to workout with other backpackers unless you choose to go solo. Backpackers who have families can take them on adventures and experience a bond that they will not find back home.

The physical benefits of backpacking are:

  • Weight loss (Calories burned off during your adventure)
  • Cardiovascular fitness (Walking with a backpack in rugged terrain)
  • Improved strength (Using all muscles especially your core muscles during your adventure).

The one main benefit of backpacking is that your workout is done in a scenic atmosphere and not in a crowded gym.  Having this scenic backdrop makes you thing less of the physical workout and more of your surroundings.  This can also be a psychological boost which can enhance your workout.  Working hard to get to the top of a mountain so you can see for miles is an accomplishment that makes the physical workout worth it.

Mental Health

A person’s mental health goes hand in hand with physical fitness.  We all have our daily stresses that affect us differently.  These stresses can be very emotional.  We may become depressed, excited, or show signs of anxiety. Changing your environment and putting yourself in a wilderness area will help you overcome many of these mental challenges.  Planning a backpacking adventure is the start.

Your adventure gives you something to look forward to.  Much goes into pre-planning your adventure and it will keep you busy.  Once you are in the wilderness you have taken yourself out of your routine and the environment becomes your focus.  The scenery and challenges of navigating through the terrain makes you focus on your safety and enjoyment.

Backpacking is a way to mentally cleanse your mind.  It’s like changing the oil in your vehicle.  Once the oil has broken down you change it so the engine continues to run efficiently and at peak performance.  Changing your environment helps refresh your mind with new sights and experiences.  This in turn allows you to forget about life’s daily stresses and it lets you enjoy the wilderness experience .

Wind River Range
Wind River Range

Conclusion

Wilderness backpacking can be physically demanding.  Getting physically fit is a benefit for backpackers but if you have never been backpacking or if you are out of shape I recommend starting out slowly.  Start with a day hike and work your way up to overnight trips. Go with others initially before you decide to go it alone.

A good way to begin is to put on a backpack and load it down with weight.  Put it on and go for a 2 to 5 mile walk around your neighborhood.  This is a great way to build your endurance and check your gear for fit.

Your mental state will also benefit from backpacking.  What you visual see, hear, and feel will reset the way you think.  I have been wilderness backpacking for many years, and I always come back from an adventure refreshed mentally.  I then look forward in planning my next adventure.

Remember to do your pre-planning before any trip.  Many individuals have gotten lost even on a day trip to a local park.  Have a topo map, GPS, compass and your cell phone with you.  Make sure that you have a backpack, (Go Bag), that has the essential gear to hold you over if you have to stay overnight.  I have posted articles on my website discussing what to do if you get lost and what gear you will need in your Go-Bag.

Remember that the challenge makes the adventure.  The adventure in turn keeps you physically and mentally fit.  So start planning your next adventure.  Your mind and body will thank you.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Choosing the right Water Filter for Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

When you head into a wilderness area you need to decide on how you will make the water you drink safe. There are (2) methods for doing this. The first is using a water filter system, and the second is using a water purification system.  Each system has its pros and cons. This article will discuss these methods so you can make an informed decision on which method to use.

The reason you need to treat the water you drink in any wilderness area is because of harmful microbes in the water.  Water filters and purification systems either remove or neutralize harmful microbes in the water.

Harmful Microbes

Some harmful microbes that you will encounter in a wilderness are:

Protozoa:  A disease-causing parasites such as (cryptosporidium, giardia).

Bacteria:  A Microorganism that becomes a parasite living off other organisms. An example is E -Coli (Escherichia Coli) .

Viruses:  A Microorganism that feeds off other organisms and replicates itself.  Examples include Hepatitis and Rotavirus.

Gila Wilderness

Gila Wilderness (NM)

 WATER FILTER SYSTEMS

Water filters remove protozoa and bacteria but they do not effectively remove viruses.  Water filters also remove floating sediments such as sand and other debris from water.  The effectiveness of a water filter to make drinking water safe relies heavily on it’s micron rating.  A micron is one millionth of a meter.

Most filter elements are made of fibrous strands.  The distance between these strands is the micron measurement.  The closer together these strands are the more microbes that filter element will remove. The smaller a micron rating the better the water filter is for removing harmful microbes.  (e.g. a .1 micron is better for filtering out microbes than a .2 micron filter is).

Most water filters for backpacker’s in today’s market are rated at .2 microns.  A .2 micron rating will filter out protozoa and bacteria .  They will not filter out viruses because a virus can get much smaller than .2 microns.

Types of Water Filters

  1. Pump Filters:

 A pump filter siphons water from a source.  Some models you squeeze others use a lever.  Katadyn and MSR are a few of the popular ones.   Most of these filters have a .2-micron rating with a few at a .1 rating. 

MSR makes a pump system called the MSR Guardian Purifier.  It is a filter and purifying system.  It is rated at .002 microns that will filter out many viruses.  I have not used this system, but it comes with a hefty price costing about  $350.00 dollars.  It is an all in one filter but the cost may defer many from buying it.  Although it is a great system there are much less expensive systems like the Katadyn Hiker Pro that are exceptional for North American Wilderness areas.

Pump Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Can reach water sources
  • Easy to maintain

Pump Cons:

  • They can be bulky
  • Filters are expensive to replace
  • Most do not filter out viruses.

 

2.  Gravity Filters

 Gravity filters are becoming a popular water filtration system for many backpackers, especially if you travel in groups.  Gravity filters are exactly what the name implies.  You fill up a bag full of dirty water and hang it up.  The weight of the water pushes it through a filter.  The filter is either in the bag, (such as a Katadyn), or it is connected inline on the outside of the system, (such as a Platypus system).  Most of these systems have a .2-micron rating.

Gravity Pros:

  • They can filter a larger quantity of water for a group of people
  • less labor intensive letting gravity do the work.

 Gravity Cons:

  • Filters can clog much faster than other systems
  • The water source may make it  difficult or impossible to retrieve the water
  • They do not filter out viruses (at present)

 

  1. Straw Filters

 Straw type filters are very easy to use and you drink directly from the water source.  These filters are great for the backpacker on the move.  The Life Straw is one well-known straw filter.

LifeStraw

LifeStraw (.2 Microns)

Straw Pros:

  • Lightweight and small
  • The are inexpensive
  • Easy to use

 Straw Cons:

  • They cannot fill containers
  • They do not filter out viruses (at present)
  • You have to drink close to the water source

PURIFICATION SYSTEMS

Purification methods rely on using a chemical such as chlorine, salt, iodine, etc. They usually come in a tablet form.  They are made to kill harmful microbes.  You may choose as many do to  boil the water killing the microbes.  Purification systems do not remove the floating or suspended sediments from the water.

Types of Purification Systems:

1. Tablets/Chemicals

Micropur MP1 Purification Tablets

Micropur MP1 Purification Tablets

Using chemicals, (i.e. tablets, solutions), to treat water has been around for quite a while.  When I was in the military, we had iodine tablets to purify our drinking water.  Chemicals are very effective in killing harmful microbes.  The down side is that there is a strong after taste when you have treated the water.  This process also does not remover suspended sediments.  Much of the newer chemical processes today are much better than when I used them.  Katadyn has the micropur tablet which purify your water with a less after taste. 

 

Tablet Pros:

  • Very small and portable
  • Effectively kills harmful microbes,

 Tablet Cons:

  • After taste of the chemical used
  • Does not remove suspended sediments
  • Waiting period (time) to effectively kill or neutralize microbes.

 

2.  UV (Ultra Violet) Process

Using a UV (Ultra Violet) method to purify water is becoming popular by many backpackers traveling outside the United States for their adventures. UV does not kill the microbe but it neutralizes it preventing it from reproducing.  Thus a virus will not reproduce in your body.  A very popular system is the Steripen

UV Pros:

  • More effective on viruses than chemicals
  • No chemical after taste
  • Immediate results
  • Economical for purifying large amounts of water

UV Cons:

  • Can break easily if not maintained
  • Relies on batteries
  • Suspended sediments are not removed from the water.

 

3.  Boiling Water

 Boiling water is the most effective way to kill microorganisms in your drinking water. It has been around for quite a while.  It is a well-known method and used throughout the world.    It can be time-consuming and you have to let the water-cool down before you drink it. 

 Boiling Pros:

  • Least expensive process
  • It kills all organisms

Cons:

  • Takes time to set up
  • You need a proper container to boil the water
  • Does not remove sediments.

Conclusion

Gila Wilderness

Gila Wilderness (NM)

Water filter and purification systems vary in their applications and use.  When deciding which system to use ask yourself the following (2) questions.

  1. Where you will use it? If you are going backpacking with a large group will gravity filter work better for your application then using a straw? 
  2. Is the water source easy to reach and retrieve?If the water source in a shallow tight area you may not be able to use a straw or you may not be able to retrieve it in a gravity bag.

I backpack in North America and I prefer using a water filtration system over a water purification systems.  I use a .2-micron level filter and I have not gotten sick from the water sources I have consumed.  I prefer using a pump filter, and I like that my filter system also takes out sediments. 

A pump system is very versatile for my applications.  I do not have to be at the level of the water source to use it like a straw filter.  If a water source is in a crack or crevasse I can lower the hose on my pump systems directly into the. 

I remember backpacking in Georgia, (Cohutta Wilderness), where water was difficult to find due to lack of rain. We came across a source that was flowing over some rocks.  The only way to retrieve it was to use a pump or straw.  The problem with a straw was that we could not fill our containers.  Having a pump allowed us to pump the water into a container.

I thought about having a gravity filter in my backpack for my basecamp use.  If I am near a river or stream I can scoop out a large bag of water bring it to my basecamp and let gravity do its job.  The nice thing about this is large amounts of water can be filtered using which allows you to take fewer trips to the water source. 

I will always carry a pump because a gravity filter can be time-consuming when you are on the trail or doing your daily expeditions.  I always have some micropur purification tablets in my Backpack for an emergency. They are lightweight and will get me out of a bad situation quickly.

As with many other types of backpacking gear you will decide which water system will work best for your needs.