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Smith and Wesson

My Backpacking Handgun

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Backpacking with a handgun/rifle is a choice that you need to make based on your KSA’s, (Knowledge Skills and Abilities).  Knowing and understanding how to properly deploy any firearm requires you to train with it.  When I go wilderness backpacking I carry a Smith and Wesson (Model 329 PD) .44 magnum revolver.  I also carry on occasion my AR7 (.22 survival rifle), with me. I find that carrying a handgun reduces the bulk of carrying a rifle for protection. My AR7 is also compact and it makes for a good survival rifle.

Before you carry a firearm into a wilderness area please make sure that you are familiar with the type of firearm that you will carry, (handgun or rifle), and fire it at the range.  Become proficient in deploying it properly and accurately.  Make sure that you research the laws,  state and local, before you carry it with you.  I posted an article on carrying a firearm in a wilderness areas in Florida that you can read here on my website, (Backpacking with a Firearm, Florida State Statute).

Why Do I Carry A Firearm:

I carry a firearm into a wilderness area for the same reason many others do and that is for protection.  I do not carry it into a wilderness area to indiscriminately shoot it at different targets.  It is a defense tool for wildlife and humans who seek to do me harm. 

WILDLIFE:

There are various large species of wildlife found in North America that can pose a threat to you while backpacking. Those species may be Bears, (Brown and Black), Cougars/Mountain Lions, and Moose, to name a few of the larger species. These species for the most part will not bother you and you may never see them.    If confronted by these animals and an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death is likely then you will need to stop that threat.  A firearm used properly can do this.  A firearm that is not accurately deployed may also piss off and further anger the animal even more. 

A firearm that is under powered may also not affect an attacking animal.  You must also ensure that you also have the right caliber handgun with you on any adventure.  My three choices for handgun calibers are:

  • .44 Magnum
  • 10 mm
  • .357 Magnum

There are those that will carry a firearm other than the one I listed above. Those handguns can also be effective in stopping the threat and that will be based on your abilities to place rounds on target. A .22 caliber weapon is a great survival weapon and it can take down large animals with good shot placement.  I have also seen those individuals carrying air rifles into the field as a survival rifle.  Air rifles are good survival weapons for taking down small game, but I do not endorse them for protection against large attacking animals. 

Maybe in the future as they develop it may be a viable option for wilderness backpackers.  For those not wanting to carry a firearm then Bear Spray is a must and I carry Bear Spray on most of my adventures.  Bear Spray is an effective alternative to carrying a firearm and I also have posted an article on that topic here on my website, (Bear Spray vs. a Firearm).

HUMANS:

You must also consider that there may be individual(s) in the wilderness that want to do you harm.  We are seeing more documented attacks on backpackers in the wilderness. A firearm may deescalate the threat or put you on equal grounds with the individual(s) threatening you.  There was a tragic attack in May of this year, (2019), involving 2 backpackers that were hiking the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.  They were attacked by a man with a knife.  One of the backpackers an Army Veteran with three tours in Iraq was killed and another severely injured.  That suspect, who had criminal history to include mental health problems, was caught.

It is unfortunate that that the violence we see in our urban areas is now spreading into the wilderness. Protection is something you must think about and if you do not carry a firearm have some type of weapon with you and have a plan on how to use it if you are attacked.  I have talked about and written articles about wilderness safety and safety devices such as a trip wire alarm system that I have posted here on my website, (Basecamp Perimeter System, How to Stay Safe While Backpacking).

My Choice Of Firearm:

I Choose to carry a .44 magnum.  A .44 mag will deal with most of the threats you may encounter in a wilderness area.  I also recommend, as I stated above, the .357 magnum and 10mm handgun.   The reason I like the Smith and Wesson (Model 329 PD) is for the following reasons:

Smith and Wesson 329 PD
  • It is lightweight, (A little over 25 ounces, empty). The frame is made of Scandium a strong and lightweight alloy, the cylinder is titanium another strong and lightweight alloy, and the barrel is stainless steel.
  • It is a .44 caliber making it sufficient to effectively deal with most threats in a wilderness area.
  • It is a Revolver, which means it has fewer moving parts and it can be more readily maintained in the field.

The 2 down sides for this revolver is that you do not have the round capacity as you would have with a semi auto handgun.  This revolver also has a kick to it that a semi auto handgun does not. 

Alaskan Chest Holster

My Chest Holster for my .44 Mag

CONCLUSION

Carrying a firearm is a choice that you will have to make.  If you do please make sure that you practice good weapon safety.  Having a firearm with you can give some a false sense of security if it cannot be properly deployed.  Make sure you choose a good holster and get some range time in with it. You can also practice at home, with an unloaded firearm, on quick and accurate deployment.  If you choose to carry a rife the same rule applies.

Blue Range Primitive

Measuring Distance on a Topo Map

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Measuring distance on a topographical map is not difficult and there are different techniques for you to use when measuring distance.  Measuring distance is important because it gives you the opportunity to do two things. First, it will allow you to examine the terrain in the area you will be exploring.  Second, it will allow you to establish a timetable on how long it will take you to travel from one point to another.  That timetable will be based on your physical capabilities, which would be speed of travel.

My technique to measure distance on a topographical map utilizes a pencil and clean piece of paper.  You then will need to look at the Legend of the map. The Legend gives you important information and references about your map. One of those references is the scale of the map giving you distance measurements.

PROCEDURE:

1. Take the sheet of paper and lay it under the scale of your map.The scale will have length in miles and kilometers.  The below picture shows the scale with miles and kilometers.

Land Navigation

2. Place the corner of the sheet of paper on the zero portion of your scale and then mark out the tick marks on the paper with your pencil. In the below picture you see that the scale on this map has me mark out .5, 1,  2, and 3 miles.

3. Next, find your starting point on the map. On this map it is the Turkey Creek Trailhead.

Land Navigation

4. Put your scale on the starting point. Use your pencil to begin pivoting on the trail. Continue following the trail using your pencil to pivot your scale along points of the trail. Continue doing this until you determine the length of distance between your 2 points.  (See You Tube Video Below). Use a pencil on the map so you can erase it if needed.

Trails are not all straight and using this method allows you to accurately pivot around turns and curves on any trail.  This method should be used in your pre-planning method and it can be used in the field as well.  You can also use other methods such as using a piece of thread or even 550/paracord, (the strands inside the 550/paracord), to measure a length of trail. You can then take the thread or paracord and use the scale in the legend to determine your distance. This method, using a thread/paracord, can be a little difficult when measuring out tight turns but it is a viable choice to use in the field.

The above technique, (paper and pencil), is a very easy and accurate way to  measure distance on a Topo map. Please see my video below for further information on this technique.

Using a Military Protractor on a Topo Map

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Land Navigation is a topic I enjoy teaching.  Understanding the basics of Land Navigation will make your wilderness adventure enjoyable and more importantly safe.  This lesson will discuss how to use a military protractor on a topographical to get an azimuth/bearing.  A protractor is an instrument used to help you measure angles (360 degrees) on a map.  Protractors come in different shapes.  The more popular shapes are:  

PROTRACTOR TYPES:

  • Circle
  • Semi-Circle
  • Square
  • Rectangle

In this lesson, I will be using a square (military) protractor which I learned to use in the Army.  This protractor has the following features:

FEATURES:

  • Mils Scale (6400 mils 1 mil = 17.8 degrees)
  • Degrees Scale (360 degrees)
  • Index Point (Center point of the protractor where the baseline and horizontal line crosses).
  • Baseline
  • Grid Coordinate Scale (1/50000, 1/100000, 1/25000, 1/250000)
Military Protractor
Components of a Military Protractor

USING THE PROTRACTOR:

In this lesson, we will be using 2 components of the above protractor. The (360) degrees scale and the index point.  The other components will be discussed later in another lesson. Some individuals cut away the mils portion of the protractor because it is rarely used for land navigation.  Units in the military such as the artillery will use the mils scale for accuracy.  Below is a picture of a protractor that has a cut away mils scale.  The below protractor also has duct tape around its border.  The reason you may want to put tape on the back of a protractor is because the black lettering on a protractor blends in with many topo maps. The tape allows for more contrast and it allows you to see the black degree tick marks we will use to get the azimuth.  I used gray duct tape but any dark colored tape will work.

Protractor with Mils scale cut away and tape on back for contrast

  1. Find a point on a map that you will begin from when plotting an azimuth. In the below map lets say we are starting from (hilltop #1).
  2. Next find your destination point. In the below map our destination point will be (hilltop #2) .
  3. Draw a line from your starting point, (hilltop #1), to your destination point, (hilltop #2). Use a pencil so you can erase afterwards.

Starting point #1 (Hilltop) to ending point #2 (Hilltop)

Place your index point on your protractor on hilltop #1.  Make sure that the baseline is parallel to a nearest grid line on your map. There are many grid lines on a map to choose from so use the one nearest to your starting point, (hilltop #1). 

Military Protractor

Topo Map Grid Lines to use when signing up your Protractor

Follow the line you drew from your index point to the degrees scale.  The azimuth is 327 degrees.  This is your map grid azimuth from hilltop #1 to hilltop #2.  Now you are ready to convert this grid azimuth over to a magnetic azimuth on your compass.  If you use a compass such as the Suunto MC-2G compass you can set the compass to the magnetic declination of your topo map so no conversion is necessar. If you need to convert the grid azimuth because you do not have this feature on your compass then go to this article I wrote on how to do so, Magnetic Declination

Protractor Azimuth

327 Degree Grid/Map Azimuth

CONCLUSION:

Basic land navigation is becoming a lost skill.  This skill is being forgotten because of modern day technology, (GPS units), which we all use in the wilderness.  I always carry a GPS with me and you should to.  Understanding basic land navigational skills will allow you to navigate a wilderness area if this technology goes down or you run out of battery power.  I have a section on different land navigational topics/skills here on my website under Backpacking Blog: Land Navigation, for your review.

Backpacking the Blue Range Primitive

My Adventure into the Blue Range Primitive

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

My adventure into the Blue Range Primitive (Blue), in Arizona was epic, (April 27 – May 1).   I spent five days and four nights in this remote and rugged wilderness area. The Blue Range Primitive is one of the last designated areas to be called a Primitive in this country.  A Primitive is in its essence a Wilderness area.  The Blue was designated a Primitive in 1938.  The wilderness act of 1964 changed the terminology from Primitive to Wilderness. This area has been on my list of wilderness areas That I wanted to explore.

I spent two nights in Alpine, Arizona before my trip into the Blue by acclimating myself to the high elevations of this wilderness area.  I traveled on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (US-191) to get into Alpine. This highway was named after the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who explored this area in 1540. This long stretch of road brings many to this area for its very scenic views especially around the Mogollon Rim. The elevations in this area range between 8000 to almost 10000 feet above sea level. 

I stayed in a motel called the Sportsman’s Lodge, which is approximately about 22 miles from the trailhead I started from. Below are some pictures of the Sportsman’s Lodge, (owner Frank), the Bear Wallow Cafe where I had a nice dinner, and the sign for US-191. The Apache National Forest Ranger Station is also located in Alpine, Arizona.

(Above) Pictures from my stay in Alpine Arizona

I began my adventure from the Hannagan Meadow trailhead located off off 191. There was some residual snow at the trailhead with some downed trees that I had to move.  Once at the trailhead I signed the roster at the information kiosk. The kiosk had some good information on the 2 trails available for you to travel from this trailhead, (Steeple trail and the Foote Creek trail).  I took the Steeple Trail, (#73), south and I worked my way to trail #65, heading east  This trail is a primitive trail that paralleled Grant Creek. 

As I worked my way along this trail, I found myself going over downed trees and doing a lot of creek crossings. I was glad that I had my water shoes on this trip.  The temperatures were in the lower 70’s which was very pleasant. (Below are pictures of the Hannagan Trailhead, Kiosk, and the trail sign for the Foote Creek and Steeple trail.

(Above) Hannagan Meadow Trailhead Photos

 At the 6 mile point into my journey, I began seeing the bones of large elk and deer.  These animals are a food source for the Mexican Gray Wolthat inhabitthis area.  The Mexican Gray Wolf, also known as the El Lobo, are an endangered species. These wolves roamed the Southwest portion of the United States before European settlers began populating this region. There were thousands of these wolves that were hunted and poisoned to almost near extinction by the 1970’s. 

In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act.  By this time, there were only seven of these Gray Wolves left. All of which were in Mexico and none in the United States. A wolf recovery program was developed and the Mexican Gray Wolf was re-introduced into Arizona and New Mexico in the mid-1990s. There are approximately 100 of these Wolves roaming these areas today. (Below are pictures of some of the bones I saw on my adventure).

(Above) Various Bones I came across during my Adventure

On my first nightI set up my basecamp off Grant Creek a mile from Moonshine Park. It was a long day of slow travel as I navigated this primitive trail.  Once at my basecamp, I began a fire and dried out my boots and socks. I had a nice meal by the fire while relaxing and reflecting on my days journey to this point.  That evening was relatively quiet and I heard some wild turkeys not far from my camp. I enjoyed the cooler temperatures which got down into the 40s that evening. Around midnight I experienced some severe leg cramps in my hamstrings. These leg cramps were from my strenuous exercise getting to this basecamp. 

I had been drinking plenty of water, but I wasn’t replenishing the salts and minerals that I was sweating out. I corrected the situation by implementing the use of electrolyte replenishment packets I had with me.  I slept outside under the stars without a tent enjoying the night’s view and cool temperatures. I stayed warm in my sleeping bag, (Sierra Design Mobile Mummy) with my Klymit insulated air mat. (Below are pictures of my first basecamp, my fire, and a partially built cabin nearby).

(Above) Pictures from my different Basecamps

On Day 2, I awoke and started a fire.   I had a warm breakfast as checked my top map and planned my next route.  I broke camp and I traveled to Moonshine Park which was an open flat scenic area that in many ways looked like a large park you would see in the city.  There was some green grass with many trees surrounded by hills.  I observed a lot of bones from elk and other animals in this area. This area was probably the hunting grounds for the Mexican Gray Wolf.

I contemplated on setting up a basecamp here but water was scarce. There was a mud hole here which looked like a watering hole for the local wildlife.  The water was not suitable for consumption due to the wildlife contaminants.  If you needed water you would have to travel a distance back to Grant Creek.  I spent some time in Moonshine Park walking the area taking both videos and pictures as I enjoyed the view.  (Below are pictures of Moonshine Park with that muddy watering hole).

(Above) Pictures from Moonshine Park

I set up my 2nd basecamp near Grant Creek.  I started a fire and settled in for a cool evening.  As I was relaxing by my fire,I did a perimeter check around my Basecamp sometime after 2000 hours, using my Petzl headlamp.  As I was scanning the area, I came across a pair of orange and green eyes less than 50 yards from my basecamp. these eyes belonged to a Mexican Gray Wolf that was watching me.  It was exciting to see this endangered species roaming the wild next to my camp.

As it stood there watching me, I took a picture of it. The picture came out grainy but you can make out the features of this endangered animal.  I estimated it’s size to be between 90 to 100 pounds. After five minutes, the wolf continued its track along a trail looking for food. After it left, I took out my floor Flir TK Scout (thermal imager) and I did a scan of my area wondering if there were other wolves around me. I saw none.  These wolves hunt in packs at night, and I am sure there were others around. This was a great experience for me and one that I will remember.  (Below are 2 pictures of the wolf and my second basecamp).

I went to sleep not long after my encounter enjoying the cool nights.  I heard howling from these wolves until the early morning hours. I awoke the next morning to a red overcast sky.  I checked the weather forecast on my Garmin Inreach Explorer Plus and it stated that rain was moving in. I broke camp and began heading west along Grant Creek.  I made it to my third base camp, day 3,  in an open area which looked like a prairie.   I spent my last two nights on my five day adventure in this area.  (Below are pictures of my 3rd Basecamp with a creek near by).

Not long after I set up my basecamp rain moved in quickly. The timing was perfect, as I just completed setting up my tent when the rain moved in. The temperatures quickly dropped into the 50s. It rained for about an hour as I stayed dry in my tent.  After it stopped raining, I started a small fire and had dinner.  There was a creek close by and I was able to get water easily and quickly.   (Below are pictures of me preparing dinner and a night picture of me getting water by my basecamp).

 I went to bed early that evening, and I awoke about midnight too loud thunder and lightning.  The temperatures were in the freezing range and the rain turned into hail as it was hitting my tent. The rain subsided sometime after 0130 hours and the temperatures dipped into the upper 20’s by 0500 hours.  I awoke around 0630 hours and started a fire with a quarter moon above. I had breakfast and I began exploring the area.  I conducted some camp maintenance and repairs on some damaged gear. (Below are pictures of the elevation, temperature, hail, and frost on my tent).

 That afternoon was sunny with the temperatures in the upper 60’s.  I was able to sit under the blue skies and reflect on my adventure up to this point.  I took many pictures and videos of the area.  There were no bones around my basecamp that I could see, but I did see the tracks of many different animals elk, deer and wolf. I saw nbear tracks on my adventure.  I had a sense during the day that something was watching me but I saw nothing. 

I did have a tree fall not to far from my camp but many of the trees in that area had been damaged by fire so it was not that unusual.  I made sure that I set all of my 3 basecamp’s up during my adventure utilizing the acronym that I came up with (W. E. S. S.), (Water, Elevation, Security, and Safety). I finished day four with a warm basecamp fire and meal. (Below are pictures of me at my basecamp and charging up my gear via solar panel).

CONCLUSION

If you are looking for an adventure where few travel than I highly recommend you planning an adventure into the Blue. There are many good trailheads you can start from with plenty of loop hikes to choose from.  Make sure that you carry a GPS, Compass, and a good Topographical map.

Much of the trails in this area were damaged by the Wallow fires and you will have to do some bushwhacking to navigate around the downed trees. It is a remote and rugged area and you will definitely have an adventure to talk about for many years to come. You may even encounter a Mexican Gray Wolf which will definitely make the experience more memorable.

Video on My Blue Range Primitive Adventure
Backpacking in the Blue range Primitive

A Mexican Gray Wolf Came Into My Basecamp

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I recently returned from my adventure into the Blue Range Primitive.  The Blue Range did not disappoint me.  It was rugged and remote.  I saw no one out there, and I did allot of bushwhacking in this beautiful Alpine wilderness located in the eastern part of Arizona bordering New Mexico.  The area was very scenic, and I am working on doing a separate article documenting my entire adventure.  This article is about a specific encounter I had in this wilderness area with a Mexican Gray Wolf.  My contact with this wolf happened at my basecamp on the second night of my adventure. 

I had been following Grant’s Creek navigating east toward Moonshine Park.   As I was navigating, I found an area off the creek to set up my basecamp.  Not long after getting my basecamp set up I started a fire to warm myself for the cold evening that was slowly rolling in.  I had a nice fire going and I ate my meal while I reflected on my day’s activity.  I started scanning the perimeter of my basecamp with my headlamp when I hit on two eyes across the creek.  The colors of the eyes were orange and green and they changed intermittently as I moved my headlamp. 

I found this unusual and I increased the intensity of my light. As I did this, the object moved and I saw that is was a Mexican Gray Wolf on a game trail watching me.  It stopped as I moved my light, and It stayed in place curiously focused on me.  The area around me had many bones from elk that were probably taken down by these Mexican Gray Wolves. My research told me that elk in the Blue Range are a food source for these wolves.  I was definitely in their hunting area.

Bones I found Throughout my Adventure

Elk Bone

As I watched the wolf, I wondered if there were other wolves nearby.  This wolf was out looking for food and they usually hunt in packs. Hunting in packs allow them to take down the large elk in this area. I began looking around the perimeter of my basecamp looking for others wolves that may have infiltrated or surrounded my camp.  I knew through my research of these wolves that they are a curious breed that could be scared off by humans if threatened.  My fire was going strong and I continued to watch my friend.  I had my Flir thermal imager with me and it was not readily available for me to get it. My concern was the wolf and what its next move would be. It was less than 50 yards from my location and I estimated its size to be approximately 90 pounds. 

Pictures of the Mexican Gray Wolf I saw

After a few minutes, the wolf began moving along the creek paralleling it heading east toward Moonshine Park.  I was able to get a picture of it using my cell phone with my headlamp shining on it.  The picture came out grainy, but you are able to see in the center of the picture what the wolf looks like, (tail and head).  After it was out of my sight I grabbed my thermal imager and scanned the area for other wolves with negative results.  I went to sleep not long after my encounter hearing the sound of howling wolves. The experience to see this endangered species on my wilderness adventure was amazing. 

Below is my video of my thoughts right after the encounter and a video taken the next morning.  In the morning video, I show you where I saw the wolf the night before.  

My video discussing my encounter with a Mexican Gray Wolf

The American Backpacker

Rucking Up For My Next Adventure

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I call this article rucking up which means that I am getting ready for my next backpacking adventure outside of Florida. I am heading to the Blue Range Primitive located in the east portion of Arizona bordering New Mexico. I am going for a 5 day 4 night expedition. The Blue Range Primitive is located in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. I have been wanting to go into this remote and rugged wilderness area for quite a while. I finally have the resources, (money and time off from work), to take the trip. I am currently doing the logistics on this trip which encompasses getting flights, rental car, hotels, and many other things that I will need to make this adventure safe and successful. For a detailed planning guide see my article on, How to Prepare for a Backpacking Adventure. I plan on heading out on this adventure sometime at the end of April.

Blue Range Primitive

Blue Range Primitive Located in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (Arizona)

Before areas were designated wildernesses they were called Primitive. The Blue Range Primitive is the last designated primitive area established in 1933. In essence, a primitive is a wilderness area which follows the same rules that govern a wilderness area. The Blue Primitive is approximately 174,000 thousand Acre of remote and rugged landscape. Water is scarce in many parts with the trails difficult to follow. This is exactly what I am looking for when I want an adventure. Stay tuned for my adventure with an article and pictures to follow.

Backpacking the Wind River Range (Wyoming)

Navigating A Wilderness Area Using Terrain

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Land Navigation is a topic that I enjoy writing and talking about.  Modern technology, such as GPS units have made it much easier for wilderness backpackers to head out and safely navigate wilderness terrain.  I enjoy using this technology, but I also know that this technology can run out of power, (batteries dying), or the satellite network may go down. When these unexpected events happen it could leave you lost in the wilderness. Knowing basic land navigation skills will keep you from getting lost.

Using a map and compass is becoming a lost skill as our society advances.  This article is about a basic land navigational skill know as terrain association. Using this method requires you to visually identify terrain features around you. This method can be used without a compass and map but I do not recommend you doing this. You should have a compass and map with you so you can identify these terrain features on your map. There may be a situation for whatever reason that you do not have a compass and map and using terrain association is a field expedient way to for you to navigate.

Wind River Range (Wyoming) Bridger Wilderness
Wind River Range (Wyoming) In this picture you have various terrain features that you can visually use (Hilltops, saddles, spurs, draws)

Terrain association is an ancient method that has been used by adventurers of the past and it is still be used today by many backpackers. Terrain association can help you stay on track or it can guide you from one point to another and back.  To use terrain association you need to be able to identify the 5 major and 3 minor terrain features on a map.  You may also use other prominent landmarks in the wilderness area such as large boulders, trees, or other objects to help you navigate. Below is a review of the 5 major and 3 minor terrain features.

5 Major Terrain Features

Hilltop:     

An area of high ground sloping down in all directions. You can use a hilltop as a reference point as you navigate to it.

Saddle:      

A low point between two areas of high ground (Hilltop). A saddle is another good reference point to navigate to.

Ridge:        

A sloping line of high ground in 3 directions. You can use a ridge as a path to follow and return back to your original starting point.

Valley:       

An area formed by streams or rivers. You may use a valley or stream as a guidance point as you are navigating.

Depression:   

A low point or sinkhole. A depression is a good reference point

Backpacking the Superstition Mountains (Tonto National Forest)
Superstition Mountains (Tonto National Forest)

3 Minor Terrain Features

Spur:  

An area jutting out from a ridge. A spur can be used as a reference point

Draw: 

A less developed stream course with the ground sloping upward in 3 directions. A draw can be used as a reference point.

Cliff:   

A drop-off or abrupt change in various terrain. A cliff can be used as a reference point.

Backpacking the Superstition Mountains (Tonto National Forest)
Superstition Mountains (Tonto National Forest)

Using the above terrain features along with a compass and map is a solid foundation for navigating in ay wilderness area.  Using terrain is one technique but you can also use other prominent landmarks to navigate. These can be.

  • Rivers
  • Streams
  • Lakes
  • Rock Cairns
  • Large boulders, trees, or other land-made structures such as towers.
  • Trails
  • Game trails

My favorite way to bushwhack is to use a river, stream, or creek.  This feature makes it much easier for you to navigate in all environments or weather.   Terrain association has its advantages for quick travel, but it also has its disadvantage when you are in low lying areas where there is thick vegetation and you have difficulty identifying specific terrain features or prominent landmark.  In this situation you need to have a compass with a good pace count as you travel from point to point much slower due to the thick vegetation.

Land navigation should be practiced before entering a wilderness area. When you are on your adventure take time to stop and identify these features or landmarks.  Many times, backpackers are so involved with getting in the distance/miles and they miss out on the wonders around them.  These wonders may save your life or the lives of others when you use them to navigate in a wilderness area.   

Short Video Clip on Using Terrain
Ocala National Forest

Backpacking The Alexander Springs Wilderness

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

The Alexander Springs Wilderness is located in the Ocala National Forest (ONF). The Alexander Springs is one of 4 wilderness areas in Ocala. I recently returned from an overnight adventure into this rugged wilderness area. I began from a portion of the Florida trail by the Alexander Springs Recreation area. This portion of the Florida Trail allows you to park your vehicle in a gated area overnight for a small fee, ($6 dollars a night). This part of the trail is one of the oldest sections of the Florida Trail. I headed South from the Alexander Springs Recreation area a few miles out and then I did some bushwhacking off the Florida Trail into the heart of the wilderness.

In the below video, I discuss how I bushwhack with other important land navigational skills you should know when backpacking any wilderness area. The weather was good with the day time temperatures in the mid to upper 70’s and the evening temps in the mid 50’s. The best time to take on the challenges of this wilderness area is during the winter months, (Nov-March). February and March are ideal since general hunting season runs between October through January.

The video below is my documented travels on this adventure.

Alexander Springs Wilderness located in the Ocala National Forest (Florida)

NEMO Hornet 2P Tent

NEMO Hornet 2P Tent (Field Test)

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I recently conducted a field test on the NEMO Hornet 2P Tent in the Ocala National Forest. This is my second article on this ultralight tent. My first article was my backyard setup discussing the specifications of this tent and its re-design features. My field test was conducted in the Alexander Springs Wilderness. One of four wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest.

I left from the Alexander Springs Recreation Area heading south on the Florida Trail. This section of the trail is one of the oldest portions of the Florida Trail. The temperatures were in the 70’s during the day and the evenings dropped down into the 50’s. Backpacking during this time of year in Ocala is very pleasant. The summer’s bring the heat and humidity which can be brutal if you are not prepared. I did some bushwhacking off the Florida Trail, and I set my basecamp up near the Alexander river. I found an elevated area with relatively flat ground. I had my basecamp setup in less than 30 minutes with time for me to explore my surroundings. Evening rolled in fast with a light fog giving the evening a mystic feeling.

When I choose a tent I look for 2 things. The first is comfort and second is protection. A good tent for me involves how easily I can move around within it and the protection it will provide for me during inclement weather. This is especially important if I have to stay in it for an extended period of time. There was no rain or bad weather during my stay. Below is a picture of the NEMO Hornet tent illuminated at night with my led headlamp in the top mesh pocket. This mesh pocket is designed to allow you to put a headlamp in this pocket that illuminates much of the tent.

NEMO Hornet 2P Tent (Ocala National Forest)
NEMO Hornet with my headlamp in the inner mesh pocket (Ocala National Forest)

Below is a video I shot discussing my thoughts on the tent. That video was also posted on my You Tube Channel. Overall I see the NEMO Hornet as my go to tent for future adventures in remote and rugged wilderness areas.

My Field Test of the NEMO Hornet 2P Tent
NEMO Hornet 2P Tent

Nemo Hornet 2P Tent (Re-Designed)

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

The NEMO Hornet 2 Person tent is a 3 season ultra-light double walled tent made for some remote and rugged wilderness backpacking. The NEMO Hornet is not a new tent for backpackers but a newly redesigned version that gives you more head and foot space volume. NEMO designs quality tents with a lifetime warranty. Below are the specifications from their website on the newly redesigned Hornet 2P Tent.

Specifications and Sizing

Capacity2
Seasons3
Minimum Weight1 lb , 15 oz / 878 g
Packed Weight2 lb , 6 oz / 1.08 kg
Packed Size19.5 x 5.5 in dia / 50 x 14 cm dia
Peak Height39 in / 98 cm
Floor Area27.5 sq ft / 2.6 sq m
Floor Dimensions85 x 51/43 in / 215 x 130/108 cm
Vestibule Area7.1 sq ft + 7.1 sq ft / 0.7 sq m + 0.7 sq m

The above specifications come from the NEMO website. The specification card that comes with the NEMO Hornet has the minimum weight of 1 lb 14 oz. and the packed weight is 2 lbs 4 oz.

The NEMO Hornet has 3 design changes that I will discuss and illustrate. The first redesign change are the (2) patent pending Flybar attachments located at the top of the tent. These Flybars expand the upper canopy allowing for more headroom.

Pictured above are the (2) Flybar attachments

The second redesign change is the placement of a rigid stay bar located at the corners of the foot box. This design allows for the foot box area to remain open when tension is applied to the corners of the tent canopy tie down cords. The stays are made of some type of flexible poly tubing sewn into the tents corners.

Pictured above are the two tie down lines. Between these tie downs there is a plastic poly tubing sewn into the tent preventing the corners from collapsing when tension is put on the cords.

The third redesign change are the smaller clips attaching the tent to the DAC poles.

Smaller clips used to attach the canopy to the poles.

The NEMO Hornets minimum weight is 1 pounds 14 ounces with a packed weight of 2 pounds 4 ounces, (this weight comes from the booklet that comes with this tent).  Minimum weight and packed weight can be confusing to understand.  The minimum weight of the tent includes the tent canopy, the rainfly, and the poles.  This weight equates to 1 pound. 14 ounces.   The packed weight includes the tent stakes, extra cordage, and repair kit.  This weight equates to 2 pounds 4 ounces.  I weighed my new tent and it came in at 2 pounds 6 ounces with everything included, (packed weight).  I used my fishing scale which is fairly accurate.

Pictures above taken from the NEMO Website

When I select a tent for my wilderness adventures I want to be comfortable in it.  I normally purchase a 2 person tent which for me usually means that it is a one person tent due to my size.  I am 6’3” tall and I weigh 235 pounds Comfort is very important especially if I have to stay in a tent for an extended period of time due to weather.  When I lay in this tent I have ample space to comfortably lay down and move around freely. I can sit up in the tent with no problems due to the increased headspace.

The Hornet has 2 side pockets and a mesh pocket on top of the tent. The top pocket allows you to put your headlamp in it to illuminate the tent at night. The top mesh pocket is designed to diffuse the light and amplify it throughout the tent. The Hornet has 2 large doors which allows you quick entry and exits from either side. Both doors allow me to store my gear on both sides when the rainfly is on. This is an added benefit for a single backpacker. If two people are utilizing the tent then they each have a door to enter and exit the tent. They also have their own storage area next to the their respective door.

The zippers on the door open and close very easily without binding up. The zipper on the rain fly also opens and closes easily. The seam on the rainfly is far enough away from the zipper which allows you to open and close without the flap getting caught in the zipper. I have had issues with opening and closing some rainflys. The zipper would get caught in the flaps of the rainfly causing some issues opening and closing especially if it rained and the rainfly was wet.

The tent is a semi free standing tent that requires you to stake out the footbox area for full functionality of this tent. The tent sells for approximately $350.00 dollars online. Before you purchase it make sure that you get the updated model since some retailer are still selling the older version at a reduced price without the above modifications.

There are many good tent designers and manufactures in the market. I currently use Big Agnes tents with no complaints. I have used NEMO in the past and with the redesign of this tent I expect to be using it frequently on my expeditions. I will be doing a field test on this tent with a video on that expedition. The below video is my backyard setup of this tent with me in it.

My Backyard Review and Specifications of the NEMO Hornet 2P Tent