Wilderness Articles

Backpacking in the Ocala National Forest

Choosing the right Clothing for Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

During the last quarter century the type of clothing wilderness backpackers wear has changed dramatically.  Today’s clothing is lighter, stronger, and more durable than clothing worn in the past.  Clothing provides a backpacker four things.

  • Protection from the weather (Sun, Wind, Rain Snow, etc.).
  • Protection from the environment (Poisonous plants, scratches and scrapes from other elements, etc.).
  • Comfort by providing you support and the ability to store items.

The material your clothing is made of is important in providing you the above protections and comfort.  There are still occasions where I see backpackers on the trail wearing clothing made from 100 percent cotton, (i.e. jeans). Cotton jeans are very durable and they have their uses but not on your backpacking adventure.  Cotton clothing is like a sponge that absorbs water and sweat that stays next to your skin.

This retention over a period of time will cause your skin to chaff or to develop a rash that can lead to a more severe skin irritation.  That retained water and sweat can also lead to hypothermia in cold weather climates.

So here are my recommendations for the type of clothing you need on your next wilderness adventure.

Material (Synthetic and Natural)

100 percent cotton is not advisable for you to wear.  The best type of material to have is a synthetic material comprised of PolyesterNylon, Spandex, or a natural material called Merino Wool.

Synthetic Materials:  Clothing using a synthetic material like polyester, nylon, and spandex are a great combination to wear in the wilderness especially in hotter/temperate climates. These synthetic materials allow water and sweat to be wicked away from your skin.  This means that the water and sweat evaporate quickly keeping you dry on those rugged backpacking adventures.  Wearing synthetic fabrics allows your skin to breath which helps regulate your body’s internal temperatures.

Synthetic clothing allows you to mix and match materials.  So your material can be 80 percent poly and 20 percent spandex.  You can even mix these synthetic blends with cotton.  A cotton blend works well giving you the comfort of cotton with the functionality of synthetic material to wick away moisture. Cotton blends have their limitations but they are very durable.  If you use a cotton blend you should limit the cotton to no more than 50 percent with the other 50 percent being a synthetic material (50/50).

There are many manufactures that produce some very high quality backpacking clothing (5.11, Kyrptec, Vertx, Tru-Spec Etc.).  The costs associated with synthetic clothing are higher than those made with 100 percent cotton but well worth it to make your stay in the back country more comfortable and safe.

Natural Materials:  The natural material I recommend is merino wool.  This material is made from the wool of certain sheep’s.  This natural material works well in both hot and cold climates.  The structure of the merino wool allows it to wick away moisture in the hotter climates and it also traps air between its layers to keep you warm in cooler climates. This dual function is adaptable to various wilderness environments.  Wool also has the ability to control odor.  Merino wool is expensive but again well worth your comfort and safety.

Suwannee River State Park (FL)
Columbia Titanium Shirt

Clothing Design

When it comes to the design of what you should wear I recommend wearing both long sleeves and long pants.  This is up for debate with some backpackers but wearing this combination will provide you well needed protection.  This protection comes from the sun, insects, and the environment.

When I was in the military I wore long sleeves and long pants.  The difference with the clothing I wore in the military verses the clothing I wear today is night and day.   Todays material allows me to wear long sleeves and pants with much more comfort.  There are also convertible pants as an option for those wanting to wear shorts that allow you to zip off your pant legs when needed.  You can also rollup long sleeves if you desire short sleeves..

Clothing designs have also changed in terms of styles and configurations. I enjoy having various pockets on my clothing.  The amount of pockets and types are much more functional then the standard pockets you see on jeans.  Pockets are not limited to your pants and many shirt designers have integrated them on the sleeves of their shirts.

Today’s designs also allow you to choose from wearing either and athletic cut or clothing with a more loose fit.  I have worn both and choosing one or the other is a personal preference for backpackers. The athletic cuts have more spandex in them that adheres close to your skin.  They also allow you to use lighter belts and in some designs you do not have to wear a belt at all due to the spandex waistbands.  I always like wearing a belt even though I might wear an athletic cut design.

Tru Spec Pants
Tru Spec Pants (Elastic Waist Band)

Insect Repellent: I always treat my clothing with an insect repellant that is called Permethrin.  This insect repellant is sprayed on the outer portion of your clothing to include your socks and boots.  It is a first line of defense when it comes to deterring insects from attaching themselves to your skin while you are backpacking.  Certain clothing can be purchased with an insect repellant in the material.  All clothing treated with this repellent needs to be reapplied after so many washes.

The American Backpacker using Permethrin insect repellent.
Permethrin Insect Repellent.

Conclusion

Having the right clothing can make or break your adventure.  Technology has advanced making what you wear more functional and comfortable in the most rugged wilderness environment.  There are very good manufactures in the market to choose from. Using a synthetic or merino wool material will allow you to have a lighter, durable, and more breathable outfit. This will result in a more comfortable and safer stay while you are backpacking.  As for designs, think about wearing long pants and sleeves for added protection and choose a style that fits your personality.

Hells Canyon Wilderness Over looking the Snack River


Backpacking in the Superstition Mountains Wilderness

My Top 3 Backpacking Adventures

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I have traveled to many remote and rugged wilderness areas in North America.  In this article I will give you my top 3 backpacking adventures to date.  I still have many more backpacking adventures so this list may be subject to changes in the future.  North America offers some unbelievable wilderness areas for you to plan a backpacking adventure.  I hope you have the opportunity to plan one of your adventures to my below top three wilderness destinations.

#3:  Superstition Mountain Wilderness (Arizona)

The Superstition Mountains are located in the Tonto National Forest (Sonoran Desert) in Arizona.  The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is what comes to mind when you hear about the Superstition Mountains.   This legend dates back to the late 1800’s when a German immigrant by the name of Jacob Waltz found a gold mine in the heart of the Superstition Mountains.  After his death in 1891, many treasure Hunters have sought that gold mine.  Many individuals have also died in this quest. This mine, (Fact or Fictitious) is still sought today and it brings many treasure hunters into this wilderness area.

I started my (4) day (3) night adventure from the Peralta Trailhead.  My adventure brought me past some open scenic views like Weavers Needle.  This wilderness area truly depicts the Southwest desert.  The backdrop of this area allows you to see for miles, which provided me with many great scenic shots.  Many old western movies were shot in this wilderness area.

I took the below picture on this adventure, which became my trademark photo for the American Backpacker.

Superstition Mountains (Arizona)
The Original Picture for Logo

The best time to travel to this wilderness area is during the winter months (November thru March) In the Summer months the temps will get into the 100’s.  The evening’s cools down considerably even in the summer.  The summer nighttime temps can get very cold (low 50’s) and the winter months will bring freezing temps at night.  The trails can be difficult to navigate so make sure that you preplan your route and have a good topo map.  I found that using large landmarks like Weaver’s Needle kept me on point.

Water can be found in the low lying areas during the winter months but the heat of the summer months make some of these areas dry up due to a lack of rain.  The rainy season occurs during the winter.  If you decide to head to this wilderness area be prepared to see what the Southwest desert offers and that is some very scenic landscapes that you will remember long after you leave so take allot of pictures and videos. Call the local Ranger Station before you get there to find out about water sources during your stay.

Superstition Mountains (Arizona)
Filtering water in the Superstition Mountain Wilderness

#2:  Hells Canyon Wilderness (Idaho)

The Hells Canyon wilderness encompasses approximately 217,615 acres and it covers two states, (Idaho and Oregon).  This wilderness is located in the Nez Perce National Forest.  The Hells Canyon Wilderness has the deepest River Gorge in North America with the Snake River running through it.  The well-known Snake River is the 9thlargest river in the United States, extending 1,040 miles. The Snake River is also where Evil Knievel attempted to jump this canyon over the Snake River using his Skycycle. This area also has the 7 notable mountain peaks called the Seven Devils Mountains Range.

Hells Canyon Wilderness
Hells Canyon Wilderness overlooking the Snake River (From the Dry Diggins Lookout Point)

My adventure began at the Windy Saddle trailhead in July, (Idaho side), and it lasted for 4 nights and 5 days.  I traveled through some very rugged and remote areas with dramatic changes in elevation making this a very strenuous adventure.  The wild landscape offers some of the best scenic views in North America.  On my trip I saw a various ecosystem made up of sub-alpine fir, Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. Prickly pear cactus and poison ivy are fairly common in this wilderness area.

During my stay I took a day trip to the historic Dry Diggins Lookout point.  Once on top I saw a fire watchtower that was built in 1968.  This tower now is used for emergencies.  The views from Dry Diggins are well worth the strenuous effort to get there.  From here you can get a 360-degree view of the Hells Canyon Wilderness to include the Snake River.  I spent a lot of time on this peak and took many pictures and videos.  The views from this point were some of the best I have ever seen in North America. (See Short Video Below)

Short video from my vantage point at the Dry Diggins Lookout Point.

If you decide to plan your trip to this Wilderness area be aware that the summer months can get very hot, (100 degrees plus).  The snow may still be present up to several feet in the Seven Devils Mountain ranges in June.

#1:  Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon)

My number #1 backpacking adventure to date has been my trip into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.  The Kalmiopsis Wilderness is located in the Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon.  This wilderness area is one of the most remote and rugged areas I have backpacked.  The rugged adventure began before got to the trailhead, (Briggs Creek Trailhead).  The road to this trail has various transition periods.  I started driving on hard pavement, then it transitioned to a gravel road, and then about 2 miles out I was maneuvering over ditches and rocks.  Make sure you have a 4 wheel or all wheel drive vehicle because you will need it to get to the trailhead.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Illinois River
Illinois River

I started from Briggs Creek Trailhead in July on my 5-night 6-day adventure.   I crossed a bridge from the trailhead and I began one of my best backpacking adventures to date. I traversed the mountains keeping the Illinois River next to me.  The Kalmiopsis has a rich history of settlers and those who mined the area for valuable ores and minerals.  In July of 2002, The Kalmiopsis Wilderness had a devastating fire.  The fire was known as the Biscuit Fire because it started by the Biscuit creek when lightning struck the area.  The fire destroyed almost a half million acres.  During my trek, I could still see the signs of the fires devastation.

I found remnants of an old homestead with artifacts from miners and settlers from the past.  I found old medicine bottles, tools, and other man-made objects during my adventure.  I had (2) basecamps with my second basecamp in an elevated position by the Illinois River.  The terrain was rugged and parts of the trail were difficult to follow due to the fire. Many organizations to include the Siskiyou Mountain Club have worked hard over the years to clear the trails for backpackers to enjoy.

Found Artifacts on My Adventure

I was immersed into the silence and solitude of this wilderness area.  The evenings were mystic and quiet and the moon shined brightly off the Illinois River where I had my basecamp.  I came across large redwood trees hundreds of years old and the Kalmiopsis Flower for which the wilderness is named after.

The Kalmiopsis is not a wilderness area to take lightly.  The terrain and elevations are strenuous but well worth the adventure for those willing to take on the challenge.  The landscape views are unbelievable and they take you back in time.   You will see much of the wildernesses history as you travel through the scenic landscape.

This wilderness area will challenge your skills in many ways especially when it comes to land navigation.  Those challenges will also reward you both in your accomplishments on backpacking this wilderness area and the history you will see and live.   

Conclusion

These are my current top three destinations for your next backpacking adventure.  There are many more great places that I have yet to explore.    Plan your next adventure soon and experience the wonders and history of a wilderness area.

Suwannee River State Park (Withlacoochee River)

Choosing the right Knife for Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Going into a wilderness area without a knife is like backpacking barefoot.  It can be done with undue hardships and risks.  Some backpackers are weight conscious about their gear and they down size what they bring into a wilderness area.  A knife should not be that piece of gear.  A knife provides you the ability to cut and process various items and it will also provide you protection from dangers in a wilderness area.

There are many knife manufacturers who produce quality knives. Choosing one can be overwhelming if you are not sure what to look for.  This article will focus on what type of knife you should bring with you and not so much the manufacturer.

I will discuss the following types of knives and which one I recommend for your next adventure.

  • Folding Knife 
  • Fixed Blade Knife 
  • Serrated Blade
  • Straight Blade
  • The Metal Composition of the Knife

Folding Knife:

Folding knives are excellent EDC (Every Day Carry) knives.  They are compact lightweight and can be easily carried in or attached to your pocket, (with clip).  Folding knives have their place but not in a wilderness area.  What makes them portable also makes them weak.  The hinge/pin that allows them to open and close can fail.  This limits their use and durability in the field.  An example would be if you use them to baton or chop wood.  The impact on the hinge will eventually cause them to weaken and break over time.

Fixed Blade Knife:

A fixed blade knife is a solid one piece knife that has no moving parts.  These knives are heavier than a folding knife but they are more versatile and resilient.  Fixed blade knives come in a full tang or partial tang configuration.

A full tang knife is where the knife is one solid piece that extends through the handle.  A partial tang knife is where the metal portion of the knife is partially pushed into a handle.  The metal portion does not extend through the entire handle like the full tang knife.  A full tang knife is much stronger and better to have in the wilderness.

Serrated Blade

A serrated knife is a blade that has the same type of characteristics you see on a saw.  A serrated knife is also called a sawtooth knife.  Most field knives that have a serrated blade on them also have a portion of the knife that has a smooth blade, (the knife is half serrated and half smooth).  This type of blade is good for sawing but they are difficult to sharpen.  They are also not designed for work that requires precision cuts.  Even though they are difficult to sharpen they do stay sharper then a smooth blade knife.  I have used these knives and they have their uses in the wilderness.

Gerber LMF II Fixed Blade Serrated Knife
Gerber LMF II Fixed Blade Serrated Knife (Full Tang)

Straight Blade

A straight blade knife is a blade that has a smooth edge like that of a razor used for shaving.  These knives can be easily sharpened and they have more surface contact with the objects you are cutting.  Having a small Sharpener with you in the wilderness is a good idea if you carry a straight blade knife.  In an emergency, depending on the wilderness area,  you may be able to sharpen a straight blade knife with rocks or stones you find especially those in creeks or streams.

Knife Sharpener
Worksharp (Knife Sharpener)

A straight edge knife unlike a serrated can be sharpened to either a polished or coarse edge depending on the sharpening stone you use.  This type of sharpening allows you to acclimate the blade to a specific use. An example would be if you are cutting thick rope.  You can sharpen the knife with a more coarse sharpening stone causing the blade to have micro serrations.  This edge will cut through rope better than one with a polished blade.  

US Army M7 Bayonet Knife
Vietnam M7 Knife with M8A1 Scabbard

The Metal Composition of the Knife

So what type of metal composition should a wilderness knife have?  There is much debate on this.  I prefer a carbon steel knife, (1095 carbon), over a stainless steel knife.  Carbon steel knives hold a better edge, easier to sharpen, and stronger.  The down side is that a carbon steel knife will rust if you do not take care of it.

Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest (Esee 6 Knife)

Conclusion

I prefer using a fixed blade full tang knife with a smooth blade.  I like using the Esee series of knives made by Randall’s Adventure and Training.  I like the cutting edge of the blade to be 4 to 6 inches in length.  I may use a larger blade knife if I am clearing vegetation, (jungle terrain), with it.  In this situation I use the Esee Junglas or machete with a 10 inch or longer blade.  My preference in the knifes metal composition is carbon steel, (1095 carbon steel).  I find it easier to sharpen and they hold a good edge in the field.

There are many manufacturers out there who produce high quality knives.  Do your research and select one who will stand by their knives no matter what.  I have never had a problem with the quality of my Esee knives and they have a life time warranty on their knives if they break, no questions asked.

Esee Knives
My (3) choices of knives that I use on my wilderness adventures

Wilderness Tip:  click on this link for a tip on how to carry your knife more. easily in a wilderness area.


Hells Canyon Wilderness

Choosing a Solar Panel for Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

When it comes to choosing a solar panel for backpacking there are a variety of choices to choose from. There are many top name brand solar panels in the market.  I have used Goal Zero, Sun Tactics and Anker.  If you are going to be in the wilderness for an extended period of time, (more than 2 days) a solar panel is an important piece of gear to have with you.  If you are just going for an overnight trip bringing a battery pack by itself  will probably be sufficient to charge your gear.

Solar panels are used to charge your electronic gear.  You can charge your gear directly or you can choose to charge a separate lithium battery pack.  I find that charging a battery pack using a solar panel is the most efficient way to keep your electronic gear charged and operational.   

So which solar panel is the right one for you?  I will discuss (5) features you should look for when choosing the right solar panel for your wilderness adventures.

Features to have in a Solar Panel


Lightweight and Portable

Solar panels are either rigid or semi-rigid.  Semi-rigid solar panels allow you to roll them or fold them up. Semi-rigid panels that fold up allow them to be more compact and lightweight.  They can be easily packed, strapped to your backpack, or attached to your tent.  The flexibility of a semi-rigid solar panel allows it to be set up in different configurations. Foldable solar panels are fairly durable and provide better protection for its panels when they are being transported.

Solar Panel
Solar Panel attached to my Backpack


Solar Panels
Anker and Goal Zero Foldable Solar Panel


Connection Points

Make sure that you get a solar panel that has connection points on its outer edges.  These connection points can be a grommet or a rope loop.  Having these connection points allows you to strap it to various things such as your backpack or tent.  These connection points also allow you to secure a solar panel in other configurations.

Power

Solar panels come in a variety of power outputs that are rated in watts.  A watt is how much power a solar panel can produce in full sunlight.  The higher the solar panels wattage the more powerful it is, (i.e. a 24 watt solar panel is more powerful then a 15 watt solar panel).  The next thing to look at is how many amps will a solar panel produce.  The larger the amps the more it will put out especially for electronic equipment requiring high flow rates.   I recommend having at least a 15 watt solar panel with a minimum of a 2.0 amp output.  These specifications allow you to power most of your gear to include a lithium battery pack if you choose to charge your gear that way.

USB Ports

When you look at a solar panel make sure that you have at least (2) USB ports on it .  Having 2 USB ports allow you to charge multiple devices which can save you down time over those having only 1 USB port.  

Weatherproof 

There are very few solar panels that you can actual submerse in water.  I am very cautious about manufactures advertising that a their solar panel is 100 percent waterproof because their definition varies from the actual IP rating, (International Protection Rating).  IP ratings set the standard of protection for electronic equipment from solids, (such as dust, and accidental contact) and water entering electrical enclosures.  I recommend having a solar panel rated at a minimum IPX4 level (Protects from splashing water no matter the direction).  The highest level is IPX7 which means that is is submersiable in water.

I have found that the IPX4 rating for a solar panel has worked well for me. Even if you have a panel that is 100 percent waterproof it does not mean that the electronic equipment you have attached to it is waterproof.  If I need to cross a stream or if heavy rains are coming I will properly protect my electronic gear that is not IPX7 rated. 

Conclusion

Selecting a solar panel does not have to be difficult or expensive.  There are many solar panels that have the above features priced between $40 to $80 dollars.  Paying anymore than $80.00 dollars does not necessarily get you a better solar panel.  I highly recommend that when you have chosen the solar panel right for you that you test it out in your backyard before heading into a wilderness area.

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 
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.

White Mountains Pemigewasset Wilderness (NH)

How to Prepare for a Backpacking Adventure

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

I enjoy backpacking in remote and rugged wilderness areas throughout North America.  My successes in the wilderness have been attributed to my pre-planning.  Preparing for an adventure into a rugged wilderness area requires allot of research.  Backpackers who do not properly prepare themselves may encounter difficulty, undue hardships, and dangers on the trail.

Pre-planning should be a big part of your wilderness adventure.  Your research will not only give you important information, but it will prepare you physically and mentally for the adventure ahead.

I will discuss the below (9) topics, and how you should implement them into your next wilderness adventure. 

  1. Travel  
  2. Terrain
  3. Trail System
  4. Weather
  5. Wildlife and Foliage   
  6. Dangers
  7. Equipment Needed
  8. Amenities and Laws
  9. Notifications


TRAVEL

Arizona Picture taken from an aircraft
Picture taken from plane of Arizona (the smoke is burning fire in the Wilderness)

Determine your mode of transportation.

Determining how you will get there is obvious but much goes into this.  You need to decide if you are:

  • Flying to your destination
  • Driving a vehicle
  • Sharing a ride (if you plan on going with a group of people).
  • Determine other forms of transportation available to you.

Planning your adventure requires time and money.  You need to figure out all of the costs associated with your trip.  These costs could be airline fees, car rentals, hotel stays, food you will need, equipment you will have to purchase, and other miscellaneous expenses.

When I fly to my destination I have to pack my gear that usually weighs more than 50 pounds.   I usually end up paying extra airline baggage fees for the equipment I am checking in.  When I land, I have to rent out a vehicle for several days.  I sometimes need an all wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle that costs extra.   All of these costs can be very expensive if you are on a budget.  My pre-planning allows me to know how much I need to save and budget for my adventure.

Lost Creek Wilderness (My all wheel drive rental vehicle)
Lost Creek Wilderness (Colorado) My all wheel drive rental vehicle.

You should also come up with a timeline on how many days your adventure will take including travel time to and from the trailhead.  I use the calendar on my phone to document this timeline.  I will put flight times, confirmation numbers and other necessary information on this calendar. Having all of this information organized either written down or on my phone gives me quick access to this information.

Research the trailhead you plan on starting from and the parking situation.

When I research a wilderness area I find out how I will get to the trailhead.  Many people believe that there will be well-placed signs guiding them to the trailhead.   These sign may have been moved by someone or damaged by a recent storm.  Some signs can be dilapidated, misleading, and some can be difficult to decipher if you are not familiar with them.

Gila Wilderness (New Mexico)
Gila Wilderness (New Mexico) Weathered Signage guiding me to the Pueblo Park Trail.

Use other backpacker’s online guides/blogs.  These blogs will give you valuable information on how to get to a trailhead. Some even post GPS coordinates and distances on how to get there.  Some blogs will also give you specific landmarks that will help you navigate safely to your starting point.  There are trailhead’s that are many miles off the main road. I have travelled up to 30 miles off-road to get to my starting point.  Be prepared because getting lost doesn’t always happen on the trail.  Sometimes it happens getting to the trail.  Use all available resources especially online information.   Print out these guides to help you get there safely.

Find out if there are private landowners or private structures around your starting point.  Knowing this will help you from possibly trespassing on private property that may not be adequately posted.  I have seen trespass signs that have also been improperly posted giving you false information leading to confusion. 

Gila Wilderness (New Mexico) A private cattle corral I came across around a trail.
Gila Wilderness (New Mexico) A private cattle corral I came across around the trail. No signs posted .

Find out about parking and whether it is safe to do so during your stay.  Some trailhead’s start by rivers and streams that may flood out during a rainstorm leaving you with an expensive vehicle recovery.  Have a secondary location to park your vehicle in case the one you are planning to use is full or closed.

Superstition Mountain (Tonto National Forest)
Superstition Mountain (Tonto National Forest) Parking area I used from the Peralta Trailhead.

Determine if there are Trail Fees.

Finally find out about fees you will need to pay if any from the trailhead you plan on starting from. Some wilderness areas allow you to pre-purchase a pass online.  Make sure you print it out and put it on the dash of your vehicle before leaving the trailhead.

Some places require that you pay at the trailhead.  You will see some type of container system, (wooden or metal box), that you fill out an information card and drop the card with the necessary fees in the box.  I recommend that you always have some cash with you since you will probably not be able to use a credit card at the trailhead.

Researching this in advance will save you a lot of headaches and a ticket, (civil citation) from the parks department for not paying the necessary fees.  They do check and I can recall an instance where I had a warning citation put on my vehicle when I got back to the trailhead.  It was on my trip to the Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington, (Hint).

TERRAIN

Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Kalmiopsis Wilderness Topo Map

Get a topographical map and do your research.

Get a topographical map of the area you plan on visiting and research the terrain.  Much of the information you need will be online.  I still advise purchasing a topographical map and having it with you during your stay in a wilderness area.  You may choose to print out the map online but either way have a paper version with you at all times. (FYI if you print out your topographical map on a printer there is waterproof paper you can use to help keep your map intact.)

The terrain in a wilderness area can change quickly.  You could be in a desert type terrain and then find yourself in an evergreen forest. Research the area thoroughly before leaving.  Knowing what terrain you will encounter will help you stay on course.

One very important thing that you will find out from your terrain research is where you can find water.  Topographical maps show you where lakes, rivers, and streams are located relative to the trail system you are on.

TRAIL SYSTEM

Determine the Route you plan on taking.

When you get your topographical map determine the trail you plan on using.  Route out your trip from the trailhead and back using online software like Garmin Basecamp.  There are other navigational software programs you can use as well.  I do this especially if I decide to do some bush whacking off the trail.   You should be up on your land navigational skills as well, (know how to use a compass and topographical map).  I have posted videos on Land Navigation here my website.

Garmin Basecamp Software
Garmin Basecamp Software (Planning my Superstition Mountain Wilderness Route)

I always upload my anticipated routes with alternatives, and waypoints on on my GPS unit (Garmin inReach Explorer).  You may want to use your cell phone to do this.  There are some good cell phone applications you can download to your cell phone. Your cell phone will use its GPS capabilities outside of the cell service to function.

WEATHER

Pemigewasset Wilderness (NH)
Pemigewasset Wilderness (NH)

Research the weather in the area you plan on visiting

Research the weather during the time you plan on visiting the wilderness area of your choice.   Weather forecasts, in today’s technology, can be determined up to 10 days out.  These forecasts are not always spot on but they can give you an idea if bad weather will affect your adventure. 

You can also look at historical weather trends to include the Almanac.  Historical weather trends may give you an indication on rainfall and the temperature you will experience during your stay.  Here in Florida the summers are hot and humid and we get afternoon rain showers.  Having that information means to have rain gear if you want to backpack in Florida during the summer

The more information you get on weather the better your stay will be.  Knowing the weather will also help you pre-determine where you may want to set up your basecamp.

WILDLIFE AND FOLIAGE

Research the wildlife and the dangers they pose to you.

Research the wildlife that is present in the area you will visit.  Once you find out determine your course of action if you encounter that particular wildlife during your stay.  If you know that you are heading into Montana have bear spray with you. Know how to use it and learn about what to do if you are attacked or see a Brown Bear.

Wind River Range (Wyoming)
Wind River Range (Wyoming) Grizzly Bear Country
Wind River Range
Wind River Range (Wyoming)

Knowing the wildlife also helps you determine the appropriate food containers that you will need. Researching the wildlife may save your life if you are not familiar with a particular wildlife species.  Encounters may not necessarily be with large animals like bears. 

Smaller wildlife may be just as dangerous or disruptive.  There may be raccoons or Armadillos carrying diseases or raiding your food.  You may travel to an area that has poisonous snakes. Know their habitats and be vigilant during your stay.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) A Rattlesnake That I came across while getting water.  Near my Basecamp

I will also include insects in this category.  Have the proper insect repellents with you to prevent biting insects such as mosquitos or black flies from making your stay miserable.  Having the right repellents may also prevent you from getting certain diseases such as the Zika virus or Lyme disease.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) Rattlesnake
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) Spider

Lone Star Tick on my glove at my basecamp (Juniper Prairie Wilderness)
Lone Star Tick on my glove at my basecamp in Juniper Prairie Wilderness (Florida).

Understanding all of the wildlife gives you the knowledge to deal with them if you encounter them during your stay.

Research the plant life and trees in the wilderness area you plan on visiting.

Plant and tree life are important to know.  There are areas in North American where you may encounter poisonous plants that when touched may cause some type of allergic reaction to your skin. 

Knowing the type of plants and trees you will see in a wilderness area may also save your life. If you go into survival mode and you need to forage off the land knowing what plants to eat may sustain you until you get to safety.

Indian Paintbrush Plant
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) The Indian Paintbrush Plant. The flowers are edible but eat in moderation.  This plant has selenium in it and eating to much can be toxic.

DANGERS

Call the local Ranger Station near the wilderness area you plan on visiting and speak to them about current and potential dangers.

I always call the local Ranger District in wilderness areas I am not familiar with.This type of first-hand information will get you up to speed if there has been some major change to the wilderness area you will be visiting.

There may have been a natural disaster unknown to an out-of-state backpacker.  A storm may have flooded out a trail or downed some trees closing a trail. This is information you want to know before leaving.

Use the knowledge of these Rangers to plan your route.   Some of these Rangers are hardcore backpackers and they may give you some good areas to check out during your stay.

They can also give you information on local towns.  This information may be on where you can purchase supplies for your trip or hotels you can stay at.  The information I received on my Superstition Mountain Wilderness trip made my adventure epic. 

EQUIPMENT

The American Backpacker
Wilderness Go-Bag

Once you have done your research using the above elements now you have to determine what gear you will need.  Many backpackers have a basic, (core items), list of gear they bring into any wilderness area.  I have my core list that I have in my Go-Bag, and I add to it as needed.

The equipment list that I bring on all of my expeditions.  My research may add to this gear list. (Alphabetized List)

  • Bedding gear
  • Bear Spray
  • Compass
  • Cordage (550 parachute cord)
  • Clothing (to be determined)
  • Fire starter gear
  • Firearm (My personal choice that I always carry into a Wilderness)
  • Food (to include a proper food storage container for wildlife)
  • GPS system
  • Hiking poles
  • Headlamp
  • Knife
  • Medical kit
  • Satellite communicator
  • Solar Panel
  • Shelter system
  • Toiletries (to include hand sanitize)
  • Water filtration system
  • Whistle
  • Wet weather gear

AMENITIES AND LOCAL LAWS

Determine locations of the following especially if you are travelling to a very remote Wilderness area. The more remote the less amenities. 

Stores:  Know locations of stores, (Outdoor sporting, Grocery, Gas Station, Etc.), around the wilderness area you plan on visiting.  Knowing these store locations will help you purchase supplies and fuel up your vehicle.   You may have to find stores close to the airport you land at.  You may have to travel to a larger city or town that may have these stores because there are none near your trailhead.

Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) REI Store where I purchased my supplies when I landed.
Kalmiopsis Wilderness (Oregon) REI Store where I purchased my supplies when I landed.

Remember some items cannot be transported by the airlines such as bear spray and cooking fuel. Consider maybe shipping out some of your gear to a local hotel if you plan on staying there before your trip.

Lodging:  Find out hotels and motels near your trailhead.  You may need to stay a night before your trip to prep your gear. There may be no lodging amenities close to you so pre-planning will help you locate one before your trip.

White Mountains (New Hampshire) The cabin I stayed in the night before my trip.
White Mountains (New Hampshire) The cabin I stayed in the night before my trip in to Pemigewassett Wilderness.

State Laws:  If you plan on backpacking with a firearm read up on the laws of the state you plan on visiting.  The laws of the state you plan on carrying your firearm may be different from where you live.  You also need to check with the airlines on their policies for bringing a firearm with you. When you travel by aircraft you will need to check in your firearm with your checked baggage.

NOTIFICATIONS

Before you leave the trailhead make sure that you have notified family members and close friends on where you are going.  This is where your timeline will help you.  Print out a copy and give it to them.   You should be specific to include GPS coordinates on the trailhead you will start from and if you have a different ending point give them that GPS coordinate as well. You should give them a start date and a return date.

I highly recommend that you carry a GPS satellite communicator with you.  The costs associated with them are well worth your safety.  Many of those costs have come down considerably and the air plans on them are very reasonable. Having a GPS satellite communicator allows you to let family members know if you change your timeline during your trip.

Garmin inReach Explorer Plus video review

You may decide to stay an extra night or you may have to alter your path due to an unforeseen problem or emergency.  A GPS communicator in general is for your safety in case of an emergency.  They come in all types.  I use the Garmin inReach Explorer Plus and it allows my family members not only the ability to communicate with me but also to track my movements in the wilderness.

Notifications can save your life if an emergency arises when you are not back on a specified date you told everyone.

CONCLUSION

Pre-planning your wilderness adventure will save you time, money, undue hardships, and even your life in an emergency.  I find that pre-planning not only is important but fun.  I learn important facts that make my trip more adventurous. 

Many wilderness areas have a certain mystic and lure that makes me anticipate the adventure.  When I went to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in Oregon, I was in an area where Miners mined for gold and other valuable ores in the 1800’s. I found many artifacts, tools and a homestead, that made my experience unique and exciting

No matter where you travel do your pre-planning. Pre-planning and research will make your stay more enjoyable, exciting, and more importantly safe.

White Mountains (Pemigewasset Wilderness)

Surviving a Lightning Storm while Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

You are backpacking and a lightning storm quickly moves in.  What should you do?  Tragically, for the last 10 years an average of 27 people have been killed by lightning each year in the United States. 

This is a dramatic decrease in lightning deaths since 1940, when they began officially keeping records of these tragic deaths.  In 1943, (432) people in the United States died from lightning strikes.  This decrease in deaths is a result of education and advanced weather forecasting technologies.

So what should you do when you are caught in a severe lightning storm on your wilderness adventure? I will discuss what you need to do by breaking down this article into three sections:

–  Pre-planning

–  On the trail

–  At your basecamp

It is important to remember that there is no exact science on where and when lightning will strike. Your knowledge on how to react is the key when it comes to survival.  This article will discuss how you can reduce your risk in a wilderness area when a lightning storm moves in.

Lightning Bolt
Lightning moving in

Pre-planning:

I have been wilderness backpacking for years and before I head into any wilderness area I always check the weather prior to my trip.  Watching the news, going on the Internet, or checking a weather app on your phone will give you valuable information.  Knowing the weather pattern for the area you plan on visiting can help you decide what gear to bring and where to place your basecamp during inclement weather. 

Today’s weather technology allows me to decide what type of weather I may encounter, (10 days out), before my trip.  Of course, this is only estimation but it helps me plan my adventure.  One specific technology that has been invaluable for me while I am on my adventure is my Garmin inReach Explorer Plus (GPS Satellite communicator). This unit has a weather feature that allows me to predict weather 24 hour out using satellite technology.

Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness)
Sheltering from the rain in the Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness)

ON THE TRAIL

When you are on the trail or bushwhacking through and a lighting storm moves in you should do the following:


DO THE FOLLOWING IF YOU ARE ON THE TRAIL

1.  Look for shelter if available, (A fully enclosed structure or vehicle)

2.  Look for a low-lying area (based on the terrain around you).

3.  Avoid open areas.

4.  Drop your backpack and any metallic gear to include hiking poles and weapons.

5.  Distance yourself from these items maintaining at least a 10-meter gap.

6.  Avoid tall objects such as trees around you. If you are in an area with lots of trees look for the section of smaller trees in a low-lying area.

7.  Crouch or squat down covering your ears during the storm. Do not lye down since it will expose your body to ground surges from lightning strikes. If you are in a group of people spread out with at least 10 meters between people.

White Mountains (Pemigewasset Wilderness)
Rain in the White Mountains (Pemigewasset Wilderness)

AT YOUR BASECAMP

I have always told you that when you are looking for a basecamp use the acronym W.E.S.S. (Water, Elevation, Security and Safety). Using this acronym will give you an ideal basecamp but during a storm it may increase the risk of lightning striking your basecamp. 

The letter E, elevation can be the issue in this acronym.  Elevation is important when setting up your basecamp because having it in a low-lying area can expose you to flash floods, rising water, or unwanted cooler temps, especially during the winter months.

Having elevation also provides you with a good vantage point to fight off dangers such as animals that may wander into your camp.  So with that said elevation in a thunderstorm may expose you to lightning strikes.  It is kind of that old saying; you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  So in this situation good intelligence helps if you know that a storm is coming in. 

If you are in your basecamp when a lightning storm hits there is not much you can do to move it quickly so you must ride out the storm.  Most backpackers will not readily get out of their tent so here are some points to follow in effort to lessen your risk of getting struck by lightning:


DO THE FOLLOWING IF YOU ARE AT YOUR BASECAMP

1.When setting up you basecamp look for a separate low-lying area not in the open that you can retreat to if a storm hits. Set up a small tarp system, (poncho) in a low-lying area for rain protection so you can wait out the storm and return to your tent if you decide to leave.

2.  If you decide to stay in your tent then use your air mattress as an insulator. Do not lie down but instead crouch down or kneel on your air mat avoiding contact with your tent especially your tent poles. Lightning will probably not hit your tent and the dangers are from the ground currents caused by lightning strikes.

3.  Ground currents occur when lightning hits an object by your tent such as a tree and it travels through the tree to the surrounding ground. Crouching on your sleeping pad and sleeping bag will help reduce and insulate you from the ground current.

Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness)
Bad weather moving in at the Pike National Forest (Lost Creek Wilderness)

Conclusion

Backpacking in a wilderness areas has its risks.  Being caught in a lightning storm is one of those risks.  Pre-planning your adventure to include checking weather forecasts plays in big role in how safe your adventure will be.  Unfortunately even with the technology we have today the potential for being caught off guard exists.  Lightning is not an exact science and it has a mind of its own.  Knowing what you can do during a lightning storm if caught off guard will greatly increase your chance of survival.

There has been a dramatic decrease in deaths due to lightning strikes since the 1940’s because of education. I hope this article has added knowledge to your skill set on increasing your chances of surviving a lightning storm if you encounter one on your adventure.


 

 

Gila Wilderness (Jerry, a Rancher I came across on my Expedition)

Backpacking with a Firearm (Florida State Statute)

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

Backpacking with a firearm is a personal choice that all wilderness backpacker’s make.  I carry a firearm when I am in a wilderness area for personal protection.  I have been asked on many occasions if it is legal to backpack with a firearm openly in the state of Florida and this article will discuss the Florida State Statute allowing me to legally do so.

I am allowed to do so because of Florida State Statute 790.25(H).   It is important to note that Florida is not an open carry state when it comes to carrying a firearm.

Florida statute (790.25(H), states that an individual is legally allowed to openly carry a firearm when they are actively Fishing, Hunting, or Camping.   As a Wilderness Backpacker I always spend at least one night in a Wilderness area.  Staying overnight in a wilderness area fulfills the requirement of this statute that you are camping. If I were to just go for a day hike and not stay the night in a basecamp then this statute would not apply.

It is important that you look up this statute and educate yourself on the specifics.  It is important to understand that this statute applies to individual’s that are legally and lawfully able to have in their possession a firearm.  So if you are a convicted felon, have some type of domestic injunction against you, or have been mentally judged incompetent by the courts, and or other restrictions, this statute will not apply to you and you cannot legally and lawfully carry a firearm.

You have seen me backpacking in other states, and I have thoroughly researched those states statutes and I was able to legally carry a firearm into those wilderness areas.  This statute also does not allow you to carry a firearm concealed. 

If I were to cover my firearm with a towel as I backpacked in Florida then that means it is concealed and I need to have a concealed weapons permit (CCW).  This also means that if I were to put my firearm in my backpack then it is also considered concealed and not legal under this statute unless I have a CCW.

If you choose to carry a firearm under this statute then make sure that you are properly trained in using the firearm you choose to carry.   Make sure that you have been to the range and fired the weapon that you will use. Do not use it in a reckless manner. 

Going into a Wilderness area in Florida does not mean that you can automatically discharge your weapon. If you start target shooting in a wilderness area without a legally valid reason then it is reckless and you will be held criminally or civilly liable or both.

Lastly, if you are stopped by law enforcement, please cooperate with them.  Being confrontational only makes your adventure difficult and law enforcement officers want to make sure that your experience and those around you are safe.  Lawfully carrying a firearm in today’s society has been a hot topic. Understanding your rights and cooperating makes the process of legally carrying a firearm a safe and enjoyable experience.

Always practice safe deployment of a firearm and thoroughly research the states firearm statutes before carrying any firearm.