Stuck on Band-Aid

27 02 2012

Originally published November 30, 2009.

Poor Kenny.  For those who have never seen South Park, or who have been living in a cave on Mars with their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears for the last twelve years, Kenny McCormick is the unfortunate member of the South Park gang who, in nearly every episode in the first five seasons, dies a terrible death.  So, as I was saying, poor Kenny.

Kenny is a really unlucky little kid.  Kenny dies in just about every way imaginable.  He is electrocuted, crushed by a tree, torn apart by an angry mob, gored by a bull, eaten by fish…and so on and so on.  If there is a chance, however small, that someone could be injured while participating in any activity, Kenny will beat the odds and become the fatal statistic.

I’m glad I’m not as unlucky as Kenny, and I hope that you’re not either.   If you are, there’s not much that can be done about it.  But if you’re a little more average, it pays to take some precautions while engaged in activities that have a higher risk of injury than sitting around on your sofa watching South Park.

That brings us to Rule No. 6:

First Aid Kits Are Non-Negotiable.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.  Bring a first aid kit when you hike and camp.  Bring it when you’re solo, bring it when you’re in a group, just bring it.  Bring it even when you think that the hike should be a piece of cake, especially if you’ve never done it before and don’t know from personal experience how easy it will be.  After all, we know what can happen when you set out on what you think is a “simple” hike in unknown territory.

I don’t want to hear any excuses out of you.  A while ago, I discussed what should go into a first-aid kit in some detail.  You don’t have to put much work into getting one together, however, because ready-made kits are available for your (inexpensive) purchase.  First aid kits come in all sizes (mine weighs half a pound) and so the minor extra weight is worth the vast benefits of carrying one.

You should also learn how to use your first aid kit.  Having one won’t help in an emergency if you’re sitting there trying to figure out what a lancet is or how to operate your snake-bite suction device.  Read the instructions in advance.  Buy a first aid manual and study it (they make compact ones that you can bring with you, and some ready-made kits actually come with them).  You can even take a first aid course.

At the end of the day, a first aid kit, and knowledge of how to use it, can help you avoid the fate that always, always, seemed to befall poor Kenny.  Those bastards.

Can You Show Me That In Purple?

23 02 2012


Originally published November 9, 2009

This past weekend, I was up in Vermont with some friends visiting some other friends.  There was hiking (more on that later), conversation, a little Guitar Hero, and plenty of fresh air.  There was also some shopping, mainly at a Michael Kors outlet.  My shopping companion, A, writes a fashion blog, and she and I got to talking — again — about potential crossovers, since we both like to hike and shop.  She mentioned she’d like to do something about hiking fashion.  I endorsed the idea.

Then I came home, took a look at what was on schedule for today’s post, and smiled.  Sometimes the world sort of comes together.

Last Monday, we talked about an important Rule: Pack the Right Equipment.  The Good Stuff version of packing the right equipment, of course, is that you have to first obtain the right equipment, and that means…

Yep.  That’s right.  Shopping!

I know that sometimes, particularly when you’re dealing with highly technical outdoor or sporting gear, obtaining the right equipment can be daunting.  I can hear your questions, because I’ve had them too: Where do I even start?  How do I know what I need, and what’s right for me?

Well, I have been there.  I have stood in the middle of an outdoor store, staring at the racks of shirts and pants and jackets and boots and tents and canteens and gadgets I couldn’t begin to identify, and wondered what to do next.

Then I realized that getting outdoor gear is just like any other shopping.  You figure out what your mission is (dress for a formal dinner, swimsuit for a trip to the beach, backpack for day hiking), do a little preliminary research to figure out what’s out there, how much you want to spend, and what you need (everyone will be wearing cocktail attire, you are finally brave enough to try a two-piece, you want something that will carry your first aid kit and has a hydration sac), and then the fun begins.

Go to the store.  Rifle through the selections.  Try things on.  Look in the mirror and envision yourself on the trail.  See if there are any sales.  Talk to the salesperson and get recommendations.  Ask if you can get this in purple.  (Because sometimes things are just better in purple.)

See?  Fun.

MK BagOne word of warning: Once you’ve gotten the hang of shopping for outdoor gear, it really does become just like any other shopping.  You might find yourself, as I do, wandering into an outdoor store and poking around for something to buy there even if you don’t need it — or seeing something you love but absolutely don’t need, and having to talk yourself out of it, like A and I did yesterday (so long for now, Michael Kors Astor Grommet hobo bag…).

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

There’s An App For That

23 02 2012

My equipment for the Road Trip

Originally published November 2, 2009

How many times have you looked out the window at gloomy skies and decided to take an umbrella, not because you might need it, but because if you don’t bring it you feel you’re tempting the rain?  That’s Murphy’s rule of packing having its wacky effect on your life — and your packing decisions:

If you don’t pack it, you’ll need it; and if you pack it, you won’t need it.

Any time you pack for a trip, you have to balance bringing what you think you might need and bringing the minimum necessary to make the travel easier.  When it comes to packing for a solo camping or hiking, however, this balance is trickier — you want to have the equipment you’ll need to deal with problems that arise, but you don’t want to have to lug around too much.

Which brings us to Rule Number 4:

Pack the right equipment.

The right equipment will be the most efficient equipment for your intended journey.  Just like you wouldn’t pack flip-flops and shorts for a ski trip, you don’t need a camp stove for a short hike.

Keep in mind the purpose of your trip when you’re considering equipment.  When car camping, if I’m going for more than a couple of nights, I might bring a camp stove and cooking equipment.  Most of the time, however, I pack food that can be prepared without the rest of the equipment, to limit what I need to take.

The equipment checklist can help you think through what you might need.  There are some things I never leave behind:

  • Water
  • Food
  • First Aid Kit
  • Cell Phone
  • GPS

On longer hikes, I also always bring an extra layer of clothing.

Just keep asking yourself what your intended trip will be like, and when in doubt, particularly in regards to safety items, food and water, it’s best to err on the side of inclusion.

Within reason, of course.  You probably won’t need that evening gown or…sorry…the Louboutins.

What equipment can’t you live without?

Clymb? Yes, I Think I Will

27 09 2010

If you’re a shopper, and you enjoy shopping online from the comfort of your office — I mean, home — then you’ve probably already discovered the multitude of membership-only sales websites that offer designer clothes and home goods at super steep discounts.  You know, I’m talking about Gilt, HauteLook, OneKingsLane, and so on.  You can get high-end stuff for mid-range prices, but things are available in limited quantities, so you’ve got to jump on a sale when one comes up.

It’s super fun.

I’ve already talked a little on this blog about the importance (and fun) of putting on your “costume” for outdoorsy activities, and the excitement (and fun) of shopping for gear.  The downside of the glee that comes from gear-shopping, of course, is the expense.  Performance gear and wear are Pricey.  Sure, you can find deals, but it adds up, and in at least some cases, you get what you pay for.

Well, have no further fear, because someone has come up with the totally-obvious-why-didn’t-I-think-of-it idea of having one of these membership-only steep discount limited quantity sales sites for outdoor gear. 

Yes, that’s right.  Catch your breath.  I’ll give you a moment.

It’s called The Clymb.  I’m not sure why they couldn’t spell “climb” properly.  There’s probably a reference I’m not getting, but I’m choosing to ignore my usually deal-breaking pet peeve of intentionally mispelled names of stores in this special case.  A friend of mine sent me an invite, and ladies (and gentlemen), it looks really good.  There are good brands on there.  This past week, I spotted Mountain Hard Wear backpacks at 50% off.  Yes, that does come to a savings of $150 in some cases.  These are serious deals.

Now, I haven’t bought anything yet, so I can’t speak to service.  But I’m going to give them a try soon and thought I’d share.  If you want an invite, email hermountain at gmail dot com with your email address and I’ll hook you up.

Happy Shopping!

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Two if by Sea

24 03 2010

When I was preparing for my road trip, I discovered that there are different types of lanterns, and they all have their own benefits and drawbacks.  I honestly had no idea what I needed.  I spent a while talking to a clerk at an outdoor gear store, and ultimately chose a Coleman lantern.

I made the wrong choice. 

This is not to say the Coleman lantern isn’t a perfectly fine lantern, and one that would be right for many people.  But for me, a solo camper, it was wrong.  While in the store, the clerk explained the benefits of the Coleman (and other liquid fuel lanterns) which include the fact that it produces a good, bright light, I could share the fuel with my (borrowed) Coleman camp stove, and it was very economical.

Once out actually camping, however, I discovered it wasn’t right for my situation.  I had to figure out how to light the mantle, and the lantern got very hot.  The main problem, however, was that since I couldn’t use it inside the tent, I only used it if I was hanging around outside my tent at night, and I didn’t do that more than twice.  As a solo camper, I was either going to be hanging out at other people’s lit campsites or in my tent once it got dark…especially once my body adjusted to going to sleep early and waking up at dawn, which happens naturally when you camp for long periods.

So I learned my lesson.  And now, so can you.  My recommendation for the solo camper — especially one just starting out — is to go with a battery-powered lantern, preferably a self-charging or an LED lantern.  There are drawbacks, sure, but you’ll get more use out of it than a liquid or gas fueled lantern. 

Here is a quick run-down of the different types of lanterns, so you can think on it and make your own choice:

Liquid and Gas Fuel

Liquid fuel lanters use Coleman fuel, unleaded gas, or kerosene — some newer lanterns can use both Coleman or unleaded gas, which is a convenience.  These lanterns are a longtime favorite of campers, because they produce a very bright light (much brighter than battery power), and therefore can light a wider area.  The drawbacks are that they get very hot, you’ll need to deal with this mantle business, and you can’t use them inside your tent.  Cost of Coleman fuel canisters is under $10 for two, and they will provide hours of burn time (though the estimates vary from 4 – 14 hours).

Like liquid fuel lanterns, gas fuel lanterns produce a very bright light.  Like liquid fuel lanterns, gas fuel lanterns get very hot when used, and cannot be used inside a tent.  Like liquid fuel lanterns, gas fuel lanterns use canisters and mantles.  If you’re going to go with a liquid or gas fuel lantern, choose the one that shares fuel with your stove, for convenience sake. 

Cost of liquid and gas fuel lanterns varies from around $50 to $100. 

Battery Powered

The major drawback to a battery-powered lantern is that it doesn’t produce a light anywhere near as bright as a liquid or gas fuel lantern.  If you get one that is non-rechargeable and runs through a lot of batteries, it’s also not the most eco-friendly device.

The major benefits, however, are that it is clean, safe, and easy to use, and — major bonus points here — you can use it in your tent.  Battery powered lanterns also tend to be less expensive than liquid or gas fuel lanterns, between $20 and $50.

There’s not much to be done about the brightness of the light.  However, there are now several kinds of battery lanterns that are a little friendlier to the environment.  LED lanterns cause less drain on batteries, lasting longer (and creating less battery waste).  Self-charging lanterns use a wind-up or hand-crank to recharge the battery.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Let There Be Light

22 03 2010

While on a tour of Wind Cave National Park, the guide stopped us deep in the underground caves — caves we had reached via elevator — and shut off all of the lighting.  I have never seen dark so dark as that.  There was no light source whatsoever, so there was absolutely nothing for our eyes to adjust to.  It was eerie and unsettling.

We city girls live in a world where nighttime isn’t anywhere near that dark.  At night, streetlights and lights from buildings create a haze and glow that settles over the city, casting shadows but never really going full dark. 

In the woods, it is a different story.

When the sun goes down, you’re father away from the ambient light of metropolis, and the darkness grows thicker, almost tangible.  I have sat in a campground with my hand six inches from my face and not able to see it.  Try setting up your tent after dark, or even at dusk — or worse, try eating in the dark.  Not being able to see your plate is frightening to those of us who are slightly picky eaters.

The bottom line is that when you camp, you need a way to light your space.  I recommend three forms of lighting:

  1. The lanternLanterns are good when you need a little ambient light, and don’t want to move a focused beam around.  There are a variety of lanterns available, using different kinds of power.  We’ll elaborate on this topic for Wednesday.  For now, suffice it to say that there are lanterns that are powered by some form of fuel like kerosene or butane or propane, and there are those powered by batteries or electricity, some rechargeable.  There are benefits and drawbacks to all kinds.
  2. The flashlight.  Having a good, powerful flashlight is important.  I like Maglites because they are durable and powerful — however, they also weigh a ton, so if you’re backpacking you may want a lighter choice.  The Mini-Maglites are good for your day pack, because they weigh a lot less.  Flashlights with LED bulbs instead of regular bulbs are more durable, last longer, and expand battery life.  There are also flashlights that you shake or wind to produce power, but I haven’t tried these personally.
  3. The headlamp.  This is key.  The first time you arrive at a campsite after dark, you will understand why.  Having to set up a tent or make dinner with a flashlight clutched between your teeth or under your chin so you can use both hands is extremely difficult and annoying.  The solution?  A light that straps to your head, so when you move your head the beam moves to where you need to look.  Ingenious.  Don’t skimp on the headlamp.  Get one that is good quality and will last a long time, and that fits comfortably.  It’ll be the light you use the most frequently whilst in the great outdoors.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Get Off My Back

3 02 2010

Choosing a backpack for day hiking might seem like a daunting task.  You walk into a large outdoor outfitter and they line the walls, in all colors and sizes.  Some have lots of little accessories.  Some are huge and some are small.  Some have internal frames, whatever those are.  Some have hydration sacs, which sounds a little funky.  Some cost more than your monthly car payment.  How to figure out what you need?  And why can’t you just dig out that old one you used in college?

The backpack that’s right for you has to be the one that’s right for you.  Deep, isn’t it?  I’m serious.  Backpacks are a very personal matter, because your back is a very important part of your body.  If you’ve ever had a back injury, you’ll know that when your back isn’t in good shape, everything becomes more difficult.  So do yourself a favor, and take the time to find the backpack that will keep your back in good shape.

First of all, that old backpack you used in college isn’t a good idea for hiking, at least not serious hiking.  In a pinch, for a short hike, you could make it work, but hiking backpacks are designed to hold more in an efficient way that allows you to access your supplies readily, and they are designed to fit you properly to distribute the weight, let you keep your balance, and save your back (and shoulders).

So, what should you look for in a day hiking backpack?

  • Woman-Specific Packs: Manufacturers got smart and finally started making packs that are specifically designed for women.  While I’m not 100% in favor of some women-specific items (see my grumble about “women’s” first aid kits), in the case of a backpack it’s essential.  Women’s backpacks are built to fit women’s torsos, which are generally shorter than men’s torsos; this way, the pack can sit on your hips (where the weight should be focused) and allow the shoulder straps to fit as well.  The shoulder straps themselves are contoured differently than men’s to account for…well, breasts.  All of this means that the packs designed for women will not only be more comfortable for you, but are also better for you.
  • Storage Space/Configuration:  Every pack is different, and you might not know precisely how much space you need until you try it out, and there is a broad range out there (at least as broad as 1000 – 2300 cubic inches).  I can honestly tell you I’m not sure how big mine is, but I’m going to guess it’s around 1700 cubic inches.  It’s important to remember that you don’t always have to stuff it full, so if in doubt, go with something on the upper end of the range.  As to configuration, take a look at how the pack is constructed.  I like multiple compartments (a primary and a secondary and maybe one more small one) in order to divide up gear.  I also like a couple of pockets on the sides (so I can stick the GPS, an apple, etc. for easy access), and handy loops so you can attach other things if necessary.
  • Water System: It’s up to you whether or not you get a pack with a hydration system, but I think it’s worth the extra cost.  There are packs with hydration sacs that hold a couple of liters of water (I’ve found to be plenty for even a significant day hike as long as it’s not a million degrees), and provide for easy hydration while on the go.  It eliminates the need to carry separate water bottles — but if you aren’t in the mood to use the sac, you can remove it.  One hint: don’t put anything but water in there, because it can be a royal pain to clean.
  • Fit: Yep, you get to go shopping.  Try the packs on.  Connect the waist strap.  See how it distributes weight between your hips and shoulders.  See how the straps feel.  Don’t be afraid to walk around the store for a bit to make sure it’s what you want.  Because day packs can cost anywhere from $75 to several hundred dollars, take the time you need to make the right purchase.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

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