There’s An App For That

2 11 2009

My equipment for the Road Trip

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?

Puttin’ On the Ritz

30 10 2009


Costumes.  They’re an essential part of life — and not just on Halloween.  We (by we, I mean me and Giles, of course) love costumes, and embrace them from the moment we play our first game of dress-up as children.  Sure, on Halloween (and perhaps for the errant masquerade ball), we go all out and put together outfits in order to be things that we either couldn’t hope to be or wouldn’t want to be in our real lives.  But costumes are not just for Halloween.  I put on a costume every day that I go to work — suit, heels, proper accessories — and then I change into a different costume, usually involving jeans or yoga pants (I’m not into yoga, but I’m really into yoga pants), when I get home. 

Putting on the right clothing, having the right accessories, is our chance to be not someone else, but rather some particular version of ourselves.   Whatever you’re doing, if you can put on the costume, you can put yourself into the mental space necessary to focus.  I can write anywhere, but my favorite way to write is on a laptop in a cafe, preferably one where a waitperson will keep filling my coffee. 

This holds true for hiking and camping, as well.  While having the right equipment is necessary, it’s also fun, and puts you in the right frame of mind to tackle the outdoors.  Clothing that is hiking-appropriate, shoes that work for you, hiking poles/walking sticks, backpacks, water bottles, etc., are the trappings that make up the outdoors costume.

We aren’t talking about specifics today, it’s just food for thought: getting the right gear isn’t an excuse to shop (though that’s a nice side benefit), or some fakery that outdoorsy types indulge in.  It’s the costume.  And costumes are important.

What are the key parts to your hiking/camping costume?

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head…When You Need A Better Tent

21 10 2009

It always rains on tents.  Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds, for the opportunity to rain on a tent.

— Dave Barry

While I don’t know if there is really some gravitational pull between tents and rainstorms (actually, I do know — there’s not), it does seem to rain at least sometimes on the very nights one chooses to pitch a tent.  Unless you enjoy getting dripped on while you sleep, or worse, sleeping on wet ground, it’s important to have a good tent that will keep you dry.

I have a little two-person tent that I got for free by collecting points in a promotion years ago.  I did no research on the brand (Wenzel); I was a poor student planning a lengthy road trip on the cheap and there was nothing cheaper than “free.”  Here is my tent:


That’s at Grant Village in Yellowstone National Park, by the way…but we’ll talk about that another time.  Since I had done no research on tents, I was a little apprehensive about how waterproof this free tent would be.  I found out the night that photo was taken.  It poured.  I mean, it rained cats and dogs and buffalo and small dinosaurs.  Inside my tent, however, I stayed completely dry.  When I crawled out of the tent the next morning, the guy who was cooking bacon outside of the RV across the way said, “Hey!  There’s a person in there!  We were wondering if you got washed away!”  I thanked him for his concern and ate a piece of his bacon.

But I digress.  Mooching yummy breakfast meats from fellow campers is not today’s topic.

So, Her Side, you may ask, how do I find the right tent?  Well, I’ll tell you.  You find the right tent by asking yourself the following questions:

What is the right size tent for me?  There are one-person tents on the market, and some solo camper/hikers prefer these ultralight, ultrasmall shelters:


It’s cool looking, right?  The major drawbacks of these teeny tents is that, while the descriptions may claim you can change your clothes inside, I think that would be a feat of contortionism.  Also, I’m a little claustrophobic, and so I would feel uncomfortable in such a tiny space.  So it’s not for me.

A standard two-person tent is nice because it’s a little roomier, but still small and lightweight.  For serious backpackers, the extra weight might be a dealbreaker, but for casual campers, this isn’t usually an issue.

What kind of footprint should I use?  (And what’s a “footprint?”)  A footprint is a separate piece of material that goes between the tent floor and the ground.  It’s important for a couple of reasons.  First, it will keep you drier and more comfortable.  You know how when you sit on the ground in the morning, your pants get wet?  The same thing will happen to the floor of your tent while you sleep.  Sleeping in a puddle is not fun.  The footprint adds an extra layer of protection between you and the wet ground.

Second, a footprint protects the wear and tear on your tent floor.  The footprint will take the abuse from the ground and keep the grit away from the tent floor, protecting it from punctures and the like.  Because a footprint is a separate item — and usually sold separately — it’s easier to replace than the tent floor (which you replace by throwing away your tent and buying a new one).

One important thing to remember is that the footprint should be slightly smaller than the tent.  Many tents have recommended footprints or companion footprints.  I use a tarp, and fold it to slightly smaller than the tent itself — it’s even more durable, and multipurpose, and since I’m not carrying it on a backpack, the extra weight isnt a problem.  Why slightly smaller?  Well, if it extends beyond the floor of the tent, and it rains, guess where that water is going to run?  If you guessed, “between the footprint and the tent floor and pooling under me while I sleep,” then you win.  There’s no prize, but feel free to gloat.

What features should I look for?  I’m assuming that, like me, you’re casual camping during the warmer months.  For winter camping and more extreme conditions, you should speak with your local camping supply store clerk.  For standard late spring/summer/early fall camping, the following should suffice:

  • Lightweight, alluminum collapsible tent poles that are easy to distinguish from one another (the ones connected by a bungee practically set themselves up)
  • Mesh areas for venthilation and allowing relief from summer heat
  • A rainfly that extends enough beyond the mesh areas to protect from the rain but allows for air flow
  • Reinforced, durable material where the tent poles attach (loops, corners, etc.)
  • The ability to stake your tent.  I like freestanding tents for ease of set up, but sometimes you have to stake it down.

Thanks, Her Side.  I found the perfect tent.  Now, how do I take care it? 

  • Before any camping trip, particularly if I haven’t used my tent in a while, I set it up at home.  This is important for three reasons: 1) to make sure it’s in good shape, no tears or issues to deal with; 2) to make sure I have all the pieces and nothing is missing; 3) to remind myself how to set it up and break it down with minimum fuss.
  • Use a footprint to protect the tent floor from wear and tear, as discussed above.
  • Clear the ground of rocks/sticks/debris before you set up the tent, to minimize risk of puncture.
  • Take off your shoes before getting into the tent.  This helps protect the tent floor from internal abuse, and it also keeps the grit and dirt outside (it’s a pain to clean the inside of the tent).
  • Be careful with sharp objects inside/around the tent, to avoid punctures.
  • Sweep/shake out the tent when breaking it down.
  • Don’t pack the tent while it’s wet.  Sometimes this is unavoidable, but if you must pack the tent wet, try to set it up again as soon as is practical to let it air out and dry.

That’s about it.  Now, I’m going to go look into this whole “tents attract rain” theory…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

And Now For Something Completely Different

7 10 2009

I was surfing the interwebs yesterday, looking for inspiration/information to write today’s post.  Usually, on Wednesdays, I have been posting about some particular type of equipment, and was trying to decide what to write about this week (tents?  backpacks?  water bottles?  GPS devices?) when I found this:

Now only $3.38!

Now only $3.38!

Moosejaw is an outdoor company (most shops in Michigan) with a sense of humor that almost exactly matches mine.  So much so that I wonder why I haven’t shopped with them before.  They have selection, knowledgeable commentary, users leave detailed product reviews, they price match, and they have an excellent return policy.  Plus, it seems that customer service is unparalleled.

Plus, Pipe Cleaner Animals are now on sale.

Stumbling across Moosejaw (where I will definitely become a customer, and let you know how that works out) reminded me of something important.  Outdoorsy people, especially casual outdoorsy people, tend not to take themselves (or anyone else) too seriously.  It’s this laid-back “it’s all good” attitude that calls to me when I’m wearing my corporate pants.*  So smile, enjoy Moosejaw’s website, the Madness, dream of crisp mountain air, and relax.

Now, get back to work.

*”Corporate pants” is a metaphor.  Like wearing a “hat” might mean you’re in a particular role, and when you change your “hat” you’ve changed your role.  It’s just that I think “pants” is a funnier word.  And image.  Although, come to think of it, I often wear pants to the office, and they are indeed corporate business wear, so…it works on multiple levels.

It’s All Fun and Games Until Somebody Puts An Eye Out

30 09 2009

Nikki: You can’t do it that way.  You’re just measuring the difference between the temperature of your skin and his.  You need a thermometer.

Ava: I don’t think we have a thermometer.

Nikki: You don’t have a first aid kit?

–“And So the Day Begins,” Summerland

In an early episode of the short-lived WB series Summerland, the precocious thirteen-year-old Nikki Westerly, played by the adorable (and, apparently brilliant) Kay Panabaker, criticizes her new guardian — her carefree and childless aunt, played by Lori Loughlin — for her lack of parenting skills.  The sentiment, however, is one I’ve expressed on numerous occasions to casual hikers, and it’s especially important for solo hikers.

Seriously, you need a first aid kit.

You can make your own, or you can get a prepared kit at any outdoors store.  Mine is a prepared kit that I have modified, and it is ultra-light and compact (similar to this one).  It comes in its own little nylon bag, with an interior, waterproof plastic bag.  It measures approximately 5×7 inches, and lives at the bottom of my backpack.

It came with the following items:

  • Bandage materials, including sterile dressing kits, gauze, non-adhesive, adhesive and butterfly bandages
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antibiotic ointments and towelettes
  • Ibuprofen tablets
  • After-sting towelettes
  • Antihistamines
  • Splinter-picker forceps (which look kind of scary)
  • Moleskin pieces
  • Safety pins

Some kits have more items, such as cotton swabs, sterile gloves, first aid manuals, etc., and more of the items in the lightweight kits.  There are more comprehensive “survival” kits as well, with irrigation syringes and rehydration tablets, and some even come with other emergency items such as whistles or beacons.  There are even “women’s” kits, though the extra items in these seem to be lip balm, hand sanitizer, medication for menstrual cramps and tampons, which I find a little insulting (as if I couldn’t think of that myself if I didn’t buy a “women’s” kit).  While the truly comprehensive kits can be priced at $100 or more (and a more comprehensive kit might be wiser for longer backcountry trips), a lightweight basics kit should be fine for casual day-hikers.  The lightweight kits can be found for anywhere from $10-50, and the purchase is well worth it.

I like the prepared kit because everything comes in a neat little package.  Be sure to replace the medications when they expire, and to add anything to your kit that you think you might need out on the trail.

For example, I also carry extra moleskin (blisters can really hamper a good hike), an Ace bandage (because I’m prone to ankle sprains), and a snake bite kit.

The snake bite kit was a last minute addition before I took my road trip (my first solo hiking and camping expedition), and at the time I wasn’t sure it was necessary.  It comes in a little tube that doubles as a suction device, and contains a lance, a constriction device, topical povidone iodine, and emergency instructions.  I’ve never used it, but one day I came across this guy:

by joanarc4

by joanarc4

Let me tell you, I have never left that snake bite kit behind since.  On that particular hike (Kolob Arch, Zion National Park, UT) I wasn’t alone (and wasn’t the person crazy enough to get close and take the photo), but that kit was in my hand until our party moved on and left this rattlesnake to go about his business.

The important thing is tailoring your kit to your needs, and keeping it stocked with fresh materials.  This is one instance where a little preparation goes a long way.

And just think, I’ll never have to say to you, with a trademark Nikki Westerly sneer, “You don’t have a first aid kit?”

Note: This article in no way constitutes medical advice, and you should consult your doctor regarding specific medical conditions.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Get On Your Boots

23 09 2009

Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects.



Okay, not that kind (sigh).  This kind:


Hiking boots.  A must for any hiker.  Hiking in sneakers is okay for a loop around Walden Pond, but for more serious hikes, you need the grip, stability, and sturdiness of a good boot.  I mean, you wouldn’t go running in those little blue stilettos, right?  You wouldn’t try strapping sneakers to a pair of skis.  (You wouldn’t would you?  If you would, you should probably start your own blog.)  Having the right footwear will make your hiking safer and more enjoyable.

Figuring out what kind of boot to get can be intimidating, particularly since they can cost a chunk of change.  First of all, here is what you’re looking for:

  • A sturdy yet flexible sole, so you are protected from the rocks and sharp edges but can still move around with ease;
  • Sufficient toughness and padding around the foot so that if you scrape against rocks, trees, or get poked by a twig (happens a lot, actually), your foot will be protected;
  • The right fit: the boot should fit with thick socks, the kind you would wear while hiking (imagine that), they should be snug but not tight, they should not slip at the heel, and there should be a little room around the ankle;
  • Waterproof boots, or boots that can be waterproofed;
  • The right heaviness: there are lightweight, medium, and heavyweight boots…I like medium because they are a compromise between sturdiness and…well, weight;
  • Appropriate ankle support: hiking shoes have a low ankle, but I prefer boots with a higher ankle because I’ve had numerous sprains and need the support…the higher ankle is much better unless you’re hiking only flat trails.

In choosing your boot, you should try on as many as possible, because they are all slightly different and may have very different fits.  You’ll find the most options at specialty outdoors stores like REI and EMS.  These types of stores also have knowledgeable salespeople who can help you find what you need.

My favorite place to try on hiking boots is the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine, because they have all sorts of fake rocks and inclines that you can climb around on while trying on your boots.  But if that’s not an option, just walk around the store, crouch down, stand up, and flex and bend your foot around the way you might while hiking.  Bring/wear your hiking socks.  There’s just no way to guess at how the boot will fit otherwise.

You can find good hiking boots in the $120-250 range.  While cheaper and more expensive options are out there, those in this range are most likely to be high enough quality and suit your needs as a casual hiker.

Once you are the proud owner of new boots, please please please don’t tie them on and immediately go on a ten mile hike.  Spend some time walking around in them — in your house, to work, to the grocery store, wherever — to break them in.  You will probably get some blisters when you first wear them, and it’s better to get those while home — not hours from civilization.

PS: Any guesses at the title reference?

(c) Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.