Stuck on Band-Aid

30 11 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.

There’s a Lesson Here Somewhere

11 11 2009


I have a case of the “I told you so’s.”

As I mentioned on Monday, this past weekend I was up in Vermont with some friends.  Two of my friends decided to go hiking.  As much as I wanted to go with them, when the choice came down to hiking or spending the afternoon with my sharp-as-a-tack and deathly sarcastic fifteen-year-old nephew and my four-and-a-half-year-old niece who is cuter than any button I’ve ever seen, my path was clear.

So the other two headed out alone.  (They both have names that start with “A” so let’s call them A and B for simplicity’s sake.)  Well, not alone, since they were together.  This was not a solo hiking expedition, and that part is important to the story.  A and B left around twelve-thirty and set out to hike the Little Rock Pond loop (trailhead in Danby, VT), which is an easy, 4-5 mile hike that runs along the A.T. and the Long Trail and loops around Little Rock Pond before returning on the same trail.  Before leaving, they packed a lunch, strapped on their hiking boots, shouldered their backpacks, and we all had a discussion that it would start getting dark around four-thirty, and they would be back for dinner.  We estimated it would take them ~2-3 hours to complete the hike, though none of us had done it before.

By five-thirty, it was full-on night-time, and they had not returned.  Dinner was cooking, and we all got a little concerned about their whereabouts.  I called A’s cell phone (I didn’t have B’s number), and it went straight to voicemail.  At that point, we figured that two scenarios were likely: (1) they finished the hike early and went into town, losing track of time, and A’s phone died; or (2) they got lost on the mountain.

Now, the second one was concerning, but it didn’t have to mean panic.  It was a warm night (particularly for early November in Vermont).  A is a very experienced hiker, with a good head on his shoulders (not to imply that B doesn’t have a good head on her shoulders, but you know what I mean).  The only member of our group who knew anything about the trail noted that, if they weren’t paying attention they could have missed the loop around the lake and continued north on the A.T. which would eventually spit them out in Wallingford.

By six-thirty, we had decided to mount up and investigate.  I volunteered to drive out to the trailhead and check for their car.  If it was gone, we’d know they were off somewhere.  If it was there, then we’d deal with the next steps and get them home safely.  Just as we were about to leave, they drove in.

It turned out that they had, in fact, missed the loop around the pond and continued north on the A.T.  Eventually they realized their mistake, but not until they had added significant distance and time onto their hike.  On the way back, they found themselves on the wrong part of the loop, and had to backtrack a short ways again to find the right trail.  They also had a bad moment when they were concerned they weren’t on a trail anymore at all.  To make matters more difficult, the sun set, and they hiked for a good long while in the dark to finally, blessedly, make it back to the trailhead.  I hadn’t been able to reach them by phone because A had used a GPS app on his phone that had drained the battery quickly, and B had left her phone in the car.

We were very glad to see them, listened with interest to their story, and were glad it wasn’t more harrowing (no injuries, bad weather, animal encounters, etc.).  After telling the tale, A rolled his eyes and said, “I feel like such an amateur.

Hearing the adventure, I couldn’t help but think about what I have been writing on this blog.  I have been saying that solo hiking is only more dangerous than hiking in groups because you have only yourself to rely on, since most anything that could happen to a solo hiker could happen to non-solos.  I have been outlining basic rules for safety, must-have equipment, and always always always emphasizing the importance of using your head.

It turns out, I’m right.  (There’s the “I told you so.”)  I’d like to thank A and B for providing this real-life, illustrative example so that I could write about it today.

Here’s what A and B did right:

  • They dressed warmly and in layers (November hiking in VT, remember?)
  • They wore appropriate clothing and footwear
  • They packed a flashlight
  • They consulted a map before they left to get an idea of the direction they should be traveling and how long it should take
  • They asked someone who was generally familiar with hike for some information
  • They told people where they were going, and when they expected to be back
  • They made themselves aware of when the sun would set
  • They kept their heads and acted without panic (or much of it) to get themselves out of trouble

Here’s what they did wrong:

  • They didn’t pack extra food
  • They didn’t have a first aid kit
  • They didn’t pay enough attention to the trail itself to notice that they ended up on the wrong one
  • They didn’t place enough emphasis on how much time they had before it would get dark
  • They left a phone in the car, and let the other one drain of battery
  • They were overconfident about the ease of the hike, which lowered their vigilance

This last one is perhaps the most important of all.  This list is not meant to be overly crtitical.  Had I decided to go with them, might I have shrugged at extra precautions?  Maybe.  Like I said, A is an experienced hiker.  He’s an experienced solo hiker.  He’s an experienced de facto trail leader.  This should have been a simple hike: not too long, not too difficult, pretty clearly marked.  In total, not much went wrong.  No one got hurt.  No one was exposed to the elements.  They didn’t actually get lost in the woods, because they were always on a trail, even if it wasn’t the right trail.  And yet, because of a couple of wrong turns, the hike took much longer than intended and left them in darkness.  As simple (and as quick) as that, the easy hike turned into something difficult and harrowing.

The truth of the matter is that A and B had never been on this hike before.  It was unfamiliar.  Even if it was billed as an easy hike, they should have considered the unknown factor when preparing, and not made any assumptions.

And that’s why preparation, precautions, and using your head, both before and during your hike are the key to staying safe, whether you’re hiking alone or with companions.

Yeah, I’m gonna say it again.

I told you so.

Ed: A tells me that he actually estimated the hike would take them 4 hours, not 2-3.  That brings into relief that, starting the hike after 12:30, with darkness falling around 4:30, on a 4 hour hike, is cutting it too close even if you know the trail. 

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Can You Show Me That In Purple?

9 11 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

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.