Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Some Gear Favs from Blissful Hiking

Here are some of Blissful Hiking's favorite gear picks; it has not changed, I STILL love this stuff... :)

The Evernew water bottle. Compatible with the Sawyer squeeze filter (see below which has blown out my Platypus and a substitution for the Sawyer bags which also fail. Bombproof, works great.

Socks are a hiker's best friend, and it might as well be a pair that works great and lasts forever. Hence our fav pick is Darn Tough. They are a pricey but a high quality sock with an unlimited guarantee to boot. In fact, they dare you to wear out their socks! Pretty cool.

Assorted cuben fiber stuff sacks. Waterproof, durable, great for adding protection in your backpack or for keeping sleeping bags and clothes dry. We have used them in all shapes and sizes (they make a good hiker wallet too). The thicker the material, the more durable, Z Packs has a great selection. Cuben fiber (now referred to as Dyneema) has also been used in ultralight tents and backpacks as well (but they are pricey).
Other gear websites: Mountain Laurel Designs, Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Basic rain gear is a must in a hiker's backpack. If only out for short jaunts, Frogg Toggs makes a ultralight and cheap means to stay dry with a jacket and pants for around $30 bucks (though be warned, they are NOT durable for lengthy ventures). We find the jacket also provides good warmth in windy weather. Another fav is the rain kilt or rain wrap that does a great job of protecting without the need for cumbersome and hot rain pants.
Some gear shops for a rain kilt:
Lightheart Gear,  ULA

The Sawyer Filter -  a fav for Appalachian Trail adventures. We use the bigger model that filters water much quicker than its smaller mini model for a mere ounce or two more (though some like to have the smaller Sawyer mini filter attached to a Smartwater bottle for quick drinking).

Of all the eating utensils, the simple titanium spoon is our fav. Unlike the Light My Fire sporks that seem to break on a whim (and we've gone through many), This has been on dozens of trips and remains tried and true (gets out gooey stuff like PB from a jar without breaking), and good also for scraping away food while cleaning the pot, too.

Feel free to share your fav gear in the comments!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Mother's Pride

This guest blog is from a mother who sent her daughter off an adventure along the Appalachian Trail. It serves as a wonderful reminder for women to achieve their hiking dream (and never let anyone tell you it can't be done)!

A Mother's Pride by Sylvia Krakar

My daughter just did a NOBO (northbound) on the AT (Appalachian Trail). She set out on March 27th 2017 and finished September 26, 2017.
Nighthawk finishes

She had a lot of day hiking experience, but that was about it. We did a lot of camping too. She researched for almost two years before her hike by reading blogs and gear ratings. She graduated early to make the hike. 

She had great days and days I had to take off my mom hat and put on my pep talk hat when she called. She had a wonderful experience, but she did tell me that there were some males on the trail that tried to make women feel inferior. She was actually told by one male hiker that he could not stand the idea of a woman hiking faster than him. That said, she also met some really great male hikers that treated her equal. She set out alone, but found her family right away. People she will keep in touch with the rest of her life. People she will hike with again.

As a mom I was terrified when she set out alone on this journey. The first two weeks were hard for both of us. Dianne “Nighthawk” grew so much during the six months she was on the trail. 

I wanted to share this to encourage any woman no matter how old who is thinking about hiking the AT to make the journey. Don’t let anyone stop you or convince you that you can’t do it. 

Valedictorian of her class AND now a thru hiker!
I include two pictures. The first is in Virginia. Her uncle hiked for one week with her there. He is in great shape but this was more than he expected. He was in awe of Dianne. He has a new outlook on hiking. He wants to do the PCT with her. I took her graduation things out there so I could take a picture to put in her announcements. I was very proud to accept her valedictorian award at graduation on her behalf. She had a teacher that devoted an entire class to belittling her for wanting to do this hike. When I accepted her award I spoke just a few words. I said “ Mr Keeler, Dianne did not need the hatchet”. The student body erupted in laughter. 

I am very proud of her and I want other women to follow their dream no matter what others think. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Lightening that Backpacking Load

One of the things I love to do as a hiker advocate, educator, and ridgerunner is helping hikers eliminate unnecessary weight from their packs in what's called a pack shakedown. I had the opportunity to do this many times, and with good results. In one shakedown, the young hiker was dead tired after only four miles and ready to quit. Not only was that hiker carrying heavy items like a seven pound tent and a chair, but the backpack did not fit correctly either, and the hiker carried all the weight on the shoulders.
Make the right choices to lighten the load

Definitely a painful ordeal.

So what can you take out of your pack?

Most hikers tend to overkill in the area of food, toiletries, first aid,
etc. They take every part of a cook set rather than just the tools they need. Sometimes half the medicine chest is in the first aid kit. This hiker I helped had two 8 oz. fuel canisters for three days. Also many lightweight items can quickly add up to pounds. Eliminating these in rapid fashion decreases the weight and makes a hike more comfortable.

So let’s take a few of the above.

Food. A good rule of thumb is approx. 1 ½ lbs. of food per day. No need for cans. Check my blog on hiker food ideas to give you nutritious meals without the weight. Most hikers tend to take too much thinking they will be hungry with the exercise and fresh air. Many times the exact opposite happens. Unless one has been out long distance hiking, it takes time for the appetite to really kick in. Plan accordingly.

Toiletries. No need for deodorant, brush, shampoo. Ladies – you don't need makeup. If you are hiking long distance, chances are very good that hostels and motels have shampoo and soap. A few baby wipes can make you feel refreshed in camp (but pack them out!!). I have never felt the need to take a brush or comb.

Take only what you need for trail first aid. No need for splints, lots of big bandages, etc. 

Cooking. Many hikers take an overabundance of cooking gear to make simple meals. Honestly, all one needs for most meals is one pot and one Spork. No need for a plate, frying pan, or extra pots. And don’t forget a simple stove, like a pocket rocket version (there’s a cheap one on Amazon some have said works good) or a jetboil to cook. I’ve seen hikers struggle to cook meals over a fire with wet wood and go hungry. Substitute Smartwater or Lifewater bottles for a Nalgene bottle which saves some good ounces.  

Lifewater bottles have some cool designs

Lots of heavy bags, stuff sacks etc. can add extra ounces that add up to pounds. Simple, good quality Ziplocs make organization easy and you can see through the bags to help determine what you have. Cuben fiber is a great option for lightening the load. But do carry a good waterproof food bag for bear bagging. And make sure your clothing and sleeping bag are in good waterproof bags.

Electronics can get heavy. Bring only what you need. A phone in many instances can serve as a camera, music player, etc.  

Check your pack. Do you REALLY need that huge book? That chair?  Try cutting an old blue foam pad or ridgerest and plop it next to a tree. Or I use the Thermarest seat lite pad. Leave out the heavy knife, ax, and egg container. If you don’t think you will use it, don’t bring it.

Lastly, make sure your pack fits you right and you have packed it correctly. Make sure also you are using the waistbelt correctly.

Some links for each:

Packing a backpack along with a video

Fitting a backpack

Just few ideas to lighten the load and make for a happier, less painful trip.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Hiking Safety During Hunting Season from the ATC

 (This is reposted from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy web site. They are good reminders as we  are now in the main hunting season. Be extra vigilant. I did a good portion of my southbound hike during hunting season, on the Tuscarora Trail and the Allegheny Trail. Many times you are sharing the trail with hunters carrying rifles and with their dogs. Several times I heard rifle shots quite close to me. Pretty unnerving. So take these tips to heart as you enjoy your hike during hunting season.)


Be visible to hunters


Know local hunting seasons — Specific dates for hunting seasons vary year to year and also by type of game hunted and weapon used. Small-game seasons (turkey, rabbit) stretch from fall through the end of May; large-game seasons (deer, bear, moose) generally occur October through January. Learn the regulations and hunting seasons for the areas where you will be hiking before you go. 

Wear blaze orange
—Wear a blaze orange hat and vest (and pack cover if backpacking), or hooded outerwear when hiking in fall, winter and spring. All fourteen states that the A.T. traverses require hunter education classes prior to issuance of licenses, which has led to a significant decrease in hunting-related accidents. Even though these safeguards have been put in place, both hikers and hunters need to do their part to prevent accidents. In late 2002 and early 2003, two A.T. hikers were shot and seriously injured in separate incidents by hunters who mistook them for deer. Neither hiker was wearing blaze orange, and neither hunter properly identified his target.

If you hike with a dog, it should also wear blaze orange visible from all sides. The ATC recommends
Dogs need blaze orange too
that pets be leashed at all times while hiking.

On state game lands in Pennsylvania, all hunters and non-hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined, or a fluorescent orange hat, from Nov. 15–Dec.15 (except on Sundays). The orange material must be visible from all angles (360 degrees).

Avoid wearing colors that could be mistaken for game animals. Avoid white or brown during deer seasons; red or blue during turkey seasons.

Use extra caution at dawn and dusk. Hunting activity may increase at dawn and dusk, when animals are feeding and visibility is poor. Wear reflective vests or use a headlamp or flashlight for extra visibility.

Use extra caution near roads and in valleys—Be especially cautious within 1/2-mile of road crossings (both approaching and leaving) and in valley areas.

Be heard—Make sure you are heard before you are seen by whistling, singing, talking, etc., while you hike.

Avoid hunter interference—Hikers should be aware that interference or harassment of hunters in the lawful pursuit of game is a violation of law in all fourteen A.T. states. This includes interference or tampering with dogs used in the pursuit of game where allowed by law. Sportsmen are our partners in conservation—encounters between hunters and hikers are opportunities to raise the awareness of both groups.

Avoid deer firearm season
—Avoid areas where hunting is legal during deer firearm season, which varies by state, but typically occurs during parts of the months of October, November, December, and January. During those months, you may want to hike in one of the five national parks crossed by the A.T. (note that hunting is allowed in Delaware Gap National Recreation Area, another NPS unit). Do a search for the specific state in which you will be hiking.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Safety and Hikes in the Fall Season

Max Patch in NC
There’s nothing better than a backpacking trip in the woods at the peak of leaf change. The air is crisp, the colors of the changing leaves brilliant, and the expectation is there for adventure and recreation. With that in mind, here are a few tips that will help your trip go smoother and more enjoyable. 

Changing Weather – Fall can be a time of changing weather patterns. From warm to cold, bright sunshine to rain, make sure you are prepared for your trip. Check the weather before you venture out. Make sure your sleeping bag is of an adequate rating and you have enough warm layers. Include a good hat. Check out this blog too for ways to stay warm when the temperatures dip and what to bring when it rains. Carry the food you will need with a day extra to spare, just in case. Bring maps and a guidebook for the area in which you will be hiking, and include a phone in case of trouble. Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia.

Wear blaze orange
Bears and Wildlife – This is the time of year when wildlife is foraging for food to keep them during the long winter months. They tend to be more aggressive and are on the hunt for food. Make sure you are using bear-proof techniques to hang your food. The PCT method works well for bears accustomed to hiker food strung up the usual way. Check ahead of time to see if there are any bear warnings for the area where you plan to hike (such as in the Smokies that routinely closes shelters for bear activity. Shenandoah National Park also can close areas to camping). Consider a bear canister or an Ursack with an odorproof liner like an Loksak Opsak. Check out the Bear facts of Life blog for tips on handling black bear encounters. Don't be afraid to be aggressive though if bears are sighted near shelter and tenting areas. Shout, bang pots, throw rocks, bark loudly  like a dog (which works very well. There's even apps for your phone!). Bears should NOT be there in those areas.

Leaves and Acorns – No one would think acorns and leaves can disrupt a trip. But wet leaves makes the trail slippery which can cause injury. Piles of leaves can hide rocks and other impediments on the trail. 
Acorns rolling under your feet act like marbles to trip you up. Take extra care on the trail when encountering this minor obstacles to prevent ankle twists or other injuries. Sometimes fallen leaves and obscure the trail. Be sure to have a map with you and a compass also. 

Hunting season - Fall means hunters are out sharing the woods and trail. Wearing blaze orange is a must. Know the hunting regulations where you will be hiking. Watch for dogs that are assisting hunters also. Check out the blog on hunting tips to keep you safe on the trail. 

Where are the colors at their peak? Check out the fall foliage map

Finally, some top fall hikes in different states -

In the Smokies
New York and New Jersey
New England
Washington State
New Hampshire
CNN's take Includes Virginia

Friday, October 06, 2017

I Need Water – 7 Things You Can Do in Dry Conditions

Fall is here and so too water can dry up - here are some reminders on what you can do when water is low on the trail -

It has been very dry all along the Appalachians in the Eastern US, prompting lots of worry in hiking circles about water availability for fall hikes. 
So what can you do to prepare or while on a backpacking trip?

1.       Try to schedule your hike when there has been rainfall. Easier said than done when you can only go at a certain time. But if you have flexibility, do it. Check in with hiking social media to get updates if possible. If need be, alter your hiking plans to a different area that has better water availability. Some areas are beginning to close due to fire danger. Check ahead of time for these issues before you leave.

2.       Take an updated guidebook that will tell you when sources are reliable or unreliable. For instance AWOL’s AT Guide for the Appalachian Trail tells you when source are reliable. And those not marked this way for me were dry. Also, you need guidebooks of potable sources in towns etc. On the heels of this, take a map or use a map app on your phone. Maps can identify water sources – esp. springs, streams, etc that may not be in your guidebook. Or it will let you know if a water source is flowing from a beaver pond or a field or a road, of which you then need to treat with care. It will also tell you where you might want to camp that night.

3.       Take extra water containers. When in a dry section, you may need to tote water for a considerable distance. Take extra Platypus containers, empty water bottles, etc. Adjust your pack weight and how you carry items in your pack to adjust for the extra water (a liter of water weighs about 2 lbs). 

4.       When you see a water source, fill up. Hydrate too. Check your map, if it has been very dry, you may need to err on the side of caution and take an extra few liters with you. Plan your mileage accordingly if you need to carry extra weight.

5.       Plan non cook meals. This will use less water.

      6. Make sure you have adequate water treatment (chemical, Sawyer squeeze, Steripen, Pump)

      7. If things get tough, don’t be afraid to ask a neighbor for water. Sometimes you need to do what’s safe. If all else fails and there is none, get off the trail. Better to be off and hike another day than get dehydrated or worse.

It can be tough trying plan for water conditions, esp. when there has been no rainfall. But with some planning and flexibility, you can make it through the driest of times.

Related Blogs 

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Colorado Trail – Part Two – Acclimating to the Altitude

(This is a series of blogs related to a thru hike of the Colorado Trail – Durango to Denver, August 20-September 26, 2017)

I am an eastern dweller at approx. 800 feet elevation. And I am going to spend day two of my hike heading northbound on the Colorado Trail climbing to 12,000 feet. BIG difference in elevation for sure. And one I need to prep for, even as I prep for other parts of my hike gear wise, mail drop wise, etc.

So what do you do to avoid the dreaded AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness? This is a very real and potentially life threatening illness. It can begin as a headache and rapidly spread to nausea, vomiting, and other more potent symptoms.  Just this past summer a young woman died of it in Colorado. It is not something to take lightly. So whether you are planning to tackle the Colorado Trail as I did, or are considering other destinations such as the PCT, John Muir Trail, Kilimanjaro, etc. one must get ready for the change in altitude. I did a few things to prep for this all important area I know if I didn’t get a handle on it, could ruin my chances for a safe adventure.

I first scanned the Internet for altitude related articles. Some advocated a period of acclimating, that is, going to a midway altitude and adjusting. This I did by spending the first few days in Denver, Estes Park, and I also climbed a bit of the trail up Longs Peak.

The second thing I read was taking gingko biloba two weeks before the hike. This I also did and continued to take it throughout my five week journey.

Fluids is a big deal. Drink, drink, drink. Know the water and streams issue and take extra containers to carry the water you need. There are several “dry” areas on the Colorado Trail – and this I prepared for by asking fellow hikers of water conditions and using any updated info some hikers did provide on my Atlas Guide map app (many thanks to hikers Phoenix and Hippie Longstocking for valuable information on water and campsites along the CT).

The other thing I did was join the Facebook group Altitude Acclimatization. The group offered great advice on what to do. The FILES also contained important information on an altitude medicine to take. At first I wasn’t going to take it, but I decided it was a good idea. The drug Acetazolamide (or Diamox) has been used to treat glaucoma. But in small doses it is very effective in warding off AMS. I was given 125 mg tablets by my doctor. Some say to take more, some less. The dosage that worked for me is the day before beginning my ascent, I took 125 mg AM and PM. I also needed to drink a lot as this drug acts as a diuretic. Be prepared to head for the forests and fields frequently as you will urinate frequently. You keep taking it until you reached maximum altitude. On the Colorado Trail this did not happen for a week when I reached the high point at 13,000 feet. I took it for 10 days then for the last two days went down to half dosage. After about five days of taking the drug I did experience a side effect of some strange tingling in my fingers and the heels of my feet. It did not bother me, but it was noticeable. But the drug worked perfectly, I had no headaches, nausea or other symptoms of AMS.

There are of course physical aspects. Hiking at altitude can make you very short winded. While you may not be having any signs of sickness, you still need to curb your physical output to match your cardiovascular one. I found using my respirations as the guide to how fast I hiked worked well. If my breathing became labored, I slowed it down. If I needed an extra breath, I stopped and allowed my body a quick recoup. I found with this technique that even after a few days, I was able to hike farther without having to pause so frequently. In time I was also hiking quicker. Being in good physical condition beforehand helps speed this process along.  

Once I adapted, I went off the drug, continued to take in water, but had no other issues, even as I hiked between 10-12,000 feet. In time  was able to hike a fairly good pace and keep my breathing also in check.

With some careful prep ahead of time, altitude doesn’t have to be the issue that can ruin your trail experience.

Related Blogs: 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Guest Blog - A Change of Plans? Focus on the Positive

A Change of Plans? Focus on the Positive

By Dallas Gallmann

After 4 long weeks I finally got my cast off and have gone into a walking boot for another 3 weeks before I start physical therapy.
I set off on the trail last month in order to do some soul searching but God had a different plan for me. My trip ended early after a fall and it may sound cliche but I went to the trail to learn about myself, to test myself physically and mentally and I came out of this experience with doing just that. (Just not in the way I thought I would)
As soon as I fell I knew something was seriously wrong but without cell phone signal I had to continue hiking up to Hawk Mountain shelter. The next few hours were hard. Mentally and physically I knew what I had to do but my mind immediately deemed everything up to that point as a failure. I was beating myself up for something I could no longer control. I was a failure because I wasn't going to be able to finish what I had set out to do and as I continued up the mountain I realized I was so focused on my pain and the idea of failing that everything had become a blur. I stopped to collect my thoughts. I told myself from here on out nothing negative, you have to pick yourself up, you are doing this, worry about everything else tomorrow. You see it is so easy for my mind to immediately think of the negative and I was no longer going to feed into what others would say or view my trip. I made it up that damn mountain and as I passed the sign for hawk mountain shelter I stopped for a moment to cry and reflect. I accomplished that mountain, that hurdle. I could be proud of that!
The next morning trail angels hiked up to the shelter and hiked me out. Later I learned that I had fractured my ankle, torn multiple ligaments and strained my calf muscle as a result of my fall but as I told my story to everyone who asked what had happened, I didn't get the reaction my head told me I would get! They didn't see my story as a failure! They congratulated me on being brave enough to solo hike. They were inspired by my resilience and most of all they were curious if I was going to let my injury keep me from going back to the trail. I told them I only got 24 hrs on the trail and 22 of them were spent in pain but I have dreamed of being back out there ever since!
I encourage / challenge each one of you when things go wrong in life or on the trail to focus on the positive! Don't beat yourself up when things don't work out the way you want! The trail will still be there, life will continue & when I am healed up and my ankle is strong again I will finish my hike! I hope to see some of you on the trail!

Related Blogs