Thursday, June 16, 2016

Lightning Storms on Your Hike


With the summer heat comes the threat of thunderstorms and even severe ones called derechos - a wide spread, long lived wind storm that can bring about destruction like tornadoes. For a hiker its crucial to find out forecasts, even long range, and prepare for an outbreak. F the threat of dangerous storms by seeking shelter, preferably in a strong building. Get off exposed ridge tops and head below tree line well before a storm approaches. Be sure your tent is not pitched in a low lying area or beside a stream that may be proned to flash flooding (which is very dangerous). When setting up your tent, check the ground first to see if there has been ponding of water there. If you know there will be a violent outbreak of storms, get off the trail. Always carry maps, a guidebook, and a charged phone so you can make emergency arrangements.  

Here are some other facts about lightning and safety measures, taken from the website 

 Facts About Lightning

• The National Weather Service estimates your chances of getting hit by lightning in a given year are literally one-in-a-million. But over the course of a lifetime those odds drop to one-in-10,000.
• Lightning reaches temperatures of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit—five times hotter than the sun.
• A bolt of lightning can reach five miles in length, then spread across a 60-foot area from its point of contact with the ground.
• Some forms of lightning can strike at great distances either in advance or behind the center of a thunderstorm—anywhere from five to 10 miles away. That means that people sometimes believe that they are at a safe distance when they are actually well-within range of lightning activity.
• Lightning is more common in spring and summer but can occur at any time of year and anywhere in the country.

Lightning Precautions

  • Check forecasts. Use Weather.Com or a reliable forecasting site to get predictions on conditions for the area where you will be hiking.
  • Hike earlier in the day. Thunderstorms are much more likely to develop during the afternoon, especially in mountainous areas. So if you’re planning a hike at higher elevations, try to be off of the trail before noon.
  • Stay vigilant. Look for cloud masses that begin to grow quickly and darken. Anvil-shaped clouds are a sign of potential thunderstorm activity. Watch the direction that clouds are moving and listen for any hints of approaching thunder. Increasing winds are also an indication of an approaching storm.
  • Follow the 30/30 Rule. Count the time between a lightning flash and the sound of thunder. Sound travels roughly one mile in five seconds. If the time between the lightning and thunder is less than 30 seconds, that means you’re well within the danger zone and need to find a safe spot.
  • Watch out for danger signs. If your hair begins to stand up or your skin tingles, those are both indicators of imminent lightning danger.


How to Protect Yourself

  • Avoid exposed areas. Ridgelines, open fields, lone trees or isolated groves, and tall, prominent outcroppings all increase your risk of being hit by lightning. But sheds, picnic shelters, and the mouths of caves are also dangerous choices.
  • Stay away from conductors of electricity. Avoid water (at least 100 yards away) and stay clear of metal objects, such as fences. If your day pack, trekking poles, or any other personal items have metal in them, move that gear 100 feet or more from where you will be.
  • Find a low protected area. You’ll want to locate a swale or low-lying spot but be careful not to take cover in an arroyo or creek bed where flash floods may get channeled. 
  • Make yourself a small target. If you’re caught in a storm with lightning nearby, get into a crouching position with your head tucked and hands covering your ears.
  • Spread your group out. While you and your fellow hikers will feel a natural tendency to stay closely together, by remaining in a cluster, you create a bigger target.
  • Do not lie flat. Your goal is to minimize contact with the ground and the surface area of your body that's exposed to lightning.
  • Wait 30 minutes. To avoid lightning that may strike behind the storm, wait 30 minutes after you’ve heard the last thunder before leaving your safe area.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Ticks! Prevention Tips

It's tick season and they are out in full force! Now more than ever it seems new diseases and other issues are evolving concerning this pest. I see more hikers worried about bears in the Appalachians, but what they really need to be concerned about is this very tiny menace that can wreck havoc on your body and cause a variety of illnesses. 

Here are the top ten ways to prevent this pest from ruining you from the Tick Borne Disease Alliance (and I add in a few tips also): 

Ticks are most active in the spring and summer months when they’re typically in their “nymph” stage.  Because of their small size at this stage in their lives, these ticks can go feeding—unnoticed—for days, allowing greater time for infectious bacteria to travel from the tick to its human host.  

Lyme disease is the fastest growing infectious disease and the most common tick-borne disease in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control, but there are numerous other diseases that ticks can pass along. There is currently no full-proof diagnostic tool for Lyme disease, causing thousands of people to often go misdiagnosed and without appropriate treatment.  Many sufferers of tick-borne illnesses are not even aware that they are victims of these diseases because they don’t have the facts. 

Below is the list of Prevention Tips:

1.    Purchase tick-repellent clothing, especially clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide that repels and kills ticks. You may spray your own clothing with permethrin or seek out brands such as Insect Shield. Any article of personal clothing can actually be sent directly to Insect Shield in Greensboro, NC, where they will treat it with permethrin in their patented bonding process.  The treated clothes will look exactly the same as the clothes that were sent in, but will have the ability to repel and kill ticks, as well as repel other insects, for up to 70 washings.  See their web site for details. (I sent mine in and they were returned in a week).

2.     Reduce the amount of skin exposed by sporting long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a hat

3.     EPA-approved insect repellent should be applied to exposed skin. check this website from REi on different kinds.  

4.     Venture in the center of woodland trails, and avoid walking along any deer paths

5.     Every time you’ve been outside, check for ticks while you are out and as soon as you get back

6.     Never wait to shower.  Bathing as soon as possible will help in removing unattached ticks from your body.   Bath time is the perfect time to carefully inspect for any unwanted hitchhikers.

7.     Take your clothes off and put them in the dryer at high heat for about 30 minutes to kill any ticks.  If clothes cannot be put into the dryer immediately, they should be placed in a Ziploc bag until a dryer is available.

8.     Inspect your pets when they come inside from the outdoors, as they may be transporting ticks that can then transfer to you (Note: This is really important. Be sure your pet has been vaccinized for Lyme disease. And use a tick killing collar, drops or a pill. Don't skip this. I've had a dog with tick-born illness)

9.     Opt for light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks

10.  Neatly tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants legs into your socks when possible to provide an extra line of defense against ticks

(Note also - if you do find an embedded tick, remove it promptly with tweezers or a tick-removal tool and seek out a doctor, especially if the tick was a deer tick. A one time dose of doxycycline 200 mg can be taken to prevent Lyme Disease if done with 36 hrs of the bite)

More information about TBDA, Lyme and tick-borne diseases, and prevention and protection can be found at

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Overuse Hiking Issues

Just recently I am seeing overuse issues cropping up among hikers and especially those doing long distances. Unfortunately hikers sometimes believe the hike is a competition and they need to keep up with the flock. Or they feel the miles they do is too low and they ought to do more. Thus they end up doing too much for ligaments and tendons unaccustomed to the stress. Because of this, hikers end up with overuse related issues that can jeopardize their hike.

Shin Splints – I have seen many hikers developing this issue, usually after long days of hiking, doing
high miles their limbs are not used to it. Shin splints refers to medial tibia stress syndrome over the shaft of the tibia. It is directly related to doing too much too soon. The pain is felt along the thick bone of the tibia of the lower leg. Sometimes it can be in the calf muscle itself.  There could also be swelling.

Knee issues – this is probably the most common joint that suffers from overuse. The ligaments around the knee become sensitive to the loads we carry, not only of our backpacks but the stresses of uphills,   downhills, and rocky terrain. That plus longer distances puts a good deal of stress on them, leading to pain and sometimes even ligament tears.

Muscle and Body Pain and Fatigue – again, doing too much too soon can lead to weariness in the
body, especially in long distance hikers who are not adequately taking in good nutrition needed for the miles hiked. Or they skimp on drinking water. The body can turn to muscle to burn - a very poor place to find the energy needed to keep things going. Muscle wasting leads to weight drop, fatigue, and health issues once the hike ends.

What to do?

First of all, CUT the miles! If you are developing an issue like shin splints or knee issues, rest is important. RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation until symptoms subside.  Take a few days off. Ice the affected extremity. Take Vit I (Advil). Apply an ace wrap or brace to the area. Search out exercises online to help stretch the affected areas.

Check your shoes. I’ve seen hikers that have come 800 miles in trail runners which are only meant to 
do 3-400 miles. Change your shoes, and when you do, make sure they are the proper shoes for your foot type. Good insoles and good socks are important too. And don’t forget hiking poles.

Make sure you are taking in adequate fluids and nutrition. Eating just ramen or potatoes is not going to provide the protein needed to help your muscles recover. Skimping on good foods means your body may turn to muscle of energy, and that’s not good. Eat a well-balanced meal that also contains dehydrated veggies and protein. Also take a multi vitamin. Water is needed to lubricate joints and prevent that achy feeling.

When you are ready to begin hiking again, ease back into your hiking. Do not be tempted to do too much too soon. Or you will be right back where you started. Be patient and your body will reward with with an awesome hike.

Related blogs:

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Plan Ahead and Prepare for that Trip!

I thought it was good to repost this. I was out during the FIRE in Shenandoah recently and found hikers woefully unprepared for what was happening. Not only did they NOT know about the fire and the closed trails (!), but did not plan for water in dry areas or their hike in general. Every season as a ridgerunner I see backpackers failing to plan and prepare for their trip They end up miserable, possibly in danger, or having to end the journey prematurely. Because of it, they lacked what was needed to help ensure a timely and safe hike. Others do not seek out the regulations in the area where they plan to camp - such as securing permits for Shenandoah - and must alter their plans

With that in mind, I have taken principles from the Leave No Trace web site to help illustrate some good ideas when deciding on a hiking trip. Plus I add a few of my own.  

"Adequate trip planning and preparation helps backcountry travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably, while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land.

Poor planning often results in miserable campers and damage to natural and cultural resources. Rangers often tell stories of campers they have encountered who, because of poor planning and unexpected conditions, degrade backcountry resources and put themselves at risk.

You may want to create additional answers for this list:
  • It helps ensure the safety of groups and individuals.
  • It prepares you to Leave No Trace and minimizes resource damage.
  • It contributes to accomplishing trip goals safely and enjoyably.
  • It increases self-confidence and opportunities for learning more about nature.


  • Identify the goals (expectations) of your trip.
  • Identify the skill and ability of trip participants.
  • Select destinations that match your goals, skills, and abilities.
  • Gain knowledge of the area you plan to visit from land managers, maps, literature and online resources.
  • Choose equipment and clothing for comfort, safety, and Leave No Trace qualities.
  • Plan trip activities to match your goals, skills, and abilities.
  • Evaluate your trip upon return note changes you will make next time.
  • Weather
  • Terrain
  • Regulations/restrictions (permits, camping areas, fires)
  • Private land boundaries
  • Average hiking speed of group and anticipated food consumption
  • Group size (does it meet regulations, trip purpose and Leave No Trace criteria?)
  • Water availability
Meals are another element to trip planning that can have a profound effect on the impact a group has on a backcountry area.

Benefits of Good Meal Planning:

  • Reduced trash.
  • Reduced pack weight, resulting in faster hiking times and less fatigue.
  • Reduced dependence upon campfires for cooking.
  • One-Pot Meals and Food Repackaging

Planning for one-pot meals and light weight snacks requires a minimum of packing and preparation time, lightens loads and decreases garbage. One-pot meals require minimal cooking utensils and eliminate the need for a campfire. Two backpack stoves can be used to cook all meals for large groups if you have two large pots (one large pot can be balanced on two stoves when quick heating is desired). Don't rely on campfire cooking (and please, do not make aluminum foil HOBO meals. I have seen too much foil left in campfire rings). Most food should be removed from its commercial packing and placed in sealable bags before packing your backpacks. Sealable bags (like ziploc bags) secure food and reduce bulk and garbage. Empty bags can be placed inside each other and packed out. This method can reduce the amount of garbage you must pack out at the end of the trip and eliminate the undesirable need of burying unwanted trash or burning it in a campfire (NEVER burn your trash!)"

Other things to consider. It's important to know before you go. Know where you are going. Know your physical limits, especially as you are carrying a backpack over uneven terrain. Bring maps, compass, guidebooks of the area you plan to hike. There are map apps for your phone. In some areas it's good to have a GPS device. Familiarize yourself with the area. Bring a cell phone for emergencies. Know first aid and what to do in an emergency, for unplanned weather, or if you are injured. Bring adequate clothing and equipment like a good tent (don't rely on trail shelters) and water purification. Always pack an extra day of food in case you must stay for an extra  day because of bad weather. Don't rely on fires to keep you warm but have a good sleeping bag and warm weather clothing like merino wool underwear, an insulated jacket, a hat, and rain gear. Be sure to keep your sleeping bag and clothing dry at all costs.

Don't let poor planning and preparation ruin your dream.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Dangers of a Trail

This maker commemorates lives lost at the Laurel Fork Falls
We all know there are certain dangers found when hiking. Weather extremes. Injuries from the act of hiking over terrain. Illness. The occasional wildlife encounter or insect / plant life encounter that goes bad. But there are also other hazardous that can even be life threatening. Sometimes there have been drownings. Medical conditions such as heart attacks. Even crime, though extremely rare. The trail itself, in all its varying terrain, can deliver near life and death experiences. 

A few years ago year ago, a father and son lost their lives at Laurel Fork Falls, right along the famous Appalachian Trail near Hampton, TN. 

While thinking on this tragedy, I was alerted to another hiker that had a similar fateful fall at these waterfalls and nearly drowned. Hiker "Slim" shares her harrowing experience in this journal entry from her hike:

We stopped at Laurel Fork Gorge to dip our feet in the water.  We met another hiker, Bob, from upper
Hiker Slim nearly drowned at Laurel Fork Falls
New York who sells printing presses.
  We were all talking and hiking along the creek when we went around a two foot rock ledge at the water's edge and when I stepped up my pack’s external frame hit the rock above and knocked me off balance and I fell backward and head first fell into the water with a fully loaded backpack.  I was holding my breath while suspended in water just a few feet over my head but couldn't get up or down.  I was suspended there
Where Slim fell and could not breath
for a few seconds when I heard a splash behind me.
  Bogey had jumped over me into the fast moving stream still wearing his backpack and I felt him pushing my pack and me upward.  Then again he pushed me and finally I was able to grasp some air.  Bob pulled me out and then Bogey climbed out.  I don't know if I would have thought to take off my backpack as Bogey was in so quick to jump in after me.  I didn't have time to think. I probably would have drowned because I did not think to take off the backpack.  I was scared, shaking and weak when I climbed out. Then Bogey climbed out and the camera that was in his fanny pack began to make a grinding noise.  We then had to buy another camera when we got to Unicoi.  We did eleven miles today.  I hesitate to think what would have happened if Bogey had jumped into water that was over his head. 
Bogey jumped in and saved Slim. Here they are safe and only wet just after the incident. 

I told him he could have drowned. He said he would have pushed me out first.   Bogey lost his pepper spray in the creek.  I was so grateful to him for loving me enough to risk his life for me. 

 Wow. Such a story makes one think and appreciate life and those we love so much more. Heroism can be so overlooked by the bad we hear. Its good to reflect on the goodness we find in the trail experience. And also to take those extra precautions and be aware of our surroundings, knowing that danger exists on the trail.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

8 Ways to Save Some Bucks on Backpacking Essentials

We all know that backpacking gear can get fairly expensive. For many it’s not feasible to get the newest, lightest, greatest thing out there. So what are ways to save a little money here and there when it comes to gear without costing a bunch and carrying heavy gear?

Check your big box stores for clothing ideas. Many of them are carrying synthetic type garments just fine for backpacking. You don’t have to shell out $60 for a shirt but can get it for $15. Same with synthetic pullovers, hats, gloves, hiking socks (now is the time to stock up on winter clearance items too!).
Sitting on my 50 cent seat cushion.

Look for deals online and in your community. Browse thrift stores for gear. Many thrift stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. will get gear in that can be used. Clothes, outerwear, sometimes even other gear like sleeping pads. I have also scoured ads for yard sales that might be carrying gear and took for several years a Thermarest seat cushion I got for fifty cents at a yard sale. You never know! If you have an REI near you, get on their email list for their garage sale events. Great way to get gear real cheap. Many outfitters want to unload returned merchandise. Especially if they loan it out for rent. Ask around and see what they can do for you. Scour store clearance areas online for great deals where they are unloading old models of gear. 

Browse used gear forums. There are many online and in social media. Most go under Backpacking Gear Flea Markets on Facebook (there's at least five of them if not more). has a used gear forum also. Negotiate where you can. 

Other ideas for gear:

Smartwater bottle for a Nalgene. $1 for $8-10 saved, and it weighs less too.

A grease pot for a titanium pot. Only $8 vs $20-30 for a small pot that works fine for cooking

A homemade alcohol stove. You can make your own soda can stove, but be sure you test it. Flair ups is what causes damage to shelters and picnic areas and can cause burns. There is also cheap canister stoves on Amazon that many have said works well too. A Lexan spoon for less than a buck is all you need for silverwear.

Make your own gear. If you are handy with a sewing machine or a family member is, there are patterns and materials available online to sew your own stuff sacks, quilts, vests and jackets, tarps, etc.. Check out or Ray Jardine for ideas

Dehydrate your own food rather than buying Mountain House meals or the like. Dehydrating and adding vegetables and meats to rice and other pastas (repackage in sandwich bags) with some beef or chicken base can make great meals for the fraction of the cost (watch the Knorr mixes which has hidden msg in it). Normally about $1-2 bucks per meal rather an $7-8. 

With a little bit of searching and ingenuity, you can make your backpacking dream come true without breaking the bank.

Related Blogs:

Monday, March 07, 2016

The Hiker Medicine Chest

So what do you carry on a backpacking trip with regards to supplements and other medicines? I’ve touched on this briefly in my blog on first aid, but I wanted to add in a few extra ideas that I found helpful on hikes.


Drink Water!

While it would be nice to get all our nutrition naturally from what we eat, as backpackers it’s rare we can do so. Additional supplements helps the body recover quicker from the damage caused by hiking and provide more energy and less issues with health. Herbs can also help with inflammation and pain. Do not underestimate water consumption. Water is your best defense against achy joints.

These are supplements worth taking (some will be different with men and women)

A Multi Vitamin- some prefer to carry a chewable kind, but if you do, they usually have sugar on them. All vitamins should be hung then in your bear bag. I take just the plain pill form. Women, make sure yours contains adequate iron.

Turmeric for Inflammation
Joint supplement – this can vary, but to help with joints and knees especially, glucosamine sulfate, at least 500 mg and up to 1000 mg a day works well. So does Eggshell membrane that contains MSM and chondroitin.

For Inflammation – I carry Turmeric in pill form. Also Boswellia Serrata. Ginger has also been used for anti-inflammatory issues as well as the chief component in Cayenne pepper, capsaicin. Green Tea helps fight pain, which you can bring in pill form or as teas to drink.

For women, I highly recommend carrying calcium carbonate, extra Vitamin D 3 (helps absorb the calcium), and cranberry tablets to control urinary tract issues

Other Medications

Sometimes other pain relievers are needed. If you don’t have ulcer issues, you can bring some of the standard Vitamin I – commonly known as Advil, to help with inflammation and pain. I usually try to control pan with plain Tylenol though and use the other herbal supplements to help with inflammation. Do not plan to bring other kinds of narcotic pain relievers with you. If you feel the need for a narcotic, then the pain you are having is NOT normal and you should get off the trail and to a doctor.

Doxycycline – 200 mg of this, taken when you first discover a deer tick bite, can help against the development of Lyme disease. Talk to your doctor about having this prescription in your first aid kit. And carry a tick key too for tick removal. Use permethrin to treat your clothing, shoes and socks (do not apply to your skin!).

Stomach Aids – I do not recommend any kind of stomach aids for diarrhea such as lomotil. Diarrhea is the mechanism the body uses to flush out harmful bacteria and viruses. If you are experiencing constant diarrhea for a week or two that does not go away, you may have contracted the water borne illness giardia, and then, you need a prescription antibiotic to cure it. If you suddenly develop an onset of the runs and vomiting, you may have contracted norovirus. No stomach aid can help with this, but only time as it is a virus. Be sure when you are able, drink electrolyte solutions (such as Gatorade) to replace the fluids lost. Coconut water, if available, is helpful also. Try also broths and bananas. Carry with you a good hand sanitizer such as Purell with at least 70% alcohol content, and use it freely to help prevent contamination.

If you plan to be on the trail long term and are on prescription medication, use mail drops to mail the meds to your stops. Having a reliable person at home to help send them to you is a good idea. You can also get a vacation refill from your pharmacy so some drops can be made up ahead of time. Drops can be sent to a host of locations such as outfitters, hostels, motels etc besides just post offices. Check recent guidebooks for where to mail them. And always send your parcels Priority Mail.

 Related Blog

Sickness on the Trail - what to do, prevention

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

That All Important Gear List for a Spring Backpacking Trip

Ah, it's that time of year. Time when we are considering our hiking plans and what we need in the realm of gear to have a safe and enjoyable trip. Here is a typical gear list for a spring start of a long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail. Use it to help construct or modify your gear list. At the end are links to small business outfitters and other retailers.

Sample Gear List for Long Distance Appalachian Trail Hike
 (early spring in the South)
Compiled By “Blissful”  

Backpack (be sure its the right size for you! Do NOT go by your height but by torso length), pack cover, pack liner (I swear by Zpacks liner, bombproof), hiking poles, cuben fiber stuff sacks are light and waterproof (Z packs has a nice variety to double bag your sleeping bag and clothes as they MUST stay dry)

Sleeping bag (15-20 degree rating), silk liner (good for the cold sleeper like me, adds around 9 degrees), sleeping pad (watch the R value which determines how well it functions in cold weather), Tyvek ground sheet to protect the tent floor from mud, snow (necessary imo), tent – poles and stakes (or complete hammock set-up), air pillow (optional)

Cooking and Drinking

Stove, fuel and fuel container, lighter,  -windscreen (optional), titanium pot, pot cozy (all this is incl if you get a Jetboil system), spork (I use a titanium one after breaking three Light My Fire ones), cup (useful for stream dipping), container for getting water from springs and streams, personal water drinking containers (such as liter plastic bottles - Smartwater bottle is good, etc), water purification (Aqua mira, Sawyer Mini, etc), bear bag hanging system (50 feet of nylon cord), food, waterproof food bag (I actually take two bags to split up my lunch and snack for the day so the  heavier, main food bag goes deeper inside my backpack)

Clothing (can vary depending on your likes and the season)
Hiking clothes ( merino wool long sleeve top, one t-shirt top, convertible pants, fleece top) Insulated jacket (down is good to start), windshirt, hat, gloves, midweight merino wool or fleece top and bottom for camp and sleep (a must if your hiking clothes get wet), rain jacket (pants optional, but I believe needed for early start to help against hypothermia), rain hat (good if you wear glasses), underwear, sports bra (women), good socks (at least three pair), crocs for camp, trail shoes or hiking boots

Headlamp, First aid kit, medicines (Vit I, doxycycline for ticks, Tylenol, etc), tooth brush and paste, dental floss, earplugs, prescription (esp. if you wear glasses or contacts), hiker wallet with ID, cash, a few personal checks, credit card, debit card (have an extra on the homefront), toilet paper, a few baby wipes, hand sanitizer, whistle, DEET (later on), sunscreen, body glide (if prone to chafing, can take it out of its container), small jackknife with scissors, bandana, pack towel

Maps and guidebook pages, small journal and pen, cell phone and charger, Yaktrax (optional), stuff sacks and Ziploc bags, compass (optional)

Places to Buy Gear or Change out Gear En Route

Some Outfitters near the Trail 

Other Retail and Online Outfitters (ones I have also personally dealt with)

Related Blog:

Gear List of a 2015 Appalachian Trail Thru Hiker