Thursday, March 29, 2012

itty bitty backpacker belly (IBBB)

At the end of almost every backpacking trip, the cravings begin. These cravings vary from trip to trip, but usually include fresh salads, fruit, breads, dairy and meats. While freeze-dried and dehydrated food can taste good on a chilly backcountry evening, nothing beats a fresh burger, pizza or crunchy salad.

So, when the “what I’ll eat when I get home” conversation runs through your head, keep your appetite in mind.

Remember your mother telling you that your eyes are bigger than your stomach? This couldn’t be more true then at the end of a backpacking trip. While you are constantly eating as you move through the hills and forests, it’s almost impossible to put as much food in your body as you are burning up (on one trip I was burning close to 3,800 calories a day)! This leads to a condition that I playfully call “Itty-Bitty Backpacker Belly or IBBB”.

The typical symptom of my fictitious malady is as follows: you sit down to a large post-trip meal knowing full well you can eat the whole thing. After several bites, you are flabbergasted that there is only enough belly room for half of the entree. IBBB often sneaks up on you, and you never know you have it until the first brush with a succulent plate of fresh home-cooked cuisine.

But don’t fret! With time, IBBB goes away and your hearty appetite returns to serve you well for barbecues, buffets and family dinners.

Should you decide your first post-trip meal is restaurant- worthy, do yourself a favor and order small quantities. Doing so will ensure you have some room for a bite or two of a chocolate sundae for desert. Your itty-bitty backpacker belly will be grateful.

happy trails, hinterland hikers!

Monday, March 26, 2012

blisters- freedom of the feet

We have a game that we enjoy playing when we are backpacking, it’s called, ironically, Blisters. It was created by a couple of guys who were hiking the Appalachian Trail with 6 dice and a whole lot of time on their hands. The game is played by attempting to roll pairs, in a succession of rounds. When you fail you get ‘blisters’ and go bust. Getting blisters is a very bad thing and ultimately, will kick you out of the game, leaving your crafty opponent to tease you for long trail days to come.

Real blisters, have a similar effect, minus the trail teasing, unless your partner is cruel or simply can’t help laughing at your goofy gait. One round of those little puffy suckers on a toe, heel or foot pad and you’ll be toddling like a robot and ready to throw in the trail-towel. But the good news is that they are totally preventable with a little understanding of how they form. Three things cause a blister.

1) Friction
2) Moisture
3) Heat

If you eliminate any one of those three things, you won’t get one! So, how do you prevent those elements when sweating up an ecosystem in your Smartwools?

Eliminate friction by wearing hiking boots or trail runners that are a bit loose. You’ll want enough room that the shoe is comfortable, but not crowded when your hiking sock is in place. You should have enough room to comfortably wiggle all your toes and even have a small amount of back and forth, and side to side room. The perfect fit is that ‘awwww‘ feeling when you step forward. If the shoe is too big, your toe will hit the front of the boot on the downhills causing a painful and extremely ugly condition which causes you to lose your toenail. Since most hiking toenail deaths coincide with sandal season, usually you are forced to rock that look around town and wherever else you happen to roll. Nothing says sexy like a brown toenail playing peekaboo under a Chaco strap. So, make sure your trail shoes aren’t too tight, or too lose. Sometimes, it’s a matter of trial and error to find the right fit. In particular, if you have a narrow or wide foot, be sure to talk to the footwear specialist about brands that run in either of those directions. Personally, my foot is wide, so I prefer Montrails and Merrells. Narrow feet often do well in La Sportiva and Salomon. But I digress...

If something is rubbing, don’t let it be a slight annoyance. STOP in the name of ouch! Hotspots are the first sign that a blister is coming to park itself on your soft tissue. Let the area get air and dry completely. Apply a bandage, moleskin or duct tape. Yes, you read that correctly. Once again, duct tape, to the rescue (insert cape and superhero song here “dut-da-da-duh”). The point is, get something on that puppy before the hot spot becomes a blister. Make sure the bandage or duct tape is secure, otherwise it can sneak off and create more problems.

Of course, if your feet get wet either from rain, dewey meadows, snow or mud, bring extra socks and change them frequently. Dry socks are a little serving of bliss in less than perfect conditions.

Sweaty feet. Just talking about them makes me twisty my nose and hunt for fresh air. But lets face it, few of us every traipse across the landscape without developing warm feet, which become sweaty feet, which often become blistered feet. Sock liners work pretty well in relieving both perspiration and friction, but in order to work well, they must fit like a glove, or they’ll rub and you’ll be none the happier. Perhaps the best and simplest method, is to stop once an hour and take off your socks and shoes. Not only does it feel great, but it solves a wasps nest of foot issues. Plus, it gives you an excuse to stop, rest, and marinate in your surroundings.

Uber-hot feet can be relieved with a few shots of baby powder every now and then in additional to a good socks-off session. When you come to creek crossings, plop those dogs right in that cold water and feel the ‘ewww and awww’. Just be sure they are completely dry before putting them back in socks.

Treat your feet well and they will take you to beautiful places. A good friend of mine has a thing with sticking her feet in backcountry mud. When she finds a good muddy lake bottom, or trail puddle, she takes her shoes off and plunges those pigges right in. I’ve watched her close her eyes and melt as the goo rises between each toe, as if she’s enjoying an expensive spa treatment. It's a simple thing, this freedom of the feet. Whatever works, ya’know, whatever works.

happy trails, hinterland hikers

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

this time of year

Yesterday, 36 states saw temperatures over 70 degrees. Washington State was not one of those basking in the heat of an early sprummer (spring/summer). But the sky was blue and the birds were dancing in the trees, so I took a jaunt up a local trail (West Tiger 3) to see how things looked.

Winter's cold hands still held the land tightly. The grey jays and douglas squirrels were shameful flirts as they tried to convince me that their wintery world was not a sufficient provider. I knew better and resisted their sweet faces.

Down lower, the Indian Plum was beginning to bloom, which to me, is always the very first sign that no matter how hard winter tries, spring always wins the battle of the seasons. I even saw one bloom on a salmonberry bush, which made me think that it's only a matter of time before the hummingbirds arrive to the high country and the bears crawl out from under their fallen logs to feast on nature's bounty.

As usual, Mother Nature's 'school for higher learning', taught me the lesson of patience. And subtly reminded me, that spring, is indeed coming.

happy trails, hinterland hikers!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

it really is that good

Looking for deals on outdoor gear and can sniff out a bargain like a hound dog on a hare hunt?

Check out Steep and Cheap! It's a weird concept for a web site, but yet, so unexpected. Each day, they put one thing, just one thing, up for sale. It's price is always cheap and the quantities are always limited. If you need something, say hiking socks, you'll have to keep going back day after day to see if they show up for sale. In the meantime, you'll have talked yourself into buying a backpack, a soft-shell jacket, a new fork for your mountain bike and a pair of water shoes. Soon, your home will look like Mount Everest Base Camp, but I digress.

Visit, shop, enjoy.

happy trails, hinterland hikers.


(left: beaming with garbage gratification, my husband holds the contents of 4 days of backpacking trash)

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” I said. I was struggling to strap six days of funky backcountry trash to my backpack. The smell coming out of the bag was a cross between, old cabbage, bad hippo and decomposing road kill. We’d been eating freeze-dried meals for a good portion of the trip and had experimented with a variety of brands, some of which, did not go down so well. The constituted decaying remains accompanied us along the trail. The garbage bag itself, was a classic white kitchen trash bag, complete with the ever useful, but not sealable, drawstring top. By day 6, it had started to drip and we’d done our best to make a backcountry repair with duct tape around the liquid. By morning, the duck tape had started to ooze and we were left with no choice but to strap a drippy, gooey mess of wet garbage stench to the outside of the pack and hope for a good cross-breeze. The official trailhead trash can could not come quick enough.

When organizing and packing for a multi-day backpacking trip, the last thing to cross one’s mind is trash management. This important and overlooked detail is something that I’ve mastered and can happily share with you so that you don’t end up with a plight similar to my past experiences.

To get started:

  • Get a bunch of ziplock style freezer baggies in varying sizes. If you are eating store-bought freeze-dried meals, many of them already come in a zippered pouch. If the manufacturer overlooked this packaging convenience, dump the contents into a zippered plastic freezer baggie. Write instructions on the outside of the baggie, so you don’t forget how much water to add when trail-brain sets in.*
  • If you are a gourmet backcountry chef, use freezer baggies for your own custom dehydrated meals.
  • Use freezer bags for things like oatmeal, cold cereal, cold cuts and cheese.

The goal is to dirty as few dishes as possible and use the baggies instead of bowls.

After you’ve enjoyed your dinner, designate one used ziplock freezer baggie for your garbage bag. Place all trash inside that bag, including any trail bar wrappers, any other dirty baggies (keep them unzipped), dirty tissue, etc. Gently (that’s key, Bigfoot) step down on the designated dirty trash baggie to express any air, and seal to a nice, flattened package. Repeat this each day and your garbage will come out small, compressed and liquid free. Best of all, it will keep odors to a minimum, diminish dishes and lessen your odds of being stalked by a skunk.

happy trails, hinterland hikers!

Monday, March 12, 2012

confessions from a cereal backpacker

"What?" he said, giving me a befuddled look. Reading my mouth was out. It was brimming with a mixture of reconstituted oatmeal that I'd been shoveling in with reckless abandon. I swallowed the mush, then repeated, "I wonder if this would taste any better if we added dirt". He laughed and continued breaking camp.

For years, I've relied on instant oatmeal as a trusty and true backcountry breakfast. Filling and lightweight it takes the edge off of morning hunger rumbles. However, something is always missing- taste and texture. Learning lessons the hard way has always been my style and I've spent many a quiet trail morning gagging down flavors such as strawberries-n-cream, maple-n-brown sugar and apples-n-cinnamon, trying to convince my persnickety tongue that the label touting "natural flavors" wasn't lying. But after several trail days, the thought of dipping my long backpacking spoon into a baggie of drywall spackle-meets-bathroom spray was difficult to stomach. So, after experimenting with various breakfast options, I finally found a couple things that please my choosey chops and allow my gag reflex to rest.

Cold cereal to the rescue (Dun, duh, duh, DAH)! Probably the easiest way to create a lightweight backcountry breakfast is to get a small freezer baggie and pour in a hearty serving of your favorite, wholesome, cold cereal. Make it something that you enjoy or you'll make the same face you do at home, come time to eat in the backcountry. Add about 1/4 cup of dried milk (a little more if you prefer a milker flavor) and wah-la...breakfast is served. Of course, at camp, all you do is add about 1/2 cup of icy water to the baggie and your spoon will be doing the backstroke in a baggie of cereal goodness.

My personal favorite backpacking cereal is Kashi. It holds up nicely and doesn't resemble the bottom of a potato chip bag when tossed around day after day. It's tasty and *bonus*- good for you! Unlike most cereals, Kashi actually adds soy protein, so you have more energy and burn more calories (muffin-top's beware). And, if blueberries aren't ripe, you'll appreciate the extra fiber...(yipee ki yi yea get along little doggies). Of course, if you are traveling with kids or have an insatiable sweet tooth, Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch, and Honey Nut Cheerios also hold up nicely.

it's variety you crave. Toss some homemade hot cereal into the breakfast line up. Forget quick oats- leave those on the store shelf. Believe it or not, conventional oats, which are better for you, lower on the GI index and heartier, cook up just as nicely as the quick variety. Grab a big bowl, and start throwing in handfuls of grub.
  • conventional oats,
  • a touch of brown sugar, stevia, or raw sugar
  • dried fruit, such as, raisins craisins, dried blueberries, etc. (check out Trader Joes for a great selection)
  • cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, you name it
  • nuts such as almonds, pecans or walnuts
  • dried milk (1/3 cup of dried milk, constitutes 1 cup of liquid)
Once your hot-oat concoction is ready, grab some freezer baggies and separate them out for each morning when you'll be eating hot cereal during your trip. You choose your portion size, which is a beautiful thing! At camp, pour boiling water in to your freezer bag and stir. The freezer bag won't melt, just watch your hands and hold it from the top. Use less water than you think you need- you can always add more later. That mistake will have you eating sloppy gruel, and we go back to paragraph one. Let your oatmeal reconstitute for at least a minute and shovel with reckless abandon.

happy trails, hinterland hikers!