I have friends that swear by them. And others who froze in them. Ed Wardle, of “Alone in the Wild” fame, hunkered down in one while spending a couple of months in the Canadian wilderness.
I’m talking about hammocks. Specifically, those designed for use at a campsite.
One disclaimer: I love sleeping in a hammock, but in terms of campsite use I’m just not a believer. But plenty of others are.
On a live chat that ran during Wardle’s show, a viewer asked him why he chose a hammock instead of a tent. His answer:
“The hammock is great in that terrain, lots of trees and not much flat ground. I don’t fancy sleeping in a tent where you can’t see out and around you. I slept in tents in the arctic and you just wouldn’t know if there was a polar bear outside.”
Similar sentiments come from others who have used them.
From what is quickly becoming one of my favorite Web sites, sectionhiker.com, are these observations:
Mobility. As long as there’s trees around, you have a place to camp. No need to worry about flat ground.
Comfort. Some people just don’t adjust to the combination of the hard ground and a sleeping pad, especially on uneven or bumpy surfaces. Everyone can sleep in a hammock.
Staying dry. As long as you’ve properly placed a tarp over your hammock, you’ll stay dry. Ever slept in a flooded tent? Probably not, because no one gets any sleep in a flooded tent.
And one observation of my own:
Pack weight. Even the lightest tents aren’t going to be as light as a hammock, and not as compressible.
That said, there are disadvantages. The biggest of these is cold.
Hammocks are great in mild weather, and can even be better than tents when it’s hot. I have two friends who spent some time backpacking in east Asia, and hammocks are all they used.
But on another trip, this one a July backpacking trip in Colorado, one member of our group regretted his choice of a hammock over a tent. We camped at 11,000 feet, and even in July the temperatures can easily drop into the low 30s at that altitude. He got very little rest because he was just too cold. Even in the trees, the cold breezes surrounded him. All the air around him was cold. Even with a pad under him, a warm sleeping bag and winter clothing on, the poor guy didn’t sleep at all.
The tent has an advantage here because the tent walls stop the wind and allow your body heat and heat from your breathing to warm the air inside.
Sectionhiker.com says the temperature range for hammocks is between 50 and 75 degrees. In a tent, your temperature range is much wider, especially if you’re using a four-season tent and have a sleeping bag rated to handle the temperatures you’re camping in.
One of the hammock’s strengths is also its weakness. Camping in treeless environs, such as a prairie, tundra or above timberline, means you’d have no place to set up a hammock. So your choice of locales is limited.
I choose a tent, but to each his own. Let me know your thoughts.
This is something interesting I got from the folks at the state Tourism Department. If you can make your way to to Woodward on Thanksgiving week, this would be a really interesting outing. Read on…
NORTH AMERICAN FALCONERS ASSOCIATION TO MEET IN WOODWARD
WOODWARD — On Thanksgiving week, hundreds of birds of prey — eagles, falcons, hawks and owls — and their falconers will flock to Woodward for the annual Field Meet of the North American Falconers Association (NAFA).
These trained birds will not only be flying in the Oklahoma skies in pursuit of game but also will be on display for the public. The event will be taking place Nov. 23-27.
Several activities are available free to the pubic including opportunities to take photos of birds in the weathering yard. Visitors also can meet falconers and their birds in person. The headquarters for the meet will be the Northwest Inn of Woodward, located at U.S. 270 & 1st Street. The “weathering yard,” where birds rest and sun themselves, will be the field directly adjoining the hotel. The best time to see the birds in the yard will be daily from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Many of the birds will be hunting in early morning and late afternoon.
Falconry can be defined as the taking of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained raptor — the ultimate field sport. Of all sports in America, falconry is the only one that utilizes a trained wild creature. Because all raptors are protected by state, federal, and international law, all potential falconers must obtain necessary permits before acquiring a hawk or practicing falconry. After receiving their permits, they become apprentices for two years while learning the basics under the tutelage of a sponsor.
Falconers can later obtain a General or Master classification but practicing falconry is a lifelong learning process. Falconers are men and women from all backgrounds and occupations. However, they all share one thing in common: the passion for their birds and the sport. They also have a keen understanding and appreciation for the environment. Falcons, hawks, eagles and owls are essential elements of our wildlife. Falconers follow sound and ethical conservation principles in the pursuit of the sport.
Thought to have originated in Mongolia, Egypt and Asia, falconry is an ancient art and practice between man and essential elements of nature that has existed for at least 3,000 years in many forms and cultures. Falconry is depicted in an Assyrian Bas-relief found in the ruins at Khorsabad of the palace of Sargon II (ca 2730-2713 B.C.). Today, the sport of falconry brings common ground and heritage to many people around the world. Falconers from all over the United States, Canada, Mexico and numerous other countries will be participating.
The meet is hosted by the Oklahoma Falconers Association (OFA) and the Woodward Tourism and Convention Bureau. Additional information about the meet is available online at http://www.n-a-f-a.com/Meet09.htm.
I don’t need much to keep me happy. When I’m traveling, I’ve found that even the most meager accommodations are good enough. But it’s always nice to have a few luxuries around, even on the trail.
How to accomplish this without requiring the services of backcountry porters is the dilemma faced by many when they first venture out into backpacking territory.
Camping, for the most part, is a blast. If you don’t mind camping around other people, you can car camp and bring anything your car or truck can haul. That could include large tents, a travel trailer, or even an RV with a kitchen. If that’s the case, I imagine your experience will be quite comfortable indeed. Steaks, anyone?
But if you’re like me, not only to you lack all that stuff, but you also want some solitude. That means hauling your stuff to places where cars, trucks and ATVs don’t go. So you’ll have to put it on your back and hoof it.
I haven’t perfected the art of the luxurious campsite, but I’m getting there. Some things that I’ve found to be backpacker-friendly but nice to have around include:
A good supply of hot food and the means to prepare it. You’d be surprised how good some dehydrated meals taste. Red beans and rice are a favorite with some of my friends. I like beef stew. I did taste a friend’s pad thai that wasn’t too tasty. But most stuff I’ve brought worked out pretty well. Hot instant oatmeal for breakfast, and maybe hot chocolate/coffee. Nothing warms the soul more than a good hot meal. For a kitchen, I use an MSR Pocket Rocket stove, 3.5 ounces not including the fuel can. That plus a water filter and a light cookware set, and I can eat for a week with less than 10 pounds of food/gear.
How about accommodations? A good tent can be had for less than $200. Neither of my backpacking tents weighs more than 6 pounds, and neither were more than $150. I’ve got a decent 20-degree sleeping bag, though an upgrade would be nice. The indispensible part of my gear is my Thermarest sleeping pad. Gives me some cushion under the bag and insulates me from the ground. A camp chair is probably next on my gear wish-list, something small but comfortable to relax in around the campfire.
I don’t bother with a camp pillow. I just put extra clothes in a stuff sack and make that work. Hasn’t let me down yet. Don’t pack the sack too full, though. Then it becomes too hard to be a good pillow.
Let there be light! Lastly, I like to read. A lot. But when it gets dark, it’s pretty hard to read without a light source. I leave the flashlight at home and take along one of my two lightweight headlamps. My Petzl is a little bigger, but it has a brighter beam and a “red light” option. My wife’s tiny Black Diamond headlamp work just fine as well. This is something you should have in your pack anyway.
These aren’t going to replace 5-star hotels, but they are some small tools and such that make the campsite experience a little more posh than granola bars and gorp. Feel free to share your tips by posting here or e-mailing me.
I’ve mentioned my friend Johnny Hunter on occasion. He’s a fantastic hiking and climbing buddy. And he has one thing I sorely wish I had.
He has no fear of exposure.
When talking about the term “exposure,” I need to define it a little better. In climbing terms, exposure is loosely defined as the level of risk of falling. Something with low exposure would be, say, a hike up Elk Mountain. Virtually no danger of falling anywhere off that trail unless you trip and fall on your butt. Higher exposure, like the Class 3 and 4 routes on Mount Mitchell, means you’re dealing with dropoffs and steep terrain that could results in serious injury or even death if you fell. Large, sheer dropoffs, like the kind you find on vertical faces, offer the certainty of death if you fell. High-exposure areas are also those in which you have to climb/traverse the section and can’t go around. Uncompahgre Peak, for example, has HUGE vertical dropoffs of several hundred feet, but the standard route to the summit avoids them. Therefore, the exposure level on that route is relatively low.
As I said before, exposure doesn’t bother Johnny. It bothers me, however. So for the last several years, I’ve tried to gradually push myself to tolerating higher levels of exposure. That way, more of the backcountry is open to me for exploration. And if I ever want to try a more major undertaking when it comes to mountaineering, I’ll need to feel comfortable — and confident – in my skills and not get freaked out by heights.
The good news: The relatively high exposure on certain sections of Mount Mitchell didn’t bug me. To the contrary, they were fun. The bad news: I still don’t like sheer dropoffs. No tightrope traverses for me, thank you. So this is a work in progress.
If you’re like me and have a fear of heights, you might consider this approach. Gradually test your mental limits on successive trips. Go with someone who is pretty confident when it comes to dealing with exposure. What will happen over time is that you will realize much of your fear is irrational. The stuff that once appeared scary isn’t scary anymore. And as long as you have a high level of respect for high exposure areas (a little fear is not a bad thing), certain hikes and climbs can become fun, even exhilarating.
One side note: If you attempt more challenging hikes and climbs, stay within your skill/fitness level, have the proper safety equipment and be well-versed in their usage. And never push anyone beyond their skills/fitness. No one has fun when people get hurt.
Major thanks to John Munns for sending me this video. This may be the most amazing example of building climbing, or “buildering,” that I’ve ever seen.
A little follow-up on last week’s post about self-defense in the backcountry…
First of all, thanks to everyone who participated in the poll. I asked the question, “What do you do for self-defense in the backcountry?” Four possible answers were listed.
Of the 85 votes cast, 41 (48 percent) said they carry a firearm. Twenty people (24 percent) said they don’t worry about self-defense in the backcountry. Sixteen said they would use a knife, axe or hiking poles to defend themselves (19 percent) and another eight (9 percent) bring pepper spray.
The topic is diverse, as you have to think about defense against animals as well as people.
Most people agree that people are the bigger threat, but when it comes to backcountry risks, attacks – human or animal – are extremely rare.
In addition to the comments I received here, I got more via Facebook and still more on the 14ers.com forum. A sampling:
Ian from Tecumseh writes that he would take a shotgun. After living in Alaska for some time, he opts for something with power, albeit something bulky. “If there was a bear it would be very light then. I carried one in Alaska, came across a bear. I did not shoot, it ran off. It (the gun) was very light from that point on.”
Steven from Shawnee had one word of advice: “Prevention!”
Augie from Denver goes for a handgun, something light enough not to be a bother. “I have a small .380 that I take. It’s just enough for me to be comfortable with.”
Jim from Colorado Springs gives this perspective: “In my mind, it’s a matter of probabilities and cost/benefit. You’re far more likely to be injured or killed in a fall than in an attack (human or animal) in the … backcountry. Also, in the unlikely event of an attack, it’s possible to defend yourself to some extent with materials on hand (sticks and rocks), so it’s not as helpful to carry a weapon around. An ice axe (or whippet) is a good compromise, since it’s a general safety tool as well as a sharp pointy thing, so you’re not just wasting pack weight on something that will be used once every 100 years.”
Leigh from Chicago says this: “I just hope for safety in numbers — I have yet to backpack solo, but I would likely prefer to be armed if I choose to do so. When dayhiking alone, I usually carry mace and a small knife.”
Lots of food for thought. In my experience, I’ve found that my grade school playground was more threatening than the backcountry. I even went to a church volleyball game where I faced a greater threat (from a person) than anything I’ve run up against on the trail.
Preparation, however, is not something to be undervalued. Whatever length you go to accomplish that, the end result should be constant: to be safe.
So here’s a few stories, and then a topic most of us don’t like to talk about when it comes to backcountry issues. The topic: Self defense. Here goes…
Last week, musician and avid hiker Taylor Mitchell was killed by coyotes while on a solo hike in eastern Canada.
About two months ago, two women hiking in Colorado were attacked by a knife-wielding man. They fought him off with their hiking poles, and the man was later arrested.
Two facts of life in the backcountry. Sometimes wildlife encounters don’t go well for people, though coyote attacks are extremely rare. And more often than not, people are the most dangerous things someone might encounter.
I’m reminded of a couple of stories I heard from people I met in Montana, which is famous for its big game and big predators.
One involved a Texas preacher who moved up to Montana to pastor a church there. He liked to hike in Colorado and New Mexico, but wasn’t expecting the encounters he got in Big Sky country. First, he got treed by a moose. Don’t be fooled into thinking moose are just docile plant eaters. Moose are some of the most dangerous wild animals in North America. On another trip, he was hiking along a steep ridge when he saw a bear. The bear ran up the slope with ease, but had no interest in him. But the speed at which the bear moved gave him pause. Last, he ran into a mountain lion which stalked him all the way back to his car. At this point, the pastor realized that he was going to have to arm himself if he wanted to do any more hiking in Montana.
Then there’s the truly scary story of a woman whose family runs a guide service. It was her turn to watch the camp while her husband went out in the field to hunt with some clients. The woman heard her horses acting up, then saw the source of their anxiety: an old, nasty and ill-tempered grizzly bear. She’d brought a lever-action rifle with her, and it’s a good thing, too. The bear charged her. She got off five shots, hitting the bear twice. One slug broke the bear’s shoulder. She later tracked the animal down and finished it off. But she easily could have been that bear’s supper.
These tales bring up the often sticky topic of self defense in the backcountry.
I was reading a piece on woodsmonkey.com on this subject. The author had some interesting points. Let’s go over your options for self defense, with some help from our friends at woodsmonkey.com:
Pepper spray. Non-lethal, and to use it does not take pinpoint accuracy of a firearm. Many pepper sprays are particularly effective against predators that rely on scent, such as bears, canines and big cats. People are likewise deterred by pepper sprays. Downside is the effects of wind and the relatively close proximity to your target you have to be in order to be effective.
Knives, hiking poles and other hand-held weapons. Not as bulky or controversial as a firearm. Such weapons have multiple uses beyond self defense, will probably be in your pack anyway and won’t be susceptible to weather or the elements. The women in Colorado used hiking poles to fend off their attacker. Better than nothing, but to use these things as weapons means you’re in direct contact with your attacker. If this is a bear or a mountain lion, your chances are not good.
Firearms. A gun is the great equalizer. A defense can be made from a safer distance than with your other options, and with proper training a person with a gun can shoot accurately and effectively. A high enough caliber weapon will stop just about anything. The downside is the limited use of a gun for your other backpacking needs, the added weight and bulk, the risk of accidental discharge and the fact that they aren’t legal to carry in some places. You might also find that some people just aren’t comfortable around folks who are packing heat.
Common sense, however, is one way to bring down the risks of being attacked in the wild, regardless of who or what the attacker is. Hiking with people is safer than going alone. Making noise as you go will scare most animals, even predators, away. Being aware of your surroundings is key. And when camping, store your food in a manner which prevents animals from seeing and smelling your stash.
Take this poll, and feel free to comment here or e-mail me:
News and notes from the great outdoors…
Quartz Mountain Fall Gathering
I’ve been told that this weekend is the Fall Gathering for climbers at Baldy Point in Quartz Mountain State Park. The Fall Gathering is one of two annual events at Baldy Point, considered to be the prime rock climbing destination in Oklahoma and one of the finest in the Southwest. The Fall Gathering is usually on the first weekend of November.
Here’s a link about Baldy Point: http://www.summitpost.org/mountain/rock/151409/Baldy-Point-Quartz-Mtn-.html
I’ve been trying to find information on this, but haven’t been able to. It’s not like I can be there anyway; work is going to get in the way. But I’m sure many climbers from Oklahoma and beyond will be there. If you’re planning on being there or have information on the Fall Gathering, reply here or e-mail me. I’d love to know more and would like to see pictures from any activities that may be going on there this weekend.
More ski season openings
About a month ago I mentioned some early openings in ski country, namely the Oct. 7 opening at Loveland and, two days later, Arapaho Basin.
More snow in the high country has meant more places are ready for skiers and boarders. Copper Mountain opens Friday; Winter Park on Nov. 18; and Steamboat Springs on Nov. 25.
All of these places are pretty close to Denver, so it’s a quick trip from there to the slopes. As soon as we start seeing regular ski reports, I’ll be posting them. Just one reason to love winter!
Time and again, I’ve been confronted with the reality that on most backpacking trips, my pack is too heavy.
On my first major backpacking adventure, it came in well over 50 pounds for a four-day stay in the Colorado backcountry. This should not be a source of pride. That’s just way too much stuff.
But the rationale behind overpacking sometimes plays to our instincts of wanting to be prepared for everything. This often leads to overkill.
Extra sweatshirts and pants. Multiple pairs of socks and underwear. More food than you will use. Various campsite tools you think you’ll need to gather and chop wood, cut lines and start campfires. It all adds up.
I’ve been able to shave about 15 pounds off that pack weight over the years, but still find myself carrying more weight than I really want. There are people out there who take a minimalist approach, and others who spend big bucks on ultralight gear so they can hike with packs that weight 15 pounds or less. Pretty remarkable for people who do multi-day or even multi-week excursions. But that’s not in realm for most of us.
But there are some tips you can follow that will help cut your pack weight down and make your trip more comfortable.
Some things that I’ve learned:
Resist the urge to bring a firewood axe. You don’t need it. If you’re going to build a campfire, most of the dead wood you can gather should be small enough to break without needing a heavy steel axe. Most dead limbs can be broken by stomping on them. Leaving the axe at home will save you a couple of pounds.
Small knives are better than big knives. You don’t want to go so small that your knife isn’t rugged enough for the outdoors, but you don’t need some huge Bowie knife, either. Better yet, bring along a multi-tool that has a knife, pliers, saw and other components.
Down sleeping bags are lighter than synthetic-fill bags. They’re generally pricier, too, but much lighter and compress down into a small package.
Pack a tent that is compact. Resist the urge to bring along some big, roomy tent just because you want some elbow room. You’re just using the tent as a place to sleep or stay dry. If you’re out with several people, pack one tent and divide components between you — one person carries the poles, one person the tent, and one the rain fly.
For food, pack what you need and use dehydrated meals that can be eaten by adding hot water. Same thing with sports drinks. Powdered mixes are better than bottles of the drinks in liquid form. If you’re walking out with a bunch of food in your pack, you brought too much.
Looks for ways to eliminate packaging. One thing I did: I carry a couple of water bottles for storing filtered water that I get from a stream or lake. But on the way in. I’ll use one of those to store my first-aid kit. The package the kit comes in stays at home. You could do this with lots of things: coffee, food, toothpaste, etc.
A Web site I found is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. It’s called sectionhiker.com, and I’ve quoted it often here. On that site, I found several more suggestions that make a lot of sense. Citing sectionhiker.com, here are some of those:
Phase 1: Eliminate and Substitute
In the first phase, you need to understand how much your gear weighs and eliminate everything you don’t use on trips. After that, we look at three core components: your backpack, shelter and sleeping bag and substitute them with alternatives that weight less than 3lbs. each.
Buy a digital scale that can weigh up to 8 lbs in pound, ounce and gram units. They cost about $20.
Assemble all of the clothing and equipment (minus food, water, and stove fuel) that you carry on backpacking or camping trips and weigh it. Add up all of the weights. This is your base weight.
Go on a backpacking trip and keep track of all of the gear or clothing that you did not use. Subtract this from your gear total and see how much weight you can save by leaving it behind. You’ll be surprised.
Next, try to limit the weight of your backpack, sleeping bag, and tent to a total of 9 lbs, or 3 lbs each. There are a lot of very affordable mainstream backpacks, bags, and tents that you can purchase that will bring this number down quickly.
Finally, try to replace existing items in your kit with lighter weight alternatives. For example, don’t bring an entire can of insect repellent when you can bring 1 oz. to get through your trip; or replace an 8 oz. flashlight with a tiny LED that weights 0.5 oz.
Phase 2: Multipurpose Equipment
You can further reduce your pack weight by using a single item for multiple purposes. For example, my sleeping gear includes a tent, tent poles, a sleeping bag and pad, long underwear, a balaclava and a down vest.
I use hiking poles, so I replace my tent poles with them to erect my tent. This means I can leave the tent poles behind and reduce my gear weight by about 8 oz.
I have a frameless backpack. My sleeping pad goes into a special pocket in my pack that lets it act as an internal frame stiffening the pack and helping to transfer its weight to my hip belt. This lets me use a pack that is about 8 to 16 oz. lighter than backpacks that come with a built-in internal frame.
My sleeping pad is 3/4 length which means that it ends just below my knees. My legs and feet require less insulation than my core, so I position my pack and all my remaining gear under my lower legs. Additional weight savings can be 2 oz. to 8 oz. depending on the weight of a full length pad.
I wear long underwear, a down vest, and balaclava to sleep and to reduce the amount of insulation and the weight of the sleeping bag that I need to bring along. This layer doubles as an extra clothing layer if it gets very cold. The additional weight saved is about 8-16 oz.
Phase 3: Thermo-regulation
When you hike you generate a lot of heat and therefore you can carry a lot less clothing. The trick is learning what kind of clothing you need, how to layer it and how to build in a safety factor for different weather conditions and terrain. This takes a lot of practice, trial and error experimentation and careful observation, but eventually you can shave several pounds of gear off your pack weight.
This is some good material, folks. Check out that Web site for more tips.
Until then, see you all in the outdoors.