practice low-impact-travel techniques in the wilderness. If
it's safe, legal, and adjacent to water, a very small Indian-style
fire may be appropriate. In Canada, it's not uncommon for
a total fire ban to be in effect during dry periods.
A good way
to protect the ground from permanent damage is to build a
mound fire--a small fire built on top of four to six inches
of sand, gravel, or mud. Never burn twist-ties, which litter
the ground with wire, or aluminum-lined food packages, as
the aluminum turns into thousands of tiny pieces of shinny
litter. Never bury anything--pack it out. Take only pictures,
leave only footprints.
information about low impact camping and travel, contact Leave
No Trace, Inc., at 1-800-332-4100, or point your Internet
browser to www.lnt.org.
books on this subject include: Leave No Trace--A Practical
Guide to the New Wilderness Etiquette by Annette McGivney
(The Mountaineers, 1998); Soft Paths--How to Enjoy the
Wilderness Without Harming it by David Cole and Bruce
Hampton (NOLS/Stackpole Books, 1995); Leave No Trace--Minimum
Impact Outdoor Recreation by Will Harmon (Falcon Publishing
Company, Inc., 1997); The Basic Essentials of Minimizing
Impact on the Wilderness by Michael Hodgson (ICS Books,
Inc., 1991); and Minimum Impact Camping by Curt Schatz
and Dan Seemon (Adventure Publications, 1994).
hiking requires a different approach than on-trail hiking.
To protect the ankles and knees on irregular terrain, sturdy,
all-leather, boots are essential. Gaiters should be used to
prevent debris, mud, standing water, rain, and snow from entering
hiking involves penetrating thick, brushy areas, minimize
pack snagging by packing your rucksack so it is both low in
height and narrow in width. Consider removing unused pack-frame
extensions as they tend to snag on branches. Sleeping pads
should be mounted vertically and low to prevent snagging.
They should also be enclosed in a stuff sack lined with a
heavy-duty plastic bag to keep them dry and prevent damage
by sharp sticks. Sticks and brush will tear unprotected plastic
bags to shreds.
glasses are also recommended to protect your eyes. A walking
stick--commercially made or improvised--can help prevent serious
injury when you get tired or you're crossing difficult terrain.
and backup topographic maps should be waterproofed with a
commercial map sealer, such as Map Seal. Thompson's Water
Seal, which is sold by the gallon at most hardware stores,
works very well too. Simply paint the sealer on the map until
it is wet, wipe off the excess from both sides with a paper
towel to prevent it from becoming sticky or gummy when dry,
and hang the map from a rope with clothespins to dry.
protect a map, cover the backside with clear contact paper
or shelf paper. In the bush, maps should be carried in one-gallon-size,
freezer-grade, zip-lock plastic bags. Carried this way, the
maps can still be read through the plastic and they will float.
A zip-locked photocopy of your maps should be stowed deep
in your pack for backup.
maps aren't waterproofed and protected properly, they'll turn
to mush when they get damp.
In the bush,
many experienced wilderness trippers have found that 100-percent
DEET is by far the single most effective strategy for controlling
black flies and mosquitoes. Where possible, apply to clothing
as opposed to skin. Loose fitting, light colored, tightly
woven garments offer the best protection against biting insects.
Keep in mind that light-colored clothing is much cooler than
dark colored clothing. Avoid black as it may predispose you
to hyperthermia in hot weather.
black flies tend to crawl under clothing instead of biting
through it, pant legs should be tucked in and DEET should
be applied to garment openings such as cuffs, collars, front
shirt openings, etc.
mosquitoes tend to bite through clothing, apply DEET to places
where clothing lies flat against the skin--like the shoulders,
upper back, inner thighs, knees, etc. Because mosquitoes can
bite through some lightweight, loosely woven fabrics, it may
be necessary to wear an additional loose layer to prevent
through-and-through bug bites.
coils" or "Pic" work very well for keeping
a tarp free of insects or clearing a tent of bugs. However,
a fully-enclosed, fireproof container must be used or these
coils will start a fire (Campmor nos. 81316 & 22147).
A simple head net or a 4- by 4-foot square of mosquito netting
can also make life worth living.
clothing, Permethrin repellent is reportedly effective at
repelling insects for two weeks (Campmor no. 56624). However,
never apply Permethrin directly on skin. Those particularly
bothered by insect bites may get some itch and pain relief
with one of the post-bite products available (Campmor no.
Note: if you're depending on a non-DEET
or low-concentration-DEET repellent, make sure you carry a
one-ounce bottle of 100 percent DEET just in case your favorite
repellent lets you down deep in the bush.
way to waterproof the contents of a backpack is to first line
the large compartments with huge, heavy-duty, contractor-type
garbage bags. These plastic bags are tough enough that with
reasonable care they will work quite well. Punctures can be
repaired with duct tape.
step is to line each of your nylon stuff sacks with small
but tough garbage compactor bags. An even better way to use
these smaller bags and prevent tearing them with your fingernails
or zipper pulls to: 1) stuff gear into a nylon stuff sack,
2) insert this stuff sack in the garbage compactor bag, and
3) place this unit in another, slightly larger, nylon stuff
sack. This way, the compactor bag, which serves as the waterproof
barrier, is protected from both internal and external abrasion.
Avoid the temptation to use fragile residential garbage bags
as they are too prone to tearing and punctures.
A nylon pack
cover will offer further protection. It will also reduce the
weight of your backpack since a dry pack weighs less than
a rain-soaked one. Lightweight, 4-ounce models made of 1.3-ounce
silicone-imprenated ripstop nylon are now available (Campmor
Nike Aqua Socks are a good option for crossing
streams. They weigh half what a pair of Teva sandals do and
fewer rocks end up between your foot and the sandal. Most
of the off-brand aqua socks don't have a rigid sole like the
Nike's which is very important on rocky streambeds. The addition
of an ankle tie will prevent aqua socks from being sucked
off in mud or quicksand.
Labeling common items--such as Nalgene
water bottles--for easy personal identification is helpful
in large groups. Different colored tape works well, especially
when a tripper's last name is included.
moisture from destroying your food, use zip-lock bags and
plastic bread-type bags to waterproof individual items. These
individual units should then be secured in a nylon stuff sack
which is lined with a tough "garbage compactor"
bag. This double waterproofing technique will also minimize
food odors that can create problems with bears and other varmints.
food is weatherproofed as noted above, it should be suspended
10 feet off the ground, 4 feet below any limbs, and 4 feet
out from surrounding tree trunks. While a single, 50-foot-piece
of 1/8-inch rope will be sufficient in most situations, a
second 50-foot-length of rope may be needed in challenging
areas where you'll be forced to suspend your food between
A clean camp
goes a long way to preventing problems with bears and smaller
varmints. Avoid spilled food and clean up anything you happen
to spill. While most people focus on bears, smaller animals--such
as mice, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, fox, coyotes, and
even wolves--can also create problems and damage equipment.
stove problems by doing the following BEFORE A TRIP. Flush
and clean out the fuel tank, all fuel bottle(s), jet, and
fuel line. Filter ALL fuel with a Coleman-type filter/funnel.
Lightly oil pump leather. Light your stove and test it for
proper operation BEFORE A TRIP. Carry a complete repair kit
with WATERPROOFED INSTRUCTIONS.
the introduction of dirt into MSR-type stove orifices, cover
the fuel bottle pump and exposed end of the stove hose with
tough baby-bottle-type plastic liners secured with rubber
bands. Practice field stripping and cleaning your stove at
home--read the directions.
matches as they inevitably create litter and they've started
many an accidental fire. Instead, reserve matches for backup
use and rely on an adjustable-flame butane lighter which will
last all season. A lighter with an adjustable flame will function
much better in colder weather than one without, especially
if it's kept warm by taping it to a loop of shock cord hung
around your neck.
stoves and solid-fuel Esbit pocket stoves have started numerous
ground fires in the past. DO NOT USE THEM ON SURFACES COVERED
WITH COMBUSTIBLE MATERIALS such pine needles, leaves, small
twigs, or grass.
scarring the ground or starting a disastrous ground fire,
gather some mud, dirt, gravel, or a flat rock and then build
up a one-inch-thick layer of this material under your stove.
Stream banks and overturned trees are good sources for this
type of noncombustible mineral soil. On top of this mound,
place a small, lightweight square of 1/8-inch-thick plywood,
fiberboard, or balsa wood.
damp or wet cotton clothing has killed many an unsuspecting
wilderness tripper in the past, cotton garments should not
be worn or carried in the wilderness. Instead, rely on garments
made of wool and synthetic materials.
all of your clothing should be roomy enough so that every
piece of clothing can be layered together in the worst of
conditions. As you warm up, or cool down, you'll simply remove
or add layers as needed. Keep in mind that three 1/4-inch
layers are warmer than one 3/4-inch layer since the multiple
layers create additional pockets of trapped air.
and cotton as when they're damp or wet, they're useless at
best, deadly at worst. Instead, wear polypropylene underwear
against your skin and use synthetic or wool garments for insulation
and wind protection.
light-colored garments are much cooler than dark- colored
items. Avoid dark colors--especially black--as it may predispose
you to hyperthermia in hot weather.
colder weather, sweaty or damp boots should be stored in the
foot of your sleeping bag to keep them from becoming frozen
iceboxes in the morning. To keep your sleeping bag clean and
dry, simply brush your boots off and insert them in the sleeping
bag stuff sack, which you've turned inside out. Putting the
boots in a plastic bag can further protect your sleeping bag.
Once stuffed, stow the boots in the foot of your sleeping
Feces should be buried in a six-inch-deep
cat-hole located at least 100 feet (25 right-foot paces) from
trails, campsites, and surface water. Since animals frequently
excavate these cat-holes, sometimes it helps to obstruct their
efforts with a few well-placed logs, rocks, and other debris
as long as it looks natural and does not draw attention to
Never burn toilet paper during snow-free
periods as numerous, disastrous fires have been started this
way--either bury it or pack it out. Use RV-type toilet paper
as it disintegrates easier. Look for it in the camping departments
at K-Mart and Wal-Mart.
To learn more about this subject,
read Kathleen Meyer's How to Shit in the Woods--An environmentally
sound approach to a lost art (Ten Speed Press, 1994).
See the Low Impact Techniques section above for additional
For more information about this subject--especially
on how to use iodine tablets--visit the water
purification page on this Web site.
distress signal in the wilderness is 3 of anything: 3 bright
night fires, 3 smoky daytime fires, 3 whistle blasts, etc.
If you're waiting to be rescued, position yourself along a
trail, in an opening in the forest canopy, or at the edge
of a waterway--in other words, move to a place where rescuers
are likely to recon first.