Category Archives: Adventurer

Plastic Fantastic

Hiking up the steep slope of a mountain can be hot and sweaty business. The refreshingly cool feeling of raindrops merrily pelting off your head in a sudden downpour can be a very welcome relief. Getting rained on can be fun, but it’s easy to get chilled to the bone if you’re not properly prepared. Unpredictable storms can very suddenly change your hiking conditions from dry and hot, to cold, wet and miserable in a matter of minutes.

But getting caught in the rain without all your hi-tech hiking gear doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. Although there are plenty of great tips for prepping yourself for rain, today we’ll be focusing on some options that I always carry with me, rain or shine.

They are waterproof, durable, economical, lightweight and come in a wide variety of sizes. That’s right, the humble plastic bag will finally given a chance in the spotlight as a top tool for emergency rainy day duty.

Plastic bags: your hiking buddies!

You want a versatile, durable, waterproof, multi-use item? Plastic bags meet all the criteria! They come in all shapes and sizes and can (at least temporarily) solve almost any backcountry rainy day need.


Backpack cover and stuff sack: I swear by large, 2 (or more) heavy duty contractor bags. You’ll find them in my pack for anything from a day hike to an extended thru-hike. These flexible black bags will serve you as a waterproof backpack cover and can also be packed around your sleeping bag and clothing for extra protection.

Remember, even the best backpack cover won’t protect your dry gear from a wet jacket or tent once it’s stuck inside your pack for travel.

Bonus: your handy dandy contractor bags can also be used as emergency rain ponchos, bivys (place two end to end), water carriers, waterproof seats for that wet log…basically anything you can come up with…..

Miniature Dry Bags: Keep cell phones, cameras, and any other small dry items in small Ziplock baggies for easy access.
Use one-gallon Ziplock bags to pack your clothes. This will keep them dry in case your pack gets wet.

Waterproof map case: Want to keep your map dry, but also need to pull it out repeatedly in a deluge? Stop hunching over it in a vain attempt to keep it from disintegrating in the rain, just store it in a gallon sized ziplock and you’ll be good to go!

Emergency “clothes”: Didn’t bring any gloves and a freezing wet wind is turning your fingertips blue? Plastic produce bags to the rescue! Inflate them slightly with just enough air to keep them from direct contact with your skin, stick your hands in and tie them around your wrists. The “dead air” space you’ve created will help insulate your hands from the worst of the cold. keep in mind that this is a short term solution, so head back to warmth and safety ASAP.

-Don’t have waterproof shoes and need to keep your feet dry in an emergency? Bring plastic produce bags or grocery bags to slip over your sock and stick your foot back inside your shoe- close the gap at your ankle with a rubber band- voila! You’ve got a short term rain barrier to keep your tootsies toasty till you can get back home

NOTE: I’m a big proponent of bringing the ten essentials on every hike, so please don’t take this as an invitation to leave out important pieces of gear in an effort to save time, money or weight. The best tip for dealing with a rainy day is adequate planning, preparation and packing. These tips/tools are not meant to replace any of the 10 essentials, but they sure are nice to have if you’ve let yourself slip and be taken off guard or need to supply someone less prepared that you meet along the trail.

Be Found Faster


Be Found Faster.

Admit it, you’re lost. It’s a scary feeling, especially if you’ve been out for more than one day, even more so if you have hurt yourself badly enough that you can’t travel far. In addition to your ten essentials and adequate preparation for your trip, here’s a (not comprehensive) list of some goodies that might help a rescue crew pinpoint your location and get you home safe.

Signal mirror. You can either use a mirror dedicated for this purpose with a sighting hole or just bring along your standard compass with a built in mirror. On a sunny day, a well aimed mirror can help you catch the air crew’s eye.

Reflective Emergency blanket. Not only is it surprisingly warm for it’s size and weight, but it is one REALLY big reflective surface, which can be spotted from pretty far away.

VERY bright clothing. Take a tip from 80s fashion and go fluorescent, the brighter the better. That sage green shirt complements your complexion so well, but it won’t help you get spotted!

Get in the open or on a (safe) high point and make BIG arm movements if you see a helicopter. The helicopter may be obvious to you silhouetted against a clear blue sky, but from their vantage point you look like an ant in the grass.

Spot with texting, Satellite phone. Ask for help directly. The more information about your location and current condition you can give emergency resources, the better they can adjust their response- bringing the right equipment and personnel.

Flashlights and headlamps, especially if you have ones with a strobe mode can help to quickly call attention to your location at night.

Bring a (charged) Cell phone– not only can they be used to help contact authorities and roughly pinpoint your location if you have a weak cell signal, their light can be surprisingly visible from the air at night, sometimes up to several miles away in the right conditions.

Extra batteries for all these gadgets!

Signal fire. The word fire makes us all nervous, and rightly so. But sometimes a flame at night or smoke during the day can be the thing that leads rescuers your way. But be extremely careful, you don’t want to create another, much larger emergency!

Whistle. Not all search efforts will come from the air. Ground searchers can hear things that a helicopter crew cannot. Long after your voice would become raw from yelling, you can still blow a whistle.
-Leave obvious tracks. If you must move (to find shelter or to remove yourself from danger) make sure to leave obvious tracks. Dragging your feet in the ground, making arrows to your location, and being as obvious as possible can give ground searchers something to work with.

This is in no way a comprehensive list of what to bring for or do in a wilderness emergency. Make sure to always have your ten essential on you, and always prepare adequately for a safe trip. Rescue resources such as helicopters may not always be available due to local weather, terrain and resource limitations. A helicopter is NOT guaranteed, nor always a safe or necessary option.

Stay safe out there!

Hiking with Kids

Tips for Big Hikes for Little Ones

A recent hike with my exuberant little niece made me think of how important it is to get your kids out into nature. Here are a few tips to help you addict your kids to hiking:

Make it fun:
If you want your kids to be excited to go hiking with you again, don’t get so committed to your “destination” that you forget your kid’s priorities. Bugs, acorns, tree roots and pine cones are wonderful discoveries to be examined, not trail side distractions.

Make it educational:
The Wilderness is a perfect open-air classroom
• Carry field guides (or use a phone app) to inform you on trail history and help you identify the plants, rocks, birds and animals your kids encounter along the way.
• Leave No Trace: teach your kids Leave No Trace principles to help them grow into stewards of the outdoors. Find useful and cool LNT reference cards (one with a cartoon Bigfoot!) at
• Navigation: use a fun activity like Geocaching to introduce bigger kids to the basics of map & compass, and GPS.

Make it safe:
Dress your child in bright, easy to spot colors, make sure they carry a whistle on a lanyard (teach them to stay in place and blow it if separated) and have easy access to a headlamp.

Introduce little legs to hiking with extended walks (up to 2 hours) in a natural setting near home. The earlier in life your kids become comfortable long walks (as early as 3), the more likely they will enjoy hiking later.

Get them Involved:
Make trip planning a family affair. Ask your kids for ideas of things they’d like to see or do at your destination (or along the way). Listen to them.

Share (a little of) the weight: Kids like to feel a degree of independence. Give your kids a small pack and let them carry a few lightweight items like their favorite snacks, water, trail-side treasures, and rain gear. You can still carry the weight for your littlest kids, so they don’t get worn out and frustrated.

Bring a friend: Having a good friend or special stuffed animal to share the trail discoveries with can make a world of difference. For littler ones, make sure to tuck their teddy bear in their pack (with his head sticking out for a better view) to share in their adventures.

Be prepared : As an adult, it is your job to think ahead and always carry the “Ten Essentials” (google it!). Make sure you have enough food, water and comfortable, weather appropriate clothing for you and your kids.

Be watchful: If you have 2+ adults in your party, keep one in the lead and one following behind to serve as the “sweep”, with kids securely in the middle.

Don’t forget to have fun!
Remember- you have long legs, an adult timeframe and adult priorities- go at a kid’s pace and respect their interests. Relax, learn to marvel at the natural world with your child’s fresh eyes, and your hike will be a hit with many encore performances!

An Unexpected Overnight


At first I can’t figure out why I’m awake.

Out of reflex I reach over to the bedstand and grab my phone to check the time. Staring through heavy eyes at the glowing face, I realize its ringing. It’s my partner, Lee; “They need a team for a rescue hoist. Can you jump in with me as backup?”

I flick up on the light switch, blink to adjust my eyes, and stride towards the gear closet. I drag out my Osprey pack and pull open the top to review the contents. Helmet, Harness, extra clothes, food and water for the subject, overnight supplies for me… Check! Even though the hoist will probably go quickly, you never know… as a general rule we “pack for 2 hrs or 2 days”.

Inside of 15 minutes I’m jumping into the cavernous cab of Lee’s Dodge Ram. We bomb our way halfway down the mountain to the Keenwild Helipad. Lee parks, I swing my hefty pack out of the truck bed after him, then we make our way onto the pitch black landing pad. A coyote howls, then fades into silence. Far out in the distance I can see Star-9’s lights approaching, intermittently piercing the dark night sky. We crouch down to the side of the Landing Zone and watch the skids cruise above our heads. Even on the smooth pavement the rotor wash from the landing pelts me with enough debris to make me glad I am wearing my safety goggles.

With a quick wave, the TFO motions to us to approach the helicopter. We duck down at the waist, carrying our packs down low in our hands, and move forward. Up close I smile to see the familiar faces of pilot Mike Calhoun and TFO Eric Hannum. After a quick but warm exchange of handshakes and nods, we climb up into our seats and buckle up. In what seems like only a few seconds, the ground sways away beneath us, and we are cruising towards the High country. I pull on on my headset and swing down the mouthpiece. We cross check communications, “good to go”.

The dark desert floor wraps out below us to the north east, cities an oasis of bright lights twinkling in the black of night. Bright flashes of lightning flash threateningly far out over the Mojave. “There’s something brewing out there” says Eric, “Let’s hope it doesn’t come our way “. I cast a glance in the same direction and silently echo the same sentiment in my head.

I realize I have been gripping my pack since we took off and let it go, settling back into my seat. It’s an unexpectedly warm night. I’m usually colder in the cockpit but tonight I have to peel my jacket off within minutes of getting in.

“What have we got?” Asks Lee, voice echoing sharp and tinny in the headset. Eric turns toward us, “Injured hiker, missed the tram down. The reporting party is her boyfriend, says she hurt her ankle on the way back down to the tram. We have a general idea of her location, but we’ll need to pinpoint it first before we can decide how to insert you.”

Mike circles the helicopter around the high mountain valleys, while we search the slopes for any sign of light, any sign of our subject. The thup.. thup..thup of the rotors echoes across the valleys, breaking into the silence of the night and probably waking up a few annoyed backpackers along the way.

After about 15 minutes we see it, a faint light shining up from far below. “There we go. Light ahead at 9 o’clock.” From the color and strength it looks like it may be the face of a cell phone. Most people don’t know that we can see cell phone light at night from miles away given the right conditions. Lee pulls out a local topo map and I trace my finger over the area, starting to plan our hiking approach.

Mike and Eric are doing the same for the helicopter. “We can put it down nearby. Long Valley meadow looks good,” says Mike. “Sounds good to us!” I chime in and Lee gives a quick nod and a thumbs up. It’s not too far from the subject. We can hike in quickly as the hasty team to assess her condition. Our air crew can insert further rescuers and equipment as needed afterwards.

I lean forward and hook my fingers through the top handle of my pack in anticipation. Now that we have visual, I’m eager to get out on trail. “Hold up there. We can’t land yet.” Pilot Mike says.

When dealing with helicopters, there are a lot of factors to consider. The warmth of the night has altered the air density, making it unexpectedly thin for our purposes. Wisely preparing for a potentially longer aerial search, the crew filled the fuel tank. On a colder night this weight would not be a problem, but tonight, adding in the weight of a subject and multiple rescuers… If we land, we might not have enough power to take off in the short clearance offered by the mountain meadow. Despite dramatically staged movie portrayals, a straight up-and-down take off is very difficult, potentially dangerous, and consumes huge amounts of power.

“We need to fly around and burn more fuel to get the weight down”, states Mike. We circle the rim of the mountain valley several more times. It’s absolutely stunning and for a moment I gaze down and let myself relax into the view. Off to the North I can still see flashes of lightning illuminating the desert floor. I feel my brow furrow. The storm seems a lot closer. I’m starting to get a little nervous that it might show up before we can finish.

Another 25 minutes and things are looking good. We’ve burned enough fuel and it’s time to land. As we come into the meadow, tall grasses lie down flat in wide waves in front of us. The helicopter draws a circle of light out directly below us fading into the jagged black silhouettes of pine trees. Eric, our TFO, cracks open the door and leans out for a better view. It’s his job to make sure that the helicopter is safe, that we have enough clearance around us and that no major debris are poised to be sucked up into our rotor. Mountain landings are risky business.

Within moments we are down. Time to move out. Eric opens the door all the way and motions for us. I unclip my seatbelt, I grab my pack and step out into the dark.

After a quick radio check with Eric to make sure we can keep up communications with our air crew, we head out onto the trail. Within minutes, Lee spots the reporting party wandering along the trail. We gather information from him about our subject’s whereabouts and condition. He’s well off and in decent shape and we request that he return to the relative shelter of the tram station to remain safe until contacted.

Lee heads off first down the trail, long strides carrying him along quickly. I crank my own short legs into gear and manage to haul him back in. As we reach the base of the switchbacks I interject between strides; “Hold up, time for a call out!” We pause and I turn my shoulders to face upslope. “One… two…three…” I suck in a deep breath, spreading my ribs wide, and we bellow out “Helloooo!” in unison. My ears are met with silence for a few seconds, then a faint cry echoes in from far upslope. Great! I let my breath out, only then realizing that I was holding it. Lee radios in “Star 9, we have voice contact, proceeding to the subject“. A few minutes of intense hiking later, I see a faint light ahead and my heart lifts further.

Hello, we’re from Search and Rescue, we’re here to help”. Our subject, Teresa, is happy to see us. She is sitting in the middle of a switchback on the trail, obviously exhausted, but smiling a greeting back at us. Despite her smile, it’s obvious she has not had a fun night.

After a quick scene safety assessment, I settle down by her on the dusty trail. “Are you hurt? What happened?” Careful questioning gives us a good outline of her backstory and method of injury. After a long and exhausting hike attempting to keep up with her friend, (probably excessive for her level of conditioning) she reports having slipped, twisting her ankle and bumping her hip, luckily with no head, neck or back involvement.

After her friend left to get help, she did her best to try and self-evacuate, sliding and dragging herself downhill for an extended distance until her strength gave out. She finally found a relatively soft spot on the trail to hunker down and await rescue. She has been sitting alone in the middle of the dark trail for hours.

She’s a friendly, tough lady, a nurse, and makes no complaint as we examine her. We gather necessary information. A thorough head to toe reveals some scrapes and bruises, in addition to a painfully sprained, potentially broken ankle. LOC, SAMPLE and quick set of vitals shows her to be in generally good condition, although we will keep track to make sure she maintains a positive trend. As soon as we examine her foot, it’s quickly obvious that our subject will not be walking anywhere tonight. Lee keys the radio: “Star-9, we will need a litter, a wheel and additional rescuers to help with transport.”

I pull out my first aid kit. Time to prep our brave lady for transport. One SAM splint, and plenty of coband and TLC later and we have a stable injury. I make sure to leave access so that we can continue to check her distal pulse and make sure she is getting circulation. Hopefully we will have her out of here in just a few minutes, after the rest of the team arrives with the litter, but it’s always better to prepare for the long term if possible.

Now that we’ve dealt with the most pressing safety issues, it’s time to further address patient comfort. Teresa has been sitting still for a long time on the cold ground. Lee pads her sitting area and wraps her up our spare sleeping bags and down jackets. I make sure she has enough to eat and drink. Getting her insulated, rehydrated and fed will fuel her body and help keep her warm.

Are we good to go?” Lee asks. “Good to go“. I reply, giving our subject an encouraging smile.

Lee walks off to the side and calls in: “Star-9, Team One. We’re ready for transport. Where are we with the litter and additional rescuers?”

The radio crackles; “Team One, this is Star-9. Bad news. We have the litter, and rescuers are standing by, but the storm is almost here.” Oh heck. I almost forgot about the storm.

Star-9 isn’t exaggerating-the storm has moved in unbelievably quickly. Seconds later, the first burst of lightning streaks across the sky and thunder booms close behind. The sky opens up in a pelting rain. The first raindrops splash cold onto my scalp.

Team One, we can’t pull you out! Are you and subject prepared to overnight?”

Lee glances at me and I nod.

Star-9, we are good, we repeat, good to overnight, request additional rescuers and resources when available.”

With our last radio contact I put in a request that the Sheriff’s Department let my school know that I won’t be in to teach class in the morning. At least I have a unique excuse: left behind on a mountain helicopter rescue is something they probably haven’t heard before!

The helicopter peels off. We are alone on the mountaintop. Without the helicopter we have no outside radio contact. We’ll just have to wait until the storm breaks or the tram opens up in the morning to allow new resources.

We ramp down from our evacuation efforts, and start to prep for a long, wet, and cold night. Lee pulls out a tarp and I wedge several logs up against a deadfall tree to form a lean-to shelter in place above Teresa. Luckily, within a few minutes the torrential downpour has passed. Unfortunately, the cloud cover is still far too thick for a helicopter to penetrate.


We make sure Teresa is warm and as comfortable as possible in the circumstances, check distals and vitals again, then bed down nearby for an uneasy rest. I set my alarm to repeat every hour, so we can check in regularly on our subject. High winds moan through the trees as we settle down for an uncomfortable night.

I meet first light with the reassuring weight of my rescue pack on my back. Lee and I have decided that I will head out to the tram to re-establish contact with the Sheriff’s Department and try to wrangle up some reinforcements. I leave my first aid supplies, spare sleeping bag and clothing behind to help take care of our subject.


On the way back I swing by the Ranger Station. Although it is officially closed and unmanned, I notice that there is a CCC crew camped just outside. Perfect! With some aggressive pounding and loud voice I quickly manage to wake them up. A quick explanation of the situation gets them in motion. In a few minutes they have pulled a litter and wheel from the station (which they conveniently have the keys to) and we now have several strong young guys to help us transport our subject. That’s what I call using the resources at hand!

I radio Lee with the good news: “I’ve got a gift for you on the way up. Litter, Wheel and four strapping, eager young guys”. Lee is more than happy hear this: “Copy that!”
I send the guys back up the trail to Lee and Teresa and continue on my way to the tram.

The tram employees have just arrived on the first car. Once informed of the situation, they are eager to help. Sharon from DSSAR has just arrived at the base of the tram. I brief her and the deputy on scene, and we coordinate to bring up more rescuers and gear with the first car.

Together RMRU and DSSAR escort the subject back down to the tram and to safety. Our brave subject has kept a good attitude through her entire ordeal and soon will be heading home after a quick check out at the hospital!

As an extra surprise, the Riverside Sheriff Department has not only informed my School that I would be late, they also provided an officer to drive me back to my side of the mountain. I arrive in class only 5 minutes late, and with a great story to share with my kids.

Right on Track

It’s Saturday morning.

Pulling into the dirt upper parking lot at Simpson Park I swerve around the large puddle left from the rain the night before. Just this winter we had a frustrating search in the rugged terrain at the back of the expansive park. Dogs and helicopters combed the terrain to no avail. A “ground-pounding” by our foot searchers yielded results only after a long and exhausting night. Now in an odd coincidence we’re returning to the same scene to sharpen skills that just might help us find the subject faster on future missions.

For the next 2 days Fernando Moreira, a highly respected tracking expert, will be giving us in-depth Search and Rescue Tracking Training.

It’s a cloudy day, the sun showing through only intermittently. Fernando takes this opportunity to show us how varying light conditions can affect the visibility of the tracks. With direct early morning sun at a low angle, the tracks he has laid for us stand out in sharp relief. But as a cloud covers the sun the contrast fades and the print disappears into the ground. The effect would be the same around noon with the overhead sun obliterating contrast. He explains we can counter this by shading the area and shining a flashlight at a low angle to create shadows and reveal the prints.

The class dives immediately into practical experience for the SAR tracker. How do you estimate the height and weight of a person from their shoe size? Predict the path of their travel? Where their foot will fall next? How can you tell the age of the tracks? How can you measure and use knowledge of their stride length to your advantage?

The location is perfect for our purposes. To put it plainly- it’s confusing. Simpson Park is a popular mountain biking, running and dog-walking destination. With so many tracks and current activity in the vicinity it can be vital to have several tools that help you to distinguish the track of your subject. Quite often you wont get a clear print- only a series of scuffs. How can you tell if this is your man? Knowledge of their usual stride length (measured from prints at their last known location) can help you rule out many prints and keep on track.

Those who have gone through the class the year before are enlisted to help guide the new trackers in the basics of Micro-tracking. The slightest of clues; the transfer of grains of wet dirt up onto vegetation, a broken leaf, and pebbles shifted slightly forward from their positions are the language of Micro-tracking. We line up across a vaguely level hillside about half the length of a football field. Tracking sticks in hand (trekking poles with a set of adjustable rubber bands to mark print and stride length) we kneel down to read our first tracks of the day.

The ground is already covered in tracks from daily usage of the park, but after a few pointers from Fernando and his aides the subject’s prints start to announce themselves. As my eyes warm up I see the telltale slight depressions, transfers, and subtle shifting forward of pebbles that signal that we’ve discovered the next step.

The next couple days are full with practical exercises and live scenarios designed to help us find our subjects more quickly and efficiently. We learn leapfrogging or ‘cutting ahead’ in boxes and half moon patterns to speed up the process of tracking. We learn to look for natural “Track Traps” along the path of travel. Tracking at night had once seemed impossible, but if you angle the light just so the patterns of slight depression in the ground can become a path pointing directly towards the subject.

Fernando discusses how to most efficiently set up and work tracking teams. We learn to read the story that tracks are telling us- did the subject shift their weight to one side to look back? Throw something? Trip and land heavily? “The tracks don’t lie”, he states.

Several live scenarios are staged to test our growing tracking skills in the field. The team responds successfully to a search for a missing hiker. Another person is “lost” and we learn to track from a central location such as a car, determining a Direction of Travel. We measure the prints leading out from the car, mark the stride length on our tracking sticks and move out in a spiral pattern, careful to not destroy any prints we encounter.

In our final live scenario slight scuffs on the ground, dirt transfer, drag marks and a broken quail egg under leaf cover lead our team to the ‘body’, an orange team shirt. We return proudly bearing our prize and a newfound confidence in our own practical tracking skills.

After a weekend of practice with Fernando, what before had seemed a series of hints in the dirt transformed itself into a clear trail pointing to our subject. After this weekend I’ve come away with an entirely new respect for the value of tracking in Search and Rescue. We’ve added a valuable new skill to our arsenal as a team, one that we can use on missions to come.



RMRU Members at Training: Glenn Henderson, Gwenda Yates, Carlos Carter, Helene Lohr, Craig Wills, Rob May, Nick Nixon, Mike Herman, Roger May, Michael George, Matt Jordan, Alan Lovegreen, Paul Caraher, Joe Erickson, Lew Kingman, Pete Carlson.


Gambling with Gear

Gambling with your Backpacking gear: Should you really bring all your 10 essentials?

It’s the night before your big backpacking trip.

You’ve been a good camper and packed all of your 10+ essentials, checked the seals on your water bladder and made sure you have enough chocolate Goo packets to feed a small nation. While test-hefting the final weight of your pack your mind can’t help but wrap itself around the memory of those steep switchbacks halfway up the trail, recalling the sweat rolling down your brow and the burning of your quads accompanied by constant mental curses.

Not even 10 seconds later you start pulling things out of your pack to lighten the load. What can go? …What about that medical kit? You haven’t used that at all the last few trips. Hastily, glancing around the room as if you were on the lookout for the backpacking police, you grab a couple bandaids out of the kit, then stuff it quickly back into the gear closet.

We’re all guilty of it. Gambling on gear. Lightening your load of important gear in order to make it up the trail with less sweat. Its the old trade off of hassle vs. safety.

Here’s some tips on how to make a trip safe without literally breaking your back.

Traveling in a group? Split up some of the burden. Everyone should have some of their own key items, but if you will be staying together its not necessary that all members of your group come loaded to the gills with gear. For Search and Rescue, each team typically divvies up our gear so that one of us carries the tent, stove and cooking gear, another the heavy call out rope and technical gear. Caveat: Make sure you still keep enough gear with each backpacker to keep them safe and warm if they do get separated from the group.

Invest in lighter weight solutions, especially on key items. That titanium cookset, lightweight down jacket, and the ultralight sleeping pad may initially cost more than their heavier counterparts, but you’ll be more likely to bring them than the bulkier version and the weight they free up in your pack can be used for other critical gear- like your first aid kit.

Knowledge weighs nothing. Depending on what you want to do and where you want to go, its a very good bet to stock up on related training. Your best gear in the backcountry are your skills.

  • Wilderness First Aid Courses teach you the basics of how bodies work and break. You’ll learn when you need to evac asap, and when you can still stay and play. You’ll learn how to improv with your gear and backcountry materials. You get lots of critical hands-on experience to help you stay calm when things hit the fan. For an excellent local resource, look into the Wilderness Outings course taught in Idyllwild.
  • Backpacking skills courses. You can take anything from a basic day clinic like those offered by REI to a multi-day backpacking and snow travel course like NOLS or Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course (WTC) and beyond. Whatever you want to do, the training is out there to help you do it safely.

Improvise wisely. Think critically about what you can and can’t Macgyver in the backcountry. Try to stop severe bleeding with pressure from your dirty clothes (that you need for warmth) while shivering in a snowstorm? All of the sudden you might be pining for that pile of sterile compresses nestled back home in your gear closet. Bottom line: think it through before you discard a piece of gear from your pack.

Bring multipurpose items: Multipurpose gear means more functionality for less weight. I like to keep a stock of multi-purpose gear like bungees, plastic bags and duct tape, just to name a few. Example: 2 durable contractor garbage bags can form a pack liner in rain, an improvised rain jacket or even be joined end to end around my sleeping bag as a makeshift waterproof bivy for weather emergencies.

Still feel like grumbling about the time and expense of investing in good gear and training for the off chance of an emergency? Just remember, it is a gamble every time you go out unprepared. Sooner or later, if you spend enough time in the Wilderness, something happens to everyone. The only question will be if you win or lose your bet.


Permit? But, I’m a local!

Next time you get annoyed when a Ranger asks you for your permit, sit back and think for a moment: do you like to hike your local trails?

Look at the nice, smooth trail stretching out in front of you. A trail is just dirt, right? How hard can it be to maintain?

Now, think about the damage that just one winter season can do along a steep heavily traveled trail. Wind, rain, snow, and the treads of over a hundred thousand feet and hooves all coming together on a soft dirt surface. Add to that the severe erosion and washouts from even just a few people cutting switchbacks, rocks kicked loose by horses, the yearly overgrowth of thorny Chinquapin and Manzanita, careless hands littering thousands of candy wrappers and, and, and…

On just one trail there can be several thousand hours (at least!) of trail work and cleanup each year. The trail may seem unchanged from season to season, but just a few years without Ranger led trail crews would be enough to make many trails difficult, some completely impassable. It’s so easy to only see what is in front of us, and not all the hard (often hidden) work that has gone into the benefits that we enjoy.

Consider this:

Permits = funds. Areas that can prove that they are heavily used will get the most funds for maintenance. Your permit is like a vote that says: “I value this wilderness, and I want it taken care of.” With Federal funding priorities elsewhere, your permit is vital to keeping our Wilderness accessible.

Rangers are fighting a constant battle. Their duty is to maintain the character of the Wilderness as it once was, protecting the wildlife, holding it wild and free in time, to give us an escape from the chaotic rush of the cities, a place to return to the peace and solitude of nature. All of this while managing access so it doesn’t turn into a trashy and trampled down Disneyland.

With hundreds of miles of trails, thousands (or more) of acres to manage, and a shoestring budget to work with, the Forest Service needs to get creative. They often use dedicated volunteer Rangers and Equestrians (like the FSVA, Forest Service Volunteer Association) and trail crews to keep the trail patrolled and maintained, but these volunteers need help, funds, resources and guidance from full time USFS Rangers to do the huge amount of work required.

Next time you go to the trouble to get your (free) Wilderness Permit, take it with a different attitude: instead of feeling entitled and being annoyed at the inconvenience, be proud. Present it to the Ranger with a smile. Consider it your own way of giving back. Even without swinging a pick axe or hefting a shovel, you are contributing to keep our local Wilderness open to you and your family for generations to come.

Eating for Hiking: How to Heal

Foods to help you heal for hiking

Why is it that some people seem to bounce back and be ready for another day of hiking right away, while others may well be limping around in misery for days afterwards?


Any strenuous activity like hiking is going to cause some damage to the body. This damage causes inflammation that kicks off the cycle of cellular repair, rebuilding your body so you can carry more, hike longer and faster. This is a process exercise scientists refer to as hormesis. It may not make you into the bionic (wo)man- but it can come pretty close! But, what happens when something goes wrong with this healing process?


Nutrient deficiency: Your system is short on the right nutrients to repair itself properly so it stays inflamed for an extended period and takes a long time to finish healing.

Nutrient imbalance: Imbalances in certain nutrients can cause your body to be unable to turn the inflammatory process off.

Food sensitivity: Hidden food allergies and sensitivities may be setting off your immune system and unnecessarily kicking off the inflammatory process.

Each of these things can contribute to chronic pain and inflammatory conditions like arthritis, muscle and joint pain, heart disease, diabetes and more, none of which make for good hiking (or much fun in general).


What you eat day to day off trail can determine how you feel on trail. Here’s a quick overview of foods to help your body control inflammation and repair itself to tackle another tough day.

Eat anti-inflammatory foods:

Choose wild and grass fed meats: Just as you are what you eat, animals are made up of what they eat. Certain types of fats in your food help calm inflammation (omega 3s) while others will promote it (omega 6s). Having the correct balance of these fats is critical to controlling painful inflammation and healing properly.

Nowadays conventionally raised beef is fed corn high in omega-6 fatty acids. This inflammatory fat becomes part of the meat. In comparison, grass-fed animals have naturally low omega-6 levels and far more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Wild cold water fish such as salmon and sardines, are high in omega 3s used by the body to calm inflammation. Conventionally farmed salmon typically lacks these benefits.

Eat your Veggies! Yup, you’ve heard it before, but you should “eat the rainbow”. Colorful veggies, plentiful servings of leafy greens and moderate fruit intake provide nutrients and anti-oxidants necessary to reduce inflammation and help you heal quickly.

2. Avoid inflammatory foods These foods are generally highly inflammatory and will cause you far more pain than they’re worth in the long run:

Avoid highly processed oils. Your corn oil, sunflower oil, ‘vegetable’ oils and yes, even “heart healthy” margarine are usually highly processed with heat, pressure and some pretty nasty industrial solvents. Touted as ‘healthy’ before scientists understood the importance of Omega 3 to 6 balance, they are high in chemically reactive Omega 6 fats easily damaged by the heat used for cooking, making them even more damaging for your body.

Avoid highly processed ‘foods’. In the words of Jack LaLanne: “If man makes it, don’t eat it”. While this might be a bit extreme, I’d recommend you take a look at the back of your packages with a skeptical eye. Most packaged foods are packed with inflammatory ingredients designed to make them addictive and/or shelf stable. These will only worsen your aches and pains on the trail: HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), trans and hydrogenated fats (linked to heart disease and diabetes), omega 6 oils and more.

3. Address common nutrient deficiencies Veggies and leafy greens are high in critical nutrients and minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Magnesium in particular has strong anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and pain reducing effects, helps the body produce energy and has been shown to be unfortunately deficient in many people eating the Standard American Diet.

4. Discover hidden food sensitivities which may be setting off your immune system and causing inflammation. If you have unexplained chronic joint pain, or an autoimmune condition it’s worth it to try an elimination diet to see if it reduces your symptoms. It’s more common than you think, but can be tricky to figure out, since symptoms can show up in any system of the body from the skin to brain (migraines anyone?) and can be delayed up to 36 hours. The most common sensitivities are to wheat, cow’s milk, soy, and nightshades (tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes).

None of these steps are a magic bullet. They won’t immediately get rid of your aches, but as your body includes more and more quality building materials you will be in better shape for tackling a long day on the trail.

Health Rules: Eat in Context

Jack LaLanne said: “If man made it, don’t eat it!” Looking at the average state of health in the nation, Jack just might have been right.

Your body is designed to absorb nutrients in the form they commonly appear in food: as a network of intertwined molecules, often providing much of what we need to absorb and use the nutrients as part of the whole package. Modern “food science” treats forgets this critical interdependency and treats these nutrients as individual, interchangeable parts, isolating, concentrating, and otherwise altering substances out of our food until they barely deserve the title of nutrients.

This modern industrialization of food has created a situation where we often take in these nutrients out of context. They are eaten without the cofactor nutrients necessary for their absorption, and in huge amounts that never would have occurred in nature. This creates imbalances in the body that contribute to the rise of many modern diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more.

So, how do we bring our own food consumption back into a more healthful, natural context? Here’s a few guidelines to help you choose your food.

1.”If it has a label it stays off my table”. If it has a box, bag or a label and contains multiple ingredients, minimize/avoid it in your diet. Your body will thank you

2. Put down that processed oil! Man-made and highly processed modern oils are often extracted under high heat and pressure with toxic industrial solvents like hexane, and must be bleached and deodorized in order to become sellable (think of them as ‘rancid’). With high levels of Omega 6 fats, these oils tend to be very inflammatory and have been shown to have strong links with the development of diabetes and heart disease.

Example: Margarine, corn and many canola and vegetable oils are NOT healthy, despite claims to the contrary. Excess omega 6 fats and Trans-fats, particularly oxidized (damaged) ones have been strongly linked with increased risks of chronic pain, inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

3. Ditch the processed starches. careful with foods that convert quickly to sugar: breads, pastas and foods with “starch” on the label (corn starch, tapioca starch, etc) and foods made with flour. Since theses foods have all been highly processed and ground into small particles (normally the work of your stomach), they don’t take very much work for your body to break down and convert very quickly to sugar. Look at the G.I. (Glycemic index– a rate of how fast foods convert to sugar) of even whole wheat bread- it converts to pure sugar in less time than a snickers bar!

4. Table Salt is not Salt! Despite what the label in the grocery store says, Sodium and salt are not the same thing. What we commonly call ‘table salt’ has become a mix of chemically extracted pure sodium and aluminum anti-caking agents. True high quality sea salts naturally contain a blend of minerals that provide the sodium the body needs while maintaining proper mineral balance. Many new studies on hypertension are pointing towards not excess sodium as the culprit in hypertension (high blood pressure) but too little of other critical minerals: magnesium, calcium and potassium.

5. Remove the ‘added sugars’. Many foods contain HFCS (High fructose corn syrup) or other sweeteners. While small amounts may be just fine, we Americans rarely eat sugar in truly moderate amounts.

Consider: the human body on average keeps only about 8 grams (1tsp) of sugar at any time in your blood stream. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 10% of daily calories from added sugar- and for a 2000 kcal diet, one can of coke already exceeds that.

A typical Coke has 41 grams (10 tsp sugar), and even a “healthy” Yoplait yogurt has a whopping 27 grams (6 3/4 tsp). If you’d like to see how much sugar this is, get out a teaspoon and measure it into a glass for a big surprise!

In normal physiological amounts fructose, sodium and omega 6 fats all have a vital role to play in our health. But the industrial level concentration of these (and other) nutrients is overwhelming to our systems and can greatly interfere with the dynamic homeostasis of our bodies and lead to looming health problems down the road.

Eat Better for Backpacking

Ever find it hard to get back on the trail again after a big meal? Or be hiking along and suddenly bonk? When backpacking, when you eat can be as important as what you eat. In order to keep your body in the best shape to move up the trail you need to eat the right thing at the right time.

Mix it up: Carbs are a popular fuel source while hiking, but it’s important to remember that eating only simple sugars without any backup will cause you to “bonk”.

While you’re busy trudging up the trail your body wants foods that don’t take too much work to process into energy. Simple sugars provide quick burning kindling for your body, but in order to have a steady stream of energy it’s a good idea to back them up with complex carbs and small amounts of slower burning protein and fat. Example: snacking on dried fruit, sweet potato chips, nut butters, coconut butter, nuts and beef jerky throughout the hike.

Give yourself time to digest. Start moving too soon after eating a large meal and you’ll sabotage your refueling. The process of digestion requires a lot of blood flow to your stomach and intestines. This requires a trade off: your body can shunt blood either to the major muscle groups or the stomach and intestines.

If you start hiking aggressively again too soon after a meal your body will not be able to send enough blood to help properly digest your food. Your meal will end up sitting in your stomach like a rock instead of fueling you to greater heights. Not fun.

If you’re planning on a big meal, include time to relax and digest in your hiking schedule. Nutrient dense meals a couple hours before you go to bed will give your body time to assimilate the materials to rebuild your cells and get you ready for another day.

Drink up! Drink water throughout the day. Spacing out your sipping allows you to hydrate more efficiently. Your body absorbs water better in smaller amounts rather than in big gulps. Adding an electrolyte mix to one of your drinking bottles can give you a nice change up to encourage to drink more often. Water bladders like a Camelback or Platypus have also been shown to encourage hydrating more often.

Food isn’t just fuel: Calories aren’t the only thing in food. Your body also the host of nutrients in it to rebuild, cleanse and repair. Most of the dehydrated meals out there are heavy on the white rice and pasta, but pretty thin on nutrient density. Protein and fat are not only used for fuel, they’re also absolutely critical structural components of all of our cells, make up our hormones and neurotransmitters, are part of the process in liver detoxification and a myriad of other processes.

When going dehydrated I like to bring along fat (olive oil, butter or coconut oil), protein (salmon, tuna, chicken, etc) and various dried and fresh veggies and fruits (sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, cranberries, garlic…) and healthful spices (curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, sea salt, pepper) to add in to my dinner.