Category Archives: Outdoor Lore

Hiking Gear: Time to Retire?

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It’s supported you loyally throughout the years, but bringing worn out gear into the backcountry can do you far more harm than good. Here’s a quick guide of when to replace key gear.

BOOTS:
Your boots should be allowed to go hike the great trail in the sky when:

-Your soles wear thin and smooth. It’s critical that your boots have excellent traction. From creek crossings to that granite slab traverse, when you’re on slippery or wet surfaces you need a strong grip if you don’t want to risk life and limb with every step.

-Your boot develops an uncomfortable fold or kink that hurts your foot and shortens your hike. Pain is no fun and can distract you into making bad decisions that could affect the safety of your hike, or at the very least make it miserable.

-Your boot’s upper delaminates or the threading starts sticking out of the seams. Either of these can compromise the weatherproofing of your old friend. This can turn from annoying to downright dangerous in the winter. Nothing will lead to frostbite faster than a set of poor sealing shoes in cold wet conditions.

PACK
Packs can be the longest lived of your gear. Kind of like Frankenstein’s monster, most worn out components like ripped seams, torn up shoulder straps, and hip-belts can be repaired or replaced. Unfortunately, sturdy old models tend to weigh in on the heavier side and lack many useful newer options. Upgrading your pack to a lighter, more convenient version can help better distribute your load and make your hikes a heck of a lot more enjoyable.

TENT
Your trusty old tent has weathered blown seams, broken zippers and shattered poles with simple repairs and replacements, but use caution when deciding to milk that last bit of life out of your shelter. Eventually even the walls will degrade, and a torrential downpour in the backcountry is a dangerous place to discover that your old tent leaks like a sieve. Test your tent every season with a simulated extended downpour to make sure it can truly weather the storm.

SLEEPING BAG
Even with proper care, your sleeping bag fill will eventually lose its ability to keep your toes toasty warm. Synthetic fills can last you five (or more) years with good care, and down may survive up to ten. Note: improper laundering, or storing your bag compressed can significantly shorten this number. It’s time for a new bag when the old one looks deflated, has flat spots, or just no longer keeps you warm.

HEADLAMP
Cheaper headlamps will need to be replaced more often, as buttons fail, controls get twitchy and the connections to the batteries wear out. Upgrade to a good quality headlamp (with extra batteries). You can keep an older model around to avoid black widows on trips into the storage space, but don’t make the mistake of heading miles into the backcountry with an unreliable light strapped to your noggin.

It’s often hard to give up something that has done a good job for you over the years. Nostalgia has its place – so reward your old gear’s loyalty by giving it a place of honor on a display shelf, but don’t bring it out onto the trail.

Toasty Toes: Staying Warm While Hiking

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On the last few rescues there has been a very distinct chill in the air. One thing I’ve learned through hard experience is that the essence of staying safely warm in the winter wilderness is having the proper clothing layers and knowing how to use them effectively. Here’s some info to help keep you toasty while hiking this winter.

So why are some materials warmer than others?

It’s all in the air. Clothing helps hold “dead air” against your skin. This dead air is heated up by the body, providing a layer of warmth. The actual insulating value of your clothing is due to the thickness of dead air space it can hold. Your body is the true heat source, the clothing layers only serve to trap the heat and slow down your heat loss to the cold environment.

So what are the best ways to save this “dead air”?

1. Choose the right layers The key to staying toasty is by having a number of versatile layers of clothing to provide an appropriate amount of dead air space. Each layer should have unique properties to hold, protect and allow you to adjust your temperature as necessary.

-AVOID Cotton: During the winter cotton is downright deadly as it loses all its dead air when wet and thus its insulating properties. Wet cotton is worse than dry bare skin and will rapidly suck the warmth from your body.

-Polypro or other Synthetic base layer: Keep your body in a snug (not tight) synthetic layer designed to wick moisture AWAY from your skin. Synthetic fibers like polypropylene don’t hold water, so your sweat is driven outward beyond the synthetic layer and away from your skin. This prevents evaporative cooling and creates a thin protective layer of warm air.

Wear Wool: Wool’s insulating ability comes from the elastic, wavy crimp in its shape that traps air between fibers. Depending on texture and thickness, as much as 60-80% of wool cloth can be air! Because the water “disappears” into these fiber spaces, wool can absorb a large amount of moisture while still keeping enough dead air space to keep you warm. (Note: although not as versatile, fleece is an acceptable option as well).

Down jacket: Lightweight and highly compressible, down feathers are very efficient insulators. They provide excellent dead air space for very little weight. Unfortunately, if the feathers get wet they clump, lose dead air space and all their insulating power. Keep your down safely wrapped in a waterproof bag until you need it.

Wind and waterproof outer shell – it is essential to have an outer layer that is wind and waterproof while still having the ability to ventilate and allow excess heat and sweat to escape. Gore-tex and other similar fabrics are good options. Having underarm (pit) zippers on jackets greatly increases your ability to ventilate.

Hand gear: bring mittens!
Ever notice your hands feel colder after putting on a thin pair of gloves? It’s physics baby! When a thin layer of insulation is wrapped around a small diameter curved surface (finger), it increases the surface area and can actually increase heat loss until a thickness of about 1/4″. Good motivation to bring backup mittens (which get around this problem by combining finger pockets) for extra cold conditions.

Headgear– hats are essential in winter travel. The head has a very high surface to volume ratio and is heavily vascularized, so you can lose a great deal of heat without headgear. A balaclava or facemask may be required if it is windy to prevent facial frostbite.

2. Have a dry backup- and use it! Always have a dry backup of critical clothing and don’t wait too long to change into it after you stop moving. Heat loss from a wet surface can be up to 25 times quicker than a dry one. I’ve hiked with a person who forgot this cardinal rule. She went to bed too exhausted to take off her wet socks. She woke up with toes permanently damaged from frost-bite.

3. Right size clothing: Layers that are too tight will constrict the body’s circulation so that it’ll have a tough time warming up, especially in your extremities. Tightness will also compress your clothing and actually reduce dead air space- decreasing your insulation. Beware though: Too loose and your clothing can act as a bellow and actually blow out warm air and suck in cold.

Have a great winter, and stay toasty!

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.

CONTRACTOR BAGS:

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…..

ZIPLOCK BAGGIES
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!

PRODUCE AND SHOPPING BAGS
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

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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 http://lnt.org/shop/reference-cards
• 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.

Practice:
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!

After the Fire

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Amongst the charred remains of once tall trees and the blackened, barren mountain slopes there is already hope of rebirth. In the years that will follow, the burn scars will slowly fade. In the blackened earth, grasses and wildflowers will spring up from the ashes. Over time, tiny pine trees will take root and and stretch their limbs up towards the sun.

It’s so easy to look at the aftermath of the fire and only see loss and destruction. We often forget that with the pain and destruction of a fire, nature also offers the hope for cleansing and rebirth. At the same the Mountain Fire was destroying what we loved, it was it creating something new and beautiful, shaping the new forest to come.

Even as the flames crackled through the branches of our manzanita, cedars and pines, this new forest was already being born. Many tree species, like our native Coulter pine, have adapted to survive and even thrive after a forest fire. Their cones shelter seeds in shells that are so tough that only the intense heat of a fire can set them free. The Mountain Fire dumped millions of these seeds on the forest floor. In less than a month, a fraction of those will begin to germinate, pop their heads up through the soil and start growing into little seedlings.

Not only will the ashes of the old trees serve as Miracle-Gro for a crop of windflowers and hopeful pine seedlings, the clearing of the undergrowth will open up more nutrient and water resources for the older trees that remain, strengthening them. With the recent influx of cooling rain, our singed meadows and streams, have already slowly begun their recovery. Fire ecologists say these areas closest to water will be the first part of our high country to regain their full majesty.

Mother nature will do all this and more to not only restore, but to rejuvenate and re-imagine our forest into a beautiful new place. Fire is change, yes, but change is not necessarily a bad thing.

Now that the imminent danger is over, our homes once again safe, it’s time to ask ourselves, “what can I do to help?”

1. Give it time to heal. We all want to get up there and see the damage, take stock of our losses. The urge is almost irrepressible- we are drawn like a bystander at a gruesome accident. But before you decide to sneak up for “just one look”, remember, this is a very fragile time for our high country.

The most critical long-term issue for a forest after a fire is erosion. Without plants to hold the soil in place, erosion can strip nutrients from the soil and make the earth too unstable to support new growth. The recent rains have already ravaged the burnt areas. Traveling this already fragile earth can do much more damage than you know.

Allow the forest time to heal, give it space that is needed to rebuild without excess foot and horse traffic that could degrade already fragile areas. “But, what harm could just one person do?” Well, not much, but you know it won’t be just one person that goes up. You could choose to make one less set of footprints to damage the soil.

2. Respect the Forest Service rules and timeline. Rest assured, they are not closing the Wilderness just to punish you. They set the rules in place to protect you and more importantly to protect the high country from overuse during this delicate time.

NOTE: Even after the flames are long extinguished, that does not mean that the danger for visitors to the high country has disappeared. Many charred trees are unstable, ready to fall, waiting for some impact to trigger their release. New holes and ruts hidden just below the surface from burnt out roots wait to twist unwary ankles.

3. Volunteer to help rebuild. Before the Wilderness can be re-opened the. Already severe erosion will need to be dealt with, damaged trails repaired, reinforced, possibly even rebuilt entirely. If you want to do something for the High Country you love, donate to, or volunteer to help with a trail maintenance program. The Forest Service Volunteer Association (FSVA), the California Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) have long worked to preserve our local trail system and they will need all the help and funding they can get in what promises to be a challenging year.

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?

UNDERSTANDING HEALING:

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?

OBSTACLES TO HEALING

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 TO DO?

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.

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.