Hiking Essentials   2 comments

May 28, 2018
With the Memorial Day holiday marking the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States, the season of cookouts and camping has arrived. What are your “must haves” for these events?

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Living in Alaska, Memorial Day weekend is really the first weekend of the year when you can camp out without risking frostbite … although there are people here who use four- season tents with heaters called Arctic Ovens, who do camp out in the winter.

But even in summer, Alaska posed camping challenges.

Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean the camping trip is canceled. With only about 20 weeks of good outdoor weather, we can’t be shy about camping in inclement weather. Besides, Alaska is a big state, so while it may be raining in Fairbanks, it might not be raining in Paxson … or vice versa. It could be beautiful at my house and snowing in the mountains. You just never know. And, so, here are a few of my must-haves for any camping trip in Alaska.

By the way, most of our camping trips involve leaving our car and hiking into the wilderness. Brad and I have it down to about 50 pounds of gear shared between the two of us.

TentBug Spray – mosquitoes in Alaska are everywhere. The Interior is pretty boggy for a semi-desert, but the worse mosquitoes we ever encountered were on Mount Prindle, which is at altitude. This is because much of our ground is overlain with permafrost, so water has nowhere to go. Mosquitoes breed in water. Therefore … bug spray. A tourist back when I worked in the industry asked me why Alaskan women all seemed to have an evergreen perfume. My reply was “We call it au de Cutters.” If you say it with a French accent, it like a high-end item.

Sunscreen – yes, we have sun – 22 hours of it in June. And you can actually get a bad sunburn on cloudy days and a worse sunburn on snow. So we always carry a bottle of sunscreen, even after we develop our summer tans because … sun.

Tent – did I mention the mosquitoes? And that we never know when a rain squall will catch up to us … or snow at altitude? Even on an 80-degree day, the weather can change dramatically and suddenly you’re dealing with hypothermic conditions. We have three tents. The backpacking tent goes with us always, even on day hikes … just in case. Three of us and the dog have crawled into that thing made for two very friendly people, but hey … better crowded than frozen. We also have a mid-sized tent which we often set up for several days at a base camp and we still have a family-sized tent for car camping. That’s the only one you can stand up in.

Sleeping bag – The good news is that the sun doesn’t go down at night from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, so it doesn’t cool off much … normally. But then there’s the abnormal weather – snow at altitude, thundershowers — and the fact that our ground is underlain with permafrost. It can be sweating hot and the minute you lay down on the ground, you feel your body heat ebbing away. Each of us has a three-part military surplus bivouac bag that we don’t always need, but it has come in handy at times. You can throw the bivy sack under you to help insulate from the cold ground. Once when I was visiting Brad on our land, I decided to stay the night on a lark and he let me have one of his two inner bags. It was hot out, so that was all either of us needed.

Tent2Ridge Rest – closed-cell camping pad that rolls up into a tiny roll and is impervious to water. It eases the rock under your shoulder and it insulates you from the cold hard ground. When we used to take the kids with us, we’d turn four Ridgerests sideway so we couldn’t roll off them when rolling over. We still carry three today for just that reason. We upgraded a few years ago and got the ones that can be folded and braced with straps to make camping chairs. Love the back support!

Water filter – the bugs are not just in the air. Giardia is a thing here – beavers inhabit almost every waterway and … well, they ain’t house-broke, if you know what I mean. Plus there’s lots of minerals and debris in our streams, so we filter all of our water, just in case.

A water container – I cannot tell you how useless a water filter is when you have nothing to pump the water into.

Cookstove – this is not a Coleman two-burner outfit, but a Jetboil single propane rocket that will boil water in under a minute. It means we can travel light and still have warm beverages … a must if you get caught in snow at altitude.

MREs – Meals Ready to Eat – military issue surplus. Once you’ve eaten these, Mountain House just seems so inadequate. There’s about 4,000 calories in each meal kit, so Brad and I usually share one or we eat the entrees and save the extras for another meal. The beauty of these is that you don’t need a cook stove to warm them … they come with carbon dioxide heaters that just need a little water to activate them. Also, when sealed, they don’t appear to give off a smell. The dogs aren’t interested until you open them, so it’s unlikely they’ll attract a bear.

jetboilBaby wipes – you can buy body wipes, or whatever they’re marketed as now, in the camping section of most mega-marts or hardware stores, but for half the price you can buy baby wipes and get the same effect. We put them in a 1-gallon freezer bag so they don’t take up much room. It just feels so good after a day of hiking in the hot sun with bug spray and sunscreen coating your skin to wipe off before hitting the sleeping bag.

Powdered potatoes, powdered milk, tea bags, coffee bags, chocolate bars and pilot bread – These are our emergency supplies – the just-in-case-we-turn-the-wrong-way-and-end-up-lost. Well, the coffee bags (like tea bags and way better than instant) are for breakfasts, but we always bring some extra, just in case. Often we eat a chocolate bar or two on our drive home in celebration of a successful outing, but we don’t eat them until we’re off the trail because we’ve had the experience of needing that final burst of calories to finish a trek and were so glad to have forgotten a candy bar in the bottom of the tuck sack.

A knife – until you’ve tried to open an MRE meal kit with your teeth, you really can’t know what a necessity this is. We also carry a multi-tool now after we had a dog get mixed up with a porcupine. It sure would have been nice to have scissors and a pair of pliers to pull those out ourselves rather than backtrack to take the idiot to the vet. And, yes, we have since spent an evening by a campfire pulling quills out of a dog’s face. Her name was Black Dog and she was certain she would one day beat the porcupine. The black Lab in the photo below also had an encounter with a porcupine, but she learned from the experience as did the yellow Lab. Huskies — convinced next time will have a different outcome.

Baggie of shortening – not only can you cook with it, but it’s great coating for chaped hands, feet and lips.

Baggie with soaped kitchen sponge – to be honest, I let the dog take care of the worst of what’s on the cooking implements, but then I wash the germs off with soap. It’s mostly to assure there’s no giardia left on the surface.

Lab backpackA gun – if you know me, you knew this was going to be on the list. The world in general is a dangerous place, but in Alaska there are large animals to contend with. About 20 people were attacked by bears last year in Alaska. Bear spray can be effective, but only if you’re far closer to the bear than is sensible and only if the wind cooperates and doesn’t send the pepper powder back into your face. Plus grizzly bears will ignore pain when they’re pissed off and hikers who have hit them full in the face with an entire can of bear spray will attest it didn’t stop them. There’s also moose, wolverine, wolves, coyote, and fisher who can pose threats to human life here. And, if we do get lost and start to run out of emergency supplies, hunting with a 357 is not the easiest thing in the world, but I have taken grouse and rabbit with mine. And finally, I’ve had a couple of encounters with humans in remote areas where I think, had I not been armed, something might have happened that would have made me wish I was armed.  In a huge state of deep wilderness, cops are always hours away when seconds count. When we’re prepared, we just don’t know what might have happened had we not been prepared. I would go so far as to say that living the way we do in Alaska would not be sensible without guns to protect ourselves from large carnivores and poor decision-makers.

Screamer – otherwise known as a personal body alarm. If we can get away without killing the wildlife, we prefer to just deafen them and it has discouraged bear and moose — sometimes. Wildlife is not always predictable.

First aid kit – again dangerous world, plenty of things that can hurt you. Our kit is a 1-gallon freezer bag because it fits where ever there’s room in the packs and it’s customizable. I once sewed up a friend who sunk a fish hook in his thigh. It allowed him to continue the trek. Brad’s allergic to bee stings so we always carry Benadryl. We include first aid items for the dog. You just can’t buy that with one of those kits from Walmart.

Extra socks – you never know when you’re going to sink into muskeg to your ankles and need dry socks. Plus, all day with your feet sweating in hiking boots … you don’t want to wear those socks tomorrow.

Windbreaker, sweatshirt, rain poncho, baseball cap and stocking cap. I hike in a pair of rip-stop pants that can be rolled up into shorts and (usually) a tank-top or t-shirt. I layer as the weather changes. Sometimes I’ve needed all of these items and sometimes they’ve just been extra weight, but if you don’t bring them, you will need them and it’s better to be prepared when you encounter winter in the middle of a 90-degree day.

Safety shades – Sunglasses that can take a licking and still be unscratched. Alaska forests are not groomed and I am not tall. I got tired of getting poked in the eye by branches. And, hey, the sun is bright at this latitude and it never goes down in the summer. You can buy $100 hiking sunglasses or spend $10 for a pair of dark safety glasses – you choose.

Gloves – I have office worker hands, but Brad brings a pair too. You never know when you’re going to need to saw up a tree limb to make a warming fire or scrabble up or down a scree slope and then there’s the wild-rose bushes. It cuts down on busted knuckles and spending time digging slivers out of your palms.

A fold-saw and matches – Again, you might not need these, but if you do, you really will kick yourself for not carrying the extra half-pound.

Camera – this is Alaska. It demands to be recorded.

You might have noticed what I didn’t include on the list. Extra clothes are a luxury when hiking. I do usually carry a clean pair of panties and my hiking sandals as camp shoes or for crossing rivers and creeks (I have wimpy feet), but I leave those if we’re getting overweight. There is usually a notepad and pen in my gear, but I leave them if we’re overweight. We don’t bother with GPS because a lot of Alaska is not digitally mapped yet. We usually carry a geodetic map of the area we’re hiking. We leave a duplicate in the car marked with our intended route and our estimated return time, in case someone needs to come looking for us. We don’t waste the weight of a cell phone because you usually can’t get a signal, although we do have our eyes on a new texting satellite phone that also act as GPS. One of those might be worth the extra weight. The dog carries her own food, blanket, booties (for rough terrain) and a frisbee (good for both play and a water dish) in saddle bags. We don’t bother with flashlights or lanterns because it never gets dark enough to not be able to see.

Now, if we are car-camping, there’s a lot more luxury involved — better food, changes of clothes, camp chairs, books, fishing poles — but that’s a whole different experience and I chose to tell you about one type of camping, not any of the others.

 

2 responses to “Hiking Essentials

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  1. No clothes and a gun? Not really my idea of camping lol!

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    • Well, I wear clothing. I just don’t carry extra in my pack because that’s extra weight, which matters when you’re hiking. As for the gun, it’s rare that you need it, but when you do need it is when you absolutely do not want to be without it. A grizzly bear mauling or moose-stomping are life-changing events that a lot of people don’t survive or are left crippled for life.

      Like

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