Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Bears pay for our laziness

It shouldn't be controversial. Protecting your food from bears means you get to eat all of it. But protecting your food means you have to make an effort, and a lot of people are too lazy. Assuming you are not so disabled that you physically can't hang or otherwise safely store your food (and if you are, how did you get into the backcountry?), there isn't a good reason not to protect your food supplies.

If you don't, the most likely answer is that mice will get into it, which also kind of sucks. This is why shelters are overrun with mice. Sometimes they're eating dropped food, but much of the time they have been habituated to steal food from food bags. Mostly mice aren't lethal, hantavirus excluded. So although we are all annoyed by mice, rangers are not hunting them down with rifles. Bears, on the other hand, ARE lethal. Once a bear has succeeded in obtaining food somewhere, they will return over and over to try again. Which means that if the people before you, maybe long before you, didn't hang their food or did a bad job hanging their food, there will be a bear around to check out your food supply before long.

The reason I care, in addition to liking food, is that I absolutely do not want an animal killed for my mistake. I do not want to be the one who trains a bear to steal food from people. I don't want to be the one who eventually causes a ranger to have to pick up a rifle and shoot that bear. Maybe that bear was a jerk before he started stealing food. Maybe he was already dangerous. But the food is what made that dangerous bear start hanging out around humans. Unconscious humans, usually, as the bears visit at night. Usually they leave people alone, but not always. Maybe they can't get to hung food and they're frustrated. Maybe you smell like BBQ sauce. Maybe other things are going on in their ursine heads. Whatever the reason, sometimes bears attack people instead of just trying for the food bags.

There are some pretty vocal people on the internet who will tell you they always sleep with their food bag under their head and they never have a problem. That's great, until they DO have a problem. They might always drive without a seatbelt, too, and never have a problem until the accident that sends them through the windshield. They're gambling with their safety when they do that. And they're gambling with mine when they sleep with their food.

There are options for how you do protect your food. Personally, I use a sturdy roll top drybag. I have a small bag with a rope attached to it, and I put a rock in the bag so I can use it to throw my rope up over a high branch. Depending on the level of bear threat in the area, I tie the rope differently. If it's low, I tie it off to a nearby tree. If the bear threat is high, I use the PCT method. I'm linking to the Georgia AT club's PDF describing how it works.

Some parks and campsites will have a bear pole to hang from. That's a tall steel pole with prongs sticking out from it at the top. This is a reliable and safe way to hang. Other sites have bear cables, which is a slightly more complicated pulley system. This gets your food way, way up in the air. Mice and squirrels have been known to bypass blocks and get to foodbags on these systems. Additionally, it is possible to hang your food bag from a hook on the bear cables. Then it can be bounced off if you hit the ropes vigorously. If you use bear cables, attach your food bag securely! The third easy way to protect your food is in a bear box, which is a large, heavy steel cabinet that they have lugged out to some shelters. They are difficult to open. As far as I know, bears have not learned how. Sometimes, I haven't learned how, depending on how stiff the handles are.

You can buy a bear-proof stuff sack called an Ursack as an alternative to hanging your food high up in a tree. You still need to secure the bag to something sturdy, like a tree, so that a bear doesn't just leave with it to gnaw on at its leisure. But bears can't get in to these bags. They're made of kevlar.

The last alternative is a bear canister. I myself have not used one yet. They are starting to become mandatory in places due to bear activity. Technically the Ursack meets the same requirements the bear canisters do, but not all agencies have caught up to this message. If you are backpacking somewhere that requires canister storage, you'll have to buy or rent one. If you'll be doing it a lot, it makes sense to buy. I'm including a link to one of the lighter units on the market, the BearVault. At 33 to 41 oz, the canisters themselves carry a hefty weight penalty. But given that bears are intelligent, persistent, and like to teach one another new tricks, bear canisters may be ubiquitous in the future.

Let's talk about your parts

Last post I mentioned the Intimina Lily Cup Compact - Collapsible Menstrual Cup (size A). FYI there's also a larger size. If you've had a child, for instance, you generally need a larger cup to fit your rearranged anatomy. Don't be left out, moms. There's an INTIMINA Lily Cup Compact -Collapsible Menstrual Cup (Size B) for you too. These cups are non-latex, non staining, and collapsible for packing. I leave the little case home and carry mine in a little cloth bag because I feel like it keeps it drier and airier.

You can also get something like a Diva Cup. It doesn't collapse, but otherwise does the trick. I liked devoting less space in my pack to my cup. Of course, either option is still wildly better than carrying non-reusable supplies.

I don't recommend taking tampons and pads. Carrying them out is kinda gross, you have to store them like you would store food (away from animals!), you have to shop for more in town. They may or may not carry your preferred brand at the dollar general. If you do decide to carry them, or need to carry them, getting something like a Waterproof Reusable Zip Mini Wet Bag makes a lot of sense. At under an ounce, it'll keep your used supplies away from your other gear, and it's opaque for privacy. Nobody else needs to know your business, know what I'm saying?

Non-menstrually, I'm a big fan of pee rags. Nota bene: do NOT pick up fallen bandanas unless you are absolutely sure they are not a pee rag that's fallen off somebody's pack. Even if they aren't pee rags, they have been used to wipe off sweat and snot and are still disgusting. Maybe handle with ziplocks and carry in to the next town to be washed. That said, these are a great solution to carrying and burying or carrying out a whole lot of bath tissue. You still need it for #2, or for menstrual fluid, but plain old urine doesn't need to use up your precious TP resources. They're easily washed in a ziplock with a couple of drops of Campsuds. Note that that size bottle will last you a life time, so I repackage mine into something like 5-100ml Empty Plastic Squeezable Dropper Bottles Eye Liquid Containers. One 10 ml bottle is enough for pretty much a thruhike for me. A lot of people use Dr. Bronner Baby Unscented Liquid Soap but having tried both, I prefer my CampSuds.

I don't use anything special for bath tissue. I get whatever TP the store has, preferably with enough texture to really clean. The single ply stuff that is what you can usually find in individual rolls is definitely not recommended. Yeesh. TP is one of the areas where it makes sense to cough up for better quality. Unfortunately you will almost always have to get a two or four pack to get good toilet paper. Find another hiker to share with. Also, take the cardboard core out of the middle of the roll. That way the roll squishes down and fits better in your pack. You can be all fancy and dispense your TP from the middle of the roll after you do this. I am not fancy. Regardless, be sure to double bag your TP. I put mine in a quart sized freezer bag like Ziploc Quart Freezer Bags. You definitely want the freezer bag version - it will live longer. Then I put that bag inside a gallon size bag like Ziploc Freezer Bag, Gallon Size. With the double layer, you're less likely to suffer the horror of wet toilet paper. Also, having the larger bag means you can open the smaller bag and have a dry space to reach into when it's raining. It is incredibly disappointing to soak your toilet paper with rain while you're trying to get some out of the bag. The larger ziplock also makes a good place to stash other hygiene related items.

Also it is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that you keep your booty clean. A microscopic speck back there is enough to create untold misery. I've been using individually packaged Preparation H Totables, Hemorrhoidal Wipes with Witch Hazel for years, but they are not universally available on the trail. Last year I found Sea To Summit Trek and Travel Wilderness Bath Wipes which have been great. You should be able to find them at outfitters for certain. I'm sending myself a pack with my maildrop.

If things get a little tender down there, you're going to need to baby your bottom. I break with tradition and use a product I found a few years ago. The tube is tiny, and it works really well. Mayinglong Musk Hemorrhoids Ointment Cream takes up minimal pack room and lasts approximately forever. I got most of a thruhike out of one tube. If you're using the wipes properly you may not need the stuff, but on those long, hot, sweaty summer days, I think even the salt crystals and heat you generate as your flesh moves across itself is enough to cause misery.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hello, The Internet

I've been over at trailjournals having a thruhike, but the thruhike is sadly over now.  Or not so sadly, if you're me and you were ecstatic to be home with husband and dogs and warm bed.  All at once because we sleep in a puppy pile.  But just like after my first thruhike, I missed writing afterward.  People suggested writing a book.  I might, but that involves a lot more brain than a blog post.  So blogging it is!

I'm actually gearing up for a section hike soon with my friend Neon, so I have equipment on the brain.  I thought I'd do a little bit of gear reviewing.

I plan to take the same tent I thruhiked with last year, the Zpacks Hexamid Solo Plus.  Not including stakes, it's 17.7 oz.  Mine is an ounce heavier because I got it in camo material, which is a little thicker.  My old Hexamid is in blue, and it's pretty dang see through.  The camo is not at all transparent.  On my thruhike last year, I suffered through weeks of attack acorns, and for the first time in my life my tent was punctured by an acorn.  Thousands of miles and decades of hiking, and this was a first.  But it happened, so be aware.  Cuben can be punctured by acorns.  Luckily it's easily fixed with a little tape.  I used Zpacks repair tape because I had it, but duct tape also works.

My camo Hexamid in the 100 Mile Wilderness

I used two different Zpacks quilts last year.  I used a 20 degree in chilly weather, a 40 degree in warm weather, and I layered them in cold weather.  I went for the extra wide version so I could still sleep in a pretzel shape while the 20 degree was fully zipped.  The 40 degree I only got straps on, no zipper.  Since I bought mine, they changed the baffle orientation to longways down the length of the sleeping bag, which should be a significant improvement over baffles running side to side.  The latter allow down to slide downhill to either side of your shoulders over time.  I was happy with mine despite needing to fluff the down back to the middle occasionally.  Both quilts gave me room to move around as needed.  I was able to use the straps of the quilt to attach to either of my sleeping pads, but I had to put my head at the narrow end of my larger pad to make it work.

I had a number of problems from wear and tear to discomfort to an extremely stupid trowel puncture, so I went through a lot of sleeping pads this year.  My very favorite was the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite. At 23" wide, it's enough for me as a side sleeper to be comfortable.  The V structure let the pad form around my sprawling sleeping form better than a more rigid pad.  At 19.6 oz it's a little heavier than some options, but the comfort was worth it.  After that was NeoAir Xtherm.  The large (AKA the wide) weighs 20 oz, so almost the same as the Klymit.  Mine weighed less because I cut a foot off the end of it, so it was about 18 oz.  It was significantly warmer, but slightly less comfortable to sleep on than the V shaped Klymit baffles.  I sent for it when the temperature got down to around freezing.

On the personal hygiene front, I loved the Intimina Lily Cup Compact.  It collapses to the size of a quarter when not in use, was easy to clean, didn't stain, and felt like nothing once inserted.  Dealing with your period on the trail is not especially fun or pleasant, but at least using a menstrual cup means not having to pack out any grossness.  And because I didn't need to buy supplies in town, I never ran out at an inconvenient time.  The compacted cup was small enough to live in my ziplock with my toilet paper.