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Book Review – Awesome Woman’s Outdoor Guide

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woman’s outdoor guideA WOMAN’S GUIDE TO THE WILD
Your Complete Outdoor Handbook
By Ruby McConnel and Illustrated by Teresa Grasseschi
287 pp. Available through Sasquatch Books or Amazon for $18.95

As the outdoors increasingly becomes a mystery to our screen bound society, Ruby McConnel writes a practical guide to all the secrets of the wild that beginners need to know.  This woman’s outdoor guide is humorous, conversational, and packed with vital outdoor skills and tips.  Reading it is like having a lively chat with your best friend at your favorite coffee shop.  Everything from how to start a fire, to how to handle hygiene on the trail, Ruby covers it all with humor and humility.

For many, the lack of basic outdoor knowledge is a barrier to enjoying extended forays into the wild.  Often, budding outdoors enthusiast feel self-conscious about asking questions. Questions like, “what do I take and how do I pack my backpack,” can seem basic, causing the budding outdoors enthusiast to feel self-conscious about asking questions.  In her woman’s outdoor guide, Ruby provides the answers and context to help the novice outdoors woman feel confident going gear shopping and hitting the trail.

Besides her own expert knowledge, Ruby also includes sage advice from other women with professional outdoor knowledge.  Learn weather tips from an experienced Forest Service biologist.  Find out helpful hints about packing for extended trips from an Appalachian Trail trekking expert.  These sections help make the book feel approachable and collaborative.  You are not getting a book by an authoritative expert telling you how you have to do it; this book is a conversation among friends talking about different ways to enjoy the outdoors.

In addition to wonderful advice, the book is beautifully illustrated by Teresa Grasseschi.  Teresa’s technical drawings help Ruby tell the story of the outdoors and the stylized accents on each page set the outdoor atmosphere.  You can almost smell the pine and hear the crackle of the campfire through Teresa’s amazing drawings.

Simply put, this is the perfect woman’s outdoor guide with beautiful illustrations.  Highly recommend for beginning and novice outdoors women or as a gift for a woman interested in exploring the wild.  Read more from Ruby at

Outdoor Photography – How to Capture the Milky Way

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Outdoor Photography
Learn what you need to know to take perfect outdoor photography shots of the Milky Way. Photo: First Beach

My favorite months to capture outdoor photography images of the Milky Way are August and September. The core of our galaxy is visible before the wee hours of the morning and we generally have fewer clouds to block the view.  Besides a cloudless night you also need to have no moon in the sky as it reflects so much sunlight into the night sky that the arc of the Milky Way is faint.

Camped under the Milky Way at Baker River
Camped under the Milky Way at Baker River

The next three New Moons dates are: Tuesday, Aug. 3, Thursday, Sept. 1, and Friday, Sept. 30.   If you head out and up (out of town and up into the mountains) for outdoor photography and Milky Way shots, you can get great images plus/minus 2 days of the actual New Moon.

I have been teaching Night Sky Photo Classes for some time at the North Cascades Institute and leading Night Sky Photo Tours for several years and here are the most important things to remember:

When doing outdoor photography, a full frame camera is preferred but not a necessity. What IS important is that whatever camera you use is to have an effective 10 – 20mm lens for your rig. If you have a full frame body, a 14mm lens is very good, and if you have a cropped sensor body, a 10mm is also fine.

Focusing your lens on infinity at night can also be a problem. The auto function will not work in the dark. You will need to set the lens to manual focus. It’s best to figure out where, exactly to set the focus ring on your lens BEFORE heading out. Here are some simple steps:

ourdoor photography
Dramatic night photo of Winchester Lookout.

Set your camera on manual focus and head outside in the daytime. Find some sign with sharp text, like a STOP sign, stand back about 30 feet. Set your aperture on its lowest f/stop number (as this is what you’ll use at night) using the built in light meter, adjust your shutter speed for a correct exposure. Now turn the focus ring all the way, past the Infinity symbol and take a picture.  Using the zoom function on the camera, enlarge the text on the sign.  Are the  letters perfectly in focus? If yes, great. If not, adjust the focus ring a hair away from the infinity symbol and try again and so on. Each time zooming in on the text, keep this up until you have found the sweet spot for your lens. You may be very surprised where that sweet spot is for your lens! Make a mental note, or use a pencil, or whatever so that you KNOW where to set your lens, on manual focus, so that its set to capture images in sharp focus.

Then you’re all set! Find a spot away from the ambient lights of people, get your rig set on a tripod, use a wide open aperture, and set your shutter speed based on the chart below and you’re ready for action!

outdoor photography


outdoor photography
Mount Rainier














Learn more about night outdoor photography at the North Cascades Institute or on Night Sky Photo Tours .




5 Things Every Beginner Backpacker Needs

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beginner backpacker
If you are a beginner backpacker, try these tips to improve your enjoyment and safety on the trail.

There are several necessities every beginner backpacker will need to ensure a memorable adventure. Even if you are embarking on a day trip, you can never be too safe. In order to create a positive routine, consider adding these items to your inventory when you set out on your next adventure.

Analog Navigation

There are too many horror stories of travelers who lost their way on a trek. Luckily, you don’t have to be one of the statistics. The easiest way to ensure you that you are safe and on track is an extensive knowledge of celestial navigation. Many of us do not have the time to develop this skill, so we rely on technological navigation. The invention of the smartphone has rendered many of us lazy, and we turn to applications to do the dirty work for us. Smartphones do not have an unlimited battery time, though. If you find yourself lost with nothing but breakfast bars and a dead iPhone, good luck! Fortunately, compasses are a cost-effective alternative to your smartphone and it does not need batteries!  There is a variety of selection when it comes to compasses, find the one for your needs and practice.  If you are a beginner backpacker, consider taking a navigation course, many outfitters provide free or low cost classes.

Warmth and Insulation

Nothing beats the accessibility of a thick fleece when you are backpacking through areas with unstable weather patterns. Insulation is essential to any backpacking adventure because you never know what life will throw at you. Depending on the amount of people with you, consider trying tent insulation. Insulation in your tent will provide the luxury of temperature control while you are roughing it on your escapade. Of course, you are more important than your tent. It is important to pack a variety of clothing before you embark on your trip. Doing this will save energy and promote comfort throughout your time on the road.


Arguably the most important aspect of any journey is optimal health. Ingesting the correct amount of nutrients is vital to maintaining health, enhancing energy levels, preventing diseases, and the list goes on and on. There are plenty of cost-effective ways to pack nutritiously. To make sure you get all of the essential amino acids, vitamins, and macro-nutrients, it is recommended that you pack many fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Utilizing mostly vegetarian options will lower the weight of your backpack while increasing the number of nutrients at your disposal.

Fire and Water

From an evolutionary perspective, we are designed to eat cooked foods. Without fire, your taste buds will be displeased. Although this may not be considered a bare essential, this will decrease the number of trials and tribulations (which will hopefully be 0) while on your adventure. You can also utilize the heat to keep you warm at night.  The flame will also divert predators from your area. If you are new to backpacking, starting a fire can be tough.  Build a good fire starting kit and practice before your trip.  In addition to fire, it is important to bring water and a reliable water filtration system. Dehydration will sap your energy and ruin your trip, it should not to be taken lightly. Water can be used in a variety of ways, try using water instead of cooking oil on your trip. This will enhance your energy levels while combating any fatigue from increased levels of saturated fat.

First Aid Kit

When you are looking to buy a first aid kit, make sure it contains the following items:

  • BZK-based antiseptic wipes
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Assorted adhesive bandages
  • Gauze pads
  • Nonstick sterile pads
  • Blister treatment
  • Ibuprofen
  • Insect-sting relief treatment
  • Antihistamine to treat allergic reactions

No one believes an accident can happen to them until it does. It is important to expect the best but prepare for the worst. Although it may seem trivial, everything on this list can serve as a lifesaver given the scenario. Make sure to pack a well-equipped first aid kit before you begin your journey.  Also consider investing in a small first aid book that can go with the kit, or better yet, as a beginner backpacker consider taking a first aid class from a certified instructor.

Backpacking can change your life, create unforgettable memories, and allow you to experience the world. It is imperative to pack correctly and intentionally. Although it is a pleasure to embark on an unknown adventure, it must be done with proper preparation. The next step is to enjoy your travels!


Surviving a Bear Attack

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In my wilderness survival class, I am frequently asked what kind of gun would be the best defense against a bear attack.  I am asked “Is a rifle better than a pistol or what about a shotgun?”  Rarely does anyone ask about bear spray.

Early Saturday morning I was listening to Nothwestern Outdoors Radio.  The show’s host John Kruse interviewed a representative from bear spray manufacturer Counter Assault.

After listening I did some research and verified some of the statistics brought forward on the radio show.  I focused on an article from May 2012 in Outside Magazine by Nick Heil (“Shoot or Spray, the Best Way to Stop a Charging Bear.”)  The studies evaluated pertained to bear encounters in Alaska.

As it turns out, bear spray may be the backcountry traveler’s best option.


Here are a few “take-aways” from Heil’s article:

Over the period from 1883 to 2009, there were 269 bear close encounters.  Bears inflicted injuries in 151 encounters and killed 17 people.  Statistics showed that aggressive bears were repelled or killed 84% of the time with handguns and 76% of the time with long guns.

Bear spray was first introduced in 1985.  From 1985 to 2006 there were 83 close bear encounters involving 156 people. Heil reports that “In all the incidents involving spray, there were only three injuries and none of them were fatal: a 98% success rate.”

In regards to folklore (ie. wearing bells on your boots), an associate professor in Plant and Wildlife Sciences at Brigham Young University, Tom Smith, was asked to provide guidance on how to be safe in bear county.  “But all the information I could find was based on no data at all or just misguided impressions.”


So, what should you do in bear country?

  1. Before going on your outing watch Counter Assault’s video on their website.
  2. Keep bear spray in a holster readily assessable and out of the backpack.
  3. Get the spray out in front and get ready to activate. Spray has a limited volume.
  4. Stay in a group and group up when a bear is seen.
  5. Initially, stand your ground and make noise and then slowly back out.
  6. Don’t make eye contact.

Please keep the following in mind:

  1. Bear Spray has a shelf life of about two years.  Check the bottle’s label.
  2. Bottles of spray are not allowed to go into your luggage for air travel.
  3. Bear Spray can be purchased at many parks, Cabelas, Sportsman’s Ware House, REI and other stores that cater to hunters.
  4. At the end of a trip the bottles can be recycled.  I left an expired bottle on my last trip with the park rangers.

An Intro to Pet Medical Care

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My friends Lori and Ray have the biggest hound hearts around – they have no less than six adopted greyhounds in their household. The dogs are all amazing, and are always ready for a good hike in the great outdoors. We walk the hounds in phases so that we are sure to have control of the hounds that are with us.

pet medical care

We consider this a good first step in preparation for taking the dogs out on a hike. This brings to mind being prepared for your hounds in the event of the need for pet first aid while on any outdoors excursion. Do you know where the nearest veterinarian clinic is near your extended hike? Would you know what to do if your dog was suddenly bitten by a snake while out on a trail?  What if your hound had an accident while out on the hike? Topics such as these are addressed by a number of local and national organizations.

pet medical care

CPR Seattle is a local American Heart Association Training Center which offers certifications to individuals and businesses in CPR. More specifically, they offer classes in pet CPR and first aid. In the Pet CPR and First Aid course, they discuss how to aid your animal in the event of an injury. Students in the class receive a completion certificate once the course is completed. The course content addresses:

  • Restraining an injured animal
  • Checking vitals
  • Treating serious bleeding and shock
  • Care for injuries and wounds
  • Medical emergencies
  • Environmental emergencies (animal bites, snake bites, ticks and more)
  • Common pet illness and conditions

pet medical care

Technology is also available to play a role in your pet’s medical care. PetTech is an online resource through which local classes offer CPR and first aid care for your animal. They offer PetSaver Training as well as an app that gives you an immediate hands-on tool for issues such as:

  • CPR
  • Bleeding
  • Chocking
  • Shock
  • Fractures & limb injuries
  • Poisoning
  • Insect bites & stings
  • Heat stroke
  • Burns
  • Frost nip/Frost bite
  • Seizures and convulsions

Each issue on the app lists definitions, causes, signs and actions for survival – all critical in the event of a serious injury or medical event, and enables timely prevention for any issue that can be mitigated or avoided by immediate and proper attention. The app also offers a section specifically addressing poisonous items, with plants listed alphabetically. When you touch the name of the plant on the app, you get a color picture of the plant with a description, making the identification of such a plant a snap.  It also gives information on signs of poisoning and actions for survival if poisoning is suspected.

pet medical care

The American Red Cross website is also a useful resource for pet safety. As the warmer months approach, it is important to keep in mind that our hounds need to be protected from the heat, just as humans do.  If your hound appears to be in distress from the heat, the Red Cross suggests the following measures be taken:

Determine if the signs and symptoms are indicative of a heat stroke:

  • Collapse, body temperature 104° F or above, bloody diarrhea or vomit, depression stupor, seizures or coma, excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, salivationIf you are suspicious of a heat stroke:
  • Get your dog out of direct heat
  • Check for shock
  • Take your dog’s temperature
  • Spray your dog with cool water then retake temperature
  • Place water–soaked towels on the dog’s head, neck, feet, chest and abdomen, turn on a fan and point it in your dog’s direction, rub Isopropyl alcohol (70%) on the dog’s foot pads to help cool him (but don’t use large quantities as it can be toxic if ingested)
  • Take your dog to the nearest veterinary hospital

pet medical care


As we continue our adventure on our hike through the local trail system, we keep in mind the following tips when out with one (or many!) hounds. Here are a few additional reminders for walking one (or multiple hounds) in any outdoor setting:

  1. Make sure your hound is wearing a collar and an identification tag for any outdoor excursion. This becomes critically important in the event you and your hound(s) get separated on your hike.
  2. Always bring plenty of water and a portable bowl with you on the hike, for both you and your hound(s). It never hurts to have treats on hand as well!
  3. If walking multiple hounds, make sure that they all get along – a walk or hike with newly-acquainted hounds closer to home is a good idea so that you (and others walking with you) are aware of their behaviors with and around the other hounds and humans!
  4. Have a portable first aid kit on hand for both you and your hounds (The Humane Society offers a comprehensive list of what to carry in your pet’s first aid kit).

pet medical care

To find out more about any of these resources, please visit:

What’s In Your Ditty Bag?

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If you look at your list of backpacking equipment, it breaks down into relatively few items grouped by activity: There are shelter items which will range from a tent to a simple tarp or hammock. Sleeping items may include a sleeping bag or quilt, bag liner  and a pad of some sort, either inflatable or otherwise.  For cooking you will include a stove, fuel, cooking pot, a cup and a spoon and a food bag. Finally, clothing will be customized to suit the season.

The list of individual items, however, gets longer when you start to consider all of the small items you bring along.

Why do we have these things?  Typically it is because at some time in our experience, we have wished we had X-object, and it wasn’t there.

Good example: Try doing anything without duct tape!

This is where the ditty bag comes in. I use a nylon zip top bag (in my case a medium Outdoor Research product) with all items inside in clear zip locks. For tiny zip lock bags to hold small items (such as pills or AAA batteries), I go to the craft section of my local dollar store. The bag then goes with me into my tent at night.

The items I carry break out into three categories: Hygiene and health, repair and miscellaneous.

  1. Hygiene and Health
  • Small first aid kit containg antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, alcohol pads, anti-diarrhea, antacid, sunscreen, sting relief, moleskin, band aids, surgical tape (I wrap some around a small dowel to avoid the whole roll), small wound dressing pad and steri-strips.
  • Toothbrush and paste. I have tried to make dried paste dots many times, but haven’t mastered it, so I use a small travel tube. Folklore says to saw the handle off your toothbrush if you are a weight weenie.
  • Toilet paper. Pull the tube out of a half-used roll, then flatten.
  • Wet wipes (separately zip-locked and in the same bag as the toilet paper along with the antibiotic ointment)
  • Water purifying tabs
  • Liquid soap (in a small drop bottle)
  • Ear plugs. For others – I snore.

Ditty bag 2

  1. Repair
  • Patch kit for pad & a few squares of nylon
  • Crazy glue
  • Tenacious tape
  • Cord locks
  • Pencil (a 4.5 cm stump with eraser)
  • Paper

I also roll 6 or so metres of duct tape onto one of my hiking poles.

Ditty bag 3

  1. Miscellaneous
  • Compass. Mine has a mirror so I can see how terrible I look after a week out.
  • Headlamp
  • Spare batteries (I try to use the same batteries for all lighting)
  • Small lighter (in addition to the one in my cook kit)
  • Windproof matches
  • Small knife (Leatherman Style). I look for scissors on a knife.
  • 10 metres of 2.5mm paracord
  • Sil nylon throw bag (for hanging food)
  • Pencil flare gun with flares
  • Money and I.D
  • Book / glasses

Ditty bag 4

Total weight:  869 gms


Your ditty bag will include some of the same items and, no doubt, items that you come up with yourself. For some great ideas, look at the many videos on YouTube by searching “ditty bag”.


How To Start A Fire In The Rain

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Gasping for air, you break the surface and glimpse your capsized canoe disappearing around the river bend. Dragging yourself out of the icy water and onto the shore with numb hands, you fumble the small watertight capsule out of your pocket and rattle around for your only hope of making fire: matches. All of the wood, however, appears soaked from hours of rain and the temperature is dropping swiftly.

Knowing what to do next could save your life.


Fire requires three ingredients to burn: fuel, oxygen and heat. Once you understand these essentials, fire will only ever be a matter of “when” and “where,” not “if.”

Finding fuel that isn’t soaked through can be tricky. Begin by searching around the base of trees and bushes; rain will take much longer to penetrate these areas and allow you a respite from the downpour. If you come up empty-handed, continue your search under and around fallen timbers, boulders and other naturally protected areas. As rivers cut away tall outside banks they can create small recesses under the apparent shoreline where driftwood can get washed up and dry out. You’ll want your kindling to be as small as possible with LOTS of it on hand; as you go along, stuff if it into your jacket to keep it dry and free up your hands. If tinder (dry kindling) is unavailable, look for any spongy lichens growing on trees (often called “old man’s beard”), paper birch bark, dry grasses or anything that is papery-feeling and dry. These fire starters catch easily and burn fast. Avoid breaking branches or peeling bark from live trees unless you find yourself in a survival situation. Don’t bother gathering any wood much larger than your thumb unless it’s bone dry.


Oxygen is just as important as fuel: Without it, your fire won’t even start. Pick a spot to build your fire that allows for plenty of air flow around its base, i.e. not in a hole. This will allow oxygen to draft in for combustion to occur. Don’t smother the flames by throwing all of your collected fuel on at once: This blocks oxygen flow and may even extinguish the fire (along with your mood). Instead, add sticks one at a time by propping them up on other already burning wood and allowing them to catch fire before adding another.


Fire puts off large amounts of heat; this can dry out clothes, fend off hypothermia and keep you alive. If a fire is allowed to lose too much heat it won’t stay lit. Elements that pull heat from your growing fire are rain and wind. To avoid heat loss, pick a spot that is dry, sheltered from above and out of the wind. If you can’t find any protection, build a wind barrier with stones and use your torso as a shield from the rain while you build and start your fire. Once the flames get big enough, the fire will continue to burn even with moderate to heavy rainfall and gusting winds.


Preparation is crucial to achieving success when building a fire in wet conditions. After finding a dry and windless spot, start by creating a small nest of twigs with dry papery bark or old man’s beard at the center. Always leave a space that allows you to easily light the papery material at the center with a match. Organize your fuel into multiple piles by size and ensure they are within reach. Strike your match and slowly move it into the center of your nest of twigs allowing the flames to spread. At this point your fire is very delicate and easily extinguished. If the twigs are having trouble catching, gently breathe on the fire to feed it more oxygen; do not blow on the flames, this will almost certainly put it out. As the fire grows, continue to feed it more twigs and gradually progress to larger sticks. Logs require lots of heat to burn and if added too soon can smoother even a moderately sized fire. Once you have a sustained bed of coals ablaze you can add larger pieces of wood that will burn more slowly. Once the fire is steadily burning you will have time to gather more fuel, heat up food or just enjoy the warmth.

Car Survival in the Backcountry

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Car Survival
Follow these car survival tips to stay alive when stranded. Photo Source:

Most survival situations are not dramatic falls or being shipwrecked on a forgotten island. Most survival situations start as mundane events that evolve into dangerous situations through the combination of unforeseen forces. Of all the survival situations, the one that might be the most common is surviving a few days in your vehicle waiting for someone to find you. While car survival may seem like a no-brainer, every winter the headlines are full of stories about outdoor enthusiasts or weary travelers involved in life-threatening car survival situations. Most situations involve the travelers breaking down, getting lost or encountering bad weather that strands the vehicle – life threatening situations usually combine variations of all three. The secret to car survival is that the same planning you use to hike safely can be used to survive comfortably in your car until you are rescued. Follow these three tips and be prepared for your next extended vehicular camping trip.

Car Survival
Leave a trip itinerary with a trusted friend before you go on your trip. Photo Source:

1. Leave a Note

You don’t go for a long hiking or climbing trip without making an itinerary and leaving it with a trusted friend or family member. Make a habit of doing this even on short trips. On the note include a detailed trip plan, the make and model of your vehicle, planned routes, maps taken, emergency signaling devices, survival gear and communications technology taken. Lastly, include a “drop-dead” time to call for help and include who should be called if you don’t return at the specified time.

Why include the maps you have with you? A person’s view of the situation often depends on what can be seen. If rescuers know what maps you are looking at they can begin to see the survival situation from your perspective and make educated choices about where to look for you.

Why include your emergency signaling devices? Rescuers find you faster if they know what to look for. Is that a piece of shiny garbage or a reflective emergency blanket?

Car Survival
Stay with your car, it is your best chance of survival and can keep you warm and safe in even subzero temperatures. Photo Source:

2. Stay with Your Car

Your car is the best piece of survival gear you have: It is shelter, heat and a signaling device…don’t leave it. With a little preparation your vehicle can keep you comfortable and safe in subzero temperatures. One danger of staying in your car is the dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide produced by exhaust or the use of a camp stove. Make sure to crack a window and try to get cross-ventilation while running the car or using a stove. If you are running your car for heat, turn the car into the wind if possible and make sure the exhaust is not blocked by snow or mud. Run the car for approximately five minutes every half hour and never fall asleep with the car running. Be aware that in really cold conditions the intermittent engine use could allow for snow to melt in the engine compartment and impair proper operation of the vehicle in the future.

Next, make use of the gear and resources you have with you. Wrap up in a sleeping bag if you have one. Old newspapers, floor mats, and carpeting can also provide warmth. In a pinch, the upholstery stuffing can be packed inside of clothing to increase warmth. Your comfort and survivability in a vehicle is only limited by your preparation and imagination. Carry an emergency survival kit next to your spare with survival food, water, signaling devices, a knife, a well-stocked first-aid kit (if you cut yourself with the knife) and emergency blankets.

3. Stay Positive and Active

In addition to packing survival items also think about packing a book or some games. Survival is more of a mental game than a physical one, and staying positive and alert increases your chances of survival. Having patience and staying calm can keep you from doing something stupid – like getting bored and trying to walk out. If you can safely exit your vehicle, get out and do some jumping jacks to increase circulation, warmth, and get a shot of spirit boosting endorphins. Check on your signaling devices and make sure they are still visible and not blown away or covered by snow. The activity will make you feel like you are contributing to your rescue and doing something useful, both powerful mental motivators for survival. Lastly, enjoy the moment. Notice the beauty in the snow drift or the patterns of the rain as it hits the window. Meditate, outline the great American novel, or sing as loud as you can. Few people have the opportunity to truly be alone; help will be there soon so take the opportunity to enjoy your momentary quantum of solace.

Car Survival
Add the amazing space blanket to your survival kit. Photo Source:

The Indispensable Space Blanket

Few items have such versatile life-saving uses as the small, light-weight, and often over looked space blanket. Used as a wraparound the space blanket reflects 90 percent of body heat and minimizes cooling through convection and radiation. To use the space blanket properly, put the shiny side next to your body. If you can, use duct tape to close the blanket around you so you don’t have to expose your fingers to the cold while trying to hold the blanket closed. The space blanket has many uses beyond just being a shiny cool wrap. The space blank can be used to increase warmth inside of your sleeping bag, as a lean-to shelter, and even as a large signaling device. At such a small size and weight it is hard to think of another piece of gear that can do so much in emergency situations.

Building Survival Fire in Bad Weather

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Building Survival Fire in Bad Weather
When building survival fire in bad weather make sure to use a platform to get the fire off the snow or damp ground. The platform should be substantial enough not to melt into the snow as the fire burns. Photo Source:

With all the rain and snow we are getting this winter, it is time again to brush-up on building survival fire in bad weather. One of the foundational skills of survival is starting a fire in rainy, windy, or snowy conditions. If you ever have to do this for real it means your margin for survival is slim and you need to move quickly and mindfully to increase your odds of success.

Preparation is Everything

Forget the hand-drill, rock spark, or other primitive methods. These techniques take significant experience to perfect, require resources you don’t have time to make, and don’t work well in bad weather. Okay survival experts, I know these methods can be used during a rain storm, but why use them if you don’t have to. Instead, take the time to build a fire-starting kit. Keep a kit in your car, keep one in your backpack, and keep a smaller one on your person. Redundancy and reliability are key features of a fire-starting kit. Lighters are great, but they can break. Matches are super, but they can get wet. Magnesium sticks are terrific, but just provide a spark and sometimes you need more. Each of these items has drawbacks, but taken together they increase your odds of starting a lifesaving fire.

Building Survival Fire in Bad Weather
We have evolved since the days of making friction fire in a cave, take advantage of these technological advances and build a fire-starting kit. Photo Source:

While a spark or a flame is needed to ignite a fire, the ignition is often not enough to keep you alive. You need to create a flame that is persistent enough given the weather conditions to allow for your kindling to begin to burn. Small chemical fuel tabs do this well and are light weight. You can also make fireballs using cotton balls smeared with petroleum jelly. In addition, carry a small amount of starter material to augment what you find around you.

Next, plan your fire site and collect fuel. If you are building a survival fire chances are you may need to be found by someone. A fire is not only warm, but is a great signaling device. Think about placing your fire to increase your odds of being seen. Consider the prevailing winds and determine if there is a natural windbreak you can use; if not you will have to build one. If you are building a fire in snow or soggy ground you will need to construct a fire stand or find a natural one. Also think about the placement of the fire in relation to any shelter you might have to build.

Finding fuel in the rain and snow can be difficult. Lower branches on trees are often still dry and can be broken off easily for kindling. The heartwood in downed or burned trees is also often dry, but will take an ax or large knife to get at. Rusted dry pine needles can also work and there are many types of sap that can be collected. The only limit here is your imagination and awareness. In the moment you will be scared and stressed; this is the time to take a breath and become truly aware of your environment and its resources.

Collect enough wood to last all night. This means collecting smaller finger to wrist sized wood to use while starting the fire and larger pieces of wood that will burn longer. If you can, collect a pile approximately waist high and try to place it where it will stay as dry as possible. Many survival experts recommend collecting some green logs to add to the fire once it is burning. The green logs will not produce as much heat, but will burn longer and help sustain the fire.

Start Small and Build Out

Make a softball sized nest of cotton balls, bark shavings, feathered wood, rusted pine needles, chemical heat tab, lint, and/or tree sap – whatever you have at hand. Next, place the tinder loosely over the nest and cover it with more needles or shavings then build a kindling tepee over the nest starting with tiny twigs, then pencil sized sticks, and using larger pieces of wood as you build out. Don’t make the tepee too big to start. Now that the nest is prepared to ignite, look around and conduct a final assessment of the fire site. Is the windbreak working? Has the wind or rain changed direction? Is everything you need to start and sustain the fire within arm’s reach?

Building Survival Fire in Bad Weather
A nest of starter material can be carried in your fire-starting kit and augmented with resources from the environment. Photo Source:

Practice Like Your Life Depends on It

The first time to build a survival fire is not when you are trying to survive. Make this critical skill part of your regular outdoor experience. Going hiking on a dry spring day? Take 15 minutes and practice fire building skills; make it a game with fellow hikers. Practice using diminishing resources – try using only one match or one strike of your lighter. Make a tinder nest using only materials found on the ground. Practice coaxing a flame to life with your breath and adding fuel until the fire is going strong.

Take your ego out of the equation. Many people don’t practice these skills because they are afraid to fail. Making fire always has an element of luck; practice and do the best you can. At one of the survival courses I attended, I had to start a fire using material on the ground using only one match with the goal of boiling a cup of water in five minutes. I gathered my fuel sources, made a beautiful nest, and built a windbreak to block the gusting wind. I crouched down next to the nest behind the windbreak and struck the match. As the match ignited the wind shifted 180 degrees and blew out the flame. I failed the fire-starting portion of the course. The evaluator of the test patted me on the back and said, “This doesn’t mean you are a bad person, you are just unlucky.” Remember, in a real survival situation you have the rest of your life to get the fire going. Stay calm, focus, and give it the attention it requires. Your life may depend on that next breath or gust of wind.

Blister Popping: Two Camps

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Heat. Moisture. Friction.

Sounds like an accurate description inside your boots after a few miles on the trail, right?

It also describes the triad of conditions leading to a blister.

To understand the impact of this triad on your skin, visualize one of those thin plastic bags, hanging on a roll in the produce section of your favorite grocery store.

What do you usually have to do to get one open? Vigorously rub one layer against the other (friction and heat), and lick your finger (moisture) to separate the layers.

Congratulations! You’ve demonstrated the triad.

Photo credit:

Now transfer that knowledge to your hot, swollen, sweaty feet encased in soggy, dirt encrusted socks, entombed within your snug boots.

  • Warm, damp socks rub the top layers of cells on your feet, while grimy boot linings drag against the socks. (Extra heat and friction due to trail detritus like stones and pine needles, optional.)
  • Over time, the blister triad succeeds in separating the top layers of your skin (epidermis) from the underlying dermis. A new space is formed.
  • Clear fluid from epidermal cells, and/or dark red fluid from blood vessels in the dermis (“blood blister”), begins to leak into the space.
  • The epidermis is forced into a dome shape to accommodate the fluid.
  • Jangled nerve endings in the dermis fire off messages to the brain.

And that’s when you have to decide which camp you’re in.

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The “Pop A Blister” Camp

You’re a popper if you’re thinking:

1. This hurts!” You can relieve some of the pressure, and thus pain, by allowing the fluid to drain out.

2. It’s big.” You don’t have enough moleskin (which relieves friction and pressure if properly applied) to bail you out of this one.

3. “I need to keep going.” If none of the variables in the triad are changed, the blister will enlarge. If you don’t have extra socks, a layover day, or a change of footwear, pop it and keep it covered so you can reach your objective.

4. I’m in charge!” When you decide to pop a blister under controlled conditions, you can keep it clean and save the top flap of epidermal skin to use as a protective “lid” over the tender dermis.

5. It’s leaking.” Once a blister starts to leak fluid, little nasties like bacteria and dirt can enter your bloodstream. Time to drain it completely and clean it.


The “Don’t Pop” Camp

You fall into the non-popper camp with these statements:

1. I don’t want to make it worse.” You can try to keep the blistered skin intact to protect the dermis until you can stop hiking (see #4 & #5 above).

2. It’s tender but not excruciating (yet).” Popping a blister does not always relieve pain. In fact, open raw skin is exquisitely sensitive to pressure inside your boot.

3. I don’t have the right stuff.” No soap, alcohol wipes, sharp pointy objects, bandages, antibiotic ointment, or tape in your pack? No blister popping for you!

4. I’m diabetic or take immune suppression medication.” Leave it alone and check it often. If the blister pops, treat it aggressively to head off the risk of infection. There’s no such thing as a trivial blister for a diabetic.

5. Yuck!” Maybe you’re hiking solo AND you’re squeamish about stabbing yourself in a painful spot with a sharp object. Or could it be that you aren’t enthused about handing over a sharp object to your trail buddy?


Ignoring Blisters: Not An Option

If the pain of a blister doesn’t get your attention, the risk of infection and the oozy, bloody socks might force you into one camp or the other.

Before a sharp pointy object is deployed:

  • Size up the depth of the blister(s).
  • Factor in your pain threshold and risk tolerance.
  • Decide whether or not your hiking plans can be modified to allow a speedy epidermis/dermis reunion.
  • Calculate your patience for hobbling.

Then pop. Or not.

Good luck!

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