Category archive

Skills - page 3

Teaching Tenkara

in Skills by

Teaching Tenkara

I discovered Tenkara less than a year ago and could never have imagined how quickly it would consume me. When I picked up my first Tenkara rod, I thought it would become a hobby I would partake in once in awhile, when I had nothing better to do. Well, the exact opposite happened – I spent more than sixty days over the course of the summer on the rivers and lakes of Maryland and Texas catching all manner of fish and immersing myself in natural environments I had never seen before.

Tenkara has brought many experiences into my life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve had my “secret” rivers where, not even once, did I see another angler. Then there was the perfect day when two baby deer were playing in the river just down stream from me, and the fish were biting like crazy.

Tenkara also gave me respite from the summer heat while rekindling an urge to explore that I hadn’t felt since I was a kid growing up in the middle of a one million acre National Forest. Some days, I wouldn’t get a single bite, but it didn’t matter. I would look up to the sky while standing knee deep in the water, my fly drifting lazily in the current and just immerse myself in the silence of nature. I would marvel at the century old trees, the wind rustling in the branches, the birds chirping and the occasional cry of a red tail hawk. Those were magical days that I will never forget.

Teaching Tenkara

Tenkara has brought me so much joy and excitement, showing me a side of nature I hadn’t experienced before. The next logical thing for me to do was to share the joy that Tenkara had brought to my life – by teaching Tenkara.

Teaching TenkaraIt only took one outing to “hook” my brothers, sisters and Dad on Tenkara (I’m still working on my wife). If you consider yourself a Tenkara addict and want to get a loved one or close friend hooked, this article will help you to make a budding Tenkara angler’s first experience one that he or she will not soon forget.

  • The first aspect, and the one that’s the most crucial part of a successful “first fishing trip,” is selecting a good section of a river to fish. Nothing will put a damper on someone’s first outing than having to worry about getting tangled in foliage and fauna. Save the challenging water, no mater how good the fishing may be, until they have a better understanding of the nuances of casting, line control and stalking fish.
  • The second most important thing is patience. I used to think I was a patient person – until I started Tenkara. I soon realized that Tenkara requires an entirely different level of patience. Time on the river changes drastically; everything slows down a little and you need to slow down, too. Teaching Tenkara will require even more patience. If you are expecting to catch a bunch of fish while taking someone for his or her first Tenkara outing, you are setting yourself up for a less than pleasant experience. Line will get tangled, tippet will break, casting lessons will need to be taught (and re-taught), fish will need to be released and flies will get lost in out-of-reach branches. When teaching someone Tenkara, I like to set up the line with Killer Bugs from Tenkara Bum. They’re amazingly versatile “flies” that I’ve had great luck with. They’re also cheap and very easy to tie, so you won’t mind if a few get lost.

Teaching Tenkara

  • When teaching someone how to cast, there are two rules to remember: The first is that bad casts still catch fish. The second is that, at first, you shouldn’t worry too much where the fly lands in the water.
  • Some fish prefer to go after a fly drifting along in the current. Sometimes you will need to “pull” the fly through the water. Think of it as manipulating the fly and trying to make it look as “bug-like” as possible. Experiment with pulling upstream, downstream, and across the current. How you manipulate the fly can change throughout the day as the fish feeding habits change, the lighting shifts and the temperature fluctuates. There is no hard and fast rule to Tenkara.
  • A dry run in an open area, like a driveway or parking lot, can be a good way to teach beginners. This allows them to learn the basics of casting, calm the nerves and run through the basic components of the rod. Trying to teach someone how to properly set up their rod and cast in the middle of a rushing stream with the wind blowing is going to be pretty stressful, not only for them but for you, as well.
  • Get everything prepared at home before you leave. I like to get my furled or level line set up with tippet and a fly and then wrap it around a spool (I like the foam spools). Then, all you have to do when you get to the water is attach the line to the lillian, extend the rod and start fishing. Also, start with a short amount of tippet (I go with about three feet), as having too much tippet can result in a lot of tangles, especially for a budding angler.

Teaching Tenkara

  • Lastly, make sure you bring plenty of food and water. I received a LifeStraw as a gift, and it’s an essential part of my kit. There’s no need to carry around large quantities of water. Whenever you get thirsty, simply drink from the water you’re fishing in. Of course, you should bring your favorite snacks as well.

So there you have it: teaching your friends and family how to Tenkara is easy. Now you just have to get out there, catch some fish and watch the smiles – you’ll know that it was worth it.

Master the 4 Layer System for Staying Warm on Winter Backpacking Trips

in Skills by
Winter Backpacking Trips
Photo by Joseph –

Learning the art of creating an effective layering system for winter backpacking trips provides the needed flexibility to keep your body warm and dry during the range of activity levels you’ll likely go through when hiking in the winter. Utilizing 3 or 4 layers provides the option of adding or removing certain layers to find the right comfort zone instead of being restricted by only a few layers. Here’s a quick review of a 4 layer system for winter backpacking to keep you comfy even while the weather is anything but:


Base Layer: A base layer is worn next to the skin and is beneficial for its quick drying, breathable, lightweight, and moisture wicking properties. A good base layer should be snug, but not too tight so that you can stay dry and warm even if you’ve worked up a little sweat. Popular materials for a base layer include polyester, capilene and merino wool.


Winter Backpacking Trips

Mid Layer: Worn directly on top of your base layer, the purpose of the mid layer is to provide added warmth without adding bulk. A mid-weight fleece, long sleeve shirt, or pullover are good options since they have a tighter fit so that additional layers can be comfortably added if necessary.

Winter Backpacking Trips


Insulative Layer: In colder conditions, an insulative layer should fit over the mid layer without adding too much bulk in case an outer layer is needed. If it isn’t too cold, a fleece jacket will be enough to keep warm, but for colder conditions, down and synthetic jackets are a must-have. While down is the lighter of the two options, synthetics will retain their insulation better than down when wet. The benefit of using an insulative layer is that it can be quickly taken off and packed away if you start to heat up, leaving you with a base and mid layer and, if needed, an outer layer.


Winter Backpacking Trips
Winter Clothing Systems (Photo by Alan English – Flickr)

Outer Layer: The outer layer is what comes in contact with the elements: the wind, rain, and snow. The outer layer should be breathable and allow for ventilation, which often comes in the form of pit zips or zippers in the front of the jacket. A GORE-TEX layer is a popular option because it’s both wind and waterproof.


Knowing the weather conditions before you hike will help determine what to pack and how to layer during the trip. Sometimes all that might be needed is a 3 layer system – the base layer, mid layer and outer layer. But for those colder temperatures, an insulative layer provides an added boost of warmth and can be easily removed and packed away if you start to get too warm.

Winter Backpacking Trips

And don’t forget about your head and hands – it’s always a good idea to pack a pair of warm gloves and a hat. Many gloves and hats come with water and windproof options to give you added protection against the winter cold.

Winter isn’t just a time to sit inside and fantasize about next season’s trips. Get outside and enjoy the cold trips this winter and that extra solitude out on the trail – but be sure pack appropriately so that you can stay warm throughout the trip!

For more winter camping tips, check out Winter Hiking Foods.

Winter Backpacking Trips
Photo by hikingqueen –

From Fire to Feast: Rugged Backcountry Cooking

in Food/Skills by

Backcountry Cooking

There is something that shifts in me whenever I catch a familiar scent. My awareness peaks as I sniff out the air trying to track down the particular aroma. As I grow closer to the source, I’ve deduced that not only is there a fire, but food cooking on that fire. Even though I wasn’t hungry when I first arrived, there is something about that smell that makes my mouth water. It’s similar to walking through a neighborhood in the summer and smelling all of the wonderful BBQs. The ability to cook food shifted our evolution as humans. It allowed us to better process and digest food, giving us more nutrients, and in turn allowing our brains to grow!

Cooking out on a backpacking trip can sometimes seem like a daunting task. You have to carry pots, pans, stoves, fuel, utensils, bowls and then the actual food. I’m here to give you some tips and tricks so that you won’t need any of those things (except for food, depending on your skills).

The first step is making the fire. The students here at the Wilderness Awareness School use the preferred bow drill method to start their fires. Bring along some string and harvest a few sticks from around your campsite to get started. You won’t need to bring any fuel with you because – well, you’re in the forest and surrounded by it! You’ll want to use smaller sticks and get a big fire going to create a healthy coal bed. This is what we’ll be cooking on.


Let’s start with breakfast


Backcountry CookingMy favorite thing to do is to take an onion, cut it in half and remove the inner layers, creating a nice bowl. Fill the onion-bowl with a few eggs and set them on the coals. From there, try adding cheese and garlic for flavor. After a few minutes with the onion-bowls on the hot coals, you have a fried egg breakfast in an edible bowl!

Another fun thing to do is to heat up a larger flat rock in the fire (make sure it’s not a rock from the river, it could explode if there is too much water in it). After awhile, pull them out and lay out some bacon. Done! Breakfast is served with little to no clean up.



Cooking meat is super easy in the wilderness. Just toss it on the coals and when it’s no longer sticking, flip it over and cook to taste. I find that cooking directly on the coals adds a really nice salty, smokey flavor that locks in the juices, and there’s no clean up.

Backcountry CookingAnother neat way to cook salmon or chicken is to clay bake. Here in Washington, it’s pretty easy to find natural clay sources near rivers or creeks. I like to take my salmon and wrap it up in 2 or 3 sword ferns and completely cover them in clay. This helps to protect them from burning and keeps the meat moist and juicy. You can then cook them directly on the coals. Another way I like to do it is to actually move the fire on top of the clay bundle or bury it in the coals. Check on it after about 20 minutes depending on the size of fire.

You can fashion all of your utensils from nature as well. Use a larger log to make a burn bowl that you can eat out of or make soup in! Just add all of your ingredients and water and then add hot rocks from your fire until it boils. Backcountry CookingYou can craft up some neat things out of vine maple to cook in or on. You can make tongs with 2 sticks and some rope. You can carve up a spoon or make fancy chop sticks – the options are limitless.








I will admit that some of these processes can take a bit more time to make than your dehydrated jet-boiled noodles, but the smell and taste is so much more satisfying.

Backcountry Cooking

For more wilderness skills from Kyle, check out his other articles with Seattle Backpackers Magazine.

The 10 Budgeting Mistakes that Everyone Makes

in Skills by


Budgeting Mistakes
Photo by 401(K) 2012

The liberating feeling of going for a hike or spending a week in the woods, for many, promptly ends when we return to our daily life and are bombarded with the stresses of work and keeping up with our finances. Financial concerns are among the most common concerns people of all ages face today. Many individuals struggle with debt, and others feel that they simply never have enough money to get by from month to month. The fact is that many of these common concerns stem from common budgeting mistakes that most people make. By identifying them, you may be able to curb your behavior to enjoy a more relaxed financial situation. And that means you’ll have more money to spend on the things you truly love, like getting outside, and that you’ll be able to fully enjoy your adventures, stress free. By mastering these 10 budgeting mistakes, you can bring some of the serenity you feel from hiking back into your daily routine.


1. Failing to Make a Budget

While some people do have a budget, others have never prepared one. Even if you have prepared a budget, you may be one of the many individuals who have not updated your budget in months or years. Expenses and income can change, so it is imperative that you always have an accurate working budget on hand.


2. Not Reviewing Your Budget Regularly

Some people will actually develop a budget, but many fail to use it. This is a beneficial financial tool that essentially can help you to make important financial decisions. If you do not review your budget on at least a weekly basis, you are not properly using it.


3. Forgetting the Non-Monthly Expenses

When you do prepare your budget, it is important to keep in mind that not every “regular” expense is a monthly expense. For example, your homeowners’ association dues may be paid quarterly. This is a required expense, so you need to account for it in your budget in some fashion. One idea is to prorate quarterly or annual expenses so that you account for a portion of this expense each month.


4. Failing to Leave Wiggle Room for Life’s Little Extras

Many people complain that they are unable to stick to a budget because they are constantly having to deal with little extras, such as appliance repair bills, medical expenses and more. The fact is that these may not be regular monthly bills in your budget, but they are nonetheless expenses that you will have from time to time. You need to find a way to pay for these expenses through your budget, such as by creating a line item for “extras” for a reasonable amount of money each month.


Budgeting Mistakes

5. Forgetting to Save For a Rainy Day

While you may want to plan for the irregular yet common expenses like medical bills, you also may benefit from saving for a rainy day. After all, you may need a more considerable amount of money on hand if you get laid off, become seriously ill or have another issue. Therefore, consider saving at least a small portion of each paycheck in a rainy day fund. There is a new app called Acorn that can help with this by saving for you.


6. Not Accounting for Your Pay Schedule

Some people struggle with their budget because their expenses are largely monthly, but they may get paid every two weeks. Budgeting might be far more simple if you got paid one time at the first of the month, but this is rarely the case. One idea to account for your pay schedule is to create an on-going budget, specifying which upcoming expenses will be paid with which paycheck. This means that you will regularly be updating your budget, and you may need to project your budget several months into the future for the best results.


7. Failing to Look for Ways to Cut Expenses

Your budget can tell you a lot about your finances, including giving you information about what expenses may be on the high side for your budget. You may review your budget to determine that refinancing a car loan or mortgage or consolidating credit cards is a wise move.


8. Not Planning for the Holidays

It is common for individuals to turn to credit cards to fund holiday purchases. However, you can actually use your budget to save for the holidays. You know that in January that you’ll need to make a large number of gift purchases and other related purchases in December, so consider saving a small amount from each paycheck to be applied toward these purchases.


Budgeting Mistakes
Bruce Peninsula National Park

9. Not Saving for a Vacation

Likewise, you will likely not magically come up with the several thousand dollars needed to pay for a summer vacation. If you plan to go on a vacation, you will need to include this in your budget. You can begin today by estimating the cost of the trip you want to take and determining what portion of each paycheck you need to save to fully fund your trip. Part of your travels should include natural environments such as the national parks. Traveling to a natural environment helps the mind escape from many of the mind numbing tasks that fill our days.


10. Failing to Plan for Seasonal Expenses

Each season will bring different expenses with it. For example, you may need to pay for the kids’ school supplies and clothes in the summer, and you may host a large family gathering that easily costs you several hundred dollars each Thanksgiving. Even Halloween costumes and Easter baskets can cost a small fortune. When you plan for these seasonal expenses, you can rest assured that you will have money on hand for them.


Your budget can be one of your most beneficial financial tools, but this is only true if you use it effectively. Consider how you can make a few changes to overcome these common challenges, and you may find that your budget is truly the beneficial tool that it is intended to be.

Finding Direction Without a Compass

in Skills by
Finding Direction Without a Compass
Photo by Luis Pérez

Preparation and carrying the ten essentials is vital to any outdoor trip. Map, compass and GPS make up my navigation kit. Still, the unplanned happens, and a magnetic compass may be broken or left at home. Knowing a few common practices for finding direction without a compass can make a difference.


Several techniques can be used to determine direction. First, let us eliminate two methods that are not practical:

Eliminate the old axiom of moss growing on the north side of a tree. It’s just not reliable. In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, moss is everywhere and around everything.

Secondly, dismiss the concept that deciduous trees (e.g., oaks, maples) develop significantly more vegetative structure on a southern exposure. In the Pacific Northwest, the Forestry professors that I have discussed this with tell me not to depend on such observations.

Finding Direction Without a Compass
Photo by Allison Wildman

The following are a few methods that are worth remembering:

1) Perhaps the most accurate method to determine direction is to use the North Star (Polaris) at night. Unique from other celestial stars and planets, Polaris is closely aligned to the earth’s axis. From the earth’s surface, stars and planets rotate around Polaris. Moreover, like the sun, rotation is from east to west through the sky. Polaris is be found approximately half way between the northern horizon and straight overhead. Polaris can be found in the northern sky and is never more than 1° from true north – the North Pole. A clear sky without a lot of background glow from the lights of a city is essential. Polaris is not the brightest star in the sky. Using the North Star when it is high above the horizon is a challenge.

When pulling the true north bearing (from Polaris) “down from high in the sky,” it takes a bit of practice and patience to align the bearing to the horizon where it can be useful.

I recommend taking your compass with you on a clear night and attempting to find Polaris.


2) The sun provides an excellent means of direction finding, too. The ideal situation is one where the sky is bright and relatively free of clouds.

The next method is called a “shadow stick compass.”

In an open area, clear away forest debris and duff. Place a stick or trekking pole (extended about three feet – longer is better than shorter) into the ground as deep as possible (see image below.)

Finding Direction Without a Compass
Figure 1 Outdoor Quest image

Notice the shadow moving out from the trekking pole. At the furthest point of the shadow, place a marker such as a rock, stick or tent peg in the ground.

Twenty or thirty minutes later, place another marker at the end of the moving shadow.

Finding Direction Without a Compass
Figure 2 Outdoor Quest image

The markers shown above were placed over a period of one hour, each thirty minutes apart. A piece of yellow twine was laid adjacent to the markers to provide reference. The line of markers runs east west.

To find north, I simply put the toes of my boots next to the markers with my body perpendicular to the yellow line made by the twine. Facing away from the trekking pole, north is straight in front of me.


3) A traditional analog watch (one with hour and minute hands) can be used to locate north. Again, a bright sunny day is ideal.

The following is quoted from the US Army field manual FM 21-76 (20).

“An ordinary watch can be used to determine the approximate true north. In the North Temperate Zone only, the hour hand is pointed toward the sun. A north-south line can be found midway between the hour and 12 o’clock. (See image below.) This applies to standard time; on daylight saving time, the north-south line is found midway between the hour hand and 1 o’clock. If there is any doubt as to which end of the line is north, remember that the sun is in the eastern part of the sky before noon and in the western part in the afternoon.

On cloudy days, place a stick in the center of the watch and hold it so that the shadow of the stick falls along the hour hand. One-half of the distance between the shadow and 12 o’clock is north.”

Finding Direction Without a Compass
Image from Army FM 21-76


4) A topographic map balances the methods discussed above. Once north is determined, orient the map to north and compare terrain features on the map with the actual contours and features on the ground. Identify topographic handrails such as rivers, trails and dominant land features (e.g., mountains tops.) These features will help guide the hiker’s travel during the day.


Using Polaris and the “stick compass” can, with practice, provide good directional information. These methods provide a trend of direction at best. A trend of direction would be where the hiker is heading in a generally northerly direction rather than a specific bearing.

There are a few more techniques available, but these three are easily remembered and do not require more gear. It’s a fine place to start.

For more information consider:

  1. US Army Field Manual – FM 21-76
  2. Staying Found by June Fleming
  3. The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley

Wilderness Lessons from the Conifers

in Skills by

As winter sets in with unusually cold frosty weather, you may have noticed that you can see a lot further into the forest. The leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, and the smaller green things have died or are covered with a light blanket of snow. But among this more quiet, less green forest are towering giants, still thick with needles and frowns. This time of year we turn our attention to the conifers. They are suddenly bright and attractive, especially when covered in the shimmering morning frost.


 As the North winter winds blow down from our arctic neighbors, we look to the trees for fire, shelter and, believe it or not, medicine. Look around your surroundings and notice how many things are made of wood. Most of the world’s “finished lumber” is supplied from pine, spruce, fir, cedar and hemlock (1).

Fire is used to heat our homes, cook food and to gather around for stories. Though hardwoods are preferable, softwoods are cheaper and easier to come by. These trees have thousands of other uses in many different cultures throughout the world, including as medicine. Here in this article, we are going to focus on Douglas fir and Western Hemlock because they are noticeably abundant in all landscapes of western Washington.

Photo by Thomas Quine
Photo by Thomas Quine

Douglas-firs are planted in abundance for lumber and Christmas trees. They are also reestablished well after forest fires. But it is not the wood we’re after, it’s the needles. You can gather them from the shorter, younger trees or, better yet, right off the ground! When we get high winds here in the PNW, they blow off the higher branches, bringing an abundance of needles from up above. If you’re out on the trail, you can gather them up as you’re hiking and toss them in a pot for tea at night. The tea can help with colds and repertory problems. It is also high in vitamin C and has over 20 different essential oils, a few of which are found in citrus trees. This is what gives it its legendary beguiling scent (2).

Western Hemlock is a succession tree found in older forests. It is easily identifiable in the distance by its drooping top. Nate Summers of NatureSkills lets us know another fantastic use for the Western Hemlock:

conifers“The needles of Western Hemlock can be eaten as a survival food – and they’re quite tasty, with a lemon-citrus flavor. The needles suppress the appetite (useful when food is a challenge), and they are very rich in vitamin C. To make Western Hemlock needle tea, simply take a handful or two and add them to hot (but not quite boiling water), and then reduce the heat and simmer for between 10-20 minutes depending on your tastes. Try not to overcook the tea as vitamin C is damaged by heat. You can drink multiple cups of the tea as a warm, winter tea to drive out the cold and potentially prevent seasonal colds as well” (3).



Many of the other conifers in the area have medicinal qualities as well. As with any plant or tree, you’ll want to make sure you can properly identify it before use. Also, with wild foods and medicines, you’ll want to start with small doses, as our bodies may not be used to these complex nutrients.


For more wilderness tips from Kyle, check out Sound Mapping with Birds and A Berry Abundant Landscape: Foraging for Wild Berries.




(2) Duke, James. Handbook of Biologically active Phytochemicals and their activities. CRC. 199

(3) Nate Summers,


Update: This article was edited on December 15, 2014 to better attribute information provided from the source material.

Sound Mapping with Birds

in Skills by

How bird language can expand your awareness of nature

sound mapping
Photo by Dendroica cerulea

Here in Washington state, we are fortunate that we can travel very short distances to be in very wild places. With such abundant beauty around us to engage our eyes – and the thoughts of our busy lives percolating in our brain – our bubble of awareness becomes a lot smaller. We are only able to perceive the environment immediately in front of us, and maybe slightly behind us, but what are we missing out on? Are you aware of the weasel moving in the thicket 20ft to your left? Are you aware that you spooked a cougar 50ft up the trail? Did you know about the jogger who will be running by you in 2 minutes? This level of awareness is not only possible, but indeed, it was a common skill of our ancestors. This could be achieved simply by paying attention to what the birds were saying and doing – it’s called sound mapping, and it can totally change your level of awareness in the wilderness.

sound mapping

To the untrained ear, it may appear that birds are out there making random sounds. However, all of their vocalizations convey important information to those willing to listen. This is most apparent for birds in the order Passeriformes (Song or perching birds). Imagine that every day – and often several times a day – creatures from the ground, and the air, are trying to eat you and your family while you’re out trying to find food or at home. At this point communication becomes very important. Birds in this order warn each other of predators and other dangers in hopes that they will then return the favor, thus keeping everyone relatively safe.

sound mapping
By aware of “Popcorn” movement in order to spot predators

This may sound complicated, but if you just think about how you might react in that situation, it becomes more easily understood. When you hear a bird call, think – what kind of feeling are you getting?


The 5 Voices of the Birds

Song– You have probably heard birds singing on a spring morning. This is an expression of joy and gratitude and usually signals that everything is OK (baseline).

Companion Call– When a mated pair of birds are feeding on the ground, they call back and forth watching each other’s back. Another sign of baseline.

Territorial Aggression– When a bird wanders into another territory, other birds may defend their resources by driving the intruder away. This can sound like an alarm, but you may notice none of the other birds are reacting. Another sign of baseline.

Juvenile Begging– In the spring when the babies are hungry, they can call incessantly waiting for dinner. (Your kids probably do this as well). This is a good way to locate nests and another sign of baseline.

Alarm!– This is usually a loud, sharp call, repeated over and over by one or more species of birds. This can look different depending on what’s causing the alarm, but will let you know that something is happening close by (go find out what’s going on).


sound mapping
Minimize your threat in order to spot the most wildlife


The 5 local birds here in WA that will become your allies in learning Bird Language:

  1. American Robin
  2. Winter (pacific) Wren
  3. Spotted Towhee
  4. Dark Eyed Junco
  5. Song Sparrow

The best way to practice is first to listen – when you hear a call, STOP! Ask your self, what feeling am I getting? What call am I experiencing? What is going on over there? Then go investigate, and see if you were correct. Whether you’re right or wrong, you will learn something that will inform future guesses, and eventually you’ll start to be right! Have fun out there!


sound mapping
Take advantage of your position as a Safety Barrier for better bird watching, and use it in order to recognize the potential for other predators in the area

For more wilderness skills training from Kyle, check out A Berry Abundant Landscape: Foraging for Wild Blackberries, How to Make a Shelter in the Backcountry, and Five Wild Plants Every Backpacker Should Know.

Backpacking Storage Tips for Three Essentials

in Skills by

Backpacking Storage Tips

Of course it’s more exciting to talk about getting outside and using our gear, but whether it’s due to a change in season or the onset of Monday, gear has to be stored between trips. The way you store your gear and how you treat it after each use will have a major impact on its longevity. Bonus – it will be super easy to grab and go the next time adventure calls. Here are a few backpacking storage tips for three of the essentials.





1) Hiking Boots

Backpacking Storage Tips

Nothing feels better than kicking off your boots at the end of a long trip. To ensure your favorite pair last as long as possible, invest 10 minutes into their care at the end of each trip. When the obvious dirt has been shaken, scrapped or clapped off, use a boot brush (or tooth brush) to clean them with warm water and a mild dish soap. Skip drying them in front of the fire or under the hot sun and let them dry naturally or by a fan. This will keep them from drying out and getting brittle. Soak up any extra moisture by stuffing them with newspaper. Condition and waterproof your boots a few times each year to keep them refreshed. If your boots come home a little stinky (it’s okay, mine do too) you can toss a few herbal tea bags inside to combat the odor (dryer sheets work well, too). Store your boots indoors in a dry place – keeping them in a shed or garage puts them at risk of becoming a home for creepy, crawly critters.


2) Tents

Backpacking Storage Tips
Photo by Zach Dischner

Making sure your tent lives long and prospers starts at the campsite. Even if you use a footprint underneath, avoid pitching your tent on roots and rocks and instead find a space that has even, clear ground to call your temporary home. Not only will you sleep better, you will prevent unnecessary wear and tear on the bottom of your tent. Make a habit of taking off your shoes before entering your tent to help keep dirt and debris at bay. Make sure to sweep and shake out your tent before packing it out.

When you get home, unpack your tent to make sure it’s completely dry before storing it. This may mean setting it up in your living room, back yard or porch for a night, but the alternative is worse. Storing a wet or damp tent will lead to an untimely end – and some horrible smells. Once your tent is dry and clean, tuck it away in a dry location with mild temperatures.


3) Sleeping Bags

Backpacking Storage Tips

First thing’s first – hang your bag inside-out somewhere to air out. Even if your bag didn’t get wet (we hope it didn’t) it needs the fresh air to help eliminate any odors and dampness. If you have the space, store your bag like this whenever it’s not in use. If you can’t hang your bag to store it, keep it in a light cotton sack (like a laundry bag or pillow case) – NOT the compression bag you use to pack it.

If your bag does get wet, air drying is the safest way to get rid of mold and mildew-causing moisture, but it does take some time. If the time between uses is short, you can toss your bag in the dryer on the air-dry cycle or very low heat. Pause the dryer every so often to make sure the bag isn’t heating up to a melting point. Be cautious of zippers and metal tabs that can heat up while in the dryer. Near the end of the cycle, throw in a (clean) pair of shoes or boots or a few tennis balls to keep the filling from clumping up. Need a quick fix between trips? Hang your back inside-out outside and spray it down lightly with an unscented fabric refresher (think Febreze). Whip away any places where the moisture from the spray has beaded, and let the bag dry in the open air.


So the next time you walk in the door sunkissed and dirt covered, exhausted from having left it all on the trail, crack open a cold beer and take a hot shower – then, do yourself a favor and spend a little extra time with your gear. You’ll thank yourself the next time you’re ready to head out again. Be good to your gear, and it will be good to you.

Helpful hint: When storing gear in bins or boxes, add a few dryer sheets. Not only will they absorb any unpleasant odors you brought home with you, but the fresh scent will keep you feeling clean on the next trip – even if you haven’t showered in a few days.

On the Hunt: Fall Mushroom Hunting in the Northwest

in Food/Skills by
Photo by pfly
Photo by pfly

The rain has come. Most of us grimace and grit our teeth at the first few showers of the year, preparing to hunker down inside our rain gear and under umbrellas for the next few months. The first weeks are the hardest, we slip into the early stages of recovery – anger and denial, refusing to venture out, to give in to soggy pants legs and cold hands. We brace ourselves for the time change and the short, gray days of winter. We might cancel the first hike of the season due to rain and stay home instead to make cookies or contemplate taking up an indoor hobby, perhaps some kind of craft. We might as well, we think, just wait for the ski season.


Photo by Tatiana Bulyonkova
Photo by Tatiana Bulyonkova

In reality, we should be celebrating. These first warm rains bring the mushrooms.


The ease and abundance of Pacific Northwest fall mushroom hunting is more than enough reason to buck up against the rains early in the season. In a good year, one that is warm and wet and the rains arrive in the weeks before Halloween, even inexperienced and accidental hunters can come home with armloads of edible wild mushrooms in just a couple of hours. A good year makes a walk in the woods something more akin to a treasure hunt than a hike; adults turn into giddy school kids, squealing with glee when they find an untouched patch of matsutakes, carefully stacking them into baskets to keep them safe. A good year gives us reason to get outside during the shoulder season.



This is a good year.

The best early indication of a good season are the mushroom camps. Wild mushrooms are exactly that, wild. They hide dormant under the duff for most of the year, waiting for just the right conditions before pushing through the surface. Most species are persnickety, requiring a specific combination of elevation, light and growing surface, making them difficult and expensive to cultivate. Somebody has to go out and find them. That’s where the mushroom camps come in. Mushroom camps are tiny village camps, some improvised, others hosted by local ski resorts – or even the Forest Service – that pop up in areas with abundant mushrooms. They teem with rubber-boot clad hobbyists, enthusiastic foodies, migrant workers with five gallon buckets strapped across their shoulders and buyers with pickup trucks. In a bad year, you would hardly even know the camps exist. In a good year, the buyers sit in dense clusters along the highway waiting for even casual hunters to unload some of their bounty. This year, there are large, hand-printed signs heralding camps and mushroom hunting hikes and tours.

The best part of this is that, if you’re new to mushroom hunting, you get a great sense of where to start looking. There is a long-standing tradition of secrecy among even the most casual of mushroom hunters that rivals the magicians code. “Thou shalt not reveal your hunting grounds.” It’s both necessary and irritating. Reliable patches make for easy hunting and will provide you with more than one bloom – if you’re the only one that knows about it. In a bad year, no one will tell you where to find mushrooms. But this is a good year and, in good years, people feel generous. The abundance allows them to hand out info on hunting grounds that may only produce a few mushrooms in a regular year, but make for decent hunting when conditions are right. Good years are for learning, watching how others hunt, finding your own grounds and getting out with people who know what they’re doing.


The season is on. Buck up, dig out your rain coat and grab a basket. There’s reason yet to get outside.


Mushroom Hunting Basics:

Buy a good mushroom field guide, and read through it before setting out. My favorite is All That the Rain Promises, and More… by David Arora.

Find out what kind of mushrooms you’re looking for before you set out, and choose your destination based on their habitat needs.

Go with someone more experienced with you. Not all mushrooms are safe to eat – make sure you know what you are looking for.

Check the regulations. Some kinds of mushrooms require permits to harvest.

Be low impact. Always harvest with a knife and replace the duff cover.

Don’t over-harvest. Take only what you will use and plan on coming back for a second round.

Double check. Lay your mushrooms out at home and double check your identification. If you have any doubt, throw it out.

Reduce waste. In good years its easy to harvest more than you can eat. Share with friends, dehydrate or saute and freeze your extra harvest to eat throughout the winter.

Off-Season Conditioning for Hiking

in Skills by
Conditioning for Hiking
We’ve all had an epic year of adventures on the trail!  You should feel really good about the fitness gains you’ve made over the season. It’s important to maintain (or even improve) your fitness in the off-season so that your body is ready to handle hiking and backpacking the trails again next spring.
But you don’t need to spend hours in the gym hitting every body part in conditioning for hiking. *Keep it simple and start with perfect form.


Training Rules with Exercises:
  • Stand tall
  • Abdominals contracted
  • Chest open while slightly engaging the shoulder blades (spine neutral)
  • Stay slow and controlled with exercises
  • Have fun!


These 5 exercises will keep you strong and fit in the off-season:





Conditioning for Hiking
1.  Squat to Knee Pull with Arm Overhead
(Targets total body)
    • With your feet about shoulder width apart, push your hips back into a squat position.
    • Go back as far as possible, keeping your spine in a neutral position.
    • Stand up tall and pull your right knee in towards your chest. Simultaneously reach your left arm towards the ceiling.
    • Hold the balanced position for 2-3 seconds before going back down into the squat.
    • Repeat the sequence for 30 seconds; switch sides.
    • Add a dumbbell to increase difficulty when stability improves.



Conditioning for Hiking
2.  Scap Pinch to Push Up
(Targets back stabilizers, chest, shoulders, back of arm and core).
    • Start in a push up position with arms straight, but not locked.
    • Keep shoulders pressed down away from your ears.
    • Pinch (retract) your shoulder blades together without bending your elbows.
    • Release (protract) the shoulders blades slightly, hold for 2-3 seconds.
    • Then lower into a push up.
    • Press back up, hold 2-3 seconds.
    • Repeat the sequence up to one minute.
    • Easier: Modify position from knees.
    • Harder: Try lifting one leg 1-2 inches off the floor.



3.  Lunge to Diagonal Reach Back
(Targets thighs, hips, glutes, core and balance)
    • Start in a stationary lunge position with your right foot forward and left foot back. Your weight is even on both legs.
    • Lower down into a lunge, keeping your weight even on both legs. Don’t let your right (front) heel come up off the floor.
    • As you straighten both legs back up, reach one arm up and back at a diagonal with your abs pulled in tight.
    • Go back down into your lunge, then reach with the opposite hand as you straighten the legs.
    • Alternate your arm reaches with your lunge for 30 seconds.
    • Switch legs and repeat the sequence.
    • Alternate reaches across the midline of the body to change it up!



Conditioning for Hiking
4.  Bridge March
(Targets hips, glutes and core)
    • Lie on your back with your feet at hip width and arms out wide at a 45 degree angle.
    • Push your hips up into a bridge position.
    • Alternate lifting your heels up while keeping your hips still (stable). Don’t let your hips lower.
    • If successful with the heel lifts, add a alternating foot lift.
    • Keeping making the marching movement bigger and bigger without letting your hips drop.
    • Do the bridge march for 30-60 seconds.



5.  X-Mans
(Targets the entire back side of the body)
    • Lie on your stomach in an ‘X’ position with your arms and legs wide.
    • Pull your abdominals in and retract your shoulder blades slightly, but breathe comfortably.
    • Slowly lift the arms and legs and squeeze your glutes. Hold position for 2-3 seconds.
    • Slowly lower down and repeat the sequence.
    • Keep your arms and legs long – no bending the elbows or knees!
    • Make easier by just doing the upper body or just doing the lower body to start with. You can also alternate arms or alternate the legs to it make easier.
    • Bonus move: Add rotation by opening your chest to one side. This will challenge the sides of the waist.



Combine these 5 exercises with a 20-60 minute walking, biking, running, swimming, or rowing program 3-4x a week and you may even improve your fitness for the 2015 season!


*Consult your physician before starting any new exercise program.
1 2 3 4 5 19
Go to Top