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Hiking & Backpacking Tips
Pack and Equipment
There are two basic pack types, internal and external frame.
The internal frame pack has superseded the external frame as the most popular type, though both have their pros and cons.
One of the advantages of the internal frame is that it is less prone to “snagging” if you are hiking through
heavily vegetated areas. It will also tend to sit more comfortably on your back as it is more form fitting than the external frame type and will make for better balance. Being closer fitting, this of course will trap more body heat, which often is not a bad thing.
The external frame packs are wider and therefore easier to load gear into and then to access it.
They will also sit ‘cooler’ on your back.
Don’t haul unnecessary gear. Go through each piece of your equipment and clothing before you start
and determine whether it is really necessary or whether another item you are carrying can double for
both tasks. e.g., one pot, cup, and a spoon should cover all your culinary needs. Clothing can double as
a pillow etc.
Consider the use of dehydrated type foods as they will save a lot of weight. Bear in
mind though, that they will require a water source to prepare them.
Lining your pack with a large plastic rubbish bin bag is a cheap and efficient way to help keep the
contents dry. Pack covers have limited success in heavy rainfall, none in river crossings, and are an
extra piece of gear that you have to haul.
As a general rule, load your pack with the heaviest items towards the top and close to your back.
This will lift the weight higher on your back making for an easier load to balance and carry.
Make sure that any items that may be needed in a hurry (heavy weather clothing, gloves, med kit,
etc.) are easily accessible and not buried in your pack.
The weight from a heavily loaded pack can sometimes cause the adjustment of the shoulder straps
to continuously “slip”, dropping the pack down your back – consider adding small strips of
hook & loop (velcro) tape to the ends of the straps and to a fixed non moving part of your pack,
(e.g., waist belt or standing part of the strap) so that the ends of the straps can be easily “locked”
down holding them in the desired position.
Plastic soft drink bottles (Coke etc.) make excellent water bottles. They are cheap, extremely
strong and almost weightless.
When empty they can be flattened to take up less pack space – blowing into them will return
them to normal shape.
An accessible way to carry a full 2 litre bottle, is to loop a cord noose around its neck, attaching
the other end of the cord to one side of the pack and running it across the top of the pack with the
bottle hanging on the opposite side. The bottle is then secured from “swinging” by a collar of
hook & loop (velcro) tape that is attached to the pack and secured around the lower part of the bottle.
It’s good practice to carry an easy means of cooking, such as a light camping stove along with fuel
and source of ignition. This way you are not dependent on weather conditions and availability of
natural fuel. However, there may be times when you have to build a fire from available material.
There are several methods and means of starting fire, amongst them friction methods, but they all
require time, a degree of skill and correct materials. However, here are a few easy ‘sure fire’ methods
of getting results…
Carry a few rubber bands cut from old bicycle inner tubes. These can act as “fire lighters” if
kindling is scarce or is wet. They will burn for some time and can also double as ‘elastic bands’ if
Cotton balls impregnated with petroleum jelly also make good fire starters.
Carry matches, along with a strip of abrasive in a waterproof tubular plastic film canister.
Carry a candle stub – this will save matches and will burn for longer.
A small magnifying glass can be used for igniting tinder on sunny days.
Waterproof matches can be bought, or you can make your own by sealing conventional matches in
layers of wax, in effect making miniature candles that will be waterproofed and also burn
Small gas lighters are convenient and the spark from them may be of use even when empty of gas.
Always strike your match in cupped hands, facing into the wind and with the head of the match in
a downward position.
Light your kindling on the windward side so that the flame is blown into the material.
Before starting your fire, gather and prepare enough fuel to keep it going.
If there is no small kindling available, kindling can be made by shaving a larger piece of timber
or stick. i.e., use your knife to slice a series of small thin “wings” on the surface of a larger stick.
The thinner “wings” will ignite easier and in turn ignite the larger body of the stick. This can be
helpful if the available wood is a bit damp or too large for using as kindling.
Make sure your fire gets sufficient oxygen by not building it too densely.
One method is to build a small platform of twigs an inch or so above the ground, supported at the
edges. Load the platform with tinder material (pine needles, smaller twigs, dry moss) then build a
pyramid or tepee of kindling sticks over and around this.
Once the fire is established, larger fuel can be added.
Lightweight “layers” that can be removed or added to is the best method – along with a good wind/rain
outer garment shell, preferably of breathable material.
Avoid cotton clothing. It will dry slowly and will be cold and heavier if worn when wet – use synthetic
materials such as polyprop or its equivalent. These are light, warm when wet and dry out rapidly. The
only cotton you may want to carry is maybe a light long sleeved shirt for sun protection. This applies to
jeans material as well, there are better alternatives. (long pants made from quick drying material, or
Headgear. This is necessary for sun protection and also for insulation in cold weather – the
majority of body heat is lost through the head and neck areas. Carry separate headgear for differing
conditions – a brimmed hat for sun protection and beanie/balaclava for cold weather insulation.
Make or type will vary with individuals preferences and intentions.
For extended trips carrying a heavy pack consider a leather boot such as produced by Asolo, Garmont etc. These will give the desired support and will also stand the rigours of being submerged in river crossings, or the attachment of crampons if ever needed.
Care should be taken to get the correct fit. Unfortunately, the only foolproof method of knowing you
have a correct fit is to hike in them!
However, the following points may help in selecting and using your footwear…
When selecting your boot, always wear the socks that you will be hiking in. Tap your foot
forward in the unlaced boot and you should be able to easily get a finger down between the back
of your foot and the boot. This will indicate the space you will have between the end of your toes
and the front of the boot.
Take out the boot’s insert, place the insert on the floor and stand on it – this will give you a good
visual on how your foot fits inside the boot. Remember, your foot will spread and expand when
you are hiking and carrying any weight.
Lace the boot up and walk around in it – some stores have an inclined area to see how the boot feels.
There should be no undue movement around the heel area, but the boot should also not feel as if it is
cramping the foot anywhere, particularly in the toe area.
Take into account that there will be a certain amount of “give” in leather.
As a general rule, you will want your boots at least one size bigger than your normal “town” shoes.
Always take care of your boots with a good application of protectant before and after a hike.
When they get wet, let them dry out naturally and they should last you for many miles.
Many prefer to wear two pairs of socks. A thin inner pair of synthetic material that will wick
moisture away from the foot and an outer thick hiking sock. This double sock method will help in
preventing blisters, as any foot slide will be more protected.
Flipflops make good camp footwear. They are cheap, extremely light and will allow your feet to air at the end of a day.
It is always a good idea to carry a compass and a map of the area you are entering and also to learn how to use them.
A GPS is an excellent aid to navigation especially if going off trail, but it should be looked upon as an aid – equipment that relies on electricity is always open to battery or component failure, and in the case of a GPS, also an inability to receive a signal due to terrain features or overhead tree canopy.
If you lose or damage your compass, you can use your watch to get a good indication of direction.
If in the Northern hemisphere, point the hour hand of your watch at the sun and exactly halfway between the hour hand and the numeral twelve on your watch will be South.
(Use your imagination to superimpose the numerals on the face of your watch if you are using a digital watch!)
If in the Southern hemisphere, point the numeral twelve of your watch at the sun and exactly halfway between the twelve and the hour hand will be North.
To travel in a straight line, sight an object on the bearing you wish to travel (tree, rock, terrain feature) and then head towards it. When you reach it, repeat the process on another object. This will prevent you tending to circle off course.
Lastly, whether hiking in company or hiking solo, always advise someone who cares, of what your intended movements are and when you intend to be back out.
The more you hike the more you will find out what works for you and what modifications can be made.
Hopefully the above tips will be of some help in enjoying the outdoors.
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