DESERT HIKING TIPS - Part 3. TRAVEL. Negotiating the perils of the desert southwest.

Most people would agree, take lots of water, utilize shade and pace yourself.
There are a number of considerations when hiking in the Southwest. Here's some that are often overlooked.

FIRST AND FOREMOST - TAKE WATER.  Please read my post, SUMMER DESERT HIKING TUTORIAL below. The Sonoran Desert is an unforgiving extreme environment that is underestimated everyday by visitors AND locals alike. Take more water than you think you will need and take an extra bottle for somebody you come across in trouble.

TELL SOMEBODY YOUR PLANS - Tell a friend where you are going and when you plan to be back. It doesn't hurt to give them the number of the closest ranger station or other emergency services nearby. Make sure they know when you'll check in and what to do if you don't.
This website has some excellent info on this; http://www.desertusa.com/desert-activity/desert-survival-tips.html#

NAVIGATION - Distances in the desert can be difficult to judge at times. Sometimes what looks a long way off is not and sometimes it's the other way around. The desert plays tricks on you. Dust, shadow, mirage and a lack of size reference landmarks can cause serious misjudgment of distance. A map and compass are always handy. On the other hand, the wide open ranges allow for incredible fields of view and if you know landmarks, a map is often not needed at all. Confusing, huh?
In some areas, like the Superstition Mountains or in the canyons, it is easy to get turned around, become disoriented and get lost. Canyons wind around towering rock formations. The clarity makes long distances seem short. And to make things worse there is very, VERY little water. Many have paid the price for underestimating the desert.
In this pic, the distant mountains are about 2 miles away.
Here the distant mountains are almost 8 miles away.
WHAT TO DO - Pace yourself and record landmarks. Fix on distant landmarks. Keep the sun in a fixed position as you walk. From the start of your hike and at regular intervals, take pictures of landmarks behind you. As you hike, stop, turn around and take a pic with yer phone or draw pictures and make notes so you can find landmarks on yer way out.
Do not rely exclusively on cell phone for navigation. Signals are spotty at best in many areas and dirt roads change. A wash (dry creek bed) may cut a deep impassable channel thru what was once a road.
Barrel Cactus lean to the south (to reduce their exposure to the sun).
Saguaro cactus will congragate on the south side of hills. This helps them prevent freezing during the winter months.
Cottonwood trees and other large-leaf trees will often grow near a water source.
Many of our streams run underground. You may need to dig in order to discover flow direction. Sometimes only a foot or 2 down.

GATES - We have a lot of cattle. In some areas ranches and wilderness boundaries are often confusing. Fences often keep cattle out of wilderness areas. Some trails will have gates in fences you will need to go through.
WHAT TO DO - Always Close Gates Behind You. Be aware of private property.

CACTUS - Prickly plants are everywhere in the desert. Some of them, like the Cholla, are particularly nasty when encountered up close and personal. It is often called "jumping cholla" because the pods can fall off if brushed against or shaken and then bounce off each other making it seem to jump at ya. Some cactus look soft, fuzzy and cuddly, don't be fooled. The hair-like thorns will embed themselves into skin and hurt and fester and... just don't touch um.
This will give ya a size reference for the Saguaro Cactus.
WHAT TO DO - Be careful. Avoid cactus thorns at all costs. This often makes clearing shelter space a challenge. Use caution. Gloves & tools.
Walk animal trails as they are often easier going through thick areas.
Pull big spines out with tweezers or needle nose pliers.
For small hair-like thorns lay duct tape over them running along the out direction, press then pull off fast. Repeat.
For cholla pods, use a comb or 2 sturdy sticks slid between the pod and skin , then yank aggressively.

MIRAGE - With such high temperatures and absorbed heat, mirage become frequent, almost commonplace phenomena. Thermal inversions can cause some strange sites beyond the typical inferior and superior mirage we often see on roads. Wegener's Late Mirage can have you seeing objects in the sky and Complex mirages, the so-called "Fata Morgana" are the ones where you see the dancing girls amongst oasis. Here's a site that explains different types of mirage; http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~aty/mirages/mirtypes.html
There is little one can do to avoid the mirage. Recognizing it is the key. Enjoy the show.
In this Mirage there seems to be water and trees.
And in this Mirage there seems to be sand dunes.

CLOTHES - There are 2 schools of thought about what to wear in the desert. Whichever you choose, it is always a good idear to take an extra layer. The first school is the minimalist approach. Wearing shorts, t-shirt and sandals or some derivative thereof. This is airy and cool and comfortable. The second school is more...well, covered. Using lightweight but durable loose-fitting clothe to protect against sun and owies. This also uses perspiration as an evaporative cooling system. Both seem to work well for many people.

Cotton has been virtually banished in many environments, however, in the desert it's ability to retain moisture is welcome, most of the time. But, temperatures can drop rapidly and generously at night. That nice cool wet shirt then becomes a case of hypothermia waiting to happen. Yes. Hypithermia happens in the desert. Luckily,  everything dries quickly in the desert.  Everything.
Layers allow you to be prepared for the extreme environmental changes of the desert. Conditions sometimes change quickly. Having options for hot, dry, wet, cold, windy, cold wet, dry wet, hot wet, cold dry, hot, hot windy, cold windy and more hot is great. Here's an article on layering; http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/a/11070/How-to-Layer-Clothing-for-Each-Season
In this group we see everything from tight, loose, short, long, hat, no hat. It all seems to work for them.

HAT. Head cover is essential for many people. A wide brim hat keeps the sun off yer neck and out of your eyes. It provides a modicum of shade that is very welcome. Straw cowboy hats are traditionally popular because of the breathability they offer. Nowadays, of course, there are a wide variety of styles and fabrics.
A BANDANA is an essential piece of gear in the desert. Besides 101 other uses, a wet bandana placed around the neck will bring body temperature down rapidly when heat exhaustion is setting in. Take a cotton bandana.
An argument can be made for snake gaiters when traveling off trail, especially thru brush or grass. They do work.
SHOES. Your most important piece of gear. Always a very personal choice. Low top, high top, leather, mesh, etc. There are endless choices. Some people prefer leather protection from ankle-biters (cactus), others prefer the light breathability of mesh. Some need ankle support with mid or high tops, others like the freedom of a light trail runner and yes, it's true, a pound on the feet is like 5 pounds on the back.
After over 40 years of hiking the desert, trying all kinds, and not having akle problems, my take is, breathable mesh light weight low tops with toe protection and WITHOUT GORTEX. Waterproof footwear has no place for me 80% of the year. We simply do not need it. The only time our shoes get wet (other than the 12 inches a year of rain we get) is during creek crossings. When a waterproof shoe is submerged it becomes a bucket. A breathable mesh shoe will dry out 3 or 4 times faster. I trudge thru creeks and am dry within 30 minutes on the other side hoping for another creek crossing. It can be different if that creek crossing comes at dusk with low temps in store for the night but generally...
I won't even get into socks. Try a wicking merino wool/synthetic blend.
As for underwear, there is Exofficio, then there is everything else. Don't buy Exofficio. You will wind up spending a small fortune changing your entire drawer to them. Just settle for whatever you wear now. It's better to just not know how amazing they are.

DUST STORMS, LIGHTING & RAIN. The Sonoran Desert does see some incredible displays if mother nature working overtime. Dust storms 20 miles wide or extremely intense lightning accompanied by torrential downpours can and do happen. Many times the former will be followed by the later. If you are traveling during the monsoon (July & August), expect it. In fact, photographers come from all over the world to catch um. These can put your adventure into a tail spin as you scramble to make cover.
A Haboob (Dust Storm) coming for Phoenix, Arizona.

There is nothing to do about a dust storm other than wait it out. Protect your eyes and water. Lightning needs the usual precautions. (Good time to put your trekking poles down.) Heavy rain on the other hand, can be dangerous in the desert in the form of flash floods. The composition of a majority of the desert soil does not absorb water quickly. Consequently, even a relatively light rain can have water rushing over the darnedest places within minutes. Usually, wherever you have set up your tent. This can be annoying unless you have set up in the soft sand of a wash (dry creek or river bed), then it becomes dangerous.

FLASH FLOODS can come down a wash faster than you can spit and say howdy. Clear skies overhead show no sign of rain but over the mountain 7 or even 15 miles away in some cases, a good rain has sent a 3 foot wall of water down the wash. These flash floods have the potential to wash away cars that try to cross them so your brand-spanking new ultralight tent doesn't have a chance. We never camp in washes here. They may look inviting with their sand and no stickers but property and lives are lost every year in them.
This Tour Bus was swept away in Northern Arizona by a flash flood

MOUNTAINS. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line but that's debatable and it's definitely not the fastest or easiest. Arizona has more mountain ranges than any other state. Not the tallest or biggest, just more of um. There are also many vast relatively flat areas between these ranges, oddly enough, also called ranges (depending on who yer jabberin' with). The immense wide-open views alone can take your breath away, not to mention the towering mountains, expansive canyons and truly remarkable washes, plateaus, lakes, spires and hilly open range. A good day hike can take you from high desert and grassy lowlands, through the Chaparral to high pine forest. Ridge walking and reading the terrain are helpful skills to find the path of least resistance, especially in cross country excursions.
Vegetation life zones of Sonoran Deser

Lastly,  in hopes it's remembered...

HEAT. The desert is hot, extremely hot, almost unbearably hot much of the year. At times it seems too hot to move, and that's why many things don't. It's hot and dry. June thru September the temperatures can be over 117' F (47' C) much of the day and get all the way down to 99' F (37' C) at night, with 6% humidity. There is no relief. Your sweat evaporates faster than it comes out of you and it comes out fast. The intense relentless sunlight bounces off the rocks under you giving you sunburn in places you never had one before. Without water your body will begin shutting down in 2 days. By the 3rd you'll wish you were dead, if you still retain the wherewithal to wish. By the 4th, you will be.
I don't put it like this to be dramatic. (Ok. Maybe a little) but this is the reality here.
Shade is your friend. It can be 20' F (6' C) cooler in the shade. If you are lost without water and don't know where there is some, you need to do everything you can to conserve bodily stores. Move only at dawn and dusk or at night if there's a moon. Rest during the day in the shade. Find water. Or make water with a solar still. Water and shade. These should be you focus.
You should pay close attention to the water you hike with. When it's half gone, you need to turn around.
Do not rely on maps for water sources. Maps are notorious for being WAY too optimistic. Many of our streams, springs and rivers run underground. Pretty far underground.
You may be able to trust hikers coming from where you are going who tell you about watering holes, but then you have to find it. Get a good description. Have them point it out on the map.

This all may sound silly to someone from another, less extreme, part of the country. I realize that. The folks from places like Alaska will understand though, in reverse. It is the sad truth that people come here from all over, go on a short day hike in one of our nice city parks strolling up a short desert mountain, and have to be rescued by our first responders. Happens 5 times a day or more during the hot months. Rescued, in a city park! Not because they're injured or lost. Just because they didn't have enough water and are suffering severe dehydration or worse, heat exhaustion and they can not go on. Some don't make it. The gear shack I work at supplies our firefighters their hiking boots. They are required to keep them in their fire truck because they use them so many times every day.

Remember what the buzzard says;
"Welcome to Arizona. Send more tourists. The last ones were delicious."

Image result for buzzard cartoon

The Sonoran Desert is as beautiful as it is unforgiving. Travel in it is to be considered, not taken lightly.
Desert travel is incredible and entirely doable, if you have water. I always laugh when I read about ultralighters doing 3 days and nights with a 12 pound pack. That's what my water weighs. For an overnighter!
SIDE NOTE: It is interesting what the wide open spaces of the Sonoran Desert do to one. After growing up here mostly, when I hike in heavily wooded areas, I always feel a slight sense of claustrophobia. The forest would be really nice without all those trees in the way. ; )

Oooo! And one last thing! While I'm thinking of it.
INFLATABLE SLEEP PADS. Don't leave an inflatable fully inflated during the day in or out of your shelter. The heat can cause it to expand and rupture. When you leave camp to go explore or whatever, deflate it about half way.

.More research - GORP (Great Outdoor Recreation Pages)has some great pratical advice pages. Here; http://www.gorp.com/camping-guide/camping-advice-guide-sp.html

Wow. That post got a little more involved than I originally intended. I hope that all helps somebody out there.

That's my 3 Part series on Desert Hiking Tips. Leave a comment with your input.

Tread lightly,


DESERT HIKING TIPS - Part 2, BIG ANIMALS. How to handle big critters in the Sonoran Desert

  #desertbackpacking #animals 
There are some big animals in the #Sonoran Desert. Puma, Black Bears. Bobcats, Javalina, coyotes, Deer, Cattle, Big Horn Sheep, wild burro,  even a few Wolves now too, etc. roam much of the Southwest.
Bears get their own post. (Read my post on Bears,  #BACKPACKING IN #BEAR COUNTRY - THE BASICS, here
No need to repeat it.)

As for some of the others...

Here's some tips on dealing with some of them if you are lucky enough to see them.

CATS - Mountain Lions, Cougar or Puma, are found in many areas in the Sonoran Desert. Attacks are very rare. The problem is... they're cats. They see you long before you see them. As ambush predators surprise is their way. Some attacks have happened in new housing developments in suburbs to joggers. Joggers look like deer bounding merrily along and last year when the cat made it's rounds thru there, there were deer and no houses. Duh! A Puma will roam a hundred square miles as its territory during the year.
If you do see a mountain lion, no matter how thrilled you are to be one of the very few who gets such an opportunity, stay well back, and take the encounter seriously. If you think one is stalking you, you need to take action.
WHAT TO DO - Be big. Make yourself appear as large as possible.
This Bobcat was chased by a Puma.
Make yourself appear larger by picking up your children, leashing pets in, and standing close to other adults. Open your jacket or shirt. Raise your arms. Wave your raised arms slowly. Pick up a large stick.
Make noise.
Yell, shout, bang your walking stick against a tree. Make any loud sound that cannot be confused by the lion as the sound of prey. Speak slowly, firmly and loudly to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.
Act like a predator yourself.
Maintain eye contact. Make sure it knows you see it. Never run past or from a mountain lion. Never bend over or crouch down. Agressively wave your raised arms, throw stones or branches, all without turning away.
Slowly create distance.
It was almost 30' up & jumped down.
Assess the situation. Consider whether you may be between the lion and its cubs, or between the lion and its prey or cache or the only way out. Back away slowly to a spot that gives the mountain lion a broad path to get away, never turning away from the animal. Give a mountain lion the time and ability to move away.
Protect yourself.
If attacked, fight back. Don't be easy prey. Protect your neck and throat. People have utilized rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches, walking sticks, fanny packs and even bare hands to turn away cougars. Go for the eyes and ears.

Typical Collared Peccary about 2' high

Baby Javalina. I have no idea how high.
JAVALINA -  The Javalina, or collared peccary, are medium-sized animals that look similar to a wild boar. Javelina form herds of two to more than 20 animals and rely on each other to defend territory, protect against predators, regulate temperature and interact socially. They use washes and areas with dense vegetation as travel corridors. Javelina are most active at night, but they may be active during the day when it is cold. Javelina give off a distinguishing scent. They may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog. Dogs and coyotes are natural predators of javelina, and they can seriously hurt or kill each other.
WHAT TO DO - Give them way or scare them off. Mostly they will go the other way if you let them. Back off. Give them a way out. If a pack is agressive climb rocks or a tree. Yell, make yourself big, throw rocks, grab a large stick. If they attack, fight back and use misdirection. They have bad eyesight so sometimes they may seem to charge through you to get away.

COYOTES - The trickster of the desert is everywhere. You'll see them. They'll see you. Keep your food safe.

BIG HORN SHEEP - Active during the day and resting at night in "camps" that they can use for many years, the big horn is rarely seen other than from far off on a mountain side. They want nothing to do with you. They will normally scatter in the opposite direction at the slightest sound. Hikers who go off trail are a big threat to rams. This causes the rams to relocate which is a danger to them as young get lost, new predators encroach and injuries happen. Startled or cornered big horns will attack.

WHAT TO DO - Give way. Make noise. They'll get away. Try to avoid startling or cornering them. If you are attacked, climb a tree, put big cactus between you and it. Get between big rocks. The things smash eachothers heads against eachother as hard and as fast as they can, sometimes for hours and hours on end (this rutting battle has been recorded ongoing for over 24 hours) I'm thinking swinging a stick at 'um isn't going to do much if it's actually coming at you. Nevertheless, hikers have fended off attacks with trekking poles and misdirection just long enough to climb out of harms way up a vertical cliff wall, but big horns climb exceptionally well. No easy scramble will be safe. Good luck. Probably better to get a good pic from afar. 

CATTLE, DEER AND SUCH - You can come across cattle in the darndest places. Mostly benign, they are rarely a danger. But caution should be taken as they are big and can trample, head butt and kick with extreme power, especially when feeling threatened or cornered. Take special care around bulls or steep areas that could produce a fall for you or them. Likewise with deer and elk.Wild Horses & Burros too can be found in some areas.
Wild Horse (Mustang), AZ
Wild Mustang in AZ. E. J. Peiker, Photographer

WHAT TO DO - Give way. Back off and give them room. Shout and wave your arms, hat or rope at them. Crack your whip. (Oops, that's for cowboys)
Make sure to close any gates you go through in fence lines.
In southern Arizona,  New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico wild cows can be found. These are less predictable and more dangerous. You'll fine them chomping on cholla cactus and it is best to stay well back. Generally,  don't mess with anything that eats cactus and has it stuck all over it's face, seemingly without a care. Angry, confused or cornered cattle can snap yer bones without even trying.
http://wildsonora.com/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/image-content/cow-with-cholla-balls-on-its-face.jpg?itok=9csRSPaC  http://ww4.hdnux.com/photos/04/27/00/1142787/3/622x350.jpg
The majestic Wild Burro of AZ. ok, majestic is a stretch, but... cute?

 The majestic wildlife of the Sonoran Desert is cherished by all who know it. Many animals are protected by law. Encroachment is one of their biggest threats as we keep building more homes on the range. Wildlife deserves our distance, demands our respect and needs our stewardship.

In Part 3 we'll talk about travel in the desert.

Tread lightly.


DESERT HIKING TIPS - Part 1 SMALL ANIMALS. How to deal with small critters and such

Deserts of the North American Southwest
 The #Sonoran Desert has an amazing variety of life in it. More life than anywhere else in the world except for the rain forests. #backpacking, #hiking & #camping visitors are always surprised by the plethora of flora and fauna. Of course, with this abundant life comes some potential dangers.
To see the abundant wildlife you need to hike early or late as most animals siesta during the day.

Here is some need to know info on some prickly desert critters.

Giant Bee hive in rocks
BEES - Basically, #bees in North America are now almost all #africanized to some extent. This is a more aggressive and  dangerous strain than the honey bee. The #Southwest happens to have some pretty serious ones as we were among the first to see them in the U.S. and therefore have more of them and more integrated strains. These bees will swarm to protect their hive. Normally, before an attack or as you get close to their hive, a few will "tag" you by hitting you and placing hormones on you as they do. Hormones the other bees can fallow and target.
WHAT TO DO - Get away. If you notice lots of bees, on bushes, flowers, a crack in rocks, etc. go the other way. If one or more hits you (usually on head) get away from the area. You need to be 200 feet or more away before they seen to stop chase. If you are swarmed, you are going to be stung. You will need to try to minimize how much. Keep your mouth closed and move away quickly. Go under water ONLY if it is possible to swim a long distance away.

Once you’ve escaped the swarm, remove any stingers from your skin as soon as possible. Honey bees are one of the only stinging insects that leaves its stinger in the skin.  Left in the skin, the accompanying venom sac will continue to pump venom. Pull the stingers out with a knife blade scraped gently across the skin, or by scraping off with your finger nails, credit card, etc. Seek medical attention immediately, especially if you experience hives, swelling around the throat or face, or difficulty breathing. While an average healthy adult may be able to withstand hundreds of bee stings, for people with bee venom allergies even a single sting can be highly dangerous.

SNAKES - #Rattlesnakes are a very real presence in the Sonoran Desert. They are seen often. They are often found under rocks or sunning themselves in open areas (across trails). The rattle sound when they are disturbed is distinct, even if you have never heard it. However, we are seeing more and more rattlers Not rattling before striking.

WHAT TO DO - Be cautious & back away. Most strikes seem to happen to men age 20 - 30, on the forearms, which screams, Don't Mess With Them! Be careful stepping over rocks and thru tall brush. Make a little noise with your feet as you walk. Kick some dirt, scuff yer feet along the ground. This will alert them and hopefully make them rattle. 
See the Rattler?

Pay attention to your dog if you hike with one. My dog used to stop and practically point right at them. If you're close to a rattler when you see it,  back away slow and steady. If you must go in the direction it lies, throw rocks or sand at it to get it to move. If you are bit, STAY CALM, walk out and get medical attention. The worst effects are mostly on the very young, elderly or those in poor health. If you can not walk out; Remain calm and move beyond the snake's striking distance.
Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell.
Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
Clean the wound, but don't flush it with water. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing.
Don't use a tourniquet or apply ice.
Don't cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.
Don't drink caffeine or alcohol, which could speed the rate at which your body absorbs venom.
Don't try to capture the snake.
Try to remember its color, pattern and shape so that you can describe it, which will help in your treatment.
Signal for help. Seek medical attention.
SIDE NOTE: Cowboy culture has an old wives tail about laying a rope in a circle around your sleeping bag or bedroll at night to prevent snakes from coming in. The idea is a snake wilk not cross a rope. There is no scientific evidence of this but... it can't hurt.

ANTS, SCORPIONS, SPIDERS & SUCH - We have some pretty nasty itsy bitsy critters in the Sonoran Desert. No doubt about it. But they are not difficult to avoid and do not cause too much havoc in the wild. Scorpions, for example, cause much more problems in populated areas. Fire ants, the big black ones, black widows and our #bark scorpions can all land you in a world if hurt. The bark #scorpion is also one of the very rare Scorpions that climbs, so it can be found in lots of places. That's where the old cowboy story comes from about shaking out your boots in the morning before putting them on. Sometimes they climb in yer shoes to get warm at night. The Bark scorpion is hard to see during the day but glows green under UV light and this is an effective way to find them at night.

Bark Scorpion under UV light
Black Widow spiders are also particularly nasty because you can't always see um. We have Tarantula but they are not much of a problem. Non venomous and creepy.    We also have a medium-sized black "stink beetle" that I've always heard can let out a pretty bad stench. I've never gotten close enough to find out. The rumor was always enough to keep me away as a kid.
WHAT TO DO - Watch out for them. We do not really stop and stand or sit without checking the ground, here in the desert. We turn over rocks or wood before picking them up (a scorpion may be clinging to the underside). Don't set up camp on top of holes in the ground. Those are where the critters come from.
Check sleeping bags, shoes, pants, jackets, etc before getting into them. Zip yer tent when not in it. Carry Sting ease spray. Scorpion stings and black widow bites are painful,  sometimes very painful, but rarely life threatening. Seek medical attention. When it comes to Scorpions, Indy was right. The bigger the better. The big ones will often inject less venom into you, maybe conserving it. The little ones are the ones you have to worry about. They'll shoot their whole wad.
Side Note: I was stung in the back 3 times by a baby Bark Scorpion. It felt like Mike Tyson had used my back for a punching bag for almost 2 weeks.

Coati or Coatimundi
Ringtail (not a cat)
RODENTS, RINGTAILS AND RACCOONS - We have rodents who carry the hantavirus. Mice, rats, etc.
Rats and mice as well as #coatis, #raccoons, #ringtails, squirrels prairie dogs and chipmunks will all mess with yer food when it's left unattended and unprotected in camp. This is especially true in heavy use campsites.
WHAT TO DO - Protect your food.
Hanging food might help, but these little suckers can climb anything. Store food in a protective container like a cookie tin with a tight lid and/or an airtight sack. I do all 3, hang bag, tin & Locsak. In my experience,  plastic containers like coolers don't cut it. I've seen some pretty heavy duty plastic chewed right through. If food is chewed on, it's best not to eat it as hantavirus is also transmitted by saliva and urine. For this reason it is important to check and filter or purify questionable water sources thoroughly, especially stagnant ones or where there are signs of rodents. Don't explore small dens because the #hantavirus is airborne.
Do not collect water from small puddles that have rodent tracks or droppings around them. Do not use kindling wood from pack rat nests
GILA MONSTERS - The Sonoran Desert has the only 2 venomous lizards in the world. The #gilamonster and Mexican beaded Lizard. Both are generally slow movers and if ya don't mess with um ya shouldn't have a problem. They have no fangs, instead they latch on with strong jaws and wriggle, grinding their sharp teeth into flesh and secreting their venon in their saliva, and really, who has the time or energy to go to all that trouble? They are protected by state law and should be left alone. Bites are dangerous, some Very violent reactions can occur to the neurotoxin venom.
What to do - Give way. If you are bit seek medical attention immediately. Shoo them away with long sticks or throwing sand and such.

The pic blow is only the 2nd Gila I've ever seen in the wild in almost 40 years of hiking here. We had lunch with him as he hung out, vertically, in between these rocks and we named him Edger.


In Part 2, we'll look at some bigger critters.

Tread lightly.



Comfort and Lightweight are Not mutually exclusive or necessarily excessively expensive.

(Wow. That was some big words.)

Back in the day we carried 50 and 60 lb. packs to have relative comfort at camp. Now you can easily carry half that weight with even more comfort.

Here are just a few little nuts that offer comfort without excessive weight gain or extremely high cost.

1. Nice wide air pad. 

Airbeam Wide in middle next to regular Exped and short NeoAir

If you have a hard time sleeping in one position (I've never liked mummy bags) I suggest a wide pad. The Klymit Static V is an inexpensive ($52) pad 23" wide, 18 oz.  I use a Gossamer Gear Airbeam Sleeper, Wide (made by Klymit) which is a torso-length pad 28" wide (at shoulders) tapering to 21" (at knees) with over 2 inches of comfortable padding for the person who moves in their sleep. 14 oz. and $100. From Gossamer Gear, www.gossamergear.com and see my post review of it or here's another goor review, http://jwboutdoors.com/2014/05/gossamer-gear-air-beam-sleeper-2/

Cacoon Aircore Pillow

2. Comfy pillow. There are many to choose from. Some puffy,  some inflatable. They all make a big difference and are an amazing departure from stuffing some clothe in a sack, which I've done for decades. I like the Cacoon Ultralight Air Core Pillow. 3.7 oz of sleeping comfort that is available for about $20 on ebay, amazon, etc. It's tiny. Like tennis-ball size when in it's pouch. Cacoon's Hyperlight model is only 2.4 oz but doesn't have a soft microfiber side. This one has both soft warm microfiber side and soft cool nylon side.

Both of the above work well with...

Airbeam Sleeper in Easychair
3. Thermarest Easychair or Trekker Chair. 11 oz. and still one of the most comfortable chairs for backpacking. Online can be found for about $30. Use your pillow behind the small of your back when lounging back in the chair star gazing.

Folding Bucket
But enough of the laying around stuff. Let's look at utility comforts.

4. Sea To Summit 10 L Folding Bucket.  2.8 oz and a handy, sturdy utility item. $20. Washing, collecting water, dowsing fires, etc. A well designed handle on the bottom makes pouring easy. Works well under a gravity water system to catch spillage and such. No ranger is going to hassle you with this much fire retardant at the ready. Available online or at your local gear shack. 


Solar Lanterns
5. Solar Camp Lantern. Luminaid or Luci Light, Solar Lights are worth their weight. At 3 oz and 4 oz respectively,  either of these solar powered lanterns make a great addition to camp and tent play. No batteries to lug around. $15-20. Online. The only real difference other than the way they are deployed seems to be weight (Luminaid is about an oz less). And they both float. Fun in the pool. I opted to cut the blow-up bag from my Luminaid and save a little more weight. The Luminaid company also supplies these to third world people with revenues from purchases so you're helping people that have no electricity. And, I believe there is something about an angel getting its headlamp every time one is charged. : )

Speaking about power on the trail...

Solar Wrap Mini
6. Solar Chargers. Charges are nifty if you are using GPS, Camera and stuff. The Bushnell Solar Wrap Mini is 4 oz. $60. One if the lightest functional phone chargers on the market. 4 hour charge time for smart phone is comparable to others.  Never run out of cell so you can blog from the field.  (Damn that sounds stupid)

Now, enough of this equipment. Let's get to the important thing.

The Press Bot, field french press coffee

7. Good Coffee. If you are like me, you like to have a good pot-o-joe in the morning. French press, fresh brewed or espresso prefered. I have never found an instant I can abide.
Enter the Press Bot from Canyon Coffee. A french press for a Nalgene bottle. How do you get a french press into a Nalgene? That's the brilliance of it. 2.4 oz and $25 from www.canyoncoffee.us. It takes a minute of getting used to to operate but makes a mean pot of fresh java that you can take with you on the trail. Genius. The coozy helps keep cool drinks cool and warm drinks warm, which is great for not only coffee during the cold months. Hot cocoa on top of a peak anybody?

Well, there you have it.
We've got our sleeping pad w/pillow, camp chair,  wash tub, camp lantern and electricity in the field taken care of and we've added under 2.5 lbs to our pack. These are all quality items that are functional and durable. We've spent about $ 250. And we are living in luxury. (I couldn't believe the difference when I changed from a foam sleeping pad to an air pad).

These are simply things I've found and like. I search for used items at thrift stores and on line. One of the Thermarest chairs I picked up for $10 and a Cacoon pillow I found on ebay for $15. Of course, you should do your own research and find deals. Try things out at your local gear shack and make sure they are going to work for you.

(Full disclosure. Not one of these manufacturers compensated me for this... damn it.)
Have fun.
Now go play outside.

Tread lightly.
#backpacking #gear #goplayoutside