Tips and Advice for the Outdoors

Backpacks 101

Happy Camper

There are as many backpacks on the market today as there are trails to use them on. They come in all sizes and colors, in a range of materials and with enough add-on extras to satisfy the most demanding gadget freak. But let’s just review some of the basics, in order to clear a path through the blizzard.

Small packs, such as waist packs or fanny packs, aren’t technically backpacks. After all, they’re not worn on the back. But they serve a similar purpose on a smaller scale. For short hikes, they can do just fine.

Those smaller packs have a strap and usually two or three compartments. You can use them to store or hold a water bottle, nutrition bars, band-aids, disinfectant, sunscreen or a dozen other small items that are handy on the trail.

Some even have small, special purpose water bladders with tubes and other mechanisms for drinking. They’re often called hydration packs and hold up to a couple of gallons. Remember, a gallon of water weighs about 8 lbs.

Just don’t try to put too much in them. When you intend to be out longer, or need to carry more, there are lots of choices. Most of those are categorized by size (volume typically), measured in liters. A liter is just over a quart in volume, but it refers to space, not necessarily the amount of liquid something holds.

Day packs are designed for what the name suggests – to be used for relatively short hikes. They are anywhere from a dozen to three dozen liters in volume and come in a variety of styles. Some have no belt strap. Some have a chest strap to keep the backpack stable. All will have shoulder straps.

Larger packs, about 35 to 70 liters, go by a variety of names – midsize, midrange, light duty packs and others. Used properly, they can hold quite a lot of gear, so be careful how much you bring. Remember, you have to carry it.

They’re typically made with really sturdy material and have a variety of shoulder strap and waist belt styles. A common type these days will have the sort of plastic ‘dog-leash’ clipping buckles that are everywhere now.

The largest packs also go by a variety of names – full-sized, expedition, heavy duty and so forth. Over 70 liters, they can carry a lot of gear and have a number of special features to help you do so.

Special splines or supports are often threaded through the shoulder straps, across the back or waist and otherwise. These stiffer elements help stabilize the pack making it easier to carry. They often are designed to ride higher on the back in order to keep the load off the lower back. That helps enormously to prevent fatigue and back pain.

Just as one analogy to understand the difference, think of carrying a child. When you carry a two year old on your shoulders, it’s pretty easy. You could do so all day. Try to have them hang off your shoulders and wrap their legs around your waist instead. You’ll tire quickly.

These heavy duty packs have all kinds of lumbar support, pads, special materials and well-engineered balance mechanisms. The frames have aluminum tubing in a form that has been really well thought out. Many have special holders for sleeping bags, or even a small fold-up tent. They come in ultra-sturdy composite materials and are just about indestructible.

Of course, you’re not, so you should still keep in mind that you have to lug all that stuff around. Make sure you’re only carrying what you actually will need, no more, no less.

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Wildlife to Avoid

Happy Camper

Camping can be one of the best adventures you’ll find. Fresh air, stunning mountains, spectacular trees and more are all around most campsites. But humans aren’t the only species to be found among them. And not all the other ones are friendly.

Bears may look very cuddly on TV, but there are species that are dangerous and most people can not tell the difference between one and the next. Grizzlies, for example, are generally regarded as potentially life-threatening. An adult grizzly will eat a human. Telling the difference between them and Black Bears can be difficult.

As the name suggests, Black Bears tend to be dark. But a grizzly can vary from blond to black. Size is a possible clue, but it’s tough to tell the difference sometimes between a full grown Black Bear (around 300-400 lbs and 5ft tall when standing) and a teen grizzly.

Full grown grizzlies are larger, around 500 lbs and 6ft tall when standing. Needless to say, when a bear is standing in front of you, you have other things to think about than identification.

There is one unmistakable sign – grizzlies have a hump on the back of the neck that Black Bears lack. But making it out especially when they are in motion toward you, can be hard. Black Bears have smaller, more triangular heads that can help identification.

Grizzlies have a more flattened face, with a depression between the eyes and their ears are rounded. Black Bears, by contrast have a snout and more pointed ears. If you’re close enough to make out these details without binoculars, however, you are too close.

Wild cats often inhabit wilderness and camping areas, and they too can be dangerous, even lethal. Most will avoid contact with humans, but if hungry or pressed they can attack. A hungry cougar or puma will carry off a child if it hasn’t had any other food source for a while.

Bobcats, though small, are surprisingly strong for their size and no one should test their skill against those razor sharp teeth and claws. Lynx are a similar species, having telltale hair tufts on their ears and blunt tails. Also small and shy (about the size of a large house cat and weighing 30 lbs), they can be fierce if they’re protecting young.

Mountain lions still roam parts of the southwest in the US and don’t always limit their hunting to sheep. If you bring the family dog along on a camping trip be especially cautious about letting it roam where it might encounter a wild cat. Many dogs won’t back down and run away and they will always lose a fight with one.

Investigate which species are known to be in the area you intend to visit and take proper precautions when you’re there. Keep food stored in odor tight containers before and after meals and keep trash stowed well away from the campsite.

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