Trail Life 101: Blister Prevention and Care

Blisters are a pain, literally. As biped adventurers our feet take a lot of abuse from repetitive impact across miles of uneven terrain, scaling large rock walls, scrambling up peaks, so on and so forth.

While our tired “dogs” often become achy and sore, the most common foot problem in the backcountry is a blister. Often created by friction, pressure, ill-fitting boots and wet socks, there are a few steps we can take to not only treat a newly formed blister but possibly prevent them as well.

Prevention

  • The best prevention for blisters is to wear boots that fit with room to wiggle your toes and without slippage in the heel box.
  • Just like your clothing, avoid cotton! Wear wool or synthetic socks that will wick away moisture.
  • Take the extra time to break-in your new boots. Wearing your new kicks around the house and on day hikes before hitting the trail for a multi-day excursion will save your feet from unnecessary pain.
  • As soon as you feel a burning sensation, or hot spot, cover the spot with moleskin or duct tape.

Blister

Treatment

  • If you have to pop a blister to relieve pressure do with a sterilized needle or razor blade. The best method is to clean the area then pierce the top or roof of the blister with a sterile needle and gently massage out the fluid. Be sure to keep the roof intact as a protective layer to the skin beneath the now dead layer.
  • Create a donut out of a piece of moleskin or foam that is just larger than the blister then apply antibiotic ointment and dry the skin around the blister. Once the area is prepared, affix the moleskin donut so that the hole creates a pressure free pocket around the blister. You may then apply a second donut as needed to help take away any direct pressure. Seal this second layer with yet another layer of moleskin and cover with duct or athletic tape.
  • Keep a bandage in place for up to 3 days, then wash and re-tape. If the area is red, swollen, or leaking pus, it’s infected. Keep it dressed and if the infection persists for more than a few days, see a doctor.

What special methods for prevention and treatment have you learned from your time on the trail?

Trail Life 101: Tent Care

Like most outdoor fanatics I scrimp, save, and scan Gear Trade  or other sale sites for the backpacking tent I have been drooling over for the past six months (or more).

Backpacking tents are one of the largest investments that any avid backpacker or climber will make. Taking time to give your new investment some TLC after every trip will help to ensure a number of comfortable evenings for many trips to come. 

Basic Cleaning and Storage

One of the top priorities in tent care is properly cleaning and storing it after each trip. Not only will this prolong the tent’s life, you will also avoid that disgusting smell of mildew next time to you go set up camp ten miles in. Shake out loose dirt, clean off any mud, wipe down the floor, and fly with a sponge and water when you return home from every trip. Make sure the tent and fly are also both dry (avoid direct sunlight) before packing it away. If you live in a humid environment consider storing your tent loosely in a stuff sack or box to avoid mildew.

Mildew will kill a tent and your sense of smell. This fungus will penetrate the urethane coasting of the tent fabric and grow between the fabric and coating eventually lifting the coating from the fabric thus loosing all waterproof capabilities. Should mildew begin to form you can sponge-wipe the tent with a solution made up of 1/2 cup Lysol to a gallon of hot water, or rinse with a solution of 1 cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of salt to a gallon of hot water.

Zipper Care

Most of the problems experienced with tent zippers are due to wear in the zipper sliders, rather than a failure of the coil itself. (The slider is the metal part that you move to zip and unzip the zipper.) Particles of dirt and grit on the coil, accumulated during use, abrade the mechanism inside the slider head. Once a slider becomes worn it will stop engaging the teeth of the coil correctly and cause the zipper to slide out-of-place. Avoid accelerated wear and tear by cleaning the zipper coils after every trip, especially in sandy and gritting environments. Zipper cleaners and lube are available at most outdoor stores, or you can use paraffin wax or lip balm if you’re in a pinch. Petroleum based lubricants are not recommended.

Sun Damage

One of the biggest causes of tent damage comes from the sun. UV damage will cause nylon and polyester to become brittle and eventually tear. When traveling in dry and sunny environments try to set up your tent in the shade whenever possible. Consider using the rain fly even on clear days as it acts as a sunscreen for the tent and is less expensive to replace if it is damaged.

Tree Sap

Tents are made from a variety of materials so it is difficult to say what substance will or will not damage your tent. You are best to start with only a small spot on the tent and with substances that are less likely to do any damage to begin with. Some die-hard backpackers swear by butter or vegetable oil rubbed into the area with a paper or cloth. Unless you enjoy the midnight invasion of woodland creatures licking your face or attempting to tear down your tent, make sure to immediately follow this method with soap and water to remove any oil and residual smell.

Sunday Photo: Spring in February

Attempting to make the most out of my brief tour into Seattle, I ditched my mobile home for the day and rode the train. The day was unseasonably pleasant with clear skies and warm sun leaving the Olympic Mountains visible from just about anywhere I ventured. This past week has been a complete whirlwind for many reasons, but this week’s Sunday Photo is a moment of peaceful beauty that resonated within my soul.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone!

Tales from the Road: Smell Ya Later!

Original posting from RumBum.com’s Dirtbagger Diaries

“Been Camping, Have You?”

© Patti Poulin / RumBum.com

© Patti Poulin / RumBum.com

With the rolling green hills and overcrowded freeways now behind me, I found myself driving in the early morning hours along an empty two-lane highway with the sun barely peaking over the distant mountains. The landscape was vast, like that of the moon, and I had packed up my tent only hours earlier.

Having just spent four more days along the eastern Sierra in efforts to be reacquainted with my own company I was now feeling like the king of the road. I was living off pasta, eggs and soup, and my clothes were beginning to smell. My hair was turning dark from dirt and grime. My last shower was four, maybe five, days ago. The smell of campfire lingered on my clothes and I had a stupid smile upon my face. I was back in my element and the comfort of my own company came around quicker and easier than I thought it would. I had room to stretch out in my car with only my own gear stashed in the back and Sienna was riding shotgun with her head out the window.

I was headed toward the southwest, as California was being slammed with storm after storm. I’d had enough of the rain and was ready to get back into the desert during the best time of the year, spring. Avoiding the main thoroughfares and in need of gas, I drove for miles through open eastern California high desert before finally stumbling upon a lone service station surrounded by abandoned buildings.

Suddenly feeling transported into a terrible B-rated horror movie, I pulled off the highway and onto the shoulder of the road before pulling up to the gas pump. I can spend days on end out in the wilderness without a problem, but now I was afraid to pull into a decrepit gas station. Looking back at Sienna for reassurance, she was snoozing in the backseat and completely oblivious. I must have sat on the side of the road for ten minutes and not a single car drove by; my gas light flickered on and I was really in need of caffeine. The decision was obvious, I was going to face my (ridiculous) fears and pull into the gas station.

Slowly pulling up to one of only two gas pumps on site I scanned the area for signs of life. Starting to wonder if the station was even open, I crawled out of my car and walked towards the glass door that sat ajar. I peaked in looking for an attendant, the station was dusty and the shelves were stocked with supplies that looked as if they had been sitting there for centuries. As I made my way toward the cold drink section, the sound of a deep, raspy voice made my heart stop and my entire body lunge forward.

“Can I help you?”

Now stopped dead in my tracks and no longer focused on the Coca-Cola that was within grasping range I turned my head towards the counter to see a large man with a scraggly beard now standing behind the cash register.

As I opened my mouth, a squeaky voice I had never heard before came rushing out.

“Good morning, just need to get some gas and a cold drink.”

I awaited a response but all that I got from the man was a grunt. Grabbing my drink, I hurried to the counter and slid some cash in his direction. I attempted to make small talk as he rung up my purchase but all that I received in return was a glare. That was until he handed me my change and receipt. As I put out my hand to pick up the five-dollar bill that he slid across the counter I once again heard that deep raspy voice that had stopped me dead in my tracks moments earlier.

“Been camping have you?”

I lifted my eyes to look at his face that now had an impish smirk.

All I could utter was “uh huh.”

As I turned to scurry out the door, I could hear him utter only a few more words:

“Well, it certainly smells like it!”

Trail Life 101: Trail Comfort Essentials

What should you carry in your pack during a day, overnight, or multi-day journey?

This age old debate can often be over heard while gearing up at the trail head or even while already on the trail, I have even heard a meeting of the minds over a pint at the local tavern in certain mountain towns that shall remain unnamed. Everyone has a different view which generally derives from personal experience and knowledge. As for my own personal answer, this list is my bare bones answer to what I personally carry in my backpack during any given day. Although this list may be added to or subtracted from depending on the duration of the trip and the area of travel, these basic items will aid in response to an accident and prepare hikers to safely spend an unexpected night in the wilderness if the need arises.

Navigation

Although we live in the age of advanced technology where GPS units can do just about everything except prepare a warm cup of coffee, it is still a good idea to carry a topographic map and compass as a backup. Adding very little extra weight to your pack, a map and compass do not rely on batteries and can provide a wealth of information from finding ideal camping areas to locating water sources along the trail.

Illumination

It is easy to stay beyond your expected time when traveling across panoramic ridgelines. If you ever find yourself trekking out of the backcountry at twilight or attempting to set up camp as the sun sets behind the horizon, a headlamp is an invaluable piece of equipment. Lightweight, compact and offering a hands-free light source, newer headlamps with LEDs feature a longer battery life than now-ancient incandescent bulbs. Many headlamp models also offer a strobe light mode, which is a great option to have during an emergency situation.

Extra Food and Water

It is always a good idea to carry an extra day’s worth of food and water on any backpacking trip. Even day hikers should carry enough food to sustain them for at least a day. Simple items such as freeze-dried meals or even no-cook items packed with calories and the shelf life of a Twinkie are even better. Energy bars, nuts, dried fruits and jerky are all excellent trail foods.

If you will be traveling in areas that offer abundant sources, be sure to carry proper means of water treatment such as a water purifier or iodine tablets. The average hiker will use three quarts of water per day; this average will vary depending on the conditions and terrain in which you are traveling.

Extra Layers

Inclement weather has a way of sneaking up on your when you are traveling in the backcountry. Carrying additional layers of clothing for protection from the elements if caught unexpectedly is a smart move and highly recommended. Consider the season and environment in which you are hiking to determine what type of extra clothing you should pack. Commonly carried items include an extra pair of socks, a synthetic jacket, and insulating hat.

First Aid Supplies

There are things in your first aid kit that you cannot easily replicate in nature. Backcountry travelers should make the first aid kit a piece of gear carried with every trip. Pre-assembled first-aid kits are a quick and easy way to get your basic supplies while still being able to personalize it to suit your specialized needs. Whether you buy a pre-made kit or make your own, the kit should include latex gloves, tweezers, blister treatments, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, athletic tape, disinfecting ointment, over-the-counter pain medication, a compact first aid guide, and pen and paper (for documenting treatments, vital signs and other necessary information).

Sun Protection

Sun protection does not stop with sunscreen; it also includes sunglasses, lightweight skin shielding clothing and brimmed hats. Your activity level and the temperature are the factors that will determine if you choose to wear pants or shorts or longer or shorter sleeves while outdoors.

Sunday Photo: Open Mind, Limitless Potential

This week’s photo was retrieved from the archives of my Mount Rainier ascent via Emmons Glacier during Summer 2011, a trip that came to fruition after only dreaming about it for some time.

As I ventured north earlier in the week in pursuit of my dreams I was welcomed back to Washington by a very white Mount Rainier basking in the glow of the sun. My week has been filled with much introspection on the topic of  hopes, dreams, and goals thanks to reading 50 Ways to Open Your World to New Possibilities featured on Tiny Buddha.