05 October 2016

Four Months of Backcountry Exploration; A Photo Odessy

27 September 2016

Guest Post: Jack Neely; 7 Must Have Items for Wilderness Survival

 You need more than just your wits around you to survive the treacherous terrain and obstacles that the wilderness will throw to you. Time and again, we have been regaled with stories of campers and hikers who succumbed to the adversity of the wilderness after things went downhill and the unexpected happened.
Life has a way of throwing mean curve balls at us, so if you're planning for such an excursion you wouldn't want to be caught in crosshairs of fate by stepping out without these 7 items. 

A Survival Knife

This one should be a no-brainer, really. A good, sharp knife will come in handy in a number of hiking and camping activities such as cutting ropes, pruning off branches, cutting bandages, building emergency tents and shelters, opening packages among others. If possible, look or buy a fixed blade knife as they are often more durable and resilient than folding and conventional knives. 

As you probably already know, you have to keep your knife prime and ready all the time by cleaning and sharpening it frequently. The last thing that you would want is a rusty, blunt blade in the face of an emergency.

A Water Bottle

There is nowhere the phrase; "water is life" applies better than in the wilderness. The scorching sun coupled with a rugged, vicious terrain will without a doubt do a number on you. In fact, more campers die or succumb to dehydration than to anything else; you don't want to be one of them.
Among the first things you should remember to pack in your campers bag has to be a stainless steel water bottle. Avoid plastic or aluminum bottles as they will be rendered useless as soon as your water supply runs out. With a steel bottle, you could even boil the little water you come across in the wild to disinfect it before using it.

Fire Matches - Has to be Waterproof

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After water, fire and warmth are the next vital things you wouldn't want to miss in the wilderness. As far as this goes, box strike matches that you use in your kitchen are as good as the next blade of grass as they will be of no use to you as soon as they become damp.
 Instead of these, carry magnesium starter matches that can still work properly even when drenched in jungle dew. But even then, make sure that you store the matches in a waterproof bag just to be safe.

A Compass

Don't count on your phone's GPS to guide you back to civilization when you're setting out for that desert challenge hike. Chances are, it will be dead even before sundown of the next day. And even if you think you know the hiking direction, remember that walking in a straight line in a place with no distinctive landmarks (like in a dense jungle or a bare desert) is often impossible. And as the rule of the thumb, a nautical compass works hand-in-hand with a geographical map.

A Flashlight

Just in case you get lost - as it often happens - a tactical flashlight will help your rescue time spot you when they start combing the area in search for survivors. Additionally, flashing the light from such a torch around is a good way of keeping wild animals away especially if you can't make or maintain a fire, maybe due to stormy or windy weather. You can read more about this here.

Versatile Ropes and Cordage

A paracord bracelet or simply a folded up rope can be a very useful accessory in a wilderness survival situation. Such ropes are pivotal in a variety of activities such as constructing an emergency shelter, making bow drills for fire-starting or just for crafting up primitive traps.
While you might argue that you can make cordage easily out of natural inner barks of trees or various wild herbs, such makeshift ropes are not as strong as industrial cordage. Furthermore, you will end up consuming a lot of time and energy that could have been used doing something else better.

A First Aid Kit

On this, you don't have to carry the whole kit especially if you're going to hike for a long distance and plan to travel light. Instead, make sure that you have just the basic items such as plenty of sterile gauze, tape and band aids. While at this, if you have the time, it is advisable to come up with your own makeshift kit, rather than buying prepackaged kits. Not only will you know the exact first-aid accessories you have packed with you, most importantly, you will also know how to use each item contained in the kit.

About the Author

Jack Neely is a fitness expert, survivalist, and world traveler. He’s been in several life or death situations, and he’s making an effort to spread his knowledge around the web to help others survive these situations as well. He’s also on the content team at The Tactical Guru.

07 September 2016

Changed my mind, switching from dedicated GPS to a smart device.

Three years or so ago I was a die hard dedicated GPS user. Up to that point I had not been impressed with GPS utilization via a smart phone. Between battery life and durability as well as the mapping sets available vs Garmin and other providers like DeLorme.

That has changed. Late last year I migrated to a new phone and converted my old Galaxy Note 3 to a dedicated back country tool that goes beyond GPS.

The beginning of my mind changing happened when I dropped my Note 3 to the bottom of a lake during duck season, it took me eight to ten minutes to find it on the mucky bottom. Once recovered I realized the device was still working, to my amazement, so I shut it down and once back to the lodge I disassembled it and laid it out to dry.  After drying I fired it up and it still works today, two years later.

Prior to this I had my doubts about a smart phone surviving me while in the wild. I'm pretty rough on stuff and expect it to fully function regardless of environmental issues or me. I'm not a fair weather only wilderness bummer, in fact I'm more inclined to be out in inclement weather than fine weather. So I expect my stuff to function in less than ideal conditions.

Garmin 62s was my primary GPS tool for a number of years, all around it was a great unit.
I used the old Earthmate PN-40 for a while as well, though battery life was terrible.

After experiencing the dunking of the Note and it surviving my concerns over water resistance were somewhat abated. That left drop durability and general exposure concerns and mapping tools used for trip planning and digital exploration.

I've used both Delorme and Garmin's mapping tools, I prefer the Delorme version for trip planning. The software was quite robust and offered great tools to visualize the terrain. However it lacked some feature sets that I found I really liked when I got to using Caltopo.

If you spend any time at all in the back country you've probably at least heard of Caltopo. I could spend a lot of time on it, suffice it to say it's worth your time.

So with Caltopo becoming a primary mapping source for me I was migrated away from Garmin and Delorme as mapping tools. Along about this time I also found Backcountry Navigator.  I'll say up front that I am NOT a iOS guy, not a Apple fan and so I know little to nothing about mapping tools/apps that are compatible with Apple devices, Backcountry Navigator is a android app only. One of the map sources that BN uses is Caltopo, this was a natural fit for me. Since almost all of my planning and digital exploration was in Caltopo and since BN uses that it makes for a great fit. I've since fully moved on from all other map software, Backcountry Navigator and Caltopo make a perfect fit for me.

Note 3 with Backcountry Navigator and a Caltopo map layer.
Again, I could write and entire post on Backcountry Navigator, if you're interested in it there are a lot of resources out there that communicate the features better than I.

So with mapping tools being superior for my uses by way of Caltopo and Backcountry navigator and the durability concern having been at least partially address I was left with battery life or lack there of as the final concern to be address. 

Now there are some ways to improve battery life found within what you run on the device as well as settings that can decrease battery drain. One of the benefits of Backcountry Navigator is that you can download the map tiles of the area you are going to be spending time in thus there is no need to have an internet connection. Basically just run it with GPS on and you can navigate just fine. 

As a side note, I should also point out that the Note 3 had the ability to run additionally memory in the form of an SD card. Between the on board and the external memory I've got 64 GB of memory available. That's a lot of maps!

Beyond the settings and modes of operation to improve battery life there are also external battery packs, cases etc that are available. The Note 3 has a 3200 mAh battery from the factory which when used appropriately lasts me 2 to 3 days of back country use. 

Enter the PowerBear, which is an extended battery for the Note 3. This is a larger batter that fits the Note 3 with an new back cover.

The bigger battery and the replacement back cover do not egregiously increase the size of the device. The battery is a 7200mAh, effectively more than doubling the capacity of the stock battery. The cover also adds some durability to the device.

I should also point out that the Note 3, along with the option of additional memory via external card, it was or is also the last Android device with replaceable batteries. This means that you can swap batteries in the field. The standard batteries are cheap and lightweight, so with one in the device and another or two in your pack you'd be good for an extended period of time.

Incidentally, I'm sure there are/were reasons to move away from removeable storage and batteries but I can't fathom it. These two features were key to me being willing to adapt a smart device for full time GPS backcountry use.

I digress, on to other benefits.

Because of the amount of storage the device has I also went down the path of adding other resources. With my Prime membership and Kindle use I was able to add hundreds of titles, everything from knowledge based resources like Edible Plants of the rocky Mountains to First Aid Manuals, Bushcraft books, and so on. There's no way one could carry all the resource and reference materials in printed form, having them on the device is incredible. If I want to look at images of medicinal plants or tree identification or figuring out if that berry is what I think it is, all these things I can do because all of these materials are stored on the device. A full library of reference materials at my finger tips.

Finally, I besides a GoPro I use Sony cameras, all of which are Playmemories compatible cameras. The service allows me to control my cameras remotely with nearly the full feature suite of the cameras available through the Note 3. It allows me to store images on both, the device and the camera, enables other features like Time Lapse, and lets me take pictures for 3rd person images. I don't always have someone with me and using the 2 to 10 second delay doesn't always work. 

So between improved mapping software, more robust backcountry GPS functionality, improved battery life, nearly on par durability coupled with the additional benefits of the smart device storing reference materials as well as controlling my cameras, it was really a no brainer in the end. I'm afraid that if the dedicated GPS device manufacturers do not innovate they're going to find themselves in the dustbin of cool but obsolete devices.

11 August 2016


I've gotten a couple folks who read the rambles reach out to me recently as a result I thought I should probably update the blog.

First, I appreciate the fact that there are folks who care. Sincerely.

Second, the move happened largely without incident however I think I might be the only sick fool to have ever driven a giant moving truck through Yellowstone on Memorial Day. That was interesting.

Family is acclimating well to the ranch. We've got a nice little heard of cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens going on. We're enjoying the transition from Minnesota immensely!

Second son and I drew some archery tags and are trying to get ready for Mulies and Elk.

Between work and the ranch things are very busy but I'm finding time to get out, unfortunately the time to do the trip reports is currently limited.

So things are well if busy, hopefully that will slow a bit in the near future and I'll be back to posting some backwoods adventures!

Last weekend in Nebo Wilderness with my 5 year old son.

23 May 2016

14.48 Mile Overnighter

I've been a walker all my life. I don't have a problem with heavy packs and long distances, never have. There are the extremes of course, like the Alaska Caribou pack out but for the most part I've not had problems. Since I arrived in Utah I've been trying to get out as much as possible. I've not lived at higher elevations before and there was some acclimation necessary. There's a difference between being in shape and being in mountain shape, or Elk Shape as some call it.

My last weekend before closing on the new house and moving I decided to push a little. A 15 mile loop with a 3,000'+ elevation change. Not exactly extreme but still a decent hike.

The plan was 9.5 miles the first day, starting at roughly nine in the morning. This would mean day two and the hike out would be all down hill. Miles 4 through to 7 would be the steepest ascent of the trip.

I arrived on time and set off up the valley. 

At roughly four miles in I took a break and double checked my route. I also filled up on water as this was the last opportunity until after the decent point beyond mile nine.

Finally reaching the trail heading down the mountain I set up camp quickly in the fading light and got dinner on. I had originally intended on building a fire but the wind was atrocious and I wasn't comfortable with the prospect so my old Pocket Rocket would do the job instead.

I didn't take a sleeping bag. Instead I brought my Kifaru Woobie, a Thermarest Neoair Xtherm inside a TiGoat Raven Omni bivy. I don't know what this set up weighs but is isn't much. I also had a First Lite mid weight base layer and my puffy if things went sideways.

Dinner was simple and I turned in not long after.

I was awoken at around 2 by the sound of a cow elk 'talking' and a brightness in the megatarp. The moon was full and incredible, the problem was I was warm and unwilling to get out of my bed to take any pictures. I drifted back to sleep only to be woken again around four, this time it was coyotes singing. I pulled the woobie up tighter and went back to sleep.

Just after dawn I crawled out of the bed, wrapped the woobie around me and got the stove going for breakfast, oatmeal, coffee, and a Clif Builder's bar, vanilla almond. The bar was hard because of the cold, in fact there was a hard frost on. 

I submerged the Clif bar in my coffee as I couldn't bite through it. Softened it up considerable and improved the triple pack of Starbuck's Via in my cup!

I broke camp and headed off down the mountain.

Part way down the mountain I made it to my second water-up location. This one was a spring coming out of the mountain. I didn't need a ton of water so I drank as much as I could and filled the canteen and bottle. I didn't filter and drank plenty of it.

A couple miles before I made it back to the jeep I broke out the Tenkara rig courtesy of Thom Darrah and I got lucky.

All in it was a wonderful trip, my legs are a little sore but I was pleasantly surprised at the speed I made, averaging just under three miles per hour even on the ascent. I didn't burn my lungs up and while it isn't exactly an over the top strenuous trek it was a decent one.

Thanks for taking the time to read the rambles!