People ask why I’m always pushing MEC products!

Yes, it’s a fair question!

During most, but not all of my posts, I tend to make recommendations of equipment to do with hiking, climbing, walking etc.

And most times, my recommendations come from my favorite equipment company, MEC.

Why do I recommend them? Well, it’s a little difficult to fully explain….reminds me of what my grandfather used to say about things he was comfortable with….”Son…it’s like an old pair of slippers…sure theyre worn out, but I feel comfortable in them…!”

So it’s not to say that I haven’t used other suppliers for my stuff, but I keep coming back to MEC time after time.

Not only do they supply a whole load of comprehensive equipment, and have been for coming up to almost 50 years or so now, but they have such enthusiastic people working there…often times, I get a whole lecture about whatever I may be into, be it walking, climbing etc. But that’s not to say the employees are over-bearing..far from it…they are simply enthusiastic, all of them being outdoors people themsleves, too!

And the advice I get is not over-the-top like in some places, where any fool can tell that the salesperson is out to nab a sale!

Then there’s MEC’s interaction with the community. And this for me, and countless others who use it, is the final decider.

It’s what is the core of MEC that brings a smile to everyone who finds out…it is a co-operative, which means that everyone who buys a share in the company is entitled a voice in the running of it. Like myself…I bought a share in the place because I like what they’re doing, which means giving back to the community as well, not just making a quick buck and running away!

So that in a nutshell are just one or two reasons why I use MEC and always heartily recommend them. Over the years, I hope to talk a lot more about the company and how it works etc, but for the time being, if you want to know more, click here to go to their website….and happy reading!

😉

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A New Year….a pair of new boots…!

With the start of a New Year, what is the one most important items for an outdoors man or woman?

Boots, of course!

Without a sturdy, waterproof pair of boots, any hike or outdoor pursuit can rapidly become a soggy nightmare…trust me, I’ve been there!

Before investing my hard-earned cash in a decent pair, I spent and wasted so much time and money on inferior but cheap products…I’d buy a fabulous-looking pair of boots for a knockdown price, and during the first trip wearing them, I’d destroy my hike…the boots that looked so strong and invincible in the shop, now belaying their true nature!

It’s only after several such forays, that I learnt my lesson, and just in time too.

So, what do we need to look for in a pair of boots?

Here’s a short but comprehensive checklist for you:

 

  • Lightweight. Backpacking experts say every extra pound on the feet is like carrying 5 or 6 pounds on your back, so purchase the lightest boots that fit your needs.
  • Comfortable, yet supportive. There should be plenty of room for your foot to swell after a long day of hiking, but not so much room that it slides around inside the boot.
  • Non-slip in varied terrain. A good hiking boot or shoe should be able to maintain a firm grip in rugged terrain, on scree, in mud and, most important, on wet surfaces.
  • Designed to release mud. If mud builds up in the lugs of your boots, it can severely compromise your traction. Look for boots with widely spaced, aggressive lugs that shed mud with little to no effort on your part.
  • Waterproof. If you frequently hike in wet or damp conditions, a waterproof boot or shoe will help keep your feet dry and comfortable.
  • Breathable. Summer hiking requires your feet to breathe so they don’t get too sweaty. Some hiking boots and shoes have uppers made of mesh to allow airflow. Some heavy-duty boots have breathable liners to keep feet comfortable.

What’s your hiking style? Your preferred hiking destinations, style and season will determine your choice of footwear.

How sensitive are your feet? The more sensitive your feet are, the stiffer a sole you’ll need to protect them from rugged terrain. This goes double if you’re backpacking; you need the stiffness to protect your feet under the extra weight.

Do you need a waterproof membrane? If you often hike in wet or cold conditions, a breathable waterproof membrane will keep water out and release sweat as it accumulates. However, when water gets in it can’t get out and the boot can take a long time to dry when emptied. It also tends to be hot in warm weather, so look for this feature only if conditions warrant.

Shop later in the day. Your feet tend to swell throughout the day and on long hikes, so shop once you’ve already been on your feet for a while; otherwise, your “just right” boots may turn out to be too small.

Err in favor of a larger size if you plan to hike long distances. Your feet may swell a half-size to a full size larger than usual during these trips. This doesn’t mean you should size up from a perfect fit, but if you’re in between sizes, going up is usually the best choice.

Wear the socks you intend to wear while hiking. They can make an enormous difference in fit, especially since wool hiking socks tend to be thick. If you don’t already have socks to hike in, purchase them when you try on your boots.

Test hiking boots while wearing a loaded backpack. This is especially important if you carry a heavy pack. It’s the only way to be sure the boots will remain comfortable and supportive under your typical load.

And here is a pair of excellent boots, available from MEC stores in Canada:

Scarpa SL Active Backpacking Boots (Men's)

Check them out now..click here

Nothing beats a nice, hot shower after a hike….

Oftentimes during my several hikes, and especially whilst negotiating a particularly taxing climb, I had often wondered about the possibility of rigging up some kind of a shower system in the bush, that would help relieve the tremendously tiring and sweaty periods of any hike in the wilderness.

Unfortunately, all my thoughts remained as thoughts and I never had the time or patience to design something like that, until I found the very thing at my local hiking shop!

As you may have read in my past articles here, I am a sucker for MEC, a fantastic mecca for folks like you and me who are into any kind of leisure pursuit, be it on land, up a mountain, on the water or snow and ice.

There I found The Hot Tap wilderness shower pack. It’s a superb idea, and is capable of providing you with a very adequate hot shower for up to 10 minutes.

All you do is dunk the pump in water, light the propane burner and hey! presto, you have an instant hot water shower in the middle of nowhere.

What is it like in use? As always, I only comment on the things I have used personally, and this is one of them. It comes with it’s own fully illustrated instructions that are clear and easy to read.

The shower is able to give you around 8 to 10 minutes of hot water. I found it to be enough to remove the normal grime, sweat and tears of a normal hike….of course, with any shower, you really want to stand under it as long as possible, savouring the life-giving heat of the water on your body, but don’t forget, this is not the shower in your home, and so you have to get on with cleaning yourself rather swiftly before the water runs out!

Batteries for the pump are needed…if you forget to pack them, well, let’s just say your hot shower in the wilderness will remain a dream! I do know some of my friends who bought this unit have used rechargeable batteries, which last longer and can obviously be recharged when required.

All in all, a very, very ingenious item and well worth packing for your hike.

Click here to read more about this very useful hiking must-have accessory.

😉

3 most important items if you are lost in the wilderness…

By taking part in a pastime that necessarily involves an element of danger, we should always be prepared for times when the worst can happen.

Having a set of the important tools for survival is the first most urgent point.

Let’s have a look at these 3 items.

Knife

Compass

Fire lighter

Of course,it really depends upon where you are lost….if it is a barren area, or solid frozen snow-covered wilderness or the desert, then we may require a few other items than those listed.

If we are in a dense forested area or a jungle (very rare in N America!), then these items will save your life, if used correctly.

The knife is one thing you DO NOT want to lose when you’re hiking….it is said no matter how honed your survival skills, if you don’t have a knife, you’re chances of survival are very low indeed.

What can a knife do? Well, a knife can offer you:

  1. Immediate protection and self-defense while you construct more suitable weapons.
  2. The ability to quickly sharpen a strong stick to make a spear for hunting and for protection.
  3. The ability to cut fruits or edible green matter
  4. The ability to cut vines and/or animal hides into thin strips to use as cord so you can make or build things.
  5. The ability to cut and build a variety of primitive traps and snares to capture wild game.
  6. The ability to properly skin an animal and slice the meat 

The important thing about a knife is this….you cannot make a knife from raw materials if you are lost in the wilderness, period. You may be able to use things like broken glass for cutting edges etc but nothing as useful as a proper knife.

For this reason, I always carry not one but TWO knives, one is a folding one and the other a full length sheathed type.

Types of knives

There is a plethora of knives on sale for hikers and campers…it is up to you to make the correct choice and not be taken in by fancy marketing. First and foremost, my advice is not to waste your money on those Swiss Army knives…they may be good enough for the Swiss Army, but there are cheaper and better alternatives closer to home…we” come to that in a minute.

The best knives are those made of stainless steel…these will never rust and will keep their edges far longer than a non-stainless steel knife.

Also, the construction of the knife is of paramount importance….buy one on which he blade extends all the way back to the end of the handle….that will be a very sturdy knife compared to one on which the blade ends at the start of the handle.

A belt sheath is very useful indeed and ensures your knife will always be handy for immediate use.

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The next item in order of importance is a fire. No matter where we are stranded, a fire immediately raises your morale and composure, making us less likely to give up survival.

And we all know that having a fire going will keep dangerous animals away, as well as providing much-needed heat for warmth and cooking….in some cases, a fire may well signal your presence to those searching for you.

Again, as with knives, there are hundreds of suggested ways of starting fires, but from experience, let me say this much….if you are stranded in an area where it is very damp, or raining, or snowing heavily, the so-called primitive fire method is almost next to useless.

Picture the scenario…you are soaking wet, the air is damp or freezing, you are depressed at being in such a situation and any sparks you are able to create, soon disappear due to the amount of moisture in the air.

As well, in extreme weather, one is very likely to become quickly irritable and fearful, so starting a fire using friction or other primitive methods is very difficult indeed during times of emotional stress.

At present, there are 3 methods of starting a fire….butane cigarette lighters, matches and magnesium fire starters.

Matches

There are many kinds of matches available that promise the ability to light fires in any terrain or condition, but they all depend upon you having the very best, dry tinder, as well as being dry themselves.

If at all your matches get wet, then it will be almost impossible to use them…I have tried reusing dried matches that have been wet, but the material on the match head just crumbles off, so keeping matches dry is paramount.

Next we have butane cigarette lighters….these are very cheap and cost around a $1.50 each. Bear in mind that one of these little beauties, though cheap and simple, has the ability to light around a 1000 fires…that’s one fire a day for THREE years….buy a bigger sized one and you’re talking about over 4000 fires. Butane lighters are very reliable and will light up in the wettest weather…I have used them in rain, sleet, high winds and snow with excellent effect.

Finally, we have the magnesium method. This involves shaving thin strips of magnesium off a block and creating sparks from the flint by striking it with your knife. This can also be very good and reliable, as magnesium catches alight very rapidly.

From my experience, it pays to have all 3 with you, as then you have a fail-safe system. Undoubtably, the best method I can vouch for is the butane method.

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And then we come to the compass.

A compass is vital if you are lost. Even though you may not know zilch about map-reading or using a compass to find your way through to civilisation, it will at least allow you to walk in a straight line, hopefully to a road where help will be available.

Without a compass, your chances of walking in a straight line consistently are next to zero.

Always go for a decent compass….you can pick some up in dollar stores, but would you place your trust one of these? Not me!

There are very useful models available that have several life-saving features included in them…..some have the compass as well as a mirror (for signalling), a whistle (for attracting attention) and a small torch.

I have selected the very best items for you here, that I have used myself and that have proven their worth countless times over.

All these items can be purchased at Backcountry.com

SOG Knives Team Leader Knife

SOG Knives Team Leader Knife

The SOG Team Leader Knife exemplifies simplicity and versatility with its plain-edge AUS-8 stainless steel blade and no moving parts to gum up and fail in the field. The comfortable, no-slip checkered Zytel handle with lanyard hole and included leather sheath round out this simple, effective tool to ensure that you have every possible option for survival.    Price: $62…reduced from $103.45

Suunto MC-2G Navigator Global Compass

The Suunto MC-2G Navigator Compass features:

patented global needle that functions flawlessly anywhere in the world

large mirror

additional sighting hole

luminous bezel ring

magnifying lens

standard issue for Military Special Forces.  Price: $75.56

Ultimate Survival Technologies Strikeforce Firestarter

Ultimate Survival Technologies Strikeforce Firestarter.

WetFire tinder wrapped and stored in the tinder compartment starts without hesitation.    Price: $19.96

Matches and butane cigarette lighters can be purchased from any general store.

Following on from yesterday’s article about native peoples…

Not long ago, I was in a remote area of BC….the Queen Charlottes, sometimes known by their real name as Haida Gwaii.

I was alone, as I mostly always am when on hikes.

The Haida Gwaii area is almost pristine, even these days, and there are huge tracts of land that are still virgin, although rather difficult to get to.

I try to go there as often as I can…the isolation from the circus that is life is truly magical there, as it is in all such places elsewhere in the world.

It’s very difficult to put into words how one feels in such places….I can only describe it as recuperative, inspiring t be in a virgin place as that…..making you think that this is what the world must have been like before the multitudes and hordes invaded the lands and pillaged everything.

Inspiring and recuperative it may well be, but for me, and this is my personal feeling, not a crusade or anything I am on….the place cries out, reeks of….something missing.

And for me, I feel the missing link, that elusive feeling I get there, is the native peoples.

Somehow, don’t please ask me how or what…..it seems that their not being there….having been forced out….seems to have left a gaping void….an invisible, gaping chasm, which manifests itself into your mind, making you almost cry with sadness at the slashing of the ties the natives had to this area.

As ever, myself and my fellow-men, call us whites, north americans, whatever…..we are charged with depopulating the indigenous Haida peoples from their lands here. They say some 90% of the Haida died from something as simple as smallpox and the common flu bug, something the Haida never had any immunity to, and which our people brought into their lands when we decided to invade.

The survivors were removed forcibly from these happy, peaceful hunting grounds and placed in just 2 villages where they live to this day.

It is, for me, a feeling of incompleteness, if there is such a word….a land barren of an essential part of it’s ecosystem shall we say….and I feel the land itself, somehow manifesting a terrible sadness at this loss….a bit like how a parent, myself being one, would feel if, for some reason or other…..I were to return home one day and find all my family gone…just disappeared into thin air, never to return…..a sick, deep grief and sadness….I don’t know…maybe it’s just me.

But let’s talk about happier things….in places like the Haida Gwaii, we can come closer than we ever will be on tis planet, to being what creation has deigned us to be…..untrammaled spirits made to enjoy the timeless stillness of that same creation itself…..as if that creative force wants to tell us…wants to show us, through places like these, that that is where it comes from, where it resides..and ultimately where it wants us to be.

Could it possibly be the reason why we so love the wilderness, the deserted coasts, where we can be and just look out towards the nothingness, the nowhere where creation itself resides? And could it be why native legends and so-called folklore is full of tales imploring us not to destroy that wilderness? Because to destroy it, like we have done already, is to destroy the abode of the force that created it and all of us, too.

There too, I had one of the most profound experiences of coincidence, synchronicity…call it what you will.

I had always looked up into the sky and many times seen a solitary eagle or perhaps a number of them, circling or soaring on the thermals from below….I had often wondered if it could be possible to catch an eagle feather in it’s fall from it’s owner, before it touched the ground….could that be possible? I asked a Haida friend of mine about this, and he in turn put the question to an elder he knew.

My friend came back many days later, with a big smile on his face, and when I asked him what he was so happy about, he told me that if I were to get hold of even a single feather from an eagle, a feather that hadn’t fallen and touched the Earth, caught in mid-air in other words, that it would a very, very fortuitous thing indeed to happen, and such a gift is classed as priceless by the Haida. This he was told by the elder.

And that is exactly what happened a few months later, when I was in the Haida Gwaii again, having forgotten all about the feathers and the eagles.

I just happened to be walking on the beach, when by pure chance perhaps, or pure synchronicity…take your pick….I looked up into the sky, and saw not one, not two, but more than 7 or 8 eagles circling around very low…I’d say not more than 150 to 200 feet in the air, and for some odd reason, there were eagle feathers falling from them!

Of course, I wasted no time in running underneath them as fast as I could, with my shirt ripped off my back and held out like a basket, catching as many feathers as possible. That night I called my Haida friend and told him what had happened, and he said we would both take those feathers to the elder and ask him what this all meant.

A few days later, we were with the Haida elder…to just be with such a person is to experience peace and quiet….a result of the peace itself that emanated from him.

He told me that I was indeed very fortunate….that this was a very great occurrence, which meant that the gods were pleased with what I had been thinking, and that great experiences would envelop me, great happiness would follow me wherever I went. And the feathers were a tangible proof from the gods…a kind of confirmation of this.

Well, being a western-minded agnostic, it was a little hard to swallow, but I respected what the elder told us, and anyway, his words of wisdom both calmed me and made me feel happier anyway!

🙂

Backpacking, climbing, walking and hiking safety

While nothing makes a more memorable backpacking, hiking, or mountain climbing trip that a genuine emergency, ending up dead is not a good story for those involved.

Growing up in the sticks and spending a lot of time outside, I have had a few real emergencies in my life.

I’ve been lost once. I’ve overreached on a hunting trip in cold weather and ended up huddled over a fire to thaw out myself.

Fortunately, I knew where I was as the only thing that I had to start a fire with was my map! However, I am not an expert on mountain climbing, but these tips will work for those brave souls who do participate in this sport.

The first thing that all backpackers, mountain climbers and hikers need is a first aid kit. While most of the stuff in a first aid kit purchased at a large retailer is junk, you do need some antibiotic ointment, sterile bandages, and other first aid items.

You also need the knowledge to make splints for broken legs, treat hypothermia, and more. Knowing the signs of problems and addressing it before it gets out of hand is indispensable, especially in the outdoors.

The second thing that all backpackers, hikers, and mountain climbers need is a way to signal for help. Cell phones are unreliable in the middle of nowhere. Not only can there be signal problems, but also batteries die and phones can become broken.

A pocket sized signal mirror is a great item to have in case of emergency. Signal mirrors only cost a few bucks and take up very little space in a backpack or pocket.

The third item is a note. Yes, a note. Not only should people back home know where you are going and when you are coming back, but first responders need help finding you as well.

When going on a mountain climbing, hiking, or backpacking expedition leave information on your route and planned return with a park ranger or other responsible person. If this is not an option, leave this info in plain sight on the dashboard of your vehicle. If theft is a concern (you might not want everyone knowing that you won’t be back to your car in three days) only leave location information in plain sight.

Backpacking, hiking, and mountain climbing are all great ways to enjoy the outdoors, but you want to come home safely. Remember these three items along with the obvious ones to assure a safe return.

This is not a definitive article by all means, but if the information given here can save even one life, then it is worth it’s weight in gold.

A copy of this article also appears in the “Safety and First Aid” page of this blog.