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

What kind of bag should I take on my trip?

I always get questions from readers asking about equipment, hikes, general travel, etc but it gets difficult answering them all, as well as keeping down a job that’ll pay the bills!

The most common question I get seems to be……”I’m flying off to India (or Asia, Africa, S America etc), so what bag can you recommend that will allow me to carry everything I need on buses, trains etc? I need something small, light but strong!”

There are as many answers to this as there are…I dunno…tea leaves in a pot of tea!

But the best bag your money can buy, has to be, in my opinion, the Fast Track 40 Roller from MEC.

This bag is very well made, is light but strong and has the ability to withstand any hard knocks or grazes it will most definitely get during it’s lifetime!

The 40 stands for it’s capacity, which is 40 litres.

It also has a mean set of wheels…ok, not alloy mags like on your car but good, strong ones that roll really well with the minimum of fuss.

Price is a reasonable $99.

As always, I speak from experience…..I’ve had one of these myself and it has been to India, Europe, Africa and back to Canada I don’t know how many times, and it still goes on rolling and working as it should!

 

Unpredictability of wild animals in the wilderness

Of course we all love to walk and hike in the wilderness.

And quite rightly so; it’s easily one of the most popular pastimes around and harms nobody. It is very good for our health and well-being and also makes us aware of the priceless world we live in, and how we should learn to protect and preserve it as far as possible.

But there are dangers out there, and without making this sound over-dramatic, if we are not prepared, those dangers could, and have, taken lives away.

From uncharted waterways, to hidden cliffs and mountainsides, to wild animals.

Today, I want to talk about the dangers that exist with wild animals. So many lives are lost every year because of attacks from animals in the wilderness, that it shows just how important it is to be ready and prepared just in case.

Let’s use the case of Timothy Treadwell, who had been living with bears for 13 whole summers in Alaska, as an example. His experience of bears was second to none, although he was viewed with incredulity by wildlife experts because of his rather strange ways of behaving in front of the bears.

Timothy was a very enthusiastic and dedicated young man who fell in love with the wilds of Alaska and it’s bears during a trip. The following year, he decided to make another trip there, and it was during this 2nd trip that he worked out that he could obtain an income from this work, by filming and taking photographs of bears going about their lives.

Some people say he was overly friendly with the animals and that was what led to the attack that killed him and his girlfriend in the end. Some say that it was the trust he placed in bears, that was misplaced. Wild animals are wild animals, and only a fool will trust them with his or her life.

With Timothy and his girlfriend, it may have been a mixture of both; too much misplaced trust and confidence, plus the time of year.

It’s well known that just before the start of winter, bears get frustrated and anxious due to the dwindling food supplies, and in order to store enough energy in their bodies before hibernation, they must eat as much as they can.

Perhaps it’s likely that the bear which killed Timothy and his girlfriend had been stalking the pair near their camp, drawn by the smells of food and humans. And of course, Timothy mistakenly thinking that no bear would attack him of all people, probably paid no notice.

Here I have to give one example of an encounter I had once in the wild, with a bear. I was camping together with some friends and had just decided to take a solitary walk away from our tents after lunch. After about half an hour, I was slightly tired and also wanted to take a pee, so I went into some small bushes to do the business.

Afterwards, I found a small rock and thought I’d take a little rest there. I had only been there about 10 or 15 minutes, when I heard a rustling noise just behind where I had urinated. It was then that I realised a sobering thought — I had left my rifle at the camp!

The only weapon of any use I had with me was a bowie knife, which is probably as useful as a toothpick when trying to kill a bear. Anyway, I tried to remain as calm  and still as possible, only shouting and hollering as loud as I could, given how shaken I was. I prayed that it would turn out to be a deer or racoon or something. Soon as the animal heard the shouts, it showed itself, and it was indeed a bear, a black one, confirming my worst fears.

I was probably facing downwind, as the bear was sniffing the air trying to sus out who or what was there, and in doing so, it raised itself on it’s hind legs to get a better view. In all my life, I have never, ever been as frightened as I was on that day. I kept thinking of my friends and family, finding my half eaten remains. This went on for what I thought was a long time, but in my distressed state, it was probably only a few seconds. Slowly, I realised I could either just sit here and act like a 3 course meal on a table for the bear, or I could do something about it. But what?

Don’t ask me how, but at that time, something came over me just then, like an overwhelming rage, and thoughts of how dare this animal try and frighten me coursing through my head! So I stood up, saw some sizeable chunks of rock at my feet, picked them up and threw them with al my strength at the bear. With hindsight, the bear could have easily attacked there and then, and I would have been a dead man within seconds, for he was only 20 or so feet away. But for some odd reason, the bear looked surprised, as the rocks hit him several times on the chest and head.

Seeing this, he dropped on all fours, which I thought signalled an impending attack. But no, to my surprise, the bear sniffed the air a couple times more, turned around and walked away!

I had done it! I had saved myself! Not being very religious, I thanked god and his minions at having helped me in my hour of need. I was filled with adrenaline and stood my ground there for at least another 10  minutes, before coming to my senses and walking slowly back to our camp.

The others thought I had just come back from a walk and laughed and joked at me, until they saw my face close up; I must have been as white as a sheet! I slowly told them what happened and the everyone went deadly quiet!

So, cut a long one short, wild animals; you should never, ever trust them. They can turn at any time, even if you have worked with them for years and know them personally by face. The story of Timothy Treadwell should ring in your ears every time you go out on a hike.

I have a big Alsation at home. He’s my best friend, but I still treat him with respect. He is an animal, a big and very strong animal, and animals can and will turn anytime. Like the guy I saw on TV once who had worked with a particular bear since it was young. One day, he was just playing around with the bear, just like he normally did. The bear was up on his hind legs with his front legs on the zoo keeper’s shoulders. Without any warning, the bear clamped it’s mouth around the keeper’s neck. At first, the other keepers thought there was nothing wrong, as they played like that many times. But this time, the keeper started screaming, the bear did not let go, until another keeper entered the cage and hit it with a metal bar several times on the head. By that time, the first keeper was dead, his main artery having been severed by the animal’s teeth. There is a message here for all of us.

The other thing is being prepared when you are in the wilderness; always, always have a good weapon with you, and by that I mean a powerful rifle. Not a piddly little .45 pistol or suchlike; people have been found dead with pistols in their hands having fired half their shots! The only thing that will stop a large predator is a shotgun, so make a habit fo carrying one with you, even if you are going for a pee.

And the aim is not to get involved at close quarters with an enraged animal; in that scenario, you cannot win, period. If you think there is going to be an attack, do not hesitate to shoot, as once the animal is on you, you are 99.9% guaranteed dead.

That day I was lucky; what I did was foolish to the extreme. I definitely was lucky, you may not be, so please heed what I have written, or if this is not enough, you’re welcome to surf the web and you’ll see how many attacks are often fatal and the danger is real.