Hiking navigation

If you are going out into the great outdoors, it is a good idea to have a sense of direction. Having a little basic information about land navigation will keep you safe and others from having to find you. There are many tools that can be used and in-depth courses on land navigation but having an understanding of basic skills is important in case those tools fail. Hand held GPS devices and the compass on your phone are great high-tech tools but if they fail, you can use other low-tech tools like compasses and maps. The easiest thing to do is hike on marked trails and follow them exactly, but if you are adventurous, these skills will help.

Global Positioning System (GPS) have advantages and disadvantages. It is extremely easy to navigate with GPS as it tells you where you are and where you are going with almost pinpoint accuracy. They updated regularly so there if there is a change in the area the GPS will be accurate. GPS is used worldwide so no matter where you hike you can effectively use them. The first disadvantage is they use batteries so if the battery runs out and you do not have a source to charge it you are out of luck. They can be inaccurate with certain structures blocking them like trees. In the odd event that a satellite is compromised or an atmospheric event like a geomagnetic storm happens the GPS will not work.

The trusty compass on your phone is another source of navigation that could be used however; you have to know how to use a compass. The same issues with the GPS could cause issues with your phone such as battery life and satellites. The benefit to the phone is you already have one and should have it with you for an emergency. You also want to track all your amazing steps and distance; this makes the compass on your phone the most readily available tool.

Photo of compass on I-phone

Map and hand-held old fashion compass is the most reliable if you know how to use them. These tools are also the most fail proof, as they do not need satellites or batteries to use them. Learning to use the map and compass is the hard part of utilizing them but with a little practice, you can successfully navigate your hike. The main thing to understand about maps are terrain features. If you can see two mountains in front of you with a river at the base and you can find that on the map you an orient your location to the map. Understanding azimuths is the most important aspect of reading a compass. Knowing that you hiked out at an east south east direction or 120 degrees and that to get back you have to hike back at a west north west direction at 300 degrees is important information. These are just a couple of main points of handling low-tech reliable tools to navigate your hike.

Be adventurous and explore some new areas but be prepared with one or more of these tools.


Hiking and bug safety

There are literally hundreds of bugs in Nevada and the only way to avoid all of them is to stay inside your fumigated house. Since you like to be outside if you are reading this; there are a few bugs I will discuss and what to do to avoid them, protect yourself or take care of yourself if you contact them. The first bug to worry about is the tick; wood tick, dog tick whatever it is a nasty little critter that digs into your skin and sucks your blood. Next is the flying insects like mosquitoes, bees, wasps or hornets any little flying bug that stings you. Spiders like black widows, brown recluse or tarantulas to name a few can also ruin your hike. Red ants can also be very annoying if you happen to sit on their ant pile. The main thing to think about on your hike is you want to avoid these bugs so your hike is enjoyable.

Protection against these bugs is the main thing to do to keep your hike enjoyable. One thing to do is where the proper clothing, including long pants, socks, long sleeve shirts and hats. I learned while doing research that wearing light colored clothing is a good idea so you can see ticks or other bugs on the clothing. Wearing bug spray on that clothing containing DEET repellent to help fend off ticks and mosquitoes. Avoiding tall grass and shaded wooded areas are a good way to avoid the ticks and mosquitoes. Watch where you put your hands and just pay attention to your area to avoid the hornets wasps and bees. Look before you sit down or walk to avoid those ant colonies to avoid the red ants. With a little preparation and common sense, you can protect yourself against many bug encounters.

There are things to do and not do if you have an encounter with one of these annoying bugs. Let us start with ticks; use rubbing alcohol around the area where the tick has inserted and then gently remove the tick with tweezers. Do your best to remove all of the tick and not leave any part in your skin and then thoroughly clan the area of removal. If you are worried about Lyme disease, you can put the tick in a small container or between a sticky substance like tape to preserve for testing at your local health department. If you get stung by a mosquito it is mostly annoying but do not itch the area and pay attention for signs of the west Nile virus other than that some calamine lotion will help with the itchiness. Bee, hornet or wasp stings should be treated with soap, water, and ice to control swelling. Same thing with ant bites just make sure to clean the area well and then ice if necessary.

Other things to consider with any of these bugs is allergic reactions and your furry friend. If you or anyone hiking with you has allergies to bee stings make sure to get them medical attention quickly. If you or anyone you are hiking with are bit by a spider rapid medical attention might be necessary as well. If you are hiking with your four-legged friend pay attention to ticks as they are much more susceptible to gathering up those little critters. Long-term effects of Lyme disease can be very debilitating so paying attention to any tick bites and getting them tested is important fortunately, there is a promising study on a vaccine against Lyme disease.

Enjoy your hike but lookout for bugs that could make the day miserable.

photo taken by the author on a hike in Montana

Hiking with human’s best friend

Going hiking with friends is always a good idea; sometimes that friend could be your dog. Having your four-legged friend along on a hike is a good safety measure when you cannot have a human friend with you. My earlier article about rattlesnakes discussed how rattlesnake avoidance training for your dog would help you avoid a rattlesnake. Another consideration having your dog along is if you have a medical emergency, a dog might instinctively look for help for you. Think of all the videos that you have seen where Fido runs to another human and brings them back to save their human. Years ago; my grandmother fell on the icy ground and her dog laid next to her and kept her warm which also alerted the mailman that the dog did not greet him, that most definitely saved my grandmother’s life. A dog might also keep wild animals other than snakes away from you on the trail. All of these examples are good safety reasons to take your dog with you on a hike.

Healthy exercise for your dog is another reason to bring them with you on the hike. A dog has much less impact on their body when they are able to control the pace that they are moving. I have heard from veterinarians that running with dogs is not necessarily good for dogs because the repetitive same pace motion is bad for their bodies. The other exercise I see people doing with dogs is riding a bike alongside their dog while the dog is on a leash. I can only imagine all the bad things that could go wrong with this situation. Dogs get their best exercise when they can control what they are doing such as hiking, swimming or playing fetch.

 One important thing to consider when hiking with your dog is keeping Earth clean. As I discussed in a previous article hauling out what you bring in is important to leaving no trace behind, this applies to your dog too. When your dog has a bowel movement either pick it up and take it out or bury it following the same rules discussed in the previous article. If you bring food for your dog do not leave any of those remnants behind either. Follow the same rules of keeping Earth clean with your dog as you do with yourself.

Be considerate of other hikers when you are out on the trail, this includes when you have your dog with you. Some trails will have rules that you have to keep your dog on a leash, if so follow the rules. If dogs are allowed off leash, then use common sense around other people; if your dog is not well-behaved keep them close and make them behave. Pay attention to other people with dogs just in case they do not follow the common sense above. Some people do not like dogs and may not appreciate you having your dog on your hike the best way to keep the peace is to be considerate to others and then they will not have any valid complaints.

Take your dog on a hike it is good for both of you and remember to be considerate to Earth and others.


Hiking and rattlesnakes


The weather is warming up which is great for hiking but it means that rattlesnakes can be out too. Rattlesnakes need temperatures to be above 65 degrees Fahrenheit to come out of their brumation or hibernation dens. The most common time for rattlesnakes to be out is mid-morning to early afternoon when the sun is the warmest. They can be anywhere on the trail, just off the trail or on rocks wherever they get some sun. The nicest time during the day to be out hiking is also the most likely time to run across a rattlesnake.

Rattlesnakes live in many different habitats throughout the United States. They can live in rocky cliff areas or sandy deserts. They are also found in wooded areas and the grasslands. They can survive at any elevation between sea level and 11000 feet. Basically rattlesnakes live any many different areas including all over Nevada. If you are hiking in Nevada there is a good chance you are hiking in a rattlesnake’s neighborhood.

Avoiding rattlesnakes is the best thing to stay safe when hiking. For the most part snakes do not want to encounter humans they will do their best to avoid you. The best thing to do is leave them alone, if you encounter a snake back off and they will leave. Stay on trails and avoid tall grass or other areas off the trail. Look for snakes before you pick anything up like rocks or wood and before you reach up onto a rock face. Whenever possible hike with someone else in case there is an emergency with a snake. Finally, where good boots above the ankle and long pants to lessen the chance of the snake getting to your skin. These are a few things that you can do while hiking to avoid snakes in their environment.

If you are hiking with your dog it is important to get them snake trained to save them but will also help you avoid snakes. Trainers teach dogs to avoid snakes all together by positive reinforcement to stay away from snakes. These trainers are able to teach dogs to avoid snakes through smell, sight, movement and sound. If you are dog is trained and he should be, there is a great chance you will not encounter a snake because your partner will let you know before you even get to the snake. Having your canine companion trained will pay benefits for both of you when in the rattlesnake’s backyard.

Unfortunately, if a rattlesnake bites your dog it will probably be deadly and at least very expensive. If a rattlesnake bites you or someone in your party get to the hospital immediately. Do not try to suck the venom out, put ice or a tourniquet near the bite. Do not run and keep the bite area below the heart. Get medical attention immediately and if possible get a picture of the snake to show to the medical staff. This is why it is so important to hike with someone especially if you are in snake country.

Enjoy the weather as it warms up but watch out for those slippery-shouldered fellas.

Hiking situational awareness

Situational awareness is important wherever you go and for whatever you are doing; hiking trails are not any different. My article yesterday discussed checking the weather before you go out for your hike, having situational awareness about the weather is just one of those steps. There are other things to consider when developing your situational awareness. Things that you will want to consider include difficulty of the hike, safety issues, and any crime in the area. Situational awareness is not only preparation it has to be maintained while on the hike.

The first thing to consider when planning your hike is determining the difficulty of the hike. Is the hike within your physical and psychological abilities at this time? There are sites available that rate different hikes, but you could also ask other hikers if there is not a rating. If it is not an established trail but you just want to hike it take some time to assess the difficulty before you set out. Difficulty of the hike is important to consider as it could make a difference in having an enjoyable experience or being miserable.

The next thing to take into consideration for your hike is the safety issues that are present on a hike. Are there any areas where you could fall or slip? Are there know animal attacks in the area? Is it fire season and a storm is moving in? Is there a possibility of snow or lightening? All of these things should be taken into consideration as possible safety issues to plan for ahead of your hike.

 Unfortunately, crime is on the rise everywhere including hiking trails. There are more homeless camps all over Northern Nevada as well as other areas in the U.S. including near trails and other outdoor areas. Not all homeless camps bring an element of crime but some do and if you are not prepared for what you may encounter it can be a problem. There is other criminal activity to be concerned about when heading out for a hike especially if you are alone. Most hikes probably will not involve any confrontation with crime but with the increase of crime in your area, there is a chance that will be spill over into your hiking area.

Situational awareness is not only a preparatory action; you must constantly assess your surroundings pre-hike and during. Pay attention to what is going on around you; is the weather changing? did a fire start? is there some people present that don’t make you feel comfortable? Are there changes on the trail that you did not notice before or were not aware of? The best way to remain attentive to your surroundings is to have all of your senses; yes that means leave your earbuds at home. Come on you should be enjoying the outdoors anyways. Continually assess the area around you while you are on your hike to keep your situational awareness keen. Pay attention when you are out on your hike so you can keep it enjoyable. Feel free to ask a question or leave a comment about staying aware.

photo from https://www.prairielivelihood.com/ioss

Hiking and weather

I am pretty much a fair weather hiker myself; however, some people might like to hike in several types of weather. If you are a die-hard all-weather type hiker, proceed with caution when it comes to weather. There are many different types of weather to look out for or prepare for when going for a hike. Any of the mentioned weather events in this article could at least turn a great hike into a bad day. Therefore, if you love hiking so much that the weather does not slow you down, at least pay attention to the forecast so you know what to expect.

Since we are coming out of the winter season let us start with types of winter weather that could affect your hike. The main four things in the winter to be concerned about are cold, rain, snow and wind. If you are hiking in the winter there is a good chance it is going to be cold; however, how cold and how quickly that cold sets in will be important information to know. Snow is also a possibility in the winter some places more than others but here in northern Nevada there is a good chance of snow especially in the higher elevations. Rain is also a common weather event in the winter in some places mainly a summer event in other areas. Wind is common at all times of the year here in Nevada but in the winter it plays a role in making weather impacts more extreme.

Summer weather has some of the same conditions such as rain and wind but also the added twists of heat and lightening. Extreme heat can be a normal event here and may not have an impact on your decision to hike if your hike is early in the day or early evening. Lightening can happen with any storm especially in the summer and sometimes there is not a lot of warning. The wind and rain have some of the similar impacts to your hike in the summer that they do in the winter, making your hike less enjoyable.

All of these weather conditions could have a significant impact on your hike. Extreme cold could cause issues such as hypothermia or frostbite. Heat could cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, sunburn, or dehydration just to name a few. Wind has a variety of impacts from being annoying to blowing debris to worst-case scenario of spreading a fire too fast for you to react. The main things with rain and snow are clothes getting wet and slippery trails but could cause avalanches, mudslides or flashfloods as well. Lightening can kill you but it also more commonly starts wildfires that would put a damper on any hike. The main thing to take away is all of these weather events are possible and might make your hike miserable if you are not prepared.

A few things you can do to prepare for the weather: know the area you are going, check the weather, and wear proper attire. There are several good weather sites or apps for your smart device to help check the weather ahead of time and while on the hike. The Weather Channel and AccuWeather are two sites that I use when preparing for outdoor activity. Those two and many others also have apps for your smart device and can be set up to provide alerts, which could be helpful while hiking. It is exciting to go hike in an area that you have not previously explored, but it is important to understand how the weather may escalate danger in the area. In a previous post I discussed the importance of proper clothing for the hike this is extremely important in regards to mitigating any weather impacts.

Be safe out there, enjoy the hike, and watch the weather.

Photo taken by the author on top of Mount Rose

Hiking footwear importance

Have you ever heard the statement? Buy a good mattress and good shoes because you spend a good majority of your life in one or the other. Buying good quality shoes for hiking is a good idea for many reasons. This is not a post reviewing the top hiking shoes; there are many articles that cover that, this is just some things to think about when picking a shoe. The main thing to think about when purchasing a hiking shoe is what kind of hiking you are going to do and pick the shoe that accommodates that.

The first thing to establish when picking a hiking shoe or boot is; what type of hiking are you going to do. This may be a challenge for some people if they like to do different types of hiking. If this is the case for you there are a couple of strategies, either buy an all-around shoe or buy different shoes for your activities. Keep in mind if you are hiking in the neighborhood a simple comfortable durable athletic shoe might be all you need. If you plan on hiking some more aggressive trails that have uneven surfaces a good ankle support hiking boot is more suitable. Unless you are hiking up ice or snow cliffs, you probably do not need aggressive tread bearing hiking boots. I personally use running shoes for my moderate hikes around town on established trails and if I plan on hiking into the hills or up Mt. Rose, I have a good pair of Keen hiking boots.

The main components of your hiking shoe are insole, upper and tread or outer sole. All of these components are important to your choice of shoe. The insole is important because this is where your foot gets comfort or not depending upon how good it is. The upper should protect your foot from punctures, scrapes, moisture etcetera. Lastly, the outer sole is the base of the shoe and as discussed above has different types of tread for necessary grip coinciding with the trail type. These components are important to consider when picking your shoe or boot and is personal preference.

Having quality hiking shoes is necessary to protect against common hiking injuries. Blisters are the most common hiking injury and can be minimized or avoided by having proper insoles combined with good socks. Ankle sprains are the next most common injury; these are minimized by using the proper support in the upper. Another common injury is plantar fasciitis, once again proper insoles and stretching protect against this annoying injury. These are just a few of the injuries that could arise during hiking, that are avoidable with proper hiking shoes.

Pick your favorite hiking boot or shoe based on what you like. Two of my favorite brands are Keen @KEEN and Lowa @LowaBoots they are both high quality mid-priced boots.

Photo taken by the author Shaun Cruze of his Keen boots

Hiking clothes to stay healthy

This time of year is great for hiking, but can also be difficult to determine what to wear which could be dangerous. Hypothermia kills approximately 1500 people per year and while most of these deaths are not related to hiking there still is a threat to health if you are careless with attire. There are some simple steps to take when planning the clothes to wear to keep dry and warm. The way the weather changes here in Northern Nevada and other areas as well this time of year you have to be prepared.

Hypothermia is a condition when your body temperature drops and cannot be warmed back up. The symptoms of hypothermia are shivering, confusion, slowed speech, slowed breathing and clumsiness. There are several risk factors that increase the chance of hypothermia, three that could be common in hikers are age, dehydration, and where you live. Being aware of these factors can help limit the possibility of falling victim to this condition. Knowing that it gets cold in the morning or evening where you live means that you have to be cautious when hiking during those times. Make sure you hydrate at all times while hiking. Lastly, pay attention to your body especially if you are older and look for early signs of hypothermia. The most important thing to remember is hypothermia progresses quickly to stages that you may not recognize so acting quickly before or immediately when shivering is paramount.

Dressing in layers is the best defense against hypothermia and protecting your overall health. Advancements in clothing have made it relatively simple to get dressed for the hike. Being in the military, I have noticed the change in clothes from bulky field jackets in the past to layered systems used today. The outer jackets are nothing more than a flimsy shell but when paired with the under layers they provide a protective system. The first layer close to the body should be moisture wicking and light material that helps keep the body warm. The next layer is where the warmth comes in; this layer regulates the amount of warmth necessary for the situation. The outer layer is used to protect against the elements; rain, snow or wind. Understanding the type of day forecasted for your hike is important to determine how much layering is necessary but layering is the key. You can always remove layers but once you are wet or cold it is much harder to recover.

Protect yourself from the elements, get out, and enjoy a hike!

Photo from coolantartica.com

Strategies to keep Earth healthy when hiking

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of keeping our earth healthy when hiking. Today let us discuss some easy strategies to accomplish this. Depending upon how long your hike is you can implement the necessary things to keep things clean and or leave no trace. Obviously, on a short hike the only thing you might bring is water if that is all you bring use your favorite reusable water bottle to lessen the impact on overall waste. If you are planning on a longer hike with snacks, make sure you haul out all those annoying wrappers. Lastly, if you are going on hike where there are not any restroom facilities you should plan for disposal.

The short hikes with only water and snacks should be easy to figure out, if you pack it in pack out simple. If you need to go to the bathroom on those longer hikes and there are not any facilities, some methods and products will help. Interestingly, I read an article that said urine does not have a negative impact on the environment. It is advisable to urinate on pine needles or gravel to lessen the chance of attracting animals. Also probably not a good idea to urinate on the trail where others might see you or step in it. Easy so far if you only have water or snacks pack out your trash, if you urinate pay attention to where you urinate.

Solid waste is a little more complicated and for good reason more caution needs to be taken when properly disposing of it. There are products on the market for this such as WAG bags (waste alleviation and gelling) which are packed in and out. These bags are easy to use and the gelling material breaks down the solid waste so even when you pack it out it does not end up causing problems in your local landfill. Another method is called cat holes; these need to at least 200 feet from any water source, 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. These holes should be well off any established trail and in organic soil to work best. All other waste associated with solid waste such as toilet paper and feminine hygiene products need to be packed out with any other garbage.

Photo from Amazon.com

What is the best way to pack the waste out? There are backpacks that have liners to haul the waste out but the best is a quality garbage bag that can be used and carried in the backpack, one that is recommended is a trash compactor bag. Other strategies include being a minimalist in everything you pack including your food. There are all sorts of products available geared towards hikers and outdoors adventurists but keep in mind the packaging on those materials, just because they are easy for the hike they still might fill up the landfill when you get home.

Get out and experience the beauty on a hike but keep it that way by your actions.

Hiking and keeping Earth healthy

You do not have to hike to want to keep your world clean and healthy; but if you hike, I beg you to do your part to keep our world healthy. Why does it matter if you keep our world clean and healthy when hiking? There are a couple of reasons why I think it is important; one we should all live by the rule of leave no trace and the other reason is that if we do not take care of the trails we could lose access. The main thing to consider when hiking is to take care of your hiking trail so you and your world can stay healthy.

I read an article earlier this week that talked about a trail that is trashed near Phoenix Arizona. While I have not seen anywhere near, the level of disregard to our trails in northern Nevada I worry about what could happen with overpopulation and similar attitudes to our beautiful scenery here. There could be a correlation to amount of people using an area and level of destruction to natural habitat, however if everyone would follow the same rules of leave no trace our hiking trails can remain relatively pristine for decades to come. Everyone that hikes should take into consideration the joy of unscathed hikes when they set out on their hike.

Growing up in the military, I have had many opportunities to train in many different areas. One of my senior enlisted leaders always use to say “Ladies and gentlemen we will leave this training area better than we found it” so while that meant lots of extra brass collecting and sweeping, it made an everlasting impression on me. I am not asking you to bring a rake or a broom with you to smooth your path after you hike, all I am asking is to clean up after yourself. If you bring something with you on your hike bring it out with you unless it is your bad attitude, you can leave your bad attitude on the hike. We as hikers can do so much to make our world around us better there is no reason to make it worse.

Photo by: U.S. Army Tue, 03/12/2019 – 13:37

Go out and hike the beautiful areas around you but clean up after yourself! Keep our world and yourself healthy.