DIY Anywhere Fire-Starters

If you’re like me you’ve probably struggled to get a fire started on the trail due to adverse weather conditions, a lack of nearby kindling or any number of potential reasons. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat next to a pile of damp kindling searching my pack for scraps of paper and burning my thumb with a hot lighter (or wasting cooking fuel trying to use my JetBoil to get the fire started) just to end up going to bed cold and disappointed. It can be frustrating and outright demoralizing, especially when the weather is chilly at the end of a long day hiking or when you have friends that are counting on you to get the fire going for some much needed campfire socialization.

Today I’m going to share a super simple, easy to make and lightweight fire starter that you can take with you anywhere and that will consistently perform even in damp, windy or snowy conditions. So without taking up anymore wordspace – I’ll get to the how-to portion of the post.

All you need is a small pot, a jar of standard petroleum jelly and a small bag of cotton balls.

1. You’ll start by emptying the cotton balls into a container that you won’t mind dedicating to petroleum jelly saturation, or something that you can throw away. For this instance I chose a leftover tinfoil pan. Once they’re in the desired container, set it off to the side, in a sink or some other easy to clean area in case there is spillage.

2. The second step will be emptying the jar of petroleum jelly into the pot before it goes on the stove. You’ll need a silicone spatula or something flexible that can get most of the jelly out of the jar and into the pan on the stove. Because of its unique viscosity this can be tricky and messy. Once you get the jelly in and on and on the stove, set the burner to medium and watch as the jelly dissolves into its liquid form.

3. Once the petroleum jelly is completely dissolved. Remove it from the burner and slowly pour it over the cotton balls, try to fully saturate as many as you can as they will burn longer than partially saturated cotton balls. Once you’ve completed this step, let the petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls sit and cool for about an hour.

4. Once they have cooled you can store them all together or separate the fully saturated cotton balls from the partially saturated ones. The fully saturated cotton balls will burn in almost all weather conditions and will stay lit for anywhere from 5-10 minutes. You can extend this time by wrapping the cotton ball in tin foil and pulling a small bit of cotton out like a wick to make a lightweight trail candle. This will extend burn time up to 20-30 minutes generally but will be affected by. wind resistance. While the partially saturated cotton balls won’t burn as long or as well as the fully saturated ones, they work well as an anti-chafing aid, trail chapstick and as a barrier against windburn on your face. So don’t throw them away.

The picture below is after 2 minutes of burn time.

This is after approximately 7 minutes of burn time.

Thanks for checking out this post. If you found this information helpful please leave us a like and comment to let us know how the DIY goes for you.

Niagara Falls and work travel

2018 was a great year for a lot of reasons. I’m progressing in my career and I’ve never been in a better place in my life, I finally found myself in a job that I love waking up and going to every day that also happens to include the opportunity to travel for work periodically. This January marks 3 years since I got out of the cloud of VA prescribed medication that almost destroyed my life. My relationship with my wife and my family is better than ever and I have a genuine love of life that has been growing stronger and stronger since I started using the outdoors, and specifically hiking and backpacking as a way to safely ween myself off of the pharmaceutical industry’s teat.

With all that being said, 2018 was not a great year for me in regards to trail miles. I had a job transition in April that took our family from South Texas to Nashville, and even living in Tennessee (a backpackers mecca), I barely managed to fit in a handful of trips over the second part of the year while trying to balance my new responsibilities with the work travel opportunities that were presented to me. I frequently bat back and forth between the drive to be hyper ambitious, fueled by some recent success, and the desire to give everything up and make travel and backpacking my full time focus. Obviously it isn’t practical to leave a career that pays well and is genuinely fun and challenging. But it’s difficult to shake the urge to just take off and leave all the stress of modern life behind. No more deadlines, projects, office hours or typical responsibility to worry about. The idea of spending the days and weeks focusing on the beauty and simplicity of what’s immediately around you is a siren call to some of us. Living in middle Tennessee the drive to Springer Mountain, Georgia and the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is quick enough to be an extended day trip.

But for now I’m staying practical and taking advantage of the travel opportunities that my career presents. Most recently I had the incredible, and incredibly poor timed opportunity to visit Buffalo, New York in January. We lucked out for the most part and got to stay for a week that was relatively warm for the northeast and we avoided any major snow storms (by a matter of hours on the return flight). This trip felt like the perfect cap to a 2018, when we’d taken a few trips around eastern and middle Tennessee chasing the many waterfalls that snake through the local topography. It was a frigid day in the middle teens when we made our way to the American side of the falls, at dusk so that we could see them in the daylight and at night. We got some cool pictures and an amazing video of the falls, but Niagara is a wonder that is only done justice in person.

Easy and Valuable Hammock Modifications

I really can’t praise Clark Hammocks enough for the NX-270. This Cadillac of the hammock camping world has kept me dry and comfortable in torrential downpours on the Lone Star Hiking Trail near Houston Texas, kept me warm on some of my favorite Indiana trails during the spring and fall and more recently gave me a much needed reprieve from the bugs on the Knobstone Trail in southern Indiana. It’s roomy with plenty of storage space for gear, and very comfortable to sleep in even for bigger gentlemen like myself. But if you’ve ever spent an entire day walking through the wilderness you know the last thing you want to do when you stop for the day is spend 45 minutes setting up camp. This was one of the many reasons I switched to hammock camping in the first place. But some of the adjustments I’ve made to my hammock setup in the last year might help you save some precious time when you stop for the day to make camp after a long day on the trail.

(Below is my setup BEFORE modification. You can see the closest rope hanging close to the tree. Total setup time here was approximately 35 minutes due to the conditions.)

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While my Clark NX-270 was pretty incredible right out of the box, I found that it was sometimes taking me upwards of 30 minutes to make camp at the end of the day because of issues with the nylon ropes tangling or my knots coming loose. Additionally, almost everywhere that I went hiking down south required tree straps to be used for anyone that was out hammock camping. So after dealing with tying and untying wet nylon rope in the rain on the Lone Star Trail I decided that I needed to make a change.

I started by getting a nice set of “atlas straps” and researching lightweight / high quality carabiners. Once I had done my research I purchased the gear and “cut the cord” with my Clark’s nylon ropes. By using atlas tree straps that give you a lot of leeway when choosing hammocking trees and sturdy lightweight climbing carabiners with screw locks I was able to cut my camp setup time down from around 30 minutes to about 5 minutes. Meaning that I can stay on the trail longer if I need to without having to plan for such a big window to setup camp before dark. It’s now as easy as looping the straps around a tree and clipping in my hammock. This also lets me make quick adjustments if I need to, without untying, adjusting and retying any rope. The carabiners also serve as drip rings to prevent rain from wetting the hammock during heavy rain storms. So far these modifications have made a world of difference for me, and I hope the idea can help you.

(Below is my setup after modification, very hard to tell at first look. But setup time is reduced significantly without impacting functionality)

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For me, that extra time at the end of the day means getting to eat dinner in the remaining sunlight and, getting a nice fire going if the trail allows it. I’ve provided links below to the basic gear I’ve used for my setup.

Clark NX-270 ($389) – https://junglehammock.com/product/nx-270-tent-hammock-4-season-backpacking/

Domum 25KN Super Lightweight Carabiner Clip ($8.99 each) – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LVY1L1I/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

HangTight Hammock Straps ($16.95) – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00YFH8498/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

What is a Thru-Hike?

What is a thru-hike?

This is a question that a lot of new hikers find themselves asking or googling after hearing the term in conversation. But there isn’t always a straight answer, especially depending on what company you’re with at the time. Oftentimes people will refer to themselves as bona-fide thru hikers after completing one of America’s “Big Three” long trails, in one setting. Of course I’m referring to the iconic Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles), the scenic Pacific Crest Trail (2,659 miles) and the mystifying Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles). If you ask someone who has hiked one of these trails what it takes to become a thru hiker, they will likely tell you that you have to hike the mileage of the trail that they hiked to earn the title, and rightly so.

But there are others in the sport that argue that completing any “long trail” in the United States will earn you the title. The truth is that it really depends on how you feel about it. Hike your own hike, if you complete a 100 mile trail in one setting and you want to call yourself a thru hiker, call yourself a thru hiker. As long as you feel comfortable with your accomplishments, that’s what the sport is all about. Getting to be one with nature, learning survival skills and bonding with new and old friends. You might not be a thru hiker to someone who has hikes one of the big three, but others who have hiked the trail you hiked might agree that you should call yourself a thru hiker. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you feel you are. If you feel like a section hiker, be a section hiker. If you feel like a thru hiker, be a thru hiker. Don’t base how you label yourself or your adventures on anyone’s views but your own. When it all comes to a close, you are the only person that lived your life and the only one who will remember how your adventures felt to you.

So whether you’re a day hiker, a section hiker, or a thru hiker. Enjoy the adventure and don’t stress over titles. Once you’ve gotten your trail name, you can revel in the fact that you’ve made it into a very prestigious group of people who care more for experiences than outward appearances and that is a very good place to be indeed.  Whatever you do, remember to hike your own hike (HYOH).

Happy Trails,

Aaron

*HYOH is a term also used to tell a fellow hiker that is offering unwanted advice to mind their own damn business*

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Need an excuse to get outside?

We don’t own this, but it is great enough to share. Spring is almost here, my hiker trash buddies longing for sunlight filtering through green canopies! Have a laugh, then go prep your gear.

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Hike Safety: How to Protect Yourself from Two-Legged Predators.

There is a lot to love about hiking, and the outdoor community. From the solitude of the forest to the unique and breathtaking mountaintop views that only the dedicated and slightly crazy (most of us) enthusiasts get to see. The hiking community is one of brother and sisterhood and we often greet each other as long lost friends even if we’ve never met before. But this sometimes lulls us into a false sense of security and an assumption that everyone we meet on the trail is a harmless thrill seeker like ourselves. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Sometimes people enter the forest trail with sinister intentions, and while we hate to admit that those people walk amongst us, it’s an unfortunate reality that we must face.

I didn’t want to write this post for a multitude of reasons, but the topic has been constantly on my mind since the news of the murder of two young girls on a trail in my home state this past month made it to my ears. Without going into detail out of respect for the young women and their families all I will say is that the murderer is still out there. Now I often find myself thinking of ways to spot these types of people before they reveal their intentions and think of what I would have done in the same situation. But truth be told, I’m a large intimidating figure on the trail, not a young teenage girl. This alone makes me less likely to become the victim of this type of crime. But not everyone on the trail is a 6 foot 270 pound man, so what can we do to make sure that we stay safe while we enjoy our favorite outdoor recreation?

Here are a few basic precautions that you should always take when you go hiking.

  1. Be familiar with the area that you’re hiking in. Unless you’re an experienced outdoorsman or outdoorswoman, always head into unfamiliar areas with a group. Either take friends or join an established group of hikers from a site like meetup.com, but always check the group reputation before heading to any remote locations. Look for active groups with a lot of people that frequent the outings. Make sure to visit places in groups several times before planning any extended solo adventures. Knowing the lay of the land and where you can hide without being found by others is an essential survival skill. Running, hiding and being able to camouflage  is your first line of defense if things go amiss. Never underestimate the power of camo, I’ve been standing on a creek bed filtering water 5 feet off the trail in camo and had people walk right by me and not notice that I’m there until I move.This can be invaluable when someone is looking for you and you don’t want to be found. Finally, don’t plan solo trips until you know the area well and are comfortable in the terrain.
  2. Tell a friend or family member exactly where you’re going. Even more specifically, tell a friend or family member that is capable of meeting up with you or finding you in that area should you fail to check in. Leave a map of the area with a detailed plan for where you plan to be at what time and any intended stops along the way. Be sure to check in with this person at a set interval during your trip. This is especially important when you’re going on a multi-day solo trip. Even the most experienced hikers and outdoor enthusiasts do this, so add it to your plan before you go.
  3. Carry something for self-defense. Always be prepared for other people’s bad intentions, being in the middle of nowhere doesn’t always make you safe. Even on the most popular and heavily trafficked long trail in the Nation has seen 11 murders in the last 40 years. The truth remains that we’re far more likely to be harmed by 2 legged animals than any number of the 4 legged animals on the trail. Plan for this before you go out and make sure you take something with you. I always hike with at least a knife and mace spray, no matter what trip I’m planning or the duration of the trip. Mace is effective against most of your smaller predators, and will give you a leg up if you’re attacked by a person while hiking. You can also carry a firearm if you’re old enough and have been through a firearm safety course, or have at least been taught by a competent person and have any licenses required by your state to own and carry and conceal a firearm. A .380 is small and lightweight enough that you can conceal it in a pocket without noticing the additional weight too much even for smaller built individuals. If you’re underage or have an aversion to firearms, you can carry a small pellet gun for emergencies. Catching a pellet or metal BB to the face will stop most people or animals in their tracks. Also remember that if you are attacked, make as much noise as possible while the attack is going on. Most hiking packs have a built in emergency whistle on the chest strap that can alert other hikers in the area to the attack so that they can assist you.
  4. Hike with a dog. Nothing says “don’t mess with me” like man’s best friend. Hiking with your dog is therapeutic for master and pup, but also serves as a deterrent to people who may have bad intentions on the trail. Strangers are often weary of dogs that they don’t know and the threat of having a set of jaws clamped onto their body is enough to keep most people at bay. Besides being fiercely loyal and willing to give their lives to protect their owners. Dogs make a hell of a lot of racket when something upsets them. A barking dog along with the sound of a commotion and an emergency whistle will be enough draw help from miles around. The attacker having to deal with a dog will also give you extra time to ready your personal defenses.
  5. Improvise, fight and commit. If you can’t elude the person and you don’t have a firearm or more lethal weapon, trekking poles are a walking stick can be used as weapons. Aim for the groin, the middle of the chest, the neck and the face. If you have trekking poles, pop the rubber guards off and jab like it’s a spear. Continue to make as much noise as you can, and never allow the person to force you off the trail. If they are planning to harm you, make them stay in the open where someone can see the altercation and help. Oftentimes help is just out of sight, if you go off trail your chances of being seen go down dramatically. Once you’ve determined that you must fight, do not stop attacking until you can safely get away. As soon as that opportunity presents itself, make a run for it. If they follow, keep making as much noise as possible.

Above all else, remember that there is safety in numbers. Even if the attacker has a gun they can still be overpowered by a group. Most times a group of 3 or more will deter a would-be attacker, so when you’re planning a trip somewhere new, remember the more the merrier. Always be prepared for the worst and plan accordingly. Not everyone has the best intentions, but a little planning can keep you happy, safe and enjoying nature for your entire life. Above all, stay safe and enjoy all that the trails have to offer.

Please feel free to comment any additional advice below, this post is not all inclusive, merely some of the skills I’ve learned and personally use when I’m out. Don’t forget to share this advice with your friends in the outdoor community, it could save a life.

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8 Reasons That Not Hiking is Probably Killing You

Hiking is an all-around great workout. Walking is one of the most beneficial exercises that you can do for heart health according to the American Heart Association, when you add a weighted pack into the mix as well as negotiating (sometimes) strenuous paths in the forest the benefits only increase. But even knowing all that, we still find ways to put that next hiking trip on the back burner in favor of less strenuous activity. So here are 10 reasons that putting off that next hiking trip is probably killing you.

  1. Heart Disease. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in men and women over age 40, much of this owing to our increasingly bad diets and a tendency to get less and less physical exercise as we age. The more we sit and watch television, grab artery clogging fast food and generally avoid strenuous activity, the higher our risk of heart disease climbs. But, hiking is one of the best cardio workout around. Nothing gets your blood pumping like carrying extra weight on your back and negotiating fallen trees, mountain paths and burbling streams with views so beautiful, you’ll forget that you’re exercising. So not only will your eyes thank you for going on that trip you’ve been putting off, your heart will too.
  2. Blood Pressure/ Blood Sugar. High blood pressure and irregular blood sugar are becoming more and more common with younger and younger patients every year. We have an endless supply of starchy, sugary snacks at our fingertips and more and more series piling up on our “binge list” on Netflix. This combination of bad habits can lead to a few extra pounds piling on before you even realize it and aside from bad eating habits and lack of exercise (I hope you’re seeing a pattern here) excess body weight is the leading cause of high blood pressure and those bad habits going on for too long can wreak havoc on your pancreas, eventually leading to irregular blood sugar or even Type 2 Diabetes. But, one of the best ways to drive off high blood pressure and blood sugar problems is to start living a healthier lifestyle by eating better and getting more exercise. So instead of reaching for that soda and binge watching the next season of The Walking Dead, grab a bottle of water, some of your favorite trail snacks and head out for a short hike instead.
  3. Weak Bones. As we grow older our bodies naturally stop funneling calcium into our bones. A problem that is further compounded for women who have children, because a growing baby will leach the calcium out of their mothers bones if not enough is present in her diet. Inactivity also leads to decreased bone density, which in turn makes it easier to break bones in the event of a fall or other minor accident. But weight bearing exercise is a great way to increase bone density. When our muscles are forced to lift or bear more weight than what they are used to, our bones are forced to support greater weight loads, so our bodies increase our bone density to accommodate the increased load bearing needs. This is why Doctors tell people with bone density problems to begin lifting free weights. But instead of heading to the gym and lifting weights, backpackers carry that weight in their packs.
  4. Weak legs. Much like the stomach and arms, the legs tend to be one of the first areas that our body looks to store excess body fat. Extra leg and butt fat is less than flattering and are two of the areas that most people wish they could shape and change. Smaller leg muscles and excess body fat in this area also contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. However, increasing the size of your leg muscles by walking with a weighted pack will help you trim away the excess fat from your legs and butt, and is also good for your heart. Many of the largest muscle groups in your body are in your legs. Your hamstrings, glutes and quads move a lot of blood when they are active. This blood has to be moved by the heart, causing an increased heart rate and improving heart health. It also leads to strong, good looking legs, and who doesn’t want that?
  5. Weaker core muscles. Your core muscles, i.e. you abs, obliques, hip flexors and back muscles, affect every movement we make in our daily lives. If you’ve ever done an intense core workout, you likely became painfully aware of just how much you use your core in the days following. Not only does a strong core help balance and stability, it also leads decreases your chance of heart disease, diabetes and a long list of other maladies. The opposite is also true, a weak core burns less fat as fuel, makes hernia-type injuries more likely to occur, leads to unflattering belly fat and makes you more susceptible to a laundry list of chronic preventable disease. But, shouldering a weighted pack and navigating your favorite trail passively builds up these muscles groups by holding the weight securely in place while you maneuver with your legs. Carrying weight long distances will quickly build up your core muscles.
  6. Poor Coordination. We gain absolutely nothing from watching television or sitting around the house. We lose time, gain weight and miss out on cool opportunities to make unforgettable memories. Walking on flat, level ground all the time lulls us into a false sense of security and leads to weaker auxiliary muscles in our legs and core that help up maintain our balance when we’re negotiating difficult terrain or maneuvering over boulders, fallen trees or unstable rocks. But hiking forces us to move over difficult terrain, often up and down gradual to step slopes and across all sorts of rocks, boulders, tree roots, branches, water hazards and undergrowth. This forces our minds and bodies to think and act quickly and builds cognitive awareness that increases our balance.
  7. Excess body fat. Being sedentary in our daily lives leads to a quick increase in body fat. Any time we don’t burn what we eat, we put on weight in the form of excess body fat and while it is not detrimental to have a little extra body fat, obesity is one of the most deadly chronic diseases in America and thousands more a year are falling into its clutches due to more and more people living sedentary lifestyles. But it’s no secret that hiking burns calories, thru hikers on the AT often lose between 20-50 pounds on the trail, and many are in great shape when they start. With a loaded pack and on moderate to difficult terrain a hiker can burn well north of 3000 calories in a day. Even a one to two hour hike can burn between 800-2000 calories depending on your body weight, the weight in your pack, and the difficulty of the route you’re on.
  8. Psychological health. We’re biologically designed to live in nature. We’ve evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to find our homeostasis in an outdoor environment. So naturally, when we’re deprived of the environment that our bodies developed to live in, we begin to see negative effects on our psyche and mental health. Because our ancestors lived for so long in the wilderness environment, many of the aspects of being outdoors effect our well being. They became basic needs over a very long time, basic needs that are no longer met by our man made environments. Another basic need that is not met as often as it was in decades and centuries passed is our connection to the community. Human beings are social creatures, but outside of our immediate families, people rarely get outside human interaction anymore. Society teaches us that we should be staying in and consuming artificial entertainment by ourselves or with a few members of our immediate family instead of going out with friends to seek entertainment outside of the home. Hiking is a great past time that only gets better when you include friends. Sitting by a campfire, having a few adult beverages and laughing and talking with friends is a great way to satisfy our need for human interaction and to be out in nature. This is a great way to get your blood pumping and stave off depression. Additionally, getting out and hiking and camping on your own or with close friends is a great way to build confidence in your ability to provide for and take care of yourself in harsh or uncomfortably situations. This builds confidence in what we can do, and helps alleviate anxiety.

So with all of the benefits that hiking brings to the table, extending our life, making us stronger and staving off depression and anxiety. Why do we continue to put off those next hikes? Do we really have anything more important to do? Probably not, so the next time you think of putting off that next hiking trip, remember all of the benefits that you’re passing up.

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Five Reasons You Should Be Hammock Camping

Hammock camping has been quickly gaining popularity in recent years. Owing its increased success and visibility to updated designs, increased affordability and a few books like Lost on the Appalachian Trail by author and AT/PCT Thru Hiker Kyle Rohrig (highly recommended) who rave about their successes hammock camping on famous long trails. For a lot of people hammock camping is simply something that they have never been introduced to, let alone tried for themselves. But in my personal experience it’s something that you try a few times before realizing you’ll never go back to tents. So here are 5 reasons that you should be hammock camping.

  1. Leave no trace. If you’re the outdoor adventure type you’ve probably read and follow the “leave no trace” principals. Those of us that love the outdoors want to continue loving the outdoors and share than love with others for as long as possible. In a lot of cases people take “leave no trace” as simply packing out what you pack in and picking up trash here and there. But there is a lot more to it than that. Our forest ecosystems are fragile and every plant serves a multitude of functions and purposes that are invaluable to the ecosystem. When we set up tents, the first order of business is usually clearing away weeds, twigs and other undergrowth so that we have a relatively flat, even place to sleep. But on top of further altering the environment the clearing and smashed undergrowth is a spotlight to other hikers that someone slept there recently. Using a hammock, especially with the use of tree straps, completely eliminates this problem because the straps won’t harm the trees and the only thing that the hammock compresses is air. I especially enjoy this because it allows me to camp in areas that just wouldn’t work with a tent due to undergrowth or slope of the ground. It also allows you to remain better hidden from others in the forest or along the trail. Since we all crave that “alone with nature” feeling, staying hidden to other hikers outside of your group is a must. It also keeps you safer, since strangers can’t find you easily.
  2. Hammocks are light weight and don’t take up much room. Tents inevitably come with tent poles, and even the lightest tent poles still take up more room and weigh more than fabric. They’re also rigid and difficult to compact past a certain point. Hammocks on the other hand, are either mostly or all fabric. Even the higher end hammocks like the Clark Jungle Hammocks (pictured above) that come with small poles to eliminate the need for a ridge line are still easy to compact and store. When you’re planning an overnight backpacking trip anywhere space is critical, and the three biggest demands for space in your pack come from shelter, food and warmth (sleeping bag, clothing). These are also staple items that you always need to carry, so anytime you can cut weight or space taken up by these items you’re doing yourself a favor. If you intend to hike ultralight, meaning you base back weight is at or below 20 pounds, a hammock is probably for you. Even the heaviest 4 season hammocks weigh about 2 and a half to 3 and a half pounds and most are substantially lighter than this and if you’re not into cowboy camping or sleeping on the ground under an open tarp, then hammocks are your best friend.
  1. Setup time, especially with the use of tree straps, is a fraction of the time it takes to set up a tent. After the third or fourth time you set up your hammock, when you start to get comfortable with it. The process takes about 3-5 minutes. If you use carabiners and tree straps the time is cut down to less than 2 minutes. Once you’ve been out on a few trips, setting the ropes becomes second nature and it takes even less time. A tent on the other hand takes 5-7 minutes even when you’re practiced and sometimes upwards of 15 minutes when you’re new to wilderness camping. If you’ve ever hiked a 20 mile day in the winter, you know that fighting dusk to get camp set up and a fire going is never fun. You want to have a shelter system that you can set up quickly without cutting corners. The last thing you want to do in the middle of the night after a 15 or 20 mile day is have to get up and fix your tent in the cold darkness because you set it up too quickly and had it fall apart at 2am.
  1. Great sleep. Have you ever slept on a cloud? I have, and so has anyone else that has gone through a blissful night in a hammock. I tent camped for the first 25 years of my life, and I can’t tell you how many times I searched and searched for the perfect, flat, grassy area to set up my tent, just to crawl in at night and be right on top of a hidden root or jagged rock that I didn’t see when I set the tent up. Even if you manage to find that perfect rock and root free spot, you still have 8-10 hours of sleeping on thousands of feet of compacted rock and dirt. My lower back hurts just thinking about it. You never have that problem when you sleep in a hammock. No roots can touch you,  not rocks can prod you awake and no unpleasant pressure points to stiffen your joints and dampen your spirits. There is also the added benefit of not being on the ground when the rain comes, because it always does. A properly setup hammock and rain fly combo will keep you tucked away, dry and warm even in the most torrential downpours.
  1. No critters or bugs. One of the biggest turn offs to hammock camping in the past was the bug aspect, and the fear of waking up with a raccoon or possum sitting on your chest wanting to know where the food is at. Fortunately, I recent years the hammock camping professionals have wised up and added integrated bug nets as a standard feature on almost all dedicated camping hammocks. Even if you want to go the budget route you can buy a few yards of noseeum netting and attach it to an ENO hammock with a quick and dirty ridgeline for pennies on the dollar compared to what you pay for a dedicated overnight hammock. Nothing feels as good as laying in your hammock at the end of a long day hiking and seeing the mosquitos on the other end of your bug net, cursing you for outsmarting them.

 If you’re still not convinced that hammock camping is the way of the future, find someone who is doing it already (we call ourselves hangmen, we’re everywhere) and ask if you can take their hammock for a spin on your next overnight adventure. They can probably show you some cool knots to use to make the experience a lot less painful too.

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Prepping for a 5 day hike

I’ve been planning a thru hike of the 96 mile Lone Star Hiking Trail in southeast Texas for the better part of the last 3 months. I finally fit it into my schedule for next week and I’ve been spending the last week packing, unpacking, repackaging, shaking down and repacking all of my gear for the hike. This will be the longest hike I’ve done so far by about 76 miles, I’m not apprehensive but I’m incredibly excited about starting the trip. I’m planning on using this experience to get to know myself as a long distance hiker so I can better prep my pack for what I know I use as a hiker when I’m on a long trip. I always tend to over  plan  and over pack. I won’t include a full gear list but I’ll attach a picture of what I’m taking. Feel free to critique or add any insight you may have. Since this picture I’ve broken down the food into lightweight and much smaller bags to save room and some minor weight. Pre water pack weight is 28lbs.

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Winter Hiking: How to Stay Warm

Happy New Year! People always seem to choose the beginning of the year as a time to commit themselves to be more active. Over the last few years I’ve really gotten to enjoy nature during the winter months, specifically winter hiking. If you live in an area that gets snow, hiking in the winter can make your favorite trail seem like a brand new adventure. Hiking in the snow and cold also burns more calories than hiking in temperate weather so it can help you keep off those holiday pounds that tend to creep up on us.

One of the big reasons that people tend to take a hiatus from hiking during the winter months is that they don’t want to be cold, cold is uncomfortable, who wants to be cold? But what people fail to understand is that with just a little knowledge and planning, you can beat the cold and have great day hikes, or even overnight trips. So here are a few tips on how to stay warm that I learned during my years in Alaska and during winter hikes in the Midwest.

 

  1. Stay Hydrated: When you’re dehydrated your body doesn’t work as efficiently. In a cold environment this leads to headaches and cold extremities. Just because its cold doesn’t mean you’re not losing water. In fact, because the air is less humid during the winter you’re actually losing a little bit more water through respiration and evaporation. Take enough water to get through your trip or be familiar with fast running water sources along the route that will not freeze all the way through. DO NOT attempt to eat snow if you run out of water. This will lower your body temperature and does not provide you with enough water to benefit you. In a pinch you can fill a bottle full of snow and place it in an interior pocket of your jacket until it melts. When this happens, repeat the process until your bottle is full of water.
  2. Layer your clothing: One of the biggest mistakes people make in this specific area is attempting to put on every layer of clothing that they have. But over layering actually makes you feel colder. The air between the layers of clothing is what keeps you feeling warm, so if you condense that air pocket by adding too many layers of clothing you will actually be colder than if you had layered correctly. In most cases a poly blend base layer (long tops and bottoms) with hiking pants, a long sleeve midweight top layer and a microdown jacket will be more than enough to keep you warm in all but the northernmost states.
  3. Layer on, Layer off: Only use what you really need in that moment. If you start to sweat while hiking, take off your hat, gloves and outer (or middle) top layer. The big tip here is to avoid excess sweating. Wearing too much and sweating through your clothing will destroy the insulating properties. So when you stop to take a break you will get cold. Instead of doing this, take off the excess layers and put them in the top of your bag before you start sweating. Then put them on when you stop. Your body heat will be retained by the dry layers and you’ll stay toasty warm even when you stop. Improper layering and use is the biggest reason that people have unpleasant winter hiking trips.
  4. Know your feet: Cold feet tend to be a pretty consistent problem in cold weather hiking. But there are a few tricks of the trade that you can use to beat this nuisance. 1. Bring extra socks on long trips. Dirty clothing loses its insulating properties. Bringing a change of socks for each day of trail time, plus a spare, is always a good idea. Loosen your laces. We’re back to the insulating layer of warm air again. When your shoes are tied too tight it hurts you in two ways. The first is that it compromises blood flow to the area, making your feel work less efficiently and allowing them to get cold quicker. The second is that it compresses the fabric in your shoes. When you compress the fabric too much there is no room for the air warmed by your feet to get caught in the fabric of the shoe. It’s the same reason your butt gets cold when you sit in the snow, the compressed fabric doesn’t trap heat as well as it would if it were not compressed.
  5. Clear snow from sleeping areas and bring a sleeping pad: You can sleep comfortably in the snow if you remember to clear away the snow under your sleeping area. Additionally, you’ll want to use a sleeping pad since the sleeping bag that is compressed under your body weight will not insulate you as efficiently. When you go to bed, strip down to your base layer. This will be cold at first, but when you wear too much clothing to bed it doesn’t allow your body heat to reach the sleeping bag and insulate you the way it was designed to. You will always sleep warmer in fewer clothes. To avoid that morning shiver when you get up, pull your clothes into your sleeping bag with you in the morning and allow them to warm up passively before you get dressed. If you plan on warming your tent with a fire source, always remember to open one side of the tent for ventilation. Once the tent is warm, removed the fire source before sealing the tent. If you hammock camp, a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and an underquilt will get you through even the coldest nights in relative comfort.
  6. Always bring tools for a fire: Know the area that you will be hiking in and what you will need to make a fire. In the event of an emergency this is an absolute must. I recommend taking waterproof matches or a ferro fire starter, some quick tinder like dryer lint or dry moss and a tea light candle. Before you attempt to start a fire scavenge for your firewood and arrange it next to you from smallest to largest. The biggest being about the circumference of your wrist. Build a teepee with your smallest twigs and keep finger size twigs nearby to add once it’s going. Light your tinder in the open air. Fire needs a lot of oxygen to burn and placing the tinder in the teepee cuts off precious oxygen that the fire needs to start. Once you have an adequate flame place the tinder under the teepee. Slowly add twigs of increasing size until your fire is established. *If you are attempting to start a fire in the snow, you MUST dig down until you are on soil before attempting to start a fire. Placing a fire on top of the snow will put your fire out when the snow melts from the heat.* **In areas that receive a lot of precipitation it will be easier to scavenge firewood and tinder from standing deadwood in the area. Firewood on the ground will likely be wet and will be difficult to light. In a pinch you can use a knife to cut away the outer layers of wet wood in order to get a fire started. But always look for standing dead wood first.**

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It only takes a little bit of knowledge and preparation to keep you warm and happy in nature, even in the cold.  I hope these tips help you get out and stay warm on your own winter adventure.

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Happy Trails,

Aaron