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Backpacker Magazine – June 2012

The Troubleshooter’s Handbook

Murphy’s Law, meet your match. Our experts offer trip-saving fixes for 44 mishaps, from bug bites to bad partners to broken bones.

by: Jason Stevenson

Busted Stove (Photo by: Ben Fullerton)
Busted Stove (Photo by: Ben Fullerton)
Suck. It. Up. (Photo by:
Suck. It. Up. (Photo by:
Sprayed by a Skunk (Photo by:
Sprayed by a Skunk (Photo by:
Lost in the Woods by Yourself
Lost in the Woods by Yourself
Forgot Coffee (Photo by: Age Fotostock /
Forgot Coffee (Photo by: Age Fotostock /
Out of Water... (Photo by: Age Fotostock)
Out of Water... (Photo by: Age Fotostock)

ELEVATED - These mishaps are annoying, but not deadly.

Busted Stove
A sputtering flame ain’t fatal, but raw grits could kill your trip (“like chewing a desiccant pack,” says one editor). Here’s how to address.

1. Clean problem areas.
>> O rings
Dry and stiff? Lube with cooking oil. Cracked or missing? Replace with spares. (You packed some, right?)
>> Fuel line
Slide the internal cable (like you’re checking the oil in your car) to dislodge buildup. Flush with clean fuel before reassembling. Cable really sooty? Wipe it with sandpaper.
>> Fuel jet
Unclog by shaking (late-model MSR stoves) or disassembling from the priming cup to probe with included cleaning (or sewing) needle.
>> Connections
Clean threads and bushings by wiping with a cloth. Retighten on bottle, pump, and stove.
2. Prep meals with cold water.
>> Still no flame? You need calories nonetheless. For freeze-dried foods, add water, seal, shake, double the “cooking time,” and think of the crunchy repast as an alfresco gazpacho. With dehydrated meals, expect an hour or more of soaking.
3. Use alternative heat sources.
>> The sun can fry eggs on a sidewalk. It’ll also speed cold-water cooking. Set your meal in a sunny spot (in a dark pot or stuffsack) for a slow solar roast.
>> If conditions and local regulations allow, cook over an open flame.

Suck. It. Up.
Your crybaby partner wants to bail yet again. Here’s how to battle five common excuses and stop the whining.

1. “My lawn needs mowing.”
The fix: Shame is a powerful tool. Drive over on your John Deere and spend an hour cutting it for him Thursday afternoon.
2. “I have to work.”
The fix: Volunteer to drive, so he can get it done on the way to the trailhead. Use to locate the last high-speed connection en route.
3. “My bum knee/foot/back is acting up.”
The fix: Offer to carry group gear to a basecamp. That way, he’ll be dayhiking, which won’t exacerbate most nuisance injuries.
4. “My boots aren’t broken in.”
The fix: Buy him some mink oil (a little dab will do) to speed leather softening. Still stiff? Try bribery, Moleskin—whatever works.
5. “Who’ll watch the kids?”
The fix: Bring the brood (and fixings for s’mores).

Sleep Deprived
Your crybaby partner wants to bail yet again. Here’s how to battle five common excuses and stop the whining.

>> Punctured pad: Bed down on leaves, pine needles, clothing, your Crazy Creek camp chair, or anything that’ll add comfort.
>> Cold feet: Cuddle with a hot-water-filled bottle or bladder.
>> Snoring tentmate: Roll him onto his side and improvise earplugs with balled-up TP or a bit of your Vaseline-covered cotton ball firestarter. Didn’t work? “Accidentally” put your earbuds on him and crank up the iPod’s volume.
>> Woodpecker: Lovingly toss pebbles at the bastard.
>> No sleep apnea machine: Insert a Provent nostril patch.
>> Insomnia: Sorry, Colin Fletcher fans, but reading The Man Who Walked Through Time is a surer remedy than any pill.

Fire Icon Raw, Red, Blind, Burned
Four ways to cool and soothe what ails you.

Annoying: Chafing rash
Swap out wet clothes, and sleep in your freshest skivvies. Give yourself a daily trail spa treatment: Wash hot spots with soap, zap bacteria with hand-sanitizing alcohol gel, and use a skin lube like Sportslick ($11; 4 oz.;

Alarming: Poison ivy/oak
Wash anything that touched the offending foliage with soap and water. Crush dandelions into a poultice and apply to the affected area for 30 to 60 minutes.

Dangerous: Snowblind
Take lots of ibuprofen and apply cool, wet compresses to help relieve the pain, which feels like sandpaper on your eyeballs. Your sunburned corneas will heal within 48 hours.

Deadly: Caught in an inescapable wildfire
Submerge yourself in a lake, or lie face down in a ditch or rocky spot where there’s little burnable fuel. If the fire’s less than five feet high or deep, you might survive a jump-through. Shed your synthetics first and hold your breath.

Sprayed by a Skunk
Minimize the musky stink to maximize the chances of salvaging your gear.

In camp
>> Avoid water, which spreads and sets the oily musk. Caveat: If you’re sprayed in the eyes or mouth, flushing with water will soothe the sting.
>> Strip off clothes and bag them in plastic to launder later.
>> Dab (don’t wipe) spray droplets with a throw-away rag. Sprinkle moist spots with dirt, flake off the residue.

At home
>> Take a tomato juice bath on the lawn; the acid often helps stop the stink.
>> Before storing, drench infused gear in Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover ($13; 32 oz.;

Insect in your ear Insect In Your Ear
Once you finish screaming, use your hydration bladder’s hose to flush the bugger out.

Leech Sucking Your Blood
Don’t panic: Slide your fingernail along your skin toward the leech's small end and push sideways to dislodge. Engorged one lodged in your ear? Panic. Then puncture it with a pin and pull it out.

Out of Toilet Paper
Wipe with one of these*: snow, moss, leaves (no poison ivy!), grasses, river stones, smooth sticks, bark (carefully), pine cones (not open).
*Listed in order of tush-friendliness

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Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Mar 01, 2013

UP your chances of survival with a copy of "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart" (Amazon) and a compass! Before you go, be sure to calibrate your compass for the declination at the location where you will be hiking. Go to: A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Felix! explains how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart." Anyone wanting to know direction and especially for those who want teach these skills to children might enjoy learning from this book. To feel more confident about orienting ourselves outdoors, we read thru this book before every hike - it's only about 34 pages and illustrated. The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. Felix! teaches the reader what survival items to pack (for the car and for the trail) for a day-hike, trail ethics, what to do if you get lost or scared, and how to get rescued, just incase you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors.

Oct 10, 2012

Don't follow the advice to toss pebbles at a Woodpecker. It is against the Federal Migratory Bird Act to injure OR disturb them.

Oct 07, 2012

Diarrhea can happen from other sources or reasons than drinking under treated water. I stopped using those expansive "Filters" when 1st Need came onto the Market and haven't gone back except for an occasional visit with Chlorine Bleach or Chlor-Floc when doing superlite trips... Food Allergies is one area I rarely seen mentioned in all the rags and websites. Especially if your snacking from Mother Nature along the way or from the ingredients in some of your freeze dried or homemade food packets. Cilantro will do a number on me, and you thought it was Montuzuma's revenge from the poor cooking conditions at that resturant, nope, it might have been the Cilantro! same with Nutmeg, there is a trend of putting Nutmeg in Italian sauces which is stomach irratant just like MSG, Cilantro and a few others.

Imodium is the best over the counter remedy but what if you did not foresee a problem and didn't bring any along..What do you do..Learn of the Wild plants..There are over 20 Plants out there that have been used by native Americans and Explorers, including Lewis&Clark, for over 300 hundred years or more to treat Diarreha. I would learn of the ones growing in your hiking area and how to prepare them. Here are just a few: Horsemint, Fireweed, St.Johns Wort, Sweeteverlasting or Rabbit tobacco and Daisy Flea Bane.

Oct 07, 2012

Busted Knee...Oh I can relate to this one..While slowly decending and enjoying the view of Lake Sabrina from Blue Lake in the Eastern Sierra's a group of "club" hikers went past me, one knocking me in the back which caused me to stubble on the downward slant which caused my left knee cap to momentarily dislodge itself sending me sprawling and rolling down the trail for about 25 feet. I was vocalizing my pain quite loudly and called for someone in the group to help me,,they just kept on walking probably to meet their Bus or something and didn't want to be late for Cocktails in Bishop..I layed there for some time seeing if the throbbing in my knee would subside, which it didn't. I took my pack off and attempted to stand with the help of my hiking poles, nope, went right to the ground. I usually carry an Ace bandage and some Duct tape which I gladly had done this time. I them out of the pack and then used the Saw Blade on my Victorninox Work Champ to cut two thick branches from a bush growing nearby and used the thickest lower pieces to form about an 8-9 inch brace on either side of the knee. I then took two aspirin in hopes of decreasing the amount of inflamation in the knee. I had Vicodin along but always saved that for teeth injuries or something worse than the knee. I then wrapped the area above the knee to below the knee with the duct tape, bascially making it immoble as I could. It bent a bit which is ok you do not want it frozen stiff which can stop the circulation. Next I wrapped the two sticks on either side of the knee using the Ace Bandage. After some time I say about an hour and a half by the way the Sun was moving, the throbbing in the knee faded a bit and I managed to get up on both legs with the help of the Hiking poles facing uphill. Thankfully I had been stealth packing and my Pack weighed less than 20 twenty pounds since I was on the way back and had used up 8 pounds of food and only carried half a Bottle of water. For the 1st hundred yards or so I slowly and stiff leggedly back down the hill, then I switched to side saddling which seemed a bit easier, in no way was I going to try going straight forward otherwise I would get a face plant for sure. Instead of an hour to get to my car it took three hours and I'll be danged not one fellow hiker did I meet. Once I got into the drivers seat and lifted my leg in it felt much better and after the drive down to Bishop I felt I could make it back to San Diego without making an ER Visit but I did catalog in my mind all the ER's that would be enroute.. Upon arrival in S.D. I went to the E.R. where I was given all the stand image tests and neuro tests and X-Rays. That was over 20 years ago and I still need an over the counter knee brace to support down hill hikes...

Oct 07, 2012

Desert Water..Always carry a Plastic groundsheet along for the reason many Desert Plants contain potable fluid, BUT many people will have reactions in some form to drinking that fluid. Barrel Cactus fluid is a prime example, a lot of people who try it become nauseated. The Remedy I found to work the best after doing various forms of testing from various published "Survival" Manuals, was to dig a hole 2 feet deep and about 3 foot wide. Make a flat rock floor at the bottom about 1 foot square or larger if you can. Set your Drinking cup (I use a Cup which measures 1 cup for cooking purposes) place it in the center of the rock floor. Take all the "Green" plants and Cacti you can and crush them and surround the Cup with a pile of wet green vegetable matter. Next take your Plastic ground sheet and place it over the hole and place a marble size pebble in the center over the cup. I have averaged (which means more or less) a 1/2 a cup of water in two hours between noon and 1400 hrs. from the resulting condensation.

Here is a short list of Plants that have been used to treat Poison Ivy I would learn to recognize one from your area. I have used Dandelion, Wild Lettuce and Horse Nettle with good results: Dandelion, Wild Lettuce, Candian Thistle, Horse Nettle, Labador Tea, Sweet Fern, Smooth Alder, White Oak, Northern Red Oak, Broomsedge. Chance meeting with a Backpacking Editor, run as fast as you can....

Mike Melancon
Oct 06, 2012

" I have 10 acres and 9.9 acres are in Poison Ivy."
Thanks for the tip on Zanfel, Gregg.
For the 10 acres: ROUNDUP!

Sep 26, 2012

I absolutely loved your blog!! Very helpful and funny.

Aug 16, 2012

I have 10 acres and 9.9 acres are in poison Ivy. I use Zanfel, $40/1 oz at Walmart. Follow the instruction exactly and the ich will be gone in minutes and rash and blisters will dry out in 24 to 48 hours. You may have to re treat the effected area up to 3 times, but this stuff works better than anything I have used since becoming sensitive to this plant.

Do chau
Aug 01, 2012

Don't pack severed body parts directly in ice or snow or water if here is a chance of reattachment-doing so will damage the tissue beyond repair. Pack in clean plastic baggie, then keep it cold. (reference: Merck manual online)

Mike Berube
Jul 28, 2012

It seems the Mythbusters recipe works best for skunk smell: hydrogen peroxyde 1 quart baking soda 1/4 cup and one tablespoon liquid dishwashing soap (like dawn).
I refer you to them. Great hints and fun to read!

Terry Hahn
Jul 27, 2012

For skunks I discovered distilled white vinegar works better than tomato juice for de-scenting a dog, and if you clip the free end off a porcupine quill before trying to remove it it will deflate, it comes out easier.

Jeff Dillavou
Jul 27, 2012

Great hints... Well Written and useful!!!


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