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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)

SEVERE - Act Fast: These accidents could turn ugly.

Lost in the Woods by Yourself
Signal the troops, get your bearings, and stay calm while you rest up

STEP 1: Try to make contact
>> Use a whistle. Blasting it can alert folks more than half a mile away. Signal SOS every few minutes with three short, three long, and three short blows.
>> Flash ’em. Reflect light toward help using a mirror, your iPhone’s screen,or a foil food packet. Intermittent flares are best for attracting attention.
>> Phone a friend. Ask them to relay details and info to your hiking partners, rangers, or police. Try calling both landlines and cell phones. Texting is also good; it requires less battery and signal strength. Note: You can’t text 911.
>> Light a fire. If wildfires aren’t a risk, ignite a small pyre to create a smoke signal. Burn damp leaves for the biggest plumes.

STEP 2: Find familiar territory
>> Backtrack to your last known point. Remember a trail sign, junction, stream crossing, or a tree that resembled your second grade teacher? Go back to it.
>> Identify cardinal directions. Moss grows wherever it damn well pleases. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Remember that instead.
>> Don’t bushwhack. You’re more likely to encounter people on a well-trod path. Stay put if you find a trail but it’s unmarked or the end point is unclear.

STEP 3: Bivy overnight
>> Stay where you are. Don’t travel after dark; that’s when cougars hunt. It’s also when you’re more prone to overlook trails and trip over things.
>> Stay warm. Bundle up in all your clothes and gear (use leaves or pine boughs if you’re desperate), snack often, and do light exercises.
>> Stay calm. Most lost hikers are found within 24 hours.

Bear Paw IconNose to Nose with a Bruin
An item on your life list, or scary as hell? It all depends how you handle an unexpected encounter.

Annoying: A black bear wanders into camp
Back away—give it at least 100 yards, and don’t come back until the bear’s hightailed it. Rethink your food-storage technique and string up oft-forgotten items like lotion and lip balm.

Alarming: Close-up grizzly sighting
Shout in a booming voice (think Barry White) and clap your hands so the bear knows you’re there. Don’t turn your back, but slowly put distance b etween you. Try to get out of sight.

Dangerous: Charged!
No matter what, do not run. Your bear spray is handy, right? If the bruin is within 50 feet or moving toward you, spray a half-second blast at the ground 30 feet in front of you. Repeat.

Deadly: Attacked
There’s no sugarcoating it; this will suck. Cover your head, lay face and belly down, and play dead. If it doesn’t give up on you within a minute, fight back with everything you have.

Scavengers Invading Camp
>> Make noise. Unnatural sounds are most effective. Bang out a drum solo on your pots, or clap and shout in a loud, low voice.
>> Light ’em up. Flash your headlamp like a strobe. Play disco beats as needed.

Skewered by a Porcupine
Grab the quill close to the base with multitool pliers or your fingers. Pull it straight out without twisting. Try not to break the barbed tip; yank it in one quick move.

Losing Traction on a Slabby Scramble
Stand up straight. Leaning into the rock makes you more likely to slide and fall.

Fishhook Embedded Fishhook
In the eye? Get to the ER. In your skin? Clip the barb, sterilize with an alcohol wipe, and slide out. Bonus: Remove without wincing, douse with Dos Equis, and add a “Stay thirsty, my friends” on your next cast.

Collapsed Tent
Storm knocked it down? Rig shelter from the wreckage.

1: Reinforce your tent
>> Weight it. Shift your heaviest gear to the windward side.
>> Prop it up. Use extended trekking poles; place the handle side up and the sharp end in a boot.
>> Tie it down. Secure the buffeting rainfly with guylines or weights to prevent rips and further damage.

2: Improvise a tarp
>> Set up. Stake the long edge of your tent’s fly to the ground with the waterproof exterior facing down. Position the edge perpendicular to the wind.
>> Get inside. Throw your essentials onto the fly, sit in the center, and fold it over your head like a burrito.
>> Seal it up. Pull the rainfly’s top edge over you and stake it into the ground, creating a cocoon with you inside.

Ripped Pack Strap
Sew it back on (use dental floss as thread). If that doesn’t work, redistribute your gear and go packless. Cheer on your Sherpas.

Forgot Coffee
Go home. Kidding! But you can ease the withdrawal headaches. Brew a few dandelion leaves or pineapple-weed buds in a cup of hot water. The steamy drinks will soothe your nerves until you can get back to the welcoming arms of your barista.

Forgot Scotch
Go home. Not kidding! It’s the icing on summits, sunsets, and cigars.

Blowout Brawl with a Hiking Bro
He misread the map—or worse, forgot the Glenfiddich? Take a five-minute breather, then calmly ask for an explanation. Find agreement on simple issues, then work up to thornier matters.

Stranded Alone with a Busted Knee
Fallen and you can’t get up? Regroup and save yourself.

1. Evaluate
>> Check the skin. Bruising and swelling will be more severe with a fracture than a sprain. If bone is poking through, stop the bleeding.
>> Move it. No sign of major trauma? Bend the knee through its complete range of motion and push on it gently from both sides. Splint it if there’s any resistance, excruciating pain, or a loose feeling.

2. Make a splint
>> Pad the leg on the sides and behind the joint. Aim for 10 degrees of flex.
>> Add support. Fold a sleeping pad and slide it underneath and around the leg, or improvise with a pack framesheet, sticks, or a camp chair.
>> Secure snugly. Tie straps, bandannas, or shoelaces around the splint (rig the knots to face the outside). Check that the foot of the immobilized leg is pink (blood’s still circulating) See a Demo.

3. Self-evacuate
>> Find support. Use a trekking pole or stick as a cane, or improvise a crutch.
>> Follow the easiest route, not the most direct. Seek help from passersby.
>> Prevent falls. Butt-slide down steeps, support your weight with your hands when you can, take breaks, and liberate your pack of nonessentials.

Killer Diarrhea
>> Replace fluids. Drink roughly as much liquid as you’re losing. Every two hours replenish electrolytes with a salt-replacing sports drink or soup.
>> Hang tight. Choose a campsite close to a source of drinking water—go at least 200 feet away from it to do your business—and rest.
>> Take Imodium. If your runs are severe for longer than 24 hours and symptoms don’t include cramping, high fever, vomiting, or bloody stool, Imodium will help. Evacuate to the nearest hospital if your bowels are still exploding after 24 to 72 hours on meds.
>> Eat complex carbs. Rice, bread, cereal, and bananas absorb and slow water through your guts. Stay away from coffee, sugary snacks, and tea (except peppermint and chamomile, which may help).

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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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