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SURVIVE: If I Only Knew Then…

Three decades of trial and error from our favorite battle-scarred adventurer.
Survival TipsSurvival Tips


I had a large bulge the size of a peach protruding from my groin. I knew where the hernia came from: carrying too many heavy packs. It first popped out when I volunteered to throw the backpack of a sick teammate atop my already monstrous load. Combined weight: 130 pounds [1]. The initial extrusion was only the size of a marble, and I pushed it right back in. Of course, the next time I hefted a heavy pack, the little sucker popped right out again. I plugged it back in. Over the course of a couple years and half a dozen expeditions, the hernia grew larger and larger. Then one day in the doc’s office for a check-up, I dropped my pants and he gasped.

[1] Yes, we know heavy packs are often unavoidable on long or gear-intensive trips. But prevent a hernia—and embarrassing bulges—by carrying no more than one-third of your body weight for extended periods. And don’t injure your back while hoisting a heavy load; bring it up to bended knee first, then slip into the shoulder straps.

[2] Wet skin loses heat about 30 times faster than
dry skin. In subfreezing temps, moderate your pace and layers so you don’t get wet from sweat.

“How long have you had this?”

I mumbled.

“Don’t you know they can strangulate and kill you?”


Straight to surgery, where they put my insides back inside, found two more hernias in my belly button, laid in a swatch of nylon mesh, and stitched me back up.

When I came to, I was lying in a hospital bed next to a kid with no toes. He asked me what happened, and I told him I’d been stupid. I asked what had happened to him and he said, “Same here.”

The kid had gotten his truck stuck in the snow, and he decided to leave it and go hunting anyway. He was wearing insulated packboots, but the snow was deep. He walked all day and never saw a single elk. Without gaiters, snow flipped inside his boots, but since his feet were warm from walking, the snow just melted. By nightfall, his boot liners and socks were soaked. [2] When he got back to the truck, he had to dig it out, which took a long time, and he failed to notice that his feet were freezing.

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