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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.

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Busted Stove (Photo by: Ben Fullerton)


Suck. It. Up. (Photo by:


Sprayed by a Skunk (Photo by:


Lost in the Woods by Yourself


Forgot Coffee (Photo by: Age Fotostock /


Out of Water… (Photo by: Age Fotostock)



These mishaps are annoying, but not deadly.


Act Fast: These accidents could turn ugly.


Survival odds are poor. Written your will?

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.

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

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

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

>> Stay calm. Most lost hikers are found within 24 hours.

Nose 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.

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).

DEADLY – Survival odds are poor. Written your will?.

Heart Attack

>> Symptoms Chest pain, short of breath, dizziness

>> Quick Fix Chew 325 mg of aspirin, give CPR (if necessary), and send someone to get help. Don’t evacuate the victim by his own power.


>> Symptoms Extreme panic, inability to breathe, cough, speak

>> Quick Fix Give the Heimlich ma-neuver. If the victim loses consciousness, open the airway (head-tilt/chin lift), and give CPR.


>> Symptoms Slurred speech, facial paralysis, incontinence, memory loss

>> Quick Fix Make the victim comfortable (insulated, too), lay them on their paralyzed side. Evacuate asap.

Chance Meeting with Joe Simpson

Run like hell. His bad luck may be contagious.

Out of Water… in the Summer… 20 Miles from the Trailhead

Dehydration can kill in hours. Here’s how to get more H20.


Find Sources Seek out shaded potholes in ledges and canyons. There’s groundwater where green plants grow, but expect to dig six
feet or more for it. Prickly pears and agave contain potable fluid.

Make Your Own Trap water from plants: Enclose a leafy branch in a plastic bag and add a small rock so fluid collects in one corner; tie the
open end shut. Place the bag in direct sunlight to speed transpiration.


Find Sources Look for snow in shaded crevasses. Boulder fields can hide springs or melting snow; listen for water under the rocks.
You’ll have better luck below treeline so head downhill.

Make Your Own Collect meadow dew: Wrap your feet and ankles in a cotton t-shirt or absorbant fabric and walk through the grass.
Wring out the material and repeat until it’s all sopped up.


Find Sources Scout uphill and downhill of dry sources and seek out seepages below cliffs or outcroppings. Watch for bees, birds,
and herding animals, all of which need a regular drink, too.

Make Your Own Harvest fog: String up your tent’s no-see-um mesh in a misty spot overnight. Rig a collection container at the
mesh’s base or suck up the droplets before daylight.

Severed Toe or Finger

Use direct pressure to stop the potentially deadly bleeding. Rinse the digit and store it in a zip-top bag for the hike out—with snow or ice if possible.
Snap photos for posterity.

Anaphylactic Reaction

Throat swelling and airway rapidly closing? If you suspect an allergic reaction, remove the stinger, take an oral antihistamine, and inject an EpiPen.
If you didn’t pack an Epi, speed up your Benadryl’s absorption: Crush it into powder, mix with water, and drink the Kool-Aid.


Raging River

Keep your head about you and above water


Annoying: Slip-sliding on rocks

Wear shoes while crossing, and plant both trekking poles and both feet before stepping. Move only one point of contact at a time and stay facing

Alarming: Swept away

Ditch your pack and float on your back with your arms above your head (do the backstroke) and your feet raised. Don’t aim for branches, which can
trap you. Instead, angle into the current, and aim for the bank. Don’t stop swimming until you can stand up—and pump your fist in the air

Dangerous: Caught in a flash flood

In a slot canyon: Climb to a sheltered spot or a ledge above the debris line. Walls too steep? Shield yourself behind a rock or fin, where eddies and
pools will form and slow the water. Do your best to hang on.

Deadly: Headed toward a waterfall

You’re not (totally) doomed (at least three people have survived unprotected trips over Niagara Falls). Up your odds by taking a deep breath,
turning feet first, protecting your head with your arms, and swimming the second you smack the water. Do NOT yell “cannonball!” On second thought,
what the hell?

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Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.