Sunday, July 20, 2008

Backcountry Food

I have been thinking about my meals lately. I love to cook. I love to eat. For me, meals are best eaten with good company or while camping (that big, generic term that could mean anything from a monstrous- big RV in a non wilderness setting to an ultralight off trail backpacking trip). Hotdogs and cold spring water taste like the finest French cuisine when cooked on a willow stick over a fire.

But when you are in the backcountry, and what you carry is how you get your daily energy, taste moves down (just a little) on the list of importance, ease of cooking and weight move up. There is a delicate balance between caloric intake, physical weight of the food, amount of fuel needed to cook the food and taste.

On my bookshelf are several outdoor cookbooks. Much more than just gorp recipes, there is some really good tasting stuff, high in nutritional value, that are lightweight. Go check some out at your local library. I guarantee you'll find something you like. And as a side bonus, most of the time it will save you money over freeze dried foods.

And as for cooking the food, that's where quite a bit of my thoughts on this year's trips have gone. When I was in high school I bought a Coleman multifuel stove. It worked great. I was in love with the fact that it could burn just about anything. Jet fuel? Sure! Kerosene? You bet... white gas.... just about anything in a pinch. I envisioned myself trekking across the globe, using whatever fuel was local. Great stove, simple to operate, somewhat compact, but it was heavy. And you had to prime it.

And then I bought a MSR Whisperlight international. Also able to burn just about anything that is flammable, it was lighter weight. I still had to prime it, but it was more compact. The burner also detached from the fuel canister which was a little more flexible in terms of packing. A good stove that could simmer. It's drawbacks included being a bit too fussy for me.

Next came a small little stove that runs on butane canisters.... it fits in the palm of your hand, weighs very little, includes a piezo electric starter (no more matches, except for backup!).

But my newest stove is going to be one of these. A "penny stove." Simple to make. Extremely lightweight. No noise, which I REALLY like, all of the above stoves sound like a jet plane. Durability, which I value very highly, might not be as good, but as long as I am careful, I don't think it will be an issue.

They also have some recipes I am looking forward to trying.

Here are some more recipe links:
One Pan Wonders
Packing list and recipes
This one has some great ideas. Cooked in boiling water, freezer bag recipes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bucket list

By now we've all either seen the movie "the Bucket List" or know what it's about.

Do you have your own bucket list? Of outdoorsy things to do before you kick the bucket? Learn 100 useful knots or tie one perfect monkey's fist? Learn how to get your knife razor sharp or learn how to make a bamboo flyrod? Land a 20# bass or kill a 6X6 bull elk in a fair chase hunt? Caribou, moose, coues deer, bighorn sheep, turkey slam....?

The list could go on for a long, long time. Much longer than most of us have the finances, much less the time, to do.

I am working on mine. I'd like to challenge you to work on yours. Evaluate your priorities. Take a look at your future, family, finances, and what you would have to sacrifice to get it done. I'd love to hear from you, so after you figure out your bucket list, drop me a line!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Map and compass

I have been brushing up on my map and compass backcountry navigation skills lately. This skill, I believe is in the top three skills in any woodscrafter, hunter, hiker, fisherman, bushcrafter, etc., should know.

Here are some good sites:

Backcountry Navigation


Great full fledged lesson on land nav

Orienteering is fun. Here's how to do it.

Youtube video making life with a compass easier to understand!

Navigation with a compass and a map is easy. It is a few simple bits and pieces of information and skills, thats all. The more you do it, the more you think about it, the easier and more intuitive it is.

So get out there!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Daypack for elk

Whats in your backpack? On the various archery forums, this question comes up several times a year. Everyone is different. Every hunted area is different as well, slowly going from vast expanses here in the west to small woodlots in the east. Some like a buttpack, others a backpack. Some like branch clippers, others a saw, and some, none at all. There are those who strap their knife on the belt, grab the bow and go, maybe stuffing a granola bar in a pocket. Then there are those who bring everything possible to the tree stand, hauling up a monster sized backpack that weighs as much as they do. It all depends on the area you are going to hunt and your level of woodsmanship and comfort.

Here's what I take, give or remove an item here and there as it is forgotten or not needed.

Starting with the backpack and going clockwise:

The backpack is a Kelty Cougar. Great daypack. Comfy straps, just enough organizing pockets, hydration bladder compatible, it's the right size for me, and it has quiet fabric.

I carry some camo blind material, a couple legths of rope and two cloths pins. Obviously to set up a quick blind when there isn't brush to utilize or to augment what is available. Weights about 8 oz.

I also sometimes have an inflatable cushion. It is rolled up just below the blind material. Weighs less than a pound.

Binoculars and a bino harness. Currently it's either some smallish 8 power Bruntons or (shown) a set of 10x42 Leopolds.

Hat. Depends on the day, but shown is an oilcloth pack hat.

Enzo trapper knife (on belt).

Matches in a waterproof case. It also has a backup compass. This is in a pocket, dummy corded to my belt.

Map and compass. In a pocket and again dummy corded.

Toilet paper. Self explanatory, but also serves as a fire starter and trail marker (which, unlike surveyor's tape, decomposes quickly). In a ziplock.

The five small articles are duct tape (blister prevention, gear repair, etc.), burnt cork (face camo that comes off when its time to) and a bic lighter. Some bullion packs to make some hot drinks if need be. Good stew base as well. Water pure pills. Potable aqua.

A small pot for boiling water, drinking, etc. It doesn't have a lid, I wish it did, and the handles flap, so they are rubber banded down.

A small water bottle. I also carry a hydration bladder. That's a lot of water, but in the high back country, you can get dehydrated fast. If I'm not peeing a lot, I'm not drinking enough. I carry the small bottle so I can throw in some electrolyte drink mix.

First aid kit (already went over this in another post)

Bandanna. Besides a knife, possibly the most useful item to carry.

Brush clippers. For making shooting lanes and blinds.

Small, lightweight Gerber axe. Quite a few uses. Shelter, firewood, etc, etc. Heavier than a folding saw, but quicker and uses less energy when you are in a pinch.

Headlamp. (pretty much in the center of the gear). LEDs "never" burn out, use battery power by sipping rather than gulping.... really, LEDs don't have a downsize other than not throwing a huge swath of light. They are visible a long way off though. I also have a one LED bulb watch battery flashlight on the strap as well. Doesn't weight anything and is a nice backup.

The little camo bag has my skinning and caping knives, a sharpener and a pair of medical gloves. For when the work begins after an animal is down.

The green stuff sack has some lightweight mesh game bags. Also for when the work begins.

Not shown:
I almost always have my little GPS unit with me. It's a Garmin Geko and it is great. I carry a couple extra batteries, AAA, with it, which also fit the headlamp.

Some food. Trail mix, granola bars, fruit.... jolly ranchers to suck on in the blind so my throat doesn't parch.

Not much, really. With a full supply of water, it probably weighs less than 15#, but with this gear I am comfortable and confident I can weather a storm, survive an injury, take apart an elk or deer, and find my way back to camp, truck or home.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Backcountry Navigation, AKA Land Nav Part 1

One of the cornerstones of woodsmanship is learning the art of knowing where you are and planning where you want to be. It is the bedrock of staying found instead of getting lost. The backcountry can be immense, but it can also be as small as the woodlot down the street.

The basic (modern) tools of navigation are map, compass and GPS.

However, the mantra of bushcraft is "the more you know, the less you carry." With that in mind, I am going to discuss some of the alternative means of direction finding available. In the future I will write about map, compass and GPS techniques.

Moss doesn't only grow on the north side of trees... this is an old wives tale. It grows 360 degrees. It usually is heavier on the north side though. This would be a last ditch way of getting your bearings. You have to understand that it grows thicker on the north side because it is the shaded side to understand why this isn't a good method of direction finding. Since north facing slopes are typically the slopes that are timbered, and the north facing slopes are more shaded, it is natural that the moss (which by the way is often lichen and not just moss) grows 360. I will say that the more north you go, the better the odds that the moss will be exclusively on the north side. But I digress,

You can find your north from south with a tree, the sun and either snow or some time.

The snow to the north side of a tree will remain longer than the exposed southern side.

Since the sun moves from East to West, try this experiment next time you are out hiking. It has to be a sunny day. Find a stick a couple feet long. Stick it in the ground, pointed straight up. Notice the shadow of the stick and either place a smaller stick into the ground at the end of the shadow, dig a shallow trench along the shadow or place another stick in the shadow.

And wait.

15 Minutes later you should notice the shadow has moved. Again mark the shadow using a different stick, pebble, etc. Next, simply connect the dots between the ends of the shadows. You now have an east- west line. The first marker you placed is west, the second is east. And as you know, if west is on your left, then north is to your front, east to your rear.

Not as accurate as a magnetic compass, but a useful skill non the less. And it forces you to stop and think, which is oftentimes more important if you are turned around than actually finding out direction.

Of course, direction can be intuitive as well. One particular area I like to hunt elk is the front range of the Whitecloud Mountains. From the valley floor at 7000 feet, the mountains rise up to 10000. The valley is large enough to make its presence known 99% of the time. The other 1% is covered by "if I am climbing, the valley is behind me." Unless of course I have climbed over the ridgeline. The ridgeline runs roughly north south, so I know the valley is to the west. Although I am in the "backcountry" hunting there, I am confident I can find my way out, in the dark, without a compass simply by ensuring (and I know that here I would know if I went over the ridgeline) that I didn't cross over the ridge, and heading downhill. At the bottom there is an access road, and beyond that, a river.

But I don't always hunt there... and, having been turned around before, and the ensuing miles long walk back to camp or the truck being lost is no fun.

Another technique for staying found is using natural landmarks such as a stream. When I am out hunting or scouting for a hunt I try to avoid regular parking areas and trailheads. I will drive a road until I cross a creek, crick, stream, or river and will hike along it. When I am ready to turn around and head home or to camp, finding my way back is easy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Busy as a beaver

Well, I have been busy lately. Actually I have been on vacation, so busy might not be the right word for it... I had a family reunion on the Oregon coast. I absolutely love the O-coast, one of my favorite places on earth. Despite having nearly 20 others around, I found some quiet time to do some "bushcrafty" stuff. I made an inukshuk on the beach.

And then another (this time it was my wife's family) reunion down in Mexico. Puerto Villarta to be precise, Neuevo Villarta to be even more precise. It was great fun relaxing on the beach, downing an occasional cold cervesa and generally bumming around. I did some deep sea fishing and some snorkeling as well as beach bumming.

Anyhow, not very "backcountry" nor bowhunter-ish, but that's what I have been doing.

Oh, and I am also nearly finished with this year's elk bow, so I'll be posting that pretty soon, as well as srticles on whats in my bag this year, butpack vs daypack, knives and grinds explained, some new carbon arrows I'm shooting, scouting hunting areas from a long distance , glassing for game properly, and stalking.

Thanks for dropping by!