TinyTip for Those With Athlete’s Foot

Have athlete’s foot on one foot only?

If so, then one way to keep your socks straight on a long hike is to buy two pairs of the same sock but each with different colors, then wear them as a mismatched set.

In the example below, I use the red socks for the left foot and the other for my right foot. That way I don’t have to worry about putting my fungally sock on the clean foot.



Experiments that Failed: RailRiders

Some things don’t work out.

You hear a lot of people swear by gear they use: this is great, I love this, I would never hike without it. But what works for others may not work for you. Here’s one that did not work for me.

RailRiders shirts are legendary, mostly for their breathability. But what they are also legendary for is stinkiness.

They stink.

More accurately, they retain your own underarm odor, noticeably, through many a washing, through sprays and spritzes, and even through MiraZyme Odor Elminator.

They stink. Apparently, from my experience, they stink forever.

I ordered an Equator top and once I got it, I discovered the other thing about Railriders that is legendary: the bizarre sizing and fit of their clothes. I exchanged it for the one size I am not (Small), which despite some odd corners on the shirt that feel weird, it pretty much fit overall. Quality is high, and most important for me, has Insect Shield (ie permethrin) infusing.

Unfortunately, after it’s very first hike, a 20 miler up and around Eagle Creek in the Gorge one sunny Spring day, it got The Stink.

Then began a month or two long process of trying to find a way to eliminate The Stink. Various washings, soaps and detergents failed. When finally I resorted to Odor Eliminator and even that failed, I gave up. I realized it would stink forever.

And you can’t resell it, because it stinks. And you can’t give it away, because it stinks.

And the quality after some use is not at all what I expected. Here’s a picture of the obvious piling under the arms with only about 40 trail miles of use on it:


I wrote it off as a total loss. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that this failure got me to try an Icebreaker merino wool shirt instead, and that is a great piece of gear, in every respect. It was the only shirt I had on my first 101 mile section of the PCT and I know I can count on it in both chill and sun.

Combining that with my long time hiking buddy (and Goodwill find), a Columbia PFG fishing shirt (which does not quite as breathe as well as a Railrider, but also does not stink), I have a good combination now for three seasons of hiking.

I do have to spray both of those myself with permethrin, but I do that to a lot of clothes now, so that’s just part of the job of getting them ready for the trail each time.

So now not only are my shirts dialed in, but I have discovered that merino has made leaps of progress – especially in durability – since I first tried it out a few years ago with some Smartwool base layer pants (which performed great while they lasted, which was not very long at all, and put me off of using merino since then.)

My next experiment is Icebreaker shorts – could they both eliminate oder and be as breathable as a kilt? The miles will tell.


‘Worth the weight’

worththeweight3thingsAs we age, sometimes gear list ‘Wants’ turn into gear list ‘Needs’ .

Some odd things become worth the weight in our packs, when years before we would have considered them heavy luxuries.

Here’s three of mine:

Backup Glasses / Magnifier

I’ve worn glasses since starting grad school, but only recently did I really, really need them to read small print; as in, I can’t read map details clearly without them.

A map you can’t read isn’t much better than no map at all.

So I need a backup.

I have always carried a map and a compass, and now I carry something to magnify with too. Having a backup to glasses on the trail could mean the difference between being lost and found.

For several years now, I have carried and used i4ulenses.

i4ulenses are lightweight but strong plastic, fit on the bridge of your nose like old-fashioned Pince-nez, and come with a small protective case for storage. You can order them in different magnification strengths.

Worth the weight? At 1/2 oz (14 g), to me, yes.

(And that’s the weight with case; if you are willing to skip the case and store them without, then half that weight.)

Foot Massage Ball

To help with some issues caused by a bruise on one of my feet, I recently got a Trigger Point Massage Ball as suggested by my PT.

It’s the perfect end-of-the-hiking day tool to help you massage those tired puppies.

Here a nice video showing some “Therapy Ball Exercises to Release Your Fascia”  and I find these good exercises for my hiking feet.

The ball also works great on other muscles as well. I massage my legs with it after a hike, too, especially the calves.

Worth the weight? At 3/4 oz (23 g), to me, yes.

The Uribag

The Uribag, aka the urinal bag, aka the better pee bottle.

At a certain point in a man’s life, the most important organ in the crotch area, the one that since puberty has been the focus of all his thoughts and life, ceases its role as the man’s master; a role then usurped by the humble prostate gland.

I first got a Uribag for road trips, where it works great, and then used it car camping in my tent to replace my traditional pee bottle.

For years I used a pee bottle for car camping, just a large plastic jar I found at Goodwill. It has a wide opening and a tight lid. When you live in the Pacific Northwest, you live with rain. And so you learn to stay dry in your tent at night. Pee bottles rule.

For backpacking, I use a tarp and bivy usually, and the Uribag is the perfect answer to not having to get out and get wet at night to pee – or, in Summer, to get out and get bit by bugs. And I really, really hate bugs, esp. mosquitoes.

The Uribag holds one liter. It packs small, expands and contracts easily, and the rubber balloon container is tough. It’s easy to clean, too: put in some water, maybe a tiny squirt of soap, shake it around and dispose of it properly (ie dispersed, not near a water source of any kind!)

Best of all, it is pretty easy to pee into while lying on your side: no more getting up on your knees to pee down into a bottle.

Worth the weight? At 2.0 oz, to me, yes.

Ultra Simple GPS Device?

Why isn’t there a simple GPS device that just shows your current coordinates??

Just that one thing. No bells, no whistles. One thing.

No tracking, no maps, no waypoints. Just one button and your location shown in Lat/Lon and UTM format. (Ok, maybe some format alternatives or datum choices, but no other features.)

With loooong life battery.

Just press a button to turn it on, get a lock, get your coordinates, turn it off. So, the battery should last weeks or months without recharging because it is not constantly on.

Just getting coordinates is essentially what I use my phone for. I use the iOS MilGPS app to get my UTM coordinates and then check them against my map.

But, having that on the phone means a long, involved process of setting down the pack, fishing out my phone, taking it out of the waterproof plastic, turning it on, wait, wait, waiting for it to boot, entering the code, firing up the MilGPS app, and waiting for it to get a GPS lock. Once I have the coordinates, I have to turn the phone off and restow it (and everything else around it) without succumbing to the temptation to use it for other things.

Instead, imagine:

A small, simple device on my pack shoulder pad or neck lanyard or in my map case; flick a switch to turn it on and wait for it to get a GPS lock to read my coordinates – all while still hiking.

I wish there were such a device. I’ve looked for one but can’t find it.

Where’s Adam Smith’s invisible hand when you need it?


Five Other Things to Practice Before Your Long Hike

You’ll find plenty of good advice about how to train for and practice before a long / big section / thru hike: exercise, footwear, tarp pitching, cooking; take a first aid class, brush up on map and compass skills, etc.

Here’s a few other things you might not think you need to practice, yet you will do them every single day on your hike.

1. Practice Not Stopping

Practice not stopping so much. This means practice doing things while continuing to walk, even if  you would ordinarily stop, even briefly.

For instance, you should be able to do these things while walking or even not breaking stride:

  • Drink water
  • Eat food
  • Take off / put on gloves, hats, windshirt, rain jacket or poncho
  • Getting things into or out of your pack
  • Stowing and  retrieving hiking poles

The key is a light pack you can easily swing around onto one shoulder. Find the sweet spot location for each gear item until you can manage them without halting.

For how-to tips, see “The single-shoulder carry” (p. 61 of the 2002 paperback printing) in Ray Jardine’s classic Beyond Backpacking or check out how Mike Clelland does it in this video on clothes (at 7:51).

2. Practice Hydration and Water Treatment

Practice your water collection and treatment methods. You will do this every day on the trail, several times a day. Practice it when you do your training hikes.

The best way to do this is take minimal or even no water with you from the trailhead on your practice and training hikes. 

Gravity water filter
Water treatment – gravity feed test

Start by cutting down your starting water on hikes to a liter, half a liter, then none at all.

Can you start your hike with empty bottle and pick water up along the way? Try it.

Try bad water sources with lots of floaties to see you how your filtering method works. Try sources hard to reach. (I once refilled a water bottle by dangling it 25 feet off a railroad trestle into a creek.)

Practice with your filter or chemical treatment until you are comfortable with not just the method but the amount of time it takes to filter certain amounts of water.

Emulate your night time water filtering amounts, whether one or two liters, that would would normally do in camp. How much do you really need to cook and clean with?

3. Practice Pooping

You will poop in the woods every day. If you get sick with diarrhea, you’ll be doing it a lot more often than that. So practice.

Unfortunately, certain bodily functions don’t just happen at will, but they tend to do things on their own schedule. My technique to help practice this is to delay my usual morning poop and save it for the trail. Actually, this is another good reason to get out to the trailhead for your practice hikes well before the crowds. If you’re at the trailhead at 6:00 or 7:00 am, then odds are your body will oblige you with the needed urge right around the usual time for you.

Speaking of technique, personally, I learned to poop the way it has always been done before the aberrational and dubiously wasteful invention of toilet paper. I learned it living in India, but the basic technique is explained well in Tip 116 in Mike Clelland’s book Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips.

Humans have been producing human scat for tens and hundreds of thousands of years, and millions of people all over the world do it even today without the need for modern resource intensive aids. You can do it too: liberate yourself from TP.

The fantastic QiWiz titanium trowel!  More info here


All you need is something to dig a cathole with, water in an open container (in India a lota is used; on the trail I use a Pack Bowl, see below), and soap. Soap is very important for hand hygiene when pooping. Always wash the hand you may have helped poop with.

Never be without some liquid soap. If you doubt the power of soap to keep you healthy, see this study. (If someone proclaims proudly to you on the trail that they never use soap, don’t accept food or water from them. Unless, you want to eat some of their leftover poop that is.)

Learning to squat helps, and that is a skill completely lost on modern Americans who were potty trained on a chair with a hole in it (a.k.a. the flush toilet).

Don’t be one of those people who poops on themselves while re-experiencing potty training on the hike: get comfortable with it before you go (pun unavoidable ;)

(Also, hiking in a kilt helps too. We kilt wearers may have our issues, but by gorram, pooping on our kilts isn’t one of them.)

4. Practice Getting Funky

You will get funky. You will smell.

Get used to it.

Showers: Go without a shower for a week. If you are a daily shower person, well, I have news for you, showering is not that easy out of doors. Lakes and streams are available sometimes, of course, in good weather, but are cold.

Chemicals: Give up the deodorant, shampoo, and other chemical concoctions that make you smell differently than you actually do.

Socks: Practice wearing the same socks day after day: hang them up at night, put on your night socks when you go to bed, and then put on yesterdays socks again when you get up in the morning.

Underwear: Practice the same with your underwear (if you are into that sort of thing on the trail, of course.)

Start with one or two days, then stretch it to be able to go a week. Don’t offend your coworkers or lose you job over it, but try and see.

You’ll be surprised to find this is not really that bad or difficult do. You’ve been trained by highly expensive marketing to feel you need to plaster yourself with chemicals or people will shun you as a social leper. And that is just baloney.

The goal is to know how far you can go until it really irritates you, and then start to find ways around it using ONLY the gear you will have with you. Give yourself of body bath at night in your house with just your water bottle and bandana, or whatever gear you will have on the trail.

Get used to it; work out the way you want to do it on trail.

TIP 1: Personally, I like the Pack Bowl, made by Backpacker’s Pantry as a water bowel for washing myself, washing my socks, for post-poop cleaning, and for water collection. Some people use milk jug bottoms or folding plastic water container bottoms to do the same thing. I like the Pack Bowl because it folds flat for easy storage in a side pocket around a bottle or in a hydration sleeve, but when unfolded stands upright on its own; it holds 3 liters yet is very lightweight at 33 grams.


TIP 2: I put one of those car fresheners that hang from your car’s rear view mirror into each resupply box. Weight: < 7 grams in package. When I’m reaching a road and getting ready to hitch into town, I take it out, hang it around my neck and make myself smell good… er, not as bad. Then I leave it as a thank you gift for the wonderful driver who gives me a lift into town to resupply (unless they don’t want that thing sticking up their car, of course ;)

5. Practice Sleeping

Well, you say, I know how to sleep in a sleeping bag – or, since you are probably a cool person – a quilt.

Sure you do. But you also know how to walk, yet will be be training to walk, too, right?

So practice sleeping in your gear. Get used to the bedtime and morning time routine with them.

Put your sleeping gear on your bedroom floor and sleep on it, not for a night or a brief test, but for a week, two weeks, three weeks, and get used to it. Be as comfortable with your pad and quilt as you are with your bed.

Yes, I am a bachelor, why do you ask?

Why the bedroom floor? Because it is one bad case scenario for sleeping on something hard and unforgiving (well, it is flat, not rocky and lumpy, so let’s give it that advantage.)

Now, it won’t help with sleeping in almost total dark, and it won’t prepare you for all the things that go bump, hoot, howl, and rustle rustle rustle in the night; only test overnights will do that.

But it help to will work out your sleep gear and help makes those final gear decisions easier: pillow or not, pack under the feet or not, big blow up pad or foam pad, etc.

Why practice all this?

Efficiency, in one word, efficiency. And efficiency brings confidence.

The more you have practiced before you leave, the more you develop good habits that lead to better efficiency on the trail. And the goal of that is to allow you to concentrate more on the hiking itself.

One word: plastics

Gear I Don’t Like

The Reliance Fold-A-Carrier 2.5 gallon water container.


Do you want to drink water that reeks of plastic? I don’t think so.

Used it for a while to hold non-potable water in trunk of my car, then finally just gave it away to Goodwill.

Not recommended.

Instead, for car camping, I just use a 2 gallon, generic water container that I got at my local grocery store. Works great: it doesn’t fold, but it doesn’t smell like plastic either.

Sinuses are your friends

Gear I Like

I live on the wet side of the Cascades. My sinuses like that, a lot. Grey and rainy it is, almost all year, but wonderful for keeping them happy.

When I travel to the dry side of the Cascades in central Oregon – or when I fly on a plane or visit dry spots like Denver or Santa Fe – I take a tube of Ayr saline nasal gel. I daub some on the it helps a good deal. It’s not perfect, but it helps.