FIVE MAINE MADE BACKPACKING MISTAKES TO AVOID

FIVE MAINE MADE BACKPACKING MISTAKES TO AVOID

THE SUBLIME

Hiking through the Maine Woods can be a sublime experience, but the line between sublime and sub par can be a thin one. Here are five common “fails” that can be avoided with a little forethought.

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BUGS

I think it's pretty fair to say that mosquitos, no-seeums, green heads, and black flies have ruined more outdoor adventures than any other culprit. Avoiding them entirely is difficult, though Autumn in Maine does come close. Understanding when and where these pests are most active is the first step in setting up a good defense.

Black flies in Maine are generally a short time torment, (Mother’s Day to Father’s Day is a good rule though the start date has seemed to be creeping earlier every year. Mosquitos are nearly blind and risk dehydration in bright sunshine which is one of the reasons they are less active during the day and most ferocious in the evenings and at night.

Here’s a quick hit list of defenses to prevent the flying pests from ruining your backpacking trip:

  • Tent site selection: Windy exposed points are the place to be. Mosquitos can't fly well in winds over 9 mph, so windier spots are your friend. Just a few feet can make a huge difference in your comfort.
  • Standing Water: Avoiding standing water is a must, but not always possible as we humans are drawn to lakes and rivers for camp sites.
  • Time of Day: Summer days are long and summer evenings can stretch well past 9 PM meaning a nearly endless happy hour for mosquitos. Try sliding your meal prep earlier in the evening before bugs decide you’re on their menu.
  • Head nets/Bug Nets/Mosquito Jackets: These nearly weightless companions can be absolute lifesavers. Stuff two in your pack for a friend.
  • DEET or Picaridin: Skip the Citronella, there is a reason the mosquito is often called the Maine State Bird. DEET has proven effective over decades. Use it.
  • Permethrin Treated Clothes: Permethrin is an odorless, colorless clothing treatment developed by the US military to protect soldiers from insect bites. It acts as a contact insecticide, so it will kill ticks and insects when they come in contact with it. While it may not be a satisfyingly instantaneous death, it certainly deters bugs from landing on you.

FOOT CARE

Although Napoleon said an army travels on its stomach, any soldier knows a soldier goes only as far as his feet will take him.

  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prep your feet before you go. Soaking your feet in Epsom salts, moisturizing them with a product like Trail Toes and trimming toenails is an important first step for any hike.
  • No Intruders: If you feel anything in your shoe that you didn’t put there, remove it immediately. Pebbles, dirt, bark sand can wreak havoc on your feet in no time. Gaiters are an excellent way to keep your feet dry and clear of debris.
  • Elevation: Elevating your feet on every trail break helps reduce swelling, blisters and soreness.
  • Soaking your feet in cold water is just about as close to a magic balm as there is for your feet on the trail. Do it as long and as often as you can. Pure magic for foot health.
  • Pre-Taping: Preventative maintenance is key. Most people’s blisters or hotspots occur in the same places, trip after trip. Pre-taping your feet can save you agony later.
  • Airing out your footwear: Never miss a chance to air out your shoes, socks, insoles and liners. Not only will it prolong the life of your shoes or boots, it will help preserve your most precious asset - your feet.
  • If you feel a hot spot, STOP and take care of it. Immediately. No good will come of trying to muscle through a hotspot. Not only will it get worse, it will get worse quickly. Your feeling are sending you an alarm- heed it. Leukotape, Second Skin, foot powder, Trail Toes can and should be employed to prevent the hot spot from becoming a full blown blister.
Rain

NOT STAYING DRY IN THE RAIN

Although entire treatises have been written on this subject, here are a few of our favorite tips for staying dry-ish on soaking wet days:

  • Prepare for rain on the sunny days. As a backpacker, you’ll want to know what your “stay dry” plan is BEFORE it rains. So take a few hours, lay everything out on a tarp and make sure you have a plan for the inevitable rainy day(s).
  • Stuff several large Hefty trash bags in the bottom of your pack. They are worth their weight in gold. For really wet conditions, lining your pack with a garbage bag is very effective.
  • Always carry a waterproof pack cover. Always. ‘Nuff said.
  • Keep a separate stash of dry clothes in a dry bag for sleeping. Nothing is worse than trying to sleep in wet clothes. If prolonged rain is forecast, expand your stash of “dry clothes.”
  • Your most important piece of dry gear MIGHT be your sleeping bag. Take every precaution you can to keep it dry. Unfortunately it can also be your heaviest most useless piece of kit if it gets wet. Plan accordingly.
  • Gaiters are our favorite piece of “stay dry” gear. Amazing how effective they are at keeping socks and shoes dry which in turn can reduce hotspots and blisters.
  • Raingear’s waterproofness can wane over time. Virtually all rainwear is treated with a durable water repellent finish. That finish can be improved with proper cleaning or restored with a spray on or “wash in” product. Check your rainwear before you go!
Backpacking Mistakes

TENT SITE SELECTION

Deciding where to lay your head is going to have a big impact on your night’s rest. Many of us have awakened to realize that we mistakenly pitched our tent in a shallow depression that looked enticing before it began to rain, but now feels like your brother in law’s waterbed.

  • Seek higher, drier ground. You'll have less moisture in the air to form condensation inside the tent as temperatures drop. Also works to keep mosquitos to a minimum.
  • Look for sites under trees. They create a warmer, more protected microclimate that will produce lower levels of condensation.
  • Be sure to look for overhead hazards. A strong gust can bring them down on top of you. They’re called widow makers for a reason.
  • Avoid camping in low areas between high areas. Rain can channel through and pool when a storm blows in.
  • Orient your tent doors away from the wind. You'll prevent rain from blowing in.
  • Ground is rarely level, be sure to sleep with your head elevated above your feet.
  • Use a groundcloth or “footprint” under your tent. BE SURE the footprint of your groundcloth is SMALLER than your tent if rain is a possibility. Otherwise the groundcloth will simply collect rainwater and carry it to the middle of your tent.
Overpacking

OVERPACKING

The best piece of advice we’ve ever received is ….

Plan to take a shakedown hike. The first day of your adventure is not the place to learn what you’ve forgotten to pack and what you should have never packed in the first place.

Focus on the big three, shelter, water, and food with the first layer of shelter being your clothing. A simple overnight or two day shakedown cruise is the best way to assess your readiness for your multi-day peak bagging trip. The Navy does it and so should you. The most modest overnight or two day hike will likely have you touch/use every piece of gear in your kit and inform what’s irreplaceable and what’s expendable.

No amount of reading or research will surpass what you learn about yourself and your kit more than a shakedown hike.

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