How to Find North Without a Compass

compassLet’s face it…we’ve all forgotten to bring one or more essential items on a hiking or backpacking trip. I, for one, pretty much always forget my compass. Call it overconfidence, forgetfulness, (extremely) early-onset Alzheimer’s…whatever you want. The fact is, I know I’m not the only one. So, what do you do if you find yourself lost on the trail without your compass?

Unless you forgot to bring your watch, too, you can use it to help you figure out which direction is which.  Here’s how:

Turn your watch into a compass

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, simply point the hour hand of your watch at the sun. The point midway between the hour hand and the “12″ on your watch is roughly South. Simply turn around to identify North, right for West, left for South…you get gist. Reverse the technique if you’re hiking in the southern hemisphere.

Ok, let’s say you’re wearing a digital watch, or no watch at all…what do you do?

Make a dirt compass

Here’s a good tip I saw on Man Vs. Wild. It’s not the quickest method, but it’s accurate (note — start this technique in the AM):

  • Find a level piece of ground with good sun exposure, like a meadow or flat ridge top.
  • Drive a 3-4 foot stick straight into the ground.
  • Mark the tip of the stick’s shadow with a pebble.
  • Using this marker, draw an arc around the stick, making sure to keep your original marker in place.
  • As the sun moves across the sky the shadow will shorten and pivot to the other side of the stick. When the shadow meets the other side of the arc, mark this spot with another pebble.
  • Draw a straight line between your two markers. This line represents West (1st marker) to East (2nd marker).
  • Draw a perpendicular line across the E/W line to complete your “dirt compass”.

Do as the Wise Men did

If you’re lost at night, stay put. Seriously. Make camp and wait ’til morning. If the sky’s clear and you MUST try to navigate at night, the best bet is to use the North star (it’s named that for a reason).  Contrary to popular belief, the North star — called Polaris — is not the brightest in the sky (which is Sirius, btw). Here’s how to find it:

  • Locate the Big Dipper
  • Draw an imaginary line between the bottom-outside star in the cup through the top-outside star and beyond. The medium-bright star in the line’s path is Polaris.

These are the most popular tried-and-true methods to find North without a compass, but there’s bound to be others.

3 More GPS Satellites Will Help Hikers Stay on Path

As any frustrated GPS-toting hiker can attest, we’ve come a long way in the location-aware department. But there’s plenty of room for improvement, both with hardware and GPS software.

One of the most common annoyances is losing signal in steep valleys and dense vegetation — just ask the US military operating in Afghanistan.

To help solve this problem, the US Strategic Command is expanding the number of GPS satelites from 24 to 27 over the next two years (the first of which is already en route to its orbiting position). The increase in satellites won’t just help the military, though…hikers, drivers and anything else that relies on global positioning will also benefit.

So, the US Military is stepping it up on the hardware end of things…let’s just hope the Trimbles & Garmins of the world can get their act together and provide more user-friendly, cross-platform software and maps to its hungry users down here on Earth. I mean, it’s not rocket science.

10 Best Hikes In The World

mt whitneyTrimming the world’s best hikes down to 10 is incredibly difficult, just ask the folks at Conceding that it’s almost impossible to account for everyone’s style or favorite type of hike, I think they did a pretty nice job of cobbling together a diverse list of must-hikes across the globe.

Follow this link to learn more about the list-maker’s thought process, as well as to learn a little more about each trek.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at the 10 lucky winners:

  • Mt. Whitney, California
  • Salkantay Trek, Peru
  • Timberline Trail, Oregon
  • Everest Base Camp, Nepal
  • Appalachian Trail, North Carolina
  • Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
  • Zion Narrows, Utah
  • Haute Route, France/Switzerland
  • John Muir Trail, California
  • Cinque Terre, Italy

Stop Guessing Distances – Use A Laser Rangefinder

Laser rangefinders are excellent tools that help you to determine longer distances that wouldn’t be practical or possible to measure by hand. Since their inception, these gadgets have been improved and modified to become serious pieces of equipment. Their scope of use extends far beyond standard construction or labor contexts however.

Laser rangefinders are also a great asset to use when mountaineering or hunting, along with other outdoor activities. is a great resource for determining which rangefinder is best suited for your needs.

Without having access to a laser rangefinder when mountaineering, it is simply impossible to measure the distance up a mountain unless you hike it! But in order to gather the necessary information you need on a hike, a quality laser rangefinder can help you figure out the distance to your next location. This not only provides climbers with an understanding of distances, but it also helps to increase safety by providing accurate and reliable information from which climbers can use to make important decisions, especially on more dangerous and technical routes.

Another great feature of laser rangefinders are their compatibility. When you’re out climbing mountains, the last thing you need is more stuff weighing you down. A majority of laser rangefinders are designed to fit inside your bag with no problem. Depending on your preference, rangefinders for mountaineering can also be handheld or come with a tripod for added stability.

Hunting is all about precision and accuracy. Make any small mistake and that opportunity you had can disappear in seconds. That is why hunters strive to remove all of the unpredictable or unknown variables that they can, ensuring the best chance of making the shot. That is why rangefinders are becoming more in more popular in the hunting world. Rangefinders can provide hunters with the exact distances between them and their targets.


This takes a lot of guesswork and estimating out of the equation which highly increases the chances of a successful shot. There are rangefinders that can be found designed for the sole purpose of hunting. Some models are designed for hand-held usage, while others include mounts or poles. Still, some other models mount directly onto your hunting weapon of choice, whether that be a bow, rifle and more.

Some of the major manufacturers of laser rangefinders include Bushnell, Luepold, hunting giant Cabela, and even some camera manufacturers such as Nikon and Canon produce their own quality laser rangefinders. Depending on the laser rangefinder itself and the manufacturer, their specificity of use may differ. For those wanting to use a rangefinder for only hunting, it would be wise to purchase one from a company who specializes in this field. The same goes for those looking for laser rangefinders for the sole purpose of mountaineering. In effect, all laser rangefinders accomplish the same task, but some added features can specialize it to the user’s particular needs.

Whether you are climbing a mountain or heading out for a weekend of hunting, guessing distances won’t help you succeed. Take away all of the doubts and guessing by utilizing a laser rangefinder. The sheer accuracy of these tools will make sure that all of the unknown variables are removed. If you’re climbing a mountain, you no longer have to worry if your estimates are correct. For those of you hunting, you can remain confident that one shot is going to count.

This entry was posted in Gear.

Backcountry Bartender: 5 Camping Cocktails That Will Blow Your Boots Off

hiking flaskI used to bar tend for extra cash, now it’s to stay afloat. Since I love making drinks so much — and since sending out resumes on a Sunday should be illegal — I’ve decided to take a few minutes and share some cocktails perfect for hiking or backpacking. Now go get Trail Sauced!

Do you have a favorite back country drink? Please share it with the rest of us!

Peppermint Patty
  • 1.5 oz peppermint schnapps
  • 1 packet hot chocolate mix

Heat some water, mix in hot chocolate powder, add the schnapps and sip away.

Grandpa’s Ol’ Sleep Medicine
  • 2 oz scotch or whiskey
  • 2 bags Kava tea (VERY mellowing herb)

Steep tea bags in hot water for 10 minutes, then add whiskey. Try not to fall asleep before getting to your tent.

Mountain Margarita
  • 1.5 oz tequila
  • .5 oz triple sec
  • 1 packet Gatorade Lemon-Lime drink mix

Fill cup with water, add drink mix and stir. Add liquor, stir or shake until mixed thoroughly.

Camper’s Kamikaze
  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • .5 oz triple sec
  • 1 packet Lime Kool-Aid

Fill cup with water, add drink mix and stir. Add liquor, stir or shake until mixed thoroughly.

Back country Bourbon Smoothie
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • dehydrated milk powder

Mix powdered milk in 4-8 oz of water, add bourbon,  shake or stir vigorously, thank me in the morning.

Tip: Pour over a cup of snow if you can. YUM.

How to Stop Chafing When Hiking

body glideNothing can ruin an otherwise great hike like chafing (aka “Monkey Butt”). It’s caused by constant rubbing (most often in the upper thigh/nether regions) coupled with moisture and bacteria build-up. Hikers with chafing issues are often identified by their requisite “duck walk”. While heavier hikers are more prone to chafing, it can happen to anyone at any time. To keep it from happening to you, follow the advice below.

Put simply, prevent chafing by lubricating during the day and keeping dry at night.

Pre-hike prep:

Clean area throughly before heading out. Much of chafing is due to bacteria build-up, so it’s best to start from a sterile base.

Just before hitting the ol’ dusty trail, apply BodyGlide. It’s the most recommended anti-chafing solution on the market, and smoothing some on will eliminate friction for the entire day. As a bonus, you can also put on feet to help prevent blisters.

During hike:

Wipe area with baby wipes or alcohol swaps to keep area clean and rash-free. Remember to reapply the BodyGlide.

Post-hike or in camp:

Wash area thoroughly, dry, then apply Gold Bond Triple Medicated Powder or plain ol’ corn starch. Keeping the area dry while sleeping is absolutely essential for quick healing and chafing prevention.

Some other tips:

* Wear moisture-wicking synthetic underwear. Cotton boxers or briefs retain too much moisture and take hours to dry, so try a pair of Underarmor or spandex instead. Proper fit is essential — opt for a pair that fits tight around the thighs and scrotum (if you have one).

* Wear a kilt and ditch the underwear. You don’t have to be Scottish…there’s not much more refreshing than a cool breeze cooling the jewels during a tough slog through the woods. Disclaimer: I haven’t tried it myself, but many a AT thru hiker swears by the kilt.

* Go commando. If wearing a skirt’s not your thing, simply try a hike without underwear (only try this in summer) under your shorts or pants. As long as you follow the above-mentioned essential steps pre- and post-hike, you shouldn’t experience any rubbing down yonder.


This entry was posted in Gear.

Sew Your Own Tent From Scratch

Well I never would have thought about trying to sew my own tent but then I came across this video of someone who did just that. Seems like a fun project if you happen to have some appropriate fabric around the house. Looks like he used some parachute material which can be made waterproof when treated with the proper coating so it should do the trick.  I would recommend using a good quality sewing machine for the best results, check out these sewing machine reviews to find a reasonably priced one that will do the trick. Making a single person tent shouldn’t be too difficult but I think I will leave the construction of a four man one up the professionals.



This entry was posted in Gear.

5 Easy Ways to Remove That Campfire Smell

campfireThe smell of last weekend’s campfire still clings to your clothes. You try a standard wash and spray it with Febreeze but nothing seems to get rid of it. What’s a hiker to do? Here’s 5 proven ways to get rid of that campfire smell in no time:

1. Have a Coke. Add one can of Coca Cola to your wash along with your normal detergent. A professional cleaner swears this works, so why not give it a spin?

2. Just add vinegar. Add 1 cup of white vinegar to your wash load and let soak for 30-60 min. Also works well for lots of other lingering odors.

3. Pack your threads in potpourri.

To remove the campfire scent and add a fresh, natural scent to your clothes, you need the following:

– Zip-lock bags or plastic bags
– Dried flowers, or other fresh-scented items (do not use fresh flowers because they will get crushed and stain your clothes)
– Baby powder

Follow these steps to get rid of the campfire scent:

– Place some potpourri in the plastic bag, and add a few shakes of baby powder.
– Place the smelly clothes inside the bag.
– Shake the bag thoroughly, like you’re dredging a piece of chicken in flour. Make sure that the baby powder reaches into the folds of your clothes.
– When you’re ready to wear the articles of clothing again, shake off the flowers and the baby powder. You’d be surprised at how clean and fresh-scented your clothes are.

4. Baking soda to the rescue. Baking soda is like the duct tape of…well…ingredients (?). Use #1,452 is adding a tablespoon or two to the washing machine along with fabric softener. No more smokey clothes!

5. Take the lazy way out. Buy some MiraZyme.


This Backpack Generates Electricity

energy backpackUsing the same principles as wave generators, U of Pennsylvania biologist Lawrence Rome has created a backpack that generates about 7 watts of electricity. It works by harnessing the kinetic energy of your body’s movements with shock absorbing parts (and some other complicated stuff).

Amazingly, it’s not much heavier than a normal pack — maybe a few ounces — and early testers say it’s actually more comfortable than normal backpacks.  This is great news for the gadget gear hiker. Hit up TreeHugger for more details.

This entry was posted in Gear.

Desert Does Not Always Mean Hot

I’ll be posting a series of entries about my recent hiking/bouldering excursion to Joshua Tree National Park sometime this week, but a story today on details the rescue of two groups of hikers, one in near Mecca, CA, and another on Mount San Jacinto, which hovers above Palm Springs.

The two Washington State-based hikers on San Jacinto were reportedly hypothermic due to lack of warm clothing and failing to realize that winter temps are often below freezing in the high desert, and especially on surrounding peaks.

hiking mt san jacintoI’ll admit that I once held the same misconception of the California desert, but luckily we had done some research prior to heading to Joshua Tree a couple weeks ago, and subsequently brought a few warm layers, a 20-degree bag, a parka and some gloves. My friend and I, who were seeking a nice respite from the frigid Northeast, were greeted by rain, fog and 40-degree temps in the Morongo Basin, and spent a few extremely chilly nights exposed in the Hidden Valley area of Joshua Tree. Needless to say, we would be the ones being rescued had we not prepared accordingly.

The moral of the story is perhaps obvious: Research, prepare for the unforeseen, and don’t get cocky.