Friday, March 23, 2007

Spice Things Up

I'm into cooking good food, and I don't see any reason for that to stop just because I happen to be in the middle of the woods. But one of the things that I have found a bit of a pain is bringing along a small quantity of spices for a backpacking trip.

The last thing I want to do is load up my backpack with a bunch of heavy, glass spice bottles. So what I sometimes do is pre-measure the herbs and spices for a specific meal and take them in a tiny plastic baggie. But that doesn't allow me to adjust the seasoning at all.

What I really wanted was a way to bring along a selection of herbs and spices in a lightweight, spill-free container. And here's my solution--a multi-compartment pill box!

Pill boxes have small, separate compartments so you can bring along a variety of spices and keep them separate. I had to do a bit of looking around to find ones that seal well on the top. Since pills are quite large, sometimes the makers of plastic pill boxes don't care if their lids leave gaps, but for spice that would mean they'll leak out.

There are two basic configurations for the boxes, so depending on how many spices you want to take you can buy the box that suits your needs.

The most common ones have seven compartments, one for each day of the week. For most people, this is enough for a good, basic spice kit. My suggestions (although everyone has their own favourites) for a seven-spice kit would be: salt, pepper, curry powder, ginger, basil, oregano & garlic powder.

You can also find boxes with four compartments, like the one pictured. They are for medications taken several times per day. In fact, mine came as a set of seven, four-compartment boxes. The whole thing cost me a whopping $2. And you thought camping gear was expensive!

Using several small boxes, I can tailor my spice requirements to the meals I am planning for any given trip rather than taking a basic set of seasonings.

Of course, if you're really hardcore you could pick up a 28-section pill box which is for multiple doses for a whole week. That would give you a full palette of spices to choose from at any time! A bit bulky, but it still wouldn't weigh much.

So that's my advice on spicing up your camping meals. It's all about keeping things light and easy. And since most pill boxes have little flip-up lids I suggest carrying them inside a plastic bag so that they don't accidentally get opened up in your pack and coat everything you own in cayenne pepper!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tips For Twosomes

Here are some more of the tidbits that didn't make the final cut of my book. Waste not, want not I say!

If you backpack with your partner, you may have noticed that there are certain times when a little teamwork can go a long way. Helping out a partner who is smaller or less experienced opens up more options for taking on challenging trails or tougher conditions. So I've outlined a few tips for some of those more challenging moments--crossing rivers and scrambling up or down rocky slopes. Enjoy.

One of the key moments for teamwork is when you need to ford a river. Crossing fast-flowing water can be very dangerous, but by working together you can combine your strength and stability.

There are two basic methods for a couple to cross a river as a team if the water is higher than knee-deep on either person and/or the current is strong and/or the bottom of the river has a lot of loose rocks.

The first method is to cross facing one another with each person’s hands grasping the other’s forearms. The larger person should be upstream, breaking the current for the smaller person. You should walk sideways across the river, and take turns stepping so that one of you always has two feet on the bottom. Think of it as slow dancing in fifth grade. Awkward and not very cuddly, but at least you’re making contact.

The second method is useful if you’re hiking with poles. You should link arms, and each carry a hiking pole or sturdy branch in your free arm. Face the far bank of the river, and cross using your poles for stability, as a sort of third leg. Again, it’s best if one of you takes a step, then the other, so that one of you is stable at all times. This I like to think of as the ‘boy scout helping an old lady across the road’ method. But I’m not sure the name will catch on.

If there is a big size difference between the two of you, sometimes the crossing is only difficult for the smaller person. If this is the case, the taller partner can help out by making an extra trip. His first trip (sorry, but the law of averages says the guy will probably be the tall one) should be used to cross the river and leave his pack on the far side. Then after returning, he should put on his partner’s pack, and they can do one of the paired methods of crossing described above. This will not only help the smaller person’s balance by taking her pack away, it will also help to keep her gear dry if the river comes up above her hips. The taller person will obviously be carrying the pack higher above the water than the shorter person could. Note that this is not an excuse to wear high heels when you go camping, in case you were considering it. They won’t help your stability any when you’re trying to cross a river.

Climbing up or down steep slopes and boulder hopping are other times when teamwork can be a big help, particularly if you have a big difference in size or experience. It’s easy to forget that if your partner’s legs are shorter than yours, you may be able to make a leap from one rock to another where your partner can’t, or you may be able to step up onto a rock that your partner will have to climb onto using several steps or pulling up with his or her arms. It’s important to stick together over this type of terrain, especially if one of you is inexperienced and may need a bit of help. I’ve been left behind by a group who went somewhere that my short legs just couldn’t reach, and I had to stand there and wait until they realized I was gone and someone came back to help me. Believe me, it was not a nice feeling! It was, on the other hand, a good reminder of why you should keep a whistle somewhere easy to reach.

A larger partner can be helpful when the smaller partner is having difficulty climbing up or down rocks by getting to the next step and having the smaller person hand over (or up or down) their pack. This will enable the smaller person to clamber over the rocks without getting a pack caught or wedged, and it will also help with balance. This is particularly helpful when trying to climb down from a large rock, if a small person has to slide off on his or her bum because it’s too far to step down. The sliding is much easier without a pack on. This was my preferred method of descending the Grand Canyon, and I have the shredded pants to prove it!

Sometimes all that’s needed is literally a helping hand. Reaching down to pull your partner up a big step is an easy way to help without taking the time to take off a pack and have to put it on again after. It’s also sometimes the only thing you can do, if there’s no safe place to put a pack on the ground. Sometimes my partner will be behind me when I’m climbing up a big step, and he’ll just give me a shove upwards. It’s not exactly graceful looking, but it works.

Every once in a while the smaller partner is the one with the advantage. Sometimes a smaller foot can balance on a ledge where a larger foot can’t. Or a smaller hiker can duck under a fallen tree that a taller person has to climb over or walk around. So it’s important to make sure your partner can follow you whether you are the big one or the little one. By keeping an close eye on each other, and working as a team using all of your different strengths and abilities, you can keep each other safe and happy.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

But... it was on sale!

There's no two ways about it, good backpacking gear can get pretty pricey. I've always been something of a bargain hunter, so I tend to get sticker shock of the highest degree when I look at quality outdoor clothing. $30 for a pair of socks? I don't think so!

You can imagine my excitement then, when G told me that one of New Zealand's top outdoor clothing brands, Earth Sea Sky, was having a clearance sale over the weekend. He's a big fan of their stuff, and owns a good range of it. I'm more likely to admire it from afar, and wish it didn't cost so much. Then buy something manufactured in China for half the price.

I was surprised at how much stock they actually had at the sale. I was expecting odds and ends, but there was actually a pretty wide range of stuff. And the discounts were significant enough that I didn't just let out a heavy sigh and leave. Instead I dug around to see what they had in my size.

I've been camping with the same rubbery rain jacket for six or seven years. It's waterproof and reasonably light, but it doesn't breathe, so I only put it on if I'm going to get soaked otherwise. So I've kinda been keeping an eye out for a nice, lightweight rain jacket to replace it. But of course the minute I see the $300 price tag for a waterproof breathable, I just put it back on the rack. It may well be worth the price, but I can't seem to convince myself that I need one that badly.

So when I saw them on sale for a mere $199, I had to think long and hard. It's still a lot of money, but significantly less than the regular price. Best of all, they had a pretty "raspberry" coloured one in my size. Not only is it a good colour on me, it also makes me slightly less likely to be accidentally fired on by hunters, and easier for G to find me if I wander off along the wrong trail.

After some debate, G made it clear that I'd be leaving the shop with that jacket, even if he had to buy it for me. So I bit the proverbial bullet and decided to invest in a good piece of outerwear at last. And, well, I just had to pick up a merino wool 3/4 sleeve top while I was at it. In "lipstick" pink. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

So thanks to the folks at Earth Sea Sky for deciding to clear out last year's leftovers. Now I can look legit on the trails - not to mention fabulous in raspberry!