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Backcountry Gourmet: How to Make Your Own Ultralight Backpacking Meals

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Logistics Guru and Backcountry Chef for the #BeSafeGannett Expedition, Chelsea Miller helped her team stay organized and well-fed for a week spent in the Wind River Range. Below, she gave us the inside scoop on making ultralight backpacking meals and cooking techniques, as well as some recipes you’ll be dying to hit the trail and try for yourself. 

Backpacking Meals: A Balance of Taste & Weight

For our meals in the Wind River Range, I only had to boil water to make a tasty, nutritious meal!

At home, I love cooking elaborate meals with fresh ingredients.  This means that I often get a little too excited about backpacking meals and cooking, lugging potatoes, cans of coconut milk, blocks of cheese, and large pots on backpacking trips.  Much to the chagrin of my team, I also end up weighing down their packs.

For our #BeSafeGannett Expedition, I knew our packs would already be weighed down with the gear required for glacier travel. I wanted to minimize the impact food would have on our packs while keeping dinner interesting and nutritious. To do this, I opted for freezer bag style cooking. All of our ingredients were essentially instant and only needed to soak in hot water for five minutes before eating.  This meant that we only needed to carry a stove and a small pot in order to have a hot meal every night.

With all the gear we had to carry, my goal was to make our meals as light as possible.

Every night, I would boil a pot of water (we used this pot set and this stove), pour the water into the freezer bag holding that night’s meal, put the freezer bag in an insulator (I can’t find the exact one we used, and this one is much fancier than what we used.  Honestly, you can use foil insulation and duct tape to make a workable cozy.), and then wait for a long five minutes until we were enjoying a delicious hot meal.  (While cooking directly in the freezer bag worked best for us because we only wanted to carry a small pot for the four of us and not need to clean it each night, you can also opt to cook this right in a pot or in your mess kit.)

I prepped and cooked our meals in freezer bags, which was super convenient.

This process worked really well for us on the trail, and it only took me an hour at home to assemble meals for four for a week.

The Basic Formula

Building these backpacking meals felt like an Iron Chef challenge where the secret ingredient was dehydrated chicken, which was in every meal I made.  I wanted our meals to be well balanced and calorie dense.  Therefore, I followed a basic formula for every recipe: protein, instant carbs, dehydrated vegetables and spices.

As I just mentioned, I opted for freeze dried chicken, but Mountain House has lots of different options if you want to mix it up even more.  For a carb base, I used couscous, instant rice, instant potatoes, and rice noodles (depending on the meal).  All of these only need to soak in hot water, rather than foods that need to cook such as pasta, quinoa, or rice.  To pick a carb base that will work, make sure the cooking instructions either tell you to “remove from heat and let sit” or to boil for less than 3 minutes.  (Note: for the rice noodles, we cooked them separately then added them to the spice and chicken mixture.  We wanted to soak them and then drain off the water to make sure our sauce wasn’t too watery.)

For the Thai Peanut Noodles dinner, I cooked the rice noodles separately to drain off the water.

To every meal, I added dehydrated vegetables and chia seeds for an added nutritional boost.  In order to “spice” things up, I added things like curry powder, parmesan cheese, and garlic to create different flavors.

Backcountry Test Kitchen

As this was my first time cooking this way, I wanted to make sure the backpacking meals were going to turn out OK before we headed off on the trip. My first attempt, which was tasted by the team after an evening of practicing our ice axe skills on the snow patches left on Cannon Mountain, did not pan out well.  I attempted to make a Fettucine Alfredo with noodles that cooked in 5 minutes, and we attempted to make the meal in our individual bowls by divvying up the mix ahead of time, instead of cooking it all together in the freezer bag.  We were left with watery, yet still crunchy noodles in a rapidly cooling sauce. This was the last thing we would want after a long day of hiking in the Wind River Range.

I adjusted the cook time of my carbohydrate base and opted to cook in the freezer bag insulator, which led to more success. I sent Couscous Alfredo and Shepherd’s Pie along with Joe on his climb up Mt. Whitney in June, and Jenny and I sampled the Curried Couscous on a weekend trip through the White Mountains.  All of these test runs went smoothly; getting to test the recipes before we started on our trip helped me build confidence that these would actually work when we were on the trail.

Eating Our Way through the Winds

For our trip, I made each of the recipes below, opting to pack 2 nights worth of Couscous Alfredo, as it’s my favorite and I’ve never gotten complaints about packing more cheese and garlic.

Our first night on the trail, we eagerly tucked into the Couscous Alfredo.  Although we were starving, we all filled up quickly and struggled to finish the entire dinner. When packing our backpacking meals, I had split each night’s dinner into two freezer bags, as each freezer bag required a full liter of water, and our pot only has a 1.4 liter capacity. This ended up working to our favor, as after that first night, we had two dinners.  We had our first dinner mid-afternoon, around 4pm, and another a few hours later.  This worked really well for our team and allowed us to ration our snacks a little better.

Backpacking Meals

We enjoyed Couscous Alfredo our first night on the trail, with a great view of Little Seneca Lake.

Our final total food weight per person ended up being just over 15 lbs.  Altogether, the dinners I assembled came in at 12 lbs. total, meaning everyone only had to carry 3 lbs. worth of dinner foods.  Our breakfast/lunch/snack packs ended up weighing the most, coming it at around 11 lbs. per person. Our lunch/snacks included everything we would eat during the day, including: Clif bars, beef sticks, electrolyte gummies, Nuun tablets, and flavored tuna packets.

My teammate Jenny’s snacks laid out, ready to pack.

For breakfast, some of us opted for oatmeal while others had whole wheat English muffins with peanut butter and honey.  Next time, I’m going to pack a mix of breakfast options for myself, as I get very bored eating the same thing every day.  By our last morning, I couldn’t handle another peanut butter English muffin.

As we ended up hiking out a day early, we had an extra dinner that we were able to give to a pair of Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers who were thrilled by the lightweight meal and easy cooking instructions. All of the food prep for this trip went so smoothly, and all of our backpacking meals were so delicious, that I plan on packing food like this for all future adventures. This style of cooking also lent itself well to long days on the mountain. After our 21 hour summit day, it was so nice to only be a pot of boiling water way from our Thanksgiving-themed dinner.

Your Turn – Try Our Recipes or Give Them Your Own Spin

We were lucky that our team didn’t have any dietary restrictions, but all of these recipes should be adaptable for gluten free or vegetarian diets.  Many of my recipes were adapted from theyummylife – she also has a number of recipes for great instant soups! She also gave me the tip about adding Chia seeds to each recipe.

Feel free to be creative and mix it up! If you follow the simple formula above, the possibilities are endless. Let us know what your favorite combinations are so we can give them a try, or send us recipes for your favorite backpacking meals!

Couscous Alfredo

  • 1 cup couscous
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Fried Rice

 

Jenny’s favorite part of Fried Rice was the cashews!

  • 1 cup Instant Rice
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ pkg Fried Rice Seasoning
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • ¼ cup nuts (Cashews or Peanuts)
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Curried Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ¼ cup cashews
  • ½ cup dried vegetables
  • 1 tbs onions
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tbs raisins
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 2 tsp garlic powder

Thanksgiving Dinner

  • ¼ pkg Instant Potatoes
  • ½ cup instant stuffing
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ pkg instant gravy
  • ½ cup dried vegetables
  • 2 Tbs dried cranberries
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 tbs chia seeds

Shepherd’s Pie

  • ½ pkg instant loaded potatoes
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 2 tbs onions
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Thai Peanut Noodles

  • ¼ pkg rice noodles
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 2 Tbs dehydrated peanut butter
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbs chia seeds

About the Author

Chelsea Miller grew up hiking and skiing in the White Mountains, which have always held a special place in her heart. She started working at Tender Corporation in 2015 in order to make the Whites her home. When she’s not hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking throughout New England, you can find her day dreaming about her next big adventure. Recently she’s traveled to Thailand, Western Canada, and Germany, as well as deep into the Wind River Range of Wyoming as part of the #BeSafeGannett Expedition.

Surviving the Backcountry: Tips on Training, Gear, & First Aid Supplies from Expedition #BeSafeGannett

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

#BeSafeGannet – 3 Days to Go!

This Friday, July 13th, #TeamTender will board a plane with all their gear and head out for Wyoming on the #BeSafeGannett Expedition up Gannett Peak. To say we’re excited would be an understatement! Although our expedition won’t physically begin until we reach the trailhead on July 14th, for our team the journey began over 8 months ago, and each day of training and preparation has taken us one step closer towards reaching the summit, a goal we hope to have achieved in less than 10 days from today.

Team lead Joe Miller here to give you a snap shot of how our team has prepared themselves to #BeSafe on this expedition with months of planning, including everything from physical training to gear considerations to choosing a medical kit. I’m going to give you a look at what questions, criteria, and rules I use to help me and my team travel safe and prepared.

8 Months of Preparation

#TeamTender has put in a huge amount of effort preparing for this expedition. Trip logistics planning kicked off 8 months before the expedition start date, and training plans were initiated 6 months prior. If you have read my previous blog post on trip safety, you know just how much effort should go into any backcountry excursion. A trip this remote forces you to perform a lot more preparation in order to #BeSafe.

One of the most important pieces of our preparation was building and executing our training plans, as the best thing you can do to ensure safety on the expedition is to be fit and fast.  If you’re looking for a good resource on building your first training plan, I highly recommend “Training for the New Alpinism” by Steve House and Scott Johnson.  In addition to the physical training, a lot of preparation has gone into choosing our gear, building our first aid kit and preparing for emergency scenarios.

Gear Preparation

Besides fitness, gear is the next piece of preparation in trip safety.  I love gear. I mean I really really love gear. You should check out my truck: its gear central. From packs, to sleep systems, climbing gear, boots, layering, biking supplies, avalanche travel necessities, cooking systems, fishing supplies, first responder gear, and especially first aid and survival gear, my truck is a rolling closet of anything you could ever want on any adventure. I love to be prepared for everything.

New gear for two of our team included investing in a large pack capable of hauling 40+ lbs.

When picking out gear I look for a few specific criteria:

  1. How well does the gear support your goal?
  2. How much effort does this gear take to use?
  3. How reliable is this piece of equipment?

Criterion 1: How well does the gear support your goal?

Look at everything you are bringing and determine how well it supports and/or limits your achievement of your goal. The latter is fairly easier to determine. Does it weigh a ton? How much “just in case” logic did you use to justify that in your pack? How does it directly support your goal? Your goal should be 1) whatever objective you’re gunning for, and 2) getting back out alive. As the great Ed Vestures said “Getting to the top is optional – getting down is mandatory.” However, while “what if” thinking is sometimes helpful, it shouldn’t encourage you to pack for every extreme.

Criterion 2: How much effort does this gear take to use?

“Ultra-lighters” live by this one. Ounces add up to pounds, and that weight ends up on your back (or your adventure buddy’s pack). The lighter the better, but also refer to criterion number 1. Some things are absolutely worth their weight. If you’re trekking across a glacier like we will be, a rope and other glacier gear is mandatory weight (falling in a crevasse doesn’t need to be life ending). That being said, if you can minimize weight and/or use items for multiple purposes, you can cut weight elsewhere. For instance, I know I will need some cordage for anchor building material in crevasse rescues; this can also double as tent tie downs, splint material, and gear straps.

#TeamTender getting in some post-work rope training in preparation for glacier travel.

This criterion also holds true for ability to use – simple, easy-to-use items work better for a team. For example, while some super-duper ultralight stoves can shave grams off your base weight, it can take over an hour to cook dinner.  When you’re in need of some necessary food and cook time prevents you from going to bed earlier, is it really that helpful?  Everyone will have different views and gear priorities, and as with anything in life, a good balance is key.

Criterion 3: How reliable is this piece of equipment?

This is really a combination of criteria 1 and 2, but it warrants its own attention. On one of my earliest trips as a leader, I remember hauling back an old stove which had definitely seen many years of abuse. 3 days into the trip the stove stopped working in spite of copious amounts of fuel. Five hungry and tired boys waited impatiently as I stressfully dismantled, fixed, and reassembled our stove in an attempt to feed us all. Emergencies don’t happen when you’re alert and ready for them; they happen when you are tired, hurt, or have already made one or many bad decisions.

When heading out on a big trip like #BeSafeGannett, you should already know you can rely on your gear. This is not a time for testing out new products or systems.  You should know how your gear works, inside and out, and have relied on it before.  This way, you will know how to use it when you’re tired, injured, or just plain hungry.  I like to slowly work changes into my backcountry systems one at a time so nothing feels too foreign. If you’re going on a big trip, you better have your systems (and your teammates’ systems) figured out well in advance.

First Aid Kit Preparation

Because I want to know everything in my pack and limit my gear to the essentials, I personalize and rationalize everything I’m bringing with me – this also applies to my first aid supplies. I start with a base kit (for this trip I used the Mountain Series Explorer) and customize it out from there based upon what my team needs for a specific trip – in this case to safely climb Gannett Peak.

The Mountain Series Explorer kit contains first aid supplies to equip a team of 4 headed out for up to 7 days, which exactly fits our expedition.

When building a kit, it’s essential to consider the gear criteria I detailed above, but it’s more important to remember – you have to get out of this alive. Remember:

  1. Your #1 goal is getting out alive
  2. Your medical is important enough to be heavy, but not unnecessarily so
  3. Your first aid supplies need to be reliable

1. Get Out Alive

In the backcountry, medical support is very limited, and your #1 goal needs to be to get out alive. You should categorize every medical situation as life threatening, long-term debilitating, or minor. The first two categories should yield an immediate decision to evacuate and get to better medical attention. During anything life threatening, the goal is to support life until front country medicine is available. For life threatening scenarios, knowing CPR and what supplies should work to combat major bleeds, circulation problems, allergies, and environmental issues is imperative.  Any potential long term debilitation from an injury should be minimized. This includes spinal issues, preventing infection, and immobilizing fractures to prevent more harm. Anything minor should be addressed quickly so it doesn’t escalate into a bigger issue. I’m speaking in broad terms here, but looking at your first aid kit and analyzing whether its contents will help you get out of a bad situation alive is a useful exercise.

2. Weight vs. Contents

How heavy does a medical kit have to be? This tends to be the hardest part of building a first aid kit; it’s truly a balancing act. Often, first aid kits are too large, and used by those with little understanding of how to properly use the components of the kit.

Recently, I vetted my personal first aid kit with a combat medic.  Through this, I learned that proper training allows greater resourcefulness. As with athletic training, if you have proper medical training you can do more with less. Anyone intending to spend time in the backcountry should take a Wilderness First Aid course, such as those offered by SOLO Wilderness Medicine. For those wanting to peruse further backcountry medical knowledge, the Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness EMT courses are intensive and thorough.

Regardless of what medical training you have, ensure that you know how to use the items in your kit and that you are prepared to use them to take care of potential medical issues on your trip. Basic, easy-to-use supplies are often best, as you (or your team) may be able to use them without much training and for a variety of issues. Beware of having a single, bulky item that will only help you in a very specific scenario, especially if it is easy to misuse. Building your kit is a balancing act, and only you know what will work best for you.

3. Reliable Contents

You need to rely on your first aid kit more than any other piece of gear in the back country. You need to audit and refill your kit before and after your adventures. It takes a lot of thought and practice to maintain a reliable kit to ensure that you and your team know how to respond if any life threatening or debilitating event happens. Everyone on your team should know where the first aid kit is and how to use the supplies inside. Ensuring your components are worthwhile is very important; sterility for wounds, strong bandages that hold in place, and non-expired medications are key. Having quality medical components is something Tender Corporation takes great pride in.

Building a First Aid Kit for #BeSafeGannett

As I said before, I took the Adventure® Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer kit and customized it for the specific risks we will encounter in the Wind River Range. I prioritized supplies that will address life-threatening issues and found ways to use those same supplies for minor issues. I also added some items for more specific scenarios because I’ve personally justified their use-to-weight ratio.  Here’s some of what I’m packing for the group kit for the Wind River Range:

Emergency Plan: The first thing that goes into my first aid kit is a documented Emergency plan. I put this in a zip lock bag so it is still legible if it rains. This holds route information, evacuation routes, individual medical information, and primary insurance information. For Gannett, everyone has secondary backcountry rescue insurance as well. (If you’re an American Alpine Club member you get this with your membership!) Creating an emergency plan helps keep everyone on the same page.  Leave a copy of your emergency plan with a loved one, so that they can give it to the responsible rescue parties should they need to. Having an emergency plan should stimulate a conversation with your team on any pre-existing medical conditions that might impact care on the trail. This will also help you decide on any other specific items for your kit.

Gloves: Providing medical assistance can get messy.  Clearing an airways and dealing with other bodily fluids should not be done without a pair of gloves.

Diphenhydramine: Having Diphenhydramine medication is important for any allergic reactions which cause swelling to close airways. If someone is seriously allergic, they should have an epi-pen and you should know where they keep it. I also have some NSAIDs in my kit in case a patient’s personal preference is to take them. Having some form of anti-diarrhea medication is key for overnights. For longer backcountry trips, I also carry a few days’ worth of antibiotics in case something does get infected. You’ll need a prescription for these and should use under the direction of your doctor.

Dressings: Supplies to stop bleeding take up most of the space in my kit. Any major bleeding will cause issues in circulation, so it needs to be addressed immediately. I pack a few sets of rolled gauze, a couple triangle bandages with safety pins, self-adhering bandages, elastic bandages, medical tape, Easy Access Bandages®, tincture of benzoin, moleskin, and an Advanced Clotting Sponge. With this, I can take care of any major or minor bleeding issues. I’m not going to go deep into the intricacies of wound care, but here’s a reminder of the basics: apply direct pressure to stop bleeding, (if you need to go hands free create a pressure dressing), clean the wound to prevent infection and protect the wound from further risk of infection.

Support for Sprains and Strains: For major sprains and strains I utilize triangular bandages (remember, the ones I can also use to stop bleeding?) and straps from my pack. Beyond that, you can use your hiking poles, or sticks to splint and stabilize. I abide by the “RICE” approach for most issues that are not life threatening: Rest, Ice (or cool), Compress, and Elevate. More major issues that require immediate hospitalization are splinted, immobilized, and evacuated.

Shelter and Warmth: In case of hypothermia or for a make shift shelter, I have a Survive Outdoors Longer® Emergency Blanket. I can hypo wrap a patient with this, or create some shade or protection from rain if necessary. I’ll also have some strike anywhere waterproof matches for quick fire starting. If I’m not already on a climbing trip, some p-cord makes good use for splints and traction. Other survival gear includes a compass and water purification.

Signing Off

We hit the trail July 14th and will be sending updates from the trail whenever we can, which our trip coordinator will be sharing on social media. Make sure to be checking our hashtag #BeSafeGannett for the latest updates. We can’t wait to put all our training to good use and share this experience with you! – #TeamTender

 

Getting Your Climbing Gear Through TSA: Planning for Adventure Travel

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Planning for adventure travel can be exciting and intimidating.  Sometimes planning takes months, even years; other times, it takes just a few hours. The process, however, remains essentially the same, whether you’re prepping for a weekend backpacking trip or a long expedition.

Paddling the Columbia River

I plan the majority of adventures in my backyard, as I’m lucky enough to call the White Mountains home.  Even though I may have done a hike in the Whites many times before, it still requires a cursory check of the weather and trail conditions in order to properly prepare.  The time taken to plan a trip helps me build excitement and ultimately have a better time.  While you can never account for every detail (and why would you want to?), striking the perfect balance between preparation, spontaneity, and flexibility can lead to a perfectly executed adventure.

Adventure Travel: The Planning Process

Where to Wander

This is the fun part of trip planning.  Where does your mind go when it wanders?  Do you need a warm weather adventure to break up a cold northeastern winter?  Do you dream of carving perfect lines in an Alaskan snowfield?  Do you want to show a friend your favorite nearby hike?  There is freedom in making this choice, as you can go WHEREVER you want.  You don’t have to go to the trendiest spot on Instagram or follow any “50 places you must see before you die” lists – go where will make you the most happy and feel the most accomplished.

What goals do you want to achieve?  This varies from person to person.  For me, my travel goals are place oriented – I want to explore Banff National Park, or go trekking in Peru.  On the other hand, my husband’s goals are much more specific – he wants to climb Beckey-Chouinard in the Bugaboos and summit Alpamayo.  Traveling in groups requires more compromise than traveling solo; however, having a travel partner (or partners) will also drive you to take trips you never considered or thought possible.  Last summer, along with a group of incredible friends, I took a trip to Alberta and British Columbia.  The centerpiece of this adventure was a week of climbing in Bugaboo Provincial Park.

The drive in to the Bugaboos

While I always wanted to visit Banff, I hadn’t heard of the Bugaboos until one of our friends brought it up.  Immediately, I was entranced by the towering spires and beautiful scenery.  All it takes is some planning to make your travel dreams a reality.

Do Your Research

Become an expert on wherever you’re going.  Not only will it help you have a more enjoyable, less stressful trip, but it will also save you some trouble down the line.  What is the best season to visit your desired location?  Will you need any permits?  The research you do at home can give you more confidence in making spontaneous decisions and help keep you out of dangerous or potentially disappointing scenarios.  In doing research for the Bugaboos, I came across an interesting piece of information.  At the trailhead, which is miles back on a winding mountain road, you must wrap your car in chicken wire to prevent the local porcupines from chewing through your brake lines.

Preparing to keep some porcupines at bay!

Imagine arriving at your car after an exhausting week climbing in the backcountry, ready for a shower and a burger – only to find your brake lines severed by a hungry porcupine.  A little research goes a long way to ensure that you run into minimal roadblocks and understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Cars wrapped in chicken wire at the base of the Bugaboos

Beyond ensuring you have less issues, research also helps build excitement for the trip.  Looking into trip reports and reading guidebooks allows you to foster excitement about the trip to come.  While I was intimidated by the classic routes in the Bugaboos, I was able to research a number of routes within (or just beyond) my current climbing level.  This gave me motivation to train harder in preparation for the trip and gave me a realistic idea of what routes would put me in a dangerous situation.  While it’s important to put yourself out of your comfort-zone, research will ensure that you do so without taking on undue risk.

Pack Your Bags

As anyone who has ever traveled with me can confirm, I love my packing lists.  I write them out by hand and edit them in the weeks leading up to the trip.  I love traveling light, but hate being unprepared.  Drafting a packing list ahead of time helps me whittle down the list so that by the time we leave, only the essentials remain.

Snowy rock spires at the Bugaboos

In the Bugaboos, I knew we would be experiencing snow and cold temperatures, but I was leaving from a warm August in New England.  I drafted my first packing list after a winter hike in March when cold, blustery summits were still fresh in my mind.  Who knows if I would have remembered all of my winter layers and my Escape Pro Bivvy if I had waited until a 900 summer day to pack my bag!

Hone Your Inner Fortune Teller

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could foresee and prevent all potential problems?  While this is unreasonable, there are a few things you can do to ensure preventable issues don’t arise.   I try to think through the entirety of my trip – is there anything I can do to prevent major issues?  The centerpiece of our Canada trip was Rock Climbing, and I knew we would be devastated if we weren’t able to do any climbing.

The beautiful, rocky Bugaboos

For this reason, we carried all of our essential rock climbing gear on the plane with us. (Note: after some research before doing this, we found out that TSA is only bothered by nut tools – keep that in your checked luggage).  While we got a thorough check when going through security (and our bags ended up safely meeting us in Calgary), it gave us piece of mind knowing that, if something were to go wrong and our bags didn’t end up joining us, we could still climb.  While you don’t always want to plan for “worst case scenario,” some preemptive problem solving can make your trip run smoothly.

Be Flexible

Hiking into the Bugaboos

A plan is only as good as its ability to change.  Just because something doesn’t end up working out the way you intended, doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful adventure.  During our Bugaboo trip, it seemed like our plans were foiled at every turn.  Due to a warm summer and forest fires, the glacier crossing necessary to access most of the classic routes was too dangerous to attempt.  On our approach to one of the accessible climbs, my partner sprained his ankle and needed to hike out.  (Though the hike out was made easier because of the C-Splint we included in our packing lists.)

Hiking out after a sprained ankle

As a result of the forest fires, the Provincial government began closing down all public lands, leaving us with limited options for adventures back in town.  Laid out like this, these factors seem like they could ruin a trip.  Due to our prior research, we had back up plans for our back up plans and ended up having a lovely time.  We didn’t let our disappointment at not reaching our intended climbs weigh on us (for too long), and enjoyed paddling the Columbia River, soaking in Radium Hot Springs, and hiking in Kootenay National Park.

When a plan goes awry, the only thing to do is maintain an optimistic attitude and remain flexible. You can plan all you want, but sometimes Mother Nature and unforeseen circumstances get the best of you.  All you can do is rely your knowledge, and adjust.

Although a lot goes into planning an adventure, the most important part is remembering why you’re taking the trip in the first place.  Whether you have a major goal in mind or want to soak in the beautiful scenery of a new place, make sure to enjoy the journey.  Time to start dreaming – safe travels!

About the Author

Chelsea Miller grew up hiking and skiing in the White Mountains, which have always held a special place in her heart. She started working at Tender Corporation in 2015 in order to make the Whites her home.  When she’s not hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking throughout New England, you can find her day dreaming about her next big adventure.  Recently she’s traveled Thailand, Western Canada, and Germany and is looking forward to trips to SLC, Wyoming, and the UK.

Multi-Day Wilderness Trips: Choosing a Medical Kit

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

We asked a wilderness guide for tips from his experience on how to be medically prepared for trips into the wilderness. He provided us with great questions to ask yourself before you choose a first aid kit for a multi-day adventure, as well as insight into his personal process. – Adventure® Medical Kits

Backpacker headed out on a trip.

Have you covered the other basics (food, shelter, survival)?

As I get organized to lead a group into the wilderness, being prepared fills my mind as a top priority. Once I have my bases covered on the topics of shelter, food, and clothing, I consider the smaller items that can easily get overlooked. These items cover the topics of safety and comfort and include things like lighting, cleanliness, evacuation (typically a satellite communication device), and first aid. I don’t need to bring a survival kit on my multi-day foray into the wilderness, since my tent, sleeping bag/pad, clothing, food and camp kitchen are the greatest survival kit of all times. I do, however, need to bring a medical kit.

Does your medical kit have supplies to treat common injuries?

Those who enjoy the wilderness need to have some lessons in first aid and a reliable medical kit, as the best way to know what to bring as far as first aid material goes is to first be educated in how to address a variety of medical situations in the backcountry. This will help you identify what items you need, but you also need to understand what your highest priority medical items are based on the most likely injuries to occur.

The best medical kit is the one that can manage the most common injuries that occur in the woods and mountains. Having spent thousands of days in the wilderness over two decades and having been a full time guide for the past 7 years, I have found the following issues to be the most common ones that occur and need treatment:

  • Blisters
  • Cuts
  • Scrapes
  • Burns
  • Knee/ankle injuries

To manage most of these issues, keeping them clean and dressed can be the difference between a nuisance and a major infection. A medical kit needs to be fully stocked with alcohol prep pads, sanitizing wipes, gauze pads of various sizes, and a syringe for irrigating cuts. Along with these, adhesive bandages of various sizes, as well as athletic tape, need to be included to dress a skin deep medical issue.

Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Backpacker Kit

The Easy Care First Aid Organization System found in Adventure Medical Kits features injury-specific compartments with clear labels.

Can you find the first aid supplies you need quickly?

One thing that is often overlooked in medical kits is the layout. If someone is being treated, efficiency is important. To be efficient, the kit needs to have everything labeled and organized. When you head out there and review the details of your medical kit, or if you are purchasing a new one, make sure it meets the following criteria:

  • Has adequate amounts of high quality material, appropriate for your trip
  • Is organized and labeled
  • Contains a booklet for reviewing proper treatments
  • Is made of durable material
  • Is not too heavy

In an ideal world, we go out there into the backcountry many times and never touch our medical kits. In the event that we do need it though, it needs to be the right thing, so don’t hold back when preparing or purchasing this crucial wilderness item.

About the Author

Daniel Laggner has been a full-time guide and wilderness survival instructor for 7 seasons and has over 20 years experience in outdoor sports and the outdoor industry. He has conducted several long-term expeditions, spending weeks in the remote wilderness of the Colorado Rockies, Sierra Nevada, and northern Patagonia. He is currently Lead Guide and Co-owner of Treks and Tracks.

Basic First Aid Skills-Identifying and Addressing Altitude Sickness

Monday, October 10th, 2016

thinkstock_people-with-dog-hikingMountain sickness is an illness that can affect mountain climbers, hikers, skiers, or travelers at high altitudes, usually above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). On your next trip to the mountains, be sure to watch yourself and your companions for signs of altitude sickness as you travel to higher elevations.

Taken from Adventure Medical Kits’ Wilderness & Travel Medicine Guide, By Dr. Eric A. Weiss

What causes Altitude Illness or Mountain Sickness? Altitude Illness is a direct result of the reduced barometric pressure and concentration of oxygen in the air at high elevations. The lower pressure makes the air less dense, so each time we breathe each inhalation contains fewer oxygen molecules and the body begins to feel deprived resulting in headaches, shortness of breath, weakness and nausea.

Prevention

  • Follow the “Golden Rule of Altitude Illness”- Above 8000 feet, assume headaches, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting should be considered altitude illness until proven otherwise. Even with mild symptoms, symptoms should be addressed and/or resolved before continuing to higher elevations. Anyone with worsening symptoms or severe symptoms should descend immediately to lower altitudes.
  • Graded ascents are the best and safest method for preventing illness. Average no more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain per day after 10,000 feet.
  • Avoid abrupt ascent to sleeping altitudes greater than 10,000 feet.
  • Day trips to higher altitudes with returns to lower altitudes for sleeping will aid in acclimatization.
  • Eating food high in carbohydrates and low in fat and staying well hydrated helps.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol consumption

Mild Altitude Illness: Acute Mountain Sickness

Signs and Symptoms

Acute Mountain Sickness is common in travelers who ascend rapidly to altitudes about 7,000 feet. They typical sufferer experiences a headache, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and nausea. Swelling of the face or hands may be an early sign. Children are generally more susceptible than adults.

Treatment

  • With mild symptoms, refrain from going any higher in elevation.
  • Watch the victim closely for worsening symptoms.
  • Usually, within 1-2 days, the victim will feel better and can travel to higher elevations with caution.
  • For headaches, administer acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen. Follow directions for dosing.
  • Minimize exertion
  • Avoid sleeping pills
  • Visit a medical professional for a prescription of Diamox (a drug that aids in relieving symptoms)

When to Worry

Severe Altitude Illness-High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

If the victim presents the following, seek IMMEDIATE Medical Help and assist the victim in descending immediately at least 3000 feet and administer oxygen.

  • Marked breathlessness upon minor exertion
  • A severe headache unrelieved by Tylenol or Ibuprofen.
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion, hallucinations, stupor or coma
  • Transient blindness, partial paralysis or loss of sensation on one side of the body.
  • A dry hacking cough
  • Anxiety, restlessness, and rapid pulse
  • Bluish color of the lips and nails, indicating poor oxygen in the blood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Things I Learned While Running in the Colorado Rockies

Monday, October 10th, 2016

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By Adventure Medical Kits’ Adventurer Heather Gannoe

This past August I had the incredible pleasure of venturing West to participate in the 10th annual TransRockies Run. A New Englander by birth, and current South Carolina resident by choice, I am as “East Coast” as they come. Having never been to Colorado or the Rocky Mountains, I knew I was going to be in for the experience of a lifetime, albeit a potentially difficult experience. As I mentioned in a previous post, training to race at altitude while living at sea level was…interesting, to say the least. So what did I discover about running at altitude?

Nothing will prepare you for running at a higher altitude. Except, of course, training at higher altitude, I imagine that probably helps. Sarcasm aside, coming from sea level to race anywhere between 9,000 to 12,600 feet above sea level was as hard as I imagined it would be. As soon as we heard the “GO” horn at the very first stage of the race, we took off down the flat road running at an incredibly conservative pace. Despite cruising along at a pace that would barely be considered a warm up back at home, I suddenly felt like I had been sprinting down the road as hard as I possibly could: my lungs were screaming for oxygen and my breath was very labored. At the time, the sudden perceived lack of oxygen was hilarious…but it quickly lost its humor over the next 120 miles. The goods part was:

Your body adapts quickly. The human body’s ability to adapt is simply incredible to experience. Technically, it takes your body anywhere from two or more weeks to truly adapt to altitude, however, I noticed changes in my body’s willingness to deal with running at altitude daily. Though every stage of the race started with the same feeling of oxygen depletion, the feeling seemed to dissipate faster each day, until I was running and breathing comfortably by the end of the race.

climbing

Speaking of altitude:

Chapped lips will be your nemesis. I knew that staying properly hydrated at altitude would be imperative to my race performance and overall health, so I chugged water and consumed electrolytes frequently. If I wasn’t running with my hydration pack, I was walking around with a water bottle in hand to remind myself to drink up. But despite my well-hydrated status, my lips took a beating from the dry air, and they were painfully chapped until we returned back to South Carolina. If you are headed to moderate or high altitude, be sure to pack SPF-containing lip balm, and apply often.

The weather can change in an instant. I imagine this is the norm for most of the world. In South Carolina, a summer storm can roll through, effectively cooling the temperature from a steamy 95 degrees to a cool 91 degrees, but likely adding a few percentage points to the humidity reading in doing so. In Colorado, my experience was that one cloud covering the sky could lower the temperature by ten or more degrees, especially at higher altitudes. And a rainstorm? Forget it. Get ready to shiver! Some days we would wake up with frost on our tents, only to be sweating in  the 80-degree sun just a few hours later. The temperature changes were drastic, so it is important to layer your running gear and always pack a jacket, just in case of a shift in weather patterns.

The terrain is incredibly variable. In New England, where I’m originally from, our trails are covered in roots and rocks, and often quite soft or muddy due to the lush forests. Down here in South Carolina, our trails are very dry, flat, and sandy, as is the nature of the coastal terrain. The Colorado Rockies greeted us with almost every sort of terrain you could imagine, from moss-covered trails to passes littered with loose rocks. But what surprised me the most was the high desert, complete with cacti lining the trail. I found that in all instances, a mildly aggressive trail shoe paired with a gaiter helped me keep my feet well protected, comfortable, and dry.

There’s plenty of wildlife…but you might not see it. As many of my friends on social media know, I was thrilled at the potential of seeing a mountain goat. I know that sounds silly, but mountain goats are one of the first things that come to my mind when you mention “Colorado” Further, I’ve read and heard that Colorado is ripe with wildlife, and I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself (except for maybe grizzly bears or mountain lions). Alas, a few marmots and one tiny snake were all that I ever saw on my 120-mile journey across the Rockies. Therefore, if you want to experience the wildlife yourself, might I suggest that you take a path less traveled…and not run in the middle of a pack of 400+ other runners.

heather-in-a-sharkYour camera will never do the views justice. Being a social media guru and first-time visitor to these majestic mountains, my face was buried in my camera almost as frequently as my feet were running. The views were breathtaking, like nothing I had ever seen before, and nothing I ever wanted to forget. But as the days went on and the miles passed by, I realized the pictures I was taking would never do the actual views justice. So I put the camera way, and instead went about really living in the moment, and taking in the gorgeous views.

The world is a big, beautiful place. This, of course, is probably a statement many readers are already well aware of. But having the opportunity to view the wonder that is the Colorado Rockies while running 120 miles was an experience I will never forget (insert link: http://relentlessforwardcommotion.com/2016/08/transcending-the-transrockies/) . There are plenty of ways to view all that the world has to offer, but in my opinion, running through these places is one of the best options.

Get out there, and happy running!

 

 

The Best Gear & Tips for Fall Hiking Adventures

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

Reflection of mountains and trees in water, Moor Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada

With fall upon us, some of the best hikes are ahead, allowing us to view changing leaves and summit glorious mountain peaks. To help you prepare, we’ve assembled some essential gear guides and timely tips for your hiking adventures.

Know Before You Go

Hiking is one of those things that is best not to “wing-it”. Check out your hike and route before you go. We like the app from Yonder or AllTrails, as they help to identify great hikes and provide maps and travel tips.

Insider Tip: Be sure to let someone know your hiking route and expected return time. If you end up changing your plans be sure to leave a note behind in your car, that way if you don’t show up they’ll know where to begin the search.

Pack It

Carrying your extra clothes, snacks and water take effort. Why not make it comfortable? Choose a pack that fits your back length and storage needs. We like the options from Osprey.

Insider Tip: Pack the heaviest items at the bottom of the pack. Your hips and lower back can accommodate the weight easier and it will keep your center of gravity even.

It’s all in the Boots… and Socks

Nothing ruins a hike more than an ill-fitting pair of boots. Make sure to choose an option that fits your foot and intentions. Boots that are too tight or loose can cause friction on your feet and create blisters. Our favorites from Garmont feature a wide toe box with room for your toes and great traction. Also, leave those cotton socks in the drawer, opt for wicking or wool to keep feet dry and irritation-free.

Got Blisters?- Be sure to pack first aid gear to address hot spots and blisters. We like the Blister Medic with Moleskin and Glacier Gel for on trail treatment. For more tips, check out our blister prevention tips.

Insider Tip: Take the time to break-in your footwear before you head out on the trail. Your feet with thank you.

Hydration is Key

Why is it so important to stay hydrated?

Your body depends on water to survive. Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body need water to work correctly. For example, your body uses water to maintain its temperature, remove waste, and lubricate joints. Water is needed for good health. Make sure to drink water before you go and every 30 minutes out on the trail. Carry an insulated bottle like the one from RevoMax to keep liquids cool all day.

Insider Tip: You know you’re drinking enough fluids when your pee is light colored. Drink more if it’s dark and infrequent. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages as they can increase dehydration. Make sure to check out our primer on preventing dehydration.

Are You Adventure Equipped?

When the unexpected happens, having survival supplies close at hand is key. The Survive Outdoors Longer® Survival Medic is compact, lightweight, and easily slips into a pocket or pack. Inside the ultralight waterproof pouch is an Emergency Blanket, Fire Lite™ sparker, Tinder-Quik™ tinder, Slim Rescue Howler™ whistle, duct tape, and a button compass. With this small kit, you can stay warm, build a fire, and signal for rescue.

Insider Tip: Cell phones are often unreliable out in the woods. Don’t forget to pack extra clothing, food, water, and gear in case you need to signal and wait for help.

After a long hike, relax and enjoy the view at the top!

 

Marine Safety: What to Do if Someone is Drowning

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury in the United States. When you’re at the local pool, out on your boat or body surfing in the waves, you will want to know what to do in a drowning situation. We’ve shared a few of The American Red Cross Water Safety Basics here but a Life Guard & Water Safety training course is also a great way to get hands-on experience. http://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/lifeguarding.

 

 

Call for Help

Call 911 or the rescue emergency number to report the incident as soon as possible. It only takes an adult struggling in water for about three minutes before things go bad. But a child can only last less than thirty seconds. Take action immediately to rescue a drowning person. Scream for help so that someone else can assist in rescuing the victim.

Reach

Ensuring that you are in a safe position and cannot be pulled in by the victim; stretch your hand towards the victim. If you cannot reach, use a tree branch or a towel and taking care not to hit him or her, throw it towards him and after he grasps it, you can pull them to a safe position.

Throw

Most swimming areas have safety buoys that are attached to a long rope. They usually float and they can be used to save a drowning victim. Throw the ring towards the victim and ask him/her to grab it then pull it towards the shore.

Row

If your stuck on shore or far from the victim. Take a boat and go close to the victim taking care not to hit him. You can throw a safety ring to the victim to help him stabilize them. Come along side the victim and reach to help them into the boat.

Go

Swimming to rescue a drowning person can be violent and may pose imminent danger to the rescuer. The victim may force a rescuer under the water by climbing on them in order to breathe. If you have to swim out to rescue a drowning person, carry a towel with you or any object that the victim can hold on to as you tow him to safety.

Upon Rescue

Give first aid to the victim immediately after rescuing him or her. Feel for the pulse on the neck side or the wrist, if he is still breathing feel for the air coming through the nose and ensure it is open.

If the victim is not breathing, perform a CPR to increase chances of survival. Learn more about CPR here. LINK http://www.redcross.org

To find a great line of medical kits packed with the medication you need when out on the water, go to www.WestMarine.com or AdventureMedicalKits.com. For more marine medical tips, see Adventure Medical Kit’s Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine by Dr. Michael Jacobs and Dr. Eric Weiss.

 

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How to Prevent & Treat Blisters

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Did you know blisters are one of the most common injuries in the outdoors and the most common injury for hikers? Within hours, a small rub in your boots can turn into a painful blister. However, with a few basic preventions tricks and early treatment, you can protect your feet and keep a blister from interrupting your adventure.

 

blister on foot

Blisters are the hiker’s #1 injury

Blister Prevention

To keep blisters from developing in the first place, eliminate as many contributing factors as possible. Simple actions taken before you hit the trail and once you’re on the trail can make a huge difference.

Before You Hit the Trail

The first step in preventing blisters it to make sure the gear you’re putting on your feet isn’t causing the problem. Here’s five steps you can take before you hit the trail to stop blisters in their tracks:

  1. Make sure your shoes fit properly. If your shoes are too tight you’ll have pressure sores, while shoes that are too loose lead to friction and irritation. Outdoor retailers like REI often will be able to measure your foot and help you find the right size using a calibrated fit device. A good check you can do yourself though is to pull the insoles out of your shoes and stand on them. You should have a thumb’s width of clearance between the end of your toes and the insole. You want that extra space in the front of the boot so you don’t end up jamming your toes against the toe box on the way down.
  2. Choose your socks with care. As a rule, avoid cotton socks and opt for water-wicking materials like merino wool or synthetics. Everyone has unique feet, making it important to find what works for you and your boots. Sock height, cushioning, and fit all contribute to giving your feet the best in-shoe experience. REI gives some great advice on choosing the sock that’s right for you.
  3. Break new boots in. Even the right footwear can still cause blisters if you don’t break it in. Before heading out on a trip, make sure to spend some time in your new boots, ideally while wearing the socks you’ll use on the trip. You might look funny walking around your home or the office in hiking boots, but your feet will thank you later. Once you’re ready to hit the trail, best practice says start with a short hike – you don’t want to find out you didn’t break them in enough when you planned a 15 mile day.
  4. Avoid prolonged wetness. Moisture breaks down your skin and predisposes it to blistering (that’s why choosing the right sock is so important). Keep your feet dry, and pack an extra pair of socks so if you’re first pair get wet (those mountain streams are everywhere), you can swap out for a dry pair right away.
  5. Protect problem areas. No one knows your feet like you do – if you are prone to blisters in a certain area, be proactive about protecting that area from harm. Before hiking, apply moleskin to sensitive areas where blisters are likely to occur. The moleskin will reduce the friction against your skin, effectively stopping blisters and hot spots before they can even start.

Even if you put moleskin on your feet before setting out, it’s always important to pack more in case the unexpected occurs. If you are prone to nasty blisters, consider adding GlacierGel to your first aid kit as well, as the hydrogel dressing is ideal for stopping the pain from and protecting fully-formed blisters. The Blister Medic contains both moleskin and GlacierGel, making it a lightweight addition to your pack that keeps you prepared. Make sure to go through your first aid kit before setting out to make sure you don’t need to re-stock blister items

On the Trail

Once you hit the trail, there are still things you can do to prevent blisters. Hot spots are sore, red areas of irritation that develop into blisters if allowed to progress. Identifying hot spots early to stop them from becoming blisters will save you miles of pain.

The key message? Pay attention to your feet. It’s easy to ignore slight irritations or brush them off in order to avoid having to stop on the trail, but take our word on it: you don’t want to ignore hot spots. If you think you feel a hot spot, take the time to stop and address it sooner than later.

Treating Hot Spots

If you catch a hot spot early on, you can easily stop it from becoming a blister by covering it with a small piece of moleskin.

covering a hot spot with moleskin

Treat small hot spots by covering them with moleskin, which is included in the Hiker kit

For more irritated hot spots, you can cover them with GlacierGel or use moleskin. Whichever you use, make sure to prep the surrounding skin using an alcohol wipe for maximum adhesion. If you use moleskin, make sure to grab a donut-shaped piece (you can get them pre-shaped here or simply cut a small hole in the center of a rectangular piece).

Position the moleskin so the hole is over the hot spot, making sure the adhesive surface isn’t touching the irritated skin. This raises the area around the hot spot, preventing further rubbing. If necessary, you can secure the moleskin in place with medical tape from your medical kit.

Blister Treatment

Sometimes blisters occur despite our best efforts. Properly treating the blister can help minimize pain and further damage to the area.

For Small Blisters

If the blister is still intact, do not puncture or drain it. Instead, follow the same steps outlined above on treating serious hot spots by protecting it with GlacierGel or moleskin. If you’re using moleskin, you may need to use several layers, as the moleskin doughnut needs to be higher than the blister to be effective.

moleskin doughnut on blister

You may need to use several layers of moleskin to get above the blister

For Large or Ruptured Blisters

If the blister is large but intact, puncture it with a clean needle or safety pin at its base and massage out the fluid. The fluid contains inflammatory juices that can delay healing.

Once you’ve punctured the blister (or if you’re dealing with one that’s already ruptured), trim away any loose skin from the bubble and clean the area with an antiseptic towel or soap and water. You should then apply antibiotic ointment and cover the area with a non-adherent dressing or GlacierGel to prevent contaminants from entering the wound and to promote healing.

applying glaciergel

GlacierGel dressings help protect and heal ruptured blisters

You can then use moleskin (or molefoam) to protect the wound from further rubbing. Use a doughnut-shaped moleskin to raise up the area around the blister – remember to use enough layers to raise the moleskin above the height of the blisters with its dressing. Secure the moleskin in place with medical tape.

You’ll want to change the dressing every day and keep a close eye on it for infection. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, increased pain, or a cloudy fluid under the dressing. If infection occurs, remove the dressing and allow the area to drain. Consult a doctor as soon as you are able.

  • Trim away any loose skin from the bubble and clean the area with an antiseptic towel or soap and water.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a non-adherent dressing or other dressings like Glacier Gel.
  • Utilize Moleskin to protect the area. Take a small piece of moleskin and cut a circle in the center approximately the same size as the area.
  • Center the oval over the hot spot and secure into place with tape. This will act as a buffer against further rubbing. Change the dressing every day.
  • Inspect the wound daily for infection-this includes redness, swelling, increased pain, or cloudy fluid under the dressing. If infection occurs, remove the dressing and allow the area to drain. Consult a doctor as soon as you are able.

Gluing a Blister

If you are far from help and must continue walking for an extended period of time, an alternative treatment is to glue the blister in place. This method is initially painful but can be effective in backcountry scenarios, especially if you’re low on typical blister first aid supplies.

Begin by draining the blister of fluid. Then, place a small amount of tincture of benzoin (or glue if that’s all you have) in the drained blister. Press the loose skin overlying the blister back into place and cover the site with a suitable dressing (if you have nothing else, duct tape can work). The extreme pain produced by the benzoin on your skin will only last a few minutes.

glueing blisters

Tincture of benzoin is included in the Ultralight/Watertight .7 kit

Seasickness — How to Avoid it & Treat it

Friday, August 19th, 2016

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Plan on sailing this summer and fall? Before you do, check out this post from Adventure®  Medical Kits’ marine medicine consultant Dr. Michael Jacobs for tips on dealing with that common ailment that afflicts many boating enthusiasts — seasickness.

Seasickness (mal de mer) is the sailor’s most common and dreaded ailment; susceptibility is virtually universal. Untreated, seasickness leads to rapid physical and mental deterioration, posing a major hazard to crew health, safety, and morale. Every year, seaworthy yachts are abandoned because their exhausted, seasick, and despondent crews have lost their collective will to persevere. Unfortunately, mariners frequently consider seasickness a medical emergency, and summon unnecessary and potentially hazardous medical evacuations; at the very least, seasickness can ruin a good day on the water for any boater. It is clearly an illness to be reckoned with.

CAUSE

Seasickness results from a mismatch of sensory input processed in the brain’s balance center, which orients the body’s position in space. Place someone in the cabin of a heeling and rolling boat, and you immediately invite “mal de mer.” Below decks, the eyes oriented to the floor and ceiling detect no tilt from vertical, but fluid in the inner ear (the vestibular apparatus) constantly shifts with the boat’s motion, sending a different position signal to the brain. Positions sensors in the neck, muscles, and joints relay additional information to the brain depending on how the person moves to maintain balance.  The conflict of sensory data from all these sources ultimately activates a series of responses, which we recognize as seasickness. Sensory conflict and the loss of spatial orientation can impair ones ability to think and reason clearly. Seasick sailors often lose short-term memory and the ability to solve problems and make sound judgments.  Confusion is also a side effect of many medications used to treat seasickness. Astronauts who suffer from motion sickness in space call this condition the “space stupids.” The equivalent condition for seasick boaters might be called “sea stupids.” The trick to preventing seasickness is to avoid sensory conflict by coordinating input, especially from your eyes and ears. Simply put, if your eyes are seeing what your ears are feeling, you will have a great day at sea!

PREVENTION

  1. Start your trip well hydrated, and avoid alcohol.
  2. Eat a light meal low in fat and high in starch.
  3. Pre-trip preparation should be designed to minimize time spent below decks while underway. Prepare a few simple meals ahead of time, and have personal belongings easily accessible.
  4. Avoid close-focused visual tasks such as reading.
  5. Stay in the fresh air, away from engine fumes, and near the center of the boat where motion is less pronounced.
  6. Munch on saltines, granola, or energy bars, and sip fluids.
  7. Look at the horizon to provide a stable reference point; sit or stand upright with your head and upper body balanced over your hips, and anticipate the boat’s motion as though “riding” the waves. Standing and taking the helm will help you accomplish this.
  8. Steer the boat by reference to the horizon, clouds, oncoming waves and distant marks; this is extremely effective in reducing seasickness. It may take as long as three days to adapt to the boat’s motion and get your “sea legs.”

MEDICATIONS

Medication is generally more effective in preventing symptoms than reversing them during this period of adaptation; therefore, if you anticipate you may become seasick, begin medication the night before departure.

MARINEBonine® (Meclizine), and Phenergan® are effective as well as other medications (see page 114 in A Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine for more info on medications). Sudafed®, or Nodoz®, can counteract the drowsiness caused by the antihistamines. The popular drug Stugeron® (Cinnarizine), although not sold in the United States, is available over-the-counter in Europe, Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada. It can also be obtained from www.canadadrugsonline.com. The prescription Transderm-Scop® adhesive patch, applied behind the ear two hours before departure, may cause less fatigue, and the benefits will last for three days. Review the many potential (and serious) side effects before using scopolamine with your physician. Scopace® tablets allow sailors to regulate the amount of scopolamine, which helps reduce side effects.

ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES

Alternative therapies, which appear beneficial for some mariners, include ginger capsules, one gram every six hours, supplemented with other ginger products. BioBand® and Sea-Band® are elastic bands with a plastic stud that applies pressure to the Neiguan P6 acupuncture site in the forearm.       The variety of medications, devices, and other remedies may work for some people and not for others. Therapies are subject to the placebo effect, and there are no well-controlled trials confirming the effectiveness of many products or comparing different treatments. The protection conferred by drugs is a matter of degree; there is no magic bullet to prevent seasickness in everyone.  If one drug fails to work for you, try another; try different medications or modalities on land to see if there are any unacceptable side effects. If you discover a safe regimen that works for you, stick with it and believe in what you use.

SIGNS, SYMPTOMS & TREATMENTS

The earliest signs and symptoms of seasickness are yawning and drowsiness, progressing to dry mouth, headache, dizziness, and extreme listlessness. Some people initially experience an unsettled stomach, slight sweating, mild blushing, and a feeling of warmth. Untreated, the person becomes pale, cold, and clammy. Nausea later comes in waves with belching, salivation, and then uncontrollable vomiting. Recognize and begin treatment with prescription anti-nausea medication (e.g. Phenergan®) when early signs appear. Phenergan® taken as a pill, but preferably a suppository, will prevent vomiting and subsequent dehydration. During treatment, lie down and try to sleep. Take small amounts of fluid, crackers, and hard candy.

Sailors now have many options to manage seasickness. It is no longer necessary to follow Samuel Johnson’s 18th century advice: “To cure seasickness, find a good big oak tree and wrap your arms around it.”

Dr. Jacobs is the co-author of A Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine, and the author of numerous articles and chapters on medicine for mariners and safety at sea. He is the founder of MedSail, and consultant to Adventure® Medical Kits. He practices medicine on Martha’s Vineyard.

To find a great line of medical kits pack with the medication you need out at sea go to www.WestMarine.com  or AdventureMedicalKits.com

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