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Walking 60 Miles on Blisters – What I Learned

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

We asked Ben Pasquino of Team Tender what he learned from the #BeSafeGannett Expedition. He had some first-hand experience with painful blisters he wanted to share.

Let me preface this with, I should have listen to Joe Miller about my boots. Always listen to your team leader when he tells you to break in new boots before setting out on a seven day journey into the backcountry. Here’s some other lessons I learned:

Don’t Ignore “Minor” Problems

You know that point where you realize that there may be an issue (physically)? Yea, I realized that at mile 2 of our 60 mile round-trip hike into the backcountry of the Bridger Wilderness.

As we walked out to Photographer’s Point the first 5 or so miles of day one, I realized I had a hot spot on the back of both my heels. Knowing that this would be a long hike and there were bound to be hot spots, I thought nothing of it. That was my first mistake: ignoring what I saw as a minor issue.

Photographer’s Point was when I first noticed the hot spots on my heels

So I kept on moving, thinking that my heels would be fine. I had been running multiple miles in training for this and had never gotten a blister on my heels. It couldn’t be happening now. About 12 miles in, we reached Little Seneca Lake, and there I realized I had a much bigger problem than just hot spots.

I took my shoes off to rest my feet, and that was when I got my first look at the blisters, or what had been a blister before it popped and my heel rubbed raw. That was another clue that this trip was going to be much more difficult than I anticipated.

Gluing Blisters Works – But Brace Yourself

Let me give you some context for what happened next. In preparation for this adventure, I took a Wilderness First Responder course back in New Hampshire through SOLO Schools, and we spoke about applying tincture of benzoin to a popped blister, or flap, to glue the flap of skin back where it belongs and protect the area. They said it would hurt pretty badly, but let me be the first to tell you, it hurts more than just “pretty badly.” It hurts like hell, and I know, because I had to do it twice.

gluing blisters

Getting ready to apply some tincture of benzoin from my Ultralight/Watertight .7 kit

I pulled the tincture of benzoin out of my Ultralight/Watertight .7 and borrowed some GlacierGel from my teammates. After painfully reattaching the flap of skin over the blister with the benzoin, I covered the area with GlacierGel to protect the blister from further damage and minimize the pain.

In the morning, we hit the trail again. As you can guess, it was slow hiking for me.

Healing Is Slow

We made it to the Titcomb basin on the second day, and thankfully we had scheduled 4 nights there. I took advantage of the 2 full days of rest for my heels to recuperate, wearing flip flops all day long while we took lifestyle pictures and instructional videos for our social media and webpage. I knew that letting my heels dry and allowing a scab to form would give me my best opportunity to make the push up Gannett. The blisters definitely needed the full two days.

The blisters took some time to scab over

The morning of Gannett, I left camp about 30 minutes before my team did to get a head start, and we met up at the base of Bonney Pass. We ended up finishing that day about 21 hours later and coming so close to the peak that we could almost throw a rock and hit it, but the decision to turn back was the right one for the team.

It’s a Long Way Home

The next day we turned back to make our way halfway out of the back country and the feeling of, “oh I may have an issue” quickly became, “I definitely have an issue, I just need to make it out.”

I still managed to have some great moments on the hike out though. We stopped at one of the most beautiful swimming holes that I’ve ever been to, just on the other side of Island Lake. It was an amazing feeling to just go for a swim and clean ourselves off from the long week’s grind.

The last day was a bit of a haul, as the team made the decision to trek the entire 15 miles (ish) out of the backcountry and get to a point to where I wouldn’t have to wear boots anymore. They also helped me by sharing the load of my backpack and encouraged me to continue moving.

Smile & Learn

I made it out, obviously, but that day was absolutely exhausting. I was able to smile at the end, and I am still able to smile about the experience. However, I did learn a lot. Two things especially stood out:

  1. BOOTS… always go for a couple hikes in them before putting them to the ultimate test. I only wore them around the office a couple times prior to the hike.
  2. The key to controlling the blisters and hot spots is simple… PREVENTION! As soon as you start to feel it, even if (really especially if) it’s mile 2 of a 60 mile hike, apply GlacierGel or moleskin. If worse comes to worse (and do know that it’s going to hurt like hell) you can always use tincture of benzoin to glue the blister shut and back to the skin, but trust me – you don’t want to reach the stage where this is necessary.

Having said all that, I can’t wait for the next adventure and to learn how to be more prepared for anything that gets thrown into the mix.

My team supported me the whole journey

About the Author

Name’s Ben Pasquino, 35 years of age, and I’ve been pushing my limits for my entire life. It just made logical sense to try my hand at mountaineering for the #BeSafeGannett Expedition. Previously an NCAA swimmer, I became an ultra-marathon runner after college. A CrossFit athlete and coach for nearly 5 years, I’m no stranger to hard work and following training regiments with an end goal in sight. I’m also an avid hunter and fly fisher.

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

 

Crossing Patagonia: Human & Dog First Aid on a 1,150 Mile Journey

Monday, April 16th, 2018

This year, adventurer Stevie Anna traveled over 1,150 miles with her adventure dog Darcie and two horses on a solo horse pilgrimage across Patagonia, a journey that took about three months. Two years of careful planning – including training in human and dog first aid – helped her #BeSafe and successfully accomplish her goal. We asked her to share about the expedition and how she prepared herself and her four-legged companions – here’s what she said! 

Exploring the Last Wild Frontier

I moved to Patagonia, Argentina, nearly three years ago where I fell in love with the gaucho culture and began working as a horse guide with Carol Jones, whose grandfather ran with Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid for some years here in Patagonia. After having experienced the slice of heaven that lies along the Andes Mountains, I decided to learn more of my new home by crossing it by horseback.

In a land that refuses to be explored by any other means, traditional horse-packing across Patagonia provides a traveler the chance to step back in time while exploring the culture and rugged, unforgiving landscape of one of the last untouched places on earth. This past November, I embarked on a solo expedition covering over 1,150 miles of Patagonia with my two horses Bandido & Sundance and my adventure pup, Darcie.

My adventure pup Darcie

My mission for this horse pilgrimage was to document the culture of this last wild frontier solo with my fur companions. I named the project Patagone. The native word here in Patagonia for foot, paw, or hoof is pata, and since we’d be traveling by all three, “Patagone” suited the journey perfectly.

The Patagone team: Darcie, Bandido, & Sundance

A Journey 2 Years in the Making

One typically thinks of the journey being the most difficult part of an expedition, however the preparation process proved to be just as much as a challenge as being on the trail itself.

I began preparing for the 1,000 mile journey nearly two years in advance. My list of things to learn ranged anywhere from how to shoe a horse to a crash course in dog first aid for my dog Darcie, as well as classes from a local doctor on first aid for myself.

Trail Safety: Choosing the Right Gear & Training with Experts

Through the years we’ve gone through a lot of gear and even a few makeshift solutions of our own, but there’s just some things that the trail can’t teach you. For that I turned to Andrea, the local veterinarian here in Patagonia who has been so gracious as to train me on emergency care for dogs over the past few months. We utilized all of the resources that Adventure® Medical Kits had, such as their Canine Field Medicine dog first aid guide, as well as an Adventure® Dog Medical Kit.

Together, Andrea and I came up with practical trail solutions that are easy to find in this part of the world and are often multipurpose for both Darcie and my two horses (for example: gauze, gloves, bandages, etc.). In addition to the Adventure® Dog Kit, the Canine Field Medicine guide also accompanied me on my journey, which proved an excellent resource guide and go-to manual for Darcie’s medical needs on the trail.

For myself, I found the Mountain Series Comprehensive medical kit to be perfect for weight and usability for my ride. Martin Buchuk, a local doctor here in Bariloche, Patagonia, helped with a crash course in outdoor first aid and running through how to use all of the supplies in my medical kit properly. Key points that we covered were dislocated shoulders from a bad fall from a horse, dehydration, deep wounds, and major injuries such as head traumas.

Looking through the Adventure® Medical Kit for first aid supplies

While having the proper equipment can save you and your dog’s life, it’s important to have experience understanding how to use the materials and medications properly for both you and your pet. Prevention is always key to a safe journey, but even at that, accidents can happen, so knowing your environment beforehand; taking first aid, CPR, or a wilderness first aid course; and knowing your medical supplies is crucial to staying safe in the backcountry.

Dog First Aid Packing List

 

A look at Darcie’s packing list for Patagone

For Darcie, I started with Adventure® Medical Kits Workin’ Dog first aid kit as a base and then customized it specifically for the expedition. The end medical kit included:

  • Nitrile Gloves
  • Splinter Picker: Great for removing embedded grasses that get lodged in-between paws as well as ticks.
  • EMT Shears: Good for cutting off dead skin from wounds as well as the hair around it. Cut hair around wound without lifting hair up. Should be cleared away without falling onto the wound naturally.
  • Cotton: Good for cleaning wounds as well as ears, etc.
  • Iodine: My vet suggested mixing iodine and the saline solution into one mix for cleaning out wounds.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Good for cleaning wounds and can be used to induce vomiting in case of poison consumption: 1 tbs per 10-15 lbs of dog. No more than 2 doses.
  • QuikClot® Advanced Clotting Gauze: Excellent for any deep wounds.
  • Hemostat Forceps: A must have for any major inquiry which requires you to pinch an artery, etc. The rule of thumb for heavy bleeding is 1. Direct pressure. 2. Elevation. 3. Pressing on a pressure point.
  • Instant Cold Pack
  • Irrigation Syringe
  • Saline Solution: It’s good to get a squeeze bottle of this with the top used for contact lenses so that you can apply a pressure when using this to clean out dirt from wounds.
  • Disposable Skin Stapler and Staple remover
  • Superglue: Can be used to close clean cuts.
  • Razor Blade: Used for clearing hair from a wounded area on the skin.
  • Antibiotic Ointment
  • Antiseptic Wipes
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • Antibiotics
  • Antihistamine: In case of any allergic reactions such as a bee sting.
  • Anti-inflammatory: I carried this primarily in case of a horse kick to the head to prevent any major brain swelling, but it is good to carry in case of any emergency in the backcountry.
  • Gauze Bandages
  • Sterile Dressing
  • Thermometer

While you can buy or even make many items that will keep your adventure pup safe outdoors, one should note that a lot of safety comes with the trust and bond you build with your dog, mutual respect, and some intense time spent in training. Commands can be one of the biggest lifesaver and preventative measures you can take in insuring your pet’s safety. Training your dog to be off-leash is crucial so that he/she knows how to behave. NOT CHASING WILDLIFE, ETC.

My First Aid Packing List

 

A peak at Stevie’s packing list for Patagone.

We ended up altering the Mountain Series Comprehensive kit for my specific journey, adding some medications and materials that would apply for the season and conditions here in Patagonia during my ride. My final kit included:

  • Bandages & Dressing
  • Cotton: Good for cleaning wounds as well as protecting your ears against the brutal, cold winds of Patagonia.
  • Gloves
  • Trauma Pads
  • GlacierGel®
  • Moleskin: These saved me on those especially long days in the saddle! They’re a must for any rider or hiker for preventing blisters or sores.
  • Oil of Clove
  • Temporary Cavity Filling Mixture: Excellent if you know you’ll be far out in the backcountry and away from the dentist office. It’s easy to apply and will save you from a world of pain.
  • EMT Shears
  • Splinter Picker
  • Thermometer
  • Medications: Acetaminophen, Antacid, After Bite® Wipe, Antihistamine, Injection for Anaphylactic Shock in case of bee stings, antibiotics, pain killers in case of major accident, Diamode, Diotame, Glucose Paste, Ibuprofen, and Oral Reydration Salts which are mandatory for any long journey where you’re at risk for dehydration.
  • Zinc Oxide
  • Scalpel Blade
  • Povidone Iodine
  • Syringes
  • Tincture of Benzoin Topical Adhesive
  • Triple Antibiotic Treatment

Journey’s End

 

Arriving at El Chalten, over 1,150 miles from where we began

After 85 days on the trail, the animals and I reached our final destination of El Chalten, Patagonia. We traveled over 1,150 miles over nearly three months to get to that point. One might call that a successful expedition in itself, but after seeing the potential dangers that had lain before us, hearing the history of other riders loosing horses to puma, colic, etc. or arriving to their endpoint with skinny animals, I pride myself more on the fact that me and my animal team completed the journey healthy, fat, and happy.

All the prior training and two years of preparation allowed us to reach our end goal together and without so much as a scratch. The few issues that we did have on the trail were minor, and the medical kits served them perfectly.

Treating Darcie’s paw using the Adventure® Medical Kit after she got poked by a wire fence

Patagone: A Story of People

I knew that the people of Patagonia were a kind and caring people, but during the ride my eyes were completely opened to the generosity of the people across the entire country. They opened their door to us, fed me and Darcie dinner (Patagonian lamb!), and always gave me plenty of pasture and roaming area for the horses. We actually ended our journey a bit fatter than when we had initially departed.

The best part of the journey? The people.

People always ask me what the best part of the journey was, and without hesitation I answer that it was the people, the people that helped me prepare and supported me during the journey such as friends, family, companies, and even strangers. It was the people that helped me during the ride, opening their door to me and my animals, and all the people who were there sending me kind messages of support not only during my ride, but even now after it’s been completed.

Trip Safety: Don’t Get Stuck in the Dark

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Embarking on a backcountry adventure can be one of the most rewarding experiences. When all the planning, anticipation, and physical effort culminate in awe-inspiring views, you receive a feeling of escape not available in the front country. While one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to continually go deeper and find more remote settings, it’s not without its own perils. As a Search and Rescue (SAR) Member, I’ve seen firsthand how a potentially fantastic day can turn into the worst day of your life for you and your loved ones.

Adventures – no matter how amazing – are not without peril

Preparation is crucial for trip safety in your backcountry expeditions. This simple statement has so many layers to it; it’s easy to brush it off and assume you have done enough. Route planning, properly packing your bag, and even preparing your physical and mental fitness all go into preparation. Today I’ll touch on a couple trip safety tips that, when applied, can help prevent common mistakes for everyone traveling in the backcountry.

Trip Safety: Pack the Right Gear

Gear is sexy. You can read a million and half blog posts or YouTube videos on gear.  From reviews to proper load-outs, there is a lot to learn and it seems to keep getting more complex. However, the basics maintain true. Pack your 10 essentials (Don’t know what these are? Go check out REI’s great post on them). While I firmly stand by my alpine “light and fast” style and agree that the ability to move quicker adds safety, there are certain things that are worth the weight.

Illumination

Last summer, there were multiple rescues to aid hikers stuck in the dark. Even if you’re setting out at sunrise and you feel overly confident you can get your hike done in just a morning, please still bring a headlamp. It makes my wife happy when I get to eat dinner with her on a Sunday night, instead of setting out to rescue hikers stuck in the dark.

Pack a headlamp so you don’t get stuck in the dark

In that same vein, bring extra batteries, especially if you’re working on a big day. Fancy headlamps that use built in lithium Ion batteries definitely help cut weight, but when it dies, it’s dead until you get back to a charger. My climbing partner was the victim of exactly this scenario coming down a 30 degree scree pitch off Mount Temple (BANFF, Canada) at 3 am. Our fast decent turned to a crawl when we were reduced to one headlamp. Learn from our mistake.

First Aid Kits

First aid kits are our specialty here at Adventure® Medical Kits, and I love the fact that I have so many supplies at my disposal to build kits. I’m a huge fan of our Mountain Series Day Tripper Lite kit. It’s perfect for day trip adventures and isn’t overloaded with unnecessary supplies. It also has great organization and labeling; in a rush, you can find exactly what you’re looking for. Another option is the custom bag from the Mountain Series, which lets people like me build their own kit and label it as needed.

My med kit for day hikes: the Day Tripper Lite, QuikClot®, an elasticized bandage, and a C-Splint™

Regardless of if you build your own kit or use a premade version, go through it often. It’s incredible how quickly you forget you used something in the middle of your climb when things start going well again.  A couple things that I mandate in even the smallest med kit are an elastic bandage, some form of a splint, Diphenhydramine, Ibuprofen, a couple big gauze pads, a small roll of medical tape, and an emergency blanket. Knowing what is in your kit is almost as important as knowing how to use it! I highly recommend that every backcountry enthusiast takes a Wilderness First Aid course (WFA), where you’ll learn the necessary skills to administer basic first aid in the backcountry. This can make the difference between a scary and stressful hike out and a confident, enjoyable return to your car.

Footwear           

The Mountains are a rugged place. They require rugged footwear. Most likely your road runners are not going to cut it, and your designer flip flops won’t make it even half a mile. Choose a stiffer, more supportive shoe to give you better protection. Unless you have seriously trained your body, a minimalist shoe can cause you long term issues. Not only does having a supportive shoe protect your feet, but your knees, ankles, and hip will also thank you. Having proper footwear ensures your body is taken care of. There are tons of debates on whether it’s better to have waterproof shoes or not in the summer. Some argue the non-waterproof will dry quicker and breathe better.  In the winter it’s almost no question – go waterproof.

Allow stiffer boots and trail shoes some time to break in. Once they do, you’ll never want to buy a new pair.  The break in process shouldn’t be overlooked; the first couple outings should be a bit easier than your usual hike, as both your feet and shoes need to adjust. Definitely bring some extra moleskin or GlacierGel® for blisters during your break-in period. At the end of the day, waterproof or not, find a shoe which really protects your foot and ankle, gives you good traction, and fits well.

Clothing              

Dressing for a hike is similar to dressing for other athletic activities; however, you must take exposure into account.  Your clothing must work well for extended periods in inclement weather, high wind, or extended sun exposure. The age old saying in the backcountry is that “cotton kills,” as once cotton is wet, it doesn’t insulate anymore.

Take into account ridgeline walking, where exposure to the wind and weather can be intense

In the mountains you can get hypothermia year-round. To combat cold any time of year, dress like an onion – layers layers layers! There are three basic layers: a base layer to move sweat away from body, an insulation layer, and an external layer to protect from elements. The specifics obviously all change depending on the season, but the principals stay the same.

Pest Control

Know the pests in the general area. Bug bites are a really annoying. A bear bite can be catastrophic. Understand that you probably should bring some form of deterrent for bugs and bears if they are known in that area. Ben’s® Clothing and Gear is fantastic to treat you gear before heading out.

From bear spray to head nets to bug repellent, pack for the pests in the area you’re visiting

Packs

One thing the 10 essentials fails to bring up is how to carry all those things. A good fitting backpack is necessary. It’s worth investing in a durable pack to get you through years of adventures. The biggest aspect of any pack should be its fit. Different disciplines have slightly different requirements. For instance, my hiking bag has large, cushioned hip straps, so that the load will sit on my hip bones. My technical climbing pack has minimal hip straps as it will get in the way of my harness. Figuring out the proper size pack is also important (I’ve blown zippers in the backcountry from stuffing my pack too tight). I’ve also had back pain from under-filling a big pack and having the contents rattle around on a decent. Having a number of packs for different outings will keep your back happy and pain-free.

Choose a pack appropriate for your activity – consider both size and fit

Trip Safety: Know Before You Go

Having fun and enjoying the outdoors is best achieved when you are properly prepared. While carrying the proper gear will help mitigate potential issues, there are intangible things that are invaluable in preparing for a hike.

Know what the climate is like where you are going.

In the early spring my SAR team might have 4 rescues in a day, while mid-summer we get 1 in a weekend. Why is this? In the White Mountains, we’re only 2 hours away from Boston on the interstate.  On early spring weekends, weather in Boston may be sunny and warm, with no snow; however, weather in the Whites includes waist-deep snow and raging rivers fueled by the spring melt.  Check the weather and trail conditions where you’re going – don’t assume it’s the same as what you see from your front door.

Seasons can look quite different in different places – like snowy springs in the White Mountains

We live in a wonderful age where Facebook communities, Sub-Reddits, and Instagram posts can help you deem what true current conditions are.  Weather has different patterns in different locations; do some research and see what generally occurs in the area you will be traveling. The weathermen do their best but are often wrong. Getting caught in a surprise summer thunderstorm in the alpine is life threatening. Learn the basics in reading the weather and apply those skills with knowledge of the local weather patterns.

Set a turnaround time before leaving the house.

This should be a firm time in which you know you need to turn back. A turnaround time keeps you honest with how quickly you are actually moving. The mountains will be there another day, and setting the time before leaving the house keeps the emotions in check.

Let someone not on the hike know of your planned route.

Text/call right when you set off and right when you return. In some places people will put detailed notes on their car dash. This is especially helpful for technical routes, as it lets other parties know what line is going to be most crowded.

Account for elevation change.

Elevation gain is not easy, neither is elevation loss. Remember getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory.

Don’t just check the mileage – check the elevation change!

Don’t discredit what elevation change is on the hike. The general rule of thumb is every 1,000 feet of elevation change will feel like another mile on the hike. For example, if I hike 4 miles to the summit with an elevation change of over 2,000 ft., that will feel like 6 miles. So a seemingly 8 mile roundtrip hike can really feel like a 12 miler. Plan your hike accordingly. Know your party members and what constitutes a fun day.

Be realistic on where you and your party is at physically.

If you haven’t had a cardio day in months, and you don’t know what leg day is at the gym, pick a more introductory hike. Check your ego and build up to that big hike. There is no shame or pain in hiking something under your threshold. A carry out on rugged terrain with broken bones is pretty miserable. Even hiking a couple miles hungry and exhausted will make you not want to return to the mountains for a while.

Plan for sunshine, prepare for thunder.

You may blow through your hike as fast as you think, but you might not. Bring enough food and water for some extra hours. Think about exposure to the elements: some extra time in the sun or wind or getting caught in a rain storm can make for a miserable outing.

Conclusion

Backcountry travel is no easy task. There are so many variables which go into a good adventure. I’m constantly re-evaluating gear and travel techniques to help keep me safe and have a good time. From gear to pre-adventure prep, there are plenty of trip safety actions you can take to ensure you have a great next adventure.

About the Author

Joe Miller is an alpinist residing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He serves on the Pemigewasset Search and Rescue team, which has received some fame from the television show North Woods Law. Joe loves everything about the outdoors and can be found taking full moon laps up Cannon Cliff, ice climbing classics in Crawford notch, and slaying powder on his splitboard. Joe started working at Tender Corporation in 2015, as he loves the proximity to the mountains. When not outdoors, Joe lets his inner geek flag fly; he can be found holed up with his dog and cats tinkering with electronics and computer systems.

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

Breaking in New Hiking Boots – Preventing and Treating Blisters

Friday, May 7th, 2010

It’s that time of year again! Time to break in the new boots and hit the trail.

Do you know that blisters are one of the top reasons that people abandon their hiking trips?  We have all experienced the pain associate with blisters – especially when breaking in new boots – read the tips below, courtesy of REI, to avoid painful blisters and sore feet.

Also remember to stock up on blister prevention and treatment products like AMK’s Moleskin and GlacierGel to treat hot spots and blisters.  You can also visit the Adventure Medical Kits video section to learn more about how to prevent and treat blisters.

Happy hiking!!

Breaking in Your Hiking Boots
The key to breaking in new hiking boots is to take things slowly. Remember — your feet aren’t as tough as your new boots, so if you rush things, your feet are likely to pay the price.

Different boots will require different amounts of break-in time. Lightweight models may feel perfect right out of the box, while heavier, all-leather models may require weeks to soften up and form to your feet.

NOTE:
Most hiking boots stretch out slightly as they break in. But the break-in process will not turn a poor fit into a good one! Make sure the boots you buy feel snug yet comfortable before you take them home.

The basic break-in procedure

  • Begin by wearing your boots for short periods of time inside the house. Wear the kinds of socks you’re likely to be wearing out on the trail. Lace your boots up tight, and make sure your tongues are lined up and the gusset material is folded flat. The creases you form as you break-in your boots will likely remain for the life of the boot.
  • Your new boots will be a little stiff at first, which is fine. But if you notice significant pinching, rubbing or pain right off the bat, you may want to take the boots back and try a different style.
  • If after several short indoor sessions your boots seem to fit comfortably, expand your horizons. Wear your new boots to the local store, around town or while working in the yard. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend in your boots and the distances you cover. Make sure your boots feel good at each stage before increasing your distance.

NOTE: Make sure your new boots fit comfortably before you can wear them outside!

  • Be vigilant throughout the break-in process for any pain or discomfort. As soon as you notice either, take the boots off. Remember — small problems can become big ones very quickly. If everything feels good, try adding a little weight on your back as you hike, and/or hiking on more challenging trails.
  • If your boots feel good throughout the break-in process, but a single pinch or a hot spot remains, you may be able to correct the problem area by visiting a shoe-repair shop or your local REI store. Most have stretching devices that can help alleviate localized boot-fitting problems.

No such thing as a “quick fix”
There is no fast and easy method when it comes to breaking in new hiking boots. To do a good job, you have to put in the time.

Avoid “quick-fix” approaches like getting your boots soaking wet then walking long distances. They’re too hard on your boots and they’ll be murder on your feet. Also make sure you follow the manufacturer’s care and water proofing instructions carefully.

Does your moleskin contain latex?

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Question:

I just need to make sure the moleskins do not have latex. It doesn’t say it anywhere on the package. Can you confirm that they don’t?

Answer:

Hi Lois- Thanks for your interest in our Blister Care products. Our Moleskin is made from cotton fabric coated with a latex-free zinc oxide adhesive.

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