Friday, February 29, 2008

Carrying weapons in National Parks

I haven't wanted to write about the controversy about allowing weapons in National Parks in because it is a highly divisive issue and very politically charged. I also do not see the need for changing the current rule of no loaded or assembled weapons in National Parks (some parks in Alaska may have different rules) and I think allowing weapons could do real damage. I'm not sure I can add much to the discussion that hasn't been said but this is a blog and my chance to air my views. National Parks Traveler has a very good post on this subject.

I do understand the motivations to carry weapons into backcountry areas and to a lesser extent more populated areas. I take a gun when I go camping, I don't when hiking but that is at least partially due to weight considerations. I've never needed the gun but I have felt safer and have had minor trouble on some occasions. It is not a weapon that would be effective against bear or cougar. When I am traveling both inside and outside of Parks, I disassemble my gun inside the park, making it legal to transport inside my vehicle. I am aware that even a concealed carry permit does not give me the right to carry the weapon anywhere, definitely not into most government buildings or an airplane and state laws additionally limit it can be carried.

One commentator suggested that the rule should be discarded because of threats from wild animals. There are a few animals that may threaten people in parks, specifically cougars (mountain lions or pumas), black bears, and grizzly bears. The number of attacks on people by these animals is small but I can understand the desire to have a weapon. However, most fatal attacks by cougars and black bears are surprise attacks leaving little time to defend oneself with a gun. Others, see Herrero's Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance book, have written of the problems with depending on a gun, especially a handgun, against grizzly bears. Other defensive options also exist.

A major possible problem I see is for people carrying weapons to fire on animals they feel are threatening but are not directly attacking. Killing a bear or cougar or rattlesnake as anticipatory defense in a National Park degrades the purpose of the Park and may contribute to the decline of endangered species. Also, these is poaching of game animals around several western parks. Allowing loaded weapons in these parks would make it more difficult to reduce poaching.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Using a waist or lumbar pack

Recently, waist packs were discussed in the hiking blog sphere. I added a comment but decided to post since this topic continues the theme of needing to reduce my daypack weight which I posted last week.

I bought a small waist pack several years ago mostly as an easier way to carry my small camera and binoculars while walking along a beach or at viewpoints while traveling. It is also a convenient way to stow the camera and (now) monocular in the car, I can hook the waist strap over a seat and always know where they are and that they won't be thrown around after a hard stop. After a bit I added a bottle holder and use it a lot for hikes of approximately 1 hour where I plan to be near others or roads. A few years ago, I had an injury which made wearing a regular pack painful. So I bought a lumbar pack to use temporarily. I don't know the capacity but I can carry a sweater, lunch, camera, and monocular and a few other items although it isn't very comfortable with much weight or bulk. It has 2 side pockets for quart water bottles. I like to use it for 1/2 day hikes in warm weather when I'm not going far into the backcountry and don't expect much weather change.

I'm aware of some cognitive dissonance in my thinking; I load my daypack with emergency and survival items and then don't use it because it is too heavy. Also I've gone longer and to more remote locations than I had planned when using either of the waist packs. I do have some emergency stuff in both waist packs, a short vinyl poncho, matches, a pinch light, a small first aid kit, and a power bar with some extras in the larger lumbar pack. I find myself adding to the lumbar pack more items - I may fill that up with emergency stuff also!

I am rethinking what I need to carry in an emergency and how much weight and bulk I can cope with in a pack. Some of the same trade offs I've made with the waist packs should help me with the the daypack.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Reducing my daypack load

I carry too much in my daypack, it is too heavy and too full. A couple of times in the last year people have asked me if I'm camping overnight because my daypack is large and full. Besides, I find myself using my lumbar pack more often because the daypack is heavy and awkward. So I've decided I need to trim it down.

A major reason for the amount of stuff I carry is that I hike alone and therefore carry more emergency items than I would if I were hiking with others. I'm not going to remove most of this but I am going to think about what I may really need and if I can reduce the size and weight of these items. Fortunately the real survival items are compact and lightweight, matches, foil space blanket, first aid kit, etc. I do see some redundancy, I carry matches, lighter, and candle, that I might be able to reduce. I'm still thinking about the poncho, I carry that more as emergency shelter than for rain wear since I carry or wear rain pants and jacket. Maybe I should replace it with a lightweight tarp.

Another issue is that I often don't update my pack items from season to season. So in the middle of summer I carry some winter gear and in cold weather may still use my 3 liter water reservoir. I also recently noticed I had squirreled away 3 emergency power bars, forgetting that I had the extras (and see below). It is hard to remove stuff, nearly everything I carry I've used at least once and many of the areas I hike in are very unpredictable. In the mountains, I could experience snow any month of the year and night time temperatures often drop below freezing even in good weather.

In general, I carry more food, water, and clothing than I ever expect to use which is good but somewhat hard on the back. I need to find a way to reduce the amount I carry without cutting my surplus too thin. For instance, I use a 3 liter reservoir because I have run out of water with a 2 liter bag more than once on a day hike in dry conditions. I once forgot my lunch bag in my car, I continued my hike sure that I had an emergency energy bar tucked away, I didn't. Of course going without food on a day hike isn't usually going to cause real problems. That time could have been dangerous; it started snowing and I slipped, fell, and got wet. By the time I made it back to my car, I was getting close to hypothermia and need something to raise my blood sugar, I wasn't thinking well. If I hadn't been able to walk after the fall, I really would have been in danger.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Why carry a multi-tool when hiking?

My daypack is too heavy and stuffed with too much gear, partly because I usually hike alone and carry extra survival gear. One item I usually carry is a small multi-tool and a friend asked why I carry it and what I would use it for. To him, the multi-tool was an obvious choice to lighten my pack. Considering that question, I've thought about how I have used the multi-tool in the past and what I've seen others use similar tools to do in the backcountry. I'm primarily interested in the pliers; I carry a Swiss army knife with screwdriver and scissors and of course a blade.

I've used pliers several times to repair equipment; stoves, pack stays, and zippers. I haven't recently often needed pliers for repairs, I think my gear is better quality and less fragile than it was years ago. Also, I don't usually take a stove on a day hike. I no longer use an external frame pack and therefore don't have pack stays. I still occasionally use the pliers on my multi-tool to fix zippers or more often unblock them, on packs and jackets.

I've seen and used pliers to remove hooks, thorns, large splinters, and porcupine quills from cloth or flesh. It isn't necessary to be fishing to get tangled in discarded fishing lines and hooks. A fall may result in nasty splinters or thorns and using the small jawed pliers on my multi-tools is a lot easier than trying to pull out the item with fingers, especially if cold or using my non-dominant hand. I've never gotten quills embedded but I have seen dogs do so and pliers are really useful then.

There are a few other things I've used the multi-tool for and probably more that I have forgotten. The pliers make a good pot-lifter. Occasionally I use the screwdriver because it is more robust than my SAK or as a small pry bar. The file can be handy for smoothing sharp edges. I haven't decided for certain yet but may continue to carry the multi-tool because it is small, light, and useful.