Gear Review: MOLLE 4000 Rucksack

January 30, 2018

Military surplus MOLLE backpacks and pouches and their commercial-of-the-shelf (COTS) imitators have become a favorite purchase item for both the outdoor enthusiasts and preppers. As with most equipment designed for the military, it has limited efficiency when employed for civilian use. For example, the current modular sleep system used by the military will not fit in its entirety into the sleeping bag compartments of most commercial backpacks. Therefore, for the ultralight backpackers and adventure racers, military surplus, such as sleeping bags, are avoided. However, MOLLE backpacks and pouches are purchased and used by a wide variety of people and they work quite well when used within their designed purposes.
In recent years, an interest has arisen in the military for a backpack, whose volume falls in between the current issue MOLLE Large and Medium Rucksacks. MOLLE is an acronym for Modular Light Weight Load Carrying Equipment. The MOLLE system was first introduced in the late 1990s to replace the aging Vietnam-era ALICE (All-Purpose Individual Combat Equipment) system. New materials and manufacturing techniques drives the current philosophy of producing lighter and stronger individual equipment that is procured by the military. Once aging or unserviceable MOLLE equipment is coded out of the military inventory system, it becomes available for acquisition by civilian surplus stores for sale to the general public.

A new version of the MOLLE rucksack called, the MOLLE 4000, is being tested by the military for parachute operations. Some of the early test models submitted by vendors are starting to make their way on to the market for the general public. I purchased mine last year at a military surplus store when I lived in Virginia. These are interesting packs and reflect the genre of the military’s current designs for rucksacks. It is not known, as of this writing, if the military has adopted this particular design of the rucksack. However, it is certain that more of these backpacks will eventually find their way to surplus stores, as well as, internet vendors and will be purchased by interested consumers. What are some characteristics and features of this rucksack?

Characteristics

General Description:
This rucksack falls into the category of an external frame backpack. The advertised volume of the rucksack is 4000 cubic inches making it 65 liters. It is constructed of 1000 Denier Cordura fabric. The frame is made of high impact polymer plastic. The PALS webbing give the added value of modularity. All zippers are the standard YKK-type. The buckles are the standard heavy duty plastic, Fastek-type. The pack has the appearance of an over-sized MOLLE 3-day Assault Pack with a top flap closure instead of a zippered one. I have read others describe it as a kind of modern ALICE pack.

Volume:
The main compartment is 4000 cubic inches or 65 liters. However, because of the addition of the storm flap, the volume of the main compartment increases to 85 liters if fully packed. It has one large access pouch on the outside, similar to the ones on the assault pack and medium rucksack. The outside compartment gives an additional 20 liters in the overall volume to the pack. Therefore, the over all volume of the pack is 90-95 liters.

Features:
The main compartment has a draw-string storm flap closure. There is a zippered access point on the main compartment for easy access to the contents while the main cover is closed. It has a large cover flap for the main compartment that functions as a map compartment with a Velcro closure. There is no mesh webbing on the underside of the main compartment flap as there is on the large MOLLE rucksack. The excess strapping from the two main closure straps can be rolled up and secured in two slots on the top of the main compartment flap. It has two compression straps on each side, similar to the MOLLE Medium Rucksack. The pack frame is the equivalent to the USMC DE1606 MC frame. The frame is much more thick than the standard frame thickness of the MOLLE Medium or Large Rucksacks. The shoulder straps are sewn into the pack with the pack sitting over the frame in a similar manner to the legacy ALICE pack and LC-2 frame. There is a compartment on the bottom of the ruck that stores the parachute rigging. What are some observations about this backpack?

Observations

Because of its intended use, the MOLLE 4000 seems to be heavy for its size when empty. This is because the pack has to withstand larger stressors on it during parachute operations than a normal backpack. The padding on the shoulder straps is thicker than those on the other rucksacks in this line giving it exceptional comfort. The pack does look like a cross between the legacy ALICE pack and current MOLLE rucksack. Initial impressions of this pack are that it has great potential to become a favorite for hikers and backpackers with some modifications for non-military users. How does this backpack perform on the trail?

Performance

This pack performed well on the trail. It felt more like my older ALICE pack on my back the longer I carried it. The lumbar waist belt provides excellent comfort over an extended period of time. The PALS webbing on the lumbar belt also gives additional pouch options. The shoulder straps and the shoulder padding also give excellent comfort. However, some thought needs to be put into balancing the weight of the contents if additional outside pouches are attached. For example, I attempted to attach my Condor Nalgene Bottle Pouch on the side with a full water bottle. It caused the weight to become imbalanced, so I just packed it on the top of the main compartment under the flap closure for easy access, since I did not have another Nalgene Bottle for the opposite side. The weight of the pack with my contents started to get close to 40-45 lbs. in total weight. This was before I added the sleeping bag which pushed the pack to over 50 lbs. What is the best employment of this backpack?

Best Use of This Backpack

This pack is best used for no more than a two or three day hike. The weight of the pack combined with necessary contents for longer treks on the trail would cause the pack to become uncomfortable very quickly, especially for thru-hiking. The pack is ruggedly built, so it would be a good pack for hunters. Its dimensions make it too small to be used as a large game hauler. However, it will easily accommodate varmint hunting or trapping. This pack would also be a good consideration for bushcrafters because of the deep barrel main compartment construction. This pack would also be a good consideration as a 72-hour emergency evacuation or bug out bag. How could this pack be improved?

Suggested Improvements

If commercial manufacturers decide to produce a civilian version of this backpack, here are some suggested changes that could make the pack more user-friendly to the general public.

  • The manufacturer should consider putting in a water bladder compatible inner compartment.
  • The manufacturer should consider constructing a thinner thickness frame to reduce the empty weight of the pack for general use considerations.
  • The manufacturer should consider a titanium tubing LC-2 ALICE-type frame to replace the polymer frame for added strength and durability as well as reducing the empty weight of the pack.

Concluding Comments

Overall this backpack is a wonderful pack for no more than three days on the trail. It will easily accommodate the packing needs of most day hikers or weekend backpackers. The construction of the pack eliminates worry about damage under general-use conditions. Its volumous main compartment allows for any combination of contents for most outdoor scenarios and considerations.

 

Personal Emergency or Survival Kits for Children

January 25, 2018
The camping, fishing, hiking, and backpacking season will soon be upon us. Many people will begin to head outdoors during the Spring and Summer. It is a wonderful time for families to take advantage of nature’s beauty. Children will be taken out on the trails, lakes, and campsites across America by their parents. In such cases, some parents may assess that there is a need to put an emergency or survival kit into their children’s backpacks.

When constructing emergency kits for my children’s backpacks, there are concerns that arise when trying to decide what contents should be inside of their kits. Many of the suggested contents for personal emergency kits are made for adult considerations. One of the most common starting points for personal emergency kit construction is the SAS Survival Handbook by Lofty Wiseman. It is obvious that many of the contents suggested by Wiseman are not relevant for children when considered from a parental perspective. For example, Wiseman’s kit contents are as follows:
1. Matches
2. Candle
3. Flint
4. Magnifying Glass
5. Needles/Thread
6. Fish hooks/line
7. Compass
8. Beta Light
9. Snare Wire
10. Wire Saw
11. Medical Kit (suggested contents, tailor to personal needs)
a. Pain Relievers
b. Gastrointestinal Medicine
c. Antibiotic Medicine
d. Allergy Relievers
e. Water Purification Tabs
f. Anti-Malaria Tablets
g. Potassium Permanganate
h. Surgical Blades
i. Butterfly Sutures
j. Band Aids (Plasters)
12. Condom

Furthermore, it must be remembered that Wiseman’s personal emergency kit contents are based on legacy or dated technology from the Cold War or they are unique to the British Army, yet the concepts or principles are still relevant today. For example, beta lights (phosphorescent/tritium lights) are available for purchase but mini-chemlights are a more accessible source to the average consumer. Moreover, the items that he suggests in his kits are based on military operations and military survival training. They address situations in which pilots or ground personnel find themselves in a survival situation on the battlefield due to being separated from friendly forces. Furthermore, as the name implies, survival or emergency kits are an item of last resort only to be employed in the most desperate situations, where survival may not be possible without their use. How can a survival tin or pouch that is based on the concepts of the SAS-type survival tin be made applicable for use by children or teenagers?

First, when constructing a Lofty Wiseman SAS-type survival tin or pouch for your children, some discernment, wisdom, and common sense needs to be applied to the task. For example, a tritium light or mini-chemlight would be a great item in a survival kit for an adult or teenager; however, they could be a choking hazard for younger children. Choking hazards are a concern, as well, with other small items such as button compasses, mini ferro rods, and small magnifying glasses. Therefore, include survival items in the tin that are consistent with your children’s maturity and assessed capabilities for responsible behavior. You do not want to have a preventable emergency with your children while enjoying the outdoors.

Second, a concern when considering items for an emergency survival tin for your children is the fragility or durability of the contents. For example, when considering how to address lighting, it is best to use some type of micro flashlight that is one piece, can be turned on with a simple pressure switch, and are waterproof. Micro flashlights that have to be twisted to turn on or off are prone to being disassembled by curious toddlers or younger children. An example of this type of flashlight would be the Mini-Mag. Once this type of flashlight is taken apart in the field, parts will get lost, broken, or possibly swallowed. The flashlight will then be rendered useless, thus, defeating the purpose for it in the tin. Glass signal mirrors can become cracked or broken. Therefore, a single, stainless steel micro signal mirror or polished military dog tag would be a better item in a survival kit for children.

Third, another concern when considering items for an emergency tin or pouch for your children are cutting injuries. Those of us with children have the experience of our younger children getting a dinner knife or scissors out of a kitchen drawer in a moment when our attention is distracted. Thus, we tend to put such items out of reach for their own safety to prevent unnecessary injury or harm. This safety concern will also influence what kinds of cutting devices are in a survival kit for your children. One item that is universal for any kind of survival kit is a knife. However, putting a knife in your children’s survival kit should only be done with the utmost of care and consideration of their experience and capabilities for safe and responsible behavior regardless of their age. This same principle should also drive decisions about placing fishing or sewing items in their kits.

As we contemplate how to construct one of these personal emergency kits for our children, what are some items to consider? In other words, what kinds of item did I consider when constructing a personal emergency survival kit for my children? The following are some suggested items for a children’s personal emergency survival kit:

1. Container Options:
o Tin, Small
o Tin, Large
o Pouch
o Dry Box
o aLokSak Bag

2. Cutting Device:
o Gerber LST Ultralight Knife, Fine Edge

3. Cordage:
o 15’ Mil Spec Survival Cord, MIL-C-5040 Type 1A

4. Signaling Device:
o S.O.L. Slim Rescue Howler Whistle
o S.O.L. Micro Signaling Mirror

5. Lighting Device:
o Micro Light Keychain Mini Flashlight

6. Navigation:
o Button Compass

7. Fire Making:
o Bic Mini Lighter
o 2 x Tender Quick Tab

8. Food Procurement:
o 25’ Braided Fishing Line wrapped around a Floss Bobbin
o Basic Fishing Kit
o P-51 Military Can Opener
o Note: Snare wire is not included in my children’s kit because setting up snares and traps is an advanced skill of which they are unfamiliar at this point. The snare wire can be added in later or placed in a larger kit.

9. Equipment Repair:
o 1” Duct Tape wrapped around Floss Bobbin
o 3 x Safety Pins, Stainless Steel

10. First Aid:
o 1 x Bandage Strip, Large
o 1 x Bandage Strip, Medium
o 2 x Bandage, Butterfly
o 2 x Alcohol Wipes (Can be used for fire starting also)
o 2 x Antibiotic Ointment, packs

11. Communication:
o Golf Pencil
o 2 x Mini Index Cards

A personal emergency survival kit for one’s children is a challenge to think through and build. They can be a useful tool for teaching your children about the proper use of the contents and on their proper employment. It is an adventure, in and of itself, to sit down and think through what a child or teenager needs if they become separated from their family in some way in the outdoors. There have been many stories over the years in which children became separated and lost from their families while they were enjoying time outdoors. Toddlers may not be adept in outdoor survival skills. However, teaching them early about why we carry a survival kit in our backpacks and giving them some of the simpler items to play with, like a howler whistle, helps them to begin to make the connection in their mind about the purpose of the kit itself. In much the same way one learns a trade skill through apprenticeship, we, parents, can teach our children about operating and surviving in a wilderness environment. This will empower them in adulthood to enjoy nature’s beauty, as well as, making responsible decisions about the stewardship of the environment.

 

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My son and I out on the AT in 2017

 

Book Review: Will to Live by Les Stroud

Will to Live: Dispatches from The Edge of Survival by Les Stroud. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011, 230 pp., $17.99.

51Brdg4szNLWilderness survival and the unique and harrowing stories of real life survivors and tragedies gives author Les Stroud much to contemplate within the pages of Will to Live: Dispatches from The Edge of Survival. What is the primary mitigating factor between life and death in a survival situation? Stroud seeks to discover the answer to this question by examining the survival stories of several well-known cases in which people lived or perished in this follow-up volume to his earlier work: Survive: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere-Alive. These stories find their setting in such diverse places as land and sea, forest and jungle. Equally, the personalities involved in the narratives are just as varied as the settings in which their survival experience takes place. The author admits that years of survival training can never substitute for the actual experiences of those who endured their ordeals. He states, “Therein lies one of the greatest problems I and other survival instructors have always faced. We rarely get the opportunity to really do the one thing we are best at: getting caught and subsequently tested in a true survival situation” (p. 1-2). Stroud offers his thesis when he articulates that discovering how people react when faced with a survival situation and how those reactions influenced the outcome of those circumstances guides the theme of the book (p. 4-5). The result is that the reader is left with a small library of case studies in survival psychology, ingenuity, perseverance, and tragedy. Stroud forensically examines each of the cases through the perspective of an expert survival instructor seeking to answer the bigger questions of cause and effect with analysis on lessons learned. The pages of Will to Live gives both novice and experienced outdoorsman a good foundation on the high cost of survival.

Les Stroud is the founder of Les Stroud productions. His work includes the award winning Survivorman television program. He is also an accomplished musician who has performed on stage with bands such as Journey and has gained the nickname, “The Hendrix of Harmonica”.[1] He is a member of the Explorers Club and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. Stroud is also active in environmental causes and is a board member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Organization. He has recently launched Survivorman Television, an online network to continue to promote Survivorman®, his music, and environmental awareness. He publishes a website called, Survivorman-Les Stroud, http://www.lesstroud.ca/.

Will to Live is a study in survival psychology examined through the various real-world survival experiences of others. It seeks to uncover the difference between those who survived their ordeals and those who did not. The book seeks to answer from a psychological perspective on what makes the difference between surviving or perishing when lost or stranded. It reviews seven different stories of people who lived or perished when faced with life-threatening circumstances. They form seven chapters within the book. Stroud analyzes each chronicle through four elements of survival: knowledge, luck, kit, and will to live. The author intersperses his own experiences in five of the chapters in the book. The Epilogue of the book functions as the conclusion in which the author muses the implications of the individual cases and their analysis and concludes, “In going through the ordeals articulated in these pages, a new reality has become clear to me: luck plays a more important role than I originally thought” (p. 222). This gives the reader pause to contemplate the surviving of a life-threatening experience can be attributed to luck by an expert in the field.

After a short introduction, Stroud goes into the first survival story; that of Yossi Ghinsberg. Ghinsberg survived in the jungles of the Amazon for three weeks (p. 9). He details his story in the book Back from Tuichi (1993). Critical to this account is the lack of experience and training shown by the guide, Karl, on this Amazon adventure gone awry (p. 10). However, Stroud observes that Yossi’s survival mentality and unique ingenuity seemed to be key factors in his survival (p. 22). It is no surprise that the survival ordeal of Yossi Ghinsberg finds its place at the beginning of the book. His experience serves as the analytical template that the author uses for the other studies within the pages of the book. Some of the cases analyzed are: Nando Parrado’s survival on the Andes Mountains (p. 43-69); the Robertson Family’s survival at sea (p. 79-109); the tragic tale of Chris McCandless and the Alaskan wilderness (p. 117-133); the Stolpa family stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains (p. 141-159); the tragedy of the Karluk expedition in the Arctic (p. 169-195), and the Mawson expedition at the South Pole (p. 197-219). Stroud deftly moves the reader through each of the narratives to point out both the positive and negative aspects of each.

Beneficial to the reader, beyond the stories themselves, are the author’s side bar comments that gives added information pertinent for each survival scenario. The reader will find suggestions by the author on how to test the edibility of plants (p. 23), the contents for a sea survival kit (p. 85), what to put into a survival kit for a vehicle (p. 148), or the symptoms of rabbit starvation (p. 189). The book does not focus primarily on the techniques of survival such as building a shelter, starting a fire, etc. Rather, the author takes the reader on a survival journey to discover the psychology of survival and how that influences decision-making, ingenuity, and, ultimately, the outcome of the ordeal. For example, in the Karluk account, Stroud highlights the positive influence that staying busy had on the crew and how important that was on the human psyche in the Arctic region (p. 177-79). He then has side bar commentary on how the lack of sunlight and physical activity affects the mind (p. 178).  The importance of this type of information to the reader, especially the outdoor enthusiast, is critical to understanding survival psychology.

The one observed weakness in the text of Will to Live is the lack of discussion on how physiology effects emotions and rational thinking in a survival situation. For example, it does not discuss with any detail how the lack of food or water over an extended period may cause chemical changes in the body that influence mental function. It would be interesting to include some analysis by a medical doctor or psychiatrist with each of the stories regarding the effects of the starvation or dehydration process on emotions, thinking, and decision-making. However, the book is not an academic analysis on the psychology of survival. Rather, its purpose is to target a wide spectrum of people interested in the outdoors who may have only a cursory knowledge of survival psychology at best.  Therefore, the book achieves its intended purpose on that level.

Overall, Les Stroud brilliantly argues his theme on the topic of survival psychology. The Will to Live captures the essence of what it means to persevere in a survival situation. Some of the stories have a positive outcome and some do not. Yet, all these accounts give the reader a glimpse into the mental fortitude necessary to endure the harsh realities of being in a life-threating situation in the outdoors, whether on land or sea.  This book entrusts to the reader a small library of case studies on survival that will help the outdoor adventurer or enthusiast. Survival is more than learning a technique or acquiring a tool. The intangibles of survival are luck and will. This makes the act of survival even more sobering considering the author’s analysis and commentary. Will to Live will motivate the reader to investigate further the psychology of survival.  Equally, it will empower the reader to see contemporary survival-related news reports through a different perspective. One can gain knowledge through training and reading. One can gain tools and become proficient in their employment. However, one cannot quantify luck or will. Everyone has a breaking point physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Stroud causes the reader to examine themselves against the backdrop of those who found themselves suddenly in a survival situation and ask, “Do I have what it takes to survive?” Everyone who is interested in the outdoors or is actively involved in the outdoors will do well to read the pages of this book.

William H. Lavender, II

Lynchburg, Virginia

[1]Survivorman-Les Stroud. “Les Stroud, About”, Survivorman-Les Stroud, online. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.lesstroud.ca/about/.

 

Boots That I Would Wear Outdoors: The Danner® TFX

us_army_acu_danner_desert_tfx_rough_out_tan_gtx_2_grandeA boot that I would wear outdoors in North America or Europe would be the Danner® TFX boot.[1] I wore this boot from 2006 to 2014 while serving in the military. This boot is one of the finest everyday-wear boots that I have worn. It is made of top grain cowhide leather (roughed out suede). There are two versions of this boot: a Gore-Tex® lined version and a hot weather version. The hot weather version has small drainage holes on the insteps.  This boot appears to be Danner’s tactical version of their Proghorn series.[2] I have worn these boots deployed to Iraq, the rifle and pistol training ranges, and in the office. This boot was comfortable to wear always. It stood up to the rigors of military life both in the field and out of the field.

Is this boot good for hiking and backpacking? Yes. I have worn this boot hiking and it performed in an excellent manner. It provided stability for my ankles while carrying my backpack. It provided comfort and breathability for my feet while on the trail. The boots work best with a good thick boot or hiking sock. I found that athletic socks made for running shoes work satisfactorily for short hikes, but not for multi-day hikes. Maintenance and care for the boot requires minimal effort; however, one drawback is that if the boot becomes water logged or caked with mud, then it will require several days for it to dry after cleaning.  The laces tend to wear out and break with extensive use. Therefore, replacing them with paracord or heavy duty work boot laces should be considered.  If you are planning to have an outdoor adventure that may involve extensive activity in wet conditions or snow, the Danner Proghorn will most likely be the better boot to wear.

Overall, this boot is a joy to own and wear while hiking or backpacking. If you are interested in this boot, you can find it at the links below.

Enjoy and see you on the trail!

[1] “Desert TFX G3 series”, Danner Boots, online. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.danner.com/men/military/desert-tfx-g3-8-coyote.html.

[2] “Proghorn Series”, Danner Boots online. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.danner.com/productfamily/pronghorn/men:hunt/.

Article Review: Keeping it Real with Les Stroud

“Keeping it Real with Les Stroud: Survivorman is Here to Crush the Most Common Survival Myths”, Survivor’s Edge by Michael D’Angona, Winter-Spring 2017, p.7-11.

 

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Les Stroud

The topic of survival provides much to discuss between Michael D’Angona and one of the most recognized personalities in the survival world, Les Stroud. The interview of survival expert Les Stroud gives the reader a glimpse into his mind and heart on a broad spectrum of topics that are of interest to survivalists and outdoor enthusiasts. Les Stroud is the founder of Les Stroud Productions, which produces the Survivorman television series primarily for the Canadian network, Outdoor Life Network, and has aired in the United States in cooperation with Discovery Communications since 2006. The interview covers some five pages in the current (Winter-Spring 2017) edition of Survivor’s Edge magazine.

 

D’Angona introduces the article with a general overview of the misconceptions that most people have regarding the realities of actual survival in an austere environment. He says, “Often people miss the fine points of survival when they are just reading up on it or watching a show about it.” This statement provides the theme for the discussion with Les Stroud. After the introduction, the author segues into the interview by asking Les, “What do you believe is the biggest misconception that people have about survival?” The interview then moves from the general topic of survival to specific aspects of survival (e.g. tools and equipment, survival psychology, and education and training), the article ends with a question regarding survival television with Stroud’s answers.  Les Stroud’s remarks recorded in the pages of this article are set in the context of naming and clarifying some misconceptions about the realities of survival.  Overall, the article gives those new to the survival interest some helpful tips and important advice. Those who have been fans of Les Stroud and Survivorman for many years will find some repeated thoughts that Les has articulated over the years, especially in regards to survival television.

One of the more insightful questions that Les Stroud answered was about analyzing the survival decisions of others, who are in the field. Les answered, “When they say, ‘I could do that’, I say, ‘Yes, you are absolutely right—you could do that; anyone can learn to survive.’ When they say, ‘He should’ve done this or that,’ I say, ‘Oh yeah, well, you weren’t there and until you’re in the same situation, you shouldn’t judge what someone else might do or not do to survive. Armchair survivalists are no different than armchair athletes.” This is an important perspective for those just starting out in survival and woodsmanship or they are seasoned veterans with accumulated years of field time developing their field craft. It is easy to make decisions when one’s body is hydrated, properly fed, rested, and under no psychological or emotional duress, especially as a passive observer of some else’s experience. Yet, when the realities of being stranded or lost set in, the abilities in decision-making and critical thinking become affected. It seems that changing one’s paradigm from being lost or stranded to being safe and secure at home has more of an influence on survival decisions than methodical, logically thought out progressively intentional decisions (i.e. “I got get out of here!” vs. “Ok, here I am, now how do I get out of here”). Thus, until you are in a stranded or lost situation, there is no legitimate way of knowing what kind of decisions that you would make. Therefore, Les cautions the reader to be careful about second guessing others.

The most important tip that Les offers in this interview is found in his answer to the question that relates to depending on someone else’s abilities and knowledge in a survival situation. He relates that when he is with a couple, he asks them what they are carrying and usually the husband speaks up and delineates what he is carrying for survival in his pack. Les, then, states the following, “I pull the wife aside and I ask her what she has, which usually ends up with her telling her husband, ‘See, I told you I should have my own pack!’ But this doesn’t mean that teamwork and relying on others isn’t also part of survival. It is.” This harkens to a military concept of each person carrying the same items in their rucksacks. Soldiers, Marines, and Special Operations personnel, who carry rucksacks into the field use a basic packing list of items that each member of the group is to carry in their packs. Obviously, clothing sizes vary, but some items can be collected from a fallen service member’s rucksack in the heat of a combat situation (e.g. first aid kits, signal or lighting items, fire making items, land navigation items, ammunition, knives, multi-tools, food, canteens, personal hygiene items, cordage, etc.). This is what Les is implying here in his response. The wife should have the same survival items in her backpack that are in her husband’s pack. Moreover, she should be just as knowledgeable and proficient with them as her husband. Additionally, they should be communicating to each other as to what survival items are in their packs. Then, if the husband should become incapacitated in some way, the wife can continue and not become debilitated in her survival efforts. The concept that Les is articulating applies not only to a husband/wife team but to anyone who is with an outdoors partner or group.

One of the more interesting responses that Les gives in this interview are on the topic of survival reality television. D’Angona asks Les two questions regarding survival reality television. All of which are in the context of dispelling misconceptions about real-world survival. The first question that Les fields from D’Angona is about the mixed messages that the general television audience receives from reality survival television. Les answers by making a correlation between watching the Olympics on television and attempting to intentionally do a particular event without training. The rhetorical response that Les outlines has the obvious answer that you would not do it. The same is true of watching survival television and trying to intentionally do survival outdoors without training. You would not do it. The second question that Les answers regarding reality survival television is also about how easy reality television makes surviving look verses continually working at your field craft. He goes on to give some specific names of television programs that can be misleading about survival; Man v. Wild (Bear Grylls), Dual Survival, Naked and Afraid, and Alone.

The last show named by Les, Alone, has generated some backlash against Les by some of the former contestants of the show Alone. Unfortunately, is seems that some of the critics of Les, by these former contestants of Alone, did not keep the context of the interview in mind before they took Stroud’s critique personally and began circulating their disappointments via social media. The truth of the matter is that Les (as well as Cody Lundin) is correct in his assessment of reality survival television verses the realities of actual survival. It is my assessment that Les Stroud’s comments were not a dig at the field craft acumen, survival ability, or survival endurance experiences of individuals in the field while filming a survival television program. Rather, his comments are coming from a broader perspective in articulating the dichotomy between television reality and the real-world realities of being lost at sea, stranded in a snow storm, or lost in the wilderness with so safety structure to fall back on.  Therefore, Les’ comments are a sobering reminder that there is no substitute for what Dave Canterbury calls, “dirt time”.  Les Stroud reminds us in his “Patagonia” episode of Survivorman season 7, “You can’t watch a survival program on T.V. and head out and imitate it. It’s not safe. It’s taken me years to know what I know, to have learned what I’ve learned and I practiced hundreds and hundreds of times with other people before I ever attempted anything alone.”

The interview article by Michael D’Angona with survival expert, television personality, and musician Les Stroud was an excellent read. It offers great insights and advice to survival novices and survival veterans alike. Photos by Laura Bombier give a refreshing touch to this article. Her photographs reinforce the fact that Les Stroud is a credible, experienced survival expert that everyone can learn from in regards to survival in the outdoors. D’Angona did a wonderful job interviewing Les Stroud. This article should be read by everyone interested in Les Stroud, Survivorman, survival, or the outdoors.

William H. Lavender, II

Lynchburg, VA.

 

Hiking Tip # 3: Personal Safety, Risk Mitigation, and Traveling in Foreign Countries

January 28, 2017

uspassportrenewalsThe following story was chronicled on television recently and the full article on the tragic story of Aubrey Sacco’s disappearance in Nepal while hiking can be read at the following link:

http://www.backpacker.com/gone-girl-aubrey-saccos-disappearance-hiking-in-nepal/destinations/18334

The key safety lesson from Aubrey’s story is never go hiking in a foreign country with someone that you do not know in a high-risk location.  Practicing good personal protective measures and risk mitigation while hiking in a foreign country is necessary.  Aurbrey’s story reinforces the fact that American women are lucrative targets for kidnapping in foreign countries.  Therefore, if you decide to go on a hiking expedition in a foreign country with some friends, you should always be out on the trail with a partner from your group (a.k.a. a Battle Buddy, as the US Army calls them).  You should be wise about who you choose to be your hiking partner if it is only the two of you going out on the trail.

Another safety recommendation by experts is to have a communication plan. Before, you go on your hiking adventure, always have a plan to communicate with others on pre-determined times. For example, you agree to call your family or friends every two to three hours during the hike and once a day when not out on the trail. You should also have several ways to communicate (e.g. cell phone, text messaging, email, skype, etc.).  If you can afford one and the data plan to go with it, I would recommend that you take with you a satellite phone into a foreign country. That way if you have an emergency while hiking in a foreign country and have no cell phone coverage, you can still communicate with the local US Embassy or Consulate or with your family or friends in the United States who can assist on your behalf.

In regards to communication in a foreign country, always have the emergency number to the closest U.S Embassy or Consulate in the area you are going hiking. All United States Consulates and Embassies have a Unites States Marine Corps watch desk that is manned twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. Keep their contact number on you and in your phone at all times and do not hesitate to call them if you need to get to the US Embassy or Consulate in an emergency.

Another safety consideration to remember is never give up your US Passport to anyone in a foreign country. Upon entry into a foreign country, the customs officials may take your passport for a few minutes to stamp it, but most foreign customs officials will return your passport.  If a customs official, law enforcement officer, military member, hotel clerk, or private citizen of a foreign country attempts to confiscate your passport, do not give it up.  Immediately make your way to the nearest US Consulate or Embassy for protection and report the incident.  Then as soon as possible, leave the country.

As we are discussing travel in a foreign country, always heed the Official Warnings published by the US State Department, even if one is published after you arrive in a particular country. Do not travel to countries where there is an active civil war going on or there are open hostile feelings towards Americans. I realize that there is a whole world of things to see and do in many countries of the world.  However, if you decide to travel in a country that has an Official Travel Warning published against it by US State Department, you are traveling at your own risk. Do not tempt fate at the expense of having a good time and broadening your cultural horizons. You may regret that decision later and cause your family and friends unnecessary worry or grief.

If you are planning to travel to a particular country, learn as much as you can about that country and its laws before you leave the United States. BBC News online is a great resource to learn about different countries and the latest news coming out of those countries. If it looks like the country of choice for your travels is going to slip into turmoil, cancel your plans to travel to that country.

The next safety and risk mitigation factor is to try to learn about the laws and social nuances of the country in which you plan to travel and hike.  For example, is it a law that hotels must keep the passports of foreigners at the front desk? Is it a law that one must dress a certain way? As a foreigner, are you libel for any accidental harm to local nationals or their property (e.g. in a vehicle accident)? In speaking of driving, memorize the international road sign symbols of the particular country you will be travelling in. Understand that you are in a foreign country and not in the United States, so law enforcement, liabilities, and legal procedures are not probably going to be in your favor. If the police in a foreign country detain you, you may be there awhile.  There is no such thing as due process and Miranda Rights in many countries and you are guilty until proven innocent. So be informed, be aware, and be careful.

Food and drinks in a foreign country can be a risk.  While in a foreign country, try not accept food or drinks from questionable origins. Many drugs are slipped to people through food and drinks (e.g. accepting an alcoholic beverage from someone that you did not see pour or prepare the drink). In some countries, standards for food preparation and handling are not the same as in the United States. This makes eating the local food a potential health risk. So be careful what you eat and where you eat.

When travelling in cities, do not go down alleys and streets that are not on your planned route. Understand where the high crime areas are and avoid them at all costs.

In closing, I have traveled in many different countries.  You can have fun and enjoy yourself in foreign countries.  Be smart, be wise, have a plan, and if it is against the law in America it is probably against the law in a foreign country. If you mind your business, and keep a low profile, you will find your time in a foreign country to memorable and enjoyable. Do not be reckless, foolish, or provocative and you will return to the United States with a mental backpack full of hiking memories and not regret.

Take care, have fun.

See you on the trail!

 

Hiking Tip # 2- Footwear

January 28, 2017

vasque-mens-breeze-gtx-hiking-bootOver the years of my US Army experience, I have had a constant battle to find the best fitting boot. Equally, I have had a hard time winning the war against blisters while on long marches. In my hiking endeavors, I have learned that footwear and blisters are a continuing saga. Because of my troubles, I have developed heal spurs and chronic plantar fasciitis. I have gleaned some practical wisdom in this particular area.  Therefore, I would like to share some of my tips regarding footwear.

The Hiking Boot:

Properly fitting footwear is critical to having a pleasant experience while out on the trail. Granted that most of you will not be lugging around a heavy military rucksack, thus, the wear and tear on your feet should not be as dramatic. As a small man at 64”, my feet can fit into a men’s 6.5 wide military issue boot and the men’s 6.5 wide Altama® Jungle Boot. I also can wear comfortably the men’s size 7, Danner® TFX military boot, and the men’s size 7 Matterhorn® military boot.  The US Army has lost the art of the other essentials to proper fitting footwear—lacing and socks. It has been rather difficult to find commercial hiking boots in the sizes that I require, but it is possible to find them.

One thing that I have learned about boots, that will see a lot of time in the field, is the importance of breaking them in. Boots that fit snug when you try them on in the store will loosen up after a few days weeks in the field. The more uneven and rough the terrain, the more quickly the boot will lose its stiff and snug fit. Humidity, sweat, and wetness will also be factors in how your boot will “break in”.  There are many different techniques to breaking in a new pair of hiking boots.  We will not outline them here, except to say, that the one most often heard is “soaking” the boot. This, however, only works with an all leather (not suede) boots with removable insoles. The military issue all-leather Altama® boot can be done this way, but most reading this article are not going to buy a boot such as this. By the way, I have experimented with this technique and it is not as effective as claimed, so I do not recommend it. With commercial hiking boots with Teflon or Teflon/Leather combination material, breaking them in will require just wearing them for a couple of days or weeks as your primary footwear.

Another factor concerning breaking in the hiking boot is whether it has a Gore-Tex® liner[1]. When you try Gore-Tex® boots on, your feet feel very snug in them. However, over time that “padded” feeling tends to lessen with the use of the boot. There are several reasons for this. First, Gore-Tex® does not have an extensively long lifecycle. Second, the principle material in Gore-Tex, latex[2], will lose its elasticity and other properties over time. Improper care of these type of boots will hasten this process also.  For example, the Gore-Tex liner in the two pairs of Matterhorn boots that I owned while serving in the US Army, lost their moisture wicking and heat retention properties after about 18 months of continuous use. While the sweat from my feet was still being drawn away from my socks and into the liner, in cold weather, the water retained in the Gore-Tex liner became cold and the cold was transferred back to my feet, thus defeating the reason that I bought them to begin with. I have noticed this same problem with my Gore-Tex lined Danner TFX boots as well. The Gore-Tex lined boots break in more quickly than an all-leather boot and do not require as much maintenance, but their fit can be deceiving if you are not experienced with Gore-Tex lined footwear.

Another factor in breaking in new hiking boots is discovered when lacing them up. Boots that have Gore-Tex liners will tend to lace up with a wider gap between each line of eyelets when new. Over time and with use, this gap will decrease between each row of eyelets as the boot material becomes more flexible and you are able to pull the laces tighter for a continuing snug fit.

By contrast, the most comfortable pair of boots that I have worn thus far, have been the all-leather military issue boot produced by Altama®. In the Army, these boots were called “cruit boots”.  I was not fond of these boots either, until I went through Infantry Officer training. However, after much use during the humid summer in Georgia, the leather softened and formed around my foot in a very comfortable manner. With the addition of Spenco® inserts and Vibram® soles, these boots were just as comfortable as my New Balance® Cross-training running shoes. To date, this has been the only boot that really fit me properly. With my growing problem with heel spurs, the Danner TFX boot became the next boot to fit me as good as my all-leather Altamas.  To get a proper fit for your hiking boots, it is best to get them fitted by a knowledgeable person at your favorite outfitter store, such as REI. The links below will help you also.

Another thing to be mindful of about foot wear is the maintenance of your footwear. All-leather boots require much more diligence in keeping them maintained than Teflon material boots. The video links below will provide a good over view on maintenance of footwear. Remember, that boots with Gore-Tex liners cannot be put into clothes dryers after washing. The heat will cause the Gore-Tex liner to break down. You must let Gore-Tex boots air dry. You do this by removing all of the laces and folding out the tongue in order to open up the boot to as much air as possible. If you have a 5 to 8 inch tall boot, then you will need to try to fold down the top of the boot if it is flexible enough. Otherwise, just leave it as is. With Teflon or Teflon/Suede combination material, you can use a stiff, but flexible brush to clean the outside. If your Teflon boots have a Gore-Tex liner, then you can wash them in clear, clean, cold water and let them air dry on your porch or in your washroom.

In caring for all-leather boots (not suede), you can wash them in lukewarm water with a mild dish soap on the outside. Use a soft brush or tooth brush to clean off any excessive dirt. Let them air dry as described above for the Gore-Tex lined boots. You will notice after a while that your leather boots will have some white, chalky residue appearing on the surface of the boot. Do not be alarmed, this is some of the leather salts coming to the surface after being wet. After the boots have dried, you can take saddle soap and clean off the white chalky stuff. If you try to rewash them, you will just get more of the leather salts coming to the surface. Rub the saddle soap into the leather very thoroughly, this includes the boot tongue and seams. After using the saddle soap, you can wipe the boot down with a damp cloth to get the excess soap off. Let the boot sit for a couple hours or for a day to let the soap work its way into the leather. When this process is complete then you can apply the boot polish or, in some cases, mink oil, as a way of waterproofing the boot. However, I have found if your boot leather is not waterproofed already with oils, like the Matterhorn Boot, then a boot polish is the first layer of defense in keeping the leather in top condition. You do not have to polish the boot to a high sheen, put the boot polish is critical in keeping the boot leather from deteriorating. So do not ignore its importance.

As we move on from the hiking boot itself, we will move on to the next important factor in footwear, lacing. I did not understand the importance of proper lacing of the boot until after completing my military career. Lacing is important because properly lacing your boots will reduce foot fatigue, and reduce or eliminate blisters.  Every once and a while, I would notice some Sergeant that would have a unique lacing pattern on his boots. One instance comes to mind, as I witnessed a sergeant with a big gap in the lacing pattern over the crook or bend of this foot. I asked him about it and he told me this was more comfortable to him than the ingrained left-over-right pattern that our Drill Sergeants pushed into our heads.  Since I started hiking, I have come to understand that some lacing patterns are better than others. Since everyone’s feet are different, I cannot recommend a particular lacing pattern here. Like with anything else, you will have to experiment to see which lacing pattern works for you and helps eliminate or reduce blisters on your feet. The video links below can help.

As we move on, let us talk about socks.  Socks are vital to the care and maintenance of your feet. Keeping your feet dry while hiking is important. Getting your feet dry after they have become wet while crossing a stream is equally important. The socks you are wearing are critical to ensuring these two objectives are met. The type of socks you are wearing will also determine whether or not you get blisters.  When it comes to socks, I have not had a good experience with any of them living up to their billings as being blister reducers. On the other hand, keeping my feet dry and warm has been a positive experience with socks. I see the socks and the hiking boot as a unit. Your socks and your hiking boots should be complimentary to each other. Remember, that all things require a little trial-and-error in order to come to the best combination for your feet. So talk to people, talk to experts, and judge the validity of the sock you are wearing on your own experience.

In conclusion, the hiking boot is always a fun and interesting topic to discuss. Remember when it comes to boots and the things related to your boots, what works for you is what is best for you. My feet are not your feet. So have fun with the links below.

See you on the trail!

Fitting Hiking Boots or Shoes

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/hiking-boots.html

http://www.backcountryedge.com/video-how-to-fit-a-hiking-boot.aspx

Hiking Boot Maintenance and Care

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/caring-hiking-boots.html

http://www.backcountryedge.com/video-how-to-care-for-hiking-boots-and-shoes.aspx

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4h-IR-IrfgQ (Dave Canterbury discusses care of hiking boots)

Lacing Hiking Boots or Shoes

http://www.backcountryedge.com/video-lacing-techniques-for-better-boot-fit.aspx#

http://www.backpacker.com/april_2003_gear_boot_lacing_tips/gear/5245

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs-5-DkUJiE (REI Instructional Video)

Hiking Boot Socks

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/backpacking-socks.html

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/socks.html

http://www.backcountryedge.com/video-choosing-the-right-sock-for-hiking-and-backpacking.aspx

 

[1] http://www.gore-tex.com/remote/Satellite/content/our-fabrics; http://www.gore-tex.com/remote/Satellite/content/footwear-technologies#!

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emulsion_polymerization