Friday 14 December 2012

Re-inventing The Backpack - Update

Updated: I have re-written the post so it is now more comprehensible and easy to navigate through to the other posts. 

I've been wanting to start this post in quite some time now. I believe it is of the outmost importance to go one by one the necessary Backpack items...

I really think that most of the time I carry useless stuff with me and I lug around too much equipment than I actually need or use regularly in the woods. So, after much consideration and practise, I got down to some basic principles. I decided to prioritise my gear so I could easily add or subtract gear packs within my backpack for easy access and versatility. Thus, I designed basic "kits" to have with me depending on the time I am about to spend out in the woods and the difficulty of the terrain or weather.

As an overview I will be detailing gear per kit as follows...

1. The Mess Kit
2. Medical Kit
3. Tools Kit
4. Food Kit
5. Shelter Kit
6. Emergency Kit
7. Clothes Kit
0. Water

My aim is to instill a way of thinking about equipment and not promote brands or anything. So many times I will be writing about something I got for free, or a promotional (also free...) item...because Ι just can't stand super expensive items that you can also get for free or super cheap...However, good equipment such as titanium pots, or utensils, portable gas stoves, etc. are a different matter altogether. On such equipment Ι can go as high a price as I can get or as low as I can find...

Monday 10 December 2012

Re-inventing The Backpack - Part 2: The Medical Kit

When you start to talk about Medical Kits, you must say a few things (actually a lot of things but in this case compacted) about First Aid. Hiking in the mountains can be treacherous and the possibility of injury, no matter how careful we are, is real.

Safety First!....

A similar bag was used as the MedKit
When I served in the Green Berets of the Special Forces in Greece I was assigned as the company's medic (not a doctor). My affiliation with the pharmaceutical industry along with my uncle and my brother being doctors and my aunt a (retired now) nurse helped me a lot. That meant I had a rudimentary, to say the least, training, regarding everyday first aid and medication. I was, also, trained by the Army's doctors to administer certain medication, dress wounds, fractures, and to carry the wounded properly as well as maintaining and taking care of the Medical Kit. If you think Army Medical Kits are similar to the commercial ones most of us carry you are mistaken. A proper Army Medical Kit has medication in it for 40 soldiers. It is packed with various pills, ointments, and surgical bandages and equipment. And weighs about 25lbs or 11kg. So, during our long distance marches of 30km each week, Ι had to lug around my Berkin backpack of 50lbs (25kg weighed in at the first checkpoint) and on my chest the Medical Kit. I am not saying this to show off what a kickass uber-soldier I was. I wasn't. I did my job and gathered experience and knowledge.

I'm saying this story to emphasize the importance of useful Medical Kits in a specialised environment, and to showcase on what knowledge this post is based on.

I am not a doctor, nor will I ever be one. But being near doctors for my whole life has sensitized me on proper medical care. Although this post is based on experience and collaboration with real doctors the information should not be used as a medical reference nor should you take anything here for granted. Unless you ARE a doctor, this post should by no means substitute one. Pay attention to medication instructions and always consider the safest course of action regarding your wellbeing.

As is customary in such posts there has to be a DISCLAIMER: This post and the views and information expressed in it, are not to be used as medical reference. They are therapeutic conclusions based on personal experience and do not represent a trained and certified physician's views or practices. There, I said it, even though the data is collected and crosschecked with real physicians. Lets move on, shall we?

Now, I have witnessed difficult situations like seeing a mortar fuse blow up in a recruit's arms, severing several fingers and making me instantly thanking god that the whole mortar didn't blow up, and foot blisters that I never again want to see. I even treated an idiot who after having a dump in the forest, thought that some stinging nettle was a fern and tried to wipe himself with it... I even got through 1st degree facial burn bacause I tripped in the mess hall with a huge pot of stew in my arms and it sloshed all over my neck and lower face...

These situations helped me realise the importance of good training and well prepared Medic Kits. So, needless to say that having a decent and well thought out Medical Kit is crucial. Most of all, though, the most vital thing to remember is to play it safe...That is, I try to keep myrself out of avoidable danger. In the end of this post you'll find some reference videos regarding First Aid actions...

Without further dealy, I'll cut to the chase and begin by saying a few DONT'S. I hate to do this because I may sound patronizing but it's for good reason. For those who may do something foolish, to protect themselves and for those who already know to remember a few things...

Don't do it Alex!
I DON'T play with mushrooms...NEVER, EVER! I speak with personal experience on the matter (I witnessed a hellish night for a friend of mine in the "mushroom region" of Grevena in Greece that almost cost him his life). Take as many pictures as you want, eat them in restaurants or buy them in markets, but never eat wild mushrooms...

"What's for dinner?"
I DON'T fiddle with wild animals. No matter how small, they can be very dangerous. From bears to mosquitos I am an alien to them, so I try to keep myself away from them and protected. If I know there are bears on my travels, I search the internet for ways to avoid them or what to do when a bear comes amidst my camp.

"My knife shoots lasers! Pew-pew!"
I DON'T try to climb difficult slopes without proper training and gear and generally I avoid feeling like a military or bushcraft specialist (unless one is...). If I am alone I may injure myself and at best I'll worry to death and cause much inconvenience for my family and friends. Worst case, I'll end up dead. A fractured bone will swell, may cause internal hemorrhage and become infected, let alone the excruciating pain it brings. Infected tissue may enter my blood stream causing septicemia resulting in death unless treated professionally. In other words I DON'T try to immitate that "survival" fool whom I've, repeatedly, seen trying to climb down huge trees, steep rocky slopes and generally trying to be an idiot all the time...(you know the one I am talking about...has his own "ultimate survival knife" series from Gerber....??)

Try to hike as a team.
In short I DON'T expose myself to danger that can be avoided altogether...And I learn First Aid.

Also, I try to have a teammate always with me. A friend who also likes to hike. I try to travel in pairs. If I don't have a trustworthy co-traveller and I want to hike alone, I am extra careful and pack a decent Medical Kit.

 Ouch! That Hurt!...


So we come to the point where we may have to deal with some pain, injury or physical inconvenience that needs our immediate attention. What do we carry with us out there in the woods, be that for a day or for a week of hiking? First and most we need some basic knowledge about fisrt aid, even if that means administering it to ourselves. Learning how to tie a bandage, nestle/immobilize a broken limb , treat a fracture and knowing what needs to be done is paramount...This knowledge is also free, and weighs nothing.

Some of the things that we may experience in the woods are:

1. Skin irritations. If we are not clothed properly it may happen. Full sleeves always and in the summer get a pair of trousers with removable legs (can go from trousers to shorts in seconds) Skin irritations can be dealt with, with any kind of anti-inflammatory or anti-histamine ointment or oral medication. They are cheap, most may not need prescription, but generally mometasone-furoate (anti-inflammatory, needs prescription usually) and Fenistil(gel), loratadine, desloratadine (anti-histamine, oral) are best to be near you at all times.

2. Bruises, abrasions, lacerations,  burns. Again proper clothing (wear leather gloves)will protect you from much of this. As for the cuts and scratches if they are not severe they can be treated by applying some antiseptic (Betadine solution) with a sterile gauze, and then covering it up with an elastic bandage or Band-Aid. Mild burns can be treated, first with running cold water for AT LEAST 15 min and then with local application of sodium fucidate (antibiotic) ointment (try to avoid cream..). Then cover them lightly with sterile gauzes and breathable elastic bandage. in case of a nasty 2nd degree burn that forms blisters, calmly treat the burn as above (for the 1st degree) but persistently return to your house or car and call an ambulance immediately! Burns may be more debilitating than initially foreseen, so please be carefull around fire...

3. Pain in general. From a minor headache (because you forgot to pack coffee for the morning) to a migraine and general not-well being, simple analgesics work well. Paracetamol, or ibuprofen are good choices and have very good pain relieving and fever reducing effects. Avoid acetylsalicylic acid at all costs. It is inferior to the above substances for its pain relieving effects and has serious adverse effects and restrictions for use. Plus it acts as an anti-clotting agent and may prove difficult to manage other wounds.

Important: If for any reason you feel really sick, (I'm not talking about some minor flu symptoms such as runny nose or sore throat) pack your things and go home to see a doctor. You might have a microbial infection that needs antibiotics and professional treatment.  

4. Infections. Bacterial or Viral.Viral infections are caused by viruses and most of the time are dealt with by our immune system. Flu is one of them and you catch it by contact with someone who has it. You may come into contact with someone with the flu before your journey, so remember that it takes 2-5 days to develop symptoms. having antibiotics with you won't help either, because antibiotics work only on bacteria. Plus, antibiotics overuse can lead to stronger strains of bacteria and you need a medical prescription. Flu is a virus that makes its way around our system in about 3-5 days. So even with high fever, analgesics and good resting, warmth and comfort food are the only solid choices. Antibiotics don't work on viruses and depending on the type of microbe you'll need a particular antibiotic. Plus check to see if you are allergic to certain pharmaceutical substances (one of the most common is amoxycillin allergy or cefaclor allergy.

"What the...."
5. Physical wear and tear. Foot blisters, back aches, muscle pains. Assuming you are a regular traveller and wear suitable and tested shoes or boots, such inconveniences will rarely occur...Foot blisters are best treated at the stage of the mild burning sensation. Removal of footwear and socks and cold water dousing for 5mins will soothe the area, but try to keep the spot protected from friction. Keep the foot aired and avoid heat. Rest well without socks for the night and keep an eye out for that red spot before a blister forms. A good, sturdy, big Band-aid with Betadine applied at the spot (sometimes even two band-aids) will act as a cushion if you simply MUST move on towards your designated camping area. If a blister forms...well, embrace yourself because you will have to burst it (but not peel it off completely), apply Betadine and keep pressure on the spot to fuse the skin layers quickly together. Big Band-aids and sterile gauzes will keep the blister aired and cool for the night. You must consider on such an occasion a 1 day delay in your journey to see how well the blister is healing, otherwise when you can walk start the return trip if the blister persists...I know this sounds contrary to what most are saying but you dont have 1 week of comfortable living out there to spare for a blister. The general trend towards non-bursting comes from poor disinfection techniques and improper dressing. The choice is yours, but I have tested this again and again and it works. As for back aches and muscle aches, either you are carrying too much stuff with you and you are using an unsuitable backpack, or you haven't done this in a long while and your feet hurt and your leg muscles burn from the lactic acid of tiredness. Try to get a good rest and repeat outdoor trips to weather yourself to such conditions.

6. Cold and Cold Weather. In cold weather it is absolutely crucial to have proper clothing and proper sheltering. Here, I won't go into details about what to wear. You can find excellent clothing techniques at Woodtrekker's Blog so I won't go into that now. Nor will I discuss extreme enviroments. I am sure there are hundreds of special blogs and sites for that. The only thing I will comment on is, have a small towel with you to wipe sweat, and keeping your neck and scruff warm is important. When you excert yourself, even in -10C, you will start to sweat but your neck is exposed and since it hasn't any large working muscles it gets cold. So, when you get cold you might catch a cold...but most probably you may experience symptoms of hypothermia and dehydration. Make sure you pack a tent or other light,windproof shelter with you, suitable sleeping bag and always have a fire around your camp. Keep it tidied up and well stoked, and have the means to start one quickly and easily. Also some instant hand warmers may be handy in cold weather.

"Your trousers are so tasty!"
7. Animal Bites. I am just stating this because there will be someone who thinks a grizzly is Winnie the Pooh. I have no comment on this as they will get what's coming to them. Other than that, if you're in bear country, you can only take precautionary measures such as wiring up your camp area with string and improvising an alarm with fishing bells(they are dirt cheap) or bear bells. You might also consider keeping your food away from the campsite. Or if you are trained and licensed you can carry a rifle and travel in pairs so that you can stand watch over each other. Regarding smaller critters, wear your leather gloves at all times, even with the friendly ones as they might bite you and you don't know if they brush their teeth regularly... Also double check if you are allergic to bee or hornet stings. and carry the suitable medication with you.

These are basic afflictions that may or may not happen to you and are based on my experience and discussions with experienced mountaineers. The list is not absolute nor final.
If you think I left something out that is commonplace elsewhere please comment and I will see if it can be included in the guide along with directions.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Re-inventing The Backpack - Part 1: The Mess Kit

Part 1. The Mess Kit

The Mess Kit is probably the most important kit that I will carry with me no matter what. It is in essence what I will ALWAYS have with me. A stainless steel round container with a rubber seal that contains the most essential items for a woodland trip be that for a day or for a month. I use it for having dinner, boiling up to 700ml of water, and generally as a food container with the means to start a fire, warm up some food and of course eat it.

The items included in this Mess Kit are...

1. Stainless Steel container.

2. Esbit Stove (plus solid fuel tabs). Other stove types may be used. Small alcohol stoves for example, or small tripods for regular fire, but I always keep in mind I may not be able to light a fire all the time (wet wood, rain, snow....).A portable tripod (I am working on a sturdy and light-weight one at the moment could easily be included as the Esbit(or similar) stove has its limitations.

3. Fire Lighting gear. Matches, a storm lighter (promotional from cigarette brands, costs nothing*), Firesteel with the tip covered in masking tape to prevent accidental sparks.

4. Spoon and Fork, stainless steel. It can be either a titanium spork or whatever expensive or inexpensive spoon/fork combo one may like.

5. An Opinel knife. I prefer a stainless steel blade. They are quite cheap, size 9 or 10 go about 8-9euros in Greece.

6. Water purification tablets. I use 8 tabs (for 8lt of water). I cannot always know where I will find water or if I'll have the ease to boil it.

7. Earl Grey Tea, 4 satchets. Because even if I go out for half a day I will definately have a cup of tea in the woods.

 I used to use an aluminum mess kit that I kept packed with stupid and useless things. The square size is a pain when trying to tidy things up (like getting it inside the round pot I use...) plus the aluminum is thin, the rubber seal disintegrated soon after I had bought it (waterproofing went down the drain...) and the food tasted like aluminum. Other than that, it was super light-weight but difficult to use regularly.
 Introducing the stainless steel, Greek made, mess kit. Feels like a kitchen grade pot. Quite sturdy, you can scratch it, put acid or salt in it without etching it**. The rubber seal is of very high quality and it cost only 2euros more than the aluminum one.

 I tried to keep the items simple, durable and dependable.

I keep all the items in sealed plastic bags. This is because the used Esbit stove (which I regularly put to the test) reeks of something utterly foul. So I don't want the food container smelling and tasting bad, especially if I am not sure I'll find running water to clean it up. So I keep the container washed and clean, and everything else bagged. Also I pack some big ziplock bags in there to stop the rattling and make sure all the stained items are packed away safe after I eat.

Now, these are the items I use and what I think there should be in the mess kit. If anyone has a better idea or suggestion please, by all means say so. But keep in mind that other things that may seem more important here are covered in the next Kits...

Next up is The Medical Kit....

Friday 23 November 2012

What do you know...I'm back!

Of course i've been busy since I last posted something, but believe me it was worth it! My daughter has come into this world and since she is our first child we are immensely happy to have her with us. She is a little angel. I had to work pretty hard those last months. But in the end everything is just as it should be. I wasn't completely out of touch, i did find time to have some hiking and mountaineering work done and of course i did periodically check  Wood Trekker 's blog. So, I'll be posting again real soon, and just for a taste of what's coming, I'll be posting some pics from a journey to a small waterfall in Loutraki of Aridaia, in the Voras Mountain, I'll be making a thorough revison on the matter of food, some tips on fishing (i've been fishing for 3 years now, it was about time) and some inovative ideas on equipment, containers, and practical information in general. So, good to be back, cant't wait to get in touch again with familiar bloggers, and see you soon!

Sunday 23 October 2011

New season...New job...New air to my life....

I know its been a long time since i posted anything....Changed jobs during the summer and things generally in Greece are a bit....edgy... Hopefully next weekend i will take to the mountain paths again after a long while and have some interesting new posts with experiences gained during the summer....

Saturday 28 May 2011

Well...I'm back finally!

After a long period of time that involved working like a madman i return to the Blog Front with a post of a video i found exhilarating... These guys have no brain left....It 's been replaced by microchips...And the adrenaline is pumping only to watch this...But, to be honest i'd rather be walking those slopes...i'm too much of a coward to do this...Make sure you watch in full screen!

Friday 11 February 2011

It's a Mora!....

Silly meetings week coming up and i've worked like crazy these past few weeks...
But there was an unexpected find in a remote village i visited recently...

I found this!
Yep! It's a Mora Clipper by the Swedish Bahco. As you can see it is exactly the same as the Morakniv but with orange colors and a slightly better sheath. Now there have been some posts on the internet regarding the originality of the Bahco Mora. Lets flip the sheath.....
Genuine Swedish product not only by name but also by Barcode!!! Yes! Even if you have any doubt regarding the origin of any product the first tw digits of the bar code show the country this product was made and hence exported...You can check some products from your home, any food, items, gear whatever using this table.... As you can see the 73 prefix is Sweden! So, a good genuine Swedish Mora, which i found in the most remote place i could think of in Greece. And i paid 12 euros thats 16$... I am seriously thinking of buying a couple more as it is an amazing knife and is the stainless steel version.....