Ask Liz / Do you carry any sort of weapon or spray to protect yourself from people who might be dangerous?

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: I DON'T INTENTIONALLY CARRY A WEAPON TO PROTECT MYSELF FROM POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS PEOPLE. BUT...

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As a woman, the fear of something truly horrible happening (e.g. getting raped) is definitely a consideration when going backpacking, or more accurately, in life. Maybe it's not rape, maybe it's just getting harassed by some heebie-jeebie dude(s). Regardless of whatever scenarios might be playing out in your head, it's probably safe to say these thoughts probably cross the minds of most women, even if just for a brief moment. I certainly have played out harassment scenarios in my head, even when I'm in the middle of nowhere and haven't seen a soul ALL DAY! 

All that to say, I have definitely considered carrying some kind of weapon, but hadn't until just a year ago when I started carrying a pocket knife. My primary reason for carrying it isn't to use as a weapon though. (I would be terribly slow at getting it out and flipping it open; and it would be hardly intimidating!) The main reason is to have one in case of a serious emergency (or if I feel like whittling a piece of wood). For real though, I carry it for the same reason I carry a lot of extra first aid materials. After getting Wilderness-EMT certified, I now know how to use all the extra things I take and want to have it available in case it might save someone's life. This includes the knife. (Before, I didn't even feel comfortable opening my pocket knife!)

But back to the fear of dangerous people. I think that fear can be especially strong when you consider being out in the wilderness, out of reach from civilization. I mean...."what if something happens and there's no one around?!?" 

The key phrase here is being "out of reach from civilization." Did you catch that? It seems that most of the bad things happen when you're actually surrounded by people in civilization. It's highly unlikely that some dangerous person is lurking out in the wilderness waiting for you. (That'd be a lot of food to pack in!)

Most people on the trail are there for the same reasons you are: to get away from daily routines and the noise of the city and to get nourished by being in the wilderness. Haha, actually, I find that people can definitely be amazingly friendly on the trail, but they usually want to avoid people. :-) 

If it gives you a sense of security to take pepper spray, take it for the first few times you go in the wilderness. Once you get more experience, I have a feeling you'll likely start leaving it at home. But girl, do what you gotta do. There is nooooo judgement.

On a side note: In bear country, I absolutely carry bear spray with me. You sure can use that on any dangerous folk if they're coming after you, but since that's an unlikely scenario, I'd save it for the bears! 

Hope this helps!

PS. If you're curious about some statistics about rape, I found a helpful infographic here.

Product Review / PiperWai All Natural Deodorant

Have you been looking for effective, ultralight, all natural deodorant to use in the backcountry? Well I found it and I'm SO excited to share it with you! It's PiperWai, all natural deodorant.

Girl, this story is good because it starts with a confession. 

I am TOTALLY insecure about smelling bad, like always. I don't like it one bit. And although I've come to terms with smelling less than ideal on backpacking trips, by all means if there's a solution, I'll take it!

Oddly, even though I'm insecure about smelling bad, I gave up deodorant a couple years ago to simplify my life (and because I felt bad about all the plastic involved in the packaging). I've been fine without it, but I think my subconscious has always been on the lookout for an all natural and mostly waste-free solution.

Well I happened to be watching one of my favorite shows Shark Tank last December and saw PiperWai on one of the episodes. I was like, "WaAaAaahh? Could this be true?! An effective all natural deodorant?!" I bought one immediately for $15.99 ($11.99 + $4 S&H) on 12/23/15. I just received it a couple days ago, as in 7 weeks later. Honestly, I didn't care that they were crazy delayed because I don't use deodorant anyway. (I mostly shared that bit of info because that company is blowing up and if you want to order a product, you'll probably have to wait a month+ to get yours.)

Well......Yadda yadda yadda....you want to know if it works, right? ME TOO! I put it on immediately after I took all the photos in this post and put it through the ultimate test: a video chat.

Seriously. 

My pits sweat like no other when I'm sitting still on a video chat moving my mouth and staring at a screen. After 90 minutes of sweating, I smelled my pits and no kidding, I smelled like a SPA. I know. I couldn't believe it either. 

Of course I asked my husband to smell my pits immediately afterward to confirm my finding. He replied with a, "yeeeeeeeah" which was 100% unconvincing. Which I then replied with, "What?! You don't think I smell like a spa?! Smell my pits again!" He took a whiff, looked at me and said that I smelled like his 93-year-old French grandmother. LOL. 

I love this man. 

I mean, c'mon, he smelled my sweaty pits on command. Who cares if I smell like a 93-year-old grandma? Anyway, my point is, I think I smell like spa and that's what matters.

I did go for a run as well to test the product through a more physically athletic affair than video chatting and I can confirm that I smelled mostly of a spa with a splash of chlorine afterward (which may be from the witch hazel ingredient).

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WHY IT WORKS

You can read more on their website, but here are the highlights:

  • PiperWai contains ingredients that create a pH-balanced environment where bacteria can't thrive. (The bacteria is what causes the stank!)
  • They use essential oils that provide a pleasant smell and has some anti-microbial properties.
  • The Magnesium Hydroxide ingredient curbs the offensiveness of underarm sweat, potentially due to its pH-balancing properties. 
  • A bonus: it's great for sensitive skin.

Here's the thing: When I can find an effective product I can use for both on and off the trail, it's like a double rainbow sighting. For the trail, however, I'd repackage just what I need in a tiny container and voila, I get a tiny bit of luxury while roughing it. (LOVE!)

Overall, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND PiperWai for all of your backpacking, travel  and video chat needs. (Now, they just need to come up with a deodorant for my vjay. ;-P)


How do you apply PiperWai?

The directions suggest using a "pea-size" amount and to rub it into your pit, then to "pat yourself on back for using a healthy, natural deodorant."

First, I used less than a pea-size and found it to work fine. I suggest playing with the amount and figuring out what works best for you. Second, pat yourself on the back if it pleases you, but I definitely suggest taking a whiff of your finger tips! MMMmmmmm...


BENEFITS OF USING PIPERWAI ON THE TRAIL

  • It's ultralight!
  • You'll smell good!
  • It's all natural!
  • It's a tiny bit of luxury while roughin' it.
  • It's fairly affordable, all things considered.
  • You get to smell your fingers afterward!

You can buy your PiperWai HERE. (Psst. This is NOT an affiliate link. This is just my Public Service Announcement for all lady backpackers.)


Ask Liz / Do you just do day trips or do you spend the night in the woods?

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: Both. I go on day trips or spend the nights in the woods, depending on what I'm feeling up for.

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Here's the full question: "Hi Liz! Long time listener, first time caller... Seriously tho. Do you do just day trips or do we spend the night?"

First of all, whoever you are, you CRACKED ME UP. Thank you for that.

Well First Time Caller, I do day trips if I don't feel like spending the night outside, but still need some wilderness rejuvenation. Sometimes even hiking a couple miles will satiate me. But if I want some extended time in the quiet, away from technology and away from the voice of comparison that invades my head when I hop on social media, then I go backpacking. I spend the night in the woods. I can usually tell when I really need to go.

Honestly, it's way easier to just stay at home where there's a comfy bed already set up, running potable water available at a flick of my wrist, and no pack on my sweaty back that I'm carrying for miles. (And often times, I prefer it.) But I think some deep part of us knows we want -- no, we need -- the challenge of carrying a pack, hiking miles and miles, and immersing ourselves deep in the wilderness. Our souls need it.

I'm curious First Time Caller, what inspired your question? 

xo

Ask Liz / What do you put in the bear canister and where do you put it?

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Q:  What do you put in the bear canister? Where do you put the bear canister?

Here's the full question for reference: "I was wondering if you've had any experience using a bear canister. Where do you keep the canister overnight? What about your cook kit? Do you transfer chapstick, sunscreen, etc. from pack to canister in the evening? Do you distance cooking area from canister from sleeping area? How far?"

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: Always put everything that has a scent in a bear canister (or a bear hang) before you go to bed. If you're not sure if you should, put it in. Find a secure spot away from ledges about ~200-300 feet away from camp. Better safe than sorry!

Bears are definitely one the most frequently voiced fears I hear about when people talk about going into the woods! "The bears are gonna eat me!" It's both funny and real (no, not that the will eat you necessarily...), so knowing how to protect yourself and the bears is a skill you need to learn if you're going to backpack in bear country.

Bear canisters are great because (sure) it keeps your food safe, but mostly because you can use it as a seat (as demonstrated in the photo above) or a small even surface. Unfortunately, they can be heavy and fit awkwardly in your pack.


Types of Bear Canisters

The bear canister I use is the Bearikade Weekender. It weighs a hair under 2lbs and I bought it after spending 7 days hiking with an old bear canister rental from the ranger. OMG. It was so heavy and hard to fit everything inside, I decided to go lighter and more spacious. Here are three of the most common bear canisters out there listed in order of lightest to heaviest. (From L to R: Bearikade Weekender, BearVault BV500, Garcia Bear Resistant Canister)


How far should you go from camp?

You should place your bear canister about 200-300 feet from your campsite. Take ~70 steps away from your camp and then start looking for a secure spot. I try to lodge it somewhere it would be a bit more challenging for a bear to get to. That's not always available, so use your judgement and do your best with your situation. Also, keep it away from water sources (where it could get rolled into and disappear forever) and ledges (where it could fall off and *sad face*). 


What should you put in your bear canister?

A general rule of thumb is to put anything that has a scent in your bear canister. If you're not sure, take your item through this decision tree. 

COMMON BACKCOUNTRY SCENTED ITEMS

  • Chapstick
  • Cup/bowl
  • Deodorant
  • Electrolyte tablets
  • Floss
  • Food (all of it!)
  • Cook set
  • Snacks
  • Soap
  • Spoon/spork
  • Sunblock
  • Tea bags
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Trash

STUFF YOU DON'T NEED TO PUT IN

  • Clothes (unless you spilled your dinner all over it or it smells like your food!)
  • First aid kit
  • Hand sanitizer (non-scented)
  • Map
  • Your stinky socks (but golly, I hope you don't have to smell that all night)  ;-P

PROTIP #1: People tend to forget to check their backpack hip pockets at the end of the evening. There's always something small and bear-baitey hiding in there. Check it!

PROTIP #2: Here's a process that works well for me so I don't forget anything. Most people eat dinner after they set up camp. If that's you...

  1. Check EVERY pocket for trash, wrappers, snacks, and other scented items. Gather your bear canister and everything that has a scent including your toiletries.*
  2. Take it all with you to the place you're going to eat dinner (about 70 adult steps or more away from camp).
  3. After you eat your heart out, take care of your teeth and APPLY CHAPSTICK LIBERALLY (if you're that type). You're going to need to put your chapstick in the bear canister, so this is it for the night.
  4. Go find a place to secure your bear canister by moving away from your camp area.
  5. Walk back to camp and get horizontal! (I love laying down after a long day of hiking! It's the best.)

*Trust me, it is crazy annoying to be ready for bed and all of a sudden you find a snickers in your tent or something. You have to get out of your warm sleeping bag and walk for what seems like forever in the cold to put it away. (Can you tell I've had to do this before?)


Alternatives to Bear Canisters

Bear canisters can get heavy (upwards of 2lbs). An alternative is to carry the supplies you need for a bear hang. This might be a using something like an Ursack or making your own by using a stuff sack and getting some rope and a carabiner. 

This will be a lighter and more flexible option since it's a bag versus a rigid canister. You will need to figure out how to hang it, but it's a fairly simple skill you can learn. (Bear hang basics coming soon.)


Other helpful tidbits on the internetz.

How to pack a bear canister
Bear canister basics from Leave No Trace

Any comments, questions or feedback? I'm human and sometimes miss things! Please let me know if you think of ways I can improve this article. xo


Ask Liz / Are the thunderstorm dangers on the Teton Crest Trail?

THE SIMPLE ANSWER: IN HIGH ELEVATION, YOU SHOULD ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR UNEXPECTED WEATHER.

 We weren't hit with thunderstorms on this trip, but we were expecting highs of 50s and lows of 30s for our trip in September. It ended up being 32 degrees at the start of our hike, with light snow all day, and dropping into the single digits our first night. High altitude backcountry weather is unpredictable. Do your research and be prepared.

We weren't hit with thunderstorms on this trip, but we were expecting highs of 50s and lows of 30s for our trip in September. It ended up being 32 degrees at the start of our hike, with light snow all day, and dropping into the single digits our first night. High altitude backcountry weather is unpredictable. Do your research and be prepared.

Here's the full question: "I am planning on a trek on the Teton crest trail and was wondering if thunderstorms in July and August in the high elevations are a problem in the Tetons. I have backpacked in August in the Colorado rockies and it was definitely a hazard there."

More specifically, here's what Grant Teton National Park (GTNP) Ranger Bobbie Tumolo had to say: "It is quite common for a passing afternoon thunderstorm to come through on any given day. They are usually quick though." She also threw in a bit of extra advice, "Also know that higher in elevation there, it is also quite possible for there to be a need for ice axes and crampons until mid-July. Not always, but also not uncommon. It's an incredible place!!"

If you ever have questions about weather, calling a ranger is one of the best ways to get the most accurate up-to-date info. I wrote about the Teton Crest Trail, where I included the GTNP contact information. Here it is for your convenience:

Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center
307-739-3399
8am-5pm MST

I highly recommend calling them as you get closer to your start date. Rangers are awesome and can be so helpful!