July 19, 2017

Getting out of your comfort zone

Hiking in the snow

“Alpinism is the art of suffering” – Wojciech Kurtyka

These words were said by the famed mountaineer and alpinist who scaled some giant peaks in the 70s.  To say that he was a “hardman” would be an understatement. Mountaineers and hikers are well known for their ability to step out of their comfort zone.

Wojciech Kurtyka

“Alpinism is the art of suffering” – Wojciech Kurtyka

Have you ever thought about what you want from life? I am sure, that you may have given this fundamental question some thought at some point in your life.  As far as I can tell, no one wants suffering and everyone wants to be happy.  So why should we willingly go to the mountains and suffer?

Now, you may say, “Well actually I do not suffer, I thoroughly enjoy myself”.  And that is very likely true. However, each hike may have difficult aspects. The challenge to climb steep hills, carrying a pack, sweating in the heat, getting bit by mosquitoes or bothered by flies, can sometimes feel like a bit of a PITA (to use a technical term).

Hiking in the snow

It can be cold out there but it is beautiful!

However, it is absolutely imperative that we do this.  It is necessary that we put ourselves out of our comfort zones.  It is necessary to suffer in order to be happy.

I would like to ask you to do a small exercise right now: Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Count a in and out breaths, say upto 20 and clear your mind a bit.  In your mind’s eye, visualize a time in the past when you did something challenging voluntarily or were put in a challenging situation which was out of your control.  Recall the pain during that time and then recall the feeling you got after that situation was over.  Did you feel a sense of accomplishment? Of ease? Of growth?  If so, then you know the value of going out your comfort zone.

Sometimes, lethargy or inertia or resistance sets in and I do not want to go for a hike.  It is too cold, or there is a bit of rain or I have no energy or I will do it another day “when I feel like it”.  But that may not be the right attitude. I need to just go and do it. That is stepping out of my comfort zone.  More then likely, I will feel better after having done it.

That peak there looks too steep…too far away.  It is going to be a slog getting up there.  But I must do it anyway. Why? Because of the feeling I will get after having accomplished my goal.

I would like to learn something new – maybe about gear or navigation or weather or route-finding or whatever. But it seems difficult.  I must do it anyway…. Why? So I can be safe in the mountains. So I can help others.  So I can learn and grow.

So, find situations that get you out of your comfort zone.  Put yourself voluntarily in those situations (The ones out of our control will happen anyway ;-)).

Climbing on an icy summit

Write in the comments below and tell me some of your stories.

 

 

A few Basic Tips to Improve your Fitness for Hiking, Mountaineering, Adventure, Travel and General well-being

Running for fitness

Introduction

At Primal Hiking, we are focused on self-improvement and growth.  Hiking and Outdoors Adventure are just a mechanism to “get you there” (although, there is no really “getting there” – the journey is constant and that’s what it is all about…more on that later).

One thing I have found is that the more fit I am, both physically and mentally, the more I enjoy the mountains.  Of course, hiking will contribute towards getting you fit, but you can make some great strides towards general fitness every day…even if you are not hiking.  The key is to do something! Even if it is for just 10 minutes, do something.

The below list should give you some ideas.  I will have a lot more detailed content in future posts and videos.

Tips

Hike more: Get out there more!

Hiker on a ridge

When you hike, you get fitter and get to see beautiful views 🙂

There is an old adage: What is the best exercise to get ready for hiking? Hiking! Just get out there even if it is for a short 30 min walk in the local park. If you find some local areas or park with some hills, you can get even more out of it.

Hike more.  Try and get out at least once a week, even if it is a 1 hour hike. Sometimes, life gets busy for all of us and time is limited so even a short hike is enough. At some point, you may wish to increase the challenge by carrying a heavier pack. What I like to do at times is, carry a gallon jug filled with water for the uphill portion of the hike, dump it out before descending (easier on the knees).

Go for a run

Running for fitness

Going for a run is one of the best ways to get fit for hiking and mountaineering

Running is one of the best things you can do – assuming you do it properly. Posture and foot placement are important. Start with a brisk walk. Then jogging.  Keep your heart rate low. There is an adage in the mountaineering, alpinist and Triathlon training world – LSD (Long Slow distance).  Better to keep a moderate heart rate for a longer period of time. Get a heart rate monitor and the basic formula to use is 180 – your age.  So if you are 30, your heart rate should be around 150 for the duration of the run.

Once you get better at running, start trail running!  A great way to enjoy the outdoors and get fit!

 

Do a bit of cardio at the gym when you are unable to hike

I personally am not a big fan of using cardio machines at the gym but sometimes when the weather is not great and you are looking for a workout, this can be useful during those times as well as when it gets too cumbersome to go out and hit the trails.

I have taken my daypack, filled it with 10 lbs of weight and done the stair mill.
A stationary bike is good as well – fairly low impact and good to work on your aerobic base.  Personally, I am not a huge fan of the treadmill at all, would rather just go for a run outside. Even if it is crappy weather, go for a run!

Sprints

If you have a nice steep hill nearby, go do some hill sprints!

How to do hill sprints:

  • Find a nice steep hill – say 30 metres (90 feet or so)
  • Run up it as fast as possible
  • Walk down
  • Repeat the above 4-6 times.

Boom!  You will enhance your fitness level by orders of magnitude (doing these consistently over a period of time – say once or twice a week).

Box steps

Box steps are great to work on your leg strength. These really help in working the muscles used to hike uphill.  When you get better at them, start doing them with a weighted pack (5,10, 15, 20 lbs or more as you get stronger)

Squats & Lunges

I like bodyweight squats. I like box squats. I like front squats and back squats. I like kettlbell goblet squats and dumbbell goblet squats. I like Hindu squats (Baithak). In short, I like squats. Years ago, I was being plagued with pain and discomfort during
hiking steep trails, specially on the way down. I started squatting and the pain went away. As simple as that!

Lunges are great too. You can do them bodyweight or with dumbbells.

Mobility and Stretching

Yoga on the beach

Doing yoga is one of the best ways to get limber

I cannot say enough about how important mobility and stretching are. These are some of the things to look at:

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Feldenkrais / Alexander Technique
  • GMB Fitness
  • IntuFlow
  • Limber 11

Conclusion

Matterhorn Hiking

Get good at fitness, so you can enjoy this!

I think that should cover it for now.  This stuff is a key component of wellness and enjoying the outdoors as well as everything life has to offer.  In the meantime, start doing SOMETHING – ANYTHING.

Let me know if you have questions.

July 10, 2017

Top 10 Daypacks to consider for a Beginning Hiker

I don’t know about you but when I close my eyes and picture a hiker, I visualize someone carrying a pack in the woods or mountains. The backpack is pretty much iconic when you are talking about hikers, mountaineers, bushcrafters, adventurers, soldiers and others who head out into the great outdoors. There is usually a picture of some cat standing on some majestic summit, pointing to the horizon or something dramatic like that or someone in the woods and that invokes our sense of adventure and we want to be like him and head out to the hills ASAP. And once we get there, it is awesome!

As a beginning hiker, you may be a bit confused on what to take. And it CAN be confusing. There are a wide variety of different manufacturers. There are different categories… regular hiking packs, alpinist/mountaineering packs, ultralight packs, etc.

I have divided this guide into 2 major categories: Day packs and weekend/overnight packs which you can bring if you are planning to be out hiking for the weekend. Obviously, you would need a slightly bigger pack since you would need to carry shelter, sleeping bag, more food etc.

Most of the packs in this guide are $50 or less. Some of them are slightly more costly. You can decide what your budget is and go from there. As a newer hiker, you do not need to spend a lot of money at this point. As your skills and knowledge increase, you will be able to better decide what gear you would like to obtain and make informed decisions better – based on experience – in the future. At that point, it will make sense to get something a bit more custom/expensive. However, all the packs in the below list should last you a very long time.

The List!

Something you can start with right off the bat is a good old book bag. Something fairly cheap like a Jansport. You may already have something like this lying around the house.

Jansport Superbreak

Jansport SuperBreak Pack

The Jansport SuperBreak has been around for 35+ years and is one of the top selling packs. You have probably seen this around specially if you have seen students walking around. You may already have this or maybe you have a school going family member who owns one. There is a reason, why the Superbreak is #1 on this list. 🙂

Pros:

  • Super Durable! Made of 600D polyester. Will pretty much last forever
  • Big enough to carry a lot of gear for your day hike (around 1551 cu. in or 25+ Liters!)
  • Simple design which is a good thing
  • Good price!
  • Good padding on shoulder straps
  • Many different colors to choose from!

Cons:

  • Lack of hip belt limits really heavy loads and can get a bit uncomfortable for longer hikes.
  • Does not “look like a REAL hiking pack”
  • No extra loops or attachments outside the pack to put carabiners, water bottles etc.

 

 

Osprey Daylite Plus

Osprey Daylite Plus

Osprey make great packs! This company has been around forever and they specialize in making backpacks of all kinds and sizes which are used by hikers around the world. The Daylite Plus is a solid choice.

Pros:

  • Hydration reservoir pocket
  • Lots of mesh pockets to organize stuff and get easy access to jackets, etc
  • Mesh back panel which helps in breathability. Great for those hot days!
  • About 20L so more then enough for most day hikes
  • Hipbelt
  • Good size to bring on as a carry-on pack for airline travel
  • Light weight!

Cons:

  • The size can be a bit small specially for winter hikes when you need to carry more gear.
  • The side mesh pockets can be a bit small so you have to secure water bottles that they do not fall out

Deuter SpeedLite 20

Deuter SpeedLite 20

Deuter is another company that is well known for its backpacks. It is a German company that has been around since 1898 and has some great designs and awesome gear that they manufacture. I have seen packs from Deuter all over the world. The SpeedLite 20 is a great day hiker’s pack.

Pros:

  • Very lightweight …just over 1 lb
  • Padded back panel and breathable air mesh
  • Great for adventure racing and climbing too
  • Mesh side pockets
  • Hydration pocket
  • Made of ripstop nylon
  • Lots of pockets to organize stuff
  • Good for ski touring as well

Cons:

  • Sternum straps a bit low for some people
  • Shoulder straps can be a bit more padded
  • Front stretch pocket a tad small.

Sea to Summit Ultra Sil

Sea To Summit Ultra Sil

Sea To Summit is known for their well-made and affordable equipment that is also lightweight. The Ultra Sil backpack is made of Silnylon as the name suggests and that is a very lightweight and water resistant material. This pack compresses to a very small size and can be easily carried in your jacket pocket or purse.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and portable
  • The pack itself is easy to carry around (because of its small form factor). For example, in your main luggage if you are going traveling
  • Great price!

Cons:

  • No waist belt
  • Not meant for carrying heavier loads

ArcTeryx Cierzo 18

ArcTeryx Cierzo 18

Pros:

  • Lightweight and compressible (similar to the Ultra Sil pack mentioned above)
  • Front zippered pocket
  • Hydration bladder ready with tube passage and internal clip
  • External cords to attach stuff to as well as ice axe loops
  • Can easily lug a climbing rope

Cons:

  • Not meant to carry heavier loads (but that can be a good thing)

Osprey Talon 22

Osprey Talon 22

Another great pack from Osprey! The Talon 22 has good reviews from many different people who are familiar with the pack and have used it extensively.

Pros:

  • Versatile. Can be used for hiking, bike commuting and just carrying around town
  • Hip belt pockets. Great for storing snacks, protein bar etc for quick and easy access.
  • Side water bottle pockets
  • External bladder sleeve
  • Ability to handle 20lbs+
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • A bit more expensive (but you get what you pay for)
  • Shoulder straps may be a bit uncomfortable for some people during long days on the trail.

Camelbak Fourteener 24

Camelbak Fourteener 24

Camelbak has been around forever and is well known for their bladder systems. They also make great backpacks and the Fourteener is a good example of this. This pack has a wonderful back panel which makes hiking on warmer days much more easier due to the ventilation that it allows. Also the pack is very versatile and you can easily attach skis, ice axes, hiking poles etc. Definitely this pack is worth looking at when making a purchase decision.

Pros:

  • Awesome quality pack
  • Made in the US
  • Great back panel that allows for good ventilation
  • Lots of lash points to attach gear
  • Bladder compartment

Cons:

  • A bit expensive but then again it is made in the US
  • Can have a bit wider profile

Deuter Futura 28

Deuter Futura 28

Another pack from Deuter. This one is different then the Speedlite mentioned above. It is bigger and thus you can carry more gear for longer hikes. It has an integrated and detachable rain cover and good hip belts and shoulder straps. There is also a bottom compartment where you can store rain jackets and other gear (for example to separate it from the main compartment if the jacket is wet etc)

Pros:

  • Bottom compartment to keep quick access items as well as wet gear
  • Integrated rain cover
  • Side mesh pockets

Cons:

  • Needs to be properly packed to make sure it is comfortable

Mountain Laurel Designs Core 22

Mountain Laurel Designs Core 22

MLD was started by a former Search and Rescue Climber and the products from this company are extremely high quality. Designed and manufactured in the US, they are super lightweight and durable. We will be talking more about their products in future posts. The Core 22 is a great pack for multiple activities, climbing, hiking, skiing and summits. It also works great as a travel and carry-on pack. You can get it constructed with some custom features like a larger hip belt (if you plan on carrying heavier loads)

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • Customizable
  • Rolltop Lid so it is very water resistant and can be used for boating activities

Cons:

  • Lack of external pockets

REI Flash 18 or 22

REI Flash 18

This is a well known cult classic from the outdoor retailer geniuses at REI. The pack is very lightweight and extremely versatile. I have used mine for hiking, traveling, biking and as a gym bag as well.

Pros:

  • Very packable and usable as a summit bag
  • Whistle on the sternum strap 🙂
  • Water bladder sleeve
  • Great price
  • Internal mesh pocket to store small items like keys, wallet, knife, lighters etc

Cons:

  • Have to be careful in wet weather as it can leak from the top
  • Not super comfortable with heavier loads
  • Thinner hip belt.

Conclusion:

As you can tell, there are a ton of options out there. I have not covered most of them but these are the ones based on my own experience as well as market research, I can recommend starting out with. It would be worthwhile for you to check out these packs further. The main thing is to “Get out there!” – Gear is secondary (however, necessary). So get out there. Let me know if you have any questions. I will get back to you if I can help.

 

June 27, 2017

A Primal SuperMeal for hiking

Boiled eggs, cheddar cheese and green onions

Bring some eggs with you when you go hiking. This is something that many hikers ignore and it would suit them well to include eggs in their diet. Eggs are a nutritious superfood.

Boil some eggs prior to your hike and bring them with you in a sealed container. This is quick and will provide you
a healthy dose of protein. Add some cheddar cheese made or organic, raw milk if possible, chop up some green onions
and sprinkle some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper or Japanese shichimi (spice mixture containing red chili pepper,
orange peel, sesame seed, hemp seed, ground ginger, seaweed etc). The cheddar cheese can last for a few days on the trail
without need for refrigeration.

A couple of eggs and some cheese will be a filling, nutritious meal. You get some good protein and fat and I have had
something similar many times and felt rejuvenated and ready to hike again (during lunch break or reaching the summit / destination
on a day trip).

You can top off this meal with a dessert of some organic dried blueberries and maybe a slice or 2 of dried mango. Yummy!!

The Top 10 Items to carry in your daypack

As I mentioned earlier, you do not need a lot to get started. However, if you are venturing out for longer trips
and away from civilization, you do need to carry some stuff. Most of the stuff I list below, you will most likely
already have at home. There is no need to run out at this point and spend a lot of money on expensive, high-tech
gear.

– Water and Extra Water

If you take one thing, take water. A human being can survive a few days without food but not very long without water.
So it is critical to have enough. The best way is to get a waterbottle or 2 , maybe a liter each. You can buy
some bottled water or just take a water bottle from home. Sometimes, I like to add some lemon or lime and a bit
of good quality sea-salt – tastes great and replenishes electrolytes.

– Food

Food is a vast topic and I have written a bit about and will write a lot more. However, it is good to have a high-calorie
snack such as
– Pita with Peanut butter
– Salami
– Cheddar cheese
– Nutella
– Toblerone
– M&Ms
– Dried mangos

– GPS or map or compass or some navigational aid

If you are venturing into territory that you are not familiar with, it is good to have some navigation aid and
knowledge on how to use them. These days, many phones have a built in GPS. However, make sure to download a map
of the area you are going to since you may not get cell phone signal. Also, have a backup plan if the battery dies.
Paper maps, analog compasses etc can help

– First Aid kit

I remember a time when I was the only person in a party of 3 with a first-aid kit and someone started getting a blister
very early on in the trip. If I didnt have a kit with moleskin in it, that trip may have to be cut short.
What ended up happening was that this person put on moleskin on her blister hot spot and was able to proceed further
and we had a successful trip. The first-aid kit doesn’t need to be too complicated for shorter trips , close to help
but if you are going further afield, make sure you have adequate supplies. I will cover this at a later date.

– Bandanna

As Dogulas Adams said in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “a towel is about the most massively useful thing an
interstellar hitchiker can have.”. Well, a bandanna is a very useful thing that you as a earthbound hiker
can have 🙂 . Some uses:

– Sun protection/head protection
– Signal
– Breathing mask
– Sling
– Washcloth / Towel
– Water filter
– Bandage

and literally hundreds of potential uses more

– Firestarter of some kind, matches, lighter, a bit of tinder

This can be handy to have in a survival situation if you need to get a fire going. Leave no trace asks us to minimize
starting fires wherever possible but nothing beats sitting around a nice, hot campfire on a chilly evening and looking
at the stars.

– Some extra clothes

Rain jacket, insulating layers (fleece, down jacket), gloves if its fall or winter, hats, a pair of dry socks if your
feet get wet ..stuff like that. I will write a lot more about this.

– Flashlight / headlamp or other lightsource

If you happen to run late and it starts getting dark, this is essential to have and I highly recommend that you carry it
every time you venture out in the wilderness. Make sure the batteries are new-ish and work before you start your hike.

– Sunglasses/sun protection

If you are above tree-line, in the snow or in the sun, these are essential

– Garbage bags

Multiple uses, shelter in a pinch, liner for backpack in case of rain, carry your trash out (leave no trace)

I will expand on this stuff in future posts but this should get you started!

Let me know if you have anything else that you bring with you that you consider as an essential!

How do I start? What gear do I take?

Let me start off with a story: A few years ago, I spent a few days in a remote Zen monastery near Kameoka in Japan which is about a 45 min train ride from Kyoto. This
zen temple was in the mountains of Kameoka with some spectacular scenery and hiking trails. At one point in time, the monks who lived there and the visitors like me
decided to go for a hike on one of the trails. One thing to note that this was a rocky, rooty trail that was steep in many parts and this was February so quite cold
at that time. I remember wearing my hiking pants and large hiking boots with goretex and all my fancy gear and then there was a young monk who lived in that temple
who wore his simple cotton clothes and a pair of sandals which had definitely seen better days. My memory of him is that he was bounding up the trail with a big grin
on his face and having the time of his life. I do remember consciously thinking that I could get by with a lot less.

The point of the above story is this: hiking is easy. You just pick a trail and start walking. While you are walking, you let go of your worries and enjoy nature.
That is all there to it. There are a few details you may need to think about but those should be secondary to these points. A lot of time we get lost in the details
(for example, what gear to take, food, weather etc) and lose sight of the big picture. Do not get me wrong – All that stuff can be important and we talk about that on
this site. But the point is, you can get started with a minimal set of things and still go a long way.

So, what are some of the things to think about?

Firstly, start small. Pick a trail that is easy and on a day that is nice and sunny and no chance of bad weather. Just pick something that is not that far from civilization
and you can bail out in a hurry and get to safety if things take an unexpected turn (for example: you get tired, run out of water or the weather turns nasty).

Do not pick something that will take longer then a couple of hours to complete. Just make sure whatever you pick is enjoyable and well within the parameters of your
current fitness level.

Do not worry too much at this point about exactly what you will take. As you get more knowledge, start getting out more, you can start thinking about gear more.
At this time, just a snack and a liter or 2 of water should be sufficient (for your easy trail). The quantity of water may vary depending on where you are hiking,
season and your individual body needs – try to carry enough and a bit extra but no more.

Make sure you have comfortable footwear. That is key. I have hiked barefoot in India and in big leather mountaineering boots on glaciers, Adidas sneakers in tropical
forests in Hong Kong and minimal sandals near active volcanoes in Philippines and trust me when I tell you: Having comfortable footwear is KEY. We will touch on a
lot more on that in future posts.

Make sure you have a snack. Something tasty , packed with calories. Food tastes much better when you are hiking. This is something you can experience for yourself
when you get out there. We will again be talking in a lot of detail around food.

Well…that should be about it. Like I said, hiking is easy. Our main goal should be getting out there and enjoying ourselves. Learning a bit more about
ourselves and the world we live in. Hiking beautiful trails and leaving no trace of our passing so others can enjoy as well.

If you need further information, feel free to download the checklist. Also , email me questions. I read every email I get and I may just answer it in a blog post so others
can benefit as well.

Talk to you soon and see you on the trails!

 

My first overnight hiking trip

Joffre Lakes

Or how I did a 2 hour hike and dehydrated and hungover…

Joffre Lakes

An intrepid hiker, long time ago 🙂

 

Back in 2004, I started getting into hiking. I had moved to Vancouver from Toronto in 2000 and I had did a couple of day trips at that time. I started reading some online forums and people were posting their trip reports as well as pictures and I really wanted to get out there and start experiencing the great outdoors.

A bit of background: I started first getting into the outdoors and the wild when I was younger, around 13, 14 years of age. After that, there was a lull in any kind of hiking or outdoor activity until much later. So it is, totally OK
to start if you are older.

In any case, I woke up Saturday morning hungover – I knew I was going hiking in the mountains, carrying a heavy pack on a trip that I had never done before with people that I never met before (except virtually online) but being young and stupid, you do what you gotta do 🙂 Word to the wise: Do not do what I did. Hiking hungover is not fun at all!

I cannot remember if I drank enough to get re-hydrated but the trip to the trailhead with my companion from the forum was uneventful. When we got there, we started hiking together but soon after, it was apparent that he was in much better shape then I and asked me if I was OK to hike alone to the campsite (3rd Joffre Lake – picture below).

My first hike - the view was worth it!

The view was worth it!

I said “Of course” and soon was left to my own devices! It was a beautiful, sunny, warm summer day and it felt good
being in the mountains. It sounds cliche, but fresh air and the scenery was quite rejuvenating spiritually and physically.

I have ALWAYS felt that whenever I go hiking. A phrase that keeps popping up in my awareness of my thoughts is, “I’d rather be bumming around in the mountains”. Now keep in mind that it is not always fun – there can be challenging times, mentally and physically (more on that later) – but if I were asked to pick, I would rather be bumming around in the mountains.

In any case, I got to the campsite and met my companion as well as the rest of the group who had hiked up earlier. They were glad to see me and had already setup their tents before and were enjoying their beverage of choice when I got there. They welcomed me and I started setting up my tent and brewed a cup of green tea. I will be talking about strategies for setting up camp and beverages to drink in future posts!

The reward when you get out there

Mountain view at Joffre Lake Campsite

Detailed memories are a bit sketchy at this point but one that stands out is that our campsite was right next to a huge
glacier which had an icefall at the edge. In the evening, we could hear big chunks of ice breaking from the icefall
and falling in the lake. The sound was quite loud, that of rumbling thunder and it was quite neat to be in the middle
of nowhere and experience something like that. Other then that, it was very quiet and that is one of the things I really enjoy about being outdoors (specially in the winter when snow acts as extra sound dampener).

I will talk more about the experience of quietness and meditation in the outdoors at at later point.

Conclusion and Lessons Learnt

– Be prepared for your hike with good rest and make sure you wake up and have a good meal before you embark on a
strenous hike.
– Hydrate yourself with water prior to beginning hiking. This will help you.
– Take the time to stop, admire the scenery, take pictures. Uusually, there should be no rush to get to a destination.
Enjoy the journey. Time is precious and a time with a good friend/loved one or alone in the mountains is very precious.