Like most things in life, what boots to wear in the woods and fields is a trade off. More thickness and stiffness make for more foot protection and warmth in the winter, but also make for tireder legs and more sweat in the summer. Depending on the roughness or flatness of the terrain, a heavier boot may make your feet feel more or less comfortable.
Heavier boots are better for punching toe steps and digging into steep or slick terrain, like snow or mud. When I was in my 20's and 30's years of age, I wore heavy boots exclusively. I tended to hike rougher and steeper places, like Grandfather Mountain and Linville Gorge, where the stiffness gave a better grip. My youth apparently allowed me to have more strength and energy to spend on lifting my feet.
The boots I wore then were extra-ordinarily thick and heavy full grain [not split] leather, called waffle stompers. They had deep gripping Vibram lug soles and Norwegian welts, meaning the uppers were stitched to the soles with super thick thread and the seams were exposed to the outside of the boot. They were heavy enough that I used them to wear snow crampon spikes and randonee ski bindings. The water proofness came from the thick leather soaked with Sno-Seal wax compound.
As I have aged, my strength has waned, so I often prefer lighter boots, such as Salewas from the Dolomite region of northern Italy. The water proofness comes from an inner layer of Gore-Tex fabric. They were sufficienly sturdy for a week long, 65 mile back pack trip in the Wind River Range wildnerness area of Wyoming several years ago.
The modern trend is towards ever lighter backpacking equipment, including boots. Most through hikers [like 2,100 miles on the Appalachnian Trail, or even longer on the Pacifc Coast Trail or Continental Divide Trail] use simple, light running shoes. This type of foot wear is not water proof, offers no ankle support or foot sole protection, but weighs next to nothing. The hikers spend a large percentage of time with wet feet which eventually dries out. I could not do that.
Now that I am a little bit older still, I have settled on the Merrell Wilderness leather boots. They are a step down in weight from the old waffle stompers, but still sturdier than the Salewas. To me they are the perfect balance. Plus, they look classically handsome. In my opinion they are among the best boots in the world. You can order even better boots from some custom makers like Limmer in Germany, but they cost twice as much and take 10 times longer to receive in the mail.
There is a wide range of opinions and a significant divide between well meaning and reasonable persons about whether to carry a gun in the back country. Without going into a lot of detail I prefer to carry a concealed weapon almost all the time - even at home, work and church. This subject of whether to carry can be the topic for another equipment article.
Assuming you want to carry a gun, then what type - brand, model, style and caliber - are best? I recommend a Springfield Armory Ranger Officer Elite Operator steel semi-automatic 1911 in 10 mm caliber.
The reasons are that SA's pistols are forged instead of stamped metal which is a stronger tool than some other brands. All steel has more weight and absorbs more recoil for easier and more accurate shooting that most modern polymer pistols, like Glocks and Smith & Wesson M & P's.
The semi-automatic re-cycling action also absorbs more recoil for less barrel flip and quicker follow up shots. Compared to the semi-automatic pistol, a revolver holds about half as many cartridges and is much slower to reload. It also has more muzzle flip. The revolver can be fired either single action with a much heavier trigger pull; or it can be fired double action which means pulling back the hammer with the thumb that makes for slower follow up shots. All these features make the semi-automatic faster and easier to shoot and more accurate. The revolver is also thicker in the mid-section making it less comfortable to carry.
The 1911 model is slimmer than most modern striker fired (no hammer), double stack magazine pistols, making it more comfortable to carry. It also has the most safety features of any reasonably available gun. The external hammer (unlike the striker fired pistols) can be locked back by the strap of a holster so it can't be fired regardless of other conditions. Next, the grip safety prevents the gun from firing accidentally unless a hand is holding the grip tightly. Finally the external manual (or thumb) safety has to be flipped to "on" before the gun will fire. Most available guns models have at most one of these type safeties; I am not aware of any other model with all three.
10 mm cartridge has more speed and more power than the more common 9 mm and .45 ACP calibers. Thus the 10 mm is better for defense against tough animals, like wild boar or black bear. I have been camping and harassed by both types of animals. It has similare speed and power to a .40 S&W caliber, but a with little more of both, and it has more models available in the 1911 style. It is not so heavy as to be hard to carry or shoot. It can be reasonably be carried concealed in town and other civilized situations.
There is a debate among experts whether the 10 mm caliber is sufficient defense against a grizzly bear. Some say not to carry less that a .44 magnum or .50 Casull. The .44 and .50 will hit even harder, but they are only available in a revolver, with the disadvantages listed above. Other experts, including operators of a bear self defense training camp in Idaho, whose teachers are forest rangers, hunting guides and have been actually attacked by grizzly bears and killed them in self-defense, advocate the 10 mm. So those are the reasons for my choice.
Mountain Safety Research is one of the premier outdoor gear companies in the world. Their canister gas stoves are considered to be among, if not the, best. One of their most popular models is the Pocket Rocket. This stove is not their hottest, or biggest, or most rugged. The popularity stems from it being the smallest and lightest, while still being sufficiently hot and strong to handle most backpacking meals for several campers. When folded for travel the stove is about the size of two fingers held side by side.
One disadvantgage of gas canister stoves is that as the gas tank empties it has less pressure and burns cooler. For several years MSR has produced stoves with a pressure regulator to solve this problem, but this feature was only available on their bigger, heavier and more expensive stoves.
The good news is that now MSR has added the pressure regulator to the Pocket Rocket and re-named it the Deluxe model. While they were at it MSR added a few other features, including a wider burner head to spread the heat on the pot more evenly; a wind screen aroung the burner head to prevent blowouts and loss of heat; and an electric lighter with the sparking unit inside the burner head where it is better protected from the wind and more dependable.
Most hikers and campers have many favorite items they use, which are not big and obvious, like a pack or tent, but important non-the-less. I have recenlty researched and read articles and videos by people who have backpacked many thousands of miles, such as through hikes on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. They often will publish lists of things they have used all over the nation (or the world) which they found to be the best available items. I have collected a short list of those items and am posting them here.
Portable battery brand for re-charging cell phones and computer tablets: Anker.
Weather application on smart phone: Dark Sky.
Map application on smart phone: Gaia GPS [this is not a true GPS using satellites but works similarly if in cell phone range].
View Ranger [also a true GPS, but has the wonderful feature of showing the names of surrounding mountans].
Early on the brilliantly clear and sunny Sunday of October 19, 2008, Bob Laney took his new friends from his neighborhood on a hiking trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains. High school aged brothers Dakota and Dalton and Dalton's friend Josh joined Bob in his driveway to pack his canary yellow Xterra. We had some discussions about what to wear and what to take. Dalton and Dakota's mom had packed plenty of nutritious sandwiches and drinks. Bob decided that we needed more packs, more clothes, more water and less soda. Bob provided another pack and we all trooped over to Mary Beth's kitchen to re-load the provisions.
Over the long weekend of September 12 - 14, 2008, David Smith and I (Bob Laney) went to Morehead City for deep sea ship wreck diving. We traveled nearly to the Gulf Stream, far out in the Atlantic Ocean. Paul Anderson and David originally planned the trip under the aegis of Blue Dolphin Dive Shop in Winston-Salem, NC. Then Paul developed back pain from training for a snorkeling trip to the Caribbean later this fall and had to cancel. Without Paul, David was left without a dive buddy, which is required. The dive master on the boat can assign a buddy to a solo diver, but there is such a strong bond of reliance between buddies, like rock climbing, that it is better to bring your own.
Every Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend for most of the 21st century, and a few years before, my hunting buddy Bill Booth and I have joined Mike Haire and his son Tom for the opening day of dove hunting at various fields they own around Rutherford County. The Haires are known for their close ties to the land, avid hunting and fishing, generations of farming and Mike's wizardry with preparing fields to dove hunt. The catch is the land has to be seeded and tilled with sufficient grain to attract the flying doves, without running afoul of the game laws that forbid having too much fresh bait on the ground.
On a sunny August Saturday in 2008, I had a chance to go rock climbing with my nephews Robert Parker and Matthew Laney. They both attended NCSU as engineering students. We went to Stone Mountain State Park in Wilkes County. I had rock climbed a half-dozen times before, but had not received any formal training.
The summer of 2008 I learned something about athletic tapering. And about spirituality. My friend Bill Dunn is an active runner. He gave me some old copies of Runner's World magazine. RW has many articles about training for a marathon. One of their tips is to start tapering two weeks before the race. The idea is to reduce your training runs to far fewer miles, and the last couple days before the race not to run at all. Common sense seems to dictate that going so long without exercise, you would lose your conditioning in the interim. But the expert coaches say your body will keep its conditioning for those two weeks, it will heal of any minor injuries and will save up energy.
In early July I ran 6 miles at a 10 minute / mile pace. It was not planned -- I just felt good and did it. That is obviously no great athletic feat. I am not a threat to make the Olympic team. Will McElwee could probably beat me running backwards. But it was my personal best; I had never run that far, that fast. Then for various reasons I did not get to run, or hardly any other exercise, for over the next two weeks. [Okay, I paddled my canoe 10 miles on the New River on Saturday, but that is a different story!]
Then, yesterday evening after work, I had the bright idea to pedal the 7 mile mountain bike Over Mountain Victory Trail at the Lake, the full length out and back, for a total of 14 miles. That distance is not a great amount of road bike mileage, but on a mountain bike trail, it is a major workout. Business kept me at the office until 6:45 p.m., which left only 2 hours until sunset ' about ' hour less than my normal time for this route. I would have to go fast and press hard to finish in daylight. Remembering the over-two-week gap with little exercise, I expected to finish by walking my bike the last couple miles in the dark. Being a good Boy Scout, there was a headlamp in my backpack.
I don't have a way to measure my speed while biking, except for the gear my bike is using. The first 15 or so times that I biked the trail, the average was - of the time in 1st gear (the slowest) and - of the time in 2nd gear. After 6 months or so, I had worked up to about - the time in 2nd gear. A couple months ago I progressed to - of the time in 3rd gear. Like any other athletic endeavor, faster is harder. You have to exert more pedal power, concentrate to stay on the trail, not to slide or bounce off, and avoid hitting trees or sliding down embankments.
On yesterday's trip, my pace surged!! This ride was head-and-shoulders above my best prior time. I averaged almost - the time in 3rd gear and a few stretches in 4th gear. Woo-hoo!! There were occasions when it felt like my bike was flying. Other times, I had to stand up in the pedals to absorb the pounding of the bumpy trail shooting by underneath. It felt like I was carving a wave on a surfboard-riding the slope of the mountain downhill.
Not only was the tapering working, but a necessary component of the speed was the need to beat sunset and the desire to do so. I would not have attained this level if I had started earlier in the afternoon. When several positive factors come together, it is a wonderful occasion!
Truthfully, there was another component of the trip. As the ride progressed - as I got tireder and sorer, and the daylight grew dimmer - I had a number of strangely up-close and personal encounters with a wide array of wildlife. Rabbits and deer strangely did not move away from the trail, but just stood and looked at me. Fireflies swirled around me. Beautiful, tall, bright-white mushrooms lined the trail - like the lights that people install beside their walkways. As it got darker, these mushrooms reflecting the last bit of daylight seemed to glow, and literally lit up the trail to show me the way.
There were long stretches of darkness under the trees, followed by short bursts into slightly brighter sections crossing open fields. Eventually, I could not see the individual rocks and roots in the trail. That is dangerous, since a biker has to see the rugosities to know where to lean, swerve, brake and accelerate. To keep up my speed, I got to the point of relying on subconscious knowledge of the trail and trusting that it would be safe. I felt that I was exercising some kind of spiritual faith. Everything felt more connected to nature and creation, calmer, sweeter and more fun. There was a paternal, protective presence. I felt like God was saying, repeatedly, happily, joyously: 'Hi, Bob! Here I am! Isn't this cool!' And it was-
On the beautifully sunny mid-summer Saturday of July 26, 2008, soon after Debbie's elective surgery, Ranger Bob (me) got out of the house to play with the next generation. Joined by nephews Mathew Laney and Robert Parker, and their brides Liz and Meredith, we made a leisurely paddle trip down the South Fork of the New River. The put-in was Zaloo's Canoes and the take-out was the US 221 bridge about 10 miles down stream.