Down the trail
Recker: Planning, proper gear are keys to good hiking experience
It sounds like a simple enough thing — put one foot in front of the other and go for a hike through the woods, over the mountain and down the trail.
While that’s certainly the basic notion, it takes a little preparation, proper gear and some planning to do so not only safely, but also to enjoy the experience.
Tony Recker, of Fort Dodge, has spent some time on trails since he took up the sport in 2011 after attending an outdoor exposition, and on Thursday afternoon, he shared that experience with a group during a joint Webster/Hamilton County Conservation learning session at Camp WaNoKi.
Before he showed off all the cool stuff in his backpack, he shared one of his most critical pieces of equipment: a good walking pole.
He used to have two, but one is all that remains.
“I was slipping and falling because my boot was frozen,” he said. “It snapped in half.”
“It helps your legs and back if you use it right,” he said. “I always like to hike with two.”
Hikers get pretty inventive on their treks.
He showed that a backpack can also do double duty — as a drier.
“If something gets wet you wash it in a stream and dry it on the pack,” he said.
Foot care is important. He wears well broken-in hiking boots, has comfortable shoes for the camp site at night and each day’s hike begins with fresh clean socks.
Even with proper care, things can still happen.
“You have to take care of your feet,” he said. “That really is true. I did lose two toenails hiking down a mountain.”
Some of his trips have included Glacier National Park in Montana. He was out on the trail for five days. Every ounce of weight matters when you have to carry it.
“They say I could carry 50 pounds,” he said. “Thirty-five to 40 pounds is my magic number. There’s a big difference between being happy and being miserable.”
Even clothing makes a difference.
“If I weighed two shirts and one was 12 ounces and the other was seven,” he said. “I’d take the seven-ounce shirt. You keep doing that. You can save pounds and pounds of weight.”
Staying hydrated on the trail is important, especially at higher elevations. Some of his trips took him to around 10,000 feet.
“Water and food is important,” he said. “But water is the most important.”
Mountain trails aren’t lined with drinking fountains. Recker said that his group always travels with a filtration system that allows them to draw water from creeks and other water sources.
Food is almost all freeze-dried meals sealed in bags. They’re cooked by adding water boiled on a small gas-powered lightweight stove. He carries one utensil and small lightweight bowl.
“This is my spork,” he said pulling the bright green item from his bag.
Another issue to deal with in the mountains: bears and other animals.
Bears, he said, will visit camp for a free snack, not of sleeping hikers, but instead the food items they brought along. His group hangs all of those items in food bags high in trees. The group also carried bear spray, just in case.
The “other” animals include deer looking for salty, delicious to them, boots.
“At one camp in Glacier the deer look at you like unruly teenagers,” he said. “One of the ladies camping there, the deer came up and ate her socks like goats, they chewed on my hat. They’re craving salt.”
He also carries bug spray, a first-aid kit, Benadryl and a whistle to signal with.
He also has a very light bright orange plastic scoop.
It’s for a rather delicate issue hikers will face on the trail that bears do in the woods.
“You’re going to have to do number two,” he said. “You’ll need to dig a hole. In the mountains, that’s not always easy.”
Other hikers, carrying scoops a few ounces heavier, admire Recker’s plastic version.
“The lighter the better,” he said. “They see my plastic scoop and go ‘Hey!”
Recker will also carry a tent, a sleeping bag and an inflatable pad, all lightweight. They find a place in his pack among the many “stuff bags” full of, well, stuff.
“I can’t tell you how important a sleeping pad is,” he said.
One final piece of gear is really important.
A cover for the backpack and the hiker for when it rains, which it will.
“You have to take care of your gear,” he said.
Recker gets ready for his hiking trips by getting into shape before he goes. He begins a month before he leaves.
“I fill my backpack with water bottles full of rocks, weights and anything heavy to try to make it 50 pounds,” he said. “I go for one-hour hikes in the boots and clothing I’ll be wearing on the trail.”
One thing Recker does not have in his pack, though it seems big enough to hold one?
“There’s no kitchen sink in there, but I do have my stove,” he said.