* Please note that I am not a doctor -these stories are for entertainment purposes only!
What's so great about salt?
When I first started backpacking, I had endless pretzel dreams until I finally got back to civilization. Days of sweating had probably robbed my body of basic minerals. My obvious salt deficiency could have been very serious and only my youth may have protected me. A balanced blend of required minerals from dried fruits and vegetables would have been nice to have, but salt could have saved the day. Salt helps the body to store water - a very good thing in the heat, or extreme cold.
On one memorable trip, I nicked my finger cutting tent stakes with a pocket knife. The next day, my entire hand was swollen and throbbing with every heart beat. Far from the trail head, and with no other options, I soaked the finger in near boiling salt water all evening. Next morning, the swelling was completely gone and wound sealed over. After that, I have often use salt to disinfect and suck poisons out of minor local infections.
What's so great about a bandanna?
I must confess that I was a scout and for years I didn't even carry a bandanna for fear of being... busted. But, I now find it to be one of my most important pieces of equipment. I almost always have one around my neck - to keep the sweat off of my collar, sun from my neck, block the wind, or soaking wet to keep me cool. Other uses are endless and include: pot holder, wash rag, towel, pillow cover, ear warmer, sweat band, hat holder-downer, small parts protector, emergency knee/arm/ankle support & bandage, water filter, air filter, etc. etc. etc... oh, yeah, Kleenex & emergency TP.
When it's hot, I wash it almost every stream crossing. I wrap it wet around my neck or it dries on a hot rock almost instantly - it never leaves my side... unless I leave it drying on the rock. I can count at least three really nice ones that lost that way. But things are never lost; I once stayed in an abandon sheep herders cabin, midwinter near the White Mountain cold weather research station. I got there at sundown and my eye lashes were starting to freeze. A note, tacked to the door read, "take what you need, leave what you can". I left some rice and used the big wood stove. So, If you really need that cool gray bandanna of mine, you are welcome to it. I'll use the zebra striped one till next time...
What's so great about sun screen?
I know, you already understand how important it is, but another story is always fun. So.. while my 25 year old dermatologist is burning spots off my face, he says "did you use sunscreen when you were younger". Sun screen was not even a word when I was younger. We had Glacier Cream from Germany - a gunky white zinc oxide paint that we scooped onto our nose - usually after it began to blister. We thought it made us look like real mountain climbers. After a few years, we realized that this stuff was also necessary up our noses, in our ears, and even on our eye lids. Did I mention that it was greasy and smelled like rotting fish?
What's so great about sun glasses?
I know... So... cousin Paul and I were taking an early spring trip to see if we could be the first to reach the pass - this was before cross county skis were sold in the US. We proudly laid down the seasons first foot prints. The next morning, Paul says, "hey I can't see a thing". I look out of the tent and I'm have my own problems. So, being the really smart people we are, we decide it must be snow blindness. It was a rather interesting day, sitting around camp, wondering if our vision was ever going to return.
We now know that this sort of insanity can cause permanent problems and early cataracts. Paul and I are fine so far, but with the thinning atmosphere and increased UV exposure, eye protection is definitely a must have. I cary a spare pair of lightweight cheep ones hidden in the bottom of a pocket.
What's so great about hats?
... Have you ever had the top of your skull sun burned really bad? Can you imagine what a blistering and flaking head looks like to members of the opposite gender?
What's so great about water?
Well, according to Ray Jardine, hikers should drink at least one quart per hour. And, if it's hot or at altitude, even more. He thinks that most of the complaints of backpackers - from back pain to altitude sickness - are symptoms of dehydration. I don't usually drink that much, but I Have experienced all of the medical problems he describes.
The water contained in an apple, carrot, or potato is not as heavy as that in your water bottle... because you eat the container. This natural "bottle" has the perfect balance of carbs, vitamins and minerals required to fuel your hike. So, when hiking where water is scarce, fresh food is the ultimate ultra-light solution - you carry fewer containers, and less dried food, and have a healthier diet. So, consider using fresh food as your emergency water supply.
45 years ago, I met someone along the trail without a pack. In those days, even seeing someone was rare, so we always stopped to talk. He said that he was on his way out, after his annual two week hike to get in shape. He brought no food, but drank massive volumes of water and took vitamins and minerals every day. At the time, I thought he was a little tweaked, but I now know that he was way ahead of his time. We can live for a very long time without food, but only 5 to 10 days without water.
What's so great about matches?
... I'm 12, Paul is 13 years old. It's very dark, we're on the far side of the pass, tucked just below the tree line, under 1/4 of a WW2 parachute - our first tent. A howling wind starts to lift the "tent" and rain is soaking my cotton covered down bag. I take the home-made, wax-coated, strike-anywhere, matches out of the sealed container and attempt to light a fire. The countdown begins as one after another the matches refuse to light the ever wetter wood.
Paul: " So how many more do we have? - " Mark: "Four - but who's counting?"
Paul: "It's getting really cold." - Mark: "I'm trying."
This brings us back to another backpacking basic - the inspiration for this site. With the Penny Stove we would have had three safe and reliable options. One match and 2 oz. of Everclear could provide two people with all three -in about 5 minutes.