Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dan Crane: Backpacking with Duct Tape

The day has been long, and the trail treacherous. Mosquitoes feast on fresh blood due to a tear in a headnet. A water bottle leaks, the dribbling down a pants leg appearing like a non-stop accident. Equipment lies strewn along the trail, spewing from a rip in a backpack. Blisters, covering each foot, scream in agony with every step.

If only there was some product that could fix all these problems and save this trip from certain disaster. Something like, duct tape, for instance.

Duct tape is one of those universal, jack-of-all-trades tools, like the hammer and the crowbar. Since the 1940’s, this tape has had more uses than any other invention known to man, with the exception of fire, the internal combustion engine and the Internet. This wondrous invention is not only useful at home though, but in the backcountry as well.

Duct tape has a myriad of uses for backcountry enthusiasts. These range from the practical to the down-right zany. It can be used to repair damaged equipment, prevent frequent hiking injuries and even, in some cases, cure sleepless nights.

Duct tape can often be used to fix equipment in the field. A leaking water bottle? Slap on some duct tape over the hole. Ripped stuff sacks? Tape it up. A rip in some insect netting of a shelter? What could mean a very uncomfortable night in the Adirondacks, can be easily repaired with a little duct tape when needle and thread are just not plausible.

Duct tape is a great addition to even a well-stocked first aid kit. Although it can be used as a bandage, its greatest utility is in preventing blisters. Covering “hot-spots” on the feet with duct tape can forestall a painful blister from forming. And if the preventive care is not taken, covering a broken blister with a bandage followed by some duct tape creates an effective barrier that might just be still on the feet a week after returning home.

In addition to the conventional uses of duct tape, there are some more inventive uses.

For those in tick country, duct tape makes a useful way of neutralizing these disease-carrying parasites. Since the exoskeleton of ticks makes them nearly impossible to crush, sticking them on duct tape is an effective way to remove them from the field. Just stick their backs on the tape and watch their legs continue to wiggle, sometimes for months afterwards. The same can be done for fleas too, but taking a bath once in a while is probably just as effective for these little pests.

Under some circumstances, duct tape is useful when sharing a lean-to with someone who snores. If yelling, stamping your feet or poking the offender fails to bring the desired results, then a small piece of duct tape just might do the trick. Just do not tell the irate snorer where this idea was obtained upon their awakening.

Even equipment and clothing can be made with duct tape. These are inexpensive, waterproof and somewhat durable. In an emergency, wrapping duct tape around oneself can result in a fully insulted and waterproof barrier to the environment. Those of Italian decent or others with lots of body hair should refrain from this except in the most dire emergencies though.

Plans for equipment can be found on the Internet, such as this one for a backpack. Despite the stated advantages, I think I will stick to a store bought backpack, just to be on the safe side.

Carrying duct tape is always an issue. Some throw lightweight hiking to the wind and simply toss a whole roll into their backpack. This is pure folly; I have never heard of anyone so unlucky to require an entire roll on a single trip. Carrying only the amount likely to be used is a better strategy. But, where to put it?

In the past, I use to wrap some duct tape around my Nalgene water bottle. When I abandoned the use of these water bottles, wrapping duct tape around collapsible water bottles became impractical. And wrapping the tape around sport drink bottles led to the tape picking up dirt and other particles due to the bottles unsmooth surfaces.

These days, hiking poles make convenient places to wrap a sample of duct tape. Just wrap some tape up as far on the pole as possible below the hand grip. Placing the tape higher on the pole prevents it from getting dirty and insures it is ready to use should it be needed.

Duct tape is one of the few inventions whose brilliance suggests divine inspiration, like Velcro and Gore-Tex. No backcountry adventure should head out on the trail without some duct tape squirreled away, just in case it comes in handy. And I assure you, it will eventually.

Photos: Backpack, with duct tape on hiking poles, at the intersection of the Five Ponds and Sand Lake Trail in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.

Dan Crane blogs about his bushwhacking adventures at Bushwhacking Fool.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

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