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Introducing 'EXPERIENCE TALKING': articles, tips or know-how from Robert's (OOAKAG founder and owner) years of experience or trial-and-error.

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~Time spent trying on boots is a good investment. If they do not feel good in the store, they won’t get much better at home. Once I try on a pair that feels good at the store, I wear them indoors on the carpet for an hour or two. Either you forget they are there and then you know they are the ones, or you cannot wait to get them off and return them for something that fits better.

Remember not all size 12s are created equal: sometimes the same size in the same boot will vary based on manufacturing tolerances, so ask at the store if they have more than one pair in your size.

Correct-fitting shoes/boots are the single most important piece of equipment you can have in the back country. Having sore feet is like having 2 flat tires- you can move but not very fast and they only get worse the further you go. Fit, Fit Fit, FIT is *everything* with shoes/boots. Features are secondary.

~When hiking in the rain, instead of a jacket that doesn't fit over your pack, use a poncho. It allows for lots of air flow and less condensation. A good poncho will have tie out loops so when you arrive at camp you can tie the poncho to several trees and step out under it, staying dry. You have then created a rain fly to keep you dry while assembling your tent underneath it. Once the tent is up, the poncho can be used as an awning for the tent with your trekking poles.

~When using a rectangle-shaped tent with a side entry (such as the Big Angus Copper Spur Design), turn the foot print 90 degrees so it protrudes into the vestibules. This makes for a clean dry floor in the vestibule to stow your pack and boots.

~How to clean your hydration bladder. There are many products on the market to clean and dry your bladder, but everyone has these two simple items at home already: bleach and a freezer.

Fill the bladder with warm water and a shot glass full of bleach, squeeze it through the tube to empty the entire bladder. Refill with fresh water and squeeze through again, leaving the bladder evacuated. Finally, simply roll it up and store in your freezer.

No drying is necessary! No mold can possibly grow in the freezer. Remove your bladder from the freezer the night before use. For a fresh taste you can add a drop or two of lemon juice to your rinse water.

Layering for Cold Weather:

Materials to consider: Synthetic vs Merino Wool

Each material has its advantages and disadvantages. Merino wool has great moisture management and no odor, but there is a higher cost and you have to be comfortable in wool.

Synthetic is more cost effective, although some of the premium stuff is approaching the cost of wool. Synthetics are silky smooth on your skin and you can have multiple weights since the cost is lower, but there is always the "stink” factor!

So..... how do you figure out the crazy world of base layers to build your layering system?? I have spent many years trying to fine-tune the perfect system for me. (Well, until next year when new stuff comes out! :) )

Pieces to consider:

For the bottoms, it is lightweight wool all the way. Smart wool and Costco's poly wool bottoms both serve me very well. They combine nicely with fleece or performance pants. In addition, they stay in shape and sleep very well.

That brings us to the tops, where it gets a little crazy... This is where keeping notes about temperature and comfort comes in handy for your future decision making process.

I typically start with a lightweight long sleeve synthetic or poly wool blend top. (Sorry wool fans, I admire your ability to do the wool tops, but I have given up. Since I don’t wear them daily, they are a little itchy for my taste.)

Over the long sleeve, I always layer a lightweight short sleeve synthetic top to make the core warmer. Yes, the short sleeve is over the long sleeve- not sure why it works so well but it is super comfortable.

The long sleeve shirt can also be a long sleeve lightweight hooded base layer which works wonderfully to sleep in and adds a base layer to your outer hood or serves as a your only hood in cool weather for high activity.

For the next top layer, there are a plethora of choices, depending on your activity. My go-to is the pullover hoodie. We all have our favorite hoodie; mine is a synthetic medium-weight with a 3-panel fitted hood. It works great under a jacket or for sleeping. The hoodie can then be topped with a down vest, a down jacket or a wind/rain shell.

The great news is with today’s choices for base layers in 3 different weights- light, medium and heavy- and a wide range of fabrics, you can custom tailor a layering system that works for you and your activities.

~Carry some survey tape with you to mark where you bear bag is, where your cat holes are, and to mark trail crossings if you go off trail. A few feet goes a long way and weighs next to nothing, but will make your life better when you can find your food...

~Carry a small packable umbrella. This is great for the rain and even better if the sun is beating down on you. Pick a light color so if used for sun protection it is cooler. We use them much more for sun protection than for rain. It also keeps the vestibule more dry when entering and exiting the tent in the the rain.

~Use a drink packet container as a hard glasses case in your pack. It weighs next to nothing and will protect your glasses.

~Trail Clothing vs Camp Clothing: I learned this technique years ago and it has provided for a very comfortable time in the back country. For simplicity, I will describe summer time, but you can adjust seasonally.

Set one: Assemble your "Hiking or Trail" Clothes, starting from the bottom up:

-Good Hiking Boots or Shoes, which are a very personal preference.

-2 pair of your favorite merino wool socks: one pair for the morning hike and one pair to change into at lunch. Pack the lunch socks near the top or outside pocket of the pack for easy access. If rainy weather is in the forecast, I will pack a 3rd pair.

-Shorts, Pants or zip-offs, again a totally personal preference. If the sun or bugs are going to be an issue, I lean toward pants for protection. Good fit is very important for comfort.

-High quality underwear. You want something that fits well and will not stretch out- chaffing is not your friend. Pack a second pair to rotate daily.

(Side note: I purchase socks in several colors so you can tell which ones you have used, and I do the same with underwear to make rotating idiot proof...)

-For your top, start with a well-fitting performance tee shirt. Experience has taught that tank tops and sleeveless shirts allow your pack's shoulder straps to abrade your skin.

-Add a very lightweight button front nylon/performance material long sleeve shirt helps with the sun, bugs, and morning chills, and also provides easy layer adjusting if needed

-Head covering, again personal taste, typically a wide brim hat provides sun protection, while a bandana can be wet down in really hot weather. The trusty baseball cap is a standard go-to.

-Having your shell or poncho packed in an easily accessible place rounds out your trail clothes.

Now for Set 2: Camp clothes:

Upon arrival to camp and setup being complete, it is time to remove the sweaty, stinky trail clothes and don the comfy camp clothes.

-In warm weather, I start with a cotton tee shirt- no need for performance only comfort.

-Next will be some comfy loose-fitting boxers or boxer briefs and lightweight baggy gym shorts or very light weight sweat pants depending on weather.

-Fresh wool socks will help to dry out your damp boots

-If you carry some sort of flip flops or toe shoes, these are great for around camp, but if its a walk to get water, experience has taught wearing your boots is better than busted or cut-up toes.

-A fleece top as a warm layer rounds out the summer time camp clothing.

The camp clothes, since they are only worn around camp make great clothes to sleep in as they are cleaner than the trail clothes so your sleeping bag stays cleaner. (Side note: a super light silk or coolmax liner does wonders to keep your bag cleaner and make you feel fresher.)

Once changed and comfy, put up your clothes line and hang your trail clothing to air out for the next day. Be sure you take down the clothes line and trail clothes to stow in your tent before the dew sets in.

This system has served very well to be comfortable in the back country, does not add any weight to the pack since it is everything you would carry any way, and allows your sweaty trail clothes the opportunity to air out each day. The multiple socks keep your feet happy, dry and blister free. This simple model can be expanded by the season, adding base layers, heavier warm layers, hats, gloves and neck gaiters. Of course it can be tailored to your style and clothing needs. Most importantly have a plan and a system to ensure comfort when far away from home.

~Keep a Master Backpacking or Car-Camping Check List.  Use a check list for every trip to ensure nothing is forgotten and nothing extra makes it way into the bag. Carry the check list with you on the trip. In your journal, you can make notes about what clothing combinations work for the weather, what gear is working or not working, etc.

For anything that didn’t work well, make any changes right after the trip, which may involve purchasing different equipment. This allows time to play with new items, and most importantly you don’t head out next time asking yourself, “Why didn’t I fix this problem last time?!" Here are our example check lists:

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