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Thread: Gear is fine but won't replace skill or good sense

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    Coming through klkak's Avatar
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    Exclamation Gear is fine but won't replace skill or good sense

    I pulled this out of todays Anchorage Daily News Paper. Maybe it will give some folks something to think about before taking to the woods and trails.

    CRAIG MEDRED
    OUTDOORS
    Published: May 3rd, 2008 10:51 PM
    Last Modified: May 3rd, 2008 03:25 AM

    When did everything become so much about the gear? Want to catch more fish? Buy a better -- and, of course, more expensive -- high-modulus graphite rod with state-of-the-art ceramic guides. Want to be safe from avalanches? Buy the latest beacon with digitized tracking. Want to be secure in your ocean kayak? Buy not only the best personal flotation device but a Gore-Tex dry suit too. Want to be faster on the bike? Buy a new ultra light weight carbon frame. Buy, buy, buy!

    Pick up a lot of outdoor publications these days, and they look more like advertising supplements, right down to the quote-unquote "gear reviews."
    Why not just run a pretty picture of the newest, hottest piece of gear and a headline simply saying, "Buy this!''?

    Most of the stuff being reviewed has clearly never been out of an office anyway, let alone bashed, trashed and truly judged as to how it performs and wears.
    I've used a fair bit of this state-of-the-art gear. Some is very, very good. Some is not.

    One pair of trail-running shoes leaps to mind. They lasted one trip from Whittier overland to Carmen Lake in the Twentymile River drainage and then out by packraft to the Seward Highway. Side-hilling across scree slashed the sides right out of them. Obviously someone's choice of high-tech material for the uppers was based on something other than resistance to abrasion. Were the only issue here that expensive gear can fail, it would be irritating. But there is a bigger issue, a far bigger issue.

    This focus on gear is overpowering the development of skill and judgment.
    Don't learn to navigate in the wild; just get a better GPS to tell you where you are and some sort of satellite-signaling device to call for rescue in the event you get lost anyway. Don't laugh. I met a guy lost on a neighborhood ski trail near the edge of Chugach State Park above my house this winter. We stopped to chat because he was coming downhill on trail that most everyone else uses to go up the neighborhood ski loop. After I explained this, he responded that he'd just met another skier who told him the same thing. Then I noticed what I thought was a camera hanging from the strap of his rather large backpack. It was, in fact, a GPS.
    This led to further discussion, which led to his asking for directions for getting back to where he'd begun his trek. Despite the GPS, he was -- shall we say -- a little confused.

    That is not meant as any sort of condemnation. Anyone who has spent time in the Alaska backcountry has been a little confused -- if not downright lost. And if you're going to get confused as to where you are, close to Anchorage is a good place to do it. I confess to having gone astray in wild places, once for more than a week. And gear is not what is important out there. Yeah, fancy gear is nice. I've got my share of it, probably more than my share. Because I'm a self-admitted weight weenie, high-tech is definitely a big plus. Sil-nylon tent flies or tarps are not only lighter than traditional urethane-coated nylon, they're stronger. The same goes for titanium tent pegs and cookware. Paddle shafts of carbon fiber are lighter, stronger and warmer in the hand than those of aluminum. No doubt high-tech gear can make you a lot more comfortable out there. But it won't zero out bad judgment or make up for a lack of skill. Shaped skis will make you a better skier, but ski into terrain above your skill level and you're still going to be in a heap of trouble.

    New avalanche beacons will make it easier for your friends to find you if you're caught in an avalanche. But if the sense of security provided by the beacon leads you to push things to where you end up triggering an avalanche that buries you 20 feet deep, you're toast anyway. And no gear yet invented will build you a fire.
    How many people reading this know how to build a fire, really know how to build a fire? Because no matter how good your gear, if you spend enough time in-country, there is going to come a day when a fire -- the oldest, most basic of man's "tools'' -- is going to become a godsend, maybe a lifesaver. Yes, there are high-tech gadgets that can help with fire building. But that $60 indestructible, weatherproof, windproof lighter isn't worth anything if you don't know how and where to find tinder and how to nurture the first little flames that spring from it into tongues of fire lapping at the twigs that feed the flames that grow until you can pile trees limbs or driftwood into a bonfire that provides the heat to rewarm a body or dry some clothes.

    A hundred years ago in Alaska, everybody knew how to build a fire. It was such an important skill Jack London wrote a short story about it, a short story about a man who died merely because he built his fire in the wrong place. The story became well-read American literature. Some still read it to this day. It underlines a wilderness reality: Survival really isn't so much about gear as it is about skill and judgment. That was true in London's day and remains so today. You never know when technology might fail you, as it did poor James Kim in the mountains of Oregon. Remember James Kim? His plight made national news a couple years ago after he droves his family out of cell phone range into the snowy Coast Range mountains. His family was eventually found and rescued by searchers, but Kim -- who tried to hike out for help -- died.

    He made some bad decisions, and he lacked wilderness survival skills. He was, in that regard, not much different than some of the Alaskans who, sadly, die almost every winter because they buy the latest in go-anywhere, do-anything, high-tech snowmachines. They ride them far but don't know how to survive -- or are unprepared to do so -- when they break down. Now go buy some more gear.
    1. If it's in your kit and you don't know how to use it....It's useless.
    2. If you can't reach your kit when you need it....Its useless.

    Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours
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  2. #2

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    Now when I said Gram Weenie, I got called on it to explain! Here is a guy from a new paper saying weight weenie. I guess, I was ahead of my time!

    To those of us that have done the "I am an ID 10 T" thing in the past. It only takes several years and a lot of tears to learn, nothing replaces common sense and experience! Young and dumb is fun when you are young enough to enjoy it but there comes a time when we all have to grow up. My days of 120lbs packs and 300 miles of lost in the woods is behind me! I look back with fondness and wonder how I ever made it to this stage in life. New and improved will never replace tried and true!

    Hopeak, Rick and Trax. You only have a few years left to enjoy the young and dumb stage of your life. After that you will be old and ugly! But Just think you get a twinkie and 3 lbs of bacon when you get there!

    Don
    No one knows more about a task then the person that does it, Practice makes perfect!

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    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    Alas, Don. I'm there. I'm like someone's old dog. I find it easier to ride in the truck with my head hanging out the window and enjoying the wind than I do lugging a backpack around the woods. I still enjoy the woods but for a lot different reasons than I used to. I see it with older (and I sure hope) wiser eyes than even a few years ago.

    The article is very good, klkak. I appreciate the post. We should be able to achieve, quite literally, anything from nothing in the woods. If you think about it, only in the last few generations have we not been able to (some places less than that). But I have to admit, these achy old joints sure do like the new stuff to fall back on if things go the wrong way.

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    My sentiment exactly I guess I do agree with Craig once in a while. When I was living on the Denali the Cantwell trooper would come out and get me and a neighbor to help look for over do snow machiners. Craig was right on the snow machine thing people done realize how easy it is to get farther out than they can walk back. All the times I went out look for lost snow machiners I don't recall a one carrying snowshoes or a compass. Most did have a GPS even though most GPS's don't work at sub zero temperatures.

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    Neo-Numptie DOGMAN's Avatar
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    Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.
    The way of the canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten- Sigurd Olson

    Give me winter, give me dogs... you can keep the rest- Knud Rasmussen

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    Quote Originally Posted by klkak View Post
    I pulled this out of todays Anchorage Daily News Paper. Maybe it will give some folks something to think about before taking to the woods and trails.

    CRAIG MEDRED
    OUTDOORS
    Published: May 3rd, 2008 10:51 PM
    Last Modified: May 3rd, 2008 03:25 AM

    When did everything become so much about the gear? Want to catch more fish? Buy a better -- and, of course, more expensive -- high-modulus graphite rod with state-of-the-art ceramic guides. Want to be safe from avalanches? Buy the latest beacon with digitized tracking. Want to be secure in your ocean kayak? Buy not only the best personal flotation device but a Gore-Tex dry suit too. Want to be faster on the bike? Buy a new ultra light weight carbon frame. Buy, buy, buy!

    Pick up a lot of outdoor publications these days, and they look more like advertising supplements, right down to the quote-unquote "gear reviews."
    Why not just run a pretty picture of the newest, hottest piece of gear and a headline simply saying, "Buy this!''?

    Most of the stuff being reviewed has clearly never been out of an office anyway, let alone bashed, trashed and truly judged as to how it performs and wears.
    I've used a fair bit of this state-of-the-art gear. Some is very, very good. Some is not.

    One pair of trail-running shoes leaps to mind. They lasted one trip from Whittier overland to Carmen Lake in the Twentymile River drainage and then out by packraft to the Seward Highway. Side-hilling across scree slashed the sides right out of them. Obviously someone's choice of high-tech material for the uppers was based on something other than resistance to abrasion. Were the only issue here that expensive gear can fail, it would be irritating. But there is a bigger issue, a far bigger issue.

    This focus on gear is overpowering the development of skill and judgment.
    Don't learn to navigate in the wild; just get a better GPS to tell you where you are and some sort of satellite-signaling device to call for rescue in the event you get lost anyway. Don't laugh. I met a guy lost on a neighborhood ski trail near the edge of Chugach State Park above my house this winter. We stopped to chat because he was coming downhill on trail that most everyone else uses to go up the neighborhood ski loop. After I explained this, he responded that he'd just met another skier who told him the same thing. Then I noticed what I thought was a camera hanging from the strap of his rather large backpack. It was, in fact, a GPS.
    This led to further discussion, which led to his asking for directions for getting back to where he'd begun his trek. Despite the GPS, he was -- shall we say -- a little confused.

    That is not meant as any sort of condemnation. Anyone who has spent time in the Alaska backcountry has been a little confused -- if not downright lost. And if you're going to get confused as to where you are, close to Anchorage is a good place to do it. I confess to having gone astray in wild places, once for more than a week. And gear is not what is important out there. Yeah, fancy gear is nice. I've got my share of it, probably more than my share. Because I'm a self-admitted weight weenie, high-tech is definitely a big plus. Sil-nylon tent flies or tarps are not only lighter than traditional urethane-coated nylon, they're stronger. The same goes for titanium tent pegs and cookware. Paddle shafts of carbon fiber are lighter, stronger and warmer in the hand than those of aluminum. No doubt high-tech gear can make you a lot more comfortable out there. But it won't zero out bad judgment or make up for a lack of skill. Shaped skis will make you a better skier, but ski into terrain above your skill level and you're still going to be in a heap of trouble.

    New avalanche beacons will make it easier for your friends to find you if you're caught in an avalanche. But if the sense of security provided by the beacon leads you to push things to where you end up triggering an avalanche that buries you 20 feet deep, you're toast anyway. And no gear yet invented will build you a fire.
    How many people reading this know how to build a fire, really know how to build a fire? Because no matter how good your gear, if you spend enough time in-country, there is going to come a day when a fire -- the oldest, most basic of man's "tools'' -- is going to become a godsend, maybe a lifesaver. Yes, there are high-tech gadgets that can help with fire building. But that $60 indestructible, weatherproof, windproof lighter isn't worth anything if you don't know how and where to find tinder and how to nurture the first little flames that spring from it into tongues of fire lapping at the twigs that feed the flames that grow until you can pile trees limbs or driftwood into a bonfire that provides the heat to rewarm a body or dry some clothes.

    A hundred years ago in Alaska, everybody knew how to build a fire. It was such an important skill Jack London wrote a short story about it, a short story about a man who died merely because he built his fire in the wrong place. The story became well-read American literature. Some still read it to this day. It underlines a wilderness reality: Survival really isn't so much about gear as it is about skill and judgment. That was true in London's day and remains so today. You never know when technology might fail you, as it did poor James Kim in the mountains of Oregon. Remember James Kim? His plight made national news a couple years ago after he droves his family out of cell phone range into the snowy Coast Range mountains. His family was eventually found and rescued by searchers, but Kim -- who tried to hike out for help -- died.

    He made some bad decisions, and he lacked wilderness survival skills. He was, in that regard, not much different than some of the Alaskans who, sadly, die almost every winter because they buy the latest in go-anywhere, do-anything, high-tech snowmachines. They ride them far but don't know how to survive -- or are unprepared to do so -- when they break down. Now go buy some more gear.
    Uhh.. James Kim didn't use high tech gear and waundered around in his shirt sleeves basically... trying to find his way back to civilization... He made a very common mistake and that is he didn't stay with the car. He basically relied on his testosterone male ego machoism.. and it cost him his life.. I am from the PNW and was raised in Oregon.. live near there now.. He was all over the news at the time.. Oregon even changed some laws because of him... How many people have to die before changes are made?

    High tech gear could have saved him.. if he knew how to use it. Being a high tech computer nerd like he was... he undoubtedly would have been able to figure out such apperatus but he didn't have any of that on him.

    Your skier that was on the down side of the up escalator I will be willing to bet didn't know how to use his GPS. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't have had to ask for help in directions. Question: How many people go out into the wilderness with high tech equipment only to make a fashion statement..? I am an advocate of the tried and true... Take with you what works and be sure you know how to use it. The simpler the better in my book.
    Last edited by Ridge Wolf; 05-05-2008 at 11:47 AM.

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    I am one who also likes his gadgets. I love my GPS, Its fun to play with but it has batteries and Chuck you are right. The darn thing doesn't like to work at -20. I used to carry a medium ruck with to much junk in it. Now I have a hi-tech pack that will only hold about 25lbs. I have a really nice hi-tech sleeping bag, I like it so much I gave away my down military bag. I have to agree with Craig also. Some hi tech stuff is really good but the best gear ever made will not replace "Common sense" and "Good Judgment" I hope some of our younger or less experienced readers and users of this Forum, read and heed.
    1. If it's in your kit and you don't know how to use it....It's useless.
    2. If you can't reach your kit when you need it....Its useless.

    Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours
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    Tell them Kevin sent you!!

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    Almost forgot about my most hi-tech device. My Sat-phone. Folks on here can Poo Poo it all they want. But if you every get badly hurt and its many miles to the nearest road and then many miles to the nearest phone. You would be thanking God for it.
    1. If it's in your kit and you don't know how to use it....It's useless.
    2. If you can't reach your kit when you need it....Its useless.

    Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours
    www.youralaskavacation.com
    Tell them Kevin sent you!!

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    Klkak, I think the sat phone is a great tool. You don't have to be miles to the nearest road and then miles to the nearest phone. All you need to be is a couple of blocks from the truck, down in a ravine with a compound tib/fib and you'll change your mind about totin' a cell phone or a sat phone (depending on how far out you are) real quick.

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    Believe me I know. Sept. 27 2006. I shattered my right tib while moose hunting. We were over 20 miles from the Hwy. A good friend and fellow forum member rode out to were he could get a cell signal and called for a helicopter rescue. Instead of spending the night in agony in the pouring rain and 40 degree temps. I was in the hospital within about 4 hours I think. Now I take a Sat phone. I am also forever greatfull to the man that went for help. Being alone is sometimes good but being alone and badly hurt is Bad, very very Bad.
    1. If it's in your kit and you don't know how to use it....It's useless.
    2. If you can't reach your kit when you need it....Its useless.

    Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours
    www.youralaskavacation.com
    Tell them Kevin sent you!!

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    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    And who knows, if you would have had to sit out the night in 40 Degree temps, in shock, you might not be here.

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    Many moons ago, someone started the ..if you could only have one piece of equipment...thread. Almost everyone said a knife, I said a satellite phone. It just makes sense.
    some fella confronted me the other day and asked "What's your problem?" So I told him, "I don't have a problem I am a problem"

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    Rick, your last comment gave me a shiver.
    1. If it's in your kit and you don't know how to use it....It's useless.
    2. If you can't reach your kit when you need it....Its useless.

    Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours
    www.youralaskavacation.com
    Tell them Kevin sent you!!

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    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    How many would be alive today if they had received help just 12 hours sooner? And how many wouldn't be if they had received help 12 hours later?

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    Too true Rick, too true

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    Quote Originally Posted by klkak View Post
    Almost forgot about my most hi-tech device. My Sat-phone. Folks on here can Poo Poo it all they want. But if you every get badly hurt and its many miles to the nearest road and then many miles to the nearest phone. You would be thanking God for it.
    whats a sat phone...?

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    Satellite phone.

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    Hey what about those personal rescue beacons- like aircrafts have- except for people. Does anyone have experience with those? I have heard about them but don't know much on them. Are they really available- and do they work? Are they cheaper alternatives to sat phones? Seems like they could be a great tool- but possibly abused by ignorant folks- who confuse an inconvience with an emergency.
    The way of the canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten- Sigurd Olson

    Give me winter, give me dogs... you can keep the rest- Knud Rasmussen

  20. #20
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    There are several articles on personal locater beacons on Doug's site:

    http://www.equipped.org/home.htm

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