Tag: Safety and Survival

Redefining Fitness

Redefining Fitness

Ditch the scale, ditch the measuring tape, and focus on something real. Fitness is not about taking a perfect mirror selfie; it is a set of physical capabilities.

People so frequently talk about fitness – and the process of attaining it – and yet definitions of that term vary widely. I often hear people talking about “getting fit” and reducing their caloric intake in the same sentence. People often talk about their appearance and their “fitness” in the same sentence. The list goes on. So this begs the question…

What does fitness mean to you?

I describe it as a diversity of well-honed physical capabilities. As in, I am fit when I can run, swim, climb, hike, backpack, lift, and do various other activities with relative ease and competency. Gaining fitness, to me, is a process of becoming more physically capable.

A corrected fitspiration image. I can certainly attest to the fact that, yes, there are bad workouts. When I was a young athlete, I sometimes pushed myself too much and paid for it. I am much wiser and more cautious and methodical now, and I taught my athletes accordingly as a coach.
A corrected fitspiration image. I can certainly attest to the fact that, yes, there are bad workouts. When I was a young athlete, I sometimes pushed myself too much and paid for it.
See what I mean? This was one of the first images I came across with a Google image search for fitspiration. Ew.
See what I mean? Ew. This was one of the first images I came across with a Google image search for fitspiration. Sounds like a thinly-veiled exhortation to develop an eating disorder.

This may sound straightforward, but it took me a long time to arrive at such clearly-defined terms.

Our society has such strange attitudes about body image, fitness, weight, and more. This is an especially fraught issue for women, and women athletes. I invite you to read about female athlete triad and to think about all the damaging “fitspiration” bullshit that circulates around the fitness world. It’s hard not to get sucked in.

Fortunately, sports have been (mostly) a positive force in my own life. From an early age, athletic endeavors encouraged me to look beyond my appearance and to take pride in my abilities. In particular, I have always prided myself on being physically strong, a trait that my awesome dad has encouraged me in. He taught me how to lift weights safely and healthily, in our little basement workout room. We still sometimes do push-ups together and arm wrestle. He has always complimented me on my strength, and has always meant it.

I have always felt proud, too, of my body’s ability to put on muscle. When I’m strong, I look it and feel like it. I also have jokingly said many times that I am dense – physically, that is. That of course is because muscle weighs more than fat.

Even when I have looked thin, I have not weighed as little as some of my friends who wore the same sized clothes. I was often told by doctors that my BMI was too high, including when I was running track in college (pictured). But many times when my BMI said I was borderline overweight, I was strong, I felt good, and I don’t think I could have lost any more weight without causing myself harm. Professional athletes often face this problem as well. I have learned, slowly but surely, not to worry about the number on the scale for these reasons.

But all of this is easier said than done.

Fitness?
A photo of me competing in college. I may look thin and “fit” here, but I was severely anemic and battling other medical issues. © Naomi Denekas

Although I have always been proud of my strength, and although I (slowly) learned that BMI was a stupid and incomplete method of measuring health, I also have always worried about my weight. More accurately, I have always worried about my APPEARANCE, i.e. looking thin enough. Our society all too frequently correlates the two. I just caught MYSELF correlating the two. It’s hard not to in our society. It’s also hard not to worry about these superficial things in our society, especially as a woman.

And when I look back on my old track and cross country photos, I lament that I was so concerned.

For one, I looked fine. More importantly, worrying about my appearance was such a waste of time and energy – non-renewable resources that would have been better spent enjoying meets with my teammates instead of worrying about how I looked in my uniform. And MOST importantly, my health is much better now than it was when I was in college. At the time the above photo of me running track was taken, I was struggling with undiagnosed endocrine issues, I was severely anemic, and I was developing allergy-induced asthma. I may have looked thin and “healthy,” but my health was taking a nose dive, albeit a hidden one.

The irony is that my weight is much higher now, but other numbers indicate that I am much healthier. My iron levels, thyroid levels, blood pressure, and everything else are well within the normal range now. What’s more, I am not suffering bizarre symptoms these days. It’s pretty cool to not get exercise-induced migraines every time I try to run, I have to say! I’ve also healed from multiple severe injuries, including a concussion from a thirty-foot fall and a torn ACL, both of which I successfully rehabbed. I’d say that’s a success story in and of itself, and yet there is no good “before and after” picture that can capture those changes. Oh well. *insert sarcastic sigh*

The most important thing is that I feel grateful for how far I’ve come.

Baker Beach Friends
A much more beautiful photo: My friends and me while I trekked the Oregon Coast Trail in spring 2017. I am proud of my determination and strength, and thankful for my good health and the meaningful relationships in my life. Better things to focus on, right? © Joe Dudman

However, I will readily admit that I have felt frustration about my weight/size/shape in the past few years. My self-image took a hit when I first began gaining the weight (during my concussion and exercise-induced migraine days), but my concerns have been tempered by ongoing personal reflection. Chiefly, I know that I want my life to be about more than my looks, and I have worked hard to make it so. Dumping a superficial ex, surrounding myself with supportive people, and dating someone who actually likes how I look have all helped me to build a more meaningful life. Additionally, my experience coaching athletes – and thus being privy to a lot of other folks’ body image issues – has prompted me, time and again, to question my definitions of fitness and to ensure that what I am saying and modeling is healthy and helpful to those around me.

Indeed, it is important to remember that body image issues can be contagious. Correlating your own fitness and appearance can negatively influence others. If redefining “fitness” for your own well-being is not a compelling enough reason, perhaps the impact it has on others will be a stronger incentive. I know that has been the case for me, as a coach and as a friend.

Fitness?
I know what you’re thinking: She’s hot, right? I’m thinking: I can probably knock her down easily. WordPress Stock Photo.

It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve gotten even stronger in the past few years. In fact, I believe that my increased strength is partly related to my increased mass. I have more “oomph” behind my lifts now. When I’ve attended self-defense classes and dabbled in kickboxing, I’ve found myself capable of moving even a really heavy punching bag, and easily knocking over an opponent.  That makes me feel powerful and proud.

I am not saying that I’m complacent; I want to regain my running fitness. I would ideally like to shed some of the weight that I have gained. BUT I am content for now. I am not sweating those details, especially because I feel fit in some ways that I am very proud of. I also am well aware that my worth is dictated by far more than the number on the scale or the size of my pants.

Bottom line: I want to remind you all to consider deeply what you define as “fitness,” why, and whether it’s really serving you – and others.

I think it is vital for us to remember what we were always taught in grade school: That one’s appearance doesn’t matter as much as what is inside. That may sound corny, but when you truly value your abilities more than your appearance, to paraphrase the late, great John Wooden, you don’t become corny. You become a better, stronger person.

Cultivate strength, of body and character. That’s what matters.

Need some daily inspiration to redirect your focus from how you look to what you’re capable of? Check out my Facebook page Cut the BS – Athletes Against Body Shaming!

Check out more Reflections and Moments!

Eagle Creek Fire: How to Help

Eagle Creek Fire: How to Help

*Archive Post! See Eagle Creek Fire: What Now for the most recent updates on the fire and how to support restoration efforts*

As of 7:00 pm on Friday, September 29, the Eagle Creek Fire encompasses an estimated 48,831 acres on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It is 46% contained. The Archer Mountain Fire, which was sparked on the Washington side by the Eagle Creek Fire, is still burning, but 100% contained as of September 13.

It’s been raining intermittently since Sunday, September 17, and all evacuation orders have been lifted at this time. However, as they said on InciWeb, “Conditions have significantly reduced fire behavior, though it will continue to smolder or creep within the fire perimeter, producing smoke for some time. Significant growth is not anticipated, but soaking rains will be necessary to fully remove heat from the fire.” With the rain, there is also landslide danger, which is exacerbated by fire damage. We’re not done yet, and the Gorge will still need to be restored. We still have lots of work to do.

NOTE: I’ll try to keep this page updated as much as possible, but for the most up-to-date and accurate information on the Eagle Creek Fire, visit: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5584/

Eagle Creek Fire
Trail runners watch from the Washington side as the Oregon side of the gorge burns, on Sunday, Sept. 4. The fire has since spread to the Washington side. © Jeff Fisher & Jennifer Love

The destruction of this beloved landscape is heart-wrenching. I have not been able to tear my eyes from the news since the Eagle Creek Fire exploded.

It is easy to feel devastated and helpless in this situation. I’ve been feeling that way since the fire began. But as much as we can, we need to pitch in and support the fire fighting and evacuation efforts – and eventually, the restoration efforts.

My best recommendations so far are listed below. I will keep updating this post. Thank you for doing your part to help as this tragedy unfolds.

Donate to Search and Rescue

Donate to the Fire Crews

Eagle Creek Fire
The Eagle Creek Fire on Sunday, Sept. 4. © Jeff Fisher & Jennifer Love

Before I get into specifics, please note: Fire crews have requested that folks STOP bringing donated items to them. In particular, they have enough bottled water – which is awesome, because that need was filled really quickly! Thanks to those who did that.

Also, unless you have to, please do not go to the Gorge. No gawking, no dropping off donations. Do not make the area more crowded – or the situation more complicated – for the first responders. Give them room to do their thing.

OK, that said…

Donate to emergency services at the epicenter of this disaster:

  • Cascade Locks Fire and EMS. At the bottom of their homepage, there is a “donate” button. Cascade Locks is being hit hard by this fire, and it is not in a very populous or affluent county. They need all the help they can get.
  • Skamania County is fighting the Archer Mountain fire (sparked by the Eagle Creek fire) and has been supporting the Stevenson Red Cross evacuation efforts. Like their neighbors across the river, Skamania County is not a very populous or affluent county, and they need all the help they can get. The county is asking for monetary donations to support their fire and other emergency services. Contact Sarah Slack at 509-427-3980 to contribute.

I’m still looking for a complete list of the groups that are fighting the Eagle Creek Fire, and links to donate to them. Please comment on this post if you have information! But so far, at least, I know that the following crews are involved:

  • Albany Fire Department: They have contributed some of their fire fighters to battle this blaze, as well as the Chetco Bar Fire on the southern Oregon coast.
  • Corbett: Fire District 14: This fire crew is battling for their backyard.
  • Forest Grove Fire and Rescue: They have contributed fire fighters to battle this blaze.
  • Hillsboro Fire Department: They have contributed fire fighters to battle this blaze.
  • Gresham Fire and Emergency Services: They are part of the crew protecting the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge from the blaze (and did so through the night, from Sunday, September 4, to Monday, September 5, when the structure was first threatened).
  • Northwest Interagency Coordination Center: They play an integral role in planning fire responses and also make information on fires and air quality available to the public on their awesome website.
  • Oregon Department of Forestry: Their Fire Protection program is an integral part of the fire fighting effort. Since it’s a state agency, we probably can’t donate to them directly, but please, in the future, vote to support funding for them!
  • Oregon Air National Guard: They are assisting in many ways with the fire.
  • Oregon National Guard: They are assisting in many ways with the fire.
  • Portland Fire and Rescue: They have contributed fire fighters to battle this blaze.
  • US Forest Service: They are assisting in a variety of ways, and are one of several agencies that coordinate the Interagency Hotshots. Some Hotshots are helping with the Eagle Creek Fire. Since it’s a federal agency, we probably can’t donate to them directly, but please, in the future, vote to support funding for them!

Again, unfortunately, I don’t know all the agencies and fire crews involved, and I don’t have links to donation pages for those in the second bulleted list. Please let me know if you have any information as to how to donate to these groups putting it all on the line for our beloved Gorge. It is an understatement to say they deserve our support!

Additionally, the Multnomah County Sheriff recommended donating to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Their mission, as stated on their website, is “to help families of firefighters killed in the line of duty and to assist injured firefighters and their families.” Donating to this cause has less of a direct impact on efforts to combat the Eagle Creek Fire. However, as I said above, it is an understatement to say that wildland firefighters deserve our support! These brave folks are heroes and honoring the fallen is important.

Support Those Who Helped with Evacuation Efforts

Eagle Creek Fire
The Eagle Creek Fire on Sunday, Sept. 4. © Jeff Fisher & Jennifer Love
  • The Red Cross operated shelters for evacuees in Stevenson, WA and at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. Donate to the Red Cross, specifying either the Cascades division or the Disaster Relief Fund. The latter also supports those affected by the hurricanes, and more.
  • Skamania County is fighting the Archer Mountain fire (sparked by the Eagle Creek fire) and supported the Stevenson Red Cross evacuation efforts. The county is asking for monetary donations. Contact Sarah Slack at 509-427-3980 to contribute.
  • According to this post by KGW News, Gone Towing was helping to evacuate residents in Level 2 and Level 3 areas, free of charge. Call (503) 602-2626 to donate to support their efforts. Any additional funds will be donated to the Red Cross and local fire departments. They also deserve your future business!

Support Restoration Efforts

Eagle Creek
Punchbowl Falls along the Eagle Creek Trail, near where the fire began. I hope it can be as verdant again one day. © Jenni Denekas

This will be part of the long game, but eventually we will restore and rebuild our beautiful Gorge.

Support Our Awesome Gorge Towns

Thunder Island Brewing
Thunder Island Brewing © Christopher Muhs, Creative Commons

Once it is safe to do so, please help these towns recover economically by patronizing their awesome businesses! I’ll also update this section if/when opportunities to donate to evacuees and to rebuilding efforts arise.

  • I love Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks. They have a great location, great food, great drinks, and support the iconic PCT Days celebration each summer. Then on top of it, they opened their doors to fire crews, providing them free meals, at the start of the Eagle Creek Fire. They deserve our business!
  • Check out the Columbia River Gorge Visitors’ Association for more awesome businesses to support!
  • Go to PCT Days next year! Located in Cascade Locks, this event is a way to provide both moral and financial support to the small town at the epicenter of the Eagle Creek Fire. This event celebrates the Pacific Crest Trail (which also has been impacted by the fire) and is an opportunity to hang out with PCT thru-hikers and connect with the local outdoor community.

And More Broadly… Fight Climate Change and Climate Change Denial

Hurricane Harvey
NASA has been watching Hurricane Harvey from satellites and the International Space Station. © NASA, Creative Commons

NOTE: If you don’t believe the facts, please shut up and find a way to help with the Eagle Creek Fire that DOES gel with you. Don’t waste time arguing about reality when so much else needs to be done.

From Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, to the catastrophic fires throughout much of the American West, we are starting to reap what we have sown. It is imperative that we intensify our efforts to combat climate change.

First, I’ll list some nonprofits you can donate to. Second, I’ll list some suggestions for reducing your own carbon footprint.

Climate-Change-Fighting Organizations

  • Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a fantastic organization that is taking a multifaceted approach to combating climate change and raising awareness. I’m linking to their Get Involved page so you can access a whole host of ways to contribute. Then just click on the large Donate button in the upper right corner if that’s the route you’d prefer to take.
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists is also a reputable and awesome group. I’m linking her to their Global Warming Solutions page, so that you can read about various ways to help combat climate change. You can also just click on the Donate button in the upper right corner if that’s the route you’d prefer to take.

Combat Climate Change in Your Own Life

Most of these suggestions are Oregon/Portland Metro-specific. I’m just speaking to what the majority of my audience will find relevant. For a whole host of ideas on how to combat climate change no matter where you live, I advise checking out NRDC’s Get Involved page and the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate Change Solutions page.

Sherman County Windmills
Windmills amid wheat fields in Sherman County, Oregon. This growing industry not only allows farmers to turn a larger profit on their fields, but also helps contribute to combating climate change. © Sam Beebe, Creative Commons

I want to remind you that this list is a work in progress. I welcome your input. Please post your (well-researched) ideas in the comments below!

Again: Up-to-date and accurate information on the Eagle Creek Fire is available here: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5584/

Banner Image: The Eagle Creek Fire, viewed from the Washington side of the Gorge on Sunday, Sept. 4. The fire has since spread to the Washington side. © Jeff Fisher & Jennifer Love

Having Empathy when a Hiker Makes the News

Having Empathy when a Hiker Makes the News

It is inevitable: After someone dies or is maimed in an outdoor accident, online hiking forums are filled with conversations about all the mistakes that person made. Someone goes on about how inexperienced people shouldn’t be out there. Someone goes on about how they shouldn’t have been alone. And so forth.

Though of course we can learn from these tragedies, it makes me uncomfortable to talk about those who have died in a way that implies it was their fault. Accidents happen. I speak from experience: Even when I’ve been well-prepared, I’ve found myself in sticky situations. I am sure we all have. Many of the tragic accidents that make the news are, in fact, highly relatable for those of us who hike, climb, and run. So why the lack of empathy?

I think denial is at play when we blame those who die in outdoor accidents. We are afraid that it could be us next time, and therefore we try to distance ourselves from the situation. When we criticize the specific hiker, and emphasize the mistakes he made, we try to make it feel less likely that it will happen to us. We argue that we are smarter, more skilled, more invincible.

That is cruel, obviously, and it also puts us at risk. Explaining why we’re better and safer isn’t going to change the fact that outdoor recreation is inherently dangerous. This is another reason that empathy is important: Tragedy breaks down our sense of invincibility. It personalizes the problem, and, ideally, forces us to pay attention to what we could do better.

Which brings me to the next reason that some people discuss hikers that make the news: Learning from their misfortune. These conversations are important, but some can make me squirm a little due to their callousness. Looking at a tragedy with empathy is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes it easier to learn more from a situation.

After all, the basis of both empathy and of learning is humility. When we are willing to learn something, that means we were humble enough to recognize that we were deficient in that area. When we ask for instruction, we are acknowledging that the teacher knows something we do not. When we realize that we could just as easily have made the same mistake as that guy, we can start to see the complexities of what happened and why. This is the gateway to a more complete understanding of how to stay safe in the wilderness.

So let’s discuss what we can learn. Obviously, each situation is different, and I encourage you to delve deeper into specific scenarios to learn as much as possible. I also want to repeat that my intention is not to criticize anyone. Rather, I think that the following points are worth mentioning for the purpose of making ourselves safer:

  1. Leave an itinerary and always check in with someone when you return. Communicating your plan makes it more likely that you will be found. Simple as that. It is also important to be thorough. What if you told someone where you were going, but not when to expect you back? They may not notice as quickly as they ought to that something is wrong. What if you said you were going to Mt. Hood, but didn’t say where exactly? It takes hours to search one river bed properly. How on Earth could you expect search and rescue to comb an entire mountain? SAR is primarily conducted by volunteers, and is often tied up in multiple rescues. They’ll do their best for you, but you should also try to make it easy for them. It is critical to be clear about your plans – and to place your trust in people who are responsible enough to take action if you go missing.
  2. Bring the 10 essentials and know how to use them. There are many different lists of ten must-have items out there, and the specifics are not important to me. You probably know better than I do what you need for the types of outings you do, after all. That is why I recommend the systems approach. It is a conceptual list rather than a concrete list, which allows room for adjustment based on the type of trip and the expected conditions. Regardless of your specific gear preferences, you need: Layers/shelter (exposure can kill you in a matter of hours), a means of obtaining clean drinking water (dehydration can kill you in 3 or fewer days), a means of obtaining food (starvation will kill you in about 2 weeks), a means of addressing any injuries, and a means of finding your way home (e.g. a map and compass). And don’t assume that you are going to magically learn how to use your gear in an emergency. Take it out of the packaging, experiment with it, and know how to use it.
  3. Last but certainly not least, you need knowledge! I highly recommend becoming a Wilderness First Responder. Take a survival class. Get avalanche certified. Do your research. Know your intended route and the terrain. Read books like Mountain Rescue Doctor. Be thorough and be smart.

I’m not trying to imply that those who die in the wilderness are stupid – though arguably those who try to take selfies with bison aren’t the brightest. I’m not trying to imply that those who die are inexperienced – although in some cases that is a factor. A huge component of survival comes down to luck – and thus we should exercise humility and empathy when it comes to addressing how others have fallen prey to the elements. Don’t be proud that you have survived; be thankful. Don’t condemn others for failing; learn from them. Don’t be afraid to get out there, but do be aware of the risks and prepare accordingly.

Good luck out there, and happy hiking!

Learn more survival tips on the Nitty Gritty page.

Read more human interest stories on the Moments page.

Strategies for Drying Wet Gear

Strategies for Drying Wet Gear

It’s like searching for Sasquatch: An ongoing saga where your quarry is elusive, and possibly fictitious. I am talking, of course, about the search for the best technique for drying wet gear in the backcountry.

Roasting a Shirt
Campfires make drying wet gear way easier. Unfortunately, this is not always an option. Photo Credit: Stephanie Hughson

The dilemma of how to dry wet gear weighed heavily on my mind as I prepared for my March-to-May trek on the Oregon Coast Trail. Spring on the Oregon coast is no joke: I vividly remember a run my dad and I did on the beach during spring break back when I was in school. It began with diagonal rain, and quickly escalated into an invigorating march through sideways hail. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and as a Wilderness First Responder, I also am well-versed on the dangers of hypothermia. Getting warm and dry was going to be critical – and challenging.

Of course, I packed a raincoat and water- and wind-resistant pants. I packed plenty of warm clothes, including two pairs of Darn Tough Merino wool socks, which wick moisture well and stay warm when wet. I always pack the Ten Essentials, and I have built a fire in the rain before. But I knew my gear had its limits, and so the big, complicated question was: What do I do when my rain gear eventually gets soaked through (because it will), and all of my clothes are soaked through (because that will happen next), and I have no chance to dry my wet gear in the sun (because there may be none) or with a fire (because it may be impossible to build)?

I knew that my safety and the success of my trip hinged on finding an answer. So one of my goals was perfecting a method of drying my clothes in wet weather.

Before you start talking about that trick where you sleep with your wet clothes, let me just say this: NO. I’ve tried it. It makes my wet clothes warmer, but not any drier. It gets my sleeping bag damp. It gets my warm nighttime layers damp. It is uncomfortable and clammy and doesn’t set me up for a pleasant night’s sleep. I do not see any redeeming aspects to this “technique.” Before I set out on the OCT, I already knew that that was a no-go for me.

Then of course there is the option of simply airing wet items out. I have a cord around the top of my tent that can serve as a clothesline during the night. Or you can drape your wet items on the outside of your pack, allowing them to dry as you hike. However, even drying clothes on warm summer trips can be challenging, and it was not going to be warm or dry. So I knew I had to be more creative than that.

My creativity ultimately paid dividends: Over the course of my journey on the OCT, it became abundantly clear that I was hiking during a rainy spring of record-setting proportions, and yet I was able to stay warm and at least somewhat dry when it counted. Since I honed the my methods for drying wet clothes in such conditions, you can rest assured that they work. Otherwise, I would have morphed into a mound of fungus and would probably have trouble typing this article. But I digress. Here are my three favorite techniques, listed from most to least effective, with pros, cons, and helpful hints:

  1. Drying Agent + Gallon Ziplock Bag. 
    Effectiveness: Pure magic. 5/5. Will use again.
    Upsides: Nearly 100% effective in drying and reducing odor.
    Downsides: Heavy, bulky, item only serves one purpose, possibly toxic.
    Key Component: Drying agents, or chemical dehumidifiers, are formulated to pull moisture from their surroundings. They are typically used to dry out damp basements, closets, etc. (Please note that these chemicals can be hazardous, so please handle carefully.)
    The Experiment: I purchased a DampRid Hanging Moisture Absorber at Fred Meyer midway through my trip.After a long bout of rain and wading through marshes in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, I figured I needed a heavy-duty gear-drying solution. I put one of my notoriously hard-to-dry sports bras; some soggy, stinky socks; and a wet tech t-shirt into a gallon Ziplock bag with the drying agent. After leaving the clothes in the bag overnight, the sports bra and socks were significantly drier (85% dry, and definitely bearable to wear again), the shirt was nearly dry (let’s say 95%), and everything was a lot less pungent. I decided to go for the gold and left these items in the bag for another 24 hours, or 32 hours total. (Don’t worry, I had a change of clothes to wear in the meantime.) After 32 hours in the bag with the drying agent, all the clothes were 99% dry, and the socks were nearly odor-free. Considering what I was starting with, that is truly impressive!
    Keep in Mind: The bag needs to be sealed, or the drying agent will be wasted on the fruitless task of sucking all the moisture out of the Oregon air.
  2. Microfiber Towel + Hand Warmers + Gallon Ziplock Bag.
    Effectiveness: Great. 4/5.
    Upsides: Easy to pack, components have multiple uses, quite effective.
    Downsides: Towel ends up damp, handwarmers aren’t reusable, not 100% dry by morning.
    Key Components: Microfiber backpacking towels aren’t typically that great for wiping oneself off after a dip in a lake, but they are AWESOME at soaking up moisture over an extended period of time. Hand warmers are great to pack for multiple reasons, including, as it turns out, drying your wet gear! I purchased a large bag of Grabber hand warmers at REI before my trip. These are the BEST because they stay really warm/hot for a really long time.
    The Experiment: At the end of my second day on the OCT, everything I had was soaked, so I tried this technique out: I rolled some soaked socks, a soaked sports bra, and my soaked gloves into my towel, interspersed with hand warmers. Then I put that bundle into a gallon Ziplock bag. After leaving the clothes in the bag overnight, everything was significantly drier (maybe 75% dry, and definitely bearable to wear again), and my socks smelled better (the odor was somehow miraculously eaten by the towel). I tried this trick multiple times throughout my trip, both with and without hand warmers. I will say that the hand warmers aren’t 100% necessary, but they do accelerate and enhance the drying process.
    Keep in Mind: If you are drying your socks along with other, less stinky, clothes, make sure that they are not touching. The bag should be slightly vented, so some of the moisture can escape.
  3. Hand Warmers + Paper + Gallon Ziplock Bag.
    Effectiveness: Solid. 3/5.
    Upsides: Uses lightweight and packable materials that served multiple purposes.
    Downsides: Materials aren’t reusable (except Ziplock bag), not as effective as other methods.
    Key Component: Hand warmers are the real key here. They will drive off the moisture by producing heat. Obviously, they also need to be hot enough. I can’t say enough good things about the Grabber hand warmers! Next, the moisture needs somewhere to go. First of all, it is important to make sure that the Ziplock bag isn’t entirely sealed. Secondly, it helps to wrap your wet gear in paper, or paper towels, which will absorb some of the moisture. I advise against using toilet paper, because it will disintegrate and cover your clothes in gooey white blobs. For my part, I used the maps that I didn’t need anymore. I had created and printed all of my own topo maps because there aren’t that many good resources for the OCT (yet). I had elected not to laminate them, so that they would be easier to use as tinder, or as gear-dryers, etc. I kept them stored in a Ziplock bag until it was “go time.”
    The Experiment: As mentioned above, Day Two on the trail was brutal. So after a day filled with sideways rain, I put hand warmers in the pockets of my soaked-through raincoat and rain pants, and rolled them up with a bunch of sheets of paper. Then I placed the bundle in a Ziplock bag. After leaving them in the bag overnight, they were significantly drier (maybe 70% dry, and definitely bearable/useful to wear again). However, when I did this trick with some other clothes later in my trip, it didn’t seem as effective. I have a suspicion that has to do with how waterlogged an item is – and so, in a roundabout way, it has to do with the fabric. Items that hold on to a lot of water will not get very dry from this method.
    Keep in Mind: The bag should be slightly vented, so some of the moisture can escape. Thicker items like socks may not do as well with this method – but it’s certainly better than nothing.

So there you have it: Three trail-tested ways of drying gear, which were vetted during a record-setting rainy spring on the Oregon coast.

Have you tried these? Do you have a method that you like better? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.