12 new year resolutions to be a better trekker

Every new year I embark on a self-improvement program that is promptly forgotten a month later. To get over this procrastination and ennui this year I’ve broken down my trekking resolutions into small monthly chunks. One month, one simple resolution feels like a right-sized morsel for a fulfilling trek year ahead. You are welcome to follow these resolutions with me.

Table Of Contents

01: January – Leave No Trace

Leave no trace. If you have to follow just one resolution, this is it. Anyone lucky enough to spend a significant amount of time in the wilderness can appreciate pristine nature and they have likely seen people’s negative impact on the outdoors. No one heads down a trail or to a camp site planning to mar it, but leaving it the way one found it is harder than it might seem. Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles that are used to communicate the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. It is built on seven principles

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimise campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

If these principles are too many to remember, I wrote a simplified version to [help our trekking trails] ({% post_url 2015-11-28-Trekking-Trails-In-India-Need-Help %}).

02: February – Learn a stopper, bend, loop and a hitch

Long before mallet and peg, hammer and nail, glue, adhesive tape, or Velcro, there was rope, and the knots that made it useful. Knots are an intrinsic part of camping and learning how to tie a few basic knots can save your bacon in almost any situation. Different types of knots serve different functions. A stopper is tied into the end of a rope to prevent it from slipping through a slit or hole, or to prevent the end of a rope from fraying. A bend is a knot that joins two separate ropes or cords together and a hitch is used to attach a rope to a post, pile, ring, rail, another line, or even to itself. However, if you had to learn just one knot, I would suggest learning how to tie a “figure 8” knot, since it can be modified to serve as a stopper, bend, loop, or hitch.

03: March – Ditch that trekking tent for a tarp and trekking pole shelter

The lightest 3 season tent that I own is the Eureka Spitfire Solo which weighs just under 1100 grams. Now if I was to replace this overnight setup with a lightweight tarp ( Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp – 300 grams), I save 800 grams. 800 grams translates to an additional 2 days of food for me. Longer hikes with same pack weight, so what’s not to like. But, before you venture out on your magnum opus trek with a tarp, make sure to practice pitching a tarp on short overnight trips. Tarps are not foolproof and they do not offer full protection. Tarp pitching is a science and an art, mastering it requires patience plus a handy knowledge of knots.

a flat tarp

04: April – Build your alcohol stove

My alcohol stove weighs under 20 grams, its fuel is cheap and easily available. It costs next to nothing and never clogs or breaks down. You can build one for free with stuff you can scrounge from your trash and some simple Do It Yourself (DIY) attitude. I have stepped on my aluminium stove, straightened it out and then reused it for a week’s trekking. I cannot think of a DIY gear that offers such unparalleled peace of mind.

05: May – Reduce your backpack weight by 10%

Besides a tarp and an alcohol stove, look at other ways to reduce your backpack weight. The best way to do this is to make a meticulous log of all things that you carry in your backpack. Create another list of things used and unused form the original list when you are back from your trek. After a few treks, you will come across some common articles that are often unused. These unused articles deserve a closer examination on whether they should remain in your backpack or not. Another simple weight-saving measure is to get a lightweight backpack. Over the years, backpacks have piled on features and comforts, often at the cost of weight. Sometimes its better to let go of feature-packed backpack and go back to basics with a simple suspension backpack like the [Decathlon’s Forclaz 50 Speed] ({% post_url 2015-04-01-Decathlon-Quechua-Forclaz-50-Speed-Backpack-Review %}).

06: June – Try trail runners instead of trekking boots

I advocate time and again that [trail runners make an excellent three-season alternative to heavy trekking boots] ({% post_url 2015-08-09-Boots-Or-Shoes-For-Trekking-In-India %}). Since you have been working at reducing your backpack weight for the last three months, its now time to show your feet the same love. Remember studies have shown that every pound of weight on your feet equals five in your backpack. Therefore, try a lightweight trail runner.

07: July – Know your smartphone GPS and outdoor capabilities

Your smartphone is only as smart as the apps that you have on it. The good news is that there are a plethora of trekking apps out there that make navigation and tracking your route a doddle. Apps like Maps3D on iOS allow downloading offline topographical maps, route tracking, adding waypoints and sharing routes effortless. Similar apps like OsmAnd are available for Android. However, remember that using GPS kills a smartphone battery in a few hours so it is worthwhile investing in a quality power bank.

08: August – Learn to navigate with a compass and topographical map

While a GPS or a smartphone is excellent in the field, it is wrong to use them as a crutch. A printed topographical map trumps a GPS / smartphone as: they not susceptible to electronic failure, do not need batteries or recharging, do not break if dropped and are lighter to carry. Moreover, they give you a crucial yet critical fallback in case you happen to lose your GPS. [It did happen to me]({% post_url 2017-12-04-Failures-Mistakes-Lessons-Trekking-Indian-Himalayas %}).

09: September – Learn basic first aid and CPR technique

Medical emergencies while trekking fall into two categories: field treatable and non-field treatable. An emergency/first aid kit in our backpack deals with the former category. Yet, there will be situations when you may be the first responder on an emergency scene. In such a situation the ability to diagnose, provide immediate first aid and explain your medical emergency to a doctor over the phone may be critical. Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF) organises SAR and Wildnerness first aid courses every year. Do sign up.

10: October – Create your trail

In my early trek I relied, on established trails and the security they provided with shelter and campsites. But over the years I have felt increasingly restricted by existing trails. Finding your route between two points on a map can be incredibly exhilarating and liberating. Nevertheless, heading off on unknown trails is the ultimate test of navigation and self-reliance skills. Skills you should have picked up in the previous months if you have been following your resolutions.

11: November – Introduce your friend/partner/dog to trekking

Knowledge shared is knowledge expanded. Share your love and passion for trekking with your better half and friends. Sometimes getting them to join up is as easy as extending an invitation. However, if you do go out with a partner and a novice trekker, remember to start small. Small day treks cumulating to an overnight camping trip will do wonders for their confidence and skill. A difficult first trek may put them off trekking altogether. If you trek alone, remember that a difference of opinion is bound to happen in a larger group. Handle such differences with poise, patience and aplomb, and you might find a lifetime trekking partner.

12: December – Volunteer for a waste cleaning organisation

We come a full circle in the last month. Together we started this year with Leave No Trace program to preserve our trails and at the end of the year we progress, to undoing the damage already done to popular trekking trails. Organisations like Waste Warriors, Chennai Trekking Club are doing stellar work in keeping our trails clean and they often require volunteers.

Last but not the least, remember that trekking is not a competitive or a spectator sport. So this year head outdoors more often and have fun while out there.

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