Bold predictions of 2019 Hunting Trends

Although hunting is known to be steeped in tradition, there are popular trends and innovation that push the lifestyle and sport forward. Here are some bold predictions as to what expect for this coming 2019 season. Keep in mind that these predictions are for entertainment, designed to be bold, but also derived from an initial element of truth.

Prediction No. 1: Backcountry Shawls Outsell Quilts and Hammocks Combined

Now I’m not saying that quilts and hammocks are a dying trend. Quite the opposite actually, these everyday comfort items are on an upward trajectory that should be spurring the imagination of more performance gear developers. The lines between casual recreation, comfort, weight savings and performance will continue to smear together into a multifunctional gear bonanza, and I am all for it. Old familiar comfort items are going to be repurposed and updated. Think of the possibilities: backcountry shawls, field robes, sport pajamas, packable essential oil diffusers, performance loungers. Now that your grandma’s favorite decorative bedspread has been converted to backpacking gear, nothing is off the table. I personally own multiple pairs of tent slippers as well, and they are fabulous. When you spend days deep in the wild, why shouldn’t have have some luxuries that remind you of all the comforts of home?
All joking aside, the creativity of gear developers has taken a major jump forward in the last couple years. The outdoor gear industry has always had a steady push forward with innovation, but now that we have hammocks and quilts, the period of innovation efforts previous feels a little stale. The previous gear trends have had a lot of focus towards style and branding development over performance development. I think the industry now has an injection of creative brands that are willing to break away and take risks, and I am excited to see what they come up with next.

Prediction No. 2: WOOL UNDERWEAR! (Wait, that’s already a thing?) Fine, I’ll go with WOOL DENIM!

Yes wool underwear is a thing. It’s merino wool and it’s fantastic. It has become the dominating fabric in many hunters’ baselayers, and it is obvious why: Quick drying, cool when it needs to be cool, warm when it needs to be warm, thin and less bulky, and now even comfortable. To bastardize one of the great Seinfeld lines to emphasize my point: “I would drape myself in velvet merino wool if it were socially acceptable”. Wool denim jeans are probably the last article I need to complete my ensemble for everyday casual wear.

A lot of outdoor brands are dialing in their merino blends with polyester, spandex and nylon to give it the comfort and stretch needed to be the go-to fabric for all four seasons. I would like to predict a merino underwear supply shortage sweeps the nation in 2019 and riots erupt in the street. But that’s unrealistic. Merino resists odor and stink, so you really only need one or two pair for a week-long hunt. With that kind of performance longevity, it’s unlikely the demand will soar high enough to reach critical levels. So it’s pretty unlikely that there will be panicked stockpiling by hunters to deplete the nation’s supply. As long as sheep keep growing it, I think we’ll be fine.

Prediction No. 3: Hunting Becomes Just Unpopular Enough for Hipsters to Join in

Americans participating in hunting have dipped over recent years. This is not to say that the industry is in trouble, as fishing participation has increased, and sportsmen and women are spending more dollars per capita than they have in the past. With increased dollars spent on hunting and fishing-related equipment, the funding from the Pittman-Robertson Act tax revenue has remained a strong funding source for state wildlife conservation. The low hunter participation may indicate a bleak trend for the longevity of the sport and lifestyle, but I think we are actually on the verge of attracting an untapped demographic. I think if we all just dug a little deeper, we could drive hunting popularity another 1% lower, which may be the breaking point of unpopularity for hipster participation. I know it sounds far out there, but try and follow me here: Hipsters have an initial threshold of unpopularity, which is the barrier for entry for something to become cool to them. Once that unpopularity threshold is reached and they can deem it cool, that unpopularity threshold is raised several percentage points (obviously this threshold must be raised to accommodate the influx of hipster participants, otherwise the increased popularity would create a situation where the hipster was participating in something that should be considered uncool). Now, unfortunately this model is not sustainable, because after a period of hipster participation, hunting will be deemed played out by the hipsters, and they will leave the activity as mostly one solitary mass, very similar to the way they entered. The key point here is that not all will abandon hunting, some will stay and continue to contribute to the lifestyle and wildlife conservation. Also, it has been clearly documented that right before hipsters deem an activity played out, there is an influx on non-hipsters that flood the activity. These remaining participants that joined during the end of the hipster craze will undoubtedly find a true dedication and connection with the outdoors and wildlife, and they will remain as lifelong supporters and advocates. These remaining hunters will cause a net increase that will keep hunter participation levels boosted over recent year’s statistics for years to come.

Prediction No. 4: Eating Wolf Becomes Cool

Wild game meat has had a huge PR boost since the Meateater movement pushed forth a few years ago. Squirrel, black bear, and jackrabbit are three species that were not broadly considered to be palatable, but now have seen a more widespread increase as a consumable and favored game meat. Long-standing prejudices against the palatability of many wild game have been challenged and dispelled.
With the increased culinary popularity has come an increase in  adventurousness in wild meat consumption, and possibly some one-upmanship as well. Therefore, next up on the list has to be wolf meat. Not just sampling wolf meat, because there have been isolated reports of people eating wold in the U. S., but experimentation with preparation and cooking methods to actually make it popular. Given the fortitude required to actually coherse the morsels of the meat down your gullet, combined with the hunting challenge due to the wolf’s cunning, wolf is positioned to be the next critter up to become table fare of the hunting elite. Other cultures around the world have enjoyed canine meat, and it was well documented that the Lewis and Clark expedition preferred dog meat over all else available on their journey. That is not to say that the canine prepared by others through history is going to be the same as a wild wolf harvested by a hunter. Diverse diets, living conditions, as well as method are all variables that affect the quality of an animal’s flesh from a palate’s viewpoint. But, it seems to be the most reasonable culinary analog. Pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone is what helps us venture further into the wilderness and be more capable hunters, and I think we can agree that wolf is well outside the current comfort zone for most of us. Also, eating the animal you kill is a way of showing respect for its life. Harvesting meat is not the only reason for people to get out and hunt, but my personal opinion is that it should be near the top of everyone’s power rankings of motivation, and we all should be giving well-deserved consideration when we go out to hunt an animal.

What will permanent Daylight Saving Time mean to Hunters?

In the last few months, several western states have voted on ending the biannual time change and remaining in Daylight Saving Time (DST) for perpetuity. This essentially means there will be no more “fall back” and “spring forward” time changes each year. Washington and California have already approved bills to remain in DST, and it appears that Oregon will soon be following suit. Idaho, which has the the northern half of its territory in the Pacific Time Zone, has been resistant to recent bills to make the permanent switch. Even if a state votes to secede from Standard Time, Congressional approval is still required before the change can take effect. So the change to permanent DST is not yet guaranteed, but it does look to have strong support from the west coast states. Congress is more likely to allow the states to turn permanently to DST if there is solidarity with all states in the time zone. Nevada (also in the Pacific Time Zone) actually asked Congress to allow individual states to be granted the right to decide whether or not they will stay in Daylight Saving Time back in 2015.

So, what will permanent Daylight Saving Time mean to hunters? Well, let’s start by looking at what will not change:

Hunters will not lose hunting hours. Bear with me, I just want to clear this one up right away as it may seem obvious to some. With permanent DST, the hours of legal light will be shifted forward one hour to reflect DST after the first weekend in November. It will result in legal light arriving one hour later in the morning and ending one hour later in the evening, so the total hunting time will not be changed.

There will be no change for hunting in early March through October. Since the “fall back” time change occurs the first weekend in November each year, the hunting opportunities in September and October will not be affected. So this would typically be archery season for elk, as well as archery and modern firearm seasons for deer. On the spring side of the calendar, there will be no significant change either. The most popular spring hunting seasons (spring bear and turkey) typically kick off around April 15, which is within the current DST period of early March through early November. Most of the change to hunting hours will be for late season big game hunting opportunities, and later bird seasons.

Here are some of the changes that could potentially affect your hunting if DST were to become permanent in your state:

More late sleepers crashing the primo hunting hours. If there is no time shift back one hour in November, this is effectively changing dawn (or the time of legal light) forward one hour. If day break had normally come at 7:15am on November 15, it will now be arriving at 8:15am under permanent DST. Some folks may appreciate that extra hour of rest, but I would prefer an earlier sunrise. Lowering the barrier to entry for the golden hunting hours of dawn twilight is not something I generally support, but it may be a benefit to some.

Shorter mornings and longer evenings. When you lose an hour in the morning, you get it back in the evening. If you have other obligations like family or work that you have been juggling with hunting, permanent DST make create a new challenge (or opportunity) for you. If you had been getting up early to get a half day of hunting in on the weekends, you will be losing one of those hunting hours in the morning. On the other hand, if you had been trying to sneak in a little bird hunting after work every now and then, you will be getting the benefit of an extra hour of legal light in the evenings.

Changes in human activity and animal response. Not everyone hikes miles away from all roads and civilization to get to their favorite haunts. If you hunt an area near roads that see commuter traffic or other human activity, there may be an affect on wildlife and how they respond. Recall that this will be mostly in November and December during later big game seasons and bird seasons. Human activity such as slamming doors, letting the dog out, starting the car, or turning on lights can influence the habits of wildlife. If you give this some consideration before heading out, it may give you an edge to help your success.

Hunting Permit Application Strategy: Are “Points Only” Applications Helping or Hurting You?

I’ve commented before how I think the best permit application strategy is to go all-in each spring, with the realistic expectation you will not get drawn for anything. Don’t fall into the deception that you have enough points to get drawn for a special elk unit permit, so you won’t apply for a special deer or antelope permit because you won’t have time to focus on anything but elk this year. Also, don’t skip application years because you are forecasting conflicts (work, personal, or otherwise) that are going to limit your availability for hunting. We’ve got a finite amount of time on this planet, and the number of good hunting years that you have available is just a fraction of those. You’ve got to take every chance you get.

But now, some states are offering “Points Only” permit applications for some special hunt drawings. They basically work like this: You pay your application fee to be entered into a special permit draw, check the box on your online application for “Points Only” instead of your preferred hunting unit, and your ticket won’t be entered into the hopper for random drawing in the current season’s hunt. Come next year, you will have accumulated your preference or bonus point (depending on which system is used by the state to which you have applied), which will increase your chances of drawing, just as if you had applied the year before and been unsuccessful in the draw.

Why are bonus points a good thing? Well, there are a couple situations that are pretty positive. You might have something scheduled that you know will conflict with your available time for hunting, and you just can’t find a way to slide that conflict down on your priority list without backlash from your conscience, significant other, or maybe karma. Points Only applications will allow you to continue to accrue points for that year, without the risk of being drawn for a hunting opportunity you won’t be available to take. Also, the state is still getting your application fee, which it would not receive if you had chosen not to apply due to fear of being successfully drawn and having to forfeit previously accrued points. Those dollars will go towards funding wildlife management in the state over the next year.

Why are bonus points a bad thing? As mentioned above, major life events involving health conditions and addition or subtraction of family members should usually receive precedence over all other engagements; hunting-oriented or otherwise. But don’t let the minor inconveniences and challenges of life conflate into a roadblock for your hunt of a lifetime. I’ve found that when you challenge your excuses, you usually find your issue isn’t a lack of time, but a lack of creativity. You can always put in some extra hours at work to make your boss happy before you leave for your extended hunting vacay, or you could build some flexibility into your schedule to catch up on engagements when you return, and that baby is going to be delivered regardless of whether or not you are there to witness it. Maybe that last example falls within a gray area, but the fact holds true that things will get done without you present. Points Only applications make it much more convenient to listen to those excuses. You may think that you can strategize your hunts better by “saving up” points for a year when the hunt will be most convenient. But, the reality is that there is no sure thing, no matter how many points you have. Also, many hunters are hoarding those points just like you, so you may not be getting the advantage you think you have. In addition to that, there is potentially a time when many hunters begin cashing in their points, constricting opportunities to only those who have saved up points for their golden years to hunt. And as I alluded to previously, life provides no sure things either. You never know if this is your last opportunity to go on that hunt of a lifetime.

So there are two side to Points Only applications. And if you still think you might check that box, consider this: Every time someone selects “Points Only” on their application, they are leaving an opportunity on the table. They may be planning to hammer the draw with a boatload of hoarded points in the future, but they are leaving the door open for you this year.

A Sportsman’s Goals for 2019

What motivates you to get outside and hunt? Is it the physical and mental challenge, connection with the natural world, or just getting away and enjoying camaraderie with friends and family? Identify your key drivers, and use them to set the basis for your goals. When done right, goalsetting can be one of the most valuable tools to help you perform better and have more fun when going on your next backcountry outing. Setting goals can be useful in many aspects of your life, and let’s be honest, there are tons of articles and books out there on how to set good goals. I’m going to hit on the main elements, and how to help you get some perspective when developing your goals for the next hunting season.

What makes up a good goal? I try to check and make sure my goals are:

  • Realistic – If you make goals too difficult, or if their success requires a large factor of luck, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Failing to meet goals can have a negative effect on your attitude and ability to succeed, so make sure you give yourself a reality check first. If your goal to kill a 400 class bull requires you to get drawn for a specific hunting unit, and requires the bull to walk in front of you on one of the few days you devote to hunting this fall, then it is not very realistic. Don’t expect God, your local Department of Fish and Wildlife, or the roulette wheel to help you achieve your goals. Make a goal you can control.
  • Specific and Measurable – You need to know definitively when you have achieved your goal. Making goals specific enough so you can keep a scorecard of where you are throughout the year, and track your progress.
  • Balanced – Few people can set one imperial goal that drives them through the hunting season without causing detriment to other factors of life. Make sure your goals take into consideration your overall happiness in life for you and your family.
  • Efficient – Make sure you are getting the most bang-for-buck out of your goals. For example, I have no fitness goals this year. I have not been hindered by lack of physical fitness for the last few hunting seasons, and my previous task-based goals have become routine. So, I can realistically say that I am at a level of maintenance. This year I’ll focus on weaker areas that will be more impactful to my hunting success.
  • Task-based – Your goals should be a call to action. Sometimes your goal can be somewhat nebulous, but you should be able to break it down into a goal consisting of actionable items.

For the Hunting category of my goals for this year, I’m choosing to focus on

  1. Increase balance of time with family
  2. Contribute to conservation and sporting community
  3. Woodsman skills
  4. Expand my hunting opportunities

I have long hours and travel a lot for my day job, so it makes it tough to spend time with my two-year-old son that seems to sleep about as many hours per day as a koala bear. If I’m working in the office, I can be gone for work before he is up in the morning, and I sometimes get home after he has already gone to bed in the evening. I’m usually on the road a couple days per week as well. Come hunting season, I feel pretty guilty leaving for a week at a time to chase elk. I’ve realized that I need a goal to make my favorite recreation activity is sustainable and balanced with my family life. This year, instead of taking time to go hunting, I’m going to trade time for hunting. To do this, I am going to track the time I spend away hunting and make sure I pay those hours back to the family, within one month. I’m also going to make a communication plan so my wife and I can prioritize our family schedule, and optimize the time we spend as a family during the hunting season.

To increase my contribution to conservation and the sporting society, there are a lot of organizations out there that have a pretty good structure for volunteer activities and charitable donations. I’m setting my goal for donating $xxx (sorry I’m not going to disclose my actual number with you) towards conservation and sporting stewardship, and volunteer at least 20 hours of my time. To keep things interesting (I like to throw in “wildcard” goals each year), I’m going to read two books with views on hunting and conservation that oppose my opinions. This will hopefully help soften some of the sharp edges of my opinions and help communicate with non-hunters.

Regarding woodsman skills, I like to throw some fun and more easily achievable goals for good measure. Easier goals can provide additional motivation, since so that you can check off goals throughout the year rather than just at the end. Last year I did some backpacking trips in late August, and some hunting in early September that got me into some plants that I was not familiar with. It also made me realize that plant identification was an area that I was lacking. So this year, my goal is to be more proficient at identifying trees, berries, roots and other plants that may be useful to me in the backcountry. I hope to benefit from improving my knowledge of what can be used for food, shelter, and tools, or identifying plants that may indicate a presence of wildlife. My goal is to be able to identify ten tree species, ten berries, and ten flowers/roots/bushes, and understand how they could be significant to wildlife or myself. I’ll achieve this goal by reading two books on the subject, and using field guides on my hiking and scouting trips this summer.

For most of my life, I have primarily hunted Washington, Montana, and Wyoming. But I have begun to wonder why I have overlooked Idaho. It seems pretty odd to think that I have driven across it several times a year in search of game, when Idaho itself has so much to offer. But in reality, there is a finite amount of time and energy to put towards hunting preparation, especially if you are like me and hunt primarily DIY on public land. But again, I have recently found that I will be making several trips to Idaho this year for various obligations, and this will be creating a great opportunity to become much more familiar with the Gem State. My goal is to scout and prepare to hunt Idaho next season. To prepare this season, I will make two dedicated trips to explore and scout an area, read all regulations to become proficient, and utilize my previously planned trips to Idaho by creating time to do some hiking and scouting on each outing.

Backpacking Luxuries Turned Necessities and Other Tricks

Note:  I receive no compensation for any product mentioned in this post.  

Pack optimization through balance of needs and weight should be the goal for backpacking trips. But, too often we either try to go too light and cut out the things we actually need, or pack gear that goes underutilized.  We mourn the gear we left out of the pack in order to cut weight, and lament the things pull out at the end of the trip unused. I do love dialing in my pack, and tracking the ounces or even pounds that I’ve trimmed from my last trip. But I think I love the sneaky comfort items that I’ve muled in even more. I try to keep notes and an inventory of my most and least used gear, and here are some of my revelations from the last year.  Most of my camping was related to backcountry hunting, but I’m going to try and keep this list relatable to any backpacker (I’ll get some notes down about some hunting-specific revelations a little later).  Some of the items below are packable gear, and some are more along the lines of small hacks.  Also, keep in mind that I’m writing from the reference of my camping practices, which is generally a long hike in, setting up one or maybe two base camps, and mainly doing long hikes for 3-6 days, returning to base camp each night.  So, if you are mainly doing overnighters or loops, you may want to consider the specifics of your hike before filling up your pack.

New items that I will never leave behind again:

Camp chair/stool – For the last couple of years, I have watched in envy while my buddies have relaxed in ultralight camp chairs while I crouched uncomfortably over my stove each evening.  I was really tired of switching between crouching, sitting on uneven rocks, and eating dinner standing up, but even the best ultralight chairs weigh in around 1.5-2 lbs or more, and really don’t pack down as small as I would like.  But, this year, I finally found a stool that had the right balance of weight burden and comfort, and it was worth the weight (play on words there for you sharp ones).  So this year, I packed in the Micro Stool from Grand Trunk (10.6oz actual weight), which packs down very small and is the lightest seat I could find.  It only sets up to be about 10 inches off the ground, but I  actually found it to be quite comfortable (I’m 6’0″), and way better than log or stone Mother Nature had lying around.

Oil shooters with pepper chasers will cap off any meal

Extra food seasoning – I eat a lot of dehydrated meals when camping out.  They’re pretty good, but I think we can all agree they are not haute cuisine.  I don’t usually take a lot in the way of snacks, but try to rely on my main meals to get the nutrition I need.  To get the extra calories, and make things more palatable, I’ve been bringing along a couple ounces of olive oil and crushed red pepper flakes.  The olive oil makes the rehydrated food texture more relatable to a normal meal, and adds the healthy fats that the dehydrated meals usually lack.  Most of the major brands of dehydrated meals seem to utilize Indian and Latin flavor palates pretty heavily, so the red pepper is pretty compatible with most meal options.  For the sake of your gut, the last thing you want is to overdo the spiciness, but I haven’t run into that issue yet.  Red pepper flakes seem to be milder on the stomach than a lot of the other spices, but that may just be personal predisposition.  Pro Tip – Don’t worry about buying special containers for your seasoning, spent airline booze bottles are super light and work great.

My new favorite trick:

Mountain Coolers – aka pure, cold mountain streams.  Beer is delicious, but too heavy and bulky to pack in, right?  Well, at least too heavy and bulky to pack very far.  For reference, a six-pack of cans weighs in at just over five pounds.  This year, I implemented the system of packing a couple beers in just a couple miles, then dropping those beers in an icy mountain stream.  Then, on my way out, I’ve got some refreshingly cold daddy sodas to celebrate the last couple miles of a long trip through the mountains.  I realize that I’m probably not the first person to implement this strategy, but I felt smarter than the lovechild of Elon Musk and Adolf Coors when I cracked that first can of frosty suds while hiking out of the woods this fall.  As a side note, there are some precautions to take while leaving beers in stashed in the woods.  The unfiltered stream could pass along diseases on the top of the can, so take care with the water you stash in.  Also, bears have been known to enjoy chomping through unopened beers, so beware of the critters that may be poaching your cache.

Things I left behind and missed severely:

Camp shoes – Wet boots suck.  Tired feet suck.  Soft comfortable shoes are awesome.  Don’ get me wrong,  I’m very happy with the performance of my hunting boots from sunup to sundown.  But, after several warm days, feet get sweaty and tired.  Getting out of the boots and into fresh shoes in the evening is a guilty pleasure.  I don’t know if it’s just the feeling of the soft, forgiving, unsweated liners; or possibly the need for your feet to feet some subtle difference in support.  I used to go with the North Face tent mules, which are quite literally down sleeping bags for your feet, but I have graduated to slipper-shoe hybrids to walk around camp in the evenings.  I’ve currently got Teva Ember mocs (1lb 3.6oz actual weight), which have the coziness of slippers with the support of a lightweight shoe.  There isn’t too much in the way of tread, which helps reduce wear and tear on tent floors and sleeping bags (especially if you’re wearing them to bed on those extra cold nights).  The Merrel Barkley Moc is great if you want more of a shoe than a slipper, and they are very light (1lb 0.6 oz actual weight).

Chapstick – My September hunt was earlier and warmer than the last few years, and I definitely felt it in the intensity of the sun, and lack of hydration.  I typically don’t bring chapstick because I don’t like to use it hunting due to the scent that usually comes along with it.  But this year, my lips became chapped and cracked, and became a distracting and painful nag for most of a six-day trip.  It seems silly to leave such a small item behind that can have such an impact on part of your general comfort.

Items underutilized compared to years past:

Earbuds and extra phone batteries – In years past, I have usually used earbuds with my phone to listen to music while taking mid-day naps or podcasts after lights out each night.  This year, I found myself using the Kindle app on my phone more often, as well as the notes app to record my reflections of the day.  I like to use the ebooks for reading entertainment, but I also like to ability to reference field guides, trail guidebooks, or other articles on woodsmanship or hunting.  So, the moral of the story is, find some good ebooks and you won’t need the headphones.  Also, remember to utilize your phone’s power-saver function combined with airplane mode, keep your phone from being exposed to the cold too often, and your battery can last for days.

WWGD? (What Would George Costanza Do?) aka “The Opposite”

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite has to be right.

What if every instinct you ever had was false?  What if every calculated action you took was actually detrimental to your happiness?  On May 19, 1994, American television viewers tuned in to witness a man brave enough to challenge his own pillars of belief, and his name was George Costanza.  On that night, NBC aired the 21st episode of the fifth season of Seinfeld, which was titled “The Opposite”.  In that episode, George comes up with a theory: What if every instinct, every decision he has ever made, has been wrong and is the source of all his life’s disappointments.  From that moment, he decides to begin an experiment to test the decisions he makes in his daily life.  For every action he is about to take, he consciously does the opposite of what he thinks is appropriate.  Over the next thirty minutes, we see George get his dream job with the New York Yankees, move out of his parents’ house and into a new apartment, and land a new girlfriend that most would agree is way out of his league.

I love “The Opposite” because I admire George’s courage and commitment to challenge his own status quo, and it provides an opportunity to play the “What If” game: What if George was an outdoorsman?  What if I have been behaving like George?

If George was a hunter prior to his “Opposite” epiphany, I like to think that he would hike out the same trail to the same clearing every year, throw out a few calls, scan the same treeline repeatedly, and call it a day once he considered the temperature to be “too hot for anything to be moving around”.  He would stick with the same old plan, which was probably never his to begin with.  It was probably passed along to him by a more experienced hunter, or maybe he overheard it one night at a local bar, and George lazily took it for gospel.  He abides by knowledge he considers to be commonly-accepted, or maybe he found success by simple luck the first time he tried it, so he sticks to it year after year hoping to recreate the triumph of his first outing.   This leads George in a continuing cycle of frustration and embarrassment.  He takes no risk by attempting anything different.

When George finally tries his “Opposite” approach, it isn’t easy.  It’s uncomfortable, and he risks public embarrassment with each new action.  But luckily for him, his instincts were so misaligned that each opposite decision is a substantial improvement to his situation.  The average person is not likely to see the same results as George, so it’s probably not the best idea to turn a full 180 degrees like he did.  But, the idea of challenging your assumptions, taking risks, and trying something uncomfortable is on point.

What I had been behaving like George?  I can admit that I have a tendency to fall into the same old routine, almost subconsciously, without taking a moment to consider a new technique.   I sometimes fail to question the actions that have become automatic.  For example, for years it was my instinct to make fun of my buddies that used trekking poles while out hiking.  Right before they became popular, a guy came rolling into town with a trunk full of “Swedish Walking Sticks”, and every blue hair in town came out to see him demonstrate how to walk while poking at the ground with those sticks.  The man sold off his walking sticks and left town, but the image of all those old timers walking around with their new trekking poles stuck with me.    That was the image I always associated with my friends carrying them in the woods.  But then, I finally tried them last year.  After a twelve-mile backpacking trip, my shoulders and upper back had never felt better.  No more knots, no pain in my scapula, no sore neck.  I now own two sets and I’m thinking about getting a third.

I have also realized that I have become so fixated on minimizing my pack weight that I have totally lost focus of what will really make my backpacking trip more pleasant.  I might save a few ounces with my ultralight sleeping pad, but the good night’s sleep that I get with heavier and more comfortable mat definitely outshines the weight burden.  Also, I will no longer go on a multi-day hunting trip without camp shoes again.  If I’m hunting for five or six days and spending countless miles in heavy boots, the joy of soft camp shoes at the end of a long day cannot be matched.  They definitely contain more body-rejuvenating power than the one and a half pound weight savings from leaving them back at the truck.

So, we all experience the plateau-effect from time to time.  Maybe taking some risk by trying “The Opposite” may help you get to the next level.

 

What will ruin your next hunt? (Feet Edition)

20180701_170202I am embarrassingly close to making an appointment for a pedicure. I am not usually one to partake in such indulgences, and I think my slight uneasiness with physical contact would restrict me from enjoying it (I’m not a hugger).  But, I would be willing to put all my predispositions aside if it would help me be a better hunter.  There are dozens of ways for your feet to betray you when you’re out on the trail for a week, so you should do what you can to head off those issues before they start.  Pedicures have become a common maintenance technique for professional athletes and other manly types, so I assume I could see some benefit from it as well.  Blisters, calluses, nail issues, and calf-down muscle tightness can be addressed in a 30-minute appointment.  I do suffer from some frequent ingrown toenails, so I’m curious to see what those nail-clippers could do in the hands of a real pro.

So while I go through several iterations of dialing up the local pedicurist and shyly hanging up the phone as soon as they answer, take a minute to read through some of these tips below.

Insoles

I have gone through some minor obsessions with aftermarket insoles.  I don’t know why, but even high-end boots come with a flimsy sliver of foam as the first line of contact for your feet.  For some, this minimal amount of cushion directly underfoot may be enough, but others may want more.  Insoles are pretty cheap when compared to a pair of boots, but they can make a significant difference in the way your boot feels and performs.  They can reduce foot fatigue and keep you going hiker longer.  Generally speaking from experience, as the weight of the boot increases, the need for a more substantial insole increases as well.  With a taller heeled boot, more pressure is going to be transferred to the balls of your feet, which will benefit from more cushion.  I’ve actually found that a little thicker insole can add noticeable insulation to lighter boots, keeping your feet warmer in cold conditions.  After trying out dozens of pairs of insoles looking for something to keep my feet going longer each day, I usually look for an insole with some arch support structure (my feet are generally classified as “normal arch”), medium cushion, and some ability to form-fit to my feet.  Make sure your boot has enough room in the toebox before adding a thicker insole, as crammed toes are not going to make your feet happy.  Take notice of the top surface of the footbed that will be contacting your foot.  Sometimes they can be too silky, and become irritating once your merino wool socks get a little sweaty and start sliding around.  The best bang-for-buck insoles I have found are the Columbia Enduro Soles.  They are thermo-molding, so pop it in the oven at

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Columbia Enduro Soles (Columbia has bought out Montrail)

200 degrees for 2 minutes, throw them in your boots, and slip your foot in for 5 minutes to create a custom foot cast.  I usually wear my hiking boots to the store so I can check fit before I purchase.  You should least take the factory insoles of the boot with you for fit comparison.  Most aftermarket insoles are made to be cut down to fit, and the original insole is usually a perfect template.

Focus on your weak points

Listen to your feet while you’re out in the field.  There was a survey for marathon runners several years ago, where they were asked how they coped with pain while running races.  The survey revealed that the more successful runners did not try to block out nagging pain, but focused on it.  By focusing on it, they were able to make adjustments to their running stride to make sure the discomfort did not become an injury that impacted their race.  Be aware of your body out in the field, and make decisions that are ultimately going to keep you out on the trail.  Be mindful of how your feet perform in the offseason, and make adjustments to ensure they are ready to perform when it counts.

Break-In (For boots and feet)

Wear your boots in the offseason, but don’t wear them out.  I had a buddy that wore his hunting boots all summer for work, only to discover the waterproofing had failed once we got into the backcountry during a snowy, wet September.  Everyone knows that you’ve got to break in your boots.  I like to take new boots, immediately oil them, and wear them laced up moderately loose (The loose lacing will help from pressure points forming between the tongue overlap and your lower shin).  I’ll wear them loose around town for a couple days before tightening them up to break-in in the field.   Depending on the boots, the field break-in period can be a couple days or a couple weeks.  Part of this is getting your boot to flex around your foot, and part of this is getting your foot used to your boot.  It can be subtle, but your foot will “get used” to your boots as well.  If you’re using custom insoles, it can be good to throw them into your everyday shoes for a couple weeks before you plan to be out in your boots.  Ultimately, you want to have confidence in your gear, so try and simulate your activities before you find yourself in a situation where poor boot performance will ruin your hunt.

Don’t let your feet get soft

Do your foot strength conditioning while relaxing.  I used to have discomfort in the joints of my big toes when on hunts where I was hiking off trail in steep terrain.  One day I made the correlation between the pressure points in my toes and the curl of the toes of the slippers and flip-flops that I’d been wearing around the house.  I decided to stop wearing any footwear when I was at home.   I began going barefoot on solid surfaces like wood floors, concrete slab, and laminate.  Big difference made!  It only took a couple weeks until I noticed an improvement in my feet.  I realized I had been making my feet into a couple of major-league wussies while sporting comfort footwear for evenings and weekends.  I guess the bigger point from this small experiment was: My feet could get tougher by adding some moderate minimalism.  I didn’t go wild and begin running marathons barefoot, and I didn’t begin preaching to my friends about how humans were meant to walk without footwear and that modern shoes were changing our musculature and posture.  But, I was wearing silly foot-cushions too much, and I believe it was detrimental to my feet.  More importantly, it was affecting how well I could perform in the woods.