Tuesday, July 11, 2017


My experience tells me that most people would rather drive through the woods than walk through the woods.  We all know folks who will do anything to keep from walking.  Around these parts it falls into two basic categories: Those who enjoy walking and those who abhor walking.  The latter group dislikes walking to the extent they won’t even hike a hundred yards but instead get into their vehicles and drive the distance.  I even know a man who won’t walk fifty yards.  There’s nothing wrong with him; he just hates walking.  It gets ticklish when people even refuse to close ranch gates because that would mean they’d have to get out of their vehicles and open the gate, drive through, and then get out again and close the gate.  Regardless, as we age the need to walk becomes more important than ever.  And yet, that’s precisely when individuals seem to walk less.  You’ve heard the saying, “use it or lose it,” and that holds especially true to those who stop walking.  It’s amazing how quickly leg muscles fade to sinew or how joints wear out—not from too much use but from lack of use.  Now I’m not an exercise guru and the way I see it if a person doesn’t want to walk then that’s up to him or her.  They can sit inside all day watching TV for all I care.  After all, it’s their body and their health.

I’ve been an avid walker all my life; in fact, I look forward to my daily walks, or as I like to call them, my chances to go woods roaming.  For me it’s as much therapy as it is physical exercise.  Wandering down cow trails, listening to the sounds of nature, looking up at the sky, examining native plants, watching for tracks, enjoying the silence, reveling in the surrounding tranquility; it’s all a part of woods roaming.  After my recent surgery my doctor told me to walk.  Walk a lot, he said.  So I’ve been increasing my woods roaming every day.  Yesterday I hiked almost three miles.  That’s nowhere near what I usually walk but it’s a start.  Even in the late afternoon, however, the temps are warm so I take plenty of cold water and a few other things I might need.  All of which brings me to the point of this post.

Focusing on the aging issue and speaking from experience, I know that growing old is essentially a process of decay.  That decay is enhanced by our habits and behaviors.  We all know people who smoke too much, drink too much, indulge in too much red meat, seldom (if ever) exercise, eat far too much sugar.  Those people definitely seem to break down faster than most.  So the first secret (it’s really not a secret) to mobility, strength and health is to stop smoking, drinking, eating red meat, stuffing down the sugar and to get plenty of exercise.  In one’s sixties, seventies or even into one’s eighties there is no reason why we can’t remain mobile.  Aside from eating healthy the object is to stay active.  But this is where I’d like to impart some old man’s wisdom if I may.  First, don’t overdo it.  Some older folks have this idea that they need to push themselves.  Like the old man who insisted on walking the Appalachian Trail and was dogged about accomplishing the feat.  Problem was that he blew out his knees.  He let his brain think poorly and even when he was in pain he kept going.  Well, as the story goes he finally made the journey but at the expense of two destroyed knee joints.  As I see it there’s something wrong with that sort of reasoning.  So lesson number one is to listen to your body.  Lesson number two is to pay attention to your posture.  Check out YouTube videos on proper hiking posture or visit a physical therapist to get pointers on how to stand properly.  Being stooped over seems to run in my family (dad’s side) so I’ve got to continuously be checking my posture.  I’ve found that if we make a mental effort to stand erect then after a while it becomes more natural.  Lesson number three is to be extremely careful how you carry woods roaming gear.  Hint: Most of us carry far more than we really need.  Have you seen those YouTube videos where some dude (or lady) shows everybody what they carry when they hike?  A lot of those videos are plum nuts.  You’ve got people walking around jingling and jangling with all sorts of junk attached to their bodies.  Not one knife but two or maybe three.  Then there’s the ferro rod attached to the knife scabbard and another one in a pouch.  Cups and whistles and “emergency” tarps and…jeez the list can get so long it’s ludicrous.  “Yeah, but I might need these things in an emergency situation!...That’s why I carry this one pound survival knife so I can make an emergency shelter and live off the land…And that’s why I carry these ferro rods so I can gather kindling and make an emergency fire…And I carry this bow-making kit so I can whittle out a bow to hunt game.”  To which I say, Settle down, take a deep breath, think things through and realize that you’ll be okay as long as you don’t do anything utterly stupid.  WARNING: If you are a person from the city then perhaps you should seriously consider staying on the trails.  In my life I’ve been involved in two recovery episodes.  In both cases people stepped off established trails thinking they could cut across a piece of woods.  Mind you, these were not huge expanses of woods.  But in both cases the two individuals became hopelessly lost.  I found one of the bodies about four days after the man disappeared.  The other body was nudged up against a tree where the man sat and gave up the ghost.  So please stay on the trails if you are not a seasoned woods expert.  We’ve all heard horror stories of city folks who needed to go to the bathroom and so they stepped off the trail to pee or poop and then they got turned around and spent the next week wandering deeper into the woods.  Many of them carried survival items but they still didn’t make it.  Strangely, a lot of Americans think of themselves as Daniel Boone reincarnated.  That’s a fallacy that gets people killed.

Continuing on the gear thread we need to learn (1) not to carry more gear than we really need and (2) how to distribute the gear so we don’t place too much of a strain on any particular part of the body.  Allow me to give you a few examples: First there are those who carry everything in backpacks.  The latest craze has been the backpack that contains a water bladder.  A tube attached to the water bladder like a straw allows the hiker to drink without stopping.  To which I say, Why?  We’ve all seen the hiker marching down the trail, a one-man platoon, moving manically, sucking on the long plastic straw without stopping, compulsive, obsessed, determined, a catatonic look on the face.  “I walked ten miles in seventy minutes!”  To which I say, Woopy Do.  You might as well just circle the track field for an hour.

Woods roaming is a form of exercise but it’s not a compulsive act.  You are not out in the woods to complete a marathon.  You are instead out in the woods to fill your entire body with nourishment—physical, mental, spiritual.  I’ve seen hikers acting as if nature has to be conquered.  But that’s not the point; in fact, that is the absolute wrong approach.  But then take note of the outdoor and hiking magazines and the absurd advertisements they run.  In practically every ad there are people seemingly waging war against nature: The guy running like a screaming hyena across a trail or the woman churning her bicycle pedals in a frantic effort to go nowhere.  They see nothing; they hear nothing; they know nothing.  And they conquered not one thing.

Always take enough water.  If your hiking route takes you farther than your water supply then drive to a spot where you can clandestinely cache a gallon of water so when you reach that point you’ll be able to refresh your canteen.  Make sure you mark the cache on your GPS or take a picture of the spot so you can identify it when you reach it.

I used to carry a small shoulder bag but then I noticed that the uneven distribution of weight over my shoulder was causing lower back pain.  By the way, a backpack (even a small daypack) can wreak havoc on your lower back so beware.  Nowadays, I distribute weight over my body.  For example, I carry my cell phone in my pants front pocket along with a bandana.  I carry an ultralight S&W J-frame in my right back pocket.  Remember, I live in the Wild West.  This ain’t no park, folks.  I carry a small leather pouch dangling from a carabineer attached to one of my pant loops.  In the pouch I have a small flashlight and a modified Mora knife.  The Mora knife weighs less than three ounces.  I carry another tiny leather pouch with extra batteries and butane lighter.

A word about flashlights.  I saw a YouTube video where a guy said he didn’t think flashlights were important.  Folks, run from those types of dudes for they know not what they are talking about.  Carry a flashlight and extra batteries and never under any circumstances go on a hike without one.  Aside from helping you see at night it also serves as a signal device and provides a tremendous amount of peace of mind if you have to sit and wait for someone to come along.  Where I live only the most naïve, unskilled, neophyte would ever go woods roaming without a flashlight.  Unfortunately there are tons of those types.  Aside from helping you to spot rattlesnakes, the flashlight will spot scorpions, centipedes, pamorana ants, coral snakes, black widows, brown recluses as well as things like stands of prickly pear cactus, horse cripplers, pin cushions…the list is long.  So carry a flashlight!

I carry one of two types of canteens.  One canteen is large and insulated.  I’ll plop some ice cubes into the canteen to help cool my core temperature in warm weather.  The other canteen is also stainless steel but uninsulated and somewhat smaller.  I do not carry my canteen strapped across my back or on a pouch attached to my belt.  Instead, I simply carry the canteen in my hand allowing it to dangle in my fingers.  As I walk I change the canteen from one hand to the other.  When I’m thirsty I stop and drink.  I’m in no hurry.  Like I said, this is not a marathon.

Walking sticks are important in my view.  I make my own sticks preferring retama wood because it’s strong and light weight.  Be careful, however, not to make your walking stick too short.  That will force you to stoop over as you walk thus placing stress on your lower back.  My walking sticks are now close to five feet long.  I can adjust my hold and keep my posture erect with the longer stick.

Note on my knife: I am just as well served carrying a pocket knife as my Mora knife.  Sometimes I’ll just opt for a pocket knife, my favorite being a Case CV trapper.  As I hope you’ve gathered, the object is to keep things as lightweight as possible.  The Mora knife is in my opinion the perfect woods roaming knife.  I prefer the older model 510 with the red handle or the older model 511 modified to look like a 510.  I don’t care for the newer model 511.


  1. The endurance athletic industry makes the lightest, most comfortable bottles to carry with sleeves on them so that you can carry without having to grip. Not exactly your style, but who cares when your alone in the backwoods. Might be worth a google search.

    1. Thanks, I'll check it out.

  2. I have to confess that I'm one of those fools who do not often carry any type of flashlight when I am out in the woods. The many lightweight designs really aren't that much of a burden and like you said, if you get caught out in the woods at night (for whatever reason that is), that light is VALUABLE. I have one of course, but leave it in the truck, all safe and sound. :^)

    I purchased one of those Camelbak packs with built in water bladder, but did not like it. Cleaning the tube and bite valve is a lot of trouble, not worth the convenience of continuing on journey. For short walks, consider the U.S. Pilot's flask, a 16 oz. drinking bottle that fits handily in one of your rear pant's pocket. The metal surplus Swedish canteen is also handy to carry - has a leather belt tab to attach to belt and a wide mouth allowing you to clean and dry the interior more easily than the standard 1 quart U.S. canteen. Water is heavy but essential, especially in the summer desert.

    Knives while walking about, I pretty much stick to one of the SAKs or a simple folding knife. The heavier weight and bulk of a multi-tool is often left in the truck because of those traits.


    1. I've been out of town so please forgive this late reply. You're right about the SAK. I forgot to mention it. I've EDCd a Fieldmaster for a couple of decades, at least. I'll check out the canteen. Thanks.

  3. I love your practical view and experience and how it contrasts with the gear merchants and their survival channels.

    1. Thanks, Marcus. Simplicity, frugality and minimalism along with acquiring a realistic skill level are the keys to enjoyable hikes and, if the need should arise, survival in the woods.

  4. Good advice, as always. One thing I can't recall you ever writing about is footwear - - what do you recommend for hot weather such as you have on the borderlands?

    1. I wrote something on footwear a few years ago but it's worth revisiting the subject. There are things I need to add.
      Thanks. I hope all is well.

  5. Bob - see this old Woodsroamer post about Chukka boots.


  6. Regarding flashlights: most smartphones have the ability to turn on the built in camera light to act as a flashlight. It's not the best and it does drain the battery (not as fast as you'd imagine though) but most people who have a smart phone will ALWAYS carry it. Most young people also carry a backup power charger too.

    It's surprising how often people forget about the light they are always carrying.

    1. Very true. I once used my iPhone flashlight to walk back through an area known for it rattlesnakes. My other flashlight had quit working.

  7. I really enjoy your take on things

    my oldest boy and I walked a forest near here most weekends
    since it was bordered by a river, we got to see things that didn't exist even five miles further west

    I wasn't a power walker but I moved right along
    one morning I found myself alone
    david was about fifty feet back laying on his belly...eye to eye with a fawn

    he told me I walked too fast

    now I don't...I just kind of mosey along

    I see more
    I hear more
    I don't get nearly as tired

    I was walking with his son
    he said I walked like his dad and wanted to know if that's how I taught him to see things
    nope, I said, he taught me

    1. I probably should have mentioned he was five or six then

    2. Just saw this. Those are memories you'll never forget.