MESSING ABOUT: Wear layers; be prepared to build shelter

Messing About in the Maine Woods

by Ron Maxwell

Veterans day 2017 found me by Donnell Pond between Schoodic and Black mountains. It was a drippy night and a cool morning but the real fun began at 7 a.m. when a wall of sleet and hail hit from the east. I stood on the beach watching it roll my way. When it hit, I leaned into the blast and enjoyed the buffeting – until the hail started in earnest. Then I bravely ran back to my emergency shelter and hid. (The shelter was a tarp, staked to the ground on bottom and lashed on top to two trees.) This created an excellent barrier that diverted the sleet and wind, while I was dry underneath. I waited out the storm in my layered clothing and emerged from my manufactured microclimate, dry and comfortable. There are two reasons it went well: I was wearing layers, and I was in a pocket of still air created by the tarp.

The first reason is called thermoregulation, which is a fancy way of describing layers of clothing to take off or put back on as you warm up/cool down. I layer with a T-shirt over a long sleeve turtleneck/ long underwear shirt as a base. Then add a wool sweater and a waterproof jacket above the base layer, and the upper torso is set. Lower body layers involve the bottom of long underwear worn under cargo pants. A case can be made for a thermal layer under it all if you feel you need the extra help.

None of my layers is water wicking or fancy or expensive. Standard wisdom says to use wool, because it warms you when it is wet. There is a place for those things if you spend lots of time out in the weather, but for me they are too cost prohibitive. With the layers mentioned above I can remove pieces to keep my core temp at the stage where I don’t sweat, while staying warm enough.

The second reason is the area of stillness under the tarp, a microclimate. The difference between being warm and freezing is how well you get yourself out of the wind. I always carry a folded tarp or emergency blanket and paracord when out in the woods hiking. It allows a dry zone to be set up when the rain starts or a windbreak to take a break behind. But you can also make use of microclimates without rigging up a tarp each time a breeze blows. Use a sheltered area in the trees to recover from the wind. Bask on that warm rock. Make use of the natural features of where you are because simple changes can make a big difference.

So make sure that you have appropriate shelter for the season you are out in. Wear clothing in layers so you can thermoregulate by removing or adding those layers as you get too hot or cold. I also recommend an emergency plan for when something goes wrong – a simple emergency blanket (or contractor garbage bag) tucked in your backpack and some paracord will allow you to make a simple windproof shelter if you get stuck, hurt or ‘turned around.’ And that is how we thrive in the Maine outdoors.

MESSING ABOUT: Always consider the “rule of threes”


by Ron Maxwell, China School Teacher/Outdoor Enthusiast

The more one wanders about in the land of survival talk, the more one hears about the rule of threes. It has been approached by many writers in many styles with many words and I claim no exclusivity to any part of it. The rule of threes is however a clever thing and worthy of our consideration. For those of you who have not heard, the rule of threes is a set of guidelines to use when prioritizing needs in a survival situation. A human can live three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, three weeks without food. Simple, yet elegant, the rule of threes can be easily memorized and put to practice.

Deal with each of the rules in turn when packing your bag. I don’t have worries about allergies or asthma, but if I did, an EpiPen and an inhaler would be first in the kit. Air sorted? Move on to shelter. Protect yourself from the wind at night with a tent or a tarp shelter. A water shedding outer layer will keep your rainy days usable, while a warm layer will make chilly afternoons and evenings comfortable. Check to see if you have the right rated sleeping bag for the season you are enjoying. I also always pack the reflective automotive sunshade to put between me and the ground for insulation and an emergency mylar blanket for an added layer above me just in case.

Water is easily the heaviest thing you will carry. In Maine, there are many sources for water so one could plan a hike around ponds and campsites and be very comfortable. Make sure to treat all water before you drink it. I went online and researched filters that went as high as a $100 but then settled on one for $20. It threads on a standard soda bottle for convenience and its price point was low enough that breaking or losing it didn’t worry me. You could just as easily use a simple can to boil the water to kill the microscopic contaminants. Different sources say different times for boiling, but I always go for five minutes at rolling boil. I start each day on trail with two 1-1/2 L “disposable” water bottles full of filtered water, one on each side of the pack. Excessive to some, but I find more is better than not enough.

Food is the last of the threes and I cannot conceive of going three weeks without. My breakfast plan is a high nutrition grain mix: amaranth, chia, quinoa and oats. Amaranth is high in protein, fiber and healthy oils. Chia is high in Omega 3s which are anti-inflammatory and it also slows how your body converts carbohydrates to sugars. Quinoa is a complete protein (it has all the necessary amino acids), has a low glycemic index, is high in fiber and has magnesium. Oats are high in dietary fiber, lower cholesterol and are filling.

Lunch is out of a bag while walking, usually homemade granola and a bag of trail mix. I carry coconut oil separately to add to the granola because it seems dry without something and milk just doesn’t work on the trail. Also, the added calories are always welcome when one is exerting in the woods. Dinner always starts with drinking water setting up camp. Then I eat whatever can be made with whatever energy is left. Ramen and bouillion and prepackaged meat usually work well for me with green tea.

Planning using the rule of threes is an effective survival strategy. Preparing for the weather will keep you comfortable. Keeping hydrated maintains body temperature and removes waste from the body. Portioning your meals and pre-bagging the day’s food at home is an easy way to control / plan the amount of food consumed. And that is how we thrive in the Maine Outdoors.

MESSING ABOUT: Survival is an interesting concept


by Ron Maxwell

Survival is an interesting concept for me. I have always enjoyed the idea of being able to solve problems in the field. It means my pockets are always full of lighters and knives and more pocket emergency kits than any one person has a right to own. Each of my family’s cars has extra water, food, flashlights, emergency blankets and other supplies. The house has supplies squirreled away in corners for emergencies. Survival has always been on my mind even though I have not yet been in a position to need the information.

But ‘survival’ has always had a clawing, tearing sort of feel: something forced on one from the outside. Survival has always seemed to be a ‘bug eating, puddle drinking, dirt pit sleeping’ sort of experience. I’d rather be careful, thanks. I have always thought ‘thriving’ instead of ‘surviving’. I was on a hiking trip and soaked my shirt with the days exertion. It was simple to thrive in camp afterward with the clean, dry, night-clothes I had packed, while rinsing and drying my day things by the fire. For me, survival will always be what would happen when my plans and my prepared equipment both fail. I haven’t done it yet, but when I do need to, I have some backup skills ready. Skills that began by watching You-Tube, but were practiced and perfected in the field.

I have lighted fires on the ice, while skating on a cold afternoon – using a bow drill and tinder set I made myself. I have slept on an automotive sunscreen under an emergency blanket when a night turned too cold. I have used the knife I carry in my pocket to make a burner and cookset from the cans the dinner ingredients came in. A burner and cookset fueled with a common automotive fuel additive I bought at the same convenience store where I bought the dinner ingredients. I have made my own string from cedar bark to tie together a debris shelter for sleeping. I have the ability to survive if I need, but my purpose in being in the outdoors will always be to thrive.

See how the process doesn’t happen just in the outdoors? There is a joy in preparing yourself mentally or taking in someone else’s experience when you can’t get outside. There is an excitement to testing out your new equipment with the kids in the backyard, where you can see the potential of all your gear. And nothing beats actually getting out on the trail and waking up surrounded by nature enjoying the comfort of a situation you put together. And that is how we thrive in the Maine Outdoors.