Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Outdoor Misconceptions

As the woman walked away from me she said, "the gloves have to be waterproof, because it feels like it's never going to stop raining!" This is just one of the misconceptions that I hear regularly. Some of them are specific, like this one. But some are generalizations that are just plain wrong. But whether they are things that are purported to be facts, or vast generalizations based on nothing substantial I - and I am sure many of my colleagues - hear them all the time.

Here are some of the most common things I hear, that are just plain wrong.

For some reason, in the area of water treatment there are a lot of misconceptions. The first is people looking for water treatment, saying "I need a water purifier." No. You don't. Yes you need to treat your water to make it potable, but you don't need a water purifier. When water is "purified" it has been treated to the viral level for contaminants. Most people active in the backcountry don't need this level of treatment - unless you are going to a country where they don't do a good job of segregating waste water from drinking water, or an area of severe flooding.

"I'll Just use Iodine" is another good one. If you are using iodine as a water treatment you are wasting your time. Iodine is effective at treating Giardia, but not cryptosporidium, and there are too many factors to consider - water temperature, turbidity, and PH - to make iodine treatment of viruses useful to us in the backcountry.

If you have questions about treating water, check out this post from a couple of years ago. The only thing missing from it is mention of the MSR Guardian water filter which is a bit heavy, and very expensive but an outstanding filter if you need viral protection.

Another area that has a lot of misconception is anything to do with Bears, here is my favorite, "Grizzly bears are the largest and most dangerous bears out there." This is just plain wrong. Grizzlies are neither the largest, or the most dangerous which I will clarify by saying they are not the most aggressive towards humans. The winner of both of these awards goes to the Polar Bear. Which is to say that Polar bears are both taller, and heavier than Grizzlies (which actually come in third in the size category) Polar bears also subsist mostly on meat, and are far more predatory than Grizzly bears. Grizzlies evolved on the plains, where they had an option of fight or flight, but Coastal Brown bears - which includes Kodiak bears, as well as many other subspecies of brown bear - evolved on the coast, where the ate diets rich with protein - salmon - which helped them grow bigger, and they didn't have anywhere to run in a fight, so they evolved far less likely to flee an altercation. Most scientists agree that Polar Bears are both the most aggressive and the largest bear on earth - though you are less  likely to run into them unless you are in the Arctic. But Kodiak bears are sometimes found to be bigger, this may be a statistical anomaly, but there are cases.

"Bear Spray isn't proven effective." Also just plain wrong. Bear spray has been tested over and over again, and is proven effective against all types of bear, including a handful of cases with polar bears. I have discharged bear spray a couple of times, but always in training. It sprays a cone of mist around 25 feet, and is potent. A friend of mine had an accidental discharge on his back - it is designed for use on mucus membranes remember! - and he said it felt like an iron was pressed against his skin. Now imagine that in your eyes or nose. Now imagine the effect on a bears nose, a nose that can smell bacon from two miles away.

"A gun is far better for defense against a bear, than pepper spray." Okay, imagine this scenario. You are standing 25 feet from a large brick wall, holding a basketball. You throw the basketball at the wall. As soon as you release the ball you draw your gun, and aim and shoot the ball before it gets back to you. If you can do this, then by all means, use your gun. If you can't shoot a charging bear in the head and guarantee a brain shot, then stick to bear spray. It is really that simple.

Okay, enough about bears. Go read Bear Attacks their causes and avoidance. It is the book Outdoor professionals read. 

"Kayaking is a great upper body workout." Only if you are doing it wrong, or are doing it at the Olympic level, take a kayaking class and learn all that you have been doing wrong.

"I need waterproof gloves." You probably don't, and waterproof gloves are expensive and horrible. If your hands are going into liquid water you need water proof gloves, but even I - a lover of cold water paddling - don't use waterproof gloves because they stink. TO make a glove actually waterproof, all the seams - and look at  pair of sewn gloves, and see how many seams there are on the fingers! - have to be sealed with tape or welded. This is time consuming and expensive. If the glove is also truly waterproof chances are it won't breath well, which means your hands will end up cold and wet (from sweat) anyway. Water resistant gloves are just fine for most people. I love and highly recommend power stretch gloves, they are made by a number of different companies.

"It's going to be cold so I need a four season tent!" Your tents job isn't to keep you warm. Your tent is like a shell Jacket. It protects you from wind, rain and snow. Keeping you warm is the job of your sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. A four season tent is designed for high winds and a heavy snowload. I own a four season tent for kayaking in Alaska, because of how much wind you can get on the coast. We should really stop calling them four season tents, because it leads people to think if you are camping in winter you need one. My three season, three person tent weighs just under four pounds. My four season, three person tent weighs 11. Do you really want that in your backpack? No.

Before you start spreading misinformation like any of the things listed above, think about the source. If there are any things you hear frequently that are just plain wrong, let me know in the comments.