Secrets for improvising in the out-of-doors

Why do I love camping? In spite of the obvious reasons, there’s always something new to learn. No one has a monopoly on good ideas, even those who’ve spent a lifetime outdoors. Here are some tricks I’ve stolen from friends and acquaintances.

Be Cool

My feet never sweat in old-time canvas tennis shoes, but they get hot in the new synthetic ones. Rod Johnson, CEO of the Midwest Mountaineering store in Minneapolis, says that if you want cool feet, cut the tongue out of your tennies. It works. And surprisingly, you don’t feel pressure from the laces. Tongueless tennies also dry faster than those with tongues.

Pin It on Me

My wife won’t go anywhere without a pocketful of diaper safety pins. Laughs turned to respect when I discovered how useful they were. Examples: Wet clothes set out to dry won’t blow away if you pin them to a pack. A hat or gloves pinned to clothing or a pack will stay put when you hike. And, a diaper pin makes a handy zipper pull for a tent or jacket.

Seal of the Century   

Thompson’s WaterSeal—available at hardware stores—is popular for sealing concrete blocks and wooden decks. It also waterproofs paper and fabrics. One application with a foam brush makes maps and journals waterproof (they’ll float!)—and you can write (in pencil) on the treated paper. This sealant also works great on leaky tents and tarps.

A Reason to Love Broccoli

While canoeing in the Adirondacks, a friend pulled some items from his pack that had been secured with a strong rubber band that was nearly one inch wide. “Where’d you get those cool rubber bands?” I asked. “Broccoli,” he replied. And to think I’ve been eating broccoli for years and throwing away the bands.

It’s a Wrap

Speedwraps secure rolled-up electrical cords and household items. Each reusable strip consists of a piece of double-sided Velcro that has a reinforced slot at one end. I use Speedwraps to attach small items to canoe thwarts and the D-rings on packs. They’re great for stowing hiking poles, too. You can even link several together to hold a thick bundle. Check your local hardware store or

Blister Beaters

You can reduce blisters while hiking if you wear two pairs of socks—a medium-weight outer sock and a thin, inner liner. Wear the liners inside out—abrasive seams away from your skin.

Smooth Move

For years I carried a sheet of sandpaper on my outings. It was useful to smooth wooden paddle shafts, polish the joints on aluminum tent poles, and roughen surfaces to be glued. Then, one day I saw a woman with a nail board, and I went right out and bought one. Get the heavy-duty type that has wet-dry paper on both sides.

Keep an open mind and you’ll find plenty of tricks to steal. My policy is to give credit the first time. After that, it’s mine.

Cliff Jacobson is a Distinguished Eagle Scout and the author of more than a dozen popular outdoors books.

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