Preparing for Mice in Your Sleeping Bag

Cowboy Campin'

What a night. Laying in a toasty sleeping bag on a cold desert night staring at millions of stars just overhead. Camping in a tent is nice, but cowboy camping with nothing in between your eyes and the sky is pure. The way camping ought to be. A few distant howls of coyotes can be heard, but they are not enough to disturb tonight’s sleep. Your hiking-partner’s snoring will not even be an issue because you remembered earplugs this time. The heaviness of your eyelids leads to a deep slumber filled with dreams of cheeseburgers, pizzas, ice cream and that mouse crawling in between your leg and the sleeping bag.

There is an actual mouse crawling in between your leg and the sleeping bag! In a sleepy stupor, you fly out of your sleeping bag and try to find a headlamp. Turning on the bright beam and awakening everyone camping nearby, you search everywhere for the furry little rodent to find nothing. The no good snickers eating rascal is still out there lurking about. As you look at your watch, only thirty minutes has passed since you first fell asleep. What a night it will be…

Cooking at least 200 yards away from where you are camping in clothing you will not be sleeping in is always a good practice. Scent-proof bags and a kevlar sacks pictured above also help keep critters away.

Cooking at least 200 yards away from where you are camping in clothing you will not be sleeping in is always a good practice. Scent-proof bags and a kevlar sacks pictured above also help keep critters away.

For most thru hikers spending time in the shelters of The Smokies on the Appalachian Trail or the woods of Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail, a run-in or two with some sort of critter in their sleeping bags is common.

Through multiple encounters with unwanted backwoods bunk-mates, we decided to compile a list of a few ways to put a dent in your rodent problem. If the tricks we have used to combat this incident from happening do not help you, hopefully we can at least help shed some light on ways to cope with this inevitable problem.


How to (Almost) Guarantee a Mouse-Free Night

  1. Nightly Anti-Mouse Checklist:

    • Do not cook in your sleep clothes.

    • Do not cook near your sleeping location.

    • Make sure all food wrappers are removed from your pockets and placed in your waste bag.

    • Use scent proof food bags such as Loksaks.

    • Hang a food bag if there are trees in the area.

  2. Backup Plans

    • Set up a fully enclosed tent or bivy.

    • Use mouse-proof kevlar bags or bear canisters to assure that your food is untouched.

    • Hike with a dog.

  3. Last Resorts

    • Take notes from the 1997 blockbuster “Mousehunt.”

    • Set out a “Do Not Disturb” sign before going to sleep.

    • Construct a few booby traps. (ex. small, mouse sized versions of traps found in Indiana Jones and The Goonies)

    • Hide food products in your hiking partners sleeping bag.

    • Get your falconeering license and travel with a trained majestic eagle.

  4. Accept the Mouse

    • Understand that you most likely set up camp on the mouse’s home.

    • You are really warm and really smelly. What more could a mouse ask for?!

    • It could be way worse. At least mice understand how to escape your sleeping bag once they have been discovered. Beetles have no sense of direction, skunks usually overstay their visit and bears do not realize how big they are and might accidentally destroy your sleeping bag if they try and cuddle.

No matter what happens, do not fear the mouse. Even if the worst case scenario herd of mice eat all of your food, it makes for good life experience and a good story. In fact, we want to hear your mouse stories. Please comment below and include any pointers you might have that we have left out.

Honorable Mention: if all else fails, you can use your backpack's rain cover as a way to confuse wildlife and deter them from camp. (pictured: Stan the hiking man)

Honorable Mention: if all else fails, you can use your backpack's rain cover as a way to confuse wildlife and deter them from camp. (pictured: Stan the hiking man)

How to Train for a Thru-Hike (Especially when you live at 522 feet above sea level)

There is a magic amount of training that should be done for a long hike, without overdoing it. Injuries can happen due to over-training just as much as they can happen from not training. Here are some areas that we think are worth addressing before setting out: 

FEET - No matter what you do to prepare physically for a thru-hike, your focus, first and foremost, should be on your feet. A hard lesson to learn is that what we do to our feet now affects what our feet will be able to do later. Most feet can handle long distance, that is a beautiful part of being human in that we are truly endurance animals. However you can thank evolution for the fact that our feet are so prone to sprains, plantar fasciitis, and the other ugly faces of foot pain. Discrepancies between the potential of our feet and reality of our foot health date back to the beginning when we became bipedal creatures. Whether or not we live an active lifestyle, foot pain is merciless and can cause not just discomfort but also a change in our daily lives. With all that said, it is crucial to always take care of your feet from the very first step we take, unfortunately we may not be graced with the advantage of knowing from the beginning that we some day will want to hike across the country. Some of us will just have to settle with falling in love with our feet the moment we decide to take our thru-hike dream and turn it into an attainable reality. So where do you go from here?

  1. STRETCH - Stretch, Dammit. It is not complicated, and most of the time you can actively stretch while sitting at a desk, in class, in a meeting, wherever your want! There are no excuses. Here are some of our favorites:       

  • Ankle Circles- Sitting down, or standing, isolate one ankle by drawing air circles with your toes. Continue for 30 seconds before reversing the direction of the circle. Repeat with the other ankle.

  • Flex Stretch- Sitting down, flex one foot by slowly pulling, with the toes, the foot towards your shin. At the top of the flex, slowly point the toes away from your shin, stretching down the top of the foot. Continue for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other foot.
  • Roll ‘Em Out- Grab a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, Nalgene water bottle, or foam roller. Sit the roller underneath your arch and roll your weight around on the roller. You are the judge of how much weight to put into your foot. Repeat on the other foot. If you really want a treat, freeze water in a water bottle before rolling ‘em out.       

Stretching will be a huge factor in maintaining and building strength as well as decreasing the chances of injury.

     2.  STRENGTHEN- The best way to build foot strength especially for a thru-hike is to hike. Add miles incrementally, and hike with your weighted pack when you can. If you are taking on extra work to save up money for a thru-hike, we can relate, you might not be able to hike as much as you would like to during the week. Try out these simple exercises to get your feet in tip top shape to hike the distance:

  • Calf Raises- Standing tall rise up on the ball of one foot. Lower your heel towards the ground, without resting it on the ground. Repeat for 20 reps, and then switch to the other foot. This can be performed on a flat surface or on the edge of a step.
  • Toe Crunch- Place a towel or handkerchief on the ground and step one foot on the area. Spread your toes out wide, and then scrunch the towel up with your toes as you bring them back in.  Repeat 15-20 times before switching feet.

    3. SOAK- Treat your feet to a weekly Epsom Salt soak. All you need is some hot water, Epsom Salt, and 20 minutes to revive your feet. Do not forget to drink lots of water afterwards!

   4. SUPPORT- Wear good shoes. The definition of good shoes is a pair of properly fitting shoes that provide the support and matches the profile of your foot. It is extremely easy to go by the shoe your friend recommends or your friend’s friend, but in reality, everyone’s foot needs are different. What shoe may be best for one hiker, may not work for you. Do your research in the field, not just online. As you start hiking around, pay close attention to your posture and how you distribute your weight on your feet. Do you roll your foot outwards when you walk or during normal motion? Do you roll your feet inwards? Overpronation and Supination are important to address before you get on the trail, don't ignore it. Do you have a high arch or a flat arch? These are all factors to take into consideration when picking out a trail shoe that works best for you. A good tip if you do not know where to start is to hit up a knowledgeable gear shop to have an expert check out your gait and offer recommendations.

CARDIOVASCULAR - Hiking, and just simply staying active, during the months leading up to your hike is important. Your body will have a lot of adjustments to make as is. Practice climbing elevation by hiking more difficult trails. If you live only a couple of hundred feet above sea level, pick a hill and repeat climbing it over and over. Your heart will be happy and carefree on the trail. Plus all of us low elevation dwellers will need any little bit of help for high altitude and peaks when we get there.

HIPS/LEGS- Another good reason to hike before you hike is to get your legs in shape. We mentioned before but can mention again the benefit of hiking especially with a weighted pack. It is a good idea to experiment with different paces to see what is comfortable for you, what you can work towards and what is too much. To supplement the hiking, stretching is a great way to maintain mobility and to help with recovery in between your hikes. In addition to hip flexors, the IT band is not one to leave out! There are so many stretches out there that target the hips and supporting muscles. Here are a handful of our favorites and what they stretch:

  • Frog Pose (Inner Thighs)- Begin in Table Pose. Take your legs out a little wider, keeping your knees in line with your ankles and feet. Take getting into this pose slow, and know your limits - don’t push it! Walk your arms out on the floor in front of you. Your elbows can rest on the floor, if you are there. Exhale slowly while pushing your hips backwards until you feel the stretch in your hips and inner thighs. Spend 3-6 breaths here.

  • Low Lunge (Hip Flexors)- From standing fold forward to place hands on the floor. Step back with one foot and set your back knee on the ground. Push your hips forward to actively stretch your hip flexors. Bring your torso tall while breathing into the stretch. You can gradually deepen the stretch. Hold here for 30 seconds before switching to the other leg.

  • Thread the Needle (Gluteus Maximus attaching to IT)- Laying on your back with you feet on the ground and knees in the air, place your right ankle just above your left knee or on your thigh. Holding your left leg around the thigh, pull your left knee towards you. Make sure to keep your back flat on the ground. Hold for 1-2 minutes before switching to the other side.

  • Standing Forward Bend (Hamstrings)- With your feet slightly apart, bend forward with your arms reaching towards the ground. Here you can use a block or a step, if you cannot reach the ground. You can also keep a slight bend in your knees as to not lock them out. Hold for 5-6 breaths.

Listed are just a few of our favorites. There is a wide variety of stretches that target different components of the hip-leg system. Stretching your legs will benefit your feet as well as your back. Always remember to take new stretches slow, and know your limits. Also remember that everything works like a machine. While you can isolate one muscle to stretch or strengthen, in order to keep the system working efficiently, you have to give attention to all of the components.

CORE- Core is crucial. No, you do not have to take on the trail with a chiseled six-pack. However, core is responsible for balance, agility, and good posture. With a weighted pack on your back, your core will help you keep upright and strong. Our daily movement on and off the trail is far from just frontal movement, or a single plane of movement. Therefore, just working out on one plane is not quite beneficial. Instead, try out strengthening exercises that target multi-planar, or rotational, movement.  

  • Plank- Starting on hands and knees in Table pose, step your feet back. Image a string starting at your belly button pulling straight up into the sky. You should feel your abs working here not your arms. There are tons of variations to a basic plank; you can always make it easier or more challenging. Hold 30 second to 1 minute. Repeat as many times as you want.
  • Side Plank- Come to your side on the ground. You can either take this pose from your elbow or go all the way up on your hand. The key here is to lift your hip/buttocks off the ground and to keep it from sagging to the ground. Likewise to the plank, there are lots of variations here. One of our favorite modifications is to begin to lower your hips and then take them back up to a full plank. Another modification to deepen the exercise is to thread your free hand underneath your supporting arm, twisting through your obliques.

  • Superman- Laying on your stomach with your hands straight out in front of your long ways, raise your chest off of the floor powering from your lower back. Rise up and hold or carry through the entire movement. Lower back to the ground slowly. These movements should be controlled. Repeat for 20 reps or 30 seconds. 

CLEAR HEADSPACE- It is simple. Being comfortable in your own mind is crucial to being able to handle the inevitable moments of loneliness that come with a long hike. Meditation, even in the smallest doses, is good for you. The ability to calm your mind will also help out in situations of distress, discomfort, or with anxiety. If you have trouble with your mind wandering or thinking about what is next or dwelling on what has past, focus on your breath. Practice this before hitting the trail.




Good Times, Good Friends, Good Fishing

With our time left in Tennessee dwindling down, we are beginning to veer away from parts of our lives that make us...well, us. It is tough to leave behind the Tennessee spring and summer that this time last year had us falling in love. The trail calls. The trail calls Ethan back and calls me for the first least for the first time that I have heard. As different hobbies get packed away in plastic boxes, we ventured out to the water once more. We cannot express enough how much this day meant to us. Completely disconnected once again, we took to the drift, to the rod, and to throwing out our worries each time we laid out line on the water. Read about our day as told by David Perry, Southeastern Fly, below. 

An Honest Day at Archer Key

A simple law of science is that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. If we were to take a moment to apply this idea to an ordinary circumstance, you may find yourself staring into the eyes of second chances, like an old lobster boat becoming an eco-tour boat. This particular second chance was given to a boat as it joined the Honest Eco tour family in Key West, Florida. What was once taking from the environment now provided a window into this world, and the passengers became observers rather than hunters. The reasoning behind this second chance is simple: there is so much we can learn from nature, and what better way to become the student than by hopping aboard the E.O. Wilson and heading out to sea.

 As we climbed aboard, we were greeted by a spectrum of light blues, which on a clear day matched the hue of the water and the sky. Bright yellow, tandem sea kayaks rested on top of the awning, and on her stern were the letters E.O. Wilson in white. The Captain opened the throttle and turned up the reggae. We were headed west towards the outlying islands of the Florida Keys. Suddenly, we found ourselves slowing to a stop. A pod of dolphins were spotted starboard side. With massive leaps and synchronized rolls, they made themselves known, soon after disappearing beneath the surface. A group of three were spotted with a small calf nestled in between. Following his parents every move, the calf bobbed in and out of the waves. 

The E.O. Wilson was built for adventure and with ease took us into the shallow, backcountry waters of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The kayaks were lowered off the awning and into the water. We climbed in, one in front and one in back, and paddled towards the mangrove island heavily decorated with birds like a wildflower bush is decorated with blossoms.  Even with our proximity to Key West, we were the only people in sight.

                                                                                                     Photo by Turner Harrison | Honest Eco 2017

Around every turn, cormorants would fly out of the tangled branches making a lot of commotion before finally getting air. A great white pelican sat in the water not far off from the island, paddling by in a kayak must have not seemed like a threat so he remained in place until the clumsy flock of cormorants shooed him into the sky. For a moment we ceased paddling to take in the warm ocean breeze and the sounds of the small wind driven waves receding into the mangrove island. In this moment, an osprey flew low over our heads displaying her recent catch in her clenched claws: a large needle-nose fish doubled over, mouth agape pointing to the earth as the water became farther and farther away. We joking asked the Captain how much they payed for the trained osprey flyover. The moment had played out so well it seemed perfectly staged.  Passing through a small channel draped by branches and waxy, green leaves, we ducked underneath a horned spider’s web bridging a small branch on our left side to a smaller branch on our right. We were able to steal a glimpse of her crab-like silhouette enhanced by a beautiful red, white, and black garnish.

We paddled along tracing an outline around the island. Directly in front of us a bird much larger than an osprey, carrying what seemed to be a smaller bird, swooped past us and into the heart of the mangroves. Two ospreys appeared on the scene chasing down a second intruder. Before our eyes, a blistering brawl between two bald eagles and three osprey broke out. We sat in the water below them in awe. The ospreys were protecting their nests and the eagles were hunting-  our presence was trifling, disregarded.

We had finished our loop around the island and with the boat in view, we began our return. Back onboard, we shared vegan snacks where our Tahoe Trail Bars, that we had brought to share, felt right at home.  The colors of the sun began to grow brighter as it began to make its descent. We hopped on stand-up paddle boards and paddled out to soak up the rich warm colors coming off of the water. Paddling around between the E.O. Wilson and the Western horizon, we celebrated the day and the last moments of light.

                                                                                                      Photo by Turner Harrison | Honest Eco 2017

A day aboard the E.O. Wilson allowed us to discover a world only accessible by water and to observe life in its raw, natural form. Both of our lives have been spent living in and around Nashville, Tennessee. This centralized city greatly distances us from any ocean, making our time around saltwater pretty rare. The entire day was built on good vibes, and by the time we left the marina we felt like we were familiar friends headed out from another day on the water, leaving behind the busyness of the city.  The boat that returned that evening to the marina did not return bearing a cargo full of lobsters plucked from the sea; instead, aboard her deck was laughter, a resonance of excitement from the day’s adventure, and so much life. 


Hidden Worlds Seen By Paddle Board

Anchoring the forest to the sea, the dendritic roots of the mangroves in South Florida create a world of their own. Here, many organisms find safety from the vast sea just outside. This thriving and complex ecosystem utilizes the shallower water and seeks protection in the cage-like branches above and below the water’s surface. The mangroves are remarkable worlds providing so much to all that is around them, and their vital role in their environment cannot be overemphasized. As a much needed life source, they absorb and store carbon from the air, provide a barrier between marine weather and the land, and turn debris and decay into a nutritious detrital base of the organic food chain. Mangroves are the only ones of their kind that can thrive in these conditions of tremendous heat, suffocating mud, and the saltiest of waters. They have the ability to exclude salt from their intake, and if any salt does make it into their system, it is released through a sacrificial leaf. Mangroves reproduce through a process of “living birth”. When a mangrove reaches maturity, a miniscule flower blooms, a seed pod begins to form, the pod is germinated, and then released as a fully packaged, ready-to-go mangrove seed pod into the water.  The tide, wind, and weather carry this pod along until it becomes so waterlogged that it becomes planted into the sediment As more of these pods take residence near each other, islands are formed, islands of these “botanical amphibians”.

We paddle along with dense mangroves on one side and elaborately colored homes on the other. Coming up on a small entrance into the forest, marked by an orange ribbon, we get down on our knees and head in. We store our paddles on our boards and take to the trees as we pull ourselves deeper into the tangled world. The pale branches fountain to green waxy leaves creating a tunnel, and our attention is directed down, beneath the calm water and through the roots.

Cassiopeia, the upside-down jellyfish, rest all along the sand and manatee grass of the lagoons. In order to feed, they must chase the sunlight, feeding on the symbiotic algae that gets trapped in their arms. Resting on the sediment with their arms to the sun, they add a lacey fringe to the quilted bottom. Cnidarians are well represented here in the mangroves as many anemones station themselves among the prop root habitats. The roots also provide support for filter-feeders such as sponges, tunicates, barnacles, and molluscs.  The bright cautionary orange of the Fire sponge dresses the roots up in a vibrant pop of color, as does the more innocent colored purple sponge. Outside of the mangroves, one may find the oddness of the Loggerhead sponge and the delicacy of the vase sponge decorating the floor. The starfish adds a friendly shape to this foreign world, and its fellow Echinoderms add yet more variety to this ecosystem, and yes, that includes the sea cucumber casually minding its own business.  A Queen Conch walks along the bottom with its muscular foot as it feeds on algae, quietly building its shell along the way. Master architects, they build their shell from the inside out, creating what to us is artwork but to them is merely protection. A couple feet away, a classmate to the conch goes about its daily routine of feeding. A sea hare, unlike the conch, keeps its shell internal and is armed with a brightly colored and perfume scented ink designed to mask its predators for a “not-so-speedy” get-a-away.  Many small fishes can be found in the mangroves. Some will grow bigger and work their way out to sea, and some will stay here living among the roots and salt ponds. Nurse sharks, young sea turtles, and traveling manatee may also be found working their way through the channels coming and going with the tide and the changing temperature. We hear a wrestling in the trees and our attention is brought out of the water and we are asked to look up at the branches surrounding us overhead. Tree crabs scatter, hiding just out of sight on the other side of the aerial roots. There is bright sunlight at the end of one channel, and we emerge out of the mangroves and back into deeper water. We stand back up on our boards and begin paddling back towards the marina. A snowy egret carefully watches us from a small island of mangroves as we paddle past.

The mangroves bridge the land to the sea, having a foot in both worlds, and they are among the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. Here, we find passion in the immense amounts of wonder and beauty, appreciation of its life, and a reminder of why we go outside.