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Hack your Volunteer Vacation

Posted by Anna Roth at Jan 28, 2014 12:25 PM |
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Make your volunteer vacation even cushier with these tips from seasoned volunteer Hal Pelton.

Almost everyone who turns out for Volunteer Vacations has some camping and backpacking experience, as well as tricks to make their time in the backcountry comfortable. We asked longtime volunteer vacationer Hal Pelton how he makes his week working with WTA even more cozy.

Your home away from home

Especially on a frontcountry vacation where you can drive most of your gear in, bigger is better. Everything you need for a week of trail work can take up a lot of room, particularly if the weather calls for rain gear. Plus, having room to spread out at the end of a day will be a welcome luxury. And it's a lot easier to find things and get dressed in a tent you can stand up in.

  • A thin, cheap door mat helps keep dirt and leaves out of your tent.
  • A light-weight tarp stretched over the entrance keeps rain out of the tent and off your bag.
  • Bring a good mattress. A week of hard work calls for lots of rest.
  • You can stretch the temperature rating of your sleeping bag by layering heavy socks, long johns and a cap.

Stay dry out there

Washington doesn't get its verdant green forests without lots of rain. If you're expecting a little dampness while you're working a trail, be prepared! Take extra rain gear and gloves, and keep in mind that leather isn't the best material when wet. You might even benefit from an umbrella for when hanging out in camp.

Keeping camp cozy and clean

  • A clock with a loud alarm will save you from missing breakfast.
  • An insulated cup keeps coffee or tea warm.
  • Body wipes help with personal sanitation, especially if the Sun Showers don't get warm enough.
  • A head lamp gets you around camp, and to the outhouse or toilet trench.

Stretching Volunteers by Kathy Bogaards
Stretching before a day of trail work is an important part of a volunteer vacation. Photo by Kathy Bogaards.

Work-a-day (or five)

  • On the trail, hydration bladders that fit in your day pack are handy, but good old water bottles are easier to have close at hand as you move along with your work.
  • A drawstring bag lunch bag can be useful for keeping your goodies separate from your gear.
  • Knee pads let you get close to the job with more comfort. Strap-on pads are OK, but the kind inserted into pockets in your Carhartts will always be with you.

An urgent issue: bathroom breaks

There is a story told by Tom Hornbein of when he and Willi Unsoeld were stormbound in their tent, high on the West Ridge of Mount Everest. He felt smug about his "pee bottle" saving him from the need to take trips out into the storm -- until he over-filled it. If you want to save yourself a chilly trip to the loo at night, consider taking a pee bottle or two. And do take a small towel.

Nalgene Cantenes work well for these. They roll up for transport and are easy to clean out with mild bleach water.

WTA Note: Ladies -- we know there are bathroom options out there, but we haven't isolated an optimal one. Do you have any suggestions for the best way to handle nature's midnight calls? What about other ways you've found to bring comfort into the backcountry? Let us know in the comments!


Girl Talk

I don't generally need to pee at night, especially if I make sure I pee before I settle in for the night, but then I also do my level best to not get up in the middle of the night even when at home. But there's one other female hygiene issue when traveling for multiple days in the back country, the menses. A young friend turned me on to the Diva Cup when I first started hiking and backpacking and I almost instantaneously fell in love. No more tampons or pads (or the huge expense that goes with them). Whole Foods carries them, REI might as well.

Posted by:

GwenT on Jan 29, 2014 04:12 PM

Thanks for the suggestion!

That's a great tip, Brighidoon! We could probably do a whole blog on how people handle female hygiene in the backcountry. Stay tuned, we just might!

Posted by:

"Anna Roth" on Jan 29, 2014 04:12 PM