Showing posts with label Survival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Survival. Show all posts

April 10, 2021

Amateur Radio Wilderness Protocol

Radio amateurs spending time in the backcountry with their radios are asked to follow The Wilderness Protocol to potentially help someone in an emergency.  Communication capabilities in an emergency situation are extremely important.  Backcountry locations are often without mobile phone service and out of reach of amateur radio repeaters.  

Light-weight low-power amateur radio transceivers (handy-talkies) are easy to carry and provide the possibility of simplex communication in an emergency situation.  However, amateur radio in the backcountry is useful for summoning help only when there is someone listening.  The Wilderness Protocol is described in the ARRL ARES Emergency Resource Manual encourages radio amateurs to listen:
The Wilderness protocol calls for hams in the wilderness to announce their presence on, and to monitor, the national calling frequencies for five minutes beginning at the top of the hour, every three hours from 7 AM to 7 PM while in the back country. A ham in a remote location may be able to relay emergency information through another wilderness ham who has better access to a repeater. National calling frequencies: 52.525, 146.52, 223.50, 446.00, 1294.50 MHz.
The above frequencies are FM simplex calling frequencies in the the US.  It is a good idea to listen on all the prescribed frequencies that your radio is capable of receiving, even if your radio doesn't necessarily transmit on those same frequencies.  You may intercept a call for help and be able to relay it to another station on a frequency your radio does transmit on.

The Wilderness Protocol schedule of listening times are all local times.
  • 7:00 AM to 7:05 AM
  • 10:00 AM to 10:05 AM
  • 1:00 PM to 1:05 PM
  • 4:00 PM to 4:05 PM
  • 7:00 PM to 7:05 PM
California backcountry


It is also a good idea to transmit your call sign once or twice so that others will be alerted to your presence.  Someone experiencing an emergency may hear your transmission and be prompted to respond by asking for your help.
The Wilderness Protocol is simply a recommendation that those outside of repeater range monitor standard simplex channels at specific times in case others have priority or emergency calls. -- FM & Repeaters”, June 1996 QST, p. 85.
As radio amateurs, we can make a difference by using our radios, knowledge, skills, and The Wilderness Protocol.  Now that you know about The Wilderness Protocol, be sure share this information with others including your family, your ham friends, your child's scout troop, your fellow amateur radio club members, and others in your circle.


Good DX and 73, NJ2X


June 8, 2020

How to setup backpacking tarp shelters (A-Frame, Lean-To, and C-Fly)

Many backpackers prefer camping with a lightweight tarp shelter versus a traditional tent due to the weight savings, cost advantage, and convenience that a tarp shelter provides.  In this article, I explore the tarp shelter in detail.  I made the switch to backpacking with tarp shelters many years ago and these shelters have served me very well through all kinds of weather and conditions.  I hope this article inspires you to give a tarp shelter a try on your next backpacking adventure.

Tarp shelter in use in the John Muir Wilderness
What is a tarp shelter?
A tarp shelter is a lightweight and simple shelter consisting of a tarp, 550 cord, stakes, and trekking poles.  There are many different ways to construct a tarp shelter.

Why use a tarp shelter?
A tarp shelter is an attractive alternative to a tent because of its weight savings, low cost, and simplicity.  Weight is an important consideration for wilderness backpackers.  A tarp shelter is also helpful in a survival situation when a tent is unavailable.  A tarp shelter is very inexpensive, costing only a few dollars to construct using a common utility tarp and a few on-hand items.  Tarp shelters are also easy to set up and tear down.  Setup/tear-down speed is an especially nice advantage when it is raining.

What are the disadvantages of a tarp shelter?
Tarp shelters are typically open to the elements on one or more sides, meaning rain, snow, or insects can potentially intrude on your sleep.  Unlike a tent, a tarp shelter does not provide a waterproof pan or offer much protection to your sleeping bag during a heavy rain.  This risk can be mitigated, though, by adding a waterproof bivy sack, which would also add extra warmth, and a small tarp as a floor under the sleeping bag, which would provide an additional layer of protection against dampness.  Also, adding a mosquito head-net would mitigate the risk of insect bites while you sleep.

Condensation is often a challenge with tent camping.  How about with tarp shelters?
Condensation is never a problem with tarp shelters, provided the construction of the shelter includes openings for ventilation.

How many lengths of cord should you pack for use as tarp shelter guy-lines?
I typically pack six lengths of 550-cord for setting up my tarp shelters: two 4-ft lengths (1.2 m), two 6-ft lengths (1.8 m), and two 8-ft lengths (2.4 m).  Packing multiple lengths of cord allows me to set up my tarp shelter in different configurations and in different conditions.

What types of knots are used for the guy-lines?
I like to use bowline knots and tautline hitches, tying a bowline knot on one end of each guy-line and a tautline hitch on the other end.  The bowline knot is useful to attach to the tarp, while the tautline hitch provides adjustable tensioning when attached to a stake.


Bowline knot

Tautline Hitch

What is the optimal height to set my trekking poles for my tarp shelter?
There is no optimal pole height because the pole height will be determined by the type of tarp shelter you decide to build and your needs.  If you want more headroom, increase the height.  If you want better rain runoff, increase the height.  If you want less exposure to the wind or rain, decrease the height.  If you are using the lean-to shelter and want a better view of the night sky, increase the height.  The beauty of using trekking poles and guy-lines with tautline hitches is that everything can be adjusted easily - even in the middle of the night if needed.

Are there any tricks to staking?
When staking, angle the stake away from the guy-line to provide more secure support.  If the ground is soft, place a good-sized rock on top of the stake to help it stay put all night.  Pound the stakes all the way to the ground to reduce tripping hazards in camp and to maximize the holding power of the stake.  Common lightweight metal camping stakes will work fine.  Avoid plastic stakes since they are bulky and not as durable.

Do I need to purchase a special tarp designed for camping purposes, or can I use a common utility tarp from a hardware store?
Inexpensive utility tarps from a hardware store are durable and work just fine, and can be purchased starting at around $5 USD.  The inexpensive utility tarps are preferred by those of us who are thrifty or are just getting started in backpacking.  The more expensive backpacking tarps offer more features like durability, versatility, and additional weight savings, and are preferred by through-hikers and the ultra-light crowd where saving grams is the goal.

How do you pitch a tarp for rain?
All of the tarp shelters described in this article will help protect against rain.

What are the pros and cons between the basic tarp shelter options?
  1. Lean-to Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • Quick and easy to set up
      • Good rain runoff
      • Good protection from sun, wind, and rain on one side
      • Provides a nice view of the night sky for bedtime meteor-watching
    • Cons
      • No floor, so no protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
      • Not ideal for heavy wind or rain
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • Good rain protection and rain runoff
      • Good wind protection on two sides
      • Flexible
    • Cons
      • No dampness protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
      • No view of the night sky
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • You can still see some portion of the night sky from your sleeping bag
      • Good rain runoff
      • Good protection from sun, wind, and rain on one side
      • The tarp fold on the ground acts as a floor, providing additional protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
    • Cons
      • A little more complex to set up
      • Requires more stakes than the other shelters (8 stakes total)
      • Limited view of the night sky
What materials are needed to construct a tarp shelter?
  1. Lean-To Tarp Shelter
    • 4 stakes
    • 2 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks
    • Tarp
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    • 6 stakes
    • 2 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks, or run a ridge line between two trees
    • Tarp
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    • 8 stakes
    • 4 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks
    • Tarp

What do the tarp shelters look like when set up?
  1. Lean-To Tarp Shelter (shown with a 5-ft x 7-ft tarp)

    • Lean-To Tarp Shelter
      Lean-To Tarp Shelter shown with optional bivy sack
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter (show with an 8-ft x 10-ft tarp)
    • A-Frame Tarp Shelter
      A-Frame Tarp Shelter
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter (shown with a 6-ft x 8-ft tarp)

    • C-Fly Tarp Shelter
      C-Fly Tarp Shelter
What are the steps to set up a tarp shelter?
It is generally easier to set up a tarp shelter for the first time using a photo as a reference or having an experienced tarp camper guide you.  However, for those who prefer step-by-step instructions, here they are.  Don't worry if you struggle the first time; with practice, you will quickly find what works best for you.

Lean-To Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using two stakes, stake down one side (two bottom corners) of the tarp
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip. Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    6. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 45-degree angle from the corner of the tarp
    7. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 for the other tarp corner
    8. Adjust the guy-line tension using tautline hitches
A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using two stakes, stake down one side (two left corners) of the tarp
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Insert the trekking pole into the center grommet of the tarp to form a peak
    6. Using two stakes, stake down the right side of the tarp with the trekking pole in place 
    7. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip.  Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    8. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 90-degree angle from the tarp
    9. Repeat steps 6, 7, and 8 for the other tarp peak
    10. Adjust the guy-line tension using tautline hitches
C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using four stakes, stake down one end of the tarp to make a 'floor'
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip. Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    6. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 90-degree angle from the side of the tarp
    7. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 for the other side of the tarp
    8. Pass the bowline knot through the front corner tarp grommet and feed the guy-line through the bowline loop, attaching the cord line to the tarp
    9. Repeat step 8 for the other front tarp corner
    10. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the line is at a 90-degree angle from the front of the tarp
    11. Repeat step 10 for the other front corner guy-line
    12. Adjust all guy-line tension using tautline hitches

I hope this article has inspired you to give backpacking with a tarp shelter a try.  A great way to get started is to practice setting up your tarp shelter in your own backyard.  This will help you gain experience and confidence before heading out into the backcountry.

Happy backpacking,

Michael (NJ2X)










© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

April 5, 2020

Dr. Ryan Southworth: A Doctor Explains How to Make the Safest Face Mask

In Casa Grande, Arizona, Dr. Ryan Southworth and his wife have developed a step-to-step guide to transform HEPA filters into high efficiency face masks.  Wearing a mask whenever leaving your home has been shown to be an effective way to reduce the risk of aspirating the COVID-19 virus.  Wearing a mask is also an important method of reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 should you already be infected (possibly even unknowingly).

Be prepared and consider making these masks for everyone in your home and then wearing them.




Good DX and 73, NJ2X

April 4, 2020

Be prepared for COVID-19

As much as we all want to avoid COVID-19, we need to acknowledge the possibility that someone at home may become infected with the virus.  As responsible people, we need to prepare for this possibility so that we are able to care for others and also reduce exposure to those outside our homes.  Here is a checklist of items to consider having on-hand at home before you need them:


  • Prescription medication to last at least two to four-weeks
  • Personal care items to last four-weeks
    • Toothpaste
    • Deodorant
    • Mouthwash
    • Shampoo
    • Toilet paper
    • Extra toothbrushes
  • Bleach
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Rubber gloves / nitrile gloves
  • Paper towels
  • N95 respirators
  • Non-perishable food for two to three weeks
  • Hand-soap
  • 60+% alcohol hand sanitizer
  • Routine cleansers:
    • Dish detergent
    • Laundry detergent
    • Toilet cleanser
  • Keep your vehicle gas tank above a half-tank
  • Make sure your home first-aid kit is complete
It is wise to prepare in a balanced way.  Over-buying and hoarding are unnecessary.  Be prepared.  Be safe.



Good DX and 73, NJ2X



© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

March 28, 2020

Backpacking Amateur Radio Ten Essentials

In my post, Amateur Radio Backpacking Checklist, I offer a list of helpful items to include when backpacking including the "ten essentials".  So what are the ten essentials?


The ten essentials are your non-negotiable life-saving items to include in your pack when you go on any outdoor adventure:
  1. Knife - A knife is an extremely useful tool in the field.  You can use it to make a shelter, prepare food, tighten a screw, carve wood into gadgets, cut 550 cord, ... 
  2. First-aid kit - Backpacking requires self-sufficiency.  When you are are in the backcountry you typically can't call for help.  Your life may depend on your first aid kit.  Mine is a homemade kit stuffed into a lightweight zippered water resistant sack.
  3. Extra clothing - This is a tough one since it easy to overpack clothing and what to pack depends on your location and conditions.  For backpacking in the California Sierras in July, I always minimally bring two pair of wool socks, a fleece, one pair of synthetic pants with zipper-off legs, a wicking t-shirt, and wool knit hat.  For a day hike, I will pack a fleece.
  4. Rain gear - I pack a waterproof rain jacket minimally.  If I know I am going to be trekking in rain then I will pack rain pants.  Staying dry means staying warm and avoiding hypothermia.
  5. Water storage - I carry a US military surplus water canteen on my belt.  I like being able to easily access water while I hike without stopping.  I also pack a full Platypus water bag as backup.  Two containers provides me with peace of mind between refills.  It is also handy to use one to treat water while drinking from the other.
  6. Flashlight - I pack a lightweight headlamp with adjustable brightness that runs on two AA batteries along with a couple of extra batteries.  I use the minimal brightness necessary for the task at hand to conserve battery so they last longer.
  7. Trail food - When backpacking, I pack enough food to last for the entire trip plus an extra day's worth.  An extra day's worth of food is for backup in case of delays.  Pack high protein food (not junk food).
  8. Matches and fire starter - I pack a waterproof container with high quality waterproof stick matches.  I also carry my favorite windproof Zippo lighter.  Fire can mean survival.
  9. Sun protection - I typically wear a broad brimmed hat to protect my face, ears, and neck against the California sunshine.  I also carry a small stick of solid sunscreen.  I wear a collared long-sleeve ventilated shirt that protects my arms, shoulders, and neck.  Long pants protect my legs.  No fun suffering through a sunburn and important to save our skin since we will be needing later in life.
  10. Map and compass - There is no substitute for a good topographic map, compass, and the ability to use both well.  They are lightweight lifesavers.  GPS devices are a wonder of technology and relatively fragile.
  11. Amateur Radio - A 2m / 440 Mhz handy-talkie with a fully charged battery is a potential life-saving communicating device in an emergency.  I program my HT with the repeaters local to the area I will be backpacking in before I go.  I also monitor NOAA weather radio transmissions on my HT for potential hazards.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X


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© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.