From dental floss to duct tape, there are a variety of things that can improve your time in the great outdoors

by: SCOTT STAATS/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Some extra water and a few snacks can help ensure a good hiking experience.

Over the years I've kept my eyes and ears open for important outdoor tips that make my outings more comfortable and enjoyable. Some came from the advice of others; some came about by my own trial and error.
   When hiking, it's important to drink plenty of water, but it's often a pain to take off the pack to reach the water bottles. Try one of the many two- or three-quart hydration packs out on the market today. They allow you to drink frequently from a tube without even stopping. This will definitely keep you hydrated enough for your entire hike.
   When on long hikes, pack carbohydrates such as energy bars, granola, candy, GORP and fruit to provide some extra horsepower. Let the slowest person in your hiking party set the pace, especially when children are part of your group.
   On your next hiking, camping or fishing trip be sure to include some dental floss in your sewing kit. Besides keeping your teeth clean, floss comes in handy to help fix your gear while in the field. It works great for sewing thicker materials such as the leather of your hiking boots, the neoprene of wet suits and the nylon of backpacks.
   Place a bike reflector near your tent. This will make it easier to spot when you return to camp late or return from a bathroom break during the night. Your flashlight will pick up the reflection and lead you back to your sleeping bag. The reflectors are lightweight and take up minimal space in your camp gear.
   If you cook over an open fire, give this a try. Coat the outside bottom of your pots and pans with dish soap. The soot will wash right off when you are done, making cleanup easier. Fine steel wool will also take soot off your campfire cookware, making it look like new.
   If you can't afford the more expensive vacuum sealers on the market today, try this. Put whatever you have in a ziplock freezer bag, then lower the bag into a sink full of water just below the top of the bag. When the water pressure around the outside of the bag pushes out all of the air, zip the top closed and place the bag in the freezer.
   Instead of storing your sleeping bag in the stuff sack that came with it, either hang it in a closet, lay it on the bed in the spare room or store it in a larger bag so the insulation doesn't compress and lose its fluff. Try sewing two pillow cases together for a storage sack.
   Be aware that GPS units, two-way radios and cell phones may not work in certain areas and that batteries will drain quicker in cold conditions. Be sure to put new batteries in all your gadgets before heading out, and carry an extra set in your pack.
   Here are a few more ways that duct tape can help you in the outdoors. Use it to repair a torn backpack or broken zipper. If a cross-country ski binding fails, a few wraps of duct tape will get you back to the trailhead. It can also come in handy to help build a splint to stabilize an injured arm or leg.
   Some picnic tables are treated with chromated copper arsenate used to preserve the wood. If you use any of these tables while camping or picnicking this summer, here are a few precautions to take. Throw a tablecloth over the picnic table and wash your hands before eating to keep from accidentally ingesting any harmful chemicals.
   If you're camping for more than three days and want to save space in your cooler usually taken up by several blocks of ice, try this. Freeze some items such as meats, breads, butter, juice or even milk and use them later in the week as they thaw.
   Turn an old wide-mouth water bottle into a survival kit. Put in items such as matches, a candle, emergency blanket, Power bars, pocketknife, band-aids, spare compass and water purifying tablets. The bottle makes a watertight container that floats. Put all of this in a zip lock bag to keep the bottle sterile if you need to drink out of it later.
   Don't forget the aluminum foil for cooking up some tasty veggies in camp. Slice potatoes, zucchini and carrots and place them on a sheet of foil. Add spices and seal into a tight packet, leaving some air inside. Place this on a grill or at the edge of a fire and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes.
   When pitching your tent, avoid the bottom of a dry canyon or right next to a stream. A flash flood from a thunderstorm many miles away could provide a rude awakening in the middle of the night. Any low areas can also puddle up rainwater, making for a sleepless night.
   On your next fishing trip, try putting scent on your lures and bait. Fish have a strong sense of smell and often won't bite if they detect the human scent. There are many varieties on the market today, and most of them will work.
   If you want to have a more successful fishing trip, keep an eye on the barometer. When the barometric pressure is low, fish tend stay on the bottom and don't feed much. But, when the pressure is on the rise and between 31 and 34, they'll hit just about anything you throw at them.
   When camping or fishing in chilly weather, bring along some "instant heat" packets to slip into your waders or in your sleeping bag at night. For those of you with cold-blooded feet, your toes will thank you in the morning. These packets are sold in most sporting goods stores and cost only a buck or two.
   Now that you have your fresh fish, there are a few ways to prepare them. Of course there's not much better than fresh trout in the frying pan but here's another tasty way to consider - tin foil dinners. My suggestion is to make this meal near where you catch your fish, at a campground or picnic area for example. Bring all the ingredients and cook right in the campfire.
   The basic ingredients for a tin foil dinner are the fish (or burgers if you prefer), canned potatoes, canned corn, a can of cream of mushroom soup, onion and whatever spices you prefer. Lay out a piece of aluminum foil (about 18" long) and place a few sliced onions on it. Next lay down the fish, then pour the drained potatoes and corn over the meat. Finally pour the soup over everything and close it up nice and tight. Double wrap with another piece of foil and place in the coals using a shovel. Make sure you have some coals under and on top of the foil. In 25 or 30 minutes, depending on how hot your coals are, remove and enjoy a tasty campfire meal. While the coals are still perfect, why not have a few marshmallows for dessert?
   If you want to catch more fish, especially bass, put on a pair of waders and fish the places that bass boats can reach. Fish are often scared off from constant noise of motors. Try wading near flooded trees or brushy banks and you may be pleasantly surprised.
   Make your own hummingbird nectar by mixing four parts water and one part white table sugar. Change the nectar and wash the feeder every four to five days. If you plan on making lots of nectar to store in the refrigerator, boil the water first.
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