Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Alternative Spring Break in Moab BLM

The Location

Eleven students from DePaul University in downtown Chicago, accompanied by a DePaul instructor/WV leader, recently made the trek nearly 1,400 miles to the Utah desert where they set up camp along the Colorado River for the week. The long drive in cramped quarters allowed for optimal bonding time for the students, who were all too farmiliar with eachother once they arrived in Utah. 

The Project

For their week of work the crew completed an incredible amount of work. They began their week working on Richardson Amphitheater Loop Trail where they made the trail more usable. They brushed out the overgrown Juniper trees, lined the slick rock sections of  of trail with rocks to guide hikers, closed down social trails, removed large and small rocks from the tread, created cairns to illuminate the trail, and installed numerous rock steps and a few retaining walls. 

For their off-day, the group slept in, had a feast of a breakfast consisting of pancakes, bacon, and strong coffee, then set off to hike the scenic and famous Fisher Towers Trail. After the hike and a picnic lunch, the group went swimming at a local creek. 

Their final day of work was at the Grandstaff Trail. Here the crew installed check-steps and a large earthen water bar with a rock-lined drain. After completing their work the group hiked the grandstaff trail to enjoy the views, while other hikers enjoyed the improvements to the trail! 

The Experience

Every participant chooses to join a project for a different reason, and each person will take their own gains away from the week. These gains could be personal growth, learning a new skill, meeting new friends, pushing their physical limits, or the simple treasure of having a adventurous vacation. Here are some of the things that DePaul students gained from their week working and exploring in Moab.

Mandy, a senior at DePaul loved the trailwork!

Martha, an environmental science student at DePaul, loved learning about new plants.

Matt, a public relations student and plant lover, got excited about desert ecosystems.

Maddie, a member of the DePaul Urban Farming Community, loved exploring a new place.

Stay tuned for more WV testaments from projects throughout the summer!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Equipment Spotlight: Backpacking Cots

By Caroline Williams

I have always had issues with my joints when sleeping on the ground, and have tried several different types of sleeping pads, to no avail. To make matters worse, I had neck surgery in June 2015, so finding comfortable outdoor sleeping arrangements is even more of a challenge for me.

When flipping through an outdoors gear catalog one day, I noticed a piece of camping equipment I never knew existed: the ultralight cot. I nearly fainted when I saw the price tag - they can run up to $250 -  so didn't pursue it further.

However, a little voice in my head wouldn’t let me stop thinking about what it would mean to sleep comfortably, no matter the conditions. I did a little research and found these cots are relatively light and easy to set up. After more research, I landed on the lightest one I could find (2 lbs., 9.6 oz.), which was a paltry $249.99. Unfortunately, it was out of stock everywhere, including online.

Because I had a Wilderness Volunteer trip coming up soon, I opted for my second choice. This one was 3 lbs., 2 oz., plus it was a bargain at $239!

I got it home, set it up in my kitchen and tried it out. It was extremely comfortable – I even took a short nap (until my cat woke me up begging for food, but that’s another story). I slept on cots at Girl Scout camps way back in my youth, but they were never anything I would rave about. In fact, I might still have a bruise on my back from the middle cross bar on the cot I used in 1976. It’s not a stretch to say that my new cot was light years ahead of that old canvas and steel cot.

Fast forward a week later and I was out in the desert, cot and all. It was a car camping trip, so I didn’t have to make the decision whether or not to jettison it from my pack. Good thing, because after the week was over I was hooked. There were no protrusions poking me in weird places, I could sleep on my back and side without issue and I slept the best I had in a long time inside of a tent.

Luxury item or necessity? That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. All I can say is, I will never camp without it again.

Helinox Cot Lite
The basics: $249.95 | holds 265 lbs. | weighs 2 lbs., 9.6 oz

Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite Mesh
The basics: $249.95 | holds 325 lbs.  | weighs 3 lbs., 2 oz

Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite
The basics: $239.95 | holds 325 lbs. | weighs 3 lbs.,15 oz

(NOTE: these are the only three that I’ve found on the market.)

Do you have any cot favorites? Know about other options? Let us know in the comments below.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Trailwork Tools of the Trade

Trail work requires many different types of tools- having the right tool for the job (and knowing how to use it correctly) makes trail work faster and a lot more fun. Some of the tools of the trade are common gardening/yard tools while others are very specialized and less well known. Here's a quick overview of common tools used on typical Wilderness Volunteers service projects.


A McLeod (pronounced mccloud) is a handy tool with teeth on one side and a hoe like blade on the other side at the end of a long wooden handle. It is commonly used to rake duff, break up sod clumps, and move/level dirt when working on trails. Its unique shape makes it especially effective for repairing trail slopes and compacting tread.


A Pulaski is half axe and half adze at the end of a long wooden handle. It can be used both to dig and to chop wood making it a trail construction and maintenance favorite.

Rock Bar

A rock bar is a long and straight bar made of metal that is used to pry large rocks, loosen compacted earth, and break up rocks. The length of the bar gives added leverage to the user making moving enormous rocks out of a trail much easier.

Crosscut Saw

A crosscut saw is a large saw designed for felling large trees and bucking (cutting a felled tree into logs). It can be used as a one or two person saw and makes removing large trees from trails a breeze.

Silky Saw

A silky saw is a small hand saw used for pruning, limbing, brushing, and removing small downed trees from trails. They may be folding or non-folding and can have curved or straight blades. Their light weight and versatility make them a must have for trail crews.


Loppers are a manual two-handled cutting tool designed to prune small branches. Long handles provide excellent leverage and make clearing trails of brush and tree limbs much faster.

Single Jack & Double Jack Sledge Hammer

Sledge hammers are used to break up larger rocks into smaller pieces to make them more manageable or to create fill for trail features such as drains, boardwalks, bridges, and causeways.

Pick Mattock

The pick or pick mattock is used for breaking up tread, prying smaller rocks, loosening compacted soil, and grubbing.


The common round-point shovel is fantastic for moving dirt & gravel, correcting tread and digging.

Canvas Bags
Heavy duty canvas bags are great for moving rocks, gravel, duff, and tundra mats. A substitute for these are 5 gallon buckets.


A drawknife is used to peel the bark off dry logs/ felled trees. It is typically used by sitting on top of a log, holding the drawknife by both handles, and pulling it towards you.

What is your favorite trailwork tool? Let us know in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Project Reflections: The Lost Coast of King Range NCA

In April of 2016, six adventure-crazed volunteers set off into the wild backcountry of the King Range National Conservation Area with one main goal in mind; to have a week of fun in a beautiful and wild region. A close second to their main goal was to perform some much needed conservation work in the area including trail maintenance, trail reconstruction, and beach cleanup. With these goals in mind, they began their excursion, accompanied by BLM Outdoor Rec Planner, Justin Robbins.

The crew hiked nearly six miles with full packs into their basecamp adjacent to the mouth of the freshwater Cooskie Creek for the week. From here they set out each day with a project in mind; this included maintenance and reconstruction of the eroded trail, beach cleanup and removal of debris, and removal of illegal beach shelters.

Through the week, the crew made some serious accomplishments. The mighty group of six repaired approximately four miles of trail, removed and rehabilitated five campsites, and removed approximately 200 pounds of debris from the beach! 

Per tradition, when the crew exited the wilderness - exhausted, fulfilled, and with a deep sense of accomplishment - they were warmly greeted by the BLM with a hearty barbecue. With full hearts and stomachs, the participants parted ways, never to forget their week of adventure in the Lost Coast. 

We are quickly approaching the King Range project for 2017 and it is sorely in need of volunteers! The project remains largely the same as 2016 and the region remains as beautiful and in need of help as ever. Come join one of WV's most dynamic leader duos for a week of fun and adventure in King Range's Lost Coast, and give something back to you public lands!

To share your own volunteer adventure story on WV's blog, send your experience to Taryn at

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Tips and Tricks for Packing your Backpack

An obligatory gear photo to incite envy in all your friends

Lay Out Your Gear

Before you start attempting to squeeze everything you think you might need into your pack, take a moment to lay it all out on the floor. This will help to keep your pack organized, to ensure that you don't forget anything essential, and to give you the opportunity to rethink items which might be superfluous and unnecessary. An extra bonus is the opportunity to take a rad gear photo to make your friends envious of your adventure!

Prepare for the worst, but no more

Only Pack the Essentials

The number one item I typically over-pack is clothing. It is all too easy to get carried away with the thought of 'what-if' and end up bringing clothing for every possible weather event. Decide instead to go for quality rather than quantity by checking the weather ahead of time and packing accordingly. I suggest that you only need one to two hiking/working outfits (top and bottom), something to relax in camp and sleep in, rain gear, and a compactable warm jacket for cold mornings (doubles as a pillow!). Materials for these clothes should be wool, fleece, synthetics, or...well, pretty much anything that is not cotton.

Remember, you're camping, not glamping.
Limit Your Comfort Items

Only allow yourself one to two nonessential items to heighten the comfort factor. These could include a camp chair, a camp pillow, chocolate bars for every night, a packable lantern, or a bag of wine. With all of the amazing new backpacking and camping gear available, it is easy to get caught up and bogged down with the gear. Just remember, you are headed out to get away from it all, so stop trying to replace your creature comforts with lighter versions of themselves. And for the love of wilderness, minimize the technology you bring! I have always felt that limiting these comfort items allows me to appreciate them that much more while in the back-country.

Pack Smarter

To optimize space in your pack, utilize compression sacks as frequently as possible. Not only will this squeeze your belongings down to their smallest size, but it will also keep your gear organized, easily accessible, and will protect it from water in case of a storm.

When it comes to actually packing your pack, things are really up to your preference. Based on the weights and densities of your gear, distribute your belongings according to the 'Backpack Weight Distribution' diagram. As a general guideline remember that your heaviest items should be lower and close to your back, and you should not overload parts of your pack above your shoulders, as it will throw off your balance. Many people put their sleeping bag down low on their hips, their tent and cook gear close to their back, and fill the remaining space with clothes and other gear.

Don't let the size and shape of your pack restrict your packing too much. I always like to attach my sleeping pad to the lower outside and my camp shoes and hiking poles (when not in use) to either side. These odd-shaped rigid items can be cumbersome to fit inside a pack, and may come in handy if you make them easily accessible.

On the subject of easy access in your pack, always keep your rain gear, pack cover, camera, snacks, water, and any other gear you might need in a pocket which is easily accessed throughout your day. These are all items that can be a hassle to dig for when you actually need them!

If you have any additional tips or tricks, please share them below for the greater good.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Preparing for your Volunteer Adventure: Fitness Tips for Service Projects

With our project season kick-off only a few weeks away, it is time to be preparing yourself for the physical challenge ahead! With many of the movements being vastly different from a normal day-to-day exercises, here are some tips on how to train for your specific project! While all of these exercises are generally more indoor-based, they can be modified to fit your outdoor lifestyle...just take your workout outside!

Invasive Species Removal Projects

These projects require that you are bent over for extended periods of time, and, depending on which invasive species, that you transport hefty loads of removed plants, use lopper's (not Cyndi, but the pruning/shearing type), or even small handsaws. If unprepared, this can be extremely difficult on your back, and biceps. Exercises to prepare for this sort of project include:
  • Core strengthening exercises like plank, side plank, crunches, and "bird dog" (to keep your back safe)
  • Push-ups and pull-ups (for pulling plants and using tools)
  • Bicep curls with weight (for lopping and handsawing)
  • Superman repetitions (for lower back strength)

Trail Maintenance Projects

These projects require that you are a jack of all trades; be prepared to be bending, lifting, digging, sawing, and hiking with a pack on your back all day. Naturally, this means you need to be in good shape all around. Here are a few of the exercises that will help prepare you for this:
  • Squats with or without weight (for lifting)
  • Bicep curls with weight (for lopping and handsawing)
  • Core strengthening exercises like sit-ups, crunches, and Russian twists (for crosscutting)
  • Cardio training like running, cycling, hiking, etc. (for long hikes and general endurance)
  • Hiking with a loaded pack (to prep your body for what is to come!)

Rock-work Intensive Projects

These require that you are lifting and transporting large and HEAVY rocks from possibly long distances! These projects also require that you have a massive amount of patience and attention to detail, so be sure to practice your rubix's cube (or any other perplexing puzzle) prior to the project.

  • Squats with or without weight (for lifting)
  • Bicep curls with weight (also for lifting)
  • Any and all core strengthening exercises like sit-ups, crunches, plank/side-plank, and "bird dog" (to keep your back safe/strong while lifting)
If you didn't get the general theme, you will be doing lots of lifting!

Crosscutting Intensive Projects

Crosscutting requires that your back, shoulders and biceps are fully prepared for an endurance workout! You will be using a non-mechanized cross-cut saw which
  • Rowing machine, or just rowing (for core endurance and strength in for crosscutting)
  • Core strengthening exercises like sit-ups, crunches, and Russian twists (for crosscutting)
  • Squats with or without weight (for lifting/moving large logs)

Projects with Long Backpacks

These projects will require that you are all around in good shape. Due to the nature of projects, you will be backpacking in with a large pack, then waking up the very next morning for a strenuous or challenging service project! To physically prepare for this sort of project you should be...
  • Hiking with a full pack (for practice, of course!)
  • Cardio training like running, cycling, hiking, etc. (for general endurance)
  • Squats with or without weight (for steep climbs with a weight on your back)
  • Stair-climbers (for endurance)

All Projects 

Every WV service project requires that you are in good shape and prepared for the work at hand. No matter what project you are working on, it is good to be active all winter long, be it in the form of hiking, running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or anything else that keeps you on your feet and prepared for unforeseen physical challenges!

If your project is at elevation, or an elevation foreign to you, prepare by traveling to that elevation a few weeks ahead of time for a weekend trip. If this is not an option for you, then show up to the project location 2-3 days ahead of time to allow your body time to adjust. Regardless, you should always prepare for elevation by drinking more water, getting adequate amounts of rest, taking it easy, and knowing the signs of altitude sickness.

If you have any other tips and tricks for preparing for projects and maintaining your fitness through the winter, please share in the comments below!