Self-Defense-Against Predators: Guns NOT Recommended

Before you read this post let me make it very clear that I’m pro-gun! They are a very good tool that have many great uses. However, for some things, like self-defense against 4-Legged predators, they are a poor choice for most people.

After my encounter with the mountain lion I promised to write a post about practical ways to stay safe in the backcountry, here it is!

While I’m specifically talking about safety from four-legged predators and snakes, most of what I’m saying can also be applied to safety from 2-legged human predators. In all my time on Public Land (BLM or Natioanl Forest) numerous times I’ve been afraid of animals, but I’ve never once been afraid from humans. Not only that but I rarely hear from other people who have been afraid of people on Public Land—although I have heard one or two stories. I started to wonder how often it happened so I’ve done several google searches trying to find statistics on the crime rate on Public Land, and I’ve never been able to find any; as far as I know it’s so rare no statistics are kept. For that reason this post will be limited to animal attacks, but if you are concerned about humans, everything in it can be applied to them as well. If bear spray can drive off a bear, it will also drive off a person.

Second, it’s extremely unlikely that most of you will ever be in a situation where you need to worry about it. Predator attacks in the Lower 48 sates are rare and when they do happen it’s usually with people who spend a lot of time in the backcountry. Please, don’t allow reading this to instill more fear of the wilderness in you!!! My goal is just the opposite, to assure you that you can go into the woods safely and with peace of mind. Learning about ways to defend yourself should reduce your fear, not increase it. I find that knowing that I’m not helpless or defenseless is very important and empowering to me. I never intend to use any of the things I’m going to talk about, but neither do I intend to be without them.

Having come face-to-face with this mountain lion,  I never want to  be defenseless again.

Having come face-to-face with this mountain lion, I never want to be defenseless again.

Finally, let me tell you that this post is strictly about ways to defend yourself from an animal attack. It isn’t about prevention by keeping a clean camp or blowing a whistle, hunting or survival. Those are all extremely important but they’re a different topic for different posts. I always carry this rescue whistle on me in a necklace around my neck, get it from Amazon here: Adventure Medical Kits Rescue Howler Whistles I also always carry this Kershaw automatic opening pocket knife: get it from Amazon here: Kershaw Folding Serrated SpeedSafe Knife

While your first thought is probably going to be to carry a firearm, that isn’t my recommendation. Animal attacks happen so suddenly and so quickly that for a form of self-defense to work you must be willing to carry it with you 100% of the time, it must be foolproof and it must be very fast to bring into use, firearms fail all those tests.

This post is only about why you shouldn’t rely on a firearm and in my next post I’ll give you my recommendations for what you should carry.

Carrying a smaller pistol like a .357 magnum isn't too uncomfortable.

Carrying a smaller pistol like my .357 magnum in a shoulder holster isn’t too uncomfortable. But it’s much too small to be effective against larger game like bears.

Having lived in Alaska for 45 years, I’ve spent a lot of time in very dangerous country (everywhere in Alaska is bear country!) and because of that I’ve done a lot of research on the best way to stay safe. This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list, there are more things you can do, but based on my research and experience these are the best and most practical solutions. However, it is strictly my opinion and I am by no means an expert in any way! If you’re betting your life, you should perform due diligence and do your own research.

Start your research with this article out of the Anchorage Daily News. The author was a Biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for 30 years and I consider him a legend in Alaska—he’s an expert I would bet my life on. It’s by far the most balanced and informative I’ve ever seen, and it includes many links to back up his facts and opinions: http://www.adn.com/article/are-guns-more-effective-pepper-spray-alaska-bear-attack

Here are some of my experiences in Alaska, but keep in mind most of these were before bear-spray even existed:

  1. My first long backpacking trip in the Alaska wilderness I carried a bolt action 30-06 hunting rifle with a scope. Carrying that thing was such a misery because of its length and awkward size I swore I would never do anything so stupid again—and I never did.
  2. My next trip I carried a 12 gauge shotgun with a short barrel. It was lighter and shorter so it was a big improvement. However, it was still awful to carry. The only time I saw a bear that trip was when I had carried two water bottles and my filter down to the river to get water. There was a bear walking down the bank towards me–and where was my shotgun? It was leaning against my tent 40 feet away! If the bear had charged it could cover the distance between us before I could turn and take two steps toward the shotgun. Fortunately, he was fishing and well fed on salmon so he had no interest in me. If he had, I would have been defenseless even after carrying that stupid shotgun all around the country.
  3. Finally I decided to wear a 44 magnum revolver in a chest holster. That was a big improvement in size and weight—although it was still very heavy. It was heavy and awkward enough that I don’t believe I would consistently carry it, but that isn’t why I gave up on it. If I was going to be able to use it effectively I had to practice with it, if I didn’t, I would have been more at risk from it than from the wild animal. Even worse, if you get a shot into the animal but only wound it, you are a thousand times worse off than you would have been without it. There is very little chance you can get more than one shot into a bear and most likely that will be a very poorly placed shot. Even if it’s properly placed a single shot from a 44 magnum will not kill it or even slow it down. Even if you can get all 6 shots into it he won’t die right away; he may go away and die, but not before he kills you. I tied to practice enough to be good with it but the ammo is very expensive, practicing takes a lot of time and it’s very punishing to your body. I soon gave up on practicing and then stopped carrying it. (Today there are much more powerful handguns than a .44 magnum, but all the disadvantages of the .44 magnum apply to them, except they are much worse!!–not recommended!)
As siple as a re volver is, it still requires a commitment to training and practice that most of simply won't keep.

As simple as a revolver is, it still requires a commitment to training and practice that most of simply won’t keep up. Without it, you’re more likely to hurt yourself worse than the bear will!

Requirements for Self-Defense from Predator attack

  • The single most important thing is that it must be light and easy to carry. If it’s heavy or awkward you won’t carry it consistently and even when you do, it’s a certainty that when you finally set it down, that’s when the bear or mountain lion will show up. This is a big reason I don’t recommend firearms for self-defense in the backcountry.
  • It has to be instantly available and you must be able to bring it onto target very quickly and easily. Bears and Mountain Lions are so fast that most of us can’t comprehend it; that’s why you MUST never, ever run from either one!!! Under the most common circumstances, from the moment they begin the charge toward you until when they are ripping into your flesh is usually seconds. Any fumbling or delay to get your weapon on target means it’s nothing but a paperweight. This is especially true of Mountain Lions because they are so stealthy you may have no more than 2-5 seconds warning of an attack, and quite possibly none at all. Long arms like rifles or shotguns will probably be carried slung over your shoulder and with the safety on. Getting them un-slung, safety off, and brought into position takes too long. If you are carrying it in your hands, you’ll get tired of it and set it down or stop carrying it. Handguns in a chest holster are better but take a lot of practice to use safely.
  • It has to be easy to use and not difficult, nor can it take a lot of practice to be able to use it. Firearms require  lot of practice ad training and most of us just won’t bother. We’ll start out with good intentions and they will slowly drift away until it’s been years since we practiced and we stop carrying the weapon. Firearms take a high level of commitment to training and practice that most people won’t continue. And even if they, do its fairly likely their training won’t be enough in the panicky moment of extreme duress.
  • It can’t make the situation worse. This is a critical reason I don’t recommend firearms for defense from predators. The most common bear encounter is when you come across a bear suddenly on a trail—it’s happened to me 6 times. If it’s a single bear it’s very likely to just run away, but if it’s a mother bear, everything changes. The most common occurrence is she takes her cubs and runs away. However, fairly often she will make a bluff charge at you to scare you off, then she turns at the last minute to go and gather her cubs and rush them off to safety. If you shoot her during a bluff charge, it’s no longer a bluff and she is now enraged and you’ve become a very serious threat to her cubs, she won’t stop until she thinks you’re dead! Shooting a charging bear almost always makes things worse. The only time it’s absolutely the best thing is if the bear intends to eat you and that is very, very rare.

The only thing between me and the teeth of this bear is the pepper spray in my guides hand. Although he’s taken thousands of people into bear country, he’s never had to use it.

Let me close with two quotes from legendary Alaskans. This first one is from an article by outdoor journalist Craig Medred, a legend in Alaska, who managed to kill a charging grizzly with a .454 Casull handgun, but not before it mauled him. He recommends bear spray: http://www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2014/07/09/opinion-canister-of-bear-spray-is-best-bet-for-alaska-backcountry-runners/The article is about two runners who were mauled by a grizzly bear near Anchorage (remember, all of Alaska is bear country), but as hikers we are very much like them and his advice applies to us:

Lots of people at this point can get into a nice debate about bear spray and guns. Let’s not. Have you ever tried running (I added–or hiking) with a gun capable of stopping a charging grizzly? … Nobody is running very far loaded down with a short-barreled .375-caliber H&H rifle or a sawed-off shotgun stuffed full of buckshot and slugs. And even the smallest .454 Casull handgun is a handful at 3 pounds, 9 ounces, fully loaded sans holster. (I just weighed mine.) … Bear spray weighs 10 ounces and fits easily in your hand. You can carry it like a running baton. It is there, always ready. And it is easier to use than a firearm.

If you go past a bear in the bushes, and you’re maintaining a steady course and speed, there is an argument to be made that the bear won’t pay any attention to you. But if you’re alert, and you spot the bear, and you stop. … Well, then the bear has just been warned that it has been spotted by what could be a predator, and it needs to make a decision: fight or flee. Most flee, but I had one that came running to me when I saw it and stopped last summer. … I yelled, loudly. It stopped. It was a 2- or 3-year-old bear. We played the sort of games young bears play. It would approach. I would yell. It would back off, then approach again. … The game went on until the bear finally got bored and wandered away. I probably should have sprayed it, but a can of bear spray costs almost $50, and I’m cheap. Plus I know some bear biologists in town who might have made fun of me upon learning I had to spray a young bear. The only thing more embarrassing would be getting chewed on by one.

Which is why I carry bear spray all the time when running or mountain biking in Chugach State Park. I’ve never used it on a bear, but it’s better to haul a can around for years and never use it than to need it and not have it.

Bear spray works! This is the one I own and the only one I recommend because it comes with a chest holster, get it here from Amazon: 13.4oz Bear Spray with Chest holster
I also recommend walking poles because they dramatically help when hiking and can be used as a weapon in a pinch. Just waving them around may scare off a bear. Black Diamond makes some of the best: Black Diamond Trail Walking Poles

The second one is from Rick Sinnott who was a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for 30 years and has since retired: http://www.adn.com/article/are-guns-more-effective-pepper-spray-alaska-bear-attack. When I grew up in Alaska, Rick was a legend and anything he suggests pertaining to the outdoors is what I would do because he’s been there many times and lived to tell the tale. This is what he says about carrying a firearm for defense against predators:

Because when a bear attacks and you have two seconds to react … and it’s raining … or dark … and you can’t see 10 feet into the brush … and your shotgun is leaning against a tree … or your rifle’s scope makes it difficult to acquire the bear … or you short-stroke your 12-gauge and jam it … or you empty your .357 magnum and the bear keeps coming … or you’ve never shot a gun before … and the ground is slippery … and your partner steps between you and the bear … or the bear straddles you, pinning your long gun in the present-arms position … you might be wishing you had a can of bear spray.

The bottom line is I don’t recommend that the average person carry a gun for animal defense and in my next post I’ll discuss much better options.
13.4oz Bear Spray with Chest holster

The movies make shooting a handgun look simple--it isn't!! The thing is surprisingly heavy, the trigger is hard to pull, then it's going to explode in your hand, try to jerk back in your face, and belch fire.  For some people it's fun, for most it isn't.

The movies make shooting a handgun look simple–it isn’t!! The thing is surprisingly heavy, the trigger is hard to pull, then it’s going to explode in your hand, try to jerk back in your face, and belch fire. For some people it’s fun, for most it isn’t. That’s why most people close their eyes, jerk the trigger and flinch whenever they shoot. It’s also why it’s a very bad idea to carry one if you aren’t dedicated to practice.

Bear spray in a chest holster is your very BEST CHOICE for these reasons: It's light, simple, effective, easy to get out and shoot and won't make the situation worst.

Bear spray, on the other hand, doesn’t explode, doesn’t try to jerk your hand off and slap you in the face–nor does it belch fire. You won’t close your eyes, jerk the trigger or flinch. Bear Spray in a chest holster is your very BEST CHOICE for these reasons: It’s 1) light, 2) simple, 3) effective, 4) easy to get out and shoot and 5) won’t make the situation worst. In this picture you can see that I’m ready to shoot the spray without even taking the bottle out of the holster. That saves seconds and seconds make the difference between life and death.

Posted in Adventure, Alaska, Boondocking, Fear, Security/Safety Versus Freedom

Camping on the Beartooth Scenic Byway: FR 2412 Camp

The road back to my camp.

The road back to my camp on FR 2412.

Since I’m working on a guide book to Wyoming I’m driving the most beautiful roads but I’m also reporting on free dispersed camping in those areas. Today’s post is about my camp at the bottom of the Beartooth Scenic Byway. The day I drove it started out looking pretty good with blue skies, but the thing with big mountains is they create their own weather. Usually every afternoon clouds roll in and you’re in for some rain. That day was no different and most of the drive was in bright overcast skies and the end of the drive was in rain–both are bad for photography. One of the things I do is try to follow the weather forecast and the forecast for the next day was clear all day. That was so unusual I had planned to drive the road one way north towards Red Lodge, spend the night somewhere, and then drive back up the Beartooth to Gardiner the next day.

The camp.

The camp.

On the mountainside coming down the mountain I stopped at one of the pullouts and noticed a Forest Road going further back into the valley. I checked with my binoculars and I could see people camping in the clearings and they were so scattered they couldn’t have been in a campground. I decided I would check it out when I got down off the mountain.

Looking down at the camp from the Beartooth Highway

Looking down at the camp from the Beartooth Highway

At the bottom of the road I turned left away from Red Lodge and found Forest Road 2412, Rock Creek Rd. and started following it back the valley. You’ll come to a “T” and you want to go left. If you go right you are going up Hellroaring Road which looks great but it climbs quickly until you are up in the mountains and I think it will be too difficult for most of us. I followed 2412 as it wound around Rock Creek and the road is mostly good but in a few places it’s bumpy and wash-boarded but any car of van could make it. In fact I camped in a spot where there was a 5th Wheel just pulling out, so any rig can make it.

bear-camp-mntn

The mountains to the west.

This was one of my all-time favorite camps! It’s surrounded on both sides by tall mountains and I was camped about 50 feet from Rock Creek which is a beautiful creek! Looking south down the valley you can see the mountains at the headwaters of Rock Creek. Looking up the mountain on the east you can see the Beartooth winding its way back and forth across the face of the mountain and it’s kind of fun to watch the traffic working its way up it.

Rock Creek is a beautiful little creek!  I chose a site further from the road, but there were many backed right up to the creek.

Rock Creek is a beautiful little creek! I chose a camp site further away from the road, but there were many backed right up to the creek.

There were a LOT of people camping along the road, but the further I went the less people there were. I found a nice camp with no one else around and spent a great night there. The next day had a gorgeous blue sky so I broke camp and headed back up the Beartooth.

This is a satellite shot of the camp. Notice the Beartooth Highway (US 212) inding back and forth up the road directly opposite of our camp.

This is a satellite shot of the camp. Notice the Beartooth Highway (US 212) winding back and forth up the road directly opposite of our camp.

That's the Beartooth climbing up the mountain to the east of camp. you can see 5 different switchbacks. But, you can also see that the road is never very steep making it easy  for most rigs to climb it.

That’s the Beartooth climbing up the mountain to the east of camp. you can see 5 different switchbacks. But, you can also see that the road is never very steep making it easy for most rigs to climb it.

This camp is too far from Yellowstone NP for it to be a basecamp. For that I suggest you camp close to Cooke City which is at the end of the Beartooth  Highway. It’s in a beautiful area with beautiful mountains and creeks all around you. Best of all it’s only a few miles from the Northeast entrance into Yellowstone NP so it would make a great Basecamp into the Park. I didn’t go searching for a camp but I had the MVUM to it and it listed many dispersed campsites. I downloaded it as a PDF and took this snip from it.

This is the MVUM to Cooke City, MT. All the roads with dots on the sides of the road are open for legal dispersed camping.

This is the MVUM to Cooke City, MT. All the roads with dots on the sides of the road are open for legal dispersed camping.

There are many campgrounds in the area, but I rarely stay at campgrounds. However, there were also numerous signs saying no tent camping or pop-up campers allowed, only hard-sided vehicle. I assume there are so many bears that tents aren’t safe. If you are camping in a tent I would call the Gallatin NF and ask if you could safely camp in a tent there before you go.

Driving the Beartooth is a wonderful experience and having this as a campsite just makes it all the better!

This is the MVUM from the Custer-Gallatin NF website to my camp.

This is the MVUM from the Custer-Gallatin NF website to my camp. Wherever there are dots on the side of the road is open to free, legal dispersed  camping.

Posted in Boondocking, Camping Locations, Montana, Photography, Travel

Beartooth Scenic Byway

An abundance of lakes and wildflowers make for a spectacular drive.

An abundance of mountains, lakes and colorful wildflowers make for a spectacular drive.

After a few days in the Gardiner camp it was finally time to drive the Beartooth Scenic Byway. As far as I know, I’ve never driven it before, at least I can’t remember driving it. However, one picture from my 1979 motorcycle trip looks like I may have driven it then. Unfortunately, that was so long ago I can’t remember for sure.

The magic of the Beartooth is in the variety. on top it's broad tundra-like plateau filled with fields of wildflowers.

The magic of the Beartooth is in the variety. On top it’s a broad tundra-like plateau filled with fields of wildflowers.

Either way, I’ve been tremendously looking forward to driving it because of the extreme amount of praise that I continually hear about it; everyone says it’s just fantastic! It turns out they were right! Words actually fail to describe not only how beautiful it is, but the amazing job they did of building it. Many times these extreme mountain roads have very steep grades that overly tax many big, heavy, overloaded rigs. Although the elevation gain on the Beartooth is extreme, somehow they made it easy to go up and down. At no time going up it did I have to slow down because my van just couldn’t go any faster, and at no time going down it did I worry about how hard the brakes were working. If you have an RV, are overloaded or bigger rig, you are still going to go up it slowly, but you can make it and you shouldn’t do any damage along the way.

Bears-peaks-flowers-use-001

Hey, who invited you into the picture!?

Hey! Who invited you into the picture!?

They did that by the use of many switchbacks—they seem endless! At several overlooks you can look almost straight down and see the road going back and forth constantly on the steep mountain-side below you. I think part of that was sheer luck because the shape of the mountains allowed it, but part of it is brilliant engineering to take advantage of every possible chance to make it easier.

The road winds back-and-forth many times to get to the top. They did a great job, t’s a remarkably easy climb.

In the middle of the rive it's big rolling hills and they mean more switchbacks.

In the middle of the drive it’s big rolling hills and they mean more switchbacks.

One of the reasons it is so stunning is that you have such a variety of terrain in a very short period of time. Coming from Red Lodge MT in the north you are in a beautiful, heavily forested valley following Rock Creek. Then you start climbing up this seemingly straight-up-and-down mountain-side and keep making continual switchbacks until you come out on top. At the top you are in a plateau with rolling hills and mountains that has almost no trees because it is tundra. All the vegetation is very low and small to the ground because it is continually cold, windswept and covered with snow much of the year. It’s almost Arctic-like in its appearance. I was there at just the right time in the middle of June for the wildflowers to be in full bloom, so you will see quite a few photos of them. In this extreme environment they don’t grow very big or showy, summer is too short and cool for that. Instead they are mostly small, bright and low to the ground

bear-wild

You’re on top of the world with big views!

In some places on top the landscape is very smooth, round, rolling and green, and in some places it is tortured, rocky and rough. The variety makes it incredibly amazing! The absence of trees and the relative flatness of the area gives you very broad views. On top of some of the hills you can see for a long ways all around you. The one constant everywhere is lakes. Where ever you look in a 360 degree circle you are likely to see lakes from the massive amount of snow that falls every year. It’s so much snow that it’s impossible to keep the road open in the winter so it’s closed most of the year.

bear-goats-fight

I was very lucky on this trip and found a herd of wild Mountain Goats grazing just a short distance from the road. I pulled over and parked and hiked over close–but not too close–to them. I was careful to stay far enough way that I did not disturb them. I just stood there for a long time and photographed them and after a few glances at first they just ignored me. As usually happens in these instances, they moved as they grazed and instead of moving away from me, they moved toward me. I’ve seen this happen so often I expect it to happen, but I don’t know why. You’d think they would move further away as they graze, but they rarely do.

This goat kept a close eye on me for awhile, but he soon went  back to grazing.

This goat kept a close eye on me for awhile, but he soon went back to grazing.

I’m not complaining though, I had a wonderful time standing there watching them with their spring lambs and the big males bossing the others around and warning any others that grazed too close. They are a very aggressive, dominate animal with a very distinct pecking order. Unfortunately their coats weren’t very pretty, they were in the process of shedding their massive winter coats for their smaller summer coats and some of them had fur hanging and shredding off. Oh well, it makes for interesting shots.

Bear-wide-van-wild

As you drive further west you drop elevation and the forest slowly takes over until finally you are fully into the forest just like any other forest. But it is still pretty with lots of mountains and rivers to stop and see. Finally you come to Cooke City, which is nothing but a tourist trap and then back into Yellowstone NP.

I gotta tell you that I think the Beartooth Scenic Drive is probably the single most spectacular highway in all of America and seeing it should be a top priority for anyone visiting the Rocky Mountain States. I think it’s more worth seeing than Yellowstone NP. Fortunately it’s not an either-or choice, since they are right beside each other you can easily see both. But I’d make the Beartooth a greater priority.

bear-lakes-flowers-great

Bear-goats-shredding

The goat on the right is really shedding! It’s like he unzipped his coat and it’s just falling off. Notice the three lambs on the left, they were very rambunctious!

bear-yellow-purple-tundra

Posted in Photography, Travel, Wyoming

Passive Cooling: How to Beat the Heat in a Van

I spend my winter in the desert and sometimes it gets hot. This photo shows some of my methods to stay cool: 1) Shade cloth draped around the trailer 2) Plywood over my roof 3) Roof vents 4) ADCO windshield cover on the van 5) Shade cloth between the trailer and the van to make a shaded porch to sit under outside.

I’m writing this in July and much of the country is sweltering under oppressive heat, so it seems like an appropriate time to write about staying cool in a van. Before we go any further let me say staying cool is the most difficult aspect of living in a van and the best you can hope for is to make it bearable; it will never be pleasant or good! There are two kinds of cooling for your van:

1) Active Cooling is when you are creating cold air with an air conditioner and pumping cold air into the van. Because you are creating cold air, you can reduce the temperature to almost any temperature you want if you spend the money. Active cooling is difficult because you have to find room for the air conditioner and then you have to find a large source of electricity for it. The power almost certainly must come from either a generator or being hooked up to the city 110 power grid (commonly called shore power). With a van the most practical solution is a very small window or portable air conditioner powered by a generator. It is possible to run it off solar, but it is difficult and expensive. You’ll need:

  • A very well insulated van.
  • The smallest air conditioner you can find–500 watts or less.
  • A minimum of 800 watts  of solar and 8 golf cart batteries.

With this system you are creating more power than the air conditioner draws but it’s going to be expensive, need a lot of room on the roof and the batteries will be very heavy and take a lot of space. And even then you can only run the air conditioner sporadically and a minimal amount at night.

The bottom line is Active cooling isn’t a viable option for must of us, we need something cheaper and easier.

2) Passive Cooling is when you are doing everything you can to keep heat from building up in the van. However, the best you can hope for is that the inside temperature is the same as the outside temperature. For example, if it’s 100* outside, it will be 100* inside. That doesn’t sound very good but consider if you didn’t use passive cooling techniques, it could easily be 130*-140* inside–that’s a big improvement and worth the effort!!

This post is only about Passive Cooling steps you can take because they are all relatively cheap and easy and the average person can do them. Let’s take a look:

How you Park the Van:

How you park can make a big difference. Your windows allow the most heat into the van and your side door allows the most cooling so you want to try to park the van so the least heat comes in from the windows and the most heat can escape through the side door. Since I have a cargo van, I try to park East-West with the windshield facing due west; that way the drivers side (which has no windows) faces south, and the side door gets no sunshine and can be open all day.  To keep heat from coning in through the windshield and drivers window, I use an ADCO windshield cover that completely covers the windshield and drivers window. By parking with the front pointed to the West and using the ADCO cover, the only windows exposed to the sun are the back door windows and they are tinted very dark.  Passenger vans will be different, just try to park with the fewest windows exposed to the sun and the most doors open into the shade.

Roof Rack to Shade the Roof: 

This is a fairly cheap and easy method of cooling the van because your roof is in the shade 100% of the time. The easiest way is to buy a ladder rack and use 2x4s and plywood to cover the roof. If you keep it low enough no one will be able to see it and it won’t hurt your stealth. The sun and rain will destroy the wood so you want to paint it very well. This is the ladder rack I use on my van and it costs $82 on Amazon:  Pro-Series 500 lbs. Capacity Van Rack

I covered the roof of my trailer with plywood so it’s always in the shade. You can also see I have two vents with covers and a tarp to cover the south wall of the trailer which leaves my side door open into the shade of the van. I have very good passive cooling.

Paint the Roof:

If you have a dark colored van, you can keep it cooler by painting the roof with a special elastometric paint like my friend did in the below picture. She used the Kool-Seal brand but there are several good ones. You can buy it at Walmart or Home Depot. It’s very easy to do, you just pour it on and roll it evenly with a roller. The hardest part is scrubbing  the roof clean. Buy Kool-Seal from Amazon here: Kool-Seal Elastomeric Roof Coating, 1-Gallon

A friend of mine painting her roof with Kool-Seal to keep it cooler.

Install a Roof Vent:

Without doubt one of the best thing you can do to cool the van is install a vent. Warm air rises so it automatically  will exit from the van. You can buy vents with powered fans in them and they are an excellent choice. They can be set to run inside or outside and they will remove a lot of air very quickly. A non-powered vent will be about $40, a basic powered Fantastic Fan will be around $150. They aren’t hard to install but paying someone to install one will be expensive. Get one from Amazon here: Fan-Tastic Vent 3-Speed Motor, Manual Crank

A Fantastic Fan at work drastically cooling the van.

Use Portable Fans:

I actually prefer portable fans more than roof fans because they are so much cheaper and you can set them anywhere you want. Having a fan siting two feet away from you aimed right at your face is going to work better than an immovable fan in your roof. I have two fans I carry with me; the first is an Endless Breeze which is made by Fantastic Fan. I’ve been using it for over 10 year and it seems to be indestructible. The other is a Roadpro fan but it is made by O2 Cool. They are a very good, inexpensive fan that is often re-branded as Walmarts Ozark Trail or Roadpro. You can get the Roadpro at any truck stop. Get them from Amazon here: RoadPro 12-Volt/ Battery Portable Fan
Endless Breeze Stand alone Fan

ADCO Windshield Cover:

Something I recommend very highly is an ADCO Windshield cover! They are a heavy vinyl that fits completely across your front-door windows and windshield. To put it on you open one door and slip the pocket over the doors corner and shut the door. Pull the cover over the windshield and open the other door. Slip it’s pocket over that door and close it. It has magnets at the bottom to keep it from flapping in the wind and has a cutout for the mirrors. It works extremely well–far better than Reflectix because the heat never gets inside the van. Another plus is it lets some light through so the  van isn’t as dark as Reflectix which doesn’t let any light through. Mine cost about $45. Get them from Amazon here: ADCO Windshield Covers

Reflectix in the Windows:

For summer or winter, putting Reflectix into the windows of the van is a lifesaver! It will keep the van cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. There are several ways to do it but the simplest and best is to cut the Reflectix a little big and simply press it into the window frame. You’d think it would just fall out but for some reason it doesn’t. Two other options are 1) to use Velcro to hold it in, or 2) strong magnets taped to the Reflectix and washers taped to the window frame. But compression works so well I recommend you start with it. Buy it from Amazon here: Reflectix 24-Inch by 25-Feet Bubble Pack Insulation

Use Tarps or an Awning to Shade the Van:

A very good option is to drape tarps as an awning off the van or trailer. It has the advantage of being cheap and easy and it also works great in the rain. But, it has two really big disadvantages: 1) you can’t leave it up in a strong wind, 2) it keeps the breeze from blowing through  the van. If you are in the forest you can tie it out to nearby trees and in the desert you can use PVC tubes as tent poles.

I tied this tarp out to nearby trees and it kept the rain off in bad weather and it also put the side of the trailer in the shade in sunshine. It worked very well!

In the picture below you see my high quality awning made by ARB that I installed on my trailer. It works very well, and is fairly easy to put out, but, it won’t stand up to much wind.

My ARB awning and shade cloth to make a very pleasant outdoor room.

Use Shade Cloth in the Desert:

The problem with tarps and awnings is they can’t stay up in much of a wind and the desert has a lot of wind. I got tired of taking it down in every windstorm so I switched to shade cloth instead which is a mesh tarp that lets the wind flow through. It doesn’t shade as well as a tarp would, but it shades very well. Plus, it allows the near constant breeze to blow through the cloth and into my windows. Having the breeze much more than makes up for it not being quite as good a shade.

It’s important that the shade cloth be pulled away from the van. An easy way to attach it is to drill holes through the gutter of the van matching the grommets in the shade cloth and use spring clips carabiners to attach it into the holes. Pull the bottom of the shade cloth out away from the van and use bungee cords to attach it to stakes driven into the ground far enough to hold it far away from the van. Oddly, dark colors are better than light colors as long as it is held out away from the vehicle. Mine is 10 x 16. You can buy one like it from Amazon here: 90% Shade Mesh Cloth, 10′ x 16′

Shade cloth on trailer and van.

Shade cloth on trailer and van.

Have an outdoor room:

If at all possible you want to have an outdoor room where you can go and sit in the shade in the heat of the day while the van is it’s hottest. There are several ways to create one. The first is with an awning for a roof and and shade cloth as walls, and the other is with a pop-up awning like an EZ-Up Canopy. They’re cheap and fairly easy to setup, but best of all they give you good shade during the heat of the day. You can get an EZ- Up canopy from Amazon here: E-Z UP 10 by 10-Feet Canopy

My ARB awning and shade cloth make a very nice outdoor room

An EZ-Up outside the van door also makes a nice outdoor room.

I hope you get some ideas on staying cool from this post. They won’t all work for you because we are all in very different situations, but hopefully some of them will work.

Here are the items I am actually using from Amazon. If you use these links I’ll make a small percentage and it will cost you nothing:

Pro-Series 500 lbs. Capacity Van Rack
Kool-Seal Elastomeric Roof Coating, 1-Gallon
Endless Breeze Stand alone Fan
RoadPro 12-Volt/ Battery Portable Fan
Fan-Tastic Vent 3-Speed Motor, Manual Crank
ADCO Windshield Covers
Reflectix 24-Inch by 25-Feet Bubble Pack Insulation
90% Shade Mesh Cloth, 10′ x 16′
E-Z UP 10 by 10-Feet Canopy

Posted in Heating-Insulation

Entrances to Yellowstone NP: Gardiner, MT at North Entrance

Our Gardiner, MT camp looking south. All the mountains  in the picture are in Yellowstone NP. The town is in the valley to the right of us.

Our Gardiner, MT camp looking south. All the mountains in the picture are in Yellowstone NP. The town is in the valley to the right of us. Natural beauty, very little traffic, an abundance of wildlife and a great 4g signal made it one of my favorite camps. 

After three days of the nightmare of dealing with the crowds and traffic at Yellowstone, I needed a break! Next up on my agenda was to drive the Beartooth Scenic Byway from the northeast entrance into Yellowstone up to Red Lodge, Montana. I’ve heard all my life that this was the most beautiful and amazing drive in the whole country so I was really looking forward to it. I needed to spend a few days catching up on website work so I wanted to find a campsite along the way where I could get internet in camp. The most likely looking place was at Gardiner, MT which is at the north entrance into Yellowstone in the Gallatin NF. So I downloaded the MVUM for the Gallatin NF, and sure enough it listed lots of dispersed camping very near town. That’s where I was going next!

The climb up Travertine Rd. to my campsite.

The climb up Travetine Rd. to my campsite.

Gardner Camp

Gathering storm at my Gardiner Camp

Rainbow at Gardiner camp.

Rainbow at Gardiner camp.

After another drive through Yellowstone I arrived in the small but very nice town of Gardiner. Like nearly everything associated with the National Parks it is primarily a tourist trap, and like most northern states, they can’t do much road work in the winter so they double-up in the summer. The main road into Yellowstone through Gardiner was all torn up so getting around was more difficult. It’s a typical small-town tourist-trap, lots of tourist stuff with many restaurants and gas stations and one small grocery store. As is usual, it was overpriced but not as much as most. I was able to shop without paying too much more than national store prices.

You follow the Gardner River from Mammoth Hot Springs in YNP to the town of Gardiner. It's well worth th time to stop and explore the beautiful creek!

You follow the Gardner River from Mammoth Hot Springs in YNP to the town of Gardiner. It’s well worth the time to stop and explore the beautiful creek!

It also had a National Forest Ranger office so I stopped in. My experience in Rangers office is pretty spotty, when you ask them about camping they universally want to send you to a pay campground, but if you then ask about dispersed camping some are helpful and some are not. I get the impression a lot of these Rangers in the offices either don’t drive around so they don’t know the area, or they simply don’t want to help you. I got lucky this time and she was very knowledgeable and helpful about where to camp. One question I ask now is “Where can I get cell/data signal for my Smartphone?” Most Rangers will try to guess, but she knew for sure! So I headed up to the area she told me about. She was right, I got 4g signal the whole way and soon found a nice campsite to settle into for a few days.

This beautiful mountain dominated the skyline to the west of  my camp at Gardiner, MT

This beautiful mountain dominated the skyline to the west of my camp at Gardiner, MT. The town is in the valley below it.

It was a very nice camp with big mountains on both sides of me and a nice walk for Cody and I. There were no other campers and only occasional traffic on the road. Elk are everywhere in this area so we had elk very close to camp. It’s a perfect base-camp to stay at and make day-trips into Yellowstone. It’s only about 5 miles to Mammoth Spring and another 30 miles to the LaMarr Valley which is one of the best places for wildlife with tons of buffalo, elk, antelope and even its own wolf pack. It’s also one of the prettiest drives in the park

Elk within 75 feet of our camp at Gardiner.

Elk within 75 feet of our camp at Gardiner, MT.

One other thing we did while we were there was to drive just south of town slightly into Yellowstone and stop and walk along the Gardener River. It’s a beautiful little river in a valley full of big trees. Cody loves splashing around in the water and I enjoyed the cool shade and the nice breeze that blows along it. A very pleasant few hours!

Looking north from the Gardner River. We were camped part way up the side of the mountain in the distance.

Looking north from the Gardner River. We were camped part way up the side of the mountain in the distance.

One more thing for this post. The three entrances into Yellowstone from Montana are all in the Gallatin NF. So while I was in the Gallatin NF Rangers office in Gardiner I got a copy of the MVUM for each area. There is an abundance of dispersed camping in the Forest around each, and where you can dispersed camp is clearly marked on the maps. In fact I’m typing this in a dispersed campsite in the Gallatin NF literally looing down at West Yellowstone, MT just about a mile from Yellowstone NP which is at the West entrance. I used the MVUM I picked up at Gardiner to find it. The same thing with Cooke City, MT which is at the northeastern entrance into Yellowstone NP.

This is the MVUM of Gallatin NF with Gardiner in it. I've highlighted the road to my campsite. All the roads with dots alongside of them are open to dispersed camping, but the Ranger thought this one was most likely to have internet and not so steep to make finding a camp hard to find. She was right.

This is the MVUM of Gallatin NF with Gardiner in it. I’ve highlighted the road to my campsite. All the roads with dots alongside of them are open to dispersed camping, but the Ranger thought this one was most likely to have internet and not so steep to make finding a camp hard to find. She was right.

A map to the camp.

A map to the camp.

 

I highly recommend Gardiner as a base camp to explore YNP!

Looking down at the town of Gardiner, MT

Looking down at the town of Gardiner, MT

Another shot of the Gardner River.

Another shot of the Gardner River.

Posted in Boondocking, Camping Locations, Montana, Photography, Travel

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