Backpacking? Try a Tarp for Shelter


For many people, the thought of backpacking conjures visions of physical hardship and heavy, cumbersome gear. It’s a grueling challenge of man vs. nature, a battle in which each contender fights to overcome the other.

It doesn’t have to be.

Imagine this scenario. Your total pack weight, with food and water, is well under twenty pounds, and you save money doing it. I typically carry just seven pounds of equipment. No longer are you competing with nature, but you’re traveling lightly and living in harmony with you environment.

Ultra-light and minimalist backpacking has taken off in recent years for a number of reasons. Most importantly, less gear and lighter weights means it’s easier than ever to skip out for a weekend in the woods. The first step in lightening your load is to consider your shelter.

A Tarp for Minimalist Backpacking

Using a tarp, instead of a conventional tent, will cut your pack weight considerably.

Tarps, when pitched properly, offer complete protection from the elements and will cut pounds from your pack weight. For most three-season (spring, summer, and fall) backpacking your shelter is meant to do one thing, and one thing only, keep you and your gear dry. With that in mind, there is therefore no reason to involve yourself with zippers, fancy poles, or multiple layers of fabric or netting of a brand-new feature packed free-standing tent.

Anything from a conventional “blue” tarp bought at the local hardware store, to a contoured sil-nylon tarp, to a high-end cuben fiber tarp will do. It may take a little more effort pitching your tarp, but consider the effort you have saved in carrying a lighter shelter.

Tips for Tarping

The following are a few tips for those hardy folks ready to consider tarping:

Location is crucial. Unlike a fully enclosed tent, tarps are more easily affected by the terrain they are pitched upon. Look for sheltered or protected areas to decrease the effects of wind and ensure your tarp will stay put throughout the night.

Assess the weather. Depending on your specific set up, it is likely that you will have a leading edge and an exposed opening to your tarp. Be certain to pitch your leading edge into the wind in order to block any precipitation. Having to re-pitch your tarp in the middle of the night is not fun.

Carry a ground cloth. Because a tarp does not have a floor built into it, you will want to carry a ground cloth to keep you and your gear out of the mud if it does rain. Thin plastic painters ground cloth is cheap and works great.

Tarps will not protect you from bugs. If it is mosquito season you may wish to consider another shelter. At the very least, bring a head net!

Practice makes perfect. It is highly recommended that you practice pitching your tarp before taking it on its maiden voyage. As with all outdoor gear, your tarp will only work if you know how to use it.

Still not sure if you’re ready to take the plunge into the world of tarping? You may be able to pitch your existing tent using only the rain-fly. This compromise will save you from carrying the physical tent body, but still allow you the comfort of a familiar pitch. Best of all, it won’t cost a dime!

With these tips in mind and a willingness to forgo the advice of the salesmen at your local outfitter, you’ll be well on your way to a lighter pack and hopefully a greater outdoor experience.

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Plastic Particles Harm Freshwater Organisms Too

Scientists have become increasingly worried that plastic pollution threatens marine life in the world’s oceans, and now new research shows that they have reason to fear it can harm freshwater organisms, too.

“The main sources of plastic are on land, so it is important to also look at the effects of plastic on land,” Professor Bart Koelmans, leader of the Wageningen University and the IMARES research group behind the study, said in a statement.

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Previous studies have shown that microplastics - microscopic particles of plastic debris – can harm marine life due to their potential physical risks and possible toxicity. But these plastics, as well as plastic nanoparticles, which this recent study focuses on, can impact organisms not just in the seas and oceans but in freshwater bodies, too.

For example, these particles slow the growth of algae, cause deformities in water fleas and impede communication between small organisms and fish, according to the researchers.

This study, published in the latest issue of Environmental Science and Technology, is the first time that such effects of plastic on freshwater organisms have been studied.

The researchers exposed water fleas to various nanoplastic concentrations. Not only did algae growth decline at higher concentrations, but the water fleas were smaller in size after being exposed to the plastic particles, and their offspring displayed various malformations.

“These are the first malformations that have been seen in freshwater organisms and we do not yet know how big the problem really is,” said researcher Ellen Besseling.

Not to mention that it seems some organisms, like fish, can send out a sort of warning system to other freshwater species that these particles are present. Fish can emit chemical substances called kairomones that can warn water fleas of a threat. The researchers found it intriguing that the effect of the kairomones appeared to be stronger in the presence of nanoplastic. Researchers believe then that the fish can detect disturbances in the water at low concentrations not easily seen by humans.

And with humans generating 32 million tons of US plastic waste back in 2012, it’s important to realize how this pollution may result in changes to the food web in exposed ecosystems over time.

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Nature Fest teaches attendees about environment

TEMPLE — Earth, wind, fire and water were the broad areas of learning available during the Central Texas Nature Fest on Saturday at Bend of the River in Temple. If you only visited four of the 50 exhibitor booths, you could roll seed balls, fold origami pigeons, cast for plastic fish and learn the benefits of prescribed land burning.

“This accounts for science for a whole semester,” Linda Lindberg, of Temple, said of the Nature Fest. She home-schools two of her children, Theresa, 9, who was at the event, and Andrew, 10, who was away on a canoeing trip.

Her daughter, Rebecca, 17, a senior at Holy Trinity Catholic High School, also was at the event.

Rebecca said she was impressed by the water-cycling booth.

“I didn’t realize the water stays in the ocean a long time,” she said.

Organized by the Central Texas Master Naturalists, the event drew exhibitors from all over the state and had about 140 volunteers on hand, said Zoe Rascoe, of Temple. She was hoping for 1,000 people to attend.

Mike Fuller, a Temple native who lives near Fort Worth, brought his daughters, Ruth, 10, and Lauren, 7, to the Texas prairies booth. Phillip Quast, program director for the Native Prairies Association of Texas, talked about preserving natural lands and showed the girls how to make seed balls. They mixed clay, compost, seeds and water with their hands.

“It’s squishy,” Ruth said.

The clay helps bind everything together and keeps the seeds — a mixture of seeds of native plants — from blowing away, Quast said.

The girls made balls about the size of a dime and put them in plastic bags.

At home, they’re supposed to let them dry out, then take them out where no one mows the grass, Quast said.

Ursula Nanna, of Harker Heights, angler education area chief for the Master Naturalists, said they were teaching six “docks” at the Nature Fest: fishing safety, knots and tackle, baits and lures, casting, marine debris and fish habitat. She said age was not a factor.

“We’ve had kids 2½ years old who wanted to cast,” she said. “As long as you can stand, you can cast, and you can fish. It’s just wonderful to see how happy it makes people to fish.”

Doug Phillips, of Austin, a private land biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was promoting the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.

“We use fire as a tool to help restore our ecosystems,” he said.

Fire helps to manage the brush and invigorates the grass, Phillips said.

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Union Minister Prakash Javadekar slams Congress for blocking environment related projects

NEW DELHI: Union Minister Prakash Javadekar today slammed the previous UPA regime for allegedly blocking environment related projects and said the Narendra Modi Government gave clearance to several critical and strategic project after coming to power.

In an apparent reference to his predecessor and former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, Javadekar, who is the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, charged him with blocking several infrastructure projects.

Responding to a question during an interaction at the Foreign Correspondents Club here, on whether reservations by environment ministry controlled by previous UPA government hampered growth, Javadekar said, “Unfortunately, yes.”

“I met (former PM) Dr Manmohan Singhji at a function. He, as a PM, had short-listed some 17 strategically important projects for clearance. For 17 months the 17 projects were pending. I told him, we had a meeting and have given clearance to 17 projects.

“My predecessor who is also my friend put no-go board. There were too many no-goes…so where would they go,” the minister said in an apparent reference to Ramesh.

Javadekar added that after the change of guard at the Centre, the “negative” approach policy has turned into “positive”.

He said his Ministry is focusing at decentralisation so that major decisions could be taken at the regional level with participation of states.

“Not a single rule of ‘caring nature’ has been changed. But those in the name of ‘caring nature’ which was stopping progress… because we think progress and environment protection of nature is simultaneously possible and both can go hand in hand,” the minister said.

Javadekar said that after taking over he cleared important proposals like giving clearance to 35 coast guard chowkies, which were falling under the CRZ regulation and also started online process of granting clearance under which 200 applications are already being processed.

“Clearance was given to important projects like border roads, those increasing connectivity and those with strategic importance,” the minister said.

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Russia Creates New Nature Reserve in Urals Steppe

Saturday, Oct. 18

Broaden your literary horizons during Reading Time at the British Book Center. An assigned text will be discussed with a native speaker on hand to guide the conversation. The chosen text for this session is H.G. Wells’ 1903 children’s tale “The Magic Shop.”

Cirque du Soleil’s latest foray into the art of acrobatics is iD, which premieres in the city this evening. Blending street dances and culture with electronic rock music, the show promises to be a modern marvel encompassing various aspects of today’s culture. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles ($25) and can be reserved by calling 800-555-07-70.

Sunday, Oct. 19

Today is the final day of the October Fur Trade Fair at the Lenexpo exhibition center. The latest styles will be on display while wholesalers will be on hand to discuss industry techniques and offer up for sale the finest winter wear.

Monday, Oct. 20

Amateur pictures from World War I are on display for only one more day at Rosphoto’s exhibition “On Both Sides,” chronicling the conflict through the eyes of observers on both sides of the trenches. The price of entrance to the exhibition is 100 rubles ($2.50).

Tuesday, Oct. 21

The Environment, Health and Safety Committee of AmCham convenes this morning at 9 a.m. in the organization’s office.

Take the chance to pick the brains of Dmitry V. Krivenok, the deputy director of the Economic Development Agency of the Leningrad region, and Mikhail D. Sergeev, the head of the Investment Projects Department, during the meeting with them this morning hosted by SPIBA. RSVP for the event by emailing before Oct. 17 if you wish to attend.

Improve your English at Interactive English, the British Book Center’s series of lessons on vocabulary and grammar in an informal atmosphere. Starting at 6 p.m., each month draws attention to different topics in English, with the topic for this month’s lessons being “visual arts.”

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Eustis commissioners should stop fighting Trout Lake Nature Center

Trout Lake Nature Center refused to knuckle under and absorb the low blow when Eustis city commissioners moved to rezone city-owned land around the environmental gem to allow for various uses from group homes to restaurants to day-care centers.

Instead, the nonprofit center’s officers spoke out against the change and gave their permission for a couple preservation-minded citizens to challenge the city’s unilateral decision.

Result? Vindictive Eustis commissioners took away their donation to Trout Lake, stomped their feet and went home. What a bunch of babies.

Climate Isn’t Changing Forests as Much as We Thought

Researchers frequently mention how climate change is playing a heavy hand in the drastic changes forests are going through in the Northern Hemisphere, where cold-loving pines and firs are being bullied out by more adaptable species.

Nature World News recently reported how the state of Minnesota alone is experiencing a major overhaul of its forest populations, where tree likes the American basswood, black cherry, red maple, sugar maple, and white oak are becoming increasingly prevalent, while species more characteristic to the region like the white spruce and balsam fir tree struggle to adapt to increasing temperatures and wet winter storms.

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However, a researcher from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is arguing that climate change is a mere secondary factor for forest overhaul, at least among forest in the eastern United States. Forest ecology expert Marc Abrams stipulates that these forests are still struggling to recover from a state of “disequilibrium” that arose from the clear-cutting and large-scale burning that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s – long before “Smokey the Bear” was a household name.

“Looking at the historical development of Eastern forests, the results of the change in types of disturbances – both natural and man-caused – are much more significant than any change in climate,” Abrams said in a recent statement.

“Over the last 50 years, most environmental science has focused on the impact of climate change. In some systems, however, climate change impacts have not been as profound as in others. This includes the forest composition of the eastern US.”

In a study recently authored by the researcher, and published in the journal Global Change Biology, Abrams compared presettlement – original land survey data – and current vegetation conditions in the eastern United States.

Surprisingly, it revealed that the “change” that many eastern forests are experiencing resembles the still ongoing tumultuous results of European disturbances on what was once a balanced forest system.

However, Abrams is quick to add that this does not mean climate is not having its own influences. It is simply that, “land-use change often trumped or negated the impacts of warming climate, and this needs greater recognition in climate change discussions, scenarios and model interpretations.”

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