127: Smoke Signals and Trail Marking

Show Notes: Episode 127

Today on the First 40 Miles, leaving a trail of bread crumbs didn’t work out so well for Hansel and Gretel, so is there a better way to mark the trail that won’t conflict with Leave No Trace principles?  Then Josh will share the top 5 things he does on every backpacking trip.  Next, we’ll share a way to text, even when you’re days from a cell tower.  For today’s Backpack Hack of the Week, a ridiculous zero-gram trail game that will keep you entertained for hours.


  • Hansel and Gretel
  • How to communicate on the trail
  • Sometimes it’s tricky to find the trail…it can peter out or divide, leaving you wondering where to go
  • …and it can be even trickier if you’re lagging behind. Where did your group go?
  • Most common way of trail marking is cairns or mound of stones, although they can be controversial
  • Do not remove cairns or destroy them
  • Other methods
  • Don’t forget to undo what you do


Top 5 Top 5 Things I Do On Every Single Trip (JOSH)

  • Spot clearing dance
  • Side trips
  • Photography
  • Help kids learn
  • Last and final sweep of camp

SUMMIT Gear Review: GoTenna


  • Pretty rugged
  • State-of-the-art cognitive digital radio creates 100% off-grid signal and coordinates with other units within range so you can text privately — 1-to-1 or with a group — or broadcast openly to any nearby goTenna
  • Flash memory good for 100’s of messages
  • Rechargeable Lithium-polymer battery
  • Bluetooth-LE data interface
  • Status indicator lights


  • How to use: charge your goTenna, then you download the goTenna app onto your phone, then hang the goTenna off the back of your backpack, turn it on, and have your friend do the same.
  • 2W VHF which means it will propagate rather well even without line of sight (LOS) though LOS will enable even better range
  • Claim about a 4 mile range…which is backpacking terms is about 8 hours away from the other person.
  • Private messages 1-to-1, or you can broadcast a message to everyone in the whole area who has a goTenna
  • Apps include detailed offline maps — free to download for any region in the world — so you can locate yourself and others while enjoying the outdoors, travel, and crowded events or even during emergencies.
  • goTenna’s LED light indicates multiple functions. It will flash a long, slow blink when the device is activated. It will blink repeatedly at one-second intervals while waiting to pair over Bluetooth (and will stop blinking once paired, this is important to note, a working and paired goTenna will NOT have any lights on, this is normal and it’s done to save battery). goTenna will also blink the instant a message is sent or received.
  • Nylon attachment strap
  • Only works with: iOS (8.4+) or Android (4.3+) devices


  • Weighs about 1.8 oz or 52 g
  • About the size of a candybar


  • Charges with micro USB
  • Not waterproof, but they claim it’s weatherproof and water-resistant. Ok to get wet, but not submerged. It’s dust proof.


  • Sold in pairs
  • Pair costs $150, so $75 each
  • 15% military discount on their website


  • Our set up experience
  • “Free trial!”
  • In city, in forest

Backpack Hack of the Week™:  Game: Are You a Tree or a Pinecone?

Fun trail game.  Simple.  Has kind of a Rorschach undertone to it.  It’s also one of those no winner no loser games.  What makes this game great is that you can keep it going on the trail.

So you ask your hiking friend: Are you a tree or a pinecone?  And they answer with the one that best matches who they are.

They might say I’m a pinecone because I have a rough, prickly exterior and I can be a little nuts.  Or it can simply be, because I’m shaped like a pinecone.   Or I fell today.

You’re anthopomorphising these objects and applying them to your physical looks, your preferences or your personality.

You then can switch it up:

Are you peanut butter or jelly?

Are you studded tires or snow chains?

Are you Lucy or Ethel?

Are you skinny jeans or yoga pants?

Are you a jar of mayonnaise or a bottle of mustard?

Are you a comet or a satellite?

Are you The Star Spangled Banner or God Bless America?

Trail Wisdom

“I cannot see the wit of walking and talking at the same time. When I am in the country I wish to vegetate like the country.”

–William Hazlitt