A Hiker’s Guide To Understanding Trail Signs

In the modern age of smartphones and GPS devices, it is easy to think it is impossible to become lost. That’s a dangerous assumption to make – signals can drop, batteries run flat and the gadgetry itself can become lost or damaged. At times like these, you will need to turn to the physical signs along the trail that have stood the test of time.

When we talk about trail signs, these go beyond the standard “keep out” “beware of wild animals” and other such signs that you might see at mysecuritysign.com – important though these things are. Trail signs use their own language and symbolism – but it is not too complicated once you understand the basics.

While different trails have different signs, there are three basic types. Let’s take a look at each of them in turn.

Trail Blazes

Typically found in heavily wooded locations, trail blazes are marked onto trees at eye-level to give key information. The US Forest Service marks a standardized blaze that looks like a lower case “i.”

While some blazes are still carved, painting is now more popular and considered environmentally friendly. One blaze means continue straight ahead, and if there is a double blaze, the top one indicates the direction you should take. This key provides full details of what each blaze means.

Trail Cairns

If you have explored the National Parks of the UK, you will be well acquainted with cairns – but you also find them along some of the less hospitable trails in the US. They are typically used in areas that are subject to severe weather such as fog and snow.

At first glance they look like large piles of stones, and whatever the weather, it is hard to miss them. A cairn is typically around three feet high and at least two feet wide. The theory is simple enough – the cairns are designed to be visible in the worst conditions, and if you just keep following them, they will lead you to civilization and safety.

There is a tradition among hikers that it is good luck to add a rock to the top of the cairn – perhaps that’s why some of them are as huge as they are! Whether you are exploring the English Moors or the wilds of Acadia Park in Maine, if the weather turns ugly, cairns will become your best friends!

Trail Ducks

A duck is similar in concept to a cairn, but is much smaller, often just three stones high. The saying goes that a stack of two stones could be a coincidence, but a stack of three is a duck. As well as showing that you are on the right path, a duck will sometimes include a pointer rock that indicate the direction you need to take.

The fact that ducks are so quick and easy to construct is a double edged sword. Some hikers are so enthusiastic that they love making ducks all over the place, and this can reduce their reliability.

Naturally, a GPS system and a map remain your best tools – but by recognizing blazes, cairns and ducks, you might just get the clues you need to avoid a tricky situation.


[Gear Review] Sustain Co. Emergency Survival Kit

by Kate Spiller – It’s not as exciting and adventurous a feeling as purchasing a fancy tent, kayak, or even hiking boots with all the bells and whistles. However, there is an extremely important item that we should all have in our gear arsenal to prepare us for the unexpected.

As outdoor families, we have an immense amount of respect for mother nature.  With that also comes the realization that our safe and comfortable world may change without a lot of warning. A Sustain Supply Co. Comfort 4-Person Supply Bag ensures that when an emergency situation or natural disaster strikes, your family is well taken care of and supported.  

What is Sustain Supply Co.’s Comfort 4-Person Supply Bag?

The Comfort 4 is 72-hour emergency kit designed for 4 people.  In addition to a large backpack that holds all supplies, its contents includes:

  • 24 Food servings from Mountain House (freeze dried meals)
  • 48 packets of Datrex Water (individual servings, purified water)
  • 1 Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
  • 8 Cyalume SnapLights
  • 1 Morakniv companion knife
  • 2 LED Lanterns
  • 2 Flashlights
  • 1 Basic First Aid Kit
  • 4 Emergency Blankets
  • 2 Packets of Bath Wipes
  • 1 Portable (non-gas) Stove
  • 4 Collapsible Bowls, 4 Multi-Use Utensils
  • 1 Ferrocerium rod (fire starter)
  • 4 Instafire Tinder packets
  • 4 Whistles

What We Love about the Comfort 4-Person Supply Bag

Makes Emergency Preparedness Easy

Instead of doing all the research (spending a lot more time and money) to figure out exactly what goes into an emergency supply bag, Sustain Supply Co. just does all the work for you.  With the exception of personal items (documents, medications, etc), all necessary items are included.

Effortless Organization

Sustain Supply Co.’s Comfort 4 Supply Bag is made up of several zipper pouches, compartments, and sleeves.  This makes the bag easy to pack, and repack. As I was learning about the contents of the bag, I just unpacked compartment by compartment, and never got overwhelmed with putting it all back!


The bag itself is made to last! Made of tough nylon with reinforced straps and handles, I know that we can drag the bag around, throw it in the back of the car, and not worry about it ripping or tearing.  

Mountain House Meals

Knowing that we have high quality, high protein meals ready to eat, and easy to prepare is extremely reassuring.  Sustain Supply Co. chose a freeze-dried meal company, Mountain House, with an excellent reputation, history, and story.  Included are meals that I know my kids will enjoy. In fact, though I won’t, I’m tempted to bring a meal or two along on our upcoming camping trip!

Premium Quality Gear

Just a few of the highlights and features of the chosen gear and supply items inside the Comfort 4 Supply Bag:

  • Durable and Sturdy Flashlights that convert from pinpoint to spotlight
  • Multi-use and long-lasting snaplights
  • Easy to use Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
  • High Quality Survival Knife with comfort grip handle
  • Handy meal kit supplies (multi-use utensils and fold-flat bowls)
  • Emergency blankets work for both keeping heat in, and reflecting it away.  

More than Enough Room

Yes, the Sustain Supply Co. Comfort 4 Supply Bag is jam packed with 23 pounds of gear, but amazingly enough, the backpack still has empty compartments and pouches.  These open areas, allow us to personalize the bag with contents specific to our family.

Notes on the Comfort 4 Supply Bag:

  • Make sure you get to know your emergency supply bag! Even though it can seem overwhelming, it’s important to unpack each pocket and compartment (I suggest doing this one at a time), and learn about each item. Like we were, if you aren’t sure how to operate the stove or water filter, take some time to practice!
  • In addition to adding your family’s personal items (documents, medications, etc), you’ll want to add AA and AAA batteries for the lanterns and flashlights.  
  • Some items are better off in their original packaging or ziplock bags.  However for others, we think, especially considering you’ll be using this in an emergency situation, it’s best to unwrap cellophane and other wrappings.  
  • Visit the Sustain Survival Blog and the FEMA website to download an emergency kit list to complete and personalize your emergency bag.  

Our Improvement Suggestions

While we are overwhelmingly impressed with the Comfort 4 Supply Bag and its contents, we do have two small suggestions for improvement and usability:

  • Guide or Map with photos and corresponding captions of bag contents.  Even if we could print from the Sustain Supply Co.’s website, it would be helpful to have some sort of infographic, especially if other family members (less familiar with the bag) were to use the kit.  
  • We found the stove a little puzzling, and tricky to put together.  Though I’m sure it would be simple once we figured it out, a small card with instructions and best practices would be helpful!

Author’s Bio

Kate is a former elementary school teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, writer and blogger. Her blog, WildTalesof.com is all about outdoor adventure and travel with kids. She wants to pass along little tidbits that she’s gathered in her short life as a mom, wife, and adventurer. Inspiration, tips, helpful hints, how-to’s, are shared…all to make family life a touch easier, a touch wilder, and a touch more adventurous.

Saving The Environment – One Tree At A Time – With TreePeople

When I first heard of TreePeople, I was wondering if it was an organization for people who love trees or if it was a secret organization of the “Ents” from Lord of the Rings.  It turns out the former is correct, and the efforts of TreePeople are all about inspiring the people of Los Angeles to plant and care for trees. Their work becomes more important as the city continues to grow and we pave over much of its green beauty. I have always been a nature lover and have passed this trait down to my family, so that with each generation, we continue to respect the Earth and do our part to sustain her beauty. Nature and motherhood go hand in hand.

I noticed that as the world begins to rely more and more on technology, nature takes a back seat. It’s like we think the only way forward is by digitizing everything and spreading the concrete jungle as far as the eye can see. What so many fail to realize is just how critical trees are to our survival. Apart from the fact that plants provide the very air that we need, there are many reasons to turn LA green.

Concrete scorches in the sun—it doesn’t provide the same safe haven as lush green trees.  At the same time, the more rivers we pave over, the less water we have available because it cannot soak into the ground where we need it. We need to replace the concrete jungle with a green one and let nature do its job; that way we can restore healthy soil, conserve water and harvest the rain.

I strive to pass these ideals onto my children, which is why on a brisk fall morning I found myself and my daughter in the Santa Monica Mountains at a TreePeople restoration event. Surrounded by nature, we were instructed in how to remove invasive species and replace them with natives, making the mountains habitable to local animals and insects and stronger in the face of disasters such as fire. Thrilled, we chose the tree that we would plant that morning and got going!

My daughter and I dug our hands and tools into the earth, taking care to follow each step we learned earlier in the morning to give the tree the best chance of living a long, healthy life. Just we were planting a tree into the Earth, I was planting the seed of caring for this planet in my daughter’s heart.

They say that the Santa Monica Mountains are the lungs of Los Angeles because they provide so much oxygen to surrounding areas far and wide. We were proud to know we helped people to breathe a little easier, that we made our local mountains greener and stronger, that we gave places for native animals and plants to live, and that we helped to build and clean our waterways between the Santa Monica Mountains and the ocean.

It felt good taking care of our Mother Earth, just as I take care of my daughter and my mother took care of me. This Mother’s Day, TreePeople is offering an opportunity to do the same with a tree dedication. Show the mom in your life that she’s your world by giving her the Earth. Give the gift of trees.