2012-07-16

Grass seeds and burs

This is a little discussed topic in backpacking/outdoorsing, and yet one of the most annoying things you can run into on a trip. We've mentioned this in passing, but never addressed it directly, so here goes...

Grass seeds.

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Though I've never had grass ruin a trip, it certainly can suck the fun away to constantly have your hair pulled or be getting stabbed in the feet.

To give an idea how important/annoying this can get, on a trip in PA I wore mesh racing flats, and I had to stop once every 1/2 hour to hour to pull grass seed out of my shoes for several days of a 9 day trip. If I neglected this I'd end up with nasty sores. One actually punctured Jess' skin and started working it's way into her foot. We got to calling wild oats our "nemesis" for some time. Since then I've stopped using mesh shoes, because it's just not worth it when grass seed rears it's head.

So, lets talk in a little more detail about why it's a problem.

2 obnoxious types

Sharp grass seed that will work it's way into everything and eventually stab you. e.g. wild oats:

  • They are sharp enough to puncture things like sleeping pads, waterproof stuffsacks, etc.
  • They work their way into fabrics (e.g. blankets and socks) and take forever to pick out.
  • They work their way into your shoes and stab your feet, 'causing you to have to stop regularly to pull them out of your shoes.

Burs that will stick to *everything*:

  • They stick in your leg hairs if you have them. This can get quite painful once your leg is nearly solid burs as they are going to be pulling continuously on basically every hair.
  • They stick to your blankets and clothes and make them pretty uncomfortable
  • They stick in your hair on your head and become impossible to remove without cutting.

Obviously problems with grass seed only arise if there's grass around, and some of the seeds are ripe. So it's a limited part of the year.

It's also much more likely to be an issue when you bushwhack, as you end up walking through tall grass more often. Our first run-in, as mentioned above, was on a 9-day trip in PA where we were supposedly on trail, but some trail was very faint and rarely traveled.

Mitigations

Going back to the problems I listed before, some mitigation techniques should immediately come to mind. Bear in mind that some grass seed will always get through your defenses, just like rain. And like rain life is better if you resign yourself to some getting through, but keeping the levels down a little can make things a lot more comfy.

  • Wear somewhat puncture resistant and non-fuzzy clothing:
    • Gators to cover socks.
    • Nylon, canvas, or similar pants of any form (rain or wind pants work).
    • Leather or otherwise non-mesh shoes (huaraches work too).
  • Don't lay down any loose woven fabrics:
    • Tramp down the grass as much as you can before lying down to sleep.
    • A ground-cloth or bivy can help keep it out of your blanket/bag.
  • Things will get punctured:
    • Don't use your inflatable pad.
    • Recognize your groundcloth will get tiny holes in it.
    • Don't wear your waterproof socks.

The mitigations are super simple and easy... you just have to realize when you'll need them. I feel like I forget almost every year and have to be reminded by one uncomfortable trip.

As a slightly surprising note, Merrell tough gloves for instance, despite being leather, will still get a non-trivial amount of grass-seed in them (way way less than mesh though). They lack a gusset on the tongue and the laces come down farther than most gators. As a result grass seed slides down between the tongue and inside of the shoe. This isn't terrible, but does mean every couple of hours of hiking in grass you might have to pick some out.

At least it'll make you feel better ;-)

If you have lots of grass you can make yourself a comfy bed out of just that! Gather a nice big armload. Spread half of it on the ground vertically relative to how you plan to sleep. Now spread the other half over that horizontally. Now you have a comfy mattress!

Wild oats, one of the worst offenders, are edible. So you can get them back! It also just makes me less annoyed when I know that this copious resource for annoyance is a copious resource for food as well. We're still working on how to process and eat them, I have some I'm experimenting with now, stay tuned.

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Got any grass seed stories to share? I'm curious how common a problem this really is for other people. It sure has hit us hard a few times. What do you do to mitigate problems with grass seed?

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