Do you have a burning outdoors-related question you’ve always wanted to know the answer to? Ask Ranger Rialto by filling in the form below or emailing (Emily Eng / The Seattle Times)

Editor’s Note: In this new monthly outdoors advice column, our newsroom mascot, Ranger Rialto, will find answers to any of your outdoors questions. Shoot us your questions either in the form below or via and we’ll find the best experts to answer them and print their responses.

Reader questions have been edited for clarity and concision.


Q: As we move into colder temps and well, rain, what gear might be best for layering during our morning Pacific Northwest runs? I’ve gotten into running and I’m getting into really enjoying it, but as the mornings are darker and as we move to winter I’m afraid that I’ll make excuses not to run, and during these COVID times there’s not much else I want to do to stay in mental and physical shape.

— Erik

A: Good news, Erik! We called in Beth Baker, a Seattle-area running coach who specializes in working with new runners, to answer this question, and she has some pointers for you. Start with this temperature-specific rule. “The best way to keep warm is to protect your core and to keep in mind that you are dressing for 20 degrees warmer than it really is,” said Baker. “So if it’s 40 out, dress like it’s 60, with a layer to take off and stash around your waist.”

I can confirm from my own experience that this technique works. This, incidentally, is also why you sometimes see runners out in what looks seasonally inappropriate — if you were working that hard, you’d heat up, too!

Baker recommends wearing a vest and a technical shirt for running in cold temperatures, and keeping extremities toasty with a hat and gloves. But be careful about the material. “Stay away from cotton, because it just stays wet and sticks to your skin in the rain and it’s terribly uncomfortable,” advises Baker. For women, she recommends a breathable running rain jacket from local running company Oiselle.

And don’t forget the utility of a more humble article of clothing: “[A] baseball hat keeps the rain off your face and makes everything more comfortable.”


Q: What is the best thing to do if you break your ankle in the backcountry?

— Mary

A: Excellent question, Mary! (And I hope you’re not currently in the backcountry with a broken ankle.) As with any emergency, calling 911 if you have cell coverage is the “first go-to step” if you’re injured in the wilderness, according to Nathan Lorance, a volunteer with King County Search and Rescue. If you’ll be out of range on your adventures, satellite or radio beacons can also be useful. Look into them for your next trip!

It can be helpful to build up some basic first-aid skills, and Lorance recommends “anything to reduce further trauma” as you wait for help — that might mean splinting or simply elevating the injury, or applying pressure to staunch bleeding. It’s also wise to bring along the 10 essentials (including a first-aid kit). That way, you’ll have resources on hand to stay dry and warm if you’re injured on the trail and need to wait for help to arrive.

Hikers head into the Olympic National Park wilderness from Obstruction Point, looking toward the views of the Olympics. On any hiking trip, you should always be sure to bring the 10 essentials. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Because remember, said Lorance: It will take Search and Rescue the same time and distance it took you to get to where you are. “There’s going to be a little bit of waiting time and having the 10 essentials means you’ll be as comfortable as possible,” he said.

It’s also wise to let a friend or family member know where you’re going and when to expect you back, so they know at what point they should call Search and Rescue. “The best outcome is somebody took more of a scenic route,” said Lorance. “Better to be safe than sorry.”

And while you didn’t ask about this, current air-quality conditions from fires in the Pacific Northwest and beyond mean “really difficult” hiking conditions, said Lorance. And those hiking conditions don’t just affect you — they also affect Search and Rescue teams if you end up needing help. Something to keep in mind!


Hiking safety

Hiking can be dangerous at times. Here are five tips from the Washington Trails Association for going prepared and staying safe:

1. Check the latest trail conditions: Read how others have fared when choosing a hike. Contact the local ranger station for current conditions.
2. Let someone know where you’re going: Let them know your intended destination and when you plan to return, and update them if plans change.
3. Pack the 10 Essentials:
  • Topographic map
  • Compass
  • Water and a way to purify it
  • Extra food
  • Rain gear and warm clothing
  • Fire starter and matches
  • Sun protection
  • Pocketknife
  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
An emergency shelter, hiking poles, ice ax and snowshoes are also worth considering, depending on the season and where you’re going.
4. Watch the weather forecast: Conditions can change minute by minute. Don’t force a hike. If the conditions aren’t right, save it for another day.
5. Beware of hunters: Wear orange clothing and make noise while you hike if you’re traveling in hunting zones during hunting season.

Q: Hi. I hike a lot on Northwest trails with my dog, and many trails are used by horse riders, too. My question: Why are we required to pick up dog poo from the trail, but horses can leave giant piles everywhere? I think riders should at least be required to shovel piles off of the trail.

— Matt

A: This one has a surprise answer, Matt. According to Anna Gill, communications director for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, while there aren’t any rules specifically related to horse poop on trails, “State Parks rules requires riders to clean up animal feces in parking lots, trail heads and other central locations.”

So horses don’t get a total free pass. We hope this eases your frustration at this confusing double standard.