I’ve been hiking and backpacking for a few years. I camp in comfort with my mosquito-net camping hammock and tarp. The setup is quick and easy and allows me to stay away from the mud and uneven ground. I navigate with my iPhone and I have extra power packs and a portable solar panel to keep my devices charged.
But one has to be ready with more than mere comforts and the latest gadgets. Even prepared veteran hikers can encounter dangerous and unexpected circumstances in the field, and to be labeled “ill-equipped” by the responders to your situation is embarrassing. I don’t want to be caught with my pants down, so I’m continuously testing my skills, gear and preparedness in the real world, while borrowing useful tricks from travelers who have more knowledge than I do.
Overplanning and overthinking takes the fun out of any trip, but heading into the unknown like Chris McCandless can have fatal consequences. Once you have your gear rigged it’s important to do some investigating into the area you’re about to navigate. Weather changes or a night in the mountains can be deadly when things go wrong.
More often than not, people experience hiccups when they have no strategy at all, or they’re uninformed.
They don’t know that a thunderstorm in the mountains on a hot summer day can drop the temperature by 30 or 40 degrees in a flash, requiring not only rain gear but also extra insulation.
They fail to realize the advantages of wearing a headlamp while trekking through darkness in backcountry.
When you head out on a trail, you should have what it takes to survive an incident or accident – snacks, water, shelter, first aid kit and a way of making a fire.
1. Map and Compass. Google Maps have failed me again and again, even in busy cities information is not always up to date and correct. When all else fails, the compass will not. There is nothing like a dependable compass to keep you on the right track.
2. Headlamp or flashlight: We all prefer headlamps for hands-free use while stumbling over roots and rocks. LED hand-held and head-lamps are lightweight, provide long burn times, and are nearly indestructible.
3. Multitool: Trust in the old faithful Leatherman, and make sure your multi tool has a saw in it, as this could prove invaluable.
4. Fire starter: Use cotton balls or pads coated with Vaseline in a little zipper bag or plastic container or commercial starters. The Vaseline serves multiple purposes; it’s a great lubricant and moisturizer too.
5. Extra food and water: Hydration bladders are easy to find. Carry an extra bottle if needed. I also carry iodine tablets for emergency water treatment or a personal water filter like the Sawyer Straw. Dried meats and emergency bars are a good source of energy and proteins.
6. Matches: Stormproof matches will not fail you. Just be careful of carrying “strike anywhere” matches on airplanes as TSA forbids these.
7. First aid kit: The Surviveware First Aid Kit comes with 100 items in clearly labeled compartments that ensure easy accessibility during emergency situations. It can be strapped to your backpack and is compact enough to carry in your bag. It’s also waterproof. Remember to add your own personal subscription medication.
8. Extra clothing: At minimum a dry base layer top, plus light gloves and a buff. Ensure your heads, hands and feet are warm as most heat loss occurs in the extremities.
9. Emergency shelter: At the least, a reflective blanket in the form of an emergency thermal blanket. Packs of five ensure you have some for fellow travelers and with duck tape you can construct a makeshift shelter that is easily spotted by rescuers.
10. Toilet paper: A.k.a white gold, keep it safe and pack it wisely.
11. Locating devices: Carry a whistle with companions and use a series of agreed upon blasts for communication. It is sustainable and louder than yelling. Rose would never have been saved without hers after the Titanic sank.
12. Sun protection: Include sunglasses, hat, buff, sunscreen and SPF-rated lip balm.
Beyond this list of basic gear, I carry an emergency venom extractor kit for bites and stings. I also carry a small tick removal tool as these parasites are rampant this year.