Don't Bag on My Gear: Fundamentals of a Survival Kit
Hoooonk! The long, solidary blast of the car horn snaps you back into reality. Eyes darting back and forth, you scan the room one final time, as your buddy shouts outside, "Hurry up!" With sweaty palms, still frozen in that final moment of indecisiveness, you grab your backpack and exhale all doubt. You have everything you need for your hiking trip.
At some point, we have faced the daunting task of determining if we packed "everything" we need for our venture. Safely pre-planning for an activity is almost as much fun as the trip itself. Each year, my best friend and I section hike the Appalachian Trail. Although the event happens annually, the euphoria lives year long by means of preparing for the next adventure. Through trial and error, some items in the kit stay, get replaced or become omitted entirely.
Yet, in all these awesome and whacky gear changing scenarios, one constant concept remains, safety and functionality. Regardless of the trip duration, one hour or one week, certain items must be included in the gear. These accoutrements provide the basic components necessary for an all-inclusive safety and survival kit.
Everytime we step into the outdoors, we run the risk of an accident. The key to an enjoyable outing involves reducing the possibility something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen. In other words, we want to diminish risk. We can decrease our chances of an unforeseen situation getting the best of us by increasing our knowledge/skills in the wild and by carrying survival resources.
The proper gear does not have to be expensive or burdensome. One can acquire beneficial, quality items without breaking the bank. Also, simple is good. Small, lightweight items in your pack that serve a purpose can save your life in the event of an emergency. State-of-the-art, name brand items can be really cool, but not necessary. Sometimes a match is just a match.
In our outdoor kit, we should carry a few basic items. I'm going to outline these incidentals and provide examples of some brands I carried and tested over time. Having the exact item discussed is not as important as recognizing the use and reason for the piece of gear. For example, a knife of some sort is an imperative resource. This tool provides you with an eating utensil, a means of cutting, protection, the ability to shape wood and myriad other tasks.
Go to any wilderness forum, and you will find countless discussions on the proper knife to carry. The best knife is the one you have. Although I own a slew of cutting tools with various attributes and grinds, a pocket folder is lightweight and easy to toss in a pack. For instance, I carry an Opinel carbon steel pocket knife. At just around 2 ounces, this fine slicer will get the job done, and the blade locks in place for added security. The back of the blade comes with a 90 degree spine, which I can use to strike a ferro rod or make wood shavings to start a fire. Will it handle heavy tasks like chopping? Nope. Still, the blade serves many functions. The Opinel costs about $15.
Additionally, when outdoors, you want to protect your core body temperature. If you are blazing down a path or chilling at camp when a storm blows in, protect yourself from the elements. This security may include a tent, tarp or trash bag poncho. For around $3, add a mylar space blanket in your pack. It weighs around 1.6 ounces and can be used as a shelter or thermal blanket. Likewise, carry a one ounce BIC lighter to start a fire and warm up. For under a couple bucks, a BIC will light thousands of times and can be made to work if drenched. Your skill philosophy should include multiple fire making methods, but a lighter is always the easiest means.
Moving along, throw about 25 feet of 550 paracord into your bag. This amount of cordage weighs roughly 2 ounces, but the uses are endless. From making shelter ridgelines to hanging bear bags, a little rope goes a long way.
Another important element to consider is potable drinking water. You should carry a bottle or drinking vessel. Stainless steel is preferable, as you can boil water in it. Many other lightweights options exist, including Nalgene bottles, aluminum growlers, and bladders. If you run into a situation where boiling water is not an option, consider water purification tablets or a filtration system. At a claimed weight of around 2 ounces, both the Sawyer Mini and the Lifestraw filter 99% of most bacteria and protozoa. The LifeStraw cleans up to 1,000 gallons and the Sawyer boasts 100,000 gallons. You can find either for about $20. Just be careful with filters in the winter, as they will freeze.
A few other important items to include are a headlamp, bandannas, Gorilla tape, and a compass. A headlamp provides light and signaling. These lights weigh anywhere from 3-4 ounces, and a decent one can be purchased for around $20. A $7 set of three cotton bandannas comes in at 2-4 ounces. They are used for straining water, first aid, cleaning dishes and hygiene. Likewise, 12 yards ($5) of Gorilla tape, or duct tape, features a weight of 9.6 ounces and provide countless options for repair of equipment, lashing, and first-aid. Lastly, a compass provides direction necessary for evacuation if lost. A tiny button compass, like the Suunto, will clip onto your pack or fit in your pocket. At .16 ounces, this $15 compass is so lightweight, you'll forget you have it until it's needed.
Another piece you want to carry is a first-aid kit. Making a small kit with various size bandages, a pressure dressing, a needle, various medications (aspirin, anti-Itch cream, salves, etc.), MoleSkin, a syringe, a tourniquet and a packet of Quickclot should cover most basic emergency needs. Adventure Medical offers a decent pre-made kit housed in a waterproof bag called the Ultralight .5. This set offers 1-2 days worth of supplies for a single person. The Ultralight weighs 3.6 ounces and costs $17.
Finally, you should take rations. Grab about 6 of your favorite meal replacement bars. They will provide nourishment and a quick energy boost when needed. Likewise, if you experience an emergency situation, available food is vital for your well-being.
In conclusion, all the referenced supplies weigh in at about 3 pounds. Given the minuscule load these components yield, why sacrifice your safety? Trekking with these provisions will greatly reduce your risk while venturing along the countryside. Ultimately, the goal is to have fun and return to your loved ones. As always,
Journey past your limits.