Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hacking it in the Outdoors


Of late I've spent a good deal of my off-time out in the boonies behind the house, mostly day hikes. I've enjoyed the temporary, blissful periods of isolation, and keeping myself occupied by experimenting with pack-loads trying to create an optimal, three-season load that will weigh in at under 30 pounds. That's right, I am turning into a "Light and Fast" backpacker.

No, I'm not turning into one of the sawed-off toothbrush, ounce-counting fanatics that comprise the ultralight community, I'm just trying to shed as much weight as I can without compromising safety in the wilderness. By safety I mean my ability to hold out in a worst-case, stuck in the boonies in adverse conditions sort of way. What can I carry that ensures endurance in the wild until I can find help? It's a subject of intense debate, but the path to validation is rife with variables and plain dumb luck.

I'm experimenting with a small, waistpack-sized kit that can cover bare minimum survival needs in isolation. The mentality is not to wait for help to come to you but to hod out until you can find safety, or until rescue assets find you. That being said, preparedness tells all. Think ahead before you set out on a long road trip on isolated roads or on a walk in the woods. This kit, while still in development, fills the most basic needs:

Let's begin with shelter, the top priority of outdoor survival. Exposure to the elements is a leading cause of fatalities in the wild. This kit includes a 4'X 8' poncho which makes a handy lean-to in a pinch for shelter from wind, rain, and snow, to say nothing of its intended use. The poncho is folded with 4 aluminum tent stakes and 50 feet of para-cord and sealed in a 1-gallon ziploc bag for compactness (top right item in the picture). The bag also provides a means of gathering water.

Next to shelter means of providing warmth come a close second. Clothing, blankets, the means to make a fire. The bag at top center contains a mylar blanket; thin, light, and capable of retaining 90% of radiated body heat. A must-have. Also included are a magnesium firestarter and a cheap, disposable butane lighter. That baggie also contains a first aid kit-- gauze bandages, adhesive tape, alcohol wipes for disinfectant, a needle, dental floss, iodine water purifying tablets and a small pill bottle of Advil. The pill bottle also serves as a roll for a 3 foot length of duct tape for gear repairs.

Water, naturally, is carried in the Nalgene bottles included in the waistpack. Believe it or not, there is room for food in the pouch as well, left out of the picture since I ate the handful of Power Bars I had stuffed into the kit for the hike, since I only went two miles into the treeline that day.

A compass and 1:24,000 scale topographic map of my hometown, with a pencil and small notepad, round out the navigation bag. Best not to get lost. Besides, as a Navigator, I'd never hear the end of it if I did get lost. Also in the nav bag are two 12-hour chem-lights, useful for emergency lighting and as trail markers to find one's way in the dark. I usually carry a dozen or so of them in my main pack, and place them at regular intervals on trails if I plan to be out after dark. Additional lighting is provided by a one-ounce, 15-hour LED headlamp and a small keychain LED light I keep in a hip pocket.

This entire getup weighs in at a whopping 5 pounds with water and food and can be carried anywhere. Not mentioned is the Gerber multi-tool that stays clipped to my belt at all times.

It's a bright idea to have this sort of kit handy in the trunk of your car in case of back-road breakdowns. As I go on, dusting off long-unused outdoor skills, You'll see more posts dealing with little tips and tricks of hacking it in the boonies-- effective emergency shelters, firestarting, basic land navigation, and whatever else I stumble across. Stay tuned!

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