Well-stocked emergency pack can bail hikers out of trouble

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D.S. Pledger
Sunday, July 28, 2013

The old saying goes “we learn from our mistakes,” and a lifetime of outdoor endeavors provides plenty of them to learn from.

For example, how many of us have found that, at some inopportune time, we don't have a compass? Of course, when we set out we were just going to stay on the trail—no compass needed, right?—so we didn't bother to bring one along. Then, after getting off into the woods just a bit to check out something interesting, we can't find the trail again.

Another learning moment comes when our canine companion decides to make the acquaintance of a porcupine and gets a muzzle full of quills for his or her trouble. The hike back is a long one, and each time the dog moves the quills dig in a little deeper. The fact that Dr. Dog is pawing at his snout trying his best to perform an emergency “quillectomy” on himself isn't helping, either. “If only I had a pliers with me” we moan as our buddy suffers.

I've had so many “I'd give anything for a (fill in the blank) right now” moments that the light finally came on. Instead of trying to figure out all the things I might need when setting off on each woodland adventure, I've got them all stuffed in a small shoulder bag. When I leave the cabin (or car) I just sling it on and I'm set for just about any emergency. Here is what's currently in it:

1. Compass

2. GPS

3. Extra AA batteries for above

4. Signal mirror

5. Emergency whistle

6. Matches/lighter

7. Toilet paper in a resealable plastic bag

8. 10 feet of parachute cord

9. 4 feet orange flagging tape

10. Leatherman tool

11. Uncoated aspirin (emergency heart attack treatment)

12. Alligator clamp and carabineer (to tether things to belt or pack).

13. Bandages

14. Cliff bar (high-energy snack)

15. Folding pocket saw

16. Tick puller

17. Small Muskol pump (repellent)

18. Deer fly patch

19. Compact 5x monocular

20. Extra knife

21. Headlamp

22. Cable ties (2)

This may seem like a lot of stuff to carry around, but other than the GPS and Leatherman, the weight of the other things is almost negligible.

How you carry all this gear is an individual choice, but the best carrier I've found is something called a Maxpedition Versa-Pack Fatboy (pictured). It's compact and has no fewer than ten compartments to stash items so you don't have to root through everything to find something. It's also got loops and hooks on the outside on which to hang things, such as a stuffable rain parka.

If that isn't enough storage for you, add-on pouches are available. There are also some nice touches like a snap loop on the back to keep it from sliding forward (the bane of shoulder bags) and Velcro patch in front. Versa-Pack (maxpedition.com/store/pc/Versipacks-c4.htm) makes their gear primarily for the military and law enforcement, and this is one tough little bag.

When I'm wearing a bulky jacket after the weather gets cold in late fall, I transfer everything into to a good-sized fanny pack with plenty of pockets, especially since I'll be adding additional hunting items like a deer drag, gutting gloves, spare ammo and a few extra knives.

The mountain men in the 1800s called them “possibles bags” since they held anything they could possibly need in the field. During the Civil War, both sides used leather or canvas “haversacks” for the same purpose, but today they're more likely to be called “survival packs.” What goes into them is up to an individual, but the above listed items above might be a good starting point.

Add a few things, toss out a few, and come up with the essentials you need to stay safe and comfortable when you set out on an adventure. And once your bacon has been saved by something you've stashed in that little pack, you'll never leave on an adventure without it.

D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at maus16@centurytel.net

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