Wilderness Preparedness

Jul 21, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Brian Wall, Travel

by Brian Wall

With summer winding down and plans being made for that last summer vacation trip, it seemed a perfect time to get some camping tips from KRL’s outdoors writer Brian Wall

Brian out camping

When is the last time you were consciously thankful for trash bags? Has a trash bag ever given you hope? Has one ever lifted your spirits in a dismal situation? Silly questions, I know, except for the likes of Natalya Manko. Natalya was out for a pleasure hike to Lake Ingalls in Wenatchee National Forest in Washington when, to her misfortune, she hiked too far and completely missed the lake. She quickly became lost as the snow covered the trail, and spent the next three frigid nights alone in the snow. What likely saved her life was a simple large trash bag, which she wrapped herself in at night to keep herself dry.

When I started venturing into the mountains solo a few years ago, I didn’t take a large trash bag with me. I didn’t know I should. There’s a lot I didn’t know, and now with a few years of experience, I’m here to share some of what I’ve learned. A few caveats first: this is by no means a comprehensive list, not everything applies to all situations, and it is simply a list of things I’ve found that work for me, or that I want to incorporate into my camping/hiking repertoire in the future. Your safety is your responsibility!

With that said, here’s my list:

1. Share your plans. I’ve found that the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada (SARVAC) has an excellent Trip Plan document. I have my own customized version of this, and fill it out as thoroughly as possible. Then I leave a copy with my wife and take a copy with me. If I’m planning any excursions (hikes, bike rides, etc.), I print out detailed maps of where I plan to be, along with rough dates and times of when I plan to go. I also leave a note when I leave camp of where I’m going, when I left, and what I have with me (some may advise against this as it tells hooligans they have plenty of time to steal your stuff. I know this happens, but the risk is minimal and worth it to me).

2. Compile contacts. Every campground I’ve been to has had no cell service. So I make sure my wife has the phone number of the appropriate ranger station, and just in case, I keep my phone charged and with me.

3. Check the weather ahead of time, but understand that the weather can change quickly.

4. Know the wildlife. Grizzlies are in Yellowstone, black bears and rattlesnakes inhabit the Sierra Nevada, mountain lions roam the Santa Lucia Mountains, and poison oak is everywhere (it seems!). Enter these landscapes knowing what unseen creatures you’ll be camping with, and know how to coexist safely (e.g., use bear boxes, don’t keep food in your tent or car, make noise while hiking, apply mosquito repellant, carry bear pepper spray, etc.). Knowing the wildlife will also enrich your experience by helping you identify animals and plants that are unique to that area, as well as finding edible plants as you travel.

5. Always carry survival supplies when hiking. Here’s a list of some things I carry with me when hiking. Most of these fit inside a day pack I carry around my waist, and the weight is fairly minimal:

• A camelback water bladder system
• Water purification tablets
• Fire starting kit (I made mine with dry eucalyptus leaves, twigs, and sticks, and keep it in a waterproof container)
• Weatherproof matches (you can drop these in the mud and step on them and they’ll keep burning!)
• Heavy duty aluminum foil
• Whistle (attached to the camelpack shoulder strap as close to my head as possible)
• Compass (be sure you know how to use it! It’s not as intuitive as you think)
• Paracord (several yards worth. There are dozens of possible uses for paracord http://www.survivorgeek.com/pages/Emergency-uses-for-Paracord.html)
• High calorie food (energy bars, trail mix, chocolate)
• Glow stick (useful for signaling for help in the dark. Tie it to some paracord and swing it in a circle to really be seen)
• Knife. I have a Mora 711 Carbon Steel Knife that works really well. Carbon steel stays sharp longer than stainless steel, but is also prone to rust. A good understanding of this and other factors will help you decide on the knife that is right for you.
• A stainless steel canteen cup
• Sparkie fire starter
• Compact first aid kit
• Compact sewing kit
• Aluminum tent stakes
• Aquamira Frontier Pro water filter
• Toilet paper
• Small tarp (for building a shelter in a pinch)
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Medication (especially prescription)
• A SPOT Personal Tracker
• A folding saw, such as the Silky Folding Landscaping Hand Saw Super Accel 210

6. Don’t wear cotton. It soaks up moisture, which can be devastating when night falls. My outfit of choice includes a pair of Columbia Silver Ridge convertible pants, a Patagonia Capilene long-sleeved crew shirt, a North Face venture jacket, Thorlo CoolMax hiking socks, and a good pair of Keen hiking shoes.

7. Check the appropriate forest service website for road conditions and required passes and permits. Some passes are free–you just need to print them out and sign them. Such is the case for a campfire permit in Los Padres National Forest.

8. If you have a smart phone, there are several apps that could be useful in a survival situation (apps for first aid, tying knots, etc.). Such apps could be invaluable, but they can’t replace practical knowledge and shouldn’t be depended on exclusively.

9. When camping close to your car, you have the benefit of bringing some bulkier items, such as:

• Tent
• Sleeping bag
• Pots and pans
• Ice chest (hint: mix water and salt in a 2-liter bottle and freeze it for a longer-lasting ice pack)
• Shovel
• Bucket (critical for carrying water to put out the campfire before you leave!)
• Camp stove and fuel (be sure to have a permit if one is required. Sometimes camp stoves aren’t allowed even with a permit. Pack your food with this in mind!)
• Broom
• Lantern
• Hammer
• Axe and/or hatchet
• Firewood
• Games

I like watching shows such as Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, and Dual Survival, but while these shows are entertaining and there is certainly useful survival information to be gleaned, they’re not the best source for practical survival tips. I’ve found the handful of Podcasts produced by Advantage Survival to be very helpful. The host is involved with Search and Rescue in Washington State and really knows his stuff. This would be an excellent starting point for an aspiring hiker/camper.

As always, be respectful of your fellow adventurers. Keep your noise down, don’t litter, and leave your campsite better than you found it. The great outdoors are harsh, but wonderfully so, and as long as you’re prepared will leave you in awe time and time again. Now get camping, and remember your trash bag!

Check out more camping and survival articles by Brian here at KRL!

Brian Wall lives in Reedley with his wife, Sheryl, and their daughter, Kiana. He is a professional software developer and has a B.S. degree in Ag Business from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.


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