By: Arin Lewis
Recently, I spent a week out in the backcountry to hike the Black Forest Trail. If you are considering spending an extended amount of time outside there are some elements that you must keep in mind. I was taught to always keep certain essentials while outdoors and this has surely made things easier on me.
This list absolutely includes a pocket knife. Your best bet would probably be a multi-tool, such as a Leatherman. Good for just about anything, I use the Juice S2 with a blade, multiple screwdriver heads, bottle/can opener, magnetic pliers/wire cutters, and scissors. Even if most of the time you are just cutting cord with your pocket knife, you may find yourself using your multi-tool for just about everything else at some point.
Second on this list would be a waterproof bag. This item could range from just a trash bag that you line your pack with, all the way to a series of dry bags. Personally, I like to use multiple dry bags within my pack. This way I am not worried about anything getting wet, but this system also helps to keep everything organized. I will put everything I need for sleeping in one large (28 L) dry bag. This includes my sleeping bag, pad, sleeping clothes, and my hammock (excluding the cordage as it could hold water if it had rained the night before). I find it prudent to keep food and clothes in separate waterproof bags as well. Having things separated in different color bags helps to keep you organized, and lets you access exactly what you want when you want it.
Next you should consider fire starting implements. Keeping these items dry is essential, so I keep all of my fire starting utilities in one small, waterproof bag. I keep a lighter, matches, dryer lint, and my pocket knife in one spot (dry wood shavings make for good tinder to start your fire). Lighters are awesome until the fuel runs out or they get wet; so keeping a good alternative, like waterproof matches is a wise choice.
Though fire is nice for providing warmth, comfort, and a means of cooking, it is not always the best light source and certainly not tent friendly. That being said, you should always keep a good flashlight. I find that headlamps are particularly useful as they provide a versatile, hands-free light source.
Outside of camp it is crucial to have a means of navigation. A map and compass are necessary for any outdoor experience. It is important that you know how to properly orient yourself using a compass to effectively navigate.
While on the trail, water is a must. A means to carry water can simply be a plastic bottle, Nalgene, or you could opt for a water bladder such as a Camelbak. Water bladders can be especially helpful during longer hikes as they hold more water and have the convenience of a hose that you can drink from without having to stop your hike. Whether you intend on going for just a day hike or to be out for a few days, it is important that you have a means of purifying water as well. You never know when you might be put in a situation where you are forced to face the elements longer than you originally intended, and you must have clean water to survive. Iodine tablets are a good, lightweight solution. You could also invest in a good filter if you are going to be out in the wilderness for an extended period of time.
A first aid kit is another item that is a must. Simply because accidents happen when you least expect them, so it is always better to be safe than sorry. You can purchase a premade first aid kit if you like, or you can concoct your own.
Shelter is the final element that you should always have while outdoors. Not necessarily a tent, but a means of protecting yourself from the elements should they turn sour. Even on a day hike, everyone should carry a rain shell. A wind/waterproof layer is critical in preventing hypothermia. In addition, a hat is important in colder weather because it traps a considerable amount of heat. At the same time, a sun hat can protect us from sunburn or overheating in the summer.
If you are planning on spending a night or more outside, a tent is a good idea. There are, however, options for an overnight shelter. Depending on the season, a hammock is a solid, lightweight alternative; though, it would be sensible to also carry a tarp for protection from the rain. The trade off here is that a tent with a rainfly will keep you much warmer, comparatively speaking. Regardless, you should have an appropriate sleeping bag for the weather and definitely a sleeping pad, like a Therm-a-Rest. A pad is critical as you will lose a lot of body heat from beneath you, especially when suspended in a hammock. Since you are compressing your sleeping bag as you lay on it, it is ideal that you put some form of insulation below you.
With these essentials, you should be prepared to face whatever nature has to throw at you. When preparing for any duration of time outside, you should always consider the above mentioned items. But the major variable that changes as you increase your time outside is the amount of food that you have to carry. Consider high calorie meals three times a day for each day you are in the woods.
One last variable that you should consider, other than any specialized gear you may need for a specific adventure, is clothing and footwear. If you are carrying any weight on your back, you are probably going to want a stiff and supportive boot. It is almost always a good idea to have that boot be waterproof. As far as clothes go, if I am doing anything more than an overnight trip, regardless of duration, I will probably just be carrying two sets of clothes and three pairs of socks. This way I can wash the set that I am not using if I have the opportunity, or at least make sure they get dry.
I hope this was helpful in preparing for your trip, and if you take anything out of this, it should be to always be prepared!