Wilderness Wisdom

Things to know before you leave

Mar 16, 2009
Outside Magazine
Wilderness Wisdom

   Photo: Corbis

Backcountry ER
Get Schooled. Most veteran adventurers have at least a 70-hour Wilderness First Responder course ($500–$900) under their belts from Wilderness Medical Institute (nols.edu/wmi), SOLO (soloschools.com), or Wilderness Medical Associates (wildmed.com).

Get Packed. For shorter trips, our favorite mobile ER is Adventure Medical Kits' Ultralight .9 ($35; adventuremedicalkits.com). Longer trip, lots of people? Consider their Comprehensive kit ($190).

Get Info. Before any trip, members need to share details on significant health issues like allergies or daily medications. Someone in your group allergic to bee stings? Better have an EpiPen.

Get Help. Self-rescue is always your best first option, but if you need to be evacuated, knowing ahead of time how to reach the nearest emergency responders could literally be a lifesaver.

What You should (and shouldn't) Carry
Redundancy is a virtue. If you can't fix a particular piece of gear or live without it, bring a spare.
Iodine pills make water taste like, well, iodine: pack them as a backup. Our favourite filter is MSR's Hyperflow ($100; msrgear.com). For light, fast purification, try SteriPen's JourneyLCD ($90; steripen.com)—just bring extra batteries. A basic polyethylene tarp (from $3.50; rei.com), plus the ability to tie a bowline and a slipknot, equals an easy, dry cooking/chilling space. Duct tape is good. A #16 blunt-point plastic/canvas needle and some #69 bonded nylon thread is better. And Gear Aid's Backcountry Repair Kit, with everything from SeamGrip to cord locks, is best ($28; rei.com). The only thing more versatile than Buff's (dorky but practical) ployester headwear ($20; buffwear.com) or a cotton bandanna? A silk scarf. Use one as a sun shield or neck wrap, to clean your camera lenses, or even as a tablecolth. Consider renting: LowerGear.com offers everything from bear canisters ($17/week) to GPS units ($32) to tents (from $29).

Food and Drink
You need more energy than you do at home—at least 2,500 calories per person per day. Energy bars are for quick fixes and emergencies. Cheese, salami, dried fruit, dark chocolate—that's lunch. Bake. Cast-iron Dutch ovens like GSI Outdoors' Hard Anodized model ($110; gsioutdoors.com) are heavy, but nothing distributes heat as evenly. Discard all original containers. Powders go pre-measured into sandwich bags, stuffed into freezer bags. Liquids, like olive oil, go in reusable plastic bottles. No cream in your coffee is better than powdered anything in your coffee. And no coffee maker is simpler than the BrewMug ($20; brewmug.com). When selecting your menu, don't think food pyramid; think taste and texture: sweet, salty, crunchy, and chewy. Discover boxed wine(especially Black Box Wines, from $22; blackboxwines.com). The collapsible bladder, removed from the box, packs brilliantly.

The Voice of Dissent
Doug Peacock—the model for Ed Abbey's Monkey Wrench Gang antihero, George Hayduke—tells you how to get lost, go deep, and have a real adventure.

"Don't just bang down the trail thinking about your girlfriend or your stock portfolio. Go like another animal. All of a sudden you're part of an ancient system again: You stop, listen more often, scent the wind. And after four or five days, something happens. You're part of the original landscape, a far older, more faded world."

"If you're comfortable with yourself, go solo. Solitude is the deepest well I know, and it's your right to drink from it. Forget all the risk-free literature you read from the BLM or the Park Service or anybody else that's covering their ass legally. And no GPS devices; the opportunity to get lost on today's planet is a privilege."

Should I Rent a Sat Phone?
If you'll need to actually speak to someone (like your shuttle driver) and you're heading someplace especially remote (like Alaska), yes. Iridium has the best coverage in North America, and its 9505A is built to military specs ($40/week, plus airtime; satellitephonestore.com). Otherwise, buy SPOT's Satellite Messenger ($100/year for basic features; findmespot.com), a slightly more sophisticated (but significantly more versatile) version of a personal locator beacon. The OK button lets you upload daily GPS coordinates so people can track your progress; HELP asks friends and family for assistance and sends them your location; and 911 sends a distress e-mail to the closest emergency responders.

Filed To: Survival