Backpacking is an art and a science – it allows you great creativity to compile the perfect setup and endless opportunities to fine-tune your methods. We all know that our goals are to hike long distances, camp, and do it all as comfortably and safely as possible. However, figuring out inventive ways to accomplish these could keep you busy for a lifetime.
After you’ve mastered the basics such as knowing how to plan for a trip and what food to bring and how to prepare it, the final step is preparing for the unexpected by assembling an emergency gear kit.
By creating an emergency gear kit for your backpacking gear collection, you are ensuring that, like survivalists such as Bear Grylls, you are ready to confront any un-planned troubles on the trail. Though hopefully, unlike Bear Grylls, you don’t have to eat a yak heart or sleep in a tree.
When you’re on the trail and something breaks – a tent pole, backpack seams, a bone – you want to have as many multi-purpose tools as possible available to fix whatever needs mending. Be creative and add your own ideas, but here are some of the most popular.
- Duct Tape: Seal a ripped tent, cover a wound or blister, tape together sticks for a splint, etc. There isn’t much a bit of duct tape can’t fix.
- Tip: Wind it around your hiking pole for easy storage.
- Safety Pin: Keep your broken zipper together or pin things you don’t want to fall out of your bag to the inside of the pack.
- Dental Floss & Sewing Needle: Sew up ripped materials or tie things together.
- Zip Ties:
- Lightweight alternative to carabiners to connect things to the outside of your pack.
- Can be used to lash sticks and tarp together for a makeshift shelter.
- Put around shoes for traction in snow.
- Use as a tourniquet.
- Trash Bag: Put it on as additional rain protection, put things in it to keep them dry, use it as a makeshift tarp for shelter. The list goes on!
It’s always good practice to have more than one fire-starting option. A Bic lighter, a firesteel, waterproof matches and dryer lint stored in a sealed plastic baggie, a battery with steel wool, a tiny dragon (just kidding – I wish!), etc. are lightweight and useful for starting a fire. Also, bring along a couple tea candles for drying out wet wood or an emergency light in case your headlamp fails.
Headlamp and Backup Batteries
Bring a headlamp (or two!) and backup batteries. Headlamps free up your hands to deal with the situation at hand, whether that be building an emergency shelter or constructing the perfect s’more.
Throw a few extra high-calorie, nutrient-dense energy bars in your bag in case you need to stay out longer than you planned. These weigh merely ounces but can refuel you enough to think clearly and continue the demanding job of trekking with lots of weight on your back.
Most water purification systems weigh between 1-16 oz. These can range from tablets, gravity filters, pump filters, specialized water bottles, and more. At their heaviest, one of these equals about the amount of water you should drink in one hour, so no matter how you look at it, a water purification tool is worth its weight…in water. On top of making day-hikes and backpacking trips simpler, having a way to purify water is very important for emergency survival, so bring it along no matter how easy your hike is supposed to be.
Or better yet, bring tablets in addition to any other systems, because they weigh almost nothing and can serve as a backup if a more gear-based system fails.
Along with bringing enough layers to start with, always have a hat and an extra pair of warm socks in your pack (warm extremities = warm rest of the body). Also consider hand and feet warmers.
Additionally, invest in an emergency blanket. You can buy emergency “bivvys” – lightweight sacks to sleep in or space blankets which can be used as a cover for your body or a tarp for protection. These take up almost no room and are one of the things that will make an unexpected night in the woods much less uncomfortable.
A collapsible camping knife can be used in all kinds of situations – cutting branches for makeshift poles or firewood, slicing potatoes, cleaning fish, sharpening a stick to serve as a campfire roasting stick, etc.
Unless you are on a Michael Scott-esque survival adventure, never hike without a map (in a sealed, waterproof bag) and a compass – they weigh very little and are very worth the precaution. Learn how to read them, and then if you ever find yourself turned around (or just wanting to know which beautiful peak you’re looking at), you’ll be able to figure out where you are in relation to where you want to be.
A well-stocked first aid kit should go on every hike with you, from a four-mile to a four hundred-mile trek – you never know when you’re going to need something to fix you.
- Antiseptic wipes
- Antibiotic ointment
- Antihistamines/bug bite cream
- Band aids
- Butterfly bandages
- Fine-tip tweezers
- Gauze pads
- Hand sanitizer
Again, practice creativity while assembling your emergency outdoor kit, but here are a few last items that are useful in a variety of situations.
- Bandana: Backup covering for sun or cold, cooling tool (put on your head after soaking in water), cut it up for bandages/tourniquets, wrap things up in it, just look cool, etc.
- Whistle: To help people locate you if you’re lost.
- Small mirror: To signal for help if lost.
Ready for Anything
Looking at a pile of your new backpacking additions, it might seem like you just emptied out a junk drawer of useless trinkets. However, with this list as your guide, hopefully you will now be able to look at objects with an eye to their many potential uses and cobble together a collection of odds and ends that will help you out of any scrape you might experience on the trail. Fingers crossed, your trip goes exactly according to plan, but for some reason if it doesn’t, you can rest assured that with a little creativity and your oddball collection of tools, you will be able to solve any problem that comes your way.