Pieces of Gear That’ll Save Your Life

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As a follow-on to yesterday’s post on the coming Hurricane season in North America, and as a lesson from an article in the news today about two hikers assaulted along the Appalachian Trail by a man with a machete, one killed, I am again posting about EDC items and essential safety equipment.

I had written before that I hiked the John Muir Trail, a popular portion of the larger Pacific Crest Trail, from Whitney Portal to Tuolumne Meadows (Northern Yosemite National Park) back when California was a well managed and profitable red state governed by reasonable laws. I open-carried the entire trip for the purpose of putting animals of less than four-legs on notice that I was not a smart choice as a victim. I had no problems even when I went and bought supplies and ate lunch in a restaurant in Red’s Meadows, the normal resupply point for hikers on that trail. The reality of the saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

(One last “travel note” – add staying at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley to your bucket list. I stayed one snowy February in one of their cabins in the woods and it is one of the most amazing places on earth, a short walk to multiple water falls, the meandering Merced River and Mirror Lake, well into the silting process that turns lakes to meadows over time. A true winter wonderland. Great any time of the year, you have to book a year in advance.

Arm yourself with survival gear whenever you venture deep into the woods – not just to make your life easier but because it could possibly save your life. Think of it as the “insurance” you need to stay safe outdoors. For instance, carrying enough supplies will ensure that you are fed and hydrated. Still, you need more than food to survive in the wilderness so consider the following carefully:

A Whistle

You need to find a way to alert your entourage when in distress – and that’s when a whistle becomes a necessity. When choosing one, go for a referee type model. Choose an eardrum-bursting unit whose sound can travel for miles.

Select a bright colored option for excellent visibility and quick retrieval if it falls on the trail and you need it in the dark. The design has to be on point too – that way you can use the whistle both in wet and dry conditions.

Knife

You don’t have to carry a large survival knife. Sure, it will help you cut stubborn twigs and branches, but you’re better off with a wood carving knife. Even then, ensure that your choice is robust, complete with laminated blades. On top of that, it has to be super sharp to make cutting easy.

Of course, a rubberized handle will offer a stable grip whenever you need to strike. Also, check to see if the knife has an integrated fire starter. They come with all sorts of gadgets integrated now, like a compass. Good as a backup but the knife itself is the single most important piece of survival gear you will carry, so don’t go low end here, your life may depend on it.  

A Military-Grade Watch

Aren’t military watches for the armed forces? Sure, but that doesn’t mean you can wear them too. These are rugged, stand up to hard wearing, making them a perfect choice for the rigors of the wild. Some models, such as the top picks on NanaDC are solar powered, enabling you to use them without running out of juice.

Pick a watch that has low temperature resistance and a sturdy casing. Further, ensure that the model has an integrated compass, a barometer, and an altimeter to help you with the navigation. DON’T do what so many of us do every day, depend on our cell phones as watches (or the watches slaved off your cell phone.) Batteries and networks die, their doing show shouldn’t cause you a similar fate. 

Survival Rations

Not everyone has the time to cook in the wilderness. Okay, you can put up a fire and roast some meat, but at times, this may be a luxury your can afford, like having an injured companion you have to get to medical care, or not wanting to print your location due to threats to your safety. It is, therefore, essential that you carry some rations to replenish your body whenever you need a quick bite.

You can go for something like shortbread cookies or an energy bar. The only thing that you need to pay attention to here is the calorie content. Stick to rations that offer not less than 400 calories with a generous dose of minerals and vitamins. 

A Signal Mirror

A real one. Don’t depend on your shiny cell phone case, your bright smile after repeated “whitening” treatments to your teeth – self done or done by a professional, or the luster of any of the equipment you have been dragging through the mud for a few days. A signaling mirror can generate a ray of light up to a distance of ten miles. It produces a beam of light that can draw the curiosity of distant aircraft, vehicles, watercraft, or search party members – if you want to be found.

When choosing one, make sure that is has a sighting lens and is easy to use. And the beauty of it is that you don’t have to burn through your wallet to get a good model.

Waterproof Matches

This one is a no-brainer, right? It sure is. Apart from the wind, water is the also a significant cause match failure (maybe more our clumsiness than the physical match) . But, both the elements are no match (no pun intended) for waterproof matches. That way, you can start a fire at your campsite even when the weather is extreme. Carry at least two boxes (depending on the length of your trip, of course). Yes, to fire starters as well, as long as you have starter fuel (dryer lint, saw dust, magnesium filings, etc.) Also note that while an interior pocket under layers of outerwear will keep rain and wind away, perspiration is just as big a problem as the other natural elements.

Waxy Fire Cubes

These will provide fire whenever you don’t have wood or twigs to burn. Most cubes are lightweight and incredibly easy to ignite. Be sure to check how long a cube glows before spending your money. Anything worth your attention should last for at least 10 minutes, burning at a temperature of 1,300 ° F.

A Personal Weapon

Local (town, county, parish, city, state, BLM, ATF, National Parks Service, Game Management authorities and federal wildlife management area and on and on) are a nightmare of counter-cross regulations that are purposely made impossible to fathom by government entities at all levels. I have written before that driving once from Los Angeles to San Francisco, taking a shot gun as a gift for a friend for his 30th birthday party, most likely made me break no less that 25 local laws across the trip that I could have been arrested for, a new gun, wrapped in its shipping case, with not a compatible shell in site. An 8 hour drive.

When you step off the paved road for a wilderness adventure, you are a willing victim and a fool in my opinion if you are not armed with a personal weapon that you not only know inside out but you are well practiced with and proficient in its intended use. 

Hindsight is 100% but clearly, in the situation above, the moment you see someone with a drawn weapon it is time to do “the great reveal” and bring yours from its hiding place where it can be used to save your life or the lives of the less prepared.  Carry insurance, only draw with the intent to bring the situation to a stop with extreme prejudice, and expect that once you draw you have crossed a line of no return, other than giving yourself an edge to end the situation alive.

I want to note that the people, from end to end that manage and monitor the Appalachian Trail are true environmentalists and individualists who do an amazing job day after day, telling it like it is without political correctness. Kudos!  

Final Thoughts

Your survival is paramount when you’re outdoors, whether it is for a long road trip or a backpacking adventure. You should, therefore, equip your emergency kit with all the necessities that will come in handy during an emergency.

These aren’t the only things you need to consider. Others include water disinfecting tablets, a stove and a headlamp.  Of course, you will need an emergency blanket, poncho, ground pad. or wearable sleeping bag to shelter you from the wind and rain at night.  Make sure that your backpack is big enough to accommodate the items.

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A former rocket scientist (really) who has traveled the world, father, freedom lover, hates to stay indoors, and loves wild places, people and things. PC challenged, irreverent but always relevant and always looking to learn new things.

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Ray White
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A portable water filter like a Survivor Filter or LifeStraw is an essential piece of gear for the modern hiker. Wish I’d had one back in my backpacking days.