One descriptive term in the lead of an Associated Press story about a search and rescue effort for Idaho hikers should make every adventurer cringe:
“BOISE — A day trip to the top of Idaho’s tallest peak turned out to be a lot more than two ill-equipped southwest Idaho hikers intended.”
Even prepared veteran hikers can encounter dangerous unexpected circumstances in the field, but to be labeled “ill-equipped” by the responders to your situation is embarrassing. Being unprepared is a risk factor that’s preventable.
Go-light, go-fast strategies have merit in some cases, but heading out without gear needed to endure an unexpected weather change or night in the mountains can be deadly when things go wrong.
More often, the problems occur simply because people have no strategy at all or they’re uninformed.
They don’t know that a thunderstorm in mountains on a hot summer day can drop the temperature by 30 or 40 degrees in a flash, requiring not only rain gear but also extra insulation.
They forget that a headlamp is needed to safely hike out of the backcountry when an unexpected delay keeps them out after dark.
Maybe the delay was caused by not having a map and compass.
When you head out on a trail, you should have what it takes to survive an incident or accident — snacks, water, shelter, first aid kit and a way of making a fire.
What’s in YOUR daypack?
I asked that question to a couple of exceptionally experienced Spokane, Washington, hikers to compare lists with the items I’ve chosen to carry in my daypack after decades of exploring trails. The experts are:
• Holly Weiler, a hiking leader for the Spokane Mountaineers and the Washington Trails Association’s Eastern Washington coordinator.
• Jim Rueckel, a veteran hike leader for the Inland Northwest Hikers Meet Up group.
A daypack for serious day hiking should have a capacity of 30 liters or more. For starters, even for a day trip at Mount Spokane, all three of us carry the “13 Essentials” as compiled and honed from a century of trial and error by the Spokane Mountaineers:
1. Map of the area.
2. Compass: We all use GPS devices or smartphone apps at one time or another, but there’s nothing like the dependability of a simple compass.
3. Headlamp or flashlight: We all prefer headlamps for hands free use, plus extra batteries.
4. Knife: We all beef this requirement up to a multi-tool. I have a small cheapie, while Weiler prefers a Gerber and Rueckel has a Leatherman Squirt.
5. Fire starter: This can be cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly in a little zipper bag or plastic container or commercial starters.
6. Extra food and water: All of us have 3-liter hydration systems and carry an extra bottle if needed. Rueckel carries a 24-ounce bottle of electrolyte drink, too. Weiler brings a few iodine tabs for emergency treatment or a filter if water is abundant. In addition to planned food for the day, extra snack foods range from nuts and jerky to Clif bars and fig bars.
7. Matches in waterproof container. Each of us also carries a butane lighter.
8. First aid kit.
9. Extra clothing: At minimum a dry base layer top, plus light gloves and stocking hat.
10. Emergency shelter: At least a reflective blanket; Rueckel carries a SOL Emergency Bivvy.
11. Toilet paper: wisely packaged.
12. Signaling devices: A whistle plus something reflective. Always a fully-charged cell phone in waterproof case; maybe an emergency strobe or satellite messenger.
13. Sun protection: Includes hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and SPF-rated lip balm.
Beyond that list of basic gear, Weiler, Rueckel and I carry other favorite items in similar or other categories.
• Rain gear: Considered an essential, we all carry a rain jacket and rain pants even when good weather is forecast.
• First aid kit: Beyond bandages, gauze, blister treatment, bandanna and tape, I carry small doses of medicines such as allergy tablets, ibuprofen and Tylenol plus Benadryl for anyone who might have an allergic reaction. Tweezers and safety pins should be included. I also carry QuikClot gauze to help stop bleeding. Weiler adds liquid bandage. Rueckel includes dental floss and Body Glide skin lubricant.
• Extra clothes: Weiler lets her rain jacket be her emergency layer in summer and adds more layers to her pack depending on weather. Reuckle routinely carries a lightweight drybag containing a lightweight compressible down jacket, light wool hat, light fleece gloves and extra socks. Depending on weather, he may also include a light fleece pullover.
• Potty kit: In addition to TP, Weiler’s kit includes trowel, feminine products, hand sanitizer and doggie-do bags for packing out TP and feminine products.
• Insect repellent: Rueckel and I rely on a small container of 100 percent DEET.
• Bear spray: Rueckel and I consider it essential in a region graced with bears, wolves, cougars, moose and stray dogs.
And there it is — a 20- to 25-pound bundle of comfort and security that three veteran hikers consider worth the weight.