Loose sand shifted in the wind under the exhausted feet of National Outdoor Leadership School hikers throughout southeastern Utah. The crew had been hiking eight to nine miles every day for the past month. Ted Maas, a University geology major, felt shooting pains in his hamstrings. His legs were burning from fatigue and swollen, torn tendons.
Tendonitis had taken over.
Remembering to bring Ibuprofen “saved my life” on that trip, Maas recalls. He couldn’t stop his desert trek, but the medicine from his first aid kit allowed him to continue with less suffering. He knew before leaving that repeated movement often causes torn tendons, and he was prepared for the worst. Like Maas, all adventurers should carry their worst-case scenario kit in their pack.
No matter what materials you bring on your trek, they can’t serve you unless you know how to use them. Wilderness Survival instructor Michael Strong compares backpacking to having a really nice car: “Unless you learn how to drive it, you’re a hazard out there.”
There is no driving test to take before heading into the backcountry, but you can do some test runs. Practice day hikes with your full backpack to find out if you’ve got the right weight. Break in your shoes before you leave to avoid blisters. Set up the new tent in your backyard. You might not be a pro, but if you know the essentials, you’ll be able to pack like one.
Map and compass. Navigational tools are essential, but you’ve got to know how to use them. Know how to read a contour map and how to take a bearing on your compass before you leave the house.
Whistle. Keep one around your neck for outlasting your lungs in emergencies.
SPF lip balm. In addition to sunscreen and sunglasses, take along a tube of Burt’s Bees. Not only will it prevent chapping, but it’s perfect for keeping smaller tattoos safe and hydrated.
Roll-up foam pads. Leave your camping chairs at home and get real with some natural seating. Foam pads can keep you warm and dry on any surface.
Aqua. Your stainless steel water bottle is only going to last for so long. Study the area you’re exploring beforehand to decide if you will need to boil water, filter it or add chemical tablets before quenching your thirst.
Duct tape. Just imagine the possibilities.
Dental floss. Instead of the traditional needle and thread, substitute this and keep your teeth clean while you’re at it.
Hot sauce. Karen Berger’s “Hiking Light Handbook” suggests bringing two pounds of food per day for summer outings. Carrying the extra weight will be worth way more it if it has a little flavor.
Headlamp. A flashlight doesn’t even compare to this hands-free device. Don’t forget extra batteries.
Bandana. Use it to block the sun and wind, to clean pots and pans and to stop gushing blood in case of an emergency.
Hand sanitizer. Bring a small bottle, especially if you’re cooking for others.
Fire. Bring a lighter and matches, just in case.
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