Gear Prep Before You Go
Products that I use!
By: Talor Stone March 23rd, 2018
My spontaneity and roll with the punches attitude are what define me. I love these aspects of myself! It’s why I say yes to just about any opportunity that comes my way and I rarely think twice when adventure beckons. It’s just who I am!
But as fun as it is to fly by the seat of your pants, even I have to prepare before I travel. Proper gear prep is absolutely essential to being able to enjoy the adventure! After all, I am wandering alone into the unknown, often into the wilderness. It’s sobering to consider the laundry list of things that could go wrong. From natural disasters like flash floods or avalanches to injuries like a broken ankle, it seems like the world really is out to kill you! Even just a simple mistake like wandering off trail can quickly end in disaster. These are real risks for any hiker, but they are significantly magnified when you are alone. I’ve had my fair share of learning this the hard way!
A Lesson Learned
Once I got myself lost in the desert and it was both completely terrifying and totally preventable. I was heading out for a 4 mile night hike because I wanted to shoot the Milky Way in the early morning over some rock formations. Trailfinding in the desert can be especially tricky because there’s rarely a well-defined path. Any tracks in sand are quickly swept away and wear marks can be nearly impossible to spot across large expanses of slickrock. All of these challenges are made exponentially worse at night when you only have the beam of your headlamp to light the way. About 3 miles into this hike I suddenly realized that I had wandered off the trail. I jolted to a stop. I had no idea how long I had been off track and it was pitch black making my surroundings even more disorienting and line of sight reckoning impossible.
No reason to panic though! This is why I hike with a Garmin Fortrex. One push of a button and I should be able to follow my tracking breadcrumbs right back to where I started. That is. . . if I had remembered to set my starting waypoint. That moment of reality was heavy as it sunk in that I had a nearly useless piece of navigational equipment. Sure, there was a compass embedded in the Garmin. But without a map the compass was relatively useless. Sure, I could probably point myself generally in the right direction. But, knowing the 1 in 60 rule, just a few degrees of error over the span of a few miles could leave me even worse than where I stood at that moment.
I had started the hike feeling pretty prepared. But a simple error like forgetting to set my hiking waypoint was compounded by my failure to bring a map. I had no navigational redundancy, and that’s a mistake that could have been fatal. Thankfully I kept my wits about me and I got a bit lucky. A few hours after realizing I was lost, as I sat waiting for the sun to come up to improve my chances, I spotted the headlamps of other hikers in the distance and quickly made my way towards them. As this story shows, often times it’s the little things that add up to create a dangerous situation. That’s why proper gear prepping is essential!
How I Do It
One of the ways I reduce my risk when I travel is by doing a proper “bag drag.” It’s one of the many useful habits I picked up from my time in the military. For this, all of my gear comes out of my bags and completely takes over my living room floor. Controlled, and seemingly ridiculous, chaos ensues.
I slowly run through every step of making camp. And yes. . . This means I assemble it all right there in the living room! I even go through the process of cooking and crawl into the sleeping system! It sounds and looks absurd, but it really works! Throughout the process I make sure to keep a running list of anything I think I’m missing or that may need more attention. I don’t care how silly it all appears because this practice could save my life.
I put up the tent to ensure there is no damage and no components are missing. I double check that my sleeping system is clean and rated for my expected temperatures. All batteries are exchanged for new ones even if they aren’t dead yet. The camp stove and components are set up and checked for function and fuel. I make sure my hydration sleeve is clean and watertight. I evaluate my emergency and safety equipment (knife, multitool, bear spray, whistle, flare, first aid, personal hygiene) and decide which are best suited for my location. Finally, I check my navigation equipment for function.
Learn to Accept Risks
There’s a common military saying that “two is one and one is none” which promotes redundancy for any essential items. But all that redundancy can really add up when we are talking about having to carry it all! I mean sure, bring two of everything! But is that really realistic? I’m 110 lbs. at my heaviest and I’m hiking some pretty good distances.
While I can’t quite consider myself an ultralight hiker (with a bag under 10 lbs.), I’m still aiming for as light as possible. I require my pack to weigh under 15 lbs, and trust me, that takes some real thought and effort! My winter pack weight (photo to left) only weighed 12.8 lbs! So, after I test my gear and pull out all the things I think I’d like to have, I weigh the bag and start cutting.
Instead of over packing I have to choose which risks I’m willing to accept and leave the back-up gear for those accepted risks in the vehicle. This usually includes a spare tent, spare sleeping system, additional first aid equipment, etc. That really just leaves me with the essential concerns of navigation, hydration and medical emergency. Navigational redundancy is an easy and lightweight fix. After learning my lesson in the desert, I now always include a traditional compass and a paper map as a backup to my Garmin. When it comes to hydration I can’t carry more water, so I opt for a small, lightweight alternative like a LifeStraw or MSR filtration kit or I can rely on snow if it’s available. For medical emergencies I only pack the bare minimum that makes sense. Some gauze, alcohol swabs, tape and blister fabric come with me. The rest will stay with the vehicle.
When I am finally ready to hit the road, I leave knowing that there is no way to be 100% prepared. The unexpected is always possible and some things are not realistic to prepare for. But I go knowing that at the very least what I have in my pack works. There are definitely still plenty of risks, but I leave knowing that I’m in a margin of error that I’m comfortable with. Plus, the trail is calling and it waits for no one!
Check out the links below this post to see the gear that I carry!