True North Blog

What Do You Carry in Your “Day” Pack?

Yesterday, news station WNEP reported that in Gouldsboro State Park, located in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a search began for a lost woman who had gotten separated earlier in the day from her companion while on a day hike.  Happily, the search ended after four hours as a rescue.  However, if she hadn’t been found before nightfall, this event could have easily been now reported as a body recovery.  Why?  Because the pair had prepared their backpacks only for a “day hike,” and not for current conditions, let alone an unexpected overnight.

While waiting to be found, what made the situation difficult, even painful, for the hiker was the sudden drop in temperatures yesterday to below freezing.  Although temperatures had been chilly most of last week, they were largely seasonal, even mild.  In fact, I did yard work on Saturday wearing a light jacket and shorts.  However, temperatures surprised many of us (and clearly those two hikers) yesterday as they dropped quickly to the middle to high 20s, and the northern portion of the state was even blanketed in as much as 18″ of snow.  Today, those in the Pittsburgh area awoke to a temperature of 18 degrees, with the higher elevations being roughly 5 degrees colder.  Such conditions are easily able to kill even the hardiest of outdoors people who are aren’t prepared.

Goldsboro State ParkState Park Ranger Jen Bowman, when asked after the rescue for her advice, commented, “The best advice I have for anyone venturing into the woods in northeastern Pennsylvania, especially this time of year is dress well, be prepared, and watch your time.  Watch when sunset is, because that is also a very big factor in getting out of the woods on time.”  All great points.  Especially, the one about “be prepared.”

So, what do I carry in my day pack?  I always carry enough gear that will allow me to spend an overnight if necessary.

I think that a better way of summing it up is to give due credit to Peter Kummerfeldt of Outdoor Safe.  Mr. Kummerfeld is a former U.S. Air Force SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) Instructor who advises that we should always be trained and prepared when we go into the woods “to change a life-threatening event into an inconvenient night out!”

Camelback BFMNow, don’t misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that you carry your sleeping bag and tent with you when you head out for a day on the trail or a morning hunting, but I do believe that even carrying some basic items in your pack, used correctly and wisely, can do much the same to protect you and/or others until help arrives.  Because, unlike the “Go Light” philosophy that has been in fashion and propagated by retailers and media for the last ten years, I believe that we have a responsibility to be able to help ourselves or others when we head outdoors.

To start, for short trips, like a day hike, I like to wear a middle-range pack that has around 2,800 cubic inches of storage.  Personally, I like the military/tactical line that Camelback carries (like the “BFM” pack here, though I have an older version).  Not only is it more rugged with more pockets and storage options than more well-known brands, but it holds a 3 liter fluid bladder (with the ability to hold even 6 liters), but I can also easily stow a jacket, hat, gloves, a snack, and a first-aid kit among other things.

More to the point, I can easily carry basic gear that will address my survival priorities should I get caught overnight.  At a minimum, I always have a 50′ hank of mil-spec paracord, a roll of plastic drop cloth (9′ x 12′), a knife, a light source, a fire making device (not to mention a small bag of cotton balls that I pre-swiped in petroleum jelly), and a signal device (in particular a whistle).  Altogether, my pack allows me to address the Seven Priorities of survival: scene safety, shelter, fire, signal, water, food, and, most importantly, PMA … positive mental attitude.  While my day back may not be light (it’s roughly 20-25 pounds), it goes a long way to potentially keeping my spirit high and body safe.

Of course, depending on your skill level, pocket book, and chosen outdoor activity, you can always add more so a good sized pack will give you flexibility.

Besides, the extra weight may be offset by the extra peace of mind that it gives you.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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