All photo credits: Chris Neville
All photo credits: Chris Neville
No matter what we are hunting or doing in the backcountry, it is always important to remember that survival is our number one goal. It gets easy to get lulled into complacency and think that you have enough experience or know-how to survive any situation; however, the wilderness is a wild and ruthless place that can change at a moment's notice. A simple day hike can turn into a life-or-death situation if you do not have the right gear, planning or if Mother Nature rears her ugly head and changes the environment from sunshine to freezing rain. A rattlesnake may be waiting under the next log or a bear might get startled and charge you and your fellow hikers. The weather can change from sunny and mild to sleet and freezing rain or a gnarly thunderstorm without more than a moment's notice. Always understanding the specific challenges in a specific area and being prepared can help save your life. If something bad happens, here are some items to consider having in your pack and why they are important.
It goes without saying that a lot of things can go wrong in the backcountry. Some of these incidents may result in small cuts or scrapes; however, if left untreated, they can quickly cause problems, especially if you are miles deep in a wilderness area with no one else in sight. The last thing you want to do on your backpack hunting trip is hike multiple extra miles out to the truck to get medical attention only to head back into the backcountry hours later. For this reason, I highly suggest that you create or buy a small first aid kit to carry with you tailored to your hunting type and location. Of course, this kit should include bandages, wraps, blister tape, antiseptic, blood clotting powder, antibiotics, After Bite lotions, Tylenol, ibuprofen and more, depending on where you are going. If you are going into snake county, I always suggest that hunters carry a snake bite kit and are familiar with how to use it — even though the odds of actually getting bit by a snake are extremely low. The goHUNT Gear Shop offers a pretty sweet waterproof first aid kit called Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .5 Medical Kit. If this doesn't seem right for you, get a dry sack and fill it with items mentioned above and anything else you feel that you might need, remember you do not need a high quantity of everything thing — just enough for your trip.
The second thing that you should always have packed before heading back into the wild is a fire starter kit. There are a lot of unforeseen accidents in the backcountry; however, most of them you can survive in order to get back to the truck. You may already be thinking about preparing and surviving bear attacks, snake bites, getting stuck between a falling rock and other worst-case scenarios; however, getting cold and hyperthermia is a way more likely way to perish as a backcountry hunter at the higher elevations of most western states. Hypothermia starts to set in when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees. In the backcountry, this is frequently caused by wet clothing from falling into freezing waters, getting drenched with rain or just being ill-prepared for the environment you are in. If this happens, you need to find a dry place to start a fire and bring your body temperature back up. If you do not do this, your body temperature can continue to fall and you could be dead within hours. Also, fire is a good thing to have if you get stuck out in the mountains without a tent for a night. It can provide light, security and warmth in an unforeseen circumstance.
For some great options check out Pyro Putty and their lighter in the GOHUNT Gear Shop. Both are great options to have as a backup.
No matter what happens, I never leave camp without a change of socks, a few top layers and a bottom layer or two. With the advances in clothing for western hunters, space and weight for high-quality warmth is no longer an issue when it comes to what you can bring. A nice pair of backup wool socks can dry your feet whether they are wet from water or sweat. For top layers, I often bring an extra base layer and mid-layer as well as a raincoat. I frequently swap my base layer in order to always have a dry one on, especially when I am sitting. Sweaty clothing can give you a chill that is hard to get rid of, even if your clothing is nice quality wool. For bottoms, I usually only pack a base layer and rain bottoms.
Typically, the only thing I use on most hunts is the rain gear and socks; however, having the extra clothing stuffed inside a dry bag is always there for the “what ifs.” In the aforementioned scenario of getting wet at cold temperatures and having the beginning stages of hypothermia, getting to a dry place to start a fire is incredibly important, but so is getting out of the wet clothing, if possible. Having an extra set of clothing will only cost you a pound or two of pack weight and can save your life or make the rest of your hunt more comfortable. Obviously, this can be adjusted depending on the environment you are hunting in; however, thinking about what you might need and getting a good dry sack is a must. Check out a bunch of great layers for backcountry hunting here.
Another item that I always carry in the backcountry whether I am hunting or not is a knife or two and a multi-tool. Not only do they give you a sense of security, but they also can prove very beneficial if an unforeseen circumstance would happen. A knife can sharpen sticks, cut branches, cut open clothing to assess a wound and help you cut up the game you harvest. Some multi-tools have small saws that can be used to cut firewood or cut down saplings to prepare an emergency shelter for the night. As a hunter, having a knife in tow might be a no-brainer; however, it is definitely a survival tool I will not be leaving home without.
In today's world, we tend to rely on technology to get us in and out of the mountains, but there is one major flaw to this: batteries can drain and leave you high and dry! After all, you buy a new phone every few years, don't you? Your phone may be a great tool to show you aerial maps or downloaded topography; however, a fall or a dip in the water may just be enough to render this phone unusable. A GPS may also be a good option; however, if they run out of batteries before you make it back to the main trail, you may be finding yourself even more lost than before. Ultimately, nothing will treat you better and more consistently than an old-fashioned compass and waterproof map. Now, do not get me wrong, I do not carry a map and a compass for every day hike into familiar territory. For that, I rely on my phone and a backup GPS; however, when heading into some deep wilderness areas, I always plan on having a waterproof map and a compass with me. If you do not know how to use this to get you to safety, then watch a few YouTube videos and you will be a pro in no time.
Bad things can happen in the backcountry, and when they do, you are almost never near a hospital or helping hand. Accidents are never a planned event, but you will be glad to have these five items in your pack if something happens next time you are deep in the mountains. If it is your first time out West, then it is important to note that most places do not have any cell service so always plan on having to get out yourself. There is a lot of good information on emergency medical care available on YouTube and I encourage everyone to check out some basic ways to stop bleeding, to splint wounds or, at the very least, to assess the severity of the situation. Being safe is number one, but being prepared for the worst is almost as important.