LISTEN: YOU CAN almost hear the WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP-ing in the background. The helicopters are spinning up as we speak, about to be filled by helmet-and-flight-suit-wearing wilderness commandos.
They are not practicing for a possible invasion of Canada (yet). They’re coming for you. “You” being anyone who ventures out into the vast, sometimes-great Pacific Northwest outdoors without being … oh Lord, say it ain’t so … fully prepared, if not overequipped.
Newcomers will quickly learn, if they don’t know already, that there’s a strong strain of “prepper” in the local mindset. Not in a crazy, dig-a-hole-and-stock-it-with-provisions-sufficient-to-survive-the-coming-Apocalypse way. Just in a slightly disturbed sense that it can’t hurt to be prepared, or even overprepared, to spend a night or six out under the stars, should we ever take a wrong turn on a trail around Mount Rainier.
You could die out there. Look it up.
Toward this end, most Legacy Citizens hereabout never venture on a hike up Mount Baker, a raft plunge down the Tieton River or even a stroll over to the bacon aisle at Costco without concealed-carrying a trusty assemblage of the vaunted “Ten Essentials” for wilderness survival. This list, since first introduced by the local Mountaineers club nearly a half-century (!) ago in the now-classic “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills” guide, has taken on near handed-down-by-God-herself stature.
The need to carry the Ten Essentials is the one unarguable feature of our local existence; it is the one thing you can count on any local person to do, aside from bitching incessantly about people they have elected to the City Council.
Personally, I have no problem with this — it has, in fact, spawned its own cottage gear industry, no doubt contributing mightily to the ascendancy of local co-op retailer REI and a broad cluster of quality outdoor-goods manufacturers along the Lower Duwamish Metroplex. In fact, as a longtime outdoors writer and the author of a long string of outdoor guides, I have passed the infinite wisdom of The List on to others on a broad basis, with good results.
One problem: The older you get, the more the list seems rather … Spartan.
The stuff in the list will get you by, for sure, while you wait for mountain rescue to appear over the horizon. But let’s face it: It’s not going to get most of us by in the instant-gratification, weekly-seaweed-wrap comfort to which we are now accustomed.
The old Ten Essentials list, in other words, likely will allow you to survive — but also to question whether you really want to. Keep in mind, of course, balance: It’s equally important not to go full-bore nuts with one’s “essentials” kit. This stuff does have to be lugged around on one’s back most of the time, which in the long run carries the threat of spinal compression and a body shape indistinguishable from Danny DeVito.
That said, the items we are about to discuss will clearly be superior to the all-too-common Newly Initiated Person’s Outdoors Essentials List, which seems to consist of:
2. Emergency change of hair products.
WITH ALL THIS in mind, as we enter the traditional launch of Get-Hopelessly-Lost-In-The-Woods season, we hereby risk charges of heresy by offering a few revisions to the ancient wisdom on wilderness-survival preparation, charting the path of “essentials” from birth to inclusion of the Missing Ten Essentials that you really do need, but nobody will tell you about. To wit:
The Classic Ten Essentials (King James Whittaker Standard Version):
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
4. Extra clothing
5. Headlamp or flashlight
6. First-aid supplies
7. Fire starter
10. Extra food
This is a solid list — one that has saved a bunch of us from ourselves for many moons (blood, wolf, super duck cloth full, supercalifragilistic and otherwise). Note that there is a lot of room for interpretation here: “Extra clothing” and “extra food” to one person might be a wadded-up bandanna and a GU pack; to someone else, it might be a full down bodysuit and 66 pounds of dehydrated Beefaroni. That’s OK; to each his own last testament.
The problem with the classic list is that: A) Um, most of us, presented with a map and compass, could not successfully navigate to our neighbor’s house, let alone out of the upper Queets Basin in the fog, and B) THERE’S NO TOILET PAPER?!?!?! But we digress.
RECOGNIZING THIS to some degree, the Mountaineers, in a controversial act that recognized the dawning of the 19th century, eventually put out what they call the revised “Freedom 9 Systems” essentials list (denoting the ninth edition of the same guidebook). The new list allowed for the possible use of (insert loud, sucking gasp here) electronics such as GPS units for navigation. It also offered more guidance about options (in parentheses):
Ten Essentials: “Freedom 9” List (New Revised International Version)
1. Navigation: map, altimeter, compass, (GPS device), (locator beacon or satellite communicators), (extra batteries or battery pack)
2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
4. First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (if required)
5. Knife: plus repair kit
6. Fire: matches, lighter and tinder, or stove as appropriate
7. Shelter: carried at all times (can be light emergency bivy)
8. Extra food: beyond minimum expectation
9. Extra water: beyond minimum expectation, or the means to purify
10. Extra clothes: beyond minimum expectation
This list, which includes the helpful footnote that survival gear “should be tailored to the nature of the trip,” is quite instructive, and probably serves as a good starting point for most non-knee-replaced people today.
AHEM. MOST. Not yours truly. Much better to obtain some version of all the gear in the above roster, then supplement as needed by items in the new, highly regionally anticipated …
Missing Ten Essentials (Judd Revised Standard Version)
1. Your stupid phone
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We hate to go there, and y’all know why. But let’s face it: Most people break into a cold sweat without one. And there’s a 1-in-10 chance it actually might prove useful, either for calling for help, playing games while tent-bound for four days in a gale with one’s Significant Other, calculating the proper tip for the helo pilot who drops you at the hospital in Spokane or combing through a list of emergency contacts you can’t call because there’s NO SERVICE (a frequent occurrence in the wild lands). Looking, as usual, at the bright side: The phone also contains a chip literally riddled with personal information that will make it easy to identify your remains! Sanity plea addendum: Please shut the thing off and keep it stowed in the meantime.
Not one or two Advils. A buttload. Seriously, you should carry an NFL defensive end’s Monday-morning dose of pain relief — approximately one-half contractor’s wheelbarrow’s dosage, give or take. Usage tips: If you are over age, say, 55, take several handfuls the day before you leave home, and continue to nibble away at your stockpile the entire length of your journey. Disclaimer: We’re kidding. We know this would be bad for your kidneys. Then again, there’s gotta be a reason you have two. Put this on the growing list of Things to Ask Your Doctor.
Subtle disclaimer: NOT THAT ANYONE SHOULD BE BOOZING IT UP ON A RIVER OR TRAIL, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY. But you never know what might happen out there. Plus, it’s a safety thing. No, really. It’s always good to equip one’s pack with a flask of a good grain alcohol, such as Everclear. (By far, the most bang for your ounce; real outdoorspeople do not trek into the Blue Mountains carrying pinot grigio, duh.) Think about it: You can use the stuff to cleanse a wound; prep for minor surgery; get really, really Capilene-shirt-faced by mixing up a water bottle full of snow margaritas once safely camped — or even burn it in select backpacking stoves (we kid you not; see: any Legacy Outdoorsperson with an old Mountain Safety Research XGK backpacking stove).
About a half-pound. Not some Hershey’s crap. Fine, dark, smooth, roll-your-eyes-back-into-your-head chocolate, preferably at least 99.94 percent cacao. Think hard about this, then do as I say. Do you really want your potentially last meal to be a lump of Power Bark and a stale Tic Tac, as is too often suggested by the old-school list’s “extra food?” Get real. Note: In our experience, bears also love chocolate, so there’s that. Bon appétit!
5. Your passwords
Hate to be maudlin here, but there’s a very small chance you won’t come back. And if you don’t, someone will get the unfortunate task of unlocking all the closed doors to your life and cleaning up the messes you have made. They’re not going to want to have to go to the NSA, or contact master sleuth Rep. Devin Nunes, R-COW, to get this information. Employ your own encryption methods as necessary.
This sounds weird, yes. But trust us: If you get really stuck somewhere, like for days, this will be pure intellectual manna after you already have passed the time by reading the disclaimer label on your stove; the nutritional info on your packet of electrolyte mix; and all the completely unfathomable, hieroglyphical laundry symbols on your clothing.
Besides this: A good (lightweight) volume of poetry is excellent reputational insurance — a solid way to cement your legacy as a person seven or eight levels deeper than you really are. If you’re going to die or even get seriously injured doing what you loved doing most, you want people to think it’s what in reality you’ve never even considered doing, which is something deep. Choose your own poet, but you will get infinite trail cred by packing the words of someone who was both baked and in the mountains (not to mention any names, such as Jack Kerouac) when said poetry was penned.
Disclaimer: The author has three (3) friends who are real poets and knows they secretly, just once, yearn to be considered “essential.” Consider this done.
7. Garden-variety GPS (and many extra batteries)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It should NOT REPLACE A MAP AND COMPASS, but let’s be honest: It already has. And besides, which is more likely to guide a current American home from the woods to safety: an example of the finest 12th-century cartographic technology or a satellite microchip sensor?
Having said that, it’s important to learn how to actually use the GPS — i.e., be at least proficient enough with it, before embarking, to turn on its “tracking” feature, and then know how to let it lead you back the way you came. Note: It’s important to do this not under ideal conditions, but in the state of mind one might be in during the panic of an oh-sweet-death-I-am-completely-screwed moment of panic and disorientation. One good way to replicate this: Strip naked, roll around in the mud, close your eyes and spin around several times, then have a certified financial planner point out in great detail how little money you have saved for retirement.
8. Fire log
This is, admittedly, a specialty car-camping survival item, not to be lugged around. But it’s essential, nonetheless, to keep in your camping vehicle at all times when you are outdoorsing, either accidentally or on purpose.
A good fire log consists primarily of wax and sawdust — coincidentally, the same key ingredients in the minds of people on the National Football League Replay Rules Committee. Coupled with the fire starter from your legacy list (get a load of the UCO flamethrower butane torch, with sexy duct-tape wrap, for instance), you could start a fire at the bottom of the Humptulips River.
9. TP and/or (eww) “Blue Bags”
One of the great travesties of human existence is the lack of equipment on any published Ten Essentials list that will assist a person in, well, doing the deed. And at some point, everyone will have to do the deed.
The question is: Do you want to do the deed solely with moss, leaves and loose gravel, or some two-ply (and a trowel?). That’s what we thought. Note: There are various “norms” for doing this in the nonfacility backcountry, ranging from the dig-and-bury technique to bagging and hauling. If you are one of those people who can balance like a circus geek long enough to hover over a “blue bag” designed for this purpose, and do so efficiently; expertly; and, um, on-target, well, more power to you; ignore this section, and please, please don’t turn the spotlight on me at your next big-top dinner-theater performance.
Alternate uses: 1) fire starter. 2) hazing/shaming, via tent streamers, other members of the expedition group who have done something stupid.
10. Waterproof notebook/diary
Two reasons you should carry one of those nifty pocket journals made of weatherproof paper, plus a golf pencil, into the wilderness:
1) Decades down the road, when you pull this out of the side pocket of your old Gregory pack, which by now smells like a dead beaver, you and your friends will be highly amused by all the charmingly optimistic hopes and dreams you once had for yourself and country long ago, before our new overlords turned out to be comment-section trolls.
2) If by chance you don’t come back, this stuff is pure-gold script material for a survival or nonsurvival tale, possibly to be recast as a major motion picture starring Kristen Stewart. It’s the very least you can do to keep Jon Krakauer in business.
Bonus luxury items: Deck o’ cards and cribbage board. Chewing gum. Zip ties. Ear plugs. Plastic explosives. Ziploc body bag. Bone saw.