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Unexpected Dangers. What’s in YOUR hiking day-pack?

June 25, 2014

DSCF1244You are a hiker. The weekend comes, and you grab a water bottle and the dog and get out of the house and down the road for the woods. The trees and the rocks and the streams have been calling you, and you’ve spent all week not being able to pick up that phone to answer them. So here it is, Saturday morning, and you are on your way!

So what do you bring into the woods with you? Most of us usually stay within a close relative distance to our vehicles and civilization, but could something unplanned and potentially dangerous happen when you are heading into the woods? It is always a possibility. What would you need with you if you somehow got lost? What is it going to take for you to make it if you or someone with you gets injured? Even though I have been reading a lot of survival books lately, and I feel that I have a well-honed sense of direction, the possibility of having to spend an unplanned night or longer in the woods is a very real thing, and it can even happen within walking distance of your vehicle and civilization.

2014-06-18 19.06.14I think of 36 year old David Decareaux, an Air Force Veteran, and his two sons who were hiking a bit of the Ozark Trail in January of 2013. They were staying on this weekend trip with the rest of their family at a lodge in Black, Missouri, surrounded by the Mark Twain National Forest, and just about 2 hours from my front door here in St. Louis. When they started out early that afternoon, temperatures were in the 60s. Not typical for winter, but it does happen at least once a season for a few days. David and his two sons, (10 and 8) set out for an afternoon hike, no particular destination or distance, but just taking advantage of this beautiful day. It was soon after they had covered a bit of distance from where they were staying at that the weather started to move in.

Here in St. Louis on that day, it had been mid to upper 50s for most of the day. By noon however, it had begun to get colder. The temperature was below 40 degrees fahrenheit by 6 pm. At this point, David and the boys were still out in the woods, as they had simply missed the spur trail back to the lodge, where they would have found warmth and comfort. They were only wearing light outerwear, and it had already been raining for hours. The daylight was gone, and they had no way to start a fire or protect themselves from the conditions.

They were discovered the next day. Mr. Decareaux was already gone, and Grant and Dominic, two of his five children, died later at the hospital. Truly a tragedy. And one that could have been prevented, had they brought the proper gear.

DSCF2129You need a day pack. Something that you always take with you when you are beyond the street signs of your own neighborhood. Something that carries the essential things for when the unexpected happens. Some reassurance that you will survive, in case you miss that spur trail back to safety.


This is what I carry in mine:

2014-06-18 18.59.08First Aid kit. I actually have two separate ones. One is store bought, the other is supplemental and put together by me. Between the two of them I have:

-Band-Aids, sterilizing wipes, gauze, medical tape, burn gel, Alka-Seltzer, ibuprofen, sterile gloves, bandages, baby powder, moleskin, antibiotic ointment, moisturizing lotion, scissors, a small multi-tool, tweezers, lip balm, Pepto-Bismol, cigarette lighter, emergency whistle, and a safety pin. I also have an Ace Bandage in my pack.

Additionally in my pack:

2014-06-18 19.04.09Antibacterial hand wipes

Toilet paper, and a hand shovel

A poncho


A survival knife (Gerber LMF 2)

Trash bags

Plastic grocery bags

A small camp towel

In the very front section of the pack:

2014-06-18 18.55.01Bug spray


A flashlight

A compass


Cigarette Lighter

Magnesium and flint

A small knife

An emergency whistle

Tick remover

Two bottles of water, one on each side

2014-06-18 18.51.15Snacks are something else that I will put in it, even if I have packed a lunch for the trail. Trail Mix, jerky, some biscuits for the dog. And another extra water bottle.

(Update) Something that has been suggested by various people since publishing this blog post, which I need to add to my pack, are some water purifying tablets. Some people even suggested filters or life-straws. What would happen if you were stranded and out of water? Good ideas all around.

And different conditions call for the ability to add to it. This is my warm weather pack setup. For hiking in the winter, beyond wearing a jacket, I would likely have some extra socks, a sweatshirt, a pair of gloves, and a knit hat.

What is essential here is that you have what you need to survive in the case that you aren’t going to make it back to your car that day, and you will have to spend an unexpected night or two out in the woods. You don’t have to take your fully loaded backpacking backpack, but you should carry at least these items on you.

2014-05-18 13.50.02The hikers that are in the most danger out there are the ones who are only planning on being gone for a short time, and then something bad happens. Don’t be unprepared for surprise conditions. Don’t expect to be comfortable either, if you have to adapt your plan and sleep in the woods. But prepare so that you can still be alive when dawn breaks.



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