5 things you need to add to your kit (if you haven’t already)

I am Mr. Multi-Activity. I walk up/climb mountains, live in forests, journey down rivers in a canoe and ride muddy trails on a bike. I have a personal gear room that contains enough ‘specialist’ kit to make Inspector Gadget look a bit minimalist, my car has always got the detritus of the previous activity in the boot, and my headtorch batteries are constantly on charge. My collection of outdoor kit is wide and varied, from the ultra-modern to items older than me – but there are a few things that I nearly always carry in one form or another. Sometimes I have them in a dedicated kit and use them each time I go out, and sometimes they just float around at the bottom of the rucksack, waiting for the day when they will become The Most Important Thing In My World.

In a recent interview I gave I listed some slightly different items. I stand by that list as something for novices, but this is something a bit more personal to me, and based on my own experiences and, yes, mistakes. Chances are that you already carry one or more of these items, but a few might be new to you.

So, these are my Top 5 – the items that you will probably find on or near my person if you strip-search me on the mountain or in the forest (please don’t though!):

1. Duct Tape

On our bushcraft courses I often list gaffer tape/duct tape as something that no outdoorsperson should be without. It can be used and re-used several times, meaning that you can wrap it around bits of equipment so it is is always to hand. If you need a longer length you can tear it lengthways and overlap it, and it will take a surprising amount of abuse before it fails (about 20-25kg in a direct pull). I have a small roll in most of my first aid kits, some wrapped around ski or trekking poles and even on my aluminium water bottle and I use it to cushion the part of my ice axe my hand touches when walking uphill. I can always find a few metres in my kit; and I have used it to repair rucksack straps, boots, attach a dressing to a wound, strap a radio antenna to the roof of a Police station and repair a split axe handle.

2. Lighting

Often coupled with not having the ability to navigate, the fact it gets dark every night (outside of polar regions at least) still seems to be a surprise to too many people. LED torches and headlights are so reliable, inexpensive and lightweight these days then there is little reason to NOT carry some form of artificial lighting. People are rescued every week in the UK where darkness was a major feature in their need for rescue. Most SAR callouts happen after nightfall, and even experienced outdoor enthusiasts can be unaccustomed to walking over rough ground in poor light. Because of this I always have a torch of some kind with me – usually a head torch to give me hands-free lighting. It would be slightly odd to consider anything else than an LED torch (unless you require the ultra-brightness of a Xenon or similar) as they are so reliable, and spare batteries (kept in a waterproof container that won’t allow the batteries to move around too much and potentially short out). I tend to keep mine in the top or front pocket of the bag I am carrying so I can easily find it in the dark without having to remove any other kit. I also practice inserting and removing the batteries so that I can do it in complete darkness!
It is worth noting here that whilst a flashing light is an excellent way to attract attention in an emergency, in the UK the Mountain Rescue teams for the area may not deploy based on the flashing light alone. The sheer number of false-alarm callouts that have been caused by a member of the public mistaking the bobbing headtorch of a happily descending climber high on the mountainside for a frantically flashing distress call have led to an entirely reasonable suspicion of these calls. Often no further action than a quick drive along the valley road will be taken unless there is a second piece of evidence (a ‘dropped’ 999 call or an overdue hiker being reported). One way to ensure your flashing light gets the attention it needs is to use appropriate signals – something we have written out in more detail HERE.

3. Eye Protection

The two items above might seem obvious, but this one will probably require some explanation. We protect our feet with suitable footwear, our bodies with warm and waterproof clothing and our heads with hats or helmets – but for some reason, outdoor-fashion seems to have sidestepped around eye protection. Certain areas have used protective eyewear for many years – watersports/diving, skydiving/BASEjumping and target sports – but most don’t include them. I started wearing clear safety glasses for mountain biking to keep mud and water out of my eyes, as well the low-hanging branches that I fail to duck quickly enough for. Then, after an incident where a colleague injured his eye whilst searching woodland at night, as part of a missing person callout, I changed my view. Now I always carry a set of cheap-ish clear safety glasses. I took some time to find a comfortable pair (if a safety item isn’t easy to use chances are it won’t be used) that fit my rather large head, and bought several pairs so I could put them into various rucksacks. They weight next to nothing, are quite tough and don’t inhibit my activities. I don’t wear them all of the time, but if I am moving through areas with lots of branches or airborne particles I will stop to put them on. I have also used them in driving rain and when seconding a climb with loose debris being dropped down from my climbing partner above. Give it a try – you won’t regret it.

4. First Aid

This one is obvious and doesn’t require much explanation. What might be less obvious is what you need to put in it – and the answer is ‘it depends’. I usually carry a Lifeventure Waterproof kit, supplemented with a few items I have found to be useful/necessary. It weighs about 900g and doesn’t take up much room – but is probably twice the size of what most carry. I also have several ‘mini’ kits in different rucksacks to suit my needs and the likelihood of injury. Many years ago, on a ‘spartan’ trip to Arctic Norway my first aid kit consisted mainly of duct tape, ambulance dressings and a few important bits of medication. I wince at the thought of it now, but the decision to carry what I did was clearly thought out at the time…
Wayne from Blackhill Medical goes through the argument much more clearly in THIS blog post from last summer.

5. Comfortable Underwear

A bit weird this one. Bear with me… Uncomfortable underwear is probably very low on most people’s list of important equipment choices, but something as universal as underwear HAS to just ‘work’, without constantly making its presence known. If you are distracted by your pants then you are less likely to make good, and safe, decisions in everything else you do.
There are a few things you want to avoid with your underwear choice, and most are about fabric choice and style. Chafing is something we don’t really think about – until it happens. A warm, sweaty environment isn’t great for human skin, particularly if that skin is going to be constantly abraded against rough clothing or other skin as you walk – and sore, chafed skin can very quickly grind even the hardiest of outdoor enthusiasts to a halt.
For men, longer, more supportive boxers tend to be better at chafing preventing – unpadded cycling shorts actually work quite well. For women – and I can only speak anecdotally here, not from personal experience – different styles seem to work. The common ground seems to be having enough fabric to cover the areas where skin may rub against skin, and for them to be synthetic, not cotton. This fabric choice applies to men also, as cotton underwear absorbs moisture and holds it, making chafing and general discomfort much more comfortable. There are associated health concerns with wearing lycra or other synthetic materials – but regular changing/washing of underwear will prevent any problems from occurring. Merino Wool is great for wearing for long periods – but isn’t great for underwear. It has a tendency to lose shape and ‘sag’ once wet, so if you perspiring a little in your activity you might find yourself stopping to readjust more often than usual!

This blog is the first in a series written as part of the Red Matter project – you can find out more HERE.

The Woodcrafter Course
International Distress Signals