by JMD, Survival Blog:
In my previous article I talked quite a bit about the kit I take on the road, but there are a few items that are a lot more relevant to a long Return To Base (RTB) journey that I’d like to focus on. Keep in mind that if you’re flying you’ll be a lot more limited in what you can take, and I’m not recommending that you’ll want or need everything on this list – do your route planning and figure out what makes the most sense for your plans. If you can’t bring everything with you that you’ll need, make a list of the critical missing items and identify local sources near your destination where you can obtain them quickly after an event.
First things first – if you plan on walking all or part of your RTB journey (and you should, no matter what other options you’ve planned), one of the most critical pieces of your kit is your footwear. Anyone that’s ever gone on a long multi-day hikes can attest to the fact that blisters and fungal infections are some of the leading problems they typically encounter. Since you can’t always predict what the weather will be like your boots should be waterproof even in the summertime, since wet feet will cause serious problems. You should stick with lightweight merino wool or synthetic sweat-wicking socks, and bring at least two pairs so you can swap out wet ones for a clean dry pair. For winter time make sure you’ll need quality insulated boots and heavier socks. I also bring a set of gaiters when I travel in winter, which can help keep your pants dry and prevent snow from getting in your boot tops. Alternatively you could go with a pair of waterproof overboots, which will work better if you have to cross a lot of water obstacles. Regardless of what you bring for footwear you should always make sure it’s in good condition, and consider spraying it with waterproofing on a regular basis to maintain it.
Next is clothing, since exposure to extreme elements can kill you pretty quickly. If you’re traveling in hot weather you should focus on lightweight breathable long pants and long-sleeve shirts, along with a wide-brimmed hat, since getting sunburned would seriously hamper your ability to travel quickly. You should also include a cooling cloth, some sunscreen and sunglasses. If you’re traveling in cold weather, bring layers that you can put on and take off easily to help you maintain a comfortable body temperature. Merino wool base layers, puffer jackets and pants and a good waterproof outer shell provide a lot of flexibility and they pack up pretty small. Good insulated waterproof gloves are also a must.
One note on camouflage clothing – some people think it’ll be critical and other think it’ll cause more problems than it solves. I believe its value will depend on your situation and location, so I typically bring a camouflaged poncho in my travel kit that I can throw on if I need to blend in in the wilderness. If you’re worried about camouflage in snowy conditions you can stop by a hardware store and grab a set of white Tyvek painter’s coveralls to wear over your clothing, or you can bring a winter camo poncho.
Earlier I mentioned the criticality of water and the need to arrange your travel for easy access to it, but you’re also going to need some way to purify and transport it. My personal preference for transport is a 2.5L hydration bladder in my backpack and a couple of additional 1L folding water bottles. I also carry a 24oz stainless steel water bottle with a lanyard attached to the lid, which doubles as a decent club. For purification I recommend a pump water filter with a carbon element such as the Survivor Filter PRO, Katadyn Vario or Katadyn Hiker. They’re all relatively compact and light, and the pump means you don’t have to carry a separate source container for dirty water – you can pump it right out of the source. Unless your entire journey will only be through wilderness areas with relatively clean water sources, a carbon element is critical to handle any chemicals in the water. Water purification tablets, bleach or boiling can only handle microorganisms (not chemicals), and boiling will require you to regularly stop and make a fire, which might attract the wrong kind of attention.
NAVIGATING YOUR WAY HOME
Navigation support will be an important part of your kit. Earlier I mentioned the need to print off hardcopies of your overall route and have a detailed map of your destination location, but you should consider having additional maps with you since it’s almost certain you’ll have to adjust your route along the way. My personal preferences are the Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer maps, since they provide a lot of detail including topographic data, and I own copies for all of the states that I frequently travel to or may need to RTB travel through. They’re pretty big and heavy, so I remove just the pages that are most relevant for my trip and put them in a waterproof map holder. Amazon has them on sale occasionally, but you can also find them pre-owed in good condition on sites like eBay. You’ll also need a decent compass and know how to use it to navigate, since you can’t assume GPS will be up and running. Once again there are a lot of good articles on navigation on SurvivalBlog – do some research.
If your RTB trip will be involve than one day of travel in bright sunny weather you should include some form of shelter and sleeping arrangements. I mentioned a poncho earlier, which doubles as a great shelter, and I also bring a poncho liner for wearing and sleeping in. My personal favorite is the Helikon-Tex Swagman poncho liner which has zippers and can work as a blanket, a sleeping bag layer or a hammock liner, but even a regular woobie or blanket will do. For sleeping in hot weather or in places where they may be creepy crawly things on the ground you may want to consider bringing a netted hammock.
If the weather may be cold you should also include a reflective blanket to increase heat retention – you can go with the lightweight inexpensive ones which tend to tear, a mid-weight one which you can get multiple uses out of, or a heavy-duty one which will last a long time but is bigger and heavier. A reflective blanket can also be used as cooling shelter in hot environments like deserts with the reflective side facing out. Spend some time researching survival and emergency shelters to understand the different types – your goal should be something you can set up and take down or abandon quickly. Don’t dismiss the possibility of sleeping in abandoned structures or vehicles in severe weather conditions if you can do so safely.
FOOD: WHAT TO CARRY
Food is another area that garners a lot of debate when discussing RTB travel. Many people take the position that since you can survive around 3 weeks without food you only need a couple of snack bars in your GHB for a 2-to-3 day walk home. I believe that the impact of immediately transitioning from the typical three full meals a day and occasional exercise to a couple of snack bars while at the same time carrying out extensive physical exertion would have a dramatic impact on both your physical and mental health. Your body will be burning through calories a lot faster than normal, and if you’re constantly focusing on your hunger you won’t be paying as much attention to your surroundings (which could be dangerous) and you’ll be slowing down. I recommend having as much food as you can comfortably pack, and having a rough meal plan that covers your worst-case travel time scenario.