Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Just The Essentials

Chill, hang.

There's no need to go overboard when contemplating your next backpacking trip. A little experience and a few minutes will be enough for you to choose and pack just what you need to take.

The only problem is if you have a problem - something unexpected that might come your way.

We all know about the 10 essentials: map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, flashlight, first-aid supplies, fire starter, matches, knife, extra food.

Those are good. They go a long way toward evening things out, but what if you have a real emergency? Think about it. You might need a bit more to help you through it.

You can never go wrong if you throw a little parachute cord (also called "paracord" or "550 cord") into your pack.

Say you lose your boot laces. It can happen to the best of us. Got some paracord in your pack? If so, you're all set - simply hack off a bit and re-lace your boots. Once done (it takes only a few minutes) you're good to go. If you remembered to bring your knife, that is. Don't forget the knife.

Or say you're stuck in a tree, just hanging there. You could get down if you had a rope, but you don't have a rope. The solution? Unwind 50 feet or so (15+ m) of dental floss. You brought dental floss, right? So unwind 50 or so feet of dental floss, weight one end with a twig (if you can't reach a twig, take off one of your boots, or hang your keys on it), and lower that end to the ground. Be sure to keep a grip on your end though.

Then, when someone with a sturdy rope comes by, use your floss to pull the rope up the tree, tie the rope to the tree, and lower yourself to the ground using it. If the owner of the rope wants it back, he can easily climb up there and untie the knot himself. Why should you care? You did your part already.

Now the next emergency is a little trickier. Imagine that it's dark out, and you're in your tent, just about to fall asleep, when you remember you forgot to stake out the tent. Don't worry - it happens to all of us every now and then. A good clue is that the tent is flat, and you are under it, getting damp from condensation.

The best cure is mason's line. Mason's line is a thin, tightly-braided synthetic cord. It's not only very strong but very light too, so you can carry lots. If you ever forget your tent's original guylines, you'll be glad you brought plenty of mason's line.

So, the next step is just to get out there, shove some stakes in and tie them off with your mason's line. If you remembered your knife, that is. Don't forget the knife. To cut the mason's line.

And you need the stakes too. Let's hope you didn't forget those.

But what if you get up the next morning and remember that your sister's birthday is coming up? You need a couple of things to handle that. First, you need a post office. Let's hope it hasn't been closed and converted to a Hooters. Though you could try getting a job there, but first things first - you need a post office, and string. We assume you already have a gift, 'cuz how to get one is outside the scope of this blog.

Now, you wrap your sister's birthday gift, and using the string you tie the package up tight. But unfortunately, the post office no longer allows string-wrapped parcels, so maybe you should take the job instead. If you look good in one of those outfits, and have a nice butt, and so on. No idea if the pay is any good, but you can always steal snacks, or eat the food that customers leave on their plates.

OK then, another emergency comes along. This time you don't misplace your boot laces, but instead you lose your boots altogether.

For most people, this would be an utter disaster, but not for you, because you came prepared. With twine. Genuine, three-ply sisal twine, that is, which you have lots of. And your macramé skills, which you also have lots of.

At this point you probably need a "zero" day anyhow, so sit under any convenient tree and macramé up a pair of sandals. If you're good enough, you may be able to sell spare sandals to other backpackers trudging past. Since you never know, make a few extra pair and you'll be ready.

With this business, along with the tips you get at Hooters, and the food you can steal there, you might be able to make a decent living. Hey - why not? At least you won't have to do any more of that walking under a pack, and your sister, no matter how vengeful she is after not getting her birthday present, is unlikely to find you there, especially if they have a truck out back you can sleep under.

So by now you're probably thinking you're totally prepared for any and all emergencies, but that only shows that we all have lots to learn, because there's more.

You, like many other backpackers, most likely forgot about mice, though it is not too late, probably. Dealing with mice can be a real pisser, but as usual the solution lies in the realm of cordage, our two-dimensional friend, only this time it's fishing line we want.

You brought plenty, right? Better hope so.

Nope, no tiny little hooks involved. Instead we want knots, which is why you can't get your backpacking license without being proficient in knots. And today, guess what? The one knot you thought you would never need - the "Hangman's Knot" (also called "The Mousinator"), one that is best tied with 40-pound (18+ kg) test, in case it's raccoons out there and not mice.

The best line for this is ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (Dyneema or Spectra), because it's stronger than steel for a given weight, and doesn't taste good, even to mice or backpackers.

Simply put a bit of food on the end of a stick and hang a noose over it. Then go to sleep. Ignore any squeaking sounds you hear during the night, unless something is also biting your face, which is usually a bad sign. It could mean that you got some of the bait on your cheek or in your hair, in which case no knot is going to save you.

Even worse is a loud growling sound, coming at about the time that your tent collapses under a great weight. If you are lucky, a tree fell on you and you will die pretty soon. Otherwise, it's a bear. There is no cure for bears, and it tends to be a painful death, so maybe that job at Hooters wouldn't have been so bad after all.

Bears wouldn't have found you there, or your sister either, and after a while the outfit might start to feel good. Anything can happen, right? So be prepared for it.

Bye now.

More:

Essential Backpacking Gear List: Surprising Supplies You Need

Ten Essentials for a Summer Day Hike

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