While sometimes I like to think that one day, with the right layers and a knife, I’ll head off into the bush whenever I please and be just fine (“the more you know, the less you carry” and all that). After all, I heard that after you watch 30 or 40 bushcraft shelter videos on YouTube, it makes you an expert and impervious to bad stuff happening to you out there. For now though, my common sense gets the better of me and I take a pack.
In the winter I do as much crown land exploring as possible – sometimes snowshoeing but most often lately on backcountry skis, and the contents of my pack for these day trips differs greatly than the pack I usually toss in my canoe if I’m heading out for the day. Everyone has their own take and logic behind what they toss in their daypack, but for what it’s worth, here’s what mine has in it.
Different than the one I use for paddling, with a bit more room in it for layers etc. Loads from the top and has minimal zippers. Nothing quite like a frozen or broken zipper in the backcountry to quickly turn you into that guy who didn’t grab a basket on the way into the grocery store, except worse because you’re in the bush. As tempting as it is, I try not to jam mine full every time I go out with doodads etc. I leave some extra room for layers I might take off, and if I find special pinecones or a chunk of bark that looks like Jim Baird.
I pack extra wool socks, a pair of mittens, and a mid-layer or down puffer plus an extra wool toque, depending on the forecasted temp. Ever try to skirt a swamp only to realize you’re not going around it, you’re actually in it? And it’s not as frozen as you’d like it to be? That’s when those extra socks are going to keep your day from going south real quick. When I stop for a break, being able to throw on fresh socks, mittens or a toque feels amazing before I get going again. Having a puffer or mid layer on hand will help to keep your body temp up while you’re stopped for a Kit Kat, or if something bad happens and you have to wait to be dragged out.
Whatever you wanna call ‘em. Usually used by the chairlift riding and snowmobiling crowd, but they’re great for keeping your phone/camera warm and a godsend for when that stiff winter hiking boot or ski boot starts freezing your toes. I know, I know – real winter bushcrafty people use mukluks and they’re warmer than the flames of hell and light as a flying unicorn feather, but I just don’t have any yet. Heat packs are cheap enough for me to always have a couple stuffed in my pack or pockets. Just remember they expire and need oxygen to activate – you can’t open one up and then jam it into your boots right away. Give it a minute or two. If you’re in dire straits and need to bivy up, having a heat pack or two near your kidneys will go a long way…
No brainer – I don’t leave home without one. I usually bring something full tang or robust enough to baton wood with if needed, and to make me feel like Paul Kirtley. I also bring a multi tool, which comes in handy for everything from snowshoe repairs, ski binding fixes to hangnails getting caught on the inside of my mitten and frozen nose hair…
Pot and (sometimes) Stove:
The means by which to boil water/make tea. I carry a stainless or titanium 750ml bush pot that I can either pop onto a stove if I bring one (twig stove sometimes) or a fire. If I’ve stopped to take a break, catch my bearings or just feel a chill coming on, having a bush pot that you can put on or over a fire to boil water is a must for me. Tea bags weigh nothing but hot tea will make you feel like a million bucks compared to slurping boiled, melted snow.
Calories, protein. Pretty basic daypack stuff all year around, but even more important in winter when your body is working that much harder to maintain your core temp. So, pack a good bunch of stuff that’s heavy in protein and calories THAT YOU’LL STILL BE ABLE TO CONSUME WHEN IT’S FREEZING OUT. That last part is important – if you have a long way back to your car, it’s going to feel wayyyyy longer after you’ve broken a molar off on a CLIF bar. I carry goopy GORP type stuff, jerky, or an insulated food container with warm zoodles….mmmm….
Yeah, I admit I sweat when I should’ve just layered like a merino clad ninja so staying hydrated is super important for me, especially when skiing and snowshoeing. Studies have shown that people are more prone to dehydration in the winter as the cold often makes people forget to drink as often as they would otherwise. The double walled part is fairly self-explanatory, at least it was for me after the first time my water froze solid in my Nalgene bottle and I felt like a cow at a salt lick. I now fill mine with warm or lukewarm water, which is the next best thing to hot tea when it’s -20.
Wrapped around my water bottle or around something like a pen. Enough to finagle together a broken snowshoe binding strap or improvise a splint on a broken ski pole. Or patch a hole in that really nice expensive down puffy coat with the dinosaur bird embroidered on it so that all the puffy stuff stops streaming out behind you like you’re leaving a trail of duck feathers for someone to follow.
Like one of those shiny space blankets the guy on the radio tells you to always keep in your glovebox but way better and still compact. Mine is this one by SOL:
Hypothermia can occur in any season, but especially in the winter. And if I’m snowshoeing or more likely skiing and fall and break something, throwing on those extra layers and getting myself into the bivy bag will hopefully delay the onset of it in time to be found.
First Aid Kit (duh):
I try to make sure I know what’s in it and even how to use it. I also try to pack what I think I’ll need the most as far as common injuries go, like lots of gauze & bandaids to stop the bleeding when I cut myself with my fancy knife. I’m also going to lump in lip balm and TP here, both being far better than lumps of snow, for different reasons…
Lighter and Ferro Rod:
Two means to start a fire. Because – say it with me now – “two is one and one is none.” Sometimes it’s matches and a lighter, sometimes it’s two lighters, etc. etc. Heck, if I know it’s going to be freezing but I want to stop for a quick fire I’ll even bring a Firestarter of some sort. Not very self-reliant I know, but it works and cuts down on the time I spend crouched in the snow huffing and puffing onto a piece of birch bark. I practice that too though, I swear.
Compass: Even if you don’t know how to use it, at least when they find your body they can say “Well at least he wasn’t lost, he had a compass!”
Always with me as it functions primarily as my camera, and I’m often surprised at where I’ll suddenly get a bar of service in the middle of nowhere if I’m stationary long enough. When I have it in my coat pocket for quick access I also toss one of the aforementioned heat packs in my pocket so the cold doesn’t kill the battery as quickly. The toe specific heat packs often have a sticky side, which adhere quite nicely to my phone case. I also bring a small battery charger & charging cord. If my phone dies from the cold, I can always get it warmed up enough next to my body to charge it up again with the battery pack. After all, Instagram doesn’t care how cold you and your phone are dammit!
Mine is made out of felted wool, but there are many different types out there. Super compact and lightweight, it slides down next to the back panel in my pack and makes sitting/kneeling in the snow way, way better. Makes my knees slightly less creaky these days.
Pretty much just to make sure I look cool for the birds, but also so that my retinas don’t fry on those bright days when the sun is bouncing off the snow directly into them.
Headlamp: I do my best to make sure I’ve got fresh batteries in it. I also keep one or two of the batteries out of it until I need it, as it always sucks when I pull it out of my pack and it’s already on and probably has been for hours. I haven’t been caught out after dark in a while, but when it happens again I want to make sure I can cast creepy shadows into the forest that make me magically speed up on my way back to the car.
Other items that I carry sometimes that people will think I forgot about:
Wire and Zip Ties
And as usual Ranger Rick readers, always tell someone where you're going and when you plan to be back.
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