Roughing it? Having these pieces of gear ensure that you’ve got what you need when you’re out in the woods.
Alec Dunbar spends a long time living in the wilderness in the pages of The Vanishing Game. If you find yourself going off the grid like Dunbar, be sure to have these nine essential items in your rucksack.
When heading off the grid, it's important to be prepared for whatever the untamed wilds may have in store for you. We asked a trio of wilderness professionals what they wouldn't leave civilization without.
Suzie Hockmeyer, master Maine wilderness and whitewater guide and co-founder and president of Maine-based Northern Outdoors, one of the largest outfitters in New England
Paul Kimbrough, professional telemark skier (a hybrid of downhill and cross-country skiing), Snake River rafting guide for Dave Hansen Whitewater in Jackson, Wyoming, and avid rock climber
Jack Towt, canyoneering, rock-climbing and mountain-biking guide with Zion Rock and Mountain Guides in Springdale, Utah, outside of Zion National Park
While our three experts didn't agree on everything, one point they did agree on was that season and location have an impact on what to bring. "For instance, if you're going to go out in the fall here in Maine, you'd better wear blaze orange because it's hunting season," explains Hockmeyer. Here's what else our panel designated as essential for a stay in the backcountry.
A knife: "A knife is pretty important. It can get you out of a lot of jams", says Kimbrough, who along with Hockmeyer prefers the versatility of a utility knife, while Towt prefers a traditional folding blade. "Whatever you use, a knife is key," Towt says. "It can do so many things and have so many uses."
A good sleeping bag: "You need a good night's sleep because you're going to be active and you need that rest," says Kimbrough. "So you want to be comfortable. Dont skimp on a sleeping bag."
Tarp: Rather than a tent, some wilderness pros prefer using a tarp because it's lighter and takes up less room in a backpack and is adaptable to much more varied terrain than a tent. "A good tarp and some rope and you can make a pretty good shelter that packs up really well," explains Towt.
The right clothes: Comfort was a recurring theme. "Clothing is super important. If you're not prepared well, you're setting yourself up to be cold, and if you're cold, you burn a lot more calories," says Kimbrough. "If it gets wet and snowy you might get hypothermia, and then you're just not having a good time. So a good outer shell that can handle all types of weather is important."
"You want a good pair of long-johns. When the temperature drops at night, you want that extra layer," says Hockmeyer. "And socks. You want a good pair of wool or polypropylene socks. They're good for keeping you warm but also for comfort and fighting blisters. A blister is the last thing you want."
Synthetic, quick-dry pants are also on the list. "There are so many good brands out there these days," says Kimbrough.
A portable stove: "A lightweight, compact stove-and-pot combo that burns propane. Those are handy," says Kimbrough. "I like a stove because you can make a fire for cooking or whatever, but I tend to not make wood fires because it's more impactful on the environment, and you're leaving a scar wherever you go if you're always making fires. Plus you're dependent on dry wood."
Nonperishable, lightweight food: "Freeze-dried, just-add-water, or ready-to-eat meals are a staple for long trips in the wild," says Towt. "I usually bring a bunch of dry food that I can rehydrate."
"Gorp [trail mix] and lots of jerky. They're light, they keep, and they provide a lot of protein, which you're gonna need," says Hockmeyer. "And coffee!"
Bug spray: Insects are part of communing with nature, but too many bites can ruin a trip. "Heavy-duty bug dope," says Hockmeyer. "It's gotta have DEET. DEET's not necessarily that great for you, but if your repellent doesn't have it, it's just not effective enough when you're in the woods."
A good backpack: "You're going to be carrying it everywhere you go, so you don't want it to be too big and clunky, but you want it to be sturdy enough to hold all your gear without falling apart," explains Kimbrough.
A first-aid kit: "Hopefully you'll never need it and it'll just get dirty at the bottom of your backpack," says Hockmeyer. "But if you do need it, you want to make sure you have it."