Recently while scrolling through the state Department of Environmental Conservation's website, I came across a page that offers good basic information for outdoor users.
The page is called "Lost in the Woods" (there's also a brochure of the same name on the website) and it contains information that would actually keep you safe in such a situation.
There is a "Tips for Staying Safe" section and another write-up about what to do "if you are lost of injured." The information is geared toward beginners. Most experienced outdoorsmen and women should be familiar with this material, but it never hurts to brush up.
I don't have time or space to go into every aspect of the page. For the purposes of this column, I'm going to focus on the "basic survival kit" offered up by the DEC on this site.
It consists of the following items:
-Matches in waterproof container
-Fire starters, such as candle and strips of paper
-Flashlight with extra batteries and bulb
-Map, GPS and compass
-Medications that will be needed during your trip
-Shelter, such as emergency blanket or plastic sheet
-Knife or multi-use tool with cutting surface
-Signal device, such as a whistle or mirror
-Food that is high-energy and lightweight
-Water, or a way to purify water you find, such as with tablets or a filter
-Cord, such as 50 feet of nylon parachute cord
For me personally, I carry many of these items on trips that are more than your average jaunt up Baker Mountain, the small hill in Saranac Lake.
One item that jumps out to me on the list that I don't bring with me is the 50 feet of nylon parachute cord. The only time I bring this is if I'm on a camping trip and need a bear rope. I don't bring a plastic sheet either. I usually just bring a small emergency blanket and figure that I'll build a shelter if I need one.
I also have a couple of different pre-made "survival kits" in my mud room. I don't want to have to pack the stuff time and time again, so I just keep it all together. When it's time to go out into the woods, I throw the kit into my bag.
I have two kits: one is very basic, lightweight and fits into a plastic sandwich bag. It's basically just a compass, waterproof matches, water purification pills, head light, toilet paper and a few first-aid items such as Band-Aids and a couple antihistamine pills. I also throw in an emergency blanket that folds down to something about the size of a deck of cards, maybe a little bigger. Plus, a granola bar or snacks. These items I use on short hikes, even usually bringing them with me on Baker Mountain. I figure that it gives me the opportunity to get off the trail and walk back into the woods, if I decide that's what I want to do halfway up the hill.
The other kit is a little more heavy duty, and I'll bring it if I'm camping or going on a long day trip by myself. It contains a few more first-aid items, a knife, Gatorade powder and a couple of backup fire-starting options. Stuff like that. It weighs about a pound.
I should also say that I consider a map a basic requirement. It goes without mention.
I find it's a small sacrifice to bring either kit on a backcountry trip. They both weigh very little and I've actually used them on plenty of occasions. I find they not only save you from having to be rescued, but embarrassment, too.
One incident, in particular, comes to mind. A few years ago I was skiing in the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness when my friend and I got a little turned around while skiing downhill on some glades. It was a long way down the hill, so the option to retrace our tracks wasn't really one we considered. Before long, it was dark and we were searching to find our way back.
But having the safety blanket of knowing we had all the proper gear, I wasn't too concerned. I just knew we'd be late getting out of the woods.
With this in mind, I checked my cell phone. Luckily, there was some spotty reception, and I was able to get a call in to my then-girlfriend, now wife. I told her we were lost, and I wouldn't be home for a few hours. I didn't want her to worry herself or call anyone for help.
Eventually, relying a bit on a compass and head lights, we got back on track and made it back to my car. Just a bit late for dinner.