Camp Tricks

The Ten Essentials Inside Your Head

September 12, 2016
©istockphoto/migin

©istockphoto/migin

We’ve learned about Ten Essentials. They’re the critical gear to carry: headlamps, warm layers, first aid kits, and so on. But those Ten Essentials overlook the fact that the most important place in the outdoors safety isn’t the inside of our pack: it’s in the inside of our heads. What goes on in our brains has at least as much to keeping us safe and comfy as what’s in our pack.

So let’s create another list of “ten essentials” that are things we should all know when we’re hiking or camping. If we remember these, we won’t need the other ten essentials as often.

Know Where You Are
The first way to not get lost is to know where you are. Wrong turns on trails usually happen because we think we’re at junction x, when we’re really at junction y. That means tracking your progress on the trail, using the map or GPS to know what peaks you’re looking at. If you’ve got little ones along, you’ll actually be able to answer when they ask “how much further?” Better yet, let your older kids be in charge of knowing where you are.

Know When You’re 1/3 of the Way There
Check in with your group about 1/3 of the way into your hike. This will give you an early sense of how your group is covering distance whether or not your route is realistic and if the weather is looking iffy. If people are moving slower than planned, it’s better to know that before halfway. Once you reach the halfway point, the desire to get to the goal becomes very hard to resist. And if you’re moving camp, turning around at the halfway point doesn’t save you any miles.

Know Backup Plans
Do you have a backup plan if the weather’s bad or the group’s energy drags? Side routes to lakes, swimming holes, or good picnic spots should be in your mental ten essentials, as well as places to hole up out of the wind or rain if the weather’s truly awful. Most of this can be figured out from a topo map and/or guidebook, but knowing in advance versus figuring out on the fly is crucial.

Know Water Breaks
Plan breaks for water, snacks, and sunscreen. Sure, skilled hikers will take these anyway, but making it organized will keep everyone from the cumulative slow dehydration that happens outside, especially when you’re at elevation. And with kids, it’s a way of keeping their energy high and breaking up a hike.

Know Water Sources
When it comes to water, know where you can get more along the route. If you can’t, like many desert hikes, be sure to bring more than you think you’ll drink. And of course, don’t forget some way of filtering or treating water.

Know Crux Moves
Does your hike involve any crux moves? Crux moves are difficult sections that you’ll need to be primed for and want good conditions for. On most hikes, they’re the steep ascents, stream crossings, and exposed ridges where the weather may be raw, but the views will be spectacular as well. Know where they are, and roughly how you want to handle them. Stream crossings in the mountains are best done in the morning (the streams may swell with snowmelt on warm afternoons, and you’re more tired then). Ridges are usually less windy in morning and evening.

Know Weather Changes
Every region has its weather patterns. Afternoon thunderstorms in the summer in the rockies and southwest, northwest winds on the Pacific Coast. In the Sierras, no puffy cumulus clouds before noon means it won’t rain that day. Learn the local weather and you’ll know when you’ll need a tent fly and when you won’t.

Know How Many People Are In Your Group
This sounds obvious, but a lot of outdoor mishaps involve a missing person, and nobody being able to confidently remember how many people were in their group to begin with, which delayed realizing that someone was missing. Keep count.

Know The Best Place For the Tent
When the weather rolls in, there’s always a best (and worst) place for the tent. In a hard rain, it’s high ground. High in the mountains, the bottom of valleys can seem the most sheltered—but heat rises, so partway up a ridge can be warmer, and the top of the ridge will be too exposed to the elements. When the weather’s good, look for spots for the best scenery: views, peaks, and lakeshores.

Know How To Pass The Time
When the weather gets nasty, a vital piece of equipment is how to pass the time: nothing will make a camping trip turn sour like huddling miserably in tents. Games with the kids, from cards to campground hike-and-seek to made-up scavenger hunts can turn a trip from an uncomfortable ordeal to a lot of fun. These games even work great with adults. And keep your tarp and rigging skills and gear up to snuff.

Now that your brain, as well as your gear, is all ready, get out there and have fun.

by Neil Schulman

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