Your ability to survive in the wild, or as I like to call it, ‘the great outdoors’, would depend a lot of your environment, climate and season. There are different things to take into consideration depending on whether you live in a tropical area, in a desert or dry type of environment, or whether you live surrounded by forests. Seasons are also important to take into consideration when planning your trips because if you end up lost, you can either die of thirst and dehydration or freeze to death in the snow.
Regardless of the environment, there are some basics that you should always carry with you when you begin your trekking journey; even if is only going to be for a few hours along old routes you think you know by heart. Nature is treacherous and ever-changing. Never take it for granted.
By now I am sure you are all aware that I love spending hours in the ‘great outdoors’, especially in this country (Czech Republic). The reason being is that is very cold here in the winter, and temperatures between -15 °C to -25 °C are all too common, including tons and tons of snow. In winter I go into a kind of hibernation mode and spend hours reading in front of the fireplace, cooking warm meals and Mulled wine, watching movies or trolling on Twitter (yeah, you know is fun). I suppose is because of where I grew up. A small little seaside town in the South East coast of Spain, with its own micro-climate, over 300 days of sunshine, and recommended by the World Health Organization as one of the places to live in (or retire, if you are thinking about that).
The things I might take back home while on trekking trips might vary a little bit from what I take here -for instance, a lot more water and sunscreen-; however, after years of exploring around different countries, battling the elements and getting lost more times than I care to admit, I have finally figured out some basics to always take with you.
You might add, or modify things at will, but this is what works best for me. In no particular order:
1- You need a comfortable shoulder back to carry it all with you. Preferably one that breaths through and with back support.
2- Reflectors. Some countries, like the Czech Republic, require pedestrians and cyclist to have them on by law, especially if walking at night or in dark locations, or by side roads with traffic. I always carry them because it is easy to be seen, and in case of getting lost, it might be easier to spot you.
3- Toilet paper. I shouldn’t even be telling you how helpful this is.
4- Insect repellent. This particular one I bought nearly 5 years ago, so is not something I use often. Only if I suddenly find myself walking around bogs or marshes full of mosquitoes and such. If you prefer not to use chemicals or, if like me, take the least amount of items while holidaying on a different country, standard cooking vinegar will do exactly the same thing; while also, soothing your skin if you get a sunburn.
5- Headlight. This is extremely useful if you get lost at night, or are the type of person that enjoys a night stroll. Make sure the batteries are always charged. There are some type of headlights nowadays that charge via USB, rather than using normal AA or AAA power batteries. This increases the life of the mechanism while cutting down on pollution.
6- A knife. Knives are extremely useful in the wilderness. I recommend a sharp one. It can be helpful from anything to cooking, to cutting or piercing, to even self-defense if it comes to that.
7- A raincoat. I personally prefer to not to go on long walks when it is raining, though I don’t mind it in the summer. However, if you are somewhere and it begins to rain, it will keep you dry until you find your way home or find a place to shelter.
8- A First Aid Kit. This is probably the most important piece of equipment (right next to water) to take with you on treks. Any sports store will sell you compact ones perfect to fit in your bag. Learning a few basics on First Aid like doing slings (in case of a broken arm), or tourniquets (in case of a piercing wound), or even what to do if you have a heart attack alone (Aspirin is always good to have handy, for the same reasons it isn’t good to take while menstruating), are some of the basics to know that could save your life in case of an emergency.
9- Addendum. Thermal blanket. Also known as heat blanket, space blanket, survival blanket, and emergency blanket. It is well known that body heat is lost in 5 specific ways: Convection, Conduction, Radiation, Evaporation, and Respiration. You will need to add layers of insulation to the blanket to keep the heat in.
10- Rope. Can be useful in many ways. I never needed it just yet, but it could be useful if you need to climb or cross a body of water while attaching your belongings to your body; just to name a few examples. I personally need to upgrade my own rope. This particular one is a bondage rope, so not all that helpful for the great outdoors. But having several meters to cut and use at will is always a good idea.
11- Matches and lighters. Lighters aren’t all that much use during the summer season, as most likely the gas inside will expand due to heat and explode, rendering it useless. Matches can get wet, and thus they will not work. However, you can prevent them from getting wet by putting them inside a ziplock plastic bag (like a sandwich bag).
If you need to start a fire outdoors in a wet environment, is always good to take with you some Potassium (K). The reason for this is that if you end up with nothing but having to rub two sticks together, this will shorten the amount of friction (rubbing) between the two sticks. Any chemistry set for children you buy in toy stores will have a small amount of potassium in it.
12- Mountain Rescue Service App. I use this particular app. It works well in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Different countries will have similar apps. The app is extremely helpful because it gives you first aid tips, sends S.O.S lightning signals, and gives you a torchlight if you need one. But most importantly, you can call or send messages directly to rescue services by pinning down your specific coordinates (you will need to allow GPS permissions).
You can also enter your details in terms of allergies, etc, thus making it easier for the paramedics during rescue operations.
13– Feminine products. Towels and tampons. Most people would be inclined to think only females should take those on trips (you never know when Aunt Flow will come for a visit), but it isn’t exactly the case. These items can be extremely helpful to stop bleeding wounds, at least for a while until rescue arrives. For example, picture getting shot by hunters.
14- Hand Warmers. You can buy these extremely cheap at the pound store (dollar store) or even from sports shops. The good thing about them is that they are reusable. All you need to do is put them to boil for a few minutes, and they are ready to use again. If you get lost during winter time or at night, they might come in very handy in terms of keeping your body temperature from plummeting.
15- Clothing. During the winter make sure to take a hat that covers your ears. A lot of heat is lost through the head. Also, ears are some of the quickest parts of your body to get frostbite, due to the lack of movement.
In the winter make sure to take warm clothes that breaths easily the sweat of your skin. It will avoid getting cold when the sweat cools down, and hence catching a cold. On long walks wear a layer or two less than you would normally do, simply because while you are in motion your body will warm up. However, make sure to take at least one extra jumper, trousers or thermals, and a new pair of warm socks.
In the summer I always take a spare jumper, no matter how hot it is outdoors, just in case I get lost and I need to spend the night somewhere. Also socks.
Personally, even during the summer time, I would wear long pants or 3/4. Reason being due to snake bites or weeds scratching your skin.
The reason for taking spare socks is that your feet might get wet walking through canals, rivers, streams or marshes. Walking with wet feet will get you nothing but fungi, blisters and generally sore feet. So is always a good idea to change.
16- Addendum. Shoes. You need to try and test your own shoes. For long walks along roads or pebble roads, I prefer breathable trainers (unless is winter, of course).
For mountain walks and new paths, I choose mountain/trekking boots. These particular ones aren’t waterproof (though they are awesome), so I am careful where I step, or if I need to I would change socks if I need to.
For winter I choose waterproof kind of wellies with a fur inside. However, I do not enjoy winters all that much around here, so I don’t tend to go for more than 1-hour walks.
17- Food. When I go for an hour or two along tried and tested routes, I don’t usually pack lunches. However, I always take with me cookies or dry nuts. Something with high caloric content in case I get lost. Some people might enjoy chocolate or high energy nutrition bars. I don’t enjoy those so much, and I only seem to eat chocolate during winter (there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that, but I am not up to give you a biology lesson as of now). I am very fond of ‘oh, look, I wonder where that path would lead?‘. And then I take a path for a lot longer than I planned… and sometimes I get lost.
Cookies (sweet or salty) and nuts are the best to give you an energy boost.
However, when going on long treks or exploring new routes, I do pack launches. The best are rice and pasta, or even full baguettes packed with meat. Couscous and lentils with vegetables are also very good in terms of giving you full energy when you need it. Nothing mayonnaise based as is likely to spoil.
18- Bear bell. Bear bells are just a metal round balls with a magnet at the bottom. When you unlock the magnet, it will chime happily and make a lot of noise when you walk around. This is extremely helpful because around this area there are a lot of wild animals that come out of hibernation during spring and summer. Bears will have new cubs, and wild deer would roam around; along with wild cats, wild rabbits and a myriad of other animals. Animals, for the most part in the wild, would not attack unless they are extremely hungry or feel threatened by your presence. So if you find yourself walking around woods in the middle of nowhere, is always safe to use a bear bell, as it will alert all the animals around of your presence, and they will have time to scatter around and hide.
19-Water. The amount of water I take depends on the routes I am taking. Usually (going on my own), would be a minimum of 75cl. around 2 liters if I go on new routes where I do not know where the water supplies might be if any.
Of course in Spain, I plan my water supplies a lot more carefully, given how temperatures can easily reach 45C during the summer. So my walks always take me within a town, a supermarket, or a bar, where I can restock on my water supplies.
Bonus round: Taking your dog with you.
As you all know by now, my spoiled little princess goes by the name of Misha. Misha was born in February, on the outskirts of the High Tratas. She is a winter dog, and her fur shows just that.
During the summer we shave her 2-3 times depending on weather, so she doesn’t pass out from the heat.
Most summers around here are a comfortable 20°C– 25°C (on a hot year), which for me is just superb temperature, but not so much for Misha. In fact, some years (like this one), while it might rain a lot most of the times when the sun comes out we might reach some 30°C.
Things I take for Misha:
1- Water. Water is very important for her not to pass out due to heat. Unless I am walking on tried and tested routes where we know every stream around, I take for her just 3 times as much water as I would take for myself. The reason for this is that dogs don’t have sweat glands like we do (talk about intelligent design), so they lose heat mostly through their tongue or their nose or their paws. Basically, their sweat glands are located in any place not covered with fur.
2- A bucket. Ok, not necessarily a bucket in the true sense of the word. This is a small little container I use to give her water. It folds and unfolds as you need it, so it is great to carry around with you without occupying much space while giving your dog the much-needed essence of life.
3-Food. Misha is usually a very spoiled princess. She won’t eat dry food at home or anything like that. However, she does eat it during long walks. So I make sure to always take a bag full of her food. Plus, whatever she munches off my sandwiches.
4- Tick removal tool. I tried all sorts of methods to remove ticks from Misha, and sometimes we walk along with some areas where I just need to stop every few minutes to remove ticks off her before they latch into her skin.
This particular tool is amazing. You grab the tick, then twist around several times until it comes off. For the most part, it won’t even leave a leftover, hence no ‘bumps’ in her skin. Though I would recommend using the British cream Savlon right after taking a tick off. It is just a neutral antiseptic that speeds up the healing process.
All of the above is just stuff that works for me. I have been doing treks on different weather conditions for many years. Yet, I would not claim myself to be an expert. Always use caution when being outdoors, especially on new trails. And if you have a dog with you, take care that the heat does not become too much.
For instance: today, I thought I tried a new route. The route itself was a concrete walkway between two adjacent towns by the side of the main traffic road. About 6 km apart. Despite all the water, and despite of the water canals every few hundred meters, Misha decided about 20 minutes on that she couldn’t stand the heat and she just laid down to cool. I waited. Gave her lots of water and made my way home with her.
Is not a route to take with her during summer time. I will do it again tomorrow, on my own.
Take care of your pets. They are family.