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Should You Bring “Backup” Essential Gear?

On one hand it seems logical to bring an extra compass, flashlight, knife etc., but on the other it usually just turns out to be dead weight. What's your take on it?


Kristin, do you ever bring “backups” of your important items? On one hand it seems logical to bring an extra compass, flashlight, knife etc., but on the other it usually just turns out to be dead weight. What’s your take on it?

Submitted by - Jeremy Rangel - Heidelberg, AE


I like the way you phrased this question: “What’s your take on it?” Because it really comes down to personal style with a question like this. When backpacking, I don’t carry too much in the way of backups, because I’m looking to shave every ounce of “dead weight.” There are a few exceptions, though.

I always have a spare pair of dry socks. There’s something very comforting about knowing that they’re in my pack, should I get soaked in a stream crossing.

I also always pack a backup fire source. There’s the Bic lighter in my cook kit, of course. But I also bring a box of either waterproof matches or a flint, so that I’m not SOL when it comes to lighting the stove or a fire if I lose it.

If you’re the type who stresses over such things (and I love traveling with people who do, because it lets me off the hook!), I’d suggest investing in a lightweight, compact survival kit. These have all the basics covered, and allow you to just throw one little pouch into your bag without sweating over the details. A favorite: Adventure Medical Kit Pocket Survival Pak Plus ($70, It weighs only 5 ounces and has a mini light, a mini blade, water purifying tabs, a compass, cord, tinder and firestarter. It’s a pretty sweet insurance plan for 5 ounces.

1 Comment

  1. gump

    Geez, hand axes, leaf bags, extra rain gear, three knives? Are you guys preparing for the apocalypse? All these extra things, how about just improvising from what you have? Lost?: Head downhill along a drainage until you hit a road. Don’t have purified water?: drink your water straight from the source, chances are you will be back to civilization within 24 hours, it’s not going to kill you. Lost your knife?: who cares, hike downhill. Most of us are backpacking in the US, not doing a Greenland or Sahara traverse. I’m sick of the articles and TV shows talking about how you must be “Man vs. Wild” and an Extreme Survivalist. You don’t need to know how to fashion a spear from your smashed up cell phone. You likely won’t have to snare a squirrel or eat grubs/tarantulas/scorpions. Find your way to a road, find other people, or signal for help. Plan ahead and tell people where you are going (127 hours), what trails you are using, and when you should be back.

    Common sense and knowledge are your best backups. Know what the map looked like before you lost it. Be aware of your terrain. Know how to light a fire without lighter/matches. Know how to orient yourself with the sun, stars, or makeshift compass. Use your tarp (or tent fly) for a rain jacket, use your sleeping bag for a jacket, use your backpack suspension for a splint, rip up a bandanna or shirt for cravats. Carry some benadryl/meds if you have serious allergies. 3 season backpacking and your stove breaks/gets lost?: don’t cook, hike out.

    This all boils down to: if your pack weighs 15lbs instead of 40, you can hike further and more readily to get out of a bad situation (storms, being lost, no stove).

    The only few smart things I’ve heard are mini bic AND some matches, use socks for mittens, carry spare contacts.

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