The Hike : The Importance of Knowing Your Equipment, and the Reality of Using It…

Today we present another article in our non-fiction writing contest – Ian D

back-in-the-woodsA few months ago I decided it would be good experience to go on an extended backpacking trip.   I carefully researched the area I was interested in by asking people who knew the area and by looking over various maps and descriptions.  I initially thought I’d attempt this solo but then asked my daughter if she’d like to come along.   She seemed interested and reluctant at the same time.  I described the hike to her as a leisurely and “easy” hike with several trails we could take and end the trip early if needed.

The one unexpected obstacle I ran into though was my wife.   She didn’t think it was a good idea for us to “jump” into this hike with little to no training or physical preparation.   My daughter and I are not in terrible shape but neither of us are doing long walks or running type activities on a regular basis.  My wife thought we’d be safer if we did a few day hikes beforehand and got used to having a pack on and carrying a heavier load incrementally.  I assured her that neither of us needed to do that and we could easily walk a few miles a day.

The total hike was only expected to be about 20 miles so that would only be about 7 miles a day or so.  So we eventually got the go ahead and started seriously planning.  We did all this serious planning about 5 days before the hike was to begin.   Then life happened and we were delayed by a meeting, a fence building project, and 100 degree record setting temperatures.

We started packing about 2 days before the trip in the afternoons after working outside all morning on the fence project.   We ran out and got food and extra things we thought we needed and eventually had our packs “ready”.   My pack, an Osprey Kestrel 58, weighed in at 40 lbs and my daughter’s North Face Terra 55 weighed in at 30 lbs.   We figured we could handle the weight as we weren’t planning on very long days and we were going to hike at a leisurely pace.

The day of reckoning arrived and we headed out to the trail head.  It was forecast to be sunny and around 96 that day.  As we got out of the car at 8:30 am, in the already 80 plus degree heat, the bugs proceeded to enthusiastically greet us.  Once we finally got our packs on our backs, I think we both knew right then this wasn’t going to end well.

We said good bye to our ride and started up the trail.   We didn’t make good progress though, as we proceeded to stop about every 5 minutes or so for the next 2.5 miles, trying to figure out how to get our packs to sit comfortably on our backs!  We tried adjusting the load inside, the straps outside, and the internal frame adjustment.  We finally both found a somewhat better position that at least rested somewhat on our hips and shoulders together.  My daughter and I were in significant distress, discomfort, and dread from the packs, bugs, and heat!

We considered many times turning back that whole 2.5 miles and camping at the trail head and hiking down to a place where the phone might work in the morning.   We believe that both packs have insufficient padding on the shoulder and waist straps.   Both packs seemed to just not be right for us, but this is probably more the fact that we clearly had NO idea how to set them up.  After 2.5 miles and 6 hours we stopped for a water refill and lunch.  The water refill consisted of unpacking the brand new Katadyn Hiker Pro.

This worked flawlessly and allowed for a quick refill of both our hydration packs.  It uses quick disconnects that allow for direct filling of a similarly equipped hydration reservoir.  The cool water from the small stream was refreshing and turned out to be the one thing we both thought was the highlight of the trip.

Next up was lunch of some Backpacker’s Pantry Pad See You with Chicken.  But first I had to get my Solo Wood Stove going.  I knew how to use this stove as I’d pretested it a few years before.  The problem we ran into though was the water proof matches we had simply would not light.  So the BIC lighter was used and after sufficient nursing of the kindling the stove came to life.   The stove works fast and efficiently.

I only needed a small pile of twigs to get the water boiling and we were eating about 30 minutes later.   The problem was that 30 minutes gave enough time for every insect in the area to call their friends and come to greet us.  It was all we could do to eat our food, which actually turned out to taste really good, and not ingest some bugs with it.   We quickly finished, cleaned up, and “bugged” out so to speak!

Up to this point we had yet to find anywhere desirable to camp for the night.  It was too rugged, hilly and any semi flat spots seemed to be in the vicinity of the areas with a little remaining water, all of which were bug infested and quite smelly places.  So we trudged on in search of a possible camp site and toward the next trail junction which was a way down and out in case we needed to end things.  Around 6:00 pm we got to the junction of the trail we could escape on.

Here we could have made a hasty camp on the trail and hope for the best and then continue onward in the morning.   But I instead called the wife and requested an EVAC.  We discussed our options and decided to head down the trail the 6 miles to the trailhead.  We figured we could do the 6 miles downhill in about 3 hours, which turned out to at least be a correct estimate in the end.  This was some of the hardest 6 miles as we’d already been out for 9 hours in the heat and our bodies were both screaming for us to lie down and stop already.  In that 6 miles we were also contemplating every potential spot where we could stop and camp and still the only places seemed to be right on the trail or bogs.

So we decided to keep going using the thoughts of a soft bed and a bug free night to push us along.   Around 8:30 pm, we got to a switchback where there were about 2 miles left.   On the map it looked as if the lower section of the trail was only a few feet below this switchback and we could take a “shortcut” to get there.  It looked as though someone previously had made a trail so we headed down that.   Unfortunately the “trail” turned out to be a bad idea as it quickly ended a few hundred steep feet down, through dead fall, and some bushwhacking.

At this point we both had no energy to try and get back up the steep slope.  So we decided to try a sideways hike through the bush to get to the trail.  This got us almost nowhere as it was simply too steep and closed in to make much progress.   We had both already fallen a few times and were on the verge of a mental breakdown.   I finally spotted the trail a few hundred feet down and it looked like it was almost straight down below us.   We had to slide on our backsides a few times to safely reach the trail and luckily there weren’t any serious rock cliffs.

Once down we thought we still had a few miles to go but luckily our near death off trail experience had re-energized us ever so slightly.   It turned out to be only about a half a mile from the trail head from where we had come out.  When we arrived there was a perfect camping spot, of course, in a nice dry grassy field.   I proceeded to essentially collapse and await our EVAC.   The wife pulled in about 5 minutes later which would have brought me to tears had I any water left in my body.  I imagine what we  felt is remotely similar to what a soldier feels when the cavalry comes to the rescue.

Lessons Learned

  • Know your gearIf you have a backpack load it up and try it out. Simply buying it and letting it sit idle serves no purpose.  If you’ve loaded it to use as a BOB then you need to strap the thing on and walk a mile with it.  That way you’ll know how it feels and if you need help, as clearly we did, in getting it setup and adjusted properly.  The same goes for your water filter, stove, knife, firearm, and other gear.   Use it and know its functions and abilities, become proficient.
  • The Wilderness –  It’s got the word “wild” in it for a reason.   Be prepared for the bugs, heat, and rugged terrain.   If you think you could bug out by simply hiking into the woods with your family and survive, well, you’re wrong.  You’ve got to know the terrain and where water and camp sites are.   Otherwise, like us, you could be in for a long uncomfortable hike.  Do your research and pre-locate camp and water on a map if possible.   Mark distances and account for the weather with regards to the amount of stops you’ll need for breaks and water.
  • Backpacks – Apparently you need to know a few things when using one of these devices. I’m going to have to learn more about proper loading and adjustment of these things as we clearly couldn’t figure ours out.   So my advice is to ask a local expert to help set yours up and tell you how to use the thousands of straps, buckles, loops, and gizmos on these things.
  • Your Body – Let’s be serious here! Most of us American’s couldn’t hike a mile without getting winded.  Simply put, if you take care of your body then it will take care of you.  Get out and do day hikes with a partially loaded pack and work up to greater loads.   There’s simply no way you will understand the effects a pack has on your ability to move unless you strap one on fully loaded and try it.  Go explore your local wilderness and get to know it intimately.  That could be the forest, the mountains, or the inner city.   The more you know about the surrounding areas you live in the safer you’ll be.  Plus all that exploring will hopefully get you into better shape.
  • Hydration – It turned out that I was slightly dehydrated or had heat exhaustion as by the time we got home, I was shivering and feeling quite ill. You need to drink regularly and keep electrolytes in your system.  Carry electrolyte tabs with you to make sure you never “feel” thirsty, and the day before a hike or athletic event make sure you drink plenty of water.  What you drink today is used the next day.
  • Shortcuts – Be aware that the trails were generally made to avoid hazards and to get from point A to B in the least amount of slope. Thus why all the switchbacks are there.   But some trails as we all have encountered seem to be built by someone who’s a forest maze builder.   So if you’re going to take a shortcut to avoid the misery ahead then make sure you know the hazards or at least able to see the trail you’re going to.
  • Listen – There have been unconfirmed reports and rumors, that in some cases a wife’s advice has been known to be spot on. When your wife tells you something, try to listen to what she has to say.  Maybe even do some additional research and such to show you did listen.   This will make your wife happy and may get you some brownie points.   Then, in the end, discount everything she said and do whatever you wanted anyway.    How else is a man supposed to learn a life lesson?  Also, make sure you allow her a self-gratifying “I told you so!” as she picks you up off the ground and helps you into the car.

Prizes for this round (ends October 11 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  Two Just In Case… Essential Assortment Buckets courtesy of LPC Survival a $147 value, a  Wonder Junior Deluxe Hand Grain Mill courtesy of a $219 value, and a gift certificate for $150 off of  Rifle Ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo… Total first place prize value over $516 dollars.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – A case of Sopakco Sure-Pak MRE – 12 Meals and a Lifestraw Family Unit courtesy of Camping, and a One Month Food Pack courtesy of Augason
  3. Third place winner will receive –  $50 cash.


  1. Good article that reminds us to try using our gear b4 things fall apart & we have to depend on gear that we haven’t used. Trial & error is a good way to learn. Lots of things can go wrong. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for a really good story and some excellent advice. I too have headed out unprepared, came home injured and humbled.

  3. One of the best articles you’ve provided, M.D.!

  4. mom of three says:

    Great article, our kids are taking a hike on Sunday, 6 miles round trip. I’ve been putting together a list of what they need. Thank you for you long and tiring hike, you described it and made me itch from bug bites. I always carry bug spray with me im a bug magnet. Also a friend said take any of the vitamin B’s and it should cut down/ or eliminate on bug bites.

  5. Living life generates the best experience. Nicely done.

  6. I love it! Been there/done that.

  7. mfitzy111 says:

    Good news is no one fell off that cliff, and no one experienced heat stroke. what you did was dangerous- and making mistakes in the backyard isn’t the same as making mistakes where it can take a few hours to get help- consider that before leaving next time..
    This is the time to work on SKILLS. so good call!
    I’ve been doing this over the past few weeks, locating places to stealth camp…building a fire, cooking food, setting up my hammock/gear, sleeping out, and making the site dissapear in the AM. I had the hiker pro too- and just upgraded to platypus gravity -main reason is it’s way faster then pumping all day to fill up…you pick up things every time you go- go solo- bring bug repellent too!

    take your time and go slow OP starting out- getting your pack balanced out, and comfortable/lighter is the first step. day hikes to get conditioned next step, and keep going in progression.
    picking up a 55lb pack and just going is asking for injury and punishment.
    good luck.


    • I have enough experiences that make me feel confident in my general skills to stay alive in many diverse situations. Keep in mind what’s not identified in the article is our location. The area we picked for this hike is directly is between a large metro area and an active recreation area. I don’t believe we were ever more than 5-8 miles from a road, camp ground, homes, or other possible help. We also had cell service for half the hike. I feel the risk we took was well within reason and at no time did I feel that we we’re in close to life threatening danger. I do think the shortcut at the end could have resulted in a more serious injury if one of us miss stepped and fell. But at anytime if we had needed to we were more then equipped to spend 3 or more nights in the woods as long as we had water. They wouldn’t necessarily have been comfortable though.

      As we discovered a pack is not something that you just throw on and use. Clearly we’ve got to understand how to properly load and fit them to each person in our family. I’m hoping to bring my packs and family to someone who is an “expert” and have them make sure each pack is right for each person and give a lesson on how to adjust and load it. This seems like something you could charge money for as a class through the local community college. Backpacking 101!

  8. Hard lesson learned been there done that what I love about this article is it just might open a lot of people’s eyes as to what there in for as a instructor I see it all the time people think when a shtf scenario takes place there going to grab there Bob and hike into the wilderness and survive Wrong bad idea if you don’t practice work on your conditioning your done before you even get started a pack that doesn’t fit you right will torture your body the list goes on and on the point is be ready go on those day hikes stay in shape know your gear don’t talk about it just get out there and do it

    • Encourager says:

      Ahhhhhh! Breathe, travis! Man created commas and periods and new sentences for a reason!! I was gasping for breath before the end of your comment!!!

    • most important–comfy boots–two pairs! and moleskin and blister bandaids.

      also chigger-ex

      • good old chigger rid! I remember my first case of chiggers…. not an endearing memory, worthy of ‘prep work’!

  9. This is spot on! I have been trying to condition myself for a 100 mile hiking bugout. I have tried walking with a heavy (for me that’s 30-40 lbs) backpack and it is very difficult. So then I made a very lightweight version of same for EDC and a lighter exfil. I think mine weighs less than 10 lbs and since it’s summer doesn’t have much for shelter – just rain stuff and an emergency blanket. Anyway, I would add food and water to this, and I also have a filter etc. for more water. All told it weighs about 15 or 20 lbs with the water and some MRE’s. I would plan to keep a cold camp, but I could also heat water in a stainless thermos over a small fire if I had to.

    Even with this extremely lightweight rig I find I can only hike about 6 miles total (road though) before my feet start really hurting. It’s not blisters, it’s sore arches and heels. I’ve been experimenting with inserts, different hiking boots etc. and it makes it more bearable but doesn’t make it go away entirely. I didn’t used to have this problem but it might be age, or weight making plantar fasciitis. This is an insidious problem for some because it can make it harder to exercise and lose weight.

    Anyone who thinks they can just up and hike 20 or 30 miles a day to exfil from a city with a big backpack on, ought to try it, a couple miles at a time, and start with a lighter pack, and see if they really can. You do NOT want to find out while the S is HTF that you have the agony of da feet. So for me it’s paramount that I take a bicycle or even better a motor vehicle, or pack a LOT more food as it will take 3 weeks probably to get there.

    • On the plantar relief, ( I have been battling with this for a little over a year in intervals.).. try taking a full soup can and rolling it on the floor with your foot. It will massage the sore areas of your foot and help with relief of pain… I also wrap mine with ace type bandages, and use a heel support at times they flare. support hose are helpful to use under the ace wrap.. anti inflammatory agents do help with the pain,.. I am in process of trying the tumeric, but have to go slow on it, because I got an overload on it from some “eat out” food a couple years ago, and it made me sicker than a dog!

    • On the foot thing – I have been having same problem. Have found one shoe company that makes shoes specifically for people who overpronate which is apparently the main cause of plantar facitis – they are called Orthaheel. I can walk 10 kms (haven’t tested longer yet) in their shoes but only about 1 km without them. They sell inserts as well but I haven’t found them as good as the shoes. I plan to buy several pairs to keep on hand just in case.

    • Hi pack. Talking about feet, can anyone give me some advice? My toes have always pointed up, even when sitting still, but it never caused me any problems. I’m 56 now, and started walking for exercise last year. I walked in leather sneakers, and after about a month of walking approx 2 miles a day, my toes cut holes in the top of my shoes. I tried patching with duct tape, but this caused my toes to blister and bleed. I have bought several pairs since then and my toes always cut into them (I do keep my nails trimmed as short as I can). If any of the pack is, or knows, an orthopedist or podiatrist that could give me some advice, I would really appreciate it. Thank you Pack and M.D. for all the great information.

      • Diana Smith says:

        Would suggest this may be due to shortened tendons on the tops of your feet. A great exercise to prevent (and correct) this is to deliberately point your toes (like a ballerina), hold for five seconds and release. Do this ten times at least three times a day. If you find yourself sitting a lot, do it whenever you think of it in addition to the three regular times. We did this for my Dad, and it kept him walking much better, too, as his toes were better able to adapt to the ground and uneven sidewalks of their little town.
        In the event that you cannot get your toes to go there on their own, bring your foot up, relax it as much as possible, use your fingers to gently bend your toes downward. Never force them, and you may not be able to get them far at first, but this should improve over time.

    • I had plantar fasciitis a while back – my md had me put a water bottle (even a fruit juice can would work except they are paper) in the freezer. The coolness of the frozen bottle helps with the “inflammation” and heat you feel in your foot, i.e. “cool it down”, and the rolling action breaks up the adhesions. I found that if I started at my heel and rolled towards my toes it worked better…and go slow….

      I followed her advice like, 10 years ago and have never had a recurrence. Thank goodness!

  10. really enjoyed this, thanks! a couple things…. a walking staff is very useful…. I use to do hikes w/a bud (8yr marine), he sported 2 staffs- really great 4 inclines/declines. in the same vein, ‘tree sticks’ make great staffs (fiber glass poles which snap/lock together & accept/lock in a tree saw, rope branch lopper, or lay up tool) to which duct tape or paracord or ???? may be wrapped around- ease in transport. They will also help fend off ‘unfriendlys’ ( 2, 4- or more- legs) from a distance- especially the saw. Perhaps a bowie knife may likewise be attached? The ranger Rick series describes how much a military poncho was ‘born to multitask’…. tree sticks w/a poncho wrapped around it make a quick up/down (& in & out) tee pee-w/chimney. Remember Hansel & Gretyl? What if u take the wrong fork somewhere & need to backtrack? It’s a bear trying to remember which one….. push pins or thumbtacks unobtrusively inserted @ each ‘pivot point’ on a trail may save the day- yet a ‘tracker’ following up may wish you harm- so stealth is paramount…. more than 1 in party? Who stands 1st watch? 2nd? Punishment 4 falling asleep? Consider ‘false’ trails, creek walking, etc. to throw them off….. Disguise your path, a broken branch or turned over rock are: ‘loose lips sinking ships’…..

    • Good advice Bobbo! I myself could never coordinate with two staffs/sticks, plus I needed a free hand to grab onto things. I personally do my “wild walks” with a replica shillegh, which doubles as an excellent self-defense implement (I did some pretty decent denting of some old oak tree stumps with the knobby head for some practice). Additionally, I carry my Bowie and my Springfield .45 in a cross-draw shoulder rig. Finally, I carry a sawback machete (that has a makhaira-style slicing blade on the bladed end) in an over-back sheath. I’m thinking about adding a slingbow and an old OD green quiver with several pockets that I have to my kit. I also have one of those mil-spec Operator Band paracord survival bracelets and one of those paracord ‘grenade’ survival kits, which I take with me. Put an Altoid tin survival kit with additional items (my ReadyMan survival cards, a folded-up water bag, a Bic, etc.) in one of the quiver pockets if I use it, and I’ve got a a light and mobile ‘tier 1’ survival kit for nature walks.

  11. great reply posts, too….tyvm! Good sticks also help distribute weight off the back & legs. Again 2 are better than 1! Over the years working outside, I developed a none too fond distaste for bugs! Sorry Gaiea, that’s me…. Lastly I can’t say enough about high topped boots, merino wool & cotton sock combos- more ‘cushion fer that trompin’- w/1 change packed. OMG I love doubled zip locks! (Hint hint)

  12. Thanks MD for choosing my article. Thanks for the great replies to everyone. It was definitely an eye opener. Also we both did have standard hiking poles with us which do help greatly. We also were in good hiking boots and wool socks. No blisters only some hot spots.

    To Penny Pincher – I’ve been struggling with foot issues for year and have found that custom ortho inserts, or anything other than the factory inserts, do help some. But after that hike my feet literally felt broken for a good 2 weeks. To the point I thought I may have stress fractured them and actually got them xrayed. The doctors have never really figured out the issue though. My personal thought is my current weight is exceeding the rated limit my size 14 monster were designed for.

    Thanks all!

  13. A word of caution concerning the use of any electrolyte supplements.

    Electrolyte imbalance occurs when the body has too little or too much. The hazards are the same, you can die. The problem is that the symptoms are also the same.

    EMT’s and ER’s are going to treat the symptoms the same and pump electrolyte heavy fluids into the victim. Normally the patient is low and this is the right treatment. However if the patient is electrolyte high this treatment is death.

    Rule of thumb is this. For each part of electrolyte drink you take, also take two parts of just water.

    • Good point on the electrolytes! We were using the Hammer Nutrition tablets that you drop into your water bottle. We just did that once in the middle of the day.

  14. hunkerdown says:

    Mr. M.D. Creekmore, sir you are a full time survival author, blog writer, and preparedness consultant: And you have trouble planning a hike in the woods. Then you have trouble each and every step you take in the woods. Plus you endanger the life of your daughter. Not very impressive. This is what concerns me about all of these ‘prepper websites’. It is not only you, but it becomes painfully obvious that almost all of you authors, writers, and consultants have only photo op experience in the woods. You are going to get people killed during teotwawki. Think sir, think!

    • hunkerdown, downanddirtyprepping, not2brightobviously, taxn2poverty, messenger, moowoo, porkybeans, ron, pantsupdontloot,
      towtruck, or whatever name you’re trolling under today…

      First off you need to learn reading comprehension – second I did not write the article, it was written by a reader of the blog about their experience… third I don’t have a daughter, fourth if you’re going to make such claims as “the info will get someone killed” don’t just make broad statements explain why you think that, and fifth if you don’t like what you read then why keep reading and leaving snide comments here, just go away.

    • JP in MT says:


      If I might suggest – before you attack a person you should carefully reread the item you are talking about before you comment.

      “It is better for others to think you a fool, than open your mouth and prove it.”

    • hunkerdown:

      So beyond the fact you mis-read the article thinking it was from MD. you clearly miss the point of the article and the site.

      At no time was anyone’s life endangered. At worst it’s possible we faced cuts, bruises, fatigue, and in the very worst case a fall could have caused any number of injuries. But I’d be fairly certain that the most dangerous portion of this hike was the drive to and from the trail-head!

      Also in our case planning wasn’t the problem. It was lack of experience with our equipment and our poor physical conditioning.

      • Encourager says:

        Ian D, never feed (respond to) a troll. Your article was top notch BECAUSE it was truth, it was real, and you were willing to share your experience with us.

    • i live out of my Load Carrier Full Time.
      All i practically Do is Practice Bush Craft an Explore.
      i live in the Bush mang mostly full time and
      would go Shanks Mare with M.D. any time anywhere.

      Wateva Mang!

  15. Roflmao

  16. Really good article, Ian D. You did exactly what all the advice says we should all do: Try out the gear and the hike BEFORE we need it.

    You found out why, and were secure enough to tell us about it. You also are a good writer, so that makes it even better.

    I’m a big advocate of hiking/camping as preparation for prepping because it forces one to get the basic gear, to use it, and get to know it well enough that there is no stress involved in using unfamiliar gear in an emergency.

    Camping lets one play around with stuff and learn skills in a non-stressed environment. We go heavy camping (drive a truck full of gear to the site, not hike in) a couple or three times a year. We do it for fun, but we also use it as an opportunity to learn how to get a fire going on a rainy morning, using a fire steel and tinder, pine needles, and tiny twigs found under trees.

    We have lighters, matches, and newspaper along as back up, so no stress. It is real satisfying to get a fire going with fire steel after a three day rain.

    It is also satisfying to watch a YouTube video on batoning logs into kindling, then go out and do it, only to discover how simple it is. Practice leads to success and success builds confidence.

    Use a water filter? Yep. Go hiking for a few miles, learn what works and what doesn’t? Yep.

    Another great thing about hiking/camping is that you get to learn what gear is important, what is nice to have, and what might be a great idea in theory but really doesn’t work in the real world, what would be a good piece of gear except this particular example isn’t, and know why.

    It sounds like you had a sub-optimal hike, but that is exactly the reason we should all try it out before a major problem forces us to bug out. Great learning experience. Good going!

    • Penrod – Exactly spot on.

      I found through this site and others experiences that If you don’t know your limits you may end up in a life threatening situation that you have no idea how to survive. Waiting to find out what your limits are at the wrong time doesn’t seem to healthy.. This was a perfect test for myself and my daughter in a relativity safe environment with the educational and life experience rewards outweighing the risks.

  17. I’ve lived out of rucks in the Army and spent 20 years leading parties into Boundary waters canoe area for week long treks. I know backpacking. Buying a heavy duty ruck with a good frame and decent padding is a must. It’s hard to beat in my mind, using old Army rucks as a standard backpack. I know they have worked for tens of thousands and they are built to hold up well. They can hold over a hundred pounds if necessary and can be easily found on eBay for $40-60.
    They also have lots of pockets or mole attachments. I was taught to arrange your pack so you always know where everything is under stress or night time conditions. That’s why pockets are nice to keep items separate, not all in one central compartment. Army Molle attachment points can anchor knifes, food pouches, canteens and even a fold up shovel if necessary. Exceptional versatility. I confess, I did not try many civilian packs, nor afford the $290 REI bags.
    My current Get home bag weighs probably 80lbs. Unrealistic I know at my current age, but I can shed components quickly depending on the situation and how far from home I am. A hundred mile trek after an EMP has gone off means a heavy load and a great chance to loose those extra pounds. Escaping town because a civil unrest event is going on means travel light and fast. This is a point many experts fail to mention. Pack initially heavy to be overall prepared, keep what you need depending on the emergency.
    The basis of the article is important and covers all aspects of our lives. I doubt anyone can say they are experts in all the skills necessary for a collapse, let alone our daily responsibilities. Lots of lessons learned here. I hope this motivates some people here to get out and challenge yourself. You will be smarter for it, better prepared and proud of yourself for trying.

  18. countrygirl says:

    Good article. It’s tough to talk about your “failures” but you can learn a lot from your own and other people’s failures. My failures all relate to footwear and blisters or toenail issues. Break in your boots. Also what we do now on our hikes is carry alternative footwear. A lot of times uphill is fine and downhill beats up your little toe or your big toe nail. I have carried light comfortable sneakers and sandals to alternate when hiking. But make sure you break in your boots and that you have walked 5-10 miles at a time in the boots you intend to hike in.

    • countrygirl – It seems the footwear issue for us may need some looking into as blisters aren’t an issue but foot pain is. I’ve never hiked in trail runner shoes and think I may give those a try next time to see if they help me with downhills. As far as boots go though I’ve been thrilled with my Asolo boots. I’ve got a pair similar to the FANDANGO 100 GV. It’s all leather, heavy duty, and feels like a great fitting glove on your foot. They just seem to fit right and feel right as compared to other brands. They’re expensive though but I defiantly feel they were worth it.

  19. Chuck Findlay says:

    I’ve always been of the mind that spending time tent camping, hiking and spending time in the outdoors is the best way to find out what equipment does or doesn’t work, what your limits are, what new things you need to learn, what stated facts (by supposed experts) are not so correct as the expert says they are, how to deal with water, rain and everything you have with you getting wet.

    All these things need to be figured out on site as book, web site or u-tube learning only goes so far.

    • Just to add to what Chuck said about “survival experts” and their supposed factual information on websites and YouTube…..a good clue-in on how good the information is IMHO is to look at how the information is presented: Is it just words on a webpage or is the information given by the expert who is actually “in the field” and demonstrating on video the piece of advice he/she is giving? If it’s the former, I’d say do your own “field testing” BEFORE you actually will need it. If it’s the latter, I would say still exert some caution because, as Sierra alludes to below, the videos are often edited so that a process that looks like it took a minute probably took them ten times as long in actuality. The only plus is that if they actually demonstrate it, at least you know it’s doable. Either way, do your own testing before it’s a life-or-death situation.

  20. Encourager says:

    Yikes! Ian!! What a GREAT article! Umm…we have never used the packs we have bought. We take them with us often; in fact, they were with us on a recent trip through Ohio. I have tried mine on, but that is it. I don’t think my dh has ever even had his on. I think we had better put them on and take a walk around our property to see how they fit and wear on us.

    I had to laugh at the last paragraph…yep, us women sometimes speak wisdom, huh?

    • Encourager – Yes women do sometimes speak wisdom, maybe even more than sometimes. But men tend to not be listening so we miss a lot of potentially good information. We get distracted easily and ………………..Squirell!!!!!!!!…..and miss important instructions!

  21. I am the wife of this article writer. I am a safety officer in the Civil Air Patrol, so part of my volunteering in CAP is risk management. I did try to mitigate risks on this planned hike by first suggesting a hiking buddy rather than going alone. Once hubby chose our daughter as his buddy, I offered more risk management advice – “you have not been exercising for the last 2 years, why not start with some mile hikes, then a few more and work up to the 3 day hike?” Or “start with some small day packs and short hikes?” I stayed out of the planning and preparation stages and was not able to drive them to their starting point due to scheduling, but I did make sure to be available by phone if needed. Once I received the call and location for their pickup, I was able to find their trail on the computer and also the road to use to reach them. I found them sprawling on the grass at the exit point. I helped load up their gear into the car and started home. They both told me lots of stories about their day–pretty much what you just read. At one point, hubby said that it looked like I needed to say something. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Then hubby reminded me that I DID have something to say and it dawned on me what he was getting at, so I very kindly said, “I told you so!” We all learned something that day– try out your gear, get in shape and know your limits. Practice, practice, practice makes perfect or at least more prepared. Thanks everyone for commenting on my hubby’s writing and letting him share his experience with you.

    • more great info, thanks!…. I also recommend a bicycle….even when walking it, it can tote a few more pounds of ‘stuff’…. stashing unobtrusively an option b4 abandonment…….1 might be able to rtn & reclaim after reaching BOL….. TY again

    • DaMom – What? Hu? I was distracted! I’m sorry you were saying?

      Love ya!

  22. Great read, my whole family hiked Harney peak this July we thought we had it under control, I told the wife we should maybe bring more water, but she was concerned with me having to carry all the extra weight up the mountain. Needless to say we were wishing we had it on the way back down! We made the climb and the descent but with a crying 5 year old most the way down. I used an internal frame pack that I use for my school stuff but never hiked it that far and it was noticeably painful in the shoulders arter hour 5 into the hike.

    • hvaczach – Water is something I probably always carry too much of. In our case we knew we’d have streams still flowing so we had a way to re-fill if needed. But somehow I still don’t think I drank enough. Harney Peak seems like a tough trail for a 5 year old. At least you know your family could do it if every they had too. Great test of fineness level.

  23. Great article. Fitness is most definitely an overlooked prep. My wife and I have hiked nearly every wildernes and touristy trail in the central and southern section of Shenendoah National Park and many other trails to include parts of the AT. Talked to may AT through hikers along the way and learned plenty. BTW, seldom see boots on these trails FYI. We wear trail running shoes…we also run trails a bit.

    Sad to think that some folks will never see the views from places called Spy Rock or Old Rag. Just gorgeous hikes.

    • gthomas – So many places to see and so many people never get out to see them. I think too many people are in poor physical condition making enjoying those treks difficult. I’ve got to give the running/trail/cross trainer shes a try verses my boots.

  24. Sierra Gray says:

    Great article. Thanks for your honesty and sharing the outcome. There is a great distance between good intentions + good equipment and actual reality. Hopefully we will learn from your example and start testing our own plans. One the greatest dangers is to all into the pit of assumptions. I think one of the groups that will suffer the most will be preppers who are planning to bug out to the wild, no knowing that they will be exposing themselves to greater danger than the would by staying put. Due to my health and age, I can no longer expect to hump a pack over any distance needed for egress. My emergency pack weighs in at 15 lbs, so is sorely under equipped with water. And the lack of water will turn out to be a major life threat to a lot of survivalists who have never actually tried out their plans. At 8 lbs a gallon, it’s unfeasible to carry enough water for the average person to make it very far. And stuffing a Lifestraw in your pack ain’t going to do it. Worse, the survival shows on TV are done by very fit, young, and experienced people, not to mention that the final product is edited.

    Everyone who is inexperienced with hiking out of an area should at least try a long walk in their neighborhood. As in all day. Take a pack of the weight that you plan on using in for your bug out. And take the amount of water you are planning to have. Better yet, pick a very hot or very cold day.

    Another weak spot for most of us is our footwear. You can’t afford to develop skin breaks during your flight to safety. Not only will this break-in the footwear, it will show you if there are problems. And if you aren’t making long, long walks in that footwear already, there will be problems. One sore spot that becomes a blister that becomes a bleeding wound that becomes a painful infection is the end of the trip.

    • Hi Sierra,

      Agreed on the shortcomings of an emergency/GHB bag. I try to minimize this by having what I think of as a ‘tier one’ survival kit in my EDC bag. This kit is based on the premise that, while I don’t have EVERYTHING in it for a BO scenario, I have all the items I need to procure everything else I need for that BO scenario. I may not have food or water, but I have items to procure food and water; I may not have weapons in the conventional sense, but I have items that can be made into weapons; etc. etc.

    • Sierra Gray – I think most people severely overestimate their ability to travel long distances in a bug out or other evac situation. The general consensus I seem to find is that a family group could travel about 5 miles and younger in fit people maybe 20 miles or so per day with packs/supplies.

      This website has an interesting take and a map on travel distances and such.

  25. Mountain Trekker says:

    Fun article, I enjoyed it. I live in some very remote and rugged country, as for the shortcuts they rarely turn out to be shortcuts and on forest service trails they are illegal if one is concerned with the law. But in off trail hikes or hunts, I personally have regretted more than one shortcut that I have taken. On one ocassion I end up in the dark in really heavy deadfalls and in Grizzly country no less, and on another when my 4 wheeler became stuck, rather than walk the 2 miles by trail back to my truck and trailer I decided to cut across and this was also in the dark, never realized all of the small streams and marshes as well as snow drifts that I ran into, and on top of that I wondered if I was going to come out at my truck. So if your not lost, and unless you know the country take the sure route, it will probably be the shortcut in the long run. Trekker Out.

    • Mountain Trekker – Shortcuts bad! Trail good! We’ve got that in our head loud and clear now. But at least we learned some dead-fall navigation skills.

  26. Mountain Trekker says:


  27. If it were a real bug out situation you both may not have made it! There is no EVAC or warm/soft cozy beds to go home to when its for real. A high stress, life or death situation is not the time to try new gear.
    Train, practice….then train, practice more. The back yard is a great place to start. Start with smaller hikes and campouts, to work out the issues with gear and supplies. Learn how to set up gear, make sure it fits and works correctly, try it ahead of time. If possible scout the area you’re going to, maps are a big help, but eyes on will tell you much more, especially in different seasons.
    Experience is the best trainer, so don’t beat yourselves up, or get down on your abilities. Take what you have learned and use it to better your training, and to upgrade your gear.
    You know what didn’t work, what challenges pop up, what gear didn’t work, that is going to help future adventures.
    Keep your head up and spirits high.

    • Big D – Training is one of the most important aspects of being successful in any highly skilled or physical activity. I wish I’d been a more physically active person when younger so as to carry through that willingness to get out and conditioning to when older.

  28. riverrider says:

    i’d just like to second the motion to never use shortcuts. they are usually very rough and more than one leads to a cliff face or drop off. they damage the environment too, causing erosion which can in turn wash out trails. sprain or break an ankle off trail, good luck getting rescue to find you. …thanks to the author for re-enforcing the need to test your gear and your body before the need arises.

  29. Chuck Findlay says:

    One thing I have been seriously stocking up on over the last several years is bug spray. If you sprayed your clothes beforehand with the kind made for clothes and also has some 29% or more DEET to put on exposed skin you could have been bug free.

    As far as what kind of DEET to pack in a bug-out-bag I use lotion as it won’t loose pressure when sitting over a long time. And it takes up less space in a pack then a can.

    Look for end-of-summer deals on bug spray this coming September as stores always clear it out for the winter stock. You can get a $6.00 can of it for $1.50 a can.

  30. Chuck Findlay says:

    Another thing to try is stealth bicycle camping. Search U-Tube for it. And with a bicycle you can get mounting brackets to hold panners (saddle bags) and other bag mounts. There is so many of them you may not even need a backpack.

    And you can cover a lot of distance with a bike. Even if you loaded it with 100 pounds of gear you can still walk the bike and let it take all the weight.

    • Chuck-excellent points (bug spray & bicycle usage). Questions: anyone have alternatives to carrying aerosol cans in BO scenario? The mountain bike may provide me the ability to transport more necessities further/faster. Even when I walk alongside- thereby reducing stress on some muscles/joints when I walk; muscle/joint stress reduction when I pedal? I may get no response if I cry out: ‘TAXI’ in a BO scenario….hmmmm

      • Hi Bobbo,

        I guess the first the first thing I’m wondering is: why are you carrying aerosol cans in a BO scenario?

  31. Hello Andy….my bad, I wish to avoid carrying them…. that’s what I was getting at, sorry if msg not clear….

    • I understand that bit, but what I’m still confused about is why do you have a need for aerosolized material that makes you need to look for an alternative? Is it for fuel? Bug spray? I guess I’m trying to ask what need are you trying to fill with the alternative method?

      • Hi Andy-I asked for an alternative to carrying aerosol cans. I figure an aerosol can would be bulky, prone to malfunction, & run out during a prolonged hike……. I don’t have a need to carry one, just looking for an alternative.

  32. Great article! It really drives home the importance of testing your equipment and being at your peak before the rubber really meets the road, so to speak. A lot of these points I can relate to personally; I have family members who are planning a big elk hunting trip in the Rockies. It keeps getting delayed primarily for two reasons: my father and procrastination. While DF really wants to go, he doesn’t want to comprehend that he’s no longer in the right shape to go. He’s easily 40 lbs. overweight for a guy his age and height, plus he has two artificial hips. Additionally, both he and my brothers have this painfully misconceived idea about how ready they are: they feel that putting their packs (dreadfully underweight for the task at hand) on once a week and “working out” with them (hiking a 2.5 mile stretch of gravel road around our house) will prepare them-at which point they lounge the rest of the time. Their “altitude training” consists of climbing a few flights of stairs with their packs and/or ascending the hills of the gravel road, which they can’t be convinced that it doesn’t count. I have visions of mountain rescue and helo-lifts for their future lol! I think that I will be the “I told you so” party in that case.

    • Andy – I’d make sure you get to come here and read this or get them a copy of it to take along as reading material. That way they’ll have something to do while waiting to catch their breath.

      • Will do Ian. As for something to do while waiting to catch their breath, I’m not sure that they will be able to spare the energy to read while puking their guts out from altitude sickness!

  33. Ian D.
    Good article and I’m glad you were secure enough to admit your shortcomings.
    I’ve worked with a Search & Rescue Unit in the second largest county in the US so I’ve responded to many a callout where the hiker was injured and could not get back to civilization without help. I’ve found there are many problems that contribute to a person’s demise in the backcountry. But the one that is most frequent is the lack of physical conditioning. As we get older our feet, ankles, knees, and hips are more easily damaged. If you don’t routinely walk (don’t run) on uneven trails, for your exercise then you will pay for it later. Without good boots your feet will become an aching mess. Boots give you necessary ankle support and protect your soles from stone bruising. They can also protect your toes if properly laced when going downslope. Those light-weight sneakers are only good for a walk in the park on the handicap paths. Your pack should not weigh more than 15-25% of your body weight. Most people carry too much junk in their packs but only need the ten essentials to survive. Look it up yourself. Water for adults should be a minimum of one gallon a day (8.5 lbs). The following fluid intake recommendations is what we try to instill in our SAR people and has been proven in some of the most extreme conditions.

    Hydration Before Workout
    • Drink 15-20 oz Water 2-3 hrs prior.
    • Drink another 8-10 oz 10-15 minutes prior.

    During Workout
    • Drink 8-10 oz every 15-20 min.
    • Longer than 90 min, drink 8-10 oz of Sports Drink with no more than 8% Carbohydrate every 10-40 minutes.
    •IMPORTANT• After every two hours consume a 4:1 ratio of Carb/Protein to replenish glycogen stores. About 75-150 grams of Carb for body wt of 230# and 18-74 grams of Protein.
    Fruit & juices (low sugar) are a good source as well sport mixes, bars, with water. Look for those that are easiest to digest.

    After Workout
    • Weigh yourself before and after and replace fluid losses.
    • Drink 20-24 oz water for every lb. lost.
    • Carb/protein replenishment same as above.

    Hiking in the Heat
    • One gallon on day hikes, two gallons for long day hikes. Need about three gallons on12-mile midsummer hike.
    • Use stainless steel water bottles. Avoid “CamelBak” systems due to their potential failure. Multiple bottles are best to monitor consumption.
    • Eat salty foods while hiking, to avoid risks of having too much water and too little salt, a condition known as hypo-na-tremia.

    Remember the Rule of Threes: 3 Minutes without air; 3 Days without water; 3 Weeks without food. Those are your survival priorities.

    PS- I almost forgot. Get yourself a good PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) Your life is worth the expense. And above all stay safe out there.

    • Paul C. – That’s good info to add to this. Thanks for those details and advice. The PLB’s are a great tool for extended trips outside of civilization and cell phones. That along with a good signaling mirror and whistle.

    • great info….. are the ’10 essentials’ you referred to in your post? Do you have more? I’m reading 1-conditioning; 2-footware; 3- hydration; 4- electrolyte replacement; ty again….sorry I’m slow on uptake sometimes….

      • The Top Ten Essentials
        1) Water=1gal/day=8.5lbs. Take more than you think you’ll need.
        2) Food
        3) Extra Clothing (socks & poncho at a minimum)
        4) Map, Compass, & GPS
        5) Headlamp/Flashlight (extra batteries)
        6) First Aid Kit (extra personal medications)
        7) Shelter Material/Space Blanket
        8) Fire Starting Kit/Matches
        9) Pocket Knife/Multi-Tool
        10) Whistle/Signal Mirror

        • TYVM for reply & perspective(s) Paul. Appreciated! Essentials vs abilities vs situation….. intuitive prep!

  34. Diana Smith says:

    Well, I know what my problems would be with a hike. Lower back, hip on one side, knee on the other. Too many pounds. Feet are still good.
    I used to do a lot of hiking for geological surveys, etc, sometimes with a 60lb pack. (I’m 5’2 and at that time weighed 140) I would love to get back to that. I have been working on walking around my neighborhood each day. I’m up to a mile a day before I go to work or come home to clean. Some days I have my grandson, age 5 with me. I did discover to my delight that I could still handle 40 lbs. His sandles broke one day, and I had to piggyback him home. Oddly, my hip didn’t hurt as much carrying him as it had just walking straight. Go figure that one out. So I have hopes I might reach my ultimate goal and get to where I can at least handle a 40 lb pack again. I’d like to work up to 10 miles.
    My pack is an old-style frame pack with the strap that sits on the hips. I like it, because it puts the weight where it belongs, and not so much hanging off my shoulders. Chest straps really help, too, because it snugs the pack up so it doesn’t bounce.
    I have always placed my heaviest stuff on the bottom to central section of the pack. This would be food, water, clothing, equipment. Lighter stuff above, such as lighter equipment, snack bars, etc. Matches, first aid, water, shovel, hatchet, etc–all that goes in outer pockets or hangs off. A good walking stick is paramount. Not just for us that gimp along, but also to help keep balance, climb up or down, cross streams and beat off the beasts.
    I have used a bicycle before, too, and panniers are a great addition. Guys bikes work best because of the cross bar. Easier to hanl and attach stuff higher above the pedals. I also have a heavier duty two-wheeled shopping cart. If I have to walk out of my community, it’s coming too.
    Anyway, wish me luck. I’d like to get physically back in shape before the SHTF.

    • Hi Diane,

      The reason carrying your grandson felt better than walking normally is probably because it changed the weight distribution on and/or alignment of your hips. If you can replicate that with your pack, you’ve got a much better shot with the hiking IMHO. No one wants to attempt a hike (even to a BOL) in pain. Best wishes to you.

  35. Stay the course, Diana…. wishing you perseverance, faith, & whatever luck necessary to round it out!

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