1. Don’t use an axe. Sure, it will put hair on your chest and make you feel like Jeremiah Johnson. But it will also put you in the hospital when it’s raining, your hands are slippery, and your mind is clouded by hunger, cold, fatigue and frustration. Hatchets are fine though for splitting kindling and sharpening the stakes for your lean-to and hot-dog/marshmallow spits. If you want to cut some medium sized limbs, use a hand-powered survival chain saw. It’s far safer and weighs less.
2. Take 3x as much water as you think you’ll need.
3. Practice finding and purifying water before you go out into the wilderness! When you run out of water and are dying of thirst is not the time to figure out if your filter straw and iodine drops will work.
4. Take more beef jerky and trail mix. You may be too tired to feel like cooking. Also, MREs quickly become tiresome and start to taste the same, no matter the menu item. Mountain House meals, on the other hand, are no more expensive than MREs and taste wonderful! They only require boiling water, and you can eat them out of the bag, so there are no dirty dishes
5. Take 2x the 550-cord you think you’ll need. Between staking out guy-lines, setting up your tarp, and hanging your bear-bag, 100 feet goes quickly. Realize that wrapping around a sturdy tree can easily use up 10 feet cord.
7. Be sure your phone is fully charged when you set out from your vehicle or base camp. Take an extra cell-phone battery (charged) if you can. Don’t rely on it. Phones get wet, lost, stepped on/sat on, and reception in remote areas is a gamble. Realize that if you plan on using your phone as a GPS the battery can go from 100% to 0% in just a few hours.
8. Take duct tape and hand sanitizer. Duct tape can patch tears in tents and hold together broken tent poles. Hand sanitizer prevents illness. Together they make a field-expedient first aid kit for small cuts and abrasions. Marines use hand-sanitizer and duct tape for anything that doesn’t require stitches.
9. Take a first aid kit with a minimum of gauze, alcohol wipes, neosporin, medical tape, tweezers and some band-aids.
10. If you are carrying firearms or ignore our axe advice, take quik-clot and a tourniquet. They have saved the lives of thousands of troops in our recent wars. If you have a traumatic injury, they could keep you alive long enough for help to arrive. They’re small, lightweight and their cost is minuscule if you value your life at all.
11. Take camo tarps. They’re lightweight, cheap, easy to set up and are useful as ground cloths, table cloths, and heavy-duty rain-flies when the forecast goes wrong on you.
12. Chemlights are magical. Let the kids tie them on the end of a length of 550-cord and have a campfire rave as they spin them around. This is also called the “buzz-saw” technique and is used by the military to signal medevac helicopters into the LZ. At about $1/ea. glowsticks/chemlights are the best light source for your money. Hang one on the front of your tent and on any guylines to help you find your way and keep from tripping in the dark.
14. Waterproof matches aren’t. Take them anyway. They’re better than plain matches and work great when it’s dry.
15. Cotton balls soaked in vaseline = best tinder in the galaxy. They’re waterproof and burn for a good 30 seconds. If you’re lazy, Tinder-Quick is basically the same thing, but pre-made in tidy little packages.
16. Always cut away from yourself with a knife. Always. No exceptions. Watch your fingers!
17. Take hand sanitizer. (Did we say this already? We meant it!)
18. And toilet paper/baby wipes. You’ve heard you can use leaves, right? Sure. Of course you can. But why would you if you didn’t have to?
19. And a little metal folding trowel. If you bury your waste, the little microorganisms in the dirt will break it down rather quickly. If you don’t, you risk spreading disease and basically just filthying up the backcountry for wildlife and other outdoorsmen.
20. Pee where you like. Urine is sterile, but try to keep it at least 25 yards away from your campsite. After a few days’ accumulation your campsite can start to smell, especially in warmer weather.
21. Poop at least 100 yards from the campsite and any water source.
22. Always take care of “business” downstream from your camp site.
23. Wool socks are best, even in summer. (Get the thinner ones, though. The heavy ones make your feet sweat, which = cold).
24. Merino wool T-shirts don’t stink, even after 3-4 days of sweating.
25. Wool retains its insulating properties even when wet. It’s naturally anti-microbial (resists odor), and it’s nearly fireproof. (Most fire blankets are at least 50% wool). Wool Military Blankets are heavy, but worth their weight.
26. Cotton kills. It’s flammable, harbors bacteria and never dries on its own.
27. REI wool hiking/trekking socks are made in the USA. Smartwool also makes an identical item, some of which are made domestically. I wear them everyday. I have 3 pairs. 2 pairs that I rotate throughout the week (wear one, wash one) and a 3rd I keep in my backpack as a spare.
28. If you have to, you can wear them for 5 days in heavy boots before they stink. They cost a little over $10/pair. If you wash them in a bucket (or in a nearby stream) and turn them inside out, if there’s a decent breeze they’re usually dry by the next morning.
29. I have just one pair of heavy wool mountaineering socks. They’re too warm for all but the coldest times during the day. But they’re great to put on in the tent when the nights get chilly in the mountains.
30. Pitch your tent on high-ground, not in a sheltered valley. Waking up to 3″ of standing water about to crest over your tent’s “bathtub bottom” is more excitement than you want.
31. Take flip-flops. They cost $1 at the dollar store and will save you all kinds of grief when you need to take a whiz at 2 a.m.
32. Did I mention to take more water? Your level of exertion in the outdoors will exceed even your best estimates. If you are relying on water filtration or purifying techniques, be sure you know how to use them before you go. Some treatments take a while to work. When you’re thirsty, you don’t want to wait 30 minutes for a drink.
33. A hand-crank cell-phone charger will get you about 2 min of talk-time for 15 minutes of cranking.
34. 15 minutes of cranking equates to 4 hours of throwing hay bales or picking rocks out of a farmer’s field.
35. If you want to keep a fire going all evening, it will take about 3 of those bundles you buy outside a convenience store. That’s too much to carry in. Give yourself at least an hour to cut that much wood. And then you’ll be too tired to cook.
36. Take some mechanics gloves. Little splinters or cuts become big deals when you’re relying on your hands, and everything is dirty. On a recent outing, I managed to cut both of my thumbs. Everything else for the rest of the trip was slightly painful.
37. 90% of post-camping diarrhea is NOT due to giardia , but to under-cooked food and poor sanitation. Take soap. More water. And more hand sanitizer. Use hand sanitizer after touching anything. Sticks, leaves, rocks, firewood, etc. If you bite your nails or pick your nose, now is a good time to stop.
38. You will probably never take your compass out of your backpack/pocket. But if you happen to need one and don’t have one (or have one, but don’t know how to use it), you can pretty much go ahead and plan your funeral. Be sure you also take a map of the area. (You can usually download free USGS topo maps for free online).
39. Even if it’s just a little mist, put your rain gear on and build your fire under a tarp. A little mist can become a downpour in about 10 seconds. Once your clothes are wet, you’re screwed. Even if it’s warm out, you’ll be miserable. Move the tarp back once you get a 2-3″ diameter log lit. Unless it’s a downpour. Then wait until you have a 12-18″ flame going strong. Then you can move the tarp back.
40. Pack a fine cigar and a flask of good scotch. After the kids are in bed, nothing makes the fire prettier.