Craig Caudill, author of Extreme Wilderness Survival and chief instructor at Nature Reliance School, takes you to the cutting edge of outdoor gear. Find out which items will perform the best in the field without breaking the bank. Learn what you need, why you need it and how to care for it. Craig lets you in on his favorite tried-and-true brands and shares dependable items tailored to your specific environment. Gearheads will love this in-depth analysis of knives, cordage, fire starters and fuel, water purifiers and containers, packs, compasses and maps, first-aid items, clothing, tents and sleeping bags and so much more.
With nearly five decades of wilderness experiences, Craig has seen almost everything nature can throw at you, and he has become a distinguished wilderness skills teacher, survival guru and seasoned outdoorsman. Full of tales straight from Craig’s own adventures and tips from trusted wilderness experts, this is more than an essential gear guide; it’s an unparalleled wilderness advisor and companion.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ACQUIRING GEAR
AND UNDERSTANDING YOUR NEEDS
MIND-SET, SKILLS AND TACTICS HISTORICAL GIANTS
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
— Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
I WILL NEVER FORGET MY FIRST BACKPACKING TRIP WHEN I WAS EIGHTEEN. Until that point in my life, I had spent a great deal of time participating in period-correct reenacting. I spent much of my childhood learning the skills of a prerevolutionary scout. That means I spent a considerable amount of time living off the land so to speak. This included trekking, hunting, fishing and more. My dad and I often stayed in period-correct shelters like tepees and lean-tos. These were situations in which I had an established base camp and would venture out in search of resources that I needed (or just to play in the woods). Often, though, I came back to camp and ate what my dad brought to eat. I had a fair amount of security waiting back at the camp.
Backpacking is not like that at all. A friend and I got the crazy idea to go backpacking over spring break. Spring break in Kentucky is nothing like sunnier spring break destinations. Often it is cold and snowy. Regardless of this fact, however, I wore the work boots that I donned while working on the family farm, carried an ancient canvas Boy Scout pack my dad had lying around, and ate canned spaghetti and chili mac. My sleeping bag was 100 percent cotton and I had an old canvas military-style tent that felt like it weighed 300 pounds (135 kg). I was tough enough to make three days and two nights on the trail, but I was not comfortable at any point during the trip. My sleeping bag got wet, my feet stayed wet the whole time and cold canned chili mac is not the best breakfast when you can't get a fire built to warm it.
Fortunately, no unexpected challenges came up that put me into survival mode for any reason. It was snowing and moderately cold. Had I experienced something drastically unexpected (such as a broken ankle), I would have most likely succumbed to hypothermia. In short, it was a small slice of heaven being out there like that.
I was hooked. The refreshing distance from civilization, the smells, the quietness — they were part of me immediately. There is something right about carrying your own needs on your back into the wilderness. It made me want to spend more time in the wilderness on backpacking trips. That trip was the catalyst for many future adventures and the book you now have in your hand. Experience is often hard-won. The gear that I use is a testament to that mindset. I am very excited to share many of my life experiences with you so you can save a lot of money and gain valuable insight. There are certain truths that remain constant no matter what your purpose in going outside is. I want to share those truths with you here, as well as consider how some very accomplished outdoorsmen in history took care of themselves with their gear.
MIND-SET, SKILLS AND TACTICS
HOW TO CHOOSE GEAR THAT LASTS AND WORKS
In my first book, Extreme Wilderness Survival, I grouped the important aspects of safety and survival into four categories: (1) mind-set, (2) skills, (3) tactics and (4) gear. This order of categories is instantly recognizable to many who understand the role that each of these plays in any wilderness adventure, not just a survival-related event. They give us an order of priorities to follow, starting with mind-set, when we are trying to stay safe. You will note that gear is last on the list. Although it is last, it is at the forefront of bridging the gap between our normal lives at home and the wilderness. However, each of those other three priorities has its own merits for consideration. For that reason, I am including them in this first chapter so we can organize experiences with gear selection and use.
I can summarize this whole book in the following five words: You need to do you. There is no cookie-cutter answer to purchasing gear. That is why I have dedicated this whole book to the subject. It will save you countless hours and dollars on gear. I am going to provide you with the basis of acquiring gear, for you. This means I will be helping you make intelligent decisions on what works and what does not in a multitude of geographical areas. I want you to be able to make informed decisions on gear for serious wilderness use. We can all learn from the experience of others, and you can learn from mine. Throughout this book, I am going to cover a collection of topics to help you prepare for your first, or next, wilderness adventure. As with all that I do, I want you to spend more time outside in a safe manner. Ultimately, the goal is for you to make informed decisions and not purchase gear because of emotional reactions or slick marketing.
MIND-SET: HOW TO GET THE MOST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
Many outdoor gear purchases, whether they be online or in a retail store, tend to be more of an impulse buy than anything else. That is unfortunate because a slick sales pitch or an otherwise-attractive marketing method could lead you to buy a piece that is not suited for you. This serves to either attack your wallet and leave you not having the funds to get other usable products or to lead you to a piece of gear that underperforms for your needs.
This book will help you change that cycle of disappointment and frustration. I want to put you in a position where you can make informed decisions and get the gear you need. There are several different facets to this mind-set that I want you to make sure you understand as we move forward through this book:
You should acquire gear that will take care of your needs in both expected and unexpected circumstances. This means you need to have gear that you can rely on during difficult times. I have spent a lifetime using gear outdoors in wonderful and not-so-wonderful circumstances and will tell you what works and what doesn't.
The most expensive gear is not always the best gear. You can easily acquire gear that won't break the bank. That doesn't mean we should consider only price. Some gear is worth spending extra money on.
You should know the specifications of the gear you are buying so it meets your needs. Knowing the details about your gear will also help you not fall victim to the marketing that draws us all in at times.
Developing your mind-set will ensure safety and years of fun outdoor adventuring.
You should determine your purpose in going to the wilderness. Are you a backpacker, day hiker, car camper or maybe even a glamper? Different gear will meet different needs.
You should determine whether you prefer trekking solo or sharing the wilderness with others. Your answer will determine whether you will be taking care of everything yourself or possibly sharing the load of items with members of a group.
I am also very cognizant that we may be at very different stages of life. The gear that I comfortably carried as a college-age, physically fit backpacker is not what I carry today at nearly 50 years old. Back then, I was all about putting miles under my feet and carrying little to eat. Now I am more of a "stop and smell the roses" type of person, mainly because I am naturally curious to what nature can teach me. You will find yourself like me; you will most likely have different reasons for being outside at various times or stages of life. I will help you find the gear that will suit you in many of these situations.
SKILLS: HOW TO ASSEMBLE AND CARRY YOUR GEAR
I am widely known as a survival expert. While that may be true, I prefer to focus my attention on safety instead. The way I see it, if you plan your trip with contingencies for trouble, you can avoid most mishaps in the backcountry. That is what I consider being safe. Wilderness adventure in the backcountry is all about taking care of your needs and some of your wants. I plan my gear setup so that in case something unexpected occurs, I have certain things that stay attached to my body and the rest goes in my pack. It serves us well to understand what our needs are from a safety perspective. I covered the Rule of Three (see sidebar here) in my first book. It is common knowledge and gives us a great way of determining what gear is high priority.
As I prepare to pack and get my gear ready, I always consider the Rule of Three and how to maintain it. I want to cover these individually so you can see how to pack properly. Personal safety will be covered in Chapter 3. In Chapters 4 and 5 we will look at the multitude of options to help you maintain your core body temperature. Chapter 6 will delve into the gear and methods that will keep you hydrated. Chapter 7 will help take care of that rumbling in your tummy so you can eat like royalty in the backcountry.
In a nutshell, your water bottle can leak and you will survive, but if your body leaks blood or oxygen you will not live for more than a few short minutes. I want to use this understanding to prompt you to take care of your personal safety. Taking care of blood flow and oxygen in your body is best left to preemptive planning and risk analysis.
You should consider what sort of things may cause you harm and be prepared for them. One example is knowing what sort of wildlife may harm you and how to prevent it from doing so. This was highlighted for me many years ago while on a fishing trip to Alaska. Alaska is known as America's last frontier for good reason. It is rugged and has little human encroachment in many areas. These areas are often home to wildlife that is at the top of the food chain. I was wade fishing during my first trip there and came to a distinct turn in the Kenai River. The turn caused the water to get so deep that it was not wadable and I had to cross a very short neck of land to get back to the river. The small trees and growth were thick and inhospitable, and I felt like I was in a physical fight with nature. But the best was yet to come.
When I popped out the other side of the vegetation, I stumbled onto the sand of the riverbank. I looked down at my feet and instantly recognized the freshly laid track of a grizzly bear. There were water droplets and splashes in and around the track; this meant the bear was still in the area and very close. That grizzly had the same idea I had, which was to grab some salmon from that beautiful river. At the exact moment I saw the track, I realized I was wholly unprepared for an encounter with a bear. I had no bear spray, firearm or even a first aid kit. To put it mildly, I was young and dumb.
Compare that to the story of my friend who lived in Alaska for eighteen years. He cleared trails for the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and he regularly made his way into the bush to perform his duties. Carrying his needs on his back was part of daily life, not just a fun trip for adventure. On one such trip he was awoken by a friend yelling that a bear was in the area. When he stuck his head out of his bivy tent, a female grizzly was literally standing over him. She was snapping her teeth and stomping her front feet on either side of his head, both of which are signs of a very agitated bear. Since my friend kept his bear spray right next to him, he grabbed it and sprayed the grizzly fully in the face. She momentarily stood there looking at him, tried to shake it off, then ran off into the bush. It was then that he discovered two cubs in the tree above his tent. They had wandered into his campsite and went up the tree when they were alarmed by his scent or presence. Momma grizzly had done her best to protect her young. My friend used bear spray just once in eighteen years, but it most likely saved his life. He was better prepared for the backcountry than I had been on my fishing trip.
Your best strategy for taking care of blood flow and oxygen needs is one of avoidance. Avoid the issues that will cause you to die. Seems simple, right? Evidently, not really. I have trained countless search-and-rescue (SAR) volunteers who share stories of how people very rarely consider dangers. Preplanning may seem too safe, that you are not being "wild" enough. To an extent that is true, but I am suggesting that you simply develop a plan and carry the gear that will help take care of you when the inevitable surprise comes. This will allow you to spend more time outside being "wild" and returning safely so you can do it again and again. During your preplanning of any wilderness trip, you should consider the risks. They come in four categories.
1. WILDLIFE. What wildlife is in the area you plan on visiting? You should have a plan of avoidance, but if a situation arises that makes avoidance impossible, the right gear will help. This should include deterrent spray, firearms (where legal) and a first aid kit (see Chapter 3 for details on these items).
2. WEATHER. While planning, you should check the weather and plan accordingly.
3. GEOGRAPHY. Is there a chance for avalanches or rock slides? Are there holes to fall into or fast rapids to get swept away with? Know the area you'll be traveling through and have plans for things that may not go well.
4. PEOPLE. Adrenaline junkies can get you in a position that results in a mechanical injury, such as a broken collarbone or a twisted ankle. I am a fan of wilderness experiences that include a measure of danger, but they should be undertaken with plans and contingencies in place if problems occur.
You should have certain gear that stays attached to your body should issues arise. We will cover the details of each of these throughout the book.
In all things safety and survival, I am a proponent of avoidance and awareness strategies so you can enjoy wilderness travel and adventure time and time again. To cover those first three minutes mentioned here, I think everyone should always carry a map, compass and first aid kit. I include a map and compass here because with those items and the skill to use them you can avoid getting lost. Getting lost and stressed is the primary reason people fall victim to outdoor problems. With land-navigation skills utilizing a map and a compass, you can avoid these problems. The map and the compass will allow you to keep track of where you have been and where you are going so you do not get lost.
The first aid kit should be in your pack in case you need it. When I say first aid kit, you may be thinking of the big and bulky kits typically found in the big-box stores. Thankfully, first aid kits do not need to be so bulky. That is why I have included a section in Chapter 3 specifically covering medical gear.
Your core body temperature is vital to your morale and comfort in the wilderness. You should pack clothes that allow you to layer (see Chapter 4) and a pack that allows you to stow them away for easy grab-and-go use (Chapter 8). You don't want to find yourself in a surprise snowstorm or rainstorm, digging your gear out of the bottom of your pack. You should also have a basic shelter that it is easy to get to in case you are incapacitated and need protection in a hurry.
With all that said, let me summarize for you. You need the following attached to you: a first aid kit, land-navigation supplies and layered clothing.
While those are the basics that should be on you (or close to you) at all times, I would also like to add the following items, not because you need them to stay alive but because they have multiple uses for your safety and survival. I cover each of these in-depth in later chapters:
KNIFE. A knife is the epitome of a multiuse item. You should have one on your belt or in your pocket or both.
CORDAGE. Cordage is one of the most difficult things to replicate in the wilderness while under stress. You should always have some on you. Wear a paracord bracelet, have extra on your knife sheath or carry some in your pocket.
BRIGHTLY COLORED BANDANA. This piece of cloth has dozens of uses, the least of which is as a signaling device. It can also be used as a nice insulator when you grab the handle of a hot cup of coffee in the morning or as a cooling rag on your neck.
WHISTLE. If it is needed, a whistle can be another signaling device for your rescue as well as a warning to bears that you are in the area.
I get the opportunity to teach and train with many first responders including SAR teams. Much of what I have shared thus far is based on my conversations with them. Items like the ones I just mentioned are tools that SAR teams have noticed people could have used to avoid needing rescue. SAR teams are good at what they do, but they would rather you go to the wilderness, have fun, return safely and not need their services. If you do need their assistance, those things will make it easier for them to find you.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ultimate Wilderness Gear"
Copyright © 2018 Craig Caudill.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The fundamentals of acquiring gear and understanding your 10
Mind-set. Skills and tactics: how to choose gear that lasts and works 12
Historical giants: knowledge weighs nothing 19
Chapter 2 Essential tools 24
Knives: More than granddad's pocketknife 26
Folders, Choppers and multi-tools: big and small choices for multiple tasks 39
Cordage: Tie it up, tie it down, Make it strong 45
Chapter 3 Maintaining your personal safety 48
Direction finding: gear to guide you 50
Wilderness first aid: from boo-boos to severe trauma 60
Defense against predators: don't pet the bears 65
Signaling: no camouflage needed 67
Lighting: Light up the darkness 70
Chapter 4 Shelter 74
Clothing: Getting cool things warm and warn things cool 76
Sleeping systems: Safe cocoons are not just for butterflies 103
Tents and hammocks: Your home away from home 108
Pads and cots: Sleep like a baby 115
Chapters 5 Fire 120
Fire starters: The spark of life 122
Fuel sources: Build fires like a boss 128
Chapter 6 Water and hydration 134
Containers: Carry it with you in you 136
Purifiers and filters: Which is which and why it's important 140
Chapter 7 Food 146
Food choice: Determining what is best for your needs and morale 148
Caloric needs: Stay fueled and ready for adventure 150
Meal planning: Wilderness adventuring is hard (so plan ahead) 152
Stoves and fuel: Become a wilderness chef 156
Chapter 8 Packs 162
Choosing a pack: Lighten the load 164
Accessories: What are all those straps for? 169
How to pack a pack: more than opening it up and shoving it in 176
Chapter 9 Specialty gear 180
Hunting: Acquiring your own food source 182
Paddling: Getting around on the water 187
Mountain biking: Single-track your way into and out of the wilderness 193
Light, Ultralight, stupid-light: ounces equal pounds 197
Nature study: Learn how to read the environment 199
Hygiene: Learn how not to be offensive to yourself and others 201
Family outdoors: Start 'em young 206
Electronics: Balance is key 209
Appendix: Resources 211
About the author 219