The #1 ingredient to bring on every outing is Common Sense. What’s in your pack?
This winter I’ve been having a grand time nordic skiing and snowshoeing at local Sno Parks in the Cascade Mountains of Central Oregon. I’ve made some new friends and strengthened already-established relationships through the sense of fun and adventure. My glutes and quads also appreciate the toning!
I love these sports but I’m careful to be well prepared. Venturing out into the cold means taking on some inherent risk. Weather can fluctuate suddenly in the mountains, so I take hypothermia seriously.
You may be hail and hardy enough to handle extreme conditions, but what if you’re detained by equipment failure, an injured member in your party, or a navigation error (aka: you’re lost)?
If you’re at a Sno Park, the danger is lessened by proximity, well-marked trails, and the fact that you’re likely to run into other, helpful people. Should you venture into backcountry, your risk increases as you travel farther and into more challenging terrain.
Regardless of where you go, bring a pack and stock it carefully to maximize your chances of success. Here’s a list of things to consider bringing with you before heading out. As my friend Shannon reminded me, a well-stocked pack could save a life.
I’ve broken this list into Sno Park Essentials and Backcountry Add On’s. Customize it as suits your needs.
Sno Park Essentials
Common Sense — No one ever includes this on a list because it is so obvious. However, survival studies shows that this is your greatest ally in the event of danger. If conditions are beyond your expectations, be prepared to change your plan. It’s ok to back out, return, or reschedule if it’s too icy, snowing too hard, or the terrain is too challenging.
Buddy — Your buddy won’t fit into your pack and, in fact, should carry a well-stocked pack of their own. There’s a lot of truth to the adage “There’s safety in numbers” — if all members of your party are well prepared. Sharing your outing with friends will add to the fun and may help you get out of a jam, in an emergency. So, invite your friends and encourage them to pack wisely.
Charged Cell Phone — Should you need help, this is your lifeline. Cold drains cell phone batteries quickly, so keep your phone in a warm place. Carry a spare battery if you’re using your phone as a GPS.
Backpack — A daypack can hold everything you need for a comfortable outing. Once it’s on, you’ll forget it’s there. Leave it packed so you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.
ID & Insurance — Carry your i.d. and insurance card (including helicopter insurance, if you have it) in your pack. If you don’t want to carry originals, include a copy. In the case of an emergency, it will save a ton of headaches.
Map — Sno Park maps are available online and are often (but not always) at the trailhead. Keep your map in an accessible place and carry in a ziplock bag to keep it dry. Before you leave home, familiarize yourself with your route, keeping an eye out for shortcuts and alternate routes should you need to change plans for any reason.
You can also download many maps onto your phone, but keep in mind that this can quickly diminish battery life .
Insulation — Bring enough layers to keep you warm and dry, then put an extra layer in your pack. A neck gaiter keeps cold from seeping down into your core and can be used to protect your face from wind. Arm warmers are an easy way to add warmth without bulk, as well. If your hands get cold, bring glove liners or an extra pair of gloves.
Hydration — Insulated water bottle or flask. Remember to drink.
Nutrition — Nuts, bars, or whatever you like to carry, to keep your energy and core temperature up.
Sun Protection — Sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses.
Repair Kit — A multi-purpose tool and duct tape.
Emergency Shelter/Layer — A reflective space blanket or tube tent can provide an extra layer should you get stuck and/or need emergency shelter. So lightweight, you won’t know they are there — unless you need them.
First Aid — You can go as far as you like with this. My essentials include Ibuprofen, Coflex tape (a multi-purpose self-adhesive wrap that can bind a sprain or a wound) , and gauze.
Ski Wax — Hopefully you waxed your ski’s before you left but if you or your friend failed to do so, sticky ski’s can bog down a day’s outing.
Whistle — Attach a whistle to every pack you own and save yourself a lot of shouting should you need to attract attention.
Light — You don’t plan to get stuck overnight but if you do, a headlamp is lightweight, easy to pack, and may prove essential. Have fully charged batteries or bring extra.
Fire — Bring a lighter and a bit of fire starter.
Extra Food & Water — If you’re out longer, you will want it.
Medications — If you have medications that are essential to your well-being, pack in enough to keep you healthy, should you be detained.
Extra Insulation — Lightweight sit pads can serve as extra insulation between you and the ground. Rolled up, can serve as a splint. A light down coat stuffs into a sack and can be a lifesaver.
Compass — Learn how to use a compass and read a map before heading out into the backcountry.
Flagging — Should you need to leave the trail, flagging will help others find you.
Hot Packs — Lightweight and easy to carry, can provide hours of warmth for hands or feet.
Disclaimer: In case your lawyer is listening: the above information is intended as a guideline and makes no guarantee, implied or otherwise, to protect you from harm should the stars align and bad things happen.
That being said, pack well, invite a few friends, and have a great time!
P.S. For an excellent book on survival in almost any circumstance, check this out: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales. It’s a really good read!