"Man, people sure drag a bunch of stuff they don't need up the Dalton Highway," IM'd a friend, once he was back from his adventure up there. That's funny, because he'd been planning on packing his Ram so full of survival gear, you'd think he was visiting the apocalypse, not Alaska.
I'd talked him out of that, something he appreciated once he got up there and realized he wasn't going to have to fend off packs of roving Grizzly Bears. People are constantly told to plan for any possibility, but what do you really need to take with you to have an adventure?
I think that's an important question because the ridiculous load-outs you see people with are indicative of the core problem keeping people from venturing into the wilderness in the first place: fear of the unknown. You see people with kitchen sinks strapped to the back of their BMW adventure bikes up the Dalton because they're literally afraid they might have to wash some plates. Once they're up there, and they realize they forgot their Marigolds anyways, they probably realize they'd have enjoyed their trip a lot better if their bike was 300lbs lighter or so. You know, so they could actually enjoy what they came to do: ride.
I posed this question to Dual Survival's Cody Lundin a while back. Know what he carries on his vehicles?
"I have a little military bag that I got at a thrift store," explains Cody. "Both of my motorcycles have a little rack over the rear fender. I have one quart of water, full, in a quality camping bottle. I have that wrapped with duct tape and a loop of parachute cord. I have some protein bars, just a couple. I have tincture of iodine 2% to be able to disinfect water. I'm in the high desert, but there's lots of cattle tanks around. I have a bandana, that can be used over the head or across the face or around the neck for protection. I have ways to make fire. I have a magnesium block with a striking insert. People may be better versed with a lighter, but they don't work when they're cold. Or it could be strike-anywhere matches in a match safe."
That's not much, is it? I'm no barefoot survival expert, so I take a little more, but I'm still massively restricted for space since I'm typically traveling by bike, not pickup truck.
Minus tools for working on the vehicle and parts like tubes, fuses, ratchet straps and whatever, here's what I typically take with me. All that takes up less than a shoe box worth of space and weighs maybe 5 Lbs. The big knife is the heaviest component; I use it to process firewood. If you're not a masochist, a small saw would probably be a better choice. All this, plus some strong wire, was enough to repair a BMW F800GS after I sent it toppling down the Trans Labrador Highway at about 60 MPH and cracked the frame in half. That shoe box worth of gear also kept the bugs off, cooked my food, disinfected my water and wiped my ass. What? You don't go camping without baby wipes do you? This is pretty much the same stuff I took along when I went solo off-road camping in Death Valley earlier this year too, just with more water.
All this is actually less important than what you carry by wearing it. "What's non-negotiable is clothing," continues Cody. "You have to regulate that core body temperature. What's non-negotiable is water, again for regulation of the core body temperature. The difference between what people need and what they think they need is vast. Some people think they need two Hummers and they fall apart psychologically if they don't have that."
Everyone and every environment's requirements are unique, so I'm not going to give you a check list. Just take enough water to stay hydrated, enough food to feed yourself, enough tools and spares to perform common repairs on whatever vehicle you're taking and more than enough gas to get where you're going. You'll want some place to sleep and some way to cook food too. Here's the list I gave Chuck prior to his trip up the Dalton:
SLEEPING: Truck beds are ridged, leading to extreme discomfort. [He'd planned on sleeping in the capped bed.] You'll need cots or similar. Instead, pack a tent and whatnot and sleep on the ground. Or hammocks and tie between truck and a convenient tree or other object. It can be hard to find a level surface to park on sometimes too.
BUGS: Holy shit are there going to be a lot of bugs. Long sleeve shirts, pants, socks, head nets. Anything you plan to sleep in (tent/truck/whatever) needs to be 100% bug tight.
FIRE: You'll want to have fires, so a small backpacking saw or large survival knife (some means to process wood basically), plus fire starting materials (cotton balls soaked in Vaseline are best)
GAS: Carry at least 5 gallons extra. You'll get half your usual fuel economy driving on gravel. Extra means you'll be able to help people if you come across anyone stranded too.
TIRES: At least one full-size spare on a real wheel. All tools to change. An air compressor. Patch kit. Expanding tire foam. A good jack and know how to use it.
Probably the most important thing you can take with you though is knowledge. I'm able to strap a knife to my belt instead of saw to my back because I know how to take down a dead tree with that knife, then access the nice, dry firewood inside. Anything you carry with you that you don't know how to use is just dead weight. Either learn how to use it or don't take it.
Cody can ride off into the high desert with little more than a dropper full of iodine because he knows how to improvise. Neither one of us is a superhero, we just read books, watch How To videos on YouTube and are confident enough to trust ourselves to learn how to do stuff.
Really, the most important you need to take with you is some common sense and a spirit of adventure.
What do you take with you on adventures?
Photography credit: Sean Smith