Destination specific research allows us to take a close look at the challenges we might face while exploring a particular destination. We believe that if we identify the challenges we will be able to combine the appropriate gear choices and outdoor skills necessary to empower ourselves with the backpacking solutions required for backpacking with confidence.
Destination specific research requires us to take a close look at the exact route we will be backpacking, the most accurate and updated weather forecasts of the precise location we will be exploring, and the diverse makeup of the unique terrain in which we will be living during our outdoor explorations.
While our research is designed to identify the potential challenges a backpacker could face at a particular destination, we also make sure we compare our gear choices with a list of essential systems. Comparing our equipment with our essential systems checklist will allow us to ensure we will be able to positively respond to accidents and emergencies, and that we will be capable of safely spending a night or more living in the outdoors. The essential systems we use as a checklist are a modern adaptation of the original 10 essentials list said to have been created by a group known as “The Mountaineers” from Seattle Washington.
Having essential systems as a gear checklist gives us the confidence of knowing that regardless of the exact destination we will be able to meet our basic “needs” in the backcountry, and by combining this checklist with our destination specific research we can make gear choices that are not only capable of meeting our essential “needs”, but we can also make gear choices that are able to improve and/or enhance our comfort and convenience “wants” as well.
The essential systems checklist we use is the following:
INSULATION: If we are doing anything in the outdoors we need to ensure we are outfitted with gear capable of insulating our bodies from exposure to the elements. Our Insulation System is essential to our comfort wants and our survival needs. Our bodies can’t get too hot or too cold. On a backpacking trip we need to maintain a comfortable thermal equilibrium in a wide variety of conditions. We utilize a system of clothes, footwear, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads that will allow us to add and remove layers as needed to match the conditions of our destination.
Clothing: Our clothing choices we typically consist of three types of clothing layers and two separate clothing sets. The layers will consist of base layers capable of wicking moisture well and drying quickly, insulating layers capable of trapping heat close to our bodies while also drying quickly and maintaining high levels of breathability, and shell layers capable of keeping wind and water out while also maintaining a high level of breathability so as to prevent unwanted condensation from building up on the inside of the shell. The two sets will consist of a wet set and a dry set. The wet set will be designated as the clothes that we will be active in, sweat in, and get rained on in, while the dry set will be protected throughout the active hours of the day so as to always have a set of clothes that are capable of allowing us to get warm and dry quickly when our activity level drops off.
Footwear: Our mode of transportation will be our feet, so the appropriate footwear is critical to our success. We count on a combination of socks and shoes that match our destination to keep our feet dry, cushioned and comfortable. We always choose our socks first and then use them to try on our shoes because simply changing our socks can change the amount of volume our feet occupy inside our shoe, so it is critical that we create a sock and shoe partnership. We can’t over-emphasize the importance of finding the appropriate fit in your footwear choices. We search for shoes and boots that have been designed for our intended activity and that have been designed to fit our feet. Boots are built on different lasts and different widths as well as different lengths so it is possible to create custom comfort with the appropriate footwear choices. Regardless of the length of our adventure we choose to backpack with three pairs of socks. Three pairs of socks allows us to be prepared for any conditions we might face because with three pairs we have one pair we could wear, a second pair that can be washed or be wet, and a third pair that is always dry. We also consider our trekking poles as an example of equipment that helps support our bodies while carrying a heavy load in rugged terrain.
Sleeping Bag: Our sleeping bag will help insulate our bodies throughout the cooler conditions that coincide with an outdoor overnight stay. We always consider temperature rating and fill materials when making our sleeping bag choices. We need a sleeping bag designed for the conditions we will be facing at our exact location so temperature rating is a critical factor in our bag decision. We search for EN Rated bags (EN 13537) so as to ensure apples to apples comparison between different manufacturer’s ratings systems.
Sleeping Pad: Our sleeping pad is the second piece of our backcountry bed and will work with our sleeping bag to help insulate our bodies from the cool ground below us. Our options include closed cell foam and inflatable air core pads. We evaluate the relationship between weight, comfort and convenience when determining the appropriate sleeping pad for our adventure.
FIRE: We consider our Fire System to be an extension of our ability to stay Insulated. If we were to become cold and wet beyond the capacity of our Insulation System we would utilize our Fire building skills and supplies to create warmth with a fire. We like to keep a small supply of fire building equipment in an emergency kit kept on our person so we will be prepared in the unlikely case that we were to become separated from our backpack during an emergency situation. Waterproof matches and fire starting tender are always in our kit and we typically include a weatherproof lighter as well.
HYDRATION: It is essential that we stay hydrated! Our bodies are made up of about 60% water and we can easily lose a half of a liter of fluids an hour during even light activity. We always start with a supply of water and know where we will be able to re-supply water. We always carry some type of water filtering or purifying treatment so as to ensure our water is safe to drink. In addition to the portion of our hydration system carried in our backpacks we also carry a few purifying tablets and a large square of aluminum foil (which could be used to create a container for a supply of water in an emergency) kept on our person so we will be prepared in the unlikely case that we were to become separated from our backpack during an emergency situation.
NUTRITION: We search for an appropriate balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates when creating our backcountry meals. We include our food, camp kitchen, and food storage method in our Nutrition System.
FOOD: We typically search out high calories in light weight packages. We always keep a high calorie snack in an emergency kit kept on our person so we will be prepared in the unlikely case that we were to become separated from our backpack during an emergency situation. The amount of calories, weight of food, and cost of food will vary largely from adventure to adventure and individual to individual. We typically aim to pack no more than two pounds of food per person per day and we aim for somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 calories per person per day.
Camp Kitchen: Depending on your food choices you may want to add a stove and fuel, cups and bowls, and cutlery to your kit.
Storage Method: Avoid unwanted animal encounters by using a combination of odor proof sacks, hard sided food storage canisters, and/or appropriate food hanging techniques or systems.
FIRST-AID: Once we hit the trail we need to be sure we are prepared to help ourselves in the event of minor injuries. Our First-Aid Kit needs to match our destination, the length of our adventure, the number of people on our adventure, and our own personal health needs. We are always sure to have the skills necessary to utilize all of the equipment in our First-Aid Kit so we could positively respond to any and all accidents and emergencies. We also consider supplies for our personal hygiene as proactive First-Aid.
SUN and SKIN PROTECTION: One of our favorite aspects of our adventures in the outdoors is soaking up the sunshine, but too much off a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing when it comes to sun burn. It is essential that we stay sun smart while playing in the outdoors and we also know that protecting ourselves from those pesky insects will definitely enhance the fun factor while out on trail.
COMMUNICATION: If we find ourselves in an emergency situation that requires assistance, it is essential that we have the ability to bring attention to ourselves. We utilize a communication system that would enable us to be seen or heard by others who are nearby as well as modern satellite technology that will allow us to communicate to emergency services from just about anywhere in the world. We keep our whistle and mirror in an emergency kit kept on our person so we will be prepared in the unlikely case that we were to become separated from our backpack during an emergency situation.
ILLUMINATION: Our illumination system will also function as part of our communication system due to the fact that a strobe light (flashing headlamp) is one of the most effective ways to bring attention to ourselves at night. We will be staying out overnight so a light source will be an essential need after the sun goes down. We prefer headlamps as a lightweight and hands-free lighting option.
REPAIR KITS AND TOOLS: We always keep a knife or multi-tool as part of an emergency kit kept on our person so we will be prepared in the unlikely case that we were to become separated from our backpack during an emergency situation. Not only is a knife an essential piece of survival equipment, but knives and tools are useful when making gear repairs and adjustments, when making a fire and when preparing meals (among countless other uses).
SHELTER: Even on a day hike we make sure to bring along some type of emergency shelter. An emergency blanket or bivy could be the difference between life and death if we were to become stranded in the outdoors overnight unexpectedly. On our planned overnight adventures we often take a tent that can accommodate both of us. We always divide the weight of our shelter so that we would both have a working shelter in the event that we were to become separated. One of us will carry the tent body and poles and the other will carry the fly and the stakes.
We hope this checklist will help you explore with confidence. We believe that if you combine your destination specific research with this checklist that and you can put together a successful system of gear capable of providing you a wants and needs filled outdoor adventure.