Ensembles & Kits
Organizing a gear ensemble to climb Telescope Peak (approx. 11,090ft.)
bottom of Badwater Basin (approx. -282ft.), Death Valley.
Our full load is more than the sum of all the little gear parts. The interaction of our equipment is critical to maximizing performance. These assemblies are the result of our tinkering with that synergy.
Some of these assemblies are meant for those who are very comfortable in their environment. Don't use them unless you feel that confidence. Skill is the sine quae non of any lightweight wilderness endevour. We mortgage our lives on our skill, believing we can compensate for heavy gear. Learning what our own thresholds are is a continual process of training and self-discovery.
We do not back-reference from here into other sections. If you're curious about why something is included (for instance, the garbage bag in the Quickie Survival Kit), we suggest looking the other areas of this site. Any item in the ensembles may be omitted due to mad skills or recklessness.
Demonstrating the power of gear synergy,
these men are not to be trifled with.
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"Ensembles," in our parlance here, are basically full wilderness outfits of clothing and/or full gear compliments.
The Rainforest Ranger. Bushwack in wet, rainy climates.
The Bush Trekker. Customized for light, long trips in northern climates.
The Poor Man's Drysuit. Run rivers & spelunk in an amphibious outfit.
The Dapper Hobo. Travel across barriers, social and physical.
Kits are small assemblies of items that we might have or carry for specific purposes. Note that a "kit" does not have to be self-contained or redundant with your other equipment. If you have all the items in your gear, consider yourself kit-equipped. Especially with survival kits, however, you may wish to gather the items in a special container that you can keep with you even if you have the ditch the rest of your gear.
Hig & Erin's Survival & Jury-Rig Kit. Hig & Erin's kit for Alaska bush trekking.
Basic Bush Repair Kit. Fix your stuff when you're far from home. It ain't pretty, but it works.
Quickie Survival Kit. Make yourself a cheap little survival kit, but be sure you can use it!
The Rainforest Ranger
This ensemble is meant for bushwacking in a wet, cold environment, such as Washington or Southern Alaska's temperate rainforests. It assumes that you'll have to traverse difficult terrain and deal with lots of water. It's suitable for some snow travel, but it's not meant for full-on snow trips.
The Rainforest Ranger in its native environment.
- 1-2 Warm Hats.
- 1 Rain Hat -or- Hood.
- Rain Pants.
- Fleece Shorts -or- Pants.
- Fleece Coat -or- Wool Sweater.
- Wool Sox.
- Running Shoes or Trail Runners.
- Recommended Clothing: Neoprene gloves -or- waterproof warm gloves, sleeping socks.
- Optional Clothing: Synthetic T-shirt, Synthetic long underwear, nylon shorts (if you expect sunbreaks), fleece or wool mittens/gloves.
First Aid Kit.
Needles & Thread.
Map & Compass. Some of us leave these items at home, but only if we're not facing critical navigation challenges. The map should be of the area you're in. Oh, you laugh...
Recommended:Foam Pad or Air Mattress, Ice Axe, Firestarter.
Optional: Pot, Stove, Rope (for quickie belays).
Recommendations: Make sure the raincoat either has a neck cinch or a hood with a drawstring around it, so that you can snug it up around your neck and make a sort of gasket. Then, closing the cuffs and pulling the edges of the neoprene gloves over them, your upper body sheds water much better when you're climbing or traversing heavy brush in the rain.
- 1-2 500ml or 1-quart water Bottles.
- Water Purification.
- Sleeping Bag.
- Bivy Sack.
- Garbage Bag or Drybag.
- Ignition Source (Matches or Lighter).
Stow everything inside your bivy sack inside your pack. This will shed most rain, etc. Consider backing up the waterproofing with a garbage bag or - if you're expecting a lot of immersion - put it all inside a drybag.
This ensembles assumes that you are going to be WET, perhaps repeatedly fording snowmelt creeks in a sustained downpour. The neoprene gloves are for protection as well as warmth. You may wish to replace the wool sox with neoprene sox if you expect constant and/or sustained water crossings.
OPTIONAL RIVER KIT
This kit gives you the capability to do deep water crossings and river descents.
- Inflation Bag.
- Recommended: Air Mattress = Life Preserver.
- Recommended: Patch Kit.
The Bush Trekker.
The Bush Trekker is an evolution of a rainforest-ranger type system, but meant for long range travel in the Alaskan bush. It incorporates more home-made gear, and is designed for long trips in a wet, temperate to sub-arctic wilderness. Hig & Erin did a great deal of system development on this during 2500-odd miles of bush travel on the Alaska Peninsula, the Brooks Range, the Kenai Fjords, and along the Copper River.
Erin outlines this system in detail at www.aktrekking.com.
The Poor Man's Drysuit
The Poor Man's Drysuit suns itself in the Grand Canyon.
We give credit for this to our amigo Ben Hunt. Who knows where he came up with it. The Poor Man's Drysuit is for cold weather river-running when you don't want to break the bank on a fancy get-up. It also works great for amphibious spelunking. You'll need:
The drysuit should keep water out for brief immersions and even the heaviest splash exposure. If the poor man's drysuit does flood (such as in a full, extended immersion), it will act as a quickie wetsuit: so long as you're active, you shouldn't freeze, since your legs and torso are covered by the neoprene chest waders. Adding a kayaker-style life preserver makes the set-up even warmer, and keeps too much water accumulation in the torso.
- A Pair Neoprene Chest Waders. Hodgeman's makes some great neoprene waders for $60-$70. CRITICAL NOTE: The waders MUST be neoprene. NEVER use treated nylon or canvas waders for this. If they flood, you may drown.
- A Belt. The Hodgeman's waders have an integral belt which works great.
- A Kayaking Drytop. We haven't priced these, but they shouldn't cost nearly as much as a drysuit or wetsuit.
- Don Underclothes. Put on any long underwear, sox, etc. that you want.
- Put the Waders On.
- Don Shoes. we recommend running shoes or sport sandals on your feet to protect the wader feet.
- Put On (if necessary) and Cinch the Belt.
- Put on the Drytop. The waist gasket should seal over the waist of the gaiters. The neck and wrist gaskets will seal off your wrists and neck.
- Accessorize. Add neoprene gloves, helmet, hat, or anything else you want for your aquatic foray. We recommend a full chest life preserver, as well.
If the waders tear or puncture, the suit will obviously take on water faster and not insulate quite as well, but it remains basically sound: again, unlike a "real" drysuit, this suit incorporates insulating neoprene. Just repair the damage at your leisure with duct tape and Aquaseal or a similar glue.
Q: WILL YOU SINK IF THE DRYSUIT FLOODS?
A: NO!!! Unlike treated canvas or nylon waders, neoprene waders float, even when flooded. Furthermore, the belt prevents the suit from "ballooning" full of water. Yes, the suit can flood enough to make you significantly heavier, encumbering movement, but you will not sink. This is not a fisherman's death suit.
The Dapper Hobo
This travel outfit is an ongoing experiment. It's intended for northern U.S. travel in which you need to blend into a variety of situations: airports, seedy parts of town, nice restaurants... anything and everything. You need to look moderately respectable one day, and the next day, you want to look you don't have anything worth stealing. Then you want to spend a few days in the woods. Then, bus to Philadelphia. See your Grandma in Massachusetts. Sleep under a bush in Newark, NJ.
Note: This clothing ensemble comes from a man's experience, and he's not going to try to adapt it to women, because he figures women are much better at doing that than he is.
- Long Underwear. Currently, we recommend silk: it's warm for its weight, and doesn't hold much smell. You might spend a lot of time wearing this under whatever else you have.
- Nylon Soccer Shorts. Super-light, fast drying shorts can take the place of underwear and swim trunks. They're easy to wash, don't get very nasty, and last much longer than cotton underwear. They don't FREEZE certain body parts when they get wet. A single pair of nylon undershorts and commitment to occasionally swimming in or washing them can replace a whole quiver of boxer shorts.
- Pants. We're still looking for pants we like for traveling. Currently, we'd recommend looking for something wool with large pockets. Cargo pockets can be handy. Make sure the pants are comfortable and look credible in your nicest clothing arrangement and your grungiest clothing arrangement.
- Button-Down Shirt. A nice button-down shirt can work wonders for looking moderately respectable. Consider selecting a pattern that will do a little bit to hide the grunge, as well. Quick drying shirts are good, since you can wash them in a sink, and wear them dry.
- T-Shirt. A good, well-loved old T-shirt, worn alone or over your long underwear top, is great for casual wear, especially in seedier areas. We're not talking GQ here.
- Wool Sweater. A utilitarian wool sweater is both warm and doesn't necessarily say too much about you. Sweaters can look nice, but they're also cheap. Fleece coats tend to be more techno-nice and trendy. When we do wear fleece, we like it to be simple.
- Raincoat. A lightweight waterproof shell that you can roll up and stuff in your gear is very nice. It also serves as a windbreaker.
- Warm Hat. It's hard to wrong with a warm hat. Ones that you can pull down low are doubly nice: they're warmer, and they can make you look more like a punk, when that's desirable.
- Wool Sox. Anytime, anywhere, your feet can get wet.
- Extra Sox. Extra sox make life better.
- Trail Running Shoes. Traditional running shoes tend to look a little bit dodgy, but trail runners look more like "real" shoes. You can still run, hike, and climb in them, as necessary.
- Gloves. We consider gloves optional.
- Clothing is Camoflage. Aye, we all display "ourselves" to some extent with clothing, and we stay warm with it, but in this application we're looking at appearance as a tool. You want the ability to look nice, nondescript, or slightly sketchy at will.
- Avoid Bright Colors. Choose colors that don't show the dirt and don't attract attention. Tan, brown, sage/gray, black, and olive green all have merit. Looking dirty and looking bright are both ways of standing out.
- Cut Off Swanky Labels. Travel and outdoor clothing companies love to advertise that you're wearing their goods, but we don't like the gimmicky feel, or the way those things catch the eye. Besides, you're cool enough that you don't need that stuff. Understatement = good.
- Warm-When-Wet = Good. You never know when you'll be out wandering around in the driving rain and slush for five hours. Suddenly, the fact that your pants and sweater are wool will make you a happy personage.
This basic equipment set should ease travel life. We've included just those things we see as the handiest items.
- Small Knife. Select a knife with a blade length of under 3", so it doesn't qualify as a concealed weapon. Your knife is a utensil and tool, not a weapon. If you feel the need to carry a knife as a weapon, learn how to use it, make sure the knife you have is an effective weapon, and know the consequences of using a deadly weapon.
- A Metal Spoon. The Spoon is King. Eating out of supermarkets and Qwik-E-Stops and whatnot is better with a real spoon.
- A Can Openner. Who says a tin of tuna isn't an entree?
- Water Bottle.
- Water Purification. It's hard to go wrong by carrying a little something to purify streamwater, but beware: urban creeks, etc., are likely to be befouled by runoff and illegal (or legal) dumping. We only fill up in streams well outside urban areas.
- Hygene Products.Toothbrush, Stuff-To-Make-Us-Smell-Okay, etc. Figure out what you personally need.
- Razors. This is for the guys. Unless you're commited to growing in a real beard, there are times when clean shaven vs. scruffy makes a big difference.
- Blanket, Space Blanket, or Sleeping Bag. You never know when you'll need to hooch. In fact, we often plan on a hooch or two, on the road. If you're willing to wear all your clothes while hooching, you've got a leg up right there. Sleeping bags are king, but their bulkiness is problematic.
- Light. You just can't go wrong by having a light source.
- Money. Oh, the power of on-the-road resupply, and the unexpected travails of the Urban Ecosystem. Like it or not, money makes the wheels go 'round.
- Ignition Source (matches or lighter).
- Bag. Backpack? Shoulder bag? Heck, we can't figure out what we like best. There are so many options, based on how much you need to carry, where, and - most important - what's lying around the casa when we're packing for the trip. We do, however, have a couple preferences:
- No Frame: A large pack or bag with a rigid structure makes us sad. It's just too much of a big, rigid mass.
- Dull: More than any other item, our bag is what it is, and can't be altered or concealed on the fly. For that reason, we like it dull, old, and unappetizing while we're, say, asleep in the Greyhound station. 90% of the fashion shows that happen out there, we want to lose.
Observations for Guys on Hitchhiking: No hats, no sunglasses, nice outfit. Shave. 1 Boy, 1 Girl is the best combo we've found.
Hig & Erin's Survival/Jury-Rig Kit.
Bretwood Higman and Erin McKittrick developed this kit for long distance trekking in Alaska. For more on Hig & Erin's equipment, stories, and photos, see their website at www.aktrekking.com. Erin comments: We carry all our emergency gear in fanny pack or shoulder pack kits. This way it's always on us, even if we lose or are separated from our packs. We made our own mini-drybags using iron-sealable waterproof fabric to hold all the water sensitive stuff.
Note on the EPIRB: The EPIRB is a rescue beacon that operates on special civilian and military frequencies that are monitored by aircraft and satellites. In the United States, response time to an EPIRB signal is often said to be under 6 hours, but we have not and do not wish to test this.
- Paraffin-soaked paper towels
- Floss or nylon thread
- Emergency space blanket
- Duct tape
- LED lights
- Iodine tablets for water purification
- Fishing net, line, hooks - for food emergencies in regions with plentiful fish
Quickie Survival Kit.
This kit is a guideline for those heading on long day trips and side trips, traveling light and fast. It's based on what the chief author carries. If you've heard of the vaunted "10 essentials," this ain't them.
The quickie kit is designed to cover the essentials, including an emergency bivouac. Please don't rely on the quickie kit as your primary equipment load unless you feel confident in its use. We're fond of some additions:
- Water Bottle. Size may vary with environment. Hyrdate or die.
- Knife. This can be very small.
- Ignition Source. Some of us like strike-anywhere matches, others like cheapo butane lighters. In either case, store your ignition sources in waterproof protection. We prefer hardshell cases wherever possible.
- A Large Garbage Bag or Bivy Sack. The garbage bag is more versatile, but the bivy sack is better for... well, bivouacing.
- Insulation. Throw in insulation appropriate to your environment. Our best recommendations are a warm hat and an emergency space blanket. You can wear both while moving, with a little creativity.
- Firestarter, such as parafin-impregnated paper towels, waxed twine, or vaseline-covered cottonballs.
- Emergency First Aid Equipment, such as a trauma bandage.
- Needles and Thread.
- Athletic Tape or Duct Tape. Each has merits.
- Water Purification, usually iodine. Giardias and dysentary haven't killed us, but they sure tried.
- Light. We like those little LED lights.
- String/Cordage. A few yards of twine can go long way towards building a primitive shelter or stringing up a space blanket.
- Compass. For when nightfall, fog, and thick brush complicate navigation.
- Electrolyte/Nutrient Mixes. Drink mixes like Emer-gen-C contain a range of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes that are easy to lose through heavy exertion. Many sports-drink products tout themselves as electrolyte sources, but in our experience they're a whole lot of sugar and not much goods. Anything that tastes that "yummy" doesn't have a ionized punch we're looking for. We're looking into ways to make our own supplements.
- FOOD! The two best survival tools are the body and the mind. Both degrade without food and water.
Basic Bush Repair Kit
This is a backcountry repair kit pared down to the basics:
- Needles. Several sewing needles. Put them where they won't rust. It's good to store them with your ignition source.
- Thread. Nylon thread, waxed sail thread, and dental floss all work well.
- String. String is the king of jury-rig materials! You may have this elsewhere in your gear.
- Knife. This is probably already in your gear.
- Wire. A little bit of wire can be very handy at times.
- Glue. AquaSeal, SeamGrip, Shoe Goo, or other urethane glues are very handy, especially for waterproofing and raft repair. Having some high-proof alcohol to clean the surfaces in question will make these glues much more effective. Rubbing alcohol and high-proof liquor work, but Everclear and 100% methanol (usually for laboratory use) are the best.
- Tape. High quality duct tape is the most useful tape we've found.