By Thomas Ray
Fall is one of the best times of the year for camping and hiking. The changing colors, crisp days, and cool nights are just a few of the reasons that it is the favorite season for so many. However, when you pack for your trip, don't forget to plan for the unexpected. A wrong turn when hiking back to base camp might take longer than expected, forcing you to spend the night away from your tent or RV. Here are some tips and gear to help you deal with such events, so that they become simple inconveniences, rather than emergencies.
Anytime you are exploring away from camp, you'll need a daypack to carry your lunch, camera, or other necessities. Don't forget to also include the items below. You might be glad you did. Make sure your pack is light and comfortable. This way, you'll always have it when you need it.
Large, heavy duty outdoor garbage bags are best. Like most of the things discussed here, garbage bags weigh almost nothing, but they are handy as makeshift ponchos should you encounter a downpour. Simply cut or tear head and arm holes and away you go. On a cool fall or winter day, this could make a huge difference by protecting you from hypothermia. They can also be turned into a tarp and used for an improvised shelter.
Having a reliable way to make fire after a late-season dunking could make all the difference. When you are stuck out overnight, not only can a fire keep you warm and dry your clothes, it is also a cheerful companion. Be sure to carry lighters and windproof, waterproof matches in water-tight containers both in your pack and on your person. It is also important to understand the dynamics of fire and how to properly build one. Be sure to practice at home.
A knife that you use for everyday tasks like cutting up food and preparing meals can also be used to create tinder for a fire, or help you make a shelter. Be sure to keep it sharp and understand how to use it safely. A pocket or small sheath knife is perfect. It should be carried on your person at all times if possible. Be sure to check applicable laws for the areas in which you will be traveling.
Flossing your teeth regularly provides other benefits besides good oral hygiene. That little plastic box has a huge amount of strong cordage in it, suitable for rigging shelters and making repairs to all sorts of items. You can even sew with it! Be sure you have it in your day pack.
When traveling in unfamiliar territory, a map and compass are necessities. Make sure that you understand where you are at all times. Not only does this prevent you from becoming lost in the first place, it also allows you to navigate from one point to the other. I took a backpacking trip this summer, part of which was off-trail. The maps and compasses we had allowed us to find the place we were looking for and then safely return to the trail.
There are several good books for learning map and compass skills. If you are venturing far from camp, such a book would more than pay for itself. Again, practice at home or in a safe area is the key. There are also orienteering clubs that teach basic and advanced skills to members.
Be sure to take along a full water bottle. Steel bottles are nice because they can be suspended over a fire by a cord if you need to purify more water by boiling.
Fall evenings can get chilly. If there is a chance you might spend the night out, a sweater is cheap insurance. Wool is warm, but it is relatively heavy. Fleece is another option. Either way, although it takes up more room in your pack than any of these other items, a sweater could pay great dividends.
Once night falls, traveling in the woods is not advisable, especially if you are in unfamiliar territory. It could be easy to wander off your route or injure yourself. Nonetheless, a source of light is important. Not only is it reassuring to be able to see in the dark, it can also be used to find lost items in your makeshift camp, or to alert others to your position. Carry a good quality light that won't let you down when you need it.
There is safety in numbers. A whistle can alert others in your party to your location, even if you are out of sight. Everyone in your group should carry one, especially children.
Have fun outdoors and be safe by being prepared!