For those of you without cable television, you may not have heard much about preppers. Despite what the sensationalized reality shows would have you believe, most so-called preppers tend to be focused on practical solutions to unforeseeable problems. While some preppers focus more on one particular disaster they believe to be possible or likely, many dedicated preppers look to prepare themselves for all varieties of maladies that might come before them. Backpackers stand to learn from the prepping community by taking stock of the likely risks that a hiker might face on the trail while recognizing that it is entirely foreseeable that the unforeseeable will happen.
Preppers like to talk about three modes of disaster preparedness: 1) bugging in; 2) bugging out; and 3) everyday carry.
"Bugging in" is the process of preparing one's home for a disaster. This is accomplished by thinking about the sorts of things that one might need in an emergency and making sure the house is well stocked. Stockpiling food, fresh water, even ammunition or weapons is common in the preparedness community. Lasting through a severe snow storm is a prime example of a situation where someone might choose to bug in. Bugging out is the process of taking the things needed to survive and going out on the road. If expecting wild fires or floods near your home, you might choose to bug out. Everyday carry, perhaps self-explanatory, is simply whatever you have on your person on a daily basis.
We will focus mostly on bugging out for now, since it is the most directly applicable to hiking. The key piece of equipment when bugging out is called a bug out bag. A bug out bag is a bag that is pre-packed with equipment and supplies that you might need for life on the road. The prepper's bug-out bag is not identical to what a backpacker might carry with them, but it's worth comparing.
A prepper's bug out bag is usually intended to provide roughly three days' worth of emergency supplies, although this may vary from person to person. Military operators also like to stick with a 72-hour bag. Your average bug-out bag is going to be much heavier than a lightweight backpack. These bags are not necessarily designed for thru-hiking, and are often set up to accommodate multiple people.
That said, comparing your pack to a good bug-out bag will help round out your gear, and does not have to significantly increase your pack weight. For example, consider packing a small radio transceiver, or walkie-talkie. Packing something small that can help you send and receive communications can be a matter of safety in some cases. More often, a few walkie-talkie among friends is just another source of entertainment on the trail. Of course, you can pack a cell phone instead, but cell phones rely on proximity to a cell tower, and often run out of batteries. Preppers tend to look for ways to create redundancy in their preparations.
Be careful though, maintaining redundancy can sometimes add unnecessary weight. The lightweight backpacker should consider whether weight trumps redundancy in each instance. Multiple sleeping bags or tents are probably too bulky to be practical. However, multiple tools to start a fire (in places where that is allowed) could make the difference between a warm jolly evening by the fire or a dark, damp, chilly night.
A backpacker thinking like a prepper about their pack is going to ask, what if this item doesn't work, what do I do then? What if this resource is closed to me or unavailable, what will I do then? Planning is critical for backpackers, but the prepper wants not just a plan, but a plan for what happens when the plan fails. For instance, I suggest having three different methods of fire making, e.g. bring matches, a lighter and a magnesium fire starter. Of course, you should know how to use these items if you are going to pack them. Practice is critical for developing backup plans and for learning to foresee some more common problems. For instance, practice fire starting and you'll quickly learn that starting a fire after a heavy rain or during high winds is significant more difficult.
Here is another example, think about what you are going to do if your water cache does not pan out. This could be a serious problem in certain places, so make sure you have thought it through. Are there alternate water sources nearby? Perhaps it is a good idea to maintain a small reserve for emergencies. If traveling in a group, communicating about food and water can help to ensure that everyone has enough.
There are so many unforeseeable things that could go wrong, make sure you are following basic safe procedures to mitigate damage in the event of an unforeseen problem. Being injured out on the trail can go from harrowing to deadly if no one knows where you are or how long you plan to be away. Part of that planning process involves what you carry and the skills you have developed to use those tools, but your plan should also include informing friends or loved ones of your plans so someone can come to your aid in case of an emergency.
The takeaway from thinking like a prepper is to ask yourself: what could possibly go wrong and how do I plan to deal with it?
- Primitive Skills
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