A Backpacker?s Guide to Making Every Ounce Count: Tips and Tricks for Every Hike (2015)

CHAPTER NINE

TEST FROM HOME

Whichever pack you choose, your choice of clothing, water purification methods, or even food choices, you must, and I can’t stress this enough, test from home.

Test the gear. Wear the clothes. Carry the pack. Then test, wear, and carry it all again. And again. Even if it is something as simple as a disposable lighter you picked up at the gas station on your way to the trail. I can’t think of any time when I bought a lighter, even if it was in a package, that I didn’t test before or immediately after I bought it. Make sure you can make fire with the thing because if you don’t test it, and you get out on the trail and it doesn’t work, you have no one to blame but yourself.

I once found myself in a predicament with a DIY rain fly. Had I tested it from home under more rigorous conditions, I would have found the flaw earlier, and I would not have suffered as much on the trail. I made a rain fly out of some Tyvek material, and not five minutes into setting it up, in the dark no less, one of the tie-outs ripped along the area where I sewed in the loop.

On one trip, I had grabbed a lighter off the dresser on my way out the door because I did not remember packing one. At the campsite, I tried to use it and it failed. I had grabbed an empty lighter. Lucky for me I actually did pack a lighter in my cook kit, so I was okay. Had I not, I would have been up the creek and cold if none of the other hikers had a lighter either.

I have even run into a self-proclaimed “expert” at Black Gap shelter on the Approach Trail. She was starting a thru-hike, and she didn’t even know how to use her DIY soda can stove. She stated that a friend gave it to her, but she had never tested it. This is a bad idea, in my opinion. Always, always, always test from home so you know how to use the gear.

I had to show her how to light and how to extinguish the flame. When she asked me if I knew what kind of fuel to burn with the stove, I almost fainted. “You are thru-hiking?” I asked as I sat down to keep from falling.

She would have been out of luck had there not been anyone to show her how to use it. I’m sure she would have eventually learned how to operate it, but she would have been more confident on the trail if she had tested from home.

There are some things I think all hikers should have on them at all times. I don’t care if there are twenty folks in your group. All hikers should have, at the very least, the five Cs. Let’s say you get separated from the group and are lost. Can you make fire for warmth, protection, and to boil questionable water? Even if you can make fire with a fire bow, you still need to have a disposable lighter or a fire steel handy just in case. You don’t want to chance not having a fire.

My bootlaces are not regular laces. They are made of some strong cordage (550 paracord) that can, if needed, double as the string for a fire bow. If I am ever in a “survival situation,” I will be able to make fire using primitive techniques.

If you have all the items listed in the Five Cs, test each one of them from home. Can you successfully set up your “Cover” to protect yourself from the elements? Is your knife sharp, and do you really know how to use it? Is your water container good enough to place onto a bed of hot coals to boil water? Is your cordage long enough to use many times—even if you have to cut a length from it?

Test your food. Cook some of the dehydrated foods out there and taste them and maybe even add some of your own spices. Play with the packaging to see if you can make it lighter. Work with your bag as many times as it takes you to pack your items in the best way possible and pack them the same way each trip.

If you cut your toothbrush in half like I discussed earlier, make sure you don’t cut it so short that you can’t use it. Make sure you can use it with some sort of efficiency so you don’t get into any trouble with your dentist.

I can’t state this strong enough, but everything you have in your pack needs to be tested and used at home before you hit the trail. I even took a nap for a couple of hours in each of my hammocks after I made or bought them. My wife thinks I am crazy, having done some of the things I have done, but I religiously test everything in my pack before it goes on a trip with me. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Test how all your gear goes into your pack. Being organized on the trail is as important as it is at home.