10 essentials for backcountry safety

As a checklist of what to take, Routt County search and rescue member Darrel Levingston cites the “Ten Essentials” from the Mountain Rescue Association’s General Backcountry Safety Workbook, with the ability to make fire, stay dry and orient oneself as principal packing priorities:

  1. U.S. Geological Survey topographic map, magnetic compass and other navigational aids such as cell phones, GPS or personal locator beacons. “Keep the GPS and cell batteries warm in a pocket next to your body and keep the cell phone off until you need it,” Levingston says.
  2. Waterproof matches in a waterproof container, candle/fire starter. Levingston advises bringing a film canister with Vaseline-saturated cotton balls, weather-proofing matches by dipping the tips in molten wax or even a small bottle of (highly flammable) hand sanitizer gel. You also can pull off a bullet’s tip to access the casing’s black powder.
  3. Extra clothing, including gloves, hat, jacket and rain gear.
  4. Whistle. “I’ve seen many rescues where the missing person said he could hear us yelling,” Levingston says, advising a pea-less whistle that won’t freeze up.
  5. Flashlight (with extra batteries and bulb). Levingston advises intentionally flipping over a single battery to avoid draining the battery in your pack by accident.
  6. Space blanket or two large heavy-duty trash bags.
  7. Extra food and water. You never know when you’ll be out longer than expected. Pack extra food and water just in case.
  8. Sunglasses. If a surprise snowstorm hits, you’ll be glad to have them to ward off the glare.
  9. Pocket knife. Keep it where it belongs…in your pocket. You never know when you might need it.
  10. First-aid kit. Accidents come in all shapes and sizes, and so do first-aid kits. Bring one that can handle a wide array of ailments.