(Continued from Part 3.)
In my previous article I talked quite a bit about the kit I take on the road, but there are a few items that are a lot more relevant to a long Return To Base (RTB) journey that I’d like to focus on. Keep in mind that if you’re flying you’ll be a lot more limited in what you can take, and I’m not recommending that you’ll want or need everything on this list – do your route planning and figure out what makes the most sense for your plans. If you can’t bring everything with you that you’ll need, make a list of the critical missing items and identify local sources near your destination where you can obtain them quickly after an event.
First things first – if you plan on walking all or part of your RTB journey (and you should, no matter what other options you’ve planned), one of the most critical pieces of your kit is your footwear. Anyone that’s ever gone on a long multi-day hikes can attest to the fact that blisters and fungal infections are some of the leading problems they typically encounter. Since you can’t always predict what the weather will be like your boots should be waterproof even in the summertime, since wet feet will cause serious problems. You should stick with lightweight merino wool or synthetic sweat-wicking socks, and bring at least two pairs so you can swap out wet ones for a clean dry pair. For winter time make sure you’ll need quality insulated boots and heavier socks. I also bring a set of gaiters when I travel in winter, which can help keep your pants dry and prevent snow from getting in your boot tops. Alternatively you could go with a pair of waterproof overboots, which will work better if you have to cross a lot of water obstacles. Regardless of what you bring for footwear you should always make sure it’s in good condition, and consider spraying it with waterproofing on a regular basis to maintain it.
Next is clothing, since exposure to extreme elements can kill you pretty quickly. If you’re traveling in hot weather you should focus on lightweight breathable long pants and long-sleeve shirts, along with a wide-brimmed hat, since getting sunburned would seriously hamper your ability to travel quickly. You should also include a cooling cloth, some sunscreen and sunglasses. If you’re traveling in cold weather, bring layers that you can put on and take off easily to help you maintain a comfortable body temperature. Merino wool base layers, puffer jackets and pants and a good waterproof outer shell provide a lot of flexibility and they pack up pretty small. Good insulated waterproof gloves are also a must.
One note on camouflage clothing – some people think it’ll be critical and other think it’ll cause more problems than it solves. I believe its value will depend on your situation and location, so I typically bring a camouflaged poncho in my travel kit that I can throw on if I need to blend in in the wilderness. If you’re worried about camouflage in snowy conditions you can stop by a hardware store and grab a set of white Tyvek painter’s coveralls to wear over your clothing, or you can bring a winter camo poncho.
Earlier I mentioned the criticality of water and the need to arrange your travel for easy access to it, but you’re also going to need some way to purify and transport it. My personal preference for transport is a 2.5L hydration bladder in my backpack and a couple of additional 1L folding water bottles. I also carry a 24oz stainless steel water bottle with a lanyard attached to the lid, which doubles as a decent club. For purification I recommend a pump water filter with a carbon element such as the Survivor Filter PRO, Katadyn Vario or Katadyn Hiker. They’re all relatively compact and light, and the pump means you don’t have to carry a separate source container for dirty water – you can pump it right out of the source. Unless your entire journey will only be through wilderness areas with relatively clean water sources, a carbon element is critical to handle any chemicals in the water. Water purification tablets, bleach or boiling can only handle microorganisms (not chemicals), and boiling will require you to regularly stop and make a fire, which might attract the wrong kind of attention.
Navigating Your Way Home
Navigation support will be an important part of your kit. Earlier I mentioned the need to print off hardcopies of your overall route and have a detailed map of your destination location, but you should consider having additional maps with you since it’s almost certain you’ll have to adjust your route along the way. My personal preferences are the Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer maps, since they provide a lot of detail including topographic data, and I own copies for all of the states that I frequently travel to or may need to RTB travel through. They’re pretty big and heavy, so I remove just the pages that are most relevant for my trip and put them in a waterproof map holder. Amazon has them on sale occasionally, but you can also find them pre-owed in good condition on sites like eBay. You’ll also need a decent compass and know how to use it to navigate, since you can’t assume GPS will be up and running. Once again there are a lot of good articles on navigation on SurvivalBlog – do some research.
If your RTB trip will be involve than one day of travel in bright sunny weather you should include some form of shelter and sleeping arrangements. I mentioned a poncho earlier, which doubles as a great shelter, and I also bring a poncho liner for wearing and sleeping in. My personal favorite is the Helikon-Tex Swagman poncho liner which has zippers and can work as a blanket, a sleeping bag layer or a hammock liner, but even a regular woobie or blanket will do. For sleeping in hot weather or in places where they may be creepy crawly things on the ground you may want to consider bringing a netted hammock.
If the weather may be cold you should also include a reflective blanket to increase heat retention – you can go with the lightweight inexpensive ones which tend to tear, a mid-weight one which you can get multiple uses out of, or a heavy-duty one which will last a long time but is bigger and heavier. A reflective blanket can also be used as cooling shelter in hot environments like deserts with the reflective side facing out. Spend some time researching survival and emergency shelters to understand the different types – your goal should be something you can set up and take down or abandon quickly. Don’t dismiss the possibility of sleeping in abandoned structures or vehicles in severe weather conditions if you can do so safely.
Food: What To Carry
Food is another area that garners a lot of debate when discussing RTB travel. Many people take the position that since you can survive around 3 weeks without food you only need a couple of snack bars in your GHB for a 2-to-3 day walk home. I believe that the impact of immediately transitioning from the typical three full meals a day and occasional exercise to a couple of snack bars while at the same time carrying out extensive physical exertion would have a dramatic impact on both your physical and mental health. Your body will be burning through calories a lot faster than normal, and if you’re constantly focusing on your hunger you won’t be paying as much attention to your surroundings (which could be dangerous) and you’ll be slowing down. I recommend having as much food as you can comfortably pack, and having a rough meal plan that covers your worst-case travel time scenario.
I typically pack a bunch of Millennium bars, a couple of bags of Survival Tabs and a couple of freeze-dried camping meals in my bags when I travel, plus some soup and hot chocolate packets. My plan is to have a bar for breakfast, munch the tabs throughout the day, then have a freeze-dried meal for dinner (which is what I’ve done on many hiking trips). My standard supply would support me for 4-5 days of hard travel, and if I’m going to be staying somewhere that’s farther away for any length of time I’ll stop by a local dollar store at my destination and buy a small bag of rice, a few canned meals, some instant soup packets and some packets of Spam or tuna. For around $10 you can add 3-4 days of travel time to your meal supply. I also make sure I know where the closest local camping supply and food stores are so I can obtain additional food supplies immediately after an event if necessary.
(This five part series will be concluded tomorrow.)
JMD, thank you for all of the work you put into this series. It has been very informative.
Quick question – do you always drive or do you also fly? As a person who flies more than I would like I am trying to visualize how you get all this stuff on the plane.
I was one of the many who drove across country on 9/11-13 covering many thousands of miles in my rental car and I learned much from that experience. It sure beat walking though.
Jake – I used to fly extensively (75% on the road for almost 5 straight years), but these days it’s mostly shorter trips that I can drive or take the train. As I mentioned when I fly I always check a full-sized suitcase, which contains my most critical RTB preps, which in turn vary depending on where I’m going and the time of year. I tend to wear my RTB clothing when I’m flying (boots, etc.), since that’s harder to pack, and I have a lot in my carry-on (see my previous article that I referenced in Part 1). I have a small core of ‘must have’ RTB items that go in my checked bag, but the rest depends on space and weight. That’s why planning is so important – knowing how long the trip may take, available transport for the RTB route, what kind of weather I may encounter, what’s available at my destination, current state of the world, etc. allows me to adjust what I pack. Yes, I carry a lot on with me and yes, I have to wait for my checked bag upon arrival, but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make to increase my chances of surviving events that may happen while I’m traveling and getting home to my family. In my mind catching flak for traveling ‘heavy’ is no different than people who give you grief for being a ‘prepper’.
Thank you! That is very helpful.
I generally travel light in the West but heavier when I go into the belly of the beast.
Great series. Tons of information here without really overwhelming the reader/Prepper
Makes me think of adding, deleting, changing some of what I do.
One comment is that what you may think will take a couple of days to get home, may end up taking 4 or more days due to the nature of the event. I carry a small fishing kit even when I travel to supplement my food. It doesn’t take up that much space and I have even packed it in my checked baggage for flying with no problems. I have in my kit 5 #10 fishhooks, 5 small lead weights, 50ft of 12lb line, a couple of small lures, and a small float. I have used this out camping and cut a willow branch to use as a pole and for me this worked well as I caught several small fish to eat. Remember you can catch large fish with a small hook, but not small fish with a larger hook.
Thanks for the comment. The section on food in my article got chopped in half, so the rest of it will appear in tomorrow’s installment. I actually do mention fishing later 😎
There should be a glaring difference between recreational fishing and survival fishing. We fish because we like the experience, but after an event, sitting on a lake for hours could well be dangerous.
I agree with you about food. When I hike I am ravenous after 3-5 hours. If I snack in that 3-5 hours then I am merely starving. But more to the point when I satisfy that hunger with tasty food (by that I mean food I am actually eager to eat) I am once again energized and ready to keep going for another 3-5 hours. I have no doubt that I could survive without food and I wouldn’t just give up because I missed a few meals but my energy and performance would suffer. To me food is essential in the planning.
John ,,,survivel tabs ,,,,good stuff ,use to buy them in a plastic bottle just the right size to fit in a canteen pouch ,kept one for each passenger in me bush plane in Alaska as part of the ‘were walking home folks’ gear . I have serious doubt that most would be able to walk home more than a day or two , in my younger days I was fit and knew I could but I was also UDT/SEAL and lived with first people and knew the ways and how’s . now I think I’ll stay close to home ,what one can do when young and fit and 40years later don’t quite match
Point is be realistic about what you do ,,,,,,,,I know prepper friend that are going and going but if you truly believe we are in trouble ,stay home , use the time and resources (money) to build preps ,ok so work takes you away? Find different work
Not trying to be downer ,just honest
Oldhomesteader – I agree that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to make very good time walking/biking home any great distance, but I also think there are a lot of us that enjoy hiking, camping and other outdoor activities that would lend themselves to us being able to make a decently long trip. I don’t think we’d all be able to do 20 miles a day for weeks, but with careful planning to cover water and food resources, proper motivation (getting home to your family), and a little blessing I’m comfortable that I can make a reasonably long trip. I can say that no matter where I am I’ll make every effort to get home.
I would also make every effort possible to get to my physical home. With that being said, I take great comfort in knowing the promise of a spiritual home will be available if / when this earthly pilgrimage comes to its end.