An Ultralight Get Home Bag – Part 5, by J.M.

(Continued from Part 4. This concludes the article.)

Seasonal Considerations

One of the problems with planning any kind of self-contained outdoor survival kit for New England is that you have to be able to handle a wide range of weather conditions, including really cold and wet winters. Things like thunder snowstorms, freezing rain, blizzards and sub-zero temperatures aren’t uncommon, and if you’re not prepared for the worse than you’ll probably fail (translation: die). I don’t want to get into too much detail on the background for my decisions, but if you’d like to read more I had another article published on SurvivalBlog called ‘Cold Weather Considerations’ (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) that might help fill in some of the holes. And yes, I had her read that article for background.

The first thing we looked at was her normal work clothing. She isn’t required to wear business dress or a uniform, since she occasionally needs to get down on the floor to work on the equipment, so I recommended that she upgrade her pants to something like 5.11 Women’s Apex Pants for colder weather and Mesa Pants for warmer weather. They both provide extra carrying capacity without screaming ‘cargo’ pants, and they’re a poly blend so they should dry quickly. 5.11 also makes a lot of nice tops for women, but I wasn’t about to get into a discussion on fashion with her so I just suggested tops with pockets and not 100% cotton. I did suggest she stick with real wool sweaters like Merino wool for winter, since they tend to provide warmth even when wet.

For outerwear, I recommended a lightweight waterproof/breathable shell jacket for cool weather, and a good quality long parka-style jacket like Columbia’s Mount Si Omni-Heat for winter. For shoes in warmer weather I recommended a good pair of walking/hiking shoes from someone like Keen or Merrell, and a good pair of insulated walking/hiking boots for winter. Something else I introduced her to that she absolutely loves are NEOS overshoes, which makes those long walks from the bus or train in freezing rain and deep slush a lot more bearable. These are going to be critical if she’s going to be walking home in cold, wet and snowy conditions for several days, since very few boots are actually 100% waterproof. If she doesn’t want to carry the NEOS overshoes (1.22 lbs.) another alternative are the Sealskinz waterproof winter socks, which weigh around 6 oz. a pair. One reason I recommend the NEOS overshoes over the waterproof socks is that if her boots get soaked that adds a significant amount of weight she has to lift with each step, and most boots take a really long time to dry.

Here’s what I recommended she add to her pack for winter:

  • Merino wool long underwear (16 oz.) – This is a midweight top and bottom set that’s a good tradeoff between warmth and weight. Depending on how cold it is she might be wearing these instead of carrying them in the pack.
  • Zpacks Brushtail Possum Gloves (1.3 oz.) – These are some of the warmest and lightest gloves I’ve ever used, and I usually wear them as liners under a looser fitting winter glove in really cold conditions.
  • 3-Layer eVent Rain Mitts (1.1 oz.) – These are a real waterproof outer glove layer, since most regular gloves eventually soak through. The Possum glove liners, a regular pair of decent winter gloves and these over gloves together should be able to handle pretty much anything winter can throw at them. FYI – this is the combination I personally use when I’m winter hiking/camping.
  • MLD Apex Balaclava (1.6 oz.) – This is primarily for keeping her head warm at night when sleeping, but it also works great as regular headwear on really cold days.
  • Yaktrax Walk ice cleats (3 oz.) – If you’ve ever tried walking outside when it’s freezing rain or there’s black ice everywhere you know how dangerous it can be. These will allow her to keep walking in conditions that otherwise would have forced her to hunker down and wait or risk spraining or breaking something. Note that if you’re dragging your feet through heavy wet snow the front of these can snag and come off, so I added a short piece of 3/32” shock cord to the front with a small plastic hook she can attach to her shoe laces to keep them in place.
  • Helikon-Tex Swagman (26 oz.) – This is the single heaviest item I came up with for her kit, and represents the biggest tradeoff. In really cold weather she’s going to need an extra insulating layer for sleeping, since her clothing with the long underwear inside the SOL Escape Bivvy will probably only handle temps down to around 10-20 degrees. The Swagman can be worn as an extra insulated poncho for when she’s moving around and zipped up into a sleeping bag for sleeping. Having this will also allow her to take off her outer garments and sleep in just the long underwear, Swagman and SOL bivvy in temps down into the 20s-30s, giving her a chance to air out her clothing on a longer trek. There are some lighter quilt options available like the Jacks’R’Better Ultralight Shenandoah Quilt at 11.5 oz., but it doesn’t zip up and it’s only 48” wide, which is barely long enough to wrap all the way around her. The Swagman fits nicely inside a Wise Owl 5L dry bag and clips on to the 5.11 backpack using the two straps on the bottom front.

Altogether the full winter kit adds 3.3 lbs. (53.3 oz.) to her load, which she tried and found agreeable. My suggestion to her was to check the weather forecast for the next 7 days before leaving on any trip and only load up the necessary winter kit if she’s going on an overnight trip or if the temperatures are supposed to be down into the teens or lower during her possible return home timeframe. She could also pack some of the winter kit into her suitcase on overnight trips so she doesn’t have to carry it in the backpack.

Summertime is a lot easier (and lighter), but there are a few things she’ll need to add if it’s going to be hot and sunny:

  • Bug repellent (3.2 oz.) – Mosquitos and ticks (Lyme Disease) are a huge and potentially dangerous problem in New England in late spring/summer/early fall, so I recommended including a small spray bottle of Picaridin. Instead of paying for the more expensive small bottles, I suggested she buy a bigger bottle and just use that to refill a small 30ml spray bottle when she needed more.
  • SunX50 sunscreen packets (.4 oz./ea., 2 oz. total) – Getting sunburned will make any trip a lot more difficult and dangerous, so I included 5 packets of SPF 50 sunscreen.
  • Electrolyte Replenisher (.5 oz.) – Sweating out electrolytes in summer can significantly impact your health, so adding 10 packets of electrolyte tablets makes sense.

The baseball hat I included earlier will help keep the sun off her head and face. Total additional for the summer module is 4.1 oz. One additional option I recommended for summer was a lightweight mosquito head net (1.3 oz.). She tends to be a mosquito magnet, so having this over her head propped up away from her skin should help her sleep considerably better at night. While I realize that surviving isn’t all about comfort, getting a good night’s sleep will be critical to her physical condition.

Some Extras

There were a couple of additional items that we discussed that I consider optional, depending on how she feels about the tradeoff of adding more weight and volume.

  • $500 in cash in various denominations (1-2 oz.) – This will allow her to pay for additional food or even buy a bicycle even if the power is out everywhere.
  • 10 x 12 Level IIIA Soft Body Armor panel (15 oz.) – This fits nicely in the back slip pocket in the 5.11 backpack. She mentioned she’s worried about the potential for an active shooter in some of the customer sites she goes to, but it does add almost a pound to her load. I have one in my EDC backpack and I showed her how to add some hook and loop patches and some lengths of lightweight removable webbing to allow her to loop it around her neck and waist so she can wear it under her clothing. And yes, I know they make body armor designed specifically for women, but unfortunately it’s a lot heavier and considerably more expensive.
  • Carson NV-200 night vision (3 oz.) – This is a small handheld infrared night vision device that runs on 3 AAA batteries. Given the size it’s limited in its capabilities, but having any kind of night vision might be critical in some scenarios. If she does get it I recommended some AAA batteries with a USB charging port built in to avoid adding an external battery charger.
  • Spare glasses (.7 oz.) – I had her replace her large-framed plastic glasses with some titanium wire frame ones and get a hard case to keep them in in her backpack.
  • NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad (small, 6 oz.) – When we were discussing shelters and sleeping she asked about including a sleeping pad. I told her that with the availability of leaves, pine needles, etc. for ground padding that it probably wouldn’t be necessary, but if she really wanted one the NeoAir was the lightest one available.
  • Bicycle – No, I’m not suggesting she carry a bicycle. However, I included places where she could buy a bicycle on the custom trip maps, since she could cut her get-home time by two-thirds if she could ride instead of walking.
  • Snow shoes – Same as a bicycle. If there’s a lot of snow on the ground and she can find a place to buy some snow shoes, that could potentially simplify her journey. I also recommended she spend some time learning how to make her own snowshoes from supplies she can scavenge.
Task List

In addition to helping her put a kit together I also provided her with a task list of activities that will help her become and remain more prepared for most scenarios.

  • Since everyone sleeps differently in regards to temperature I suggested she start by ‘dialing in’ her winter sleeping configuration. I loaned her a compact camping cot and my spare Helikon Tex Swagman and suggested she sleep using just her kit in her uninsulated garage in various temperatures during the winter to see what combinations keep her warm. I realize this isn’t necessarily identical to sleeping outside in the blowing snow, but if she gets cold in her garage she knows she needs to add more insulation.
  • Practice sleeping outdoors in various conditions using her kit.
  • Take the training previously discussed.
  • Practice accessing and using the various gear in her pack:
    • Finding a light quickly.
    • Setting up a shelter.
    • Start a fire and boil water with the wood stove.
    • Navigate on a long hike with the maps and compass.
  • Prior to each trip:
    • Check the weather at her destination and for the route home.
    • Pack appropriate weather-related gear.
    • Pack the trip-specific custom map.
    • Pack the trip-specific state maps.
    • Replace any consumed food.
  • Daily:
    • Stay up to date on political, social and natural events that could result in a disaster in the areas she’ll be visiting.
    • Charge her cell phone.
    • Update apps and maps on her cell phone (as available).
  • Monthly:
    • Charge all batteries.
  • Quarterly:
    • Check all gear for wear/damage.
    • Check expiration dates:
      • Glow stick
      • Pepper spray inserts
      • Food
      • Medications
    • Yearly:
      • Refresh first aid training.
      • Verify continued accuracy of custom maps.
      • Renew waterproofing on clothing.

I’m pretty sure many of you reading this article are probably saying to yourself ‘she could save a lot of weight by getting rid of half of this stuff – it’s not necessary!’ If so I would ask you to review the requirements back at the beginning and keep in mind the region she’ll be operating in.

Much of the gear is stuff that I’ve personally used numerous times while hiking and backpacking in New England in pretty much every possible weather condition, so I’m comfortable recommending it. I’ve also gone back through the list a couple of dozen times and pared down a lot of stuff that I felt she could get by without, so I’m pretty comfortable that what’s there is the absolute minimum. If you’ve got thoughts or your own experiences about going ultralight for a Get Home Bag, then I’d encourage you to submit it to SurvivalBlog.