Trekking for Survival, by G.U.

I have to admit that I have watched one or more movies or movie shorts with an apocalyptic theme. Often the survivors (or survivor) are either walking or driving along a barren road, through a barren town, or through the country side. Sometimes, they will have some gear, maybe a backpack, a bottle of water or canteen, and maybe a gun or some kind of club. In some cases, they are well organized and have a compound of sorts, but eventually they have to take to the road for supplies or to find others. In most of the movies, there was some kind of major catastrophic event that placed the person in the most dire of straits. If you think about it, there are numbers of scenarios and possibilities for a situation where a person might become that roaming survivor.

I live in the suburbs of Houston, where we have experienced more than one hurricane that has caused some kind of event where life quickly moved from normal to some level of survival mode– widespread power loss, business closures, food and water shortages, gas shortages, blocked roadways, et cetera. These, of course, are not apocalyptic by any means, but it is events like these that offer a sense or taste of what might occur if the event is more devastating.

In 2007, a hurricane struck near Galveston. Authorities asked thousands to evacuate. Stores and service stations closed. Power was out for weeks for some residents. If you did not plan, you went without food, water, power, and even shelter. I was a first responder, so I knew I would have food, water, and shelter, but that was not the case. I had not planned. I admit that I depended on the government, even though I knew better. The city did not provide anything but MRE’s and some bottled water, but we ran out. None of the other responders thought to bring supplies; we were the ones who stayed to help. I thought surely we would have enough. If we suffer, we cannot help others, right? After we were out of food and bottled water, I thought at least we have generators and city water. However, it did not last long; the city pumps failed. We did not have drinking water and could not flush the toilets for days. It became unbearable, especially since MRE’s do crazy things to your digestive system.

Since that event, I have often wondered what kind of environment I might find myself after some type of truly catastrophic event. Would I be that solitary figure roaming, scavenging, surviving, or searching for some thing or somebody. What might cause such a situation, I have asked myself? The hurricane event was the proverbial wake-up call. It was the event for me that offered a taste of how bad things could be. It became a life marker. A marker is a memory that causes you to reflect back on the circumstances and conditions and respond differently in the future. Fortunately, when things were bad during the hurricane, the roads were empty because of the evacuation. I was able to trek to my house in my Ford F-150 for supplies and clean facilities. In a truly apocalyptic event where I have to displace, I am almost certain it will be on foot, and as I said before there are numerous possibilities where one might be trekking for survival.

I am not a novice by any stretch. I led backpacking trips in the Colorado Rocky Mountains for years. I know what I need for a short- or long-term backpacking trip. I have trekked around for days in the mountains. I have even been lost and found my way using a compass. Yet, even these experiences are just a sense or taste of how difficult things could be. Nevertheless, it is these experiences and skills that I now fall back on to prepare for what sometimes seems to be the inevitable big event. It is these experiences and skills that I offer to the readers for practical preparation when you find yourself trekking to survive. Also, when I refer to trekking, I am referring to long periods and long hikes while trying to survive. My presupposition for my advice is that your bugout bag, backpack, Alice pack, or rucksack is already full of those things that most preppers or survivalist stock in them. Here I will focus on what I believe are neglected areas. I believe there are a couple of essential items for trekking that are not covered extensively in preparations. These items are essential if you have to trek long distances as part of your plan or if it is out of necessity.

First Advice– Footwear

My first piece of advice is regarding footwear. Picture yourself driving along in an post-apocalyptic world and you have a blowout on your vehicle on one or more tires. Discount Tire Company is closed for good. You could find a replacement tire and rim on another vehicle, if one is available. However, what if the blowout is on your footwear? If you have a blowout with a boot, you are done. Most people do not carry a spare pair of hiking boots in their packs. Footwear is not where you want to skimp on quality. An investment in a high quality pair of hiking boots will literally save your life. Depending on the terrain, altitude, or circumstances, you cannot afford to have an unglued sole or some other failure. You cannot walk, run, work, or fight unless you have really tough feet. You can use liberal amounts of duck tape to repair shoes, but not even that will last when you are traveling many miles. If you have ever had a foot injury and were out of service, a blowout on a boot will be similar. It will render you useless.

On one of my many hikes, we were drenched with a monsoon for four days. One of the novice hikers was drying out his $30 hiking boots near the fire. The sole on one boot was already loosening. The fire melted part of the sole and almost destroyed the boot. The sole almost came off. We had tape and were able to make it functional. It was nearly a rescue situation or at least a long hike to get him replacements. You just cannot hike out from nearly 12,000 feet in elevation in the steepest range of the Rocky Mountains with one boot. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point.

The point is that footwear can be a single point of failure when you have to trek to survive. My advise is to read as much as you can about footwear. Backpacker Magazine is good place to start. A few things to consider are brand and quality. Be prepared to spend as much or more on good hiking boots as you would on the finest mens or ladies shoes. I have paid as much as $300, but I own boots that cost $200 and are over ten years old. I still wear them to hike, and they are still comfortable. I have never skimped on buying the best brand, which often equates to quality. You will see a distinct difference in the construction of expensive boots over less expensive boots. Some of the features you will want to ensure are included in the boots you purchase are: fit, waterproof, good stitching, full shank support in the soles, and how the sole is attached to the boots (glued or welted).

I cannot stress the issue of how a boot fits enough. You can have $300 boots and if they fit poorly, you will be miserable. If they’re too tight, they restrict circulation and your feet get pounded. If they’re too loose, you will develop hot spots or blisters. Blisters will slow you down or cripple you. On that note, carry a lot of mole skin. It is very packable and may save you if you have to move long distances or fast. You will want to apply mole skin when you feel a hot spot that is working toward a blister. It means there is too much friction in that area and the skin is not calloused enough to withstand it. Prevention is the key. You do not want to lose a layer of skin and then apply mole skin. It may help, but it will still hurt. Also, you can develop hot spots and blisters if the boots fit well. You need to do some hiking in the boots as part of your preparations. Most boots these days are synthetic and do not require a lot of break-in, but any new boots should be put through their paces to ensure they will work best for you. Don’t wait until the day before you have to take off to remove the tags and start hiking.

The issue of waterproofness speaks for itself. If you are outdoors for days, you will get wet. The full shank support in the soles of the boots is a must for preventing bruising on the soles of your feet especially on rough terrain. The stitching is essential to prevent failures in the uppers of the boots. As far as how the sole is attached to the upper, most modern hiking boots are glued; however, you can still find boots with welted soles. Welted means that the soles are stitched to the upper. The caution here is that stitching can rot, so you must keep it dry and clean. All of my boots are glued, as far as I can tell, and they have never came loose. Do your research, read reviews, and you will be fine. Any equipment can fail, so have a backup plan on how to deal with a failure in footwear.

Also, good socks are essential complements to good boots. You want padded, synthetic socks that will wick moisture away from your feet. Friction and moisture equal blisters. Also, padded, synthetic socks will provide cushion for your feet and will be resilient in adverse conditions.

Second Advice– Backpacks

My second piece of advice is regarding backpacks. Here is where some of you may stop reading and say you have the best pack for any event. I encourage you to keep reading. I have seen or read dozens of reviews about bugout bags, 3-day packs, and backpacks. The market is flooded with packs. I have personally owned several and ended up selling some on Amazon, just to recover some of my money. I am here to tell you that, as with boots, I am certain you will regret trying to trek long distances with some of these packs. It is important to note also that they are not intended to support you for more than a few days. In all fairness, they are for bugging out in a hurry or for three days. I respect that aspect, and I personally own a Condor and Maxpedition. This is by no means an endorsement of those packs, but those are two I own. I liked the price and for the most part the quality. However, I would not trek in them unless I did not have a choice, and even then I would have my doubts.

My main backpack that I have used on numerous trips is actually an old, internal frame, Mountainsmith Expedition III pack. It is overkill, I know, but it is very comfortable and holds tons of gear. It has been retired for backpacking trips, but I will use it if I have to become the roaming nomad in the post apocalyptic world. It is not my recommendation for the readers. My first experiences with backpacks were with the old external frame packs. I used Kelty, and they still make them. You can purchase them for under $200. They are adjustable for fit, carry a lot of gear, are very compartmentalized for easy access, and you can also lash or hang tons of stuff on them.

So, what is my point? You have done tons of research on packs and you have filled them with the best survival gear. Now, you have to trek dozens of miles. The single most important feature of any pack you are using to trek long distances is the waist belt. I have seen many packs, and I am always surprised at how little attention is paid to the waist belt. If you have to travel for days, regardless of the weight of your gear and you have a thin waist belt, you will be miserable. It will cut into your hips, cause bruising, and will rub your hips raw. The very best packs are designed with the focus of distributing the weight of the pack to the hips of the hiker. The goal is to have most of the weight sitting comfortably on your hips. Padding is essential. If you are shopping for a pack and the size and padding of the waist belt does not stand out to you, walk away. I do not sleep with my head on a board, and you should not trek with a lame waist belt.

The waist belt is extremely important because the distribution of the weight in the pack to the hiker is going to be primarily through the belt. The waist belt needs to well padded, adjustable, and comfortable for you. In addition to the weight sitting on your hips, the bulk of the weight in the pack should be low and toward the back. You want the weight in over your hips as the center of gravity. If it is high and toward the back, you will teeter and totter down the trail. The importance of the hips is because they are at the top of the legs. Remember, you are trekking.

Notice that I started talking about footwear, now I am talking about hips and legs. The hips and then the legs support the weight, as the legs propel the person and the weight down the trail. The largest muscles in the body are in the legs. You want your legs to do the work. This sounds like obvious advice, but I have seen more that one hiker try to distribute weight to the shoulders. You will not travel far if you distribute the bulk of the weight to your shoulders. Just sitting hunched over a desk can stress your shoulders, but people train and run marathons with their legs.

It is also important to note that shoulder straps, chest straps, support straps, load straps, et cetera are all important as well and serve an ancillary purpose for the pack, load adjustment, weight distribution, et cetera. Be sure to have a qualified sales person explain the use of these features to you when you purchase a backpack. For instance, there are load straps that draw the weight in toward your back. It is important to understand how these work and also how to pack the backpack. Additionally, you should have repair kits for your pack. The kits are made up of grommets, buckles, and strap replacements that do not take up much space and do not add much weight.

My final thoughts for you regarding trekking to survive. Is to always hydrate and take in nutrition in regular intervals, since you are a human pack mule. You do not want to grunt your way down the road while conserving supplies. If they are available to you, use them if you are trekking. In a trekking scenario, your body is the transportation machine, and you need to fuel it. Most of you have taken this into account in your preparations, but trekking to survive adds a new dimension. If you are constantly moving, then you are in constant need of fuel. Remember, that you do not have to eat like it is Thanksgiving dinner to maintain strength. However, you need to maintain your energy levels for a successful trek.

In conclusion, if you have not already considered the things I have said, place good footwear and good backpacks for trekking on your Christmas wish list this year. If the apocalypse does not occur for some time, then you can enjoy them for years and they will still serve you well when the time comes to trek to survive.