I don’t like carrying a lot of weight around, unevenly distributed across one shoulder. I’ve gone on more than one hike or scout before and come back feeling a little sore and crooked. A small backpack solves this problem but they don’t let my back breathe well and I end up with a wet, sweaty back. Being wet and sweaty in the woods is never a good idea in relation to controlling ones core body temperature. So, I often end up gravitating back towards my haversack, which means I’m often looking for ways to lighten the load. One solution I have is to move things from the haversack, to my belt or pockets. This has its own drawbacks because I don’t like being weighed down with a bunch of stuff in my pockets or hanging from my belt either. So, I’ve learned to rely on a few basic items that I think you’ll find common among most woodsmen.
The haversack itself is just a simple cotton canvass replica WWII map bag. I removed part of the inside to make it one large compartment, with a pocket on the front, covered by the large flap that snaps shut. Having a means of conveyance that is comfortable and suited for you body is essential for maintaining core temperature. As I mentioned earlier, using something that causes you to become sweaty or physically hurts you isn’t a good idea.
The next piece of gear is a military space blanket. Sometimes I swap this for a poncho with grommets and in cold or especially wet weather I bring both because they are easy to pack and don’t weigh much. As ground cloths, they help keep you dry and prevent the ground from pulling the heat from your body. Equally important, they make great emergency shelters if you need a roof over your head to get out of the elements. The reflective coating on the inside of the military space blanket provides an excellent way to maintain core body temperature as long as it isn’t touching your skin. Using small tarps like these, in conjunction with a fire and a few shelter improvements could actually lead to a cozy night in the woods instead of a miserable “survival” affair.
The metal water bottle is another kit essential or must have. Sometimes I’ll tie some paracord around it to make a sling. This frees up room in the haversack and makes it easier to carry. Staying hydrated is one of the most important priorities we have in the woods. Dehydration leads to all sorts of problems that will affect your health very quickly in a negative way. If you aren’t healthy you won’t be able to maintain your core body temperature. Carrying a metal water bottle provides a means to carry and clean your water through boiling or pasteurization. Also having the ability to heat your water or brew some coffee, tea or chaga will greatly improve your mental state and overall situation. Even if it’s already clean, drinking cold water in the winter can be a bad idea because it will lower your core body temperature.
Next to the water bottle is a folding saw. I rarely have this in my haversack these days. I wasn’t using it so it’s migrated to one of my larger packs I use for camping or canoeing, etc. It’s still a good piece of kit to have on you and doesn’t take up much space. However in my effort to make my haversack lighter, I often leave it behind.
After the folding saw is my knife. I can’t think of a better tool someone can get for around $10 that will help maintain their core body temperature. I use my knife to help process tinder, kindling, firewood, collect pine boughs, cut springy saplings, process food, create sparks from a ferro rod, craft items from the land, etc. At the time of writing this, I’ve been using this Mora High Q Allround for over a year now and it’s performed beyond satisfactory for every task presented. Its light weight is also a plus. One tip I’ve learned along the way, is to wrap orange marking tape around the sheath. This helps it contrast against the ground if you put it down and it’s also good for marking traps or trails.
Next to that is my notebook or journal. It contains most of my notes and the information I’m using to write this essay. Although by no means complete it contains a good portion of my research and represents the knowledge I have acquired. Knowledge and experience are how we really maintain our core body temperature. Also when a question arises, its handy being able to reference your own work to help clarify a situation or when we learn something new, we want to be able to write down some notes for further research later.
The final items in the top row are a map, compass and ranger beads. Being able navigate through the woods is important especially if you are in a scenario where you need to perform self rescue. It’s more important to note, that unless you’ve been injured in some way preventing your mobility, knowing how to navigate with a map and compass will most likely keep you out of a bad situation in the first place. The compass also has a mirror which makes a great signaling device. I’ve never used GPS in the woods but if it works for you great. Personally, I’d hate to put my life in the hands of a couple of batteries and wires.
Starting on the left hand side of the second row is a simple leather tinder pouch I sewed together with some scrap material I had laying around. This is so I can gather tinder material while out on a hike or scout. It also keeps a lot of the loose things in my haversack together and from moving around so they are easy to access when I need them.
Next to that are a bandanna, SAK, waterproof match case, button compass and small flashlight. This is my basic everyday carry. Even though they are not an “official” part of my haversack they are an important part of my kit that I feel is worth mentioning. If I’m leaving the house I will most likely have these items on me, and when I go to the woods, combined with the rest of my haversack and the clothes on my back, they are an important part of the way I maintain my core body temperature. Inside the match case I keep twenty matches, a button compass and a small amount of char cloth.
After this is a whistle. I’ve never had to use it but it takes up no space so I can’t think of a reason not to have it. If I ever need to signal for rescue, the whistle will cut through the trees and over the sounds of a river much better than my voice ever will. It’s also a good way to let someone know my location if I’m looking for them and they are lost.
Next to the whistle is my first-aid kit which is explained in more detail later. It rotates between my haversack and pockets depending on the situation. Being first-aid certified and knowing how to respond to everyday medical issues is an often overlooked skill set.
Although I don’t always need it, I always carry about 50’ paracord with me too. We have a million different uses for carrying cordage with us. Whether we are tying a ridge line, setting traps or binding together the poles for a tripod, rope is a woodsman’s friend. When it comes to setting up and breaking down a tarp shelter quickly, learning how to tie a few knots makes all the difference in the world.
To the right of the paracord is a headlamp with an extra set of batteries. Being able to see at night is important, especially if mobility is a priority. People’s eyes can adjust to the dark but having a flashlight will make your life a hell of a lot easier. It seems like every week I’m reading an article about a family who decided to go for a walk in the woods a couple of hours before sundown. They quickly find themselves walled in by the darkness, a survival situation develops and usually they are only a couple thousand feet from their car. A flashlight or headlamp can also be used as a visual signaling device at night in a similar way you would use a mirror.
Next up are a few loose pieces of my fire kit. A couple of wet fire cubes, a cheap plastic lighter and a ferro rod with striker. It may seem redundant but I usually like to have at least two ways to start a fire with me whenever I go into the woods. Also, it’s wise to bring a tinder source with you instead of trying to find dry material when you are already out in the woods. Even though I’m always collecting tinder, it’s rarely for the fire I’m about to build. I’ll use what’s in my kit and try to replenish it as its depleted.
After this are a cheap orange emergency poncho and two emergency space blankets. I’ve carried the orange poncho with me for years now and thankfully I’ve never had to use it. It could make for a decent signal panel, solar still or might work for an emergency shelter or some other shelter improvement along with the two space blankets. Since they weigh practically nothing and don’t take up much room I usually rotate them around my different packs, including the haversack.
Finally, there is a small chunk of chaga and a couple of tea bags. A hot caffeinated drink can give you the extra boost you need if you are lost, sick, cold, wet or hungry. Besides being another source for a hot drink, the chaga can also be used as tinder. Also it’s good to carry something like a granola bar or some jerky too.
Day hikers, exploring families, students etc. are usually ill prepared for spending a night in the woods. They make the mistake of walking into the forest without proper clothing, flashlights, map and/or compass an hour or two before sundown. Another simple mistake people make, is not letting anyone know where they are going and what time they expect to be back. It only takes one wrong turn or one cold, wet night to change a fun adventure into a bad situation. The more knowledge you have the less stuff you’ll have to carry but the items explained above are some basic essentials any woods person should have with them. It’s important to build your own kit personalized for your own specific needs, but the basics will usually stay the same. You might even find your kit change over time as you gain new knowledge, ideas and experience.