As a Boy Scout leader, I try to make sure the young men in my charge are always prepared. Troop 219's war cry is "We hike. We hike. We hike." Sometimes it is just along the waterfront of downtown St. Petersburg. But occasionally we take off to the woods of Withlacoochee State Forest.
Anything can happen out on the trail, so you need to be ready for everything. I have hiked in the mountains of New Zealand, the deserts of Australia and the jungles of Brazil, but my day pack always contains the same seven items, regardless of the terrain:
1. First Aid Kit: Over the years, I have treated a variety of injuries. I've seen fellow adventurers get cut on coral reefs, tumble down rocky slopes and be bitten by bullet ants. But luckily for them, more often than not, I have remedy in my medical kit. You can put together your own first aid kit from your medicine cabinet at home, or you can buy a premade kit at an outdoor retailer. I am partial the Adventure Medical Kit line. The California-based company sells everything from personal packets to expedition outfits for large groups. The kit featured here sells for $17 and is ideal for day hikers.
2. Emergency Blanket and Line: Hopefully, you will never have to spend a night in the woods unless you want to. But if you do find yourself lost, or stranded due to injury, better have a survival blanket. When it comes to these little lifesavers, you get what you pay for. You can find an aluminum foil version of this safety standby for a few bucks in the camping department of any big box store. It will keep you alive, but you'll be cranky come sunup. Spend a few extra dollars and buy an emergency blanket that can double as a shelter if need be. The heavier material might add an ounce or two to your day pack, but in the end it will be worth it. I always stow some light line with my "space" blanket in case I have to make an emergency bivvy. Adventure Medical's Survive Outdoors Longer, or SOL, are well worth the money. If you get caught outside on a cold, rainy day, you'll be happy you followed my advice and dropped the $7.
3. Map: Keep your GPS, nothing beats an old fashioned map. Batteries die. Electronics get wet. But a map — it will never fail you (as long as you keep it dry.) If you can find a good top map for the trail you plan to hike, buy it. The more detail the better. The Florida Trail Association has excellent maps and a "data book" for most of the state's footpaths. Most ranger stations offer basic trail maps that are just fine for day hikes so when you hit that fork in the woods, you know to go left instead of right.
4. Compass: A map works best with a compass. If I had a dollar for every time I've gotten turned around on a trail, I could pay cash for a new Jeep Wrangler and drive instead of walk. When it comes to compasses, I like mine with a mirror for accurate sighting. The Silva Trekker is a good choice at $26.99.
5. Waterproof matches: I carry two or three packs and a little fire starter in a plastic bag whenever I head out on a trail. You can't control the weather, but a quick campfire makes even the nastiest situation a little more tolerable. Coghlan's waterpoof matches — $2.50 for a four pack; never leave home without them.
6. Headlamp: We've all seen the movie hero make a torch out of a rag wrapped around a stick, but that has never worked for me. Far better to buy yourself a good headlamp in case you find yourself on a trail after the sun goes down. Hiking at night stinks. But without a good light, it's downright dangerous. The Princeton Tec Corona is pricey at $57.99 but cheaper than a trip to the dentist if you lose your teeth on a tree root.
7. Multi-pliers: My old buddy Col. Larry "Huffy" Hoffman, a Green Beret who served multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, swore the greatest invention of the 20th century was this simple tool. You can fix a backpack, shave some kindling or open a bottle a root beer all with one tool. At $40, the Leatherman Freestyle is good bang for the buck. Buy two and stash one in your glove compartment. Like my dad always said, "You can never have too many flashlights or pocket knives."
Contact Terry Tomalin at TTomalin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8808. Follow @TomalinTimes.