On my last ramble we covered a couple of more items to consider for an Emergency/Bug Out Kit, mainly food and water; but that still leaves a few more things to consider for our hypothetical stranding in the middle of the Nantahala Gorge, or any other remote area with no cell phone service. Mainly a way to tell where you're going, light, and some form of communication. But where to start, where indeed. Well the most important of these three items would be a form of navigation since if worst came to worst you could always use your camp fire for light. Still, what can you use to help you navigate your way out to civilization?
Of course there's always the time honor method of using the stars or knowing that moss always grows on the north side of trees, but there's a problem there too. First, from personal experience I can tell you that moss does NOT always grow on the north side of trees; it grows on which ever side is the moistest. In our hypothetical situation, since there's a multitude of streams and creeks running into the Nantahala river, that means the the moss is going to be on the side closest to the nearest water source; which is great for finding water but not so good for figuring out which way you need to go. As for using the stars, knowing that you can use the big dipper to find the north star is great, if you can find the big dipper! If you don't know the constellations well, or even if you do but it's an over cast night and you can't see the stars to find the big dipper then sorry but you're screwed! So how do you find your way? Two best answers I can give is either a small portable GPS unit or the old trusty standby of every boy scout since time began, a compass.
Now if you can afford it, it's hard to beat one of today's held held GPS units; and you can find them every where from Cabela's to Amazon and Walmart. And some aren't really all that expensive, Bushnell's for example makes one that lists for $95.99. Others though can run $250.00 or more easily, plus you have to have some way to keep them charged. Most I've seen brag about being able to go 13 hours with continuous use, but if you have to travel for 2 or 3 days to get back to civilization then you're going to have to either carry extra batteries along or use it sparingly. On the other hand, such a device is going to tell you where you are right now with in 30 feet or so and tell you which way to go with out ever needing to pull out a map.
A compass now is still used by boy scouts the world around for a couple of reasons. One, they don't have to be very expensive to be useful (some can be had for as little as $3.00 though most I've seen at that price point tend to fall apart easily), and two, they have no need for batteries or updating of their software. On the other hand, you do have to know about where you are and have some kind of map showing you where you need to go. Still, even that's not that big a deal if you're as intelligent as I'd like to think my readers are. For one, if you're driving any where you should have at least a basic idea of where you are (unless you're hopelessly and completely lost) and maps aren't exactly that expensive or hard to find even if they are less common now than they were even 10 years ago. For that matter, you can pick up a pocket sized atlas showing all of North America for right around $5.00, so you can get a decent compass and a pocket sized atlas that will do you as much good as that $250.00 handheld GPS unit for somewhere between $15.00 and $20.00!
So, with navigation out of the way, we still have to figure out what to do about light and communication. So let's tackle the subject of light next. If you have no intention of traveling after dark, then a good camp fire may be all you need; but you're not going to get a lot of light from a camp fire, and you may find that you have no choice but to do things after darkness has fallen so a good flashlight or camp lantern is definitely something to think about. A camp lantern has the advantage of spreading light over a circular area all the way around itself, but I've yet to see one that puts out a useful amount of light that didn't stand at least 9 inches tall and 3 1/2 inches in diameter; and that means it's going to take up a fair amount of room in your pack. On the other hand I've seen some advertised with built in am/fm radios, which means your camp lantern could possibly double as your form of communications. Still, I've yet to have the chance to test one of these so I can't personally recommend one (or advise against them for that matter). You could also go with a good flashlight instead. You can get a good tactical light that will fit in your pocket and still produce a beam of light bright enough to blind someone looking straight at it, but as with every flashlight the light only falls on the area you're pointing it at. Or you could get yourself something along the lines of the old fashioned Maglites. A 5 cell Maglite like the ones police officers and EMS personnel used to carry are made of aircraft grade aluminum so they don't weigh as much as you'd think, put out almost as much light as some tactical flashlights, and, if you have the training to use it this way, make a good substitute for a baton or martial arts fighting stick such as the escrima stick. Always nice to have a multitasker around when everything goes south on you.
So that pretty much leaves communication to talk about. This I've left for last because of all the things we've talked about, this is in a way the least important item in a good emergency kit. On the other hand, it could easily become as important as any thing else I've rambled on about. Why the disconnect? Mainly because I cannot predict what your situation may actually be. If you're only a day or 2 from civilization on foot, and it's the middle of summer, you can get a weather prediction off your car radio before you start off to get help; plus your cell phone will fulfill every possible communication you might have once you get close enough to civilization. If on the other hand you're looking at the possibility of a 4 or 5 day hike, it's the middle of winter or the local stormy season, or, God forbid, your party has to split up for some reason, then communications suddenly jumps way up as a priority. In either case, it's best to have a small, light am/fm radio along. For one thing, if you can get a radio station on it, then you can keep track of the weather so that you can seek shelter early if a bad storm is on the way. For another, many times being able to hear a station on the radio means that it won't be too long before your cell phone will be usable again. If you are with a large party, or think you might have to split up for some reason, then a couple of cheap walk talkies might be advisable as well. They don't have to be all that expensive, in fact a pair of cheapie from Radio Shack or even Toys 'R Us might be all you need. After all,even if you do have to spit up for some reason, it's never a good idea to split up too far; in which case something that can talk across a quarter mile or so would be more than adequate. It's not like you're in the military and have to be able to communicate with battalion 100 miles away, however I do recommend having them simply because I really do believe in being prepared for the worst.
So there you have the basic necessities of what in my opinion a good emergency kit should have at the minimum. Is this list complete? Oh by no means. For one, if there is any chance you might be out there for more than a day or two, you really should consider personal hygiene options for one. There is a reason after all that the saying that cleanliness is next to Godliness came into being. The cleaner you can keep yourself, the healthier you'll stay and the better you'll find yourself able to do those things that come your way. Think about it a while and I'm sure you'll be able to come up with other things you'd want in your emergency kit. And if for some reason you find that you think you need to start an emergency kit of your own (though I would hope you already have one) or decide after reading these three rambles that the emergency kit you have is looking a little anemic, I have started putting together four different starter kits for those who have been asking for them at the various gun and knife shows I'm a vender at and I'll be adding them to the store here sometime this week. I try to keep my prices reasonable, and if you buy them as a package instead of piecemeal I'll be giving you a great deal on them. On the other hand, each kit must meet my requirements for minimal standards so expect them to cost more than a "K-mart Special" would. Until next time though my friends, I wish you fair weather and that the road may rise up to meet you; and remember, if it's worth doing then do it with attitude!