I completely agree with your article; I think your statement DOES apply to all situations. You stated, “I need to be prepared for reality, not for situations that could only happen "if Superman came down to fight a battle against an evil guy freezing Florida solid in July."
If your reality is that you live in a region of the world that is typically 40F at night, but can sometimes (even in the summer) get below 20F, then pack for that reality and carry equipment that will keep you safe to 20F (maybe not sweating hot, but safe).
If your reality is that you are hiking in a region of the world where the last time it froze was during the last ice age, pack for that reality and don’t carry equipment that will keep you warm to 20F. If some evil guy decides to freeze Hawaii or wherever solid, then it is the end of the world anyway.
Secondly, I completely agree with “being prepared, not redundant”. In emergencies, knowledge is more important than having redundant gear if you have to overcome the loss of functionality of a piece of gear. Here are some examples of knowledge that can eliminate gear redundancy:
Stove or fuel (or no one has a lighter or match): In the rare occasion that your well-cared-for primary stove fails, or if you run out of fuel, you can build a hobo fire and put your pot on it to cook with. If you can’t legally light a fire or it is too wet, eat your breakfast for dinner (and your dinner later in the trip). If you must eat your dinner for dinner, you can use cold water to soak your meal for half hour to 2 hours (depends on how cold the water is) and it will reconstitute (even mac and cheese). Many backpackers do this anyway and leave the stove at home.
Windscreen: Build one with rocks and put your sleeping pad on the other side of it to block the cracks.
Firestarter: If you run out of firestarter, or you need to make some, you already have everything in your pack that you need. If it is dry out, you can start with some moss or the shredded bark of cedars or redwoods, or make shreds with your knife. If you don’t, use a piece of crumpled paper from the corner of your map, journal, or guidebook, or cotton from your handkerchief, tampon, thread or first aid gauze. If you have none of that, use a piece of your base layer, pack towel or nylon bear rope (synthetic cloth is very flammable). Now, douse it with a petroleum product or alcohol: stove fuel, hand sanitizer, Vaseline lip care, or sun block. There you go: fire starter (I think the best is cotton smeared with Vaseline lip care).
Lighting: Know the battery life of your light and plan for the worst-case scenario—if you had to walk all through the night (maybe even for 2 nights) to make it out to a road. That means you need enough light to hang out in camp, plus however many hours of light the sun is not shining (sun set and sunrise are always predictable, know them for the area you are going into, as well as the phases of the moon). I always plan for the emergency of having to hike 2 nights to find a road. For example, if I am going out for 5 nights and I use 1 hour per night writing in my journal, then I find myself in a situation where I have to hike all through the night for 2 nights, I need 5+10+10 hours of light (assuming 10 hours of darkness) in the worst-case scenario. So, I throw a new battery in my 33-hour headlamp and I am more than prepared. I also carry a little pinch light. Not the brightest, but in the worst-case scenario, I could have 8 extra hours of light. It also uses the same battery as my watch, so there is another 8 hours if needed.
Anything short of the worst-case scenario you will be fine if you run out of light! You are an ultralighter, so you don’t have much in your pack and you know where it all is. You should be familiar enough with your pack and gear to set up your shelter in the dark. You can live without writing in your journal this time.
Water treatment: Boil your water. You may eat some unwanted pine needles or debris, but it will be nearly sterile pine needles or debris.
Patch kit/repairs: You really don’t need one. Bring a 1” x ½” piece of corrugated cardboard with a needle stabbed through the two layers and one big piece of thread wrapped around it. Duct tape works on shirts, packs, some trekking pole repairs, tents, shoes—even you (see below). Just bring 10+ feet of it wrapped around your water bottle or trekking pole.
First Aid: You can make almost anything (in a pinch) out of the things you already have:
- Sanitizing wipes- Soap/water is great if you carry it. Or use hand sanitizer gel and T.P., some of your alcohol for the stove, or your vodka (both mostly ethanol, which is used in the sanitizer wipes). Or if you use iodine or chlorine tablets for water treatment, make a solution of triple strength water (half or 1/3 the amount of water for one tablet) and rinse the wound.
- Sutures- Sterilize your sewing needle by bringing it to a boil or by burning with your lighter/matches
- Splint/sling- Use some wood or your pack frame and a shirt, handkerchief, bear line, or duct tape.
- Butterfly bandages- Rip or cut some duct tape into small strips
- Bandaids- T.P. and duct tape
- Blister prevention or protection- duct tape
- Ace bandage- handkerchief, shirt, or duct tape
Water bottle: What if you lose or puncture your water bottle? Trust me, you have a lot of things in your pack that will carry water in that rare situation. You cooking pot, your ziplocks, you map case, your Pringles container, even your pack liner if you had to.
Mid layer: Wear your sleeping bag.
Outer layer: Wear your tarp or tent fly like a poncho. Use your bear line to tie it on you.
Gloves: Wear your socks
Socks: If your feet are dangerously cold and all of your socks and your shoes are wet, take some of the plastic bags from your food and put them over your feet, under your sock. This will create a vapor barrier and your feet will be very wet and wrinkly and possible blister, but you will be warm.
Wet clothes or sleeping bag: If possible, dry them over a fire. Wet base layers can be worn to bed and will likely dry by morning. As long as they are not cotton, they will still add warmth.
Knife: Tent stake.
Tent stake: A stick and a large rock. Or a stuff sack full of rocks and buried (deadman). Or use some of your bear line and tie off to a tree.
Stuff sack: You don’t need one, but you could use your headnet.
I have used or seen people almost all of these items as backups when their one and only primary item failed or was lost, and we all survived. If you know your gear, the area you are hiking in (sunset/sunrise, phases of the moon, tides (sometimes), a little chemistry, and the basics of what each piece actually does for you, you already ARE carrying redundancy!
Thank you. Nice article.