We’ve all heard the expression “It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.” Another important maxim is “We don’t plan to fail, but we sometimes fail to plan.” Both adages are good to live by, especially in the Alaskan wilderness.
I love fishing. As a matter of fact, I’m nearly an addict. And I love doing this activity remotely. The more remote I am, the better. I like to say to myself, “I may be the only white man to ever fish this part of the river.” My objective is to have fun, get lost in the moment and be one with nature. Ah, yes. But I don’t want to become a victim of stupidity.
Let’s say you have the opportunity to take a day trip into the remote Alaskan wilderness to go fishing; this is nearly the entire state. You’re out of cell phone range an hour before the dirt road ends and your plan is to hike in another five miles to a honey hole few know about. Besides the obvious fishing gear and sustenance, what would you take with you?
My list may vary a bit from yours, but I’d like to share a few things that I’d pack in my personal survival kit (PSK) day bag. I carry these items whether I’m in the Alaskan wilderness or another.
GPS Equipped Emergency Transmitter
While a GPS will tell you your location and can provide you with a means of plugging in waypoints, it is not ideal for navigation. I am therefore going to pack a topographical map of the area and a compass as well. Remember those things? I will order a large-scale map (roughly 1:24,000) versus a small-scale map because it’s easier to navigate with. Map reading skills have become an anachronism these days thanks to technology, but they’re extremely necessary if you want to navigate from Point A to Point B. Learn the basics of topography and navigation, like terrain association, time, speed and distance, general cone of direction, checkpoints, overshoot points, boundaries, etc.
Trail Markers and Light
I may mark my route in with reflective tacks—the kind hunters use—in the event my day trip turns to dark. These will be placed on the back of trees along my route and will cast a visible reflection from a distance when I hit them with my flashlight beam. Speaking of which, I’ll pack a good handheld light of at least 300 lumens to assist me with navigating in the dark. I also have a head lamp so I can work hands-free in the dark.
Because I am in bear country, I want to be conscious of that. I am in their territory. I want to follow the basic rules of risk avoidance. People run into trouble with bears primarily due to the following three reasons: 1) They came between the bear and their food source. If you smell carrion or see a half-eaten carcass, avoid the area at all costs. 2) They came between a sow and her young. 3) They surprised the animal. So stay completely “switched on” when moving through the bush. Don’t get caught in 45-degree syndrome. If you can’t see ahead of you, make some noise, clap your hands.
Bear Deterrent Spray
The stuff works well—if you carry it in such a way that you can get to it quickly. I also carry a .40-caliber pistol in a thigh holster. I’ve consulted with several grizzly hunters who have dispelled many myths about caliber and weapon type. The thigh rig allows me to move freely and draw quickly while still wearing my pack.
Along with my basic first-aid pack, I carry Steri-Strips with super glue. This combo can act as a makeshift substitute for sutures. I also have an extra set of reading glasses in my medical kit because I can’t see shit up close without them. I don’t want to carry a gallon of water, so I’ll bring a water bottle with a quality in-line water purifier.
In the event that I get turned around because I got lost or had to evade danger, I’ll want to be prepared to stay the night. I will pack a warm top in a vacuum-sealed bag and an emergency blanket. This won’t take up much room in my day bag. In addition to my pocketknife, I’ll carry a multi-tool. I’ll also pack a package of wet wipes, duct tape and suspension cord because they’re so useful, and bug spray so I don’t get eaten alive. I will bring at least two means of starting a fire. My fire-starting kit includes a lighter, a magnesium stick and a length of fuse—the same kind used for commercial fireworks. I’m not going to wait until it gets pitch black to make the fire, either. I will plan ahead.
Finally, at risk of losing my Man Card, I will carry a means of signaling others because I don’t want to miss an opportunity to be rescued. So, I’ll carry a fluorescent flag, a signal mirror and some pen flares.
Keep in mind that this is what’s in my PSK day bag. In this case, I am not planning on staying out in the wild more than one day. Oh, and I almost forgot! Pack a flask of your favorite whiskey just in case you get lost in the Alaskan wilderness.