It seems we are living in an age of electronic wizardry. Every season there is a raft of new GPS and communication devices as well as night-vision, heat sensors and range-finding scopes. In the current race to get all these new gizmos, we often forget about some old and very dependable items from the past.
At the top of any list of “been around for a while,” dependable gear should be a map and an old-fashioned compass. Neither needs batteries and, kept in a secure container, will last forever. It’s hard to beat a GPS device until it’s full of water, broken or out of juice. A map and compass, provided you know how to use them, should help you find your way and should be a backup to your electronics.
Genuine duct tape, or “100-mile-per-hour tape” can be used to repair torn packs, tents or clothing. It can be used to wrap around the front half of your boot to hold the separated sole in place. It works well on “hotspots” on your feet where chafing has started and will soon be a blister. It is also very hard to beat as a fire starter. A big roll is too bulky to carry on a backpack trip, but a piece about a metre long can be wrapped around your toothbrush handle or the pen that accompanies your journal or crossword book.
Often overlooked is dental floss, which is extremely strong considering how thin it is. With a sailmaker’s needle it can be used to stitch tents, packs, clothing and even people. It is tough enough to fasten your light tarp or rain-fly to branches for an emergency shelter. It comes on a spool inside a plastic sleeve with a built-in cutter, or remove the spool and just carry that using your knife to cut lengths.
On the camping rack in our big-box stores, there are a number of fire-lighting gadgets that are battery-powered or create a spark. They are simply not dependable, and if you are clumsy with any degree of hypothermia, you will not be successful at creating your much-needed survival fire. It is also not easy to light a fire with a spark, compared to a flame. BIC lighters are very dependable and are so small that two or three can be carried in various places in your clothing or pack. These lighters come in packs of five for about a dollar a piece. Modern BIC lighters are “kiddie proofed” with a narrow metal strap over the thumb-wheel, which creates the spark to light the fuel. In even a mild hypothermic situation you will not be able to work the sparker wheel with that strap in place. Using needle-nose pliers, just remove that strap from each of your new lighters and they become much easier to get a flame.
The newly available gadgets have varying degrees of dependability and longevity while many old-time devices seem to go on forever.