The Secret List

Preparation and outdoor skills are crucial to survival in Montana's high country, and even a single day in the hills necessitates proper gear. Rather than discuss the “10 Essentials,” let’s instead debunk the concept of what is really needed for day in the hills.

Blow off the Bivy
Alpinists say that if you take bivy gear, you will use it. I suggest ditching the space sack in favor of a headlamp. If you happen to get benighted, it’s better to keep moving. A headlamp allows you to keep moving and stay warm. Take a lightweight hat, gloves, and lighter. If you have to stop, a small twiggy fire can really take the edge off.

Cotton. Yes, Cotton.
Next, wear or at least bring some cotton. I know, "cotton kills," and they even call it “death cloth.” But have you ever tried wiping your sweat-soaked glasses with Capilene? The smudges alone make for hazardous hiking. How about trying to stop bleeding with synthetic underwear? Good luck. I hike in a cotton t-shirt and adjust my pace so as not to soak my shirt. If it gets soaked, I pull out a spare and hang the wet one on my pack to dry. If you just can’t bring yourself to wear cotton, at least bring a bandana.

Easy on the Water
It’s funny how much people carry around in their hydration packs. Water is heavy. Start hydrating the night before and keep hydrating all the way to the trailhead. The point is to carry the water in your stomach, not in your pack. Take one full bottle and fill it from select spots along the way. I normally don’t treat water around here, and I always hear the mantra, “Take chance, poop your pants.” So, for backup carry a couple of iodine tablets. They don’t weigh anything. But remember, the only thing that weighs nothing is nothing.

Use Your Head
If you're not carrying all 10 essentials, you just may base your decisions on the fact that you’re ill-equipped to deal with emergencies. Good judgment should be your best piece of equipment. “The One Essential,” if you will. And that doesn’t weigh anything.