Stock your snowmachine to be prepared in case of emergency
I have a geeky enthusiasm for improving my emergency travel bag for snowmachining. What weight or bulk can I reduce or shed? Which items can perform multiple tasks? I’m a sucker for clever and efficient products like shovels with tools secreted in hollow handles and articles like “25 Life Saving Items that Fit in a Sock.”
My husband and I stock three winter emergency supply bags in case we are stranded while traveling cross-country. Since our old canvas bags used to get soaked or required tarping, we bought a big rubberized dry bag, with shoulder straps. Its primary duty is to store large, sheltering-in-place supplies, like a sleeping bag, a bivvy sack, and a small tent. It weighs 25 pounds. Each of us also maintains a smaller, personal-use backpack. Mine weighs about 10 pounds. When we go out together, each of us wears our small bag in case the machine should sink with the big bag attached.
To truly understand the importance of bulk, weight and balance, give your emergency bags a test run … on a hike. The U.S. Army and other groups, like Scouts, have a physical fitness test in which participants have to complete three miles in 45 minutes carrying a 45-pound backpack. Try walking some distance with whatever bag you pack. For us, that was a mighty incentive to shed weight, and to divide the packs and priorities.
Supplies are important, of course, but in a hurry (like when soaked and freezing in the dark), organization is, too. So each bag is stuffed with six small, color-coded nylon sacks labeled as follows: “clothes,” “fire/warmth,” “food,” “first aid,” “orienteering,” and “entertainment.” The last seems silly to my husband, but anyone who has been stranded for several hours knows that a deck of cards or a paperback novel can soothe frazzled nerves during an anxious wait. Since this is, admittedly, the least important component, it is stashed at the bottom of the big bag.
Most important in an emergency are clothes and fire making supplies, so those sacks are easily accessible at the top of each backpack. Each of us carries a full change of clothes: long underwear, a long-sleeved shirt, pull-on pants, socks, knit cap and gloves. Skiing through overflow and stepping through thin ice have justified the effort. The heat bags contain two or more fire-starters (such as waterproof matches and a magnesium striker), and tinder (such as wood shavings and cotton balls soaked in Vaseline). While they take some patience in damp and breezy conditions, they work. Bigger fuel is all around us, like birch bark, and dry spruce boughs, cones, and even sweet grass at the base of trees. Chemical hand/foot warmers are brilliant, lightweight inventions, as are inexpensive emergency blankets (those silver, reflective ones), which, hung across an unwound paracord bracelet, can double the effectiveness of a fire by creating a reflective surface for the heat, or serve as a tarp or shelter from light snow, wind or rain.
Food is probably the easiest thing to plan. Each food sack contains a tiny portable cook stove that screws to the top of a one-pound butane tank (plus a back-up fuel), a metal cup/bowl and spoon), small packets of tea, soup, lemonade, a freeze-dried (hot) meal or two and a half dozen power bars – enough food for three (somewhat hungry) days. This year, I plan to include tiny packets of salt and spices to turn any caught fish into a more palatable soup or stew. Two fishing hooks are stuck in a cork, wrapped up in a length of fishing line, along with a steel leader, since most of the fish around here are toothy pike. I am a big fan of tip-up rigs for ice fishing, so one of those is stored in the big bag. For clean drinking water, melting snow is feasible in the little stove cup, but also travel with a thermos.
Our first aid kit is pretty minimal and probably our weak spot. I have packed burn cream, Neosporin, bandages, moleskin, aspirin, latex gloves, a metal pin, a sliver of soap, a few days worth of toilet paper, a rag and two garbage bags. But what about a nasty gash or a puncture wound? I’m not prepared. Vision? If I lost my glasses, I’d be in deep trouble. Scared that a backup pair would get damaged in these stuffed sacks, this year, I will add a spare pair of older contact lenses. My husband and I do not take any regular medications, but other people might prudently pack three days worth of prescription medications when they plan an afternoon trek far off established trails.
The orienteering supplies will help us navigate toward safety or to attract rescuers to our location. They include a headlamp, a flash light, compasses, whistles, glow sticks, and a signal mirror. A fire can function as a signaling agent, too, as can universally understood ground markers made with branches.
Extra Tools: Strapped to the machine or locked in a tool kit is additional equipment. We use a fold-up shovel and the saw stored in its handle, and occasionally have to connect the two machines with the come along to ascend an icy trail. We’ve never had to replace the drive belts en route, but we coasted into a repair shop that yanked it out as soon as the engine cooled, so we keep a spare, along with Allen wrenches to tighten the throttle and brake. I don’t forget to pack a pair of snowshoes anymore either, ever since I spent hours flailing about trying to dig my machine out of soft powder. Naturally, we carry duct tape, too. (six feet rerolled onto a chapstick tube, to save space).
No doubt, at some very inconvenient moment, we will figure out some $1/1-ounce lifesaver that we don’t have and absolutely need. Knowledgeable friends give me great advice each year. But the process of considering “what if” scenarios and the advantage of a ready emergency pack, means that we are ready to head out for an icy picnic somewhere, at a moment’s notice.