If you have to get to the woods or get stuck in the woods, you must have a plan. Know what you need to take and load that up. Here are the bare minimums you need that don’t take much space.
How much water do you need and where will you get it from? Experts now argue over how much water you should drink each day. All agree you need water. Lots of physical activity, especially in warm weather, means you are going to sweat out a lot of water and you will need more than normal. So you have two choices:
• Bring water. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. Plus, you have the container holding it.
• Find water. Ponds, rivers and creeks are water. How safe is the water? Assume it is not. You must find a way to make the water safe to drink. Water filtering systems remove contaminants. Water purification tablets kill microorganisms. To be safe, take both. Filter and purify.
Boiling water does kill the bacteria and viruses, but does not remove any chemical contaminants.
If you are camping during the summer and expect temperatures no lower than 50 degrees or so, a shelter is not a do-or-die requirement. It may not be pleasant, but you can survive without a tent or clothes, provided the mosquitoes or biting flies do not carry you off as their latest victim. If you are going to camp and expect colder temps, a tent and insulated sleeping bags are necessary. The colder it gets, the more insulation you need.
Where you put your tent matters. The best way to do this is to ask people with knowledge about the safest places for a campsite before you ever head into the woods. Regardless, some points to consider are:
• Water. Stay out of flood zones. If you are next to a river, don’t camp at the water’s edge. Stay out of dry creek beds. Flash floods are a real thing.
• Insulation. Anything between you and the bare ground is good. Pile leaves or pine needles and put the tent on top of that.
• Dry and flat. You need a flat surface to keep yourself and your gear from rolling around accidentally. Few things are worse that staggering around almost asleep and suddenly sliding down a muddy slope.
You need to either take food with you or know enough to live off what you can gather in the woods.
Learn to fish. Fishing gear is cheap and simple to use. Some line and a hook are really all you need. You can make a fishing pole from tree limbs and gather insects as bait. Collapsible fishing poles take up little space. Word of warning: roe (eggs) from the gar are poisonous; the meat is delicious, but you may need a machete or ax to get to it. All US freshwater fish are edible.
Past that, what you can and cannot eat in the woods is going to vary hugely by where you camp. Buy a guide to edible stuff in that region. The best rule of thumb: If you can’t identify it as edible, don’t eat it.
HEAT IT UP
Fires are good. Cook food, make smoke for signaling and stay warm. Firestarter kits with steel and magnesium flints are available. To get your fire started, carry a bag of dryer lint in a sealed plastic bag. It can be compacted very tightly and just a little will flame enough to start your tinder.