CARRY LESS AND BE BETTER PREPARED
American Outdoor Guide|October 2021
GO LIGHT AND ENJOY A WINTER WEEKEND IN THE WOODS.
Dana Benner

With any outdoor adventure, no matter what time of the year or where you are, you need to be prepared for changing weather conditions.

In Vermont’s Green Mountains, where I spend a great deal of time, a warm fall hike can turn into a wintry whiteout and freezing temperatures at the higher elevations. A day hike I was on in the mountains around Sedona, Arizona, had me facing a sudden storm, golf ball-sized hail, plunging temperatures and the risk of flash floods. Always know the terrain you’re in, what types of weather you could encounter, and be prepared for it.

Here, in New England—with some minor differences among the states, and depending on the species—hunting season usually starts sometime in September and runs until the end of December. In the woods, fields and hills of Vermont and New Hampshire, winter could hit anytime from October on. Consequently, whenever I venture out, I must be prepared for harsh weather.

I’ll explain how I prepare for those long weekends (when I can get them) in the woods during these colder times of the year. Because I don’t do winter camping unless I have to, the overall scenario for this article will be getting ready for a long winter hunt. Please keep in mind that my main area of operation is the forests, fields and mountains of the Northeast, so what you carry in your area might differ.

Less Is More

In our age of “stuff,” it’s very easy to get caught up in the marketing hype that says, “More is better.” When I venture out, especially on hunting trips, I try to do so with as little extra stuff as possible. It’s hard to move silently when you have half the products from your local Bass Pro Shop, Cabela’s or L.L. Bean strapped to your back.

What You Need (or Don’t Need)

Depending on the activity, whether it’s camping, hiking or hunting, the list of the items you need will differ.

By far, the “want” list will be the longest, and the “need” list will be much shorter than the “don’t need” list. With careful thought, you’ll come to understand that a great deal of the stuff we think we need ends up being just extra weight. If I’m out in the woods during the winter, it’s either to scout potential hunting areas or to actually try to put food on the table. As long as I keep that focus, it’s pretty easy to minimize the gear I have to carry.

Because I’m a hunter, a trip I plan to last a weekend could be over in just one day if all goes right. On the other hand, it might take a while, so I need to be prepared for the long haul. Everything I carry—in and out—must fit into, or on, my 5.11 RUSH100 backpack.

Weight always needs to be taken into consideration; so, just because it fits into my pack doesn’t mean it’ll go with me. Besides my hunting gear, my first priorities are always food, water, fire and shelter.

Food

Stick to lightweight, easy-to-prepare meals. There are many dried foods to choose from to help keep the load lighter, such as Wild Zora and Mountain

House. MREs (“meals ready to eat”) are convenient and tasty, and I prefer meals from MRE Star. I throw in some trail mix, meat sticks and jerky (I like The New Primal) and some energy bars (Honey Stinger is my favorite), and I’m good to go.

Water

Nothing seems to weigh more than water, but without it, to put it bluntly: You’re screwed. Figure out what you think you’ll need for drinking, cooking and hygiene, and then double it. I used to carry canteens, but now, I like to use hydration bladders that fit into my pack. Once I reach my campsite, I refill the bladder with melted snow or water from a nearby stream that’s been boiled and then filtered through my Sawyer MINI water filter.

Fire

I always carry three ways to start a fire: at least one butane lighter, some wooden kitchen matches and a Ferro rod. I’m not Creek Stewart or Christopher Nyerges (although sometimes I wish I were), so you won’t find me rubbing two sticks together if I can help it. All my fire starters are carried in sealed plastic bags. I also carry dried tinder in another bag.

THE SHORT LIST

• Food: Keep it light and easy to prepare.

• Water: Bring some and be prepared to locate and process more.

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