Gear lists are a very fluid thing – they change and adapt for every single outdoor adventure. Even if you went to the same place last year, your fitness might be slightly different, or this year is colder/warmer/wetter. It is vital to keep your pre-adventure checklists adapted to the upcoming trip. Or in other words: planning, planning, planning.
So we know why we go outdoors, and we’ve been through what you can do outdoors, what you need to survive outdoors and what to take for comfort. We even covered the main gear categories to go outdoors. Now we can go over the last piece of the puzzle in order to make a perfect gear list: conditions.
So what influences our time outdoors? Essentially it is all the things that might endanger us if we aren’t prepared for them, but can make the any outdoor outing great. Lets go over them and I will go over each later on in more detail:
3. Trail/Snow conditions
4. Time impact
At first look they are pretty straight forward, but I’d like to explain each in more depth so you can understand what to do with each of those conditions.
First and foremost. Probably the easiest to check with the availability of great accurate forecast services, but sadly not used enough or if it is used, implemented incorrectly. First I want to make it clear – bad weather is not a reason not to go unless you think you might be in danger (avalanche snow conditions, flash floods etc) from it. Second, knowing what the weather will be is not enough – use it to get your gear right.
If it will be cold and you plan on being very active and sweating a lot, wear layers that will dry quickly and will block the wind but allow excellent breathability. If it will be very dry and hot, extra water needs to be packed (while checking the water conditions).
Reading the weather forecast will allow you to pack exactly what you need – no less and no more. If the forecast says no rain, no need for heavy waterproofs and boots – go lighter and enjoy more. Sunny day on the slopes? Get extra sun screen. Read the forecast for your activity.
Water relates very much to the weather, but as a rule try and have 2 liters (68 oz) of water for each 8 hours outside. Personally I take 3 liters as I drink a lot of water all the time. If it is hot, take more.
Another factor is the availability of water sources on the way – are there places to source water and is the water clean? Maybe carry a 1 litre bottle (38 oz) with a simple purification system? If you are in snow conditions, melting might be a simpler solution if you carry a heating system. In a more organized place, buying water on the go if needed can make it even simpler.
Just make sure you know for sure what is the water availability. Getting stuck without water while being active outdoors can be dangerous. Check maps, with local authorities or do extra research – another 10 minutes checking can cut valuable weight and even save your life.
In time we have 2 very important factors:
Daylight – being active after dark is possible and can be very fun, but requires even more planning and confidence in your skills. Most people end up being active during daytime so knowing when sunrise and sunset are will make things much simpler. Make sure you also fully use daytime and start early enough if it is limited (i.e winter time).
Pace/speed – from my experience we all over estimate our ability (yes, me too…), so make sure that what ever you plan – you accommodate a margin of over-estimation. Think you can do that trail on your bike in five hours? plan for six, just in case. That is true for every activity – leave some time margin for unexpected issues (like your speed) so you won’t get stuck unprepared on a night out.
Snow conditions are especially important, so make sure to check avalanche warnings wherever you go. Trail conditions are just as important – you might need different tires if the trail is all basalt rock to slice your regular mud ones. Different shoes, wider/slimmer skies and so on. Knowing what the weather was leading to your time out will give some more indication on what to expect – dry/wet, cold/hot etc.
Preparation here will increase your comfort level and keep you safe.
When we check the weather it is usually temperature, rain/snow drop and maybe pressure – we tend to forget checking two things that can really make things uncomfortable for us – sun and wind. Both sun and wind are exposure factors and probably won’t harm us (though sun stroke is a danger), just make you uncomfortable. If you are above treeline, wind is something to factor in – will it impact your climbing? Will the ice be more brittle due to stronger/warmer winds?
Packing sun protection should be a constant, but if you are out on a sunny day in snowy conditions, higher SPF protection should be used and sunglasses are a must to avoid snow glare (this can cause blindness).
Wind can effect the ability to enjoy your activity – cycling is less stable when gusts come in. A windy day might cause mini sand storm in desert conditions.
Make sure to look at the sun and wind conditions in the weather forecast and be prepared appropriately.
Fauna – the life around you
The easiest to think abut is mosquitoes, or sand flies or any of the blood sucking evils – will they be present? Do you have the means to protect yourself? Sometime a simple head net is all you need.
But besides flying nuisances there are bigger dangers – bears, wolves, moose, leaches, ticks and others. Know what is in the area you are going to. Is Lyme disease a problem where you are going? Should you pack a bear canister (if it is a bear country, the answer is yes!)?
There are ways to protect ourselves from the dangers nature presents to us without hurting any of the involved parties, but that means we need to actively prevent any encounters and reduce “friction points”. Learn how to avoid specific dangers that relate to the area you are going to.
Or should I say – the lack thereof. Remoteness is the main reason (for most of us) to go outdoors – the peace and quiet, time for us and the people we choose to share this special moment with. Remoteness also has limitations – resupplying is hard if you are doing multi-day adventures, communication might not be possible (no reception), in case of an emergency a rescue or an escape can be very hard to accomplish. All these considerations should be factored into your gear list.
Should you be packing a specialty communication device? Carrying more food? Leaving a clear route card with someone you trust? Know how to get help in case of an emergency?
You can see how the remoteness will influence your gear choices dramatically, but it will depend on your skills even more. Make sure you only venture far off with the right skills in mind and take the lack of support into consideration.
Almost ready to make the perfect gear list
By taking these conditions into account, we only do what we always have done when we have the tools – plan. The more we know about what will come, the better prepared we are. We can carry less gear and still be safe and comfortable.
The whole point of all our gear is to get us out to have fun and back safely – so plan well.
Are there any other factors you take into consideration when going outdoors that you think I missed? Write a comment and let’s see if we can create the prefect planning list.