Packing for outdoor sports

Ready for anything. Not moving too quickly though. (Credit:

When I was in my early teens, my friends and I used to spend the weekends bivouacking in the local hills and woods of south-west England. To begin, we did not have a clue about bivouacking and tried to compensate for this by packing for every eventuality and bringing enough food to last a week – despite only camping out for one night at a time. But as we gained experience and confidence, we were able to reduce the volume of stuff we would pack. Eventually, it became a matter of pride to pack the least and still be comfortable.

“A classic outdoor manual [that] addresses every conceivable disaster scenario. Don’t leave home without it” says Outside magazine, implying that in an emergency, you are going to sit down and read up on what you should have known already.
Around this time, we came across the SAS Survival Handbook. This impressive title seemed tailor-made to our adolescent-male needs. Survive like an army bad-ass in any situation! The detailed manual covered everything – constructing shelters, creating tools, finding and preparing food, first aid, self-defense, and more.But despite buying the book, we only leafed through it a few times in the end, and certainly never applied any of the techniques it described. The problem was that although it seems a great idea to learn survival skills, they are situation-specific and take years to master.

This is probably one reason why “survival” sells. People love to pay for products that are marketed to compensate for a skill they do not have. It’s also a highly emotive term that taps into our primal drives and fears. As many people perceive the world to be increasingly unstable, a multi-billion dollar industry has sprung up offering peace of mind through preparation for every doomsday scenario. This industry even has its stars such as Bear Grylls, Cody Lundin and Ray Mears, who provide onscreen edutainment based around some pretty far out scenarios. A search for “survival” on Amazon, returns tens of thousands of gadgets you never knew you needed, most at a low, low price and no-doubt a very questionable quality. But hey, it’s cheap and it might just save your life, right?


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Don’t get me wrong: I think survival skills are important. Like, important to the point where they should be taught in schools. But we must recognize how difficult such skills are to master and that purchasing a $10 Magnesium Fire Starter (with compass and whistle, nonetheless!) doesn’t mean I will be sorted for fires in an emergency unless I know how to use it in a wide range of conditions.

Survival and Outdoor Sports

I like to play outdoors, and probably spend more time in the wilderness than your average city-dweller, but I am under no illusions: I am an urban human. My clothing comes from a shop, water from a tap, and food from the fridge. If I were ever to be stranded outdoors and cut off from the various support networks of modern society, I could not survive longer than a few days, perhaps a week or two at the most.

And that is fine. Assuming I have given somebody an itinerary of my trip, it is very unlikely I would have to wait longer than that before help arrived.

Friction-based fire making will cement your reputation as a hardcore outdoorsman. If you can be bothered to learn. (Credit:

So what exactly does survival mean in the context of the modern urban outdoor-sportsperson? For us survival is not the objective; we are out to have fun! And yes, hopefully not have a traumatic or fatal experience while doing so. As such, taking a few years to learn a long itinerary of specialized survival skills such as friction-based fire making, animal trapping and water purification is simply not practical. Nor is it immediately necessary given the supplies, tools and technologies available to us. At the same time, we don’t need to break the bank by stocking up for every eventuality.

Instead, it is much more realistic to consider the activity you will be doing, what equipment to pack, and to know how to use it. What I am advocating is the middle way between survival skill training and consumerism.


What to pack depends greatly on a variety of factors, including the climate, terrain, specific activity, length of time outside, and distance from support in the event of an emergency.

However, in the event of an unexpected accident, priorities in order of importance are:

  1. First aid
  2. Protection from the elements
  3. Water
  4. Food

We can also add another two category in the context of outdoor sports, which are

  1. Mobility
  2. Communications

This means that when packing, we need to consider each of these items in the context of what we are doing, where we are doing it, and for how long.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will discuss each of these in turn and update this post with links to the posts covering each of these. In the meantime, please leave a comment below telling me:

1) Your preferred outdoor sport
2) Your top three items you always pack for it



5 Essential Items for Outdoor Sports

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