Throw Bags, Accessories and WorkShops "Gear For Life"


                                                                                                             -- Jim Simmons

When making whitewater paddling trips in remote backcountry settings a few additional preparations will be wise. Here are some basics that you may consider:
1) Potable drinking water. Options are boiling, use of chemicals (iodine and chlorine), or water filters. Some filters come in small sizes.
2) Emergency food. Health bars, dried fruits and other packaged footstuffs that occupy little space in a boat. A Sierra cup for heating water, or for melting snow to obtain drinking water.
3) Additional apparel. Avoid cotton fabrics and use polar fleece, or other synthetic, quick-dry with a set that fits largest paddler in the group. Include spare socks (can be used as mittens) and a knit hat. Dry top, paddling jacket/pants, or a drysuit can double as rainware.
4) Ability to improvise a shelter if needed. Small plastic 9 X 12' dropcloth with parachute cord, a small space blanket, or a lightweight tent/tube tent that stuffs into a small size. Learn to make survival shelters out of natural components (such as the classic debris hut).
5) Capability for making fires. Choices are flintstones, waterproof matches, small candles, wilderness butane lighters, or even railroad flares, etc. Take tinder (commercial types available) with you in a dry container or use cedar bark and other natural dry materials.
6) Navigation. A small compass with accompanying maps of the region for route finding in case of emergency. A headlamp or small light with spare batteries, and even a GPS.
7) Emergency signalling. You'll already have a whistle on your PFD, but also include a small signal mirror, flares, and surveyors tape for tracking. Possess knowledge of arranging international distress/need help signals on the ground for air rescue to spot.
8) First aid kits. The guiding principle--know how to use what you carry, but be prepared to improvise with small, useful items (such as a large safety pin). A small kit will take care of personal needs, but have a group kit for at least three days time. *Most common injuries in backcountry activities are soft tissue injuries, hypothermia issues, shoulder injuries or other joint dislocations, and broken or injured limbs.
9) Weather factors and patterns. General knowledge of weather, weather forecasts and preventative action relative to lightning dangers, or other natural occurrences. Precautions for unexpected flooding conditions on the stream you're paddling, and possible escape routes (contingent on weather forecast).
10) Emergency evacuation. For short distances, improvised litters and carries can be fashioned with poles, paddles, carabiners, throw bags, clothes items, etc. Know procedures for sending for outside help, and for preparing a helicopter landing zone in emergency situations. Use of a cell phone if service is available in the region.
11) Whitewater gear/equipment items can pull double duty with emergency needs. A river knife for your pocket knife; throw bag rope can be used in a variety of ways; overturned boat hulls can serve as shelters or shelter infrastructure; spray skirt (and webbing) can double as a shoulder sling and swathe binder. Just invoke your imagination. "When you expect to need something, have it on hand!"

Take a few extra precautions and you'll be rewarded in case of unexpected events. As with swiftwater rescue fundamentals, think preparation and prevention!

JS--12/'05; revised January, 2010
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