My name is Walter. I have been involved with Wilderness SAR & Mountain Rescue Association Teams for 12 years. I saw your request/suggestions for Dale's question about SAR packs. When I got a computer, I sat down & wrote down my thoughts on SAR packs, preparations & lists. I have been updating these notes since then because you are always learning.
I have attached the first part of this paper to share with you all. If you'd like more, please let me know.
One of the first questions anyone new to SAR asks is "What should
I carry in my pack?" There is no set answer to that question since every
callout is different in nature from the rest. Some SAR team's policy on Rescue
packs has been to sustain the rescuer for 24 hours in the field without resupply.
It sounds simple, but what if you find the victim (something we all want
to find) & he's not equipped & has hypothermia? What happens now
is that you must take care of the victim out of your pack until help arrives
with extra gear. Obviously, you might not be able to do a very good job caring
for the victim with just a fanny pack. Rescuers are depended on to carry
the proper equipment to be effective as well as keep up with the other rescuers.
There are few people who can carry a 40+-lb. pack & be effective in the mountains. Experience can make a big difference as to what is carried in the pack. Also, sudden weather changes, difficult terrain & victims with serious injuries can place the rescuer in a rather awkward position. One way the rescuer can keep out of that position is to be prepared to cope with any situation that could come up before it happens. Assistance can not always be called in or it might take them a long time getting there so rescuer should be completely self-sufficient for the duration of the mission.
That does not mean you carry everything but the kitchen sink in your pack. Rather, ask yourself: "What kind of rescue person am I?" Only if you know yourself as a SAR member, can you buy equipment without wasting money. Equipment is relative. There is no perfect gear. No one backpack can fit everyone's back. Some gear is especially suited for an individual's need (or is it wants)
Going out & getting the most expensive hi-tech, hi-quality equipment without first sitting down & figuring out what you need is wasteful, expensive, over burdening &downright dumb. Before you run up the credit on the plastic, ask yourself the following questions:
Answer these questions honestly & be specific; i.e. temperature, weather, and terrain types. Once you've answered these questions & maybe have a couple of missions under your belt, you have a better idea what your needs are in the way of gear.
Almost every Wilderness SAR team in this country has a new member's training class or classes. Nine times out of Ten, one of those classes there will be a presentation on what that team considers the minimum required gear for their Wilderness SAR Team or that team will have a list of the minimum gear required in their training manuals. Take notes, ask questions. Make friends with one of the more experienced members of the Team you are joining, make friends with them, Take them out to lunch or go get some coffee & pick their brains on what works, what not works, what's acceptable to the group & what's not. Find out why they use a certain piece of gear over another. The lists included here contain minimum required field equipment, a recommended list & an optional list. Not all this equipment is needed on every callout. The rescuer packs according to the callout & one's estimation of the situation while keeping in mind one's ability to carry the load & need to complete the mission as effectively & easily as possible:
The recommended list below contains equipment that can be carried or left behind depending on the situation or mission since it's not always needed. Experience, other team members or operations leader's can tell you when they're not needed.
The optional list represents equipment that has been useful on a number of callouts. Some of the equipment is seasonal in nature (winter callouts) since demands are different. They involve searches in snow & freezing rain. Temperatures can be as low as 5 degrees in the mountains A five mile hike in the summer is an easy day hike, but with two to three feet of new snow on the ground can make the same hike a possible bivouac. The following list of additional equipment, plus equipment from the Rescue pack, might prove valuable for a winter callout:
Remember, summer time in the desert means an extreme shift in temperatures. Average daytime temperatures in the desert can get as high as 110 degrees & nighttime lows around 70 degrees. Sleeping out in just regular clothes is not as comfortable as it might sound. However, as the temperature rises, so does the need for more water for your body. The hotter it is, the more water is needed since water is the primary medium used to get rid of excessive heat (sweating). Recent studies by the government indicate that people need more water then it was previously thought. In a desert environment, a person engaged in heavy labor (stokes evacuation) would need 10 to 12 quarts of water. Please remember that you as a rescuer might have to use your water on the victim as well.
In theory, a list like those above would be all a person just starting out in Wilderness Search & Rescue would need to get going. But this type of thing actually opens a sometimes-ugly can of worms that sort of looks like Malaria germs: Can I use my pack I use for school? Can I use my Cycling helmet? What do I put in my first aid kit? What do you mean I can't wear my Nike Lightweights? Ever see a person show up for a mission above Timberline with just one of those Plastic Emergency rain wear suits that come in a packet the size of a pack of cigarettes. My worst experience is responding to a callout in a desert region & one the members of the team (who says he's ex-SEAL team member) has only 2 quarts of water for 24 hours. (His water supply did not make it) Let's look at a couple of items that you need:
Experience has shown the best, fastest, way of preparing for a mission is
to pack the gear into stuff sacks & then the stuff you will "need" into
the rescue pack with the rest going into a duffel bag. Keep them together.
A good idea to save time is to mark on the stuff sacks what the contents
are along with your name & phone number. Gear like carabiners can be
marked with colored plastic tape. Sorting gear after a mission goes much
faster & easier when equipment is marked.
When the pager goes off, take your rescue pack & duffel bag. Use a checklist to avoid leaving something behind. Immediately after the mission, check, clean, restock & repack the rescue pack & duffel bag as soon as possible. When you get to rendezvous or Base camp, find out from the Operations or team leader what the situation is & repack the rescue pack by transferring the unneeded item out of the pack & into the duffel bag or vice versa very quickly. Sometimes you can get an idea of what will be needed by the terrain, the weather & by listening to a rescue radio or scanner on your way to the mission.
A quick way of finding out what is needed on a mission (because each one is different) is having answers to the following five considerations:
With these questions answered, it will be easier to answer what to take & what to leave behind. Let's look at each consideration individually:
Of course these considerations don't answer all the little details. Experience can answer those, but these guidelines can help you keep the pack weight down.
There is another consideration- packing in such a way that if you happen to lose anything, you will still be able to survive & be effective as a rescuer. One of the best ways is never to leave your pack. Even if it is just off the road, you should take your pack with you. The other way is having "levels" of distribution for your equipment so that if you do leave your pack behind somewhere, you won't feel completely naked. These levels are:
This is where pockets come in handy. Considering shorts, pants, shirts & jackets, you will probably have several to play with. Try to develop a set routine as to what goes in which pocket. A rule of thumb for the sort of gear carried on the person is "an item critical to survival." This could include items like:
Other items that can be critical to a Wilderness SAR mission are a pocket mask, exam gloves, a radio, & maybe some J-tubes. It doesn't seem like a tall order, but keep in mind, that if you become separated from the rest of your team, you will still have enough to keep going. You could also become separated from your pack & find the victim.
Vests, pockets & add on pockets to your pack play a big part in this level. Once again, try to establish an organization & a routine in laying it out. An example is a G.I. canteen & cover or maybe a nalgene water bottle & a nylon water carrier that fits easily on the hip belt of almost any packs. This way, you can drink water without having to stop & take off your pack. There are several different types of belt pockets & shoulder pouches on the market that can hold frequently needed items within reach. These items might include:
Finally, we get to all those extras & backup supplies you'll need to
keep going for the duration of the mission. It’s amazing how much a
pack will hold if you pack it neatly with everything in it's place, Remember,
the most essential items should be more accessible (like the first aid kit & BP
cuff). One thing to watch out for is the odds & ends on the outside of
your pack. Not only can you look like a transient looking for a home, but
also all those items tend to rattle, fall off, or get caught in branches & bushes.
Each time you stop for a break or an overnight bivy, take the time to replenish
water, food, etc, any thing that you've consumed on the move. That way, you'll
gradually lighten your pack while maintaining your effectiveness as a Wilderness
SAR member. Keep in mind that it is a good idea to pack non-waterproof items
in waterproof bags.
Don't be afraid to ask other members what they carry, how they carry it, or what they carry on certain missions. Any members will be happy to answer your questions.
Wilderness Search & Rescue has certain basic elements that affect all other aspects of WSAR. Learning these basic skills & keeping them in mind while you advance to the upper levels will speed your progression, & make it much safer. In the following paragraphs, I offer ten suggestions, which have helped me, learn & become a better SAR person.
Exercising good judgement isn't always easy. Sometimes you spend a tremendous
amount of time & money just getting to get mission-ready not to mention
the energy spent training. Good judgement not only comes from training sessions
with the team, but from reading books, & taking various courses. One
important area for gaining good judgement & is usually ignored by novice
SAR Personnel is just getting outdoors & going on a simple hike or climbs.
The usually excuse for not doing this is, "I won't be able to respond
if I’m out hiking". But think of it this way. When is the right
time to learn where a Satate Park, LCRA Recreational area, or trailhead is
located: During training & recreational hikes, or when the page comes
down for a real emergency.
There's an old mountain saying that goes like this: "Good judgement comes from experience &, unfortunately, experience usually comes from poor judgement."
Finding an individual will help you bring to form your own "Good Judgement" without having to make all your own mistakes. Learning from other will also increase your progression rate considerably.
Equipment in today's world of modern advances is still only as good as the people using it. Don't get caught up in the "equipment makes the SAR Tech” idea. Yes good equipment will make a difference, but your skills & understanding of SAR will make much more of a difference. You goal should be maximum efficiency with a minimum of effort & equipment, & allowing for a reasonable safety margin. When purchasing equipment, take your time, ask others & see what works for them. If you can try their gear out, do so. Then make your purchase. Buy quality equipment the first time around. They don't come cheap, but it will end up paying you back many times over.
The personal factor: What is it to you? To us, it is getting back to nature, gaining skills, self-reliance, comradeship, learning about yourself & the mountains, helping someone that is in a world of hurt. Some refer to it as gaining a Wilderness Citizenship. It’s not a 'certification course'. A Wilderness Citizenship is something that has to be earned. It cannot be purchased for any amount of money. It is a process of expanding your horizons. Basically, a Wilderness Citizenship is gaining the skills, knowledge, & judgement required to safely travel into the wilderness day or night, winter or summer, good weather or bad & be at home.
There is at lest one common denominator in mountaineering, that's the physical
demands placed on your body. Body maintenance is probably one of the most
overlooked aspects of mountaineering. Body maintenance entails everything
from foot care, physical training, mental conditioning, personal hygiene & diet.
A good physical conditioning program will make your outdoor trips safer & more
enjoyable. While you are outdoors, you should drink 5 to 6 quarts of fluid
a day. By doing this you will have the water to metabolize your food for
energy; you have the fluid to excrete the chemicals that hinders & hurt
The right types of food can make quite a difference. A diet high in carbohydrates will help you perform better. They require less fluid for the body to use them & are usually well tolerated by the body. Learn about ventilating the body & keeping warm. It is much harder to warm a body than to cool it. If you are going to be hiking hard, strip down to a minimum. The body seems to perform better when it is slightly cool, rather than when it is slightly warm. Learn to pace yourself. Hike at slightly slower pace, where you concentrate on conserving energy & making your body perform efficiently (breathing, staying cool, but not too cool). Relax every muscle except the ones you absolutely need to use. By mastering the "mountain pace" you can travel all day long & still have an energy reserve.
Quality boots that fit properly & have been broken in are essential. I prefer a two- sock combination with a soft, 20% nylon, 80% wool, tube sock next to the skin, & a heavy rag wool or wool/polypro blend as an outer. Make sure you have plenty of room to wiggle your toes. Too many socks will lead to cold feet due to lack of circulation. If you're going to be stopping for a while, take off your boots & air out your feet. If you develop a hot spot (that feeling you get just before you get a blister) stop & tape it with moleskin. If you continue, you will end up wishing you had not.
Learning emergency skills is your moral responsibility to your partner. Over the past years, I have had to use my medical skills a number of times. There is nothing worse than to sit helplessly by while your partner is injured or suffering from some sort of sickness & not know how to help. Part of obtaining your Wilderness citizenship is achieving at lest an emergency medical technical level.
Learn to think about things in the "what if?" mode. There are
a couple of things to consider here. (1) The risk factor. That is, what is
the possibility of something going wrong? (2) The risk potential. That is,
if something does go wrong, how bad will it be?
In an emergency, the adrenaline shoots through your veins & you may take chances you normally wouldn't. Basically put, safety comes from understanding hazards.
Learn how to read the outdoors. Mother Nature has a story to tell for those of you who have learned to read it. Look around you. Why aren't there trees growing here, but they are trees on both sides of you? Look on the ground below you. Are there lots of broken up rocks? If so, this is an interesting story. Lenticular clouds are usually indicative of bad weather. There are many other things to read if one becomes skilled in the language of Nature. This skill of reading the outdoors is just one of many aspects of obtaining your wilderness citizenship.
While you're hanging out from a cliff is not the time to find out the bight of rope that passes through a figure 8 decender can catch the edge of the cliff & become a girth hitch. This used to be considered just an inconvenience, but there has been at lest one death attributed to it. Before anyone does any technical rock climbing, other than in a well-structured class, they should have a good understanding of equipment & knots. They should be able to rappel & safely ascend a rope. They should be able to make sound anchor placements, as well as properly belay someone else.
Sounds kind of crazy, doesn't it! Isn't self-sufficiency a part of WSAR?
Of course it is, but there seems to be more people heading outdoors with
the idea that "if something goes wrong, the Park Service (or Search & Rescue)
will rescue us!" By thinking this way, these people can justify (more
like rationalize) leaving gear behind or push a route that maybe over their
heads or more dangerous that they are ready for. But even with this logic
there are several problems:
1) A storm may prevent them (SAR) from coming to your aid. 2) They may be involved with another rescue. 3) What if you are on a SAR mission & YOU need to be rescued! How would that feel to you if you needed SAR to save you? How would that reflect on the Team if it appears on the Evening News? Personally, I would not go any more than 2 miles past the trailhead if I were not self-sufficient. When you go into the outdoors, you should assume that there is no one else in the whole world that can help you. Make your decisions accordingly. Travel & climb accordingly.
We have discussed some of the fundamentals that will make Wilderness Search & Rescue safer & more enjoyable. By no means, however, should this be taken for the last word. The learning process is a continual progression. I hope that your progress in WSAR will be as enjoyable & rewarding as it has been for me.
Well, here is the last part of my four part series. This part is the actually list of equipment I carry on ground SAR missions.
Some people would ask why didn't I just send the list first when a person on this newsgroup asked for one? My reason for sending the other three parts is this:
In all SAR groups & teams, they have an "approved" list of equipment that they want their members to carry. New members take this for granted & when wonder why the veterans in the group's packs are lighter & smaller than theirs. Another reason is what I call a "Packing list" mentality. I have been (and still am) in the military for 16 years. The military uses packing lists to help new Soldiers prepare for deployments. Until recently, those packing lists have become the law & limit the Soldiers on what they really need to take. (I.e. nobody uses shelter halves any more). Packing lists can hinder & slow down the team on missions. I.e. do you really need to have a cook set in your pack when the mission is a car over the side?
My objective in the series is to teach 'What, When, Where, How & Why’ to carry things in the pack to the new people. (Some who may not have any outdoor experience) A packing list is a very good idea, but team members should use it as a guideline. If your team makes a packing list mandatory, then make sure you enforce those standards on everyone in the team!!!! BTW when was the last time your team did a "spot check" pack check.
Enough of standing on the soap box. Let's get on with the last part:
I have a vest that holds those items I frequently need in a SAR mission. This vest also serves, along with large camelback serves as my urban search pack. A commercial vest, G.I. Surplus survival vest or G.I. web gear will work for this purpose nicely. Each pocket of the vest holds a like group or 'kit' for a specific purpose:
All of the following 'kits' & 'bags' (in bold highlight) are packed into individual stuff sacks. A good idea to save time is to mark on the stuff sacks what the contents are along with your name & phone number. Gear like carabiners can be marked with colored plastic tape. Sorting gear after a mission goes much faster & easier when equipment is marked.
Ok, we now have all these 'kits' & ‘bags’. What do I do with them now? First, determine what you need & what you want. The 'need' items go into your pack & the 'want' items go into a duffel bag. I use an Army duffel bag for this.
Keep them together at home or in your car. When the pager goes off, take
the pack & the duffel with you. When you get to the rendezvous, Operations
or base camp, find out what the situation is & repack your rescue pack
by transferring the unneeded items out of the pack & into the duffel
bag or vise versa very quickly.
This system also saves time & eliminates forgetting anything if you have to car pool with someone or you're going out of town on an out-of-county mission. The following is how I have my gear packed so that if I have to carpool, or go out-of-county, it will only take me less than five minutes to transfer everything needed form my truck to someone else’s car without forgetting anything.
The Base Camp Duffel bag is for those missions will be on a multi-day mission,
out-of-county, or even out-of-state. It's for living in a Base Camp set up
or just Car camping. It's not a mandatory item required by the Team. It's
something I’ve learned by experience & it lives in the back of
my truck just in case I get stranded somewhere.
Base Camp Duffel
Obviously, SAR missions in Colorado are not all like SAR missions in Texas. I still get a kick out of the Texans when they say they have mountains in Texas. I guess that's why you see a lot of cars with Texas license plates on I-70 in the winter in Colorado. Anyway, here is an old list of the equipment, & how it was packed when I was playing with the MRA teams there. Actually, there is little difference from the list for Colorado & Arizona. One would think that Arizona is just desert, but right outside of Tucson is a mountain range with an elevation of +8,000' with a ski resort! The highest elevation in Arizona is over 12,000':
|Strobe light||Binocs||Plastic bivy bag||Compass|
|Measuring tape||Signal mirror||Sunscreen||Trail tape|
|Whistle||Bandana||Lip balm||50' of 550 cord|
Warmie Bag #1
Warmie Bag #2
|Headcover||Extra Glasses||Mt. pants (pile)||G-T parka|
|Rain hat||1 pr glove liners||Pile sweater||G-T overpants|
|1 pr sticky gloves||1 pr socks/liners||Gaiters|
Warmie bag #3
|with #1 in winter||
Warmie bag #4
|used above timberline|
|VBL socks||Bomber hat||Pile jacket||Overboots|
|Overmitts||1 pr winter gloves||Synthetic jacket||Pile shirt|
|2 pr glove liners||face mask||Pile bibs||G-T overbibs|
|1 pr winter gloves||2 pr socks/liners|
Personal bag #1
|1 qt Gorp||Lg. plastic bag||Notebook/pencil||Scalpel|
|Poncho||40' of 1" webbing||Suction device||Stethoscope|
|50' of 550 cord||Space blanket||B/P cuff||Trauma scissors|
|Folding saw||Flashlight||2 pr exam gloves|
|NP airways||Oral airways|
|Lube jelly||Pocket mask|
Small First Aid Kit
Mt. First Aid Kit
|2 cravets||Ace Bandage||Antihistamines||Band-aids|
|Four 4x4's||Sm. Battle Dressing||Butter-flys||Sm. battle dressing|
|2" adhesive tape||Moleskin||Moleskin||Scalpel|
|Asprin||Personal meds||Antibacterial cream||Scissors|
|Wire splint||Safety pins||Tweezers||Roller gauze|
|Six 4x4's||2 cravats|
|2" adhesive tape|
Wilderness Trauma kit
|6"Ace wrap||4 Small Battle Dressings||2 Med. Battle Dressings|
|1 Lg. Battle Dressings||Extraction collar||2 SAM splints|
|4 cravats||IV set||4-6 4x4 gauze|
|4 Roller Gauze||Non- Prescription pain meds||Oral glucose|
|Bee Sting kit|
Tech Kit #1
Tech Kit #2
Mt. Tech Kit
|Rescue harness||4 HMS biners||Mt. harness||2 pickets|
|Helmet w/ goggles||Rescue pulley||2 Deadman||2 pulleys|
|Slings (2x10', 1x20')||Pick-off strap||Mt. ice axe||ice axe|
|Prusiks (2x5', 2x10')||Mitchell system||Ice hammer||2 ice screws|
|Mini Acending system||4 M/Rs||Ice pitons||belay device|
|Descender||9 runners (6x10',3x20')||2 lg. runners (4x10')||Ascend system|
|PMP pulley w/ pruskis||4 shirt runners (4x10')||6 HMS biners|
|4 HMS biners||Prusiks (2x5',2x10')|
|50' of 8mm rope||3 HMS biners||Prusiks (1x5', 1x10")|
|1 Tri-link||12' of webbing||1 M/R link|
3 Day Alpine Rations
|6 Power bars||Breakfast||Lunch||Dinner|
|1 pk Fruit bits||Oatmeal||Jerky||F-D meal|
|1 gatoraide pkg||Dried fruit||Dried fruit||2 Cliff bars|
|1 MRE w/ heater||2 Cliff bars||Gatoraide or Exceed||2 Cocoa mix|
|2 ERG's||ERG mix||Carbo load mix|
|1 Gatorload mix||Candy bar|
|Whisperlite stove||MSR stove stand||1 Qt. fuel|
|Matches||Stove repair kit||1 1/2qt pot w/ lid|
|Plastic spoon||2-3 Gatoraide packets||2-3 Instant Cup-o-Soups|
|Spring/Summer||Winter||Quick in/out||High Angle||Rescue Team|
|Wamie Bag #1||Warmie bag #1||Warmie bag #1||Warmie bag #1||Ski poles|
|Personal Bag #1||Warmie bag #2||Personal bag #1||Warmie bag #2||Snowshoes|
|Rope bag||Warmie bag #3||2 qts water||Warmie bag #3||Crampons|
|4 qts of water||Personal bag #1||Sm first aid kit||Warmie bag #4||4 season tent|
|Diagnostic kit||4 qts water||Personal bag #1||Stove/cook set|
|Tech kit #1||Mt. aid kit||4 qt water||Snow shovel|
|Tech kit #2||Diagnostic kit||Mt. aid kit||3 day rations|
|Ensolite pad||Ensolite pad||Diagnostic kit||Mt. tech kit|
|Rescue rations||Stove/cook kit||Plastic boots||Sleeping pad|
|G-T bivy||Rescue rations||Sleeping bag||G-T bivy sack|
|G-T bivy sack||Road flare||Avalanche beacon|
|Tech kit #1|
|Tech kit #2|
|G-T bivy sack||Stove/accessories||Alpine rations||Down sleeping bag|
|Cook set||Sleeping pad||4 Season tent||Tracking stick|
|Water filter||Warmie bag #2||Warmie bag #3||Warmie bag #4|
|Mt. Tech kit||Plastic boots||Crampons||Snow shovel|
|Snow saw||Snow shoes||Ski poles|