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Safety Gear

How much and what kinds of safety gear you bring with you depends greatly on your experience in the backcountry, your comfort level, your personal medical needs, and the level of proficiency of your outdoor skills.

Some hikers consider a bandana and a 3 yards of duct tape to be a sufficient first aid kit. They consider a half book of matches and a birthday candle to be a sufficient emergency survival ket. At the other extreme are the hikers that bring everything from suture kits and full spectrum antibiotics to 8 inch survival knives and snake bite kits. Of course, most hikers fall somewhere between these two extremes.

At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own well being in the backcountry. Take as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. Whatever you decide to bring, consider the following key areas:

It’s a good idea to bring some kind of first aid kit – even if it’s just some bandaids and a small handful of Advil. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of emergency survival kit for the unlikely case that you do get severely lost. Having a good gear repair kit will certainly come in handy on your thru-hike. And finally, a good can of bear mace – no matter how small – makes for a safer journey.

Bear Mace

Bear mace is a must. Some hikers hike without it, but strongly recommends that you carry bear mace with you while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and that you keep it somewhere immediately accessible. Even a small bottle that fits into your hand and just sprays a stream of mace (instead of a powerful cloud of mace like the larger canisters do) is better than nothing. Seeing wildlife along the trail is a wonderful gift. Most of the animals that you meet on the trail will leave you alone. In fact, many will run away as soon as they detect your presence. But you may be confronted by a dangerous animal, and if that happens to you, you’ll be glad for your life that you followed our advice.

Not all dangerous animals are wild ones. Bear mace saved one hiker a hospital trip (and may have even saved his life) when a rowdy pack of domestic dogs (near Seiad Valley) escaped their owner’s yard and attacked the hiker. The bear mace discouraged the dogs and kept them at bay long enough for the hiker to get away. Bear mace is inexpensive, lightweight, and can save you from injury or even death.

First Aid

First-aid kits don’t need to be nearly as elaborate as store-bought kits often are. Below is a list of items we recommend for your first-aid kit. The total weight for these items is just under 3 oz. Be sure to add anything else to your kit that you think you’ll need.

  • 1/2 oz tube of triple antibiotic ointment – mainly used on broken blisters
  • a small handful of Benadryl – used to control allergic reactions
  • a small handful of Ibuprofen – to help with pain and swelling
  • a few Imodium tablets – to control diarrhea and water loss (in case you drink foul water) until you can get to town
  • a few disinfecting alcohol pads
  • butterfly band-aids – to close cuts
  • regular bandaids
  • a small amount of gauze – to cover scrapes and blisters or to help fashion a splint
  • 3 yards of duct tape – tape to hold the gauze on, fashion a splint, cover a blister, and repair gear
  • a few safety pins (they are always good for something)
  • any special medication you need for personal medical conditions

Some basic first-aid knowledge is good to know. In brief: stop the bleeding, straighten whatever’s become crooked, and get help as soon as possible. If you want to know more, you can read The Thru-hiker’s Medical Guide.


Having good survival skills is lighter and far more effective than having lots of survival gear. On the Pacific Crest Trail, we recommend the following be included in your survival kit (supplement the list to your taste):

  • 10 waterproof strike-anywhere matches
  • 1 or 2 birthday cake candles
  • a simple compass
  • a small, foldable pocket knife

Add anything else to this that you need to feel safe. Taking the time to learn and practice survival skills will also help you feel much more comfortable and confident in the backcountry.

Gear Repair

Gear fails. It happens. On-trail repairs are a must. Be sure to bring the following with you in your gear-repair kit:

  • a sewing needle and strong thread
  • 1.5 yrds of duct tape (wrapped around your trekking pole or half a pencil)
  • a few safety pins

Some hikers also bring seam sealer and miniature scissors.

SPOT Messenger

If you’ll be heading off trail, hiking away from the pack, or just want some extra peace of mind, you may consider bringing a SPOT messenger with you. You can press the ‘911’ button on the SPOT messenger and it will dispatch search and rescue to your latitude\longitude to save your life in an emergency. It’s a piece of mind that few other pieces of gear can offer. To learn more about the SPOT messenger click here.

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Has the information above changed? Know something other hikers should know? Leave a comment below.


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