Paddling Tips

Inspection check list:

  1. Map(s)  Are the maps in the map case the right maps at the right scale (large scale for hill‑walking, intermediate scale for paddling, small scale for cycling)? Is the map case intact, with no tears or pinholes?
  2. Compass  Does the needle pivot freely? Is the capsule free of bubbles? (Farwell’s old USMC‑issue lensatic compass relies on induction damping. The downside? The needle’s a little slow to settle. But it never suffers from bubble trouble, either.) Is the declination offset correct? Is the lanyard intact, and are the securing knots sound?
  3. First‑Aid Kit  Are the plastic bags free from pinholes and tears? Does the tape stick? Are the emergency water‑purification tablets, aspirin, ibuprofen, and antacids still good? (It pays to write the pull date on the bags or bottles. Better yet, buy meds in dated blister packs. And plan on replacing gauze pads and other sterile dressings every year—or immediately, if the sealed packets become soiled or damp.) Has the ACE wrap lost its stretch? Replace it.
  4. Knife  Is it sharp? It should be. A dull knife is a dangerous thing. Is it free from rust? (Even stainless steel rusts, and rust will destroy a blade over time.) Is the sheath in good condition? Does it hold the knife securely? Will it protect the blade from nicks—and you from the blade?
  5. Food and Water  Is the food packaging intact, with no pinholes or tears? Check the pull dates, too. Food that’s past its sell‑by date is usually safe to eat, but why take chances? Is your water bottle or bladder clean and free from mold? No? Scrub it out or replace it.
  6. Matches and fire starter  Ah, yes. Matches. Do they light first time, every time? You can’t test ’em all, but you can (and should) test a representative sample every month or so. Is your fire starter dry? (I carry a plastic bag of tinder as well as a few petrolatum‑impregnated cotton balls.) Is the reservoir in your backup butane lighter full? Does the striker spark?
  7. Flashlight or Headlamp  Are the batteries good? (An inexpensive multimeter really earns its keep here.) No? Then did the light turn itself on in your pack? If it did, tape the switch or immobilize it in some other way, so that your light lights up only when you want it to. Do you have spare bulbs for any light that needs them? (One of the great advantages of LED lights is their longevity. You can’t replace the LED “bulb,” of course, but you’ll probably never need to.) Has the strap on your headlamp lost its elasticity? Replace it now.
  8. Sunglasses and Spare Eyeglasses  Are the tiny screws that hold the bows secure? Do you have a protective case for each pair? Are your spare eyeglasses from your latest prescription? Do you have reading glasses? (If you need them to read a book, you’ll need them to read a map.) Are the lenses suited to the environment, e.g., amber in low light, full mirror or dark gray in strong sun, and total UV block anywhere and everywhere? (Polycarbonate lenses give your eyes better protection from impacts than glass can. That’s worth thinking about if you’re a whitewater boater, hunter, or cyclist.)
  9. Sunscreen  Check the pull date. Is it stored in a plastic bag? (Few things can make as much mess in a pack as a burst tube of sunscreen.) And if you use lip balm (I do), check to see how much is left in the tube.
  10. Extra Clothing  The list changes with the season. Make sure you’ve packed what you’ll need—and that it’s free from tears and holes. You’ll probably want a head net and tight‑weave pants in summer (biting flies and ticks); heavy socks, balaclava, and wool mitts in winter; a fleece jacket or down vest and an anorak in all seasons.

That takes care of the Essentials, but most of us have other, almost‑Essential items that require regular inspection, too. Here’s my list:

  • Poncho or Tarp  If you have one or the other, you’ll never be without a roof over your head. Check grommets, ties, and seams—and make sure you also bring stakes and guys.
  • Rope  A 25‑ to 50‑foot length of 11 mm braided polypropylene or 3/8‑inch laid nylon is a very useful thing to have in your pack. You could call it a lifesaver, in fact. So inspect it inch by inch along its entire length. If it’s cut or worn anywhere, retire it. And if it gets wet, be sure to dry it thoroughly first chance you get.
  • NEOS Overshoes  These can serve as both cold‑weather mukluks and warm‑weather wellies. But they won’t be waterproof if they have holes in them. Check for cuts and tears. And check the plastic bag that they’re stored in, too. Overshoes get dirty, and you’ll want to keep the other things in your pack as clean as possible.
  • Yaktrax  or Boot bottom covers with cleats:     Unless you grow your toenails really long—and walk barefoot in all weathers—you’ll need these handy gadgets, or something like them, to help you keep on your feet when all around you are falling down. Make sure the rubber retainers haven’t been torn, that the wire traction coils haven’t rusted through, and that the storage bag hasn’t sprung a leak.

from Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills