Remember the old, campy Batman episodes with Adam West? I do, because I remember being jealous for the first time as a kid. That Bat-belt had it all! If he needed an anti-knife spray, it was there. Gas mask? No problem. Boomerang? Of course. There was no situation Bruce Wayne wasn’t prepared for. Having been raised on this sort of super hero, it’s not surprising that I (like many folks) took everything but the kitchen sink the first time I went backpacking. Memorable components were a 2.5 pound Wally-world hatchet that couldn’t cut through butter, a few glowsticks, a first aid kit the size of my head, one of those 4-C cell Mag-lites that you could kill a bear with, and mil-surp cookware that dwarfed the equipment of many small restaurants. I believe my pack probably weighed in the 70 pound range by the time it was fully loaded. I’m no military grunt of course, but I didn’t relish carrying (what was at the time) half my body weight up a mountainside!
By the next trip, I was shedding gear like a sinking ship. I took a wool blanket instead of a huge cotton sleeping bag, one aluminum pot instead of a steel fry pan/pot combo, and a Swiss Army knife and folding saw instead of a Ka-Bar and a useless hatchet. I must have easily cut my pack weight in half that trip. When we hit the trail, I quickly realized what I’d been missing; I had been taking a fun trip and turning it into hard labor! I’ve been a minimalist (but not an ultra-light backpacker) ever since. I never carry two items when one will do, and I never take something that I don’t have a specific need for (no more ‘just in case’ items).
One of the few things I have added rather than subtracted, however, is something Mr. Wayne would be proud of: my very own Bat-belt. Now it doesn’t have any gas masks or custom chemical sprays, but it’s got some lovely necessities that I’d rather not be separated from. I still keep a normal belt for keeping my pants up, but also carry a bit of gear on an easily removed and more heavy-duty belt. This way, I can take it off in a jiffy if I’m planning on hitting the sack, taking a swim, etc. In an effort to spread the gospel of preparedness, I thought I’d enumerate a few of the items I like to keep on my person at all times when I’m in the woods. I would also like to note, the contents are not at all a survival kit! Rather, they are a few items I’ve deemed useful enough to keep ready at all times. You should be able to survive quite well with what’s here, but that’s not why I keep them handy.
The simplest item on the belt is a quality belt knife. Anyone reading this site probably already realizes the necessity importance of this bush tool. Ray Mears has often described it as the most important tool for the woods. And I agree completely! It’s the only tool that lets you make other tools. If I’ve got a cutting tool, I can now make camp furniture, or easily secure materials for shelter & bedding, or carve traps parts and spears, or process wild game. You’ll likely only use a blade for a handful of those activities at most on a ‘normal’ excursion, but unlike a bundle of glowsticks, this is one of those items that ‘when you need it, you really need it.’ Or put another way, if I forget my flashlight I can always make a torch; if I lose my tent, I can always build a shelter from branches; but if I lose my knife, I’m a long way from getting a suitable replacement. Flint-knapping ain’t as easy as it looks!
A bit further back on my belt, you’ll find a US GI-type canteen setup. It’s the standard belt pouch with a small front pocket, which I use to house a half dozen chlorine purification tabs. Inside the main pouch is my canteen and steel cup. Underneath the cup, there are a few tea pouches and some matches wrapped in plastic. Amongst true ‘necessities’, the tea can seem a little out of place. But this habit stuck with me after reading an excellent article a year or two back, written to encourage hikers & campers to carry everything on their belt that they needed to make a cup of tea. Seems odd at first, eh? The reasons are many. First, it means you have water on you or the means to get some. Second, you have some kind of steel container to boil in. Third, you’ve got the means to make fire (for boiling the water). And lastly, it requires you to sit down and stop what you’re doing if you’re lost, to really calm yourself for a moment to get your head straight. It’s a great bit of advice for a woodsman of any skill level.
Last but not least, I’ve got a small belt pouch. It’s a black, nylon CD carrying case that I got for ten cents on a clearance rack (nothing so nice as Ray Mears uses, for example). Cheap and simple! But it’s a great size for a few basics. The contents change from time to time, but several ‘staples’ remain constant. It includes: an army model firesteel, a length of jute twine, a length of paracord, a Victorinox Rucksack, a compass, a $1 poncho, two small pieces of fatwood, a bandanna, and a small container of matches. Some of these are mini-duplicates of what I keep in my pack (such as a larger mil-surp poncho and longer pieces of cordage), but having them on my belt is a lightweight redundancy that gives me much easier access. There is also a small metal container roughly twice the size of an Altoids tin, but this floats in and out of the pouch depending on my needs. The tin contains a small first aid kit consisting of tincture of iodine, biodegradable wipes, bandages, duct tape, and triple-antibiotic ointment.
And there you have it! All I need or want and nothing I don’t, right within arm’s reach. This sounds like a lot ‘on paper,’ but it’s pretty compact overall and easily removed when necessary. It also lets me comfortably wander away from camp for quick hikes or firewood hunts without worry that I’ll be unprepared should I get lost/separated from my pack. Peace of mind doesn’t weigh all that much! I would encourage you to rummage through your own gear stash and rethink what items you really want handy. What do you use most? What don’t you want to do without? You may even shed some pack weight while you’re at it!
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