WHAT TO CARRY
• Communication devices. Three types of electronics are useful in the backcountry. The most common are those that utilize cell service, like cell phones and the communication systems found in many vehicles. However, you cannot always rely on cell signals in wilderness areas. The second type of device uses GPS satellites to show you where you are; these do not enable you to communicate with anyone, but they can help you locate roads and other topological features around you. The third type of device is a combined location and communication tool that utilizes satellites. In addition to showing you where you are, they allow limited two-way communications, such as texts, to emergency responders. These can be expensive, but they are the most reliable devices in remote areas.
I can personally vouch for OnStar, a navigation and communication system that comes built-in to General Motors vehicles (although you have to pay for a subscription for the service). You’ll also find competing systems, with similar services that can be installed in any car or truck. OnStar still uses cell service but has a more powerful reception than a cell phone.
When you’re riding, keep your phone or other devices in a pocket or fanny pack so they can help you if you’re separated from your horse. Having car chargers for all of your electronics is also essential.
• A paper map. Use this as a backup and to familiarize yourself with the roads you intend to travel before you go. The Sky Fire emphasized this lesson. As a friend and I were later exploring the area where the fire occurred, we found another road that would have been a much better way out than the way we were sent. Later on, my riding buddy met a deputy who’d been involved in the evacuation that day, and he told her there had been some miscommunication—we had been sent the wrong way! Had we known about the better road during the fire, we would have questioned the people at the barricade who were directing us a different way.
Be aware, though, that national forest maps are not always accurate. They may show roads that are no longer maintained, or you may encounter roads that do not appear on the map. Plus, there is no way of knowing from a map whether a road is passable for a vehicle towing a trailer.
• Medications or other personal products. For instance, I have blood sugar issues and am now stocking my trailer and horse pack with some extra emergency items I might need.
• Extra food and water. I keep a 20-gallon tub of water in my truck in the summertime, and although I didn’t need it during the Sky Fire ordeal, I was comforted by the fact that it was there. Some nonperishable food stored in the tow vehicle or tack room of your trailer may be a godsend if you’re stranded for many hours. Be aware, though, that it is never acceptable to leave food in a vehicle when you’re in bear country. Some trailheads have food storage lockers (called “bear boxes”) but many do not. Carrying extra food and water is a good idea in the wintertime, as well as the summers, in case you’re stranded by ice and snow.
• Supplies for your horse. I normally carry a little food for my horse to enjoy on the trip home from a ride, but from now on I will carry an extra flake of hay in case we are out longer than expected.