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Equipage

The HPG equipage taxonomy is a systematic approach to thinking about backcountry living systems -- what you need to carry and when. For seasoned backcountry travelers, it may serve as nothing more than a way of understanding under which circumstances each piece of gear we produce is most useful. For everyone else, we hope it serves as a good introduction to their own integration with a backcountry or austere environment. READ MORE »

Level 0.5 - Pocket
» Level 1 - Kit
Level 1.5 - Light Day
Level 2 - Go Bag
Level 3 - Sustainment
Level 1 - Kit
This is the basic set of tools you need on the trail plus a minimal survival kit. It doesn't include water or insulation, but includes ways of acquiring or manufacturing those things.
dedicated forum thread »
Level 1 List

Training

  • Wilderness Survival, Basic Fieldcraft - We haven't taken any of these courses ourselves. Knowing the principals personally, we would recommend courses from InExtremis (upper midwest) and SOLKOA (central rockies). If you have access through government channels, Tate Inc. is also on the list.

Tools - Expected Use

This is going to be a mixed bag of items because of the variation between individuals and the activities they're engaged in. Elements of survival are going to be common to them all.

  • Headlamp - They get better every year due to the rapid improvement in LED technology. We like something that has a couple of different brightnesses, a red bulb or filter, and both flood and spot settings.
  • Fire Starting Kit - At least two different tinders or accelerants and two different sparking methods. Ours has lighter, flint & striker, a bunch of 1.5" square pieces of bicycle innertube, and SOLKOA Fastfire. Ninety per cent of the time, the lighter and a piece of inner tube is what we use to start a fire.
  • Knife - We prefer a fixed blade knife that can be used for batoning and game processing both. However, a compact L1 build might substitute a multi-tool with decent locking blade and wood saw instead.
  • Spoon - Mainly for eating with, but with an aluminum or steel one, serves other unintended purposes.
  • Camera - Not strictly necessary. For us, it's one of the tools of the trade and gets used every trip.
  • Optic - Environment and activity dependent. Anywhere with broad vistas you're going to find yourself wanting something. Hard to beat a pair of Nikon Trailblazer 8x25s for size - price - weight - functionality. We've also used the cheap $10 monoculars in this role. Another great option is a compact rangefinder. Before you turn them on, they're a 6x monocular. The newer Leupolds weigh 7oz and are extremely compact. If you don't use your optic several times a trip, leave it out.
  • Paper Area Maps - Depends on the trip whether this goes into this category or the contingency category. Regardless, have some.

Tools - Contingency

For us, Level 1 is mostly about regular use field craft items. These are things that would be considered contingency elsewhere. Nonetheless there are a few contingency items that find their place into our Level 1 kits.

  • Button Compass - 95% of our navigation is terrain association. 5% is GPS-based "where exactly on the map am I"? The button compass is for the other 0%. Suunto makes one that has a rotating bezel and arrow for coarse bearing work.
  • Foam Ear Plugs - For extended shooting. Or if you're sharing a tent with one or both of the Hill Brothers. In which case this is an "expected use" tool.
  • Active / Passive Ear Protection - We've been using Surefire sonic EP3s for several hunting seasons. You can hear well enough through them for regular activities but they'll take the edge off if you take a shot or two.
  • Ibuprofen - A few tabs in travel packets. If you don't know what these are for, you don't need them... yet.
  • Instant Coffee - Small enough that there is no cost to carrying some handy in case you need it.
  • Water Purification Tabs
  • Energy Gel - We're using Hammer Gel
  • Whistle - Test them. They're not all created equal. The SOL "Slim Rescue Howler" is a good one.
  • Mechanical Pencil and Notecards - For taking field notes or writing a SOAP report or other emergency communications.
  • First Aid? - At times, we've included FA items in a L1 Kit. A couple of the items still in the kit can be used for first aid, most notably the handkerchief. The problem with FA is that it is an even more remote contingency than the other items on the contingency list. If it's something small, it'll keep. If it's something big (even less likely still), you need a trauma kit and there's nothing compact about that. For now, a first aid kit doesn't make our Level 1 cut, but it might make yours.

Insulation

With a Level 1 Kit, your insulation mostly comes from building a fire. However, you have a couple other things as well.

  • Gloves - We've used lightweight contact gloves and also leather gloves. Right now, we're using leather palm nomex gloves as a good middle ground.
  • Beanie - Lightweight merino is nice. Micro-grid fleece is another good option.
  • Handkerchief - Lots of uses. For the past year we've been using Buff wear standard neck gaiters which might possibly be more versatile than a standard handkerchief.

Shelter

Presumably if you're carrying a Level 1 Kit, it's in concert with clothing appropriate to the environment. For a short stroll with just your Level 1 Kit, tie a jacket around your waist and call it a day. For a more extensive shelter, build something with the tools in your L1 Kit.

Container

It's easy to think of a Level 1 Kit as being synonymous with one of our Kit Bags. To a large extent that's true. However, a Kit Bag is usually pressed into service for more than just L1 items. On the trail, you might stow your bug spray in it if bugs are bad or carry a couple of extra granola bars and power gels to eat on the go. On the flip side, there are containers other than Kit Bags that make sense in many circumstances. A compact L1 Kit in a zippered pouch is nice for dropping into the bottom of a Tarahumara or messenger bag. A Tarainsert makes a fantastic basis for an L1 build that can be moved from pack to pack to messenger bag to suitcase as needed. Old school guys with an appreciation for belt order kit might choose to set up a Prairie Belt with all of their L1 items and use it both stand alone and in conjunction with a pack.

Edward Curtis Canyon De Chelly
When humans first set foot in a new continent, they came in small groups under their own power, bringing only the gear they needed. Most simply called themselves The People. Over time, those who chose the rougher freer life of the up country came to think of themselves as the Hill People.
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