What do you carry for survival gear? Most of us probably don't give much thought to "survival" while riding, but believe it or not you really should be carrying a few basic items. Of course the real question is what to carry? If you are like me you wish you could carry a small house with attached garage just in case there is a problem. Of course the reality is that you can only carry so much and no matter what, each item you add to your pack adds a little bit of weight. Over the years I have carried lots of stuff that I didn't need and sometimes found that I needed stuff that I didn't have. My list is in no way the ulitmate, rather it's just what I have found that works for me.
The first thing is to give a little thought to what the temperature is doing. If it's the middle of summer you probably don't need quite as much as you do in the winter. Typically I always carry an emergency blanket, knife, compass, matches, flint & steel, first aid kit, extra gloves and a light wind breaker that stuffs into a small package. When it comes to the emergency blanket I prefer the small lightweight type that looks like tin-foil. I used to scoff at these little blankets. But after doing a little training some time back I found that these work surprisingly well. Granted they are not grandma’s quilt, but they block the wind and help hold in body heat. If you have a fire they are really nice if you can keep it open toward the flame to catch some of the heat. Also, since they are so light and thin you can put them on like a poncho and then put your jersey over the top to make a hillbilly jacket.
If it looks like you might be hanging out a while making a small fire does wonders for your mental state not to mention how much cooler you will look when help does show up. The big problem is how to get a fire started. I have tried lots of little fire starter products and most work pretty well. But, they can be bulky and if they get wet don’t work so great. What I have found to be the best is good old fashioned cotton balls that have been saturated in petroleum jelly. It sounds strange but these things are amazing and best of all cheap. Even in wet conditions, if you can keep a small flame going and you get your tinder into small enough pieces you can generally get a fire started, but it may take a while.
Food and water are also very important. I generally try to keep at least two or three granola bars in my pack at all times for those “just in case times”. Here in the Northwest finding water is generally not a problem, but finding water that won’t make you sick can be. So carrying a few purification tablets is a must. In the old days these tablets made the water taste awful, but now they have a neutralizer that helps with that. Getting dehydrated is a huge problem, it causes fatigue, cramps and can really take you out.
The reality is that most of us will never need survival gear when we are riding. But it only takes that one time that you break down or get hurt and have to wait for someone to go get help, tools or repair parts to make being prepared worth the effort.
Here in sunny central Washington (and I did see the sun yesterday!) it is all of about 4 degrees fahrenheit. My youngest son (who is twelve and has no nerve endings I think) has been out riding his new to him YZ250f (that we just finished rebuilding). Snow, ice and very cold temperatures and all! I love riding, but I can take about 30 seconds of that and it’s time to go back in and sit by the fire.
Even though it’s a little too frigid for my taste, it’s not time to put away the bike. In the meantime, while we wait for the temperatures to at least get back into the double digits this is the perfect time to go through your riding pack and make sure you have what you need. If you are not really sure what you need, here are some suggestions. Keep in mind these are only my opinion, and nothing more or less.
Zip ties, zip ties, zip ties….did I say zip ties? Zip ties are one of those things that have many uses. If you have a flat you can’t fix on the trail, with enough zip ties you can keep your tire on the rim for many miles. They are great for fixing broken straps, gear and just about anything else. I generally carry a bunch of the medium size. If you need one longer you can string them together.
Duct Tape, I don’t bother carrying a large amount but enough to hold a hand guard in place or keep a wound tight. I actually carry my duct tape in my first-aid kit. It works great for blisters, bandages (with some gauze, never apply directly to a wound) and emergency mouth cesonor when you are riding with "that guy". I take a butane cigarette lighter and wrap a pretty good wad of tape around it. That way I have a lighter and I have tape when I need it. Doing this does not take much room and fits almost anywhere.
As far as hand tools go it’s very hard to give a specific list of things to carry since each bike uses different fasteners. Rather the best way to determine what you need is to think about what you might be able to fix on the trail. Figure out what you need to do these basic chores.
1) Change the spark plug. Modern 4 strokes rarely foul plugs, but it does happen. So make sure you have a spark plug socket that actually works for your bike, just because it “looks” like it will fit doesn’t mean it will actually fit. Tusk makes a nice little socket with extension tool that works with ¼” drive ratchet or a 14mm wrench. Make sure you have all the socket sizes you need to pull shrouds, seat, etc. to get to the spark plug. For most Japanese bikes if you carry an 8mm, 10mm, 12mm and 14mm you can pretty much fix anything. Of course be sure you have an extra plug. Tusk and other companies make nifty little watertight cases for an extra plug that will keep it from getting broken. You can either carry a plug in your pack or you can even zip tie it to the bike somewhere like inside the airbox.
2) Change/fix a flat tire. Motion Pro makes very nice and extremely light tire spoons that have an axle wrench on one end and a spoon on the other. Since you generally need two tire spoons it works out perfectly. You get one for the front axle nut and one for the rear. Tusk also makes a version of these but they tend to be a very fat on the nut end. Make sure the tool will actually work on your bike before you go out. I have ran into some fork designs that make it very hard to access the axle nut. I also carry a bicycle patch kit and a small tire pump. Some people prefer the CO2 cartridges, but the problem I see with the CO2 is you only have the air that’s in the little canisters; once those are empty you’re finished. Keep in mind, if you put Slime or any sort of fix a flat you will not be able to patch your tire.
3) Small pliers, screw drivers and individual allen wrenches (just the sizes that are used on your bike) and for the KTM guys be sure you have the appropriate star-drive bits. If you can find one, a small adjustable wrench is always nice. I also carry stubby box end wrenches (8, 10, 12, 14) and ¼” drive sockets in those sizes along with a small collapsable t-handle (no ratchet).
4) The only parts I carry are an extra spark plug and a couple of chain master links. A small chain tool is also nice, but I generally don’t carry one just because I can usually (famous last words) get a chain fixed with pliers and a screw driver, but it’s much easier with the proper tools.
All this (except the tire spoons because they are too long) I put in a ziplock bag and then into a nylon bag with a zipper. The two bags are great to put nuts and bolts in if you need to take something apart on the trail. It’s amazing how quickly dirt and trail debris can eat a bolt and make it disappear forever.
Some people I ride with don’t carry anything at all, or maybe just a multi-tool and get away with it. But if you are like me and do any back-country riding it can be long way back to the truck if something breaks, particularly if it's something you could have fixed on the trail.
When my we first moved to Central Washington we had no idea what winter was really about. Sure we thought we understood that winter is cold and the weather is not much fun but it wasn't until spending our first winter here that we came to understand the reality of things. Keep in mind we were young and adventurous in those days; things like tread on our tires and car batteries that worked all the time were luxury items. Warm clothes? Of course we had warm clothes, blue jeans, cheap cotton long-johns, leather work boots with two pairs of athletic socks and sweat-shirts....
Our first winter in the Kittitas valley we rented a very small, very old single wide trailer out in the country. We had old cars and of course very little money. That year it hit 40 below for a few days and dumped snow; I was pretty sure we had come to the end times. None of our vehicles would start, the water in our little trailer froze and we had a $400 electricity bill (keep in mind that was 25 years ago). Needless to say we spent allot of time inside watching TV, not much fun.
Eventually we figured it out, but I can say with complete honesty that I am not a winter person. So about this time of year, when the days are short and you may not see the sun for LONG periods of time I start thinking of going south. The problem is, like most people, those pesky jobs and responsibilities get in the way. So what to do? The way I see it, you have two choices:
1) Pretend you love being cooped up in the house and slowly turn into Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"... If you are thinking that it might be kind of fun to run around the house with an axe yelling "HERE's JOHNNHY" you may need to take a vacation, like yesterday.
2) Find something to do that you actually enjoy. In my opinion this is a much better option, and your chances of staying out of prison are much higher. So the question is what to do that is not expensive? If you already have a dirt-bike or ATV then you are in luck. Believe it or not, you can stay within the state borders and ride year round. If you are more adventurous and don't mind driving Southern Oregon has some pretty amazing riding that doesn't involve snow.
Here are some of the places here in Washington that you can usually ride all winter:
Beverly Sand Dunes
Moses Lake Sand Dunes
Juniper Dunes (north of Pasco and has much more than just sand dunes to ride)
There are several more places to go, but are not exactly "public" so I won't mention them here. Also there are areas on the west and east sides of the state, go to www.thumpertalk.com and look for the "Where to Ride" section.
I am not a huge fan of riding in the sand, but I have found that in the winter, the sand is much more firm and you can get away with comfortably not using a paddle tire.
As far as gear, regular riding gear works very well with good synthetic thermal underwear (NO COTTON!), a baklava (one of those nylon ninja masks) and a light jacket. I have found that once I get going my regular riding gloves work fine (as long as I am exerting myself) but I have recently tried the Fox brand Polar Paw gloves and have found them to be fairly warm but not too bulky. I have tried the snow glove thing, which is great for about the first two miles and then my hands get so hot and sweaty it's not funny. Keep in mind, you should carry an extra pair of dry gloves and an emergency space blanket just in case you have to spend a little time out in the cold not riding.
A heated trailer is really nice, but if you don't have one of those and can't afford to go out and buy one then look into getting one of those pop-up canopies a wall kit and throw a tarp on the ground. The canopy along with one of those tank mounted propane heaters will provide you with a surprisingly comfortable place to change, hang out and get warm, eat lunch etc.
The bottom line is that getting out is important for you and your machine. You may not put on as many miles as you do in the summer but it's still fun and there are no axe waving maniacs involved.
If you are looking for other people to ride with check out these groups:
Kittitas County Single Track Riders
Single Track Riders-Washington (meetup.com)
Dual Sport Riding Club-Washington (meetup.com)
The first real snow of the year has come to the Kittitas valley. Upper county recieved a pretty good dump a couple of days ago. Living in Central Washington we expect to have snow, cold weather and maybe even the occasional blizzard. Many of us think we are prepared, but are we really? Some things to keep in mind, do you have provisions if the power goes out for an extended period of time? Have you started your generator recently (do you have a generator)? If so, have you made sure that it is actually putting out electricity? Generators can run fine, but if not used, over time they will lose their ability to produce power. In most cases this is a pretty easy fix, but you don't want to wait until it's storming and dark to find out, particularly if you need parts. So if you haven't tested that generator in the last month, it's time to do it. Let it run for a while (20-30 minutes) under a load, plug in your portable heater to it and make it do some work. Make sure you have good ethenol free gas and plenty of it.
If you have a snow blower or a plow on your lawn tractor or ATV have you started them recently? Remember, batteries can go dead in cold weather, belts get hard and slip and/or break and tires go flat. Don't wait until you have a foot of snow to contend with before you look at these things. Speaking from experience, there is almost nothing worse than trying to figure out a mechanical problem with a flashlight in your mouth at 6 am and hoping you will still make it to work on time. As always, being prepared can be the difference between a good day and bad day 8-).