- Buyer's Guide
Pack Essentials with Pack Config
Nat Wagstaff, outdoorsman and Pack Config founder, has gotten the practice of tailored packing for each outing down to a fine art. In addition to knowing what to pack, he’s also learnt – equally importantly – what not to pack. However, there are some pack essentials that make the cut each and every time. He shares his carry knowledge below…
The space in our pack is a precious commodity. It should be used efficiently and guarded from our own laziness of packing items “just in case”. Yes, we should be prepared. But let’s be smart about it. I learned this important lesson while merrily filling up a 30-liter pack with everything I could possibly need for an 18-mile hike the next day. My wife kindly questioned whether I really needed everything I’d packed and in that moment something clicked. I dumped everything out and started again. My end result was a cool 10 liters of scrutinized essentials and a much happier back.
“The space in our pack is a precious commodity. It should be used efficiently and guarded from our own laziness of packing items “just in case”.”
Had my needs changed? No. But my mindset did. With this fresh view on packing, I am compiling a growing list of essential items. They are useful, affordable and most importantly, have spent time in my pack. Whether they have been carried every day or for specific activities, they are items I can personally recommend and are deserving of some of the carefully defended space in your pack.
The first on my list of affordable essentials; the survival/child’s-fort-making blanket.
I’ve had one of these survival blankets in my pack or car kit for a while now. It was one of those items that was recommended by many and I knew it would be useful if I ever needed it. But I didn’t ever open it to test it out as folding it back together looked a daunting task.
So why am I recommending this product I hear you ask? Well after the birth of our son, my wife said that she’d ordered a multipack of these survival blankets (it’s a good day when your wife orders survival gear!). Apparently they’d used them at a multi-sensory group and our son had loved them. At that time (and still today) he wasn’t entertained for long before wanting to move onto the next thing, but we laid him down in a survival blanket and he giggled his way through the next 30 minutes. It became a regular activity that he (we!) thoroughly enjoyed!
Through using these blankets I learnt a few things that make me comfortable recommending it. The first thing is that they are incredibly warm. When making ‘forts’ with my son to play in it very quickly got way too warm to stay under. In a situation where someone needed to recover their natural body temperature this would be really effective. I also learnt how easy it is to fold up really small again. I didn’t try to do the original fold but I could get it pretty close to the original size with little effort.
“In a situation where someone needed to recover their natural body temperature this would be really effective. I also learnt how easy it is to fold up really small again.”
It’s one of those pieces of kit you hope you won’t need, but you’d regret not having if you did, especially for the tiny amount of space it takes up. And if you have young children it’s a great affordable toy*.
*Disclaimer: Please use your common sense and don’t leave your children unattended with these!
Meet the most effective baby-proofing device I’ve found. It’s also pretty good at other things…
These Rigger’s Rubber Bands offered by ITS Tactical are a quick, inexpensive solution to many of life’s problems. Traditionally used by the skydiving community and the military, they are much more resistant to rotting than a regular rubber band. They’re not indestructible. I used them to secure the lid of a large box that stretched it probably over 10 times its size! It held the first couple of times (which I was impressed with), but after being taken on and off a few times it did snap. They’re great for securing webbing, excess straps (for example on my headtorch above) and generally keeping untidiness in check.
“I used them to secure the lid of a large box that stretched it probably over 10 times its size!”
The most surprising use I’ve found is a good demonstration of how tough they are. After being disappointed by the effectiveness of various cupboard door baby-proof solutions, I threw one of these across two cupboard handles and it held. We’ve since added these to various cupboards around the kitchen and even vertically to secure two drawers together. They’ve stood up to my 14-month-old’s eager pulling for a good few months now and they’re only showing minimal signs of wear.
These are so cheap for the number of uses you could get out of them and I highly recommend picking up a pack or two of these for yourpack…or even your kitchen!
Duct tape. Improved.
This troop of tape made my list of useful and affordable items.
Duct tape. Improved.
If you need more persuasion than that, you’ve probably never used duct tape before. Duct tape is generally seen as a universal fixing tool. It can also be used to create things too. Wallets, hammocks, even sofas. Nothing seems impossible for this tape and I’ve been in countless situations where duct tape has been the answer to unexpected problems. Since the origins of duct tape (originally developed during WWII as a waterproof seal to keep moisture out of ammunition cases) its uses have multiplied astronomically.
Rather than list examples of suggested uses (there are endless lists online) I want to let you know why this particular product deserves your attention. The makers must have taken the basic, bog-standard duct tape and put it through the tape equivalent of the toughest military selection available. The result is Gorilla Tape. It is the strongest I’ve used and yet, perhaps crucially, you can still tear it with your fingers. Its grip is incredibly firm, even over time, and it doesn’t leave awful marks when removed like some cheaper tapes do.
“The makers must have taken the basic, bog-standard duct tape and put it through the tape equivalent of the toughest military selection available.”
The bottom line is that Gorilla Tape will always be found in my pack. I’ve found the 1 inch roll to be particularly useful as it takes up less space and is more convenient for small tasks, as well as being tough enough for the heavy-duty work. As you can see from the image above, I’m already on my third roll of the stuff and I have a full size roll too. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think…
A match that keeps burning in the face of adversity made my list of useful and affordable items.
A while ago my wife made me a firestarting kit using an old Altoids tin. It’s very special to me and will always have a place in my kit, probably for the rest of my life. She’d included a bunch of these stormproof matches and had painstakingly peeled the striking disc from the lid and stuck it to the inside of the tin. I loved this addition and had often thought of trying these ‘stormproof’ matches out, to see how well they actually performed.
The video in the link is pretty true to their effectiveness. Stamping, covering with dirt, being submerged in water, wind, there seems to be almost nothing that can prevent these little bad boys from burning. I’m personally a big fan of using a firesteel and striker, but when it comes to firestarting having a backup is essential. There would be nothing worse than having the need for a fire and your primary method failing you. These matches are a solid backup (or primary) option for starting a fire whose performance won’t be affected if they accidently get wet in your pack.
“Stamping, covering with dirt, being submerged in water, wind, there seems to be almost nothing that can prevent these little bad boys from burning.”
I will give you a bit of advice about using these from my own experience. They are impervious to pretty much anything that could stop them from burning, which is great, until you’ve used them and want to put them out. You basically cannot do this! Make sure you’ve got a plan of where you’re going to dispose of your still flaming match once you’ve finished with it. If you’re lighting a campfire or BBQ, no problem, it can just be thrown in. If you’re lighting a gas lamp or candles (or even testing them out for fun) be prepared to watch them burning until they’re done. I can definitely recommend these. In the link I’ve even picked out a kit with a waterproof container.
This versatile clip made my list of useful and affordable items I can personally recommend.
Using carabiners to attach those extra or unexpected items to your pack is great and something I do often. However, there are times where I find them falling short of what I need them to do. Unless they’re attached to more than one row of webbing, I find they’ll often twist around making the opening inaccessible. If they are attached to more than one row they are clinched in closer to the pack, often making it hard to add items to.
The benefit of these ITW Grimloc D-Rings is that they attach securely to any piece of 1 inch webbing (including non-tactical packs) in a way that keeps the loop fixed outwards. This makes them easy to get hold of and quick to use. The push button lock enables them to be opened and snapped shut with one hand. The “D” part also opens up 180º so you don’t have to thread larger items through. They are not designed for any serious load bearing (e.g. climbing) and would reassuringly break open if you applied your full weight to them to prevent dangerous snagging.
“The push button lock enables them to be opened and snapped shut with one hand.”
The corrosion-resistant, high strength polymer is both strong and light. I used these for a whole variety of tasks, but most often I use them for holding a water bladder tube, or attaching a water bottle or pair of shoes to my pack. They’re pretty inexpensive for the versatility offered, but be warned there are plenty of fake/cheap alternatives out there that aren’t made of the same material and should be avoided. ITW is a brand that make the (as far as I know) original Grimloc D-Ring and should be your first choice. I’ve attached links for the Foliage Green, Tan and Black colors (the black Maxpedition version should be legitimate).
I picked up this headtorch a few years ago as it appeared on the GORUCK store and I thought if it’s good enough for a GORUCK Challenge it would be more than enough for what I needed. I’ve used it on many occasions for extended periods of time, including two full nights where I walked through the night navigating across the British South Downs which tested out the good run time. Despite not being the highest powered LED out there, it’s compact in size and doesn’t have an awkward or heavy separate battery pack like others on the market. I generally combine it with a torch/flashlight with a longer ‘throw’ to see things in the distance. It’s easy to adjust and is comfortable enough to wear.
“Despite not being the highest powered LED out there, it’s compact in size and doesn’t have an awkward or heavy separate battery pack like others on the market.”
The red light filter slides up easily to help preserve your night vision and I also found the red light doesn’t attract as many bugs which is really handy when walking among the human-skin-hungry wonders of creation. On other models this red light is activated by scrolling through the lighting modes, often meaning the bright white light clicks on before reaching the red light. The principle of “less moving parts means less can go wrong” should be considered here but, in my opinion, the trade-off for the manually controlled filter is worth it.
*The TacTikka range has been updated since I purchased this headtorch around 2 years ago. After a little research I found the Tikka XP2 is the best match to the one I have; specifically it includes the manual filter. I highly recommend picking up a headtorch of some kind to have in your pack, or even to keep in your car – just in case. Sometimes having hands-free illumination can be indispensable.