- Buyer's Guide
How to Prepare and Pack for a Solo Adventure
Fewer things are as exciting and terrifying as navigating in tight corridors, underground, and being completely alone with your entire world illuminated solely by the glow of your headlamp. The darkness blips speckles of life, like stars on a clear night sky, as your light source reflects back off the minerals on the walls. You calm your breathing to hear what the darkness has to say. Sometimes the darkness answers with nothing. Pure silence that’s magically deafening. Sometimes it serenades you with a symphony of acoustics as drips of water echo and reverberate all around. Movement is slow and methodical as you look all around to process hazards above and below you. You duck, crawl, climb, squeeze, press, and slide your way deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.
Going alone on any adventure can be a hazardous endeavor. However, it adds an element to the adventure that can only be experienced being solo. For this writer, it’s a true test of gear, skill, and mindset. You’ve got to be self-aware, confident in your abilities, knowledgeable with your gear, and constantly evaluating your knowns and unknowns to make informed decisions on the regular to avoid bad situations.
It’s risky, but incredibly rewarding. Every precaution should be made. A plan of execution and desired outcomes should, at the very least, be considered. Approaching excursions, such as this, with this mindset should help make prep and execution easy. And let’s face it, more fun too! After numerous solo adventures and many mistakes leading to experiences along the way, here is how I now PLAN, PREPARE, and EXECUTE when it comes to gear selection and carry options for solo adventures.
(It’s always wise to time log adventures. When a new leg of the adventure starts or ends. How long you’ve been where, etc. In an emergency this can be critical intel.)
PLAN. Start with a list. Yes, a physical list.
There are two lists I suggest you start:
- Adventure timeline
- When should things be happening?
- Gear list
- What am I going to need and when?
Dialing your lists to a precise measure will help you avoid potential issues in the field. Take your time and think it all out from desired outcome to worst case scenario. A list is the quickest and easiest way to identify finer logistical points, if you have the right or wrong gear, or too little or too much gear instead of staring at a pile on the floor and scratching your head.
It’s a dress rehearsal to some degree. Remember, great movies and TV shows aren’t made without a script and storyboards as guidelines. Similarly, great adventures should be carefully planned.
A gear list for this outing looked something like:
Descending & Ascending Gear
Various (tools & nutrition)
Thyrm CellVault – CR123 and AA batteries
Having a comms plan is critical (and could be an entire article in itself). Having a capable support team of friends and family that know where you are, how long you’ll be there, a copy of your gear list, and a check-in schedule is highly recommended. I also usually leave a cheapish radio or note in my truck with basic info. Should something go wrong, someone (hopefully a ranger or support member) can get in (break in, if necessary) and attempt to establish communications. It’s not without flaws, but is better than nothing at all.
Pack (see below)
PREPARE. Pack in the order of need. Don’t just cram it in.
Once the desired timeline and gear are established, selecting carry considerations and packing for such an endeavor should be based on logistics of use. Like going through airport security, you don’t want your boarding pass and ID at the bottom of your pack when you arrive at security. You want what you need, ready to go, when you need it.
For this trip, logistical planning looked like the following:
- Travel: Off road on forest service roads.
- Packing considerations: Need to be able to secure gear so it doesn’t bounce around in the back of the truck (becoming unorganized or damaged) when on those forest service roads.
- Hiking in: ¾ mile hike on narrow, aspen forest, switchback trail with moderate elevation gain (700 ft).
- Packing considerations: Comfortable carry solution that can hold all required gear (around 20-25 lbs) while maintaining a narrow, clean, profile. You don’t want a ‘garage sale’ of gear flopping all over the place, potentially getting snagged on brush, becoming lost (depending on the item, this could be a catastrophic failure).
- Entrance: 60-foot rappel down shaft into main cavern.
- Packing considerations: Effectively hold required gear in an organized and secure manner that can be easily accessed. Should be able to arrive, unpack needed gear without affecting any other gear, set up rappel, and execute without worry of misplacing or losing required gear for the next leg of the adventure.
- Subterranean: Tight corridors, possible rough and high abrasion environment, possible wet environment, pitch black.
- Packing considerations: Large enough to hold required gear, small enough as to not hinder mobility in tight spots. Ability for moderate amount of organization and quick access. High abrasion resistance and high water resistance.
(Average growth rate of a limestone stalactite is about 1 inch every 200 years.)
Planning and packing with this type of logistical use in mind helps build an effective system that maximizes your ability to perform. You can stay focused on the task at hand while minimizing the possibility of losing critical gear. This can often happen when you are constantly opening and closing your pack, digging for the gear you need at that moment, pulling everything out, putting it back, creating rushed, sloppy organization that you’ll have to deal with again later.
(An example of external battery organization and storage. Making it quick and easy to change batteries out without even opening the pack at all.)
After narrowing down what gear you’ll need and when you’ll need it, selecting the perfect pack option is a matter of fact, not theory or desire. Use what checks the boxes.
For example, with this adventure:
- 25L to 30L should be enough to haul all the needed gear.
- External mounting and compression a must for attaching and hauling rope and helmet. Once the rope is used for the entrance, it will stay in place for the exit. The pack must be able to manage compression slop easily when not in use.
- Comfortable hauling around 20-25 lbs.
- High abrasion and water resistance.
- As minimal a profile as possible (not a lot of external flare).
- Ability to organize internals to a moderate degree.
I opted for the Triple Aught Design FAST Pack Litespeed Special Edition (perks of employment). The Litespeed SE is 22L of internal capacity, the ability to be highly organized utilizing Control Panels and Pouches, easy mounting of quick-access gear externally, and made from high abrasion and water-resistant VX42 sailcloth material. Not to mention, I field tested the pack on a different caving adventure earlier in the year before its release to the public. It’s got a proven track record for me.
EXECUTE. Focus on the moment. Not your gear.
From here, if you stick to your plan (remember your lists), support gear and how to carry it should be an afterthought. It’s time to focus on the rest of the journey from navigation to skill set, weather, physical fitness, etc. After all, gear is great, but it’s only a force multiplier in the hands of a capable user. “The aviator flies the aircraft.”
Now, let’s be real, is this approach to planning and packing absolutely critical for every excursion? Probably not. It’s vastly dependent on the excursion. Rappelling in and traversing a cave out in the backcountry means I should have my gear as squared away as possible. Traveling to a new city for a weekend getaway means you’ll likely have access to grab additional, forgotten, lost, or discarded items, so your planning and packing can be less strict. Regardless, it’s always a good exercise to practice. And it’s fun!
The key takeaway here is to know what you need and when. Plan for contingencies without compromising the overall objective. Pack accordingly based on your timeline of need. If you can dial that in before being in the moment, then you can focus on the moment when it happens and not on your equipment.
I hope you found this helpful and that it aids you in avoiding mistakes I’ve made in the past. Good luck out there, and remember, life is always good when you have a dirty pack.
This article was written by Phil Adams : Marketing virtuoso at Triple Aught Design, adventure connoisseur, and gear enthusiast. He’s devoted to inspiring others to live an adventure-driven lifestyle with captivating stories through imagery and written works.
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