Thursday, November 8, 2012

The SAR 24-Hour Pack in Winter

The air is getting a little chillier, and hunting season is coming: it's the busy season for Search and Rescue teams.  Thinking back to November in prior years, this is the time when resources are stretched looking for lost hikers, missing hunters, and those who have wandered away in the night.
Search and Rescue in Winter

I also recall heading out to searches where searchers were vastly unprepared to deal with the weather, terrain, and other issues of conducting SAR in a winter environment.  I've seen people show up for searches in snow wearing sneakers and jeans - of course, they aren't carrying any water or basic survival supplies either. Yes, though it is hard to control what the myriad of volunteers bring with them, as SAR team members - we must do our best to be prepared for all conditions.

Though clothing and footwear is a huge component for venturing out into the woods, what I think we should talk about first is the 24-hour pack.  Yes, we could load all of our winter camping gear onto our backs, but as the weight adds up - the mission gets tougher.  Our packs must be comprehensive, yet light and agile enough to deftly maneuver through the brambles.

Here is a basic list for what I carry in my SAR winter 24-hour pack.  


  • Pack - Internal frame, about 40 liters 
  • Radio Chest Harness
  • Waterproof stuff sack for bivy system and spare layers
  • Waterproof bag for essentials 

  • Radio (with extra battery if available) 
  • GPS (with extra lithium batteries) 
  • Office: Notebook, pen, markers
  • Compass and protractor 
  • Flagging tape -multiple colors
  • String line (depending on mission) 
  • Headlamp (with batteries)
  • Small backup headlamp 
  • Powerful handheld flashlight
  • Reflective strip for pack
  • Safety glasses 
  • Tape measure 
  • Assortment of plastic bags for evidence collection 
  • Maps of area
 Ice and Snow: - traction devices from skis to crampons are mission and terrain dependent

  • Snowshoes
  • Microspikes
  • Crampons 
  • Ice awls
  • Trekking poles
  • Avalanche shovel 
  • 2 locking carabiners
  • 30 ' of tubular webbing or harness
  • 2 prusik slings 
  • Climbing gear as required
Survival / First Aid

  • First aid kit
  • Blood trauma kit in top of pack 
  • Fire starting kit 
  • 50' of parachute cord 
  • Toilet kit
  • Whistle
  • Large garbage bag
  • Knife

  • High-energy snacks (about 3,000 calories worth) 
  • Freeze-dried meal - boil in bag
  • 2 Water-bottles (no bladders)
  • 2 Water-bottle parkas
  • Chemical water treatment like aquamira 
  • Spoon
  • Liquid fuel stove and 2 Liter pot for cooking and melting snow - 1 per team [one person carries stove, other carries fuel, and another carries the pot]

  • Worn clothing - baselayer, midlayer, weather layer, hat, gloves, neck muff, boots, gaiters
  • Waterproof / breathable jacket and pants 
  • Puffy /belay jacket (for standing around) 
  • Extra gloves and mittens 
  • Extra hat or balaclava 
  • Spare pair of socks
  • Vapor Barrier socks
  • Glacier glasses or goggles
Bivy: Though you may not plan on staying out, you never know what will happen.  This is espeially true if you are sheltering in place with an injured subject.

  • Tarp or floorless tent like MSR twin peaks - one for ever two members 
  • Bivy sack
  • Sleeping bag (elephant's foot with puffy jacket works too)
  • You can also check out my idea of a multi-component SAR sleep system in a previous blog post. 
  • 3/4 ensolite pad (also handy for first aid)- use your empty pack for additional ground insulation 
  • Mylar blanket

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