One of the many challenges for SAR members is figuring out how much (and what) to carry in a pack. One objective is to reduce the burden of the weight carried. Another is to make sure everything that might possibly be needed is taken along. It can be a difficult balance.
Despite the fitness hike requirement to carry a 20-lb pack, it isn't necessary to carry that much weight on every search. So what's the answer- how does a searcher know what to bring without lugging around unnecessary poundage?
Type I searchers Matt Shargel and Michael Boyce are both experts at packing "ultralight." Matt, for instance, claims he can take a three-day backpacking trip with a five-pound pack, but for the team as a whole, that's not recommended . . . and even Matt would never pack that light for a search.
Ultimately, it's up to the individual to figure out what works for them, but it doesn't hurt to ask the experts how they hone down the weight. Type I team members and those who have been on the team a long time are good resources to ask.
"Every mission is different," Matt says. "Experience-20 searches or so-is the best way to learn how to pack. That's good reason to participate in team, resource, and personal trainings every chance you get."
Certain purchases can also help lighten the load. Michael, for instance, uses Gossamer Gear equipment for shelter and stuff bags. They offer distinct advantages in terms of weight, but can be pricey. Ziplock bags, on the other hand, are a simple, inexpensive way to divide necessities. Taking things out of their packages, or off their spools, can also help. Case in point: use a Sharpie, trekking pole, or Nalgene bottle as a wrap for duct tape.
Start your packing by going through the gear list with an eye toward what items are always necessary: water, snacks, pen, notebook, cell phone, latex or nitrile gloves, and so on. These are the musts that should be with you on every callout. Then go through the list and see what items are mostly seasonal. For instance, rain gear, warm gloves, and woolen hats can all be set aside during the warm months.
Finally, think about the search at hand. It isn't necessary to carry a tarp on an urban search. Nor will you need a fire starter or Tecnu. If you're just going door-to-door, you may even get by with just a fanny pack or shoulder harness. On the other hand, a callout to wooded or mountainous areas may require everything in your 24-hour pack, and maybe more-especially if it's out of county. The needs of a rural callout will be somewhere in between.
The mission will always dictate the priorities. Experienced searchers go through their pack and pull out any gear that isn't typically needed for every search. Those items are often kept in a separate satchel, but brought to the search so last-minute packing can be done for the specific assignment the searcher is given. Different field assignments throughout the day may mean swapping out certain items as needed. Checklists can help, so that in the hurried moments of a callout, a critical piece of gear isn't forgotten.
Talk to your teammates. See how they pack, what they pack, and what they've learned about what they need most and least. Before you spend money on highend gear, ask around to see if someone doesn't have a tip for a simpler solution or less expensive item. You can also learn from mistakes others have made-like buying a heavy first-aid kit when items from the Dollar Store carried in plastic bags would suffice.
Extra weight makes for slower and less-efficient searchers, which leads to decreased performance and reduced effectiveness. So make an effort to lighten up. Like Matt say, "Safety and the mission are first. These objectives can be supported by the informed and experienced selection of needed gear-with efficiency in mind."