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What Has Been In My Pack

by Kevin Estela February 05, 2018

What Has Been In My Pack

We’ve all seen the articles titled “What’s in my Pack”, “What I carry”, or something along the lines of “What’s Inside”. These articles and photos can be straight up “gear porn” for the Instagram crowd but they can also be great for the outdoorsman reader as they offer a glimpse into the contents of someone else’s bag. For someone just starting who throws anything and everything into their bag before a trip, order is probably lacking and reading the logic behind someone else’s careful planning is incredibly beneficial. I’ve written a “What’s in my Pack” article years ago for the now out-of-publication Self-Reliance Illustrated Magazine. At that time, I was employed at the Wilderness Learning Center run by Marty Simon as his Lead Survival Instructor. In that article, I covered the gear I carried in my daypack while teaching week-long courses. Years have passed since the WLC closed down to public classes and it has been even longer since I first assembled the contents of that pack in early 2007. Over the course of 10 years, very few contents of that pack have changed and what is important to note is what has and why. Every so often, it’s good practice to review the gear you carry and ask vital questions to determine the logic behind the decision to pack X, Y, and Z. With a new pack recently sent to me by my friends at Kifaru to replace the same pack I’ve carried for over 10 years, I recently underwent this process to see what gear would transfer over, what would be replaced and what can be left out at this stage in my professional outdoor instructor career.

What Has Been In My Pack - Kevin EstelaOut with the Old, In with the New

I’ve carried a lot of the same equipment in my tenure as a professional instructor. Like computers and vehicles, much can change in that amount of time. Technology is always improving and in 10 years, smarter choices may become available. Also, there is some gear that should have been replaced periodically as the expiration dates became overdue. When evaluating the gear carried, it’s easy to get carried away and discard items just because they’re well-used. 10 years of use is barely broken in for some gear and that idea doesn’t escape me. I also have to consider the sentimental factor. I don’t want to hold onto something old that is inferior to a new product simply because “I’ve had this forever”. Ever hear someone say that before? I have to look deeper at what I carry and use more scrutiny than age and feelings to determine if I replace something or not. In 10 years, I’ve replaced my stainless canteen with a titanium canteen kit from Heavy Cover. I’ve added a fireSLEEVE from Exotac to my Bic lighters. My bulky CR123 flashlight has been replaced with a smaller and equally strong Streamlight. My pack is in a constant state of revision. It’s never perfect but it gets better each time I change it up.

Establish the Basic Requirements First

Inside the pack I carried while teaching at the Wilderness Learning Center, I broke down the gear I carried into the 10 essential needs. These needs were also conveniently the topics we covered during week-long courses in the backwoods. The 10 basic needs for teaching were also those I needed to address while camping and escaping into the great outdoors on my free time which eliminated the need to unpack and repack this bag from one weekend to the next. Those needs are the following: fire, shelter, blades, food, water, signaling, first-aid/trauma, cordage, illumination, and navigation.

With each of these needs, I looked at what I packed and what I could replace. What follows is an abbreviated list of my most updated kit.

What Has Been In My Pack - Kevin Estela

Fire: 4”x1/2” Ferro rod, Vaseline Cotton Balls, Tinderquik tabs, Storm Matches, Exotac FireSLEEVE, Exotac nanoSPARK

Shelter: Kifaru Sheep Tarp, Vargo Titanium Tent Stakes, Misc. Cordage

What Has Been In My Pack - Kevin EstelaKnife: Leatherman Supertool 200, Bark River Bravo Necker (my belt knife usually isn’t included in this list)

What Has Been In My Pack - Kevin EstelaFood: Snares, Micro Fishing Kit

What Has Been In My Pack - Kevin EstelaWater: Heavy Cover Titanium Canteen, Cup, and Lid

Signaling: Surveyor’s Tape, Small Signal Mirror, Small Whistle, Hidden Woodsman Signal Panel

First-Aid/Trauma: Small First-Aid Kit, Tourniquet, Wet-Ones

What Has Been In My Pack - Kevin EstelaCordage: Assorted Paracord, Kevlar Cord, Jute Twine, Duct Tape

Illumination: Petzl TacTikka, Streamlight AAA light

Navigation: Suunto MC-2 G, Pad, and Paper

Miscellaneous: Survival Kit, Zip-Lock Bags, Tinder Bag, Carabiners, Gun/Knife cleaning kit, gloves, bandana

Little Details

I believe in redundancy. This is why there are various methods of starting fire, acquiring food, holding water, etc. in my kit. I also believe in double checking all the items I carry. In looking at what I’ve carried, there are some items that are packed more than they are used. One example is the small emergency fishing kit I demoed for students. That kit which fits inside an old Spark-Lite container is heavy on hooks, floats, and line but light on artificial lures. In my experience, I’ve learned the value of packing some dry flies and nymphs that work well on many species of freshwater fish. If I didn’t focus on the little details of each component with more scrutiny, I would have repacked that kit without adding the efficient flies to my tackle. The same type of close examination should be done once the broader survey is complete.

What Has Been In My Pack - Kevin EstelaRoom for Luxury Items

Spare space is a luxury in a pack like this. Remember, this pack is carried as part of a system and it is not meant to have extra fluff. That said, there are some luxury items I was able to incorporate into the new pack I didn’t have room for in the old pack. My old pack fit in the small of my back and because of its limited dimensions, carrying certain items became complicated. With more of a traditional backpack panel shape, I can lay the pack flat and open it up completely without having to remove all the contents to access what I need. I can utilize straps for a sleeping pad or hammock set-up. I can attach a small ax/tomahawk to the centerline and have the ability to process larger pieces of wood. I can even run a bungee cord on it and roll up a spare insulating layer if need be. Carried internally, a small pad and paper help kill boredom. Drink mixes help mask nasty flavors of treated water. All of these items are luxury pieces of kit and shouldn’t take up the spaces of essentials.

Bigger Questions

The easy questions to answer are those that have been mentioned already. Carry a Ferro rod to answer the question, “how will I start a fire?” Carry a titanium canteen to answer the question, “how will I carry/boil water?” The bigger questions you should also ask don’t have easy answers. “What’s my role?”, “Where am I going and what’s the mission?” “How long will I be able to survive/endure?” “What is the situation I will be in?” “What conditions will exist?” The list goes on and on. These answers require research and good conversations with those who have been there and done that. Perhaps you don’t have answers to these questions right now. Cover your basics and regularly revisit the gear you carry with an understanding tempered by experiences along the way. Your kit may not be perfect but with more time in the woods, you can constantly seek to improve it.

Kevin Estela
Kevin Estela


Kevin Estela is a Survival Instructor at Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin is a frequent contributing writer for publications such as RECOIL, Athlon Outdoors, and Beckett Media. He is a Sayoc Kali Associate Instructor Level 2, as well as a BJJ Purple Belt.

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