I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Up in Calumet, their...
I live in a mountain oasis — my little taste of heaven. My closest neighbors are three miles away. My little off-grid retreat is surrounded by pine, mahogany, and juniper. I’m relatively self-sufficient here — comfortable enough to survive the zombie apocalypse. However, my biggest threat every year is one that’s not confined to the realm of fiction: wildfires.
Wildfire season in Nevada typically lasts from June through November, with seasons in surrounding states sometimes lasting through January. Dry weather combined with strong wind gusts could burn thousands of acres within hours. I know if a wildfire approaches, my best and safest bet is to grab my bag and evacuate to town. Ideally, this would mean notification during the day with ample time to get in my truck and drive the five miles of dirt road down the mountainside to the paved road that leads to civilization.
However, with unfavorable winds, I could be looking at a 0200 wake-up and sprint to the side-by-side because our only egress route is blocked. I have to be prepared for both scenarios. With this in mind, I chose a hiking pack to be my Wildfire Bug-Out Bag. After all, the situation could mandate I travel via truck, side-by-side, or on foot based on the fire location, thickness of the brush, and unfriendliness of the terrain.
The bag itself is an Osprey Ariel 65. I’ve had this pack since 2013 and haven’t been disappointed. While I could talk all day about the multitude of features and the Osprey’s reputation for solid products, I’ll focus on the final selling point for me: an adjustable, female-specific design. As a 5-foot-3 woman, it was imperative that I found a pack I could customize to my body shape. Like many vertically challenged people, my torso is quite short. Combine this fact with mother nature’s birthing hips, and you can understand the challenge of finding a hiking pack that fits.
The Osprey Ariel 65 women’s version has an adjustable harness system, curved shoulder straps for the female form, and a heat-moldable hip belt to ensure a snug fit around your unique body shape. There are many companies that currently offer female-specific packs. Not every pack fits every body shape well, so try on each brand until you find one that suits you.
Osprey no longer makes this particular model, but you can find the updated Ariel AG 65 version on the company’s website.
My intent is simple: get to safety and be prepared to rest in place for five to seven days until I’m cleared to go home or able to link up with friends or family. To me, this means probably spending a few days at an evacuation center or pop-up shelter. Do I still have long-term survival tools in my pack? Absolutely. I’m still prepared. However, they take up a small fraction of the space available, and these are items I’d rather have and not need than need and not have.
I’ve strategically placed items in the pack based on how quickly I need to reach them. The outside hip pockets contain the items I want to use without having to take the pack off: knife, flashlight, female urination device, and RATS tourniquet.
Above: Having a bag-within-a-bag, in the case of the author’s hygiene supplies, can help compartmentalize and prioritize survival needs if shedding excess gear becomes a necessity.
The pack lid is completely removable. Inside, I’ve packed items I’d need to access rather quickly. These include welders’ gloves in case I come across burning items that need to be removed, safety goggles to protect my eyes from ash, and other basic supplies — first-aid kit, LifeStraw, poncho, collapsible water bottle, and instant energy gels.
The first item inside the main compartment is my hygiene bag. This is a small Creek bag with pockets to keep supplies separate and easy to access. Under the secure flap, I hold my travel toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, wilderness wipes, pocket shampoo, and body wash leaves from Trek & Travel. In the zippered pocket, I carry a small microfiber hand towel, larger body bathing wipes, sunscreen, lip balm, and spare Colgate wisps. Again, the intent is to stay hygienic and healthy while displaced. Here, I also keep my “survivalist” gear: waterproof matches, compass, 550-cord, extra batteries, and multi-tool. I also keep a few hundred dollars in cash in the event I couldn’t grab my wallet as I was leaving.
Inside the pack are items to use once I’ve reached a safe destination: a sleeping bag, small blanket, an extra set of clothes and Goretex layers I’ve vacuum-sealed, shower shoes, a set of hiking boots, and a few trash bags. Additionally, I have some freeze-dried food, just in case.
I’m fortunate enough to have a fireproof vault where I keep all of my important documents. Otherwise, I’d be packing another bag to place inside this pack. But that’s the beauty of this particular bag — it can fit a lot of stuff! It also still has plenty of room for me to shove those last-minute additions: wallet, phone, and pistol with extra mags. I hope I never need to use this bag, but knowing it’s there makes me feel a lot better about the one threat that could force me from my refuge. Until then, I’ll keep my ear on the scanner and watch for fire planes above.
Make & Model
Osprey Ariel 65
Original version seen here discontinued. Updated version $310.