Over at Seattle's Trailsfest last weekend, lots of little kids and newbie hikers were indoctrinated by some of us, ahem, experts, on how to avoid becoming a statistic.
You probably already know you should never venture into the wilds without the "Ten Essentials," a gear list The Mountaineers conjured up in the pre-cell phone era to get you out of minor scrapes in the backcountry.
We support this notion. But, feeling unusually truthful today, we must confess publicly something we've long mulled privately: Not a single one of the Ten Essentials is likely to do anything more than weigh down your pack in the absence of the Eleventh one to go with it.
Namely, the common sense God gave moss.
(If you, personally, are not sure you have this, go check your driveway. If you see one or more Saabs, read on. The rest of you can proceed directly to the Jumble.)
1. Maps. You might need these to find your way out of a hole somewhere. This is assuming you know how to navigate with a map, which, based on the amount of bottled fizzy Italian imported water we saw in your cart at the grocery store last week, seems a dubious proposition, at best.
2. Compass. For most of us, it's completely, fully and unquestionably worthless. But it looks pretty cool, and the really nice Silva compasses come equipped with a fine neck strap that, in a pinch, could save your life if you use it for emergency backcountry flip-flop sandal repairs.
3. Flashlight (with AM/FM radio). Handy item, as it illuminates your meal for the squadron of bears that have been drawn late at night to your campsite.
4. Extra food. Face facts: Given the survival skills you've already considered with the above three items, there's no way you're going to live long enough in the woods to worry about meal planning. On the other hand, it's always nice to leave something around for the marmots and/or poor volunteer search-and-rescue blokes who'll have to haul your bleached bones out. Both species prefer Snickers.
5. Extra clothing. For those of you attempting to climb to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier this weekend in just a pair of micro-shorts and halter top (we know you're out there), this might be little more than a doo-rag. For the rest of us, a lightweight sweater and rain gear will do.
6. Sunglasses. Very important to prevent snow-blindness. Plus, they'll make you look cool and nonplussed or, in the event of very bad sunglasses, like a dehydrated, panicked, starving Elton John when they bring you off the mountain in a chopper.
7. First-aid kit. Make sure it's up to date and filled with at least the minor essentials you'll need to make it through your ordeal: Band-Aids, aspirin, bug dope, disinfectant, stomach pump and bone saw.
8. Swiss Army Knife. Because you just never know when you might need one of these trusty tool's standby knife blades, screwdrivers, nail files, sewing awls, blacksmith tongs, harpsichord tuners or 1977 Technics turntable needles.
9. Matches. A few years ago, we would have advocated a portable lighter instead. Not anymore. Since the Consumer/Dufus Product Safety Commission saved America from the scourge of flame-belching Bics by mandating those insufferable, completely inoperative butane-lighter safety locks, we haven't found a single one capable of starting a blaze in the twisted wreckage of a newspaper truck and gasoline tanker. Speaking of which:
10. Fire starter. You could use a candle, a chemical paste or compressed wood chips. Or you could realize, as we just have, the painful truth: You're holding one, baby.