Possibles Pouch


Everyday carry for outdoor adventures…

Years ago I met Patrick Smith, founder of Mountainsmith packs and Kifaru outdoor gear. Patrick is something of a later day mountain man, and started his companies to produce the gear that he wanted to use himself on “rambles” in the Rockies.

In keeping with the mountain man theme, Patrick carries what he calls a “possibles pouch”–a small bag with everything that he might need to stay comfortable and safe in the outdoors. Back in mountain man days, a possibles pouch might allow a trapper to start a fire, build a hasty shelter or mend a piece of broken gear. These days it serves as a simple kit that you can carry with you anytime you venture out into the field.

If I remember correctly, Patrick wrote an article about his version of the possibles pouch back in the ’90’s. Maybe for Backpacker Magazine. That article stuck with me and I’ve been working to dial in my own system ever since.

[There’s an updated version of Patrick’s approach posted on the Kifaru website here].

The way I see it, my possibles pouch isn’t the same as the famous “10 Essentials” that a hiker should carry on the trail. I have to add in a few items to hit all 10 for any given day. Instead, my possibles pouch contains a core of items that I’ve found useful on extended trips in the backcountry. I build out for specific trips around these items, but they’re almost always with me when I’m in the field.

The pouch is a little heavy for ultralight backpacking missions. It’s not intended for that. It’s built for comfort, not for speed. If I’m shaving ounces I have to leave a few things behind, but for most adventures it simply goes in the pack without any additional thought.

Here’s what’s in the Possibles Pouch these days:

A mesh stuffsack rides inside the dry bag to keep sharp objects from wearing on the waterproof coating.

The Pouch
The pouch itself is a repurposed stuffsack from an REI tent footprint. Nice thing about this bag is that it is mesh on one side and nylon on the other. The mesh makes it easy to see things in the bag and the nylon seems to hold everything together a little better than an all-mesh bag would. This stuffsack goes into an Osprey sil-nylon roll top drybag for extra security.

First Aid
First aid items include nitrile gloves, band-aids, 4×4 bandages, vet wrap, tweezers, a few Sudafed pills and a small nalgene bottle of ibuprofen.

I carry a simple sewing kit, fabric tape, duct tape wrapped around my butane lighter, a couple plastic cordlocks, Aquaseal adhesive, and super glue. There is a Thermarest mattress repair kit in the kit as well as a Swiss Army knife that has a couple blades and an awl punch. A lightweight knife sharpener and a couple short lengths of 3mm accessory cord round things out.

Cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly are a very effective fire starter.

For fire starting I carry a round Altoids tin packed with cotton balls that have been saturated with petroleum jelly. If you shred these before lighting they burn like a furnace. My standard fire source is a simple butane lighter, but I also pack a magnesium fire bar with sparker.

When I worked for Voyageur Outward Bound School in the Boundary Waters we treated our water with tincture of iodine. Standard procedure was to carry a supply of iodine drops in an eye drops bottle, hung around your neck on a length of accessory cord. Five drops to a liter. Thirty minute contact time. Simple, lightweight and effective. I still carry the dropper that I used back then.

Basic. A simple, lightweight compass with a lanyard.

I wear glasses for nearsightedness. On trips I like to wear contact lenses. My possibles pouch has a small container of contact solution, a contacts case and a few extra lenses.

Headlamp. For years I carried a Petzl Tikka, which is light and effective. Lately I’ve switched to the slightly heavier Black Diamond Spot, which blasts out more light but seems to chew through batteries a little faster. I carry three extra AAA batteries and rotate these into the headlamp so that my primary batteries and spares are always fresh.

Other Personal Essentials
I pack a small pump spray of 100 percent DEET bug spray, a bit of paper towel for toilet paper and a pair of earplugs to insure a sound night’s sleep.

Exploded view top left to lower right: compass, knife sharpener, knife, bug repellent, repair kit, cord, ibuprofen, first aid kit, contact lens kit, paper towel, iodine dropper, magnesium fire starter, lighter with duct tape, cotton ball fire starters, headlamp and spare batteries.

Beyond the Possibles Pouch
There are a few personal items that I almost always carry on an overnight trip but don’t quite fit into the possibles pouch. They’re still worth a mention. After all, it’s nice to have a few luxuries. I like coffee, a sheath knife is handy, and it’s hard to eat without a spoon.

Mora/Light My Fire Fire Knife. Sharp, light, affordable.

I almost always carry a Light My Fire/Mora Fire Knife. The Mora stainless blade is razor sharp and tough enough to baton firewood into kindling. There’s a removable sparker built into the handle of the knife for fire starting. If I’m packing the Mora I’ll likely drop the Swiss Army knife and magnesium bar out of the possibles pouch to save weight.

[The Light My Fire/Mora knife seems like it is on the way out. Maybe the collaboration between the two brands has ended. Looks like Mora is producing a similar version called the Companion Spark. It appears to be the same knife with a different badge.]

The classic Aladdin mug is hard to improve on. Cutting off the handle and adding a lanyard makes it perfect. MSR Mugmate ready for action.

For backcountry brews the classic 12 ounce Aladdin mug is hard to beat. It keeps coffee hot, has a tight fitting lid and weighs next to nothing. I cut the handle off and add a small lanyard to keep the lid from wandering.

Sadly, Aladdin no longer makes their iconic mug. A couple years ago Cristi tracked down a dead ringer on the web. After using mine for two seasons I’m happy to say that it works just as well as the original. At time of writing I was able to find one here.

An MSR Mugmate rides inside the Aladdin mug on every overnight adventure. The Mugmate makes a solid cup of coffee from regular drip grounds and adds a minimum of weight to my pack. I’ve had mine for at least 15 years. It’s a little battered but still going strong. Worth every ounce.

Mug, Mugmate and Titan Spoon fit in a small mesh stuffsack.

Mug and Mugmate are packed in a small mesh stuffsack that has just enough extra room to squeeze in an MSR Titanium Spoon. This is the spoon that comes in the kit with a fork. I like the size and shape and it’s very light. If you can eat it with a fork, you can eat it with a spoon.

What’s Possible?
Keeping the basics of wilderness travel gathered together in a possibles pouch makes it easier to hit the trail in a hurry and insures that you won’t leave something essential behind. Let’s face it. Life is busy. One of the challenges that consistently comes up in outdoor industry surveys is finding enough time for for adventures outside. Anything we can do to remove barriers to those adventures makes it more likely that we’ll actually get out the door instead of making excuses. If it’s a hassle, we’re less likely to go.

Coming up with systems like a possibles pouch is one way to take the hassle out of planning and taking backcountry trips. Another approach might be to build out a Simple Clothing System to take the guesswork out of packing clothing for trips. A third might be to put together an 80 Percent Kit–a core of outdoor equipment that’s your first choice when you have to get out the door in a hurry.

Whatever approach you take, it’s well worth putting together a personal system to simplify your outdoor adventure planning. The workaday world is filled with barriers to outdoor fun. We might as well start knocking some of them out of the way. If we do we’ll find out what’s really possible.

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