Search and Rescue Packs

by Dana McGuire

The right tool could mean the difference between life and death.

In trainings, conferences, seminars, on-line discussions and at the top of mountains SAR Packs are an ever evolving discussion. In the SAR community we are constantly considering new, innovative equipment that we want to take into the field with us. And organizations and agencies make up SOPs that determine what we WILL carry into the field. Everyone wants to know what the RIGHT toolkit to have is and how to deploy it. I wish it were so simple. Whether it's clothes, lights, compasses and GPS', camp stoves, tents, pads, sleeping bags, tracking sticks, ropes, harnesses, or even the packs themselves, we strive to look for the lightest, smallest, strongest, most long-lasting and coolest stuff to do the things our older, heavier, bulkier stuff did.

Equipment Lists: We're asked to carry specific equipment into the field by our various agencies. And those agencies ask for our lists for agency SOPs. If there were a standard pack list, it would be easy. But as we've seen, there is no standard configuration or list for any individual SAR team, so it stands that each pack list will vary as well.

I encourage you to do an online search for "SAR pack list" and see what variations you get. Most will be similar, though many will differ due to the region they operate in or the personal preferences of the members and their history. One of the most generalized lists and one of the most used or copied is NASAR's (National Association for Search And Rescue) which you can find on their website They're various as to the specialty or level of certification among SARTECHs (SAR Technicians).

This is the one for the SARTECH II from NASAR:

Equipment List
The following equipment is commonly compiled to form what is referred to as a "24-hour ready pack." Such a pack holds those items that will assist the holder in functioning safely and effectively during a SAR mission. Some items may be carried on a belt, in pockets, or strapped to the person. This is the minimum equipment recommended to be carried on all missions in non-urban or wilderness areas. Your local equipment requirements may vary. Consult a physician for recommendations about analgesics and other drugs that you may carry in the SAR pack.

Personal First Aid and Survival Kit

(Non-urban) Personal SAR Equipment

Optional Personal Support Equipment
Recommended But Not Required

The SAR component of an agency may be made up of a mix of personnel from various fields, First Responders, EMTs and Paramedics, LE (Law Enforcement) laborers, CPAs, housewives, mothers, fathers, students... The gear each carries will depend on their level of training, certification and/or licensure, budget, and ultimately, agency or organizational SOP. You may come from a field which allows or requires you to work with weapons, computers, medical or other specialized equipment, but as a member of a SAR team, you may not need to carry such items, and your agency will determine that in its SOPs.

SAR Packs Weight and Bulk Matter: Helmet, radio, BDUs, vest or pack, survival gear, medical gear (both personal and for the potential victim), tracking gear, lights, batteries, compasses and GPSs, hydration systems, food, knives, multi-tools are very much standard for most professional SAR teams across the US and the world.

As responders, we may have other items we decide we want or "need" on deployment. That is a team or individual choice. And as you branch off into other specialties: K9, Mounted, Tech Rescue, Medical, IC, you will find your pack growing and weighting you down even more. Take one hike with your pack and you'll begin to reconsider what is "needed" then! Load size and weight become a great factor in a team member's stamina and physical performance. It is unlikely an encumbered team member could fit though some rock crevasses or collapsed buildings' passageways with any grace and can often pose a danger to themselves and others around them.

A streamlined profile is preferred to a bulky one, reducing weight at the same time. The best way to do this is to distribute the items among other team members. The same Technical Rescue, medical, or other gear can be distributed among other members of your team to transport items and save the wear and tear on one individual.

Durability, Utility and Vacuum Packaging: SAR units deploy into every type of environment from scorching hot, humid, and parched and dry to hurricane drenched or socked in and snowy. We go to search for and/or rescue persons in the SAME environment that they got themselves lost or injured in to begin with. So, we should be better prepared for it than they were, if at all possible.

Once wet, most packaging becomes soft and tears open exposing costly supplies to contamination or degradation. This renders that equipment useless in a time of need when we reach in and pull it out. If it is medical equipment, it may mean the patient's or rescuer's life. If moisture isn't a problem, then friction, heat, time and Murphy's Law will do the same.

The best technique is to vacuum-package it. How often do you use the items in your pack? For those of you that have been a responder for long, you can attest to the fact that most of your gear has never been used and truly the only time it's seen the light of day is when you rearrange your pack or are searching for that one elusive item that has somehow fallen to the bottom of your pack! Vacuum sealing items into modules will give everything a cleaner look as well as a new, more efficient manner of identification. The evacuation of air from the equipment creates a very compact package that is only a fraction of its prior bulk. The slight addition in weight from the plastic packaging is clearly offset by the reduction of size of pack and streamlining of your profile. The durable, clear plastic packaging aids in the ready identification of the module and packaged contents. Prepackaged supplies kept in your vehicle all can be immediately restocked as needed during a mission or after it as been completed.

Lastly, make sure you use a modular approach and distribute bulky specialized equipment among team members. Streamline your own gear list and carry as little unnecessary equipment as possible. Vacuum package everything for durability, ease of identification and restocking.

© 2007 Dana McGuire

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