Mountainpathfinder>> Georgia SAR>> Frequently Asked Questions about...SAR Equipment Recommendations

Q: "What do you look for in a SAR ready pack?"

A: An internal frame pack with between 2,000-2,500 cubic inches of space. The SARTECH II standard calls for a pack of at least 1,800 cubic inches of space. The SARTECH I standard only specifies a pack "adequate to carry required equipment." For searching in Georgia I look for packs that:

  • Are panel loaders or that have a front zip that permit you to see everything in the pack
  • Have a pocket and hardware for using a hydration system
  • Have cinch straps for tightening the pack close to your body
  • Have a well-padded hipbelt
  • Have plenty of ventilation in the back.

It's difficult to beat the Kelty Redwing in either the 2,500- or 3,100 cubic inch configuration. These have been a staple for searchers for many years. I've had mine for around five years. If you want to step up in terms of ventilation, I really like the Osprey line. Check out the Osprey Atmos 35 Pack. It has super ventilation in back. The Blackhawk Tactical X-1 R.A.P.T.O.R pack is a bulletproof ruck by a stellar manufacturer. Since it comes with the Hydrastorm hydration system, it's an excellent bargain for its price. Blackhawk also makes a number of accessory pouches to add to the rig. These are also compatible with the Blackhawk vest that I use.

For SAR I don't especially recommend packs or any other backcountry clothing that's geared to the "ultralight" backpacking movement. "Ultralight" supplies is not made for cross-country travel that will take the user through the briars and thorns that are the stock-in-trader for SAR operators. Searchers can benefit from some elements of ultralight philosophy. I am a big believer in hammocks with silicone-coated, nylon ripstop tarps. I also like alcohol stoves, such as the Etowah Outfitters stove, and cartridge stoves like the SnowPeak.

Q: "What compass do you recommend for SAR?"

A: A orienteering-style compass with a clear baseplate is required for the SARTECH II and SARTECH I evaluation. A compass feature checklist:

Must-have features

  • A clear or translucent baseplate
  • Plenty of orienting lines in the bezel
  • A direction of travel arrow (and preferably several lines parallel to the DOT arrow) on the baseplate or mirror
  • A lanyard loop that is slightly elevated or up-turned so that your compass will lie flat on the map without the lanyard loop lifting it off the map
  • Bezel is graduated in 360 degrees with two-degree increments (each tick mark represents two degrees)
  • Preferred-but-optional features

  • A mirror sight
  • A long baseplate. The longer the baseplate, the longer the lines you can draw. Longer lines usually equate to better accuracy
  • A 1:24000 distance scale instead of a 1:25000 scale. Suunto is the only manufacturer that I feel almost certain that any their compasses would work for SAR. The exceptions are the wrist compass, the thumb compass, and a mirror-sighting compass with a black baseplate. If you saw any of these three, you are very likely to recognize them as not meeting our other criteria.

    For general search work, the Suunto A-10 compass will more than fill the bill. I've carried a Suunto M-3D Leader for years for the extra baseplate length. If you're going for a mirror-sighting compass, then by all means look at the Suunto MC-2 Pro compass.

    Some people are adamant about using lensatic compasses even though they will not pass the SARTECH pack checks. They're a great compass but they have drawbacks. They aren't the compass/ruler/protractor multi-tool that the baseplate compass is. They're heavy. They're more expensive. That being said, they're highly accurate in trained hands. The other problem with these is that some buyers have a tough time distinguishing the military-issue or -equivalent quality ones from the many "trash" brands out there. Get the Cammenga brand GI lensatic tritium self-luminous field compassor less-expensive GI lensatic phosphorescent-bezel compass With the lensatic compass you'll need a protractor for map work. A well-made combination protractor and UTM grid reader is available through REI.

    Q: "Any brand of Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver that you suggest?"

    A: I use Garmin. There are several good units on the market. Choose a unit that:

    • Is sturdy and waterproof
    • Uses batteries as well as a car charger. Try to find one that uses the same batteries as your other search devices
    • Allows you to download/upload data to/from a PC
    • Accepts extra memory cards
    • Accepts topographic map software as well as automobile navigation software.

    I currently use a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx receiver. It's no longer top-of-the-line, but is still more than satisfactory. One of Garmin's current top-line models is the Oregon 400i receiver.

    Q: "You're really picky about the brand of waterproof matches to carry. What's the big deal?"

    A: The issue is that searchers tend to disregard how important their matches are. Because of that, they scrimp on the cost of a critical ready pack item. You must have trustworthy matches. A good match is windproof, waterproof, and has a long burn time. I also like a long, robust match. The cheap brands sold in big box stores won't cut it. And kitchen matches can't be counted upon even if they're coated with paraffin.

    Having tested a lot of match brands, the best that I've seen are:

    • REI Storm Proof Matches. These are sold in a pair of sealed paper cartons with 25 matches in each. Each carton bears two striker plates, and contains another, stiffer, striker plate inside. The only thing that seems to extinguish them before running out of chemical is complete immersion in water. They appear impervious to rain and high wind. If you've sat through my FUNSAR, you've probably seen these burnt
    • British Lifeboat Survival Matches. These are sold in a pair of sealed, water-tight plastic containers that includes cotton wadding (for tinder) on the inside and a large striker plate on top.

    Q: "Why are map and compass skills important if everyone has a GPS receiver?"

    A: Batteries fail. GPS receivers break. GPS receivers are stolen or lost. The GPS receiver doesn't have map that you need. The map software in the receiver may be of too large a scale to be meaningful. Reception is bad because of heavy foliage other tall obstructions such as narrow canyon walls or large buildings. Your debriefer may expect you to submit a paper map that illustrates the route that you took. In an emergency in the field you may need to send a runner with a map of the route that other should take to reach you.

    Q: "What are some lighter-weight choices for pack contents?"

    A: Good choices in filling your pack can reduce your costs, lighten your load and protect your supplies from dampness and shaking. One suggestion that I make is for FUNSAR students or potential SARTECH candidates in a class or organization to team up to purchase the pack stuff that's only sold in bulk. In some cases you can find materials that are packaged in ready pack-friendly sizes, but the individual, single-use packages are sold in a large quantity. A group of students or candidates can agree that each one will purchase a different required item in the bulk pack. The group can then pool everyone's purchases to make sure each person has the right quantity of everything. Here are some of my suggestions:

    • "4-Acetaminophen or aspirin tablets" - REI carries these in a two-tablet, restaurant "salt packet" in a ten-pack baggie
    • "1-Antiseptic Ointment" - REI sells these restaurant-style "ketchup packets" of triple antibiotic ointment in a ten-pack
    • "1-Candle, long burning - sold in convenient REI three-packs
    • "1-Duct Tape, 5-10 ft" - BQ carries rolls of the quintessential "100-mph tape" in a 100-yard/36 m roll
    • "8-Matches in a waterproof container" - discussed here
    • "1-Moleskin" - this 24-inch roll of Dr. Scholl's Moleskin Plus is enough for several people. Remember, once you've opened the original packaging, you need to replace the moleskin in your pack each year. The adhesive dries up

    Thanks to Allen Padgett, of Search and Rescue Dogs of Georgia (SARDOG), for his contributions to this FAQ.

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    Updated Sunday, January 10, 2010, 02:47 PM
    Copyright 2000-2010 Jim Greenway