Wilderness Pathfinder Adventures – Gear Information

Trail Crafting is the skill and art of using basic gear and natures resources to be comfortable in nature.  This is certainly know more and carry less.  Desert Dawn’s Trail Crafter courses and private excursions focus on gear that has two basic qualities: Simplicity and  Versatility.

Simple gear is basic in design.  The beauty of simplicity is that there is not much that will go wrong and if something does go wrong it is often easily repairable in the field, often with just a needle and thread.

Versatile gear has many uses.  When a piece of gear has two, three, four or more functions then that item earns its place in your trail kit.

The advent of modern manufacturing has contributed a plethora of options for your trail gear kit.  Very few however meet the simplicity and versatility test.   We find that going with very basic gear allows one to be more in touch with nature and learn more from nature.

Flat fabrics have for eons been the go to for life away home because that was all that what was available.  Desert DAWN breathes a new life into the old forgotten ways of trail life using flat fabric gear; primarily for the reasons of simplicity and versatility and the opportunity that is provided to experience and learn more from nature.

The following tips and suggestions have been put together to help you select the proper clothing and gear. They come from years of experience on the trail. I have seen the despair of students when the gear they bring does not function properly or completely fails. Please refer to this information when deciding what clothing and gear to bring. If ever there is a question, please feel free to contact me.

Wool Blanket

This will be used for carrying your gear during the day and staying warm during the night. Obtain a good 3 – 5 pound blanket with a solid weave.  A blanket with more loft such as Pendleton’s Yakima Camp Blanket will provide more insulation. A blanket with a tight weave such as military blankets provide more wind protection. A twin size blanket approximately 84” X 66” is an appropriate size.

Examples: Pendleton Yakima Camp Blanket. This blanket is similar to what was used a century plus ago.

Where to Get It: Camping and Backpacking Stores

CAUTION: Stay away from felted blankets, which will shed and fall apart. Yhe military surplus stores occasionally sell the felted blankets. Look for the stands of yarn that have been woven together. If it does not have these strands of yarn then it is felted.


Quite literally this is a blanket cut in half. A half- blanket will be your outer layer. It works well not only as clothing but also as bedding. A flat piece of cloth is so much more versatile than a constructed jacket.   As is, half a wool blanket can be used as a shawl. Three blanket pins will make the half blanket into quite a functional outer layer. A stadium blanket will also serve well as your half blanket.

Where to Get It: Military Surplus Stores

Blanket Pins

Blanket pins allow you to close your blankets more securely. You will be able to turn a blanket into a “sleeping bag” and a half blanket into a jacket. Blanket pins come in several lengths, 2” to 3” pins will work quite well.

 Where to Get It: Fabric Stores or Farm Stores in the horse tack department.

 Rain Poncho

A quality rain poncho is an important piece of gear. It is used for rain gear and for shelters. A heavy-duty rubber-coated GI-type surplus poncho with snaps and grommets is highly recommended. Ponchos should have snaps that are compatible with one another. Ponchos that can be snapped together provide greater shelter options during rainy or snowy weather.

Where to Get It: Military Surplus stores  Outdoor retailers have high-tech modern ponchos that work well.

CAUTION: Lightweight vinyl ponchos will not hold up to the rigors of a Trail Crafting  trip.

Parachute Cord

Parachute cord is used to hold your pack together, to tie up your poncho for a shelter and a multitude of other uses. You should look for 550 parachute cord, which should have a braided nylon sheath and seven inner nylon cords each made of three strands.

Where to Get It: Camping and Backpacking Stores or Military Surplus Stores.

CAUTION:  Avoid the cheap “paracord”, which has a tensil strength far less than the 550 parachute cord. One quick indicator is the the inner core is made up of fiber strands rather than twisted cords. If you cannot identify seven cords within the braided sheath then it may not function properly for a Trail Crafting trip.

Cotton Webbing

The 2″ cotton webbing (12- 16 feet depending on body size) is used as shoulder straps for your pack and can be used to construct a shelter   Cotton webbing provides better support and works better for shoulder straps when compared with nylon seatbelt webbing and it is a renewable resource choice.

Where to Get It: Web based suppliers.

 Camp Cloth

The camp cloth is another versatile flat fabric. You will find that the number of uses of this item to be quite extensive. Transporting small items in a piece of cloth is an age-old method that crosses many cultures. For good reason, it is light weight, it is expandable to carry more items, it is versatile, and above all it is basic, not many things can go wrong with a piece of cloth. A durable five foot square piece of fabric, flexible enough to tie the corners together will work.  Wool suit cloth makes a superior camp cloth. The wool camp cloth also provides an additional layer for bedding at night.

Where to Get It: Fabric store.

 Field Knife

A fixed blade knife is essential for heavy-duty cutting, carving and some chopping. We recommend knives with good quality steel, full-tang blades and a sturdy, durable handle. A 4 ¼” blade will be sufficient.

“Rambo” knives are overkill for Desert DAWN trips. Be wary of the salesperson that tells you all the fancy features on the “survival knife” are really useful. Most likely this person has not been in an environment to test these features. For our purposes, the best field knives are very simple and that is their greatest feature. As often occurs, students who bring the knives recommended by the “expert” salesperson find the knife barely accomplishes a fraction of what the basic field knife accomplishes.

Examples:  Mora knives have for years been known as excellent Trail Crafting field knives.

Where to Get It: Outdoor retailers, Hunting and Fishing Stores.

CAUTION: Folding knives are known to cause injuries when the blade collapses while being used. Folding knives typically do not hold up to the forces we put on knives.  Folding knives may be a good option as a backup knife but are not a reasonable replacement for a good fixed blade knife.

Water Bottles:

The water bottle is used for carrying water during the day and at night you can put warm water in it to use as a bed warmer.   Stainless steel water bottles give you the added benefit of being able to boil water right in the bottle. They are a bit heavier than Lexan bottles, however, many find the extra weight to be worth the added benefit. You should have at least one wide mouth metal water bottle. The 32 oz., wide-mouth Lexan bottle is a popular choice of backpackers. Lexan is durable, holds heat, and doesn’t hold odors.   These bottles are lighter than stainless steel bottles.

You may also choose to reuse a plastic bottle that was used to contain another food or drink. These bottles typically shrink when boiling water is put in them so you cannot use it for a hot water bottle. A reused bottle is an environmental choice since you are participating in “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Gatorade type bottles are durable and the lid seals well.

Examples: Guyot Designs and Klean Canteen make good quality wide mouth stainless steel bottle.

Where to Get It: Camping and Backpacking Stores.

Camp Cup:

This is your drinking cup, your eating vessel and you can cook in it as well. A 24 ounce cup that your water bottle will slip into is recommended. A handle that folds around the cup is a nice benefit. Stainless Steel, enamel or titanium are all good choices.

Examples: Snow Peak makes a great titanium camp cup, the Trek 700 Titanium, which is light weight and a good size. Titanium transfers heat well so they will cook foods a bit faster. The down side is they are a bit pricy.

Where to Get It: Camping and Backpacking Stores.


A simple compass with an orienteering base-plate is perfect. The fancier versions with a mirror and a declination adjustment are more than is needed for accurate Trail Crafting navigation, however, if you have one of these already then by all means use it.

Examples: Suunto A-10 Compass. This compass, basic as it is, has everything you need for map and compass navigation.

Note: Lensatic compasses do not have some of the orienteering features of the orienteering style compasses. If you are use a lensatic compass, you will most likely also need to have a protractor.

Where to Get It: Camping and Backpacking Stores

 Safety Whistle

We use a vocal communication system that helps keep group members together while hiking, however, if someone does get separated a whistle will allow for longer distance communication with less exertion. Get a simple safety whistle, all the extra gizmos are not needed. Make sure it lets out a strong shrill sound. Look for a pea-less whistle, since the peas may become frozen in place when they become wet in freezing temperatures.

Where to Get It: Camping and Backpacking Stores

Sewing Kit

A sewing kit need be nothing more than a needle or two and thread with some extra buttons and safety pins. Thread should be strong and color is not as important.   Even dental floss works for thread. A decent sewing kit could fit within a container no larger than the orange waterproof  match safes.

Where to Get It: Fabric Store

Optional Trail Gear


Plan to bring a camera, as the scenery of Southern Utah is astounding. Most people are quite happy with the small digital cameras. Most camera batteries last several weeks. If you do not think a fully charged battery will last, then bring a spare. You should also bring a suitable storage case for your camera to protect it from the sand and other elements.   For extra protection store the camera and case in a quart size freezer quality Ziploc bag, particularly when not in use.

Field journal and pencils

A field journal is useful for recording thoughts and impressions. Whether you like to record your thoughts with words or drawings, the memories that your journal will revive years later will be invaluable. Smaller is better. Lighter is better. Look for a small lightweight journal.

Pencils are preferred to pens. Pencils are more biodegradable than pens if they are lost in the field.  Also if a pencil breaks it does not make a mess and can be sharpened and will continue to function. Consider bring two or more depending on how much you like to write or draw.


There are many sites that we will not be able to walk close enough to for clearly views — birds, animals and some rock art. A pair of binoculars will improve these views. Keep them small and light-weight so they will fit comfortably in a shirt pocket. An 8 to 10 magnification power should work sufficiently.

Where to Get It: Camping and Backpacking Store or Hunting Store

Flint and steel set with a tinderbox

Flint and steel is an enduring method of starting fires, which we teach. If you have a set or are inclined to own one then feel free to bring it along. We will have sets you may use.

Where to Get It: http://www.primitivefire.com/Flint-and-Steel-Kits_c_10.html or http://www.cabelas.com/product/Flint-and-Steel-Firestarter-Set/705879.uts

Ditty bags:

Ditty bags are small cloth bags with draw sting closures that are used to contain like items. Toiletries, fire sets food rations are all kept more organized in ditty bags. Bandanas on the also serve this purpose.

Where to Get It: Camping and Backpacking Store 


The lessons of Desert DAWN courses and excursions start way before you arrive. We teach from very basic gear so that people are empowered to hike and camp without having to spend thousands of dollars for gear. This starts as you begin your preparations. More important than going out to buy all the latest outdoor clothing and gear, see what you have available at home. If you have something at home that is of good quality and is functional for the purpose, then use it. Most items on the gear list are readily available in the homes of many non-campers. Start the journey and the adventure by searching through your closet and attic. Additionally, good quality clothing and gear items can often be found at local thrift stores and military surplus stores at a fraction of the price of other retail stores. Shopping at thrift stores also has an added benefit of reusing something that still has quite a bit of life left. And, if it is destroyed in the field it would have cost only a small fraction of what would have been spent on an item in a retail store.


Explore More:

Woodcraft Camping Courses               Custom Excursions                Family Excursions               Day Hikes
What is Woodcraft Camping?              Woodcraft Skills – Our Core Curriculum
Vision and Mission        Contact Us          Staff Stories