Inside the Tracker’s Pack

A look inside rescuer Dwight McCarter’s daypack

These days, Dwight McCarter, “The Tracker,” enjoys hiking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for pleasure. He covers between four and twenty-six miles each week in his trusty Chippewa boots.

Erika Larsen

But the retired ranger knows better than most the importance of always being prepared. He’s rescued twenty-six people (mostly children) from the rhododendron thickets and hemlock forests blanketing this more than half-a-million acre preserve of Appalachian mountains. So whenever he sets out in the woods, he goes with a partner or dog and a pack containing the following survival essentials.

Packing list:

  • Canteen cup (for cooking tea or soup)
  • Banana (for potassium for sore legs)
  • Tums (for magnesium, which also helps with sore legs)
  • Ramen noodles
  • One or two sturdy hiking sticks
  • A set of warm clothes—wicking shirt and long johns
  • Extra wool socks
  • Warm mittens
  • Balaclava
  • Rain pants and coat
  • Moleskin (for blisters)
  • Sting-Kill (for bee stings)
  • Compass
  • Several whistles (to scare bears and locate lost persons)
  • Very small flashlight with headband and extra batteries
  • Two cigarette lighters (in a resealable baggie)
  • Fire building material (a small amount of fire starter in a resealable baggie)
  • Roll of cheap toilet paper (to make a big white X in an open area so a helicopter can spot location)
  • Roll of hot pink flagging tape and an ink pen (to write messages)

Unlike many hikers, McCarter carries minimal water. He finds water in streams, creeks, and springs along trails, and can boil it for safe use when making soup. He doesn’t drink much while hiking. “I carry a bottle of Diet Rite Cola,” he says. “I may take two sips from it during my hikes and I rarely sweat. I adhere to the belief, ‘sweat kills.’” McCarter is an expert at layering—he removes and adds clothing depending on the temperature. On a recent hike, he said he and his hiking partners layered and unlayered their attire multiple times to keep their bodies from overheating or becoming too cool with sweat.

“You cannot wear every piece of your clothing in your pack and never adjust for the conditions,” he says. “Accept nature on her own terms.”

>Read more about Dwight McCarter