The Most Important Piece of SAR Gear

Every time I teach a new group of Search & Rescue candidates I include this lesson. The lesson is about the most important piece of gear they will carry. It’s always a lot of fun – here’s how it goes.

I start by rounding up my gear, some team gear, and fellow instructor gear and begin laying it all out in the front of the classroom or environment I’m teaching in. I spread it out so you can see every piece of gear. I put out water, I put out food. I put out Rope, stokes compasses, Trekking Poles, backpacks, radios etc. Everything I can find or get my hands on. It’s all laid out clearly so the students can see.

For new SAR folk who are eager to get going and even more eager to start purchasing gear, it’s very sexy and attention getting seeing all this cool stuff laid out.

I then address the group, invite them to come up and look at the spread out pile of SAR gear in the front of the classroom. I ask “Of everything you see here, what is the most important piece of gear we use?”

I get great, logical responses. People answer “Water,” people answer “Stokes Litter,” “Knife” and all sorts of very good answers – but never the correct answer I’m looking for.

The answer I’m looking for is the tiny notepad and writing instrument.

I then proceed to tell them that while all this other gear is truly very important and needed – the notepad containing the mission specific details they write down is the most vital. What you write into that notepad gives you the important details you need to conduct the mission safely and securely. (In some large incidents you’ll be given IAPs and other ICS forms that contain mission specific info, but never count on that luxury or expect it.) You must write the mission details down or you will forget them. Details come fast and if you don’t scribble them down you’ll forget them even faster. Trust me on this, and more often than not those details will change… a lot. None of that other gear matters if you don’t have a clue who, what, when, where or how you may need it.


I close out the lesson by telling them that whatever briefing they’re given, team or situational, have that notepad out and write down all the info you can. Each time you respond to the ICP or a unit leader, have that notepad ready to go. Keep it close, keep it readily available and keep it busy.

Then I make them pick up all the gear and put it away for me.