An emergency pack or bag is the one item that you should always have on your ATV or SxS. Never leave the trailer or barn without it. Ever.
Whether you live in Mississippi or Montana, carrying an ER bag will allow you to safely -- not necessarily comfortably -- spend the night, start a fire, deal with basic first aid, and complete a minimal repair to your machine.
Most western BLM riders I know do a fairly decent job of carrying an ER pack, but it's the winter snowmobilers that usually carry the most fastidious emergency packs. And we ATV riders can learn a lot from them.
On average, one man dies every weekend somewhere in the backcountry in my home state of Alaska. This is usually because of a mechanical breakdown that in turn leads to exposure. Some of these riders are never found.
In a recent March rescue near my hometown of Talkeetna, a man came off his machine at high speed, landed on an ice berm and broke his shoulder and arm. The machine continued moving and was 50 yards away. He couldn't move, spent the night in 10-degree temperatures, and melted into the snow from his body heat.
Meanwhile, he was just 30 yards from the road. Fortunately, he was saved by his golden retriever barking to attract the attention of a pair of passing riders the next afternoon. The rescuers were confident the dog must have slept on top of him to maintain some of his body heat which kept him alive through the night.
To help you prepare your ER bag, here's a short list of what I pack with me every time I get on an ATV here in Alaska.
For tools, I like to keep them with the machine, either in a fixed bag or ideally in a permanent storage compartment on the unit. Most of the wheelers already have a spark plug wrench, along with one or two popular size wrenches and screw drivers. I always add an extra plug, needle nose pliers, Vise Grips, an adjustable wrench, duct tape, electrical tape, and a small flashlight.
If you are truly wilderness riding, you should have a spare belt and understand how to change it. Additionally, if there's waterproof storage, I stash extra matches or a full-blown fire starter kit. I always carry a tow strap, a siphon hose, and a few road flares if there's room.
My personal pack is a mix of dry clothing with extra gloves, a hat, energy bars, at least two 3-mil plastic garbage bags, and a space blanket. I keep a fire starting kit and extra matches in spare pockets, along with a Gerber limb saw, parachute cord, a separate multi tool, a first aid kit, a compass, and a boater's whistle. I generally carry this pack on my person.
If you plan for the worst, you'll rarely have more than an uncomfortable night in the woods. I can only imagine the thoughts that went through my Trapper Creek neighbor's mind as he faced the unforgiving elements during that long, cold night. And remember to always let someone know your travel plans -- where you're going and when you plan to return.