“Be Prepared,” the Boy Scout Motto has been used by millions of Scouts around the world since 1907. It is a great mantra and an essential one to follow when you venture into our forest. The San Gabriel Mountains are rugged, unstable, and unforgiving. In Los Angeles, man has a checkered history of trying to control nature and the mountains always win.
Before you head out on the trail, the most important thing you can do to ensure your safe return is to tell someone where you are going.
In the slim chance you don’t make it home, Altadena Mountain Rescue Team needs to know where to start looking for you. The more information available to search teams, the quicker you can be found and helped home. Give someone the details of your ride: a trail link on MTB Project, or drop pin on a Google Map, or a hand written note on the fridge. An expected return time is key information to share. You don’t want a rescue called for when you left on a 5 hour adventure and your family thought you were just going around the block.
If you are riding more than a few miles from civilization you should carry a solid kit to get yourself and your bike home when something goes awry. You don’t know what you are missing until you need it. Not a big problem when you are a few minutes from a store, but 5+ miles up into the Angeles National Forest is another story.
Your “Be Prepared” kit should reflect your ride. The longer your ride the more chance of mishap.
No matter where you are setting out on your mountain bike, the below information applies. For different regions your kit may vary but most of the essentials are the same. If you are going on a road trip, pack extra stuff. Go overboard. You don’t need the kitchen sink, but a box of ziplocs and extra ice in the cooler will be appreciated at the trail head after you smack your knee on a rock. Or your head on a massive tree branch in Idyllwild. Trust me on that one. Ice immediately after an injury speeds up your recovery dramatically.
Regular bike maintenance should prevent most mechanicals, but stuff happens. Tubes pop, chains break, bolts loosen, tires tear, and you may fall down. Someday you may fall down hard. And you might not be able to get back down the mountain without help.
Kit item #1 is your CELL PHONE.
Don’t ride without your phone. Charge it. Carry it. Your cell phone is the best way to reach the outside world and or assist the outside world in locating your position. Seriously, don’t ride without your phone. You have to take that selfie on the trail anyway. Even if you are in an area without service, rescue teams can find your approximate location via the last cell towers your phone talked to. The front side of the San Gabriel Mountains has fairly cell phone coverage depending on your provider.
Do you use your smart phone for Strava GPS tracking? You may want to consider purchasing a dedicated GPS tracker device like a Garmin and save your phone battery for its real purpose: communicating and taking selfies.
The ICEdot sensor is an innovative product that attaches to your helmet and detects impact. It connects to a phone via Bluetooth and shares your route at the start of your ride and alerts emergency contacts if a head impact is detected. Since the ICEdot relies on your cell service to communicate, its not the best for rides where you will be out of coverage areas. However, it would work very well in the front range. If the sensor goes off, there is an audible alarm so you can cancel the SOS if you don’t need it.
If you venture beyond the front range & outside of cell service, there are other options for you to communicate.
The SPOT Tracker is popular with adventure seekers of all types and can notify friends of your location and status. Your progress can be tracked on Google Maps and rescue teams can be contacted if needed. In order to maximize the SPOT, a subscription plan is required and the costs vary per service plan.
A great device for emergency notification is a Personal Locator Beacon: a small one way satellite transmitter that contacts rescue authorities and transmits your position. ACR Electronics makes a variety of Personal Locator Beacons with multiple models that are small and compact. A PLB generally needs to be manually activated; however, it is one of the best means to reach out for a rescue if you do not have cell coverage.
A proven two way satellite communicator is the Delorme inReach SE. The inReach SE allows you to both send and receive text messages, share your location with others, and trigger an SOS if needed. It has a large screen and similar functions to a smart phone but without the full size keyboard. Typing long messages will take more time but you can send them. Like the SPOT, the inReach SE requires a subscription plan to use all functions.
Fill your backpack with essentials that can get you out of a jam. Or pack beer.
A bike light is good for all times of year in case your ride goes longer than expected. It can also be used after dark to signal to rescuers. A small signal mirror can be used during daytime to alert a helicopter. A pocket knife or Leatherman always comes in handy.
Temperatures can drop rapidly in the San Gabriel Mountains. High winds and surprise storms are not uncommon. Weather changes very quickly at times in the high country and you should be prepared to keep warm and dry.
A lightweight, packable jacket like the Breaker by Ringtail is good to have year round. A skull cap and bandana can go a long ways in maintaining body heat and an emergency blanket is light and compact.
Carry extra food and water. There isn’t a Trader Joe’s in the Angeles National Forest and you might as well carry more calories than you think you’ll need. Energy food like Clif Shot Bloks and Kramp Krushers are good to have in case you get dehydrated or start to cramp up on a ride. There are few things that will bring your ride to a screaming halt like massive leg cramps.
Generally, you should always carry more water than you think you will drink on your ride. It is rare to find fresh water in the San Gabriel Mountains.
A First Aid kit should always be in your bag. Cuts and scrapes are very common and you should be prepared for them on the trail. Anti septic wipes, aspirin, bandages, gauze pads, cloth tape, tweezers, a lighter or matches, etc. all should be a part of your First Aid kit.
There are many prepackaged First Aid kits on the market designed for different uses and length of trips. Most made for day hikes are good for mountain biking as well. It’s a good idea to take apart your kit and really see what is included. You may want to supplement your kit with other items. Also, if your kit is older, check it out at least once a year. Items may expire or need to be restocked if you use them on the trail.
Carrying your emergency contact information and health is smart. RoadID makes IDs for athletes and is a popular and simple solution. Communicating such vital information to rescuers when you are incapacitated is a key part of being prepared. RoadID also has a phone app that provides tracking information to chosen contacts and sends an alert if you have stopped moving for more than 5 minutes. Although it does use your phone, therefore is dependent on cell service and battery life, the RoadID eCrumb app is worth checking out.
“It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it” – Embry Rucker
Another smart product is the Worst Case, a survival kit packed full of lifesaving items designed to keep you warm, dry, safe & happy. The Worst Case was designed for “adventurous folks who are likely to find themselves up shit creek from time to time.”
To be prepared for mechanical issues, carrying a solid tool kit is essential. Your bike will break down and you should be prepared to get it rolling again.
Even if you run tubeless, carry a tube, patch kit and pump or CO2 cartridge. It may be rare that you get a flat, but if you tear a sidewall you’ll need that tube. And there’s a good chance you’ll be able to help out a buddy with a flat too.
A couple of dollar bills are good for tacos but also to reinforce a cut sidewall. Used energy bar wrappers work great for that as well as super glue. Before you put in that tube, you will want to reinforce your torn tire.
Toilet paper in a ziplock bag. Trust me, one day you will be really glad you packed it. You don’t want to wipe with Poison Oak.
Zip ties and duct tape can temporarily fix many things on the trail. You can wrap feet of duct tape around your pump, tire levers, etc. Electrical tape works well too.
A good multi tool and chain quick link are key. Chains break and if you can’t get it back together you may have a really long walk ahead of you. Some people don’t believe a shock pump is a must; however, I find its one of the tools I most commonly share with another rider on the trail.
Consider packing extra spokes, bailing wire, spare brake pads, a new derailleur hangar, tubeless tire sealant, and chain lube. The longer your ride, the more you should carry to be prepared.
With all this stuff, organizing it can become a chore.
A local Los Angeles craftsman, Yanco AKA @jonesville, makes lots of custom stuff like the Ramblin Roll which fits a minimal kit that can attach under your seat.
Multi day bike packing trips have greatly increased in popularity recently and that has created an entire new market for creative ways of carrying stuff on your bike. Check out bikepacking.net if you want to jump into the wormhole of information. Companies like Yanco, Revelate Designs, Porcelain Rocket, and Oveja Threadworks are building innovative products to help people smartly pack and carry gear on their bikes.
Not only should you carry a kit, but you should also know how to use everything in it. Educate yourself.
Local bike shops are your best source for instruction and tips on how to repair your bike and return safely. Knowledge is another key part of being prepared. Not all trail fixes need to be permanent, you just need to get back home.
To recap, always carry your cell phone and tell someone where you are going. It is the best way for you to reach out and rescue teams to narrow in on your location. Carry a first aid kit, tools and spare parts appropriate to your ride. Extra layers are always a good idea. Ask your riding buddies what is in their bags. Check out what other peoples solutions are. Make suggestions. Be prepared.
Go ride! Have fun and return home to tell everyone about it.
I would like to specifically thank the great online community at imtbtrails.com. The generous forum members lent their experience with the locator devices contained in this article. Their shared knowledge continues to make our mountain bike community a better place. RIDE ON!