Tech Rescue

Rigging Rescue Gear for Long-Distance Travel

Issue 2 and Volume 9.

Your department has been dispatched to a report of an injured mountain biker in a forested area of your district. The address given is the parking lot where the reporting party entered the trail area. The cyclist has crashed, is injured and may have fallen off the trail into steep terrain. Because the trails are narrow, access with ATVs will not be possible. Upon arrival, the first-in EMS unit grabs their kits and prepares for what could be a several-mile walk to access the patient.

Do you have locations like this in your response area? Are your “jump kits” and rescue rigging gear set up to be carried for long distances? In this article, I’ll discuss packaging rescue rigging gear for hands-free travel and patient transport in the backcountry.

Ease the Load

Rescue vehicles are often set up so that similar equipment is stored together; for example, in a rope rescue compartment, you might find bags and boxes labeled “hardware” and “software.”

Or, the equipment may be organized more specifically: carabiners, pulleys, prusiks, etc. Some agencies organize their equipment by use, such as main, belay, patient package, access, etc.

Setting up task-oriented kits will reduce the time it takes to get organized prior to leaving the vehicle and getting systems rigged. However, such kits are often stored in bags or containers that are unsuited for carrying any distance. For responses where the rescue vehicle can drive close to an area and load equipment onto a hand truck, a 50-lb. Pelican box may be an ideal way to package rigging gear, but this is not the case in backcountry incidents.

Recently, while conducting training at a department that did have to travel a distance with their equipment over steep, rugged terrain, I was surprised to find that some of the bags weighed upward of 50 lbs. Some of these bags were stored on an upper shelf in the rig, so just removing them from their shelf was an issue. As would be expected, the seams of these gear bags were tearing and shoulder strap buckles were breaking because they weren’t designed to carry heavy loads with odd-shaped objects over long distances. These bags were not only uncomfortable to carry; they made it difficult for rescuers to travel through steep terrain. Kits that weigh over 40 lbs. are difficult to carry for any distance.

When packaging equipment that will need to be carried over difficult terrain or long distances, you can make your bags lighter by distributing the equipment in specific task-oriented kits. Below is an example of equipment being broken down into these kits. When married up with a rope, the bags become a complete system in the case of the main, belay and access kits.

Main Kit

  • Brake rack
  • Anchor strap
  • Rigging plate
  • Webbing bag (one green, one yellow, one red)
  • 12 locking carabiners
  • Edge protection sleeve/ice-cube-style edge protection
  • 30 feet of 8-mm cord
  • 1 long prusik; 3 short prusiks
  • 4 pulleys (1 prusik-minding pulley)

Belay Kit

  • 1 pair prusiks
  • Webbing bag (one green, two yellow, one red)
  • Pre-tensioning device (eight-plate, steel ring, ATC)
  • 2″ prusik-minding pulley
  • Anchor strap
  • Edge protection sleeve
  • 30 feet of 8-mm cord
  • 4 locking carabiners

Anchor Kit

  • Webbing bag (two green, two yellow, two red)
  • Prusik bag (four pair prusik loops)
  • Cordelette bag (two 30′ lengths 8-mm cord)
  • 2 edge canvas
  • 2 edge protection sleeves/ice-cube-tray style or terrain protector
  • 75 feet of 12.5-mm rope
  • 6 carabiners

Access Pack (consists of the Patient Packaging, Access & Litter Spiders)

Patient Packaging

  • Webbing bag (two yellow, one orange) for interior/exterior lashing
  • Victim harness
  • Safety glasses/goggles
  • Helmet
  • Space blanket/bag
  • Litter strap bag (four adjustable straps)

Access Kit

  • Mini brake rack with hyper bar
  • Anchor strap
  • 6 carabiners (one XL for Munter hitch)
  • PO strap
  • Edge protection sleeve
  • 1 pair prusiks
  • Victim harness
  • Webbing bag (one green, one yellow, one red)
  • 1 set of three 6-mm personal prusiks
  • Mini space blanket

Litter Spider Kit

  • Litter spider w/carabiners
  • 7-mm screw link
  • Set of fours
  • 6-mm prusik loop
  • Rescuecender
  • Etrier

EMS Pack

  • O2 and airway equipment
  • Wound care
  • C-spine immobilization
  • Trauma dressing
  • Assessment tools
  • Suction
  • Space blanket

Patient Movement Device

  • SKED or break-apart litter


Rigging Gear Kit

  • 12 carabiners (one XL for Munter hitch)
  • Petzl I’d
  • Petzl ASAP with SAL
  • Prusiks (personal)
  • 4 pulleys
  • Rescue 8 plate
  • Edge protection
  • Set of fours
  • 2 knot pass pulleys
  • Webbing bag
  • PO strap
  • Anchor strap
  • Two brake racks
  • Rigging plate
  • Prusik bag (team)
  • Mini edge roller

Get Moving

Adjust your kits to carry the appropriate equipment for the type of bags/packs your agency uses and the type of terrain that you know you will encounter. If you know that you won’t encounter an access, raising or lowering scenario of more than 100 feet, then it would be a good idea to carry a 150′ rope rather than a 300′ one.

A team of six can easily carry pre-packed kits hands-free to the scene. Often, a two- or three-person crew will be sent to assess the technical needs of the situation and radio back equipment needs. However, if you anticipate that it will take a long time for the initial assessment team to access the scene then it may be best for the team to set out with basic access equipment right away.

A six-person team can carry a complete set of gear to the scene as follows:

1. Main: Mainline kit with a rescue rope
2. Belay: Belay line kit with a rescue rope
3. Anchor bag with a rescue rope
4. Access/package pack: patient packaging, access kit and litter spider
5. Patient movement device (SKED or break-apart litter)
6. EMS kit

Whether team members are the initial rescuers or secondary rescuers bringing specific equipment to the scene, at least two members of each team should be equipped with portable radios and a spare battery. Incidents in the backcountry can be quite lengthy and with a lot of back-and-forth radio traffic, portable radio batteries will become too low to transmit.

The IC should have access to a map of the area and, when possible, give a copy to the team walking into the area as well. Once they locate the victim they may be able to give updated information that allows the rest of the team to access from a shorter route.

With a six-person team on site, packaging can begin and a plan made for how to get the patient transported to a vehicle. Depending on the weather, the patient’s condition and the terrain, a helicopter may be an option. Remember: A medical transport helicopter is usually not going to come equipped with a hoist. When contacting the Sheriff’s Department, military unit or air medical unit that will provide air transport, find out how they want the patient packaged and what their capabilities are. Even better: Know the resources available to you before you need them.

Not Just for the Backcountry

Rescue teams that most often respond to incidents in urban, rural and industrial areas can usually use hand trucks or the hands of many of the responders. But even in these environments, we can encounter situations where we can’t drive the apparatus close to the scene, or where we need to climb multiple flights of stairs. Prepackaging equipment in easy-to-carry packs will reduce deployment time at the rescue vehicle and reduce the chances of leaving critical equipment behind.

What happened to the mountain biker in the woods? The initial response crew walked two miles to access the patient, who complained of neck and back pain. Using a detailed map of the park and information from the initial rescue team, responding units were able to drive to within a one-quarter-mile of the incident and carry the patient to a transport unit in a Stokes basket using a litter wheel.