The flask is a small thing really, just eight ounces, but I can’t tell you how essential it is to every adventure I have. It’s a Stanley, but I’m not brand loyal. Any light weight, leak-proof vessel would do, I guess. The important thing is that it’s full of whiskey and in my pack.

Hiking, biking, skiing, climbing…it’s gotta be in my pack. At this point, it’s an essential piece of equipment, right up there with the map or a headlamp. And the thing is, most of the time, I don’t use the flask. There are plenty of situations where I’ll spend an entire day, or several days out in the woods and never take a sip of whiskey. But there are things that you pack on any adventure just in case. Just in case you get lost. Just in case you get hurt. Just in case someone else gets hurt. It’s like that extra layer at the bottom of my pack, or that headlamp I always stuff into the top pocket.

Now, the tricky thing here is that booze in the backcountry is rarely a good thing. It thins the blood, hastens hypothermia and can lead to poor decision making. Trust me on all these accounts. Especially that last one. But sometimes, booze in the backcountry is exactly the right thing.

Like say, when you’re out on a quick three-hour hike with a small group that turns into an 11-hour trek because of poor map skills. And it’s dark and you’re still nowhere near where you need to be. And it starts to rain. And you rationed out the last handful of trail mix two hours ago. In that situation, passing around a flask full of bourbon is the exact right thing to do. It’s a morale booster that can turn a crowd on the edge of a coup into a laughing, jovial party. The flask lifts the spirits. It puts things in perspective. Because if you have whiskey, things can always be worse. Because you have whiskey.

So the flask goes in my bag, along with my headlamp. And I hope I don’t have to use it.