What should go into a wilderness survival kit?
Putting together a backcountry survival kit is a rewarding and educational experience that may help save your life. It’s rewarding because you’re creating something from scratch, educational because the process of choosing the contents will require you to learn and examine the priorities of wilderness survival, and life saving because this kit may just keep you alive one day. There are numerous pre-built kits on the market with varying levels of performance and dependability. Often a pre-built kit serves as the base from which you can add other products specific to your needs. So, what exactly should go into your kit?
Most experts agree that a survival kit should be based on the priorities of survival-best expressed in “The Rule of Three.”
You can live 3 minutes without oxygen or while bleeding heavily;
You can live 3 hours without shelter—that is, losing your body’s heat into the environment;
You can live 3 days without water;
And, you can live 3 weeks without food.
These are only guidelines: there are exceptions based on the specific individual’s physical and mental resilience and their environment. Even so, this rule gives us direction in choosing what to include in a kit. When a survival situation presents, the highest priority may be to either stop the bleeding or clear an airway. If there is no medical emergency, then shelter usually becomes the first priority. Even in temperate locations, exposure can be debilitating and deadly. Staying dry is particularly important as moisture greatly accelerates the loss of heat. Don’t forget—your first layer of shelter is your clothing, so choose it wisely based on the weather and activity.
With this in mind, many experts agree that if you find yourself in a survival situation, you should focus on the following actions:
1. Build or acquire shelter
2. Make fire
3. Procure water
4. Signal for help
Therefore, your kit should contain the necessary items for these actions while remaining compact enough that it can be easily carried. Here are our suggestions:
The choice of size and type of shelter will depend on the season, your tolerance for added weight, and your other gear. If you already have a tent and sleeping bag in your pack because you are backpacking, then you may only want an emergency blanket that will fit in your pocket. Conversely, if you are day hiking, then you should keep a more robust shelter in your daypack, since that’s all you will have with you. Your survival kit should have at a minimum a survival blanket and preferably an additional heavy-duty blanket that can double as a tarp.
1. Survival Blankets are water and wind proof, compact and have a reflective coating to help retain your body’s heat.
2. Emergency Bivvys are designed like sleeping bags to provide 360-degree protection. Some bivvys are breathable, which helps you stay dry if you heat up overnight and begin to sweat.
3. 550 paracord: though not intuitive, paracord can come in handy when you need to assemble an improvised shelter, allowing you to lash limbs together or string up a ridgeline for speedy tarp placement.
We recommend that you carry three types of firestarters with you into backcountry and keep them on your person.
1. Firesteels are the most important firestarter to have with you as they are utterly dependable: there are no moving parts, they have the capacity to start numerous fires, and they work even after being submerged. However, they do require a bit of practice to use properly and you will need to have some type of dry tinder ready to catch the sparks.
2. Stormproof matches have the advantage of producing a flame, which can coax otherwise reluctant tinder to ignite. Stormproof matches are generally water- and windproof and burn longer than ordinary matches.; however, you can only start a limited number of fires as determined by the number of matches.
3. A disposal butane lighter is just a common-sense carry. They are inexpensive, can be operated with one hand, produce a flame, and can start numerous fires. The drawback is that they are not as reliable as the other methods: they don’t work as well at high altitudes, after being submerged or in the wind, and there remains the possibility of fuel leakage. But for a mere 99 cents, why would you not have one?
Staying hydrated is critical, even in cold climates. Making the available water safe to drink will keep you healthy and focused in a survival situation. Your survival kit should contain one or more of these items— a water filter, a metal container, and purification tablets.
1. Microfilters remove most harmful pathogens like Giardia and Cryptosporidium found in backcountry water sources, preventing you from ingesting harmful organisms.
2. A metal cup allows you to boil water which can destroy pathogens or melt snow.
3. Purification tablets are easy to use, are both light and small, and also work to remove water-borne viruses; however, you will need a container of suitable size to use these.
Most rainwater is safe to drink. Your survival blanket can help you collect rain and channel it into a container. Fresh snow is generally safe but not recommended to ingest without melting first. The still-frozen snow can lower your body temperature and increase the risk of hypothermia.
Although there are many ways to signal for help, there are three that most relate to your survival kit: these are fire, signal mirrors, and whistles.
1. A fire can be seen at night or can be made to produce smoke by adding green vegetation for added daytime visibility. Stormproof matches or similar gear can help start a fire.
2. Whistles can be heard for surprisingly long distances and may be the best method for attracting ground rescuers. Everyone should carry a whistle on a breakaway lanyard around their neck for emergency use.
2. Signal mirrors are an effective way to signal aircraft or mark your location from one ridge to another.
1. A survival knife is a fundamental tool for the outdoorsman. It is the tool through the use of which we create other tools, prepare firewood and tinder, improvise shelter, and perform a myriad of other tasks. There will always be debate over what is the best knife for field and survival use, as in how big, what type of blade steel, etc. For most purposes a 4-6 inch fixed-blade knife, preferably with full tang construction and drop point blade design will do the job.
2. In addition to a fixed blade knife, a smaller folding knife or multi-tool is recommended. These will serve as backup and be useful for more detailed work.
3. A saw can be extremely useful for acquiring firewood and constructing shelter. Saws are generally safer to use than axes in survival situations and are also lighter and more compact.
1. Compass- although statistically you’re better off to stay in one place and let rescuers come to you, there may be the need to relocate. A compass will keep you on your desired heading.
2. Snare wire- this small metal wire doesn’t have to just be used for snares: it is also handy for hanging pots over a fire and improvisational use.
3. Fishing kit- although a staple for most pre-made kits, it is more of a “why not have it” than an essential. Some hooks and line cost and weigh practically nothing, and fishing can be a good way to spend your time after all of the other tasks have been accomplished. Fishing kits can also be used to catch birds.
4. Food bars- although food is not an immediate priority, it is important for mental and physical well-being. Energy bars and survival rations are much better choices than trying to forage off the land.
5. Sewing/repair supplies- a sail needle, thread, safety pins and duct tape can be important to maintain your clothing and shelter items. Here is a good sewing kit.
6. Magnifying lens- though it can be used to start a fire, the primary reason is to be able to read the tiny instructions found on many products and for detail work.
7. Lighting- a flashlight will help you stay safe at night and can be used to signal. Headlamps are nice because they offer hands-free operation.
8. Insect Repellent- insects can cause great discomfort, loss of sleep, and potentially spread disease. Be sure to pack insect repellent to make your journey better.
In addition to your survival kit, you should have a medical kit for minor medical emergencies. Make sure to practice with all of your gear so that it is familiar and easy to use. You may want to add or modify your kit for specific environments: for instance if you are snowmobiling, you may not need the insect repellent, but you should upgrade your shelter options. Keep in mind that you must let a trusted person know where you heading and when you’ll be back. The odds of success will likely be increased if rescuers know approximately where you are and how long you’ve been missing.
There are many survival kits available online and from LifeView Outdoors. We recommend the Adventure Medical Kits Pocket Survival Pak Plus. The AMK Pocket Survival Pak Plus builds on the popular and respected original Pocket Survival Pak: both were designed by survival expert Doug Ritter, are easily carried in a pocket, are waterproof, and may help save your life if you become lost or stranded.
This survival kit includes everything in the original Pocket Survival Pak plus a CRKT RSK MK-5 knife, a Survive Outdoors Longer LED Micro-Light, a 1-liter water bag, and six Katadyn MP1 water purification tablets. With this 7.3-ounce kit, you'll be able to improvise shelter, make fire, signal for help, purify water, navigate, repair clothing, write a note, fish and more. Take a look at the details here.