Wilderness Survival Kit

The wilderness is beautiful but unforgiving. Can you survive with only the items in your wilderness survival kit?

In my last post I covered what gear you need for an urban survival kit. That pack is great if you live in the city. But what if you live in a more rural area? A wilderness survival kit will have gear that is more effective in this environment. This kit will include many items that wouldn’t make sense to have in other kits. In the wild there are resources available to you if you know how to properly acquire them. The tools in the wilderness survival kit will maximize your chances for survival in the wild and give you an edge to make it out alive.

Wilderness Survival Kit Considerations

The weight of your pack is a crucial consideration. You must be able to easily carry your pack for miles if you have to. Your physical condition and limits will determine how much gear you include. Keep this in mind as you put your kit together. The list below includes must have gear for any wilderness environment. It is also a good idea to include gear specific to your location. A field guide to local wildlife and edible plants and a map of your geographic location are items that won’t be on this list but are important to include.

Keep your backpack light to avoid the fate of this donkey
Keep your load light or risk the fate of this donkey.

Essential Gear

Backpack – It makes sense to stow your gear in a backpack so you can easily grab your supplies and bug out in case of emergency. Your backpack must be sturdy in construction, comfortable to wear and large enough to hold all of your gear. There are two types of backpacks you will consider when building your kit. One is the standard civilian style backpack. The other is a military issued pack like the ALICE. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Civilian backpacks are ultra-light but more expensive. Military packs are heavier but you can pick them up for a fraction of the cost. Military packs have the advantage of being battle tested and have held up to the scrutiny of the military. These packs will not break easily.

The 72 hour "RUSH" bag from 5.11 is a nice middle-ground between a civilian and military bag.
The 72 hour “RUSH” bag from 5.11 is a nice middle-ground between a civilian and military bag.

Fixed-Blade Knife – You’re not going to easily Rambo your way to safety without a good knife. The knife needs to be fixed blade. Fixed blade knives are more durable and will hold up well against the work you will put it through. Choosing a knife that isn’t too big and not too small is crucial. Smaller blades won’t baton wood effectively while bigger blades make smaller tasks like carving up game difficult. You also want the blade to run the full length of the knife. This is known as a “full tang” knife. Even if the handle falls off a full tang blade you still have an effective tool. Make sure your knife is single bladed with a flat spine. This allows you to use your knife with a ferro rod to make fire. The Ka-Bar BK2 fixed blade knife is widely regarded as one of the best knives on the market. See my guide to choosing the best survival knife.

The Bk2 is issued to all branches of the military and widely considered one of the best all around knives on the market.

Cordage – Perhaps the most important piece of gear second only to the knife. The versatility of a good length of rope or paracord cannot be understated. Use cordage to rig up a tarp for shelter, lash wood together, string up large game for cleaning, bear-bagging food, making fishing line, rigging traps, making bow-drills, extra boot laces etc. This stuff is light and cheap.

Rope: "Ya never know what you're gonna need it for, you just always need it!"
Rope: “Ya never know what you’re gonna need it for, you just always need it!”

Space blanket – A space or “mylar” blanket will reflect 90% of your body heat back to you. This is important to keep your body temperature at optimum survival levels. The blanket can also be reversed to reflect sun away to keep you cool. As an added bonus, the reflective material functions as a signaling device for alerting passing aircraft or distant hikers. These blankets are extremely light. More durable versions are available at the cost of added weight to your pack.

Fire – Your kit must include a primary and secondary method for making fire. I like using BIC lighters as my primary method and a ferrocerium rod/knife for my second. If my BIC lighters get wet I know I can always throw sparks with my ferro rod. Waterproof matches are also a good alternative and it wouldn’t hurt to include these as well. Make sure you are well versed in fire-making before you find yourself in a survival situation. I’ve seen friends fail to make fire with a propane torch before let alone a basic BIC!

The LifeStraw is a proven and effective filtration device now being distributed worldwide as part of a humanitarian relief effort.

Water Purification Device – In the wilderness you’re going to have an easier time finding natural sources of water. Rivers and streams are good sources of water but may contain bacteria and contaminants from fecal matter and dead animals. You don’t want to run the risk of getting sick in a survival situation. Include gear that will purify these water sources. One method is boiling water with your cook kit. Another method is using water purification tablets or a filtration device. The Life Straw is a very cheap and effective product and consumes little space in your pack.

Tarp – A good quality tarp is an essential survival item in your wilderness survival kit. I opt for tarps over a tent for many reasons. One is weight. A tarp is extremely lightweight compared to a tent. A tarp is also versatile and can be used for many applications. Use your paracord to rig a shelter and shield yourself from outside elements. If your environment calls for increased protection you can use the resources around you to make one. Knowing how to utilize the wilderness to your advantage will limit the things you need to pack.

Cooking kit – At the bare minimum you should include a stainless steel cup in your kit. This gives you the advantage of boiling water and cooking any food you come across. Stainless steel is stronger than aluminum and holds up well against the fire. Pine needles can be boiled into a tea. This tea will be packed with nutrients like vitamin C. You can also use the cup to store any water you purify and collect rain from your tarp. Other basic items in your cooking kit include a spork, a larger cooking pot and various spices.

This stainless steel cup from Stanley is an effective piece of gear to purify water and cook food with a fire.

First Aid Kit – Your wilderness survival kit will need a few items you can use to treat injuries inflicted during a survival situation. At the bare minimum include gauze bandages, tape, antiseptic and antibiotic ointment and a compression wrap. This will cover cuts, scrapes and sprained joints. Any medication you take regularly should be included as well. The Red Cross has an article detailing the contents of a comprehensive first aid kit.

Toilet Paper – When nature calls and you’re in the wild it’s better to use a roll of good ol’ fashion Charmin rather than trust the local shrubbery. Poison oak looks pretty but it’s the last plant you want to use to wipe your bottom.

Headlamp – The woods are ungodly dark at night. You will need lighting to operate around your camp or navigate rough terrain when it gets dark. A quality headlamp leaves your hands free to use your gear properly. You can also use the light to signal other hikers or passing aircraft.

Fishing and trapping kit – I almost didn’t include this on the list. Reason being is that fishing and trapping take quite a bit of skill. We romanticize the idea of living off the land and easily catching fish from the stream but reality tends to smack you in the face with the brutal truth; Fishing and trapping is very difficult and requires years of knowledge and practice. In the hands of a novice, even the best fishing gear isn’t going to help them catch fish. Do most people even know how to tie a proper fishing knot? However, the items in the kit take up virtually no space at all so it’s worth including. Canned kits can be purchased or you could scavenge what you need around the house. At the minimum you’ll need at least 50 feet of 20 lb mono-filament line, various hooks, sinkers, bobbers, and a lure or fake worm. Cram all of this into a small can and you have yourself some basic fishing gear to add to your kit.

Communication Radio – This is another item you’re going to need to familiarize yourself with before you can expect to use it properly. Your radio gives you access to emergency broadcast frequencies and gives you the ability to contact other radio operators. In a rescue situation this could literally be a life saver. Note that using this gear requires the proper license under normal conditions.

Practice using the kit

Practice using the kit so when the time comes to implement the gear nothing surprises you. Good gear alone does not guarantee your survival. Having the knowledge required to effectively use everything in your kit is the most important aspect of survival. Go out camping with your gear and see if you can get a fire started with your knife and ferro rod for example. Experiment with rigging shelter with your paracord/tarp and learn how to forage edible plants and berries. This is not only a great way to bond with friends and family but practicing outdoor skills will give you an edge if you ever find yourself in a survival situation.

Did I miss anything?

Leave a comment below and tell me what you pack in your wilderness survival kit.

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