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Best Wilderness Survival Kits
Whether you are venturing to the wilderness for fun or due to necessity, the outdoors present a very particular set of challenges that are not present in other environments. Being active in the outdoors can also lead to many different types of accidents and injuries that are difficult to anticipate.
It is possible to avoid these mishaps by simply being prepared with a wilderness survival kit. If it is equipped with the right items, wilderness survival kits have the potential to be a lifesaver - literally. One of the most important requirements of wilderness survival kits is that they are easy to carry; therefore they need to be lightweight and portable. If you over pack or add gear that adds dead weight to your bag, then your kit will likely stay on the shelf. A survival kit that you don’t carry is worthless. For your kit to be lightweight, you are going to need to be selective with what we include. For that I will recommend items that serve multiple functions.
Let’s also keep in mind the average duration of a survival situation. Any guesses? Okay, it’s approximately 72 hours. That’s what at the very least we should shoot for. At that time you are likely to make it out, be rescued, or perish. Obviously people last far longer than 72 hours, but it’s good to be clear on what we are focusing on.
How are we going to make a kit that is lightweight, effective, and contains all of these needed goodies?
What Should Wilderness Survival Kits Contain?
- Map and Compass
A good old fashioned map and compass: a compass has no battery (GPS), they are not too pricey, and they just plain work. A good 7.5-minute (1:24,000) topography map of your location is a great idea. If you are in some serious wilderness, a larger map (1:100,000) can really be helpful to identify where you are should you get lost.
Extremely useful tool: most basic GPS systems will allow you to track your steps and location. The main drawback is that they will obviously need batteries and are if it malfunctions it could be a major risk if you don’t have a backup.
How long can you go without food? The record for a person is 72 days! Remember we are shooting for 3 days for this survival kit. For a wilderness survival kit I would recommend a few energy bars and a pack of Emergen-C.
Water Filtering & Purification
Purify your water so you don’t dehydrate yourself and waste precious energy. There are lots of options out there: Filters, Steri-pens, boiling, distillation, and chemicals are all effective. My favorites are the Aquamira water treatment and for filtering I prefer the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter. They don’t have as strong of a flavor as iodine tablets, they are lightweight, they don’t require batteries or heat, and they don’t clog.
hat’s the least used item in your wilderness survival kit? I would bet some money that it’s that weird, noisy “blanket”. It’s probably sitting in its original packaging just begging to be put to use. If you’ve ever opened one of those space blankets, you know that it is a pain to fold them back up into a manageable size. I don’t mean to hate on them too much, but they’re about as comfortable as a newspaper draped over your back.
I bring a lighter (preferably adjustable – so you can crank it up), stormproof matches, an EasyStrike match, and a metal match. On top of this I will bring some fire starter. You can buy some at your sporting goods store. To make your own fire starter here’s all that you need: cotton balls, Vaseline, and an old film canister. Coat the cotton balls with Vaseline and plop them in your canister. When it’s time to make a fire, open up the cotton ball to the fluffy, dry interior. Use any of the above fire starters and voila, you have tinder that will last you 5 minutes! You obviously need to know how to make a fire, but that’s another story.
Signal for Rescue
There are 3 items I carry for signaling.
High pitch whistle: essential for letting those in close proximity know where you are. This prevents you from getting lost as well as from losing your voice
Signal Mirror: This is great in certain situations, like the desert, above treeline, or out on the ocean. It also relies on the sun being out. It’s not always useful, but when it is it can save your life. Make sure you get a higher quality glass and don’t do what I did; get a good case so you don’t scratch it and render it useless
Flagging: This allows you to leave a bright orange trail of breadcrumbs. If you bring a sharpie you can write time, date and your name on it. This helps Search and Rescue know that they are on the right trail. If you are walking in circles it will also help you to know it!
First-Aid and Trauma Kit
Similar to extra clothing, this piece of your survival kit is dependent on many factors. I could write another article on this topic alone. If you buy a first-aid kit make sure you are familiar with where all the components live and how to use them. Take things out of their packaging and study them. You don’t want to be fumbling looking for gauze in an emergency. Here’s a solid beginner first aid kit.
- Ace Bandage
It’s one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you will carry. I prefer an inexpensive fixed blade knife without serration. I can carve efficiently, split medium branches for fire and shelter, skin an animal, carve a quickie bow, etc. Folding blades just don’t have the durability and I’m not going to bring a sentimental or expensive knife out for a few days of abuse.
A solid headlamp is so versatile in a survival situation. This is one area where I invest in a quality product. Headlamps continue to get brighter and more efficient. My favorite head-torch is the Black Diamond Storm. It has up to 100 lumen capacity, but is highly adjustable so you don’t burn through batteries when you don’t have to use the brightest setting.
Another useful way to gain some light is with a candle. It can be used to help start a fire, keep a snow shelter above freezing temperatures, and bring some needed light and warmth when spirits are low.
There are some things that are so useful that you should never leave home without them. On this list are electric tape, parachute cord, 55-gallon garbage bag, cotton bandana, waterproof pocket pad, and a pencil. Combined these only weigh a couple ounces and they will add a ton more functionality to your kit. The last thing you need is a container to carry it all in. I like something that is lightweight and waterproof. A Freezer Ziploc bag will work or a small dry bag (1L – X-small) is even better.
There it is. While that might seem like a lot of stuff, it actually isn’t. Think of what you take on a car camping trip. Compare that list to this one. No competition.