When an unexpected emergency or disaster strikes, having the right gear and supplies can make all the difference. A well-stocked survival kit provides you with the tools and resources to handle any situation.
This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to build the perfect survival kit optimized for wilderness scenarios. Follow these tips and checklists to ensure you are fully prepared with the most important items to survive short or long-term emergencies.
Why Carry a Survival Kit?
A survival kit is an essential part of emergency preparedness. Having the right equipment and supplies on hand allows you to handle any crisis scenario. Some key reasons to carry a survival kit include:
- Sustenance – Water, food, fire-starting tools provide basic necessities for short or long-term survival.
- First Aid – Injury treatment supplies like bandages, ointments, medications can be lifesavers.
- Navigation – Compass, map, flashlight help you find your way or signal for help.
- Shelter – Tarp, sleeping bag, tent create protection from the elements.
- Repairs – Knives, cordage, tape allow fixing gear and constructing shelters.
- Morale – Comfort items help reduce stress and anxiety during an ordeal.
You never know when an emergency might occur, so having crucial gear with you provides comfort and potentially life-saving resources. Prepare for anything with a comprehensive survival kit.
10 Essential Items for Any Survival Kit
While survival kit contents can vary based on factors like climate, terrain, group size, and length of time, certain items are universally recommended by experts. Here are 10 essentials to include:
1. Fixed Blade Knife
A sturdy fixed blade knife is one of the most versatile and important tools for survival. Look for a full tang knife around 4-6 inches long. Useful applications include:
- Fire starting
- Shelter construction
- Food prep
- First aid
- Gear repair
Choose a high carbon steel blade which retains a sharp edge and stands up to heavy use. Popular options fitting this bill include the Ka-Bar Becker BK2 and ESEE Laser Strike.
2. Fire Starter
The ability to start a fire provides light, heat for cooking, warmth, and signaling capabilities. Have multiple forms of fire starting capability like:
- Lighter – Choose a waterproof floating model. Disposable BIC lighters are reliable and inexpensive.
- Matches – Waterproof strike-anywhere matches are best. Store in a waterproof container with striker paper.
- Flint & Steel – Produces sparks to ignite tinder even when wet. Takes practice to use effectively.
- Magnifying Glass – Focuses sunlight on tinder to ignite a fire. Requires sun, dry tinder.
Prioritize redundancy with at least 3 fire starting options in case one fails. Practice fire skills regularly to ensure readiness.
3. Water Purification
Clean drinking water is an absolute necessity for survival. Inventory should include:
- Purification tablets – Iodine or chlorine tablets kill bacteria and viruses. Easy to pack and long shelf life.
- Water filter – Portable filters remove pathogens from found water sources. The Sawyer Squeeze is a top choice.
- Metal pot – Boiling found water kills harmful organisms. Requires heat source.
- Chemical treatment – Bleach or tincture of iodine liquid can be used to disinfect small quantities of water.
- Bottled water – Packaged water is heavy but provides immediate safe hydration until other sources can be prepared.
Aim for at least 1-2 liters per person daily. Make water purification a top priority.
4. Shelter System
Protecting yourself from the elements is critical. A basic one person system includes:
- Tarp – Waterproof/windproof shelter can be fashioned from a multi-use tarp with grommets and guy lines.
- Emergency blanket – Retains 80% of body heat. Compact and lightweight.
- Emergency bivvy – Durable waterproof outer layer helps regulate temperature.
- Sleeping bag – Rated to expected temperatures for your climate. Synthetic fill dries faster than down.
- Tent – Free standing tents provide bug protection and increased living space.
Familiarize yourself with various improvised shelter techniques from natural materials when packing minimal supplies.
Pack high energy, lightweight foods that meet caloric needs:
- Energy/protein bars – Long shelf life, compact, nutrient dense.
- Nuts/dried fruit – Calorie laden and easy to pack.
- Jerky – Long-lasting protein source.
- MREs – Prepackaged meals ready to eat, Requires no preparation.
- Freeze dried meals – Require only boiled water. Taste better than MREs.
- Fishing line/hooks – Procure fresh protein from rivers and streams.
- Snare wire – Capture wild game with improvised traps.
A minimum of 2000 calories daily maintains strength and body heat. Include a variety for nutritional balance.
6. First Aid Supplies
Emergency medical supplies can help treat injuries in the field:
- Bandages – Adhesive strips, gauze rolls, trauma pads to control bleeding.
- Antibiotic ointment – Prevents infection in cuts, burns, blisters.
- Disinfectants – Antiseptic wipes, betadine to clean wounds.
- Gloves – Nitrile or latex gloves protect hands when treating others.
- Quickclot – Rapidly stops bleeding from deep gashes. May be lifesaving.
- Medications – Pain relievers, antidiarrheals, allergy/antihistamines.
- Triangle bandage – Sling, tourniquet, pressure dressing. Highly versatile piece of kit.
Take a hands-on first aid/CPR course so you can properly utilize the contents. Rotate medications to keep fresh.
Tools that help you find your way or get found include:
- Map & compass – Topographic maps and compass allow land navigation even without GPS.
- Altimeter – Determine elevation/altitude to aid navigation.
- GPS receiver – Handheld models pinpoint position coordinates and track movement.
- Personal locator beacon – Sends coded distress signal with GPS location to aid rescue.
- Signal mirror – Reflects sunlight to signal distant aircraft.
- Whistle – Piercing sound carries farther than voice to alert rescuers.
- Flare gun – Launches visible distress flares hundreds of feet into sky.
- Flashlight/headlamp – Illuminates travel at night, flashes as a signal. Waterproof LED recommended.
- Chemical lights – Glow sticks for marking position, shelters.
Navigational competence is a core survival skillset. Map reading, compass use, and position finding take practice.
A good multitool provides an assortment of tools/functions in one unit:
- Knives – Multiple blade sizes for fine and heavy tasks.
- Screwdrivers – Flathead, phillips, star drives handle gear/glasses repair.
- Pliers – Grips objects needing force to pull, bend, or cut.
- Scissors – Cuts cordage, bandages, tinder.
- Bottle opener – Opens cans and bottles lacking dedicated openers.
- Awl – Punctures holes in leather, plastic, wood.
Quality brands to look for include Leatherman, Gerber, Victorinox, and SOG. Choose a tool offering the functions likely to be most needed.
Strong rope and cordage are endlessly useful in survival scenarios:
- Build shelters – Lash together structural elements.
- Make traps – Craft snares to catch wild game.
- Repair gear – Mend or replace broken straps, bindings, ties, etc..
- Bundle tinder/firewood – Prepare and manage fuel sources.
- Hoist/hang food – Keep edibles away from animals.
- Tie down cargo – Secure gear during transport.
Paracord is an excellent all-purpose option that’s mil-spec rated to 550 lbs. Keep at least 25 feet handy and supplement with lengths of strong rope and twine for larger tasks.
A modest amount of paper currency and coins can prove invaluable:
- Pay phones – Make calls if cell network is down.
- Vending machines – Obtain snacks, drinks without power.
- Emergency purchases – Buy supplies from stores without electricity for cards.
- Barter/bribes – Useful when normal economy fails during disasters.
- Tips – Get additional services when needed with cash gratuities.
Keep a $20-$100 tucked away in your wallet and some coins in your kit for the versatility it brings. It takes up no space and provides usefulness out of proportion to its size.
Additional Recommended Items
Once the core essentials are covered, consider adding gear to meet likely risks and fill capability gaps:
- Candles – Provide localized light and heat indoors.
- Headlamp – Hands-free light for tasks or travel at night.
- Glowsticks – Long-lasting illumination markers for shelters/trails.
- Flares – Signal aircraft and illuminate large areas briefly.
- Flashlights – Ensure redundancy with multiple reliable flashlight options.
- Extra socks/underwear – Critical to foot health and warmth.
- Boots – Rugged, waterproof boots prevent foot injury.
- Hat – Retains body heat. Wide brim provides sun protection.
- Gloves – Insulate hands and prevent injury. Durable work gloves preferred.
- Extra base layers – Regulate temperature and moisture.
- Sleeping pad – Insulates from cold ground. Inflatable or closed-cell foam.
- Tinder – Dryer lint, wax-soaked cotton, fuel tablets. Ignites kindling.
- Kindling – Small dry sticks and twigs sustain tinder flame to larger fuel.
- Firestarter cubes – Compressed wood/wax cubes burn 10+ minutes.
- Waterproof container – Keep tinder and matches dry until needed.
- Toothbrush/toothpaste – Prevent tooth decay and infection.
- Soap – Keep clean to avoid disease. Biodegradable preferred.
- Toilet paper – Essential personal hygiene. Bring extra. Bury waste.
- Menstrual supplies – Women need pads/tampons for emergencies.
- Sunscreen – Prevent dangerous sunburn if prolonged outdoor exposure.
- Pocket knife – Compact folding knife for daily tasks.
- Sunglasses – Protect eyes from bright sun, debris.
- Carabiners – Aid climbing and attaching gear. Sturdy steel.
- Whetstone – Maintain knife edges in the field.
- Duct tape – Endless repair applications. Wrap some on walking sticks.
- Wire saw – Cut wood faster than knives. Folds down small.
- Gear ties – Lash items to packs, create gear handles.
- Pepper spray – Deter aggressive animals. Look for wind-resistant stream type.
- Bear spray – Formulated to stop charging bears. Require precise aim.
- Alarm – Loud audible alarm could scare off animals/intruders.
- Radio – Stay updated on threats and incidents from officials.
- Personal defense – Knife, firearm (if trained/licensed) for violent encounters as final option.
Emergency Survival Kits – Types and Key Components
Design your survival kit based on likely emergency scenarios, group size, length of time away from civilization, and mode of travel. Here are some common kit types:
Vehicle Survival Kit
Prepares stranded drivers for roadside emergencies until help arrives:
- Jumper cables – Recharge dead battery
- Tire patch kit – Temporarily mends punctured tires
- Air compressor – Reinflate low tires
- Flares – Alert passing motorists for roadside assistance
- Flashlight, headlamp – Illuminate work in dark conditions
- Basic tools – Wrenches, screwdriver, pliers for minor repairs
- Fire extinguisher – Contain vehicle fires before they spread
- Emergency blankets, warm clothes – Prevent hypothermia
- Bottled water, non-perishable snacks – Hydration and sustenance until rescued
- First aid kit – Treat injuries from accidents
3 Day / Bug Out Bag
Sustains individuals or families during short-term evacuations:
- 3+ days food/water – High calorie, lightweight
- Shelter – Tarp, emergency bivy, space blankets
- Clothing/footwear – Extra layers, socks, underwear
- Lighting – Headlamp, flashlight, glowsticks
- Medical – First aid, medications, hygiene items
- Fire making – Lighter, matches, tinder, stove
- Tools – Knives, multitool, paracord, duct tape
- Navigation – Map, compass, GPS device, radio
- Cash and ID documents – Copies of critical identity papers
Customize contents based on likely scenarios – natural disasters, civil unrest, zombie apocalypse, etc.
72 Hour / Grab Bag
Pared down version focused on critical items. Store kits by exits for rapid evacuation:
- Flashlight, radio, batteries
- Whistle – signal for help
- Dust mask – airborne particles
- Emergency food/water
- Basic first aid – Bandages, medications
- Emergency blankets – Retain warmth
- Cash – Transactions without power
- List of emergency contacts
Wilderness / Long Term Survival
Contains expanded capacity to live off the land indefinitely:
- Large knife, multitool, saw – Construct shelters, traps, process wood
- Backpack/rucksack – Haul extensive cache of gear
- Camp stove, cookset – Prepare meals with found food
- Fishing/trapping implements – Procure wild protein
- Bow/arrows – Hunting without gunshots
- Ax, hatchet – Chop wood for shelters and fires
- Solar charger – Recharge electronics
- Camping tent – Durable temporary home base
When selecting items, consider usefulness, weight, and redundancy for extended durations away from modern amenities.
Bug Out Vehicle
Mobile extension of bug out bag concept for rapid relocation; Contains:
- Food/water – Survival rations to sustain passengers
- Cooking gear – Camp stove, pots, utensils
- Sleeping equipment – Tents, pads, sleeping bags
- Tools – Shovels, hatchets, chainsaw
- Fuel – Extra gas, oil, containers
- Off-road mobility – All-terrain tires, winch
- Navigation – Maps, compass, GPS with backup battery
- Defense – Deterrent sprays, firearms as permitted
Allows continued access to most survival kit items when on the move.
Key Factors for Survival Kit Success
Follow these guidelines to build an effective, reliable survival kit:
- Customize – Tailor items to likely scenarios, duration, climate, terrain. Urban kits differ from wilderness.
- Redundancy – Pack backups of critical items like fire, light, and knife.
- Portability – Pack weight appropriate to carry distance. Balanced weight distribution.
- Organization – Effective storage for quick access. Options like boxes, pouches, waterproof bags.
- Shelf life – Avoid perishable foods, replace expired medications.
- Microclimates – Consider each season’s unique risks – heat, cold, rain, snow.
- Group size – Scale up components appropriately for more people.
- Realistic skills – Hone techniques like navigation, shelter building, water purification at home.
- Maintenance – Inspect and refresh contents seasonally. Replace used items.
Building your own custom survival kit is preferable to pre-made generic kits. Research and test components for optimal reliability.
Top 10 Survival Skills to Master
Gear is only half the equation – knowledge and skills are equally critical. While entire books have been written on each area, mastering these 10 skills can help ensure survival:
- Fire making – Igniting fires without matches takes practice. Maintaining and using fires for various needs is also key.
- Shelter building – Creating effective shelter from minimal resources protects from the elements.
- Signaling/navigation – Know how to navigate and alert rescuers to your location.
- Foraging – Identify edible plants, trap wild game, fish water sources.
- Water purification – Make found water potable. Methods like boiling, filtration, chemicals.
- First aid – Stabilize injuries, dress wounds, manage pain until medical care can be sought. Hands on training recommended.
- Tool use – Master survival tools like knives, saws, axes for constructing, hunting, processing wood.
- Food preparation – Preserve and cook wild game and foraged edibles over a campfire.
- Mental fortitude – Stay focused and maintain positivity during stressful situations. Avoid panic and keep wits sharp.
- Self defense – Protect against dangerous animals and hostile humans if encountered. Various weapon and empty-hand techniques.
Regularly challenge yourself by practicing key techniques like fire starting, knot tying, and shelter building using only found natural resources. These skills take time to cultivate.
Top 10 Wilderness Survival Tips
Follow these tips from survival experts when facing an emergency scenario in the wilderness:
- Stay put if possible. It’s easier for rescuers to find you than aimlessly wandering.
- Always carry a knife and emergency shelter. Two critical items boost survival odds.
- Locate water and build fire/shelter near it. Two birds, one stone.
- Boil any found freshwater for 1 minute minimum before drinking if possible.
- Look for a natural shelter location like a cave first before building your own.
- Signal rescuers with a fire, whistle blasts, signal mirror. Make yourself seen.
- Travel downstream to civilization if lost. Waterways lead to populated areas eventually.
- Forage known edible plants like dandelion, clover, cattail, acorns. Be 100% certain before eating.
- Climb a tree or hilltop during daytime; most are hesitant to leave their camp at night if lost.
- Always maintain a positive mental attitude. Survival is an extreme head game.
Stay observant, proactive and keep hope alive. With preparation and basic skills, you can survive challenging wilderness emergencies.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Should I buy a pre-made survival kit or build my own?
Pre-made kits provide a ready to go option, but custom building allows picking items best suited for your needs. Start with a base kit and augment with additional supplies.
2. How can I find edible plants in the wild?
Familiarize yourself with easily identifiable edible species native to your region like cattail, dandelion, clover, and wild berries. Always confirm identity before ingesting. Forage along the edges of fields and forests where plants converge.
3. What should I do if I become lost in the wilderness?
Stay calm and avoid panicking. Try to retrace your steps to where you last knew your position. If unsuccessful, focus on signaling rescuers and seeking natural shelter and water. Travel downstream during daylight to reach populated areas.
4. How do I start a fire without matches?
Use traditional fire starting methods like flint and steel, bow drill, hand drill, or fire plow. Prepare tinder and kindling first. Focus sparks on finest, driest tinder. Blow gently on glowing embers. Add kindling slowly as the fire grows. Practice technique at home until successful.
5. Should I carry a firearm for defense?
In bear country, a powerful caliber rifle or shotgun can provide a crucial last resort, along with deterrent pepper sprays. However, firearms require extensive training and responsibility. Ensure you are legally licensed and proficient with any defensive weapons in your kit or on your person.
Equipping yourself with quality survival gear and skills boosts resilience when adversity strikes. Use these research-backed lists and expert tips to optimize your personal or family survival kit. Building kits tailored to likely scenarios you may face ensures you have the right tools on hand to sustain life through any emergency until help arrives or you can return to civilization. With proper preparation, training, and forethought, you can have confidence to handle even worst case scenarios. Stay safe out there.