A survival kit should be considered mandatory equipment for any outdoor enthusiast. You never know when something will go wrong, placing your very life will be in danger. But, if you have a well-conceived survival kit with you, your odds of survival will improve greatly.
However, it is important to understand that different people will require different types of equipment in their survival kit, and you must customize your kit to suit your specific needs and the circumstances you’ll likely face. This means you’ll probably want to avoid purchasing a pre-assembled kit, and instead put together your own.
Below, we’ll explain some of the most important items to pack in a survival kit, as well as the things you’ll want to consider when assembling your items.
Basic Survival Kit Supplies
No matter where you are going, what type of dangers you may face or how much experience you have, you’ll always want to include a few key items in your survival kit. This includes:
- Pocket knife
- Two sets of extra batteries
- Emergency candles
- Water purification tablets
- Cordage and Tape
- Duct tape
- 200 feet of Paracord
- 100 yards of monofilament fishing line
- Fire-starting kit
- Flint or magnesium Firestarter
- Emergency tinder
- Magnifying glass
- Metal pot or mugs
- Space blanket
- Emergency poncho
- Safety pins
- Emergency non-perishable food rations
- Large tarp
- Basic first aid / medical kit
- Band-aids of various sizes
- Ace bandage
- Antiseptic wipes
- Triple antibiotic ointment
- Rescue Signals
- Signaling mirror
Various authorities will recommend slightly different items for your basic survival kit, but the items listed above are typically included in most. Note that the items listed above represent the minimal equipment you’ll want; there are plenty of other items you may want to place in your survival kit.
Information Is Still Valuable in the Wild
One final item that you may want to consider adding to your kit is a “cheat sheet.” A cheat sheet should include any information that may be of value in a survival situation. This may include first-aid procedures, a list of geographical references for navigating without a map, instructions for tying various knots or a list of edible fruits in the area.
You’ll likely want to print out such a list and then have it laminated to protect it. However, it will be easier to pack several small cards rather than a single large card, if your list ends up being rather long.
Customizing Your Kit
Now that you have the basic items required for your survival kit, you’ll want to examine your specific needs and customize the kit to address them. You can begin this process by asking yourself the following five questions. Your answers to them will help guide your choices moving forward.
1. How many people will be sharing this survival kit?
You’ll obviously need to tailor your survival kit to the number of people who will depend upon it. If you are going out for a solo camping trip, you won’t need as many supplies as if you are heading out with an 8-person team.
The number of people depending on the kit won’t affect some of the items in the kit, but it will affect others. For example, you’ll only need one fire starter, no matter how many people are in your party. By contrast, you’ll obviously need to adjust how many space blankets are included with the kit, depending on the size of the group.
2. What sort of emergency might you face?
You’ll face different potential emergencies in different conditions and during different activities. For example, you aren’t likely to suffer a sprained ankle while kayaking across a bay, but you may suffer from a jellyfish sting. Accordingly, a pain-relieving gel would be more helpful than an ace bandage in your first aid kit.
Additionally, you may need a tick-removal kit if your travels take you through a forest, but you’ll find that a sunburn cream is more helpful while traveling through a desert.
3. Where will you be using the kit?
Different locations present different climactic challenges, which you’ll want to factor into your survival-kit-making decisions. Trips through the northern reaches of the globe, for example, will force you to confront very cold temperatures. This may make things like emergency hand warmers and hot chocolate important in your survival kit.
By contrast, you’ll want to prepare for heat stroke, snake bite and torrential rain if you are hiking or camping in the tropics.
4. How much experience do you have in the outdoors?
Generally speaking, the more outdoor experience you have, the fewer items you’ll need in your survival kit. Those who are quite skilled at starting fires may not need to bring matches and emergency tinder; as a simple fire starter will suffice.
Similarly, experienced outdoor enthusiasts may elect to bring items like garbage bags, rather than ponchos, as they can be used for a variety of different purposes, which outdoor novices are unlikely to have mastered.
5. How long are you likely to wait before help arrives?
If you are trekking through the Yukon or trying to cross the Darien gap, you may find it necessary to wait weeks for help to reach you in a survival situation; but if you are just heading off to your local state park, emergency rescuers could probably reach you in a matter of hours.
You’ll want to factor this consideration into your kit-building decisions. If you can expect to wait long periods before help will arrive, you’ll need more supplies than if you are heading out to an easily accessed area. Nevertheless, it is always wise to have the supplies to last longer than you think you’ll need them.
In addition to the considerations listed above, you’ll want to consider a few personal matters when stocking your survival kit.
If you must take regular medications for a medical condition, you’ll likely want to pack an extra set in your survival kit. You’ll need to discuss the issue with your doctor if you require prescription medications, but don’t forget about over-the-counter medications you may need too.
For example, if you often suffer from heartburn, you’ll likely want to add some antacids to your survival kit. Similarly, if you have allergies, you’ll want to pack extra antihistamines, and you may even want to include an EpiPen if anaphylactic shock is possible.
Cash or Currency
If you find yourself in trouble and forced to walk to a local town or service station, you’ll want to be sure you have a small amount of money to help solve problems and allow you to get back home. You needn’t bring along thousands of dollars, enough to pay for a hotel room and some food is probably adequate.
Be sure you convert your funds to local currency if you are traveling abroad. Always keep paper money in sealed plastic bags to protect it. You may even consider using a pre-paid debit card or a credit card in your survival kit, instead of cash.
Typically, survival kits are designed to help you get through a situation in which help cannot be secured. However, if you equip yourself with a satellite phone you can contact help from anywhere on the planet.
In other situations, a pre-paid cell phone or two-way radio (be sure to find out the frequency the local ranger station or emergency responders use) may be all that you need to contact help when you need it most.
Unfortunately, some outdoor enthusiasts find themselves being threatened by nefarious people or dangerous animals. This leads some to keep a weapon or self-defense tool in their survival kit, in order to be better prepared for a worst-case scenario.
Your self-defense tool may take the form of a knife or gun, but be sure to consider less-than-lethal items too. This would include things like stun guns, pepper spray and telescoping batons. Just be sure to follow all local laws and regulations before packing any type of weapon or self-defense tool in your survival kit.
A Word about Redundancy
In an ideal world, you’d bring along duplicates for every item in your survival kit. This way, if one breaks, you’ve got a back up at the ready. “Two is one, and one is none,” as the saying goes.
But in the real world, your outdoor activities will place weight and space restrictions on the size of your survival kit. You can’t very well bring multiple knives, several flashlights and two pairs of pliers if you are trying to go ultralight camping in the Sierra Nevadas.
This obviously means you’ll have to balance your use of redundant items with your carrying capacity. However, you can address both of these competing forces by trying to bring along items that serve multiple purposes. This way, you aren’t really bringing items that are duplicates of each other, but you still benefit from having some backup options.
For example, duct tape is often included to repair clothing or camping gear, but you can also use it for a band aid in a pinch. Safety pins are another good multi-purpose supply, as they can be used for clothing repairs, bent into fishhooks or used to sew up a wound if need be.
How Should You Contain Your Survival Gear?
Now that you’ve assembled an assortment of supplies and tools, you’ll need to contain them in a sensible way. There are a variety of different things you can use for such purposes, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Just try to select the one that will work best for the specific outdoor activities in which you engage.
- Back Pack – Some outdoor enthusiasts will consider a backpack too large and bulky for a survival kit, but if you face a sudden emergency and are forced to grab a single item and run, a backpack is one of the best things you could grab. Additionally, for those who prefer extremely well-stocked survival kits, backpacks offer plenty of capacity.
- Soft-Sided Carrying Case – Usually made from fabric and equipped with a single zipper, soft-sided carrying cases are probably the most popular containers for survival kits. Soft-sided cases are lightweight and easy to store, but they don’t offer very much protection for the fragile items inside, so you’ll need to be sure to pack it carefully.
- Rigid Carrying Case – Rigid carrying cases typically feature plastic or metal sides. While they are heavier, bulkier and more difficult to pack than soft-sided cases are, they better protect the things inside the kit.
- Float Bag – If your adventures will take place on or near the water, it is a good idea to pack your survival kit in a float bag, so you can prevent it from sinking to the bottom. Often, it will make the most sense to store your survival kit in a small carrying case, which is then placed inside a float bag, but you could just use the float bag if you prefer.
While many outdoor enthusiasts consider the color of a survival kit to be of minor importance, it actually makes good sense to think about this important characteristic. For example, it will be much easier to find your survival kit in an emergency if it is brightly colored or reflective.
By contrast, you may find yourself in a situation in which you’ll want to keep a low profile, such as if you are trying to avoid dangerous people. In these cases, you’ll want a black or earth-toned survival kit to help avoid drawing attention to yourself.
There are no right or wrong answers in this regard, but you’d be wise to think through the issue carefully before making your choice.
Stocking a survival kit is a very personal procedure. Your life may depend on your choices at some point, so you’ll want to ponder the potential disasters you may face and do your best to assemble the items that will help you survive. But, if you start with the items listed above, add in those which will address your personal needs and carry them in a sensible container, you’ll likely keep yourself alive and return home with a great story.