Survival depends on being prepared for unplanned situations, such as injury, medical emergency, or lost. When I was younger I would go out into the woods all the time with nothing but the shirt on my back, you could say I was lucky and not very informed. Thankfully I came to my senses over the years and now a days anytime I venture into the mountains, forest or desert, I always carry at the minimum a basic survival kit. It’s a great feeling to have piece of mind that I have at least some basic items I can use to survive if any unforeseen situations arose.
Below is a list of the items that I carry, they don’t take very much room and easily fit into my Osprey Rev 18 day pack. I’ll list the items and then give detailed information about each and why I carry that item. Some people may decide to carry more or a few different things depending on your geographical location:
- Two different ways to start a fire; waterproof matches, lighter, magnesium fire starter, or fire-steel. You get the idea, more than one method! One is zero and Two is one!
- Pair of Emergency Mylar blankets. MPA Space All Weather Blanket is a better choice but it might take up too much room for this small kit.
- Small Multi-Tool like the Leatherman Style PS.
- Signal Mirror
- Headlamp with rechargeable batteries
- Tough-Grid Para cord (750LB strength)
- Gorilla Tape (wrap around lighter to save space)
- Storm Emergency whistle
- LED Keychain light
- If you will be near lakes, rivers, streams, pack some line, a few hooks and sinkers. Don’t worry about a rod, nature provides that in the form of a stick!
- Fire Tinder, “Wet Fire Tinder” is the best and it is packaged individually, lights in almost any weather conditions, even wet.
- Suunto Compass, there are cheaper brands but this is what gets you home so spend the extra.Don’t forget to assemble your Survival pack, this not meant to be a large amount of items, but it should contain basic items to help you in the event you meet an unforeseen situation like being lost, a medical emergency or other life threatening circumstance. A basic kit consists of the following items in addition to everything already mentioned:
Let’s look at some of these items in more detail:
You can make your own by dipping match heads in paraffin wax if you want to save some money but the best I’ve found are the Stormproof Matches, these burn longer than normal matches, the container floats and matches are wax coated. If you want to save some space you can ditch the container and put the matches in a small Ziploc, keep the striker separate from the matches for obvious reasons. They will cost you about $3.00 per pack (25 matches). There are different brands, different quality, I use the UCO Stormproof Match Kits.
These work great by scraping magnesium shavings in a small dime size amount into a tinder bundle then using the striker bar to spark the magnesium. I prefer to attach either a piece of broken jigsaw blade or piece of sawzall blade, it works much better. Don’t “carve” the magnesium, scrape it off into a pile, many people make the mistake of trying to carve pieces off and all it does is ruin a good knife. The magnesium starter is great in windy or wet conditions, the magnesium burns at roughly 1000 degrees F. Careful looking directly into it when the magnesium lights because it is like halogen lights on full bright! I only use the original DOAN magnesium fire starter.
This is probably the most rugged of all fire starting devices. It provides a 5,396-degree F spark and lasts about 12,000 strikes. These were originally developed for the Swedish Department of Defense, and is used by several armies worldwide. When using a FireSteel your tinder will be very important, unlike the Magnesium Firestarter, you are relying only on the spark to start the tinder. I recommend you practice using this until you are comfortable making a fire before you venture out.
Mylar blankets come in different sizes, I recommend the 84×52” size, you will appreciate the little extra size if you ever have to use one. First, tell yourself these are EMERGENCY blankets, they are not meant to be comfortable or to keep you warm and toasty like your own bed, you will be cold that is a guarantee. What these are designed to do is to hopefully keep you alive long enough to survive the night, by reflecting back up to 90% of your own body heat. They say reusable, but have you ever tried folding one of these back up?? It’s impossible to say the least but at only a cost of less than $1 each, it’s more than worth the one-use. I suggest you get a 10-pack and stuff some in several different places, your survival kit, you glove compartment, tackle box, boat, RV, snowmobile, ATV, etc. Again, they are not meant to be rip-proof or of the highest quality, they are a last ditch effort to keep warm.
Space All Weather Blanket
The MPA Space All Weather Blanket pound for pound is warmer than wool. It retains 80% of radiated body heat, preventing hypothermia and providing unsurpassed protection in sub-zero temperatures. They are 60Wx80L, folded they are about 7”x9”x1” uncompressed, and weight .9LBs. These are very durable (I’ve never ripped one), and it can also be used as a tarp, and the orange reflective side makes a great emergency signal device. I highly recommend one of these goes with you on every outdoor trip.
Swiss Victorinox or Mini-Multi-tool
I currently use both in my kits and each serves its purposes. The Victorinox is small enough that it can be attached to a keychain or zipper pull, and with a knife blade, scissors, flat-head driver, and nail file, it sees a lot of use. The Mini Multi-Tool takes us very little room at only about 3”x2” in size and weighing in at .3oz. The best I have found is the Leatherman Style PS Multi-Tool, is has needle nose pliers, wire cutters, scissors, Flat/Philips screwdriver, nail file, tweezers, and a carabiner/bottle opener. All under $25 dollars.
This is a great emergency signaling devices especially for long distance sources, or planes. On a clear, bright day, it can be seen at up to 15 miles.
Reflect the sun onto a nearby target, like a boulder or even your hand. When your eye is in line with the target and the aiming hole, you’ll see a bright spot on the retroreflective surface. Now move the mirror toward the object you want to signal, whether it’s a boat, a distant house, or an airplane. As you move, keep the bright spot in view, and when the dot is on your target, the reflection will be too.
The Adventure Medical Kits Rescue Flash is one of the best, it’s retroreflective material is more transparent making it easier to aim in lower contrast conditions.
The headlamp is a great way to provide light where you need it and also free up your hands to do other things. If you asked ten people which one should you get you’d most likely get ten answers. Our field testing, and the one we keep in our bags, is the Coast HL7 Focusing 285 Lumen LED headlamp. Runtime is about 5 hours on high (196 lumens) or 76 hours on low (3 lumens), it requires 3 AAA batteries, we use rechargeable (which do not last as longer but you have the added benefit of recharging). Beam distance on high is claimed at about 357ft and 55ft on low. A larger power switch and easier-to-grip focusing bezel ensure no fumbling in the dark to get your light turned on and adjusted; even while wearing gloves. A handy dimming function allows you to adjust your light output to just the right level for your application. No outdoor person will ever be without at least one headlamp in their bag at all times.
Tough-Grid Para cord
This is top of the line cordage at 750LB strength, Mil Spec type IV, 100% nylon. It is 200LBs stronger than standard 550 Para Cord and contains 11 triple strands (standard 500 para cord is double-strand). Tough-grid never splices; all lengths are true continuous length. American Made! I’ve used this in more applications that I can count, and has become the only para cord that I use in the field, even in my personal adventures. Tensile strength tests show that it is between 760 and 820+ pounds. This is 100% certified nylon, yes including even the outside sheath, this is required to meet Mil Specs.
Tough-Grid is one of those wholesome American family businesses that you love to see producing such a great product and providing a consistently reliable cordage that can be used for just about anything! These folks will treat you right, and when it comes to para cord, try them and you will never look at others in the same light again. I recommend that you visit them at www.toughgrid.com and learn more about their products and support an American family owned business!
Though the company of course does recommend it as a replacement for climbing rope, it has been used in reported times for emergency repelling. The wonderful thing about cordage is there are so many things it can be used for, in fact give me a knife, a fire starter, and Tough-Grid para cord and I can survive most anywhere! Amazon.com can be a tough place when it comes to satisfying customers, and a five-star rating is not an easy feat but Tough-grid has done it with this product, it is the only one para cord with over 2,230 reviews and five-star rating from customers. We also love how this company addresses every single negative complaint that they do receive directly on their website for everyone to be able to see, we love a company that has nothing to hide!
This is by far the strongest, toughest tape on the planet! Several years back Popular Mechanics Magazine did an excellent comparison testing of popular brands and Gorilla Tape was the clear winner. On average it can withstand up to 85 pounds of weight before it breaks, it even held up a 3-pound dumbbell taped to a wall for over 3 days! Tape has many uses in a survival situation; tent repair, clothesline, reseal food packages, hold a damaged tent zipper closed, splint a broken tent pole or fishing rod, repair a leaky water bottle, make a spear by taping your knife to a pole or stick, wrap a sprained ankle, butterfly bandage strips, sling, bandages, blisters, splints, and the list goes on and on. The best way to carry some along with you is to wrap your water bottle or Nalgene bottle with it, or even a lighter, or trekking poles.
Storm Emergency Whistle
These are the loudest whistles you’ll probably find anywhere, be sure that when you blow you hold the whistle between your teeth so that you can have your hands free to plug your ears! It generates a 3150 hertz frequency that can be heard for miles, and even up to 50 feet under water. This is the whistle used by many military and police forces across America, and was also recently in the book/movie “Wild”. Storm Whistles is the brand trusted by outdoor enthusiasts around the world.
These are super small, very bright, and easy to include on a keychain, on zipper pulls, I’ve even used one many times suspended from inside my tent. I personally use the LRI PWK Photon II LED Keychain Micro-Light, I have used mine for three years and it is still going strong. It’s a great backup light if your headlamp goes out.
Ok, so I know some people are going to argue with me that cotton balls smeared with Vaseline is just as good and cheaper. Yes, you are right! It is cheaper, and a whole lot messier, not just when making them but using them plus you get that petroleum smell from the fire for quite a while.
I use the Wet-Fire Tinder, yes it seems expensive, about $.50 cents each, but I don’t use this for every fire that I make. I reserve these for those times when I just can’t seem to be able to get a fire started whether it is because of windy conditions, high humidity, or wet weather. When you are able to get a fire started in those conditions it really doesn’t seem like too much to pay, in fact I’d bet that you would be willing to pay a lot more if you really needed a fire! They are prepackaged into single use, however many people break them up into halves or fourths to extend the use, and I’ve found that does work quite well, again, depending on the weather conditions.
In the modern era of GPS-assisted navigation, many of us can be tempted to leave the compass and map at home, but it is important to understand that a GPS can be broken, the batteries can run out, and you can be in an area where you just can’t get good satellite reception. Because of that you must still rely on a compass and good topographical map as your secondary navigation tools. I know I am as attached to my GPS as the next person, and use it constantly when I am outdoors, but I also carry a compass and a map as a backup!
You might go days and never use a compass but if you ever take a wrong turn, lose your orientation, or end up in a whiteout, it will become one of the most important tools you have.
Fact: True North and Magnetic North are located over a 1,000 miles apart. True North is where all the longitude lines meet on a map, whereas Magnetic North actually lives in an island chain within the Canadian Artic. When you are working with a map you must compensate for the difference in true and magnetic north. This is referred to as Declination Adjustment. Normal navigation is based on knowing the location of True North or North Pole, but that is not where a compass needle points. Compass needles point to Magnetic North.
Declination is basically an angle—an angle that measures the difference between a compass needle pointing to true north and one pointing to magnetic north. The tricky thing about declination is that this angle differs depending upon where you are standing in the world, as you can see by the diagram. People navigate successfully with maps and compasses all the time, even though magnetic north and true north don’t always line up. How? They simply learn the angle of declination in their general area, then make sure that they take that angle into account when they make their navigation calculations (basically, by adding or subtracting the angle of declination from the compass bearing numbers that they read off their compasses). Printed topo maps often list declination info in a lower-corner of the map, but can be outdated. To get current declination figures, use the declination finder on NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center website. Just input the zip code or coordinates of your destination to get the latest estimate.
A good compass will have a ruler etched into the base plate. Try to select a compass that offers scales you are likely to use. Common topographic map scales are 1:24,000 (used by the USGS) and 1: 250,000. A long straight edge is helpful for drawing bearings on a map.
Located on the bottom of the compass housing. The nonmagnetic arrow’s directional end is usually red and, coupled with the meridian lines (which you align with the north-south lines on a topographic map), helps orient the compass to the map.
Declination adjustment: A more sophisticated orienting arrow, one that can be aligned to reflect the “magnetic declination” in your area of travel. (This is the difference between true north and magnetic north.)
In many cases, a tiny adjustment tool, usually connected to the lanyard, is used to turn a small screw on (or near) the compass housing. When adjusted, the orienting arrow is no longer parallel with the north-south lines; instead, it will be offset for the declination of your area of travel. This allows you to easily line up the magnetic needle with magnetic north while taking your bearings. A fixed orienting arrow, meanwhile, requires you to “do the math” and make manual adjustments for each new measurement.
There are several places that offer classes on Compass and Map Navigation. REI offers a Map and Compass Navigation Basic class several times a month, usually $30 for members, and $50 for non-members.