Whether you live in the woods or you just enjoy spending time in them, there are 11 things that I advise carrying with you in your emergency kit. In this article, I’ll tell you what those things are and explain why I feel they are so important to keep with me.
It won’t take you long to read this article and you might learn something that could end up saving your life someday. That is if you’ll actually follow my advice and make sure that you never go into the woods without these must have items. Even if you think that you’re only planning a short day hike, you never know what might happen that could turn your day hike into a survival situation.
Before I tell you about the items that we like to keep with us, I need to tell you what might just be the most important piece of information in this entire article. No survival items will do you any good if you don’t have them on you when you need them. Most of the time that our family spends in the back country is on horseback. If we were to keep our emergency supplies in the saddle bags and the horses were to spook and run off without us, they’d end up taking the items that we would need to survive with them.
For this reason, we like to keep our emergency kits in fanny packs that we wear the entire time we are in the woods. Not only that, everyone carries one so that if we are ever separated, we each have immediate access to these essential items. Why do we choose a fanny pack over a regular back pack or some other kind of bag? It’s really quite simple; human nature is such that a backpack will be taken off when people sit down to rest. Satchels or shoulder bags will tend to become heavy and they’ll often be set down during rest stops. People often carry these types of bags with them when they are hiking only to leave them sitting on a rock where they stopped to have lunch. Hours later, when an emergency situation comes up, they realize that they’ve lost their survival gear.
We only keep our survival items in the fanny packs which means that we’ll never be taking them off to get our snacks, lunches, or cameras out. By doing this, the chances are much greater that if we should ever find ourselves in a life and death situation, the things that we will need to survive with will still be with us and ready to use as we should need them.
Item #1: Water
Not having water with you when you venture into the backcountry can pose much more of a problem than simply getting thirsty. As a matter of fact, depending on what the conditions are at the time that you get lost, you may only be able to survive for a couple of days if you don’t have access to water. The human body can go much longer without food than it can go without water and if you find yourself lost in the woods without a supply of water, your chances of surviving the situation go way down.
In a survival situation, it’s of the utmost importance that you are able to think clearly and make good decisions. You may not realize it but dehydration can cause people to become confused and disoriented. If this happens to you when you are lost, you’re probably going to make bad decisions that will make it more difficult to find you or result in you becoming injured which will only make your situation worse.
I always carry a canteen and some way of purifying water that I might find (e.g. water purification tablets, or iodine) with me when I head out into the woods. I prefer to keep a metal canteen with me so that if I need to boil water to purify it, I can do so right in the canteen.
Item #2: Good Survival Knife
Having a high quality survival knife with you opens up a whole world of possibilities when you are lost in the wilderness. You can protect yourself, cut branches to use for building a shelter, split wood, and much more. I’m not talking about the $15 dollar Rambo knock off knifes that you find at swap meets here either. I like a knife that is sturdy enough that I can strike the back of the blade with a stick for splitting wood. The blade also needs to be of high enough quality that it will hold an edge and not break when subjected to the harsh way you’ll be handling it when you’re in survival mode. I won’t recommend any particular blade lengths or brands because that topic has been debated for centuries. The bottom line is that you should find a knife that you like and keep it with you.
Item #3: High Quality Multi-Tool
Wilderness survival experts have long said that having a knife with you in a survival situation is paramount to your ability to survive. I wholeheartedly agree with them on this one, but I personally choose to take things a bit further. I prefer to carry a multi-tool with me because these handy gadgets usually have a couple of knifes, a saw, pliers, wire cutters, screwdrivers, and more built into them.
On one particular occasion, we were riding our horses and one of the horses became entangled with an old barb wire fence. My husband had his multi-tool with him and we were lucky because if he would have only had a knife with him, there is no way that he would have been able to quickly cut the wire and free the horse.
Item #4: New Butane Lighter and Tinder
Being able to make fire is not only essential for survival when the temperatures plummet it is also very beneficial to your overall state of comfort and attitude. People who are lost in the woods do much better if they have a way to start a fire. Some of the things that fire can provide are heat, light, protection from wildlife, a way to purify water, a way of cooking food, and a way of signaling for help.
I like to keep a new butane lighter with me because of the ability to easily get an instant flame from it. Not only are these lighters reliable, they can also be used one handed which may save your life if one of your hands is injured and you can’t use it for fire starting.
That being said, I will never go into the woods counting on a lighter to work all the time. On one particular occasion, we went to use a brand new lighter that I had in my pocket and it was completely empty. I can only assume that the little button got stuck in the down position while I was carrying the lighter in my pocket and the butane all escaped. I now have a small plastic case that was made to hold a travel tooth brush that I keep the lighter in to prevent the button accidentally being depressed while I’m carrying the lighter.
I also like to keep a high quality magnesium fire starter (one that I have personally tested beforehand) with me. To start a fire with these little gadgets, you use a hard piece of metal like the back of your knife blade to scrape a pile of magnesium shavings onto a tinder bundle. Then, you slide some hard metal along a bar of flint to deliver a spark in the shavings. The magnesium will easily catch a spark and a high quality magnesium fire starter is designed to burn the shaving at temperatures of up to 3000º F which can come in really handy when you need to start a fire with wet tinder.
One word of caution; some low quality magnesium fire starters don’t work very well because of the magnesium that they are made from. If you’re going to carry one with you, be sure and test it before you head out. You also need to make sure that you learn exactly how to start a fire with one of these devices by actually doing it in a non-emergency situation.
Item #5: Survival Blankets
While a wool blanket will probably keep you warmer than these little foldable survival blankets, I find that if an item is too bulky or heavy, I probably won’t carry it with me. For that reason, I like to keep a few of those little reflective survival blankets in my kit. They are light weight and will reflect your body heat back onto you. They can also be used as a signaling device because their silver reflective color can be seen from quite a ways off.
Item #6: GPS & Compass
I absolutely love our little Garmin GPS and never leave home without it and some batteries. I’ve used one for years and recently bought my husband a new Garmin GPSmap 62s for his birthday. We do a lot of bushwacking when we are riding our horses and having the GPS with us has saved our bacon dozens of times. That being said, you need to keep in mind that even though having a GPS with you can be extremely convenient, it’s an electronic device than can fail. You can drop the GPS and break it or the batteries might even go dead on you and for this reason I also keep a compass with me.
Here’s my opinion of compasses. Every survival kit made comes with a compass but let’s be honest. How many people would have the slightest idea of how to use one to navigate with. I keep a compass with me when I’m out and about but to tell you the truth, if I was ever really lost and all I had was a compass, I would probably sit tight and wait to be found because I’m just not confident enough in my ability to use one.
Item #7: A Loud Whistle
If you’re ever lost in the woods and you’re waiting to be rescued, you’ll make the job of finding you much easier if you have a loud whistle in your kit. A whistle can be heard over much greater distances than your voice. Blowing on a whistle every so often will help your rescuers hone in on your location much more easily.
Item #8: First Aid Kit
Oftentimes the very reason that people become stranded in the wilderness is because they suffer an injury. Being able to disinfect and dress wounds when you are stranded in the woods could mean the difference between whether or not you survive long enough to be rescued. If you have any prescription medications that you rely on, you should pack them in your kit as well.
Item #9: Small Flashlight
If you’re stuck out overnight, you’ll really appreciate that you had the forethought to pack a small flashlight with you. Especially if you find yourself having to make a fire or build a shelter after dark. This can also be used as a signal device during a nighttime rescue.
Item #10: Energy Rich Survival Food Bars
Many survival experts won’t put food on the list of the top ten things that you should keep in your emergency kit but I do. Now, mind you, I’m in no way claiming to be a survival expert but I know my body. When I go too long without eating something, I start to get light headed and dizzy. I can only imagine that the fear of being lost would exacerbate this for me. I keep some small bars that are very energy dense and designed specifically for packing the most energy in the smallest package in my kit. They don’t taste the best but having them with me means that I would be able to nibble on them and fend off the light headed feeling that I would get from not eating.
Item #11: Fully Charged Cell Phone
This isn’t exactly an item that Daniel Boone would have carried with him but this isn’t 1800 either; it’s 2012 and it just doesn’t make any sense to venture out into the woods without one. That is assuming that you won’t be so far into the woods that you won’t be able to get a signal. Even then, you may be able to make your way up to a higher elevation where you can get a cell phone signal.
Keep in mind that I’m not an expert in survival. I don’t haven any certifications in survival techniques. I’m what you might consider to be a “survival enthusiast”. The items that I’ve mentioned in this article are the items that I personally choose to carry with me. You may have specific needs that are different than mine. The important thing is that you don’t head out into the woods with nothing more than a digital camera and a candy bar. You may think that nothing will ever happen to you but the people who end up stranded in the woods fighting for their lives probably thought that too.
Enjoy the time that you spend in the “boonies” but be prepared and safe while doing so! Also, before you head out on your next adventure, I suggest that you take a couple of minutes and read my article called A Candle Can Be the Best Firestarter in Your Kit.