Building An Effective Wilderness Survival Kit

Make your own survival kit, or add to one you buy.

Whether you are hiking or camping, an effective survival kit is something you should carry with you always. No one ever intends to get lost; it’s something that happens to you for unexpected reasons. There are more ways of getting lost than you can count.

You can buy a wilderness survival kit, but you can also make an excellent one yourself. A kit needs to have items that are essential for keeping core body temperature warm. It also should include something to signal for help with. Each item should be usable alone, and effective in combination with the other items in the kit. So here are some essentials to pack:

Survival knife–

This is the essential tool in your survival kit. With a good survival knife you can make everything else in your kit if you don’t have it. It should be a fixed-blade knife with about a 4.5″-6″ blade. That size is easy to carry around and will do grunt work like processing firewood. It’s also good for finer work like cleaning fish and cutting cord. It should also be made of high-carbon steel, which will spark when struck against quartz or flint. That way you can start fires if you don’t have a fire-starter with you. See “Choosing A Good Camping Knife” for tips on choosing a good survival knife, because if your camping knife is good, you already have a survival knife.

One tip for survival knives–pick one that doesn’t have an anti-rust coating, which will make it more difficult to get a spark. They are a little more work maintenance-wise, but worth it when you’re lost in the wilderness trying to start a fire.

Firestarting device

Almost as important as a knife is something that will enable you to start a fire readily. You can find firestarters all over the place nowadays. Your best bet is a good starter with a ferrocerium rod and striker. Don’t stint on this–cheaper starters will have coatings that hinder a good spark, which means you lose ability to make a fire easily.

Cord–About 75-100 feet of strong, multi-ply cord is a must have in any survival kit. Multi-ply cord can be separated into smaller fibers for line or tinder.  Paracord is a good choice because it’s readily available in a variety of applications for carrying it around. They are constructed as bracelets, belts, and any manner of items, making it very handy indeed. But some survivalists prefer 3-ply tarred mariners line because it grips well when making knots and you can get it in high-tensile strength form. The absolute best idea would be to wear a paracord bracelet or belt and put the mariners line in the kit.

Waterproof Container

A waterproof container that you can keep most or all of your supplies in will not only keep everything dry, it will enable you to scoop earth instead of using your hands and have a container for drinking water. Make sure it’s made of stainless steel and you can also use it to boil water in and make charred materials for firestarter. Your container should be sealable. That way you can carry water with you if you need to.

ziploc bags–

A few of these means you can collect foraged food or carry extra water with you if you come to a stream or lake. If you have duct tape wrapped around your container, you can also use the bags and duct tape to seal wounds or equipment or clothing tears against the elements and germs.

Cotton bandanna

A couple of these can help you make a sling, protective head gear, carry smaller items, even signal for help if they’re brightly colored. If you make sure they’re all cotton they’ll char well when burnt for making firestarter.

Emergency bivvy

An emergency bivvy folds up small, taking little space in a wilderness survival pack, and can be crucial for keeping core body temperature up. It can double as a sleep-sack and water-proof shelter. No kit should be without one. Here’s a great bivvy or two. 

Emergency blanket

Although a bivvy is technically an emergency blanket, an extra one for the express purpose of using as a medical aid should be added. They fold so small that one or two can be put in a kit without taking up much space or adding any significant weight. They are highly reflective, making them a good emergency help-signal and their prime advantage, that of reflecting back body heat, can’t be ignored. You can even use one as a heat reflector behind you in an emergency shelter with a fire in front.

Water purification tablets

These should always be carried. Should the unthinkable happen and you cannot make a fire, you can still drink water. In extremely hot or cold conditions the human body can lose more than 3 liters of water a day. If you lose water and can’t replace it you run the risk of dehydration, delirium and collapse. Water is a must, and you need to be sure it’s drinkable. You might also consider a lifestraw–a drinking straw that purifies water as you drink through it.

Food tablets

Although food tablets are not as crucial as water or fire they can sometimes be the difference between life and death in long-term situations of more than a week. We cover Survival Food Tablets in the article “Wilderness Survival Gear–Amazing Stuff” (#3 on the list).

There are other things you can add to a survival kit that are great such as duct tape, protein bars, fishing and medical gear. They will all do their part to help you survive in the wilderness. Just don’t forget the ones listed, is all I’m suggesting. They are more than good ideas. They are crucial to wilderness survival.

Fishing Line and hooks–

A fishing line and hooks take up almost no room in your survival kit and may be the only way you can get protein in the wilderness if you’re lost. (Besides slugs.) Get one that comes with weights and swivels to increase your chances of a successful fishing foray.

What to keep it all in–

I see a lot of wilderness survival kits online nowadays, stuffed into tiny Altoids tins or pill bottles. These are clever and better than nothing, but the smaller the container is, the less effective its contents will be. Get an 8-oz stainless steel container with a lid that screws on or snaps on; you’ll have a drinking canister and cooking pot that way. And if you have a little room to spare, hey–there’s always more things you can stuff in it.



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