Ten Essential Items for Wilderness Survival

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Before you go into a wilderness, you need to ask yourself two questions: Firstly – Can I positively respond to an accident or any emergency situation? Secondly – Can I safely spend a night or more    in the outdoors? This all could be interpreted on two different things – Are you mentally prepared and are you physically prepared? Being mentally prepared is a little bit harder to establish, as nobody knows exactly how they will react in any situation until they found themselves in one. By focusing on the clothing, gear and the equipment, you can become more positively and physically prepared for any eventuality should it arise. This is where the “ten essentials” come in.


Wilderness survival essential items


If you spend time in the outdoors whether it is hiking, backpacking, climbing or camping, it is important to carry some basic survival stuff. The “ten essentials” have been around for quite a while now. These are a list of important items for survival and safety, which were formed in the 1930’s by a Seattle based mountaineering club. The list was later updated with a systems approach. Each system can comprise of multiple items as opposed to the original list, which was a list of ten individual items.

Essential components to include in your outdoor survival kit

Navigation tools

People get lost. That is the number one reason why search and rescue are called. Most outdoor enthusiasts go for a hiking map with map trails that are an essential guide to locate your desired route. Hiking books and other online maps also provide detailed routes, level of difficulty and length of the hike. In addition to such maps, a compass is a vital tool that never fails, should you become disoriented in the wilderness. Many GPS systems have an in-built compass, but an all school compass is an indispensible tool. Remember technology can fail. GPS is a great tool to have and some phone apps these days also provide GPS coverage, but batteries can die, GPS and phones can be dropped, broken and signals can be lost. Use the GPS and an app by all means, but always have a good old map and compass with you. Also, learn how to use a map and compass properly. It is no point venturing outdoors if you do not have any clue how to use it. Before you venture out, make sure that you waterproof your map. The best way to do this is to get a waterproof map case. You may also want to throw in waterproof notepad, pen or pencil.


Sun Protection

Common sense tells you, a day out without sun protection can lead to a many skin problems. Remember that prevention is better than cure. Now most hikes ascend close to the sun and as you ascend, the sun’s rays become shorter and stronger, but the air temperature gets cooler. The trees also become smaller towards the top of a mountain and many times the hikes ventured beyond the tree line expose you completely to the sun. Remember also to protect yourself from the sun when hiking in the snow. Snow blindness is an extremely uncomfortable condition caused by harmful UV rays reflecting from the snow surface. Keep yourself hydrated in warmer temperatures. Any hiking in extremely hot conditions will invite symptoms of heat stroke and hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is the opposite of hypothermia and occurs when the body’s core temperature hits more than 38.3 to 40 degree Celsius, which in Fahrenheit is 100.9 to 104. You may carry items such a sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm and a wide brim hat.



Your body’s temperature can rise and fall quite drastically depending on the incline, tree coverage, wind and humidity on your hike route. Extra clothing should be selected according to the season. You should ask yourself this question: What is needed to survive the worst conditions that I could realistically encounter on my trip? So pack a hat, gloves, spare pair of socks and multiple insulated layers. In winters, carry thicker winter gloves, warmer winter hat, thicker insulated winter jacket, a thicker fleece and wear synthetic leggings underneath your trousers. Also the layering system can be applied to your hands in the winter. You may wear a thinner synthetic glove underneath your thicker winter gloves.



The headlamps are nearly as common as hiking shoes these days. They are hands free, lightweight, compact and have a very long battery life. They give you the freedom to carry out all the tasks during the darker hours as both your hands are free. Many headlamps also offer a strobe mode. This is a great feature to have for emergencies. It is very important to have a flashlight on your trip even if you plan to return by nightfall, sometimes plans fail. In addition, if you are heading up a mountain, the darkness will set in a lot sooner once you are descending and get below the tree line. And remember when carrying a headlamp or flashlight to take spare batteries along with you.


First aid supplies

This is somewhat of a no brainer. First aid kit can truly be an invaluable lifesaver out in the wilderness. Pre assembled first aid kits should cover all your bases. Adhesive bandages, antiseptic creams, elastic bandages, sterile gauze pads, or wraps for sprains, latex gloves, medical tape, painkillers, alcohol or iodine wipes and antihistamines. Whether you personalize your own kit or purchase a pre assembled kit, never hit the trail without one. The length of your trip, the number of people involved will impact the contents of your kit. For example, if I am going on a long hike into the mountains, I know I will be hiking over 20 miles and I’ll be out for over 12 hours, I will take a larger first aid kit. If I am going on a shorter hike for just a few miles, I will carry a smaller one. It is also a good idea to carry some sort of guide to dealing with medical emergencies or even attend a basic first aid course and learn some basic skills.



When you venture into the wilderness, always have a few different items at your disposal to light a fire. A Bic lighter is probably the easiest and most popular to use. Ensure you have a brightly colored lighter because should you drop it, it would be a lot easier to spot. Lighters can fail in very cold and wet conditions, so make sure you have a backup. Matches should be of the waterproof type and they should be stored in a waterproof container. Take plenty and make sure they are kept dry. Convenience store matches are very flimsy and poorly constructed to be trusted for wilderness use. So save yourself some frustration and take reliable matches on every trip. A ferro rod or magnesium striker is also a good backup. In addition to lighters, you could consider taking a small tinderbox. Petroleum soaked cotton wool balls, dry lint, birch bark shavings and char cloth make an excellent tinder.


Repair kit and tools

A repair kit that includes duct tape and a sewing kit is a lightweight addition to your pack that could make or break your experience. Duct tape has multiple uses and can be a temporary fix for almost anything. Sewing kits can repair a tear in your clothing, pack, tent or sleeping bag. Knives and multi tools are handy for gear repair and food preparation. First aid and making kindling are other emergency needs. A basic survival knife which has at least a five inches blade and is full tank which means that the blade runs throughout the length of the knife, is small enough to carry out fine carving tasks and big and strong enough to use as baton for wood for fire or shelter. A smaller folding knife can be carried in your pocket for smaller tasks. Other items such as whistle, a signaling mirror, multi tool, paracord, small trowel and toilet paper also fall into this category.



It is very important to bring extra nourishing snacks. Even a short half day hike can turn into an all day event. Food like trail mix, protein bars, nut or seed butters, fruit, sweets will jump start your energy and will supply you with more than enough nutrition to safely complete your hike. It is always better to include no cook items. This is in addition to what you think you will consume like a ball in the bag meal which if taken along is your main meal. Do not forget to take a small, lightweight portable stove and gas canister to cook your meal. The process of digesting food helps keep your body warm. Therefore, on a cold night it is a good idea to munch some food before settling down. Do not leave any uneaten leftovers and never store any food inside your shelter if you are in bear country. Use a bear proof canister or container and store it well away from where you bed down for the night.



You should never feel thirsty on a hike. Drink good throughout the hike and drink a liter of water before you set off, as water is easy to carry in your system than in your pack. Carry at least one water bottle and a collapsible water reservoir. In hotter climates, you will need to carry more water. A Camelbak hydration pack is a great source of water as it holds between 2 to 3 liters of water and most backpacks have a pouch inside them that will accommodate it. A tube runs out of the pack along the strap and a clip holds it in place making it easier for you to drink on the move without having to stop. All water sources can have tiny organisms that will make your life unpleasant later. Therefore, you should also carry some means for treating water whether it is a filter or a purifier or chemical treatment. If you have a stove, boiling water is the best way to purify it.


Emergency shelter

Shelter is a new component in the updated “ten essentials” list and is targeted at day hikers as most of the night wilderness travelers will already carry a tent or a tarp. The thinking is that if you get lost or injured leaves you stranded in the backcountry, then something is better than nothing, if you have to deal with wind and rain. Options include an ultra light tarp preferably neon orange, military style poncho, groundsheet, tent pegs, bungees, paracord,  an emergency space blanket, and a large plastic garbage bag. Always take an emergency bevvy as this can be used to keep the person warm in case of emergencies.


It is also important to know how to use the items included in your kit as knowledge is the most important piece of gear that you can take with you on any hike.