Prologue ~ Have you ever been lost in the wilderness? (or thought you were?) It’s an unmistakable feeling – often of fear, helplessness, and regret. Being lost can cause a panic response that often leads to a series of bad decisions. Pushing yourself too hard for too long, not taking in nourishment, making rash decisions, all making your bad situation worse.
But then you think ‘hold on, I just need to take a minute to clear my head, and get back on track’. So you compose yourself, take a breath, and get your bearings. Grab your phone, look at the google maps, get back on course – everything is going to be okay… But it’s not, your phone has died, you have no paper map and the sun is going down rather quickly. You could backtrack, but that might send you further back. You might not even recognize where you went wrong, after all, you did get lost in the first place. You need to stay calm, form a plan, and prepare to stay the night – in the wilderness – alone.
Hopefully, you’ve loaded your arsenal with the weapons of wilderness survival to see you back to safety, just maybe not on the schedule you had originally intended.
A survivor must dig deep, putting their fears and emotions at bay, going beyond their skills to survive. Coming to the realization that you’re “surviving” isn’t something people often think about. The fear and emotions that come with realization can defeat you, but only if you let them. You have the ability to overcome these fears if you believe you can. Having the skills to build shelter, start a fire, and collect and purify water will imbue confidence of a survival mind. Never doubt yourself, take deep breaths, and collect your thoughts before making decisions. If you are driven to survive and have the means, you can survive.
Knowledge is a powerful ally – Knowing the proper way to do something is a large part of what makes you, you. If you desire to pilot a plane you need the knowledge to do so. If you desire wilderness adventure, you should learn how to return from it. With the proper know-how – not a broken limb, wrecked vehicle, nore lost map should keep you from surviving.
Your kit can be your greatest companion, but if you don’t own the skills to properly use its contents,
it could actually end up being your demise. (e.g. A glancing axe blow that cuts through your foot, misuse of a knife in the triangle of death, or tracking a compass deeper into no man’s land) – learn, practice, and thrive.
Below is a list of survival skills I would encourage everyone to learn to some degree of proficiency:
- Collecting natural tinder
- Making the 3 components of fire (tinder, kindling, fuel)
- Building a proper fire lay
- Starting a fire
Medicine & Medical Aid
- Knowing the difference between Poison and Venom
- Identifying and avoiding harmful plants and animals
- Knowing how to deal with common injuries
- Knowing medial plants
- Identifying hypothermia and knowing what to do about it
- Using a map
- Using a compass
- Navigating during the day
- Navigating during the night
- Pace counting
- Building different types of shelters with a variety of materials
- Knowing knots and lashing that will aid in shelter making
Signaling & Trail Signs
- Contrast and movement
- Signs of 3
- Building signal fires
- Using a signal Mirror
- Reading trail markers
Traps & Triggers
- Animal behavior tracking
- Knowing where to place a trap
- Building traps & triggers
Resourcing & Scavenging
- Finding natural and man-made resources (refuse, water, tinder, etc.)
- Taking mental note of where resources can be found
- Know what to do with found resources
- Locating water sources
- Collecting water
- Filtering water
- Purifying water
- Knowing the plants in the area
- Knowing the difference between a safe plant and a copycat
- Knowing where and when wild edibles and medicines can be found
Your kit might be the only thing between your survival and you becoming part of the ecosystem. Having a well thought out kit to pair with your survival knowledge is imperative, but do you know what items will have the greatest impact on your survival?
When choosing items for your kit be sure to keep these 3 guidelines in mind:
- Every item should be multi-functional, having at least 3 uses (exceptions for critical needs)
- Each item should be of the highest quality you can afford, your life may depend on it
- The Essential Kit Accoutrements were chosen because they are some of the hardest items to recreate in the wild
Coupled with your knowledge, a relatively small kit should be all that you needed to survive a short-term survival situation.
Essential Kit Accoutrements:
The second most important survival tool, after the mind, can be used for cutting wood, crafting shelters, medical needs, preparing food, skinning animals, hunting, building traps, and so on.
- Required: A fixed blade knife, full tang, 5″-7” in blade length, batonable.
- Preference: 1 large (7”-10”) blade for chopping, shelter building, limbing, etc. and 1 smaller knife (3”-5”) for camp tasks, food prep, cutting cord, etc. (Knives with 90 degree spines are best – strike ferro rod, scrape bark, scrape tinder).
- Options: a hatchet, axe, or saw could be used in place of a larger knife.
Fire is life – it disinfects water, keeps you warm, cooks food, and combats fears
- Required: Bic Lighter – Requires only 1 hand to operate, relatively cheap, weighs little
- Preference: 2 Bic Lighters (Brightly Colored: Orange, Red, Yellow) + Ferro Rod
- Options: Carry your fire starter of choice but remember in survival you should always go with a sure thing.
Sure Fire (Man Made Tinder):
Guaranteed flame in the harshest conditions.
- Required: A fire starting material you know will work in the worst conditions (NOT dryer lint or jute twine)
- Preference: DIY Fire Disks, LiveFire
- Options: Tinder-Quik, Inferno, Fire Fubes, candles, cotton balls with vaseline (some won’t work wet)
For protection from the elements (cold, heat, precipitation, etc.)
- Required: A seasonally appropriate form of cover be it tarp, poncho, bivy, tent, etc.
- Preference: Drum liner (great for making leaf mattresses, ponchos, rain catchers) + Summer – a poncho, tarp or survival blanket. Winter – Tarp + MSS (Modular Sleep System)
- Options: Poncho, Tarp, Tent, MSS, Bivy, Wool Blanket, Sleeping Bag, Survival Blanket, Drum liners
For lashing, attaching, shelter building, repairs, fishing, traps, etc.
- Required: 50’ of strong cordage
- Preference: 25’-50’ of paracord + 50’-100’ #18 Bankline (#18 bankline has a break strength of 330# but only takes up ¼ the space as paracord)
- Options: Paracord, Bankline, Braided Rope, Survival Cord
Water Container (full of water):
For boiling and transporting water (possibly cooking)
- Required: A metal container that can be placed into a fire (over and over) to disinfect water
- Preference: SS Cook Pot + Nalgene Bottle
- Options: Something as simple as a tin can, foil pie plate, garage sale kitchen pot
- More Options: Perhaps 2 containers – your water transport container can be plastic (Nalgene, Platypus or Camelbak)
For navigation, signaling and first aid
- Required: A quality baseplate compass (Sunnto, Silva, Brunton)
- Preference: Suunto MC-2 Series OR Suunto MCA-D Series
- Options: The GPS is a great tool but IS NOT a replacement for a compass
Notepad and Pen:
For drawing maps, writing directions, collecting thoughts, and taking notes
- Required: Paper, a writing tool, and a way to keep it dry (Perhaps an Aloksak)
- Preference: 4”x6” Rite in Rain Pad and Sharpie + Quality Pen
- Options: A Moleskine and a Montblanc Pen (kidding) Paper, Pen, plastic baggie
For bandaging, wiping sweat, covering head and neck from the sun, filtering water, arm sling, container, cloth repair, etc.
- Required: Cotton cloth at least 3’x3’
- Preference: 1-2 Bandanas + Shemagh/Sniper Cloth
- Options: Fabric store cotton cloth, cotton scarf
Jack of all trades master of none – traps, pot grabber, medical (hangnail, splinter, etc.), a variety of uses
- Required: A quality multi-tool (or pliers)
- Preference: Leatherman Rebar (best bang for your buck) or other medium-to-large leatherman tools
- Options: other Leathermen, SOG, Victorinox, Pliers, and tools
- Exceptions: If you must have a lighter/smaller multi-tool, a Leatherman Juice S2 is a good option for Backpacking, Biking, Hiking but it’s NOT for hard use
Another jack of all trades – fire starting, shelter, repair, first aid, cordage, so on and so on
- Required: 10+ feet of 2” Gorilla Tape or roll of 1″
- Preference: 1” small roll or 15’ of 2” rewrapped to a plastic card
- Options: (duct tape isn’t king), maybe 100mph tape
For seeing at night, doing tasks at night, signaling, comfort
- Required: A quality LED Headlamp or LED Flashlight or Both
- Preference: Both with same batteries (CR123, 18650, or AA powered)
- Options: special purpose (Lantern, Chem-lights) choose what’s best for your situation
Keeps your kit organized, clean, dry, and ready at a moments notice – grab-and-go.
- Required: A sturdy means of transporting your kit items
- Preference: Backpack
- Options: Haversack, fanny pack, cargo vest, shoulder bag, sling pack
Additional Kit Considerations
A signal whistle can be blown long after a yelling voice gives out, can be heard over greater distances
- Options: pea-less whistle, brightly colored fabric square, signal laser, beacon light, flares, firearm, SPOT device, emergency balloon, Chem-lights
- Medications: Epipen, maintenance meds (more than you EDC)
- OTC Meds: Allergy, Pain, Diarrhea
- Bug Spray: Bug bites suck but some can spread disease, could aid in fire starting
- Sun Screen: sunburn can cause discomfort, infection, illness, and in extreme cases death
- Eyeglasses: if you wear contacts a backup set of specs could be a lifesaver
- Eye Drops: if you get crud in your eye and could damage it without having a way to clear it
Tools and Resources:
- Pace Beads: extremely helpful when navigating, can help in making maps
- Repair Needles and thread: repair clothing, tents, tarps, bags, gross directional compass (if magnetized)
- Gloves: Protect your hands from cuts, blisters, and other hazards
- Baggies: great for storing natural fire tinder, collection fish bait or wild edibles
- Pocket Survival Manual: should be self explanatory
- Water Filter: Filters particulates and bacteria out of water making it drinkable
- Fishing line and hooks: allows possible procurement of protein
- Foodstuffs: Why starve, bring some snacks at least. Dry Soup, Noodles, Rice, Protein Bars, Dried fruit, Nuts, MREs, Candy, Jerky, etc.
- Hand Sanitizer or wet wipes: keeps you mitts clean
- A few shop towels: TP, tissue, wound cleaner
- Battery Powered Phone Charger: Juice up a dead phone, maybe start a fire
- Spare Flashlight Batteries
- 2-way Radio: possible emergency communication