Time and again, we see news stories involving people who became lost in the woods during a routine hike or camping trip without having any essential wilderness survival gear on their person. It happens all the time and, unfortunately, sometimes these stories have a very tragic ending.
What often happens is the person walked away from the campsite to collect firewood or something, got turned around, and couldn’t find their way back. That’s very easy to do if you’re not intimately familiar with the area.
In most news stories I’ve seen, if the person had taken just a few small items of wilderness survival gear with them, easily carried in a pocket or belt pouch, the tragedy could have been merely an interesting anecdote at family gatherings for years to come instead.
Table of contents
Basic and Essential Wilderness Survival Gear
Really, though, if you are planning a trek then you SHOULD be packing the 10 Essentials, at a minimum. But let’s address more impromptu outings and some essential items you could easily carry or stow in pockets that could make the difference in how the story ends. Note: These aren’t listed in any particular order because they are all essential.
The sound of a good whistle carries much further than your shouts, plus you won’t get a sore throat. I suggest wearing the whistle around your neck so you won’t lose or misplace it.
It’s such a simple, inexpensive tool that can literally help searchers find you. Each person should carry one in case of separation from others, also. This includes children.
A granola bar or better, a meal replacement bar, is easy to tuck into a pocket.
Obviously, if you’re lost for a long time you’ll have to find other means of sustenance. However, in that initial time after you realize you’re in trouble, having something to eat can give you the brain food and body energy you need to make critical decisions that could determine your outcome.
Hey, if you can carry a cellphone in your pocket, you can carry a food bar.
Dehydration is one of the biggest potential threats.
A stainless steel water bottle, preferably filled with clean water before you set out on your trek, is your ally in avoiding dehydration. Avoid plastic and aluminum because you want something in which you can boil water for disinfection, should the need arise. Throw in some water purification tablets, also.
Small Survival Tools
You also need a cutting tool, such as a good-quality knife. This is not an area where you should skimp and just buy something cheap (or something cute/pretty). You may very well be taking your life on it, so spend the extra money for quality. Take a few minutes to learn how to choose a folding knife.
Now, I will readily admit I’m something of a blade nut and have acquired dozens of knives over the years. My current favorites for sheath knives include the Condor Bushlore and the Brothers of Bushcraft (BOB) Fieldcraft Knife by TOPS.
For a folding knife, you can’t go wrong with Buck, Bad Monkey, or even the venerable Victorinox Swiss Army Knife.
A Length of Cordage
Cordage has many uses, from building shelters and replacing broken shoelaces, to tying gear to your belt or pack so it doesn’t get lost.
Paracord is usually the cordage of choice, and for good reason. Provided you buy the real thing and not a cheap knock-off, it is incredibly strong yet lightweight and rather thin, about the size of shoelaces.
It is also super easy to carry in the form of a paracord bracelet, belt, or other items. Check out this book, All Wrapped Up in Paracord.
To save space, I wrap lengths of paracord around old gift cards or expired credit cards. Not only does this allow for a more flat carrying size, but it also prevents the cord from getting tangled in a pocket or pack. You can also use the card to remove thorns and stingers from bug bites.
Exposure is another of the biggest threats. The elements can kill you quicker than a lack of food or water.
Fire keeps you warm, dries you out, and helps people find you. To that end, you should carry a fire kit that includes some form of tinder and a lighting method. Some possible options include:
- a butane lighter
- strike anywhere matches
- a Ferro rod and striker
- cotton balls soaked with petroleum jelly
- dryer lint
- tinder tabs
- WetFire cubes
Of course, none of that does any good if you can’t build a fire. Practice ahead of time so you know safe fire building.
An emergency blanket also helps keep you warm and dry. Not only can you wrap it around your body, but it can also serve as part of an emergency shelter, and the reflective surface may (may) help searchers find you.
Should you need to tie cordage to corners of the emergency blanket, simply take a small stone, about the size of your thumbnail or a bit larger, and place it in the corner of the blanket. Fold the corner over the stone, creating something akin to a pocket with the stone in it. Then, tie your cordage around that pocket.
Again, this isn’t any bigger than a cellphone that many have no problem stuffing into a pocket.
An Optional, but REALLY Nice to Have Piece of Wilderness Survival Gear
This last item isn’t life critical but it can sure be nice to have a good LED flashlight or headlamp on a dark night. Not only will it help keep you from stumbling on a log, but it can also be used to signal for help.
Personally, I like the Foursevens QT2A or the Fenix TK15, though admittedly both are on the pricey side. The Fenix TK15 is hard to find these days, but the Fenix LD30 seems comparable and slightly less expensive.
A bit cheaper, and still very rugged and worth having, is one of the many smaller Maglites available.
A couple of extra batteries for small lights like these take up almost no space, too.
As you can see, all of these essential wilderness survival items are small. Even when all combined together they won’t take up much space in pockets or a small pack with multiple carrying options. Also, they don’t have to be expensive. Just be sure that each member of your party is equipped with these basics when venturing out into the beautiful wilderness.
What would your list of essential wilderness survival items look like?
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