Lost, primitive hiking and camping, natural disasters, crash-landed, broke-down car far from civilization—any time there is potential for you to have to spend any time in the elements unexpectedly, you need some essential items to survive through the night. Here are my top 10 survival essentials.
1. Fire starter
You first must consider shelter and warmth. You can die from exposure long before you will die of dehydration or starvation. If you don’t venture out without anything but one item, it must be a way to start a fire. At the very least, stick a disposable lighter or waterproof matches in your pocket. Personally, I like to carry a back-up fire starter with me. I like the Zippo emergency fire starter kit because it’s pretty foolproof. A magnesium fire starter works, too. Emergency tinder should be in your fire starting kit, as well. I use drier lint, but you can buy an emergency tinder kit that will light when wet and no match is necessary.
For more on fire starting, read the following articles
- 10 Tips for Building a Fire in the Snow
- Survival Saturday: Starting a Fire
- Five Survival Reasons for Knowing How to Start a Fire
2. Water filter
Though the typical answer to the question, “How long can you live without water?” is three days, there are variables to how long you might actually survive without or with very little water intake. In certain circumstances, it is possible to overheat, dehydrate and die within a matter of a few hours. On the other hand, some people have known to survive a full week without water. But why take that risk? The other danger comes from drinking contaminated water, which can make you very sick. Having a way to filter water prevents sickness and possibly death. I like the LifeStraw and the Katadyn Vario pump water filter. Further, many hikers and backpackers chose to carry a hydration pack.
For more on water filtration, click here.
3. Survival Knife
Cheap knives have gotten me out of pinch before—if it is sharp enough to saw through a seat belt or shave off some bark for kindling, a cheap blade can save your life. However, a true survival knife should be out of the box sharp enough to split hairs, hefty and handle a variety of tasks. A survival knife will skin and gut game for food, chop wood, shave kindling, cut cordage to build a shelter and perform any number of tasks you need to survive. I like the Ka-Bar fixed-blade, full-tang utility knives. A cheaper option is the Ultimate Survival Technologies ParaKnife that includes a compact LED flashlight, compass, fire starter wheel, tinder, JetScream signal whistle and signal mirror.
For more on knives, edged weapons and blades, click here.
4. Firearm and Ammo
Depending on who you ask, a firearm and ammo is not an essential part of your bug-out or emergency kit. I’ve never seen Bear Grylls whip out a pistol or .22 rifle and shoot a squirrel. But for me, a way to protect my life and potentially kill game for food is something I do not want to be without. The Mossberg 500 Cruiser Just In Case (J.I.C.) kit is perfect for survival. The Cruiser is a reliable pistol grip 12-gauge pump-action shotgun that comes with a waterproof carrying tube and survival kit. Another neat option is the folding Chiappa M6, an over/under 20 gauge and .22 LR long gun. It’s a single-shot rifle/shotgun with double triggers. Load your shotgun with #4 buckshot and a high-velocity hollow point .22 Long Rifle bullet for the rifle.
For more on survival guns, read the following articles
- Choosing a Survival Gun
- Mossberg 500 Cruiser JIC Pump-Action Shotgun
- There are Many like it, but this Survival Rifle is Mine
A shelter can be many things—a mosquito net hammock, cave, tarp or tent. Whichever one you choose or find available, it is extremely important to stay directly off the ground and out of the elements—be it the hot sun, cold winds or rain. Shelter protects you from bug bites, predators and helps keep you warm. Tents can be heavy, cumbersome and bulky. I prefer a lightweight, easy to pack emergency tube tent. For longer trips and bigger packs, the Adventure Medical Kits SOL Emergency Shelter Kit doubles as a heat-reflective emergency blanket. I am never without my military poncho either.
For more on building shelters, read the following articles
- Snow Survival: Building a Quinzee Shelter
- Shelters That Can Save Your Life—Or, Why I Love Tarps
- 90 Survival Uses for a Plastic Poncho
You expend a lot of energy during a survival situation—making a fire, gathering fire wood, trapping or hunting animals, searching to find a spot to signal for help—you don’t just sit back in your shelter and enjoy the ride. Yes, you can survive over a month without eating, but you wouldn’t be doing much to get yourself out of your dire situation. Pack energy bars and a few packs of freeze-dried foods. My comfort-food favorites are the pasta primavera and chicken with rice from Mountain House. Also, make your own fishing kit including fishing line and a few hooks in case you are near a body of water and can catch a fish or two for sustenance. Don’t forget a metal cup or cleaned-out tin can for boiling water.
For more on food for survival, read the following articles
Rope and cords will help you when making a shelter, build snares for trapping small animals, as a line to dry out your socks or clothing and can aid in first aid. I recommend paracord over any other type of rope or cordage. There are so many uses for paracord that it is an article—or a few—on its own. You can wrap paracord around your survival knife’s handle, make a rifle sling with it, throw a spool in your pack, or wear it like I do.
For more on all the many uses of paracord, click here.
8. First Aid Kit
From minor sprains and cuts to broken bones, there is a lot that can happen when out in the wilderness. Your first aid kit needs to contain items to care for the most likely of accidents—bandages, pain medication, allergy medication, antiseptic, gauze, burn treatment, insect repellent, and tweezers. Basic kits usually have these items, but you can always supplement your kit with more stuff. Did you know that one of the greatest threats to your health in long-term survival is not taking care of your teeth? Poor dental hygiene can lead to heart disease—crazy, huh? For your long-term survival kit and preps, throw in the Adventure Medical dental medic emergency kit.
For more on first aid, read the following articles
- How to Splint a Fractured Leg
- How to Prevent and Treat Hypothermia
- Basic First Aid Typical Camping Accidents
For all first aid articles, click here.
9. Proper Clothing and Appropriate Footwear
Just like the importance of shelter and a fire, so is the proper clothing to keep you warm and dry preventing hypothermia. Pack extra layers for unexpected cold nights and moisture-wicking fabric to control sweating. A good, sturdy pair of boots that fit well are imperative for hikers and backpackers to prevent trench foot—a condition that develops from exposure to cold and damp conditions. Trench foot can take less than a day to develop and can lead to gangrene. You don’t want to lose a foot because you were unprepared. Keep two pairs of socks and polypropylene sock liners in your pack. Under Armour makes good base layer shirts. The Original S.W.A.T. waterproof boots get high reviews.
For more on surviving a night outdoors, click here.
Even the most experienced outdoorsmen can get themselves lost. A few steps off the trail, low visibility due to weather and attempted short cuts can easily throw you off your path. Many survival stories start out by someone getting lost. Carry a compass, GPS unit, like the Bushnell Backtrack, cell phone with maps or a personal locator beacon to avoid the whole nasty situation all together.
For more on how to use a compass, read the following articles
For more tips that will save your life, click here.
What else do you consider a survival essential? Share it in the comment section.
Introduced to shooting at young age by her older brother, Suzanne Wiley took to the shooting sports and developed a deep love for it over the years. Today, she enjoys plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!
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