How To Make A Survival Kit: Everything You Need
Campers, hikers, backpackers – we go into the woods willingly. We do it for fun, and because it feeds our souls and reconnects us with the natural world around us. Yet for most of us, the idea of being stranded in the wilderness and having to survive by our wits alone is a nightmare scenario.
Going into the wild means accepting a certain level of risk. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a good motto to keep in mind when you go camping or hiking. It only takes a minor misstep or wrong turn for a fun trip in the outdoors to become something much more dire. That’s why a survival kit is something every camper or hiker should carry with them.
Why Build Your Own Survival Kit?
It’s a fair question. Why take the time to create a DIY survival kit from scratch when there are plenty of ready-made kits for sale? There are a couple of reasons.
One is that you often don’t quite know what you’re getting with a store-bought survival kit. Far too many people buy a survival kit online, and then toss it in their backpack without even opening it to see what’s inside. The simple fact is that survival kits vary in quality, and a lot of them just aren’t up to snuff.
But the main reason to make your own survival kit is that you can make it based on your own needs. You can fill it with gear and supplies you’ve hand-chosen, that you’ve used before, and that you have confidence in. That confidence will be a huge asset in a survival situation.
What To Include in Your Survival Kit
Your survival kit should be focused solely on the objective of keeping you alive. It should allow you to sustain yourself and provide your basic needs: food, water, and shelter.
Just to be clear, the survival supplies listed here are intended for typical outdoor survival situations faced by campers and hikers. It’s not meant to be a survival kit for emergency preparedness at home – although most of these items will come in handy in a natural disaster or power outage – and it’s not meant for end-of-the-world, zombie-apocalypse type scenarios.
See more about - The 12 Best Survival Food Kits For The Outdoor Man
Knife or Blade
A good knife is one of the most useful and versatile tools in a survival situation. Its potential uses are virtually endless, and it’s important to choose a quality knife that will not let you down when you really need it.
I’m a big fan of the Morakniv Bushcraft Survival Knife. It’s a three-quarter tang fixed blade knife with a 4.3” carbon steel drop point blade, and it comes in a sheath with an integrated sharpener and Ferro rod fire striker. The blade holds an edge well, and the handle is nice and grippy in wet conditions. It’s an able companion in the backcountry.
Overall, fixed blade knives tend to be best in survival situations. But if you prefer a folding knife that takes up less space and is easier to carry, the Ontario Knife Company 8848 Rat I Folding Knife is a good option.
- Pro Tip: Multi-tools may come in handy, but if you decide to carry one, it should be in addition to a survival knife, not instead of one. You might find uses for the pliers, saw blade, and other tools, but the blades on multi-tools tend to be small and flimsy. They’re no substitute for a real knife.
On the list of basic human needs, water is pretty close to the top. Your survival kit absolutely must include at least one way of purifying water and making it safe to drink. You also need a way to carry clean drinking water.
My go-to is the LifeStraw Go 1L Water Filter Bottle because it’s both. You can fill the bottle from any lake, pond, stream, or puddle, and the filter built into the screw-top removes bacteria, parasites, and chemicals from the water as you drink it.
Other options like iodine tablets are great space-savers in your survival kit. They are effective in an emergency, but not recommended for long-term use.
- Pro Tip: There’s nothing wrong with redundancy. Clean drinking water is of such great importance that it’s best to always have two ways of obtaining it. Personally, I carry a LifeStraw bottle whenever I go hiking, but keep Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets in my survival kit just in case the bottle is damaged or lost.
Matches and Lighter
People love to wrangle over what to carry in a survival situation, and the matches vs. lighter debate is one that seems to go on and on. Here are my two cents: matches and lighters are both lightweight, affordable, and easy to carry. Each works as a backup for the other, and there’s no reason in the world why your survival kit shouldn’t include both. Again, redundancy is not a bad thing.
My survival matches of choice are UCO Stormproof Matches. They light even in the harshest conditions (including being fully submerged underwater) and burn for a good 15 seconds. Plus they come with a handy waterproof case.
As far as lighters go, feel free to keep it simple. I know there are a lot of great survival lighters out there, many of them very advanced and elaborate. Personally, I carry basic Bic lighters. They’re cheap, reliable, and long-lasting.
- Pro Tip: Including some dry tinder and small kindling in your survival kit is not a bad idea. The ability to find dry tinder in wet conditions is a good survival skill to develop, but that’s a topic for another day.
First Aid Kit
Some basic first aid supplies are absolutely essential. At a minimum, your first aid kit should include Band-Aids of various sizes, gauze pads, Ace bandages, medical tape, aspirin (or other pain relievers), antihistamines, alcohol swabs, antibiotic ointment, anti-itch treatment, medical scissors, safety pins, and tweezers.
- Pro Tip: You can assemble your own or purchase a pre-made first aid kit (but be sure to check the contents before you head into the woods).
Personally, I always pack a supply of food separate from my survival kit when I go camping or hiking, and I recommend doing the same. Whether it’s freeze-dried meals, energy bars, dried fruit, and nuts, or some combination thereof, it’s always wise to pack food when you go on a hike (and pack a little more than you think you need).
As for your actual survival kit, it’s best to keep it simple. Basic energy bars like S.O.S Emergency Rations are ideal; just throw a few in your survival kit and you’re good to go. No, they’re not delicious full meals, but they’re palatable enough, and they contain the energy and nutrients you need to keep you going.
Rope or Cord
Your survival kit should include a length of cord or rope. Paracord is my cordage of choice, and it’s useful for all kinds of purposes, including securing a shelter, hanging a bear bag, hauling and securing gear, creating a snare, or creating a makeshift sling for a broken arm.
Paracord can even be pulled apart, and its individual strands can be used as a fire starter or fishing line. It’s a good idea to carry at least 50 yards of paracord, but some survival experts recommend as much as 200 yards.
Survival whistles are incredibly loud and piercing (test one indoors at your own peril) and are very useful in a survival situation. You can use one to signal your rescuers, locate lost comrades, or even scare off wild animals if necessary.
A basic fishing kit comes in handy when you’re stuck in the wilderness. At its simplest, a fishing kit should include 100 yards of monofilament fishing line and a few small hooks for fishing with live bait. The fishing line may also come in handy for a wide range of other needs, like setting snares or sewing up torn garments.
Being able to find your way in the dark is a huge advantage in the wilderness. You have essentially two options here: flashlights and headlamps. Small pocket flashlights are great because they save space in your survival kit, but headlamps have a major advantage in that they can be operated hands-free.
The Spot 360 Headlamp is my personal choice. If you prefer a handheld flashlight, choose something small, sturdy, and waterproof like the Streamlight ProTac flashlight. Whichever you choose, be sure to also pack a few spare batteries.
An analog compass is still the best and most effective way to establish a sense of direction when you’re lost. Don’t rely on a compass app on your smartphone; service is often spotty in the backcountry and the battery may not last long enough to find your way back to civilization.
Contrary to what you may see in movies and TV shows, building a log cabin from scratch with your own two hands is not a top priority when you’re lost in the woods. But you may need shelter of some kind, and a survival blanket is a great option.
Swiss Safe Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets are a great choice. Even if you happen to have a backpacking tent and sleeping bag, these will provide extra warmth. And if not, they can help trap your body heat and shelter you from wind and rain, which could be the difference between life and death.
Maps and Guides
Any time you go into the backcountry, you should have a detailed paper map of the trail you’re on and the surrounding area. You may also want to include survival guides and/or pamphlets in your survival kit, including a guide to edible plants in your region and a general backcountry survival guide.
It’s up to you to assess how large and heavy you’re willing to allow your survival kit to be. If you have space for them, you may decide to include a few additional items, including but not necessarily limited to:
- Sewing kit
- Magnifying glass
- Duct tape
- Zipper bags
- Hand sanitizer
- Waterproof paper and pencil
- Folding emergency shovel
- Pot for cooking
See more about - 10 Best Car Camping Essentials in 2021
Customizing Your Survival Kit
Survival is not a one-size-fits-all situation. While there are certain essentials that every survival kit should include, there are also items that you may want to add depending on your specific needs. Don’t hesitate to adjust the contents of your survival kit accordingly. Some things to consider include:
Survival in Extreme Conditions
The basic DIY survival kit is designed to help you stay alive in average conditions, i.e. lose the trail and get lost in the woods. If your outdoor adventures take you to more extreme environments, adjust the contents accordingly.
For example, if you’re going on a desert hike, you need to carry more water with you than the average hiker would, and your survival kit should include sun protection. If you’re camping in winter, then hand warmers, warm socks, and gloves should be essential parts of your kit.
Unique Health/Medical Needs
Take into account any allergies or medical conditions you and other members of your party may have. If you’re taking any medication, make sure to include it in your survival kit. You should also include an inhaler if you suffer from asthma, or an EpiPen if you’re prone to severe allergic reactions. Talk to your doctor about how to plan for an emergency in the outdoors.
See more about - Camping Essentials – Complete Guide To The Basics