Usually, I ask them what they already pack which is usually a jumble of random stuff. The most frequently mentioned are – iPod, camera, water or sports drink, and a snack.
Other than the iPod and camera, those are important things to have. But there’s more.
What if you get cold?
What if you fall and sprain your ankle?
What if the sun goes down and you’re still on the trail?
The Ten Essentials
- Emergency Shelter – You must be able to survive the elements and have a place to retreat to. This can be a lightweight tarp or even a tent. An emergency poncho will at least keep the rain off you and most can double as a tarp.
- Extra Water – A general rule of thumb is that more than 3 to 5 days without water and you die. Water is a major priority, more so than food. Carry water purification (iodine) tablets and a purification system. I use the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter. It’s simple to use and is very lightweight (3oz).
- Extra Food – High energy, easy to carry, and more than you expect. A general rule of thumb is that you can survive about 3 weeks without food. Meal bars can be a good way to go. I like Probar – especially the Oatmeal Raisin and Chocolate Coconut.
- Fire – As always, exercise caution with fire. Have a way or know how to create fire because it can help combat cold environments, boil water, and cook food. Matches, lighter, flint & steel, and/or candles. Knowing how to create friction fires can save you in a pinch.
- First Aid – Have the knowledge and supplies needed to survive self-treatable injuries. I carry the Adventure Medical Kits .5 First Aid Kit (1-person, 2-day kit).
- Navigation – Have a map & compass and/or GPS unit (plus extra batteries). Cell phone apps can work OK in some places but smartphone batteries run out quick and service isn’t as reliable. It’s not a good idea to rely solely on a phone. Learn to read maps, it’s a skill that pays dividends.
- Sun Protection – Have and use sunscreen, have sunglasses, a hat, and/or long-sleeve t-shirt. I use Neutrogena Ultimate Sport Sunscreen because it works well with my sensitive skin and doesn’t give off that funky sunscreen scent.
- Extra Clothing – At least one extra set of clothing in case you get wet, cold, or sweaty. Under Armor or Nike Dri-Fit work well. If you like safari style shirts, Ex Officio makes great stuff too.
- Light – Avoid travelling at night to reduce the chance of injury and getting more lost. Have a flashlight or headlamp. I carry a headlamp and usually a mini Maglite as well. Here’s a link to the one I carry – Maglite Mini. The more ambitious might try an Indiana Jones-style torch*
- Knife – With a knife you multiply your ability to create and do things – shelter, a spear, sparks for fire, or worst case scenario – defense. Check out my survival knife guide to find the best knife for you.
BONUS ESSENTIAL: Accountability Buddy – Let a friend or family member know when and where you’re going. Let your buddy know any alternate locations you might visit, in case you want to be spontaneous. Give them a time you will be back and/or contact them when you’ve returned safely. This way if you’re gone too long without checking in they can contact authorities.
Learn To Use The Ten Essentials
Just having these 10 items, or categories of items, will not necessarily save your life. If you have a map and compass but don’t know how to read them properly, you could do more harm to yourself than good by getting even more lost or navigating into a treacherous area. What do you do if your GPS (or phone) batteries die?
You can rock a first aid kit all day, but if you can’t stop bleeding, close a moderate cut, or respond to altitude sickness then what good is it?
The Most Important Survival Tool
Time and time again when you hear about survival stories they always mention either their knowledge or their mindset. Having a strong and focused mindset, especially if it’s backed by actionable knowledge, is crucial to surviving dangerous situations.
Have you been in a dangerous situation before? Tell us about it in the comments below.
* Note: I was mostly joking. If you use a torch you do so at your own risk, I am not liable if you singe your eyebrows or burn a forest down. Don’t be wreckless.