A wilderness survival kit is one of the many types of survival kits you need to have ready. Unlike your Bug Out Bag (which is to survive the first 72 hours after a disaster) or your Bunker Down survival kit (which is to wait out a disaster at home), the wilderness survival kit needs to contain all the things you will need in nature to stay alive until you get rescued. Make note of the fact that this kit is meant for survival – not comfort! You might want to add a few other items to the list for comfort (like toilet paper) but don’t omit any of these important items because your life depends on it!
Method of Obtaining and Purifying Water
You will want to have a few bottles of water in your wilderness survival kit, but you don’t know how long it will be until you get rescued. Maybe just 1 day. But maybe 1 month… So you better have a way of getting clean water to drink! Remember, the body can only go about 3 days without water. And also remember that even the cleanest-looking water in nature could be full of parasites, bacteria, and viruses. I pack:
- Water canteen
- Water purification system (I use the Sawyer Mini camping water filter but you could also use purification tablets) Read more about water purification methods here.
When it comes to wilderness survival shelters, there is a lot of debate about whether it is better to use a tarp or a tent. A tent is fast, easy and zips tight – but good tents are also heavy. A tarp isn’t as good as protecting you from the elements, but is lightweight and can be used for other purposes (such as collecting rain water). To help you decide, I suggest you read my post on how to make a survival shelter from a tarp. Or, read this debate article about Tarps vs. Tents for Bug Out Bag.
Also consider your group size and your elements, and then decide which is right for you. Then pack:
- Tent (min 2500mm) – Check out our guide to the best tent for survival.
- Tarp and cordage
Method of Getting and Cooking Food
What are you going to eat when you are in the wilderness? Those packs of freeze dried foods will quickly run out, and then what? I recommend learning about local edible plants so you can forage your own food (this is a great survival tactic to know and more realistic than hunting your own food!). You will also want some equipment for cooking food. Again, this isn’t absolutely necessary for survival in the wilderness – but those same cooking tools can be used for other purposes, like boiling dirty water or collecting berries, so it is a must-have for your wilderness survival kit.
- Camping pot
- Camping dishes and utensils
- Fire starter (match-less fire starters are great!)
- Hunting tools (cordage for making snares, knife, gun…)
When your body is cold, it burns more calories – which means you will need more food, which in turn requires more energy to acquire (foraging and hunting aren’t easy!). Spare yourself this burden by keeping your body warm. You will need:
- Sleeping bag (shivering at night will destroy your immunity and chances of survival)
- Spare change of clothes (choose fabrics which dry quickly and clothes which can be worn in layers)
- Fire starter
A small cut can turn into a gangrenous infection if not kept clean, so you want to make sure any open wounds you get while out in the wilderness are treated quickly. My wilderness survival kit includes:
- ACE bandage (for sprains)
- Variety of bandages for cuts
- Medical tape
- Cotton balls
- Disinfectant swabs
- Blister patches
- Pain medicines
- Petroleum-based antibiotic salve
- Scalpel blades
- Safety pin
- Electrolyte packets (for rehydration after diarrhea/vomiting situations)
When choosing flashlights for your wilderness survival kit, make sure you pay close attention to the battery life. A lot of headlamps only have a battery life of about 10 hours or less! I got one by Black Diamond which has a battery life of up to 300 hours! Also pay attention to the lumens (brightness) of the light. For each person in your team, pack:
- Hand-held flashlight
- 1 set of spare batteries
Navigation and Signaling
Remember, unlike with Bug Out Bag situations, your Wilderness Survival Kit is being packed in a way so you can survive until you get rescued. Since the goal is to be rescued, you better have supplies to help you navigate back to civilization or signal for help. Make sure to pack:
- Topographic maps
- Signaling device (flashlight, flares, small mirror…)
You can wear the same clothes every single day in the wild or, if the weather is right, even go buck naked (though I wouldn’t recommend this!). But you need to have the right footwear. If your feet get wet, it means you will have serious blisters to deal with, which will seriously impede your ability to walk, hunt, forage, and get things done. And, with the wrong type of boots, it can mean sprained ankles, snake bites, or worse.
Choose sturdy boots which are made from a waterproof material like Goretex. You’ll also want to bring plenty of extra socks because there is nothing worse than wet, sweaty socks.
I see a lot of people who pack their wilderness survival kit with all sorts of weapons like guns, machetes, and even bows and arrows. In a real wilderness survival situation, you probably aren’t ever going to use any of these items. The only weapon I can justifiable recommend is a shotgun, because it can be useful for hunting. But, unless you are actually skilled at hunting, don’t bother. It will just weigh you down and serve no other purpose than propping up your shelter door! What you will need for security includes:
- Bear spray (if you will be in bear country)
- Mosquito netting
- Gun (but only if you know how to use it!!!)