You don’t have any wilderness experience, but you want to learn more about it. So, what do you take along to make sure you stay safe?
by Leon Pantenburg
One of the most common questions from wilderness newcomers is: “What gear will I need?”
And that’s a really good question! Walk through any sporting goods store and you’ll notice a bewildering array of gear, stuff, doo-dads, knick-nacks and junk. The buyer must decide which is which.
Depending on what store it is, and the salesperson, you could end up buying some very expensive – and unnecessary – items. In some stores, the salespeople work on commission and push high-priced gear. Or you might end up with a clerk who is covering the counter for somebody at lunch.
So, here’s where to start. The Boy Scouts of America have been preaching the gospel of survival common sense for 100 years. Who actually coined the term “Ten Essentials” is probably unknown. But there is no question that a facsimile of this basic list is the basis of all emergency preparedness kits. Get your Ten Essentials first.
Here is a list of the Boy Scout Outdoor Essentials, and product suggestions. Check out the links for more info on any of the topics. Look at these ideas, and then decide what will work best for you.
- Knife: The best knife is up to your personal preference, but you must have some sort of cutting edge along. The only survival knife you have is the one you have along!
- First Aid kit: (A first aid kit should go along on every outing, even if you never use it.)
- Extra clothing: (This will depend, of course, on the climate, time of year and where you are. Clothing needs for my high desert area are much different than for those people in the tropics.)
- Rain gear: You have two choices for protection from the rain: rain suit or poncho. I use both, depending on the circumstances. I hiked the John Muir Trail with a poncho for rain protection. It rained nine days straight! The poncho kept me dry, even though I was expending a lot of energy to hike. I prefer a rain suit while hunting or fishing, because it won’t flap in the wind, and a rain suit offers better protection while sitting or standing for long periods of time. Decide what’s best for your needs.
- Water bottle: Water is an absolute necessity. I generally carry a Nalgene or other rigid water bottle for drinking. In my pack, I’ll carry several soft bottles to replenish my Nalgene. The soft bottle are protected in the pack, and
when empty, can be rolled up. The softies weigh virtually nothing, and take up hardly any space. And if you find a water source, and need to re-supply, you’ll have ample containers along.
Make sure to include some system of chemical purification or a water filter.
I’m not a big fan of the water bladder systems with a drinking hose and valve, for no really good reason, other than I’m not comfortable with them. But they are great for kids because the drinking tube encourages drinking. And the novelty of using a bladder water system will keep them well-hydrated until the newness wears off!
- Flashlight or headlamp: (I field-dressed a deer shortly after darkness fell one evening, holding my mini-maglite in my teeth. It was pretty gross – talk about drooling on your gear…) Anyway, ever since that experience I carry a good headlamp. A headlamp leaves your hands free if you are spelunking, end up walking out to the car in the dark, scrambling over rocks etc. Besides, if the lamp is on your head, chances are less that it might be dropped and broken.
- Trail food: This is another personal preference. I like to make most of my own, because I know it’s healthier and cheaper. I have a bit of a Depression-era mentality inherited from my Dad. But in all my packs, I also carry several Clif bars, some jerky, sardines, and hardtack. Your gourmet food comes at night from the Dutch oven if you’re base camping. The emergency food is just fuel for the day hikes and when you are caught unawares outside of camp and have to spend the night or longer.
- Matches and fire starter or other methods of ignition – you should carry several different types. I write about this extensively. Don’t rely on only one form of ignition.
- Sun protection Sunscreen and a significant sun hat are items that needs to be in every survival kit, regardless if you’re in the arctic or the tropics. I carry the waxy stick sunscreens, because it is less messy to apply.
These are basic navigation tools: compass, emergency whistle, map and GPS.
- Map and compass A GPS is also useful, but not without a map and compass! Always include spare batteries for your GPS!
This is the bare bones list, and you should expand and add categories to fit your individual needs. For example, my Ten Essentials includes some method of shelter, such as a tarp, trash bag, bivey sack etc., and I always carry at least 50 feet of parachute cord or light rope, and four aluminum tent stakes.
Another necessity is the proper size spare batteries for any device that is battery-powered. It’s a good idea to get battery-operated items that all use the same size.
Your outdoor essentials list can also vary seasonally. I always include a snow shovel and insulated pad on my winter snow shoe treks.
My summer and winter extra clothing choices would also be different. An extra stocking cap is always a good thing to have along, but in the summer, a broad-brimmed hat for sun protection is a necessity.
Some items you shouldn’t cut costs on are boots or hiking shoes; a sleeping bag, and a reliable shelter.
Use this Outdoor Essentials list to form the basis for your own survival kit, then read and research to get new ideas. Your survival kit, if it’s anything like mine, will probably end up being an evolving project. After every outing, think about what you used, what you didn’t need, and what you wished you had. Then adjust accordingly.
The best survival kit or gear in the world is worthless if you don’t know how to use it, and just having a survival kit won’t save you. In fact, it might give you a false sense of confidence that could be deadly!
Start your wilderness preparation by reading a credible survival book, or taking a class from a competent instructor. Be wary of any survival-related internet blog or website. Just because someone has a website, doesn’t mean they know anything! Don’t get your survival training off a prime-time survival “reality” show.
Then practice with your equipment. Learn how to make a fire, or pitch your shelter in your backyard. Try out your sleeping bag on a chilly night on the deck to make sure it’s going to be warm enough. Make your mistakes at home, so you won’t in the back country, where a screw-up can kill you.
And let this be your mantra: “My survival kit won’t save me. My equipment or gear can’t save me. I will save me.” And include common sense with every outing!
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