• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


Start your survival kit with the Ten Essentials

Dry Canyon, near Bend, Oregon.
600 300 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

You would like to learn about wilderness survival skills but where in maze of outdoor stores, catalogs & websites will you find the gear you need?

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 more than 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.

Here is a list of the Boy Scout Outdoor Essentials, and my product suggestions. I own this gear, or have used it. Many of the suggestions below have been arrived upon after several years of different uses and applications. 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! Check out my list of top five Swiss Army Knives or read from dozens of stories I’ve written about survival knives.
  • 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: rainsuit 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 rainsuit while hunting or fishing, because it won’t flap in the wind, and a rainsuit 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 to drink out of.
    In my pack, I’ll carry several soft bottles to replenish my Nalgene. The soft bottle are protected in the pack, and

    Nalgene and platypus water bottles for wilderness survival

    This combinations of water bottles works well, The rigid Nalgene in the middle is used for drinking and the Platypus soft bottles are used to store extra water in the pack.

    can be rolled up when empty. The softies weight virtually nothing, and take up very little 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 really like the Epic filter system. (Click to read my product review)
    I’m not a big fan of the water bladder systems for me personally. Their carry cases are bulky and difficult to keep clean. They smell musty over time and have too many parts.

    But, the water bladder was great for my kids because they carried their own and the drinking tube encourages drinking as a bit of novelty. It always kept them well-hydrated even on long and hot desert hikes. (My favorite hike with kids was Misery Ridge at Smith Rock)

  • Flashlight or headlamp: I field-dressed a deer shortly after darkness fell one evening, holding my mini-maglite in my teeth. A major oversight on my part and 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, or 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:  In all my packs, I have several Clif bars, some jerky, sardines, and hardtack. The emergency food is fuel.
  • Matches and firestarter (or other methods of ignition – you should have several different types.) I personally don’t like matches at all for survival applications, but just about everybody knows how to light one. Firestarter will be worth its weight in gold when the tinder and wood are damp.
  • Sun protection Sunscreen is an item that needs to be in every survival kit, regardless if you’re in the arctic or the tropics. (I carry the tube type, because it is less messy to apply).
  • Map and compass (A GPS is also useful, but not without a map and compass! Always include spare batteries for your GPS!)
  • Shelter: Tarp, garbage bag, bivey sack etc., and I always carry at least 50 feet of paracord or light rope, and four aluminum tent stakes.

This is my bare bones list, and you should expand and add categories to fit your individual needs.

But start with the 10 essentials as your base.

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