What to Include in a Backcountry Survival Kit

You plan your trip well, and execute your plan to a T. Everything is going smoothly, until something doesn’t. It may be unexpected weather, a bad injury, or any number of problems. While the majority of unforeseen issues in the backcountry aren’t life-threatening, they still slow you down or halt you in your tracks. Here’s where a survival kit can come in handy.

Having a few key items with you can really help in a pinch. Most of these items are also small enough to fit together in a kit you grab every time you go into the backcountry. I call it my Oh Sh*t Kit.

Of course, no kit can guarantee a safe return from every trip. This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, nor an excuse to avoid common sense. Use this list as an overview of things that are a good idea to carry, and that can come in handy for everything from a piece of broken gear to a survival situation.

Matches and a lighter wrapped in duct tape

The Kit

  • Lighter wrapped in duct tape
  • Backup fire starter (matches in a waterproof case, magnesium striker, etc)
  • Emergency kindling (cotton balls in Vaseline, a bag of dryer lint, etc)
  • Iodine tablets (or UV pen, LifeStraw, etc)
  • Compass (and the knowledge to use it with a map)
  • Paper Map (waterproof or in a waterproof bag)
  • Whistle
  • Signal mirror
  • Emergency blanket
  • Extra batteries
  • Small flashlight
  • Multitool
  • Charged portable power pack (for recharging dead electronics)
  • Paracord
  • Sunscreen
  • Handkerchief
  • GPS unit
  • First aid kit
A flashlight sitting next to two batteries

Remember to cater your survival kit to your needs as well. For example, carrying makeshift kindling probably matters a lot more to someone in the wet woods of Washington than to someone in arid Colorado.

A survival kit like this won’t keep you alive indefinitely, but it can significantly extend the time you’re able to last in the woods while finding your way out or waiting for help. Plus, many of the items contribute to comfort, which contributes to mental stability, which contributes to successful survival.

Don’t forget other safety tips, either. Telling someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back is extremely important. Also, start your trip with an established plan and account for possible changes. Using your head will prevent the need for the survival kit in most situations, so that should be your first line of defense against unexpected issues.


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