Wilderness Survival Kits

What else should you have when backpacking?
What else should you have when backpacking?

Wilderness survival kits are a good idea for everyyone who enjoys the great outdoors, whether they prefer the Arizona desert, the remote Appalachian wilderness, or the frozen tundra of Alaska.

Basic Kit Components

Some items are universal, regardless of the climate. For example, a good knife always comes in handy. The same applies to matches. Here are some things that don't take up much space yet always be included in your kit:

  • Knife
  • Compass
  • Signal mirror
  • Waterproof matches
  • Steel striker with magnesium fire starter
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Water purification tablets
  • Fishing wire & tackle
  • Snare wire
  • Nylon string
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Three to four band-aids (butterfly model)
  • Sewing needle and strong thread
  • Wire saw
  • 1 x 2 feet of folded-up aluminum foil
  • Adhesive tape
  • Police-type whistle

These items will go a long way towards keeping you alive and well for weeks or even longer, if need be. However, there are additional items you may want to add for specific climates.

Specialty Additions

Desert Kits

Naturally, the most important concern for survival in arid climates is hydration. Use plastic bags to capture what little moisture there is by wrapping them around tree branches or building solar stills. You can also use a trowel to dig for water in the inside curves of dry riverbeds. You may also want to read up on which local cacti are suitable for extracting moisture using your knife.Another top priority is shielding oneself from the sun. If you're not in the habit of wearing a wide-brimmed tropic hat, a simple cap with a flap covering the neck can go a long way. A small bottle of sunscreen is also a wise inclusion.

Finally, don't forget about desert rattlers. Get a snakebite kit and practice, but make sure to do some research beforehand as some kits are more effective.

Desert checklist:

  • Plastic bags
  • Cap with neck flaps
  • Snake bit kit
  • Folding trowel
  • Sunscreen

Forest Kits

Water is a lot less scarce in the woods than the desert, and finding shade is rarely a problem. Bugs are another story, however. Ticks carry disease and have few redeeming qualities, so bring tick tweezers to keep these nasty things off you.

Likewise, be prepared for poison ivy and other skin irritants. If nothing else, you're bound to get your fair share of mosquito bites even if you had the foresight to bring a gallon-size can of Off! with you. Anti-itch cream won't make the difference between life and death, but it can help you keep a cool head.

Finally, expect rain. A plastic poncho can be used both on your person and to reinforce your shelter. Wet clothes, matches and sleeping area are the last thing you need in an already difficult situation.

Forest checklist

  • Tick tweezers
  • Plastic poncho
  • Off!
  • Topical treatment for contact dermatitis (poison ivy, bug bites etc.)
  • Snake bite kit

Cold Climate Kits

In a cold climate, the ability to make and maintain fire is of utmost importance. That's why you want to add some additional fire starting tools to your arsenal.

Caloric intake is important to keep your metabolism and body heat going, so make sure to bring high-calorie, protein-rich, foods or snacks with you. There are many specialty food packs such as military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) that fit the bill, but simply stuffing your pockets with portion bags of peanuts works quite well too.

Finally, a thermal survival blanket can help you survive even brutal dips in temperature.

Cold climate checklist

  • Fire starter tablets
  • Disposable lighter
  • Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly
  • Calorie-dense food/snacks
  • Survival blanket

Where to Buy Wilderness Survival Kits

You can easily assemble your own kit based on the guidelines here, but also, many sellers of wilderness survival kits provide a ready solution. Here are a few to get you started:

Wilderness Survival Kits