It’s Go Time! Your Guide to Packing Fleshed out Survival Kits

How much do you know about wilderness survival? Do you know how much bleach you need to treat a gallon of water? (hint: it’s 16 drops to one gallon.) How about the International Whistle Code for “I need help”? (Hint: it’s 3 blasts.)

People head into the wilderness unprepared all the time. And even with today’s cell phone technology, it’s easy to find yourself in a sticky situation will few options but to stay put and survive until help arrives.

Go into the wilderness unprepared and you could very well die. Don’t be that guy. Be more like the Boy Scouts. 

Below you’ll find a handy guide to building expansive and useful survival kits.

1. Questions to Ask Yourself When Building Survival Kits

The core of your survival kit should fit all situations. Beyond the core of your survival pack, you will need to ask yourself a few questions as you build and pack. Not all wilderness situations are equal. 

Where Will You Use the Kit

If you’re heading to the East Antarctic Plateau, the coldest place on earth at minus 148 Fahrenheit, you’ll need different equipment than if you’re heading into the Canadian Rockies in summer. 

If you’re in a cold climate you’ll pack things like hand warmers and warm drink mixes and a jet boil. Your pack might be a little heavier too. 

If you’re heading into a warm and wet climate, you will want to prepare for heat stroke, carry snake bite kits, and carry extra dry clothes.

What Kinds of Emergencies Are Likely?

Are you hiking? Skiing? Rock climbing? Trail running?

What might happen that you’ll have to mitigate? With trail running, you will want to carry a SAM splint and a space blanket. Probably a bit of duck tape and some matches.

If you’re skiing, you might want some hand warmers, fire starter kits, and even a change of clothes.

If you’re in bear country, you might want bear spray and bear bells. If you’re in rattlesnake country, you will want a snake bite kit and painkillers. 

What is Your Experience?

This will likely determine how likely you are to get into serious trouble. If you’re experienced at skiing, you might be less likely to get stuck or lost. You might not carry as much. 

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If you’re experienced at wilderness survival, you might not need to carry as much either. While someone with little experience in outdoor survival might need matches, you might be able to make do with what’s available in the wilderness.

How Many People Are Coming With?

Will each person be carrying their own kit? If not, you’ll want to make sure you have enough supplies to help everyone in the group.

If you’re alone, you won’t need as much. But it’s just about quantity here. 

If you have a large group, you might consider buying survival gear in bulk. If it’s a small group, you might want to keep it as light as possible. 

How Far Out From Civilization Will You Be?

How long will it take for people to get to you? Assuming you told the requisite three people where you were going, someone should come to find you. 

Of course, this could depend on conditions. If you’re climbing a dangerous peak and a blizzard sets in, this could delay emergency rescue. 

Know the possible conditions. Know the accessibility of the location. Know how long you will be out there and add a few days to that to determine how much gear you need.

2. Special Considerations

You can’t prepare for every single eventuality when you’re heading to the wilderness. At one point, preparedness takes on a statistical paranoia. (Really, you don’t need to be prepared for a nuclear attack in 2018 if you’re in the wilderness…although this company will hook you up.)

But some things outside of the norm should be on your list of considerations. 

Communication Devices/GPS Trackers

Ultramarathon runners often carry GPS trackers on their long runs and races. In fact, 200-mile races require them

Why would they need GPS trackers? Most races of this kind are on remote trails where cell phone coverage is sparse and non-existent. These racers are pushing their bodies to the max and sleeping very little. If they get lost or collapse, race directors and crew want to know. 

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While you may not be pushing your body so hard, you are likely out of cell range when roaming the wilderness.   

There are two prominent and reliable GPS/tracker brands. Garmin and SPOT.

SPOT is a basic tracker with emergency signaling. It will tell rescuers and family if you’ve stopped moving. It includes live tracking. And a monthly subscription is required.

Garmin makes two GPS devices for emergency purposes. Both include some sort of screen and offline maps. You can text people for a small fee through the GPS system. 

Emergency Cash

If you’re close enough to civilization, you might need to buy fuel or food or pay to have something serviced. If you think you’ll end up in an urban situation, you might need to buy a hotel room and some food to keep from sleeping on the streets.

You should seal your cash in a plastic bag to keep it from falling apart.


Humans are statistically the most dangerous animals you’ll encounter in the wilderness. There’s a debate among outdoors enthusiasts as to whether you should carry a gun while hiking or not. We won’t comment on this debate here except to point out that in some situations, chiefly involving bears, you’re less likely to get injured and more likely to succeed with bear spray. 

Despite ongoing debates on guns, self-defense is an important consideration in the wilderness. You should always carry a knife and some sort of pepper spray, whether that be bear or human (bear works on both and is more powerful).

Some Things Have Multiple Uses

When building survival kits, it’s important to keep your kits as light as possible. Mobility will increase your likelihood of survival. 

Be sure to investigate what things can double over for other uses. This could include duct tape for wound dressing, clothing repair, waterproofing, and splints.

If you’re wondering how to apply this to travel, check out our travel hack section.