Wilderness survival - prepare for the worst
10 Essential items to bring1. Extra food and water.
Extra food means food that is not part of a planned meal or snack, food you do not expect to eat. So you won't be tempted to eat it except in case of emergency, it probably should not be one of your favorites. It does not have to be a large quantity. It probably will not keep you from starving, but it might give you some comfort as well as a few calories to burn to keep you warm. One or two high-energy sports bars might be a good choice. Always carry a full liter of water, and keep it full. Refill at every water source. The next source may be a long way off. Always keep some iodine in your emergency kit (as long as you are not allergic to it) whether or not you travel with a filter in your pack.
2. Extra clothing.
This, too, is gear you do not expect to use. A polypropylene or wool sweater is fine. Even better is a small Mylar space blanket, the kind that comes folded up in a little cellophane package about 2 inches by 4 inches. Add a couple of 30-gallon trash bags, 2 or 3 millimeters thick if you can find them. These are extremely compact, weigh practically nothing, and can be tucked into your emergency kit and forgotten until needed. Garbage bags make good rain and wind protection. They can also be used for gathering food, insulating, as fire-making material, for forming part of a shelter, or for melting snow.
A topographic map is essential for any wilderness navigation. It also can be tucked inside your clothes for insulation or used to leave notes or directions addressed to potential rescuers.
Be sure you know how to use both a map and compass or they won't do you much good. If your compass is the type with a mirror, it can double as a signaling device.
5. Flashlight with Extra Batteries and Bulb.
A small AA-battery light is fine. Its most important use is for reading a map, and perhaps for signaling. You will probably find that if it is absolutely necessary to walk after dark, starlight alone provides enough light once your night vision adjusts and you are sure of your footing.
6. Sunglasses and sunscreen.
These might not be critical for wandering through the Eastern woods, but they are absolutely essential for survival in deserts, on snow, or in high mountains above timberline where the atmosphere is thin. Sunburn can lead to severe dehydration. The same conditions can cause snow blindness, a particularly painful, though usually temporary, condition that can occur within less than an hour's exposure, though the symptoms may not show up until eight hours later.
7. Matches in a waterproof container.
The wooden strike-anywhere variety is best. Just be sure to store them in such a way that they cannot rub against one another and light themselves. An airtight pill bottle or film canister will keep both oxygen and water out.
8. Fire starter or candle.
In rain or wind a match will not stay lit long enough to ignite damp tinder. A candle, or even a small piece of candle at least a half-inch in diameter will give a more lasting flame. Better yet is fire starter, available at outfitting stores in several forms, from tablets or small blocks of paraffin or other flammable material to a gel that squeezes from a tube.
9. Pocket knife or utility tool.
One simple blade will do, though the models with scissors, saws, tweezers, screwdrivers, and other utility tools are handy for preparing tinder, preparing food, first aid, equipment repair, and almost any other task you can imagine.
10. First-aid kit.
Your kit should include a few alcohol swabs or moist towelettes, antibiotic ointment, aspirin or ibuprofen, Band-Aids, small tweezers, and scissors. Also include whatever prescription drugs you take regularly. If you travel alone or carry the main kit for a group, take a more elaborate kit. See Wilderness First Aid by Gilbert Preston (Falcon, 1997) for a thorough discussion of wilderness first-aid kits.