Beginner’s Guide To Survival Kits

Mark Wilcox
5 min readJun 7, 2021

I keep a Google alert to track stories about lost hikers. This is because I like to keep these stories on hand to emphasize the importance of being safe when in the outdoors. While, modern search and rescue are quite good, and thus, many stories end with the lost hiker being found, this isn’t always the case.

What troubles me the most is that most lost hikers are stuck outside, overnight, without the 10 essentials of hiking.

These are the 10 items every hiker should have on hand to maximize their chances of surviving a night of unplanned camping.

I believe one reason why people go out without the 10 essentials is that they are novices and don’t know what to bring.

10 Essentials Of Hiking Explained

We will now review the 10 essentials and why you need to carry them. The order you see here is presented with the beginner in mind.

And the fundamental rule I want you to follow is “there’s no shame in bailing out and going home”. If you’re on a trail and it’s more difficult than you expected.

Or a nice sunny day begins to look like bad weather, turn around.

Go home.

While I am quite comfortable in most survival situations, this doesn’t mean I want to be stuck outside in a thunderstorm.

We’re in the outdoors for fun. Not to prove to anyone else how tough we are.

Water

I have read that most people are slightly dehydrated all of the time. I believe this is because of our poor diets. But that’s a discussion for another article.

I believe the foundation of your survival kit should be access to water. As a beginner, I don’t want you to worry about trying to filter or make water safe to drink.

Instead, carry more of it.

Water weight adds up (2 pounds per liter).

If that means you need to take an easier trail or cover a shorter distance as you build up your skills, then so be it.

But keeping hydrated is fundamental to survival.

GPS

Technically, the 10 essentials refer to this item as “navigation gear”.

And when you’re in a group of outdoorsmen, they will then argue about GPS vs compasses.

As a beginner, I want you to maximize the simplicity of a modern GPS.

While our smartphones often do a good enough job, a full-fledged GPS like a Garmin device is helpful because it will have a larger antenna plus SOS function. Only use the SOS function if you absolutely must signal for help because that’s going to activate SAR teams.

Rain Gear

Make sure you’re prepared for the weather. Rain is what is most likely to sneak upon you.

I recommend beginners keep a rain jacket like a Frogg Toggs suit in their pack. Frogg Toggs jackets are inexpensive and lightweight.

Because the jackets don’t breath well, a tip I learned from another hiker, is that you can use them as a mid-tier for cooler weather.

Something To Eat

A common question, I get is “I want to learn how to forage for food if stuck in the wild.”

I don’t want you to do that.

I would rather you carry food with you. And don’t be limited to meal replacement bars unless you already like eating them. I personally don’t like them, so I don’t carry them anymore.

Frankly, a Snickers candy bar is going to provide similar benefits but tastes better.

However, you can stick in whatever you like that’s portable and doesn’t require refrigeration. I would encourage you to check out the packet of premade tuna or chicken salad like the Starkist Creations line.

Scissors

You should carry a pair of quality medical scissors with you. As a beginner, you are unlikely to need a knife.

Nor will you possess the skills necessary to make use of a knife in a survival situation.

And frankly, if you’re properly prepared, you won’t make much use of your knife.

But scissors come in handy with opening packages of food. Or to cut strips of clothing in a First-Aid situation.

First-Aid

Speaking of First-Aid situations, make sure that you carry a small First-Aid kit with you. The kit doesn’t need to be elaborate.

Some Band-Aids and an antibiotic ointment will often be enough.

Headlamp

While, as a beginner hiker, you should plan to keep your trips during daylight, if something happens and you’re stuck out at night, you will want light.

Headlamps are inexpensive and easy to use. I carry an ultralight but as a beginner, you might want to opt for the most lumens you can get, in particular, if you are only walking a few miles.

Shelter

As a beginner, I don’t want you think about having to learn how to assemble a survival shelter or carry a big tent.

I would look for a mylar-lined poncho. Mylar is the material you find in emergency blankets. It will keep you warm by reflecting back 95% of your body heat.

Put the poncho on and sit down next to a tree and wait until morning or for help to arrive.

Lighters, Waterproof Matches, And Fire Cubes

You should have a way to make fire if necessary. While, ideally you can make fire without needing matches, as a beginner, give yourself as many advantages as you can.

Carry at least a lighter, waterproof matches, and fire cubes. A fire cube is a firestarter from a company like Duraflame.

These are simple to use, affordable, and less messy than alternatives like cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly.

Insect Repellent

Nothing ruins an outdoor adventure like dealing with bugs. Ticks are also everywhere and can carry dangerous diseases like Lyme. Thus you want to make sure to keep yourself bug-free by applying insect repellent.

I also recommend wearing clothing that has the repellent built in. Just search for “insect repellent clothing.”

How To Carry The 10 Essentials

One of my outdoor hobbies is seeing how creative I can get in carrying my 10 essentials.

But as a beginner, you want to make this as simple as possible.

I recommend buying a daypack that you keep stocked with everything you need and ready to go. However, remember to recycle your water and food to make sure they don’t go stale or bad on you.

How To Improve Your Skills

Having the 10 essentials with you as described in this article, will always be enough to help keep you safe in the outdoors. In particular, if you avoid putting yourself in risky situations.

However, if you wish to make progress, I would encourage you to check out our survival resources at Camping Forge.

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Mark Wilcox

I once backpacked 100 miles in 90 days. After 25 years in IT, I wanted more adventure in my life. I want to inspire you to add more adventure too.