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Survival Bag Fundamentals: What to Do to Stay Prepared When Other Aren't

Green first aid kit zipped up with a small pair of scissors next to it and a package of a medical bandage
Image via Wix Media

Survival situations can arise from natural disasters, getting lost in the wilderness, or unexpected emergencies during outdoor adventures. Preparedness can significantly impact your ability to survive and navigate these challenges. A well-thought-out survival kit is a cornerstone of preparedness, providing tools and resources necessary to ensure safety, sustenance, and the possibility of a rescue. Below, we delve deeper into the essentials of a survival kit, expanding upon the top 10 items and beyond.

Water and Hydration

Water is life. The human body can survive weeks without food but only days without water. Including a durable water container is just the beginning. A portable water filter, capable of removing bacteria and protozoa, is indispensable. Brands like Sawyer and LifeStraw offer lightweight options. For viral contaminants, water purification tablets or drops, typically based on iodine or chlorine dioxide, provide an additional layer of safety. In environments where water is scarce, knowledge of how to collect dew or rainwater, or even construct a solar still, can be life-saving.

Nutrition and Sustenance

Energy-dense, lightweight, and non-perishable food items are vital. Beyond the basics of energy bars and dried fruits, consider adding packets of electrolyte powder to combat dehydration and maintain energy levels. Vacuum-sealed meals, while heavier, offer variety and morale boosts. Learning the basics of foraging for edible plants and insects can also supplement your food supply in extended survival situations.

First-Aid Essentials

A first-aid kit should be customized to your group size, trip duration, and specific health needs. In addition to bandages, antiseptics, and pain relievers, include tools like tweezers for splinter or tick removal, a tourniquet for severe bleeding, and a CPR mask. Personal medications, a spare pair of glasses, and copies of medical prescriptions add another layer of preparedness. Regularly review and replenish your first-aid kit to ensure all items are within their expiration dates.

Tools and Repair Items

A high-quality multi-tool encompasses various functions in one device, saving space and weight. Additional items like duct tape, super glue, and a small roll of wire can be invaluable for repairs. A sewing kit can mend clothing or gear, while aluminum foil has multiple uses, from cooking to signaling.

Fire Creation

The ability to create fire is multifaceted in survival—providing warmth, a means to cook food, purify water, and signal for help. Waterproof matches, lighters, and ferrocerium rods each have their advantages. Practice using these tools in various conditions before you need them. Carrying tinder, such as cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, can facilitate fire starting in wet conditions.

Shelter and Warmth

Exposure to harsh elements can quickly become life-threatening. Compact, lightweight shelters like tube tents or emergency bivy sacks offer protection. Space blankets, while not durable, can reflect body heat and are useful in a pinch. For colder environments, pack additional thermal layers, focusing on moisture-wicking materials and insulation even when wet, like wool or synthetic fibers.

Illumination and Signaling

A dependable flashlight or headlamp, preferably with multiple light settings, including SOS, is essential. LED lights consume less power, extending battery life. For signaling, mirrors and high-decibel whistles can attract attention from rescuers. Flares, though heavy, provide a powerful signal if rescue is likely to be nearby.

Navigation Tools

A compass and detailed topographic maps of your area are indispensable for navigation, especially in remote locations where GPS signals may be unreliable. Consider a waterproof and shockproof case for electronic devices, including a GPS unit or smartphone with preloaded maps. Solar chargers or power banks can keep electronic devices operational.

Clothing for Protection

Clothing is your first line of defense against the elements. Layering systems allow you to adjust to changing conditions, focusing on a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating mid-layer, and a waterproof, breathable outer layer. Accessories like hats, gloves, and sturdy footwear are equally important for protection against sun, cold, and rough terrain.

Knowledge and Skills

Beyond physical items, the knowledge and skills for survival can be the most crucial elements of any survival kit. Familiarity with local flora and fauna, basic first-aid procedures, navigation skills, and fire-making can make the difference between life and death. Consider investing time in survival courses, wilderness first-aid training, and regular practice of your skills in safe conditions.

Expanding Beyond the Basics

Depending on your environment and the nature of your activities, other items might be considered essential. Fishing gear, a slingshot, or a compact bow can assist in food gathering. A lightweight solar panel or hand-cranked radio for receiving weather updates and emergency information could prove invaluable. Personal items, such as photos or a small keepsake, can also provide comfort and a psychological boost in challenging situations.


Creating a comprehensive survival kit requires thoughtful consideration of your specific needs, environment, and potential risks. While the items listed provide a foundation for survival, the true essence of preparedness lies in continuous learning, skill development, and adaptability. As you assemble your survival kit, remember that the goal is not only to survive but to do so with a level of preparedness and dignity, regardless of the circumstances.

Further Reading

  1. Wiseman, J. (2009). SAS Survival Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere. This comprehensive guide covers all aspects of survival, from shelter and water to food and navigation.

  2. Canterbury, D. (2014). Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival. This book focuses on skills and knowledge necessary for surviving in the wild, including building shelters, foraging for food, and creating tools.

  3. Stroud, L. (2008). Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere – Alive. Survival expert Les Stroud combines personal anecdotes with practical advice on surviving in various environments.

  4. Gonzalez, L. (2003). Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. This book explores the psychological aspects of survival, analyzing why some people survive life-threatening situations while others do not.


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