The contents of a personal survival kit is as individualized as the person carrying it. Someone living in Alaska will have a different kit from one living in Florida, however, there will be fundamental consistencies in all. An example of this is that everyone needs pure safe drinking water. Everyone needs a method of making fire, securing food and shelter, and maintaining physical and psychological stability. Your kit should be flexible, and it is not unusual for it to always be in a state of change and refinement. You will carry different supplies in winter than you do in summer.
When building your kit, keep in mind the four basic elements of survival, shelter, fire, water, and food.
Knife – If you have nothing else, have a knife of some sort. I recommend carbon steel over stainless if possible for reasons I will cover at another time. There are many types of knives to choose from four of which are mention here. A small pocket knife or multi tool for detail work, skinning small game, etc…, a 3″-4″ fixed blade knife for light duty work around the camp such as a Swedish Mora knife. This is the knife I use most of the time. For heavy work and chopping, a large Bowie type knife is good. I have a Becker BK9 that handles heavy work quite well. In addition to these, a sturdy machete is not a bad idea. Be careful to pick a well made machete as the junky ones will do you more harm than good in my opinion. I have a long blade Brazilian machete that I have had for around 35 years.
Fire – Have at least three methods of starting a fire. There are hundreds of known methods to be explored. Always carry a disposable butane lighter in your kit. Check it periodically as they can leak. I had one in my kit that was new, and when I needed it, it was empty. It had been in my kit for about a year. Waterproof matches, or strike anywhere matches in a waterproof container are a good idea as well. Fire steel, magnesium blocks, magnifying glass, etc… are also good options. Also good to have on hand is a small supply of very flammable, dry tinder that will easily take a spark such as char cloth, tinder fungus, or a dry bird nest. Here again, it is always good to continue building your mental survival kit which consists of learned skills, and experience in the wild. These will be with you when everything else is lost. I cannot stress enough the importance of these as they are the foundation for your survival, gear or no gear. This internal kit means building skills with a bow drill, flint and steel, etc….
Water – There are many methods for making water pure enough to drink, brush your teeth, bathe, etc…. The most basic is to filter out the big stuff using a tee shirt, socks, underwear, whatever you have on hand, and then to boil the water for a period of time. opinions as to how long you need to boil your water are varied. The CDC recommends boiling water for one full minute after it comes to a rolling boil which is probably enough. If the water is particularly questionable, I say boil it for ten minutes if you have time and enough fuel to do so. I carry Polar Pure iodine crystals to be sure my water is safe to drink. Even more effective are water filtration systems such as those available through MSR, or Lifesaver water filters. I do not endorse any particular make or model, I just speak of what I have experience with.
Food – This is tricky and depends on your ability to hunt, trap, identify, and prepare wild edibles for a long term survival situation. There are things you can carry in your kit that can really help get you through. I carry a mix of honey, bee pollen, and ginseng which is a very dense high energy food. Beef jerky, peanut butter, chocolate, trail mix, are also very good. Stick with dense, high energy foods that are high in nutrition and take up little space.
Always carry at least two contractor size trash bags that can be used for many things such as shelter, rain gear, food storage, water collection, water boiling, the list goes on and on. Also include various other plastic bags such as plastic grocery bags, ziplock bags etc….
At least 50 feet of 550 paracord. This cordage is very strong and has strands of individual cordage inside a larger cord that can be used for traps, snares, fishing, sewing, etc…. I replace all my boot laces, shoestrings etc with 550 cord so it is always available. To your mental survival kit add as many useful knots as you can.
Flashlight with extra batteries – As a side note, I like for as many of my battery powered items to be powered from the same size and type of battery as possible. Try to maintain as much consistency as you can, and have as many multi purpose items as you can to save weight and space. As flashlights go, I like headlamp types as they allow you to have your hands free for other things. I also carry a small clip on LED light in case I lose my headlamp or the batteries die. I keep mine around my neck with a compass and whistle. Speaking of a compass, I always carry two of them to be sure they are in calibration. Along with having a compass, it is important to know how to use it as well as having map reading skills. I also keep a set of pace beads to count my paces in uncharted territory, or if I am in any danger of getting lost. More on pace beads, counting paces, and compass instruction in a later article on navigation. A GPS unit is also a great thing to have, but know well how to function without it in case you lose power, or signal. Add to your mental survival kit other methods of navigation should you lose everything you have and have to rely only on the knowledge and experience you have. One last word on the compass. Make sure you buy a reliable one. I like Silva as a manufacturer of precision compasses. As a rule, never cut corners on anything that you may need to rely on to preserve your life or safety.
First aid kit – Always carry any personal medications you may need, and taking this a step deeper, research your meeds to see if there are botanicals that you may find in the wilds that could work as a replacement in a dire situation. The dosage may not be as exact, but it may determine whether you live or die. An example of this is Digitalis, a common heart medication which was originally derived from Foxglove, a fairly common wildflower at least in this area. Foxglove is dangerously toxic but with a little research, can be of great value if used correctly. Back to your basic kit. Carry a few bandaids and bandage materials along with antibiotic cream to keep infection at a minimum. Here again, there are plants that can be used for treatment of wounds such as Yarrow to stop bleeding, or even spiderwebs to use as a bandage. Anti diarrhea medicine, pain reliever, splints, field dressings tourniquet needle and thread, activated charcoal, etc…. are all things to keep on hand. Along with having these things, it is essential that you know how to use them. Your first aid kit can be as small or as large as you wish. This is a topic worthy of an entire book, but even the slightest bit of preparation is better than nothing. Even a single bandaid is a start.
Basic Gear List for Winter Survival
The following is a basic gear list for winter survival. While many of the items listed here aren’t crucial for absolute survival, they are useful to maintain a degree of comfort while in the elements during winter in Kentucky and similar environs.
1.) sturdy clothing worn in layers. For a base layer, I recommend a good set of light weight long underwear. Stay away from cotton as it tends to get damp with the slightest physical activity. The best materials I have found are either silk or a synthetic such as under armor or something like
that to wick moisture away from your body. For the next layer, I often wear sweat pants and a sweat shirt, or something like that. The next layer out should be loose fitting pants and a warm shirt. I am very partial to wool and highly recommend wool as standard winter clothing anyway. Another layer should include a jacket that is capable of stoping wind while still being breathable. Water proof rain gear is also a good idea. Most important of all is to have layers that can be put on or removed so as to not get overheated while at the same time keeping comfortably warm. Also added to the list of clothing should be a warm hat, a baklava or scarf, warm gloves or mittens, good wool socks and sturdy waterproof footwear.
When you are outside, me mindful to regulate your body temperature so as not to get overheated, or too cold. The best state to be in is just slightly cool.
2.) Tarp or groundcloth. I use a standard 6’x 8′ tarp for a groundcloth, and often the same for my shelter. A small tent or hammock with a rain fly over top is another option. If you choose to forgo any modern shelter, you can opt for one of many natural shelters including those found ready made by nature. During the shelter portion of my class we build at least one type of primitive shelters utilizing the resources available in the existing environment.
3.) 50′ of good strong cordage. I recommend 550 paracord because of its versatility and strength. Use of this cordage is covered in class as well as methods of making your own cordage from natural fibers.
4.) 2 large contractor size trash bags. These bags serve a multitude of purposes ranging from improvised shelters and sleeping bags to emergency rain gear and food storage.
5.) A good winter weight sleeping bag. Good bags use materials such as down which is superior in dry conditions to synthetics which are somewhat more durable and less susceptible to moisture. Down looses all of its insulating properties when wet, but has the advantage of being very lightweight and able to pack in a small space. In addition to having a sleeping bag, I recommend a waterproof bag cover such as a lightweight bivy bag. The bivy increases the sleeping bags effectiveness by about 15 degrees, a worthwhile effort in very cold weather.
6.) A sturdy multitool such as a Leatherman Wave is highly recommended as a useful tool for bushcraft skills.
7.) A good sturdy carbon steel camp knife. I use a carbon steel Mora knife with a 4″ blade as my primary knife. Other knives to consider in addition are a large Bowie type knife for heavier camp chores, and a small pocket knife for fine detail work.
8.) Reliable water purification system. There are many options here ranging from iodine crystals at around $15 to the Lifesaver Bottle at around $180. Water is a critical element for survival, so careful thought and consideration is essential here. Other options include carrying water with you in a canteen, camelback, or other container.
9.) Food is a highly individualized matter ind can include an endless variety, however a few guidelines will help keep this aspect of your venture at an easily managed level. Foods should be high in nutritional quality, easy to prepare, and lightweight to carry. The less you have to cook means less energy expended in preparation, less chance of inviting unwanted animals and pests into your camp area, and less mess to clean up.
I like things such as beef jerky, peanut butter and crackers, sardines, trail mix, dried fruit, nuts, tea or instant coffee, survival bread. Keep in mind the rule of 3’s when planning your trip. You can live around 3 hours without shelter, depending on the weather, 3 days without water, and up to 3 weeks without food. With this in mind, know that while you may get a little hungry, food is the last of your concerns unless you have health issues that demand sticking to certain dietary issues. Remember to pack light and never leave food lying around your camp site unless you want to share with whatever critters happen to be in search of a free meal.
10.) Fire starting implements include at least 3 methods of starting a fire such as a lighter, matches, and a fire steel. Primitive methods of fire making will be covered in the class in the event you find yourself stranded with no means of starting a fire otherwise. Other items to carry are a small pouch of very dry tinder, a candle, and a waterproof container to carry these things in.
11.) Baby wipes. These are a luxury item for survival, but are indispensable for everyday camping. They are a wonderful hygiene item, as well as being useful for any general cleanup.
12.) Personal first aid kit. Your kit can vary greatly depending on the length of your trip, the environment you will be in, personal health issues, etc. Remember to carry any medications you may need with you in addition to the standard items you see here. This list includes Bandaids, antibacterial ointment, 4×4 gauze pads, aspirin or other pain reliever, anti diarrhea medication, “Kling” type roll bandage, adhesive tape, antihistamine capsules, and a SAM splint. There are other items that you can add if you wish, but these few simple items will cover the majority of non life threatening injuries that you may encounter in the woods.
13.) Flashlight. A good LED headlamp is my preferred flashlight as it leaves your hands free for other things. A small handheld flashlight is fine too, whatever you are most comfortable with is fine.
14.) Toilet paper. Self explanatory.
15.) eating utensils, metal cup, small metal bowl.
16.) Change of underclothes and socks kept in a waterproof bag or dry sack.
17.) Small notebook and pencil.
18.) Whistle. A Fox 40 is a very good one for being in the wilderness.
19.) Compass and maps of the areas you are traveling. Silva makes a very good compass that is very stable and reliable. Avoid a cheap compass or one that is too smack to use effectively. We will cover basic navigation and lost proofing in the class.
20.) A comfortable backpack. This is a highly individualized item and the primary criteria to consider is its waterproof quality, its ability to be carried safely and comfortably. Consider also the order in which things are packed so you don’t have to unpack everything just to get a bandaid, for example.
21.) Small camp towel.
22.) Personal hygiene items, including toothbrush, liquid soap, etc…
23.) Foam pad for insulation under you when sleeping.
This list is meant to serve as a basic guide for your wellbeing and survival when in any setting. It is by no means necessary to go out and purchase all the items listed here, nor is this list the end all be all of everything you will ever need to make it in the wilds or elsewhere. These items are just a few tools that will serve as a starting point on the road to general, personal preparedness. It is impractical to carry everything you think you might need to survive on your person. This is why you must also include what I refer to as your mental and experiential survival kit.
In this kit you include skills learned along the way. These skills will allow you to live without many of the items you may now carry with you into the woods. A sound survival psychology. Keep a strong positive mental attitude, a good sense of humor, a calm, collected disposition, and a patient approach to all you do. Bring with you a clear awareness and strong attention to observation. Keep your body fit and alert, and maintain a practice of energy conservation in all you do. Be respectful of the world around you. Remember that we are not in control of nature and are somewhat at the mercy of whatever she presents us, but we do have some control over how we approach things we may encounter.