Introduction: 10 Essentials for Wilderness Survival

Picture of 10 Essentials for Wilderness Survival

Having been camping since I was a boy, I've gained much experience in preparing for such events. Through this experience, I have developed a list of basic gear I bring so I will "be prepared" (BSA motto) if I am caught in a survival situation.

Please note, these items will not keep you comfortable, they will keep you alive. Feel free to add or change any of these items to suit your specific needs. As you gain more experience, you will begin to learn what does and doesn't work for you, and can adjust accordingly.

Step 1: Knife.

Picture of Knife.

The number one most important thing I make sure to bring is a knife. They have so many uses in every day camp activities and life in general. If you find yourself in a survival situation, your chances of survival are infinitely increased with a knife. I always have a pocket knife on me for everyday use and camping.

Fixed blade knives are ideal. They are more durable and resilient than folding knives as they do not have mechanical movement. They are also better for cutting large objects such as branches. Folding knives are great for a backup and less demanding tasks.

- cutting rope
- creating weapons
- opening packages
- boredom relief
- creating fire starters (ie: bow drill)
- building emergency shelters (cutting branches, cutting tarp, etc)
- cutting cloth for bandages (if you don't have a first aid kit)
- cutting bandages
- so much more; you discover many more uses through experience

Knife maintenance:

- If your knife becomes dirty during use, be sure to clean if off before you put it in your pocket. Ideally you would use a damp towel or rag, but if that is not readily available, I wipe it off on my pant leg. Never leave your knife wet as it may rust.

- Before I leave for a camping trip, I always check to make sure my knife is sharp. This will keep you safe during usage as you will not have to apply extra force in order to cut things. Dull tools are dangerous!

- Be sure that your knife blade is not loose (if it is a folding knife). Folding knives can loosen over time, and this dangerous. If your knife becomes loose, there should be a screw which attaches your blade to the knife housing. Just tighten this screw.

General safety:

- Don't cut toward yourself

- Make sure people are out of your "blood circle". This is the area within range of your knife in hand while your arm is extended.

Step 2: Cordage

Picture of Cordage

Rope is also useful for camping, especially if you find yourself in a survival situation.

I prefer 550 parachute cord. It's lightweight, strong, and takes up little space. I am always wearing a paracord bracelet and usually bring an extra one camping, in addition to a large length of unused paracord. My extra bracelet has a side release buckle which makes it easy to attach to a strap on my pack.

One neat property of 550 paracord is how it lengthens when wet. This is useful when you need a tight hold on something. Get it wet, then secure the object. When the cord dries, it will tighten. This is great for making grips on walking sticks and fixed bladed knives.

- hoisting food to keep away from wildlife
- building emergency shelter
- making splint for broken bones
- lashing poles
- tent repair
- climbing
- attaching gear to pack
- fishing line
- trap for hunting
- many more

I like this addition to the paracord bracelet, it adds some "stitching" with smaller cord. This smaller cord can be used for traps. The more cord the better!

Step 3: Beanie/stalking Cap/touque

Picture of Beanie/stalking Cap/touque

Yes, touque is funny, but I have grown fond of the word. It is a word commonly used by Canadians instead of beanie. 

No matter what the weather is, I always bring a touque. Touques will keep your body warm at night, it is always cold at night. Warmth is very important. Your body can focus it's energy on keeping your body moving and your brain functioning fully instead of generating heat.

I've been using this flaming hat for years, I really like it!

Step 4: Water Bottle/hydration System

Picture of Water Bottle/hydration System

Nothing to explain here. Without water you die. I have a carabiner hooked on mine so I can attach it to my pack.

Don't buy those weird canvas water, eh, sacks. They are easily punctured. 

I recently purchased a Camalbak which is nice, but not ideal when on a backpacking trip because you can not fit all of your gear in them. However, Camelbaks (or similar hydration systems) are great for day hikes. They are nice to bring camping (in addition to a regular camping pack) so that you can go on a day hike without having to lug around all of your gear, just a few things for the hike. They are also great for mountain biking because they are low profile, provide easy water access, and can carry some bike repair tools (depending on the size).

Step 5: Signaling Equipment

Picture of Signaling Equipment

If you are caught in a survival situation while camping, it is because you are in the wilderness and have no way of contacting people. If you have a cell phone with service, it is not a survival situation. So, you need alternate means of communicating with people.

The flash from a signal mirror can be seen for miles by aircraft. This flash will catch the pilot's attention. If you flash it across the sky in some sort of pattern, the pilot will be more likely to realize that there is a person in danger, especially if you flash S.O.S.

My signal mirror has instructions engraved on the back so I never forget the proper way to use it. It also came with a foam pouch to prevent it from scratching.

Whistles are also useful. The sound of a man-made whistle is unmistakable. Even if you get to a road, cars may be few and far between. If you happen to get to the road as a car is passing, you can use the whistle to catch their attention. Whistles are also good in the wilderness; for all you know, there may be other campers nearby to help you.

For signalling, you can use any source of light to do Morse Code. A flash light is perfect for this. You can also use for, you know, seeing in the dark, because it isn't advised to carry a burning stick with you; it has a short range, and you might accidentally make a giant signal fire ;)

Matches or lighter. Use this to light a signal fire. Green leaves have a lot of moisture in them, and will let off a lot of smoke. Be sure to add these to the fire once it is big enough, otherwise they will put it out. Not to mention that the fire will keep you warm.

Even if you are not in a survival situation, whistles can be used to tell others in your camp that danger is nearby, or that you've been injured. 

Step 6: Compass (and the Knowledge to Use One)

Picture of Compass (and the Knowledge to Use One)

A compass will help you find your way to civilization. If you have a map of the area you will be camping at, it will be even more helpful. You will be able to find a road or other sign of home on the map that you can get to by navigating with your compass.

View this Instructable to learn how to navigate with a compass and map.

Step 7: Shelter Building Material

Picture of Shelter Building Material

This can be as simple as a tarp or large garbage bag. If you are in a survival situation, finding a (relatively) safe place to sleep for the night is a great thing. Shelter will keep you dry and warmer.

You can build a simple lean to with rope, some branches, and a tarp. You don't want to end up like Survivorman, building a roof with leaves. This takes up a lot of time which could be spent hunting for food and building a fire.

Step 8: First-aid Kit

Picture of First-aid Kit

First-aid kits will greatly simplify the healing of injuries. You don't want to make things complicated with dangling skin, infections, and gushing blood. First-aid kits include gauze, bandages, alcohol cleaning wipes, gloves, and other supplies that will help you heal. 

I take a small one that I purchased from Wal-mart, a big one is unrealistic.

Step 9: Change of Clothing

Picture of Change of Clothing

I always bring at least one change of clothing. If you get wet, it is important that you get dry. Moisture pulls heat away from your body, causing it to focus energy on creating extra heat to compensate. This will make you fatigued and lose brain functionality.

If your shoes and socks get wet, it is likely that you will get blisters because your feet will slide around in your shoes. You will lose your ability to get out of the bush if this happens. So, make sure you have extra socks!

Synthetic clothing is highly advised. Cotton clothing will keep you wet for a long time.

Step 10: Camping Pack

Picture of Camping Pack

And, of course, a camping pack. I mean come on, where are you going to cram these things. In your pockets? A lot of it you can, but that would impede the movement of your legs, and having a pack is just so much easier. It also allows you to pick up useful things along the way, such as a crafted weapon, bow drill, and other things.

A pack also provides extra material for bandages, fire building, splints, etc.

Step 11: Wrapping Up

Picture of Wrapping Up

There is one more thing that I must add to this list, even though it exceeds ten items: a buddy. I can not stress enough the importance of having another person with you when you go into the wild. You should never be alone. You will help each other make decisions, and keep each other out of harms way. If something happens to you out there, such as breaking a leg, you will have no chance of getting out without another person.  

Just make sure they aren't as irresponsible as those two. I even hid their faces because they were acting so dumb.

So, that's the list of things you should bring so you are prepared for many situations that might occur. This would also be a good start for a 72 hour emergency pack for you to keep at home and/or in your vehicle.

Please comment about anything, to say hi, give suggestions, criticism, whatever. Just let me know you're alive (and not like those two)!

Again, this is in the Great Outdoors Contest, please vote for it if it is super duper awesome :)

I hope this helps you be more prepared for your future endeavors in the wilderness :)



darman12 (author)2013-08-22

Thank you everybody who is commenting, particularly those sharing tips and experience. Viewers will really benefit from all of your help! This kind of interaction is what makes the Instructables community so great, and I truly appreciate it :)

georion (author)darman122013-11-19

what i love """"""everybody who is commenting, particularly those sharing tips and experience. Viewers will really benefit from all of your help! This kind of interaction is what makes the Instructables community so great""""""""

Rafael17 (author)georion2016-11-17

I've got a 15$ Paracord bracelet for free HERE.

darman12 (author)georion2013-11-20

What do you mean?

rsvestka (author)darman122016-05-09

He's applauding your comment about what you LIKE in the Instructables community. You wrote a valuable Instructable, then applauded those who added beneficial information to it by giving the benefit of their own experience.

Good job!

jessevans67 (author)2017-07-28

you missed a file, a file is one of the most essential tools for survival. sharpens axes, hatchets, machetes, knives, a file is a must. shelter can be built in just a few hours with a hatchet. here the real list. you missed the most important which is FLINT. you build fires for signaling, food, boil water, and keep warm. something tells me you havnt thought this thru. and you can make a compass or sundial for direction, use 2 sticks or use your watch, or north star. its easier to find north star than learn how to read maps and compass. humans could never have evolved without fire, its the single most important discovery in the history of mankind and you wont survive long without it

flint, knife, hatchet, file, first aid, cordage, canteen, change of clothes(these 8 are a must, the rest are optional), food(although every place in the world has enough food to stay alive, save the desert, only complete morons who dont have any business near the woods starve to death) tarp, backpack...... with these items you can hunt, make spears, bows, make traps which animals provide cordage, food, and clothing. the single most important thing is the flint. im not talking about a weekend trip, im talking about going into the woods and never coming home, long term survival, these are the basics, the musts, with these items you can stay indefinetly.

MariposaS1 (author)2017-03-18

When making a cache for long term storage of dry beans and rice in a 55 gallon steel food grade drum, should i leave them in burlap or repackage? Should I add Diatomatceous earth before sealing them? Any sugestions

CharlesC228 (author)2017-03-10

I would carry a sharppening stone also as well as a carpenter's knife with extra blades

Oliver Murphy (author)2017-03-02

Nice list, I do recommend that my back up folding knife is part of a multi tool.

Oliver Murphy (author)2017-03-02

Useful list, but although you advise against cotton clothing, you've a picture of jeans, possibly the worst clothes to get wet.

gettingcrafty (author)2017-02-22

Thanks so much for the advise, but I would also bring something to produce fire (lighter,mathces,etc.) and also to produce food (fishing rod, spear, arrow Etc.)

darman12 (author)2017-02-21

Just wanted to once again thank all of those who've commented here! It's awesome. I have not been active on Instructables for quite some time so I haven't been able to thank you all individually.

You guys rock! Cheers!

Alden Tortem (author)2017-02-17

Really cool ! :) We can add only this knowledge. Thank you Darman12 !

darman12 (author)Alden Tortem2017-02-21

Thanks I appreciate it!

MattJ93 (author)2016-09-16

I have built a few different packs for different purposes. I have a day pack set-up with what I'd need should an outdoor outing go bad in some way forcing me to spend an unplanned night or more outdoors along with managing minor to moderate injury. I have a get home bag, in case I was 10-50 miles from home and stranded by a natural disaster, or such forcing me to walk home. I have a bug out or extended survival pack set-up to hopefully have all I need to survive days or weeks in the outdoors and even to be a good start if it was a very long term situation. All three packs have the stuff on this list, plus Fire, Water Purification, Food and some sleep gear.

For Fire in a more simple and light pack a mini bic lighter is fine, but I prefer 2-3 means of making fire, plus 1 or 2 kinds of tinder tinder. WetFire tinder is great, but you can use dryer lint or cotton balls with vaseline rubbed on them too. I just pack an empty pill bottle full. For a second fire starter I use a Ferro rod with striker.

For Water Purification aquapur or Oasis tabs are light and pretty cheap, even cheaper is a small vial of bleach. My more comprehensive packs have a Lifestraw or Sawyer mini filter kit.

For Food, I carry at minimum a couple Clif Bars and some Sport Beans. My bigger packs have ER bars from Quake Care.

My day pack has a compact Bivy sack down in the bottom. My other packs would be accompanied at all times by a heavy wool blanket bed roll and/or a compact dri-down sleeping bag.

I have also added a folding saw, hatchet, extra knife, multi-tool, Scotch eyed auger, wire etc in my big bag. If I had the luxury of bugging out by vehicle, I pile in more tools. You can make a lot with a few basic tools in the wilderness, it's really hard to make the tools if you don't have them.

Take a partner or at least a good dog if at all possible.

正臣高 (author)2016-08-06

The knife I find particularly helpful but some of the items you mentioned are for hiking & getting out of emergency situations. I intend to disappear into the wild for good. Don't ask me why, its too long a list. I am tired of everything. Would sum it up.
Can you please make up an essential list just for me?
*btw, it is my first time. I am a city life person all my life. Don't discourage me just your best advice. I don't really care if I make it out alive.
Thank you.

Boglenight (author)正臣高2016-08-15

What you're planning to do is a very long process, I as well have been undertaking the journey towards attempting this goal, what you need to do first is learn, learn as much as you can, just getting up and leaving will be your downfall, not knowing anything before you leave will destroy you, watch the movie "Into The Wild" whilst I respect and sometimes even idolize Christopher for what he did he was way too under prepared and he died because of it, he was simply trying to live for a few months in the wild and he didn't survive, think about what could happen to you if you expect to live in the wild indefinitely. Living in the wild is no easy task, you need to understand a lot more than you do currently, you sir have just read a list of items needed and you're going to take everything said in it as truth without any knowledge whatsoever (whilst this list is brilliant relying on it could kill you), if you're serious about this don't just ask for a list instead learn as much as you can and when you understand what you need to know that's when you'll be closer to undertaking the journey. If you just read a few articles, grab gear and leave, you will not survive for long, surviving in the wild is no easy feat. If you're still on board and understand that you need to learn a lot before attempting your goal, then I applaud you for taking this seriously and if you need someone to talk with then you can email me at

ThomasF129 (author)Boglenight2016-08-22

You may contact me as well,

I am an eagle scout, i've been learning this for many years, and i only now see how much of a fool i would have been to have attempted this when i thought of it many years ago. I share your sentiments, I would like to be able to cut and run as well, but my duties lie amongst men. I was a teacher (troop guide) for several years in my unit, i can say this much, knowing about and knowing OF survival are two different things entirely. Knowing about= read it somewhere, knowing OF= having read it and done the tasks under supervision until they are reflex memory. I know your pain, i'm six-thousand miles away, and i know your pain, search within, you've still got a lot of fight left in you if you're willing to attempt what you propose, call out to God when u have no one to turn to, he will NOT abandon you. you are loved, i can't even read your name, and yet you're a brother to me. take the time to learn the skills required, things will get better, ask and you will be answered, knock and the door will open. if there's anything i can do to help u, ask. need a prayer? ask. need tips, tricks, or general advice? ask. i'd hate to see someone throw away their life because they were not prepared. I can not count the times i've wanted it all to end, just one thought came to me time after time,"there is hope for me yet, 'cause God's not finished with me yet!" it kept the spark of what was left of my will to live going. Ask!

正臣高 (author)Boglenight2016-08-15

Thank you so much. I will definitely be in touch with you. You have no idea how much it means to me now having someone share his thoughts, experience & advice with me.
I am already on board & on my way. Just got down the train at the end of the line. Nothing here just a dead town.

ThomasF129 (author)正臣高2016-08-22

My friend. This is a very dangerous task for the unskilled. learn to forage, to hunt, to make things from nothing. I would recommend either a USMC K-BAR (8-inch) or a Cold Steel, Steel tiger. the steel tiger can be used to gut fish and game, clear away the underbrush, etc. as it is a hooked blade. Learn from a pro (i.e. not me). water bottle needs to be made of metal, you can use it to make char cloth. your primary shelter will be the clothes on your back. I hope this gets to you in time. boil your water, and cook meats througholy.

ThomasF129 (author)ThomasF1292016-08-22

also, a 12\-inch by 12-inch piece of cheesecloth may save your life. use it to filter out large particulate from water before boiling it

itsruthanitha (author)2016-07-29

The top knife is the one that is with you when you require it, as the popular saying goes. The liners have been milled out somewhat to lessen the weight, and at 3.75 ounces the knife is very light overall.

fpetrosillo (author)2016-07-15

As a boy scout I think this is great, I added matches, a small cup sized pot and fishing line with a hook. That plus the original pack is enough for being lost a week.

Rafael17 (author)2016-06-24

I've got a 15$ Paracord bracelet for free HERE.

DyckSteven (author)2016-06-20

awesome tips bro :)

nuffnuffnuffing (author)2016-04-21

A CD is a nice signaling device. Mainly because you can look through the hole in the middle to see where the beam of light ended up. That makes it easy to signal people.

rsvestka (author)nuffnuffnuffing2016-05-09

Great idea! (Just like a signal mirror!) So if you lose your signal mirror but have a CD (or intentionally take one with you--good idea!) you can still readily signal aircraft, etc.

TitusW (author)2016-03-07

Jeans as trousers is a poor idea, once we they're notoriously difficult to dry. As kids we were always advised to NEVER wear jeans when camping or hiking for that very reason. They'd be equally detrimental in a survival situation.

nic.bryan.73 (author)TitusW2016-04-21

Agreed. Every camping trip I ever went on, they advised us to either wear 'Scout Pants' made of nylon, although I preferred Ripstop Canvas cargo pants (nylon-cotton blend). They took a bit longer to dry out, but the bigger pockets meant I could have more of my emergency kit on my body if I had to dump the pack for some reason. Like falling into a river while crossing it (And remember, if the backpack attaches to you with buckles, unbuckle before crossing the river. Losing the backpack to the water is better than drowning).

nuffnuffnuffing (author)2016-04-21

Amazing. I will be sure to take all of this when I go backpacking and camping.

JayW55 (author)2016-04-07

After searching for some inspiration and ideas for survival items for a desert setting, I came across this article which is 101 items for survival in all climates. I can't think of anything that's not on the list, so I thought I would share it:

PuslarX (author)2016-03-27

Definitely not the best, didn't include a folding saw/hatchet, tarp, ductape, water filtration system (ex. life straw), all the clothes were cotton making them hard to dry, and a fire striker/ tinder box kit so you don't have to spend time making a fire bow which is much harder

RiaanM1 (author)2016-01-02

Does anybody know the fire starting trick where you put pottasium permangenate crystals on a piece of Paper and add glycerine before you bundle it up to use as a fire starter?

SpyrosB (author)RiaanM12016-03-22

It's not exactly a trick. Just a chemical exothermic reaction. Works everytime if you pour the right proportions. I've done it in the backyard a few times.

But you should follow Terry.carter advice and check the video ;)

terry.carter (author)RiaanM12016-01-05

Yes. If you want to see it in action, just google matchless fire kit video. King of Random has a very nice video of it.

itsruthanitha (author)2016-03-13

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itsruthanitha (author)2016-03-04

A Great Place to find Survival Tools, resource you need to survive and thrive in any situation. I found this discount code. Use this code "PD10"and save 10%.

sjdon (author)2016-02-04

it is spelt toque by English Canadians and tuque by French Canadians. And we never call it a beanie.

IanF33 (author)2016-01-28

But what if u have these items and u are still voted off thr island??!! Lol

IanF33 (author)2016-01-28

But what if u have these items and u are still voted off thr island??!! Lol

IanF33 (author)2016-01-28


PrestonW1 (author)2016-01-24

Great Enstructable!

Langerz998 (author)2015-12-30

Love it, thank you

AndreaD45 (author)2015-12-09

Nothing to make fire with? Or did i miss some?

EbonyDoesSurvive (author)2015-11-12

can anyone email me with the answer to this?

i have 3ft of paracord but can only make 2 bracelets. how come i made 4?

EbonyDoesSurvive (author)2015-11-12

hey darman12 im gonna b making a survival video on YouTube. b sure to check it out! my channel is called Ebony Saddington

EbonyDoesSurvive (author)2015-11-12

paracord bracelets are good because you can undo the quikly and easily and paracord is very strong and durable!

EbonyDoesSurvive (author)2015-11-12

550 cord is extremely useful. i am in Scouts and we all made paracord bracelets with 550. So useful!!!

micahfurtick (author)2015-10-30

I just want to point out a few things that you missed that are unbelievably critical.

A) fire-starting kit

B) Multi-tool

C) Lantern/heavy duty flashlight - you showed a pic but didn't talk about it

D) Rations/FOOD- extremely important

E) Water purifier- even if you have water with you, that doesn't matter, you will eventually run out and need more

F) Sleeping gear- very important, I highly reccommend a bedroll, they are small and compact

That's about it. Thought you would want to see this- Darman12

micahfurtick (author)2015-10-30

I just want to point out a few things that you missed that are unbelievably critical.

A) fire-starting kit

B) Multi-tool

C) Lantern/heavy duty flashlight - you showed a pic but didn't talk about it

D) Rations/FOOD- extremely important

E) Water purifier- even if you have water with you, that doesn't matter, you will eventually run out and need more

F) Sleeping gear- very important, I highly reccommend a bedroll, they are small and compact

That's about it. Thought you would want to see this- Darman12

About This Instructable




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