10 Essentials for Wilderness Survival




About: The author of the GEEK-TO-YOU series: a series of Instructables designed to educate YOU about computers. I am interested in computers, and the world of technology in general. I am pursuing a career in softwa...

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.

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

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 (parachute cord is NOT good for this)
- 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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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 :)


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    218 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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 :)

    5 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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""""""""


    Reply 2 years ago

    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!


    4 months ago

    Thanks for posting about the emergency equipment and tools that become helpful when you have a need. Your post is really informational and interesting that provide a great information and awareness.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 months ago

    Parachute cord is good as general-purpose cordage, but is not good for climbing.


    9 months ago

    I'm using your site for a school report can I know the date published please? Also you have a pretty good site and would like to know more!

    1 reply

    Reply 2 months ago

    Hey man, I'm really sorry I didn't see this before! I check back here every once in a blue moon... bad timing.


    Question 9 months ago

    I do know that you posted this 4 years ago but....
    I need to know date published for a school report please!


    1 year ago

    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.


    1 year ago

    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


    1 year ago

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

    Oliver Murphy

    1 year ago

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

    Oliver Murphy

    1 year ago

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


    1 year ago

    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.)


    1 year ago

    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!