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Survival Gear: 10 Items To Survive (Over Time)

If you are a person who likes gear (like me,) you know that we are fortunate to live in an age of ever-improving gear. Things get smaller, lighter, more innovative… In 2007, GearJunkie polled a number of wilderness experts, requesting that they each recommend 10 items to place in a survival kit. Seven years later, they went back to revisit these lists, and found that many of the items were still relevant, with a few additions. Here’s what they came up with. Do you maintain a kit with these items or similar items?

GearJunkie – This article was first published in 2007

Surviving in the wild — no matter the location or the time of year — depends on human wit and will more than the gear you have in your pack. But all survival experts still recommend assembling an emergency kit of equipment to stay with you at all times in the wilderness.

Indeed, if you’re lost or injured, the right gear can mean the difference between a comfortable night spent outdoors, and a cold one. Items like a whistle or a signal mirror can alter fate to issue rescue instead of abandonment.

In many cases, the right gear in your pack can literally save your life. But what to bring?


survival kit is something most hikers, hunters, and explorers will never break open. It will sit in the bottom of a backpack, potentially for years, encased in a waterproof vessel of some sort, lightweight and out of the way.

The leanest survival kits are stored in Altoids tins and the like, and they include just the bare backwoods essentials: matches, firestarters, fishing line, a tiny compass, water purification tablets, a whistle, a small rescue mirror, and so on.

“As far as survival gear goes, it really depends on the space you have available, how much weight you can comfortably carry, and how far you plan to venture,” said Mike Forti, a graduate of the United States Air Force Survival School. “In reality, a backpack full of camping gear is simply a large ‘survival kit’ designed for a comfortable and extended stay in the wilderness. A much smaller version of this might consist of a tobacco tin with relatively few items tightly packed in.”

A commercial option for people who choose to take the minimalist route is the Pocket Survival Pak from Adventure Medical Kits ( This wallet-size packet of miniature multi-use survival items includes a whistle, fishing hooks, a signal mirror, a sparker fire starter, waterproof fire-starting material, a compass, duct tape, string, wire, safety pins, aluminum foil, a magnifying lens, nylon thread, a razor blade, a sewing needle, a pencil, and tiny sheets of paper, plus a waterproof instructional sheet on use of the various items.

All these items squeeze into a waterproof container, and the whole bundle weighs a scant 4 ounces. Total cost: $34.

Like any emergency kit, the Pocket Survival Pak — which was developed by Doug Ritter, founder of the survivalist website Equipped To Survive ( — can help lost or injured explorers to signal helicopters and planes, start fires, boil water, melt snow for water, catch fish, navigate through the woods, trap small animals, perform rudimentary first aid, and repair damaged gear.

But minimalist kits have their limitations, Mike Forti said: “They can provide the bare essentials for a miserable, short-duration stay.”

Forti’s kit of choice is a bit larger and bulkier, but not overbearingly so. It can be worn on a belt in a pouch and includes enough gear to make a longer “unplanned wilderness excursion” survivable with some modicum of basic comfort.

When assembling a kit for any trip, Forti takes something he calls the “rule of three’s” into account, which banks on the presumption that you can die in three hours when exposed to bad weather; that you can die in three days from thirst; and that you can die in three weeks from lack of food.

“These are not hard and fast time frames, but they are easy to remember, and are therefore decent guidelines,” he said. “For this reason, most survival kits do not contain Twinkies and juice-boxes.”

Instead, Forti’s gear stresses rescue and protection from the elements. His No. 1 piece of survival gear is a knife, specifically something large like a machete. “A good knife can be a survival kit unto itself,” he said.

From chopping branches and trees for a shelter, to making of a bow drill for fire, to whittling a snare, a knife in the hands of a knowledgeable individual, Forti said, is the key item in a kit.

Perhaps unexpectedly, item No. 2 on Forti’s list is a cell phone. “The simple fact is that cell phones save lives,” he said. “They can turn a survival saga into a non-event.”

In a similar vein, Todd Smith, the editor-in-chief of Outdoor Life magazine, stresses rescue in emergency wilderness situations via quick communication with the outside world. But in addition to a cell phone, Smith recommends personal locator beacons (PLBs), which are essentially emergency radio signal devices that communicate with satellites (and thus rescue personnel) from anywhere on the globe.

He said PLBs are expensive — they can cost several hundred dollars — but are an excellent investment for those planning on spending a lot of time in the backcountry, especially people who go solo.

At the push of a button, PLBs from companies like ACR Electronics Inc. ( transmit your position via GPS coordinates and the 406 MHz radio frequency to search-and-rescue centers, who may be able to then start a search process within minutes.

“The recent Mount Hood tragedy changed my perspective,” Smith said, referencing the December climbing disaster in Oregon where three mountaineers died from exposure, despite a huge rescue effort. “A PLB might have saved their lives.”

Beyond PLBs, Smith said a survival kit should include items like a map of the area, a compass, a space blanket, first aid, a flashlight or headlamp, and fire-starting supplies. He recommends keeping the essential stuff physically attached to your body in a pouch on your belt.

Gear needs to be customized for each trip, Smith added. “I tell people to make a basic survival kit, but then add gear appropriate for where you’re going, be it the ocean, the desert, the tropics, the arctic, the mountains, or any other environment.”

Even people driving through the Rocky Mountains, Smith said, should have a survival kit in their car, including a sleeping bag, warm extra clothing, food, water, and charged-up cell phones.

“Have a game plan in place anytime you’re in the wilderness,” Smith said. “You can be prepared for just about anything.”


To trim a survival kit down to its top 10 essentials is to reveal the utmost necessary items for ad hoc shelter, warmth, communication, navigation, and sustenance in the deep backwoods. Here, then, are three survivalists’ lean lists of gear you should not be without in any wilderness situation.

Todd Smith, editor-in-chief of Outdoor Life magazine
1. Personal locator beacon (PLB) or cell phone
2. Map of area
3. Compass
4. Small first-aid kit
5. Water bottle
6. Flashlight/headlamp
7. Lighter and fire starters
8. Space blanket/bivy sack
9. Whistle
10. Signal mirror

Doug Ritter, founder of survivalist website Equipped To Survive,
1. HeatSheets brand space blanket
2. Gloves
3. Chlorine dioxide water-purification tablets
4. Nylon braided line
5. Whistle
6. Lighter
7. Waterproof matches
8. Tinder (for fire starting)
9. Signal mirror
10. Personal locator beacon (PLB)

Mike Forti, graduate of the United States Air Force Survival School 
1. Large knife (machete or hatchet)
2. Cell phone
3. Bic Lighter
4. 9 × 12 foot plastic painters tarp (0.35 mil thickness)
5. Mylar survival blanket
6. Mini L.E.D. flashlight
7. Water purification tablets
8. Water container of some sort
9. Small roll of fishing line or dental floss
10. Fifty Dollar bill (“After a few days lost in the woods eating bugs, it would be a real shame to emerge next to a 7-11, and have no money for food,” Forti said.)

To see the 2014 updates to these recommendations, click Here

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