Hiking Survival Kit:
Carry One On Every Hike

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

Do you carry a hiking survival kit? Find out what to put in it, and why, at Hiking For Her. #survivalkit #outdoorsurvival #survivalskills #hiking #backpacking

A hiking survival kit is not a first aid kit.

First aid supplies allow you to deal with cuts, burns, scrapes, bruises, broken bones or other trail medical problems.

A survival kit gives you the technology to survive temperature extremes and other unpleasantness until either help arrives or you can get to a source of help.

  • Avoid getting lost, or manage the panic, with these tips.

The beauty of putting together or purchasing a hiking survival kit?

You can keep it in your car and use it to deal with natural disasters (tornado, hurricane, flood, wind storm, blizzard) that catch you away from shelter.

A hiking survival kit:
the basics

Outdoor skill building is something a dedicated hiker pays attention to whenever time allows.

But one of the most basic things you need to do as a hiker: Rig the odds in your favor in case something goes wrong on your next hike.

Your physiology as a human being requires you to maintain a constant body temperature, replenish lost fluids (water intake), and eat every 24 hours at a minimum.

Can you push those numbers?

Yes, in an emergency, but time is against you, depending upon your situation.

  • A cold, wet hiker faces a set of challenges that a hot, dehydrated hiker does not, but a hiking survival kit will get both of them through it.

FYI, here are some tips for those scenarios:

What a basic hiking survival kit contains

A basic kit can help a hiker until conditions become more favorable for moving, or until help arrives.

The bare essentials in your survival kit include materials to battle your main problems in a survival situation:

  • Protection from the elements, in the form of a lightweight emergency blanket; doubles as a signalling device if made of reflective material
  • Illumination, to eliminate having to wait for daylight (Tip: a headlamp leaves your hands free)
  • Signalling devices that don't depend on daylight: whistle or a light stick
  • Safe drinking water (read this review for tips)
  • Fire starting materials that work even in the absence of dry fuel: specially coated waterproof matches, for example

To reduce this list even further, think about conserving your body heat, and minimizing dehydration.

In other words, shelter and potable water.

Ice crystals on groundCould you start a fire in wet conditions with what's in your backpack right now?

Ideas for making your own
hiking survival kit

Find a waterproof, lightweight, small container or pouch that you can fit easily in your backpack.

  • One approach: Use a small coffee can and fill it with safety items, which can double for boiling water over a fire or holding berries, minnows or other food.
  • Another approach: Use a plastic or waterproof zippered sack to hold your survival items.

Waterproof and lightweight are important words, so don't "make do" with a flimsy plastic bag that will rip and expose your survival kit contents to rain, mud or wind.

What do you already have that would meet the challenges outlined above?

A whistle, a lighter, a mini flash light, a signal mirror, a roll of dental floss or fishing line, a heavy duty garbage bag, some duct tape - those might be easy to find around the house.

Water treatment tablets, a mylar emergency blanket, fire starters (or just coat a few cotton balls with petroleum jelly), those might take some forethought and a trip to a gear store.

  • Note that these items address your top concerns: warmth and clean water.
  • Don't leave them out of your hiking survival kit.

Another approach to clean drinking water: a personal water filter called a Lifestraw. Read my review.

And I would be remiss if I neglected to remind you of the importance of carrying the ten essentials in addition to your survival gear.

  • Extra food, water and clothing will really make a difference in your survival odds.
  • Not to mention your ability to avoid panic.

One more thought: It's possible that if you're in a survival situation you are also in pain.

Carry pain relief on every hike, to allow your thoughts to be as unclouded as possible as you deal with your circumstances.

  • A basic first aid kit like this one should ride along with you in the bottom of your backpack, where hopefully you never need to touch it.
  • This is especially important if you're hiking with kids.

Your behavior counts
as a survival tool

By putting together a survival kit AND carrying it with you on every hike, you've demonstrated some smart behavior.

It also makes sense to use the materials in your immediate vicinity to augment your survival kit if you get into a survival situation.

Take a careful look at your surroundings, with an eye for how to survive a cold, wet, dark, unpleasant night.

  • Pile up dry leaves around you (and in your clothing) for warmth.
  • Hunker down under a cedar tree in a rain storm or snow squall.
  • Build a crude lean to and layer tree boughs over it to break the wind.
  • Catch a few frogs or bugs for dinner.
  • Dig into a snow bank to escape freezing temperatures.

Think: What do the animals who live here do to stay warm and dry?

Purchasing a quality
ready-to-go hiking survival kit

Here's a bare bones, inexpensive, lightweight and compact kit to throw in the bottom of your pack without worrying about it getting wet or left behind.

  • It's a minimalist approach to the problem of staying warm and sheltered overnight if something goes amiss in your hiking itinerary.

And here's a list of your additional "cushion" of survival items:

  • signal mirror (get found)
  • fire striker (stay warm)
  • knife with LEDs in handle (illuminate your fire building)
  • cords, safety pins, fish hooks, fishing line (find food)
  • printed survival instructions to help you tailor the kit contents to your situation (calm down and take control with a strategy)

There's no reason you can't add these items to your own survival kit, but life happens.

We get busy.

We forget.

We procrastinate.

We even get a little arrogant (it will never happen to me thinking).

Maybe asking for one of these ready-made, good-to-go survival kits as a gift is the perfect solution for you.

Or buy one for yourself as one step toward strengthening your outdoor skill set.

It's an inexpensive investment in your hiking well being.

And between you and me, I just feel better when I carry a survival kit. I know that I'm as prepared as possible to take care of myself.

A few more thoughts on
hiking survival gear

Regardless of whether you make or purchase a hiking survival kit, become familiar with every item it contains.

Don't hope the day never comes to use the items. That's setting yourself up for disastrous panic.

  • Tip: Practice putting together a fishing device, or collecting morning dew, when you have some down time on a backpacking or camping trip.

If you've become deeply interested in surviving outdoors, the Equipped To Survive website is for you.

  • It avoids a frightening survivalist tone, while delivering lots of useful information about building a survival kit with high quality, reliable items.
  • Here's an article that provides a first hand account of an outdoor survival situation that could easily happen to a hiker - yet had a happy outcome.

Taking responsibility for your safety on a hiking trail is one characteristic that distinguishes a trail hardened hiker from a casual hiker.

Carrying a survival kit in the outdoors is one way to take responsibility and keep yourself, and your trail buddies, from escalating a bad situation into a disaster.

Questions about what you've read? Use this link and I'll get right back to you.

Outdoor survival is something every hiker needs to take seriously, right? I'm here to help!

Another kind of kit to carry

Women hikers have hygiene issues that men don't have to deal with.

Ladies, you know what I mean!

Put together a female hiker hygiene kit using these tips.

It's just another skill in your outdoor skills set, making you a rock solid hiking woman.

You might like to read these next

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  • Solo Hiking Tips: How To Stay Safe On Any Trail

    The weather is great, your boots are itching for the trail, but your hiking buddy is out of town? Go it alone with solo hiking tips from Hiking For Her.

  • Lightning Safety For Hikers: Tips For Survival

    Lightning safety for hikers involves knowing how to avoid the problem, or how to minimize your exposure to the dangers of lightning. Use these survival tips to keep yourself safe in the outdoors.

  • Water Crossing Safety Tips: Best Practices For Hikers

    These water crossing safety tips should encourage you to plan ahead, stay in the moment, and make smart decisions when faced with how to ford a river or stream. Or maybe turn back, depending upon conditions, weather forecast, and your stamina levels.

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