Camping requires many things of us. From the basic skills for setting up tents, to the physical capacity to make it to our chosen site. However, camping gear, and in particular camping survival gear, is just as important to consider before any trip into the outdoors.
The 20 most essential pieces of camping and survival gear are:
- Portable outdoor stove set with fuel
- Water & water purification equipment
- Lighter & fire starter
- Light sources
- External pitch frame tent
- Heavy duty survival bivvy
- Waste contamination
- Hand & feet warmers
- Electrolyte powder or capsules
- A whistle & alarm
- Rope & cordage
- Basic identification
- Beeswax emergency candle
- Lip care & skincare
- Signaling mirror
- Your cell phone
- Satellite messengers or personal locating beacon
We’ve all been in situations when we weren’t quite as prepared as we should have been, but emergencies are not where you want to fall short. Preparedness is a complex issue, but this guide will give you a bird’s eye view of basic gear that you should consider adding to your collection.
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Why You Need Camping Survival Gear
The purpose of survival gear is to obviously facilitate your existence and save your life. Mother Nature’s fury is often unexpected and her elements are unforgiving. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, and if you’re not adequately prepared, then you’re in trouble.
The most common camping and hiking accidents include strains and broken bones, animal attacks, dehydration and fatigue, hypothermia and heat-related issues, lightning strikes, snake bites, and gastrointestinal issues. Your survival gear should be equipped to withstand all one of these scenarios, as well as a list of many other mishaps.
Basic Survival Rules
Any outdoor adventurer should know the basic rules of survival. You can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, and 3 hours outside of normal body temperatures. Of course, these are just general rules and vary widely depending on the circumstances, but the purpose of survival gear is to prepare for any of these three scenarios.
Survival gear maintains your self-reliance. You should never put yourself in a position where you depend on someone else to provide for your needs. In most instances, people who need survival gear the most are the ones who are alone. But investing in survival gear is just good common sense. Regardless of whether you’re camping alone or in a group, you should never neglect your safety!
How To Make A Camping Survival Kit
To make a camping survival kit, you obviously need a pack to put everything in and several containers to sort your gear. Investing in a bug-out roll is a good idea because it helps ensure the load stays light. It rolls up nice and compact making things easier to pack, and slips easily into your backpack.
You want something that can withstand the elements, and is at least water-resistant, if not waterproof. Your bag also needs to be easy to put on and take off. Choose a backpack with enough pouches, straps and pockets to suit your needs. Decide whether you need sternum straps or hip belts. Do you need a helmet clip or a built-in hydration pack?
Start With A Plan
Before you begin packing anything, I suggest you start with a written list and customize it to your unique needs. Always think in terms of situational awareness and survivability as it pertains to your adventure style. Are you a hiker, a kayaker, a biker, or a mountain climber? The range of needs is quite vast from one skill set to another.
Keep It Light
Your purpose is to provide for your immediate physical needs. Weight decreases movement and physical performance, and increases fatigue. This means you’ll reach exhaustion faster. If your body reaches exhaustion mode, you are less capable of surviving. Your final pack should weigh no more than 30% of your mass weight.
How you distribute the weight is another important factor. Place the heavier stuff at the bottom, softer items in the middle, and quickly accessible things on top or on the outside. Keeping softer items in the middle of the bag prevents protruding objects from injuring your spine.
Having heavier stuff on the bottom is the best way to leverage the weight of the pack. Your hips and legs are the strongest muscles in your body. Packing your kit with the weight around those areas helps prevent strain on your back and core.
Be cautious about wrapping too much stuff around your torso. It can lock in body heat and make you more susceptible to heat-related issues. Larger, bulkier items are often strapped on the outside of your bag. If your bag doesn’t have exterior straps, then bungee cords work nicely.
Suited To Your Needs
How much or how little you pack will be determined by the length of time your kit is expected to last. Having backup items for certain things, like fire, is highly recommended. There’s nothing worse than being stranded and not having what you need. The better prepared you are, the better chance you have to survive!
20 Essential Pieces Of Camping Survival Gear
While you can survive 3 weeks without food, food equates to energy, and surviving takes energy. Have at least a small amount of lightweight, nutrient-dense, high-calorie food items. Avoid items high in sugar, and focus on protein and some fats.
Food can be heavy so think it through before you pack. Lightweight items like tuna and salmon packets, pepperoni, and sardines are rich in protein. Dehydrated soups and potatoes, Ramen, granola, and oatmeal are good lightweight sources of carbohydrates.
Also, consider throwing in some emergency survival food tablets to replenish essential nutrients and vitamins. Many outdoors hobbyists use prepackaged food rations. Any combination will do as long as you keep it light and have enough for three days. Don’t forget a can opener if you need one!
2. Portable Outdoor Stove Set With Fuel
You can find nice, bundled outdoor stove sets where everything fits together like nesting dolls, one piece inside the other. These are generally made of aluminum, are lightweight, and relatively inexpensive. This provides a way to heat and cook your food, as well as boil water. Don’t forget your spork and stove fuel!
3. Water & Water Purification Equipment
You should never go anywhere without water. Your adventure should always start with at least a bottle of water, a canteen, or a hydration pack. Eventually, your water will run out. Having a backup method or two is essential to your survival.
If you are lucky enough to find a water source, bringing water to a rolling boil for at least one minute (3 minutes at altitudes above 5,000 ft) will get rid of bacteria, viruses, and protozoans that make you sick. You’ll also need something to store the water in once you’ve collected it and/or boiled it.
Having the time, energy, or ability to collect and boil water might not always be an option. You need a backup plan, so a water filter is a must. There are a variety of portable water filters that will filter parasites and bacteria from the water, making it safe to drink.
Water purification tablets are another good backup when other equipment fails. Dropping a tablet in 1 quart of water will kill most microorganisms in about fifteen minutes, making your water drinkable. However, always read the label to ensure your water is safe to drink.
4. Lighter & Fire Starter
Fire is a must to preserve body heat. Pack a lighter (or a few). Have a flint and striker set as a backup, and maybe even somewaterproof matches. Cotton balls dipped in Vaseline, Firestarter sticks, Instafire Rope, and/or Pyro Putty are all great options to help get the fire burning.
A pocket bellow is also useful when trying to start a fire with damp wood, or rekindle a fire that’s burned through the night. It also allows you to stoke the embers and keep them burning.
5. Light Sources
Light is essential for seeing in the dark, and you will need to see in the dark at some point when camping! A headlamp, flashlight, or chem lights are all great in emergency scenarios, and each serves its own purpose. Be prepared and pack all three if you can. They’re small enough that they shouldn’t impact space or weight too much. Extra batteries would be a good idea too.
Clothing is essential to maintain body heat. If you get too hot in the summer, you can get dehydrated, develop heat exhaustion, or even suffer from heatstroke. In the winter, dehydration and hypothermia are always a concern. Dressing for the occasion is therefore key when camping.
Having an additional set of clothes to keep you warm and dry is vital. Mix and match your base, mid, and outer layers for the best protection. Don’t forget extra socks and wet weather protection such as a poncho.
Head and neck protection are also good ideas to protect yourself from the elements and preserve body heat when needed. Avoid cotton and instead wear lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing that is fast-drying, like synthetics and merino wool.
7. External Pitch Frame Tent
Your basic shelter, and arguably the heaviest item in your bag is your tent. While some may argue its essentialness for survivability, it’s oneof the best barriers between you and Mother Nature, and I would rather have one than not, especially in an area where bears and mountain lions are present. In my opinion, it’s worth hauling the extra weight.
You can find a decent tent that weighs less than 5 lbs, and I wouldn’t recommend anything heavier . You need to evaluate the durability of your tent and how well it holds up to the elements. Framed tents alleviate the need for stakes and can be pitched just about anywhere. You could even find one that allows you to use trekking poles for support, thereby lightening the load weight even more.
If you prefer not to haul a tent, you still need some sort of covered element. This could be a tarp, a hammock tent, or survival shelter.
Another option for your shelter is a tarp or footprint. Some use them, some don’t. It acts as an additional barrier that both protects the floor surface of your tent, thereby preserving its life, and assists in preventing moisture buildup inside your tent, which could contribute to additional heat loss. In an emergency, these can be used for lots of other useful things, including a stretcher.
8. Heavy Duty Survival Bivvy
A survival bivvy is an essential component for preserving your body heat in emergencies. Look for something waterproof, windproof, lightweight, and tear and puncture-proof.
Not only do they keep you warm in a survival situation, but they can also act as a backup shelter if you should lose your tent for any reason. They come in various forms, including blankets, bags, or tents. Have at least one with you, if not more.
Whether it’s keeping them warm and dry, or preserving them while working, protecting your hands is important. Choose between winter gloves, work gloves, or waterproof gloves – or find one pair that does all three.
When you’re weathering the elements, protecting your hands and feet are a must. They are the most susceptible to injury and frostbite. Gloves not only protect you from the elements, but also protect your hands from minor injuries.
10. Waste Equipment
Humans are designed to poop. There’s no way around it, and it shouldn’t be overlooked during emergency situations. Fecal contamination is serious, and if not treated as such, can kill. Whether it’s digging a cat hole, a poop tube, or using plastic bags, have a plan to deal with your feces. If you plan on digging a cat hole, you’ll need a tool to dig with.
Otherwise, pack a poop tube or plastic bags, and pack some emergency TP in your bag that’s biodegradable. You can find a variety of camping options available. Compressed toilet paper and paper towels are wonderful because they can serve other purposes, like drying gear or wound care.
11. Hand & Feet Warmers
Hand and feet warmers are great ways to get heat instantly. Put them in your shoes, your pockets, your bivvy, or any other place you can find a spot. They’re extremely small and compact and some can last up to ten hours. These are a great way to stave off hypothermia in dire circumstances.
12. Electrolyte Powder Or Capsules
These are a must-have to prevent dehydration on particularly long or hot trips. They combine the perfect amount of sodium and glucose for fast-acting rehydration, and you can usually choose between powders or capsules.
13. A Whistle & Alarm
If you find yourself in a crisis, a whistle or alarm is a good way to help people find you. Blowing a whistle requires energy, however, so it’s a good idea to have an alternative like a keychain alarm that will work even in the most dire of situations.
If you’ve reached exhaustion, are in and out of consciousness, or have sustained significant trauma, you might not be able to blow a whistle. With an alarm, you can simply turn it on and off. Just make sure you bring extra batteries!
14. Rope & Cordage
Absolutely indispensable in emergency situations, the list of uses for rope is endless. It can be used for rigging shelters, safety lines, or pulling an evacuation litter. It’s a good idea to have various assortments and poundages depending on your adventure needs.
15. Basic Identification
When creating a camping survival kit, it’s worth considering the idea that you may be in a situation where you’re found unconscious. If someone were to stumble upon you, it would be a good idea for them to have access to who you are, and an in case of emergency (ICE) number to contact someone for you.
Also consider adding any crucial medical information such as allergies, diabetes, and the like. Have it written down and tucked away in an easy-access location where passersby are likely to search.
16. Beeswax Emergency Candle
An emergency candle comes in handy if you are significantly injured to the point that you can’t make a fire, or perhaps it’s so wet outside you can’t keep one lit. Light this inside your shelter, and it helps mitigate heat loss while also giving you a light source.
17. Lip Care & Skincare
Believe it or not, in certain situations, the sun can create second degree burns. If you’ve ever experienced such burns, you know how excruciatingly painful they can be. If you haven’t, I promise you don’t want to! Taking care and consideration for protecting your skin should be a primary concern. Do yourself a favor and pack SPF lip balm and sunscreen.
18. Signaling Mirror
Signaling mirrors can be used to attract attention from passersby if you are injured or lost, or attract the attention of aircraft flying overhead. While you will hopefully never have to use this, it could save your life.
19. Your Cell Phone
Chances are you’ll have your cell phone on you anyway. Most phones today have GPS tracking, which helps keep you safe. Your phone is constantly communicating with satellites, and you don’t need cell service for GPS to work. However, you’ll need to make sure you have the right app and maps already downloaded before your adventure.
Although these functions won’t directly save your life, your phone can also serve other purposes such as a camera, backup flashlight, radio, and more.
20. Satellite Messengers Or Personal Locating Beacon
Your phone won’t allow you to call for help if there is no cell service. However, in the event of an emergency or life-threatening situation, you could use a satellite messaging tool or personal locating beacon instead. These devices let you track your trip and send an SOS message at the push of a button without the need for cell service.
12 Essential Camping Survival Tools
1. Reflective Duct-tape
Duct tape is a multipurpose survival tool that’s been around since the ‘40s. It’s waterproof and reflective, and its uses are endless. It can be used to repair clothing, shoes, and equipment. It can also be used in medical situations forslings and splints, or even to close severe wounds. You can also make cordage with it, or use it to assemble things securely.
2. First Aid Kit & Trauma Kit
A must-have for any outdoor adventure, first aid kits are an essential part of emergency preparedness. In addition to basic first aid and burn treatment, it should contain some form of hemostatic gauze to stop bleeding from animal attacks, gun or blade wounds, or any other significant puncture or laceration wound. Also ensure you pack any personal medication you may need.
3. Carabiners & Bungee Cords
Both carabiners and bungee cords are invaluable multitools that are lightweight and versatile. They are great to use in conjunction with cordage for hanging shelters, lashing items, repelling ropes, carrying gear, or even creating a pulley system. Their uses are effectively endless.
4. Commando Saw
Commando saws are great accessories for acquiring wood for shelters, travoises, or litters. It can also assist in making a spear or fishing pole, and it can be used as a snare for catching small game, and can even cut through bone if needed.
Multitools provide a great deal of versatility in a very small and lightweight package. You can get a cutting blade, an awl, a double-toothed saw, a pair of pliers, scissors, a can opener, and a bottle opener in a single handheld tool. You’ll find lots of multitools on the market, so it’s worth doing your research to ensure you pick one with all of the right functions for your trip.
6. Map & Compass
If you know how to use them (and you should), a map and compass can get you from Point A to Point B when the trail has been lost, or you’re turned around in the backcountry. Plus, they don’t rely on battery power or an internet connection, so familiarize yourself with these two items before embarking on your next camping trip!
7. Emergency Fishing Kit
Food is essential for long term survival. Even if you can survive three weeks without food, you certainly wouldn’t want to. You need food for energy, you need energy to work, and you need to work to survive.
A fishing kit with line, lures, hooks, swivels, leaders, sinkers, and bobbers can fit in a tin the size of a sardine can, and provide an essential kit for obtaining food from any nearby body of water. Learning some basic fishing skills would therefore be advised for any avid camper, as it could save your life one day (or just make for some pleasant fishing).
8. Fixed Blade Knife/Hatchet
A fixed blade knife is an essential tool for survival with a myriad of uses. It can be used in food preparation, cutting cordage or moleskin, prying, making tender, and anything to do with woodworking or fire crafting. They can also be used as self-defense in the event of an animal attack or used for skinning/fileting small game or fish.
Hatchets can be used for chopping wood, clearing brush, building a shelter, hammering, self-defense, and throwing a rope. While knives and hatchets can be used for many of the same purposes, sometimes it’s better to use one over the other. It’s a matter of personal preference as to whether you carry a knife, a hatchet, or both. It’ll also depend on how much space you have for carrying of course.
9. Trekking Poles Or Walking Stick
Trekking poles help you balance when crossing rough terrain, thereby reducing the risks of trips and falls. They can also be useful for collecting firewood by poking around before reaching down to avoid snake bites. In some cases, they can even act as tent poles for your shelter.
10. Hand-Held Solar Panel
While a solar charger in and of itself won’t help you survive, it will keep your phone charged. Having the ability to call for help or use your GPS could save your life! This will obviously require some decent light levels to charge up, but note that it doesn’t have to be a fully sunny day for it to charge.
Knowledge is free and it doesn’t weigh anything. Knowing how to survive the outdoors is one of the greatest tools that you can have. Be a life-long learner, stay up to date on first-aid and survival gear, and know how to react in the most common survival situations.
Learning what to do, how to do it, and when to do it are essential to keeping yourself alive amidst a catastrophe. You can educate yourself on a variety of subjects to assist your survival in the wild. Bushcraft, foraging, and wilderness survival are just a few ideas.
12. A Pocket Survival Guide
Having knowledge and using it in survival situations are two entirely different things. It’s not uncommon to panic in a life or death situation. It’s hard to keep your wits about you when you enter fight, flight, or freeze mode.
Having a quality pocket survival guide is a quick and handy reference when you’ve forgotten how to do something or need to learn quickly. It’s also a tool that someone else could access if you were incoherent or unconscious.
The subject of camping survival gear is never-ending and ever-evolving. It is as broad as it is deep. Hopefully, this article has at least made you understand the need for having survival gear, and provided some awareness as to the mass of possibilities for mixing and matching to customize your needs.
The information provided here simply scratches the surface of available options of gear to choose from and is certainly not an exhaustive list. It’s really up to you to carefully consider your needs and the needs of those with you when preparing for these things. Pack light and pack smart, and have fun but be prepared!