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Wilderness Survival Kit Guide

What to pack when you’re getting away from it all.

Whether you're just going off-grid to unwind or you're looking to escape civilization during Armageddon (it was a pretty mediocre movie, after all), there are things you should include in your survival kit to increase your comfort, safety, and chances of survival. After all, if you don't survive, you may as well call it a Live for a Week and Then Perish from Cold, Hunger, or Injury Kit. And yes, while there are some fairly obvious things we're omitting from this list for the purposes of keeping it concise, some of those things would be redundant for any well-packed 4x4 (like a first aid kit, communications, and so on) or would be something any adventuring expeditionary may carry on him- or herself on a daily basis (like a pocket knife, sunscreen, hat, and so on). So with that caveat to placate the internet preppers and bug-out artists, here are 10 items in no particular order that we always make sure we have in our survival kit when heading out into the backcountry for an extended period of time.

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Survival Water Filtration

You should always travel with drinking water, but you can't count on that to last through extended periods out in the backcountry. If you've got fire and a moderately fireproof vessel, you can boil collected water in an effort to make it safe. But barring that, it's always best to push your collected water through a dedicated filtration system like this one from Sawyer products. There are many on the market in many different shapes and sizes from a simple straw you can drink directly from mucky water to ones like the 1-gallon Gravity Water Filtration System shown. These Sawyer filtration systems are generally designed to remove 99.99999 percent of all bacteria and protozoa as well as 100 percent of microplastics for up to 100,000 gallons.

Camp Pot or Deep Frying Pan

A simple thing but one not everybody thinks about packing is a pot or a deep-sided frying pan. We like this pan because the handle folds in, it packs in our particular kit a bit nicer than a pot, and it's deep enough to accommodate a good supply of water or a relatively large dinner for several people. If it's your preference, a pot is equally good and will make boiling water without the chance of spilling a bit easier. That said, even a steel tumbler or travel mug will be better than trying to emulate Survivorman Les Stroud boiling water in a plastic bottle, but whatever you gotta do, make sure to boil or filter any collected water thoroughly and cook through any small terrestrial critters you may catch.

Warm Clothing

Even if it's a nice, sunny day when you're heading out you should have cold-weather gear. For us, we always stow not only a heavy jacket and make sure we've got several layers of clothing to stay warm without sweating, but a pair of heavy insulated coveralls or bib overalls as well. We like layered insulated clothing better than a simple blanket for sleeping at night, and as an added bonus, you can wear them around while you're hunting, making shelter, or collecting supplies out in the bush without as much hazard of ripping, getting wet, or getting hung up as with a blanket draped around you. We found this pair of bib overalls at our local Tractor Supply Co for a good price. They're super useful and durable.

Tarp for Shelter

Whether a super cheap polypropylene tarp like the one shown or one of heavy-duty water-resistant canvas ones, a moderately sized tarp will serve you well in dozens of ways. You can keep the sun off you when it's hot, keep the rain and snow off you during inclement weather, insulate yourself from the damp ground when sleeping, use it to drag boughs, tinder, and other necessities to camp, and so many other things. In terms of durability, canvas gets the nod for dragging stuff, but polypropylene can be more waterproof for longer periods of time and stows more compactly. The choice is yours.

Hatchet or Survival Axe

A sharp hatchet or survival axe is a must-have for collecting wood, building shelter, and even for protection. Although the flat butt of a traditional hatchet is great for pounding stakes, driving nails, and other things like that, we've been carrying this Smittybilt Trail Axe for a couple years and get by doing most of those other chores with a simple flat rock. The Smittybilt Trail Axe has a small survival kit inside the handle with fishing line, hooks, sinkers, needle and thread, and matchsticks, as well as a compass and paracord lanyard. It's a bit lighter than a traditional hatchet and stows neatly in our kit.

Fishing Line and Hooks

You can technically make a fishhook out of a sharpened piece of wood, shell, or other workable material, but at the very least, pack a length of fishing line in your kit. It takes up virtually no space, weighs nothing, and is a super useful survival hunting tool if you've got a source of water nearby. And even if you don't have a source of water in which to fish, we're betting you'll think of some way the monofilament line may come in handy during a survival situation.

Flint, Steel, and Magnesium Fire Starters

Yes, we all know you can make fire with two sticks and a lot of cussing. But any Boy Scout knows about flint and steel. Collect your tinder, strike the flint against the steel, and voila—a shower of sparks. For better success getting a fire started, especially in wet weather, a block of magnesium will last an awful long time and greatly increases your chance of getting wet tinder burning. Simply shave off some of the magnesium onto your tinder pile and add sparks with your flint and steel. When the magnesium catches, it will burn itself out with a super-hot flame that can get even damp tinder started.

Freeze-Dried Survival Meals and Military MREs

You can't always rely that you're going to encounter wild edibles or game while surviving, so it's always great practice to have a supply of easy-to-carry food on hand to supplement your survival while you're hunting and scavenging. Freeze-dried meals can be found in most sporting goods outlets, as well as Walmart and other chain stores; however, they do require a source of clean water to rehydrate them. Military MREs (meal, ready-to-eat), on the other hand, require no liquid aside from the powdered beverage mixes they sometimes contain. MREs can be found online or at surplus stores, but we've also seen them in truck stops, camping stores, and other weird places you wouldn't expect to see military rations for sale. As a bonus, in addition to the main course and a few snacks, MREs often contain a flameless ration heater (activated by water that doesn't have to be potable) with a heavy vinyl pouch that can be useful for collecting water or other items, a heavy-duty spoon, hot sauce or seasoning, toilet paper, moist towelettes, gum, and all sorts of other stuff. The main disadvantage of MREs is that they're much bulkier and heavier than freeze-dried meals.

Long-Lasting Survival Flashlight

You don't really need a flashlight to survive. But anybody who had to heed the call of nature in the middle of a dark and moonless night knows darn well how handy an immediate source of illumination can be. We've been amazed at how long the rechargeable lithium-ion battery in this Rigid RI-600 LED flashlight lasts even when set on the brightest of its four (high, medium, low, strobe) settings. The battery life far exceeds any conventional or LED flashlight we've used that takes disposable batteries, extras of which take up space and are easy to lose. Although Rigid offers larger and more powerful lights, this little RI-600 punches out 680 lumens at its highest setting, can illuminate out to 500 feet, is waterproof, features LEDs with a 50,000-hour-plus life span, and is small enough that it easily slips inside the pocket.

.22 Caliber Survival Rifle or Pistol

And as the old axiom goes, any gun is often better than no gun, and when you're out in the bush on a dark night, even a little .22 caliber pea shooter can provide an incredible sense of security. But we're not downplaying the .22's effectiveness, especially in a survival situation. Almost any .22 has enough oomph to put down a medium-sized edible critter and isn't so large that you'd completely destroy the meat of a small critter. Additionally, you can easily pack 50, 100, or even 500 rounds of .22 ammo in your kit without taking up nearly as much room as a larger caliber. For rifles, there are several good-quality take-down survival rifles on the market from companies like Ruger, Henry, Savage, and others. A rifle increases your range, muzzle velocity, and in many cases your accuracy, but at the expense of a larger footprint in your survival kit or vehicle. Although most are semi-auto, we prefer a lever or bolt-action over a semi-automatic for survival just because ammo selection isn't as important. Not all .22 rimfire will cycle a semi-auto's operation without hangups, while a lever- or bolt-action cycles manually, allowing virtually any type of ammo to be used. Similarly with pistols, we generally prefer a revolver over a semi-auto for the same reason. Our survival kit gun is a super-lightweight Smith & Wesson 317 AirLite kit gun. Made for the exact purpose of fitting neatly into your survival kit, it features a 3-inch barrel, high-vis sights, and an eight-shot cylinder. It weighs virtually nothing (11.7 ounces unloaded) and is very accurate. Plus, with powderless Aguila Colibri or Super Colibri ammo, it's capable of taking squirrel, rabbit, and other small game with incredibly low noise levels.