Skip to content

What Should I Take In A Survival Kit? 10 Essential Items For The Wilderness.

What should I take in a survival kit? Backpacker walking at dawn.
Here are 10 essential bushcraft and survival items that are crucial in an emergency wilderness situation.

When the question comes up, “What should I take in a survival kit?” these items are important and also make life easier in the outdoors, when camping or backpacking in remote areas.

While some of these tools can be made in the woods naturally, like cordage, or fire lighting tools, carrying certain items and gear can save time, energy and frustration.

This equipment can help you maintain your core body temperature and assist you hydrate, which should be on top of your list. Also items to help signaling in emergencies and navigation are important to have. These items are the base for a good bushcraft and survival kit.

The essential bushcraft items and survival tools in this list are: 1. Cutting device, 2. Fire lighting tool, 3. Cover, 4. Cordage, 5. Map and compass, 6. Flashlight, 7. Metal container, 8. Whistle, 9. Cotton bandana. 10. First Aid Kit.

For the minimalist camper, these items are worth considering as well.


No. 1 Cutting tools

A cutting device has one hundred and one uses in the outdoors. From cutting cordage, creating tools, fashioning snares and traps, to making feather sticks and processing game.

Ideally the main knife will be a fixed blade, which is stronger than a pocket knife. The blade should be good quality and hold its edge. A Scandi grind design of the blade makes sharpening easier and is good for general bushcraft use.

The fixed blade knife should be keeped on the belt.

There are dozens of good brand bushcraft and survival knifes. However, you don’t have to pay a fortune for a top brand knife.

The Mora Knives range has some amazing quality steel for the best value knives about. Check out the Mora Companion and Mora Companion Heavy Duty Knife. For a full tang solid knife the Mora Garberg knife is a high quality solid knife.

The Condor Bushlore knife is also worth checking out and comes with a beautiful leather sheath for a decent price. (The very top photo, the Bushlore is available on Amazon.)

For a backup secondary cutting blade and tool a Swiss Army Knife, Leatherman tool or multi tool is worth having.

Depending on your environment, an axe, hatchet, tomahawk, bow saw, buck saw, folding saw, or machete are worth looking into, for such chores as processing fire wood and for creating tools. This cutting tool will depend on the type of terrain you are in and the vegetation around.

To check out the top bushcraft knives, click onBest Bushcraft Knives For Under $100.


No. 2 Fire lighting tools

The ability to create fire is essential in the woods, as it has many uses. Especially in cold environments to help produce and control warmth.

You can also use it to: boil water to purify it, cook food, use it for a signaling device, fashion tools with it, create light and psychological comfort, deter predators and keep insects away like mosquitos.

Every camper, backpacker and survivalist should carry two or three fire lighting tools on them. In case one tool gets lost or broken.

As an example they might have a Bic lighter, ferro rod (ferrocerium rod) and matches. The lighter might be in their pocket, the ferrocerium rod and matches in their backpack. Having one fire lighting device in their pockets is a good idea in case you get separated from your backpack. Also if the lighter breaks or gets lost, you still have options.

Along with the fire lighting tools, carry some tinder, either natural or man-made. There are plenty of commercial made tinder’s and fire starters that work well.

Fatwood sticks and cotton balls coated in petroleum jelly are great for fire starters. Place some in a waterproof snap lock bag or dry bag, so it doesn’t get wet. This is a good idea if you go fishing in remote places. In case you fall in cold water and need to get a fire going quickly.

A bit about the ferrocerium rod.

A lot of campers and backpackers hear about how great a ferro rod is and that a lot of bushcrafters and survivalists carry them. They are a versatile tool, however they are not magic and have limitations. You need to practice with them and see what tinder’s and materials they work with, as you don’t get an instant flame only sparks.

There is also some confusion about what is a flint and people get is confused with a ferrocerium rod. Check out the article for more information on the difference – What Is a Flint and Steel and What Is a Ferro Rod? This article also covers the magnesium bar fire starter, which also gets confused with a flint.

A bit about the flint and steel.

For the bushcraft and survivalist, a flint and steel is fun to play around with and gives you more understanding of the important steps in fire lighting. Such as the spark takes on some charred material. The ember is then transferred into a tinder bundle, which should be dry and finely processed.

For the average camper, a flint and steel kit is better off left out of their survival kit, unless they know how to use it and its limitations.


No. 3 Cover element

A tarp shelter or some type of cover element is essential for helping control your core body temperature. Having a tarp in your kit, you can quickly protect yourself from the wind and rain.

The great thing about a tarp is that is so versatile. You can set it up on a ridgeline, ridgepole or in any number of configurations, like an “A” frame, plough point or lean to formation. This is good for controlling the body core temperature and changing the design to suit the weather conditions, like wind, rain, sun, etc.

You can combine a tarp with a natural debris shelter as well in a survival situation.

A tarp roughly around 7 x 9 foot, 9 x 9 foot, or even 10 x 10 foot size can still be small enough that it doesn’t take too much room in your day-pack, but big enough to protect you from the elements.

Other cover elements can include an emergency bivvy bag, large garbage bags and space blankets.

A space blanket is small and compact and can easily fit in the day-pack or cargo pant pockets. While some are flimsy and rip, the better brands like SOL are more durable.

Four pegs with some cordage saves a lot of time when setting up a shelter, so it worth taking that as well.

A tarp can also be used for a sun shade.

One important item to take and wear is appropriate clothing. Always take a rain/wind jacket as well as a warm layer in your backpack.

Taking extra clothing and putting them on is easier than trying to light a camp fire and make a shelter.

Gloves and a hat or beanie is are also worth carrying.


No. 4 Cordage

A bundle of para cord, micro cord or mariner’s bank line is very handy to have in the outdoors. It can help fix equipment, secure a tarp for shelter, make a ridgeline, lash a tripod and help build natural shelters.

One advantage of carrying paracord is that you can strip it down into the smaller strands for thinner cordage.

Fishing line with a small fishing kit is another good item to carry. As the line can obviously be used for fishing, but can also double up to secure items like cordage.

Fixing and making tools is also another advantage of carrying some cordage.

You can also get Fire paracord which one strand of it, can also be used for fire lighting tinder. Some brands even have a strand of wire in them.


No. 5 Map and compass

While GPS and navigational apps are great, a few things can go wrong with them. A few things that can wrong with them are: No service, flat battery and the device getting dropped and damaged are. So it pays to have a map and compass.

You can use the map and compass as your primary or secondary means of navigation.

If you go fishing, hiking or hunting in the remote wilderness, it is worth learning How To Use A Compass and map. Combine a good topographical map of your area and it improves your safety when camping and knowledge of the area.

Avoid buying the cheap nasty no brand compasses that will fail. Some of the best compasses are Suunto, Silva and Brunton to name a few. These are reliable brands that are worth purchasing.

Compasses are designed for either the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, by the way the compass needle is weighted. But you can also get a global compass that works well in both hemispheres, such as the Suunto MC-2 global compass if you travel overseas a lot.

A sighting compass with a mirror can also be used for a signaling mirror in emergencies.

If the magnification lens is strong enough on a compass, it can be used for solar fire lighting on sunny days.


No. 6 Flashlight

A flashlight, or preferable a headlamp really makes life easier in the woods at night and for camping. A headlamp gives you the option of being hands free.

For a backup torch, a key ring flashlight is ideal. They don’t weigh much and are very compact. A model like an Olight i3E EOS puts off an impressive 90 lumens for such a small flashlight. See the Olight i3E EOS Flashlight Review for more information on one of the best flashlights about for such a small size and value.

Regardless of what brand or model you take, for safety and security a flashlight is worth including in your bushcraft and survival kit.

Remember the spare batteries.


No. 7 Metal container

Surprisingly, a metal container is very important in the wilderness for survival.

You can store, capture and help purify water in a metal container.

A metal container can be put on a fire and it can boil water to kill the germs purify it. This is crucial if you don’t have a water filter or water purification tablets and you run out of water.

For the backpacker and hiker the metal container can double up as a cooking utensil and bowl. You can get titanium models that saves weight, as well you can cook food and eat with it for a container.

A military “D” cup or cups canteen (kidney shaped metal cup.) is handy for cooking and boiling water. These utensils also fit or nest with a kidney shaped water canteen to save space.

A Billy pot could also be another good container as you can boil water in it and also cook soups, noodles and stews, etc. While it can be too heavy for the long distance hiker, the Billy tin is a very versatile cooking utensil. A brand like the Zebra Billy can is bombproof and durable.

A Pathfinder, Klean Kanteen or Nalgene wide mouth stainless steel water bottles are valuable for boiling water. (Single wall only. As the double wall containers if put in the fire are dangerous.)

While some metal containers and bottles can be a bit heavy, the metal construction is valuable for boiling water in and worth the extra weight for the advantage.


No. 8 Whistle

Carrying an emergency whistle is a good idea for an audio signaling device. It is louder than a person yelling and the whistle also saves energy.

There are a lot of brands and the sound levels very from loud, to not worth using as it is too quiet.  Check if the whistle has a decibel rating. Around 110 to 120 decibels or more is a good rating and can be loud.

If you have an emergency whistle, test it out first before you put it away in your kit, too make sure it is loud enough.

The Fox40 International company is a good brand that has a range of different size models, designs and decibel ratings.

For the kayak fisherman or float tube fisherman, an emergency whistle is valuable as it can be heard easier above the wind and waves easier than a person yelling.

A whistle can also be used as a communication device between fisherman or hunters in wilderness areas.


No. 9 Cotton bandana

The cotton bandana has a lot of uses.  From being used as a sweat rag, to filtering water, first aid applications, to removing and holding hot cooking utensils off the campfire and cleaning up.

A bright bandanna can also be used for an emergency flag to help signal to rescuers. A color such as fluro orange, or yellow, or a bright blue makes a good panel maker for navigation.

Use the bandana to wrap around breakable items such as headlamps to protect it in your backpack as well.


No. 10 First Aid Kit

A basic first aid kit or for the experienced user an advanced first aid kit is worth having.

A few items to consider putting in the kit are: Band-Aids, compression bandages, anti-septic solution, dressing pads, gauze bandages, safety pins, tweezers, surgical gloves and a space blanket.

Just like having a map and compass, it is no good having it, if you don’t know how to use it. So enroll in a first aid course, or do a refresher course to get up to date. Even if you only go camping a few times a year, a first aid course is also good to know for home, in case an emergency arises.

There are some advanced wilderness first aid courses around that are suited for the back-country camper and hiker as well.

Some first aid instructional apps can also be downloaded on your cell phone (In case there is no reception.) and is good to have for extra information.


Other bushcraft and survival kit items worth taking.

Other items that might be worth considering when asking “What should I take in a survival kit? or backpack are: signal mirror, satellite phone, PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), water filter, water purification tablets, mosquito net, dry bags, extra food like protein and energy bars, notepad, a small lantern like the UCO mini lantern, large garbage bags for water collection and shelter.


References and resources.

Bushcraft, by Mors Kochanski.

Outdoor Survival Skills, by Larry Dean Olsen.

Paul Kirtley, founder of Frontier Bushcraft.

98.6 Degrees, the Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive, by Cody Lundin.

Surviving a Wilderness Emergency, by Peter Kummerfeldt.

Dave Canterbury’s 5 and 10 Cs of survivability.

Tom Brown’s Field Guide, Wilderness Survival.

The Survival Handbook, by Raymond Mears.