How to build an emergency survival kit

With many traditional summer activities such as movies, sports, amusement parks and day camps shut down or limited due to COVID-19, the outdoors is more appealing than ever as we enter the warmer months. However, if you are planning a trip to a national park, a climb to a remote wilderness peak or an off-trail canyoneering trek, are you prepared for an emergency?

Off the grid, something as small as a twisted ankle can end up causing you to be unable to perform the various skills you do know. This is where you want to have a properly curated survival kit and quality survival gear on which to rely. You won’t be rubbing two sticks together to start a fire when you are badly hurt. However, you can give yourself water, shelter, and fire by having the right components in your kit. Below, we will be going over the things you should have prior to hitting the trail.


Shelter is one of the “Ten Essentials” that every hiker should carry. Depending on the type of trip you are planning, shelter can include any of the following: tent, tarp, space blanket, bivy sack and tarp. Also consider bringing a trash bag that you will be able to use for protection from the elements. Trash bag? Yes. In addition to being lightweight, making them ideal for backpacking trips, they are versatile. According to this article, a trash bag can among other things be “used to help waterproof a wilderness shelter such as a debris hut or an A-frame.”


You want to bring along the water with you. You should be prepared to end up with an empty bottle. Therefore, you should bring along water purification items like water purification tablets in order to help you get water you find along the trail suitable and safe for drinking. Bringing a small metal pot with you will help you be able to boil water in order to make it safe to drink so long as you can keep a fire going.


There are several options for non-perishable, nutrient-rich foods that can keep you going in an emergency, including snacks such as trail mix and jerky, canned meats and fish and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), which require a stove and water. This article, written by an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, lists many different food items for consideration. For additional ideas, click here.


As mentioned, you want to be able to get a fire going. Matches and lighters are among the ten essentials. You could consider bringing spark rods as an alternative backup. By bringing tinder that burns even while wet, you should be able to have a good combination to ensure you always have fire starting components.

First Aid

A lot of the survival situations you might find yourself in can involve serious injuries. Because of this, you want to have a first aid kit that will give you everything you need to handle them.


Personal locator beams, whistles and mirrors are all tools that can be used to help get attention if you are out of cell phone range. Even our old friend the trash bag is an option – as the article linked above notes, “A brightly colored trash bag can help draw attention to you. Tying the bag to a long stick and wave it back and forth like a signal flag can help to catch the eye of searchers in distance vehicles. Spreading the bag in the middle of a field so that it’s visible from the air will help ensure that your site is visible even when you’re away or asleep.”


You should be packing a map and a compass in order to assist yourself in finding your way. (This article points out the advantages of a gyrocompass, which unlike a magnetic compass, is not affected by metals that might be in its range.) If your compass has a magnifying glass, as some do, it can be used to inspect wounds – one of several hacks listed here. Additionally, if you are on medications, take a few days’ extra supply. This article lists a few medications to consider for wilderness trips.


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