I spend a great of time in the outdoors and no matter where I go or what I am doing; my pack is always with me. Many times people have asked me just what I am carrying in that bag. So here it is. There are countless articles being written, in countless publications, about what one should carry in their packs. What I carry in my pack varies according to where I am and what I am doing. Obviously if I am in the deserts of Arizona the items I carry will differ than the swamps of Florida. With this said, there are some basic items that I always carry. These items are there to keep me alive in an emergency situation.
What is Survival:
The key to survival is very simple. It means staying alive; period. Survival situations are never what anyone wants and it definitely is not camping. It is not sitting by the fire cooking s’mores. It could mean life or death and it needs to be taken seriously. What I write about here comes from lessons I have learned from others or have learned the hard way. After 12 years in the military I have figured out that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. To survive a human needs food, water and shelter, though fire is a nice thing to have also. The items you pack should have a direct link to these needs.
Making Your Pack:
I would never consider my pack as a so called “bug-out bag” to use the popular lingo of the many survival publications. My bag is a tool, just like my fishing rod or shotgun. While some of the high end packs available on the market are great, you can pick up some great packs just about anywhere. Just get the one that suits your needs. It should be able to be worn comfortably and have plenty of pockets. I would not recommend your kid’s school bag. Remember, you are not out camping. You are trying to stay alive long enough for help to arrive. When you put your pack together you need to keep in mind that you will be carrying this thing, sometimes all day long. Extra items that are not needed add weight so they should be left at home.
No matter what I am doing I always carry some food. In my pack there is always at least one Mountain House or Paleo Meals To Go meals, some Lawless Jerky or Three Jerks Jerky, a few The New Primal meat sticks and some Simple Squares. These products give me the nutrients to keep going without all of the other stuff you will find in other products. Though humans can survive a long time without food, in the event of an emergency in the wild this emergency food will give you the needed calories to survive and believe me, you will think much clearer when you aren’t hungry.
People venturing out into the woods, or even just in their own backyards, never drink enough water. Carrying water with you wherever you venture is extremely important. Dehydration will kill you and you will not even know it until it is too late. Whenever I go out I always carry a minimum of two quarts of water which I carry in Hide-Away collapsible water bottles. I like these bottles because unlike a canteen, they can be folded up when empty and put into your pocket, thus keeping them out of the way.
So what do you do when that water runs out. Simple, you need to find more. The issue here is the fact that much of the water found in the wild, even clear running streams, is full of bacteria and other things that can make you sick or even kill you. Always treat water taken from a stream, river, pond or lake like it is questionable, which it probably is. Before you drink any water treat it first. To do that you need to boil it, chemically treat it or filter it. In my pack I carry a metal cup. This cup allows me to boil water for both drinking and to prepare my meals. This will only work if you can get a fire started in order to boil the water. What happens if you can’t for some reason?
For those times when I either can’t or don’t want to start a fire I use my Sawyer Mini water filtration system. This small, yet effective filter fits neatly into a pocket on my pack and allows me to refill my water bottles from any water source. My third line of defense is a small bottle of water purification tablets which will chemically treat the water, taking care of most of the harmful things.
There is something about a fire that makes even a bad situation better. Fire allows you to boil water and cook food. Fire will help keep you warm and will make you visible to those people searching for you. Fire will also calm you down in what could really be a very serious situation. For those reasons we all need to carry multiple ways to start a fire.
In my pack I carry wooden kitchen matches, butane lighters, regular paper matches and a friction fire starter. These items are all cheap to obtain and they beat the heck out of rubbing two sticks together. I usually carry a butane lighter in my pocket, one in my pack and another one in my first-aid kit. This is just in case I ever get separated from my pack or if one fails there is always a backup. Both the kitchen matches and the paper matches are put into re-sealable plastic sandwich bags before being put into the pack. If they are wet matches are useless.
You have the means to make fire, but what about starting the fire? Wood doesn’t simply light up by sticking a match to it. You will need tinder, something that will get the wood burning. I carry a couple things to aid me with this. First, I carry cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly and store them in plastic pill bottles. These will get the fire going as long as the wood is dry enough. I also carry a product called Firestarters that is put out by Lightning Nugget. These small blocks of paraffin and sawdust will light even the wettest wood and unlike the cotton balls they will burn for a minimum of 15 minutes.
I don’t have the time or the space to tell you how to build an emergency shelter, but there is plenty of information available, but there are items to carry that will make your shelter building experience more productive and easier. I always carry cordage of some sort in my pack, along with a heavy bladed knife and a folding saw. What I put in my pack is a Gerber Strongarm knife (Top Photo) and a Gerber Myth folding saw. The knife and saw can be used to chop the wood for the shelter (and fire) and the cordage used to tie it all together.
A first-aid kit is an essential item whenever you venture out. Accidents do happen and you need to be prepared. Now you can go out and buy a commercially prepared kit or you can make your own at a fraction of the cost. I have found that it takes two or three different commercially prepared kits to give me what I want so it is much more cost effective to make my own. I picked up a small medic’s bag from Blackhawk, but you can easily get one at a second hand or discount store.
First-aid items include gauze pads of various sizes, butterfly bandages (for closing small wounds), Chitosan Hemostatic dressings (I use the ChitoSAM from Sawyer) for closing heavy bleeds, fabric bandages (Band-Aids) of various sizes, alcohol wipes for cleaning wounds and antibacterial cream. I also carry a small sewing kit for stitching wounds. Besides medical items I also have a few safety pins, a pencil wrapped with first-aid tape, a glow stick, a BlackOut Buddy water activated emergency light and a space blanket.
This is my pack. What I am doing and where I am doing it will dictate what other items I will carry. My pack is just another tool. The most valuable tool you have is your brain. Use it both before you go out and if you find yourself in an emergency situation. Some forethought now could save your life or the lives of others.
By Dana Benner