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Hiking Survival Necessities

Written by  Rob Anderson
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Hiking survival

Visibility dropped to less than 50 yards. Fog moved in making it impossible to see his way out. He had grown up in these mountains, no way he could be lost. The truck had to be just across the creek. Wondering why there wasn’t any water in the creek, he surmised it must have dried up. Then he wondered why his truck wasn’t where he parked it. He resisted the confession. He had no idea where he was. He panicked. He ran. His pack grew heavy and for a moment he thought about dropping it so he could move faster to the security of his rig. He ran downhill into an open meadow that he was sure led back to the road, only to trip over continuous waves of waist-high deadfall. He had no idea where he was now. The cold sank in along with the realization this was going to be a long night. The fog turned to a light drizzle and then small ice pellets. His clothes were soaked, his morale diminished. He was alone. 

Survival situations don’t “just happen”. There is usually a path that the accident victim has taken to get to where they are in time and space. An unexpected phone call that interrupts a hikers packing routine can mean not having a rain jacket when the weather changes. Then the same hiker stays too long sun bathing at a lunch stop, notices storm clouds moving in and gets lost as she hastily makes her way back to her truck.  It gets dark faster than she expected and she loses her way back to her rig. Accidents are a combination of events that impact other events. People who love the outdoors die every year following their passion because they are ill prepared. Lets talk about the gear you can take in a small daypack.

Cutting Tool

Of all the survival tools, a knife is the most difficult to replace or replicate. The ability to cut cordage, split wood, carve objects, etc. depends on a good blade. 

In Your Pack: A non-folding knife is the first preference for survival. You want a knife that can cut, slice, hack, baton, chopnd take abuse. A carbon steel, full tanged blade with a 90 degree spine is preferred. A folding knife is a nice second or back-up knife. Better to have two and lose one, if you lose one you have none. Also, don’t discount a small folding saw in your bag as well. When it comes to chopping versus sawing, chopping burns up to the calories you need to preserve.


Over 700 people in the U.S. die of hypothermia every year. At this point it’s up to you and Mother Nature to come to terms in getting flame. Fire is one of the most critical skills you can learn and be prepared to create when faced with adversity. Fire is warmth, a psychological lift, an ability to 

purify water, a signal device, and if needed, a means to cook food.  Practice skills such as the split-wood, twig, and wet wood fire techniques often so fire making becomes second nature. 

In Your Bag: Nothing beats the portability of a ferro rod (such as a Light My Fire) used to create a spark and ignite tinder into a flame. Sure lighters and matches are convenient, but a ferro rod does not take on moisture like matches (even water-proof) and is not mechanical like a lighter. You will need something to catch the spark and turn it into a flame. For tinder, carry cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly in a small metal tin or tin foil and zipper sandwich bag. Throw in a pencil sharpener to quickly create dry tinder for igniting. Add a windproof lighter, birthday gag candles that don’t blow out, and a small tin of wood shavings in your daypack.


The water you are looking at may look clean and puret most likely isn’t. When you start opening your survival kit, things have already gone south. Don’t make them worse by ingesting protozoans, bacteria, and other things that cruise in the streams, lakes, and rivers.

In Your Pack: First, go prepared. A hydration bladder-based pack is your best option. It holds up to 100 ounces of water and there is a convenient tube to remind you to stay hydrated. Second, when you run out of life-liquid, fill it up using a water filtering system. A ceramic or paper-based water filter is the way to go for ensuring water is free from Giardia, rotozoa, and bacteria found in water. Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea, something to avoid when already faced in a dire situation. Filters are lightweight and easy to pack. Word of caution, you don’t have to drink the water to get Giardia, simply getting it in your ears, eyes, nose, or inside the mouth can cause illness.


It can only take three hours of exposure to extreme elements for you to give up the ghost. Whether its heat, rain, snow, wind, or temperature, you have to get out of the elements. A proper shelter also alerts rescuers as to your location when they start looking for you.

In Your Pack: A heavy duty Mylar space-blanket is worth its weight in gold. It can be used in the winter to retain up to 75% of your body heat by wrapping it around you. It can double as a tarp to sleep under in hot or cold conditions, and can be used to catch rain water for drinking. Carry one that is either red or orange for ease of spotting. Add black gorilla tape to your kit and when in trouble, mark it with three “Xs”. You not advertising any kind of backwoods entertainment, you are signaling rescuers. Don’t forget to throw in 50 of 550/para-cord to tie up your tarp.


OK Daniel Boone, here’s hoping you were ready for adversity and had some pre-packed calories in your bag when you took off. If not you’re either going to go hungry or resort to a few field expedient methods to fill your pie hole.

Your Pack: Keep backpacking meals, jerky, granola bars, GORP, or hard candy in your pack. Don’t overlook the need to take game. People have survived on small game and fish when food ran out. A small “survival-sized” fishing kit, slingshot, and snares can get you game, but master each one of these. Go out and fish with the kit you put in your pack, most likely you will then modify it. Snares are easy to make, but in reality it’s a game of chance and you need 10-15 snares to increase your odds. A slingshot is the most practical game taker. Easy to use and if you run out of ammunition, there is plenty on the ground in most environments. Last, learn how to clean and cook game.


Most victims fail to call for help when they actually need it. Don’t be shy about calling for rescue and don’t wait until the last minute, by then its too late. Working on  teams I always preferred to rescue a haphazard mountain biker than do a body recovery.

In Your Pack: Signal mirror, emergency whistle, and pen flares should be a part of your signal kit. Learn the right methods for using a center-style mirror and stay away from any whistles that have a ball or pea in them, your breath will freeze it and make it useless in the winter. Some day packs now come with a whistle embedded in the buckles and a few companies that make sparking devices to create fire have also integrated emergency whistles into the handle. Don’t forget to throw in an orange bandana or fleece hat to aid in rescuers seeing you. A SPOTsatellite is well worth the cost of the device and subscription service.

First Aid

In Your Pack: Out exploring trails or tracking down game your injury changes and you could find yourself alone. Cuts, abrasions, stings or sprains are common injuries. A solid backpacking first aid kit should do the trick. Here we are talking cuts, scrapes, blisters, and stings. Something to treat minor wounds and not bear attacks is what you need here.

In surviving a catastrophe there are really three groups the 10-80-10 rule. The first 10percent of people simply don’t survive an accident. The last 10percent seem to just make it through no matter what. The middle 80percent are  become a detriment to others. Go and explore the world, but be prepared  wind up in a real world experience. Train now, pick your gear, learn how to use it. Keep simple rules in mind like letting others know where you are going and when you will be back.

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