We have prepared this guide to help you identify the most important items you can have in a survival situation. Here, we identify 10 things you need to survive in the wild.
Surviving in the wilderness might seem like something only people on TV or in books might need to do, but it’s impossible to predict the future. Anyone who spends any time at all outdoors needs to have a plan in place for survival in case the unexpected happens.
In fact, even if you aren’t what people would consider the “outdoorsy” type, it’s still important to have a survival plan and to own an adequate amount of survival gear. You can’t always accurately predict emergencies or natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, or wildfires, which could force you to remain in the wilderness for an extended period of time.
The same rules apply if you are simply planning an extended recreational stay outdoors. It’s important to be prepared, just in case things don’t go as planned. And a big part of being a responsible wilderness adventurer is making sure you are prepared for the unexpected.
Having the top 10 things you need to survive in the wild is essential. The type of gear you have can make all the difference when you are trying to survive in the wild. And the best time to consider what’s needed for wilderness survival is long before you’re outdoors while you’re still able to sort through your choices and make the smartest and most effective selections.
If you’re trying to find things you need to survive in the wild, here’s our list of the 10 most important survival gear item.
Preparing Is the First Step of Surviving
Before you head into the wild—or if you’re hoping to be prepared for a survival situation—preparation is critical, and if you are unprepared when conditions turn nasty, you will quickly feel the pain of regret. You need to take some time beforehand to consider what might go wrong and have a basic plan in place for an unexpected emergency. It’s also important to keep an eye on weather conditions and create a plan that helps you survive in accordance with those conditions.
For instance, if you’re headed to camp in an area that’s warm during the day and cold at night, you need to have gear for both types of weather in case you get stuck outside. If you only prepare for the warmer temperatures if the daytime and something unexpected leaves you out in the cold at night without shelter, you will suffer the ill effects of cold weather...up to and including hypothermia if the weather is cold enough. Hypothermia is one of the most common causes of injury and death in the wilderness, so you need to be prepared.
Another important consideration, in addition to weather conditions, is getting to know “the lay of the land” before heading to your destination. If possible, look for information in advance about the vegetation, the terrain, and the wildlife in the area. Think of it this way: what you need to expect and protect against is different if you’re hiking or camping in the desert versus if you’re spending time in the forest. The more you know about the challenges and risks you face the better you’ll be able to plan the things you need to survive in the wild.
There are four essential needs when it comes to survival in the wilderness:
You need to be able to get in out of the rain, snow, or sun and away from dangerous wildlife, keep your body temperature elevated, nourish your body and keep it hydrated, and rest. If you have a plan to ensure that these needs are satisfied when you’re in the wilderness, chances are you’ll be able to survive most events—even if you aren’t living in perfect comfort for a period of time.
Among these needs, some are more important than others. For instance, it’s more important that you have water than food (you can survive weeks without food but only days without water.) It’s more important you keep your body temperature elevated than that you get adequate sleep (you can die in minutes under extreme temperature changes.) Keep in mind, all of these things are important, but there might be some situations in which you need to prioritize. Take this into account when creating your survival plan in case you need to choose one thing over another in an emergency.
Obviously, if your focus is on surviving in the wilderness, then you need to focus more on the pragmatic uses of your clothing rather than fashion. That being said, there are plenty of fashionable brands of outdoors clothing. In order to be comfortable while camping or hiking and/or surviving if an emergency occurs, it’s important to consider the clothing you’ll wear and/or pack for your time spent outdoors.
If you plan a “survival outfit” in advance, you will be better prepared just in case something unexpected occurs.
Your main goal with clothing when it comes to surviving in the wilderness is staying warm and dry. Clothing that can be worn in layers works well because you can strip down during the day if it’s hot and cover up at night to stay warm. It’s also a good idea to choose thermal or insulated layers and a base layer that is designed to wick moisture away from your skin.
Next, you’ll want to consider your feet. Thick socks and comfortable walking or hiking shoes are essential. Consider including at least one extra pair in your pack or “bug out” bag. This gives you a chance to wash and/or dry out an alternate pair along the way.
A rain poncho is also a good investment. It can be rolled up small and easily stored in a pack and provides protection from the elements. It can even serve as a tarp or cover over a sleeping space in a pinch. There are plenty of tarps on the market, so shop around and make sure you find one that’s high-quality and can stand up to some more intense conditions.
Finally, invest in a wide-brimmed hat. This offers even more protection, especially from the sun.
Heading into the wilderness for adventure and fun can turn into a nightmare in an instant, especially if you aren’t prepared.
This is a quick-reference of the best, most important survival items for wilderness survival: 10 things for your survival gear list, which includes the most essential items for survival, as well as the best one or two brands within each category of gear:
Your body needs clean water to survive. Without water, many of the other items on this list won’t matter. And although you may find a source of water in the wilderness, there’s no guarantee that it’s clean and safe. This is why a filtration system for water purification is such an important item to have with you for survival. A small, easy-to-carry water filtration system allows you to collect water from rivers, lakes, springs—even rainwater—and filter it to make it safe.
MSR and Gravityworks both make great water filtration devices.
You need food to survive. In an emergency, you need a selection of non-perishable, easy-to-carry food types that provide as much nutrition and calories as possible.
Meals, ready-to-eat (MREs), pictured above, are the perfect option for food that is already prepared, ready-to-eat, and sealed in weather-proof containers. We have written an extensive guide on the best MRE brand.
Meal replacement bars are also great because they are small and pack a powerful punch in terms of nutrients and calories. There are also a number of types of powder that can be added to water to create nutritious meal replacements. Survival Protein and Garden of Life offer high-calorie powder options that are easy to use and provide the nutrients you need for an extended period without traditional food.
Hunting or foraging for food can be fun and help you survive, but you need to be absolutely sure you know what’s safe and what can make you sick. You also need to have a preparation method in place if you’re hunting meat. There are plenty of ways to "live off the land" in the wild if you have no other choice, but being prepared can help you avoid challenging, energy-expending, and potentially risky scenarios.
A knife is a vital item to have with you for wilderness survival. It offers plenty of practical uses, such as cutting your way through dense foliage, preparing food, as well as in self-defense in an emergency. Two of the best knife brands on the market include Gerber Freeman and Fallkniven.
Bug spray might seem like more of a luxury item when it comes to basic survival in the wilderness, but this isn’t the case. Keeping yourself protected from bug bites can help you avoid bacterial and parasitic diseases. There are plenty of great brands available to throw into your backpack, but it’s best to understand the threats you face and choose a product that combats those pests. Repel makes a number of great products that are helpful in a variety of conditions.
This can be as simple as a sleeping bag or one-man tent. It might also be a collection of materials you pick up along your journey that allows you to construct an emergency shelter at the end of the night so you can rest safely (the latter case should be your last resort.) A tent is ideal. REI offers a wide selection of top-quality tents for one or more people.
Having the ability to start a fire is one of your primary concerns when trying to survive in the wilderness. Fire can keep you warm, allow you to cook food, and help you alert someone of your location if you are lost or stranded. A set of waterproof matches or a lighter that is stocked with plenty of lighter fluid is an essential item on this list. Coughlan’s is known for its waterproof matches and sells them in bulk.
If you’re trying to survive in the wild, there’s a good chance you’ll suffer at least a few minor injuries along the way. It’s important to have items on hand to help you care for those injuries so they don’t develop into something serious that could interfere with your ability to survive.
Identifying your location and knowing what direction to head in can mean the difference between a brief inconvenience and a full-blown emergency when you’re in the wild. A compass and map are both essential to your survival.
You might be planning to use your phone’s compass and GPS in place of a map, but keep in mind this might not work in every situation. It’s best to bring manual backups (map and compass) with you, just in case. G&V Adventures offers a survival kit that includes a high-quality compass.
A sleeping bag more is an important part of any complete survival package. If you’re in the wilderness for any length of time you’ll need to get rest at some point. A sleeping bag provides protection from the elements, from insects and other creatures, and allows you to stay warm. It’s also relatively lightweight, so it’s usefulness-to-ease-of-carrying ratio is quite reasonable. The higher quality the sleeping bag, the better, because your primary goal is staying as warm and dry as possible.
Mountain Hardware and Wilderness Technology both offer a wide range of quality sleeping bags.
Chances are, if you’re stranded in the wilderness, you’ll end up doing a lot of walking. There might be instances in which you need to climb rocky terrain or make your way through muddy rivers or swamps. You’ll also need to protect your feet from blisters and exposure to the elements. A solid pair of hiking shoes or boots that are comfortable and protective is an essential component of survival.
You might assume you can get by without them or with a basic pair of sneakers, but if survival means walking 5, 10, 20, or even 30 miles or more to reach civilization, you’re going to regret not investing in quality hiking boots for your journey.
Merrell is one of the best-known brands of quality hiking shoes and boots.
One final thing to include on your list of essential survival equipment for the wilderness: your wits and your intelligence. Though there are some situations that will send people out into the wild without any survival skills or wilderness education, most of the time people are able to prepare for worst-case scenarios. The more you know about surviving in the wild the better—just in case you ever need to use that knowledge.