Carrying the 10 Essentials when you’re in the outdoors will greatly increase your chances of survival. We recommend you carry them while hiking, hunting, fishing and driving in remote areas. The mistake that many of our rescued subjects make is thinking they will go for a “short day hike” which takes a turn for the worse when they get lost or injured. Being prepared means that when conditions change you have a better chance of survival.
Preparing for your trip should also include telling someone where you are going and what time you expect to return. The sooner we know you are overdue, the quicker we can start looking for you.
The 10+ Essentials don’t have to be expensive, bulky or heavy.
This Essential is one of the easiest to bring: extra layers of clothing (my rule is bring one more layer than you think you might possibly need) and a hat. The hat will help your body maintain temperature in cold weather, and keeping warm and dry is key to survival. Ideally you would have a waterproof outer layer. Bright colored clothes are a good idea, as they can be easier to spot from a helicopter or by our search teams on the ground.
Most people think the idea of bringing along an emergency shelter means a big pack with a tent. Not true! Many outdoor stores sell very lightweight tarps/sheets that are waterproof. Add a length of paracord (25 ft is a good start), find two trees to string the paracord between and you have a waterproof shelter. You can also find cheap “tube tents” that cost $8 or less, but will keep you dry and could make the difference between hypothermia and surviving. If you are lost and don’t have a map stay put and stay dry.
Carrying adequate water for everyone in your party is very important. We recommend 2 liters per person per day. There are filtration systems on the market but we consider them a backup system.
When darkness falls, you’ll be unable to perform even the simplest of tasks (put up your shelter, light a fire) without some kind of light source. You don’t need the most powerful flashlight in the world – small LED flashlights are cheap to buy at most hardware stores and supermarkets and have a great battery life. A headlamp is best as it leaves your hands free but even a small pocket flashlight is better than nothing. But always bring a spare set of batteries! This is an Essential that many of our rescued subjects overlook because they don’t expect to be lost or out hiking after dark.
Most people think that “navigation” means a map on your smart phone. Once you run out of battery, your phone is useless. A printed map, preferably in some kind of waterproof bag, and a compass are the two primary navigation resources. A hiking GPS is adequate too, but remember to bring spare batteries! And keep in mind, these tools won’t help you if you don’t know how to use them.
There are a number of ways to start a fire but the simplest approach is to bring either some waterproof matches or a cigarette lighter and some kind of fire starter material. Both can be found at outdoor stores.
7. First aid supplies
A small kit with bandage strips, gauze pads and some compression bandages is a good start. There are some good small kits sold at supermarkets and outdoor stores. The small kit that you always bring with you is better than the large kit you leave behind because it is too heavy! Don’t forget to bring your prescription medication.
8. Repair kit and tools
A good knife or multi-tool can be used to help construct shelter, cut branches, and repair or MacGuyver items into something useful. Duct tape can be used to hold a gauze pad on and to repair a tarp shelter or item of clothing. You can wrap a small amount of duct tape around hiking poles or a water bottle so you don’t have to carry a whole roll.
You will die from thirst before you die of starvation (assuming you run out at the same time) but carrying extra nutrition (energy bars etc.) can increase your endurance and enable you to make your way to safety (assuming you have a map and know the route). Again, there needs to be adequate food for everyone in your party.
10. Sun protection
This is critically important in all seasons. Sunglasses, sunscreen and a shade hat won’t take up much space but will reduce your exposure to the elements.
+ Communication device
A phone is helpful to have (if you are lost or injured, don’t delay calling 911) and a Rescue Beacon can enable you to call for help even in areas without cell coverage.
+ Signaling device
An old Compact Disc makes an excellent signaling mirror. They are cheap, compact, won’t break, and have an aiming hole in the center. Also, carry a whistle. They don’t take up much space and the sound travels much further than you can shout. This is another way to increase your chances of being found. Many modern backpacks have whistles built right into the sternum strap buckle.