The Ultimate Backpacking Survival Gear Checklist

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Knowing how to survive in the wild with few or zero tools is an extremely valuable skill, but it’s not something you’ll want to test in a life-or-death situation. A versatile backpacking survival gear, full of tools you’re comfortable using, is indispensable to being prepared to survive in harsh conditions.

As someone who’s spent over two decades hiking in the Canadian Rockies, the Alps, the Himalayas, Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria and beyond, I’m excited to share my insights into the essential gear for a safe hiking experience.

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Food and Water

Setting off on a hiking adventure without ample sustenance is like starting a story without an opening line. 

Food and water are your hike’s foundation – they fuel your body and sustain your spirit as you journey through rugged terrains. Drawing from my extensive experience, I can’t emphasize enough how vital it is to pack extra food to get the right nutrition you need.

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When choosing food for your trek, consider lightweight, nutrient-dense options that provide sustained energy. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats play distinct roles in supporting muscle repair, energy production, and overall well-being. Water is the elixir of life, and it must never be overlooked. Check out my post on recommended hiking snacks and lunches as well as some ideas for an ideal hiking breakfast.

Maintaining proper hydration is paramount, especially in exertion and sweat. It can lead to dizziness, fatigue and even more severe consequences, so always carry a a water bottle, plus a backup, and enough water

First Aid

hikers first-aid kit

On every hike, safety is paramount, and a well-equipped first aid kit is your hiking guardian angel. That’s why a comprehensive first aid kit should always accompany you on your hiking expeditions. Check out my post on what essentials your hiking first aid kit should contain.

Think of your first aid kit as your insurance against the unexpected. It’s a safeguard against minor cuts, scrapes, blisters, and more significant injuries that might require immediate attention. A well-prepared survival kit should include adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, and pain relievers.

I’ve used my blister kit to treat blisters on more than a few hikes, and a tensor bandage on a couple as well when I’ve sprained an ankle going down the mountain. 

Tailor your survival kit to the specifics of your hike, consider factors like the group size, the environment you’ll be traversing and whether it’ll be day hike or longer. Review and restock your survival kit to ensure its contents remain in good condition and within expiration dates.

Emergency Thermal Blanket

emergency thermal blanket for hiking

I don’t do any hike without an emergency thermal blanket. They can save your life and I think every hiker should carry one. While you won’t die of a broken ankle, or a torn ligament in your knee, it can take hours to get rescued depending where you’re hiking and temperatures can drop dramatically putting you at risk for hypothermia – which can be deadly.

You can check out more reasons why I recommend emergency thermal blankets and my suggestions here.

Navigation Tools

No matter your expertise, dependable navigation tools are a hiker’s best companions. While I rely on hiking apps that include a gps, I also recommend carrying a paper map in case your phone runs out of battery, doesn’t turn on in the cold, or if you lose it. 

You may also want to consider carrying a compass if you’re hiking in a remote area. It’s a good backup for a gps as it ensures you’re heading in the right direction and doesn’t require a battery as your phone does, or need a signal to register your position. 

I recommend the BIJIA Orienteering Map Compass as a reliable compass option. It boasts a global needle for accurate readings anywhere on the planet. Its integrated clinometer allows you to measure the steepness of slopes, a valuable tool for assessing avalanche hazards and gauging elevation gain or loss.

This versatile compass is a valuable addition to your gear, enhancing your navigation skills and overall safety.

Sun Protection

A long, sun-drenched hike can leave you with more than just memories – sunburns are no joke! As an outdoor enthusiast who cherishes adventures and healthy skin, sun protection is a non-negotiable part of your hiking arsenal.

Shielding your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays is paramount. Sunscreen acts as your primary line of defense, but its effectiveness hinges on proper application. Go for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF). 

This shields you from UVA and UVB rays, safeguarding your skin against sunburn and premature aging. Additionally, consider sun-protective clothing, sunglasses, and hats as supplementary measures.

Avoid hiking when the sun is most intense, typically between 11 AM and 2 PM.

Multitool Knife

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Versatility is the name of the game when traversing the wilderness, and a multitool knife is the ultimate trailside companion. 

The 14-in-1 Multitool is a shining example of functionality. From basic repairs to unexpected challenges, this tool’s myriad functions have you covered. Need a hammer? It’s got one. Are you after various screwdriver options? Check. How about pliers for those intricate tasks? Absolutely. 

This versatile companion is lightweight, compact, and designed to address many needs. Whether fixing gear, preparing food, or tending to unexpected situations, this multitool knife is a game-changer. You can also check out our recommendations for the best multitools for backpackers. The Best Multitool for Backpacking Professional Guide

Portable Power Station

Incorporating a portable power station into your backpacking survival kit is a smart and practical choice, as it offers many benefits that can significantly enhance your outdoor experience. 

It ensures you can access power for your cell phone, navigation, illumination, medical needs, entertainment, and more. With this versatile tool by your side, you can enjoy your outdoor adventures while staying prepared for any survival situation.

Also consider carrying a solar charger. I bring one on every multi-day hike that I do, and even long day hikes to ensure that my phone doesn’t run out of battery. 

Extra Clothing, Extra Safety

Extra clothing, carefully chosen and tailored to the season and location of your hike, is a fundamental component of your survival kit. The extra layers can mean the difference between enduring the elements confidently or finding yourself ill-prepared for unexpected twists in the weather.

So, before you set out on your next hiking adventure, check out our day hiking packing list, or if you’re hiking in winter, our winter gear guide

Your future self, faced with nature’s unpredictability, will thank you for your foresight and attention to detail.

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Customize Your Backpacking Survival Gear

As an experienced hiker, I recommend customizing your backpacking survival gear to suit your specific needs and the circumstances you will likely face. Consider the location, climate, levels of difficulty, and group size as factors for varying your survival gear.

Whether you’re an experienced adventurer or a novice hiker, customizing your hiking survival kit is crucial to ensure you’re adequately prepared for any situation.

Assess the Number of People

When planning an outdoor adventure, whether a solo expedition or a group camping trip, one of the first and most crucial considerations is the number of people depending on the backpacking survival gear. 

The size of your group has a profound impact on the hiking survival kit you’ll need to pack and the level of preparedness required.

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Solo Adventures

For solo adventurers, the approach to customization is more streamlined. Since you’re solely responsible for your safety and well-being, you can focus on essential survival items tailored to your needs. 

A single lighter, a handy first-aid kit, a good knife and minimal food supplies might suffice.

Group Expeditions

On the other hand, teamwork and cooperation become paramount when venturing out with fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

In this scenario, it’s essential to optimize the use of resources. Here’s where customization truly shines:

  • Resource Sharing: Some items, like dry tinder, cooking equipment, or water purification tools, can be shared among the group. For instance, instead of each member carrying their fire starter, the group can carry one, reducing the overall weight.

  • Redundancy: Building in a degree of redundancy can be a lifesaver. If one member’s gear fails or gets lost, having duplicate essential items distributed among the group ensures that everyone remains adequately equipped.

Customizing for group size ensures you strike the right balance between efficiency and individual preparedness.

Consider Potential Emergencies

What sort of emergency might you face?

The wilderness is inherently unpredictable, and the types of emergencies you might encounter can vary widely based on your activity and location.

Therefore, considering potential emergencies is crucial when tailoring your hiking survival kit.

hiker bandaging an injured arm

Terrain-Specific Needs

Different environments present unique challenges. For instance:

  • Forest Adventures: Exploring dense forests may expose you to ticks, necessitating tick-removal ointment.

  • Desert Exploration: In contrast, desert terrain might require sunburn cream to protect against scorching sun exposure.

Factor in Your Location

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Where will you be using the hiking survival kit?

The location of your hiking trip plays a pivotal role in customizing your backpacking survival gear. Different regions have their climatic challenges, which should inform your gear choice. 


Evaluate Your Outdoor Experience

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How much experience do you have outdoors?

Your experience level as an outdoor enthusiast is a defining factor in customizing your backpacking survival gear.

The more outdoor survival skills you’ve mastered, the more efficient you become at packing your hiking survival kit.

Skills vs. Gear

Experienced hikers like me often need fewer items in our survival kit because we possess the skills to adapt and improvise in the wild. For instance:

  • Fire-Starting Skills: Proficiency in starting fires might render matches or emergency tinder redundant, as a simple fire starter can suffice.

  • Navigation Proficiency: Seasoned adventurers may rely less on GPS devices and more on map and compass navigation.

  • Wilderness Cooking: Those skilled in wilderness cooking can reduce the need for elaborate camp kitchen gear.

Your experience level allows you to carry less while still being well-prepared, emphasizing the importance of expertise in customization.

Equipped with the right backpacking survival gear and knowledge, you’re ready to embark on unforgettable adventures in the great outdoors.

Remember to prepare, stay safe, and cherish the beauty of the wilderness responsibly.

Frequently Ask Questions About Survival Gear for Hikers

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How often should I update my survival kit?

You should do a yearly review of your survival kit, but look it over before every hiking trip, since certain trips may require more specialized gear than what you normally carry.

Regular updates help you maintain an effective and up-to-date kit that enhances your safety and preparedness.

Can I customize my survival gear for specific trips?

Absolutely! Customizing your survival gear for each trip is a smart approach. It allows you to optimize your kit by considering factors like trip duration, terrain, climate, and the specific activities you’ll be engaged in.

Tailoring your gear ensures you have exactly what you need for a particular adventure, reducing unnecessary weight and enhancing your comfort and efficiency.

Are there any must-have items in a survival kit?

Yes, there are essential items that should always have a place in your backpacking survival kit.

These include a first-aid kit for medical emergencies, water purification tablets for clean drinking water, a shelter option like a space blanket or tarp, navigation tools such as gps, maps and compasses, and emergency signaling tools like whistles and signal mirrors.

These foundational items form the core of your survival kit, providing critical resources for your safety.

What’s the most versatile item for a survival kit?

The most versatile item you can include in your survival kit is undoubtedly a multi-tool. This compact, lightweight tool combines various functions, including cutting, repair, and survival features.

With its ability to perform multiple tasks, from cutting rope to starting fires, a multi-tool is a valuable asset that ensures you’re well-prepared for various hiking challenges.

How can I ensure my survival gear remains in good condition?

To maintain the longevity and reliability of your survival gear, follow essential maintenance practices. Regularly inspect your hiking survival kit for damage or wear, store it in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, and keep it clean and moisture-free.

If your kit includes electronic devices or extra batteries, replace them to prevent malfunctions. Proper care and maintenance ensure your backpacking survival gear remains ready and dependable for outdoor adventures.

Now you know the essential backpacking survival gear to keep you safe on your adventure!

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