Survival Kits

It’s wise to bring some items for survival contingencies when heading into the wilderness. Experience, environment, personality, and appetite for risk will determine the survival kit’s contents. I want the ability to start a fire in any condition, purify drinking water, build a basic shelter, and signal aircraft or ground rescuers for assistance.

A likely scenario for a hunter is killing an animal at last light. It may take many hours to break down the animal, and you may end up staying the night away from camp. Another scenario is getting lost in the dark heading back to camp or getting into technical terrain like cliffs, which are better navigated in daylight.

“What if weighs a lot” when building a survival kit. Don’t let your imagination run wild. Knowledge and ingenuity are the best things you can carry and weigh nothing. Be sure and train with the tools and supplies chosen and understand how they perform in less than ideal conditions.

Clothing is your first line of defense from weather and your armor against the elements. The capabilities of my clothing system form the foundation of my survival system. Humans can’t survive for long in the elements without clothing and shelter. I rely on my clothing system to provide the first layer of protection when in the mountains.

A technical clothing system is an investment that you rely upon daily to manage moisture, protect you from rocks and vegetation, and provide warmth. I want to leverage that system the entire time I’m in the field.

Technical clothing combined with a space blanket or emergency bivy sack will help you weather most storms. I’ll carry these items in a cargo pocket or stalking sack while moving in on an animal. If the weather and situation dictate, I can remove the core of my 550 cord boot laces’ to lash together a shelter with a space blanket.

Basic Survival Kit – Individual
Lighter x 2
Flint & Steel
Fire Tinder x 3
Fixed Blade Knife 3”- 5” blade
Sharpening Rod
Signal Panel
Emergency Blanket or Bivy
Water Purification Tabs x 4
Cell Phone & inReach
Map & Compass
10’ of 550 Cord
Technical Clothing System

There’s a big difference between being prepared for a low-chance survival situation and a long-term primitive living scenario. Each person has to determine what’s best for them. I’m looking for my survival kit to get a partner and me safely through a night out in inclement weather.

Some of the items I carry have multiple uses and are used daily. I take a small closed-cell foam pad to sit on and glass from. I don’t bring another small pad for emergency use. If I have 25′ of 550 cord already in my pack for hanging meat, I don’t carry extra except for possibly boot laces.

I carry a small, fixed-blade knife in addition to a folding scalpel. This knife usually has a 3” to 5” blade. I don’t require a large blade to perform the tasks I consider essential. My knife needs to be able to chop, cut, and hold an edge. It’s a tool that can’t fail. I can take a large piece of wood and baton it into firewood efficiently with a small knife, and its lighter weight removes any excuses for leaving it behind. I carry the fixed blade either on my belt or in my optics harness along with the scalpel.

Treating water in a survival scenario is vital for staying hydrated and reduces the risk of sickness. Purifying tabs produce clean drinking water and take up little space with no weight penalty. I carry one package with four tabs in my optics harness and twice that many in my pack.

Gear Placement
We taught a concept in the military called first, second, and third-line gear placement. This concept prioritized equipment and where to carry it. For a backcountry hunter, this concept is just as relevant as to the soldier.

First-line gear is the minimum kit required to survive a worst-case scenario. This equipment is carried on your body in clothing and an optics harness. These items don’t come off until you’re in camp and climbing in the sleeping bag. This line of gear is sparse to not weigh you down. It’s easy to play the “What If” game, but fight the urge and carry only what’s required.

First-Line Gear
• Soft-shell jacket & pants
• Beanie & gloves
• Fixed-blade knife
• Lighter & pre-fab tinder
• Signal panel
• inReach & cell phone
• Headlamp

Second-line gear is essential but not vital in a worst case. You certainly don’t want to become separated from this gear, but you could manage with adequate skills. Carry second-line items in your optics harness, or a stalking pack.

A stalking sack or approach pack is a minimalist pack that allows you to carry necessary gear without the burden of a larger, heavy backpack. This becomes important in inclement weather during late-season hunts when going on a stalk, heading to a glassing knob, or procuring water from a distant source from the main camp. This lightweight, minimalist pack holds the essentials you’d want to survive a night out in poor weather.

Second-Line Gear
• Puffy jacket
• Second lighter & pre-fab tinder
• Medical kit
• Emergency bivy sack
• Water bottle

Third-line equipment is stowed in the main backpack. Tent, sleeping bag, extra clothes, dehydrated food, and anything else considered a luxury in worst-case situations. If you don’t find your pack after a stalk and have to spend an unplanned night out, you won’t die without these additional items, but it may suck.

Third-Line Gear
• Sleeping bag
• Tent
• Inflatable ground pad
• Dehydrated meals
• Stove fuel
• Water filter

Training and comfort in the environment determine the gear you’ll carry. Inexperience will drive the need for more kit. As you gain confidence and experience, items are left behind or relegated to a different line as skills increase.

Survival kits are built for contingencies. Weigh the odds based on the type of trip, tolerance for risk, chance of a mishap, the terrain’s remoteness, and the group’s experience. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use your kit except for training.

The more time spent in the backcountry, the higher the odds you’ll encounter a mishap. The better prepared you are, the lower the odds of an incident becoming a tragedy. Train for the worst and hope for the best. Knowledge coupled with practice is the best thing you can carry into the backcountry.

Gear References
These links take you to some of the gear I use and rely on in the mountains. This is not a definitive list but a good place to start. Ultimately, testing and training allow us to dial in a system that works for each of our unique requirements.


Fire Striker
Blast Match:
Ferro Rod:

Black Beard:

Montana Knife Company:
ESEE Knives:
Half Face Blades:
Sharpening Stone:

Signal Panel
VF-17 Panel:
Emergency Blanket:

Purification Tabs

Satellite Communication
Garmin inReach:

Silva Ranger:
550 Cord:

Sitka Gear: