If you spend any time in the outdoors beyond your own back 40 – assuming that you are blessed and have a back 40! – there is a chance that you could get lost. Now, if you live east of the Mississippi River, there are really only a few locations where you can get lost for a long time and be in danger. Places such as the rugged Appalachian Mountains, New York’s Adirondacks or perhaps the great north woods are a few that come to mind. Head west passed the Mississippi and the possibilities of danger only get bigger, as does the land.
But be it the Appalachians or the Rockies, lost is still lost. And you can die just as easily in the East as you can out West if you head off into the woods without any preparation. Hypothermia, dehydration, falls, predators, outlaws, starvation, venomous snakes and disease can all kill you. So can drowning, lightning and avalanches. In truth, the forests of North America can be very dangerous, especially if you have no outdoor experience.
Besides keeping a level head, be sure you enter the woods with at least a basic survival kit/bug out bag. Here is what I keep in mine:
1. Knife. Your cheaply made $5 pocket knife is not a survival tool. A good, strong knife with either a fixed blade or locking main blade is an indispensable tool in the woods and wilds. You will always need to cut things, so make sure you never leave home with a dull knife. A multi-tool such as a Leatherman should also go with you, even stowed away in a day pack. Some great knife brands to consider are Buck USA, Gerber, Ka-Bar, Bench made and Case. I personally always carry my Ka-Bar USMC knife whenever I am going into the wilderness. I can cut rope with it and I use it as a light-duty pry bar. If needed, I could also use it for self-defense. I also have a Buck folder knife at all times clipped on my pocket.
2. Water purification. You need a means to purify water. Ideally, you’ll have two methods. A water filtration pump system, iodine tablets or even a metal container to boil water are all viable methods. You don’t want to be a host for a parasite. So filter up!
3. Fire starter. Don’t even enter the woods unless you know how to build a fire. I’m not talking about building a bonfire on a sunny day with a box of matches. Learn how to build a fire with a fire starter, such as a magnesium fire starter, a ferro (ferrocerium) rod with a dependable metal striker, or Swedish fire steel. Never head off into the wilds without two, preferably three methods to light a fire. Windproof and waterproof matches are great, but should never be relied upon for a primary fire ignition tool. Practice until you are proficient at constructing a fire, even with damp wood and without matches. You would be shocked how many people have yet to master this basic skill. If you are one of those folks, you’d be wise to learn now. (Read how to start a fire without matches.)
4. Food: It’s not a three-course meal, but I always keep six energy bars in my pack. Emergency calorie bars made by Mayday or Datrex (or a host of other brands) are a great option. Each bar is high in calories and is designed to give a starving person 1,200 calories a day. You also can make your own high-calorie bars. If you want a little meat, a bag of beef jerky is a great option to add to energy bars.
5. 100 feet of paracord: This cord can be used for building a shelter, making a splint, lowering yourself off a ledge and a gazillion other tasks. The 550 para cord is an indispensible item for your pack. (Read: 17 amazing survival uses for paracord.)
6. Poncho: Keeps you warm and dry when things are not warm and dry. A poncho also can be used as a shelter, or a part of a shelter or to gather rainwater. Never leave home without a poncho.
7. Clothing: Some extra clothing, if practical. Always throw in a couple extra pair of wool or polypropylene socks, and maybe an extra undershirt. Having a warm fleece or thermal shirt in case things get chilly can save your life.
8. Compass: An old-fashioned army compass never leaves my pack (unless I need it). Learn how to use one, as you need to know more than just which way is north. Learn to take a compass bearing and use a map if you don’t already.
9. Signaling Device: A whistle, or even a mirror need to go in the pack as well. These can be used to signal rescue (unless you don’t want to be found), or to signal to others in your party (mirror). I keep a whistle, a few flares and a mirror. Flares can be used to light a fire in bad conditions.
10. First aid kit: This admittedly takes up the most room in my pack. I also built my own to deal with heavy trauma and blood loss, broken bones and a variety of other wilderness emergency scenarios. Don’t scrimp here, custom outfit your own or buy a really good kit. It is better to have and not need in this case, than to need and not have.
11. Folding saw: Knives are great, but at times you will need to cut more than rope. You don’t want to dull out your knife doing larger tasks that it was not designed for. I keep a folding saw in my pack. If you don’t have one, get one for your pack.
I never leave home without a few other things.
Firearm: I always, whenever I leave my house and especially in the wilderness, have a firearm. Most of the time it is my Glock 19 9mm. I carry the pistol and two extra magazines for a total of 46 rounds and I usually have extra rounds in the pack (25-50 rounds). During hunting season I am even more heavily armed.
Pocket Bible: To me, perhaps the most important item I keep on me.
Emergency Fishing Equipment: Enough small gear to catch a trout with patience, or put out a couple trot lines.
What items would you add to the list? Share them in the section below: