The Survival Kit

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The Survival Kit is arguably the most important of the three essential packs. This contains all the implements to live off the land, if required. The contents that you put inside this Kit can save your life by providing you with the tools you need when faced with a survival situation.

These are by no means exhaustive and one can add more and more stuff till the time this small Survival Kit becomes as large as a duffel bag. But that is defeating the purpose of being in the wilderness, you might as well stay at home and camp in your backyard. We are looking at a serious adventurer and the equipment that comprises the bare essentials of a Survival Kit.

Not everything will be inside the Kit all the time, some of the items will be in your pockets, some in your hands, some around your neck. Keep the stuff you will need more frequently closer at hand. Make sure you know where everything is. In a crisis you do not want to be rummaging through the entire contents, losing precious time, and getting frustrated at the same time.

A typical Survival Kit should contain items comprising six survival essentials, covering shelter, water, food, fire, signalling and navigation. These are in addition to the items that are a covered under ‘miscellaneous’ items.

When travelling to high altitude areas, there are additional items specific to altitude that should be in your Survival Kit.

Feel free to add more stuff and multiple items and tools, as long as the pack does not become too bulky and remains easy to carry.

Try and multitask your items.

Find multiple uses for your equipment so that you can drop some items since what you carry will be able to do the job of some other piece of gear or equipment. If you can find at least three uses for the items that are part of your Kit then theoretically the volume of your Kit will become one third since you will be carrying one item instead of three. A cotton bandana for instance has dozens of uses. Your knife can double up as a striker for your ferro rod. A tarp sheet can become a tent. A metal water bottle with a nesting cup means you can boil water and make char cloth in the bottle and cook your meals in the nesting cup without adding to the mass of your Kit.

As you become more adept at living off-the-land, the amount of gear in your Kit will progressively keep reducing as your dependence on store-bought items will go on reducing. In the initial days you might carry multiple items for the same job. A wire saw and a folding saw, for instance. But as you gain experience and get to know your gear better, you will drop one or the other from your Kit.

But even if you become a hardcore survivalist, able to effectively live off-the-land, make stone tools, weave vines for rope, etc, should you depend entirely on that knowledge? Probably not. The wilderness is a place where you venture to have fun. Sure you can make stone tools and scout for flint, but when in a survival situation it is all about conserving energy. It is better to carry a good sharp knife than to have to look around for the right stone with which to make one and then to find the handle and whittle it down and then to lash it properly with vines for cordage. If technology and modern marvels can help you in a survival situation, so be it. It is a compromise between ease of use, primitive living and the need for safety.

As the famous saying goes, “Do not go to a gun fight with a knife.”

The modern samurai warrior carries his M16 or AK47 automatic rifle instead of the shuriken. The tools have changed but the knowledge of what to do with the tools is what is important. Keep your matches dry even if you can rub sticks to start a fire. Carry a length of paracord and save yourself time and energy looking for vines to make cordage. Learn the modern way and work your knowledge down to the primitive way. You can always try and live the primitive life, but if you have a modern backup tucked away in your pack, your mind will be calmer knowing that you can always fall back on something and not end up being frustrated because things did not quite work out like you wanted it to. Rubbing sticks to make fire might look cool on television, but in a survival situation you are expending a lot of time, energy and sanity in trying to do that ... a lighter or a ferrocerium rod can do the job much better, quicker and easier, leaving your mind free to think about the larger problem - that of finding your way out to safety.

Having said that, know your gear and reduce it to a minimum. Do not over pack!

The items listed below that have been tested and certified by outdoorsmen for years and form the contents of many standard Survival Kits. There are virtually no useful store-bought Survival Kits, you have to build one yourself, suited to your own needs and requirements. Most store-bought survival kits go for size, or rather the lack of it. That might end up compromising on the items themselves. For instance, a pocket knife in a store-bought Kit will do nothing for you except clean your nails. A store-bought kit might not contain water purification tablets due to their “use by” limitation. My personal opinion is to build your own Kit to suit your own requirements and the needs of the territory you plan to visit.

Look at the indicative list below. If you want to replace any item with something else of your choice, that is fine too, as long as it does what it is supposed to do. Again, multitasking reduces the numbers and hence the weight and volume you carry,

It is important not only to have the items but also to know how to use them.

There is no point in having a couple of fire starters but not knowing how to light a fire. Or lots of cord without knowing how to tie (and untie) knots economically. Or how to cut wood with a wire saw. Or to convert a wire saw into a bow saw to gain mechanical advantage. There have been people I have encountered who are quite happy to chop off cordage they cannot untie. That is because they have supplies at hand and have probably never had to depend entirely on their limited resources.

As mentioned earlier, pack your Kit to fulfill the requirements of six of the survival essentials. An indicative list is as follows:


  • Space blanket (insulation, fire reflector, signalling)
  • Emergency blanket (insulation, signalling, storage)
  • Wire Saw
  • Tarp sheet
  • Axe / machete
  • Folding saw
  • Cordage


  • Steri Pen or Purification Straw
  • Purifying tablets
  • Water bottle with nesting cup
  • Potassium Permanganate (also for first aid)
  • 2% Tincture of Iodine (also for first aid)


  • Fishing kit
  • Camp stove and fuel (optional, but good for the environment)
  • Snare wire
  • Dehydrated food
  • Mess tin and cup (drop this if there’s a nesting cup)
  • Cutlery tool (optional - for hygiene reasons)


  • Lighter
  • Match box (keep them dry)
  • Ferrocerium or Magnesium rod
  • Cotton ball and petroleum jelly tinder
  • Char cloth/cord
  • Magnifying glass (at least 5x power)


  • Whistle (loud and shrill, sacrifice aesthetics)
  • Signalling mirror
  • Head mounted torch (carry an extra)


  • GPS (carry spare batteries)
  • Compass (carry multiple)


  • Cord (around 200 feet is ideal)
  • Comb
  • Sewing kit
  • Ziplock bags
  • Pen and paper
  • Spare batteries
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Large blade knife
  • Safety pins (fish hooks)
  • Zip ties (traps and snares)
  • Dry bag (water container)
  • Face net (can double for fishing)
  • Adhesive tape (can be used as tinder)
  • Straps
  • Garbage bags


  • Altimeter
  • Wind chill meter
  • Pulse Oxymeter

Once you have gathered all the stuff that will go into your Kit, spend time and effort learning how to use each item. Some are easier to learn, others take practice. Learn to start fires when still at home, for instance. There is just no point in starting to experiment when you need the knowledge the most. Learn to throw the rabbit stick so that you hit the target eight times out of ten ... from varying distances. Become proficient in using the catapult. Or getting the ember off char cloth to light your tinder. Keep your knot skills up-to-date or else you will find the tautline hitch keeps slipping and does not remain taut as you thought it would or should. Nothing is easy in a survival situation and the more your practice when back at home, the easier it will get when you do really need to use the skill. The problem with many of these skills, particularly with day hikers, is that it is required only when you venture out into the wilderness, and that can be many weeks or months apart. The skills gained a few months ago might have rusted. Practice is essential.

The day hiker, the part time adventurer need the Survival Kit more than the minimalist survivor who will be able to do without most of the items mentioned above. If you consciously want to spend six months living off-the-land, the lighter will burn out, the batteries will run out, the filters will clog, the cords will fray. That is when you need to know the art of primitive living, without being dependent on gadgets and store-bought equipment.

The minimalist adventurer can do without almost without anything and live like the bushmen lived centuries ago, before equipment and implements became so much a part of our lives. But this person is consciously living off-the-land for an extended period of time, confident of his skills and knowledge. He is in a whole different league compared to the day hiker.

Some people ask, “We are going on an adventure, why carry all this stuff?”

My answer is “Look at ancient people. They did not have modern gadgets like we do today, but they improvised their own tools. And these tools served the same purposes. A fire starter is a modern gadget and makes fire starting a much less laborious process than rubbing two sticks together for hours.”

Ancient people have been using stone tools, we use steel knives, axes and saws. They carried herbs, we carry medicines. If people who lived off-the-land carried the essentials tools for survival, why shouldn’t we? They were attuned to the outdoors, we are casual visitors. Learn from the ancients and do not try to be a hero, we are just not trained for it - mentally or physically. And we certainly do not have the required knowledge or experience.

For the weekend adventurer, life can be made a lot easier if the bare essentials are carried to make the time spent in the wilderness a lot more enjoyable and a lot less stressful. After all we are heading out to spend a few days closer to Nature, to enjoy its beauty and come back with memories. We want to be prepared to ensure that the memory remains a happy one and does not turn into a nightmare, which can so easily happen if we are not prepared or equipped.

Carry a Survival Kit with the necessary tools and learn how to use the items in the Kit.

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