Wilderness Survival Kit Checklist: 10 Must-Have Items 

Whether you’re venturing out in the wilderness for a day or a week, things may not always go as planned, and you may find yourself lost or stranded for longer than you intended. That’s why it’s important to be fully prepared for any situation that may arise with a wilderness survival kit. At the end of the day, you hope for the best but ultimately plan for the worst, and planning is essential when it comes to survival. 

While the length of trip, individual needs, the number of companions, and climate may determine what you ultimately bring with you, there are some essentials you should always have that will not only make your life easier but could save your life in the long run. 

Here are 10 essential items you should always have in your wilderness survival kit.

  • Emergency water
  • Survival food
  • Emergency lighting
  • Multipurpose knife
  • Waterproof fire starter
  • Rope or chord
  • First aid kit
  • Map and compass
  • Shelter
  • Extra clothes

1. Emergency Water

The most critical item for survival is without a doubt, water. The average human can only survive three or four days without water. It’s important to bring as much water as you can carry and to make note of sources where you may be able to find clean drinking water during your expedition. Rivers and streams are likely one of your best sources to seek out as flowing water is naturally going to be much cleaner than stagnant water. You can also collect rainwater or groundwater for drinking. Check out our guide on how to find clean drinking water in the wild for more tips. You may also want to pack a water filtration system of purification tabs along as well.


2. Survival Food

While water may be most critical for survival, it’s important to have emergency food to keep your energy up, your brain alert, and your stomach full. To minimize weight in your bag and ensure the food doesn’t spoil, skip out on fresh foods and bring high-calorie, pre-packaged food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated instead. Protein bars are a great solution as a survival food as they are high in calories, come in protective packaging, won’t go bad, and take up very little space. It may also be beneficial to research what types of food can be easily foraged along the trail if necessary.


3. Emergency Lighting

In urban environments, light pollution is so apparent you may not have experienced true darkness unless you’ve spent the night out in nature far away from civilization. Once the sun goes down, it’s probable you won’t even be able to see your hand in front of your face, much less carry out any necessary activities or chores in the dark. That’s why it’s so important to have some sort of emergency lighting in your survival kit. While a campfire may be a great source of illumination, its range is limited and may not be adequate for certain necessary activities.

It’s recommended to bring more than one form of lighting as a backup in case one fails or when extra light may be necessary. Headlamps, flashlights, or lanterns are all useful forms of lighting you may want to include in your survival kit. However when it comes to lighting options, headlamps reign supreme as they provide ample light in your line of vision and allow you to perform activities completely hands-free, which will be incredibly useful if you’re trying to build a shelter, collect firewood, or carry supplies in the dark.

Remember to pack extra batteries for your lighting equipment as well. Tip: You can also use batteries as an emergency fire starter if necessary.


4. Multipurpose Knife

Having a multipurpose knife is an invaluable tool for the outdoors that can be used for a variety of things and could just save your life. A good knife can cut rope, create bandages, make weapons to hunt, defend you from wild animals, aid you in starting fires, build survival tools, and cut branches for creating shelter, among many other things. When choosing a knife you want to ensure it’s both sharp and sturdy to withstand a variety of tasks. Most outdoor sporting goods shops will sell a variety of useful outdoor knives to choose from.


5. Waterproof Fire Starter

When it comes to wilderness survival, building a campfire is essential. A fire will keep you warm, cook your food, clean your water, and provide light, as well as protection from animals. It’s recommended to bring more than one fire starter for backup in case any of your gear happens to get wet or damaged.

Primary fire starters you may want to bring include:

• Waterproof matches

• Flint

• Lighter

• Flammable tinder

When choosing matches, it’s important to get those that are rated for the outdoors as they will likely be waterproof and will be able to stay lit longer.


6. Rope or Chord

Having rope or chord is a valuable tool that can be used in many ways while in the great outdoors, and the great thing is that you can use it again and again. If you’re short on space, paracord bracelets are a great option that you can wear to make more space in your bag. Here are some ways you could use rope while in the wilderness:

• Building emergency shelter

• Hoisting food in a tree away from wildlife

• Tying valuables to your gear

• Creating handles to carry items

• Tying poles or branches together

• Hunting traps

• Making splints for first aid

• Climbing

• Makeshift fishing line

• Repairing your tent or shelter


7. First Aid Kit

Regardless of how cautious you are out on the trail, accidents do happen, and when you’re potentially miles away from the nearest clinic it’s vital to be able to treat injuries on the spot with a first-aid kit. Even if it’s a small cut or scrape, it’s important to treat it right away to prevent infection. You can purchase a pre-made first-aid kit or create one yourself. All items should be kept in a waterproof container to keep these items from getting wet or damaged. Follow our guide for everything you should include in your first-aid kit to ensure you’re always prepared for any medical situation.

Make sure to check your first-aid kit before each trip and restock any items you may have used.


8. Map and Compass

When out in the wilderness away from civilization, you can’t always rely on GPS or phone signals to keep you on track or find your way if you happen to get lost. You may need to use a map and compass. It’s important to have a tangible map of your planned route packed in your gear and it can’t hurt to get familiarized with it before you embark on your journey. A good map can also help you locate reliable water sources necessary for clean drinking water. 

However, if you prefer to use technology to find your way, you’re better off using a camping GPS or satellite phone that will be more reliable as smartphones aren’t built for survival situations. 


9. Shelter

Another crucial survival item to bring along is some form of shelter. A good shelter will protect you from the elements while you rest. While a tent is probably the most common, basic items like a tarp and a sleeping bag are also useful and may even be used for other purposes. For example, a tarp can be used to catch rainwater, used to store food in a tree, or protect items from getting wet. While bringing some kind of shelter is important, you can also use resources you find like foliage and branches to create a makeshift shelter in emergencies.


10. Extra Clothes

Whether you plan to be out for a day or a week, it’s key to have the appropriate clothing for the environment, however, having extra clothing is essential. Your clothes could get muddy or wet, and you’ll be thankful you have a change of clothes to put on while your primary clothing dries. Not to mention wearing wet clothes in cold weather can be incredibly dangerous, potentially leading to sickness or even hypothermia. One of the most important rules of trekking is staying dry. 

Besides wearing them, having extra clothes have other uses that may just save your life in a survival situation. Clothing can be used to filter water for drinking, to make a sling or bandage, as a makeshift rope, or even can be used for comfort and warmth while sleeping.  


While having the correct gear is essential, knowing how to use it and what to do in an emergency situation is equally important. A wilderness first responder course can be beneficial to fully prepare you for any emergencies you may experience in the wild.