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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Survival Gear: Ultimate Survival Kit

Want to make it out alive? Consider packing these 17 items carried by a veteran Yosemite search-and-rescue ranger.

by: Casey Lyons

The undisputed experts when it comes to key survival equipment? The rangers who save hikers who go astray. Jeff Webb, a SAR ranger at Yosemite National Park, has worked on more than 200 rescue missions. The 38-year-old has also seen action in Big Bend, Yellowstone, Canyonlands, Joshua Tree, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. This is the emergency kit he crams into the lid of his pack whenever he heads out into the wilderness.

Bic lighter
"Cheap and small," says Webb. $2; widely available

Brunton 15TDCL compass
Webb doesn't cut corners here. This compass has a signal mirror and a built-in sighting line. $81.20;

CamelBak Omega Reservoir
This convenient water carrier comes in four different sizes. Webb likes the 35-ouncer. $20;

Cell phone
Webb says cell phones are "pretty much mandatory" as survival items today. They're lighter, cheaper, and less bulky than satellite phones. Just don't rely on a cell alone to save you, he cautions. You might not get a signal.

Coghlan's Emergency Tinder
It burns readily, is easily portable in an empty pill bottle, and so light and small there's no excuse not to carry a few. $3.50;

Coghlan's Magnesium Starter
A cheap, widely available backup for the Bic lighter. Webb recommends having redundancy in firestarters. $9;

GU Energy Gel and Clif bars
Together they have enough punch to aid in muscle recovery and deliver a nice energy jolt. $1,; $1.50,

Homemade first-aid kit
Webb's includes an aspirin- and ibuprofen-filled pill bottle wrapped in duct tape and medical tape, a couple of gauze pads bound in a rubber band, and a standard gauze roll and a Kerlix gauze roll. It's enough gear to "stop a bleed and wrap it tight with the tape, or wrap a sprain and take the pain meds," he says. Webb packs it all in a Norelco shaver case.

Klean Kanteen
Indestructible stainless steel 27-ounce water bottle. Webb brings an empty one along as a backup. $33;

Nike Lance 4 wristwatch
Webb recommends a watch with altimeter, barometer, and compass. The readings give you a good reference point, he says. $259;

Patagonia Houdini
Webb calls this 4-ounce shell "a good all-around windbreaker that's also ultralight." $125;

Petzl Tikka Plus
This compact LED headlamp has four settings, including strobe. It's great for emergency use, he says, but not bright enough for bushwhacking at night. $35;

Potable Aqua iodine tablets
Lighter than a filter, and if you're really thirsty, you won't mind the taste. $6;

Small tea light candle
Set one up under wet wood to speed drying, Webb says. $1

SmartWool Trekking Heavy Crew sock
Webb carries an extra pair of wool socks because they stay warm when wet. $18;

Smith and Wesson Baby SWAT knife
Sharp 2.5-inch half-serrated blade locks open to prevent accidents. $30;

Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy
Having spent several uncomfortable nights in space blankets, Webb opts for this one, which is preformed into a sleeping-bag shape. The wind can't catch the edges and you don't come unwrapped. $15;

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


Star Star Star Star Star
Kylie H.
Aug 11, 2014

Surprised there's no whistle or signaling mirror. It also looks like paracord didn't make the list. With its diverse set of uses it can be very important in a survival situation. We have preconfigured hiking survival kits for sale in custom hyperlight roll bags at Made by hikers for hikers.

Star Star Star
Jun 03, 2014

Add super glue to first aid kit.. Great for sealing small cuts on fingers etc. Disappointed heavy mil trash bags aren't on the list, possibly one of the best survival items you can have after fire starting stuff.

Star Star Star Star Star
Feb 01, 2014

Lots of good comments. Know where you are going and let somebody know too. I'd only have to hold out for a day or two worst case. I take what I know how to use. Fire - I go with BIC, cotton balls and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. As a back up I bring along yellow & paper birch bark. I tested both. Have to say I even soaked the bark in water and in a second it still took a flame. A space blanket, a small tarp and a fire in a pinch will get me through most nights.

Star Star Star Star Star
Feb 01, 2014

Lots of good comments. Know where you are going and let somebody know too. I'd only have to hold out for a day or two worst case. I take what I know how to use. Fire - I go with BIC, cotton balls and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. As a back up I bring along yellow & paper birch bark. I tested both. Have to say I even soaked the bark in water and in a second it still took a flame. A space blanket, a small tarp and a fire in a pinch will get me through most nights.

Star Star Star Star Star
Jan 30, 2014

Great article - short and sweet. Although I'd add a tube tent like the ones in the packs at in case you get stuck overnight. Not just for protection from rain and snow, but it keep the heat in if you pitch near a fire. Just my two cents.

Star Star Star Star Star
Ryan Zombie
Oct 27, 2013

Prepping for any emergency is important. <a href=""">Emergency first aid kits</a> are part of the survival plan for backpackers.

Nothing like being prepared for anything..

Star Star Star Star Star
Ephraim Lowe
Aug 30, 2013

It is a pretty good survival kit.

Star Star Star Star Star
Az Hiker
Jun 15, 2013

Day-hikes can be the most dangerous because hikers usually carry minimal supplies. Learn what to pack for a day-hike, what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing (the list includes a whistle for every hiker!) just in case you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors. Read "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart" (Amazon). Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. A compass doesn't need a signal, satellites, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. Learn how to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. This book is for all ages. Itís only 34 pages and illustrated. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart."

Star Star Star Star Star
Mar 26, 2013

I agree with the comments about the whistle -- needed for rescues -- wear one around my neck with the compass.

I have used the Vaseline and cotton balls and they make an effective fire starter. The only problem is that they leak liquid Vaseline when they get warm and, even in a film canister (remember film?), they can make a mess in your survival kit.

Star Star Star Star Star
Mar 21, 2013

im reading all the comments and i have hope for the world again, we are all so awesome.

Star Star Star Star Star
Dec 04, 2012

The list is pretty good. You HAVE TO have a good whistle. I keep the compass and the fire starter in a lanyard around my neck so I can't lose them. If you are (1) dressed appropriately (2) have some food zipped in a pocket and (3) a good knife strapped can survive.

I am pretty good in the woods but still have been caught unprepared so you have to keep the bare minimum on you without fail. It doesn't matter how good your kit is if it isn't tight against your body in the clutch.

I like the Best Glide site for proven survival goods too.

Nov 11, 2012


Oct 31, 2012

fuck you my wife died

Aug 12, 2012

It's a reasonable kit, although there are some peculiarities that are more suited to an SAR Ranger than a typical hiker / skier / hunter / etc. I definitely agree that a whistle is a cheap, light, and valuable addition. He doesn't mention any cordage, and I'd never leave with less than 10' of 550 Paracord. I think the knife is adequate for emergency-only use - he probably has a more substantial EDC knife, at least I hope so. Bear Grylls' kits are OK, but a tad pricey, and and must have a mark-up of about 500%. Their kits aren't bad, but prices are WAY high. Mess kits and stoves are for camping, not survival, and I'll be happy to eat any food I come by with my bare hands, thanks.

The compass depends on the situation. If you have a good topo map and reasonable orienteering skills, a good compass can be worth its weight in gold. Without a map, a 20mm button compass is perfectly adequate to keep you pointed in the right general direction to find major landmarks like roads and rivers.

Adventure medical is fine, too, but also pricey. I can improve on their $80 pocket-plus version for less than $30, no sweat. With a little thought and effort, you can easily save 50% on these prepackaged kits. Shop your local grocery, hardware, department, and drug stores for many of the items or equivalents, and I've had great luck with for decent prices on specialized items. Amazon is a good place to look for the best prices on some of them, too. Better to use the kit lists as inspiration and build your own - much cheaper, and then you know every item in your kit. And yes, you do have to practice with some items if you expect to be able to use them in a survival situation. Getting lost in the woods may be impractical, and many survival actions may not be legal in many places, but you can practice tying knots, starting a fire, signalling, etc.

Also suggest a look at Many of the survival kit offerings are laughable, but if you scan through a few dozen, you'll get lots of good ideas, too.

But for a modest price, you can pack an amazing amount of useful survival gear into two Altoids tins (1 survival gear + 1 first-aid kit), then carry a basic kife and a rain shell and/or "space blanket" bivvy sack, and you can survive the 1-3 days in which period most rescues are made it a wide variety of wilderness situations.

Lastly, the guy who said that you never hear about anyone with a well-prepared survival kit winding up in a survival situation is not far off the mark. People who have the forethought to prepare such a kit usually manage to avoid survival situation.

Mar 18, 2012

The only thing I really dispute on the list is the knife. Its absolute junk, when I was young in the military I bought one and the blade fell out of the handle.

But I read that many of you commented on the signal mirror on the compass isn't enough. Well I'm guessing those who said that has never had any sort of survival training. That mirror is adequate. You are taught to use anything that projects a flash of light for a signaling device in SERE school.

As far as firestarting a magnesium block is excellent and a BIC is the most reliable lighter on the market. Yes you have to waterproof it just as you do with matches. Put it in a bag, just like you place matches in a waterproof container.

The tinder he uses is also good, Ive used it. And yes Vaseline and Cotton balls are a cheaper alternative. But thats his personal preference.

This gentlemans gear is expensive, but look at it like this. This is his profession, rescuing people out of dangerous situations. You would want your mechanic to have quality tools. Why cant he?? I could survive with the items listed above until being rescued. And if you cant maybe you should attend a survival school or read a book. This is not a BOB list which I see many of you posted. So look at it as a list of what one man prefers.

Asa Foley
Feb 15, 2012

Love the posts - everyone has great ideas for them - I am buying my PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) Next week - Bear said a photo of family helps moral. When young I went dangerous places - now I go safe places - it causes less stress. Last year, five miles in, broke my ankle in 6 places, no emergency kit, bring your brain and then engage it when the emergency happens and you will make it out. My wife is still happy about my getting the PLB and when she is happy, I am happy.

Feb 06, 2012

Great comments here. I concure that there were a few items missing. A whistle can save your life. As an Eagle Scout, I can't imagine venturing off the highway here in Colo without a minimal survivial kit. Besides the obvious, I carry a Leatherman, whistle, compass, mylar sleeping bag (not blanket) magnesium starter and waterproof matches and purification tablets. Getting wet makes surviving difficult. I carry these things as a minimum at all times.Its easy and it will save your life and the people who venture out with you.

Jan 30, 2012

One thing i would also suggest to pack is a sharpie and a poster ofJustin Beiber to draw on when you need a good laugh. :P

Donald Hendrick
Jan 30, 2012

Bear Grylls has certainly simplified a lot of this lately. You can check out his Ultimate Survival Kit here:

And here is the man himself giving a nice quick video demonstration of it:

Bobby J.
Jan 18, 2012

I got one of those rugged survival kits - the hiker one. The best part is its under a pound. Has 2 ways to purify water, two ways to start a fire, two ways to signal and a bunch of other good stuff like a knife, emergency blanket (not the thin silver one either), etc. I checked the rocky mountain site too. That thing must weigh 10 pounds. It has a chain saw chain in it. WTF? Seems people are confusing camping stuff with a survival kit.

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