Wilderness Survival Gear: What to Carry and Why Part 1

Wilderness Survival Gear: What to Carry and Why Part 1

It has been my experience over the years that although the wilderness is a wonderful place to be and Nature's bounty can sometimes seem endless, I have also noted that the only comforts a person has when they enter the wilderness are the ones that they bring with them. Therefore, whenever I enter the wilderness, even for a short stay, I always carry my survival gear with me because I never know when something may happen to cause an unexpected and extended stay. However, I also find that as long as I am properly prepared and equipped, the prospect of not being able to return home when I intended does not pose a problem for me.

Consequently, in my opinion, anyone who enters the wilderness for even a short period should consider carry some basic survival gear with them so that they too are prepared to deal with unexpected situations because carrying these basic items can literally make the difference between surviving your misadventure and not! In fact, every year I see stories on the on the evening news or read them on the Web about people who have entered the wilderness for a day and, due to one circumstance or another, are inadvertently forced to spend several days there that they had not planned on. However, if a person is properly prepared for such an unexpected event, then it can actually be a pleasant, if unexpected, vacation from everyday life instead of a life or death situation.

Therefore, this leads us to the question of what gear should a person carry when entering the wilderness? Well, obviously, carrying a fully loaded backpack with everything you need for a week or two would be nice but, it is not often practical and it is certainly not comfortable. However, with a little knowledge and experience, a person can actually get by rather nicely for a few days by carrying only the basic necessities. For instance, proper clothing, a bit of non-perishable food, a portable water filter, a properly stocked survival kit, and a well designed survival knife system can make any unexpected stay in the wilderness survivable and even enjoyable.

So, first let's address the issue of proper clothing because more people perish in the wilderness each year due to exposure than any other cause. Therefore, instead of thinking of your clothing as a fashion accessory, you should instead think of it as portable survival shelter. The reason for this is that the human body actually has a very narrow range of temperatures in which it can comfortably survive and thus, excessive heat can lead to hyperthermia and excessive cold can lead to hypothermia and either condition can lead to death. Also, it is important to realize that even though the day may start out relatively warm and comfortable, as soon as the sun descends below the respective horizon, the ambient air temperature can drop as much as thirty degrees in temperate latitudes depending on the elevation and it can drop even more in arid environments. Therefore, carrying an extra garment or two made from either natural or artificial fleece will help to keep you warm after dark can make a huge difference in your comfort level. Another weather phenomenon that can have a seriously adverse effect on your body temperature is that of rain. Therefore, carrying a lightweight, waterproof, rain jacket is also a wise idea.

Another issue that people tend to take for granted is that of food. However, the fact is that the human body needs fuel to burn in order to maintain its temperature in cool or cold temperatures and to maintain its strength and endurance in any climate. Consequently, carrying emergency foods that are high in carbohydrates in addition to the food that you bring along for the day will provide your body with much needed calories to fuel its inner furnace after a hard day of exercise. In addition, consuming protein is also a major necessity for restoring lost energy and muscle mass and thus such foods as beef jerky and tuna fish in foil packs make excellent emergency foods. However, it should be noted that when both of these type of foods are consumed at the same time, our stomachs will digest the carbohydrates first and then the protein. Therefore, you should consider foods such as dried fruit and chocolate to be short-term sources of quick energy and proteins to be long-term sources of energy.

A third factor that should be considered is the need to remain properly hydrated. The reason for this is that the human body is specifically designed to maintain an acceptable temperature in excessive heat by exuding moisture onto the surface of the skin where the process of evaporation carries away excessive body heat. However, most people are not aware of the fact our bodies are constantly losing internal moisture due to evaporation even when we are not actively sweating. Therefore, carrying one or more canteens or water bottles filled with fresh, clean, water should be high on your priority list as well. However, because water is a relatively heavy substance weighing approximately eight pound per gallon, carrying enough of it to keep us properly hydrated throughout a single day is difficult and carrying enough of it to keep us hydrated for multiple days is simply not practical. Therefore, in addition to carrying a water bottle or canteen, you should also carry one of the many different types of portable water filters on the market today such as a straw type filter, a squeeze bottle filter, or even a hand-pump operated filter in order to have the ability to replenish the water you carry in your canteen or water bottle.

Now, by this point, it may have occurred to you that extra clothing, extra food, and a portable water filter are all somewhat bulky items and thus, this begs the question of how do you comfortably carry such items? Well, I have found that the most comfortable way to do is to use a small day pack. However, a large fanny pack will also serve the purpose. In addition, I have determined that the best fabric for this purpose is Cordura nylon with a high denier (thread count per square inch) because it is exceptionally tough, it is impervious to the absorption of moisture, and the spaces between the threads hold very little moisture when immersed in water. Consequently, tightly woven Cordura nylon will withstand extreme abrasion and will shed most of the water that falls on it during a heavy rain; thus protecting any gear that is contained inside of it.

So, as you can see, carrying these simple, basic, survival gear items with you on all of your outdoor adventures can make a huge difference in your comfort level even if you are only planning on staying out for a duration of a single day or a even a single afternoon. However, if your short-term adventure should inadvertently turn out to be a long-term misadventure, then also carrying a properly stocked survival kit and a properly designed survival knife can make a your extended stay in the wilderness a simple exercise in practicing your survival skills as opposed to a miserable struggle to stay alive. Therefore, I will cover these two topics in the second part of this article.

Written by,
Bill Bernhardt
Outdoor Professional