Backpacking trips and day hikes don’t always go as planned. The weather can change unexpectedly. You can injure yourself and you might come across someone who needs help. Different times of the year can also necessitate carrying different types of survival tools or supplies. While you can technically view all of the gear that you bring on backpacking trips or day hikes (including food, layered clothing, etc) as survival gear, many people leave out items that you’d want in a true emergency, when your trip plan goes off the rails. It happens, even to people with a lot of experience.
Here’s a checklist of survival gear to help you decide what to bring, annotated with suggestions about their purpose and utility.
Emergency Communication Devices
Cell Phone: Dialing or texting 911 on a cell phone is the most effective way to summon search and rescue assistance in locations that have cell tower access. It should be tried before contacting search and rescue services with a satellite messenger or personal locator beacon.
Satellite Messenger: These devices include the Garmin inReach and inReach Mini, the Spot Gen 3, and Spot X. They provide two-way text messaging or email communication via a satellite communications link in areas where a cell phone or landlines are unavailable. They operate over private networks and require a subscription fee, like a cell phone. They can also summon public Search and Rescue services in an emergency. Garmin inReach Explorer+, Garmin inReach mini, SPOT Gen3. Note: The SPOT X is a terrible product and we strongly recommend you avoid it (click for review).
Personal Locator Beacon: These devices will send an SOS message via satellite over a public network, They are less expensive than Satellite Messengers because they run on public satellite links, but also more limited in their functionality. People carry a satellite messenger or a personal locator beacon, but not both. Arc ResQLink+GPS PLB.
Loud Whistle: If you need to get someone’s attention, you can blow a loud whistle for longer than you can yell. They’re very handy to use when you lose sight of a hiking partner but know they’re nearby. Fox 40 Classic Safety Whistle, Windstorm Safety Whistle.
Emergency Shelter and Insulation
Emergency Blanket/Bivy Bag: Reflects your body heat to help keep you warm. Also good for warming a hypothermic person. An emergency bivy sack is warmer because it provides better wind protection. Space Emergency Blanket, Space All-Weather Blanket, SOL Emergency Bivy Bag
Sleeping Pad: Provides insulation from the ground in case you unexpectedly need to spend the night out. Also good to prevent hypothermia induced by cold ground contact by an injured person. Foams pads are the most durable and lightest weight. Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sol, Blue Foam Pad
Bivy Sack: Minimalist emergency shelter in case you unexpectedly need to spend the night out. A significant step up from a mylar Emergency Bivy in terms of durability. Outdoor Research StarGazer Bivy Sack, Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy.
Tent: On long day hikes, it can be prudent to bring a tent if there’s a significant chance you’ll have to spend the night out. Carrying the rain fly of a double-wall tent may be sufficient by itself because you can wrap yourself up in it together with your insulation like a bivy sack.
Tools and Protection
Paper Map: For local area.
Emergency Matches, Lighter or Sparker: Provides a method for generating sparks to start a fire. Learn how to start a fire with tinder if you don’t know-how. UCO Stormproof Matches, Bic Mini Lighter, Light My Fire – Fire Steel.
Headlamp or Flashlight: One of the 10 essentials. In addition to being a psychological comfort, a headlamp or flashlight allows you to safely move around outdoors at night without falling. A cell phone makes a pretty poor flashlight. Petzl e+Lite, Fenix Headlamp
Extra Batteries: Match batteries to all of the vital electronic devices you carry or carry a multi-purpose power pack with different recharging adapters. Ravpower 10,000,mAh Power Pack, Anker 10,000 mAh Power Bank.
Multi-Tool: Includes folding knife and basic tools. Good for gear repair, particularly in winter for repairing damaged skis or traction. Scissors can also be helpful for applying first aid. Leatherman Micra, Leatherman Squirt, Swiss Army Classic
Bear Spray: Spray a cloud at the head of a charging bear as a deterrent. Counter Assault.
Extra First Aid Kit Items
These items are often left out of consumer first-aid kits or are not provided in sufficient quantities to be applied more than once. In a true emergency, you’d want multiple doses.
Anti-Diarrhea Medication: Helps prevent runny stools and dehydration and increase personal comfort if you contract a stomach disorder or have eaten something that disagrees with you. Imodium tablets
Anti-Allergy Medication: Reduce allergic reactions to insect stings and other substances. Can also be used as a sleep aid. Benedryl tablets.
Aspirin: Specifically as a blood thinner to prevent a heart attack.
Quick Clotting Agent: Trauma aid used to stop massive bleeding. Quick Clot
Sam Splint: Lightweight split that can be bent to splint many common injuries. Sam Splint.
Blister Prevention Tape: Protective tape applied to the skin and over hot spots to help reduce foot friction and prevent blisters before they occur. Leukotape Sports Tape, Moleskin
Irrigation Syringe: Plastic syringe useful for irrigating cuts and wounds to clean out debris and prevent infection. Best used with clean and purified water. Also useful to backflush water filters. Plastic syringe.
Medical Exam Gloves: Protects caregiver against potentially infectious body fluids of a patient. Nitrile Gloves.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!