Every hiker should carry some survival gear so they can stay alive long enough for search and rescue teams to arrive. If you can signal for help, you’ll be rescued eventually, but the wait can kill you. There really are some basic things you want to have with you on any hike into a wilderness area like a headlamp, a whistle, a way to make a fire, extra food and water, and nighttime insulation for an unexpected overnight. If you have a loved one who’s a dedicated hiker or just starting out, make sure they’re outfitted with what they need to survive. Here are 10 items of survival gear that every hiker should have in their gear closet and on their trips. I carry the majority of these on every single hike and backpacking trip I take.
1. Garmin inReach Explorer+
The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is a two-way satellite communicator that can transmit your GPS location to search and rescue personnel or send out tracking breadcrumbs so that someone monitoring your location can signal the authorities if you inexplicably stop moving along your route. While it also has GPS map and tracking functionality, its greatest value is as a standalone two-way satellite messenger that lets you type out messages and receive them without the need for a smartphone. If rescuers are delayed or in transit, they can still provide advice and assurance remotely until they arrive. The inReach has an onboard battery pack and can be recharged in the field with a USB recharger. Battery life is excellent. We think the Explorer+ is simpler to use than the Garmin Inreach Mini and a GPS mapping capability. Read our comparison of the Garmin inReach Mini vs the inReach Explorer+.
The Nitecore NU 32 is a very bright 550 lumen rechargeable headlamp with a larger-than-average 1800 mAh lithium-ion battery for long-lasting power. It has four brightness levels, a primary CREE spotlight and auxiliary LEDs for flood, closeup, and red lighting modes with a tilt adjustment making it ideal for night hiking, trail running, and camping. The NU 32 has a built-in power indicator and lock to prevent accidental activation, it is water-resistant to 2 meters and includes a micro-USB cable for recharging. Read our Nitecore NU32 review.
If you carry a USB-rechargeable device on a hike, it’s quite helpful to be able to recharge it if the battery runs out of juice. Most smartphones, GPS satellite messengers, headlamps, and even cameras can all be recharged with a battery like this. I carry this Anker Powercore Slim 10000 battery pack because it’s one of the smallest and lightest weight 10000 mAh batteries available, it has a quick charge capability to charge devices fast, and it recharges itself quickly when you get access to a power source.
The NEMO Switchback is a folding closed-cell foam pad that you can sit or lay on while you’re waiting for help to arrive. It has a high enough R-value to prevent the cold ground from robbing your body warmth and causing hypothermia. Thru-hikers prefer to use foam pads like these for sleeping because they’re so durable, reliable, and inexpensive. Many hikers strap them to the outside of their backpack, especially in cold weather, because it’s considered a wilderness first aid essential to insulate a patient from the cold ground. Read our Review.
The SOL Emergency Bivy only weighs 3.8 oz and is durable enough that you can use again and again (unlike most space blankets) as a sleeping bag cover or a liner for added warmth in addition to emergency use by itself. Lined with foil, it reflects 90% of your body heat and is best coupled with a foam sleeping bag like the Switchback, above, to provide insulation from the ground.
The Fox 40 is a very loud 115db signaling whistle. You can blow a whistle to attract the attention of samaritans or search and rescue personnel a lot longer and much louder than you can by yelling. A whistle’s also great to attract the attention of a lost hiker and help bring them back into contact with you. Read our Review.
The Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System includes the Sawyer Squeeze Filter, two 32 fl. oz. soft bottles, a cleaning coupling and additional accessories for gravity and inline use. To drink filtered water, you fill a soft bottle from a stream or lake, screw on the filter, and sip from the filter or decant the water into a clean container. The Squeeze is a hollow-fiber membrane filter that removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli and removes 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium. The filter itself weighs 3 ounces. Read the SectionHiker review.
The Morakniv Survival Knife includes a razor-sharp knife with a scabbard, an all-weather Morakniv fire starter, and a diamond sharpener. With a little practice, you can gather burnable materials, split kindling, and start a fire. With a durable stainless steel blade, the Morakniv Bushcraft knife is ground especially for use with a fire starter. The included fire starter yields 7,000 strikes and creates sparks at 5,430° F, making it easy to light a fire in any weather and at any altitude. The orange color is especially nice because it makes it hard to lose if you put it down on the ground.
In cold or wet weather, hypothermia is a real risk, and it pays to carry a compact stove to make hot drinks, especially if someone is injured and you need to wait for hours for rescuers to arrive. The Jetboil Flash is a fully integrated personal cook system that includes a stove, insulated pot w/lid, stove stand, and a plastic measuring cup/bowl. It’s designed to do one thing incredibly well, which is to rapidly boil water. Weighing 13.1 ounces, the Flash can boil two cups of water in 2 minutes and 15 seconds. A push-button ignition system eliminates the need to light the stove while a color change indicator on the outside of the pot insulation cover lets you know when your water is hot. When not in use, the stove, stand and a 100 g gas canister fit inside the cookpot, making it easy to pack.
Give someone you love a Wilderness First Aid Class. The most important gear you carry in the backcountry is between your ears. While it helps to have a good first aid kit, there are a lot of hiking injuries that are too severe or life-threatening for you to treat. Wilderness First Aid teaches you how to stabilize a patient until medically trained search and rescue personnel can arrive to transport them to advanced care. This training is very useful if you hike by yourself, with family or friends. It’s primarily scenario-based, so you get to practice the skills you learn in life-like simulations which make the lessons hard-to-forget. Read about my WFA Training Experiences.
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