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AdventureExploration & Survival

What essential supplies should be in a wilderness survival grab-bag?

I’m trying to build up a comprehensive survival “grab-bag” of sorts, with items such as a compass, medical supplies, and emergency food. What are your recommendations for essential supplies that should be in such a kit? Colton Chaska, Minnesota

A: That’s an interesting and important question. The standard list, of course, is the classic “10 Essentials" pieced together by The Mountaineers in Seattle. C’mon, class, let’s all recite in unison:

Silva Ranger 515 CL

Ranger 515 CL

1. Navigation (compass and maps in a watertight case)
2. Sun Protection
3. Insulation (extra clothing)
4. Illumination (headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries)
5. First-aid kit
6. Fire (water-proof matches or butane lighter)
7. Repair kit and tools
8. Nutrition (no-cook foods)
9. Hydration (including filters)
10. Emergency shelter

These days, most lists add another two items:
1. Whistle
2. Food storage device

Exactly how you fill out this list is a matter of personal preference and experience. For a compass, for instance, I prefer old standbys such as the Silva Ranger 515 CL ($75; Note that a GPS unit is NOT a reliable substitute for a compass for the simple reason that they require batteries, which can fail. For a first-aid kit, I make my own with a good supply of gauze, heavy dressings to absorb blood, elastic bandages, small tools to remove splinters and the like, Betadine antibiotic solution, anti-itch cream, antibiotic cream, Band-Aids, blister supplies, etc. Pre-assembled kits such as the Adventure Medical Personal Essentials First-Aid Kit ($39; are perfectly fine. And I usually carry a headlamp versus a flashlight, as it’s easier to use hands-free. The Petzl Tikka XP ($45; is a reliable choice.

I think some people overlook emergency shelter, number ten, but it’s worth paying attention to, particularly on day trips when you probably won’t have a tent. A Gore-Tex bivouac bag is the heavy-duty solution (most run around $200). The Space Emergency Bag ($10; is a cheaper, single-use substitute.

And never forget the most important item: common sense. That entails both the ability to forecast and avoid hazardous situations, and the willingness to pitch in and help when emergencies arise. An excellent book on this subject is Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales. It goes deep into the psychology of backcountry survival and is a useful primer on how to pay attention to your mental state when a crisis emerges.

The votes are in: Check out the winners of Outside's 2006 Gear of the Year awards, including the year's hottest backpacks and tents.

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Filed To: Survival
Lead Photo: courtesy, Silva