A Survival Kit You Can Live With



Published in NRA's "American Hunter"

A Survival Kit You Can Live With



Ron Gayer


 As a guide and outfitter, I have found lost hunters on several occasions. Most carried only their rifles. Some did not even have a knife. But all told the same story, “When I left my car I thought I would only be an hour or two, then I got lost”.


To be a survivor and not a statistic in a field emergency, you need a survival kit you can live with. As hunters are rightly concerned with the weight they carry afield, your first order of business must be to keep your survival kit light by limiting it to the essentials. Next, develop the habit of taking your survival pack with you every time you go into the field. Lastly, learn how to use your survival equipment properly. Remember, knowing how to use your equipment is as important as having it!


Selection of the exact contents of a survival kit must be based on personal needs, terrain and climate. Still, many survival kit items are universal. My personal survival kit contains the following items based on many years of experience as a hunter and guide.



Every survival kit should have a reliable compass! In my experience, a major reason hunters get lost is due to the loss of visual references often caused by darkness, rain, fog, snow or low clouds that move in. But don’t wait until you are already lost before digging out your compass. Always fix your compass position before you leave camp, otherwise you will have no clue how to get back. What about a GPS? I use mine all the time. But a compass works without batteries, provided of course you know how to use it!



A large-scale map of the area you plan to be hunting or hiking in is indispensable. Preferably a waterproof map. In my experience, paper maps exposed to rain or snow quickly dissolve. If you are lost and your map self-destructs in your hands, your positive attitude melts with the map.

Search and Rescue experts emphasize that a positive mental attitude is critical to survival.



Matches and some fire starting tinder beats rubbing sticks together, especially in windy or wet situations. In cold weather, being able to get a fire started can be the difference between life and death. I prefer waterproof matches stored in a plastic or metal container that will float. As tinder to aid in starting a fire, I use solid fuel tablets like “Esbit”. Many hunters carry disposable lighters. While these are light and inexpensive, they do not work well at higher elevations. In my opinion, lighters are a good addition to any survival kit, but should not replace waterproof matches.



A good headlamp frees both my hands for work in darkness. I always carry spare batteries and an extra bulb. Be sure to replace the batteries at the start of each hunting season.



A strong, high quality, multiple function tool with a nylon sheath is an essential that will serve you well. While there are many excellent models to choose from, I prefer a full-size, stainless steel folding tool with a knife blade about 4-5” in length. In my experience, nylon sheaths have proven more durable than leather ones.


Space Blanket

One essential for any survival pack is a space blanket. These waterproof, windproof blankets can be folded into a small, lightweight package and have many survival uses including sleeping bag, ground cloth, shelter, heat reflector and signaling device. Or, they can serve as a rain or snow poncho, litter or raft.


Large Trash Bags

Experience has taught me to carry three or four large, plastic trash bags in my survival pack. I recommend the heavyweight, 3 mil thick lawn and leaf bags. Such bags are lightweight, waterproof and have hundreds of uses including rain covers, ground cloths and wind blocks.


Stainless Steel Cup

A large (12 oz. plus capacity) stainless steel cup is not only essential for drinking, it also enables you heat water and cook food. You can’t heat water in paper or plastic cups!



Water Purification Tablets Or Filter

A source of clean drinking water is essential for survival. And, don’t count on boiling water to make it safe to drink. At high altitudes, boiling will consume a lot of fuel and take too much time. Small water purification filter systems designed for individuals are OK, but somewhat bulky. For this reason I prefer water purification tablets and two, plastic water bottles. Drink from one while you treat water in the other.


Wire Saw

A compact, inexpensive and lightweight wire saw will make short work of building a shelter or cutting a supply of firewood. These saws will also cut metal, plastic, bone and most composite materials.


Parachute Cord

Parachute cord is indispensable for building a shelter, tying a splint or sling, improvising a litter or carrying equipment. About 50 feet should do it, but get the heavier, stronger types. And learn to tie several types of strong knots!



Always pack some food. I have found high-energy bars and bouillon cubes are light and withstand long term storage. I also carry tea bags, instant soup and some hard candy. All are convenient and easy to prepare. When you are cold to the bone some hot tea or soup will give you a whole new outlook.


Whistle And Signal Mirror

Even if injured, you can still blow the whistle or flash the mirror to signal for help. A whistle can also be used to frighten away animals and the mirror can be used to assess facial cuts or eye injuries.


First Aid Kit

Most basic first aid kits include disinfectant wipes, bandages, adhesive tape, pain reliever, tweezers and sunscreen. Many types of professionally prepared, prepackaged commercial kits are available. The important point is to select a good one, include any necessary personal medications and keep it updated as the contents are used or become overage.


Toilet Paper

You would be surprised at how many survival kits forget this important item! Besides its obvious use, toilet paper can also be used to clean equipment, as tinder to start a fire or as a quick wound dressing.




Don’t forget sunglasses. If you get caught in a midsummer heat wave or in a snowstorm with out them you will pay a dear price. Sun or snow blindness adds another layer of grief to a lost hunter.


Paper And Pencil

I pack a small, spiral bound notepad and a mechanical pencil in my survival kit. If necessary, I can leave messages to assist rescuers in finding me, make important notes or even use the paper to start a fire.


These are the basics of my personal survival kit. The entire contents of my kit can be packed into a nylon 12 inch x 15 inch bag and weighs just over three pounds. This kit is easy to carry and takes up very little space—both important aspects of a survival kit you can live with. However, it is important to note that the contents of your survival kit depends on your individual needs, the season, the location and the circumstances, so plan intelligently and accordingly.






The Extras


Experienced outdoorsmen often pack additional items that are multi functional. Some of my favorite extras include:


Paper Coffee Filters.

You can filter drinking water prior to purification, use them as a fire starter, pot scrubbers, wound dressing, gun cleaning and so on.


Aluminum Foil

Heavy-duty aluminum foil is great for cooking or as a heat reflector. Very lightweight, it’s easy to pack four or five folded 18X24 inch sheets. In a pinch you can use the foil as a signal device.


Monofiliment Fishing Line

For survival purposes, this can be handy stuff indeed. Use it for thread to repair clothing, making a snare or drying strips of meat in addition to fishing.


A Final Word

Before leaving for the backcountry, always tell someone responsible where you are going and when to expect you back. It is always a good idea to check the weather before you set out as well. But, the most importantly, take a survival kit you can live with.

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