Why You Should Carry a Wilderness Survival Kit (Yeah, I Really Mean You)

When you think of “survival” what comes to mind?  A long running hit TV show? Crazy doomsday preppers and zombie apocalypse fanatics?  How about you?  Do you come to mind?  Well, you should if you ever take a step into the wilderness.

I am talking about day hikes and family outings.  I am talking about fishing trips and climbing adventures.  People get lost all the time so I am talking about you.  Everyone should have a basic set of tools and the knowledge to use them if that-would-never-happen-to-me actually happens.

The Truth About Survival

Let’s take some actual scenarios I have encountered.

Scenario 1: Tourist A is visiting friends in Idaho.  He decides to head off to a beautiful yet infrequently visited canyon nearby on the way to his next destination.  Tourist A gets his car stuck in the thick sand on the edge of the dirt road and walks for days before he is luckily found although he is dehydrated and happy to be alive.  No extra food, no extra water, no fire, no nothing.  (There is a whole lot more craziness to this story.  Isaac will have to tell you sometime.)

Scenario 2:  High School girls going on an overnight hike, with adult supervision of course.  Taking an exploratory side hike, two girls and one adult follow the well marked trail on the way back to camp.  Unfortunately the well marked trail is not the right trail.  Search and rescue is called in and the little group is found the next afternoon.  Luckily one of the girls is prepared with a small hiking kit that has a space blanket, some snacks and a filtering water bottle.  They wouldn’t want to repeat the experience but they came out pretty well since they were prepared.

These are widely different stories but the main point is the same:  They did not expect to get lost.  Be like the girls and come prepared.

Unfortunately, you may think that wilderness survival just does not apply to you.  Shows like Survivor and Man vs. Wild make you feel like “survival” means you need to know how to spear fish and build a shelter out of a deer skin you tanned yourself.  Really the purpose of a wilderness survival kit and the skills to go with it is to SURVIVE until you can get the help you need.  People usually do not get lost in the wilderness Castaway style for years and years.  95% of Oregon Search and Rescue finds are in 20 hours or less.  So go ahead and learn to tan a deer skin if you want to but everyone should have some basic survival knowledge and a kit for emergencies.

How to Prepare

Luckily you do not have to be a bushcrafter, prepper, or even an outdoor enthusiast to make some basic preparations for wilderness travel.  But it does take some thought and some practice (and probably some duct tape).

  1. Tell someone where you are going.  SERIOUSLY.  This is a big one.  No one knows where to find you if they do not know where you were supposed to be or even if you are missing.  Take Tourist A from the example as your caution.  He could have died out in the Nevada desert because no one even knew to look for him.
  2. Think about your situation.  I have 5 kids so I need to prepare for a hike a little differently than someone going alone.  A backpacker probably needs different things than a rock climber.  You know your situation so think ahead to what survival things you might need.  Fire starter, water, knife, flashlight, etc.
  3. Get a kit.  Have you thought about what you might need?  Now get a wilderness survival kit that you can take along with you.  These can be all different sizes and shapes and everyone seems to put in different things.  We have a class that talks about pros and cons of different survival items and helps you put one together.  Or you can put it together on your own or buy one.  Just make sure it has the items you decided that you would need from #2.
  4. Know your stuff.  This goes hand in hand with #3 because if you do not know how to use the survival gear in your wilderness survival kit it is just taking up space.  We will be working on some of these basic skills in our Wilderness Survival, Outdoor Navigation or Zero to Camping fire building classes.
  5. Experience should match adventures.  A basic kit should get you through if you are going to be in a well traveled area on short day outings.  Backpacking through a wilderness area or following your car GPS to some remote location means you should probably beef up on your skills.  You know yourself best so try not to take risks you are not prepared for.

Are you convinced that you need a wilderness survival kit yet?  If you are then grab yours and get on outside!

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