Survival Gear List – Expect the Unexpected

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This list of survival gear comprises all the essential equipment required to survive in a remote location while hiking, camping, hunting, or simply exploring the outdoors.

Depending on the duration and distance of your planned trip, you can choose from three different gear levels. We have also included examples of specific gear that we have tested and regularly use.

Survival Gear List
Jason showing his Survival Gear
Some of my basic survival gear

Our team has over 35 years of experience researching and testing survival gear. We also have military experience and spend a lot of time outdoors. Being prepared physically and mentally is our thing!

Keep reading to find not only the best survival gear but also what you need to know to be prepared and expect the unexpected. After all, all the gear in the world won’t help you if you don’t know how to use it!


Survival Gear List – The Survival Stoic Strategy

We firmly believe that thinking through the scenarios you may face is a big part of training your mindset for survival. If you are on a hike and get lost or injured, you have already mentally prepared for it. This will allow you to think, not panic, and execute your plan.

Part of this is building your own survival kit. This way, you will know each item and why you have it.

To understand your survival priorities, review our guide on the Survival Rule of 3. This guide provides guidelines that are the basis of designing your gear list.

While it is easy for me to just throw the kitchen sink at you with the longest survival gear list known to man, a more practical approach is to use a multi-level system. Depending on your situation, carrying a huge amount of gear may not make sense. You can’t carry everything you might need. You have to pick and choose.

I like to choose my survival gear based on the distance I plan to travel. Below, I have divided the items above into a survival kit for levels 1, 2, and 3.

Each level is based on a distance. I use the furthest distance I plan to be away from my vehicle or camp at any time.

For each level, also consider the number of people in your group. I have listed each item either per person or per group. For some items, you only need one, even if you have many people.

Here’s a quick explanation of what each level kit means. Pick which level you’d like to prepare for, and then keep reading to grab the exact gear you need.

Jason showing his basic survival gear
My Basic Level 1 Survival Kit

Level 1 Survival Kit

This is the bare minimum you should have on hand. If you are hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, or just spending time outside in a remote area, make sure these items are part of your base survival kit. For a day hike, for example, the furthest distance away from safety should be less than six miles.

Level 2 Survival Kit

This level assumes that you will be camping overnight. The furthest distance traveled away from safety should be less than 12 miles.

Level 3 Survival Kit

This level is typically for thru-hiking or backpacking. You would travel from one destination to another over 12 miles.

One more note for the items below. Use our discount codes below to save money:


1. First Aid Kit

This should be your priority over other items. If you or someone in your group has a major injury, you will be at a huge disadvantage even just a few miles from your destination.

Jason showing the survival first aid kits that he uses
The three survival first aid kits that I use regularly

The type of first aid kit you need depends mostly on the number of people in your group and your activity. A kit for a day hiker will look much different than a kit for a hunting camp.

Our first aid kit guides below include our favorite kits for each scenario. Sometimes, it is best to keep a larger kit in your vehicle or at camp and carry a smaller one with you.

If my kit does not include an N95 mask, I will add one. These weigh very little and are invaluable for escaping wildfire. Wildfires can be unpredictable and escaping is not as easy as it sounds.

Summary of Critical Items:


2. Shelter

Maintaining our body heat is the second priority in a survival situation. When our body gets too hot or too cold, hypothermia or heat exhaustion can set it quickly. This will greatly reduce your ability to perform all of the other actions needed to survive.

We are at the most risk of losing body heat at night when temperatures are cooler and we are not as active. An easy way to think of shelter is you need something to sleep in, on, and under.

Jason showing the Survival Frog Emergency Tent
My Survival Frog Emergency Tent

Sometimes, you may be camping and already have a tent to sleep in. Shelter becomes important when you don’t expect to be out overnight. For example, you plan for a day hike but get lost.

There are two basic ways to prepare here. Bring your shelter with you or build one. These guides can help you decide.

Building your own shelter can take time. Therefore, at a minimum, I recommend an emergency tent in your survival kit. They can be used in a variety of ways, are lightweight, and have kept me dry on rainy nights.

A lightweight tarp is a good option for additional protection. Also, consider a lightweight tent like the One Tigris Bushcraft Shelter 2.0. It sets up similar to a tarp but has full sides and a bug net, so it offers more protection than just a tarp or emergency tent, however it does weigh more.

Jason showing the one Tigris survival tent
My One Tigris Bushcraft 2.0 Shelter

Summary of Critical Items:


3. Survival Blanket

This item will help supplement a survival shelter by insulating you from the ground—it is something to sleep on. It is not a thin, cheap emergency blanket, but a waterproof blanket with a reflective side.

Jason showing his Arcturus Survival Blanket
My Arcturus Survival Blanket

It can also be used as a signal to rescuers or to reflect the heat from a fire into a shelter. Since it is waterproof, it protects from soggy ground.

I keep one of these in my truck along with my survival gear. It is lightweight and versatile.

Summary of Critical Items:


4. Sleeping Bivy, Bag, or Blanket

This item is the third component of maintaining body heat – it is something to sleep in.

If you do not plan to spend the night outside, take an emergency Bivy. They are small, lightweight, and can get you through the night.

Jason showing his Survival Bivy
A compact Bivy and tent are essential to staying warm through the night

Sometimes, you may already have a sleeping bag and plan to spend the night outside. Ensure you have a bag rated for at least 20 degrees cooler than the expected low temperature. I like to supplement my sleeping bag with a wool camping blanket in cold weather.

See our guide to the Best Wool Camping Blankets for some good choices. Also see our Ampex Gear Review for my favorite sleeping bag.

If weight is a concern and I have a tent, I use the survival blanket above or an emergency Bivy for additional coverage if I need it.

Summary of Critical Items:


5. Fire Starting Kit

Fire is important for warmth, especially in cold, damp conditions. A small fire-starting kit is easy to purchase or build yourself.

Jason showing his survival fire kit
Some of the items in my Survival Fire Kit

Make sure your kit includes multiple ignition sources. A basic BIC lighter is one of the easiest to keep in your kit. A second one, like a Ferro rod, is also a good choice. Lighters can freeze in very cold weather.

Also, keep some sort of fire tinder in your kit. Ideally, the tinder should be waterproof and allow you to use a portion at a time to start more than one fire. This is key to starting a fire in a damp, unfamiliar area.

I have listed my favorite kit below, along with a few waterproof fire plugs I have used. I also included the Outdoor Element Ferro Rod, which includes a built-in whistle, striker, and fire tinder inside the handle. It is very compact and a great item that saves space and weight.

Jason showing the Outdoor Element Fire Flute
My Outdoor Element Fire-flute

See our full survival fire kit guide for more ideas and tips.

Summary of Critical Items:


6. Rescue Signal

After first aid and maintaining body temperature, a way to signal for help should be your next priority.

Two basic methods can be used: visual and audible.

Visual methods include a signaling mirror, bright items, and smoke. The Wazoo Cache Cap I mention below in clothing is one of my favorite multi-use items. The inside of the cap is bright orange with reflective strips and can be used as a signaling device. The survival blanket and bivy I recommended above and the bandana in the clothing section below can also be used as a signal.

Jason showing his signal hat and signal mirror
Some of my visual signals, my Wazoo hat and signal mirror

Since I already have a fire kit, once I have a good fire going, I can simply use green vegetation to create a lot of smoke. There is no need for a separate product to create smoke signals.

Audible methods include whistles, radios, and Satellite communicators. The Tact Bivy and Outdoor Element ferro rod above both include whistles.

GMRS radios are easy to use and have a range of a few miles, depending on the terrain. Before I head out into the woods, I tell someone who is not with me when I expect to be back and that I will call them. If I do not, they are to contact rescuers. I also tell them I will monitor a certain channel on my radio, and rescuers can then contact me on that channel.

Note that the radio I recommend below can be charged via a USB port. Many radios require a desktop stand that uses a standard wall outlet, which is not something you will have out in the wilderness. In this pic are my Hybridlight flashlight (mentioned later) charging my Baofeng GM-15 Radio.

Jason showing his flashlight charging a GMRS Radio
Charging my Radio with my Hybridlight Solar Flashlight

For the ultimate in communication, go with a satellite communicator. Distance doesn’t matter if you have a clear view of the sky.

Summary of Critical Items:


7. Water Filtration and Containers

We can only last a few days without clean water depending on the conditions and how much we are active. Once you are warm and have a signaling method ready, it is time to secure clean drinking water.

Jason showing his survival water filter and bottle
My Grayl, Nesting Cup, Kleen Kanteen, and Sawyer mini

The easiest way to do this is with a water filter. While water can be boiled to make it safe for drinking, it takes time, and you need something to boil it in.

My favorite water filter is the Grayl Geopress. It looks and works just like a water bottle, which I usually carry anyway. I carry my Grayl instead and filter water when I need it. I don’t have to mess around with bags, tubes, tablets, or anything else; I just press and drink.

Jason using the Grayl Geopress Water Filter
Jason using the Grayl Geopress Water Filter

I also like to carry the Grayl Patherfinder nesting cup with my Geopress. It does not take up any more room since the Geopress bottle nests into it, and it is metal, so I can use it to warm or boil water. If something happens to my water filter, I have a backup way to boil water. I can also use warm water to make tea or cook, which is especially helpful in cold temperatures. This can be a lifesaver for someone slipping into hypothermia.

A second container to hold water is also essential. This allows me to carry more than the Grayl bottle can hold, or to carry water if I only have the Sawyer filter. It can also serve as a container to hold my other survival items and protect them until I need them.

I like the Kleen Kanteen non-insulated Stainless steel bottles. I prefer non-insulated bottles because I can also use them to boil water if I need to.

See our guide to the best survival water filters for more options and how to choose the best filter for you.

I should also mention a sillcock key here. This will allow you to turn on water faucets at or near industrial buildings since most do not have a knob and require this special key. If you are in a remote area, it is not needed, but it could be useful if you are planning a survival kit for an urban area.

Summary of Critical Items:


8. Cutting Tools

Cutting Tools are a critical item for survival. If I had nothing else, I could use a sturdy belt knife to make shelter, fire, signal, and many other items from what I find in the environment.

Jason showing some of his survival cutting tools
Some of my cutting tools that are always with me outdoors

Belt Knife

Anytime you venture out into the woods, make sure you have a full-tang belt knife. It is an essential tool, and if I had nothing else, I could make everything I need to survive with a belt knife. This is not a huge Rambo-style “survival knife.”

For all the details on what type of knife you need, see our guide on the best bushcraft knife.

Multi-Tool

In addition to a primary knife, carry a backup. The best options I have found are multi-tools and Swiss Army knives. Both have their place, but I tend to lean toward a multi-tool simply because of the large pliers.

See our guides to the best survival multi tool and the best Swiss Army knife for more on both of these.

Folding Saw

Folding saws are one of the best tools for quickly processing wood for fire or shelter. Even a smaller folding saw can cut wood safer and quicker than an axe. In a survival situation, a smaller saw is better since it is lightweight, and we are not planning to live in the woods for an extended period of time.

See our guide to the best survival saw for choosing the best one for you.

Axe

While Axes certainly have their place in the woods, they are not typically what I would refer to as a survival item. However, if you are planning to camp or hunt for an extended period of time, you certainly need one. If you are unfamiliar with using an axe, stick with a saw. Axes are one of the most dangerous tools you can use.

See our guide to the best bushcraft axe for more details on choosing an axe and my favorite.

Summary of Critical Items:


9. Navigation

With today’s technology, there is no reason to become lost in a remote area.

Jason showing some of his survival navigation tools, watch, compass, GPS
My GPS Watch, Compass, and GPS unit

I wear a GPS watch every day as part of my EDC, and I set my home as a waypoint. If I go hiking, camping, or hunting, I also set my vehicle or campsite as a waypoint. The trackback feature allows me to see where I have traveled and easily find my way back.

Read our full guide on the best survival watch for more tips and our top picks.

I also have a small handheld GPS unit as a backup. These are easier to use than a watch, can be shared with others, and have longer battery life.

Even though modern tech is nice, there could be an issue with your gear or the GPS satellites. People have been using a compass to navigate for hundreds of years. They are small and lightweight, so there is no reason not to have one as a backup.

Read our full guide on the best survival compass for our picks and more details on how to choose one.

A map of the area you are traveling in is also a must, even if you have a GPS unit. I use a map to see areas to avoid and landmarks that I can use to maintain my sense of direction. Make sure the map shows topographical lines to see elevation changes (like cliffs you can’t navigate).

Another navigation aid that many don’t talk about is your mind. If you do not always know which way North is, start practicing ways to remember or recognize it. Landmarks like mountains, the angle of the sun at a particular time of day, and trees can all give you clues if you become disoriented.

Critical items:


10. Survival Food

I always like to carry some type of food with me. Typically, it is just a ration or energy bar. While we can live quite a while without food, I have found being hungry has a big impact on my energy levels and mental state.

Jason showing the survival food that he uses for his survival kit
Some of the food I keep in my survival kits

I like the Millennium energy bars because they have a five-year shelf life and are not affected by temperature. I have tried Cliff bars and some others, but they are not as durable.

For extreme circumstances, I like to keep a few Survival Tabs with me. These little tablets have vitamins, minerals, and just enough fat to keep me going if my time out gets prolonged. They take up very little room and are a good insurance policy.

On longer trips or if I am with more people, I like to keep a few freeze-dried meals with me. Mountain House and Nutrient Survival are my two top picks. Mountain House tastes better, but their meals take up more room and are more expensive. Nutrient Survival’s meals come in small single-serving packs (plus you can save with our discount code).

Freeze-dried meals need hot water to prepare, so make sure you have the nesting cup I mentioned in the water section above.

Also, see our full Nutrient Survival review for our favorite kits and meals.

When I carry freeze-dried meals, I also carry some type of utensil. A plastic spork will do, but I also like the Omni-tensil set that Outdoor Element has. It rolls up into a handy towel. Grayl also has a titanium utensil that is very compact, lightweight, and durable.

Critical items:


11. Survival Stove

If you have ever tried to boil water and cook over a fire, you know that it is not so easy, depending on how you build the fire and what you have to work with.

Small survival or backpacking stoves can make it much easier, especially when fuel is scarce or wet.

Jason showing his survival stoves
My Outdoor Element Stove and my Grayl gas stove

The Outdoor Element titanium stove only weighs 10.8 ounces and folds flat, so it takes up very little room. I have used it to contain a fire using just leaves and small sticks, and it directs the heat while holding my container nicely at the top. With this stove, I can use much less fuel and heat water faster than with a full campfire.

Another option I like is the Grayl titanium backpacking stove. This stove weighs 28 grams (less than one ounce, not including fuel) and uses small backpacking isobutane fuel canisters. With this, I can heat water anywhere, anytime, without needing wood. I can light it with any spark from my lighter or Ferro rod.

They both work perfectly with the Grayl nesting cup I mentioned above.

Jason showing his survival stoves with the pathfinder nesting cup
My pathfinder nesting cup works great with both

Critical Items:


12. Cordage

Cordage has so many uses that I include it in all my kits. Paracord is my main go-to since it is strong and can be broken down into individual strands when smaller cords are needed. I can use it to make a quick shelter, a splint for a broken bone, or to help carry items.

Jason showing some of his paracord for his survival kit, a paracord bracelet and regular paracord
Some of my paracord lines and the Outdoor Element Paracord Bracelet

For basic paracord, I often use Paracord Planet on Amazon. They offer many different colors and lengths.

Survivor cord is another good option. It is a little more expensive but includes three extra strands. A fire tinder strand, utility wire, and fishing line are built right into the cord, plus the normal strands. I like having the extras in the same amount of space.

I also like Outdoor Element’s Kodiak Survival paracord bracelet. It is truly multi-functional. It includes paracord with a fire tinder strand, two 20-lb-test fishing line strands, and extra nylon strands. The buckle has a built-in Ferro rod and striker. The woven paracord also has a #8 fishhook inside.

If I wear this bracelet and lose all of my other gear, I still have a way to start a fire and even fish if needed.

Critical Items:


13. Lighting

This one seems obvious: You need to be able to see in the dark. Unfortunately, people do not plan to be out after dark, so it is not something they think about.

Jason showing some of his survival lights. Headlamps and an EDC flashlight
My flashlight and a couple of my headlamps

A flashlight is a basic survival essential. I tend to avoid rechargeable types, as I have a hard time remembering to charge them if I don’t use them very often. I carry a flashlight as part of my EDC, so I typically have one with me most of the time anyway. I do keep spare batteries for it in my vehicle and in my kit, though.

I find a headlamp much more useful than a flashlight since it frees up my hands. I like the Petzel Tactikka Core since it has a rechargeable battery that can be replaced by three AAA batteries. It also has a red light that I can use at night so my eyes don’t have to adjust from light to dark and back to light again.

The Eveready headlamps are a good option if you are on a budget. They are very affordable but do not have a red light.

I also like the Hybridlight Journey 300 Solar Flashlight. It can recharge with the sun and charge other USB devices as well (like my radio shown above in the signaling section.)

Critical Items:


14. Clothing

While I don’t want to dwell on the obvious, many people don’t dress for the weather. When going out for the day, you should have enough clothing for the expected low that evening, even if you don’t plan on being out that late. Just carry a jacket on or in your pack.

Jason showing some of his survival clothing
A Hat, Poncho, and Gloves are often forgotten

I like to carry a good military-style poncho. This is not one of the cheap disposable ponchos, but a full heavy poncho with grommets. In addition to using it as a poncho, I can use paracord to make an emergency shelter or to collect rainwater. Army Navy Outdoors has some good military surplus ponchos or the USGI poncho on Amazon are good choices.

For hats, the Wazoo Cache Cap is one of my favorites. Not only does the SPF50 fabric keep the sun off of my head, but the interior is also colored blaze orange with reflective strips that I can use as a signal. It also has pockets where I can hold small items like cash or fish hooks and lines.

See our guide on the best survival hats for more on my favorite hats.

A banana is another simple item that has many uses. I can use it to filter silty water before I use my Grayl (to help keep the filter clean), as a trail marker, or a signal. The Colter Stayin Alive bandana is bright orange and is another good multi-function tool that takes up little space.

If you have ever been hiking and got your feet wet, you know how bad that can be later in the day. I like carrying a backup pair of wool socks that dry quickly and keep my feet warm.

Gloves are another item that is often forgotten about. A pair of leather gloves keeps my hands warm and allows me to handle hot items around a fire.

Critical items:


15. Device Charger

Your cell phone or radio can be your lifeline to safety. However, when I am in a low-signal area, my phone battery tends to run down very quickly. By the end of the day, it can be almost dead, when it normally isn’t.

Jason showing the Device chargers he keeps in his survival kits
My QuadraPro and Batterix Chargers

I like the QuadraPro Solar charger. It charges my phone wirelessly, so I don’t have to remember and carry charging cables. It also has a built-in flashlight, and I can charge it by unfolding the solar panels. I found that it will charge even in cloudy weather, so I can maintain my phone battery as long as I don’t use it a lot.

For a lightweight option, I like the Battarix charge card. It is about the size of a couple of credit cards and holds a charge for eight years. It comes pre-charged and sealed in a package, so it is great for emergencies. It also has built-in cables for Android and iPhones.

Critical Items


16. Field Guide

I can study and practice my survival skills regularly but still forget things. Knowing what to do in a high-pressure situation can be even harder. Keeping a survival field guide with me gives me more peace of mind than anything. I know that if I get caught out unexpectedly and can’t remember the best way to accomplish a task, I have something to reference.

I like Dave Canterbury’s Bushcraft Essentials Field Guide. It is full of information and small enough to keep in a small pack.

Jason showing the survival field guide that he carries
My Survival Field Guide

Critical Item:


17. Self Defense

This often gets overlooked in most survival gear guides. While an attack can happen anywhere, attacks from wild animals or even other humans are possible in remote areas.

I always carry my concealed carry handgun when possible. We have a full concealed carry guide discussing everything from the right gun to purchase to holsters and training.

Jason showing the self defense tools he carries, a handgun and pepper spray
A handgun and pepper spray are good self defense tools

If carrying a firearm is not your thing, consider pepper spray. I keep a couple of small cans of pepper spray in my survival kits. I like the snap version that POM makes. It is easy to use, and the clip makes it easy to carry on my pack.

Critical Items:


18. Other Survival Items

Here are a few additional survival items that I have found useful.

Jason showing a few of the survival extras he carries, med packs, tape, sharpie, carabiners
Some of the extras that I carry in my survival kits

Sharpie – I can write on almost anything with a Sharpie. They are useful for leaving a note behind or making notes on my hand/arm (for example, so I don’t forget what bearing I am traveling in).

Duct Tape – It has so many uses from making shelters to starting a fire. Instead of taking an entire roll, roll some up on a Ferro rod or round item. I prefer the one-inch gorilla tape.

Carabiners – These simple devices allow me to quickly hang items. I like to keep the Outdoor Element Fire Escape carabiner in my truck. It is not only a carabiner but also has a seat belt cutter, glass breaker, and built-in fire starter.

Sunscreen and Insect Repellent—I find these very handy when spending “unexpected” time outdoors. Some of the first aid kits I mentioned above include these. If yours does not, add a few small packets to your kit. There is no need for huge bottles here (I linked to a kit below).

Medication—Similar to sunscreen, keep a few tablets of Motrin, immodium, and allergy meds in your kit (if your first aid kit doesn’t have them). A few tablets weigh nearly nothing. Take some out of your medicine cabinet and put them in individual, labeled zip-lock bags. Or, just buy what I have linked below.

Trash Bags—Heavy contractor style garbage bags (at least 2 mil thick) are a great extra to carry that takes up little weight or space. I have used them as a ground cover, stuffed them with leaves for a mattress, and used one as a poncho.

Critical Items:


Get Familiar with Your Survival Gear

As I mentioned, a big part of our survival mindset is building our own kit and getting familiar with each item.

Take your gear out in the woods and imagine you are lost or stranded. Pitch your emergency tent, build a fire, and signal for help. I like to practice a scenario when someone in my group gets injured and cannot walk. I should be able to get them under a shelter and start a fire in less than five minutes. I should also be able to communicate my exact location with my GPS and from a map.

Now that you have everything you need to survive check out our How to Start Prepping guide. It has everything you need to be prepared for emergencies at home or when traveling.

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Jason has an engineering and problem solving background. He is an avid outdoorsman, survivalist, and competitive shooter. He enjoys researching the best and most practical solutions for the problem at hand, studying stoicism, and finding innovative ways to be prepared.