Lately I’ve been on a kick of researching various off grid shelters, most of which are meant to make life comfortable for people living in remote areas for extended periods of time. However, this research has also brought me to looking at emergency shelters for use in survival situations. These have intrigued me.
The problem with these emergency shelters is that if I have the time, materials and tools to build one I’m really not in an emergency survival situation. I look at emergency survival situations as being caught off guard by weather, sustaining injury or getting lost. Any of those requires me to craft a shelter in under an hour, not for comfort but for survival.
This got me thinking. If I’m going to be heading out into the woods, placing myself in a situation where I might be required to spend the night should things take an unexpected turn what is the minimum list of things I need to have with me? I am far from being an expert so look at this as a conversation starter. Where could I be off? What have I forgotten.
This is a minimum. later on I’ll add a few items I should probably include if the risk of an extended stay in the woods is a lot higher.
First you need a pack. This could be a fanny pack or a small backpack or even a bag tied to the end of a stick but this list is going to be a little more than what you can stuff in your cargo pants. With that being said, it should be sized for the load you will be carrying.
If it’s too large your stuff will be jostling around inside. Not only is this bad for your stuff it can also cause you to lose your balance or more easily catch the bag on a limb. If it’s too small you run the risk of it failing on you.
I’m not opposed to cheap packs as long as they fit you right and are sturdy enough to last through the expedition that you are planning. I can’t see spending big bucks if you are a casual hiker but the heavier you are going to rely on the equipment the more durable and robust it needs to be.
What goes into the pack? The first thing I would put in it would be a first aid kit. “Wait, what,” you ask? Yes, a first aid kit before anything else. If you are stuck out in the wilderness and need to spend the night there is very high likelihood that the reason is that you are injured.
You don’t have to go crazy with this but you do need to be able to take care of cuts, scrapes and blisters. At a minimum you need some adhesive bandages, hand sanitizer and an anti-septic ointment. This guy has a good list on a minimalist first-aid kit.
I wouldn’t worry about splints or tourniquets or the other bulky stuff. All of that can be fashioned from your surroundings and some of the other stuff on this list.
The next thing I would add would be a metal canteen, one you can lay in the fire. Make sure it is rated for being heated. There are some out there with coatings that aren’t too happy with being heated. Also make sure the cap can stand the heat or can be removed.
If you find yourself stuck overnight out in the woods one quart of water isn’t going to be enough. So along with this canteen a spare liter of bottled water could save your bacon.
Remember, it isn’t just heat that can cause you to dehydrate, wind will do a number on you also. Play it safe, you will need water even if your excursion goes exactly as planned.
Always carry a pocket knife. Those multitools are nice as are the Swiss Army knives but I personally prefer a good folding knife with a locking blade or a sheath knife with a full tang. It’s no fun to have a blade unexpectedly close on you.
The knife is versatile and it goes hand in hand with the rest of the stuff on this list. It’s just the thing for quickly whittling out a pile of tender to start your fire. Add to that the fact that something always needs to be cut.
Just remember one thing, sharpen that knife before going out into the woods. A dull knife is just dangerous. I’ve cut myself way more often on a dull knife that has required me to use more force to cut with than the sharp knife that cuts with ease.
You might need to start a fire. There are all sorts of fire starting systems being marketed but a Bic lighter will start a fire as well as any of them and they are cheap. They also take up very little space.
If you find yourself in the Arctic you might want to invest in one of those magnesium fire sticks to get wet, frozen kindling to light but with decent tender a Bic lighter will start a fire just as well.
I do want to caution you, though. Fire can get away from you really quick. I don’t advise starting a fire unless you need it for warmth or to dry out wet clothes. Make sure to clear combustibles away from your fire and don’t make it larger than you need to get the job done. Building a fire ring from rocks is always advisable. They not only can contain your fire to a safe area they can also act as a wind break to lower the risk of embers being carried away.
Paracord is something you should never leave home without. It is a great lashing material and the mil spec stuff is strong. No, don’t use it for climbing but it is great for securing about anything.
It works with your first aid kit as a tourniquet. It can be used to build a stretcher if you need to carry someone out and with the next item on my list it can help you fashion a shelter.
You don’t need a huge spool of this stuff, 25 yards or so is a lot for emergency usage. I’ve seen some fairly fashionable bracelets with that much.
With a few large plastic trash bags packed away you will find yourself with a very quick shelter even if you don’t require sleeping in the woods. How many times have you found yourself caught outside and a sudden rainstorm pop up? Pull out a trash bag, throw it over your head and cut out a face hole in the side and you have an instant rain coat.
Gather together some evergreen boughs or pile up some grass or other plant matter that won’t blow away and two of these bags, one for your top, the other for your bottom, and you have a great bevvy bag for sleeping on top of and underneath that debris.
Folded up they take up very little room. Heck, five or six of these bags along with sticks lashed together with your paracord and more debris and you probably could throw together a decent debris shelter.
Invest in a compass and learn how to use it. This one thing could possibly keep you from having to use the things above.
I can generally tell you about which way I’m heading most of the time. I can do it because I know how the sun travels across the sky. In cloudy weather that changes. In a forest with hilly terrain that changes. And at night that also changes.
If you know generally where you are and if you know generally where roads, towns or people are in relation to where you are you can use a compass to get you back to people.
You can get a decent compass for a relatively cheap price. I like the ones like pictured here. Check for military surplus.
Anyone should be able to go a few days without food but if you find yourself in a survival situation you will have a much better outlook on your situation if your stomach isn’t growling. I’d throw in a couple of power bars. Pick something with a lot of calories and you want fat. Also pick something that is tolerable but not what you would pick for a snack. These are emergency supplies only. Remember?
That’s my minimal list, the things I believe are essential to give you the best chance at survival and I believe they will all fit in a fanny pack. Of course we haven’t talked about clothing and you should probably have dressed in layers for you day hike.
You need room in your pack for the clothes you need but won’t be wearing the whole time. That means going from fanny pack to backpack and a little extra room. So can we fit a few more things in that larger pack. Here’s what I’d add, especially if my planned time on the trails was more than six hours.
A small tarp. Add the paracord and some sticks and you now have an excellent shelter. Don’t substitute this for the trash bags, use it to enhance the trash bags.
Seriously, this can be configured as a tent or a lean-to. It can also provide you with a floor in wet weather. These come in sizes as small as 4’X8′ and are really very compact when folded.
I would chose the 8’X10′ size mainly because I’m a big guy and that size would allow me to make a tent with a floor that was pretty well all enclosed.
Two more items I’d add if there were room, the first is a folding camp saw. This isn’t a necessity but it sure would assist in cutting sticks to length or taking down very small trees for poles. You could improvise with sharp rocks so it isn’t a necessity but it is nice.
The same goes for my second item, a hatchet. You don’t need it to survive but it would make splitting up little logs into firewood much easier than using your knife and an improvised mallet. it would be much better on your knife.
For now that’s my list. Like I said, I’m no expert and I could be missing a lot. What would you add? What would you change? What would you take out? I look forward to the conversation.