There are many different situations that could lead to a survival scenario, and any of them could happen to you. It's not always the extreme skier that's gone off course or the trail runner that's been injured in the middle of the wilderness. Your vacation tour group may have accidentally left you behind. Or maybe your car has simply run out of gas on a desolate stretch of wintery road. The question isn't whether you could find yourself alone or stranded in a potentially life-threatening situation. It's whether you'd be equipped to deal with it.
Having a well-stocked emergency kit in your car is a good place to start if you're taking a road trip. If you're camping or hiking, you'll want some survival supplies in your pack. The old saying holds true -- it's better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it. On the following pages, we'll walk you through the 10 items that should go in every survival kit.
Compass and Map
You thought something out of the ordinary was in order for this year's vacation so you opted for an adventure tour in the Australian outback. It was all dingoes and kangaroos until your tour group pulled off without you after a lunch break. Now you're stuck with a ration of water, a map and the compass your best friend got you for good luck. It seems like good luck may be headed your way after all -- with these scant supplies and some modest orienteering skills you should be able to find your way back to the safety of your camp.
Compasses work by using a magnetized pointer along with the Earth's natural magnetic field to calculate direction. If you have a compass and a map of the area you can pinpoint specific locations and get wherever you need. If you're stuck without a map, but you still have your compass, you can at least get going in the right direction. Now that GPS is on the scene, compasses have taken a back seat. While a GPS may be better at pinpointing your exact location from any spot on Earth, it requires something you won't be able to provide in a worst case scenario -- a charged battery. In this case, the compass that relies only on the Earth's magnetic field is a better alternative.
In a survival scenario, a fire provides many things -- warmth in the cold, heat to cook food and purify water and a potential rescue signal. It also gives you security and light in the dark, both of which help your mental outlook. This goes a long way toward your bid to survive.
In addition to a first aid kit, any backwoods hiker or car camper should pack a small fire starting kit. After you get a waterproof box, pack it with at least two lighters, some weatherproof matches, a flint and a small magnifying glass lens. Here's another good tip -- buy a package of sparklers and cut the stems off. They make excellent emergency fire starters for moist leaves and kindling. Use the magnifying glass lens to concentrate the sun's rays into a fire starting beam of light and heat. Couple the flint with a stone to make a spark. On camping trips, practice starting fires using your kit. It's fun and could even help save your life.
First Aid Kit
You were careless on your hike and slipped from the trail, leaving you bloodied and bruised. The cut on your arm is pretty deep and you know your ankle is sprained. It's times like these that make you glad you were prepared and packed a well-stocked first aid kit. Hikers, bikers, cross country skiers, hunters, climbers and weekend car campers should all keep a first aid kit. It's also a good idea to keep one in your car for emergencies.
It's just as important to know what to pack. Begin with a supply of medications and wound-cleaning solution -- anti-bacterial ointments, alcohol, peroxide, pain reliever, antacid, aspirin and anti-histamine. You should also have some tweezers, gauze, bandages and eyewash on hand. If you're diabetic or know you're allergic to something like beestings, be sure to keep emergency supplies of these remedies in your kit. Pack some hydrocortisone cream for rashes and burn ointment in case there's a fire mishap. It's also a good idea to pack a travel-size first-aid manual to provide instruction for any accidents that may happen.
A mirror may be a vanity item for some, but it can also help you survive a worst case survival scenario. If you're able to find food, water and shelter then you're giving yourself a leg up survival-wise, but you still need to find rescue if you want to make it home. The trick to this is packing a signal mirror, something no survivalist would be caught dead without.
Any old small mirror will work for signaling, but companies actually make them specially suited for this purpose. These are typically made of something besides breakable glass, like Lexan. Some of them float or have nylon ties you can use to strap them to your backpack. Size isn't important here -- even a small 2 by 3 inch (5 by 7.6 centimeter) mirror flash can be seen from 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. Signal mirrors work best on clear days with direct sunlight, but you can also use them on overcast days. Not only that, but you can reflect headlights, flashlight beams and even bright moonlight for rescue.
If you land in a worst case survival scenario you need to do two things -- stay alive and find rescue. If you're cast away like Tom Hanks and you can't signal for rescue, then you may as well get used to talking to that volleyball. While smoke signals are a legitimate form of emergency signaling (three quick puffs) people aren't exactly on the lookout for them. A signal mirror is an option, but if you want an unmistakable signal that no plane, helicopter or ship will miss, you need to go with a flare.
There are many different types of flares to choose from. Some require a gun and shoot into the sky. Others are handheld and emit a red flame that you hold and wave over your head. Many car emergency kits come with flares, so check your trunk if you've crashed your car or run out of gas in a desolate area. The same goes for ships and planes, so search any wreckage you come across for rescue flares. If you really want to go high-end, you can spring for a laser flare. It casts a beam that can be seen day or night up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) away. They cost about $250, but you can't put a price tag on your safety.
In 1982, Sylvester Stallone burst into movie theaters as John Rambo, former Green Beret and survival master. Watching the movie "First Blood," young boys everywhere witnessed the ultimate tough guy sew a cut on his arm shut with a needle and thread stored in the handle of his jumbo survival knife. The knife that Rambo put on the map in 1982 is still a hot item today with outdoor enthusiasts, hunters and fisherman.
Most survival knives are the same. They have long blades with serrated edges on one side and a hollow handle. Tucked inside the handle is a small survival kit with matches, fishhooks and line, a compass, and sometimes even Rambo's famous needle and thread. When it comes time to buy your survival knife or any knife, you get what you pay for. A cheap knife will have a dull and breakable blade. Once you have your knife you'll want to custom pack the handle depending on your needs. Waterproof matches and a small flint are good ideas, along with some water purification tablets. The fishhooks and line are good to keep on hand for emergency angling, but the needle and thread are really just the stuff of movies. You'd do better to replace them with some pain medication.
Discovery Channel's "Survivorman" Les Stroud wouldn't be caught dead without one and for good reason. The name says it all -- multi-tool. Swiss Army knives are the favorite of Boy Scouts everywhere, with their tiny saws, pokers and toothpicks. While the little red pocket knife can come in handy, it's no match for the modern multi-tool. There are many kinds, but the "Leatherman" multi-tool is probably the most widely recognized. They gained popularity in the 1980s, but since then the Leatherman and other multi-tools have come a long way with the myriad options to choose from.
Your standard multi-tool is comprised of two halves joined by a pair of pliers in the center. Depending on which one you opt for, you'll have a number of options. They typically weigh between 5 and 10 ounces (141 to 283 grams). Most will come with flat and Phillips head screwdrivers, pokers, saw blades, and bottle and can openers. Some models come with scissors, serrated knives, metal files and Allen wrenches. When it comes to aiding your survival chances, you should probably go with one that has the most knife blade options. Allen wrenches are nice in a workshop, but they won't help you filet a fish.
The great outdoors is all fun and games until you have a rattlesnake attached to your calf. Although snakes are afraid of humans and will do their best to avoid you, they're a reality that you should be prepared to deal with. Snakebites are no fun and depending on the species, a bite can bring on anything from nausea and cramps to death. Because of this potential danger, if you're heading into the woods for a hike or camping trip you should have a snakebite kit on hand.
You can go one of two routes here in buying one that's pre-packed or getting a waterproof container and packing your own. Unfortunately, many pre-packed kits are filled with items that aren't suited for properly treating a snakebite. Kits that contain scalpels, and constrictors are not good because these items don't support the correct first aid procedures for snakebites. Scalpels can actually get the venom into your bloodstream faster and cutting off the blood flow with constrictors is very dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Look for kits that have suction extractors instead. If you buy a pre-packed version or pack your own, add some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pills, pain killers and an emergency whistle. If you get bitten, you may become weak and immobilized, so the whistle may be your only call for help.
If you get lost or stranded in the wilderness, the one thing you'll need to live, above all else, is drinkable water. Humans just can't live without it. You might be able to live a few weeks without food, but without water you'll be lucky to last a few days. For this reason, you should bring along more than one way of purifying water on any trek into the wild.
Water filters are your best option and they come in all shapes, sizes and prices. Some are no bigger than a large drinking straw. Other pump models screw onto your water bottle and can filter up to 100 gallons (378 liters) without needing a new purification cartridge. These models work fast too, filtering about a quart of drinkable H2O in just a few minutes. Just to cover your bases, you should also pack some water filter tablets in your pack. They're typically iodine or chlorine pills that dissolve in water to make it OK to drink. The water may not taste great, but it'll keep you alive. Think ahead and pack the pills in different areas in case you become separated from your backpack. Keep the filter in your backpack and your tablets and emergency filter in a waist pack or even carry them on your person.
Imagine yourself stuck deep in the overgrown belly of the Amazon rainforest. You're lost and have no food, no means of transportation but your own two feet. Your equipment consists of the clothes on your back and your trusty machete. It may not sound like much, but if you have some basic survival skills and use your noggin, the machete may be all you need.
Survival experts will tell you that a machete is the most versatile tool you can have in the wilderness. It can be used to cut a trail to civilization where there is none. You can use it to hack down bamboo, vine and palm fronds for the frame, support and roof of a shelter. If you're on an island or in the jungle, green coconuts provide drinkable milk and edible fruit as long as you have a machete to cut into them. You can also use it to cut down fire wood or as a weapon against dangerous predators. You'll need food too, and a machete can be used to sharpen a spear for hunting or fishing. Use the area of the blade close to the handle for whittling and carving. Use the fat section of the blade for hacking and cutting. The front tip is the way to go when you need to bore a hole or stab something. Any way you cut it, a machete is a valuable survival tool and should be strapped to your backpack or on your hip if you plan on venturing into the wilderness.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "First-aid Guide." Mayo Clinic. 2008.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/FirstAidIndex/FirstAidIndex
- "Green Rescue Laser Flare." defender.com. 2008.http://www.defender.com/product.jsp?path=-1|135|320544|103114&id=861047
- "How to use a compass." learnorienteering.org. 2008.http://www.learn-orienteering.org/old/
- "Launch Flares and Fireworks." signal-flares.com. 2008.http://www.signal-flares.com/flare-guns.htm
- "Machetes." coldsteel.com. 2008.http://www.coldsteel.com/machetes.html
- Multitool.org http://www.multitool.org
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- "Snakebite Kit, Insect Bite Kit, Mosquito Netting." campingsurvival.com. 2008.http://www.campingsurvival.com/inandsnakbit.html
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- "True tales of tools." leatherman.com. 2008.http://www.leatherman.com/owners/tool-tales/default.aspx
- "Using the Rescue Flash Signal Mirror." dougritter.com. 2008.http://www.dougritter.com/psp_rescueflash.htm