Backpacking Survival Kit | Hiking Preparedness

This is an updated post on Backpacking Survival Kit. Our first post was published in 2017, and we will continue to update as we explore great ways to be prepared when we go hiking on the trail.

Backpacking and hiking are great ways to enjoy the outdoors, challenge your body, and stay mentally grounded. Backpacking survival kits help you stay safe and give you peace of mind. There are plenty of things to enjoy while backpacking, but there is also plenty that can go wrong. That is where a solid backpacking survival kit can make a difference.

The peacefulness of your trip can turn bad in an instant: lost tools, inclement weather, and animal encounters just to name a few. The rewards are plentiful when you put yourself out in nature, but so are the risks. Preparing for the worst of the risks before you encounter them makes sense and can help you keep your trek on track.

Contents (Jump to a Section)

Why You Need a Backpacking Survival Kit

Even the smallest trips you take should be prepared for. A small backpacking survival kit can be the catch-all for the mayhem and mishaps that will occur. Assuming that backpacking does not come with associated risks is just foolish.  Any seasoned backpacker can tell you that hiccups are a part of being on the trail and that you need to be ready for them. It can be as small as an inconvenient rainstorm, or as bad as a standoff with a bear. Being prepared for the worst isn’t just for home or work- SHTF can happen no matter where you are or what you are doing.

Knowing your area and gathering information before you go backpacking is one big step that sometimes gets overlooked. Before you go to any new trail, learn a little about the flora and fauna of the area. Make sure you get the weather forecast before you depart and are ready for any changes. Preparedness starts with information gathering and ends with practice- which we will touch on later.

One big reason many choose to bring a trail survival kit is redundancy. The saying goes:

“Two is one and one is none”

And that is especially the case when you are backpacking with limited tools and resources. Many survival kit items packed into a backpacking survival kit are lightweight items that duplicate the functionality of other items. Even if you do not have any external threats on the trail, you can easily get around a lost knife or fire starter if you are properly prepared. We have a whole section on the concept of redundancy: Two is One and One is None | The Power of Redundancy.

There are plenty of examples of people being unprepared on trails and paying the ultimate price for it. Check out this story of a lady who documented her experience when she got lost on the Appalachian Trail. Even without a survival kit, she survived for a good amount of time showing how resourceful she was. With a backpacking survival kit, she may have survived her adventure:

Top 10 Backpacking Survival Kit Gear List

Weight is one of the key components when deciding what to put in a backpacking survival kit. Since you will be lugging it around everywhere and anywhere, weight should be kept to a minimum. Besides weight, functionality and versatility are paramount. You will need gear that works and works well in the event of an emergency. You can pack whatever you deem necessary for the kit, but here are our top ten suggestions:

  1. Everlit Survival Blanket (2 oz) – This emergency blanket reflects body heat back at your body. It makes a great impromptu shelter, but be aware that it is fragile and tears easily. This can be used as a benefit though, since you can trim the blanket to line your clothing or for other functions.
  2. 550 Paracord (1 oz – 25 ft) – There are so many uses of paracord for survival that we can’t list them all. Don’t leave home without it!
  3. Ferro rod (0.5 oz) – Ferro rods make great backup fire sources. Strike a high carbon blade against it for sparks to light your tinder. Remove the keychain and just pack one for reduced weight.
  4. Brunton Truarc3 Compass (0.7 oz) – This compass is lightweight and does what it is supposed to do. There are too many tales of people going off the trail and ending up lost with no way to maintain a bearing.
  5. Trail Whistle (0.3 oz) – The main goal when you are in trouble is to not just survive- it is to get help. This whistle shrieks out over 100 dB of power so people can hear you over a mile away.
  6. CRKT Minimalist Knife (1.8 oz) – A knife is one of the most important components of the kit, being uniquely functional and versatile. Your backpacking survival kit knife should be a backup, so aim for less weight and more versatility.
  7. First Aid Kit (2.5 oz) – Don’t leave out the DEET insect repellent and sunscreen. Anti-laxatives should also be packed. The usual bandages and antiseptic make up the majority of the kit. Know how to use everything in a first aid kit, otherwise, it is dead weight.
  8. Olight i3T EOS (0.3 oz) – Light is important at night since humans aren’t blessed with night vision. The Ti3 makes a great backup and can help you see tools and threats in the darker 12 hours of the day. Don’t forget the AAA battery.
  9. Vargo Titanium BOT-HD (5.4 oz) – Stuff your kit in this bottle pot (bot) to keep it all together. It doubles as a water vessel where you can boil the water to decontaminate it.
  10. Darn Tough Light Hiker Socks (5.6 oz) – If my time in the military has taught me one thing, it was the importance of a good pair of socks- and a backup pair.

Some ultralight backpackers will drill holes in equipment, such as pot handles to get an even lighter weight. Don’t be counterproductive by adding equipment with limited functionality or versatility.

 What Not to Pack

There are plenty of things that don’t make sense in a backpacking survival kit, but there are a few that some still insist on including in kits. You should reconsider before including anything that is:

  • High-Weight Tools – Machetes and parangs are nice to have in the woods, but you have to consider weight when backpacking long distances.
  • Extra Filled Water Containers – A gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds. Don’t bog yourself down with too many filled water containers if you don’t have to. Being able to find water sources along the way can help you reduce your carried water weight. Always try to have at least 3 liters on you as a safety measure, and just keep your modestly sized container full when there are opportunities to fill it.
  • Road Flares – The chances that this gets wet and doesn’t work or an accident occurs with it outweigh its functionality in the kit. Gear for a backpacking survival kit needs to be hardy and able to withstand abuse, and road flares are just not cut out for it.

Where to Stow Survival Kit Gear

Keeping your survival kit inside your backpack is obvious and effective. Some choose to place the kit in other locations for a few reasons:

  1. Redundancy – Some items in your survival kit may be duplicates so it is better to store duplicate items in separate spots than in the same spot as your primary gear, in case one is lost.
  2. Ease of Access – Rapid access may be important when you need to get to your survival kit. It all depends on your anticipated threats and situations.
  3. Weight Balance – We all know how important it is to balance your pack weight and a separate survival kit can help balance the load. Although the kits are usually light, every pound matters on the trail.

Some of the best places to keep your survival kit include:

  • In the Pack – If none of the above reasons appeal to your situation, pack the kit carefully in your backpack
  • Across the Chest – Counterbalancing a kit across your chest works well for some, and makes the tools easier to gain access to. The downside is that it can get in your way if you are working close to your body.
  • Around the Waist – The fanny pack gets a bad rap, but it is actually a great place to carry equipment.

The placement all boils down to personal preference, and where you are most comfortable having it.

The Final Word

A backpacking survival kit can provide you with safety, security, and redundancy on the trail. One important thing to remember about any kit is that they are only as useful as your training will let them be. 

Don’t stash a kit and let it stay stowed away- break out the components and stay familiar with what you have. This way you can be one step ahead when you need to use the tools in an emergency.

Here are some guides our subscribers have found useful:

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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Backpacking and hiking survival kit in woman's backpack while hiking in a canyon.

Rusty Collins

I am an engineer, Air Force veteran, emergency manager, husband, dad, and experienced prepper. I developed emergency and disaster plans around the globe and responded to many attacks and accidents as a HAZMAT technician. I have been exposed to deadly chemical agents, responded to biological incidents, and dealt with natural disasters. Check out my full story here: Rusty's Story

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