Getting lost, being surprised by a storm, encountering with wild animals, having an accident…
Being out in nature means that anything can happen at any time. It may sound overly dramatic but proper equipment and preparation may actually make the difference between life and death out there.
That’s why the most important thing on any trip off the beaten track is to know what you are getting into. Read up on the area and be aware of the current weather situation before departing. Ask locals or authorities if it’s safe to travel this region and let them know when you expect to be back.
Furthermore, it’s always advantageous to educate yourself on survival in the wild. You should know how to render first aid, build a makeshift shelter and orientate yourself by compass, position of the sun and the stars. Check if there are survival camps or workshops going on near you. These are a great way to gain all this knowledge and get some hands-on experience. (They are great fun, too.)
Once you are out there you are on your own. All you have is your wits and your equipment. Your wits only get you so far so invest in equipment for a little support.
Here are eighteen essential items that you should definitely pack, regardless of region, season or climate:
1. Zip Ties
These come in handy if you ever need to fasten or secure something permanently (or you accidentally took some hostages). Anything you would normally tie up can be done with zip ties: Lost the pull tab of your zipper? Must improvise a zipper lock? Tore your shoe laces? There are roughly half a million uses for them so always carry a hand full of differently sized zip ties.
2. Velcro Zip Ties
The less permanent version of zip ties. You can fasten and loosen it as often as you want so they are great for securing things you need every once in a while. (Or if you do need to release those hostages.)
Obviously, these aren’t as sturdy as zip ties, but work very well for sealing food packages and bags.
3. Duct Tape
The absolute must-have on any trip this is the miracle cure for every problem. Something is broken? Duct tape will fix it.
Seal holes in your tent or backpack in an instant, use them as makeshift bandages or arm slings, substitute paper, waterproof any clothing, use it to build a shelter, construct an emergency stretcher, assemble a fishing net or mark a trail. Blimey, you can even make rope out of duct tape.
And if that’s not enough yet, you can get duct tape in a hundred different varieties: glow in the dark duct tape, heavy duty duct tape, removable duct tape, transparent duct tape, double-sided duct tape, outdoor duct tape… Whatever your inner adventurer desires. Go on, challenge MacGyver.
4. Storage clips
A handy alternative to Velcro zip ties, these small plastic clips banish spilled bags from your life. If you don’t, unlike me, eat a family bag of chips in one session, you can securely close food packaging to keep them chips crisp.
5. Zip lock bags
These bags are yet another great alternative to storage clips : keep loose things from flying about, pack your lunch out of reach for insects and other small hungry folks, prevent phones from suffering in heavy rain – the list goes on.
6. Empty bottle
Obviously great to fill up with water from rivers or creeks. In winter you can even fill them with snow and let it melt, if you can’t find water nearby. While not in use you can store small items in the bottle to save valuable space in your backpack. You may want to get a collapsible water bottle if you have little space in your luggage.
7. Trash bags
So simple and yet so versatile. Besides the obvious use as trash bag they are good for carrying laundry and are a great surrogate for canvas. You can build a makeshift shelter with them, use them as a sleeping bag or make rainproof covers for you backpack or yourself. Get the huge, heavy-duty bags as these are the most durable.
8. Swiss pocket knife / Leatherman
Multi functional knives aren’t among the all-time favorite outdoor utensils for nothing. Including tools like knife blades, a screwdriver, a can opener, a wood saw, scissors, tweezers, a toothpick, a ballpoint pen and many more, they are the ultimate all-rounder.
9. Big sheath knife
For everything your pocket knife can’t cut, you need a big sheath knife. Use it to prepare your food, cut away branches, gut fish or even for self-defense. Make sure you inform yourself about the country’s law on arms before bringing big knives. Lots of countries prohibit carrying specific kinds of knifes or those with a certain blade length.
A must-have so you needn’t sit in the dark. Make sure you have enough batteries for your flashlight and keep them stored somewhere safe and dry. Different kinds of flashlights are useful for different situations:
- Handheld flashlights are the most common but obviously require you to hold them in your hand. If you need to work with your hands, it’s better to get a
- Headlamp. You strap them around your head and are good to go. You can also strap them on a bottle of water to light up an entire room or tent.
- Magnetic flashlights are handy when you are traveling by car. Attach a piece of magnetic sheet to the inside of your car’s hatch and stick a flashlight to it to create an overhead light.
11. Swedish fire lighters / storm lighter
It’s really darn hard to make a fire with a wooden stick so try to avoid it by bringing a storm lighter or Swedish fire lighter kit. Storm lighters are preferable because they produce a flame whilst Swedish fire lighters only make sparks and need some practice to use them properly. However, the latter won’t ever run out of gas and works in every wind and weather so it’s handy to have one at hand. If you carry some wool, dried tree fungus or paper with you as well, these can help you get the kindling started.
12. Carpenter pencil & paper
In case you ever need to remember thoughts, numbers, contact information, directions or coordinates you should have something to write on within reach. I recommend using a carpenter pencil as these are extremely durable and can be sharpened with a knife. Alternatively, you can use:
13. Edding / Sharpie
Permanent markers write on pretty much any surface and are, well, permanent. That means they can withhold rain, dirt and time. If you don’t have any paper, you can even write on plastic bags or duct tape with these markers.
14. Energy-rich snacks
A true life-saver! Your emergency ration should consist of high-calorie snacks such as candy bars, energy bars, biscuits, dried meat or nuts. Pack enough to survive on them for at least a few days. Always take some on hikes as well. They keep you going.
15. Microfiber clothes
These fluffy pieces of fabric are a multi functional cleaning tool. You can use them to wipe up liquids, remove dirt from pretty much anything or even dry yourself off after a plunge into the river. Just give them a quick wash and they are as good as new.
16. Toilet paper
You will be thankful to have packed this when you are in the middle of nowhere and have some serious business to attend to.
17. Paracord bracelet
These inconspicuous bracelets are not only a fashion statement but might just save your life in emergencies. You can unravel the bracelet to produce a cord of one to five meters that can be used for anything from hanging laundry or fixing shoe laces to building rafts, traps, bows and fishing lines. It’s also fairly easy to make these yourself and you aren’t limited to bracelets. Just think dog collars, necklaces and belts…
18. First aid kit
Probably the most important thing to carry with you. Depending on where and how long you travel, your first aid kit should include at least:
- antiseptic wipes
- gauze pads
- medical adhesive tape
- Tick remover
- pain killers
- anti-diarrhea tablets
- hydro cortisone cream
- Emergency Thermal Blanket
- bug spray and
- a first aid reference card.
Consult a pharmacist or buy a premade kit at an approved outdoor store.
Whilst you can find many items on this list in any well-stocked hardware store you can just as easily order them on Amazon. Here are some of my personal recommendations:
Buying a product through one of these links will help me keep on traveling as I will receive a small commission at no extra cost for you. I only ever recommend products that I personally own or would buy.
These are my 18 must-bring tools for every adventure or outdoor trip. While I have fortunately never been in a really bad situation it eases me to know that I am prepared for the worst. And even if I may not need all these things for survival they are still immensely useful for everyday situations. It might sound like a lot of stuff but most of the items are quite small and fit into even the smallest of backpacks. So better leave some shirts at home and bring these essentials with you instead.
Of course, this list is just a selection of the most important items. There are many more for the serious survivalist, just browse through any bigger outdoor shop.
What is your most valued item on outdoor trips? Is there anything you would add to the list? Share it in the comments below!