Every wilderness-respecting sports enthusiast knows that an outdoor hike, bike, swim, or trail run can quickly (and unexpectedly) turn into a survival situation that demands an overnight before the rescue team arrives. That's why it's crucial to know what gear to have on hand—just in case.
So we asked wilderness expert Thomas Coyne—who's saved thousands of people over 15 years as lead rescue firefighter in California's Wildlands—for a list of the essentials necessary to survive.
Coyne says first aid, fire, water, shelter, and rescue—in that order—are key, and believe it or not, all of his must-have tools fit in a one-gallon plastic bag. So pack them up and take them with you everywhere. They just may save your life.
It’s tough to predict what kinds of injuries you could accrue, but having a first aid kit can make a life-or-death difference—so it’s stupid to hit a trail without one. Coyne says your kit should have these basics, which you can pick up at your local drug store. Or sift through a backpacker's kit like Mountain Fundamentals ($100, rei.com) and make additions and subtractions according to your needs.
—Neosporin or antiseptic cream to clean dirty cuts
—Quick-clot sponges to control severe bleeding
—Elastic bandage to treat sprains
—Ibuprofen for anti-inflammation, pain relief, and fever reducing
—Non-drowsy allergy tabs to relieve cold/flu symptoms and ease allergic reactions from poison ivy or bee stings
—Tweezers (to remove splinters and ticks) and scissors (to cut bandages)
—A SAM splint for immobilizing skeletal or soft tissue injuries
Fire-making is the most advanced survival craft, says Coyne—it can keep you warm. signal rescuers, ward off dangerous animals, purify water, and more. And this fire paste ($6, rei.com), when combined with weatherproof matches, works fire-starter miracles. “It's universally applicable. Unlike other accelerants, you can form it into a ball, squeeze it onto the end of a stick, use it on wet wood, anything you want—and it's wind-resistant," says Coyne. "Even if you leave a tube open and it dries out, it won't be as good, but it'll still work.”
Even if you’re filtering floodwater with sewage in it, you can make the water crystal clear and safe to drink with this rechargeable, featherweight purifier ($119, rei.com). It’s the only one on the market that kills all levels of microbiological contamination with a simple mechanical pump, and you can use it up to 8,000 times. It's also rechargeable via USB if you have a USB solar charger. (In November 2012, the SteriPen Freedom will come with its own solar charger, as well.)
Despite what you’d think, lack of water or fire isn’t the main cause of death in the wilderness—it’s actually exposure, says Coyne. Even if you just plan to be out for a few hours, you never know when a storm will roll in. So always carry a non-bulky emergency shelter ($15, rei.com) for warmth. Just angle the 14’x12’ heat-sealed tarp (with breathable eyelets) at 45 degrees for a heat-reflective firewall that will help shield you from biting winds.
If you get lost, don’t rely on your voice—endless screaming tires you out and the woods can muffle sound. And don’t fall victim to a faulty flare, either. Instead, focus on signal tools that have at least three types of signals (audio, visual, and electronic), and Coghlan's Six-Function whistle ($12, rei.com) will cover two of your bases. Aside from emitting a piercing sound, it also has an LED light and reflective mirror.
In an emergency, a personal locator beacon like the FastFind 210 ($249, rei.com) can speed up rescue by sending a signal to the subscription-free Search and Rescue Satellite, which automatically transmits your coordinates to a rescue team. Take it anywhere—in water, or on land—in temps from -4 to 131 degrees F.