Beginners Guide For Choosing Outdoor Survival Gear

Basic Survival Gear Spread out on a White Sheet

If you are someone who loves outdoor activities like camping trips, hiking, walking tours or backpacking, you’re probably going to need basic outdoor survival gear. We should mention that there are many different types of equipment on the market, and the items that you choose will require plenty of thought and consideration.

For example, if you’re going to Alaska, you are going to want to bring winter survival gear instead of the regular stuff you might pack for camping in Yellowstone.

Survival Gear Spread Out on a Floor

When you’re choosing which wilderness survival gear you should bring, not only do you have to choose equipment that is right for the region you’re going to, but you also have to choose the gear that follows the current set of local regulations. These regulations are in place with the intention of minimizing the amount of impact you have on the local environment.

As you read this, we will talk about the guidelines that will help you plan what gear to bring when you are planning your next trip—wherever that might be.

What to Consider When Choosing Basic Survival Gear

*Notice: On mobile devices, scroll right to see entire table​​

Outdoor survival gear isn't something that you can put together on the fly. If you want to be prepared for whatever the wild may have in store for you. Many people find it useful that when you are gathering items for your pack, it may help if you have a survival gear list, so you have everything you’ll need.

Survival Gear Spread Out on a Floor

So, what things should you be thinking about when you’re putting together on this list? Well, you’ll want to pack items that are going to meet your basic human needs, as described by Crisis Survivor Tips, which are:

  • Water
  • Shelter
  • ​Food
  • ​Fire
  • ​Navigation
  • Signaling

Depending on which survival expert you ask, some people will say water is more important than shelter, however, you can always find some kind of makeshift shelter like an outcropping of rocks or put some debris together and huddle under for the time being if you had to.

Water? You can die within three days if you go without water. So, it really boils down to the circumstances and the situation that you are in. We recommend that you use your better judgment.

Survival Gear Spread Out on Newspapers

However, before you actually go out and start purchasing the items for your pack, Survival Common Sense suggests that you ask yourself a couple questions first:

What do I know about survival gear? You have to be honest with yourself about how prepared you are before you go out into the wilderness. You could have the absolute best gear money can buy, but that doesn’t mean squat if you don’t know how to use it.

Am I committed to learning how to use the gear? Once again, you have to be honest with yourself when you answer. You can tell yourself that you are going to learn how to use your new wilderness survival gear. There’s no point in buying it if you aren’t going to learn how to use the compass, how to choose the best spot to set up your shelter, and how to find a water source to use your filtration systems properly.

Am I willing to carry all that gear? Look, all that gear is going to be a little cumbersome. No one ever said that being prepared to survive in the wild was going to be easy. If you don’t want to carry all that gear, or you aren’t strong enough to carry the gear, then you’re probably just wasting your time and money.

If you answer in the affirmative to these questions, then congratulations! We can move on to the section where we tell you the must have survival gear that all beginners should have in their kit.

Must Have Survival Gear: Water

We already discussed how important water is to your survival. Now we are going to go into a little detail about the different kinds of gear that will help you secure clean, drinkable water while you’re stranded.

Woman Drinking From LifeStraw Go Water Bottle With Integrated LifeStraw Filter

First of all, if you are going to go hiking through the woods and want to take water with you, that’s great. Choose a container that is made of a sturdy material like metal or plastic. You don’t want to use one of those water sacks that you wear on your back or somewhere else on the body. Why? As Instructables points out, they can be punctured and rendered useless.

We recommend bringing a water bottle that has a LifeStraw included in the design. This way when your water runs out, you can fill the bottle up with water from whatever fresh water source you find. As you drink through the straw, it filters out impurities and other contaminants that could get you sick.

Alternatively, you can choose a mini water filtration system, which can filter up to 100,000 gallons of clean water or if you are going for a light and compact kit, you can choose tablets that can turn any water into clean water only 30 minutes after mixing it.

Must Have Survival Gear: Shelter

When it comes to shelters, there is a difference between recreational camping tents and survival tents. Tents that are built for those fun weekend camping trips at a state park are good for nice weather.

Sure, they’ll keep you dry and bugs won’t get to you, but if you’re in a survival situation, you are going to want something a little more durable. Those recreational tents can rip, especially if an animal wants in or if you’re caught in a heavy storm with debris flying around.

Kelty Noah's Tarp Shelter in Woods

However, the shelter you include in your outdoor survival gear has to be strong, durable, and lightweight. On the one hand, you can choose a thin Mylar thermal sheet. These sheets are great because they can fold up really small and fit in a personal survival kit, and when you use it, they retain up to 90% of your body heat.

If you want something that will provide you with a bit more space, you can choose to pack a heavy duty tarp. These tarps are a lot more tear resistant, and when tacked up, it can provide you with enough shelter to keep the elements off of your back.

Unfortunately, the tarp will not protect you from insects or animals, but you will be dry. Combine the tarp with a Mylar sheet, and you can stay warm. Keep in mind that you will need a strong rope or cord to secure the tarp in place.

If you want ultimate protection, you can choose a survival tent. These shelters will provide you protection from the elements, from wildlife, and help give you a sense of security. As we mentioned before, you’re going to want to make sure you choose a survival tent as opposed to a recreational tent because they are made of stronger materials that are less likely to get ripped or wear out after extensive use.

Note: When you are going to choose a place to set up camp, you will want to choose a location that is free of excess debris, evidence of animals or bug infestation.

Must Have Survival Gear: Food

When you are planning out what to include with the rest of your outdoor survival gear, you will want to think about food. How are you going to stay nourished? What are you going to cook with? How are you going to prepare the food that you find or kill?

We bet you’re saying to yourself that you will just carry some MREs, jerky, and other protein-packed goods. That is fine and well if you’re going camping for a while. However, what are you going to do if you run out of those items and you’re still stranded? You are going to have to search for your own food.

Man Foraging in Forest

We recommend that you familiarize yourself with how to trap, fish, and forage. You can find training courses that will help you learn those skills.

Secrets of Survival recommends that you have some sort of hunting rifle so that you can hunt while you’re in the wilderness. However, not everyone who is going hiking or spending time in the outdoors is going to have the skills necessary to use the rifle.

We recommend that you have an ample supply of rope or parachute cord, a knife (either a folding blade knife or a fixed blade knife), and some gear that you can cook your food with. You can find survival cooking gear that includes a pot, plate, and utensils.

Along with a knife, you will want to bring a pocketbook of plant life in your region. This is important because while you are waiting for your traps to work, you might have to feed off of any vegetation you can find. That pocketbook of plants will be able to tell you what plants are safe to eat, what plants can be used for medicinal purposes, and what plants are poisonous.

Must Have Survival Gear: Fire

Fire is a very important aspect of surviving out in the wild. You’re going to need it to cook with, purify your water, for warmth, it gives you light, protects you from animals, and it can also be used to signal for help.

So, it would be a really good idea to include some means of building a fire in your survival gear bag. We recommend that you pack more than one way to start a fire. Crisis Survivor Tips recommends that the things you do choose will be able to produce a “rolling fire fast and with little work.”

Starting a Fire for Survival

Of all the fire starting survival gear you can choose, there is no real right or wrong thing. Many people stick to the good old box of matches and lighters, but they can get wet or lost. You can also choose fire steels or ferrocerium and magnesium strips. You can also choose flint, magnifying lens, or even a bottle of water.

Preparedness Mama suggests that instead of spending money on Firestarter briquets, you can make your own:

  • Cotton pad or tampons dipped in melted wax or petroleum jelly
  • Cardboard dipped in wax
  • ​Twisted newspaper
  • ​Shredded paper, egg cartons, or dryer lint dipped in wax
  • Toilet paper roll cut in half, stuffed with lint and wrapped in wax paper

Must Have Survival Gear: Navigation

Now you may be in a survival situation, that doesn’t mean you have to stay put and hope that someone finds you. No, you’ll want to find your way out of whatever situation you’re in, and you’re going to want to do that, however, you can. That is why you want to make sure you have items in your gear that will help with navigating your way back to safety. Items like a compass, map, and a GPS device.

AegisGears Paracord Bracelet X-Series Design

If you’re going to have a map and compass, it’s important that you know how to use them. If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with using these tools, you need to practice using them by getting properly trained. Not only is using a map and compass useful in a survival situation, but it can be useful in your everyday life, too.

Now let’s say something happens to your map, compass, and GPS. You can also get an idea of where you are going by using the sky, as seen in AlfieAesthetic’s YouTube video below:

Must Have Survival Gear: Signaling Devices

In conjunction with using navigation equipment, you will want to have some kind of signal equipment with your wilderness survival gear. These devices can be used to alert and notify rescuers of your location. A whistle is simple to use, it is loud, and it can echo for great distances. Someone in hearing range will notice the whistling and try to follow the direction where the sound is coming from.

We mentioned previously that fire can be used to signal people. According to Troop 721 from Milford, Connecticut, the smoke from your fire can be seen, and when people wonder where the smoke is coming from, they will find you. At night, the light from the fire and the smoke will be noticed.

When you are setting up your signaling fires, you can do it in a single file row, with 100 feet in between each fire, or you can put it in a triangle. These two examples are international symbols of distress and when a plane or helicopter spots them, they’ll be able to come to your aid.

Man Using a Smoke Flare to Signal

However, you can also use devices like a signaling mirror, an emergency crank flashlight, and a flare gun can be used. To use the mirror, catch the sun’s rays with the mirror and sweep it across the horizon. You can also point the mirror into the sky if you hear a plane flying nearby. Just be mindful not to shine the mirror into the cockpit, as you could blind the pilot.

When you are signaling for help, always remember to use the SOS signal—three short bursts, three long bursts, three short. If you can’t do the signal or don’t feel comfortable doing it, you can just do three repetitive actions, and that will suffice. Typically, anything done in sets of three is considered a distress signal.

Recap of Essential Outdoor Survival Gear

Of all the things we discussed, here is a brief recap of essential survival gear that we feel every traveler’s survival gear bag should include one, some, or all of the following:

For Water:

  • Sturdy water carrying vessel
  • Water bottle with a LifeStraw
  • Water Purification Tablets
  • Mini Water Filtration System

For Shelter:

  • Mylar Thermal Sheets
  • Heavy Duty Tarp
  • Rope or Parachute Cord
  • Survival Tent

For Food:

  • Hunting rifle
  • A strong knife
  • Parachute Cord
  • Survival Cooking Gear
  • Pocket Sized Book of Regional Plantlife

For Fire:

  • Waterproof matches
  • Lighter
  • Fire steel
  • Ferrocerium and Magnesium Strip
  • Firestarters - cotton pad, tampon, cardboard, shredded paper, egg cartons or dryer lint dipped in wax; twisted newspaper; toilet paper roll cut in half, stuffed in lint and wrapped in wax paper

For Navigation:

  • Compass
  • Map
  • GPS device

For Signaling:

  • Signaling Mirror
  • Crank Flashlight
  • Flare Gun
  • Whistle

Other Essential Survival Gear Suggestions

Along with the items discussed above, we feel that there are some other items that you may want to include with your survival gear.

First Aid Kit

First aid kits are important because you don’t want to be out in the middle of the great wilderness with an open wound because it could get infected. Your kit should contain bandages, gauze, alcohol wipes (which can also be used as a fire starter), gloves, antibacterial ointment, and medication.

Four Pictures of Patch-Up First Aid Kit

Along with a medical kit, we highly recommend that you become certified in first aid. By being certified, you’ll be able to set broken bones, treat frostbite, put dislocated joints back in place, and more. If you’re traveling with a group of other hikers, you could ultimately be the person who may save a life.

Change of clothing

Always pack a change of clothing (or two). These will be incredibly handy if you get wet or if the temperatures drop and you’ll need to layer up to keep warm. Instructables recommends that you stick to synthetic clothing because it’s lightweight, breathable, and dries much quicker.

Not only will you want a change of clothing, but you may also want to have a jacket, thermals, and a pair of shoes.

Weather Radio

A weather radio can come in handy when you are trying to figure out how the weather is going to fair. This will help you decide if and when you should move from your camp and try finding help.

Pocket Survival Chain Saw

This tool will help you cut down branches that may be obstructing a path, or you can use the branches to construct a shelter.

Woman Using Sportsman Pocket Survival Chainsaw to Cut Down a Tree

Travel Hammock

The Bug Out Bag Guide suggests that you pack a hammock instead of spending precious time and energy on building a shelter. This can work if you’re in an area that doesn’t get too cold, however, if you’re taking a hammock in colder weather, you should also bring a sleeping bag.

Bug Spray

Although this isn’t necessarily needed for your survival, you’ll find that it will help to keep you from being attacked by flies, ants, and other bugs that’ll make your time out in the wild completely miserable.


Deciding to go on a camping adventure in the wilderness and testing your survival skills isn’t a smart thing to do if you don’t have a properly supplied outdoor survival gear setup. Sure, you could always purchase one of those kits that have the basics already picked out for you, however, where’s the fun in that? By choosing your own supplies, you can have the confidence in knowing that you have everything you could need and want to survive the experience.

Survival Gear Spread Out on a Floor

We hope that the information we’ve provided you in this article will give you a good idea of what items you’ll need to bring with you on your next outdoor endeavor.

While we can’t guarantee that the items will make the experience comfortable or enjoyable, we can assure you that with proper knowledge of how to use them and combine that with general survival skills, you will be able to make it home to your family should you ever be in a dangerous situation.

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