10 Survival Essentials and Why You Need Them

Survival isn’t easy. I’m sure we can all agree on that. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, Mother Nature can be incredibly unforgiving. Even seemingly beautiful places can be potentially deadly if you don’t stay vigilant. In this article, I want to talk about what to bring with you into the wild. By bringing the right survival essentials, you’ll make it easier to thrive in the wilderness. Let’s take a look at the top 10 items to bring and why.

10 Categories of Items

Each of the 10 survival items below fall under one of 10 categories. You can find this list in the book, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. In this book, the author discusses 10 different categories of items that every person should have with them in the wild. By knowing these 10 categories, the survival essentials below will make much more sense. With that said, here are 10 categories of items that you should have with you for any survival situation:

  • Water: I’m including this first because, quite frankly, it’s one of the most basic necessities a human can have. You need items that will allow you to filter and purify water (the LifeStraw is a good example).
  • Food: Food is the next most important necessity next to water. Because of this, you need items that will allow you to not only get food, but also prepare and cook it. Bringing you own food also counts.
  • Navigation: In the wild, you won’t have the luxury of using a GPS to get around. Instead, you’ll need to rely on good ole’ fashion map-reading. Experts recommend topographic maps since those are the most helpful.
  • Light: Humans are extremely inefficient in the dark. For this reason, you need something that will allow you to make light- headlamps, matches, and flashlights are all good survival essentials to have.
  • Fire: No matter what kind of survival situation you’re in, being able to make a fire is critical. Items like lighters (even dead ones), matches, and magnesium sticks all work well for this.
  • First Aid: In a survival situation, you never know when you’ll become injured. Due to the unpredictability of being in the wilderness, you’ll definitely want to stock up on first aid equipment.
  • Shelter: Focus on survival essentials that help keep you isolated from the elements. While tents and sleeping bags are common examples, most people never think of tarp and rope.
  • Sun Protection: UV light can be very damaging to the body. Things like sunscreen, hats, and glasses can help shield your body from the sun. As you know, direct UV light exposure can lead to sun burns.
  • Clothing & Footwear: There are right and wrong ways to dress for a hike. If you dress the wrong way, it can make your trip less than pleasant. Also, footwear is an area that most people don’t think about.
  • Tools: What if you have to chop some wood or clear a path in the woods? Obviously, this would be extremely difficult with your bare hands. That’s where tools like axes and hatchets come in handy.

Remember- these are the 10 main “categories” of items you should always have. As you’ll come to see, all of the survival essentials below fall under one of these 10 categories. Not only are we going to show you 10 things you should always have, but we’ll also talk about why you need them. This will help you develop a deeper understanding of survival.

#1: LifeStraw (Category: Water)

Survival EssentialsFor getting water in the wild, the LifeStraw is by far my most recommend survival tool. It’s not the only survival straw out there, but it’s definitely one of the best. The LifeStraw can filter up to 1,000 liters of water before having to be replaced.

That’s quite a bit! It doesn’t contain any moving parts, doesn’t run on batteries, and is super-simple to use. With the LifeStraw, you can walk up to any pond or stream and drink without having to worry about getting sick. And the best part? It’s a lot cheaper than most people think.

#2: Knife (Category: Food)

While a knife could technically fall under the “tools” category, it can also be used for food. Survival essentials like this one can be used to build a snare trap, build a fish trap, and even skin wild game that you’ve killed. There are dozens of good survival knives on the market. My recommendation is the Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Serrated Knife. Not only is it backed by a reputable brand, but it’s also affordable, has a lot of grip, and is super-sharp. Don’t go into the woods without survival essentials such as a knife.

#3: Compass (Category: Navigation)

Survival EssentialsMost people know what a compass is, yet, not many people know how to use one. In short, you have no excuse to not have a compass. They’re incredibly cheap (less than $10) and take up minimal space. As you know, a compass will always show you the North. But this information isn’t very useful without using it in conjunction with a map. Make sure that you practice using survival essentials like a compass before going into the woods. That way, you’ll be fully prepared.

#4: Flashlight (Category: Light)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of flashlights. The reason why is because humans aren’t very good at operating in the dark. Without a good flashlight, even simple things like building a trap or starting a fire can be near impossible when the sun goes down. For everyday use, I recommend the J5 Tactical V1-PRO Flashlight. Tactical flashlights like this one can double as a defensive weapon, making them extremely versatile. You can also bring them into the wilderness without a problem.

#5: Magnesium Sticks (Category: Fire)

While survival essentials like matches and lighters have their place, they have a relatively short lifespan. The beauty behind magnesium sticks is that they last way longer than these two items. With these, you can start a fire thousands of times reliably. The SurvivalSPARK Emergency Magnesium Fire Starter is a good example. It can strike up to 15,000 times before going bad. Plus, due to its compact size, it can be taken virtually anywhere. Here’s a video that will show you exactly how magnesium sticks work for starting fires:

#6: Band-Aid (Category: First Aid)

When it comes to survival essentials for first aid, most people never think about the Band-Aid. Although simple in design, a Band-Aid can help prevent you from developing an infection, which as you know, can be deadly in the wilderness. For example, let’s say that you accidentally cut your finger with your survival knife. If you don’t isolate the cut from the environment, it can quickly become infected. This is where having Band-Aids can come in handy.

#7: Tarp (Category: Shelter)

When most people think about shelter, they automatically think of things like sleeping bags and tents. While these things are important, there’s one item that most people never think about: tarps. Survival essentials like tarps can serve a verity of purposes, including allowing you to make a shelter. They can also be used to collect rain water (which can later be purified to drink) and even build a survival raft. What I like about tarps is that they are affordable (an 8 X 10-foot tarp costs only $10 on Amazon). Here’s a handy video that will teach you how to build a survival shelter using a tarp:

#8: Sunscreen (Category: Sun Protection)

I’ll admit- choosing between a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as the “best” form of sun protection was tough. While they are all important, I have to go with the sunscreen. Why? Because sun burns can become very serious. Bad ones can form blisters that, when they pop, can lead to infections. Survival essentials like sunscreen aren’t something that you can “make” in the wild. However, it is possible to build a makeshift hat in the wilderness, as well as make your own eye protection using soot. If you’re traveling in the mountains, be extra careful about sun exposure. At higher altitudes, it’s much easier to get sunburn.

#9: Waterproof Hiking Shoes (Category: Clothing & Footwear)

Survival EssentialsSurvival essentials like waterproof hiking shoes are something you should never leave the house without. A good pair will protect your feet from brush, bugs, and water. Most people don’t know that prolonged wet feet can lead to fungal infections, and eventually something called “Trench Foot”.

My favorite shoes for hiking are Columbia North Plains Trail Shoes. The reason I like them is because they’re very comfortable, and do an amazing job at keeping water and brush out. If you’re hiking on mountainous terrain, you’re better off buying heavy duty boots (also known as “Mountaineering Boots”).

#10: Hatchet (Category: Tools)

Finally, consider investing in a good survival hatchet. Hatchets will make you much more versatile in the wilderness. For example, you’ll be able to clear away brush, make new paths, build shelters, and so much more. A quality survival hatchet (like the Fiskars X7 Hatchet) can also be used for protection against certain predators. Overall, it’s one of those survival essentials I recommend never going into the wilderness without. Most descent hatchets will run you about $30, which is a fair price in my opinion.

Knowledge – A Priceless Tool

Even if you owned each of the survival essentials above, it would mean nothing if you didn’t know how to use them. It’s much better to have a lot of survival knowledge than it is to have a bunch of survival items. Someone who knows a lot will find a way to improvise and survive, whereas someone who relies exclusively on items will eventually find themselves in trouble. So aside from investing in these survival essentials, make sure that you invest in knowledge (be sure to check out our article, 10 Best Survival Books That Can Save Your Life).

Survival Essentials – Bottom Line

If you’re planning on taking a trip in the wild, try to have as many of these survival essentials as possible. They all serve their own purpose, and will aid in keeping you alive if and when the time comes. And never skimp out on acquiring more knowledge, which is arguably the most important thing you can have. With that said, I’ll turn it over to our readers: what items do you recommend for survival? Leave your answers in the comments section below!

3 Comments
  1. Reply
    Craig Reynolds June 10, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Just a heads up in the navigation department. For those like myself already planning on taking their smart phone or tablet(I have a solar charger) you can download country, state, county, city, street level and topographical maps of most countries for FREE at http://www.mapsofworld.com/free-maps/

    This is great if you know where you are going and don’t want to keep bulky paper maps or a country atlas with you. Bonus factor: You can zoom in on your phone.

    • Reply
      David June 10, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      Hi Craig. This is a great resource. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Reply
    John Lewis August 1, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    Hi David,

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