Top 10 Outdoor Survival Essentials and Gifts for Outdoor Enthusiasts
In this post, brought to you in a collaboration with Cotswold Outdoor, we highlight our Top 10 Outdoor Survival Essentials, and ideal gifts for outdoor enthusiasts. Things we pack in our rucksacks or panniers when we head into the wild, just in case we run into trouble. Personally I hope we never need to use them but feel easier knowing that if we get lost, the weather changes, have an accident or worse, there’s something in our packs to help us stay safe and get back home in one piece.
Please Remember What’s First
When we visited the Bear Grylls Survival Academy in Wales we were taught some simple but useful lessons about personal survival, summed up in the survival phrase: Please Remember What’s First. According to our instructor, these should be the first words out of our mouths when things go wrong. Hopefully we will also remember what the phrase is supposed to help us remember. That our chances of survival are reduced if we fail to think about the four priorities for survival: Protection, Rescue, Water, and Food.
Remember – Rescue
What’s – Water
First – Food
Protection – things to help you stay warm, sheltered or protected from the elements.
Rescue – things to help you rescue yourself or get rescued by others.
Water – the liquid of life, without it you may die sooner than you think.
Food – the first thing on my mind but the one we can survive longest without.
So, with that in mind, here’s our top 10 list of survival essentials, stuff we don’t like to forget, that helps us to remember what’s first.
Things we Pack in our Rucksack in Case of Emergency
Camping Gifts For Protection
A bothy bag is a windproof and waterproof group shelter in a bag – a great part of your protection kit. Our Terra Nova bothy bag is one of our most used pieces of equipment. When the wind gets up or the rain comes down and there’s no shelter to be seen, this one’s a lifesaver. Pop out your own shelter, get everyone inside and you can chat, snack or even snooze until things improve. With no poles or ropes it enables you to make an impromptu camp in seconds, it keeps everyone together, is great for morale, keeps the weather out and the heat in. With this in your sack you are never far from shelter. They come in different sizes for different sized groups (we carry a family sized four person one) and are available at different price points depending upon the technicality of fabric and features. Get the best you can afford and make it a gift for life. Our family tent has lasted us thirty two years so far with no plans to change it up.
Although the name suggests this is for survival use, these simple heavy duty polythene survival bags have plenty of non-emergency uses. It’s great as something to sit on when the ground is wet, to keep your kit dry when the rain comes down, to put wet kit in at the end of a soggy day, as a cheap and simple bivvy bag for an impromptu wild camp, to attract attention in an emergency, as a tarp to construct a shelter or even as a group toboggan for sledging fun. Small, cheap, simple and versatile, this is one of the best gifts for camping; put one in your pack and you’ve got protection covered.
It may be a bright sunny day when you set out, but in an emergency, caught out at altitude or at night you can lose heat quickly and feeling cold is not just morale sapping, it’s dangerous. Extremities cool first and Buffs are a great, flexible little addition to your kit, useful as neckwarmer, ear warmer, hat or handwarmer. Packing an extra lightweight fleece is also simple, cheap and effective insurance against the risks of hypothermia. Spare fleece mid or base layers are light, pack down easily and dry quickly if they get wet. If you’re not cold you can always use them as pillows for a touch of home comfort! In winter I’ll often slip in some extra fleece gloves, hats and even socks, just in case. All these things are small, weigh very little and can make cold, wet people much happier. And when the chips are down, morale can be everything.
Firelighting is strictly forbidden in some environments but if it’s not and it’s an emergency situation, lighting a small controlled fire to keep warm, cook or signal could be a life saver. So it’s useful to have some simple reliable means of firestarting. Of course you could go all primitive and try the dry friction method but it’s generally quicker to use a firelighter of some kind. Matches can get wet, lighters can run out of fuel but a good flint and steel with some dry cotton wool and tinder will usually get you going. This firestarter is small and light and easy to stow.
Outdoor Gifts For Rescue & Self Rescue
Cuts, grazes and minor injuries are an occupational hazard when adventuring outdoors. A good first aid kit will help you deal practically with minor incidents should they occur. Some First Aid Training can also be useful to help recognise more serious conditions and know how best to provide initial treatment. First Aid kits come in all shapes and sizes. It’s worth getting something suited to the kinds of activities you do and the environment you’re in.
These days you can buy anything from a small and simple travellers kit containing little more than a few plasters, to large and comprehensively stocked Expedition Leaders kits, or even kits designed with specific sports in mind like this winter sports kit. Ortlieb make some great waterproof First Aid pouches including a canoeing kit, a trekking kit and a kit designed for long distance cycle touring. The further away you are from help or good medical facilities the more you may wish to carry yourself and the more training you may feel you need. Our regular first aid pack is the
Mountain Leaders Kit which we supplement with additional items relevant to the health risks we think we may encounter on a particular outing or journey.
Even in these days of GPS, SatNav, smartphones and map apps we still think a compass is a useful survival aid. It’s not that we’re luddites, we’re happy to use tech to help us navigate and explore, but we also know phones can get dropped and damaged, batteries run out and apps can get corrupted. And when that happens we’re always glad of some low tech backup. When you’re lost or disorientated even the simplest compass is better than nothing. Even a tiny one that just shows cardinals will help you get oriented and figure out where the sun will rise and set. For navigation though you’ll want something with features like this Silva Expedition Compass; it has degree level calibration marks, a magnifier, scales and luminous markings for night work. Remember it’s not enough to just carry a compass; you need to know how to use it in conjunction with that good old fashioned paper map you stuffed in your backpack, just in case. You did remember to do that, didn’t you?
Are you afraid of the dark? Not if you have a torch. A torch can help you keep moving when the light is failing, act as a signal or just settle your imagination when you’re caught out after sundown and hear a bogeyman in the bushes. LED torch technology has made torches that are smaller, lighter, more powerful and last longer than ever. This ultralight emergency headtorch will hold its charge for 10 years and has a locking switch to ensure you don’t accidentally turn it on in your sack and find the batteries empty when you most need it. It has white and red lights that run in continuous or strobe modes allowing you to see and signal in an emergency. If you’re going to be out in the wilds for longer periods and don’t want to carry spare batteries a wind up torch that you power yourself can be a good option. The ones that include an FM radio will keep you entertained too and help keep you warm through winding.
You might think a knife is likely to get you into more trouble than it’ll get you out of. And that’s probably true if you’re wandering round town on a Friday night or trying to board a plane. But we’re heading out into the wild where anything can happen, and next to a roll of gaffer tape a good penknife is probably the most practical survival tool there is. Need a mini-saw to cut timber? A knife to gut fish? A bottle opener? A toothpick? No worries, you’ll find one in your Victorinox Huntsmans Knife. For more serious wilderness expeditions you could go large and manly with a Bushcraft Knife . This one is one of the sturdiest with a carbon steel blade coated to protect against corrosion. You can also use the back of the blade as a fire starter thanks to its sharp, ground spine.
Gifts for Rehydration
After protection, the next most important thing for survival is clean drinking water. Survival experts say you can survive for three weeks without food but only three days without water. Dehydration can kill, but long before that it brings muscle cramps, headaches, confusion, dry skin, even bad breath. And who wants that? Of course you’ll be carrying water with you, but what will you do if that runs out?
These days there are many options for purifying water of dubious quality, from chemical purification kits to sophisticated portable filters. Of course you could filter using your socks, then light a fire and boil the nasties away, but it’s simpler to use a purifying water bottle. These have built in filters and purifiers which eliminate sediments, toxic chemicals, viruses and bacteria giving you with a source of safe water to drink. Simply fill the bottle, put the filtration cap on (without getting dirty water on the cap) and drink. A real life saver. You can use it as a regular drinking bottle too so you don’t actually have to carry anything extra.
We also sometimes carry Lifestraw drinking straws. You can read a Lifestraw in story action here. These do a similar thing. They don’t hold any water but enable you to drink through the straw from a river, puddle or other dubious source. Not quite as convenient as the water purifying bottle but still a small, light and useful item to have in your pack.
Gifts of Food
Experts say we can survive for weeks without food. But do you want to? Food is not just fuel, it’s also good for morale, for lifting spirits as well as settling rumbling stomachs. If you don’t want to get straight into foraging or hunting then the simplest thing to do is carry a few extra rations.
Long life, high energy foods are good; energy bars, flapjack, nuts and seeds. For an energy burst something sweet and sugary is good, like
Kendal Mint Cake, Tensing and Hillary’s sweet of choice at the summit of Everest. But it’s not long lasting energy; for that you need some slow releasing carbohydrates. For that try packing a few energy bars like the Clif Bars. These release a mix of carb, protein and fibre to keep you going longer. In a true survival situation fat is good too. Polar explorers live on it so you can probably enjoy a little guilt free fat if things go belly up. According to nutritionist Dr Chris Fenn, a mix of survival snack helps fuel the mind as well as the body. “You need a mix of fat, carbohydrate and protein to provide a psychological boost.” And when the chips are down (excuse the pun) it’s your thinking that may help get you back home safely.
If you are keen on learning more about foraging then why not carry a little foraging guide with you. You don’t need to be in an emergency to whip it out and see what you can find.
Food for Free is a small lightweight starter book that not only gives guidance on spotting edibles and avoiding deadibles but has recipe ideas too!
Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you thanks to a collaboration with Cotswold Outdoors. The links are affiliate links. These do not affect the pricing of any products you buy by following the links but can help us earn income to offset the costs of running this site. The idea, research, opinions, experience and product selections are all, as ever, entirely our own,