If you’re reading this, chances are you spend a little less time on the couch staring at a television screen than the average American. However, you’ve probably also heard of the “reality” survival shows that are enjoying a big increase in popularity and air time. These shows are great for drumming up interest in getting folks outside and more active (we just fell to #2 on the list of fattest countries, so that’s a…um…victory), but they can also make beginners and novices over-think their next adventure and how to prepare for it. It is important to remember that the events played out in these shows are extreme, absolute worst-case scenarios. When planning your next adventure, don’t get bogged down in the details of how you’re going to react when your car inevitably breaks down in the middle of the desert with a herd of venomous snakes and poachers bearing down on you. Extra gear and more modern equipment is fantastic, but just remember these incredibly basic (sometimes painfully obvious) items:
Source of fire
Pretty basic, right? You would be surprised how many people forget the most obvious and important tool for survival in an emergency. Sure, you could hunt down some dry tinder, carve out a bow drill (that is, if you remember to bring the second item on this list), and go to town until your hands melt off the bone. Wouldn’t it just be easier to bring a lighter? Granted, it could get wet. So put it in a plastic bag. Yes, you could lose that bag. So bring fifty-seven lighters in fifty-seven separate plastic bags if you feel the need. Just make sure you have an easy source of flame. At the very least, bring a magnesium block. Purists may scoff at this advice. Most others would scoff at spending three hours trying to make a fire like a caveman. You can decide which side you’re on.
The need for a cutting tool can be misleading. At first glance, one might think “Why would I need a knife to go hiking?” For starters, you never know when you may need to cut cordage, devise a fire-making tool (unless you’ve read this first, of course), or bushwhack your way through a dense area. If you’re really in a pickle (or just really into killing your food), it can be used to clean that night’s meal. The uses really are endless. Any cutting tool will do, but as with most equipment, you tend to get what you pay for. Your best bet is to save up the scratch, buy something nice and durable, and you’d be better off to buy a whetstone or sharpener, too. A dull knife is a real bummer. So, in other words, always carry a knife.
Some Kind of Container
Okay, so pretty much everyone is going to bring a water bottle along, right? That’s great. What happens when you get lost and run out of water, though? You’ve prepared ahead of time and purchased water purification tabs, some kind of fancy water purifier, or cached water, hopefully. If not, you may be in trouble. While water is probably readily available in whatever wild you’re conquering, it is often not potable. You’re going to need to get that water to at least 185 Fahrenheit for a few minutes before drinking it. That most likely means you’re going to have to put your container of water in, around, or above your fire. Most water bottles will melt before the water is okay to ingest, so some kind of fire-resistant or metal container is your best bet.
A Compass and the Ability to Use it
Sure, there are plenty of other ways to determine your direction. Following a waterway is always a great idea, as well. Chances are, you’ve done at least a quick bit of research on the area you’re traversing before footing it. If that’s the case, having a compass and the ability to use it can be quite the comforting security blanket. Even if that’s not the case, it can keep you on a straight path and not tromping around some godforsaken wasteland in circles. You can use the sun, the North Star, or an azimuth. You can follow the direction of the moss on the trees or some other old trick. But nothing will get you where you need to be better and easier than a well-calibrated compass.
A Communication Device
Yes, you should bring your phone. It is definitely understandable that you want to get off the grid. Get away from society. Become one with nature. That’s fine, you can always turn the phone off. In fact, that’ll conserve the battery in case you need to call for help. Granted, many of the world’s greatest places are in remote areas where cell reception is still twenty years from existence. Most phones come with a tracking device that authorities can ping from a satellite, so if there’s even a blip on the radar, someone will have an idea of the general area where you’re stuck. If not, well, at least you can play solitaire for awhile as you helplessly await rescue.