My evolving personal survival kit

Survival kits for traveling in the backcountry have been a topic of discussion among those of us who spend a lot of time hiking, hunting, camping, canoeing or just recreating for a few hours away from civilization. In my case, I also rode my horse on camping trips in the mountains around Pocatello and on trips to Teton National Park where we would ride up from Jenny Lake to Lake Solitude on a two-day, one-night trip that ended back at Jenny Lake.

I received my first lessons in outdoor travel and survival kits in the Boy Scout program. We were taught that a survival kit needed to be very compact and lightweight, while containing items that would really come in handy if we were delayed and had to spend more time in the backcountry than we had originally planned. We were taught to plan on getting lost and making sure we had enough essential items to keep us in good shape until we could make it home.

The Boy Scout survival lessons revolved around telling someone where we were going and when we planned to be back, as well as a kit that contained a fixed blade knife, water filter, emergency blanket, fire starter, compass, topographic map, signal mirror and duct tape. Later, I took several outdoor education classes at Brigham Young University, including Youth Leadership 480, which was a month-long survival trek through Southern Utah, where I had to make my own possible bag for carrying essential survival items, including a bow drill that I also constructed myself for the purpose of making a fire to cook what ever we came up with to eat each day. So now I could hunt, find tinder for my fire and make fire and survive just like the Native Americans whose early skills we were learning. Youth leadership benefited me in three ways: I became self sufficient in a wilderness environment; I learned to make fire several different ways, but I preferred matches, lighters or propane stoves; and I also met my future wife on that trip.

Since that time, I have learned a lot and have thrown some items out of my survival kit and added others as I spent more time in the backcountry and learned what I really ended up using and what I never did have any use for. For instance, I no longer carry a signal mirror because I never used it, and I don't carry a bow drill and bark, having opted for a metal match that contains lighter fluid and fits in the palm of my hand. So my survival kit has evolved and is still evolving as I find items that easily replace something else and are lighter or more compact.

Today, I have a small pot that I took out of a Boy Scout mess kit, several small wrapped chocolate cubes, small folding knife, a candle for starting fires, matches, two small packages of salt, a whistle. six sugar cubes and three bouillon cubes, which all fit in the small pot. In addition, I include zip ties for building a debris hut or lashing things to a small day pack and trash bags, which take up very little room. They are very versatile as you can fill them with leaves and pine boughs for use as a sleeping pad, or cut a hole in the bottom for your head and use them as rain protection. A handful of binder clips are great for shelter building especially if you have a tarp or emergency blanket, which I do. Also include insect repellent, sun screen and lip balm, a hat and sunglasses. I also carry a small resealable plastic bag of flour. If you have to hold up for the night or get hungry during the day, pour out some flour into a small plastic bag, add enough water to make a gooey paste, wrap it around a stick, and hold over a fire for about 10 minutes and you will have biscuits ready to eat. If you have a cellphone, also have a small phone charger in case you find you have reception. I also carry some cash. When we walked out of the Utah desert after our month-long survival trip I was able to buy a milkshake to enjoy while we waited for the bus to pick us up and return us to Provo, Utah. Several of us had some cash and we were able to get the whole group something to drink while we waited.

I put most of these items with the exception of the tarp, in small plastic bags and put all the smaller bags into a large freezer type bag and it really takes up very little room.

Another item that makes sense is a hand-held GPS for determining where you are and the best route out of the area, but I'm pretty old school in several ways and like to have a compass and topographic map of the area.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at

Post Author: By Smokey Merkley

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