10 Things You Need to Survive in the Wilderness

What to carry in your pack on any adventure.
By: Paul Cox

Some of us enjoy planning the adventure trip almost as much as the travel itself. The real challenge lies in stuffing everything you “need” in a small day pack or teeny, weeny little suitcase. 

young woman standing on top of mountain overlooking various mountains

young woman standing on top of mountain overlooking various mountains

Photo by: Izf / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Izf / iStock / Getty Images Plus

When you need to whittle down your list of must-have personal items to take on a hike or remote paddle, consider what I stuff into my pack whether I’m in areas as remote as Canada’s Yukon Territory, the swamps of Florida, or just guiding a local kayak tour. The 10 below could help you out of a backcountry jam or help you finish your adventure in good shape. 

These items would of course be in addition to a basic first aid kit, medical alert bracelets, and enough water and snacks for your planned outing. And you’d add to this list or substitute a bit based on season or location (add a bug net for spring in the remotes of Michigan, for example!). 


This includes lip balm with SPF. I learned my lesson the hard way. I didn’t protect my lips during the 2008 Yukon River Quest paddle race. After 48 hours and 444 miles on the water, my mouth was so badly burned I couldn’t fully enjoy the relief of reaching the finish line. Every smile tortured my sun-cracked lips and produced an agonizing grimace.

Extra Socks

What feels better to weary, wet feet than a fresh pair of socks?

Answer: nothing.

So, do your two best backcountry friends a solid and bring along an extra pair of socks on any backcountry trip. And make sure those socks are wool or synthetic. Cotton does not keep feet warm when wet and does not dry out quickly.

Rain Jacket

I’ll give meteorologists lots of credit: They’re mostly right when predicting clear or cloudy skies. Still, it’s wise to bring a rain jacket just in case they get it wrong. Even in dry weather, a rain jacket can keep the chill out by blocking a stiff, cold wind. 

Emergency Blanket

Imagine tinfoil for your body. Made of Mylar, these wraps quickly trap body heat. Hypothermia (dangerously low body temperature) can threaten even on seemingly warm days. I’ve seen these silver saviors in action plenty of times. I’ve even slept in one a time or two when in a real bind. 

Water Treatment

As a victim of infected water (I once contracted Leptospirosis in the Florida swamps) I highly recommend treating any outdoor water you run across in the wild before drinking it. Iodine gets a bad rap as having an unpleasant aftertaste, but the tablets are hard to beat for the space-conscious traveler.


Don’t expect to be able to rub two sticks together when you need a flame. 

Synthetic Hat

Keeps the sun off and the warmth in. You can go with the classic beanie or multi-purpose Buff-style headwear in cool weather, or a baseball-style cap in warmer temps. Just put one in your pack.


Yours doesn’t have to be chock full of tweezers, cork screws, or even be very big for that matter. But, make sure it’s sharp, and easy (and safe) to open and close.

Waterproofing for Cell Phone (which you should also bring)

I’m not talking about a flimsy, re-sealable plastic baggie. Bring something bombproof. I like bringing a case that snaps shut – such a secure sound.

Duct Tape!

How could this not make the list! This must-have item is famous for a multitude of brilliant uses – everything from making temporary repairs and patches to medical hacks (I’ve used it for both). And you may just invent a new miracle use the next time you’re in the backcountry.

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