When you’re living off the grid, your chances of staying alive are only as good as your instincts—and the gear you have on you. Here are 11 items that savvy, self-sufficient survivalists always take with them.
1. A RELIABLE FIRE SOURCE
Fire is a basic—yet important—necessity for human survival. In the wilderness, you’ll need a steady blaze to keep warm, scare off wild animals, cook food, and boil water. Waterproof matches are handy, but they’re also expensive—plus, you’ll eventually run out. A much handier piece of equipment to have on hand is a rod made from ferrocerium, a man-made metallic material that emits sparks when it’s scraped across a rough surface.
2. A FIRST-AID KIT
What goes into your First Aid kit is entirely dependent on your individual health needs, but mainstay supplies include materials and tools for cleaning, disinfecting, dressing, and suturing wounds; pain medication and sundry items like sunblock and bug spray.
Paracord (short for parachute cord) is a superior alternative to rope. The smooth, nylon cord is durable, elastic, and mold-resistant. It can be used to secure a tent, haul heavy items, and make everything from clotheslines to fishing lines. If you’re really in a pinch, you can even use its inner threads as emergency dental floss.
4. MATERIALS FOR COLLECTING AND PURIFYING WATER.
Hopefully, your campsite is located near a body of water, which can be made drinkable by boiling it. If it isn’t, you can collect rain, snow, or dew by leaving bandannas outside and wringing out the moisture they collect. (Bonus? This type of water doesn’t need to be purified.) Another handy water-gathering method is to secure a clear plastic bag over a leafy tree branch. Plants “transpire”—meaning they release water through their leaves—and you can collect this condensation inside the bag and drink it.
5. MAPS AND A COMPASS
Even if you are living off the grid, you still need to know where you are in case you run out of gear or decide to return to civilization. Survivalists recommend carrying a compass, along with three different types of maps: a detailed local one, a regional topographic map, and an extended area road map. That way, you can navigate distances both large and small.
6. A SLEEPING BAG
One of the most dangerous threats you’ll face isn’t encountering a wild beast—it’s developing hypothermia. A sleeping bag keeps you warm, protects you from the elements, and also serves as a makeshift shelter. Select a warmer, insulated sleeping bag for cold climes; a lighter one for warm weather; or a synthetic one that wicks away moisture if you’re expecting a lot of rain.
7. A COOKING POT
A large, two-quart cooking pot might take up a lot of room in a rucksack, but survivalists say it’s an essential piece of camping gear that’s well worth toting with you into the wilderness. For one thing, a pot lets you purify lake, stream, or river water by boiling it, and you can also use it to cook food. And when you’re not using the pot for meal prep, it serves as a handy storage receptacle.
8. A SHARP, ALL-PURPOSE KNIFE
A good, fixed-blade knife with a long blade is an essential part of a survivalist’s tool kit. You can use it to hew branches and trees to construct a shelter; fashion weapons and tools; skin and dress game; and protect yourself from predators. Select an all-purpose knife that’s thick and heavy enough to do some heavy-duty chopping, but fine and sharp enough for more detailed work.
9. AN AXE
A good knife goes a long way, but you’ll also need an axe to chop firewood and cut down trees. Select one that’s sharp and sturdy, yet easily maneuverable.
10. A FLARE GUN
If you’re injured or in danger, the only way you’re going to get outside help is if you signal for it. A flare gun—a firearm that launches flares—reveals your position when you shoot it directly above you into the air.
11. EMERGENCY FOOD RATIONS
An emergency store of food won’t last you forever, but it will tide you over during lean hunting seasons. Bring along non-perishable items like canned goods, dried foods in bulk, and freeze-dried meats, and store them somewhere cool and dry. And to grow your own food, have seeds on hand.