We would all love for our plans to go off without a hitch. However, as every backpacker knows, plans never survive first contact. Therefore, planning for unforeseen events while backpacking is important. You never know when you or someone else will get lost, injured, or stranded.
Luckily, you can go far with just a few simple supplies, and most emergency items take up very little room. Stocking up on these few extra items can literally be lifesaving in an emergency, though.
There are tons of emergency supplies you may need. But here are my five favorites that everyone should have in their bag:
If you’re backpacking, you probably have food on your packing list. However, I recommend packing a bit more food than you technically need. Emergencies are time-consuming and could keep you out in the woods longer than you originally planned.
When you (or someone else) are injured, food is the last thing you need to worry about. If you find yourself pinned down by extreme weather, having the option to wait it out without worrying about food can be life-saving.
Your emergency food doesn’t need to be different from the food you typically bring. Pack a few extra meals if you go backpacking for longer than intended. If you aren’t packing food for one reason or another, consider picking up a few emergency meals. Of course, if the food needs to be heated, pack a stove system, too.
Be sure you pack everything the food requires. Many emergency meals require water, so you’ll need to bring extra or have a way to purify it (assuming you are traveling in an area where water can be found easily).
Many backpackers carry the water they need on the trail. However, you should also have a water purification system if that water isn’t enough. The average person can survive three days without water if they aren’t moving around all that much. Despite this, your cognitive function will decline as soon as you become dehydrated.
Water purification tablets are the easiest way to do this. A pack of tablets hardly weighs anything and can purify quite a bit of water. However, tablets don’t remove everything from water and may make the water taste less-than-appetizing.
You can use a portable water filter. There are many options on the market. However, you can also boil water with a stove to purify it. A metal water bottle that allows you to boil water directly in it can also be helpful. If you’re already carrying a stove for food, then using it to purify your water can save you a bit of space.
Knives are one of the most versatile tools you can carry. You can use them for food preparation, kindling, and first aid. They aren’t very heavy, so there is little reason not to carry one. Every adult should have a knife if you’re backpacking with a group.
You can find multitools with knives built in. These work fine for emergency uses. However, be sure the knife is high-quality and usable. Many multitools only have a very small knife that can’t be utilized for much.
A basic foldout knife works fine, as well. You can also splurge on an expensive outdoor knife. Typically, you get what you pay for. Purchase the best option you can afford, but don’t feel you have to purchase the most expensive option. At the end of the day, you just need your knife to cut cleanly. If it does that, it works just fine.
Anytime you head into the woods, you must carry a first aid kit. Each adult should have an IFAK (individual first aid kit) in their bag, but anyone trained in first aid may want to carry advanced supplies. Don’t pack anything you don’t know how to use. Here’s a short list of items you should consider including:
- Blister treatments (moleskin)
- Adhesive bandages
- Gauze pads
- Adhesive tape
- Pain medication
Consider learning how to use a tourniquet and purchase one for your kit. Tourniquets can save lives, but they require some specific training. Stop the Bleed classes are a great way to get the training you need, and they host classes worldwide. Training isn’t expensive, and you may even be able to find free classes near you.
Getting lost is one of the most common emergencies that occurs while backpacking. A map and compass can help you avoid wandering in the wrong direction. We recommend taking a topographic map of the area your trip involves and maps of the surrounding area. You may no longer be on the “approved” trail if you get lost, so finding your way back is essential.
Of course, you’ll also need a compass to use the map. Know how to use the map and compass together. Topographic maps aren’t the easiest to use and require some practice.
There are tons of more advanced navigational gear you can purchase, too. Many backpackers carry around a GPS, which is simply a digital map that tracks your location. Many GPS devices use satellites, so they work even when you may not get cell phone service. However, they run on batteries, so carry some backups with you.
Altimeter watches and personal locator beacons may be helpful in specific situations. However, they don’t take the place of other navigational equipment. It can be nice to have an easy-to-use beacon if you get lost, but it won’t help you find your way back. (They may be a very good choice for children who won’t be able to navigate, however.)
Before you start your travels, you should pack some basic emergency supplies. None of us want emergencies to happen, but they do every day. Being prepared can prevent tragedy from occurring. At the very least, you should have extra food, a way to purify water, a knife, navigational gear, and a first aid kit.
Familiarize yourself with all of your equipment and how to use it. Having all the items is great, but they won’t help you much unless you can use them properly. Take courses if you think it’ll help, and don’t forget to get everything to go with your emergency equipment, too. For instance, if you purchase emergency meals, ensure you have a way to prepare them.
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