Any time you take yourself into the wilderness, you are encountering some level of a survival situation. There are many emergencies and contingencies in the backcountry that do not require medical intervention. For these instances, you need survival equipment.

Some survival equipment includes things you use routinely throughout your time in remote locations, and some are specific to an emergency. All safety and survival needs fall into one or more of the following categories: communications, first aid, food and water, shelter, fire and navigation.
These six categories remain consistent; however, the importance of each changes with the geographic location and the duration of your planned trip. If, for instance, you are doing a multi-day winter hike over the Presidential range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, shelter takes priority over water. Water would take precedence in an overland desert crossing in Australia or Africa.

Here are my 8 top tips for a survival kit:

#1 Don’t overdo it. If you need to take so much survival gear that it overwhelms your pack, choose another activity; you are not going to enjoy yourself with this one. More likely, you are not realistic about the risks and your capabilities.
#2 Protect your equipment. All electronics, phones, GPS and satellite messaging devices should be protected from the elements and potential impact. Waterproof containers or cases should be considered, researched and evaluated. Quality zip lock bags are practical waterproofing equipment, especially if they are doubled up and you are not in a maritime environment. For a maritime environment, like kayaking or canoeing, use dry bags or hard waterproof cases. Water bottles should be in a secured backpack pouch, not placed where it can fall out without your knowing. Water-purifying pumps are prone to break if they are not well protected.
#3 Know your gear. Be familiar with all your equipment and practice using it before leaving for the backcountry. If you have a spring-loaded ferro rod fire starter in your survival kit, make sure you know how it works and that you have practiced using it at home. If you take along iodine or chlorine tablets for purifying water, learn how to use them.
#4 Electronics will fail. Have a backup plan for anything electronic related. Even if you are navigating on your phone or GPS, you must also have – and know how to use – a map and a compass. Phones lose service, GPSs lose connections in thick forests and steep terrain, batteries die and machines break.
#5 Pack items with more than one purpose. Multi-feature knives have blades for cutting cord to make a shelter, a saw to cut kindling wood, can openers, tweezers and scissors (which help with first aid), screwdrivers and pliers (to repair or maintain equipment). The uses for zip ties, paracord and duct tape are endless. With these items, you can fix nearly anything for long enough to get out of the wilderness safely.
#6 Always be prepared for the night. Always carry a quality headlamp and extra batteries. Head- lamps are critical because they leave your hands free to cut kindling wood, conduct first aid and boil water in the dark. Always have the ability to make fire. This includes a windproof lighter in your pocket, a mechanical fire-starting device in your pack, and waterproof matches in a water- proof container in your survival kit. Something warm to eat or drink is essential in colder enviroments; having a stove, fuel and small pot in which to boil water is critical. A warm meal or drink can make a cold night seem a lot shorter.
#7 Where do I carry my survival kit? It is important to understand that much of your gear can be considered “survival gear” once in an emergency situation. Items specific to survival can be stored in a small waterproof container. Do not split up survival gear if you are in a group. You may find yourself alone. Everyone should have their own first-aid kit and critical survival gear. Everyone should have a portable stove, fuel and cooking pot in colder environments for the same reason.
#8 Learn and practice survival skills in a safe environment. It is true that effective learning takes place after making mistakes in the backcountry. However, it is not a good idea to head into the backcountry taking only your survival gear with the intent of learning to use it there. Practice survival skills in a safe and supervised environ ment and be thoroughly comfortable with using them before your trip.

Harding Bush is the associate manager of operations at Global Rescue, the pioneer of worldwide field rescue. He is a 20-year special operations forces veteran with an additional 10 years of experience in international travel and corporate security. He was also the senior survival instructor at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Course in Rangeley, Maine. ASM