Ultimate Adventure Survival Kit: Essential Gear and Tips for Every Outdoor trip

Ultimate Adventure Survival Kit: Essential Gear and Tips for Every Outdoor trip

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in on a talk about what to include in a medical kit for trips. The premise of this talk was to build a medical kit with an emphasis on what could be brought for simple outings like a day hike.

I started thinking about my own kit and how it has evolved over the years. Often, it became either too cumbersome or too light. I've found that this list strikes a good balance between the two while also making life a lot easier in difficult situations. I've focused heavily on weight savings because this kit can quickly become too bulky or heavy, making it easy to talk myself out of bringing it, which is a problem.

I take this kit with me everywhere I go, whether in the wilderness or just on a normal vacation. I believe this is an important principle of an adventure kit because if I always have it with me, it will be there when I need it. Emergencies can happen anywhere. I take it with me when resort skiing or traveling to a Caribbean all-inclusive resort. It's difficult to make an adventure kit truly all-encompassing, but in my opinion, this is as close as it can get.

The goal was to eliminate the major items that could incapacitate me or make life miserable. When life is miserable, poor decisions are made. Poor decision-making is the primary cause of many fatalities, which is unfortunate because with the right tools, poor decisions might not be made in the first place.

I also adhere to the principle of "one is none and two is one," as things can get lost or break in an emergency. You'll see that I've applied this principle when building this kit.



To start, I prefer the Outdoor Research stuff sack in the 5L format for this task. I find that 5L is the perfect size to hold everything I need without making it too cumbersome to carry or annoying to fit into my bag. I also have a rule that this is the only red stuff sack I own, as it is easily identifiable for me or someone else to see in an emergency when it's buried in my bag.


Health (massive bleed/reducing symptoms or pain)

The starting point here is that I am not a doctor. The purpose is to stop massive bleeding, call for help, or get myself or the person I am helping to a higher level of care.

The starting point is the Officer Survival Solutions trauma plate pack. It includes a SWAT tourniquet, Combat hemostatic gauze, a combat compression bandage (Israeli bandage), gloves, and a field application card. I love this thing because it is shrink-wrapped super tight, so it takes up less space. It is meant to be carried in the soft armor pouch of a police officer. I have purchased several through the years as there is an expiration date on them. Expiration dates for this stuff mean little to me as they will likely perform just fine. I like that when I buy a new one, I can put them to work elsewhere. This one is a little loose due to traveling on planes with it. No big deal.

Also works well - Adventure Medical Kits Trauma Pak Pro 

RAT tourniquet. This is one of my favorite tourniquets as it is very fast when used solo and holds very securely when placed. In practice, I find it is a lot easier to stop the blood flow even faster when compared to the CAT Tourniquet. It can also be used for other things such as cordage.

Medication Kit

All over-the-counter meds are put into a tiny format that is very easy to carry. Check out the article I wrote on it. The bottom line is that having these over-the-counter meds handy can not only alleviate a lot of suffering (pain killer/anti-inflammatory/Tylenol PM) but they could also help save your life (Imodium/Benadryl). It can also greatly help make you more comfortable, which can lead to much better decision-making. This medication kit is a really simple thing; I use it all the time when traveling as it helps me keep having fun.

Sunblock - A tiny travel tube could be a real lifesaver in a pinch. I keep one in here just in case.

Simple Band-aids - Pretty nice to have when you need them, which is highly likely when you're tired.


Water (dehydration) -

Humans can die without water in 72 hours, which is not a lot of time, especially if you’re trapped in bad weather. It also absolutely sucks being dehydrated and totally screws up your decision-making and health in the worst way possible. Bottom line up front - I like having two ways to clean water. I could easily add a third with chemical water filtration, but I have found that I don’t like how they taste, always fear if they work when in turbid water, and don’t like how I have to wait an hour or longer to drink. I like that with the previously mentioned filter sources I can pretty much make an unlimited quantity of water with a close to zero chance of getting sick.

Sawyer Filtration - My favorite filter method. Super cheap in cost and I can make a ton of clean water easily. I always pack one that has never been used that way if it freezes it’s no big deal. If I have to use this in a cold weather environment I know that after I use it I will have to store this on my person under my insulation to prevent it from freezing and cracking the filter. I always carry the plunger to backflow (ALWAYS BACKFLOW WITH CLEAN WATER) the filter to keep it running like a top if I have to filter ultra-dirty water.

Sawyer 64 oz and 34 oz water storage bags (2727 ML) - The bags are the Achilles' heel of the Sawyer system as you really need them to be able to apply pressure to the water as you push it through the filter. If they blow up, life can suck as it’s harder to use the filter. Sawyer was smart and you can use a simple plastic water bottle as well on it. I usually keep both of these bags holding dirty water and filter them into my 1000 ml Nalgene. I like doing it this way when I'm tired or lazy, and it’s pretty easy to just fill these up, cap them, and move on. I always top off all of my water storage when able because water sources are not always guaranteed. I know through experience that I run ideally at 3000ml a day. When I work hard though (or in a cold environment) all day I will need 4000 ml. With the bags and the Nalgene I’m covered.

Steripen - A Steripen in some locations is needed as it is possible some viruses can pass through the Sawyer. Thankfully, when you Steripen water properly you are nearly eliminating the possibility of getting sick from bad water no matter where you are in the world. I run the water first through the Sawyer then put the Steripen into the wide-mouth Nalgene to treat water which is very easy to do even when exhausted. I always carry an extra battery for it even though the battery seems to last forever.


Light (disorientation at night) -

I carry two headlamps with me.

A Petzl Swift RL - This one is a beast and a little overkill but it’s just what I have gotten used to as it throws a massive amount of light, and also gives plenty of options to get the right amount. The light also adapts to distance which can help preserve night vision. It also has really good battery life. Truly any headlamp will do though. I think having a rechargeable headlamp is a little better at this point.

The Black Diamond Flare - is ultra-lightweight, extremely durable, and very difficult for it to accidentally turn on. I also love the SOS function for signaling in an emergency. SOS is a little better than a pure strobe in my opinion as sometimes people can rationalize a simple strobe as being glare or something else. The pattern of SOS is very unique, easy to spot, and also conveys an emergency. The batteries when not used stay charged for years when not in use.

Communication -

Communication is critical in emergencies, therefore I have two means to do so. I also love that I can set my Garmin up to share my location with a loved one adding another layer of safety.

The Garmin Inreach 2 - A truly incredible device. Ultra-long battery life, super reliable, simple to use, and truly lifesaving (it has thousands of real-world saves). I did a whole review on it but for the sake of this article, I love having a dedicated and trusted way to call for emergency services to my exact location in a reliable manner.

iPhone - The new iPhones have a satellite feature for emergencies. I have yet to test this, but it did appear that it allows you to send your facility tracking information while also being able to call for emergency services. Of course, an iPhone is a great resource. It can provide you offline map access (via Google Maps when downloaded or OnX which is a purpose-built app for off-the-grid adventuring). I highly suggest putting an iPhone into airplane mode in bad service so it does not kill the battery quickly looking for service. In cold weather, it also makes sense to keep the phone close to your body to keep the battery at a normal temperature. For these reasons, I still would not consider selling my Inreach as having redundancy in communication in emergencies is critical.

Anker Battery Pack - I always carry an extra battery pack to charge up my phone, Garmin, and headlamps, so because being able to recharge it might be nice rather than carrying extra batteries that only work for the headlamp. I have had great luck with Anker as they just work well and also have a good warranty (although I have never had to use it). I like to have a sweet spot battery (not too big, not too small). I like to aim for it to be able to charge my iPhone completely at least twice.


Fire Starting (Hypothermia/Signaling)

Starting a fire can be a real lifesaver, preventing hypothermia and aiding in signaling. However, fire starting does take some practice. I've found the following methods to be the easiest way to start a fire. Easy is good.

Cotton Balls in Vaseline - Super lightweight and very easy to light. I use a small stick to make the cotton ball like a lollipop. I use a firestarter from my SOL emergency kit to flick a spark into one of these balls. I take this fiery ball and shove it into the heart of my kindling. They can burn strongly for several minutes. If that does not get it going, I keep the following. The SOL fire starter is easier to use than I make it sound. If I remember to do so, I will pick up two Bic lighters at the gas station where I land to keep things simple. Most firelighters cannot fly, which is annoying.

Tea Candles - I use the aforementioned as a torch to get the candle going and find or whittle a flat stick to rest my candle so I can push it in and pull it out easily for reuse. I put the lit candle under some 1/2 - 1 inch sized wood stick kindling. This is especially effective for wet wood. The little candle keeps ripping into the wood, and no matter the condition of the wood, a fire will eventually get started. This avoids the horrible situation when wood is wet, and you have to have a few false starts to get it going. If I'm in a snowy environment, a tiny tea candle can provide some warmth in a properly built shelter (car, snow cave - a rare possibility but would be badass if used). They can run around 8 hours per candle which is nice. 


Miscellaneous Survival

I've had this SOL survival kit for a long while now. It has a small collection of things which can be immensely helpful when things break bad, and it is kept in a waterproof case. Of particular note is the compass, fire starter, emergency blanket, fishing kit, and 100mph tape.

I also have a more durable and larger survival blanket. I think it’s ideal to carry two of these again. That way you have a way to make a shelter, and also a blanket to help you keep warm. It is also great to have two of these if you get stuck on a chairlift for an extended period. They cut wind (which is highly likely to shut a lift down in the first place), shed rain, and help retain warmth. I think it's great to have a second blanket to help your buddies out.


Not Pictured (but things I always have)

I usually leave a cliff bar hanging out at the bottom of my bag. If I’m super hungry, I really like the surprise and morale gained when discovering I have a bar that I forgot about.

20 feet of 550 cord - The cordage is great for creating a shelter with your survival blanket by creating a clothesline on two trees. It also can help repair a backpack or other things.

T-shirt - Can be used to pre-screen/filter horrible water into my dirty water bag. If I am in a bad spot with bad water, I will always plan to cut a piece off of my t-shirt to hold over the opening to help pre-screen some mud or other things before putting water into my dirty bag. This helps protect my filter and increases the speed I can actually filter water.

Nalgene - I take a filled 1000ml Nalgene with me whenever I travel. I don’t like being dehydrated. They are super lightweight and very durable.

Knife - A sturdy folder will do. I like a knife that is partially serrated as it can come in handy while sawing some things. I prefer Benchmade or SOG knives as they are durable and affordable enough that I won’t cry myself to sleep if I lose it.

Sunglasses - Overlooked but they help you see in bright or white conditions and also are a form of eye protection when walking through woods. I like to have a pair that are not ultra-dark so they can be used in more conditions.

So that's it. I’m curious what ideas you have to improve on this kit? The bottom line here is to stay on the task of keeping it in a 5L format. I also would highly suggest duplicating some of the cheaper items for a car kit. I did not take the time to total up the cost of this kit, as everything here has been collected through the years, but I know it adds to a pretty significant sum of money. There are certainly ways to cut costs, but the bottom line is you really need to stick to reliable products so you can trust them and they work when you need them to.

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