Among campers, hikers, backpackers, and survivalists, the subject of gear is a hotly debated topic. Everyone has their preferred list of gear that they consider to be indispensable. In this article, we will attempt to create a universal list that includes everything you should bring when heading for the wilderness.
For a start, let’s turn to this article. In this one, we addressed this topic in regards to mountaineering. This article, however, is intended for hikers and campers. We should begin by reprinting this top ten list:
- Extra clothing
- Headlamp or flashlight
- First-aid kit
- Extra food
This is a good list for the beginner, but we need to go into much more detail for those who want to take their skills to the next level. In this article, we will examine 80 different items divided into 10 different categories. Each of these categories is based on one of the ten most important wilderness needs.
You can download the list in checklist format, print it out and use it before your next trip.
There are 6 items in this category:
- GPS Device
- GPS Beacon
- Watch with altimeter and barometer
- Extra batteries and/or a small solar charger
Let’s start with the map. If you know the area well enough, you may not need this one, but it can be very helpful. Even if you are highly familiar with the area to which you will be traveling, you might want a map of a specific area. If you are planning to visit any caves, we would definitely recommend that you bring a map of the cave. If no map is available, make sure you have plenty of light and make signs as you go. That way, you can find your way out by retracing your steps.
Of course, a map is no good unless you know how to use it. It’s a good idea to learn how to read topographic maps, as they provide a much more detailed knowledge of the terrain than standard maps. But what do you do if no map is available? That is simple. You bring some paper and a pencil/pen and create a map. Your map might look crude if you don’t have much experience in this department, but that is okay. As long as you can read it, it doesn’t matter if anyone else can!
A compass is quite possibly the most important navigational tool, as it is the most reliable way to tell which direction you are going. There are some primitive ways of telling the right direction, but a compass is much faster and easier. If you don’t have a compass, just remember that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. So, if you walk toward the sunrise, you are going east and vice versa.
You need to understand the differences between a map compass and a lensatic compass. A map compass (also called an orienteering compass) has a transparent rectangular base and usually includes a magnifier. As you might guess, this is meant to be used in combination with a map. A lensatic compass usually consists of a round case and compass with a small folding magnifier lens. If you can only take one, we would recommend the lensatic compass because it is more versatile.
GPS Device and GPS Beacon
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, you probably know how GPS works. Most phones come equipped with GPS, but you shouldn’t rely on that. You need a GPS navigational device and a personal locator beacon. With that combination, it’s pretty hard to get lost. Once again, you may not need these things if you are familiar with the area.
Watch with Altimeter and Barometer
You can tell time by looking at the position of the sun, but it will always be a rough measurement. That’s why you need a good watch and some extra batteries. Also, there is a method by which you can use your watch as a compass. You should familiarize yourself with this method, as it makes a great backup plan. If the watch has an altimeter (measures altitude), that will also help in the navigation department. A barometer is kind of nice because it allows you to predict the weather to a certain extent.
Any electronic navigational devices should be packed with extra batteries, but you might want to get a small solar battery charger if you plan to be in the wild for more than a week. Rechargeable batteries are expensive but well worth it in the long run. If you have multiple devices that use batteries, a small solar charger is almost essential. Unlike most solar panels, these devices tend to be pretty cheap.
There are 4 items in this category:
- Bandanna or Neck Gaiter
- Lip Balm
Most hiking and camping is done during the summer. So, unless you live in the far north of the world, you will need to consider the effects of the sun. Sunscreen might be a good idea, but isn’t necessary for all environments. Sunglasses, on the other hand, are useful anywhere. If nothing else, you can use them to keep the sun’s glare out of your eyes. This will make it easier to survey your environment and keep your direction true.
Sunglasses are essential for snowy conditions. You may have heard the term “snowblind” before, but most people don’t know what it means. When you spend a lot of time looking at the surface of the snow, the sun’s rays will be reflected by the crystalline structure of the snow itself. This means that you are getting light in your eyes, and that can cause eyestrain and headaches.
It might surprise you to know that snow blindness can occur when there is no snow. Any reflective surface can cause the same issue. This includes sand, the surface of a lake, or even certain types of rock. It is similar to the effect of staring at a computer screen for too long, and this condition is technically called photokeratitis.
A bandanna can be a good way to keep cool in the summer, as well. Not only can it act as a shade (this is especially important if you happen to be bald!), but it can also be wetted in a nearby creek or river and wrapped around your neck or head. You might be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.
Finally, you should make it a point to bring some lip balm. It’s a tiny and lightweight item and can come in very handy. Conditions of excessive heat and cold often tend to chap a person’s lips. It’s a small item that can do a lot to improve your comfort.
You shouldn’t underestimate the damage that hot weather can do. Sunstroke can be a lethal condition if it is not treated. When a case of simple heat exhaustion turns into a full-on sunstroke, you need rest and water immediately. If you think this isn’t a serious concern, you should know that about 600 people die every year from this condition, and that’s just within the United States alone. Sure, 600 people a year isn’t exactly a plague, but we are pretty sure you don’t want to be one of those 600.
First Aid And Safety
There are 5 items in this category:
- First-Aid Kit
- Communication Device
- Reflective Blanket
- Duct Tape
When venturing out into the wild, many people neglect the importance of medicine and first aid. Nature is extremely beautiful, but its beauty is often matched by an equal amount of danger. That’s why you need a fully-stocked first aid kit. It should include things like bandages, bandage tape, gauze, tweezers, a scalpel, an instant cold pack, some type of antiseptic (rubbing alcohol, iodine, etc), scissors, an oral thermometer, a suction kit for snake bites, and anything else that might be appropriate for your environment.
We would advise you to look at the environment and think about the worst things that could happen to you within that environment. That will give you a good idea of what you need to bring. For instance, if you are going to an area where poisonous snakes are common, you better be sure to bring that suction kit and maybe even some antivenom if the danger is great enough.
However, your first aid kit may not always be enough. Unless you have a lot of medical training, serious injuries require serious help. That’s when you have to resist the temptation to “play doctor” and call some help. You will probably have your phone, but make sure you have extra battery packs and a charging cable. Still, what if you have no service (which is likely)?
A satellite phone is the easiest solution in these situations. Because they use satellite signals, they will work anywhere on the planet. They may not be cheap, but such a phone is the only way to ensure that you can call for help if needed.
If you are traveling with a group of people, you should probably invest in a set of walkie-talkies. These will allow your party to separate when necessary without having to worry too much. After all, it only takes one lost hiker to ruin the entire trip.
You may find yourself in a situation where you need to signal to an aircraft or a distant person. If that happens, a small reflective blanket and/or a whistle can be helpful. If a person’s radio goes dead, they can simply blow on the whistle until someone hears them and follows the sound. Those reflective blankets also double as extra insulation in your sleeping bag on cold nights.
We should say a word about these reflective blankets. Some people call them “space blankets,” and they seem to think these things are made from some kind of advanced material that protects astronauts in the coldness of space. In reality, it’s just a type of stretched polyester called mylar, and it only works well when combined with a more traditional blanket. Don’t make the silly mistake of thinking that this foil wrapper can replace a normal blanket.
Finally, we should talk about the medical uses of duct tape. Duct tape is easily one of the most versatile substances ever invented, and it’s great for wilderness trips. Originally invented for the military, it is far more resistant to water than most other kinds of tape. As such, it makes a great improvised bandage tape.
If someone suffers a gaping wound, duct tape can also take the place of a suture by closing up the wound. In fact, it will be stronger than sutures in some cases. Duct tape can also be used to remove splinters, thorns, ticks, and anything else that happens to become lodged in your skin.
There are 11 items in this category:
- Hiking Boots
- Hiking Socks (2-5 pairs)
- Camp Shoes
- Combination Pants/Shorts
- Thermal Underwear
- Fleece Jacket or Vest
- Fleece Pants
- Raincoat or Rainsuit
- Non-Cotton Wicking Shirt
- Lightweight Down Or Synthetic Jacket
The main rule of thumb here is that you must dress for your environment. The above list is not a hard and fast set of rules, but a set of guidelines. Adjust them as needed.
One thing is for sure, though: You will definitely need a good pair of boots. If you spend a little more money on just one item, this should probably be that item. Shoes are often taken for granted by civilized people, but this is a mistake in the wild. If your boots fail, you may even wind up walking barefoot. That is both uncomfortable and hazardous, so make sure that your boots are extremely durable.
Never underestimate the importance of clean socks. Without socks, your feet will surely get blisters. According to this study, acrylic-fiber socks are more effective at preventing blisters than cotton socks. It’s kind of hard to enjoy your camping trip when every single step is causing you pain. Even if you can shrug this off, there is still a risk of infection due to the filthy environment that naturally exists inside a sweaty boot. That’s why you should always bring at least three pairs of strong socks.
In warm or hot weather, we would strongly recommend the use of convertible pants/shorts. These are just a pair of pants with zippers near the knees. These zippers are used to remove the lower part of the pants, turning them into shorts. In many environments, you will see hot temperatures during the day and cold temperatures at night. Convertible pants will help you to be prepared for both.
Gloves are also very important. Your hands are your main tool, and most of your other tools require them. Therefore, you must guard your hands like gold and try not to expose them to any unnecessary danger. Gloves are a great way to do this. One of the best things about gloves is the fact that you won’t have to worry so much about insect bites or stings.
Many campers and hikers like to bring a small pair of “camp shoes.” These are usually just a light set of flip-flops or sandals and are handy when moving around your camp. For instance, let’s say you need to leave the tent in the middle of the night to relieve yourself. There is probably no need to lace up your boots for such a short walk, so your camp shoes are very convenient at that point.
In cold weather, we want to emphasize the principle of layering. Instead of trying to buy the thickest clothes you can find, use multiple layers of clothing. This way, you can remove or add a layer when needed. If you wear too many layers, your body will start to sweat. This is somewhat dangerous, as that sweat can lower your body temperature. Basically, you want to make sure that you don’t trick your body into sweating when it’s cold. That’s why you might need to remove your outer layer of clothes in cold weather.
Blades And Survival Gear
There are 7 items in this category:
- Repair Kit
- Folding Saw or Wire Saw
- Extra Batteries
Cutting tools are very important, especially when you are in the woods. There are many occasions in which you might need a knife, so make sure that you carry a good one. When we say that, we mean that you should avoid cheap knives because they cannot be trusted. Remember: cheap knives are usually made with cheap steel. They might hold up for a short time, but they won’t be durable enough overall.
There are a great many things that might require cutting when you are out in the wild. Even if this is not the case, a knife should serve as your primary eating utensil. Before people started using forks and spoons, they had only one eating tool, and that was the knife.
There are many, many knife styles out there, but we would recommend that you stick with something basic. A single-edged knife should be selected over a double-edged knife for this purpose. A double-edged knife such as a dagger is mainly built to be a fighting knife, whereas you need both a tool and a weapon. A single-edged blade allows you to use your hand on the back of the blade when cutting or splitting a stick. You can even use a rock or a log to hammer your knife through an object that is too thick to cut.
We would, of course, be missing something very important if we didn’t mention the need for defense. Obviously, no one expects to be attacked when they go to some remote area. However, these areas will often have dangerous animals that have to be avoided. And, of course, dangerous people might also be encountered.
This brings us to your next cutting tool: a hatchet. When building a campfire, an ax of any kind (even a small one) will make your life a lot easier. We do not recommend that you take a full-size ax because it is just too heavy. As you might guess, a hatchet can also be used for defensive purposes if necessary. If you want to emphasize this aspect, get a tomahawk. They are light and fast while still having excellent cutting power. Avoid tomahawks that are thin, as these are only meant for throwing.
You should also take the time to put together a basic repair kit. The contents should depend on your needs, but we would definitely recommend that you include some sharpening tools. A dull blade is useless, and you may not be able to find a suitable stone for sharpening at all times. Our ideal sharpening kit contains a small whetstone, a handheld file, and a small leather strap.
A multi-tool is also a great investment. By offering a lot of tools in a small package, this item offers maximum usefulness and minimum weight and space. When selecting a multi-tool, make sure you take a good look at everything that is included. Many multi-tools will contain a small saw blade, but these are usually too small for most jobs. That’s why you might want to invest in a folding saw.
A folding saw is basically just a large folding knife with a saw blade. These have become more popular in recent years, but don’t fall for the hype: A folding saw will never be as durable as a fixed-blade saw. Thus, you should use this as a light-duty tool. Wire saws are also popular and handy, but they are harder to use than a folder.
Finally, make sure that you always bring a headlamp or other light and make sure that you have plenty of extra batteries and/or a charger. Anyone who has spent a night in the woods without light can tell you that it’s not very pleasant.
There are 11 items in this category:
- Camp Stove
- Camping Grill
- Mess Kit
- Spatula/ Other Cooking Utensils
- Bear Canister
- At Least One Can Of Sterno
- Water Bottle
- Water Filter
Obviously, you will have to prepare all of your own food in the wild. Your knife is one of the most important tools in this category, but you will need more than that. It’s easy to bring too much when accounting for this factor, so make sure you don’t overdo things.
Camping Grill and Stove with Fuel
You might opt for a small camping stove or grill. These are most often powered by propane, but there are many other types. Of course, you will also have to carry the propane or any other fuel that is required. One of the most interesting types of cooking fuel is Sterno. Sterno, also called flame jelly, is basically a gel made from alcohol. It is cheap and compact, and you can even make some Sterno from alcohol, vinegar, and limestone.
Whatever you do, don’t try to bring any pots, pans, or skillets. These are just too heavy, especially if you use a cast-iron version. To keep yourself from being bogged down with these things, carry an inexpensive mess kit. This will serve as a skillet, pot, pan, and drinking cup all in one. Just make sure you get one that isn’t too thin and weak. You might also want to bring a small spatula or a wooden spoon if you like to use those things. You don’t really need them, as your knife can be used as a primary cooking tool, but specialized tools can make things much easier. Of course, all of these cooking tools will need washing after each use, so bring a little bit of dish soap too.
Lighter or/and Matches
It goes without saying that you will need matches and/or a lighter. We would recommend bringing both. A refillable zippo is superior to other lighters in this regard for its longevity and durability, but make sure you bring a few extra flints as well.
Water Bottle and Water Filter
Let’s not forget the importance of water. You will need a canteen, water bladder, or other means of carrying water. We would recommend that you avoid bladders because they can break far too easily. An old military-surplus canteen is probably your best bet. You will also need to carry a small water filtration device. These can be made from a small piece of steel or PVC tubing. A plastic bottle can also be used. Cover the ends with fine chicken wire and add a layer of clean cotton. Between these layers should be a layer of activated charcoal, which is the single best tool for water purification.
When carrying food (which you will need to do, of course), you need a way to store it so that animals will not be attracted. This is where a bear canister can be very nice. By containing the food in an airtight container, you ensure that the smell will not attract bears and other interlopers.
There are 8 items in this category:
- Tent or other portable shelter
- Tent poles, stakes, rope, etc.
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad (optional)
- Mosquito Netting
- Camp Hammock
On a camping trip, building your own shelter can be a lot of fun. However, it’s not practical for all situations, and some parks might not allow you to do so. That’s why you should probably invest in a good tent. If you choose a bad one, you will regret it every night, so choose wisely. You need something that is big enough to serve your needs without being ridiculously large and heavy. It’s also good to look for something that can be set up and taken down quickly. However, the most important quality of a tent is moisture resistance. If it doesn’t do a good job of shedding water, it is absolutely useless.
Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad
Some people also choose to bring a rolled-up sleeping pad so that they can add a little bit of cushion to their sleeping bag. Still, the sleeping bag is much more important than a pad. The bag and pad can be rolled up together tightly and lashed to the top of a backpack. However, there are some environments where you need a different solution.
In wet and muddy conditions, a hammock is the best way to sleep. By getting yourself off the ground, you remove yourself from water, bugs, and the cold. You can even bring a sheet of plastic to hang over the hammock, ensuring that you stay dry even in the rain. We recommend stringing your hammock about 1.5-2 feet off the ground so that you won’t be injured if it breaks. If you choose not to bring a sleeping bag, you will definitely need a blanket. As for a pillow, that’s not essential but is definitely preferred.
There are 6 items in this category:
- Toilet Paper And Bag
- Baby Wipes
Toothpaste and Toothbrush
It goes without saying that you will need a few items for basic personal hygiene. Toothpaste and toothbrush are extremely important in the wild, so don’t forget about them. you can use the cup from your mess kit to rinse when you are done. Try not to spit the toothpaste into creeks or rivers, as the fluoride is bad for the fish.
Speaking of creeks and rivers, you will probably have to bathe in them. Some campgrounds have public showers, but that’s not really camping. Unless you feel like walking around naked until you dry (usually not the best idea), you will need some kind of towel. We would recommend something about half the size of an ordinary bath towel so that you don’t use up too much room in your backpack. Make sure you use a natural and biodegradable kind of soap so as not to pollute the water.
Toilet Paper and Bag
Although you can use leaves for toilet paper, it can be very unpleasant for those who haven’t done so before. Thus, most campers bring toilet paper and/or baby wipes. Because of health and sanitation concerns, you should never defecate too close to camp. You should also refrain from throwing your nasty used toilet paper all over the woods. Instead, you can put your used toilet paper in a plastic bag and burn it in the campfire when no one is standing nearby. Yes, the smell of burning human feces is quite disgusting, so have respect for your fellow campers.
It should be noted that you can use urine to repel animals from your camp. You just “mark your territory” in the same way that animals might do. By making a large circle around camp, you send a clear message to all the animals in the area, and that message is: Go away.
There are 13 items in this category:
- Folding Chair
- Folding Table
- Camp Toilet
- Portable Fan
- Shower Bag
- Folding Shovel
- Tent Heater
- Guitar or another instrument
- Ice Axe
- Rope or Paracord
- Trekking Poles
All of these items can be described as “extras” because you don’t actually need them. However, all of these items can be very handy. We recommend that you consider these items one at a time to figure out which ones you want to bring.
In our opinion, the items on this list that offer the maximum benefit would be the shower bag, the folding shovel, and the rope. The shower bag gives you an easy way to heat water by leaving the bag in the sun and is more pleasant than bathing in the creek. The folding shovel gives you an easy way to dispose of human waste, and the rope or paracord can be used in an endless variety of ways.
There are 9 items in this category:
- Hand Sanitizer
- Any necessary medications
- Insect Repellent
- Ziplock Bags
- Feminine Products
- Support Braces (ankle, knee, wrist, etc.)
This part of the plan will vary a lot depending on the needs of the individual. For instance, people who wear contact lenses will surely need to bring a bottle of contact solution, a storage case, and maybe an extra pair in case you lose or destroy one. A person who takes any sort of medication should make sure they bring enough to last the whole trip, etc.
Vitamins are a great way to get a small energy boost without stimulants. Nutrients like that will give you good clean energy with no crash, unlike coffee or tea, which behave like most other stimulants.
Money and ID
A wallet with a valid ID and some money is necessary, especially on public lands. Many national parks have an admission cost, so don’t forget about that!
Hygiene products are a no-brainer, and that includes the various feminine hygiene products.
If you have any joint problems, you should probably wear a brace on your knee, ankle, elbow, etc. Believe it or not, wrist braces can make a big difference in the amount of wear and tear that your hands will take. Camping often involves doing a lot of manual work with your hands, so conserve your hands well! Remember, they are your most important tools by a long shot.
We would also strongly recommend that you bring some ziplock bags. They do a great job of keeping your gear dry, and you should always keep your electronic devices stored in one of these bags when not in use. Even if it’s not raining, some environments are humid enough to ruin your gear anyway.
As for insect repellent, this can be a real convenience in a hot and humid environment. Most bugs (like mosquitos) tend to flourish in the heat, and they can cause a lot of irritation. They can also get into your food stores and ruin your entire food supply if you don’t take precautions. Ants are particularly problematic in this department.
There is an old saying among survivalists and outdoor enthusiasts: The more you know, the less you need. As you gain more skills, knowledge, and experience, you may find that some of these tools can be left behind.
However, minimalist camping can be both uncomfortable and dangerous if you don’t have the experience to do it correctly. That’s why we put together this list: So that the beginner can get a good idea of what they will need and what items they can use to meet those needs. We hope that we have given you a good start on your next adventure and that you will be better prepared as a result of reading this article.