wilderness backpackers

Wilderness backpacking can be an exhilarating adventure. It’s physically demanding, rewarding, and lots of fun to hike off into the remote backcountry with nothing but the gear on your back.

Before leaving on your trip, it’s important to prepare well. This includes:

  • Pack lightly
  • Learn basic camping skills
  • Study your route
  • Acquire necessary permits
  • Tell someone at home your plans

But even with the best pre-planning, you need to be well prepared for the unexpected. The back country is an unpredictable place, and things can and do happen.

Whether you’re heading out for 1 night or 1 month, here are 5 lifesaving survival items that you should include on your backpacking gear list, in addition to the rest of your travel gear and first aid items:

1. Water Purifier

LifeStraw Personal Water FilterStaying well-hydrated is among the most important health considerations when backpacking. Since water is so heavy and bulky to carry, and often difficult to boil, it’s essential to bring along some type of water purifier.

Winner of a Time Magazine Invention of the Year, LifeStraw Water Purifier is the most highly recommended water purification solution for backpackers, campers, and other remote travelers either as your primary purifier or as an emergency backup. At a weight of only 2 ounces, it is ultralight, compact, features a high flow rate, and is simple to use.

LifeStraw contains no iodine, chlorine, or other chemicals, so there’s no after taste. Plus it uses no batteries and has no moving parts that can give out. With removal rates of over 99.9999% water borne bacteria and 99.9% waterborne parasites, LifeStraw well surpasses EPA standards for water filters. You can use it to drink directly from puddles or streams, making it perfect for emergency survival.

With a shelf life of 5 years, and ability to filter up to 1000 liters (264 gallons), we recommend storing extras in the car and at home as well.

SPOT Satellite GPS Messengerer2. Personal Locator Beacon

While it’s important to carry a compass, a map, and a GPS unit so that you can determine where you are at all times, it’s also critical to be able to notify others of where you are in the event you find yourself in an emergency situation.

A personal locator beacon, such as the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger provides you with 24/7 life saving rescue services whenever you need it, wherever you are around the world. It can be used to track your location, send check in messages, and send help assistance messages. Unaffected by weather conditions, temperature, or altitude, the unit boasts quick GPS acquisition, which translated into quicker 911 response time.

Magnesium Fire Starter3. Magnesium Fire Starter

Fire is, of course, absolutely essential for warmth and for cooking. So why rely only on matches that can get wet, or lighters that can run out of fluid. This magnesium fire starter is a small (2 ¾ in long) lightweight (.6 ounces) item that’s easy to use.   And at under $5, it just makes sense to have one in your pack.

4. Survival Pocket Chainsaw

A compact, lightweight chainsaw is necessity if you find yourself needing to chop your own firewood or cut through branches that are Survival Pocket Chain Sawblocking your path. The Chainmate 24-Inch Survival Pocket Chainsaw weighs only 6 ounces and is made of durable carbon steel teeth that are strong and bi-directional.

Reviewers report sawing through 2-3 inch diameter branches in 30 seconds and 6-inch limbs in under 60 seconds, with even faster speeds when used by two people. It’s quick and easy to use, and comes with a convenient pouch to make it simple to pack.

5. Bite and Sting Kit

Sawyer Poison and Venom Pump Extractor KitGetting bitten by a snake or stung by a wasp can be extremely painful, and even life-threatening. So when you’re out in the wild, you need to have a tool on hand that will provide immediate aid until you can get professional medical help.

The Sawyer Extractor Pump Bite and Sting Kit uses a suction pump to safely remove the venoms and poisons of snake bites, wasp and bee stings, and spider and insect bites. While not a replacement for seeking immediate medical assistance, using the extractor pump within 2 minutes can provide rapid relief from pain and itching, and in the case of snake bites, can make a significant difference on treatment results. At 5 inches long and 3.7 ounces, this too is easy to stow in your emergency first aid kit, and hopefully you will never need to use it.

You can find more recommended survival tools and in our travel gear store.

Do you have any other suggestions for lifesaving survival items should be included on the ideal backpacking gear list? Let us know by leaving a comment below.



  1. The Lifestraw filter sounds great. Where do you find all these neat things?

    Bill Snow June 1, 2014
    1. We find products by talking with fellow travelers, by extensive online research, and by purchasing and doing our own product evaluation and reviews. The Lifestraw IS pretty amazing, and is carried by nearly every serious backpacker and camper we’ve talked with. Thanks for your comment, Bill.

      leezsnow June 1, 2014

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