The Essentials of Survival: Part 2 - What Equipment and Gear Do You Need?
Read the previous installment of this series here:
Having the right gear and equipment can feel overwhelming.
More so if you're planning to travel by foot and you're not sure how to thoroughly pack without sacrificing movement and versatility.
Consider the research you've previously done about your destination, and from there, determine what dangers you may face.
What is absolutely crucial to have on hand?
What will the climate be like?
Can you spread out the necessary gear amongst several people to carry?
The Essential Equipment
"There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."
Picking the right clothing can really make or break your entire trip.
Man is naturally designed to survive in warm climates.
Once we find ourselves somewhere cold, clothing becomes essential.
The wind and the rain are the most dangerous elements in a temperate environment, whereas the extremely frigid conditions of the polar regions are their most treacherous hazard.
In a cold environment, layering is the answer to keeping yourself warm.
Pull-on a jersey if it gets cold and a waterproof jacket and pants if it rains.
Furthermore, it is important to pay attention to the 'state' of your clothes whilst trekking.
In other words, if you're carrying a heavy backpack, it's possible that the weight on the shoulders could cause water to push through any garments and soak your body.
While this isn't the worst thing in the world, be advised that you should change into dry and warm clothing each time you stop if this happens.
In hot climates, it can be difficult to find that perfect balance right between comfort and practicality.
The trick is to wear the least amount of clothing while on the move or during any physical exertion to avoid overheating and subsequent burnout.
Finally, we'd be amiss to not mention this: ex-military and surplus kits may not be your best bet for buying cheap outdoor clothing. Many of them are already used up and in poor condition by the time the military is ready to get rid of them.
Furthermore, the big drawback of wearing camouflage or dark clothing is the reduction of visibility for rescue crews if lost.
That will really only be a problem though if you're very far out in the boonies.
To sum up, clothing should give you good protection and be well-fitting without being too restrictive.
It must keep you warm and dry but have plenty of ways to keep the body ventilated so you don't overheat, and, if you get cold, you can always put on more.
With all the recent breakthroughs in 'fabric-technology,' it's worth taking a moment to understand all your options and their respective pros and cons.
Gore-tex is an excellent material because it is both breathable and keeps you warm while simultaneously allowing for ventilation so you don't overheat.
Sounds perfect, right?
Alas, it does have a few limitations.
Breathable materials only work effectively if they are kept clean.
If they get covered in mud or accumulate grime of some sort, they may be toast.
Moreover, it is not robust or hard-wearing and must be looked after.
In our opinion, the best way to use Gore-tex is to walk or climb in your windproof garments and then when resting put on your breathable outfit.
Synthetic materials like fleece are very popular and in many circumstances outperform their natural counterparts like wool, down, or cotton.
Fleece is a favorite amongst many, and for good reason!
Having a zipped front fleece makes it easy to quickly pull it on or off and they are very comfortable to walk in.
Ideally, you want to snag one that is windproof, but this isn't necessary if you know your coming destination's weather well.
That'll be all you need in most conditions, and if it does rain, simply put on a waterproof jacket over the fleece and you're good to go.
They retain their warmth even when wet.
The downside is that it can stretch and become very heavy when waterlogged.
It isn't too noticeable, however, in the case of wool socks it can definitely detract from your comfort when walking.
The warmest and lightest of all the natural insulating materials.
It looses all its heat-retaining qualities when wet.
To combat this, most down jackets always have a waterproof shell.
Down is our personal favorite for jackets.
Last up on this list of materials is cotton.
Cotton is unique to other materials in that it acts as a wick and is able to draw up all moisture around it.
It can be a good choice in the tropic regions but we'd suggest you stay away from it in wet and cold environments.
Socks & Footwear
Something that should never be overlooked.
If you're doing a lot of walking--or plan to--you'll quickly notice if you made a mistake or not in this department.
Don't skip over it.
First and foremost, if you're not used to walking continuously, it may be a good idea to spend two weeks or so regularly walking several miles/kilometers.
Not only will this toughen up your feet and build callouses, but it will give you a chance to break-in your hiking boots if you just recently purchased them.
Moreover, with a fair trial run like this, you'll know for sure if they're going to work for you or not.
The last thing you want is to realize several hours into your journey that the boots you purchased don't suit your feet for whatever reason.
Alternatively, if you're looking for a cheap substitute for boots or you'd like something lightweight that easily slip into a pack for use on a moment's notice, check out our Protective Waterproof Anti-Slip Shoe Covers.
Likewise, we recommend purchasing socks that are specifically designed for long treks and hiking.
While your Nike Dry-Fits might work well on a run, they probably won't make your feet very happy up in the mountains.
There are two primary types available: one kind uses hollow-fill, man-made fibers, whereas the other--and more expensive kind--is filled with down.
We carry the first type which you can check out here.
Down is very light and gives much better insulation, however, if it gets wet it can be very difficult to dry out and it will subsequently lose all its insulating properties.
For conditions that are going to be wet, go with the first type.
You can also purchase a bivvy (bivouac) bag to wrap up your sleeping bag to protect it from the elements while you use it.
Bivvy bags can also be used as a make-shift tent in a pinch. They'll easily fit with the rest of your gear when put into a compression pack to make them as small as possible.
Our favorite 'gear' subject.
Your backpack must be strong, comfortable, and well-built.
Choose the very best you can afford, with fully adjustable webbing and a solid frame.
It should be tough enough to endure the roughest climates while also allowing you to carry a heavy-load without turning into a burden.
The secret of wearing a pack is to take the weight securely on the hips--the body's strongest pivot point--rather than on the shoulders and back, which can tire out quickly.
With respect to backpack choice, the first thing to consider is whether you want a pack with an external or internal frame.
If you're not sure what we mean by that, it's okay, we were initially confused when we first heard of internal and external frames.
External frames are backpacks with the 'backpack framework' on the outside of the pack, whereas internal frames are backpacks that are built around the framework itself, like a body around a skeleton.
So aside from aesthetics, what's the difference?
Internal frames are lighter and make a pack more easy to stow, whereas external frames are stronger, ensure a more even distribution of the load, and are especially useful for carrying any awkward or heavy equipment -- including a sick or injured person in an emergency!
The old school style external frame pack is your best choice if you're hiking on mostly groomed trails and carrying lots of weight. The even weight distribution will also allow you to more easily hike with an upright posture.
Yet, the frame by itself adds additional weight and is more prone to snagging on rocky projections or loose hanging branches.
The internal frame packs are typically more form-fitting, so they're a better option for individuals who will be hiking rugged trails that will require much more freedom of movement and balance.
They're composed of the classic backpack style we're all familiar with--one large compartment with a couple of zippered access points and one or two smaller additional compartments.
By contrast, the external frame pack will usually have many smaller compartments, making the organization slightly easier in some instances. Moreover, you can also easily attach extra gear, like a sleeping bag or fishing rod, directly to the frame.
Finally, choose a pack that is made from durable, waterproof fabric, preferably with a built-in lace-up hood inside the primary compartment to prevent water from leaking in or spilling the contents out when on the move.
It is also worth noting that side pockets are always useful, but they must have secure zips rather than straps or drawstrings, which will not hold your equipment safely.
If you expect to get wet in any measure, stow everything you can in waterproof dry-bags.
Furthermore, pack so that you know where everything is and so that the first things you need are not buried down at the bottom.
The sleeping bag will usually always be the last thing you need, so put that at the bottom.
In like manner, your tent and any heavy kits like a radio should go at the top, since they are more easily carried there.
Be careful to not try and pack your belongings 'too high,' so to speak, so that you're not expending any of your energy attempting to balance the pack on your back.
Ensure that your food is in a suitable container or pouch so it doesn't get squashed by any other items or melt due to the climate.
Before packing any food, to save carry space, take into account any items that can be routinely picked-up locally and allow you to live off the land.
A G.P.S. (Global Positioning System) is an excellent piece of equipment and has consequently taken a lot of skill away from the navigator.
These systems receive radio signals from satellites and can locate your current position, anywhere in the world, and are relatively easy to use.
You need at least two satellites to get a good position, but the more that are available, the better, which will additionally improve the accuracy.
With a clear signal, G.P.S. units have a 95% accuracy rate, provided there are no obstructions in the way like tree branches or something similar.
In addition, standing still in a clearing of some sort is optimal.
It is bad practice to solely rely on a G.P.S. to do all the navigating for you, so navigating normally in conjunction with regular map reading is advised, then using the G.P.S. to confirm your location or correct it as an added supplement.
If you're on the hunt for purchasing a G.P.S., there are several things to consider: if walking, the unit should be lightweight; where you'll be using it; does the unit need to be waterproof (this is typically always a feature nowadays).
Quick aside: this is an affordable and high-quality G.P.S. we recommend.
It is of utmost importance that you also consider the battery life and complexity of the G.P.S. as these two features can really affect how happy you are with the unit.
Some have so many features that you'll dread ever using it, whereas others will have a battery life so short you'll be wondering why you ever bothered to buy it.
Batteries also discharge much faster in cold weather, and with age. Take both of these factors into account.
Recharging can be difficult in the wilderness, so it may also behoove you to invest in a solar panel charger and extra battery packs.
Finally, the perfect place to carry your G.P.S. unit is right around the neck tucked under a jacket. This will minimize any chance of damage and keep it protected from the weather.
Pro Tip: If you're planning your trip from a map, log regular intervals into your G.P.S. ahead of time that are no more than an hour apart to keep you on track.
"If you cannot afford a radio, you cannot afford the expedition."
For any trip of any kind, a radio is an absolute necessity.
To start, we suggest you pick a model with the least amount of channels available to suit your particular needs because a multi-channeled radio can often lead to confusion and result in usage of the wrong one.
The common 'radio-strategy' is to have one working channel that everyone uses coupled with a priority channel that you can switch to in an emergency so that no one will break into your transmissions.
Additionally, it is in your best interest to be aware of the channel frequency of coastguards, forest rangers, or any other local 'authority' group. In the same way, knowing the frequency of the World Service is also useful.
Furthermore, if your journey is intended to be much longer than a short trek in the woods, prearranging a signal plan with scheduled calls in the morning and evening will add yet another layer of security to your travels.
A signal plan entails people manning the radio at a base and two-way communication.
In other words, this allows for regular check-ins with a lookout of sorts while also simultaneously granting smooth communication with multiple parties of your group if it is large--all radios communicate through the base first before transferring their transmission to other group members to avoid any confusion when communicating
Two last things to remember regarding radios:
- 1) Communicate succinctly
- 2) Establish emergency parameters
Everyone at some point will spew verbal diarrhea when speaking over the radio. You may suddenly feel like you're trying to talk to your drunk friend in a dive bar.
Talk slowly, speak softly, pitch your voice slightly higher than normal, and use the phonetic alphabet when spelling out words of any kind.
In the same way, have an emergency action plan in place if things go haywire.
If you miss two scheduled calls to your base in a row, for example, your base will know that this is the signal to alert rescue teams or search crews.
Proper implementation of radios is key in keeping yourself and your party safe and secure out in the wilderness.
You should have a 'heavy-duty' receiver--like one of the two models above--in addition to walkie talkies.
Presently, just about everyone has a mini-computer in their pocket with an application for nearly every feasible situation to boot.
They're often loaded up with a digital version of everything we've mentioned above, minus clothing and packs, of course.
Does that mean you can forget your G.P.S., walkie-talkies, flashlights, and so on?
Don't get us wrong here.
We're sure there are plenty of examples where a radio has broken down or a G.P.S. unit has fried and an iPhone 7 flew in to save the day.
We view mobile phones as simply another safeguard in your survival toolkit.
Furthermore, some phones are better than others and their functionality can differ vastly with respect to the network plan and service available.
You must take this into account when choosing a phone to bring along with you.
Like a G.P.S., battery life and charging capabilities must also be considered.
An altimeter (altitude meter) is an instrument used to measure the altitude of an object above a fixed level.
Sounds useful, but is it really necessary?
Altimeters aren't a new tool, and they've also fallen in price recently, consistently added as an additional feature to many sport-style watches.
If you have a topographic map handy, using an altimeter will help you pinpoint your exact location or whereabouts with ease.
Many survival sagas begin because of bad navigation, and an altimeter is another indispensable tool to help you avoid such circumstances.
When things go wrong, it isn't because of one singular incident like a faulty G.P.S. connection.
It's a series of events that compound the situation: the radio breaks, the weather deteriorates into a storm, the mobile phone is nowhere to be seen, and so on and so forth.
It benefits all adventurers to have as many tools as possible in their survival kit so they can always be prepared.
So is an altimeter required?
Not like a radio, but we recommend you have one on hand, whether it is an additional feature to your watch, G.P.S., or something similar.
Motorized vehicles may need special adjustments and modifications to deal with extreme conditions or high altitudes, as well as a thorough inspection to make sure everything is in pristine condition and ready to go.
Furthermore, packing extra fuel tanks, water, a jump starter kit, spare tires, and extra parts is not optional.
Boats and Planes
Whether on a commercial or private airplane or boat, all passengers should be familiar with emergency procedures, exits, and drills.
On commercial transportation, an emergency exit drill is routinely given at some point right before or just after beginning the trip.
The safest place on an aircraft is as close to the tail as possible. This part frequently breaks off from the airplane's body and is usually where the most survivors are found.
If it is a privately owned boat or plane, like motorized vehicles, ensure that a thorough inspection has been completed and all additional auxiliaries are on hand.
There are many questions you must ask yourself in order to ensure you have the right equipment on hand, but once the big ones are out of the way, like, "What is the weather like? Does it get very hot at night?" and so on, picking out the right gear is easy to do.
To wrap up...
- Choose your clothing carefully, ensuring it meets the needs of the environment.
- Find a backpack that is comfortable, durable, and meets your needs. Additionally, see if you can spread gear out amongst the entire group.
- Stow your gear and equipment in a dry bag if you think the climate and weather will consistently be wet.
- Have a G.P.S. unit handy to supplement your navigational efforts.
- "If you cannot afford a radio, you cannot afford the expedition."
- Ensure that any phones that you take with you have the correct call plans and network capabilities.
- Consider getting an altimeter and see if any tools you're interested in already have one built-in, or purchase one separately.
- Double-check that your vehicle is in excellent condition and that all emergency contingency plans and back-up parts have been accounted for.
If you have any gear you deem essential or have something you'd like to share, please, let us know in the comments!
In the next article, we're going to go over what items you are required to have in your survival kit and how they will protect you when unexpected events occur.
To Be Continued in Part 3...
If you'd like to add some equipment, gear, or accessories to your survival repertoire please take a look at our collections page and see if there is anything right for you.
Lastly, a lot of our information is from John 'Lofty' Wiseman's SAS Survival Handbook, Third Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Anywhere -- an excellent companion for any outing.