Every time I prep my outdoor & tracking gear, I struggle regarding which equipment to pack and what to leave behind. To make life easier for myself and my readers, I decided to do a bit of research and write a comprehensive article on what are the most important survival tools?
So, what is the most essential item that should never be missing from your backpack? Seasoned survivalists and outdoorsmen never leave home without these 5 things: thick, layered clothing and cover, a water container, a sturdy chopper, some kind of igniter and fuel, a first aid kit, and a long nylon rope.
Even though the list is short and straight-forward, you should always take into account the type of environment, the weather & climate, and even the number of people in your party. Here is what I mean…
What Makes a Survival Tool such an Essential Accessory?
Last weekend, two of my friends and I were to attend a College Reunion which meant going on a two-days camping experience. In such camping conditions, the most important survival tools, in my opinion, are your phone, machete/knife, fire starter, water flask, rope/cordage, good clothing/protective covering, and a first-aid kit. You should never go camping in the woods if you do not have these essential survival tools with you.
However, based on my experience this past weekend, I discovered that the most important part is the knowledge of how to correctly and efficiently utilize these various tools to meet our camping needs. Of course, this is partly why your phone is also an essential tool as it allows you to access any information online.
The question is, what is the essence of having all this critical survival gear when you don’t even know how to use it? I had a very interesting experience throughout the three days of our reunion and I also learned a great deal about primary camping necessities based on firsthand experience. The nagging question is: what is the most important survival tool I need to pack before hopping into my car and going on an adventure?
During our three-day stay for the camping trip, I discovered that most of us were unprepared, lacking an item or two. Only a few packed every gizmo on the list because they have gone on several camping exercises before. Surprisingly, however, even the overly-prepared didn’t know how to use their tools effectively.
This is the reason why it is critical to become a knowledgeable & practical user of these life-saving tools. And you know what? You don’t need to have pre-existing knowledge because that is what we will teach you in this article. And you can simply google any additional piece of information you might need.
Let me briefly explain what makes these survival tools so important.
Reasons Why These Survival Tools Are Important
As you can imagine, there is a vast array of optional gadgets and gizmos on the market. However, I provided a short list of critical items that you just cannot afford to leave behind. Without these essential tools, your outdoor experience may be very challenging and difficult. Human beings have some base organic needs, in order to stay alive.
But how do you meet these needs in the most appropriate way possible? Which tools can help you provide for your base necessities in the wild? Keep in mind, exposure and cold can kill you in a couple of hours.
Human beings need 5 basic things to survive (in order of importance): breathable air, shelter, water, sleep, nourishment. It is already a proven fact that a healthy adult can only survive for 4 weeks without food, less than 2 weeks without sleep, 3 days without water, and 3 hours with drastic changes in core body temperature. These are biological limitations of what our bodies can withstand.
Now imagine that being in the wilderness pushes your odds of survivability beyond your level of comfort. Because you will find it challenging to meet the organic demands for shelter and water especially.
Therefore, we bring the necessary tools that will help us take care of our basic needs: water container, thick cover and clothing, chopper and rope, fire igniter and fuel. Let’s consider the most important and basic tools for survival in the wild. Here is my list:
- Phone or GPS
- Machete or tomahawk
- Survival Knife
- Fire Starter
- Water Flask
- Rope or Cordage
- Good Clothing & Protective Covering
- First-Aid Kit
Critical Ways of Using your Survival Tools
Ensure you have at least a little knowledge of the wild and of your tools. Having the best and latest cutting-edge tools in the world without the attendant knowledge to use them is useless. While in the wild, you must make certain decisions which neither machines nor any tool can make. Ultimately, you will have to rely on your creativity and improvise new ways of using whatever is available – like how to build a basic shelter when all you have is a machete?
Life or death may result as a consequence of the decisions you make! Imagine you are sleeping in your tent and suddenly, you wake up to a wet, cold sensation on your skin. As you open your eyes and throw a quick glance around, a shocking shiver of fear permeates your body – there is rattle-snake crawling atop of you. Undoubtedly, this is a life-or-death situation – the snake is venomous and deadly, but you are alone in the middle of nowhere, one-days walk away from the medically-stocked campsite where anti-venom is available. This is a high-stress situation, in which you need to keep your cool, think creatively about how to remove the snake without startling it!
Can you remain calm as if the snake wasn’t there? Or are you the kind of person who’d jump, scream, and panic? Because that is the type of person who doesn’t survive after getting bitten.
Here is what I would do: Lay motionless on the ground and do not move (at least not on the side where the snake’s head is). Try to reach for a long stick to partly push the snake off me, then throw a towel over its head and get out as fast as I can!
Imagine another scenario, it’s late spring in the high mountains and therefore you didn’t expect temperatures to drop so radically. The sun is setting, and you barely managed to secure a minimal shelter. Luckily, you remembered to pack a fire starter (be it a firelighter, matches, torch, etc.), but the wood isn’t burning. What then is the use of these tools when you lack the necessary knowledge to make the best of them?
In essence, learn a thing or two about starting a fire: Which wood burns easily? Which doesn’t? Best thickness, types, etc.… How to maintain a small fire? How to protect it against the wind? Knowledge is key.
How can a Mobile Phone Save your Life?
Never underestimate how helpful and life-saving a mobile phone can be, even in the wilderness. Numerous life-threatening scenarios can crop up and only your trusty device might be able to point you in the right direction.
Imagine you’re walking through the woods and you realize that you’re lost. The map (if you have such a thing) is of no utility because the landscape has changed so dramatically in the last few years. However, you’re lost. What will you do? At this point, a very useful tool is your phone. Radio for help, enable the GPS locator – and the help is on its way!
In case the signal is too poor to establish a voice call, simply switch on your GPS/Location and the rescue team will track your phone signal. Send a text message because it has a higher chance of making up to the network, as opposed to a streamlined phone-call to the 911 dispatcher.
Snake bites are a rare but not uncommon occurrence in the risky world of outdoor survival sports. When bitten by a venomous animal (snake, scorpion, spider), one is advised to remain calm and limit movement to avoid the venom spreading through the system. In this case, a phone is truly a life-saver – especially if you are alone – just call for help and wait for the rangers to arrive. Don’t be a hero and risk collapsing in the middle of nowhere!
Alternatively, your phone can function as a source of information, a flashlight, and so on. Bring a battery charger or a power bank.
Bring a Machete, Hatchet and Survival Knife
A sturdy chopper is the most important survival tool – probably the one you will be using the most. Imagine the wide array of applications:
Building shelter, chopping woods & cutting branches for the fire, digging, setting traps, slicing rope, self-defense, path-finding. There is so much more to add to the list, and a clever mind can improvise more than I can write on one page!
You will need a machete, hatchet or tomahawk to cut wood to size for starting a fire. But that is just for starters. Not sure if you hunt, but processing and preparing a large capture (boar or dee) will require a heavy knife for chopping and a very sharp slicer for cutting and skinning. That is why my favorite combo is: machete and a survival knife.
The importance of machetes and knives cannot be over-emphasized. I use them all the time when gardening, pruning, cleaning the yard. My homemade kit includes several small pocket knives and folding knives.
Why Should you Bring a Water Flask?
Remember we mentioned earlier that water is one of the basic organic necessities. Even though not as critical as maintaining constant body temperature, water should not be overlooked!
While an average person can go on without eating for 3-4 weeks, the same person cannot last more than 3 days without water. Water is life. It represents 60% of our body content (55% for adult females, 65% for children and 75% for infants).
From the moment you start feeling the first signs of dehydration, you should set mind to task and look for something to drink – at least enough to stave off that crippling weakness!
When we get dehydrated, our bodies begin to wear down due to electrolyte & mineral imbalances (sodium and potassium especially). And this only increases the rate at which we lose water and weaken down. Eventually, the person collapses and passed out, unable to make their way to safety.
Wilderness is the last place you want that to happen, right? Therefore, always carry a flask, and whenever you stumble upon a creek or river, fill it up whether it is empty or not! There’s is no telling when the next refreshing sip of water is going to come.
Igniter Tools for Survival – Bring Multiple Fire Starters
When primitive man learned to control fire, we have benefited greatly from this monumental discovery. Just imagine how gloomy would life still be if we continued living like our ancestors:
Scarcely-clad humans roaming thick forests and wild planes, afflicted by all manner of insects and predators, by cold & harsh weather. No fire means no metal – no tools or technology. Only wooden and bone tools.
Having the ability to control fire in a hostile environment makes you a super-hero, at least compared to someone who is at the mercy of the cold. Not only will you heat yourself, but with proper tools, you will be able to purify water, cook meat, and turn indigestible plants into healthy, nourishing food.
Fire is the best servant and the worst enemy! You can light it to keep warm during the night or to keep predators at bay. Pinpointing your current location and calling for help is easy when you can raise a big smoke pilon. Here are some other life-saving activities:
- Cook food and roast game.
- Dry your clothes after a heavy downpour.
- Create a bonfire during a camping exercise.
Fire is indispensable and so are fire starters – survival tools that should not be missing from your backpacking kit. To be on the safe side – bring multiple types of starters such as two lighters, matches, strikers, gasoline-soaked cotton balls, a small 10oz fuel canister.
Wrap them in a plastic waterproof bag to prevent water from leaking in because the last thing you want is to render your tools useless if you get soaked.
Why is Thick Insulating Clothing So Important?
Clothing keeps your body warm and dry – it insulates you from the chilling grip of cold, wind and rain. Lowering your core body temperature can send you into the down-spiral of death which is hypothermia – something that is dangerous especially if you spend the night in the wilderness.
If even in our comforting artificially-designed environment we need thick clothes and heating, then how many more layers of protection do we require in the unforgiving, untamed wilderness?
However low the nighttime temperature may drop, your body will feel that cold amplified if there is moisture in the air, if it’s windy or rainy.
The last thing you want is getting wet because that maximizes your bodily heat-loss. That’s why a water-proof cover can save you a world of pain! An insulating overcoat will keep you warm overnight.
And if you are traversing a humid watery area in late spring, then an anti-mosquito cover is your best friend.
Number One Survival Item – First Aid Kit
The last two indispensable items you should include in your adventure bag is a first aid kit and some rope or cordage. Depending on the distance & duration of your travel, you may decide to pack basic first aid supplies. I always have a kit in my car.
Of course, I am a defensive traveler; better safe than sorry. But often, unnecessarily burdening myself with a heavy load just takes all the fun out of my adventure.
If you aren’t spending more that much time out there, if you feel there is minimal risk of injury, then leave the first aid home.
On the other hand, building an overnight shelter may require a long rope or cordage (metal wire or nylon string). So, make sure you don’t overlook this tool, it is a simple but useful resource.
Cordage can easily help in a wide variety of tasks like improvising traps, construction of tents, hunting, fishing, rock-climbing, crossing a rapid river, getting out of a muddy situation – and so much more.
In conclusion, the most important survival tool is the discipline to plan, think ahead, organize, and optimize. We went through a list of essential outdoor items and scenarios in which you can use them.
I never really cared for “survival of the fittest” because to me, it has always been about intelligence and discipline. When combined with indispensable tools like cell-phone, machete, knife, fire-starters, water container, cordage, good clothing/protective covering and a first aid kit, your chances of survival will skyrocket, and you will learn and have fun at the same time.