If there’s one place where your high-tech gear might fail you, it’s in the wilderness. Mother Nature has no time to accommodate your gizmo nonsense, and you’ll need to channel your ancestors’ prehistoric survival skills to make it out alive. But, as real-life survivalists and adventurers have shown, carrying a few handy lightweight tools could pull you out of outdoor predicaments.
While most of us will never end up in Survivorman-type situations, having some essential equipment can make an outdoor excursion survivable, or at least more enjoyable. For the explorer or outdoorsman in your family, here are some tools that will make sure he lives to see another holiday next year.
True survivalists need very few things to make it out of some place alive, but one piece of equipment that most will recommend having is a good knife, and that is most likely to be the KA-BAR. Designed as a fighting and utility knife for the U.S. Marines during World War II, the USMC KA-BAR has also been adopted by members in other branches of the military, as well as survivalists and outdoor adventure seekers.
Besides drinking water and a cutting instrument, fire is important to a survivalist, whether for keeping warm or cooking food. A fire starter is the quick way to get one going, and this affordable compact one has Bear Grylls’s name written all over it. Made by Gerber, this fire starter is part of a series of survival tools endorsed by one of world’s most recognizable survivalists. It has a watertight design to keep the tinder dry, and a metal striker to start the flame. There’s also a whistle built into the lanyard for emergencies.
When it gets dark in the outdoors, it’s practically pitch black. Guide yourself to safety or somewhere to set up camp with this small LED flashlight from Pelican. Made of aircraft-grade aluminum, the 1910 uses one AAA battery to power the LED. LED flashlights are incredibly bright, and this pen-sized tool can shoot a 39-lumen beam up to 203 feet for one hour continuously.
The SteriPEN is a unique water purification system in that it uses ultraviolet light to make water safe to drink. UV light can kill a variety of things, including cholera, E-coli, salmonella, hepatitis (A to D), and a bunch of things that can make you sick. To use, simply stick the device into a glass or bottle of water, turn it on, and let it do its thing. Super-handy for traveling too.
When the temperature drops or you accidentally take a swim in a frigid river, wrap yourself quickly with this blanket from SOL. This thin-layered material is highly durable, yet can reflect 95-percent of body heat to keep your warm. The bright orange color will also make your more noticeable in an emergency situation. What’s cool is that the 11.3-ounce blanket can also do double-duty as a shade, cover, or carrier for hauling things.
The Midland XT511 is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades emergency radio – great for outdoors or to keep at home as part of a bug-out bag. Besides tuning into AM/FM and NOAA Weather Alert radio stations, the XT511 also has 22 channels for two-way communication and automatically scans all channels for activity. Best of all, there are five ways to power it – AA batteries, rechargeable battery pack, AC, DC, and a crank – so it works no matter the situation you’re in. Also built in is a USB port for recharging a cell phone and flashlight.
There’s some romance to sleeping under the stars, but when rain is pouring down and wind is blowing hard, you’ll need to seek cover. The 6-pound, double-walled Fury from MSR sleeps two, is quick to set up, and has a sturdy construction and strong clips allow the tent to stay anchored in the worst weather conditions.
With 19 tools available in one palm-sized device that fits in a pocket, the Leatherman Charge TTI eliminates the need to pack a lot of single-purpose survival tools. Pliers, cutters, wire stripper, knives, mini saw, ruler – whatever you need, the Charge TTI will most likely have it. The spring-action scissors are also incredibly useful and of course, a bottle opener.
The chances of getting cuts or sick outdoors are high, and not having emergency assistance nearby can be frightening. Make sure you make room in your rucksack for a first-aid kit, like this one from Adventure Medical Kits. Inside the waterproof pouch are bandages, irrigation syringe and closure strips for wounds, medication for stomach illness and pain, trauma pad, and more. This particular kit is designed for trips lasting up to four days, but other kits are also available.
SealLine Black Canyon Boundary Dry Pack ($100 to $130)
For carrying our gear in the outdoors, we swear by bags made by SealLine. The company’s Dry Seal closure makes their bags extremely watertight, and, along with the tough durable fabric that keeps things dry, we’ve never worried about carrying a bag through rain or water. The Black Canyon Boundary Pack comes in a variety of sizes and colors, and are all made without environmentally damaging PVC, and backpack straps make them easy to haul.
If there’s extra room in the bag
Zippo 4-in-1 Woodsman ($78) or Chainmate Pocket Chain Saw ($12)
For bigger tasks that are beyond the Leatherman Charge TTI’s capabilities, there’s the Woodsman from Zippo – yes, the maker of lighters. This four-in-one tool is a saw, hatchet, mallet, and stake puller – perfect for the modern-day Paul Bunyan. Whether you’re pulling up tent stakes or chopping up wood for the campfire, this multi-tool will come to your aid. And, if you need to cut up huge tree trunks, pack the portable Pocket Chain Saw.
PowerPot V ($139)
With the PowerPot V, the fire you’re using to heat up a can of beans can also turn into usable electricity. The PowerPot V is a thermoelectric generator that turns heat into electricity for juicing up anything that runs off USB. Half cooking utensil, half power source, the PowerPot V has a large vessel to prepare hungry-man-sized meals. Place it over a camping stove or open fire, and it’ll deliver 5 watts of power to a connected device while grub is being cooked. The PowerPot V comes with a 3-foot flame-resistant cable, and can fully recharge a phone in 60 to 90 minutes.
If you’re bringing a smartphone into the wild, load it up with survival tips apps. Unless you were a good Boy Scout, you probably wouldn’t know how to pitch a tent or know what’s poisonous. Bear Essentials features advice, photos, and videos of survival tips from aforementioned survivalist Bear Grylls. Another to consider is the Army Survival Guide, which features endurance tips based on the U.S. Army Field Manual, as well as what dangerous plants and animals to watch out for. You may not possess survival knowledge, but your smartphone can. Both apps are for iOS, although a version of Army Survival is available for Android.
Brunton Hydrogen Reactor Portable Power Pack ($170) or Brunton SolarRoll Flexible Solar Panel ($435 to $590)
Planning to bring electronics into the outdoors? You’re probably aware that finding a power outlet is near impossible. You could bring extra batteries (if your stuff uses them, that is), or use a portable power plant to charge your devices. Brunton makes two intriguing products in this department. The Hydrogen Reactor uses hydrogen cores to recharge anything via USB. The beauty of using hydrogen is that it’s clean and each core holds a lot of electricity that won’t deplete, plus the cores are easy to swap out. For a lighter alternative, Brunton makes a lightweight solar panel that rolls up when not needed, but can deliver between 9 and 14 watts of power using energy from the sun.
As the name suggests, this ThermaRest cot is somewhat of a luxury – as a survivalist, you can definitely do without this – but nobody ever said you have to sleep on a flat dirt surface just because you’re outdoors. If a good night’s sleep is important, the LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot gives your back some good support, yet it’s very lightweight and easy to assemble/disassemble and pack. Made of waterproof nylon and aluminum frame, it’s durable too.
Garmin eTrex 30 ($195)
Your smartphone’s compass, maps, GPS, and Web browser are handy, but they’re useless if your phone can’t grab a cellular signal or the battery dies. If you plan to trek in the woods, arm yourself with a dedicated handheld GPS device like Garmin’s eTrex 30. The 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter give you accurate location and elevation info, and the device uses GPS and Russian GLONASS satellites to give you enhanced positioning. You can also load the eTrex 30 with maps of where you’re heading, so there’s no need to search for a signal.
A grappling hook is usually a tool employed by commandos and Batman, but if there’s any opportunity for the common man to use one, it’s in the outdoors. The Pocket Grappling Hook is a small aluminum-and-stainless-steel tool with collapsible metal spikes. It’s not strong enough or certified for body support, so don’t use it to scale a wall. But it’s handy for pulling down or away wires or using it as an anchor to keep something like a raft from floating away.