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The Essentials

In our cautionary tale, Jo "A" and Jo "B" had the same start to their adventures, yet one outcome was clearly going to be a happier (and more comfortable) than the other. Taking the essentials was a key reason for this difference.

What survival items do you think should be carried in your pack for any outdoor adventure, whether the duration is a few hours or several days? These are not the specialized (and often essential) pieces of equipment that you would bring for your given activity (skis, a kayak, avalanche tranceiver, etc.), nor are they the items you would pack specifically for a camping trip (tent, sleeping bag, etc.), but are the basic survival items you should have in ANY outdoors situation.

  1. Flashlight, spare batteries and bulb
    A large number of unplanned overnights could be prevented by carrying a flashlight or headlamp. Often, someone who requires rescue did not start out lost, but simply ran out of daylight and was unable to get back to their car or the trailhead. Once it gets dark, the chances of getting lost are greater. Although we all have some night vision, we are much more vulnerable after dark. Without a source of light, moving at night can be dangerous.
  2. Fire-making kit – waterproof matches/ lighter, fire starter/candle
    This can be vital to staying warm enough outdoors during a change in the weather, an injury, or an unplanned overnight. Fire can be used for:
    • Providing essential warmth
    • Drying clothing
    • Cooking food
    • Signaling
    • Melting snow or boiling unsafe water
    • Keeping animals away
    As well, fire can provide an important boost to the morale. The survival benefits of fire are more than just physical. It is important to practice with fire-making items, and not to underestimate the skill necessary to start a fire, especially in wet weather.
  3. Signaling device – whistle or mirror
    A whistle or a signaling mirror can increase your chances of being heard or seen. It takes much less energy to blow a whistle than it does to yell, and the sound carries farther. A signaling mirror is the device that is responsible for more Search and Rescue subject sightings by aircraft than any other type of signal. In actual rescues, a signalling mirror has been spotted from a rescue plane over five miles distant.
  4. Extra food and water (1 litre/person)
    Sometimes a trip can last much longer than anticipated, and having extra food and water can make the difference between an extended stay and a survival situation. Outdoor activities require energy, and having extra food can give us the boost we need to get out of an unplanned situation. Water is even more important, and is needed by the body even more than food.

    Under "normal" circumstances, a person can survive for only:
    • 3 minutes without air
    • 3 days without water
    • 3 weeks without food
    Water is a more pressing need than food. A loss of 10% of total body fluid will cause extensive disruption of bodily functions; a loss of 20% usually results in death.
  5. Extra clothing (rain, wind, water protection and toque)
    The importance of bringing extra clothing cannot be underestimated, and yet often people have not brought enough clothing to keep them warm in changing conditions. Even in summer, temperatures can vary dramatically depending on the terrain.

    People often misjudge the conditions they will encounter because they only look at the weather they see before them. Hypothermia is a serious risk if you do not prepare to survive unexpected deterioration of the weather.
  6. Navigation/communication aids
    Carry maps and a compass at minimum. A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, cellular phone, satellite phone, and hand held radio—all with fully charged batteries—are also valuable tools. Know how to use these items, but don’t over-rely on them. A lot of gadgets have been found on bodies.
  7. First aid kit—know how to use it
    Outdoor travelers are well advised to take a first aid course. There is no ‘911’ in the wilderness, and self-reliance is important. Courses that teach wilderness first aid teach this self-reliance when far from help.
  8. Emergency shelter
    Always bring a orange tarp or blanket. These can also be used as signalling devices. A tarp can be very useful in creating a makeshift shelter to keep a person dry. It may be the difference between getting hypothermia or not.
  9. Pocket knife
    A knife is an important survival tool, and can be used to help in shelter building, firewood collecting and a number of other things.
  10. Sun protection (glasses, sunscreen, hat)
    Sun protection includes glasses, sunscreen, and a hat. Sun exposure can lead to hyperthermia, dehydration, and burns. In bright environments like snowfields, it can also lead to snow blindness. These conditions can be painful, dangerous and debilitating.

Photo: NWTT/Terry Parker (banner)