A properly constructed shelter is essential to keep you warm and dry so you can avoid issues such as hypothermia. Hypothermia is the enemy in survival and results from the body becoming soaked and the core temperature dropping below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Shelters are typically too large to pack in most survival kits but a knife and a small saw are not. A knife and saw can be used to cut small saplings and limbs to make a lean-to for example. A knife and saw should be included in any survival kit.
Fire and Light
Building a fire should be undertaken as soon as possible and ranks close to establishing a shelter. A fire provides warmth, light, heat for cooking and an enormous psychological boost. The ability to start a fire is the ability to affect your outcome and psychologically gain some control over the situation. Fire is so important that at least two, and preferably, three ways to light a fire should be included in the kit. Water proof matches, a fire steel, sparker and fire starting aids should be packed inside small zip lock bags and packed in the larger kit. Also consider including chemical light sticks or a small flashlight as a source of light.
Water is necessary for survival, period. The body can function without food for up to several days; however, without water the body will begin to show signs of dehydration in one day or less depending on physical conditions including stress. A kit should include the means to treat small batches of water. When surviving, think quarts rather than gallons in regard to water. It may be hard to store large amounts of water so treating small amounts may be necessary. Water must be boiled or treated to make it safe for drinking. Giardia and Crystosporidium are two particularly nasty waterborne microbes which attack the digestive track and cause severe diarrhea. This can lead to dehydration and possibly death in survival situations.
Boiling water is the best way to purify it. Water must reach and maintain a boiling point for several minutes in order for it to be safe to drink. Many kits include water purification tablets. These are a convenient means for treating water but make sure the tablets are not past their expiration date when using or they may be ineffective. Water purifiers are typically too large for most kits.
First Aid, Navigation and Signaling
First aid will vary from kit to kit but should include the basics for treating a small, medium and large wound. A kit also should contain basic ointments for burns and scrapes to help stave off infections. A first aid kit is only as good as the person using the items in the kit. A first aid course is highly recommended to effectively use the items in a kit to treat wounds and injuries.
A compass and signal mirror should be included in a survival kit for navigation and emergency signaling. There are many types of compass instruments on the market; however, a basic liquid filled compass is a good choice for a kit. Avoid using electronic compass units or hand-held GPS units as these require batteries and are bulky and heavy.
Survival kits should include a signal mirror and whistle. Both a mirror and whistle may be used to signal over long distances and are more effective than calling out. A mirror can signal both ground and air search crews by reflecting a beam of sunlight toward searchers. The sound of a whistle can travel a mile or more. Three whistles with a short pause in between is recognized as a call for help.
Article Written By Keith Dooley
Keith Dooley has a degree in outdoor education and sports management. He has worked as an assistant athletic director, head coach and assistant coach in various sports including football, softball and golf. Dooley has worked for various websites in the past, contributing instructional articles on a wide variety of topics.