The items you carry in your survival pack should represent the core essentials you need to survive: shelter, heat, food and water. In an emergency, they represent your best chance of being able to hold out until help comes--or until you can help yourself. The following list establishes some of the basic, universal items you need to have--and know how to use--in a survival pack.
Yes, it's possible to fashion a survival shelter out of little more than sticks and leaves--but that can take a good deal of effort. Having something you can get into quickly in a pinch may save your life. Your survival shelter can be as simple as a large, heavy-duty garbage bag or a foil space blanket or emergency blanket. These materials are waterproof and can be slit open to shelter a larger surface area. These can also be turned into an emergency sleeping bag to keep you warm, or sleeping pad to insulate you from the cold ground. Just stuff the bag with leaves and crawl into it or lay on top of it.
Duct tape, zip ties and a little string or thin cordage will go a long way toward repairing any gear that may happen to break. You can carry a mini-roll of duct tape or wrap it around items you always have with you outdoors--say, your hiking pole or a water bottle--to make your own always-accessible mini spool. Think of these not just as repair supplies but also as building supplies; they're invaluable in the effort to set up an emergency shelter, whether it's made of natural materials or items you brought with you.
Water, Fire and Food
Water and fire may make an immediate difference in survival. While you can't carry a lot of water in your survival pack--it'd be too heavy--you can carry chemical water treatment tablets for emergency use. Fire starting materials--of which a wide variety are available or easily made at home--give you not just warmth but light and a means of signaling for help. Again, you can't carry a lot of food with you--too heavy--but having some fat-rich candy bars or chocolate in your pack may give you a much-needed energy boost and help keep you warm as you work for your survival.
There are a number of lightweight tools and miscellaneous items you can add to your survival pack. A good knife is essential. A folded-over sheet of heavy aluminum foil or metal can make instant dishes for cooking food or boiling water. Small plastic bags help insulate your hands, feet and head, help keep you organized and can be used to carry critical items like food and water. A second large plastic bag can be used as an emergency poncho, pack cover or additional shelter if needed. A map and compass will help you find your way home even if the GPS batteries conk out.
First aid supplies--think bandages, a SAM splint and gauze, not Band-Aids--are an important part of your survival pack. While you can fashion almost anything out of wilderness materials in an emergency, there's no point in reinventing the wheel if you don't have to.