There is nothing that compares to getting away from it all. Loading up a backpack with supplies and trekking out into the great wide open for some backcountry camping is a soul-charging, regenerative act that not only gets you away from the tussle and toil of everyday, but it also shows you a little bit about yourself, your preparedness skills, and your resiliency.
Whether you traverse the wild solo or with others, it is important to pack tactical survival gear. In most cases when hikers or campers get into trouble in the wilderness it is because they are underprepared when something unexpected happens. It is easy to avoid potential dangers by simply preparing a list and packing must-have survival equipment for your next trip.
USAMM’s employees, which includes our crusty crew of veterans with lots of outdoor experience, got together and developed this list of tactical survival gear must-haves that can be tailored to your needs. Clearly, in some cases, if you are car camping or just going out for a short hike, you won’t need some of this tactical survival gear. Use your judgment as you assemble your kits and be smart out there.
Here is USAMM’s top 10 list of tactical survival gear to pack.
Sometime around the 1990s, multitools became very popular. And why wouldn’t they? The previous attempt of a knife with multiple tools was the Swiss army knife and who could ever get those tiny scissors to work? Don’t get us wrong, the knives were great, especially if you were in the scouts as a kid. But as adults, needs in the outdoors change and we evolve into needing tactical survival gear like mini saws, pliers, and screwdrivers.
The multitool market is plentiful these days and you can pretty much get any combination of tools you want in one device. Shop around and compare online and local retailers, and don’t forget to ask your buddies about what they use and carry. Recommendations are an important part of shopping these days and who better to serve as a product tester than the guy at the other end of the bass boat.
While just about every phone made today has a flashlight feature, who wants to mess around with a phone especially in adverse weather conditions? Flashlights are an important tactical survival gear item. These days most are small, but extraordinarily powerful and they can be attached to any pack or belt for easy and ready use.
Some flashlights come with high-intensity strobes that can assist you in an emergency, and most can light up the night with illumination power like a spotlight. Remember as you are packing your tactical survival gear, don’t forget extra batteries.
3. First Aid Kit
Hiking into the backcountry presents a challenge especially if you are going out alone. Breaking a bone, getting bitten by a highly poisonous critter, or having any other kind of medical emergency can prove fatal when you are 15 miles or more from a parking area and you have no signal on your phone.
Packing the right medical kit in your tactical survival gear can quite literally be a matter of life or death. Of course, you will need the basics like bandages, antibiotic and antiseptic wipes, gauze, and medical tape, but also consider packing a snake bite kit (depending on your region), a tourniquet, and splint. Consider having emergency foods that you can tear open and eat. Things like high protein and high calorie bars are great to keep you nourished.
Nothing on earth can survive without H2O. If you are out in wilderness, odds are there is going to be a limited amount of water you can bring with you. It is important to pack water purification tablets or water filtration devices when you pack up your tactical survival gear. It could be a life-or-death decision especially if you are trekking out into country where you are exposed to the elements with little to no shelter.
All the tactical survival gear in the world will be meaningless if you don’t have a means to stay hydrated. Take this item seriously. Many backpacks these days have water bladder pockets making it easy to tote water with you. Water purification and filtration devices are much more robust these days and they are lightweight, so pack accordingly.
5. File a Plan
This is not something you pack, but more of something you do. While you can prepare for adversity or challenges that arise, no piece of tactical survival gear can help you more than completing this action.
Ensure before you leave that friends and family know exactly where you are going and when you are supposed to return. Many outdoorspeople get overconfident and do not file a plan with their loved ones or with the local park rangers (if going to a state or national park). Missing this critical step can cost you your life. Telling someone that you are going to Yosemite for five days doesn’t help. Telling someone that you are going to Yosemite and then telling them precisely the trail you will walk, or the grid of the area you plan to visit is much more helpful to rescuers.
Nope, we aren’t talking about signal strength on your phone, we are talking about packing some duct tape, fishing line and some parachute cord along with your other tactical survival gear. Having items that enable you to connect things can be lifesaving. Cord and duct tape enables you to lash things together and build emergency shelters, stop leaks and bleeding, catch a fish; you name it.
7. Fire Kit
No matter the time of year, fires can be helpful, so it is important to have a fire-starting kit in your tactical survival gear. This can help keep you warm, boil water, cook food, and send smoke into the air to signal for help.
Items like water-resistant matches, flint or magnesium, a fire starter, a magnifying glass and small pieces of emergency tinder can contribute to keeping you alive.
In recent years there has been an uptick in criminal activity in wilderness areas. Camping and hiking are still usually incredibly safe, and many people enjoy the outdoors without any issue every year, but there are tiny pockets of incidents involving criminals and wildlife and it is better to be prepared than sorry.
When packing your tactical survival gear ensure you pack some animal repellant and something to protect you from crazed humans too.
9. Rescue Tools
Rescuers are good at their jobs, however, those who need rescuing make it harder for professionals by not being prepared, and not sitting still. This item ties in with item #4.
If you get lost or injured, and you’ve filed a plan, odds are folks will come looking for you. It helps to pack in your tactical survival gear a signaling mirror to signal aircraft or persons who are far away from you, and a whistle that you can blow periodically to draw the attention of search and rescue personnel.
A good GPS is worth every penny to have in your tactical survival gear and yes, normally the more you spend the better the equipment will be so don’t be lured into buying a cheap GPS to save a few bucks. Invest in your safety and life and pay for something high end.
A quality GPS is a must-have for any tactical survival gear bundle. If you become lost, it can save your ass and give you awareness of how bad your situation really is. Even the most experienced outdoorspeople can screw up in the wilderness. A good GPS, coupled with a good topographical map, can show you the way out or help you get your bearings before you get off track. Even just a plain old compass and map, if you're good with them, can save you.
Bonus Item. Sat Phone
While you might roll your eyes on this one, you’d be foolish not to consider taking a satellite phone if you are going to remote areas. There is no need to buy one, you can rent satellite phones these days and they are a lot more affordable than you think.
Many will balk at this recommendation thinking that high-tech has no place in high adventure but think again. Today’s adventure athletes all haul a sat phone with them reserved just for emergencies. If you plan to bring a GPS and a sat phone, remember it might also be a good idea to pack a solar panel charger with the rest of your tactical survival gear. If you keep the equipment off it will help you conserve battery charge, but if you are actively using the devices, they will drain so it is good to have a charging source.
As stated, this list are just recommendations from some of us who have spent a lot of time outdoors for work and play. This list is fully customizable to fit your needs. Use it as a baseline to get out there and safely have some fun.