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Packing List: My Emergency Kit

What I pack changes a little for every hike, according to the terrain, weather and trip length. But there’s one thing that goes with me everywhere: My emergency kit. The contents are based on the ten essentials, a concept developed by The Mountaineers; and most of them fit easily into a gallon-size zip-close freezer bag, with a few of the more frequently used items stored elsewhere in my pack. The idea is that if I have an emergency or run into another hiking party that’s in trouble, having those essentials along gives me what I need to improvise some sort of a solution.

Here’s a look at what’s in my hiking emergency kit today. (Literally — I just pulled it out of my pack and deconstructed it to take the photo.) I’m going to note which items I’ve actually used or those that I’ve missed, on the rare occasion I’ve gone without them. There are even a few things I thought were in the kit but aren’t — oops! — which illustrates why it’s important to occasionally review your kit and, if necessary, update the contents.

You can also download a printable, commentary-free version of this packing list.

Navigation 

  • A good old-fashioned compass, as backup to the GaiaGPS app on my smartphone
  • Unless I know the area extremely well, I also carry a topo map (As you might expect, this gets used all the time.)

Sun Protection

  • Sunglasses at a minimum, with SPF clothing layers or sunscreen as needed (This all lives in my pack instead of the emergency kit and, as you might expect, I use it all the time.)

Insulation/Shelter

  • Garbage bag (I’ve used this as a pack rain cover, as a ground cover during an unexpected night out, and as a waterproof “skirt” when bashing through soaking wet vegetation without the benefit of waterproof pants.)
  • Space blanket (I’ve used this several times when overnight trips turned out colder than expected — both as a vapor barrier inside my sleeping bag and for insulation underneath the sleeping pad.)
  • Hand warmers (They’re not just for hands — you can also tuck them in your boots/shoes or even into the brim of a beanie to warm your ears. They’re a great comfort item that I use (or give to others) with some frequency.) 
  • Small, lightweight tarp (Works great as a dining shelter during bad weather.)

Fire and Light

  • Waterproof matches in a waterproof container (Happily, I’ve only needed these for starting a balky camp stove.)
  • Clear lighter so I can see its fuel levels
  • 2 “Lightning Nugget” fire starters (I used to carry half an emergency candle instead — same general purpose. Have happily never needed either, except as a lazy way to start a campfire.)
  • Tiny headlamp like the Black Diamond Ion. (Actually, I carry a super-bright Olympia EX550 headlamp now, but I’m going to go back to carrying a tiny headlamp in my kit as a backup. It’s saved my butt more than once in the past.) 

First Aid

I could stand for a lot of improvement in this area, so I’d like to direct you to Andrew Skurka’s wonderful breakdown of wilderness first aid supplies. That said, here’s what I have in my bag right now:

  • Benadryl for allergic reactions (The only time I didn’t carry this, I was stung by a bee for the first (and so far only) time in my life. On my face. It was a relief to discover that I’m not allergic.)
  • Stout tweezers (The only time I didn’t carry these, I met a hiker whose dog had encountered a porcupine.)
  • Ibuprofen/acetaminophine in a small travel tube (Two hiking buddies asked for this on my last trip.)
  • Moleskin (I carry a sheet or two for others but honestly, I use duct tape on myself.)
  • Elastic bandage (This gets occasional usage to support my wonky knee.)
  • Sterile gauze (The one time I didn’t carry this, a friend scraped her hand pretty badly — we ended up using a clean maxi pad instead.)
  • Limited quantities of antibiotic cream and a few Band-Aids (These see occasional use, as you might imagine — if the Band-Aids run out, there’s always duct tape.)
  • Syringe and betadine for cleaning wounds
  • SAM splint
  • Clotting sponge

Repair Kit and Tools

  • Duct tape (I use this all the time, from covering blisters/hot spots to patching sleeping bags and backpacks.)
  • Cordage (Have used this for a bear hang during an unexpected night out, and patching someone else’s broken snowshoe binding.)
  • Sturdy knife (Gets used frequently.)

Food and Water

  • Candy bar for both energy and comfort — fat + sugar + protein + chocolate! (I used to always carry a candy bar in my emergency pack, but I’ve taken to just making sure I have an appropriate amount of food with me. I should reinstitute the candy bar.)
  • Water purification tablets (Oops — these are missing. Time to replace them! Happily, I’ve only ever needed them during a wilderness survival course.) 

You don’t have to carry exactly what I pack, but you should definitely carry your own version of a ten essentials kit, tailored to suit your comfort and knowledge/ability levels. Remember, rescue in Alaska can take hours or even days, if it happens at all; and this type of preparedness is so simple, there’s really no excuse not to do it.