Outdoors Skills: 10 essential survival items you’ll need in emergency
Whether you’re a hunter, fisher, birdwatcher, day hiker, skier, mountain biker, or other outdoors enthusiast, carrying a personal survival kit can increase your chances of surviving an injury or unintended night out in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula. Ideally, the following items should be carried on your person (in your pockets), not in a daypack that you could become separated from.
1) Matches. The best are waterproof, windproof ones often referred to as lifeboat or stormproof matches. Whatever you carry, make sure they’re strike-anywhere matches — not safety matches — otherwise they’ll be impossible to light if the container striking surface gets wet and disintegrates.
2) Firestarters. These should be waterproof and spark-ignitable so you can ignite them with sparks from a flint striker rod if your lighter malfunctions or you run out of matches.
3) Magnesium fire starter and flint striker rod. Shavings are carved from the block of magnesium with a knife, and then ignited as the knife is scraped against the built-in sparking insert. These are standard issue in military survival kits, but they require practice.
4) Knife. A stout, fixed-blade sheath knife is ideal as you can use it to quickly split ice-encrusted sticks into dry, heartwood kindling (place the knife blade horizontally across a vertically-positioned stick and pound it down through the stick with a heavy wooden baton). A fixed-blade knife can also be used to quickly harvest an armload or two of pine boughs for a thick bed of ground insulation, or for improvising a weather-tight lean-to or wikiup (a tipi-shaped stick shelter covered with forest debris).
5) Emergency blanket/ shelter. My favorite survival blanket is the durable, 3.2-ounce, two-person, SOL emergency blanket. It’s big enough to erect as an overhead lean-to, or to place on the ground and lay on one half while folding the other half over you. And a SOL-brand blanket won’t shred into pieces the first time you tear or puncture it, like many cheap, pocket-sized emergency blankets.
6) Compass. Carry a high-quality, liquid-filled baseplate compass from a good manufacturer such as Silva, Brunton, or Sunnto.
7) Map. Stow a folded-up map of your area of travel in a weather-tight, zip-lock plastic bag.
8) Whistle. Look for a very loud, high-impact, plastic model. Avoid metal whistles that can freeze to your lips in cold weather as well as those that contain a loose pea that can jam with dirt or snow.
9) Flashlight. Small, single-AA-battery, aluminum LED flashlights are super tough, waterproof, and very lightweight. Always carry an extra battery. Lithium batteries are the lightest, most powerful, and longest lasting.
10) Signal mirror. One with a built-in sighting hole and imprinted with easy-to-use instructions is a good choice. Protect the mirror’s reflecting surface from damage.
Once assembled, attach the items to lanyards, spreading them out among your pockets. To prevent loss, thread the lanyards through a buttonhole, belt loop, zipper pull, or safety pin attached to the inside of the pocket.
If you’re carrying a daypack — which is highly recommended — stuff it with a rainsuit, extra non-cotton insulating clothing in a plastic bag, ready-to-eat snacks, a water bottle, a small metal container to heat water or melt snow, a candle, a first-aid kit, and a repair kit with tools appropriate for your activity (mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, backpacking, etc.).
Most important of all, leave a detailed itinerary with a responsible party. At a minimum, it should include where you intend to park; your expected route; and when you should be considered overdue. Other helpful info for a search-and-rescue team would include vehicle make, model, color, year, and license number; cell phone number; clothing description; shoe length in inches; fitness level; medical alerts; and what you are carrying.
Editor’s note: Michael Neiger of Marquette is the director of Michigan Backcountry Search and Rescue, www.MibSAR.com. A 30-year Canadian bush guide, he’s organized hundreds of bush trips and expeditions, and completed solo ski and canoe expeditions to the Arctic Ocean.