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When I set out to walk 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, I didn’t even own a backpack let alone a hiking survival kit.
Nope, I borrowed my dad’s pack and he gave me his own emergency kit, which, thankfully, I never had to use.
It wasn’t until I got back to the United States and continued with my newfound love for hiking that I had my first scare. While hiking Coronado National Memorial in Arizona, I got lost in the desert heat near the U.S. border with Mexico – and I ran out of water.
I fought back the panic and, luckily for me, found my way back to the visitor center without too much thirst or fear. But it was enough thirst and fear to inspire this post about the essentials that should always be in your hiking survival kit.
You never know when you might get lost when hiking. The key is to always over-prepare no matter how easy the hike.
The following 15 items make up my hiking survival kit. They are in my backpack no matter how easy I think the hike will be.
Without further ado:
The 15 Must-Have Items for Your Hiking Survival Kit
1. A backpack with built-in hydration pack to hold your emergency kit
I used the CamelBak H.A.W.G Hydration Pack with 100oz (3.0L) Mil-Spec Crux Reservoir when walking the Camino de Santiago, and loved that it had extra places to clip rain-gear pouches, flashlights, you name it to the outside of the bag. I returned the backpack to my dad when I got home but purchased my own after the scary hike in Arizona that inspired this post. Now it goes on every hike with me!
2. Don’t hike without a lightweight, waterproof fire starter
Just make sure this lightweight addition to your hiking survival kit will light long enough to get your tinder pile burning. These Sweetfire cubes light for six to seven minutes and they are made out of sugarcane byproduct. Sustainability bonus!
3. Stormproof matches are a must for your kit
Make sure to get a waterproof match kit with strikers included. I like the UCO waterproof survival kit with a striker on the side and three replacements inside the kit.
4. Lightweight first aid kit
You need an ouch pouch. Make sure it has scissors, bandaids, and moleskin. And make sure it’s compact and lightweight. This adventure kit is pretty great.
5. Pack a thermal blanket in your essential hiking survival kit
An all-weather blanket will keep you warm in a jam but carrying one in the bottom of your bag adds virtually no weight to your bag. Plus you can use it as an emergency rain tent or a pleasant, impromptu picnic.
6. Fast-drying towel
I got used to carrying this with me on the Camino de Santiago. It is more of a luxury on a hike than a survival item. But I just never leave without my towel, so I’m including it here.
I spread my Rainleaf Microfiber Towel on the ground when I have lunch or use it after a dip in the lake. It’s dry before you know it, especially if you use the little hook on the towel with a carabiner and slap it on the back of your pack as you hike.
7. A mini roll of duct tape is essential
I can’t even explain how handy a mini roll of duct tape was while walking the Camino de Santiago.
We used it to keep bandaids attached to feet, to keep socks attached to skin when chafing was an issue, to block blisters from forming on hands tired from walking sticks. You name it; we used duct tape to fix the glitch! I nearly cried when it ran out on the Camino. Now a fresh mini roll of duct tape stays at the bottom of my backpack just in case.
8. An emergency whistle must be part of your hiking survival kit
The key is to attach your emergency whistle to your backpack with a carabiner in a place where you can easily reach it. I started out with one of those emergency alarms where you press a button, but the button kept getting inadvertently depressed. When my alarm went off in a crowded train car (yikes!), I finally switched to the whistle.
9. Lightweight flashlight that doubles as a lantern
What I like about the Leschi Flashlight is that I can turn it on, prop it up on a table, and it serves as a tiny, lightweight lantern. It does mean that I also carry an extra battery in case it runs out.
10. A compass is a key part of your hiking survival kit
A compass with a mirror is key for every hiking survival kit. Try the Brunton TruArc 7 Compass. It’s lightweight, cost-effective, and it gets the job done.
11. No hiking kit is complete without a Mini leatherman tool
A knife, tweezers, scissors, and much more – in a tiny tool that weighs all of 1.8 ounces. This mini leatherman tool is small enough for a keychain and, tucked into your backpack, it will come in handy in so many unforeseen ways. It’s a must for your hiking survival kit!
12. Good, strong, foldable knife is a must for your hiking survival kit
As good as the leatherman tool is, sometimes you need a really good knife. The Smith & Wesson Oasis folds up small and it’s a very good knife.
I actually carry a collapsible bowl and cup, along with my reusable cutlery, with me all of the time – not just while hiking. I hate using single-use plastic silverware or plastic containers and these help me remain mostly plastic-free. When you’re hiking, these are also hugely helpful for enjoying a neat and easy meal.
14. Reusable cutlery can be part of your hiking survival kit AND your everyday backpack
Like my collapsible bowl and cup, I carry my To Go Ware Bamboo Utensil Set everywhere. It has a loop on the back that you can hook to a carabiner and slap on the back of your backpack for easy reach.
15. A Headlamp is a crucial addition to your hiking survival kit
Getting lost is really terrifying as the sun starts to set. I will never forget walking six miles in the dark…in bear country!
A headlamp tucked into your bag makes hiking yourself out of a jam much easier. In addition, it opens up new opportunities for night hikes. Full moon hikes are especially fun!
Just make sure to keep the headlamp charged if you get a rechargeable one or carry backup batteries if you opt for battery-operated.
BONUS items for your hiking survival kit:
These two items are also often included in my pack, though not necessarily on every hike that I take.
Water purification tablets
I now carry extra water after my scary episode of getting lost hiking the Coronado National Memorial, but it’s also good to have a backup water plan in case you do run out of water out there. I often carry water purification tablets because they are light and space-efficient, but another option is a steripen.
If you want to up the ante on your sustainability, check out these steripen options at Geartrade, a seriously cool company that sells (and buys!) used outdoor gear to reduce the amount of stuff going into our landfills.
Finally, don’t forget to grab a local map on actual paper! (Downloading maps for offline use is good, but make sure to have a reference point that will always be there even if your phone dies.)
The best thing about this kit is that it is so lightweight. Adding all of the items to the backpack adds only 2.2 pounds. Now, I say that “only” knowing just how heavy 2.2 pounds can feel when you’re walking long distances. But there isn’t an item in here that I would cut.
One more disclaimer, this kit does not guarantee survival. It is simply the cost-effective, lightweight survival kit that I carry with me whenever I hike to feel safe on the trail. Survival skills and smart decision-making are also necessary for survival when in a jam.
That being said, all beginning hikers should consider this kit!
About the Author
Hi! I’m Jen!
I’m a freelance writer and travel blogger who quit my nine-to-five after my fiancé, Jeff, died of cancer at the age of 40. When he died, I realized that life is just too short to delay our dreams. Since my dream was to travel and write, I now travel and write full-time. Today I wear hiking boots instead of heels and collect experiences instead of things.