An Essential Survival Kit for Beginning Hikers

When I set out to walk 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, I didn’t even own a backpack. Nope, I borrowed my dad’s pack and he gave me his own survival kit, which, thankfully, I never had to use.

It wasn’t until I got back to the United States and continued with my new-found 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.

A backpack on the coronado national memorial hike

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 my essential survival kit for beginning hikers.

You never know when you might get lost when hiking. The key is to always overprepare no matter how easy the hike. Click To Tweet

The following 15 items are in my backpack no matter how easy I think the hike will be.

Essential Survival Kit for Beginning Hikers

If you would like a free, printable checklist containing this essential survival kit for beginning hikers, click here!

*Disclaimer: There are some affiliate links on this page. This means I get a small commission on some of these products at no extra cost to you. This helps me to keep sharing travel tips, so feel free to click!

Without further ado:

Your Essential Survival Kit for Beginning Hikers

1. Backpack with Built-In Hydration Pack

I used the CamelBak HAWG 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.

(Note: While this bag is the only bag for me when it comes to day hikes, I would buy a larger backpack if I were to hike another 500 miles across Spain.)

2. Firestarter Cubes

Just make sure they will light when wet like the GreenSpark fire starter squares. I carry six fire starters in my backpack.

3. Stormproof Matches

Make sure to get a waterproof 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

I carry the Coghlan’s Trek 1 first aid kit. It is small and light but contains 27 items inside like bandaids, gauze, bandages and towelettes. It also has straps on the back that allow you to easily clip it to the back of your backpack (though it isn’t rainproof).

5. Thermal Blanket

These keep you warm in a jam but carrying one in the bottom of your bag adds virtually no weight to your bag.

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. Mini Roll of Duct Tape

I can’t even explain how handy a mini roll of duct tape was while on 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.

Pin for later!

8. Emergency Whistle

The key is to attach your emergency whistle to your backpack with a carabiner in a place where you can easily reach it. When I walked the Camino de Santiago, I had one of those emergency alarms where you press a button. It just kept going off (once in a crowded train car!), so I switched to the whistle.

9. Lightweight Flashlight that Doubles as 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. Compass

I use the Stansport Multi-Function Compass with Mirror. It’s lightweight, cost-effective, and it gets the job done.

11. Mini Leatherman Tool

A knife, tweezers, scissors, and much more – in a tiny tool that weighs all of 1.8 ounces.

12. Good, Strong, Foldable Knife

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.

13. Reusable, Collapsible Bowl and Cup

I actually carry these, along with the 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

I like the To Go Ware Bamboo Utensil Set. It has a loop on the back that you can hook to a carabiner and slap on the back of your backpack.

15. Headlamp

Getting lost is really terrifying as the sun starts to set. 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.

I carry the Energizer VISION Led Headlamp in my backpack, but I also have a rechargeable headlamp plugged into my car.

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 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!

Essential Survival Kit for Beginning Hikers Checklist

Related: Check out places to hike or explore what it’s like to walk the Camino de Santiago. Some of those posts are below:

Eco-Friendly Packing List for Men
Eco-Friendly Travel Product Checklist

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    2 Comments on “An Essential Survival Kit for Beginning Hikers”

    1. While hiking on a scorching July day in Israel everyone in our group ran out of water, except me. My water bladder must have been extra large so I was able to share. Now I ALWAYS carry extra water. Running out is too scary.

      Since that trip, I also carry a bracelet that unwinds into a thin, but strong rope. I wish I’d had it when my girlfriend got stuck on a very slick rock and needed some assistance. She managed to scramble up on her own, but it was an unnecessarily scary experience for her. I bought my bracelet at REI.

    2. I’m so glad that you followed the Coronado piece with this excellent printable resource detailing these contents. When you mentioned your emergency kit and thanked your dad, I was thinking, “What’s in that kit?” It’s like you read my mind, thanks!

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