Essential Gear Every Hiker Should Have in Their Survival Kit

Essential Gear Every Hiker Should Have in Their Survival Kit

Like anything to do with outdoor adventuring, hiking can be a dangerous pursuit, although an enjoyable one, which makes the risk worth it. It just pays to be prepared. There are some important considerations you should take into account before you head off so your hiking gear keeps you both comfortable and safe for the duration of your hike.

For example, when packing for hiking, it's necessary to balance out the weight of your pack with the space you have available. This is because space comes at a premium and you need to minimise the weight in your hiking pack (so you don't break your back!) and ensure the hiking equipment you carry is useful without compromising safety.

So, here are 10 hiking survival and safety essentials you should prioritise before setting out.


First aid kit

A good quality first aid kit should be the first piece of survival gear you pack.

Never set out on a hike without a first aid kit. A hiking survival first aid kit needs to include items that can clean, sterilise and disinfect wounds. It should also include items that can cover, wrap and protect wounds from infection; over-the-counter medications and painkillers like aspirin, paracetamol and low-grade anti-inflammatories; and a range of accessories like tweezers, hand sanitiser or medical gloves, nail scissors and sticking tape.

While this list might sound lengthy, there are first aid kits specifically designed for hikers, meaning they're lightweight and won't take up too much room in your hiking pack but still have everything you need for a typical hiking emergency. If you take prescription medication, like insulin or blood-pressure medication or antidepressants, make sure you pack 3 - 5days' worth of meds for emergency situations, just in case.



Having an emergency food stash in your hiking gear is essential but you'll want to steer clear of food that can spoil quickly or needs refrigerating. Dried and freeze-dried fruits, 'trail mix' nut packs and energy bars are an excellent source of nutritional energy with lengthy best-before dates, and they're lightweight in your backpack.



Hiking in warm weather can dehydrate you in a matter of minutes.

Staying properly hydrated while hiking is non-negotiable, so always have an emergency water supply on hand in case something goes awry. A hydration bladder can hold up to three litres of water, which, when rationed, should be enough until help arrives.

To reduce the weight and maximise space in your pack, a self-filtering water bottle like a lifestraw is ideal, and packing a couple of water purifying tablets is a helpful way to turn other water sources into drinkable water, rather than lugging litres of water around with you.



Even when you're in familiar terrain, a lamp or some source of artificial light should be packed in your survival kit. Headlamps are lightweight, easy to pack and can provide more than enough illumination to see you through to safety in a tricky situation.

Always make sure the batteries have enough charge before you set off on your hike and pack extra batteries just in case.


Fire-starting equipment

Having the ability to start a fire in any conditions can be the difference between life and death.

When something goes wrong and you're going to be spending an unplanned night outdoors, you'll be thankful if you've packed waterproof matches or a fire starter, as well as fire starting tools like a multi tool.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket, though - take two different fire-starting sources in case you lose one somewhere along your trail or your matches get wet. And only light a fire where it is safe to do so and where open fires are permitted.


Sun protection

Wearing sunscreen and a hat that shades your head, neck, ears and face protects you from sunburn and heatstroke.

Protection against the sun is a crucial element, especially in Australia where the sun is strong and unforgiving. Make sure you have sunglasses to protect your eyes from extended exposure to harsh sunlight, 50+ sunscreen, breathable UPF-rated clothing and a hat that is suitable for the weather conditions ie. beanies in winter and broad-brimmed, breathable hats for summer.


Extra clothing

The weather is an important variable to take into consideration when hiking. If things turn for the worst - or you or someone in your hiking party has an accident - it could mean an unplanned overnight stay in the outdoors.

Your winter hiking survival pack should include a lightweight wind and waterproof jacket, a change of thermals, a synthetic jacket or vest, gloves, beanie or other insulating headwear and a change of underwear. In the warmer months and climates, a change of underwear, spare socks and a vest or synthetic jacket might be all you need but take note of the weather forecast before you set out and make sure your clothing accommodates any overnight conditions.


Navigation equipment

When you're off the beaten track, navigation is critical

Every hiker's survival kit needs some form of digital navigation tool like a Global Positioning System (GPS), a mobile and/or satellite phone, and a personal locator beacon (PBL, also known as an emergency position indicator response beacon or EPIRB).

No matter what your budget may be, look for a GPS that is waterproof and built to cope with rugged conditions. While most mobile phones these days have a range of navigation apps, GPS units give you access to more detailed info, such as topography, and allow you to plan your hiking route before you set out. They also generally have a longer battery life than your garden-variety mobile phone. GPS watches are great value for money but, similar to a mobile phone, the battery-life won't match a dedicated GPS unit.

A PLB or EPIRB satellite messenger establishes your position using GPS and then sends an alert using government and commercial satellites. A locator beacon is an excellent backup because they will work in remote locations where mobile phones can't get quality reception.


Map and compass

In situations where digital reception is poor or the power source to your GPS and locator beacon runs flat, nothing will be as useful to you as an old-school topographical map and compass.

Ensure the map you buy is waterproof or that you pack it in a waterproof document protector. When buying a compass, choosing one that is equipped with a sighting mirror doubles as a flash sunlight to signal your presence to a helicopter or rescue service during an emergency. And, if you don't know how, take some time to familiarise yourself with using a map and compass before your trip. It's easier than you might think.


Emergency shelter

Hikers should always carry some type of emergency shelter for protection from the elements if stranded or if someone in your hiking group is injured and can't be safely moved. If an unscheduled night under the stars is on the cards, make the call while there's still enough light, so you can find the best spot to shelter. And always remember that your emergency shelter is designed to be temporary, not for leisure camping.

Examples of temporary shelters include ultralight tarp, a bivvy sack or an emergency space blanket. These weigh next to nothing and take up minimal space in your pack. Many emergency shelters and bivvys come in small stuff sacks and have sealed seam edges to protect you from rain, wind and cold temperatures. Bivvys come in high-visibility external colours that can help emergency personnel or search teams to locate you.



As well as the hiking equipment essentials already mentioned, it's a good idea to pack items like a whistle, backup mobile phone battery or solar-powered battery charger, baby wipes or moist towelettes and supply of toilet paper.

Many survival experts recommend including a laminated card or document with essential information for emergency and medical responders:

  • Your name (in case ID like a drivers' licence is lost);
  • Emergency/next of kin contact details;
  • Allergy information;
  • Blood type;
  • Prescription medications that you take; and
  • Medical conditions that you suffer from (hypertension, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, anxiety etc.).


In conclusion

Hiking is fun - there's no doubt about it. It is also healthy to get you and the family off the couch and exploring the great outdoors. However, the reality is that things can go wrong, so having the right hiking gear can be the difference between a minor situation escalating into a full-blown emergency. Always take your time when packing for hiking.




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