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Survival Backpacking

Most people probably think they have the necessary skills to survive in the wilderness if push comes to shove. The truth, however, often paints a very different story. The good news is that you can hone your skills to ensure a more favorable outcome if you’re ever thrust into a life-or-death situation.

Thanks to survival backpacking, you can be sure to have the essentials necessary to save your life. In this guide, we’re going to look at what survival backpacking is and why it’s so important.

Man with backpack hiking alone in the mountains
Man with backpack hiking alone in the mountains

What Is Survival Backpacking?

When it comes down to it, survival backpacking is more about skills than it is specific items. The reason for this is simple: You want to carry as little weight as possible. The more items you have in your backpack, the heavier it’s going to be.

If you find yourself stranded in the wilderness, the last thing you want to be doing is lugging around a bunch of unnecessary weight. And that’s why your primary focus should be on survival skills rather than items. Knowing how to care for yourself is essential to survival.

Moreover, survival backpacking is all about staying warm, keeping your body hydrated, and staying out of harm’s way. Of course, your ultimate goal should be to get out of the wilderness and to safety. But until then, it’s important to understand survival management so that you can escape the wilderness.

Survey Your Surroundings

First, you want to make sure your surroundings are safe and habitable. You’re going to need a fire eventually, so it’s best to start prepping for it now.

Prepare the Area

Pick out a spot where you plan to build your fire and start clearing away anything combustible. Your goal, for the time being, is to make sure your fire won’t easily spread once it’s started. Most people know to remove small pieces of wood and dry tinder from the floor of the area.

But you should also look up and check for any branches hanging low to the ground. If there’s anything nearby that could catch fire, remove it. Once you are satisfied that the area is safe, dig a small, shallow hole.

Around the hole, line rocks to create a shield. The rocks will help keep your fire contained in the hole. You’re going to need tinder to start your fire, so start collecting combustible materials.

Gather Fuel for the Fire

There is a multitude of items you can collect to help your fire start easily. The best are milkweed fuzz and dried moss. If you can get your hands on either of these materials, you will have an excellent form of fuel for your fire.

Stick as much as you can in your pocket as you survey the area. If it starts raining later, you’ll have a nice little stash of dry tinder to fuel your fire. The fuzz from cattails also works well. But you don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to these three materials.

While they tend to work the best, you can play around with other dry fuelwood, especially if you can’t readily locate the aforementioned materials.

Materials for starting a fire
Materials for starting a fire

Gather Fuel for You

Your fire isn’t the only thing that needs fuel. Before too long, you’re going to need to start thinking about sustenance for your mind and body. You will function your best with clear focus and plenty of energy.

But natural food might be harder to come across than you’d think. Moreover, you don’t want to just start chomping on the nearest edible plants. The truth is that some plants can make you deathly ill, so it’s best to stick with what you know (unless you are an expert outdoorsman, in which case, this guide will probably seem rather elementary to you).

In any event, look around for blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Depending on where you are in the wilderness, either of these might be plentiful. If they are, hopefully, there’s enough to keep you reasonably fed.

The above snacks are easy to discern in the wilderness, too, so you shouldn’t have to worry about accidentally eating something poisonous. If you’re unsure, take a tiny nibble and proceed to eat it if you don’t detect anything questionable.

Locate Water

The human body can survive between one and three weeks without food in a worst-case scenario. But water? That’s a different story. On average, the human body can only survive three days without drinking water. So you’re going to need to find a water source post-haste.

This is where your backpack comes into play. If you get stranded in the woods with a survival backpack, it’s most likely that you planned to go hiking. There aren’t many scenarios where you’re suddenly dropped in a survival situation and left to fend for yourself.

As such, you should have water in your backpack. Most people who plan backpacking trips plan ahead and bring enough clean water to survive. But if you’ve been lost for days, you’re probably running low on fresh water.

Work on locating a source of drinking water, whether it’s from a stream or otherwise. No matter how clean that water looks, you need to take steps to purify it. This involves killing off the bacteria. If you have water purification tablets in your backpack, you’re in good shape.

If not, you’ll need to rely on a natural filtration system or your trusty fire to do the purifying for you. Boil the water you’ve collected to kill off anything that could make you sick. Hopefully, you packed a water bottle to carry the water in.

Prepare for Night

Survival shelter in the woods from tree branches
Survival shelter in the woods from tree branches

It’s likely going to get cold once the sun goes down, so you need to prepare for nightfall. If your survival backpack contains a sleeping pad and other sleeping gear, you will have a much more comfortable night. But if not, you’ll need to rely on nature to keep you warm.

In this case, leaves are going to be your best friend. Make a large pile of leaves and combine it with dead grass to create a makeshift bed. When you’re ready to sleep, cover yourself with the leaves. You’ll be surprised just how much body heat they can trap. 

If you have the time and know-how, you can use the materials around you to build a shelter. It doesn’t have to be particularly fortified, but any additional protection is a plus. Branches lined with foliage work well for creating makeshift tents.

You might be spending the next few nights there, so make a frame with thick, strong timber and line it with dense foliage. Your primary goal is to keep you safe from the elements, and that includes animals.

Call for Help

Depending on how lost you are, you might need to rely on your fire to call for help. But if you’re confident that people are nearby, you can whistle or use a mirror to draw attention to your location. Another method is to leave messages for other hikers to find. You have the ultimate canvas surrounding you, so get creative and leave behind obvious clues.

If you’re really stuck in the deep, your fire is your best bet. Take the time to learn ways to alert others with smoke, whistling, and reflections. It might just save your life.

Make a Compass

A compass is a necessity for survival backpacking. If you’re lost, and you don’t have a compass, you can use various materials to make one. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of carrying certain materials in your backpack, as they can come in handy if you have to fashion your own compass.

If you have a sewing kit or first aid kit, you have a good start on the items needed to make a compass. Click the link above for the complete list of materials and items you’ll need.

Find a Way Out

If all else fails and you need to start looking for any possible way to civilization, try to locate a stream. This is one of the oldest survival tips, and it works. When you remember that smaller streams lead to larger streams, you can follow them until you come to a river.

And where there’s a river, there’s civilization. It can take a while to find where you want to go. But in a pinch where you’re out of options and don’t know what else to do, this one could save your life.

If you have to rely on this method to make it to civilization, you can make it work if you know how to survive. That means making fires, getting enough clean water to survive, and performing basic navigation. It certainly won’t be fun, but it could make the difference between life and death.

What Items Should You Have in Your Backpack?

A well-prepared person will have essential items that don’t weigh down their pack but will help them get out of sticky situations. These include:

  • Emergency blanket
  • Multi-tool or knife
  • Topographic map
  • Survival whistle
  • Filtration kit
  • Light source
  • GPS locator
  • First aid kit
  • Firestarter
  • Sewing kit
  • Compass
  • Paracord
  • Mirror
  • Tarp

With these handy items, your backpack won’t weigh a ton, and you’ll have what you need to make the most of your wilderness survival skills.

A first aid kit is a necessity for survival backpacking
A first aid kit is a necessity for survival backpacking

Be Prepared

These tips could potentially save your life, but nothing beats being prepared. If you want to ensure your health and safety, make sure you have a fully stocked backpack containing the items listed above. In doing so, you can ensure a safer experience if you get lost.