Part of the beauty of camping or getting out on the trail is that you can expect the unexpected. Sometimes that’s the opportunity to get up close and personal with a baby deer, sometimes it is one of the group members having a nasty fall and breaking their leg. When the unexpected is at the negative end of the spectrum, being properly prepared can prevent something unpleasant from becoming a disaster. Making sure you leave home with an appropriate emergency kit can help.
There are six things to consider when making sure that you are properly equipped for an emergency: water, food, warmth/shelter, light, communication and first aid. Let’s have a look at the basics that you need for each.
We all know that it is important to try and bring enough water for a camping trip or hike, but what happens if your trip is unexpectedly extended, or someone spills a good portion of your water supply? Carrying sufficient ‘emergency’ water can be challenging, and heavy! Usually when on the trail there is water available, but it isn’t suitable for drinking. But you can make these natural reservoirs your emergency water source with a personal water filtration system. A personal filtration system will remove more than 99% of waterborne bacteria and parasites, making it safe to drink. It won’t, however, filter salt, so it isn’t suitable for ocean water (or urine if you were wondering). The LifeStraw is the most popular personal water filter on the market at the moment, for good reason, it is affordable, effective, compact and lightweight.
Again, if your trip is unexpectedly extended or something happens to your core food supply, it is important to have a backup food supply to keep you going. For emergency food supplies you should focus on high calorie options that have enough energy to keep you going, rather than healthy, satisfying options. Energy bars are a great option as again they are light and compact, and there are so many varieties out there. Plus most of them last about 5 years, so you don’t need to update your emergency food kit with every trip. I’m currently using Taos Mountain Energy Bars.
Warmth / Shelter
In case of an emergency when you are stuck in the wilderness without your tent and sleeping bags, most of us don’t want to be cutting down trees and building shelters from scratch like on TV. It also isn’t really necessary with the kind of emergency camping equipment that is available these days. Light and compact emergency survival shelters are highly affordable, such as this tent from Rudolph that weighs only 3 pounds.
You should consider carrying a tent like this even if you aren’t venturing to colder climbs, as the shelter and warmth offered by the tent also reduces nerves in what can be high stress situations.
If you are venturing somewhere colder, bringing a thermal blanket to prevent hypothermia is a good idea. I like this Mezonn emergency blanket that fits in the palm of your hand.
Access to fire is important for warmth, but also provides light and security. While you probably already have some kind of lighter or matches with you, depending on conditions, lighting a fire can be challenging, so invest in an emergency firestarter kit can. This UCO Stormproof Match Kit with windproof and waterproof matches should allow you to create a fire even in the most difficult circumstances.
A source of light is also a must for any emergency kit, as it will help you see what you are doing if you are stuck out in the open at night, as well as provide comfort, and make you more visible to possible rescuers.
Fire is a great source of light, so the waterproof matches described above are a great start, but a waterproof torch with a long lasting battery is another must. I prefer a head torch as it keeps my hands free for other things. I am currently using the HFAN LED headlight as it is adjustable, comfortable and allows me to change the light levels depending on the situation.
We all know that mobile network coverage can be patchy when off the beaten track. Slightly irritating when you want to post cool photos on Instagram or extremely worrisome in an emergency situation. You may still be able to dial 911 on your phone, even without service, but it depends on where you are. A walkie talkie is another option, if there is someone on the other end who knows that you are out there. Even if you don’t go down the walkie talkie route, make sure that someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return, so that they can raise concerns if you don’t return as planned.
If you really are heading into the wilderness, making a longer trip, or doing your trekking abroad, it is worth investing in a location beacon or satellite messenger. A location beacon allows you to broadcast your location to a monitored satellite network in case of an emergency. All basic models will do this, but unless your model has satellite messaging, you won’t have any way of knowing if your message has been received and is being acted upon. For just a little more you can get a beacon that also provides two way satellite messaging, which means that you can confer with your rescuers, and also send simple text messages to family and friends in case of an emergency. There are a lot of different options on the market, and you can see reviews of some of the latest models here. While they may seem expensive initially, and some also carry an annual subscription cost, depending on the type of adventure you are on, it could save your life.
As well as communication with the outside world for the group, communication for the individuals in the group is a must in case you get separated and need to find each other. Equipping everyone with an emergency whistle is a great idea. The noise of a whistle carries further and is easier to pinpoint than that of a human voice, and a person in distress can more easily communicate via whistle than needing to shout.
First Aid Kit
An outdoor first aid kit needs a little more than band aids and antibiotic cream. Fortunately it is pretty easy to buy a comprehensive outdoor first aid kit from most camping goods stores. Things to look out for in your kit (or consider if you do want to build your own):
- Adhesive bandages of various sizes, including butterfly bandages (these hold together deep cuts that will probably require stitches)
- Gauze pads and gauze roll
- Antiseptic cream
- Sterile wipes and rinse solution
- Pain and anti-inflammatory medicine
- Antihistamine for allergic reactions (and an epi pen if anyone in the group has a serious allergy)
- Anti-diarrhea medicine
- Antibiotic ointment
- Aloe Vera or other sunburn relief
- Hand sanitizer
- Super glue (again, great for closing serious cuts)
- Backup prescription medicine for everyone in the group
- Tweezers, scissors, safety pins and knife
- Editor's Note: We also have advice on first aid for different types of locations depending on how remote your campsite is.
I like to travel light when camping or on the trail, so I prefer to carry as little as possible. But, while hopefully I will never use most of the things in my emergency kit, experience has taught me that the extra preparation, and the little bit of extra weight, can mean the difference between irritation and disaster.