Stuck in the Woods

Thoughts on Emergency Gear

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Sometimes the unexpected happens, a disabling injury, an unexpected bivouac, lost, marooned, bad weather, whatever.

When it does, then whatever you have with you at the moment IS your Emergency Survival Kit. Whatever is in your pockets or in your pack is all you have to work with. That, and your brain and your determination.

There's a mnemonic called "The Rule of Threes". It's a bit general and exaggerated, but it emphasizes the relative priorities of staying alive.

In three minutes, you can die from lack of oxygen or heavy bleeding
In three hours, you can die from exposure
In three days, you can die from thirst
In three weeks, you can die from hunger
In three months, you can die from isolation

So, if you've taken care of serious wounds and bleeding and you're still breathing, then keeping your body warm/cool is your top priority.

You may be uncomfortable, but you can last several days without water and many days without food.

To categorize the priorities, we have:

Healthcare (first-aid, sun protection, etc.)
Insulation (clothing and shelter)
(Tools - knife, flashlight)
Communications (signaling)
Navigation (maps and compass)

These categories form the basis of the Ten Essentials that the Mountaineers of Seattle (a mountaineering club) formulated in the 1930s to address the cause of mountain-related deaths of that era. Originally, a list of ten items to carry, it evolved into the more flexible Ten Essentials Sysem in the 1970s. This system still applies today. 

Personal Survival Kits (PSK)

Some survival kits fill a backpack, others fill a tobacco tin. It is always a compromise between weight, volume and the ability to have it when you need it. Too heavy or too big and you may not carry it at all times. Too small and compact and you'll wish you had more gear.

The trick may be to go minimalist and supplement to suit the outing. Make the smallest basic kit you're comfortable with and add extra items according to your day's travel plans. But ALWAYS carry the basic kit

The old saying is absolutely true: "Your survival knife is whatever knife you happen to be carrying when the emergency occurs". The same applies to the kit or gear at that time.

So make up your own version of the Ten Essentials into a small kit and put it in your pocket or daypack and LEAVE IT THERE. In an emergency, It will be there when you need it..


One of the best websites on emergency and survival gear is

Of the hundreds of books, I recommend two:
98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive by Cody Lundin
Surviving the Unexpected Wilderness Emergency by Gene Fear

Both emphasise maintaining the body at a reasonable environment (heat/cold/etc) and what items are useful for that purpose.
Neither emphasizes the many tips, techniques, skills etc. that can confuse and detract from the fundamental job of keeping alive.

So you have learned about exposure and survival. You have created your own Personal Survival Kit.

Have you practiced with the various items? In a safe and comfortable place?

Here's some simple exercises for you to test yourself. Nothing hard, no score except your own evaluation. See them here : Survival Skills Exercises and Tests

On request, I conduct a five-day "Stuck in the Woods" course.

Stuck In the Woods course outline

Stuck in the Woods - 2012 Schedule

Stuck in the Woods student notes and handouts
Stuck in the Woods handout
Stuck in the Woods exercises
Stuck in the Woods Personal Survival Kit (PSK)

Email me

Jim Yuen, March 2007
revised Dec, 2011