What is a Survival Backpack

Whether you’re expecting the apocalypse, going off the grid, or in the middle of unfortunate emergency, having a survival backpack is a great safety net in case you ever do need it. Don’t be caught unprepared!


What is a Survival Backpack?

survival backpack

A survival backpack is a bag that contains all the gear and supplies you may need to sustain yourself in the wilderness indefinitely. The contents will vary depending on your bushwhacking skill level and your personal circumstances, but there are basics every single one should contain, such as things to cover your base needs. For example, humans can dry up like seaweed in the sun within three days, so you definitely need a source of water.


What to Put Inside

Depending on your skill level and how much weight you’re willing to carry, there are several categories to choose supplies from. The sections include: urgent, essential, necessary, and additional.

1st Priority

This category includes things that you will most likely die without unless you’re in a favorable environment and incredibly knowledgeable. A survival kit isn’t a survival kit without these!

    • We recommend having ready-to-drink water inside your survival kit, but you also need to include some way to purify water. Whether you choose chemical purifiers, like iodine and chlorine tablets, or physical purifiers, such as Lifestraws, is up to personal preference.
    • You can last weeks without food, but it isn’t fun, and other survival aspects will suffer. Carrying some ready-to-go and prepackaged food is a good idea, but you should also have a way to gather food yourself. This can include hunting and fishing supplies as well as a foraging manual. 
Shelter - Compact/Wearable
    • The elements can be tricky. And hypothermia is no joke, and even if it’s hot enough to melt concrete during the day, once the sun goes down, the cold can creep in. Being able to fend off what nature throws at you is crucial. Having ponchos and space blankets can help you avoid freezing to death.
First Aid
    • While it takes a few weeks to starve to death, you can bleed out in a few minutes. Even if you don’t receive a life-threatening injury, you can be incapacitated or have your movements hindered, decreasing your chances of survival. Your first aid kit should include tourniquets, Benadryl, a way to clean wounds, gauze, and much more. If you’re unsure what to put inside your first aid kit, you can find an in-depth explanation on IFAK kits here.


first aid for survival kit


    • One of the most valuable things you can have in nature is fire. You can fend off hypothermia, boil water for safe consumption, cook food, and much more with it. Even if you’re a professional pyromaniac, having matches, fire starters, fire steel, or lighters can save you valuable time.
    • What if your fire goes out in the middle of the night? Not a problem if you have a flashlight on hand! Having a light source can also help you navigate and avoid injury when caught out in the dark. Headlamps specifically are highly recommended so you can keep working without having to struggle one-handed or try and prop the light up.



2nd Priority

You probably won’t die without these…probably.

Shelter - Advanced
    • We’ve already covered shelter, but it never hurts to be over-prepared. Having materials to construct a shelter is incredibly helpful. You can use flimsy, easy-to-carry things like bivvies, which are essentially the sleeping bag version of space blankets, or more durable gear like tents and tarps to use as a shelter.
      what to keep in your survival backpack
    • An extra pair of clothes and layers is another excellent way to fend off hypothermia. It’s a lot easier to keep yourself warm than to try and bring your body temperature back up from hypothermic. Even an extra pair of socks and a jacket can help keep you alive.
    • Getting lost can land you in a survival situation, so being able to navigate out of an area will help you avoid it. Having a compass is the very least you should include, but topographic maps are a great addition.
    • Paracord has dozens of different uses. You can use it to construct a shelter, hang your food up away from animals, help start a fire, and much more.



3rd Priority

These are definitely important for survival, but if you have to choose between these and higher priority items, go with those instead.

    • Knives and multi-tools are camping standards. If you have a knife, you can use it to help construct a shelter, prepare food, make kindling, and more. If you have a multi-tool, your options increase.
    • While highly versatile and useful, bandanas are often looked over. You can use them as sun protection, a mask to keep dust out of your mouth, a layer of warmth for your face, filter gunk out of water (this is not the same as purifying), a bandage, splint a sprain, and even an emergency tourniquet.
    • Even if you’re an outdoor connoisseur, you may encounter situations you don’t know how to handle or need to brush up on the procedures. Throwing a few guides in your bag, such as: first aid, survival, and foraging ones, can provide the necessary information you need and save your life.
Signaling Devices
    • Signal mirrors, whistles, and even smoke grenades can flag down rescuers if you’re trapped in the middle of nowhere. Signal mirrors and smoke bombs are mainly restricted to day use, flares are most visible at night, and whistles are great for grating eardrums no matter what time it is.
Bear Spray
    • This may be somewhere else on the priority list depending where you live and travel, but if you come face to face with an angry grizzly mama, you’ll definitely need a can of this handy!



4th Priority

You should be able to live without these, but they’ll make your life a hell of a lot easier if you include them.

Various Types of Protection
survival kit contents
    • Sunblock, insect repellent, and a myriad of other things can help you avoid unnecessary situations.
Sewing kit
    • If you get a hole in your clothes, bag, tent, or anything else, it’s beneficial to be able to patch them up.
Extra Tools
    • You may not necessarily need a shovel or ax, but what if you do?
    • A hand-cranked radio/flashlight combo, phone charger/portable charger, extra batteries, and other electric items have their uses for the modern man.
Sanitary Items
    • Hand sanitizers, wet wipes, toilet paper, and other items are a luxury in the outdoors, but it’s important to keep clean.
Mess Kit
    • You can boil water to make it safe to drink or cook up a hot meal if you even have a camping cup or pot that’s fire safe.



Variable Items

This won’t be a comprehensive list since everyone has their situation, and it’d be hard to incorporate everything. Instead, think about what you cannot live without. Whether that’s an epi-pen or medication that keeps your heart pumping, you don’t want to be caught without it.


Where to Keep Your Kit


where to keep your survival kit


There are several places you can keep your kit, and the best place to store it varies depending on the person and location. However, one of the best places to stow a survival kit is your car. You’re rarely far from your vehicle, whether you go to work, the store, or are chilling at home. However, the problem with storing things in cars is your supplies are exposed to extreme temperatures. While it’s generally acceptable in the short term, the temperatures can deteriorate your equipment over time. For example, exposure to high heat for an entire summer can dry out alcohol swabs, break down bandages and batteries, and inhibit an ointment’s efficacy. 

If you’re hesitant to store it in your vehicle, there are plenty of other options! You can keep it in your closet, at work, or even in an off-site location, such as a storage unit or locker. No matter where you keep it, be mindful of your environment. For example, if you live in an area that may flood, you won’t want to store it down low where the water can reach it. Residents of tornado-prone locations should store their kits deep inside the house in the safe areas they’d take shelter in (closets and bathrooms at the center of the house and without windows).


Maintaining Your Survival Backpack

It would be horrifying if you needed your survival backpack, but open it up to find half of the items expired and the other half missing. You should check your pack at least once a year to swap out expired items and see if you need to add or remove anything (for example, you had baby formula packed, but your kid grew up). 

Storing Food

As fun as roughing it in the outdoors may sound, most of us don’t want to follow in Bear Grylls’ footsteps and eat bugs if we don’t have to. Therefore, any food you include in your survival bag should be sealed tightly and replaced occasionally. If you decide to go the canned route, you won’t be able to keep your survival bag in your car since cans need to be kept in a cool, dry location.

Items to Check & Replace

While food is clearly perishable, bandages, batteries, ointments, medication, and many other supplies need to be checked and replaced if needed. Anything damaged or partially used should be replaced as well. And if you ever take anything out of your kit, promptly replace it!


survival backpack contents


Tips & Tricks

Pack multi-use items to save space
    • Multi-tools often have a knife included
    • Paracord compass bracelets are small, portable, and are a great two for one
    • Tincture iodine can clean wounds and purify water
Pick a sturdy, durable, and comfortable backpack to be your survival kit
    • Bonus points if it’s waterproof! You may find yourself in a water-logged location

Keep your first aid kit at the top of your pack so it’s easily accessible when you need it.


    While we all hope we never need to use one, having a survival backpack can save your life when push comes to shove. Don’t be caught unprepared and pack a survival backpack!

    Author | Allison Lee

    I'm Allison, a content writer at My Medic. My passion is empowering others with first aid knowledge and skills through my writing.


    • Show the contents of your kits, to what you get for your money, and be advised sutures and method of administrating the sutures should be included.
      My Medic replied:
      Hey Jack, you can find complete kit breakdowns on the corresponding product pages!

      Jack Theal
    • Thank you for putting this all together.
      My Medic replied:
      Glad you enjoyed it, Cas!

    • Wow this opened my eyes a lot to getting prepared for what ever may come along
      My Medic replied:
      Glad this helped!

      William T Waite
    • Excellent ideas for those who have no idea where to start for their Backcountry/survival kit. I do recommend the crank/solar combo for the radio/flashlight and most have charging ports. Very useful and saves room. Don’t rely on gps (most don’t realize this), learn to use compass and read a map, a lost art form these days. A 2 person tent is lightweight and easy to carry. I also recommend 2-3 space blankets. Not great for reusing BUT line the bottom of the tent, and it offers additional protection against cold. Carry dryer lint coated with Vaseline in a small script bottle or similar, it makes excellent fire starter. One multi tool and one small hatchet. Both can be carried on a belt. You offer great first aide kits in different sizes to choose from. How much weight one wants to carry needs to be considered. I created a kit using a waterproof box with latex free items. I’ve as of yet, not found a kit that is latex free. You are very correct with clothing. Layers of moisture wicking material is best, as they dry FAST, light weight, and warm. Granola bars and beef jerky is a plus. Just rotate out per dates. Honey sticks are also a plus. Good list and thank you, as I did find a couple useful tid bits I had not thought of.
      My Medic replied:
      Those are some great tips, Donna. Thanks for sharing!

      Donna Barton
    • Thank you for excellent suggestions for making a backcountry survival/first aid kit. As a retired park ranger I have gotten too lax and was not carrying one in my vehicle. Thank you for your extraordinary advice and the kick I needed!
      My Medic replied:
      Hey Kate,

      We’re so glad to hear this helped you! Enjoy the rest of your summer, and stay safe out there!

      Kate Mabry

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments must be approved before they are published