15 Critical Survival Items

Stranded in the Wilderness? You Need These Survival Items

Top 8 Critical Survival Items

The 15 Critical Survival Items is a List of Survival Items that can Help your Survival in the Canadian Wilderness. The More Quality Critical Items you Carry the Easier Time you will have Surviving. Unfortunately the More Survival Gear you Take the Less Likely you are to Actually Carry the Items with you, so Compromises are Required.

Not all Items are Needed each Time You Travel into the Wilderness. The Harsher and More Barren Environment the More Items You Need. Large amounts of Food & Fuel may be needed to survive for extended periods of time. The 15 Critical Survival Items are ranked in order of priority. These Priorities may change from time to time depending on the situation, season or weather and a few extra items may be need for a Specific Environment. Although the Top 3: Proper Clothing, Means to Light a Fire, and a Survival Knife are the Most Important.

Top 8 Critical Items, Always Carried

These Items are Critical in Nearly All Survival Situations and Should be Carried on Your Body at All Times with whatever means you need to keep them secure and handy.

Critical Item #1: Proper Clothing

Proper Clothing

Dress for the Worst Conditions you may Encounter. Even just a Toque and Rain Jacket can make the difference. Remember the basic rule of Dressing for the Cold: Dress in Loose, Layered Clothing, wear wool or synthetic underwear as your Wicking Layer, wear fleece/pile or wool as your Insulative Layers and wear a good quality Shell Layer which protects areas of high heat loss. Never Wear Any Cotton Clothing in Cold or Wet Weather.

Critical Item #2: Means to Light a Fire

Means to Make Fire

Do Not Take Chances, Carry 3 Robust Redundant Fire Lighting Tools with you. Matches should be Carried in a Waterproof Container with an "O" Ring Seal. A Striker is an Excellent 2nd Item, Carry it Tied to a String around your Neck. A Lighter is an excellent 3rd item to Carry. Always supplement your 3 Fire Lighting Tools with Tinder and a few Fire Lighting Aids.

Critical Item #3: Survival Knife

Carbon Steel Survival Knife

Carry a High-Quality Carbon Steel Survival Knife. Your choice of a good Survival Knife is vital to your survival. My recommendation is an 8cm carbon steel Mora Knife (Red Plastic Handle). This knife has a carbon steel blade that is strong enough to cut down trees and comes razor sharp. Attach the Knifeā€™s Sheath to a String and Wear it Around Your Neck, along with a Whistle, Match container and a Striker.

Critical Item #4: Whistle

Pealess Plastic Whistle

Always carry a good quality Pea-less Plastic Whistle. It should be carried around your neck on a string along with other Critical Survival Items.

Critical Item #5: Personal First Aid Kit

Personal First Aid Kit

Everyone in the wilderness should carry a Personal First Aid Kit at all times. It is basic critical item that should not be left at home or in the car. Always carry enough Pressure Dressing to stop the bleeding from a wound caused by the biggest weapon you carry.

Critical Item #6: Compass

Liquid Filled Sighting Compass

A Quality Liquid-filled Sighting Compass is an Essential Aid to Navigation. I recommend a Brunton Type 15, produced in Sweden by Silva AG (the real Silva Company) - makers of the Best Compasses in the World.

Critical Item #7: Cord

2m of Strong Cord

Carry 2 sections of good quality nylon cord at least 3m long. Each section can be up to 15m if you can find room it carry them. Lightweight Cord is Okay, but Quality makes a Big Difference.

Critical Item #8: Signal Mirror

Glass Signal Mirror

Carry a High Quality Glass Signal Mirror or Heliograph, with you. I recommend placing it with your personal first aid kit to shelter it from damage.

Number 9 & 10, Hard to Replicated in the Wilderness

These items you can technically live without, but that you cannot replicate in the woods. Your survival will be will be much harder without them, especially over the medium or long term in cold weather.

Critical Item #9: Cooking Pot

2L plus Cooking Pot

A Decent 2 Liter Pot with a Bail and Lid will make all the difference in a survival situation. This is especially true in winter. Taking along a single-walled wide mouthed Metal Water Bottle instead of Plastic can be a Lifesaver. I always Tie a Wire or Hose Clamp around the top and then feed in 2 Small Rings so a Wire or String can easily be attached as a bail.

Critical Item #10: Bow Saw

Bow Saw

A Bow Saw will make any survival situation easier and in a very cold situation may make the difference between life and death. I recommend using a 50cm plus bow saw instead on an axe of hatchet. A metal-framed Bow Saw is lighter, easier to use, and requires one-quarter the KCal to cut through a large log than an axe.

Number 11 to 14, Preparing for Complications

These Items will Save your Life in Critical Situations or Unforeseen Complications come along with a Survival Situation. What happens when you or a companion is sick, injured or you are unable to light a fire. These items are always useful whenever you travel to make a Survival Situation Easier and More Comfortable.

Critical Item #11: Shelter


Take along a Shelter appropriate to the Weather and Conditions. Remember that Winter Shelters require wood or snow to build, along with tools. In summer a Poncho is an excellent Improvised Shelter because it is multipurpose and versatile.

Critical Item #12: Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Bag and Protective Cover

A Quality Synthetic-Filled Mummy Bag will allow you to live without a fire and/or in a snow shelter in harsh conditions. A sleeping bag is a lifesaver if you are injured or unable to light a fire. It is also an excellent item over the Medium or Long Term because it will allow you to get more uninterrupted sleep at night.

Critical Item #13: Mattress

Insulative Mattress

A Self-Inflating Mattress or Ensolite pad will insulate you from heat loss due to conduction, add insulation to or replace an Evergreen Bough Bed. A half-sized or quarter-sized Ensolite pad can be taken instead. Don't forget to use the foam pad on the back of your Backpack.

Critical Item #14: Daypack or Waterproof Container

Backpack or Waterproof Container

Take along a Pack or Waterproof Container big enough and sturdy enough to carry the Critical Items. A Day Pack works well as you can use it to move the items around with you. Make sure that you Waterproof Everything Inside.

Number 15, Living is Easy

Critical Item #15: Extra Items

Extra Items

Extra Items will come in handy during a survival situation to make you more comfortable or simply make it easier to survive. These include 500 KCal of High Energy Food, a Headlamp, an extra layer of Warm Clothing, a Candle, Water Purification Gear, and Leather Gloves. These items will make you life easier, especially if you are stranded and have one or more complication. These items are often season and environment specific. The only thing that stop you from taking more of these items to the overall amount of weight you can carry.

Why Carry the 15 Critical Items?

It is Essential that Every Items you Take into the Wilderness is Actually Useful to your Survival. Most people think only of taking a small wilderness survival kit when they should instead consider taking proper critical wilderness survival items. Fishing or sewing kit may help you survive in a few limited scenarios, but will not save your life. They will only allow you to fish or sew. It will be proper clothing, matches, a survival knife, a whistle and a First Aid Kit that will save your life not the contents of a fishing kit!

Decide what critical survival items you need and always carry them, not a small PLACEBO KIT filled with trinkets and toys. What you take into the wilderness is critical to your survival, although your most precious possession is the mitigative learning and experience in your brain.

Carry the Critical Survival Items You Need to Help Ensure Your Survival and Leave the Toy Survival Kits on the Shelves of the Stores that Sell Them. This does not mean that you cannot Carry or Build a Good Survival Kit, it means that that Kit should contain Critical Items and any extra items that would be useful in your environment.

Additional Survival Equipment Resources

Article by (, Updated 27th May 2017)
Chief Instructor of the Boreal Wilderness Institute