Backpacking As A Survival Skill

August 8, 2011

Wilderness Survival

The backpack groaned as I hoisted it onto my back, positioning it as best I could upon my hips. I let out a simliar noise under the weight of the pack, realizing that I had to carry this 62 pound monstrosity 25 miles over the next three days.

A Hard Lesson

So began my very first backpacking trip some twenty-five years ago. I was young with far more pride and stamina than common sense or knowledge about what I was getting into. Yet our small crew of enthusiastic, if not naive, hikers set out onto a scarcely marked, primitive trail with little more than a cartoon map for guidance.

As I think back, it’s a wonder that I wasn’t found face down at the end of a long string of camping gear strewn along the narrow trail, flung to the left and right in a desperate attempt to lighten my load and push on. Oh, what a hard lesson we learned that trip.

But we made it.

Leave The Kitchen Sink

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how little I truly need when out in the bush. I don’t need a second set of boots. I don’t need an insulated set of coveralls. And the kitchen sink that I may have carried with me on that trip can stay at home.

I’m older and stronger now. Yet my pack is lighter, much lighter. At last weighing it was under 27 pounds fully loaded (with water, but without food). That makes for a much more pleasant excursion.

I still carry with me all of the basics, though admittedly some of the gear has gotten smaller and lighter. When out for a short backpacking trip, I typically carry:

  • Water bottle
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Sunglasses
  • Toiletry items, such as toothpaste deodorant, soap, shampoo
  • Flashlight
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Multi-tool
  • Knife & sharpener
  • Toilet paper
  • Handkerchief
  • Snacks
  • Ziploc bags to protect items
  • A single change of clothes
  • Rain gear
  • Pillow
  • Sleeping bag and bag liner
  • Camera
  • Personal survival kit
  • Paracord
  • Pocket Rocket stove and fuel
  • Mess kit (spork, cup, etc)
(That is not necessarily a comprehensive list.)

Packing For Survival

How does this apply to a survival scenario? I’ve often considered what would happen if I was caught away from home during a significant TEOTWAWKI-style event.

It could be a naturally occurring EMP from solar flares. Or perhaps an intentional EMP from a nation that despises my homeland. Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, accidental explosions, and other causes could make the roads temporarily or even permanently impassable.

Yet, I want to get home.

I keep a couple of well-stocked small totes in my truck for emergencies. They contain everything I can imagine that I may need whatever the circumstances.

Need a first aid kit? Got it. Want to make a fire? I have a half-dozen ways. Emergency rations? Yep. I also have duct tape, rope, fishing equipment, a multi-tool, a compass, a wind-up flashlight, a guide for harvesting wild edibles, etc, etc, etc.

I also keep a small backpack in my truck just in case my only form of transportation is ambulation. If I must hit the long road home by foot, I don’t want to do it carrying a couple of totes. No, instead I’ll decide what supplies I need and pack only those things in the backpack.


Getting into the woods with a few backpacking trips is good practice for a TEOTWAWKI event. You’ll learn first hand what it’s like to pack way too much gear. You’ll learn how to pare it down until it’s a much more manageable size and weight. And you’ll learn how walk mile after mile carrying everything you need.

And if you never need this skill? If you are never stranded and must pack home? Consider yourself fortunate. At least you learned a new skill and have gotten to see some of the great outdoors along the way.

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23 Comments on “Backpacking As A Survival Skill”

  1. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    Great advice. I started out doing the same thing and wound up paring my load way down as well. I can remember carrying over 60 lbs packs when I was in the Corps and that sucked. Alot. (Ammo, canvas tent, heavy sleeping bag, etc.)

    These days my winter pack with tent and cold weather sleeping bag is under 40 lbs. My summer kit is much less although I haven’t weighed it.

    Hey, if you ever get up to Maine (I don’t know what state you live in) shoot me an email and I’ll show you some great hiking and camping spots.


    • Joe Says:

      Hey – thanks, Jarhead! A sub-40 lb winter pack is a nice. Took me quite a while to figure out how to pare it down like that.

      I’d love to hike in Maine. I’m reading a book about the Appalachian Trail. Apparently Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness is one of the toughest stretches on the AT. Kinda sounds fun though. Also says there are other fantastic trails in the state.

      If I ever get to the area, I’ll definitely let you know. Would love to swap trail stories with you.

      BTW – Isn’t the new recruit due to arrive soon?


  2. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    Yes indeed, we’ve decided to name her Natalie Elise and she’s due just about any minute now! We can’t wait!

    Check out this story about the 100 mile wilderness:

    That was a long day!


  3. Karen Says:

    We started very small in our backpacking prep~ in Cub Scout hiking club! Easing it in as a fun activity with awards made it kool… then I volunteered as coordinator so we could learn all the trails that lead away from/ to our house… we know many of these trails like the back of our hands! We started just carrying ‘adventure packs’ (binoculars, citter catchers, bottles of water, snacks, bug spray, sun block, first aid kit…). Now we are ready to add more.
    We watch “The Road” and prep for that… we play “The Road” when my son and I hike alone… very quiet, are we being followed? Where can we camp and be hidden? See any wild edibles? Although he knows the chances of this really happening, we make it as much fun as possible… can’t beat that sense of security we both have knowing we will survive!!!


    • Joe Says:

      Scouting can be a great way to introduce your boys into camping and outdoor activities, Karen. And it’s great that you’ve extended it beyond what scouting has to offer with wild edibles, etc.

      Thanks for the comment!




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