Survival backpacks – what they are and what they include
Survival backpacks are one of the most treasured possessions of most survivalists. They are the type of item that’s always with you but you hope you never really have to use it to its full potential.
But what is a good survival backpack? How do you choose and buy the right survival backpack? And consequently – what do you put in it? We’ll answer those and several other key questions below.
What is a survival backpack?
The survival backpack is your best friend in any disaster scenario. That’s the case both when you’re lost in the wilderness for a while or when you’re facing a full-blown natural (or unnatural) disaster. Either way, the survival backpack should always have what you need to survive.
So, what are the characteristics of a good survival backpack? Here are a few pointers:
- It should be sturdy. Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, your survival backpack should neither tear nor wear out. The moment your survival backpack’s construction is compromised will likely be followed by a lot of trouble.
- It should be spacious. Survival backpacks are not just ordinary backpacks full of goodies. They are meant to carry much more than just a couple of bottles of water, several sandwiches, and a raincoat. A survival backpack should be able to comfortably fit everything you’ll need to survive for an unspecified amount of time.
- It should be compact and comfortable. More than just spacious, a survival backpack should be comfortable and easy to carry by a single person. In most survival situations you’ll have to walk for extended periods of time, run, climb, jump, and even swim with your backpack. So, making sure that your backpack is not unnecessarily big or uncomfortable is also crucial.
When talking about comfort, it’s a good idea to make sure you won’t sweat too much with your survival backpack on. Remember, these backpacks are meant to be carried for hours a day, every day.
- It should have a lot of different compartments and built-in accessories. A good survival backpack should be perfectly designed for every single item you’re going to put in it. We’ll go over those items below but suffice it to say a survival backpack should have multiple compartments of various sizes and shapes.
Aside from compartments, a good survival backpack should also have some nice attachments and accessories too. One such example is the “camelback” or “hydration/water bladder”. These are usually 1-2 liters (up to half a gallon) large packs for drinking water. They are meant to stay inside the backpack or to be hanged on its exterior. From there, a narrow tube is usually attached to one of the backpack’s upper straps and ends close to your mouth. This way, you can drink water from the “hydration bladder” without having to stop.
Other good survival back accessories include hooks and straps for a tent, for additional bags, for hats and tools, and so on.
- It should be waterproof. Some wouldn’t say this is a necessity but we’d describe it as such. Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, you likely wouldn’t want your stuff to get wet. Rain, floods, rowing, or swimming – there are plenty of ways to compromise your few precious belongings with water.
Bonus tip: While you’re at it, it’s also smart to make sure your survival backpack’s exterior is fire-resistant too. There are few truly fire-resistant fabrics out there and backpacks are rarely made out of them. However, some fabrics are less flammable and more resilient to fire which is a nice perk for a survival backpack.
Survival backpack vs Bug out bags
Before we move on to what the contents of your survival backpack should be, let’s quickly talk about “Bug out bags”.
Very often when we’re talking about survival tips and survival kits, we’re talking about short-term survival. These are items and things that can help you get to the safety of your home or to another shelter. That’s pretty much what “Bug out bags” are.
Their name comes from the term “to bug out”, meaning to get away from things. So, bug-out bags is backpacks or sacks meant to help you survive for several days. These can be very useful either in a time of a natural disaster or crisis or when you just want to go hiking. However, bug-out bags are not something that can sustain you and keep you safe for too long. They are strictly meant to help you reach safety in a matter of days.
Survival backpacks, on the other hand, are meant to help you for as long as you need them to. You’d probably still need to reach a shelter and a safe place eventually, of course. However, if need be, a survival backpack should be able to sustain you for weeks, months, or even more if you need it to.
What should you have in your survival backpack?
Now that we know what a survival backpack is and looks like, let’s go over what it should include. Unlike bug out backs which you can fill rather liberally, a survival backpack should only include necessities. But what are those?
If you have some know-how or experience in that area, you’ve probably heard about the “Rule of 3”. It’s sometimes called the “Rule of 4” too, depending on who you ask. Either way, it details how long you can survive without any of the following key essentials: air, water, food, and (the sometimes skipped fourth rule) shelter.
The rule of 4
So, how long can you survive without any of these factors? Here’s a quick breakdown:
- The average person can survive around 3 minutes without access to breathable air. This timeframe can be even shorter depending on your fitness and circumstances. Situations, where air might be a problem, include being underwater or being surrounded by polluted and unbreathable air. Underwater breathing tanks are usually too large and too heavy for a survival backpack, unfortunately. Polluted air, however, can be easier to deal with via a nice face mask.
- The average time a person can survive with no water is 2-3 days. Again, this depends on your fitness and circumstances but, ideally, you don’t want to go even just above 24 hours with no water. Even if you can survive up to 3 days with no water, the effects of such severe dehydration can be devastating. Heart injuries, cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), hypovolemic shock (low blood volume shock), seizures, kidney failure, and others are but a few of the serious problems dehydration can cause.
To avoid any of them, you must make sure that you always have access to clean water. This includes not only having water bottles or tanks such as a “hydration bladder” but also a water filtration system.
- This will also depend on the person and his or her circumstances but, on average, the maximum we can survive without food is 2-3 weeks. This means that your survival backpack should include ways to prevent this from ever happening. Unlike bug-out bags where you can simply carry food supplies for several whole days, you can’t do that with a survival backpack. Instead, you should also carry tools to gather and prepare food. We’ll go over those in more detail below.
- Depending on the environmental conditions around you, you may be unable to survive without a shelter for more than a couple of hours. Extreme cold, storms, unbearable heat, wildlife, and more – the dangers you might have to deal with are numerous. And since shelters are rare and far between out in the open, carrying a tent, a sleeping bag, and a space blanket is a must.
Things to carry in your survival backpack
So, those are the four main dangers you’ll have to contend with while surviving in the wilderness – dehydration, starvation, suffocation, and uncontrollable weather conditions. With them in mind, here are all the main inclusions you should always have in your survival backpack.
- A face mask. The current Covid-19 pandemic has made good face masks a little difficult to acquire, however, they are still essential. Depending on where you are or what type of crisis you’re dealing with, a face mask can be a lifesaver.
Keep in mind that we’re not necessarily talking about gas masks here although some extreme situations would call for them too. While useful, gas masks are far too big to carry around in a survival backpack, unfortunately.
Instead, having one or more N95, N99 or maybe even P99 face masks is a much more compact option. These masks are very lightweight and foldable, and they can last for hundreds of hours before their filters get congested. Even with them, you can’t afford to carry too many as you’ll run out of space but having at least a couple can be invaluable.
- Water filtration system. We won’t talk too much about water bottles or hydration bladders as we already mentioned. Besides, they are pretty self-explanatory – you keep your water in them, and that’s it. Instead, a more complex and vital topic we shouldn’t skip is water filters.
As you travel, whether it’s in the wilderness or in a (post)-urban environment, you should come across various water sources. Modifying your route to make sure you’re always near a water source is also a good idea. Drinking directly from those water sources will usually be a bad idea, however. Even in an urban environment, you likely won’t be able to rely on the water’s quality in a time of crisis.
For that reason, it’s crucial that you always have a portable water filtration system in your survival backpack. We won’t advertise specific products here, but any of the various filter straws, filter bottles, or filter pump models would be a good bet.
Whichever model you pick, it must be of a high enough quality. The volume of water you’re able to filter and carry at a time is also important. Having clean water with you for at least 2 or 3 days (4 to 6 liters or 1 to 1.6 gallons) is always good.
- Hunting and fishing tools. Carrying some food with you is great – power bars or something like pemmican which we talked about recently. However, when it comes to long-term survival, you must also have ways to acquire new food.
The three main ways to find food in the wild are hunting, fishing, and foraging. The latter – foraging – doesn’t require too many tools but it also can’t supply you with sufficient animal proteins. That’s where the other two methods come in.
Hunting is an amazing way to get meat but it’s also difficult and risky. If you can get a nice hunting rifle and if you know how to use it, this can be a great boost to your survival chances. Otherwise, fashioning a hunting bow or a spear can be a good bet, as well as knowing how to set up traps.
Probably the easiest and most efficient way to find proteins in the wild, however, is fishing. We talked about fishing survival kits as well recently and a good survival backpack should definitely include such a kit.
- Tent, sleeping bag, and a space blanket. These are pretty much self-explanatory. You need a shelter with you at all times, and those are the most compact ways to get it. They are not the most ideal solutions to all problems, of course, and finding physical shelters when possible will be preferable – caves, abandoned houses and buildings, and so on. Those aren’t always an option, however, so having a nice all-season tent is great.
- Additional survival tools. Last but definitely not least, your survival backpack should also include the many different survival must-haves we often talk about. This include but are not limited to:
– First aid kit
– Cutting multi-tools
– Fire-starting kit
– Basic cooking tools and utensils, i.e. at least one metal pot and a spork
– All-weather protective clothing
– Other protective gear such as a hat, goggles, gloves, and good all-terrain boots
– Flashlight, an emergency radio, and extra batteries and power banks
– A sewing kit and safety pins
– Paracord bracelets and rope
– Personal hygiene items. You can count a pack of condoms here as well – just in case
– Other useful tools such as superglue, duct tape, a small lightweight hammer, a hatchet, etc.
– Some cash, just in case
– Personal protection items such as a taser/stun gun
– A notebook and a pencil or sharpie – useful for communication, personal notes, and for a diary.
And those are most of the essentials. Depending on the conditions and specifics of the crisis you’re dealing with there might be some other must-have items for your survival backpack. Nevertheless, what we’ve listed above should pretty much always be included.