Survival Packs: Core Items & Considerations

by Tommy Grant

What kind of things do you carry in your pack when traveling? When commuting? Or just out for the day? Do you have a core list of items or types of items you always have in your pack? This would be in conjunction with your everyday carry (EDC) items. Some might be in addition to your EDC, some might be redundancy, and some might be specific to your travel purpose. The gear I carry in my packs, whether for travel or daily commutes, can be divided into four categories; Medical, Security, Survival, and Communications. Here is how that breaks down in my packs.

Core Medical Items

For Medical, I always have a tourniquet located in an easy-to-access pocket of my pack. I usually include a trauma kit of some sort. I have repacked most of mine to be a flat, vacuum-sealed bag so that it can slide down the back of the pack or in the laptop sleeve. Some are just made for passing security (minus needles and scissors), and others that have more or duplicate items depending on the travel. I am fortunate to not have any prescription medicines, but if I did I would pack a couple of days supplies worth. I have small pre-packaged “comfort kits” with pain, allergy, upset stomach, and aspirin tablets if the need arises. All of these are clearly marked or packed in a location I can easily describe for someone else to find.

Core Security Items

Under Security, I currently carry a defensive tool on my person depending on the environment, so the items in my pack will not be my primary means of protection. I always have a minimum of two light sources in my packs, a headlamp, and a handheld flashlight. The handheld flashlight is located in a pocket or location where I can find it in low or no-light conditions. The handheld flashlight is 200 lumens minimum (most are 400-1200 lumens) and is primarily used to overpower an advisory’s vision. I try not to have a multi-function light for security, just on and off.

Other items would include additional magazines for my firearm or other potential defensive tools in case my security posture needed to change throughout the day. Several of these defensive tools will be innocuous in nature to avoid scrutiny, mostly pokey in nature, like a metal pen (no, not a tactical pen).

Core Survival Items

Survival might look like a catch-all but I would argue that several of the items could fall into a couple of the categories. This always includes a water bottle and a layer of warmth, usually a packable raincoat. The headlamp falls under this category as a means to find my way around in the dark. Remember, you might find yourself in the dark at any time of day. We spend the majority of our time indoors. The headlamp allows for long battery life vs using our defensive handheld flashlight and allows for hands-free use.

If I don’t have a lunch box with me, I will pack some kind of snack for times I get delayed or stuck somewhere. For me, that is usually Cliff bars or other high protein and carbohydrate snacks that will last if left in a pack. This category will include a knife of some sort, usually a utility type depending on the travel, and a lighter. You can add more specific survival gear dependent on your surroundings and skills.

Keep a power bank so you can recharge your cellphones

Core Communications Items

Communications is the easier category to think of. This includes a power bank for your cell phone. Sometimes this power bank will be able to charge your light sources as well. For me, this includes a small bag with all the cables I would need on foot, in a car, or in a building. I keep a cigarette lighter adapter (which prevents data transfer in rental cars), a USB wall plug, and all the cables to charge my devices. For some of us, this would include additional sim cards and prepaid cell phones, depending on our travel and needs. I usually have a Sharpie marker for leaving messages or taking notes. Don’t forget the PACE plan!

Don’t Forget Some Cash!

One item that could easily fit in any category or be capable of meeting the needs of all the categories is cash. Emergency cash can get us out of lots of jams or situations we were not fully prepared for. You can add mission-specific items to your pack that you need on a regular basis. Your packing list should be thoughtful and have a purpose for each item. As you put more focus into your packing items, they will begin to fill more than one need. I have been packing like a Boy Scout for years, but Panaplia.org has helped me organize and specify what items I carry and lighten the load. Go check out their quick reference cards for Load Out Levels for a multi-level approach.

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