Outdoor activities, such as camping and hiking, are longtime favorites for those wanting to get out into the wild. You can get away from “life” and embrace nature for a while. It’s a chance for family or group bonding. For adventurous folks, you can try out your outdoor survival skills.
What outdoor gear do you need to survive and get the most out of the experience?
When you’re going into the middle of nowhere, the littlest thing can save you a lot of trouble. But the problem is, you can’t bring too much—only what you truly need.
Look through the following outdoor gear and compare the different options. Choose only the most suitable to arm yourself for the wilderness.
Outdoor gear: navigation tools
Having a GPS (global positioning system) tracking device is obvious nowadays. Sure, there are stories about the GPS leading someone to a weird place. Or getting them seriously lost. But there’s no denying how this piece of technology can help us.
GPS receivers coordinate with satellites. It can pinpoint your exact location. Containing maps, it can direct you to the right place. The coordinates can help rescuers find you too.
Different from maps, a GPS will tell you immediately if you’re off track. It’s also easier to compare different routes. Connected with the Internet, you can get updates on detours, delays and weather.
Thanks to technological advances, you can get it right in your phone too. Albeit with less features. But there’s no need for a bunch of extra gadgets. And most of the GPS’s and apps are free too!
Of course, there are some downsides. You must have signal and enough power or an electricity source. A good system should have a battery life of at least 15 hours. But bring extra regardless.
Be sure that your device is durable and waterproof as well.
Best for: portable satellite map with tracking
There are more types of maps than you might expect. All of them are extremely handy when outdoors. They give you an idea of your surroundings so you aren’t lost.
Maps are just as, if not more, useful than GPS devices in the outdoors. If you’re heading towards somewhere so rural there isn’t much satellite coverage, a GPS might not help much. And the road map will be your savior.
To get to the campsite, hiking trail or other location, you first need a road map. Major roads and highways will be shown. They’ll usually be red and bold.
How many minor roads and landmarks are shown will depend on the detail. Smaller roads are usually in a lighter color. For places like points of interest and airports, check the map’s legend.
Best for: driving directions without GPS
Physical and topographic map
Physical maps and topographic maps are somewhat similar. Both show physical landscape features.
A physical map relies on color to show differences in terrain.
Elevation changes are shown with green for lower elevations. Higher levels are a darker color. Bodies of water are colored blue. Forestry areas are green, while deserts and beaches are usually tan.
On the other hand, topographic maps focus more on elevation changes.
It uses the spacing of lines. The contour lines are spaced at set intervals for elevation changes. When the terrain is steep, the lines are closer together. Colors are also used for different elevations.
Most hiking trail maps are topographical maps.
With these physical maps, you can narrow down where you are based on your surroundings. The basics: is there a lake next to you? Are you going downhill while the map says it’s getting steeper?
A topo map can also be used to plan your trail and route.
Best for: knowing elevation while hiking
As the name implies, climate maps show info about the area’s climate.
Different colors are used to represent different climatic areas. The maps provide information about general weather conditions. The six primary climate zones include:
This is based off of long-term temperature, humidity, precipitation, sunlight duration and other factors.
By taking a look at a climate map, you get an idea of what the outdoors will be like. You can thus better prepare for the climate. What kind of clothing and shelter should you have? Is sunlight protection more important than usual?
Of course, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you can, bring gear that might not be necessary for the climate. But if you’re traveling light, you can pinpoint the few essentials you must bring.
Best for: knowing overall climate conditions
If you want information on something specific, thematic maps may help. A thematic map focuses on a particular theme or topic. This can include average rainfall distribution or sunlight exposure.
Features such as rivers and roads are used only as reference points. Other types of maps may be used as bases. The theme is then layered onto the base map.
There are a few different types of thematic maps to choose.
The choropleth uses colors to show average value, density, percent or quantity of an event.
Graduated symbols represent data associated with point locations. Proportionally sized symbols are used to display the data.
Contour maps are similar to topo maps. But in additional to 3D values, they can display continuous values. Such as precipitation levels across the area.
Dot maps show spatial patterns.
Best for: maps showing specific themes or data
Most people are referring to the magnetic compass when they talk about compasses.
This tool is centuries old. Designs have changed, but the science behind it all has stayed the same. The magnetic needle inside lines up with the Earth’s magnetic field. It rotates to line up with either the magnetic north or south.
Use a compass in conjunction with a map for the clearest directions.
Basic portable compasses can be an aid for casual hikes. More advanced ones come with additional features. For example, it may have a magnifier so you can see your maps clearly. There are also compasses with Braille for those who are visually impaired.
Best for: finding magnetic north (or south) for hiking
You can choose from various other compasses.
Thumb compasses are also known as competition compasses. This is because you can simply attach it to your thumb. This frees your hand to multitask while traveling speedily.
If you need directions while running, biking or canoeing, this is the compass for you.
Lensatic compasses are made from three parts. In addition to the base, there’s a cover and rear lens. This is most often for military use because of its strength.
Prismatic compasses are very accurate. Gyrocompasses are even more accurate. This is because they find true north, instead of magnetic north. Unlike the magnetic compass, a gyrocompass won’t be affected by other magnetic fields.
Electronic compasses are quite accurate too. You can also be notified if you get off track. However, it needs a power source. When you’re truly in the wild, it won’t be much help.
Best for: finding cardinal directions without signal or power
The altimeter is optional. But if you need to measure the altitude, you’ll need this device.
It’s mostly a navigation instrument for pilots. However, you might need it if you’re going skydiving or mountain-climbing.
Pair it with a topo map to pinpoint your location above ground.
Going up and down and uphill when you don’t have to is an unnecessary drain of energy. An altimeter can help you avoid obstacles and prevent losing speed.
You will most commonly find altimeters as barometric devices. This means they measure altitude with air pressure. Altitude increases as air pressure decreases. However, this can be affected by weather. Air pressure can change during storms.
Other types of altimeters don’t depend on air pressure though. GPS is always an option. In addition, there are radar and laser altimeters. These can all be used to create your own topographic map.
For portability, you can wear an altimeter on your wrist.
Best for: portable device for finding exact altitude
Outdoor gear: sun protection
We all know the dangers of too much UV ray exposure. But most of us don’t put much serious thought into it.
Excessive UV radiation negatively affects your immune system. It can cause premature aging and wrinkles. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will suffer from skin cancer.
Sunscreen lotion is the most effective defense against the sun for your skin.
It will prevent the side effects listed above—wrinkles, blemishes, age spots and skin cancer. The lotion also protects you against sunburns and inflammation.
There are two types of UV rays that we worry about: UVA and UVB. Both play roles in skin cancer.
SPF mainly refers to how much UVB it can block. Testers determine the number by timing how long it takes someone to sunburn with and without the sunscreen.
Sunblock with SPF 30 can block up to 97 percent of UVB radiation.
However, UVA radiation also accelerates skin aging and can initiate skin cancers.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the best sunscreen has the following features:
Broad spectrum protection (blocks both UVA and UVB rays)
Has high SPF (at least SPF 30)
Technically, you should apply sunscreen every single day. Most people don’t do that. But if you’re going hiking or another outdoor activity, please apply sunscreen.
Before going out, properly wash your face and body. After it dries, apply the sunscreen. It should be 15 minutes before you leave the house.
Re-apply after getting wet, even if the sunscreen is water resistant. Most people don’t apply enough.
And even if you have amazing sunblock, don’t neglect the other protective measures! Get in the shade and under protective clothing!
Best for: protection against UV radiation for skin
What a lot of people don’t realize is that your lips need protection too. Skin cancer can form on your lips too. But you can’t apply sunscreen on it.
To protect them, use a lip balm that contains sunscreen. As before, it should have an SPF of 30 or higher.
Lip balm will also keep your lips moisturized, usually with vitamin E.
Chapping occurs either do to environmental conditions or underlying health issues. The skin on lips is very thin. Any bit of dehydration can cause it to dry out.
We all know licking chapped and peeling lips will make things worse. But we still do it anyway. Keep them moisturized so you don’t get tempted. Lip balm is essential for overall lip health. Please take your lips seriously!
Best for: protect lips from UV radiation and dehydration
Skin protection? Check. Lip protection? Check. Now, what about your eyes?
Sunglasses aren’t just a fashion statement. Their most important job is to protect your eyes from UV rays. We all know that it hurts to look into the sun. But what can actually happen?
Too much exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause macular degeneration in your retina. This destroys central vision and is the leading cause of blindness.
Tissue growth over the whites of your eyes—pterygium—can cause astigmatism. This alters the curve of your eyeball.
Twenty percent of cataract cases are caused by UV exposure too. This leads to clouding and blurring of eyes.
Other medical conditions include pingueculas and photokeratitis. The latter is essentially sunburn on the eyes.
Once these damages occur, there’s no way back. Most changes are irreversible. You can only prevent further damage.
To truly protect your eyes, choose sunglasses that block out both UVA and UVB. The glasses should be able to block out at least 99 percent of the rays. This will keep your eyes healthy and vision clear.
How tinted the shades are don’t actually reflect how strong they are. Instead, go with the manufacturing quality.
For best results, make sure the frames wrap around your face. A wide brimmed hat will help too!
Best for: protecting eyes from UV radiation damage
Outdoor gear: illumination tools
For illumination for outdoor activities, you have a few options. But there probably won’t be any reliable sources of electricity.
No matter what illumination tool you use, make sure you bring extra batteries.
Objects that use reusable power, such as solar or wind power, would be helpful too!
Everyone knows what flashlights are. They are the best choice for handheld lights.
They’re portable and precise. Modern technology has reduced their size and weight, while increasing brightness.
You can hold and control the light without sacrificing dexterity. They can be used for signaling others as well.
But how do you choose the best one for going outdoors? Be sure to consider portability, light output and battery type and run time.
Pricier flashlights are more powerful and advanced. They may come with more features, such as water and impact resistance. All of this is awesome, if it’s within your budget.
Most major brands rate their flashlights according to the ANSI FL1 standards. Ratings are included on their packaging.
Features to consider:
Beam distance in meters and brightness in lumens
Run time in hours
Impact resistance in meters: flashlights are tested by being dropped onto concrete 6 times at the distance. It is not tested for extreme cases, like getting run over or being struck.
Water resistance: IPX4 rating is splash resistant. IPX7 is immersion in water up to 30 minutes. IPX8 is submersion up to 4 hours.
In addition, LED bulbs are the most energy efficient light bulbs. They use up to 80 percent less energy than traditional light bulbs. And can last up to 25 times longer.
Best for: most portable and controllable handheld light
Battery LED lantern
Yes, lanterns are still very modern and relevant. Different from flashlights, camping lanterns give off 360 degree illumination.
Gas lanterns are the traditional type. They usually run on liquid fuel, propane or butane. Their main advantage is how intense their light is. But the downside is that they’re hot, need ventilation, noisy and pretty bulky.
Candle lanterns are the most affordable. It’s hard to control the light though.
Battery powered lanterns might be the easiest to use. There aren’t any worries about excessive heat or whimsical flames. This makes battery lanterns perfect for use in the tent.
All you have to worry about is battery life and having extras. Do know that batteries die faster in cold weather. In additional, rechargeable batteries have shorter lives. The light is duller as well.
As with flashlights, go for LED bulbs. They offer good light output, long battery life and can handle heavy use.
Best for: safe and adjustable 360 degree light
Flashlights can make things harder if you need more hands. This is where headlamps come into play.
Headlamps are light in two senses: weight and brightness. The radius is usually wider than with a flashlight. This allows you to illuminate everything in front of you. You can brighten up an area for multiple people.
There are a few different types of beam types though.
Flood: This beam is wide but not long. It’s great for general tasks and detailed work, such as reading.
Spot: This type of beam is focused. It’s best for seeing into the distance. You can use it to navigate trails at night.
Choose the range most suitable for you. For most versatility, choose an adjustable headlamp.
When purchasing headlamps, look at both the lumen and beam distance ratings. The former tells you the brightness at the source. The beam distance is how far the light will go.
Run time, weight and brightness levels or modes should be considered as well. Then you will have an efficient tool to brighten up your surroundings and leaves your hands free. This allows you to perform more difficult actions.
Best for: illuminate area with hands free
Outdoor gear: fire kit starter
Fire is one of the most important creations in humanity. And it’s what we need to survive. A single flame can be the difference between life and death from hypothermia.
Or starting a campfire for ‘s’mores.
Good outdoor fire starting gear will get the fire blazing in no time. For your fire kit, it’s better safe than sorry. Have more than one of each tool. Store them in waterproof containers.
Usually, the generic lighter is all you need. Even the budget ones are weather resistant and reliable.
The lighter consists of a mechanical striker and a fuel source. The striker is usually a wheel operated by your thumb. The fuel source is usually butane.
So-called “storm proof” lighters are strong and hot enough for windy and wet conditions. With the sustained flame started, direct it onto tinder or a candle.
The best thing about lighters is that you don’t need any technique. All that may be a bit difficult is that your thumb will need higher pain tolerance. The lighter can get hot!
It’s not limited to outdoor activities or survival fire starting either. You can use it in daily life. And there’s no reason why you can’t keep one in your backpack.
Do make sure you treat the lighter well. If the striking mechanism gets wet, the lighter is done for. There’s also limited fuel supply. Check that there’s enough before setting off.
Best for: reliable and easy to use fire starter
Ferro strikers are an ancient, more primitive tool for starting fires.
In the past, you would strike steel or iron with flint. Small pieces of metal that get shaved off are heated with friction. The sparks created can be directed onto tinder to start a blaze.
Modern versions use Ferro cerium alloy instead flint. This is where the name comes from. Sparks created by the alloy burn longer and create better sparks.
Unfortunately, you need some practice to get it to work well. But the good thing is that these strikers work in both dry and moist environments. If it’s too wet for your match, you can try the Ferro striker.
Best for: creating sparks for fire in moist conditions
The fire piston is made of a thick tube with an opening. Insert tinder into the tube. For the fire piston, char cloth is the best tinder.
Then insert a rod to prevent air from escaping. They usually include a rubber gasket for an airtight seal.
When you shove it in, you compress air rapidly enough to heat up to the point of ignition.
This uses physics—the first law of thermodynamics—to start fires. The kinetic energy from compressing the rod can’t go anywhere. It can only transform into heat.
There’s limited oxygen inside the cylinder though. Make sure to remove the tinder before it burns up all the oxygen.
The fire piston is quite simple to use. Just make sure you learn the technique of properly striking the piston. Also get the timing right for removing the char cloth.
Best for: starting flame with char cloth
Waterproof safety matches
Matches were invented more than one thousand years ago. It is probably the simplest and most versatile survival fire starter.
A type of highly combustible chemical is included into the matchstick. By striking, the friction ignites the chemical, starting a flame. You can then use it to light tinder, a candle or more.
Though simple, you still need to learn the right technique.
Be sure that you support the match’s entire length when striking. This will prevent the stick from breaking.
When there’s wind, cup your hand around the match. This will protect the flame from errant winds and bad weather. To lengthen the flame’s life, hold the match at a downward angle. This way, the flame will climb up the match when the initial fuel is used up.
High quality waterproof matches include a wax coating. This protects the match from moisture. Which is usually what ruins them.
Make sure you have a big stash! Each match is only good for once.
Best for: versatile and affordable survival fire starter
Wax and fiber
Wax isn’t foreign to most of us. Tallow or wax from animal fat has long been used to make candles. Now, we usually use bees wax or those made from plants or petroleum.
For a simple DIY kit, you can use paraffin wax with drier lint, saw dust or cotton balls. Place the objects in a container and cover with wax.
When combined with a fibrous material, wax can support long lasting fires. This is because wax is easily ignited and helps seal out moisture. The paraffin keeps the fibers nice and dry.
You can also cote a piece of twine with wax. Insert it into a brass hose connector. Fray the jute to expose the flammable fibers inside. Ignite it with sparks from a Ferro striker or other fire starter.
Use the hose connector to control or snuff out the flame.
You have to prepare these items ahead of time. But wax is pretty easy to find and store. You don’t have to worry about it getting wet either.
Best for: affordable fire accelerant for wet conditions
Petroleum jelly and cotton balls
This is a DIY type of thing.
As with the “wax and fibers” fire accelerant, petroleum jelly also contains wax. It is flammable.
The cotton balls act as the fiber. However, these tools are even easier to obtain. You can find both petroleum jelly and cotton balls at your local drug store.
Before setting off, melt the petroleum jelly. Then put in the cotton balls and let them absorb the jelly. The jelly is viscous at room temperature. If you’re short on time, you can also just roll the balls around un-melted jelly.
When you need to start a fire, create a wick by pulling out a few fibers from the cotton ball. This can keep burning for up to 20 minutes.
The only downside is that the jelly can get all over things. Be sure to bag ‘em up properly!
Best for: simple and affordable fire starter
Now that you have your fire starters, you need accelerants. These tools will catch the flame or spark from your starter to really get the fire blazing.
Pitch is made of flammable resin acids. It is produced by trees, typically pine trees. This family of trees actually depends on fire to disperse their seeds and reproduce.
To gather pitch from trees, look for those with old wounds. Large chunks of sap are “bled” from the wounds and hardened. The flammable resin is in the sap.
You need to expose the pitch to an open flame for a long time. But it will also burn for a very long time. Use pitch if you have wet wood that needs to be dried.
Instead of pitch from live trees, you can also look for pitch wood. When a tree dies, the resins settle and rest near the heartwood. It saturates and hardens the wood fibers. It takes a long time for pitch wood to break down. Just dig into a decomposing old stump.
Pitch is basically free if you can find it. They’re great for cold and wet environments too. However, it’s sticky and not very portable. If you really have no other tools, they are a great option.
Best for: backup fire accelerant for cold and wet conditions
Outdoor gear: clothing for hot weather
The right clothing is essential for keeping yourself safe and comfortable outdoors.
To protect yourself from the rain and wetness, look for clothing with a durable water repellant (DWR) coating. Many outdoor garments will have DWR coating on the outside to seal out moisture.
It will wear off over time though. If it fades, you’ll have to re-apply it.
While sunscreen has SPF ratings, clothing has UPF ratings for the same reason. A garment’s UV ray protection depends on the fiber type, dye and other chemical treatments.
Choose colors depending on where you’re going. For sunny or warm climates, go for light colored garments. It will reflect light and absorb less heat from the sun. Also wear baggier clothing for hot weather to let your body breathe.
Dark colors absorb light and heat. These colors will help you in colder environments.
Bamboo fiber is an all-natural material for clothing. You can find shirts, pants and socks made of bamboo fabric. Bandages can be made from bamboo as well.
This natural fiber is the best for wicking away moisture. If you’re going to be sweating, try to avoid cotton. Compared to cotton, bamboo has higher absorbency. It also has a higher moisture vapor transmission rate.
But wait, there’s more! Bamboo has been found to have antibacterial and anti-virus properties. In addition, the fabric has high ratings for protection against ultraviolet radiation (UPF).
In hot and sweaty or humid environments, wear bamboo clothing.
The lightweight and moisture wicking fabric allows your body to breathe, keeping you (relatively) cooler. You can wear it for sun and germ protection as well. And bamboo gets rid of odors too!
Best for: moisture wicking and protective clothing
Outdoor gear: clothing for cold weather
When out in the open cold, layer up! You should have these four basic layers:
Base layer: this should consist of a long sleeved shirt and long underwear. Best if the material is synthetic or wicking.
Insulating mid-layer: this can be a fleece sweater or other thin but warm garment.
Wind- or waterproof layer: protect yourself with a hard shell or DWR coated jacket and pants.
Extra warmth: here is your outer jacket and pants
During the day, you might forgo the last layer. For periods of high exertion, remove layers to vent heat and avoid sweating.
If you do sweat, that’s where the moisture wicking base layer comes into play. It should move sweat away from your skin, so it won’t chill you when it evaporates.
In the winter, cotton won’t do much to help you. Instead, you’ll get the most insulation from wool.
Each wool fiber contains tiny pockets of air. This provides both insulation and breathability. It keeps you warm without overheating. And actually, wool is great for keeping you cool in the summer too!
Wool has some other amazing properties too. In addition to air pockets, each wool fiber also contains moisture. It’s resistant to fire and will extinguish itself when removed from the flame.
Garments made from wool are also flexible and durable. A fiber can be bent back more than 20,000 times before breaking. Cotton can only be bent around 3,000 times! It’s said that wool is comparatively stronger than steel.
You can stretch wool fibers up to 50 percent of its original length. It can definitely take the heavy wear and tear of outdoor activities!
Don’t worry if you’re going to a humid environment either. Wool is also resistant to mold and mildew.
Best for: regulating body temperature and protecting body
It’s important to keep your torso warm. Only then can your body release heat to your extremities. But don’t forget your legs either.
Layering up always helps, either over or under your clothes. To get even warmer, you can wear runner’s tights or long johns under your regular pants.
You can try thermal underwear as well. But those who have tried testify that runner’s tights may work better. They will keep your lower half warm without getting bulky.
Best for: keeping lower body warm
Thick wool socks
Your feet play a big role in body temperature.
You’ve probably realized that while sleeping. It’s hot and stuffy under your covers. Stick a foot out and . . . ah, perfect. Or, it’s hot and stuffy without your covers. But you don’t feel safe unless you stick a leg under the covers.
This is because your feet actually do help maintain a stable body temperature. Feet have specialized blood vessels that open to transport large volumes of blood.
When needed, they can quickly give off a lot of heat. When it’s not needed, the blood vessels are constricted.
And since feet are extremities, they cool down faster than other body parts. They also have fewer muscles, which produce heat.
So, whether your feet are cold or hot can alter your perception of body temperature. When feet become so cold that pain receptors are triggered, you can put socks on and feel warmer immediately.
After having your socks on for a bit longer, the perception of warmth will become reality.
If you’re going outdoors in the cold, you must keep your feet insulated. Thick socks will also be more comfortable if you walk a lot.
Best for: insulating feet and maintaining body temperature
Insulated winter hiking boots
The biggest differences between winter hiking boots and regular hiking boots are: insulation and waterproof.
The insulation part goes without saying. The boots themselves should be insulated. And have room for you to wear thick socks and still have wiggle room.
Non-removable synthetic insulation should be the most lightweight you can find. The exact amount of insulation needed varies depending on distance and temperatures. Synthetic materials are also more waterproof than leather hiking boots.
For optimal comfort, the boots should go over your ankles.
In addition, winter boots should be compatible with traction devices. Such as micro-spikes or snowshoes. However, make sure the extra devices won’t cause too much pressure and discomfort.
Pac boots, on the other hand, are less comfortable. They provide poor ankle support and aren’t recommended for vigorous winter activities. However, they consist of both rubber and leather or synthetic materials. They keep your feet warm in even the harshest weather conditions.
Best for: comfortable hiking in snow
Double layer mountaineer boots
Mountaineer boots are heavier, less insulated and less comfortable than winter hiking boots.
They tend to be made from leather and synthetic materials, which provide less warmth. And while winter hiking boots have flexible soles, mountaineer boots are more rigid.
So what’s in it for them?
For ice climbing, you’ll want to wear mountaineer boots. The rigid soles are more suitable for the icy and hard surfaces. They can be used with ice climbing crampons too.
You can choose between single and double layer mountaineer boots. Single layer boots are made for day hiking in alpine terrain where there isn’t protection from tree cover.
Double layer boots are insulated with removable liners. Since they’re warmer, they’re better for overnight or multi-day trips. You can remove the liners as needed.
Best for: ice climbing and related activities
Wool glittens (gloves and mittens)
There is another extremity to take care of: our hands. They are equally important for maintaining stable body temperature. For the same reasons as our feet.
“Gloves versus mittens” is an age-old debate. Science says that mittens are much warmer.
When hot and cold things come into contact, they try to adjust and be the same. In our world, it means heat moves to the cold thing. The energy leaves and the hot thing cools down.
For our hands, heat transfer occurs through convection. As cold air moves over your hands, they try to get to the same temperature as the air. When you have insulation from gloves or mittens, there’s a barrier. Heat transfer slows down.
Surface area affects heat transfer as well. The larger the area, the faster you’ll lose heat. Gloves put more surface area in contact with cold air. Each finger is separated as well.
On the other hand, fingers come in direct contact with each other in mittens. They can share body heat through conduction, making your hands warmer.
But we all know that mittens don’t offer much in terms of dexterity. So what’s the compromise? Glittens!
These are gloves with a mitten covering. You can remove the mitten part when you need to use your fingers. Then put it back on for warmth.
When choosing, make sure the fabric offers breathability. You lose heat faster when your skin gets sweaty or wet.
Best for: optimal hand warmth and dexterity
Headgear and scarf
It’s a myth that you lose body heat from your head. You lose heat from any exposed part of your body. But just because it’s not special doesn’t mean you can neglect your head.
How much warmth do you really lose through your head? It depends on many factors. Such as the ratio of your head’s surface area relative to your body. Children have a greater ratio than adults. That’s why hats and hoods are even more important for them.
The thickness of your hair and how much energy used are also factors.
In addition, the head can’t really constrict its blood vessels when cold. Putting a hat on has both perceptual and real effects. When your head is warm, your brain’s thermostat will feel higher. It’ll be less likely to restrict blood flow to your feet. Making you more comfortable overall.
Winter headgear can be embarrassing for some. But when hiking or camping, that should be the least of your worries.
Stock up on headgear that covers the most of your skin. Use your hat or earmuffs to cover your ears. For your face and neck, wrap around a nice and warm scarf. Scarves can also protect your face from windburn.
Best for: protecting head and face from the cold
Camping is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in nature, unplug from city life and for many people, a great opportunity to take advantage of warmer weather. In most cases, camping is also an economically-friendly type of vacation. Whether you’re a few hours outside of your hometown or halfway around the world, camping is a specific type of trip that requires some specialized travel gear. It is unique from other types of travel in that you are required to bring your own accommodations.
Emergency/First aid kits
To start, there is a difference between a first aid kit and emergency supplies. A first aid kit is intended to treat minor medical injuries whereas an emergency kit is intended to sustain life in extenuating circumstances. Both of these types of kits may be necessary when camping. Most humanitarian institutions such as the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance recommend a similar list of products for each of these kits. In addition to these kits, many outdoor experts also recommend additional items such as a knife, water purification tablets, some form of rope, blanket and signal (e.g. light or whistle). Although we all hope we will not need the products found within these kits, in case of any accident or emergency it’s better to be safe and prepared than without resources.
Best for: backcountry, remote camping and extended trips
We all know the importance of a good night’s rest. Comfort and warmth are two of the main factors to consider here. The type of insulating material as well as the shape of the sleeping bag contribute to how easily you will fall asleep and whether or not you stay asleep. It’s also important to know the nightly temperature of your campsite(s). Sleeping bags are marked with a temperature range at which the average person will be warm inside the bag. Keep in mind that there may be a few temperatures listed on a sleeping bag. That is because there is typically a different temperature at which a woman would be comfortable within compared with a man. Beyond a common stereotype, men and women do in fact feel differently at the same temperature due to metabolic differences. In addition, the altitude at which you make camp will have a significant role in the temperature range you select. For every 1,000 metres you ascend, the ambient temperature drops by about 10 degrees Celsius.
Down comes from the layer of insulation found under the feathers of waterfowl such as ducks and geese. Down sleeping bags are light and pack down to a small, compact size. Under the right storage and maintenance conditions, down bags tend to maintain their loft (puffiness) over time and as a result, can last much longer than those with a synthetic filling. Carefully washing your bag after each use, storing it un-compressed and the higher initial expense may prove to be deterrents for some, however.
Best for: camping in dry conditions and a long-term investment
Polyester is one of the most common fills in synthetic sleeping bags. This makes them relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain as you can throw them in the wash. They also boast the ability to provide warmth even when wet. On the other hand, they are heavier and bulkier than their down counterparts and they generally have a shorter life span than down filled bags.
Best for: camping in damp conditions and for short term use
Mummy sleeping bags
Aptly named for their narrow, form-fitting shape, a mummy bag is designed to maximize heat retention by eliminating excess space between your body and the bag. Most have a hood with a drawstring to shut out even more cold. The close-fitting nature of the bag may be too confined for comfort for certain individuals.
Best for: winter, cold weather camping
Barrel sleeping bags
Slightly roomier than a mummy sleeping bag, this option is still classified as light and compact. Often considered the middle-ground sleeping bag option, it strikes a balance between heat efficiency and space for the sleeper to spread out.
Best for: campers seeking warmth and room to move around within
Rectangular sleeping bags
With its ability to be unzipped and used as a comforter or zipped together with another sleeping bag, rectangular bags are known for their versatility. They are the roomiest of all shapes and therefore, the least efficient in retaining heat.
Best for: warm weather camping and sleeping with others
The sleeping mat is essentially your mattress (and box spring) while you’re roughing it. While a sleeping mat is humbler in appearance that your home setup, your choice will play a significant role in the overall enjoyment level of your excursion. Based on an average night’s sleep of eight hours, the average person will spend about one-third of her or his lifetime snoozing. That said, selecting the right sleeping equipment is crucial to your overall posture, musculoskeletal system and overall well-being. At the most basic level, there are three types of sleeping mats based on the materials used.
Air sleeping pad
An air pad is similar in concept and construction to some floating pool accessories. They need to be completely inflated by the user and will elevate you about two inches off the ground. Their comfort level, lightweight and compact nature are a few of the benefits of this particular selection. Air pads are likely the softest of all sleeping pad options and one study found that sleep subjects slept better on softer mattresses.
Best for: back and side sleepers; those who prefer a softer, body conforming base
Self-inflating sleeping pad
Using a combination of open cell foam and air, these types of pads are easier to inflate and slightly more durable than an air pad.
Best for: back and side sleepers
Closed cell foam sleeping pad
This is the most basic type of sleeping mat. Constructed using a singular piece of dense foam with small, closed air pockets, a foam pad is durable and inexpensive.
Best for: stomach sleepers (due to its firm nature)
To keep things simple, there are two major types of camping: car and backcountry. If you are not car camping, you’ll require adequate shelter to provide protection from the elements. There are two major categories of tents: three-season and four-season (or all-year). Three-season tents tend to prioritize ventilation and versatility. They allow for air flow in hotter months and are relatively lightweight.
Best for: camping trips in spring, summer and fall and multi-stop trips when the tent is being carried over long distances
Four-season tents are comprised of heavier materials and include extra features to provide you the camper with more options and withstand harsher conditions. They usually are coated with additional waterproof layers. With less ventilation, they are prone to moisture build up within and can get a bit stuffy as they have fewer options to let air in. Due to greater functionality and by simply using more material, four-season tents tend to be more expensive that three-season models. Whether you pick a three or four-season tent, here are some tips for setting up your tent and keeping it in good condition.
Best for: camping in winter and/or extreme conditions
The vast majority of camping tents are flame retardant to comply with laws in some of the United States and Canada. It’s important to note that while we try to be responsible consumers, most products are imperfect. Greenpeace released a study that reveals the hidden hazardous chemicals in gear designed for the outdoors. While some retailers claim the use of some chemicals prolongs the wear of their products, reduces the need for frequent re-purchasing and in turn has a lower environmental impact, it’s best that you have all the information before making your decision. Finally, here are some tips to reduce your exposure to flame retardents.
Best for: most camping situations to potentially lower the risk of fire
Dry bags are fully waterproof bags used by many campers and travellers to keep everything from electronics to medication, currency to travel documents dry and secure. While most dry bags resemble a similar shape, there are several varieties based on the size (how much stuff you want to protect), material and closure type.
Best for: travelling by water (i.e. canoe trip) or camping in rainy, wet conditions
Vinyl dry bag
This durable material can stand up against very wet and rough conditions. It can be heavier and thicker than other types of dry bag materials.
Best for: durability, heavy gear, potential for internal and external abrasions
Nylon dry bag
A lighter alternative than vinyl, nylon offers peace of mind in the form of a more flexible bag. While offering protection from downpour or an accidental dunk in the lake, it can be easily crammed into a larger, main pack.
Best for: lightweight, flexibility
Zipper seal dry bag
This type of closure is easy to use, open or close. A press and seal type zipper is commonly used to keep water away from your items.
Best for: quick access to belongings
Roll top dry bag
A roll top has a higher level of waterproofness due to its sealing mechanism. By folding the bag’s opening down on itself and then securing it with a snap buckle closure, it keeps water out and can also clip onto other bags.
Best for: better at keeping water out; easy carry handle
Even if you are camping in your home country, there is still the potential of harmful substances in the local drinking water. While the United States has some of the safest drinking water in the world, a 2016 Harvard study reveals dangerous levels of two industrial chemicals in millions of Americans’ tap water. Another study finds over 73 pesticides in U.S. groundwater that ends up in drinking water unless properly filtered. These are just two examples that make a case for purifying your water while you’re outside municipal filtration systems, no matter the country. Boiling water is the most highly recommended form of sanitizing your water but it is not always an accessible option. Water filters may eliminate sediment, bacteria, contaminants such as chlorine and aluminum and even heavy metals such as mercury to varying degrees. These filters are available in various formats such as personal straws, water bottles, funnel-type devices and pitchers.
Best for: camping in backcountry
Water purification treatment
Water disinfection is more effective at removing microorganisms than filtration alone. Keep in mind that disinfection involves the addition of chemicals. The three most commonly used ones are iodine or chlorine or chlorine dioxide. Be sure to thoroughly research your options as there have been claims of misleading consumers.
Best for: camping in third-world countries; where you suspect viruses in water
When it comes to cooking in the great outdoors, your options are quite similar to those you would find in your own kitchen. Aluminum pots and pans are typically the most affordable material and transfer heat efficiently and evenly.
Best for: evenly cooked meals
Stainless steel cookware
Stainless steel is a heavier choice than most other cookware materials but boasts a tough, durable, scratch-resistant reputation. This is a good option for campers who cook a lot and don’t want to worry about being delicate with their cookware.
Best for: cooking many meals over the course of the cookware’s lifetime
With its thin walls, titanium cookware heats up quickly. Its lightweight nature is coveted by campers who may have long portages and don’t want to be bogged down by any unnecessary weight.
Best for: those who want to pack light
A nice way to enjoy your morning tea or coffee while travelling is with a travel mug. Travel mugs utilize thermal insulation to keep your beverages at your desired temperature for longer, whether that be hot or cold. Travel mugs have a built-in vacuum layer designed to prevent the heat or the cold from escaping your drink to the surrounding air.
If smart gadgets are your thing, check out this travel mug that will cool your coffee to your specified temperature and then keep it there for hours.
Best for: preserving the temperature of your drink for an extended period
Insulated food container
More commonly referred to as a Thermos after the popular brand of vacuum food flasks, an insulated food container utilizes the same technology as a travel mug and insulated water bottles. This is a great option if you’ve made something hot for breakfast or lunch and don’t want to reheat it for a later meal. Be sure to read the label on your product to ensure you are consuming your food within a safe window of time.
Best for: keeping food hot for consumption within a few hours
Cleaning up while you’re enjoying nature may cause you to stop and think. As it should! Most soaps contain chemicals that can adversely affect natural ecosystems (and your own body too).
So before you head out into the wilderness, consider picking up some biodegradable soap. While you still shouldn’t wash carefree with any soap, biodegradable or otherwise, there are many plant-derived soaps that at least have a good chance of breaking down in nature when disposed of according to their instructions.
Best for: environmentally responsible cleaning
Essential Outdoor Survival Tips
With your gear ready, how will you actually survive in the wilderness?
The most important thing to prepare is your attitude. No matter what happens, you must stay calm. Relax and take on the difficult situation with a positive and focused attitude.
You’ll be able to develop a better plan with a clear head.
1. Take inventory
Keep everything you have. (Unless you really need to lighten the load.) And remember what you have with you.
In emergencies, anything can be used for survival. Having a good idea of your resources will help you stay calmer too.
2. Getting settled
Choose your campsite wisely. Go for somewhere high and dry. Stay away from valleys and low-lying areas. If water might flow towards you, you can be in danger of a flash flood.
At the same time, you’ll want to be near running water. Available dry wood will help you build a shelter and start a fire. Natural formations can protect you from the elements.
When choosing somewhere to stay, pay attention to natural dangers too. Your campsite should be free of things like insect nests or falling rocks.
3. Lean-to how-to
To protect yourself against the elements, make a simple lean-to. The insulated shelter will keep out the cold and rain.
Your body heat will be the primary source of warmth in this case. Make the shelter just big enough for you (and others) to lie down.
Use available resources for the most basic lean-to. Take advantage of a fallen tree. Or lean a strong branch against another tree. Make sure it’s secure!
Stack sticks on one side. Use smaller sticks to fill in any gaps.
For insulation, cover the sticks with other materials. The thicker it is, the more insulation it provides. You can use leaves, moss, pine needles and more. Lay it on the ground as well.
4. Make some shade
In other situations, you need somewhere to cool down.
To uncover cooler ground, first dig a few inches into the soil. Use sticks or branches to make a lean-to like aforementioned.
But rather than add insulation, the purpose here is to create shade. Leaves, ponchos or even blankets can be used to cover one side for shade.
5. Collect or create clean water
If you’ve run out of water, remember that eating and digesting food requires water. Don’t drink discolored or smelly water either. Diarrhea and vomiting can speed up dehydration.
Collect natural clean water from the rain or snow. For snow, melt it and drink instead of eating it. You can make a fire or just use the sun to warm it up. Take advantage of clean rivers and creeks too.
Plants such as cattails and cottonwood trees indicate that water sources are nearby. When you see them, dig a hole until you find moisture. Let water collect in the hole. Water can be collected from dew as well. Use cloth to soak up the dew and squeeze it into a container.
If you have a plastic bag, you can produce water through condensation. Put a leaf inside a sealed plastic bag (or bottle.) With time, you’ll have water!
No matter what you do, first filter the water. Then make sure you boil the water first to kill any pathogens.
6. Make a salad
When you’re low on food and energy, don’t go after the big game. Instead, live off of the small things. Salad, anyone?
There are tons of edible plants scattered around you. Learn and memorize the edible plants in your free time. If you want, you can bring a book or printout with you on the go.
Familiarize yourself with what plants you may encounter and which will kill you. If you’re not sure, don’t take any chances.
In addition, you can capture small critters for protein. Or even bugs!
7. Spare ‘em or spear ‘em
For catching those small critters, you can make a simple spear or gig.
Find a long, straight stick or cut down a sapling. Create a fork by splitting the fat end. Use a knife or sharp rock. You can create a two, three or four-pronged fork.
To spread the prongs apart, push another stick between them. You can also lash a small stone into place. Then sharpen the points and you’re good to go.
8. Cook your food away
Don’t process and cook your food right in the campsite.
It’s inevitable that you’ll leave stuff behind (blood, bones and more) when processing your catch. This can attract wild animals that will eat you before you can eat them.
For safety, dispose of your food away from the campsite too.
9. Don’t waste the inedible parts
Or you can keep some of the inedible parts instead of throwing them away.
Use the bones to make new tools and weapons. Pelts and skins can be used as cloth.
Dried feces can be used for fire and warmth. You can also use the urine of a dead female animal to attract the others for food.
Make use of all your resources!
10. Use fire
How to start a fire has already been mentioned earlier. Remember you need dry tinder and a steady supply of oxygen.
What can you do with fire? Well, there are the obvious uses.
Give yourself some warmth and light. Use fire to cook food and purify water.
Another traditional use of fire is to scare away dangerous animals. The brightness should keep them away. But you should still be prepared for fierce and fearless animals.
And lastly, fire can be used if you’re lost. Create fire and smoke signals to notify others where you are.
If you have a phone or radio with signal, that’ll be great. Otherwise, here are some other ideas to signal for help.
Something loud: whistle, horn, guns and more. Three toots means “Help!” If anyone is nearby to rescue you, they can reply with two toots.
Something bright: grab a piece of neon fabric and tie it around a stick for a help flag. Any cloth can be used, but the brighter it is, the more visible.
Something reflective: mirrors, aluminum foil, CDs . . . Play with it to reflect the sun and hopefully catch someone’s attention.
Fire and smoke: the international signal for “Help!” is three separate fires (30 meters or 100 feet apart) in a triangle or straight line. White smoke is more visible in a green environment. When you’re in a snowy tundra or desert, black smoke is better. But regardless, any smoke is better than nothing.
12. Know the knots
There’s a reason why knots are a big deal for the Boy Scouts. All outdoor people should know at least the following two knots.
Bowline: this knot is for when you need to attach something with a loop. The tighter you pull, the tighter the knot becomes.
Double half hitch: use this knot to attach one end of a rope around something. For example, you can use it when building a shelter.
13. Gather your bearings
Don’t have navigational tools and need a sense of direction at night? Look up to the stars.
We all know that the Polaris, or North Star, points to the north. But it’s hard to see it and get used to finding it unless you’re away from civilization.
The North Star is at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle.
First, find the Big Dipper. Draw a line between the two outer stars of the dipper part. When you extend it to the Little Dipper, it will line up with the North Star. When you face it, you are facing true north.
You can find south with a crescent moon. Just connect the two horns of the crescent with a line. When you extend it to the horizon, it will give you a southerly bearing.
14. Treat a blister
The best way to keep out bacteria is to keep the blister intact. But if it’s too painful, there are some ways to treat it.
Most importantly, wash both your hands and blister with soap and warm water. Then use iodine to swab the blister.
Sterilize a clean and sharp needle with disinfectants or boiling water. Puncture the blister in several spots to drain the fluid. Keep the skin in place though.
Apply an ointment and cover with a nonstick gauze bandage. Remember to change the dressing every day. Stop using the ointment if a rash appears.
15. Pack smart
Packing smart doesn’t just mean having the right stuff. You also need to put them in the right order.
Make sure your backpack is balanced. Keep heavier things closer to your back and on the top. Put the lighter objects on the bottom. This helps with stability.
The backpack should be on your upper back as well. This allows you to walk without obstruction. And don’t forget to tighten the straps!
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.