The Ten Essentials


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This is a handout for anyone interested in the 10 essential items I recommend a person should always have on them during wilderness pursuits. These items are most commonly carried on our Advanced Survival Course when few items are allowed to be carried by our students on a challenging field exercise. With these items, you are able to accomplish many tasks and live somewhat comfortably in the wild.

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The Ten Essentials

  1. 1. Kevin Estela Survival Instructor Wilderness Learning Center 435 Sandy Knoll Road Chateaugay, NY 12920 (518) 497-3179 The Ten Wilderness Travel Essentials
  2. 2. Introduction <ul><li>I pride myself on my skills, not my gear. This handout features my actual gear I carry and use on various Wilderness Learning Center courses. While I will focus on gear, remember to practice your skills. </li></ul><ul><li>Ten essential items for your kit is a concept widely accepted but with great variation. Ultra-light backpackers to big game hunters carry a variety of essentials. </li></ul><ul><li>One person’s ten essentials may vary from someone else’s. </li></ul><ul><li>Certain items may be highly valued in one person’s kit while highly objected to in another’s. Think about the feelings people have regarding firearms and the right to carry them. </li></ul><ul><li>Ten essentials should focus on the realistic needs of a person, not the fantasy needs. You must make educated decisions, not ignorant choices. </li></ul><ul><li>Certain needs are undeniable and unarguable. Always remember the rule of 3’s when choosing gear. Some gear is simply “for show” and some is “for go” </li></ul><ul><li>When considering components, real needs should be addressed such as shelter, fire, water, signaling and utility. </li></ul><ul><li>Regardless of kit, skills must be practiced and no gear can replace know how. </li></ul><ul><li>Remember, the more you know, the less you have to carry. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Knife (Cutting Tools) <ul><li>An extremely personal decision based on the user, the situation and level of skill. No one should impress upon you what is “best.” Best is a relative term. </li></ul><ul><li>There are countless varieties and uses. Knives are categorized into fixed or folding, full, partial or hidden tang, serrated or plain edge, stainless or carbon steel, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Entire volumes of books can be written about blade selection. All I will recommend is buying the best you can afford and buying quality. You will pay for it either way, at the store or in the field. When you buy quality, you will only cry once! </li></ul><ul><li>Some believe the farther you travel from situation, the bigger your knives should be. Example, a pocket knife in the office, a belt knife at all times, a full-size axe or machete for extended living in the wild. </li></ul><ul><li>Depending on the size of your kit (pocket, belt, pack, car or home), your knife needs can vary. </li></ul><ul><li>No 10 essentials kit should be without a knife or variety of cutting tools. Remember, one is none, two is one and three is in case you lose both of the first two. </li></ul><ul><li>In my personal opinion, a knife is the first item you must add to your 10 essentials. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Wilderness Learning Center School Knife Bark River Knife & Tool Fox River A2 Carbon Steel Convexed Edge 4” Blade Black/Green Micarta Handle
  5. 5. Fire (Fire Starting Equipment) <ul><li>With fire, you can boil water, signal for help, cook food, warm yourself or others, illuminate, cut down trees and much more. </li></ul><ul><li>Fire is always a top priority of mine. I never travel anywhere without at least two ways of creating fire carried on my person. </li></ul><ul><li>I can create fire by friction but I still carry equipment to make my fire starting tasks easier. </li></ul><ul><li>Based on the rule of threes, a person cannot live more than three hours exposed to the elements. Fire provides warmth, safety and psychological comfort in an emergency situation. </li></ul><ul><li>Of the various ways of starting fire, the most important to me is the Ferrocerium Rod. </li></ul><ul><li>Oz. for oz., it will create more fires than any other firestarting device. </li></ul><ul><li>It is relatively light, compact, waterproof and easy to use with both hands or even single handed. </li></ul><ul><li>Tinder can be carried to compliment the 3/8” Firesteel but natural tinders such as old man’s beard, birch bark, grasses, leaves, milkweed pod fluff, cattail or other fluffy material is widely available. </li></ul><ul><li>Even in areas where open fires are not allowed, carry the gear. Your ultimate right is the right to life. Make sure you have what you need to stay alive. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Swedish Firesteel Carried on School Knife Sheath Note the lanyard looped around the bottom of the firesteel to prevent it from slipping out of the loop. Lanyard made out of 550 reverse-wrapped paracord.
  7. 7. Stainless Steel Cup/Bottle <ul><li>From the rule of threes, the average amount of time a person can live without water is three days. This is an average and you may not live up to three days. </li></ul><ul><li>With a metal cup, you can boil water. The cup can also be used as a digging device. </li></ul><ul><li>A stainless steel bottle allows for boiling water and transporting it without spilling. </li></ul><ul><li>Both stainless steel bottle and stainless steel cup can be placed in or around a fire to melt ice if contents freeze. Plastic may warp otherwise. </li></ul><ul><li>Boiling water is extremely difficult without the aid of a manmade vessel. Hot rocks can boil water inside of a natural depression in rocks but how often do you find natural depressions? </li></ul><ul><li>A cup doesn’t work well as a water carrier without some sort of lid. A bottle isn’t the best choice if you are attempting to eat from it. Carry both if you can. Many bottles have nesting cups that fit on the bottom. </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid bottles made from aluminum with plastic inner coatings. They will melt in the fire. </li></ul><ul><li>Metal containers can dent and removal of dents is difficult. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Nalgene/Guyot Standard Bottle and Klean Kanteen 40 oz. The Nalgene/Guyot will fit all standard Nalgene accessories and will nest a 16 oz. stainless cup on the bottom. It is safe to boil in as long as it isn’t the double wall version. The Klean Kanteen is available in either narrow or wide mouth. It is somewhat lighter than the Nalgene but is stainless and also safe to boil water in. Available in a variety of sizes.
  9. 9. Signaling (Whistle and Mirror) <ul><li>Even though these are two items, signaling can occur in only one of two ways; either visually or audibly. </li></ul><ul><li>With a whistle, audible signaling is possible and with a mirror visual signaling is accomplished. </li></ul><ul><li>These should be carried somewhere on your person where they cannot be lost. Both can be carried on a lanyard around your neck. </li></ul><ul><li>Mirrors and whistles are lightweight and multipurpose. You can use your mirror for self examination. </li></ul><ul><li>Even though you carry one set of whistle and mirror, consider carrying two in different places. Have a small pocket kit with a backup or a larger set in your pack. </li></ul><ul><li>If you lose one set, how will you signal? Do you want the emergency you accidentally found yourself in to last longer than the average of 72 hours (or three days)? Your whistle and mirror will hopefully end that if all else (detailed note left at home, cell phone, two-way radio) fails. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Three Essential Signaling Devices Easily Carried in a Pocket Kit
  11. 11. 550 Parachute (Paracord) <ul><li>550 Parachute Cord is a staple in the survival community. Comprised of 7 inner strands of line each approximately 20 lb. test in strength, paracord has great utility. </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid “Parachute Style” cord without the 7 inner strands. </li></ul><ul><li>Cordage construction is difficult in the wilds. No natural cordage has the strength of synthetic cordage in the same diameter or weight. </li></ul><ul><li>Fishing lines can be made out of the 7 inner strands. </li></ul><ul><li>10 feet of paracord is actually 10 feet of outer braid and 70 feet of fishing line. </li></ul><ul><li>Not all lashing needs require the full 550 lb. breaking strength. It is possible to neuter the cord and use only as much line as is necessary. </li></ul><ul><li>550 cord can be carried in the pack, as a braided belt, as a key chain for every day carry, as shoelaces (use the Scottish Knot to keep it from coming undone), as knife lanyards, zipperpulls and countless other places. </li></ul><ul><li>You cannot have enough 550 cord. </li></ul><ul><li>Other great cordage options include duct-tape and 50# test braided spiderwire fishing line. </li></ul>
  12. 12. 550 Cord and Duct Tape Folded Onto Itself For Compact Carry
  13. 13. Compass (and Map) <ul><li>A compass on its own is useful. It allows for general way finding and navigation. </li></ul><ul><li>There are many varieties and your kit should include a quality compass that fits. You can choose from button, watchband, lensatic, baseplate, gps, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>It is easier for me to make a rudimentary map than an accurate and portable compass. </li></ul><ul><li>With map reconnaissance before your trip, you should know what direction it is to safety, to the nearest watering hole, to the nearest road, hospital, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>If you carry a GPS, make sure you have a compass too. GPS units are gadgets and gadgets fail. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Suunto MC-2D Compass
  15. 15. Poncho or Tarp <ul><li>A poncho or tarp is a multi-purpose item with endless potential. It helps satisfy the rule of three’s that a person will die from exposure (rain + cold = Hypothermia) </li></ul><ul><li>A poncho or tarp can be rigged in a variety of configurations depending on the needs of the individual or group and the environment. </li></ul><ul><li>A poncho is limited in size. A tarp is limited because of the lack of head hole. </li></ul><ul><li>Both ponchos and tarps come in a variety of materials from heavy canvas to ultralight sil-nylon. Price increases the more advanced the tarp or poncho. From .99 cents to hundreds of dollars. </li></ul><ul><li>Without the added weight of zippers, bug netting or a floor, a poncho or tarp make for excellent emergency shelters. </li></ul><ul><li>More than a shelter option, a poncho or tarp can be used as a water collection basin, a makeshift sail for a canoe or small craft, a temporary raft (with proper construction), part of an emergency litter and so much more. </li></ul><ul><li>Both ponchos and tarps provide for quickie shelters. Considering the average shelter constructed during our courses take over 2 hours for one person. With the poncho shelter we demonstrate, it takes literally 30 seconds for two people or approximately 60 seconds for one person if prepared. </li></ul>
  16. 16. USGI Poncho Shelter
  17. 17. Flashlight or Headlamp <ul><li>Human beings are not naturally equipped with night vision. The little benefit we gain when our eyes adjust to the dark cannot compare to the illumination of a flashlight or headlamp. </li></ul><ul><li>The best light for a 10 essentials kit is one with LED bulbs. The long burn time will last much longer than the “high speed” and “tactical” lights. If room allows and the situation dictates it, carry a high intensity light but don’t waste your battery life. </li></ul><ul><li>High lumen/candlepower lights do have a place but they have short runtimes and are generally not the best choice for wilderness travel. Used momentarily, they will “light up the woods” but will also blind you if the beam isn’t partially masked. </li></ul><ul><li>Use the outside of the spotlight and don’t stare at the center if this is all you have. </li></ul><ul><li>Most illumination needs will take place within a close proximity to your body, you don’t need to light up the forest. Be realistic with your lighting needs. Most needs in an emergency/survival situation take place within arms reach. </li></ul><ul><li>Carry a light with lithium batteries to maximize the shelf life and carry extra batteries just in case. </li></ul><ul><li>Hands free headlamps are my personal choice. Try carrying firewood with a light clamped in your teeth and you will quickly understand why. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Petzl Headlamp and Surefire G2 with LED lamp Note wrist lanyard out of 550 cord to prevent loss. Petzl Tikka Headlamp Scary eyes of someone who just collapsed a tent on unsuspecting campers
  19. 19. Bandanna or First-Aid Kit <ul><li>A bandanna is a cheap piece of gear with endless utility. Purchase a 36” version if possible for more utility and marginal weight increase. </li></ul><ul><li>It can be worn as a head wrap, used to pick up hot pots, used to wipe your face, cover your mouth and nose from smoke, tied as a cravat, pressed into service as a pressure bandage, used as a lashing and more. </li></ul><ul><li>If you have to carry one piece of gear to address first-aid issues, carry a bandanna at the very least. </li></ul><ul><li>Of course, you would want to carry a well-stocked first aid kit whenever possible. However, on a day to day basis, a bandanna can be carried in a back pocket while a bulky pouch of first aid equipment cannot. </li></ul><ul><li>Carry what you can comfortably. </li></ul>Bandanna worn as head covering during WLC Advanced Course 2008
  20. 20. Fishing and Trapping Gear or Extra Food <ul><li>Based on the rule of threes, a person should be able to live up to three weeks without food. However, not everyone is able to live comfortably without eating every few hours. </li></ul><ul><li>Hunger is a powerful force. Food is a psychological treat providing comfort and physiological energy. </li></ul><ul><li>Fishing and trapping gear should be carried as it takes up little space and weight. Fish hooks, line and some artificial lures can be tucked into nooks and crannies of kits. Snare wire can be wrapped around a pencil or pen. </li></ul><ul><li>Choose your fishing and trapping gear based on realistic needs. </li></ul><ul><li>Many fishing kit components can be used for trapping too. Swivels, hooks and wire leader can all be used in creating highly effective/illegal traps. </li></ul><ul><li>In an emergency situation, when there is plenty of downtime, fish. It will preoccupy your time and keep you from psyching yourself out. </li></ul><ul><li>If you don’t anticipate catching food and want instant gratification or energy, carry extra food with you. </li></ul><ul><li>If you wish to carry long lasting proven food, you can’t go wrong with actual emergency rations. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Large and Small Fishing Kits Contents include small floats, 50# spiderwire line on sewing machine bobbins, ice fishing jigs, gaff hook, small LED light, sewing needles, asst. hooks, sinkers and swivels and much more. Note the Dime for Size Reference
  22. 22. Carrying Your Kit <ul><li>Find a pack that is comfortable and one you can have with you at all times. I prefer a lumbar pack to carry my 10 essentials plus more. </li></ul>
  23. 23. Conclusion <ul><li>There are many recommended items but this list has been pared down to the 10 essentials. Obviously, carry more if you can without weighing yourself down. </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t think of the 10 essentials as a limitation. Consider it the basic gear you should always have. </li></ul><ul><li>Always have your basic needs covered in the 10 essentials. If this means carrying 20 , 30 or 40 items, do it. Don’t think of the 10 essentials as a restriction. </li></ul><ul><li>Based on your situation, you may end up carrying other 10 essential kits with this one. For example, 10 self defense items including handgun, long gun, less than lethal weapon, impact weapon, etc. 10 essentials for vehicle travel may include a spare tire, hi-lift jack, tire patch kit, recovery straps etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Most importantly, whatever you carry, test it at home before you test it in the field. Know what you carry and how to use it. Don’t let experience be the best teacher in a bad situation. Use the comfort of your home or neighborhood park to provide some safety in your testing and evaluation. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Self-Assessment <ul><li>What is the rule of 3’s? </li></ul><ul><li>What variety of knives are there? </li></ul><ul><li>Why is fire important? </li></ul><ul><li>Compare a metal cup to a metal water bottle. </li></ul><ul><li>How can a person signal for help? </li></ul><ul><li>What uses are there for a bandanna? </li></ul><ul><li>Why should a person carry food or fishing/trapping gear? </li></ul><ul><li>What are the pros and cons of tarps/ponchos? </li></ul><ul><li>Why are headlamps with LED bulbs ideal for wilderness travel/needs? </li></ul><ul><li>What kinds of cordage are available? </li></ul><ul><li>Why should a person carry a compass in their kit? </li></ul><ul><li>If you do not know the answers to these questions, revisit this handout and figure out the answers. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Misc. Notes
  26. 26. About the Author Photo Credit: Garret Lucas Accessed from The Wilderness Learning Center’s Biographies page Kevin Estela has been interested in outdoor survival since he was a child. Entertained by stories from his father’s jungle survival in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation of WWII,  Kevin grew up with a desire to learn more about the outdoors. At a young age and throughout adolescence, his father taught him many practical survival skills. He grew up hiking, skiing, fishing and woods bumming with friends and family. He spent over 10 years working as a seasonal kayaking and canoeing guide on the Farmington River in Connecticut and 5 years working at a busy outdoors retail sporting goods store. Kevin’s formal outdoors education includes off-road driving, winter mountaineering, hunting and firearms safety, wilderness first-aid, primitive survival skills, traditional bushcraft skills and of course wilderness survival through the Wilderness Learning Center. Kevin is a certified PADI scuba diver, avid power boater and saltwater fisherman. Kevin’s passion for education translated into teaching High School History full-time in Bristol, CT.  Kevin spends as much free time as possible getting out on the water or in the woods in anyway.  Whenever possible, Kevin loves to share knowledge and know how with anyone willing to listen, practice and learn. Kevin worked for one full year with us and has earned the title of Instructor.  He is also a moderator on and where he contributes equipment reviews and shares his expertise with all. Although he isn’t officially a resident of  New York, Kevin considers the Wilderness Learning Center  his second home and Marty, Aggie, Bobby a second family away from his own. Kevin is a great asset to the school. His teaching style, personality, and knowledge are appreciated by all.
  27. 27. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us!