What To Put In A Survival Backpack (Essential Items Checklist)

survival backpack is there for when you find yourself in an emergency situation. They’re made to keep you prepared for anything that comes your way. You fill them with items that make it possible to survive any emergency situation.  

Since you never know when this could happen, it’s best to prepare your pack now. You’ll need to know what to put in a survival backpack first- let’s begin! 

You can check out the best bug out and survival backpacks here. 

The Importance Of Survival Backpacks 

If a disaster strikes your area, you only have a few minutes to react. Because of this, it’s best to have a pack prepared. Additionally, hikers and campers can benefit from having one - you don’t want to get stranded in the wild without it. 

The best benefit is knowing that you’ll always have emergency items on you. Knowing you have everything you need can give you the peace of mind you need. Plus, the bags can make it easy to organize all of your emergency items in one place. Without it, you could be scrambling to gather everything at the last second. 

man with backpack walking through forest

What To Put In A Survival Backpack (Essential Items Checklist) 


First, you want to make sure that you have a lot of tools and a survival knife in your backpack. You should have a multi-tool, pocket knife, and pliers. From there, you can add a few tools you think may be necessary. Rope, spoons, and lighters are all good options to consider. You’ll also want to consider your needs for your family- everyone requires some additional tools. 


Next, illumination is going to be very important. You’ll want to ensure that you have some type of flashlight or emergency lantern. It’s also essential that you add in batteries that can fit the light sources you have. You should also pack some emergency candles, which can burn for an extended amount of time. 


For shelter, you’ll want to make sure that you have cordage, tape, and tarp. These tools make it easy to set up a make-shift shelter. Many people also make sure to keep a spare sleeping bag with their emergency kits. Sleeping pads are also an option. Plus, it’s always a great idea to have some warm blankets in your pack. 

Fire Starting Kit 

For a fire starting kit, you’ll want to have matches, a lighter, and a few pieces of dried paper. You can build your fire while outside, then use the paper to help ignite the wood. Some people also add chemicals to the bag, which are to ensure the fire starts easily. Only ever add sealed chemicals to the bag for your own safety. 

Emergency Rations 

Next, non-perishable food items are essential. During an emergency, you don’t know when you’re going to have access to food. Rations are always a good option, as they don’t go bad for a very long time. They should stay fresh in your pack, but it’s still a good idea to check on them every few years - and replace them if you need to. 

Compass And Map 

A compass and map will help you get around when you don’t have access to your phone or GPS. In an emergency, the towers may be knocked out, making it impossible to get a reliable signal on your devices. You should spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with a map of your local area. Then, add it to the bag for later use. 

Cooking Equipment 

Cooking items are another must. You should include campfire sticks and a pot. You can use these items to prepare meals over a fire. Tinfoil also works great because you can use it over the fire to make sausage and hotdogs. However, a pot is the best tool. Many non-perishables, like canned soup and chili, require a pot. 

Rescue Signals 

You need to make sure that you have access to rescue signals. That way, you can receive the help you need. A whistle and signaling mirror are going to be your best options. They both can get the attention of passersby quickly, making them very efficient. 

Hydration System / Water Supply 

Water is essential within your daily life. You’ll want to make sure that you have access to water during emergencies. You can find hydration supplies that clean water for you, as well as gallons of water.

You may need a lot of water for your family, since experts recommend one gallon per person per day. The water is for both drinking and cleaning. For day hikes, we recommend using a backpack with a hydration bladder.  

First Aid / Medical Kit 

Finally, a general medical kit will help you. You want it to have plenty of bandaids and peroxide. Second, you'll want to make sure to include women's sanitary pads or tampons if needed. Finally, many people also add gauze. If you don't want to put a medkit together alone, you can always use a premade one and add the items you need. Small bags such as toiletry backpacks is a good option to store these things.

man with backpack hiking

Things To Consider When Packing A Survival Backpack 

  • Number Of People 
    The amount of people you’re packing for impacts the amount of stuff you need to bring with you. If you have a larger family, you’ll want to ensure you have more items. It can even benefit you to have additional backpacks. (tactical backpacks or hiking backpacks is also a good option since these have a lot of space to fit a lot of stuff in)  
  • Potential Emergency Conditions 
    There are several different emergency conditions. Tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and becoming stranded in the wilderness are all possibilities. You want to make sure you have all the materials needed for the conditions. For instance, you may want to have more food and emergency whistles in the woods. 
  • Location And Weather 
    Where you live impacts the weather you experience. You may need to pack ponchos if you live in a moist area. Plus, if you live in a snowy location, you’ll benefit more from having more emergency blankets. Make sure to research the conditions of your location and go from there. (Waterproofing your backpacks for areas where it is rainy is a must and should be included in your to-do)
  • Number Of Days 
    Finally, you’ll want to have several days worth of supplies in your bag. The longer you think you’ll need emergency supplies, the more you should pack. It’s always a great idea to add more rations and water than you think you need, just in case! Learn more in this guide.
man with backpack sitting on a mountain

How To Pack A Survival Backpack 

Always start by putting the heavier, less used items in the bottom, and add the smaller, lighter goods to the top. You’ll want to make sure you have access to the most used items at all times. This should include your food, water, and a light source. Self-defense items and clothing should go right under that layer. 

Additionally, you can attach important items to the outside of the bag. Glow sticks, medkits, and canteens should go here. You need to make sure it has enough to sustain you for at least three days, in most cases. 

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What should you have in a 3 day survival kit? 

In a three day kit, many people use a flashlight, batteries, rations, water, multi-tools, and portable phone chargers. An emergency poncho or small shelter can also be a good idea. 

How much should my survival backpack weigh? 

Your bag should weigh about 15% of your body weight. So, if you weigh 250 pounds, you’ll need to have about 37.5 pounds worth of gear. You shouldn’t put more than 20% on yourself, as you could strain your body. 

What is the most important survival item?

While all survival items are essential, one of the most important is water. You absolutely need clean water to survive. Another important item is a survival knife. You can use it for many different things in a survival situation. 


Overall, you want to make sure that you have everything you need for several days in your bag. Everyone has unique needs, so make sure to also consider what your family needs. Once you have everything packed, make sure to keep it in an easy-to-reach location. 

Also see - Hunting Backpacks

  • Updated November 7, 2021