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Top 10 Pieces of Wilderness Survival Gear for Children

by Karen Ung
It’s never too early to teach your children wilderness survival skills. What if little Johnnie gets lost on your next big hike? Or there is a mudslide and you’re cut off from camp or each other (it has happened!)? Maybe you’re not doing hard core stuff right now, but what about next summer? It’s easy to read headlines and think “that could never happen to us”, but you just never know. It’s best to have a plan in case you are separated (we’ve taught our kids to stay in one place and signal for help), discuss it with all members of your group/family, and ensure everyone is carrying their own wilderness survival gear, and that they know how to use each item.

Also known as a bug-out bag, your wilderness survival kit should contain everything you need to survive for three days. This list is different from what an adult would carry and is targeted to children aged 4-8 since they are a) old enough to carry their own small backpack, b) not big enough to carry larger items such as a bivvy/Siltarp, and c) usually not mature enough to carry a knife or firemaking kit (essentials in any survival kit). Add other items (such as Epipen, medications, fire making kit, knife) at your discretion. Note that the signalling devices (whistle, mirror, and flashlight) are critical. If your child is quickly found, she won’t have to use the other items!

1. Marine Whistle on a lanyard (or attached to jacket/pack): Get a high quality pealess marine whistle. A pealess whistle will work when wet and has no parts that can freeze together. Encourage your children to blast the whistle as loud as possible if they are lost or in trouble. Let them have some fun practicing (to make sure they know how to use it) then let them know it is for emergency use only. You may need earplugs for the practice session as high quality whistles are louder than 100 decibels!

We like the All Weather Storm Whistle (shown) and UST JetScream Whistle.

2. Signalling mirror: Teach your child how to use the mirror to signal for help and who/what the signal should be directed at (flash the mirror at helicopters, vehicles, signs of civilization such as fire lookouts or cabins; sweep the horizon if no signs of people). At night, use your headlamp and shine light on the mirror sweeping the light quickly across the mirror for a short flash and slowly for a long flash. The Universal distress signal is S.O.S. (3 dots, 3 dashes, 3 dots) and can be signalled with 3 short flashes, 3 long flashes, 3 short flashes. If you don’t have a mirror, you could use your hand and a flashlight or the flashlight switch to make long and short flashes. Practice at home with your children to see what method works best! The SOS signal can also be made with stones on the ground by making 3 round pile of rocks, 3 dashes (horizontal line) and 3 more round piles of rocks.

3. LED headlamp / flashlight – We prefer headlamps so the kids can be hands-free. Most models these days are LED which is great as the batteries last forever, but be sure to replace low batteries and carry replacements.

Princeton Tec BOT Headlamp

4. Water bottle and purification tablets: Teach your children how to use water purification tablets and attach a note/picture to the package. For example, a hand-drawn 1 tablet + 1 bottle of water makes it easy for a panicking child to understand. If the quantities are different, e.g. half a tablet per Nalgene bottle, break the tablets in half and draw a picture of 1/2 tablet + 1 bottle of water. I trust Potable Aqua products to purify my drinking water.

Trusty Nalgene bottles never leak!

5. Snacks: Make sure your child has a few high cal, nonperishable snacks such as protein bars or granola bars in her pack. Although you can survive a few days without food, a snack is comforting while you wait for help to arrive. Make sure it’s something yummy that your child likes, but not something with a strong odor that may attract bears.

Some of my kids’ favorite snacks.

6. Sun hat:
A sun hat will help keep your little one’s head cool and hopefully help prevent sunstroke. It’s a battle to get my kids to wear hats, but since we got lighter, breathable ones that don’t make them so hot, they are more keen to wear them. When packing, talk to your kids about being sunsmart: seek out shade or make a sun shelter, stay hydrated, wait for it to to cool down before moving around quickly. If your child will wear sunglasses, pack those too! Children’s eyes are more susceptible to UV damage.

Look for a long brim and neck coverage.

7. Rain jacket / rain poncho / emergency space blanket:
I prefer a rain jacket or poncho for my girls (4 & 6 years old) because they can put it on by themselves and stay dry. If you own none of these things, a large plastic garbage bag works in a pinch, but I encourage you to at least pick up a Dollar Store rain poncho as it is small, light, compact, and provides good protection from the elements. We usually bring the girls’ nylon rain jackets because they are light and stand up to abrasion better than disposable rain gear.

MEC Reflective Rain Jacket

8. Warm clothing
: fleece hoodie /down sweater / down vest, beanie and gloves/mittens for night time. Patagonia makes a really light, but warm, down sweater. We like down for how light and compressible it is, but it must be kept dry to keep you warm. MEC makes really great fleece hoodies that are a little longer to keep your backside warm. Warm clothing is very important, especially if kids are too young to build a fire to keep warm.

MEC fleece hoodie
Rolls up small!

9. Bandaids and Polysporin
(in a small Ziploc bag) or small first aid kit: I like the Adventure Medical Kit 0.3 size for individual use (we also carry the 0.7 size).

This size is good for the family. Get the .3 for individual use!

10. 550 paracord bracelet: A length of sturdy rope is always useful (especially for rigging a shelter) and a bracelet is a compact way of carrying it. Ideally one would also have a knife to cut lengths of rope, but my kids are a little young to carry one. Use your discretion as to when your child can safely handle a knife on her own.

Image credit: John Davis (Twitter @ictrains)

FAQ: What about a Walkie talkie or cell phone?

If you have cell phone reception and battery, a phone can mean the difference between an emergency situation or temporary separation. If there is no cell phone reception, a walkie talkie is helpful, but even “long range” walkie talkies do not work well in mountainous terrain. If your child is down in a gully separated from you by a large ridge, chances are, you will not be able to connect by walkie talkie. If you have them, bring them, but be sure to pack other signalling devices such as a whistle and signalling mirror.

Final Note

As you accumulate wilderness survival gear, teach everyone how to use it and practice, practice, practice.
Wishing you safe & happy trails!

Where to Buy

To view or purchase wilderness survival gear on Amazon, please visit my online store. A very small percentage of sales helps cover website costs at no extra charge to you. Thank you for your support!

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Playoutsidegal March 1, 2017 - 6:34 AM

Great idea, Melissa! We like the Adventure Medical kits as they're ultralight and waterproof, but you can certainly save money making your own kits.

Melissa Malejko February 9, 2017 - 7:04 PM

My $0.02: you can save cost and custom build your own first aid kit in a wide-mouth water bottle! I've carried a 500mL wide mouth Nalgene bottle since my daughter was old enough to walk – contents will stay dry no matter what (even if the pack falls in a creek) and can include personal medications much easier.
Also I invested in an awesome little Camelbak hydration backpack for my daughter (the Scout, not the tiny one that is just a hydration pack) and she happily carries it everywhere; I know she always has water, even if she's separated from us.
There's a few things I'll be adding to her pack, that I hadn't considered. Thank you!

Playoutsidegal October 4, 2016 - 4:09 AM

Thanks Lindsay! Yes, of course you may share! It's important for kids to be well equipped for outdoor adventures. 🙂

Lindsay Bliek July 15, 2016 - 2:52 PM

This is such a fantastic list, Karen! Mind if I share your link on a post I am writing over at ourhundredacrewood.net? We have been carrying most of this gear for our kids since they were little, but it's time the almost 5 yo schleps her own gear!

Comments are closed.

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