The Essential Wilderness Packing List


Getting out into nature is one of the most life-affirming things you can do. When you travel miles into the forest, mountains, or desert, you free yourself from civilization’s trappings and gain a genuine sense of freedom. For some, it feels positively primordial. You test your strengths as well as your limits. And sometimes, you get the sense that you’re living life as it should be lived. 

However, there’s a reason that people like living in cities and towns – it’s easier, much safer, and more comfortable than trying to live off the land. In civilization, you have all the resources you need within arm’s reach and you’re only moments away from receiving help if sick or injured. 

Obviously, in the wilderness you are alone. Seriously alone. Day in and day out the concept of survival is real.  If you lose focus for a quick moment, you can wind up the lost, injured, or worst case scenario, even dead.

Many people find peace and tranquility from their daily lives while out in the woods. Others simply enjoy the mental and physical challenge of being out in the wilderness. If you’re prepping for a wilderness expedition, take a look at my essential wilderness packing list to ensure you have everything you’ll need.

Pack the Essentials!

wilderness packing list

Water Filtration System

Even in pristine wilderness, it’s a good idea to filter any water you find before drinking it. You never really know what bacteria, parasites, or viruses it might contain – even if it is well away from animal pastures. 

The average person can’t survive for more than 72 hours without water, even in optimal conditions. When you’re actively hiking and exploring all day, you need a lot more than usual. If the weather is hot, you really can’t survive on much less than two liters per day. This is why it’s imperative you have a water filtration system on your wilderness packing list.

Fortunately, nowadays portable water filters are lightweight and easy to use as you travel around. These work by percolating river water through tiny pores and getting rid of all the impurities and bacteria. They can take a few minutes to a couple of hours to work. If you want something smaller, I like the Lifestraw (Amazon link) and always carry it in the backcountry.



In addition to providing you with a sharp cutting surface, a quality knife will allow you to sharpen sticks, cut branches, skin animals for food, and protect yourself. There are plenty of quality lightweight, sharp, and compact camping knives on the market today. Be sure to carry one with you at all times.

Flashlight or Headlamp

While the light of the moon can sometimes be enough, it’s still better to pack a quality flashlight when heading into the backcountry. Today’s flashlights are way more powerful than they ever were in the past, and they use less energy because they rely on LED technology. In general, you want to purchase a flashlight or headlamp with the highest lumens of light you can afford. Avoid being disoriented and lost at night and be sure to pack a lightweight flashlight to guide your way.

wilderness packing list

Mental Fortitude

Of course, it goes without saying that you must bring your mental fortitude with you while you head out in the wilderness alone. Mental strength is definitely something that you will need. Being completely alone is a scary and challenging experience for some people and it’s often difficult to imagine being so alone before heading out. Developing mental fortitude is an essential survival skill. You no longer can call someone for help, buy an item you need, or search the internet for assistance. When you’re by yourself, you have no one to rely on, but yourself.

Signal Mirror and Whistle

If you get into trouble, you may need a signal mirror to tell others that you’re in trouble. A lot of people don’t make it out of the wilderness because they don’t have the strength to call for help. Using a signaling mirror or blowing a whistle is a low-energy task, something that can be done if you’re hurt or exhausted.  Providing a flashing light or creating a sound for help will lead rescuers to you faster.

First aid, wilderness packing list

First Aid Kit

Injuries in the wilderness are incredibly common.  You can get caught on thorns, trip over a rock, rub against poison oak, or take a hard fall. It’s imperative to take a first aid kit with you to deal with anything from burns to insect bites. Be sure to carry pain and allergy medications, wound dressing supplies including bandages and gauze, tweezers, scissors, tape, alcohol wipes, burn cream, antiseptic cream, and anti-itch cream.

Map And Compass

If you’ve gone to a true wilderness, you know that cell phone signals won’t work in the middle of nowhere. Not only will you need a map and a compass, you should know how to read them. 

Ideally, it’s best to bring a laminated map with you so that you can read it in the rain and keep it protected. Also, pack a lightweight compass with you and keep it accessible, like one on a lanyard or cord that you can tie to your wrist or put around your neck. Keep in mind that the map and compass will only help you if you have the knowledge to use them. Be sure to take a class on orienteering and learn how to properly read topographic maps so you can successfully arrive at your destination and not get lost.

fire starter, wilderness packing list

Fire Starter

It can get very cold, very quickly in the wilderness – even the desert. In order to provide you ample warmth, you’ll need to start a fire.  Fire is also beneficial for light, cooking food, protection from predators, signaling for help, and purifying water. For that reason, you’ll need to bring some form of a fire starter with you so that you can quickly build a fire as the weather turns or to keep you warm at night. I like to carry either a ferro rod (Amazon link) or a magnesium block with a flint striker (Amazon link). Both are lightweight, effective fire starters, even wet conditions. 


Any kind of cord, rope, or wire is helpful for wilderness settings. Cords, like paracord, can repair fabrics, dry clothes, act as a fishing line, or tie things together. You can multi-task the use of your cord by carrying your fire starter or compass on it. When packing for the wilderness, cords are one of those things that doesn’t take up a lot of space, but has an infinite number of uses.

It’s also worth noting to always wear moisture-wicking fabrics when out in the backcountry. Be prepared with plenty of layers, moisture-wicking socks, and a hat.

When you are gathering supplies for your wilderness packing list, be sure to have the items listed above. Setting off into the unknown can be a little nerve-wracking, but if you have these essentials packed (and know how to use them), you’ll greatly increase your chance of survival during your journey, especially if something goes wrong.

What else do you have on your wilderness packing list? What’s your go-to item to pack? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Travels!


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