A knife is an important survival tool, and has myriad uses including shelter building, collecting firewood, cutting rope or improvised bandages, and making emergency modifications to gear.
Tarps can be very useful when creating a makeshift shelter to keep you dry in inclement weather, and can also be used as signalling devices. Always carry a tarp in your pack—it may mean the difference between staying dry or getting hypothermia.
Self-reliance in the wilderness is important—help is not usually a phone call away. Carry a basic first aid kid and know how to use it. Outdoor travellers are advised to take a first aid course or a wilderness first aid course that teaches this self-reliance when far from help.
Always carry maps and a 360 degree compass with base plate at minimum. A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver unit, cellular phone, satellite phone or handheld radio—all with fully charged batteries—are also valuable tools. Know how to use these items, but don’t rely on them. Having a charged cell phone on hand may be your priority, but this can change quickly when faced with the prospect of being lost. Many areas of Nova Scotia have little to no coverage, and batteries run down fast.
The importance of bringing extra clothing cannot be underestimated, and yet often people do not bring enough clothing to keep warm in changing conditions. It is easy to misjudge the conditions you will encounter if you only look at the weather at the time of your departure. Plan ahead: check weather conditions, including long-range forecasts, and carry extra clothing at all times. Hypothermia is a serious risk if you do not prepare to survive unexpected deterioration of the weather.
Sometimes a trip can last much longer than anticipated, and having extra food and an additional one litre of water per person can make the difference between an extended stay and a survival situation. Outdoor activities require energy, and having extra food can give us the boost we need to get out of an unplanned situation. Water is even more important, and is needed by the body even more than food. A loss of 10% of total body fluid will cause extensive disruption of bodily functions; a loss of 20% usually results in death.
A whistle or a small mirror can increase your chances of being heard or seen. It takes much less energy to blow a whistle than it does to yell and the sound carries farther, too. A signalling mirror is responsible for more search and rescue subject sightings by aircraft than any other type of signal, and can be spotted from a rescue plane over 8km (5 miles) away.
A basic fire-making kit could include waterproof matches, a lighter, firestarter and/or a candle (e.g., small tealight). Simple items like these can be vital to staying warm enough outdoors during a change in the weather, an injury or an unplanned overnight. A small fire can keep you warm, dry wet clothes, cook food, signal where you are, melt snow or boil water, keep animals at bay, and also improve your mood—all key to surviving unexpected stays in the woods.
Often lost subjects do not start out lost—they simply run out of daylight and are unable to get back to their car or the trailhead before night falls. Once it gets dark, the chances of getting lost become much greater. Although we are all equipped with limited night vision, we are much more vulnerable after dark and moving at night can be dangerous without a source of light. Carry a flashlight or headlamp (and spare batteries!) with you on all outdoor adventures, even if you only expect to be out for a few hours.