There is quite a bit of debate on what should go into a 72-hour kit. Hell, let’s be honest, there is a huge debate on what a 72-hour kit is exactly. Is it a bug-out bag, is it an INCH bag, is it a small survival kit? Our take on a 72-hour kit is somewhere between a survival kit and a day-hike bag. This kit is something that you should take on you when you are going on a 3-day hunting trip, a light hike into the woods or even used as a get home bag for your car. Like most things in the survival/preparedness realm, the end-user (should) knows what works for them and their particular situation or perceived risks. This is our take on a well-rounded kit that is light-weight and contains enough gear that even someone with very little training could make it for 72 hours in most emergency situations. Remember, all the gear in the world will do you little good if you don’t know how to use it.
The first item to discuss is the bag itself. The bag that you choose for this kit should be selected with a few criteria in mind. First, durability. We prefer a small canvas messenger bag, a small sling pack made of quality materials or a small day-pack made of quality materials. Weight should be factored in. Like those people that carry everything, including the kitchen sink (which we highly doubt) for EDC, weight must be considered. This pack should not be a hinderance to your mobility and should not be so heavy that you simply don’t want to carry it. Fitness levels and experience should determine what you select. The last consideration should be for space. The pack should have enough room to carry the essentials that we will discuss below and have room left over for storage of any resources that you may run across when trekking to your destination. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention a way to keep it dry. Canvas can be waterproofed and waterproof covers can be purchased for sling and backpacks. Additionally, a trash bag can be a great improvised waterproofing implement.
Water is the first priority in this kit. We recommend a few things to have stashed away. A container can be made primitively and of course, one can always find trash that may be used for such an endeavor; however, these methods are not ideal and can be time and calorie consuming. A wide mouth, single wall, stainless steel container can be used to boil water and you can cook in it. Alternatively, a pot can be used; however, it is more difficult to carry water in and is typically heavier. Boiling is undoubtedly the best way to organically sterilize water but sometimes you need to keep moving, this is where a good water filter comes in. We recommend the Sawyer Mini or Squeeze system. The Sawyer system is similar to other ceramic rod filters on the market but lends itself to being more functional. The important thing is that you know the capabilities of the filter you use and what it is effective at removing in regards to organic and inorganic contamination. We also include water purification tablets when you absolutely must treat water on the move. Having a good knowledge of the waterways and terrain in your location will allow you to acquire and make safe water for drinking and hygiene. One important thing to remember when collecting water is to prevent cross contamination between your dirty water collection device and the container that you are storing clean water in. The Sawyer Mini and Squeeze system come with a water pouch to collect dirty water in. A helpful item to include with your water supplies is a secondary container to use for storage and drinking, we typically include something like a stainless-steel cup that nests with the water bottle or something collapsible like a Hydrapak Stash (a great, durable product).
Shelter can be accomplished with a hammock if you have the room and weight to spare. In addition, a tarp provides a number of ways to set up a shelter with or without a hammock. If you want to go very light weight, three to four 3 mil or thicker contractor bags or drum liners can make a great shelter and provide for a comfortable browse bed. The addition of a mylar emergency blanket doesn’t hurt and doesn’t increase weight significantly. A shemagh is a valuable piece of gear that not only helps with shelter but can help with water collection, prefiltering and fire building as well as signaling if the color stands out in contrast to your surrounding environment. A 25’ hank of paracord for ridgelines is invaluable as well as an additional 50-100’ of cordage.
Fire is probably the most important skill that a person can develop due to the amount of benefits that it can provide. A small fire kit should be part of this kit. At a minimum, this kit should provide three ways to start a fire. We typically pack a ferro rod, a striker and a piece of chert or flint, a Fresnel lens and a Bic lighter. The Fresnel lens, striker and chert are usually kept inside of a tin. The tin can be used to make char material. The lighter can be kept in the tin too if it is mini sized. A drop pouch is a handy piece of gear for tinder collection or at least a couple of zip-style bags.
In an emergency, getting found is important. We recommend a quality whistle, a signal mirror and a few chemlights. Try not to get lost, keep a map and compass, know how to use them and ensure that people know where you are and when you should return. Know if there is cell phone service in your area and keep your phone charged (a battery bank can be found that will give you a charge and doesn’t way a lot or a portable solar charger).
Lighting can make tasks easier and safer; it can aid in signaling and is a comfort in the dark of night. We recommend having two sources of light, one of which should be a head lamp for hands free operations and should include additional batteries. You score extra points if both sources use the same types of batteries for your light sources!
A first-aid kit is a necessity. This is kind of a personal decision based on each person’s skill level and knowledge base. We recommend at least a tourniquet, some hemostatic gauze and a trauma dressing. Additionally, this kit should include bandages, a few triangular bandages, some roll gauze, shears, tweezers, tape, a three-day supply of prescription meds, a pain-reliever, an antihistamine, and an anti-diarrheal.
Additional items to include would be a small sanitation kit containing such items as a toothbrush, some toothpaste, a small amount of toilet paper, a washcloth and a small bar of soap and a comb. Sanitary wipes add a nice touch as well. We have mentioned the Shemagh but there are many uses for a few bandannas as well. Repair items such as a small sewing kit, a sail needle and duct tape can come in very handy and add little to the weight or bulk of your pack. A carbon steel, full tang, fixed-blade knife is invaluable and a must-have in any kit. A small multi-tool is handy as well. Leather gloves, sunglasses and a hat can round out your supplies. We also recommend the following comfort items: Gum/mints, trail mix/bars that won’t melt, jerky or any other shelf stable snacks that you like. They are a morale booster and can help maintain your blood glycogen stores for energy. A small spork will make life a little easier. The addition of a small fishing kit and/or primitive trapping kit wouldn’t take up a whole lot more room or weight and could possibly extend your ability to survive.
This is definitely not an all-inclusive list, just one take on a kit. The important take-away is that you do carry something. We believe that this is a solid kit and could (with the right training) allow a person to survive 72 hours or longer in a dire situation. It is light and will allow you to be mobile. It is inexpensive and practical. We hope that you utilize our recommendations to Prepare, Survive and Thrive!
The Mountaineer Institute for Self-Reliance is a school located in West Virginia. Its mission is to provide quality self-reliance education for individuals, businesses and organizations. They are known for their thorough and intensive curricula.
Joe Adkins is the founder of The Mountaineer Institute for Self-Reliance. He is a life-long outdoors man. Joe has over 13 years military experience as an ARMY combat medic & nurse. Additionally, he is a certified Level 1 Sigma III instructor, a WV Master Naturalist candidate and a certified Basic Man-Tracker by a local law enforcement agency. He lives in Wayne, Co., WV on his homestead.