NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An indispensable guide to surviving everything from an extended wilderness exploration to a day-long boat trip, with hard-earned advice from the host of the show MeatEater as seen on Netflix
For anyone planning to spend time outside, The MeatEater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival is the perfect antidote to the sensationalism of the modern survival genre. Informed by the real-life experiences of renowned outdoorsman Steven Rinella, its pages are packed with tried-and-true tips, techniques, and gear recommendations.
Among other skills, readers will learn about old-school navigation and essential satellite tools, how to build a basic first-aid kit and apply tourniquets, and how to effectively purify water using everything from ancient methods to cutting-edge technologies. This essential guide delivers hard-won insights and know-how garnered from Rinella’s own experiences and mistakes and from his trusted crew of expert hunters, anglers, emergency-room doctors, climbers, paddlers, and wilderness guides—with the goal of making any reader feel comfortable and competent while out in the wild.
Steven Rinella is an outdoorsman, writer, wild-foods enthusiast, and television and podcast host who is a passionate advocate for conservation and the protection of public lands. The host of the MeatEater podcast and Netflix original series, he is also the author of The MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook: Recipes and Techniques for Every Hunter and Angler; two volumes of The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game; Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter; American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon; and The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine.
What to Pack and Wear
When I think of hard-earned outdoor lessons, I think of the first time that I headed into the Chugach Range of south-central Alaska on a Dall sheep hunt with my brothers, Matt and Danny. We packed like idiots. Not enough clothes. Not enough food. And no first-aid kit, despite the fact that my brother Matt was starting out the trip with an already infected gash on his shin from a failed attempt at doing a box jump onto a stainless-steel lab table. What was supposed to be a fun and exciting trip stalking rams quickly turned into a miserable and hungry sufferfest. And we had sown the seeds for that experience before we’d even left home.
Our lack of preparedness was partly the result of simple naivete. We were inexperienced in terms of mountain travel and didn’t know what we were doing. A portion of the blame also lies with a commonplace blunder that is made by even experienced outdoorsmen. The blunder has to do with balancing a desire to be properly equipped in the wild with the equally important desire to not tarnish outdoor experiences with all the luxuries and material bullshit of the indoor world. We go outside in order to enjoy ourselves, sure, but we also go outside to experience life in its stripped-down form. Getting the balance right requires some compromise. On the one hand, you don’t want to end up at the KOA, watching satellite TV inside an air-conditioned motor home while heating up marshmallows in the microwave. On the other hand, you don’t want to end up like me and my brothers, deep in the mountains and soaked to the bone while trying to cut the last of your throat lozenges into three pieces as part of a daily food ration.
While I’m a big fan of roughing it and a die-hard proponent of maintaining the aesthetic purity of the outdoors, I recognize the importance of keeping your goals and your safety in mind when it comes to packing for an outing—whether that outing is going to last a few weeks or just a few hours. If your goal is simply to see how long you can stay in the mountains without food, clothes, gear, or shelter, then you’re gonna have a pretty easy time preparing. Just strip down naked, drop all of your stuff, and head into the hills. Usually, though, goals are more complicated than that. In the case of our ill-fated sheep-hunting trip, our goal was to keep moving at a brisk pace for ten days through a network of mountainous ridgelines and valleys as we scoured the landscape for Dall sheep. There’s a tenuous compromise between keeping your pack light to be easily carried for many miles yet still full of the gear necessary to sustain you with food and protection for the duration of your trip. In our case, we grossly overemphasized the importance of traveling light and underemphasized the caloric input that would be required to fuel an extraordinary amount of walking through the wet and cold. In the end, our movements were effectively restricted by the same lightweight backpacks that were supposed to give us freedom.
Going without proper gear can do more than just thwart your plans. One could make the argument that all survival situations are the result of not having something: not having water, not having GPS, not having a lighter, not having a functioning boat, not having the necessary medical expertise. In the worst cases, that lack of gear could wind up being deadly. While it’s impractical to think that you’ll be able to pack enough stuff to prevent any and all forms of trouble, the right gear selections can help you eliminate many of the common problems that lead to cancelled ventures and injured bodies. In short, don’t think of gear as something that kills the rawness of the wild; instead, think of gear as something that allows you to stick around and experience it to the fullest.
Folks who were around in the 1980s probably remember the proliferation of those cheap bootleg “Rambo” knives with the hollow handles that contained what was branded as a “survival kit.” If I remember correctly, I bought mine for $7 at the Muskegon Flea Market in western Michigan. The plastic sheath was outfitted with a coarse sharpening stone for honing the cheap but menacingly large knife blade. The threaded cap housed a bubble compass with a needle that refused to spin unless you shook it like a snow globe. Inside the handle lived a few wooden matches that crumbled like wet ash when you tried to light them. There was a big needle for stitching yourself up, and a stretch of monofilament fishing line that could be used for your sutures or for catching a few fish with the cheap snelled hooks that were also packed into the handle. Of the hundreds of thousands of Rambo knives that were sold in those days, I’m guessing that not a single one was ever actually put to use in a real-life survival situation. But still, I applaud the Rambo knife for having raised awareness around the important topic of survival kits.
By our definition, your kit should contain a lot more than just basic survival equipment. We think of ours more as do-anything, grab-and-go accessory bags that are kept ready and loaded to be stuffed into backpacks, duffel bags, and boat boxes whenever we’re headed into or near the outdoors for hikes, hunts, fishing excursions, and even beach vacations. Once you’ve built your kit, there are two very important things to keep in mind. One, you’ve got to maintain it and periodically inspect the contents to make sure everything is up to date and in good working order. Alcohol swabs and wet wipes can dry out over time, bandages lose their stickiness, batteries go bad. So be diligent about inspections. Two, no matter where you’re going, your kit doesn’t do any good if you don’t pack it along.
A Basic Survival Kit
Survival situations are not limited to wild, remote locations. Plenty of people get injured hunting out of a treestand a quarter mile from their back door. Plenty more get lost on well-traveled trails. So pack your kit, and keep it in a small dry bag or a heavy-duty plastic baggie that is within reach during any outdoor excursion.
• Fire-starting kit—two lighters, a plastic baggie or other sealable container full of cotton balls slathered in Vaseline, and slivers of heartwood
• Water purification system—Steripen and iodine tablets (see page 54 for instructions on their use)
• Single-use 40 percent DEET insect repellent swabs
• SureFire Minimus headlamp and emergency backup light such as the Petzl e+LITE or a simple coin-battery pinch light
• 25-foot length of 3 mm utility cord and 25-foot length of 5 mm utility cord
• Four zip ties
• Small, lightweight mirror for signaling, preferably made of unbreakable polycarbonate
• Waxed dental floss dispenser with heavy-duty sewing needle taped to dispenser
• Circle patch kit (Tenacious Tape)
• Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper precision tweezers
• Fisher Bullet Space Pen (useful for validating hunting tags, leaving notes, writing afterlife wishes and deathbed confessions)
• Single-use tube of all-purpose superglue (to repair gear and treat cut fingers)
• Long-handled titanium camp spoon
• Toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste
• Single-use wet wipes
• 0.5-ounce tin of Dermatone Lips’n Face Protection Creme
• Extra batteries for headlamp, Steripen, GPS unit, etc.
• Work Sharp pocket-size knife sharpener
Extra Shit for Your Basic Kit
The items in the previous list are kept in our main survival kits, which we always stash in whatever pack we’re using. But many of us also keep a store of additional items in Stanley organizer boxes in our garages. Before every trip, we look through all our extra survival gear and grab anything we feel we might need, depending on the circumstances.
• Emergency thermal space blanket
• Tube of Coghlan’s Fire Paste
• Cable saw
• SPF 50 sunscreen
• Mini fishing kit—plastic envelope containing 50 feet of 8-pound fluorocarbon fishing line, four size BB split shot, two size 12 beadhead pheasant tail flies, two size 6 baitholder hooks, two size 8 baitholder hooks
• Two Snare Shop small-game wire snares
• SureFire handheld 1,200-lumen flashlight
• Leatherman bit kit and bit driver extender