As a backpack hunter, I don't think of my survival equipment as strictly emergency materials that might someday come in handy. Instead, I treat my survival gear as part of my usual kit. I'm constantly updating the items in my bag, replacing used materials and making minor adjustments according to where I'm headed.
For instance, if I'm hunting the North Slope of Alaska's Brooks Range where harmful water-borne parasites are not an issue, I'll trim out water purification tablets in exchange for extra tinder materials that will come in handy on a soggy and fuel-starved landscape. Certain things, however, stay in my kit no matter what. Here are five small essentials that I carry with me whenever I head into the woods or mountains:
1. Fire is essential for warmth, cooking, melting water from snow or ice, and psychological well-being. I keep my kit stocked with a redundant supply of fire-starting materials. In it I have: a disposable lighter for everyday use; a small waterproof cylinder containing twenty waterproof and windproof matches; a magnesium striker; and a tin full of petroleum-based fire paste. It might sound like a lot, but I can fit the whole assortment in a T-shirt pocket.
2. I carry a Leatherman on my belt at all times, but I also stock my kit with a lightweight Havalon razorblade knife and a few extra 60XT autopsy blades. In addition to countless normal applications such as skinning game, sharpening implements and cutting cord, the sterile blades are perfect for such emergency uses as removing large splinters, fixing ingrown toe nails or even boring a pressure-release hole into a crushed and blood-gorged fingernail.
3. In addition to my primary flashlight -- a Surefire mounted on a homemade head strap -- I always carry a simple backup light that can be powered by a single AA battery. I do not store a battery inside the light, where it might leak acid and destroy the connectors and inner workings. Instead, I keep three AA batteries taped together as a single package. That way, I know that I've still got hours worth of light if I happen to lose or somehow destroy my primary light.
4. I always carry at least 25 feet of braided utility cord in my pack. I've used it to replace boot laces, to hoist mountain goat quarters into a tree, to anchor a tent in high wind, to secure loads to my pack, to get food out of reach of grizzlies, to replace drawstrings on packs and garments, and to repel down minor cliff faces and lower loads down major cliff faces. In fact, the only thing better than 25 feet of cord is 50 feet.
5. You can kid yourself into believing that you to have the luck and skill necessary to catch birds and small game with log deadfalls or snares woven from roots. In reality, though, it's not going to happen. If you really want to be prepared to capture emergency food without the aid of a firearm, spend a little money at snareshop.com and get yourself a three-pack of self-locking cable snares. They're lightweight, easy to use and strong enough to hold a raccoon or even a beaver. Set properly, they could even be used to capture larger game by the foot. What's more, there are thousands of trappers in this country who use almost identical snares on their professional trap lines. Rather than learning about deadfalls from some old hippy with a beaded necklace who's never actually needed to use them, you can study snares with a real guy who snares for a living. That'll give you confidence you need to make a snare work when it counts.