By John Rose

Photo by Patrick Hendry

John Rose has been an instructor and advisor of wilderness and urban survival for most of his life. He has compiled some of his best tips on a variety of topics, which we will be featuring in several parts.


Learn how to use all the gear in your kits. Take each item out, experiment with it under different conditions. If it doesn't perform, discard it!

Replace anything that may be expired, such as medications in your first aid kit, old lighters that have leaked their gas, expired food, and what may have deteriorated from age or lack of use. Don't forget about old batteries which could have leaked and corroded your flashlight or radio, etc. As a rule, go through this process about every six months.

Select items to carry that have multiple uses to cut down on redundancy in your kit. An example is to have a durable rain poncho that can also be a shelter, a ground cloth, water collector, etc. Try to have electronic items with the same type of battery so as not to weigh yourself down with multiple batteries.

Make your emergency or bug out bag contents as simple and easy to get to as possible. Think preschool level here because when you are in a dire situation and your senses may be inhibited by psychological and environmental obstacles; you want everything to be as simple as possible. Consider how you will be able to access the contents of your kit if you are unable to see, are disorientated, injured, or perhaps have the use of only one hand. Clearly mark everything with brightly colored tape or color coding. Memorize exactly how everything is packed in your kit, and practice using it.

Keep a mesh bag in your kit. Carry or store things in it in your pack, then use it to cover your head for a bug net, to collect food, pre-filter water, carry wet clothes, etc.

Sleek, expensive gear is a real attraction for many people outfitting themselves for survival or adventure, but is really not necessary for our survival. Don't let the expense keep you from preparedness. For instance, an upscale nylon ultralight tarp is really cool, but you can get by with a sheet of Tyvek, a couple of large trash bags, plastic sheeting, or many other cost-effective items. There also may be a tendency to not actually use the expensive stuff, holding off until you really need it, only to find out its attributes were underestimated or you have no idea how to use it properly. Try going low tech, and experiment often with what you’re going to carry.

When carrying a backpack, or any other baggage for that matter, be sure it is stable and balanced on your back. There are many reasons for keeping everything centered, the most obvious being not to cause muscle strain or twists in your back. You are also better able to keep your own physical balance if your pack is balanced. Another often overlooked problem is, if you have more weight on one side than the other, you will drift toward the heavy side when walking and not walk in a straight line, which could lead to getting lost if you are off trail or not using proper navigation techniques.

Take a notebook and make a note every time you think of an item you wish you had. Write this down every time you think of it. If it is a recurrent item, then add it to your EDC (everyday carry) bag.


A knife is probably the single most important tool one can have. Select a knife that is easy to use and good for multiple tasks. If it’s too small, it will be of little use; the same holds true if it’s too large. A really huge knife has its usefulness but is often a sign of someone who is inexperienced in Bushcraft.

Among the most essential items in your kit is a container with which you can collect, boil, and drink water. I recommend a sturdy stainless steel cup or something of that sort.

A small magnifying glass serves many purposes and takes up little space. You can use it to help identify edible plant parts, as it allows you to study often subtle but vital parts of a plant that may be the difference in recognizing a poisonous versus an edible one. It can be used to start a fire by focusing the sun's rays. It can take the place of reading glasses and be helpful to see map details. See how many uses you can come up with.

Make a survival stick. Find a solid stick of green wood big enough in diameter so that, when you grip it, your fingers just touch. It should be straight and about the same length as you are tall. It’s good to have a "Y" fork on one end which serves many purposes—such as pinning a snake by the head when you want to catch it—and sharpened and fire-hardened on the other end. It isn't necessary to shave off the bark or be too refined in making it, just one that will provide solid functionality. Small saplings work well.

Try your hand at the throwing stick, sometimes called a rabbit stick. Make one out of a solid piece of hardwood about as big in diameter as your wrist and a little longer than your forearm. Try setting up a target a few feet away and practice throwing the stick, making it more challenging as you go. Observe a proper stance, which is standing sideways to your target. If you’re throwing with your right hand, have your left foot facing closest to the target, or vice-versa for left-handed throwing. When approaching the target, have your arm already in position for the throw. This allows for the least movement before throwing the stick. Practice this in the event you have to hunt small game with your stick or fend off an attacking animal. The reason for approaching game sideways is to somewhat disguise yourself, as animals will recognize the human form as a threat.

Baby wipes are very useful for many things in the woods. Once you discover them, you may never leave home without them.

Carry a small scrub brush in your kit, like the ones used to clean fingernails, to clean roots, scrub pans, and a variety of other things.

Even though there are a lot of useful gadgets on the market for survival and camping, learn to get by with the simplest of items. Batteries eventually die, gadgets break, and technology will eventually fail you.

If you are looking for a good flashlight, consider an LED headlight, as it leaves your hands free for other things, and LED lights have longer battery life than old-style incandescent bulbs.

When using a flashlight, try to use low-light settings whenever possible to maintain as much night vision as possible, and if in a group, don't shine your light in someone else's face. This also preserves battery life.

Beware of the false security of a flashlight. When using a flashlight, you’re blinded to all that is outside of its beam and therefore vulnerable. An added hindrance is that your night vision is wiped out.


Dress in layers so you can keep your body temperature regulated. You want to avoid sweating in cooler temperatures to avoid hypothermia. It’s better to dress so you are a little bit cool. However, it’s good to sweat when the weather is hot. When you stop sweating, you are in great danger of overheating and are already on the edge of heat exhaustion.

Take note that in cool or cold and damp weather conditions, cotton clothing can be a dangerous choice as it absorbs moisture and traps it next to your skin.

Carry a pair of leather work gloves in your kit. They are useful for many things, a few of which include handling hot cooking pots from the fire, clearing briars, collecting thorny plants and, of course, keeping your hands warm in the cold.

Keep a spare change of clothes with you in a dry sack in the event that the clothes you’re wearing get wet in some way. Include a warm knit-style cap and a pair of light gloves for added comfort. They take up little space and make a big difference.

Go through your wardrobe sometime and ask yourself how each article of clothing you have would be in a situation where you were forced to spend time in the elements, or escaping from a disaster or emergency situation. This is not to say that every article of clothing needs to be survival-ready, but do make sure that you have access to clothing that is, such as extra clothes you carry in your car or in a bag with you.

A poncho or tarp makes an excellent shelter, raincoat, water collection device, and windbreaker. These things are available at army surplus or outdoor supply stores. Make sure to get the ripstop type as it is better quality than the cheaper, vinyl sort.

When you find yourself feeling cold, there are a few things you can do. Change your socks, put on a hat, add another base layer; take a few deep breaths or do something active.

To keep insects and such from crawling up your leg, tie a string or bootlace around the ankle of your pants legs. You can also tuck your pants into your boots or wrap duct tape around them. Improvise anything you can to close off access at the hems.

Be sure to break in new footwear anytime you venture out for a hike or expedition of any sort to ensure a good fit and to avoid blisters or any other discomfort related to your feet. Keeping your feet in good condition is essential to the well-being of the rest of your body.

Keep your feet comfortable and dry year-round with wool socks.