On the last day of the Wilderness First Responder course, instructor Matt Stauffer emptied the contents of a stuff sack onto the classroom floor. The 3-by-10 inch sack held everything he needs to spend an emergency night in the woods:
Garbage bags, preferable the trash compactor bags because they are thicker and tougher. Trash bags can become emergency bivy sacks, with one pulled up to his waist and his head poking out a hole in the other.
Firestarter. Stauffer carried a magnesium bar and a knife to cut shavings into a small pike, then light it with a spark. He also had a lighter, which he sometimes wears on a cord around his neck, and a waterproof container of matches. To make it easier to light a fire, Stauffer also carries candle stubs. Film canisters full of Vaseline-doused cotton balls or tire shavings also make excellent firestarter, Stauffer said.
Whistle to signal with, but not one with a pea inside, because those tend to freeze in cold weather.
"You can blow a whistle a lot longer than you can scream," Stauffer said.
Glass signal mirror, with directions for use on the back. "When it comes to boating accidents and things like that, pilots say signal mirrors are what they see the farthest," Stauffer said. But that does require some sun to reflect back.
Glow sticks are a way to signal when there is no sun. Put the glowing stick on a cord and spin it. Searchers will see a glowing circle. Green ones work best, Stauffer said.
Cord, such as parachute cord.
Surveyor flagging tape, to mark a spot
Duct tape, fixes anything from a pack to a broken arm and can be used to start fires as well.
Metal cup for cooking.
Tea bags and bouillon cubes. Decaffeinated is best so the tea helps hydrate.
Emergency food. Stauffer carries a can of chicken Vienna sausages because he doesn't like them. "Do not pick something you love because you will eat it before you need it," Stauffer said. "The real hard-core people carry a little can of Alpo."
Water purifying tablets
Emergency space blanket
Extra polypropylene hat or balaclava