Every year, hunters find themselves deeper into rugged country than they expected, staying longer than they planned, or they might encounter an unexpected situation. Add to that fall weather, which in Idaho means anything from 70s and sunny to rain, snow and sub freezing temperatures, and sometimes within hours of each other, and there's a recipe for a potentially hazardous situation.
For all those reasons, it’s smart for hunters to carry survival gear. But don’t think of it as strictly for a worst-case scenario. You can also use it during your normal hunts and still have it available if something goes wrong.
These are valuable items that have many useful purposes, and if you know you're going to use something for more than dire emergencies, there's a better chance you will carry it with you during your hunt.
Lighters: They’re cheap, light and don’t take up much space, so get a bunch of them. Carry one in your pocket, another in your day pack, and have spares in your vehicle. You’re constantly needing a lighter to start a campfire, light a stove or lantern so try have one or two with you. Remember inexpensive lighters that get saturated won’t ignite, so stash one in a waterproof container.
Fire starter: Don’t expect to always find dry wood. Buy some commercial fire starter, or make your own. Don’t feel like it’s only for emergencies. Fire starters are good for campfires, and you can make a small fire in the field and heat up lunch or a hot drink. Bring a small pot or metal cup to heat water.
Compass: Even if you carry a GPS, have a compass. A GPS is electronic and requires batteries, which means it can fail. A compass is more reliable. Use it before you leave camp or your vehicle to orient yourself to certain landmarks so you can reference them and navigate back to where you started.
Space blanket: These work for emergency shelter, but you can also use them to lay out meat to keep it clean when you’re quartering or butchering in the field. A word of caution: don’t wrap meat in them for transport. Space blankets are designed to retain heat, and you’re trying to cool the meat.
Signal whistle: These are small, cheap and lightweight. A couple quick blasts will get someone’s attention, and the sound carries farther than shouting. Handy for locating your hunting buddy if you get separated and need to get back together.
Wide-mouth, plastic water bottle: Even if you use a water bladder in your pack, have a plastic bottle to stash other items inside to keep them dry and protected. You can also fill the bottle from any water source when you’re butchering an animal so you don’t sacrifice drinking water to clean up.
Spare long-john shirt and socks: Changing into a dry shirt and/or socks makes a huge difference on a cold, wet day. Store them in a waterproof bag, like a one-gallon, zip-top bag, which can also work as a water bladder, or carry a heart and liver so your pack doesn't get bloody.
Lightweight rain jacket: Many hunters prefer more breathable jackets so they don't get sweaty when they're hiking, but a lightweight raincoat will keep you dry in the worst weather. It might only get used once or twice a season, but it can save you from getting drenched when the skies open and the rain starts pouring.
Parachute cord/rope: Comes in handy for a variety of things, such as hanging quarters or dragging an animal. In an emergency you can use it to build a shelter. Parachute cord can also double as boot laces.
Instant soup, hot beverages: Hot soup, hot chocolate, tea or instant coffee can warm you up on a cold day and provide an energy boost. Don't forget to restock your pack if you eat or drink them.
High-energy food: There are so many energy bars and similar calorie-dense foods on the market that you can carry a lot of calories without much weight or bulk. You can also carry extras for those unexpected, prolonged outings. You might also try a military MRE. They’re a little heavy and bulky, but if you just carry the main course and the heating packet, you can have a hot meal that provides a lot of calories.