Excursions Series - 5) Survival equipment, from military to outdoor: 5 ideas for your DIY kit

“Excursions” series

All over the year, especially during summer season, mountains, valleys and pine forests become a popular destination for plenty of excursionists. “Excursions” is a series of 5 weekly articles to prepare yourself optimally for your outdoor activities from trekking to camping, with suggestions on clothing and equipment: which are the best fabrics to wear, which backpack model to choose, the necessary technologies for footwear, the many functionalities of the multi-tools. The series will end with an article on a topic you asked us to cover, i.e. how to prepare your survival kit - that we wrote taking a cue from the precious suggestions of professional military operators.

Article 5 of 5

Survival equipment, from military to outdoor: 5 ideas for your DIY kit

The morphology of the Italian territory, mainly mountainous and hilly, allows you to practice excursions in wonderful places and different scenarios. However, we know that any outdoor excursion – whether on the national territory or abroad – is an activity not to be underestimated and for which it is necessary to prepare as best as possible, especially if you plan an overnight stay outdoors. Assuming a two-day excursion (overnight stay included), we will draw 5 interesting ideas from military training to build your own basic DIY kit of survival equipment for a medium-demanding excursion.

Key Points

1 - Material for bivouac
2 - Water and food
3 - Clothing
4 - IFAK
5 - How to arrange materials inside the backpack depending on the type of terrain

1 - Material for bivouac

First of all, what is meant by bivouac? Military technique teaches us that the implementation of the bivouac is developed in 5 phases: Planning on topographic or digital map (identifying an area that has certain characteristics, such as an incoming and outgoing route and, as far as possible, a water source nearby); Reconnaissance (to check what was planned); Occupation (once the area has been selected, all the materials are prepared, after a tactical stop of about 10' for further confirmation of the safety of the area); Stationing activities (during this phase, if an overnight stop is planned, it would be advisable to carry out waking shifts to control fire, animals, intruders, etc.); Abandonment (it is recommended to take away your waste, restoring the natural state of the environment). It may be useful, with the necessary limits, to take inspiration from the military procedure of implementation of the bivouac to choose the area suitable for your stop / overnight stay during an excursion.

Image 1: military bivouac. Source: Italian Army’s official Facebook page

There are several bivouac solutions; among our favorite, there’ are are the functional sleeping bags and bivy bags (spoiler: they'll be soon available on our website!) which have different levels of thermal insulation depending on the outside temperatures. Another interesting solution is the poncho, both in the English version (not equipped with hood, very light and wide) to be placed as a "roof", and in the American version (equipped with hood, it can be taken away quickly) that will instead serve as a "floor". To accompany the poncho, a series of synergistic tools – such as ropes, elastic bands and a waterproof container –to build a shelter in different scenarios and weather conditions. In addition, it is also worth mentioning other types of bivouac materials, albeit with the necessary observations: the mattress that, in addition to the classic inflatable version, is also available in self-inflating versions (very comfortable, but susceptible to any punctures) and as a foam polymer mat (light and easy to use, but rather bulky and less comfortable than the mattress); the GORE-TEX tent, which is a good shelter even in places infested with insects thanks to the mosquito net, but doesn’t allow us to monitor any potential dangers in the surrounding environment (animals, intruders, adverse weather conditions, etc.). In any case, we always recommend checking the quality of the construction and materials of the product you choose.

2 – Water and food

The military method involves the use of a series of containers for water and drinks, such as: thermos; steel water bottles; blisters with straw, ideal for transporting large quantities of liquids with minimum dimensions. If on one hand, in case of excursion, the choice of the container is personal, on the other, the choice of the amount of water to take with you does not depend much on the person, as on the climate, the estimated time of stay and the level of fatigue of the person himself/herself. In any case, regardless of the amount of water you decide to bring, it is always advisable to have portable water purification systems. Water bottles with integrated filter, personal filtration systems (for example with activated carbon capsules that capture chemicals and heavy metals), electrolysis purification devices, sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC), although we always recommend using chemical treatments with caution*.

*Source: article on www.nationalgeographic.it “6 modi per avere acqua potabile anche in viaggio”, July 22nd 2020.

Image 2: pic by Julia Sakelli, Pexels

As for the choice of foods and relative quantities, the military method provides, in general, a mix of certain foods to be packaged in daily rations, as well as emergency food, to allow the supply of a correct food requirement in terms of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and kilocalories. In the below Image 3 you can find an example of emergency daily ration*.

*Note: this daily ration is indicated by way of example and not exhaustively. It is advisable to always contact food and nutrition professionals for the calculation of your own food requirement, based on your needs.

Image 3: example of emergency daily ration

3 – Clothing

The choice of clothing may seem perhaps the most difficult part. However, as in everyday life, the traditional advice to dress 'in layers' is always the most reliable and, even in the case of high temperatures such as during summer season, the modern fabrics and technologies allow you to keep your body temperature stable, remaining cool and dry. Here are the garments that cannot miss in your basic survival kit.

Upper body

Let's start with waterproof softshell jackets. An example of a garment that reflects these characteristics is the Integrity Shell Jacket by Vertx®. This breathable jacket is equipped with 37.5® technology, which works by reducing humidity on hot days to keep you dry. Afterwards, never forget to leave a space in your backpack for a hoodie and a fleece sweater (yes, even in summer). Finally, a comfortable t-shirt or polo with a fabric that allows you to counteract the summer heat: an excellent solution is the Coldblack Polo by Vertx®, equipped with Coldblack® technology, which reduces the absorption of thermal radiation - especially in dark fabrics - and, at the same time, guarantees reliable protection from UV rays, with a minimum UPF of 30 even in light fabrics.

Lower body

Also for lower body, the key words are comfort and waterproofing. You can therefore opt for a pair of fresh shorts in stretch fabric, such as the Cutback 11", also equipped with 37.5® technology or, if you prefer a solution that covers the entire leg, for the Defiance, the comfortable jeans in Coolmax®, a fabric that transports moisture from the skin to the outer surface, drying faster than in other fabrics. As an emergency garment, we recommend also bringing waterproof pants such as the Integrity Shell Pant, which matches with the abovementioned jacket and shows its same characteristics in terms of waterproofness, as well as several pockets at strategic points and zippers at the ankles for quick and easy putting on / removal of boots. For more information on 37.5®, Coldblack® and Coolmax® technologies, check out our article on technologies and fabrics for summer here.

Image 5: Defiance Jeans by Vertx®

You know, when you have to walk for a long time, even in hostile terrain, choosing the right shoes is essential, in order to avoid ruining the whole experience due to injuries, pain, discomfort or soaked feet. As for clothing, even for footwear the choice is vast; we can say that, among the various footwear brands on the market, Crispi® is no doubt an Italian excellence. Two interesting models, suitable for all types of terrain and activities, are: Nevada SMU GTX and Tiger GTX, where GTX – clearly – stands for GORE-TEX. As we know, GORE-TEX shoes are 100% waterproof and allow you to ford rivers and immerse your feet in water while remaining completely dry. In addition, both of these models are equipped with a Vibram® rubber sole - known for its resistance over time and excellent grip even on particularly rough terrain - and ankle and malleolus protection. If you want to find out more about these two models of footwear, here you will find our previous article on outdoor shoes. Along with boots, it is advisable to bring a pair of sneakers to wear during the bivouac, if you need to move quickly for a night emergency. Even socks, often forgotten or "lost" in the meanders of the washing machine, are actually an element not to be underestimated. Crispi® also offers interesting options for this type of product, with a mix of fabrics - including Coolmax - for maximum comfort.

Image 6: Crispi® Tiger GTX

Clothing accessories

Other noteworthy accessories are: hats and caps, both in the classic baseball cap version and in jungle version; gloves, advisable especially if you plan to handle ropes or climbing ropes. For full details on glove standards, check out our previous article here, where you'll also find information on Fast Rope by Masters of Gloves, specifically designed for roping operations.

Image 7: Fast Rope gloves by Masters of Gloves

4 – IFAK (Medical Kit)

An indispensable element - and we’d like to underline it - is the IFAK. If you go on a solo hike [which we absolutely not recommend, ed], the medical kit could save your life. If you explore in company, we know that one of your group members may give you "paranoid" or "exaggerated" when finding out that you want to bring a medical kit for only two days... Well, don't listen. On the market and on the various marketplaces there are several ready-made kits – soon they will also be available on our website -, but be careful to check that they comply with all the regulations for medical devices. Alternatively, you could build your own medical kit, following these valuable military tips. An excellent medical kit must contain the essentials* for:

  • Swab wounds
  • Stop venous bleeding with special gauze
  • Stop arterial bleeding with the help of suitable instruments (tourniquet type)
  • Make small cuts
  • Administering medicines
  • Treat any intestinal infections, flu principles, inflammations, various insect bites, allergies and sunburn of various kinds

*Note: Italian legislation is very restrictive on the possibility of intervening to administer drugs or treatments to other people; our advice is to act according to your conscience and in compliance with the relevant rules. It is also recommended to attend BLS courses.

A handy bag to hold all your medical instruments is the Walker Medical Pouch by Vertx. Designed for use as IFAK, it saves you precious seconds thanks to its extreme organizational capacity. In fact, there are internal pockets with color-coded shock cord retention, ie with colored elastic bands for quick visual identification of the necessary (red: wounds and bleeding; blue: cardiovascular problems; green: airways).

Image 8: Medium Walker Medical Pouch by Vertx®

Last but not least, a pair of scissors to cut any bandages or clothing. In this regard, Leatherman's multi-tools have dozens of different functionalities in a single small, compact and easy-to-handle tool; particularly useful for medical purposes is Raptor® Rescue. Developed thanks to the suggestions of doctors specialized in special operations, these scissors can respond quickly to health emergencies, without an excessive amount of tools that could further complicate things, and, thanks to their versatility, can also be used as kitchen scissors or for cutting fabrics, plants and shrubs. To learn more about outdoor multi-tools, check out our article here.

Image 8: Medium Walker Medical Pouch by Vertx®

5 – Arrangement of materials inside the backpack according to the types of terrain

In the military world there are unwritten rules, which are dictated by the experience deriving from long periods spent outdoors: only this will make us aware of what we need and what is superfluous for the type of excursion and for our needs. However, there are some general indications that are always useful to follow:

  • Keep the various materials separate
  • Remove only the necessary material and then store it after use
  • Find a way to recognize the various materials in order to extract them quickly when needed (for example, through marked or colored watertight bags for various types of material, as illustrated above for the Walker Medical Pouch)
  • Pack the backpack compactly and, as far as possible, avoid tying material externally to the backpack so as not to risk losing objects or getting caught in the vegetation.

Now that your equipment is ready, it will be necessary to place it as best as possible inside the backpack, not only to ensure that there is enough space for everything, but also for a correct weight distribution (here we recommend three different types of outdoor backpack). In this regard, especially in the case of transporting heavy loads, it is preferable to choose a backpack with adjustable lumbar and sternal belt. For a correct preparation of the backpack it is necessary to write a check-list. Next to the individual items, it is good to indicate the value of the weight to realize the total load that we will carry on our shoulders. In addition, depending on the type of terrain on which our excursion will take place, the arrangement of the material inside the backpack varies, always bearing in mind that the center of gravity of the backpack must be set in the most suitable area so as not to allow it to unbalance us during the journey.

Mountainous or hilly terrain

When there’s a good trail underfoot, we recommend to stack the payload tall and thin with a high center of gravity - above or at the height of the shoulder blades - so that you can stand comfortably and walk with your arms swinging freely; pack dense, heavy items, such as the cooking stove, at the top of the backpack so that they rest on your shoulder blades and close to your back; load bulky, light gear at the bottom to raise the pack's center of gravity. Tip: when climbing hills, we recommend tightening the shoulder straps and loosening the hip belt to relieve strain on the hips and lower back.


While canyoning your pack could get wedged or dragged into narrow slots of abrasive stone. It must therefore be compact and easy to handle, without nothing lashed to the outside that may get caught. Your center of gravity should be shoulder-blade height and close to your back. Soft items, such as clothing, should be placed at the bottom and top of the backpack. The pack height should be low, to allow head clearance and upward vision when crawling and jumping.

Lush vegetation

In this scenario, for smooth excursions, you should make the backpack as compact as possible and keep the sternal belt tight. In addition, it is advisable to lower the center of gravity slightly to enjoy a neutral and vertical position that allows you to easily return to an upright position after crawling, squatting or after tripping over some hidden root or stone. Anything that can get caught in the branches – tent poles, fishing rods, linen, water hose – must be inserted inside the backpack.

Valuable advice: Before departure, place all your equipment (including food) on a flat surface and take a picture, as in Image 10. On your return, take out what you have left from your backpack, arrange it in the same way and take another photo: in this way, you will better evaluate what to bring and in what quantity during the next excursion.

Image 10: example of equipment pic

Other recommended materials:

- Envelopes to remove any waste, respecting the environment

- Battery-powered torch

- Compass

- Map of the area

- Notepad and pen

- Sunglasses

- Lighter and steel to light the fire (only if permitted by law in the area where you are);

- Sunscreens with SPF between 30 and 50+

- Personal cleaning kit

- Gps

- Replacement batteries

- Survival knife

- Mobile phone with charging aid

- Annotated emergency numbers (rescue, police, etc.)

- Satellite phone (depending on GSM coverage areas)

Your survival kit is now ready! Keep in mind that these are just general indications that shall not, in any case, replace a professional tour guide’s support, whom you can always choose to entrust to for private or group tours. Be cautious and enjoy your excursion!

Disclaimer: The indications contained in the Articles and on the Site are not intended and must not in any way replace the direct relationship between professionals and the User. Therefore, if the User deems to need advice regarding the topics covered (nutrition, hiking, health, etc.) before leaving for the excursion, he/she is invited to contact a professional in the reference sector directly, especially, but not only, in the presence of any type of disease, intolerance or allergy, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, obesity, etc. Under no circumstances will Tactyka Srl, the Site, the Authors of the Articles, or other subjects connected to the Site, be liable for any damage, even hypothetically connected, to the use of such information and assume no responsibility, either direct or indirect, for the use and misuse that Users may make of the indications contained in the Articles and on the Site. Furthermore, since it is not possible to guarantee the absence of errors and the correctness of the information disclosed, Tactyka Srl assumes no responsibility for any information or news contained in the Site and in the Articles where they later prove to be incorrect or untrue. Therefore, the risks associated with the use of this Site and Articles will be borne entirely and exclusively by the User.

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