One of the biggest mistakes we see novice survivalists making is a failure to prepare. The trouble is, too many casual outdoor enthusiasts are putting themselves in situations that they fail to plan for. Imagine you're planning a casual hike with your family. It's sunny outside, and you're only going for the afternoon, so you don't think to bring all the right gear. Why would you need a torch, or a fire-starting kit if you're going to be back before dark? 99% of the time, you'll be right. The short hike you've got planned goes totally to plan, and you're back at camp, toasting marshmallows over the fire before the sun even sets. But what if something goes wrong? Perhaps one of your party wanders off and takes a tumble and sprains an ankle. What if your canoe wasn't properly secured and drifts off, or you get off-course and find yourself hopelessly lost? This is what you need to prepare for. It feels totally redundant to carry your survival gear on a basic hike, but having the right supplies when you need them could be the difference between life and death. You've got to be ready to survive whatever mother nature throws at you, so take this advice to heart.
Bring the right clothing Hiking shouldn't be a fashion statement, and every piece you're wearing needs to have a basic functionality. Think about what you're going to wear. Skip shorts and choose instead long military-style cargo pants. Pick a sturdy pair of boots you've already broken in, new ones will rub in all the wrong places and may even put you out of commission. The basic rule is to dress in layers, and once you think you're done, throw on an extra layer. This makes it easy to remove or add clothing as you need, an important survival tactic especially once you realize how brutally cold it gets in the dead of night. Oh and remember to never, ever wear cotton. Yes, it's comfortable, but it holds moisture next to your skin which is refreshing during the heat of the day but a nightmare once the sun sets and the temperature drops. There's no excuse to being impractically dressed, so plan ahead and wear the right outfit.
Bring the right gear Realistically, if you're hiking for only a couple of hours the only thing you need is a canteen full of water. But once you start imagining everything that could go wrong, and the tools and supplies you need to ensure your survival, you'll quickly realize you're drastically short of gear. What's your plan if you aren't able to make it back to your base camp before dark? How about refilling your canteen now the hike has taken longer than expected and you're short of water? At a bare minimum buy a life-straw and throw it in your pack so you're able to drink from any (dubious) source of water you find. This is a must. Anything above this is optional, but I have a few items I personally don't leave behind on any hike, no matter what. I've got a basic firestarting kit, three Mylar space blankets, a few protein bars, a pocket flashlight, my satellite phone, a survival knife, and a tiny fishing kit my wife put together for me (which has proved its worth a hundred-fold over the last two years). I'd also recommend throwing in a detailed topographical map of the area and a compass, and depending on the wildlife you may encounter (i.e. bears) you may also want a firearm for your personal protection.
Develop your skills Having the right gear is only the first step. Real survival is about being able to use these tools in addition to the knowledge you've developed to survive through anything. Have you ever lit a fire in the dark while the rain and wind battled you to put it out? How about crafting a shelter designed to reflect the heat in, so you make it through the night? Practice really does make perfect, so spend your time now to hone your survival skills before you really need to rely on them to stay alive. If you're opting to only carry a super-light kit like my own you better know what you're doing when it comes to trapping and gathering food, shelter construction and keeping yourself protected from whatever mother nature throws at you.
Be able to call for help The last item is probably the most important. Have a means of communicating with the outside world. If you're in a critical situation, being able to call in the cavalry to come save you means you don't need to survive at all. At most, you've just got to ride out the few hours it takes for the search and rescue team to reach you. The trouble though, is most people expect their cell phone to be all they need. Unfortunately, once you've gone out of range of a cell tower it'll be next to useless, unless it's got a GPS satellite locator you can use to send a distress beacon. I chose to buy a satellite phone so I've always got a connection back, but this is also a pricey endeavor. One of the other guys in our APE Survival team swears by his VHF air-band transceiver, which allows him to radio for help from almost anywhere, and for good measure have a flare or two and a whistle and a mirror. Use the items we've covered today to overcome the deadly mistakes too many people make when it comes to survival, and really, they easily fit into a small backpack so you've got no excuse to be wandering off on a hike without them. The real goal is to have a plan for every possible scenario, so you've got the right clothing, gear and knowledge to survive anything.