Backcountry Survival Kit



Words by Travis Reill

A few summers ago, a friend and I set out on a longer ride I wanted to do. I kissed my wife goodbye and told her to expect us back in four or five hours. Nearly eight hours later, exhausted with my body starting to go into shock, we reached my truck and drove back into cell service. My phone instantly buzzed, notifying me of several missed calls and texts from my wife. A couple more hours later, she would have contacted the authorities.

Much went wrong on that trip. I was unfamiliar with the trails, which became much more difficult than anticipated. There was even a point where we missed a turn and went down a horse trail for nearly two miles. I also greatly underestimated the time it would take to complete the loop. But, the biggest mistake I made was being drastically underprepared. I ran out of food and water with quite a few miles left. Fortunately we did make it out, because neither of us was prepared for a longer stay. No first aid, no extra clothes. Just bad planning.

Whether it is poor preparation or a bad crash, things can quickly turn nasty, especially if you’re out in the backcountry on more isolated trails. After this experience, there are a few things I always try to bring with me on every backcountry ride. These items are useful for shorter rides too – you can never be too prepared.


Staying hydrated is one of the top priorities on a big ride. Not only do you want to consider bringing more water than you need, but you may also consider having a way to get more water while in the backcountry.

WATER FILTRATION | One reality of big backcountry rides is that you can only bring so much water. The ability to filter water could mean you have as much water as you need, provided you are in an area with water sources.

Membrane Solutions offers a 20-oz water bottle with a built-in filter, which you may consider using in place of one of your regular bottles. The four-stage water filter effectively removes 99.99% of contaminants, providing safe drinking water from any nearby river or stream. One filter can purify nearly 400 gallons of water at 450ml per minute, and is easily replaced when a new one is needed. The Membrane Solutions bottle with a filter retails for $23.99.

Perhaps you don’t want to replace one of your water bottles with the Membrane Solutions bottle because it doesn’t fit in your bottle cage. Not to worry—throw the Membrane Solutions Straw in your pack. This five-stage water filtration straw also removes over 99.99% of water contaminants. It weighs 2oz and measures just over 7 inches. The straw can be cleaned, which helps extend its lifespan to over 1,300 gallons of water purification. And, the best thing is you can use it to drink right from the river. Or, dip your water bottle in those cool waters and take it with you for later.

ELECTROLYTES | Often, water isn’t enough. Sweating causes us to lose sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which can lead to increased fatigue; cramps; headaches, and other issues. Consider adding an electrolyte mix such as Liquid-IV, to your water to replenish those electrolytes you are losing. One pack of Liquid-IV has 500mg of sodium, 370mg of potassium, and other vitamins and minerals, helping to keep the essentials topped up for brain and body.


Staying well-hydrated is the first step, but you must keep putting fuel in your body. For an on-the-trail boost, pack a couple of   for the ride. Gu Energy gummies come in several flavors, both with and without caffeine. They are easy to rip open, stuff in your pocket, and munch while you pedal up. I brought Gu Energy gummies along for every ride during a trip to Sedona recently, and they notably reduced fatigue in my legs.

Consider throwing in a more substantial snack for when you take a break. Gu Energy Stroopwafels help refuel your body after a long pedal and, most importantly, taste phenomenal. I especially recommend the caramel coffee flavor. You can throw several of these in your pack without them taking up too much space, and they won’t break all apart like a hard cracker.


Nothing is worse than walking several miles back to your vehicle because you have a flat tire. Throw a spare link in and strap on a hand pump or C02 cartridge on the Crankbrothers BC18 Bottle Cage Tool Kit, and you’ll have everything you need for most trailside issues. For anything that tool kit can’t handle, you probably should have swung by the bike shop in the first place.


I prefer to avoid riding with a backpack, especially on longer rides, but their carrying capacity is undeniably useful. A backpack seems obvious, unless you get a large hip pack. Outdoor Research’s Freewheel 5L Hip Pack is an excellent option for longer rides. This five liter hip pack can fit everything you need to bring inside the main compartment but also has a stowed-away net for more oversized items, such as a jacket.

Having a large capacity hip pack allows you to bring items you would not otherwise be able to, such as a Fox Ranger 2.5L Water Jacket. It is lightweight, packs nicely, is waterproof with fully sealed seams, and has a hood that fits over most trail helmets. Having a quality rain jacket in the backcountry is something you don’t think about until a thunderstorm rolls in, and you still have many miles to make it back to the trailhead. Plus, it is an added layer of warmth in case things go bad…


When things go sideways, you discover what you should’ve brought on big backcountry rides. First, let’s get the most extreme situations out of the way.

Perhaps you get turned around and are backtracking, you’ve had a big crash and are staying put, or it is getting dark, and camping out may be the safest decision. You’re not bikepacking, so a tent, a pad, and a sleeping bag are likely out of the question. However, a fire doesn’t have to be. The Pirates Plunder from Black Beard is your pack’s perfect fire starter kit. The kit comes with four fire starters, a Ferro rod, and a lighter, all of which will work regardless of how wet they are. The Pirates Plunder weighs just over a pound and will easily fit in a larger hip pack or backpack, and it has a bit of extra room in the case for something like a headlamp.

Being deep in the backcountry, you’ll also want to be prepared for a major crash. I like the Cycle Medic kit from My Medic. This fairly standard first aid kit comes in a case that straps to your bike frame. It saves room in your pack to put a few things this kit may lack, such as a splint.

If you venture into the backcountry quite a bit, consider bringing a satellite communication device. A ZOLEO Satellite Communicator connects to your phone via Bluetooth, allowing you to communicate through their app when out of reach of Wi-Fi or cellular coverage. It may set you back a few hundred bucks, but it could get you out of a terrible situation. 


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