Camping Survival Kit for Kids – 13 Essential Items

Young kids camping and enjoying the view of Lake Superior from George H Crosby Manitou State Park in MN

In this article, we lay out everything needed for to create a Camping Survival Kit for Kids. There is a growing wilderness preparedness industry that will happily sell you a pre-made wilderness survival backpack. We think that is unnecessary.

Building your own camping survival kit for kids is inexpensive and easy. The best part is each individual item can be upgraded as the kids grow older without having to replace the whole kids’ wilderness survival kit.

Camping Survival Kit for Kids – Do your kids need one?

Yes. All kids should carry their own emergency survival kits when out in the wilderness. Whether you are camping deep in the backcountry or in camping at your local state park, you never know when a survival situation will present itself.

We believe basic safety and survival skills are a must, even for young kids. Much of the enjoyment that comes with true outdoor adventure derives from the fact that we are returning to our roots and living a life, even for a weekend, that more closely resembles what we are genetically designed to live.

Our whole family carries their own survival kit. We have encouraged our little ones to carry a kid’s survival kit since about the time they could walk.

At two years old, those little packs included a snack and a stuffed animal. Now, at 7 and 9, those packs are starting to resemble our own carry everything from a Swiss army knife and food bars to duct tape and a first aid kit.

Camping Survival Kit for Kids – Skills before Stuff

Gear does not make the adventure, YOU DO! Most gear is worthless if you do not have the skills and experience to use it. So don’t go out and buy a bunch of brand-new camping gear. Get the basics and spend some time getting used to it!

Camping Survival Kit for Kids – Basic Elements

First and foremost, our children’s safety during outdoor activities is OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS PARENTS. It is up to us to make sure we are ready for whatever might come our way.

That being said, there are skills that can be taught from a very young age that will grow and blossom over time. Like with anything, more reps leads to greater proficiency!

Any camping survival kit for kids should be focused on the following basic survival elements:

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter
  4. Fire

We believe that once kids hit the age of 8 they should have the basis tools and skills to meet each of those needs, even if only for a brief period of time.

Camping Survival Kit for Kids – Complete List of Items

Camping Survival Kit for Kids - Two kids carrying their survival packs on a portage in the BWCA

1. Food

Each kid carries a small ziplock bag in their survival packs that includes some hearty, and shelf-stable, snacks.

Some of their favorites are Paleo Valley Beef Sticks, Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars, and good old-fashioned homemade GORP. The latter is great because you can make it to their liking and ensure high amounts of fats, sugars, and protein.

Our goal here is that they have an accessible snack for the trails AND, if they ever were separated from the group, they would have nourishment for at least a day.

2. Water

We love the small 16 oz sized Nalgene Bottles. REI often has them on sale with cool kid-friendly designs. They are the only water bottles we’ve found that the kids haven’t destroyed and that do not constantly leak.

Our goal here is that they have enough water to make it through a night if they were separated from our group. If we are on a longer hike or adventure, we will also have them bring something to purify water, like a couple of water purification tablets or a small filter bottle.

3. Shelter/Tarp

Shelter is probably the most difficult of the four emergency preparedness elements, largely because kids just do not yet have the strength or hand-eye coordination to put up a proper shelter. That being said, they can improvise and learn!

Our kids carry a small 6’x8′ poly tarp (like the old blue ones your parents probably used), small diameter paracord, and tent stakes they whittled out of sticks last year in their youth survival kits.

We pre-cut the rope into smaller chunks and pre-tie onto the grommets to help with setup. Choose high visibility colors if available, as it is much easier to find a lost kid if they are covered in a bright orange tarp!

Even if your kids cannot set up a shelter well, the tarp can be wrapped around them, preferably under a tree, to protect them from the elements and preserve body heat. Another option is to bring a poncho or rain jacket, however they are not as versatile as a tarp.

4. Emergency Blanket

Each kid carries two of the lightweight emergency sleeping bags. These are the thin, metal looking blankets that can be bought on Amazon for less than $2 each.

5. Fire Starter

Fire is one of the most important survival elements. Not only does it provide warmth and someplace to cook, it also provides a psychological uplift and can calm fears as darkness sets in.

Our youth survival packs include a couple of items that they can use to start a fire.

  1. Ferro Rod & Striker – This is how they actually create a spark for their fires
  2. Blow Pipe – We just took apart a ballpoint pen and brought the shaft. This allows you to blow on the fire to perk it up
  3. Bic Lighters – These are hard for kids to use, and do not work when wet, so we prefer teaching them how to use their ferro rod and striker.

All of these items, apart from the knives, are kept in a ziplock bag to keep them dry.

6. Fire Starting Materials

It is good practice to have dry kindling on hand. Our kids carry two to three items in a zip lock bag.

  1. Jute Rope – Often kindling can be wet or kids can struggle to find fine-enough fibers to catch a spark. We keep a couple of sections of jute rope in a waterproof container that they can unwind into a nice bed for their ferro rod sparks
  2. Birch Bark – They always pick up a section of birchbark to keep in their kid as the next source of dry kindling beyond the jute rope.
  3. Petroleum Jelly – Another option is to bring Petroleum Jelly and cotton balls. The Petroleum Jelly can be used to help prevent frostbite and, when placed on the cotton balls, is an excellent fire starter.

7. Pocket Knife

This can be a challenging decision if you have a small kid, as sharp objects often lead to minor injuries. Our kids carry at least one knife on them at all times.

You can choose either old-school pocket knives or a fixed blade knives. We like the Morakniv Survival Kit as it comes with a spare ferro rod and is fluorescent orange.

Our kids started learning knife safety with an Opinel No. 7 My First Knife. We like that it folds up, has a safety, and has a rounded tip.

8. Paracord Bracelet

This is a simple and fun item that looks cool and is fun to carry. You never know when extra rope will be needed.

9. First-Aid Kit

This should really be up at number 1. Disaster situations occur, and they often come with injuries. Your emergency kit should have enough basic first aid items to treat minor injuries.

Start your kids only with the medical supplies that they know how to use safely. Then, slowly teach them more or take them to a wilderness first aid course. Better yet, take the course as a family!

10. Weather Appropriate Clothing

You should also consider packing extra clothing depending on your climate. Down south? Maybe a hat and sunscreen. Up in Canada, some dry wool socks and hand warmers.

Whatever it is, think about what a survival situation could look like and what small items could be beneficial.

11. Personal Protection Items

This again depends a bit on where you are adventuring. An emergency whistle is a must-have. Many backpacks have one built in.

In bear country? Maybe a bear bell for black bears or bear spray for brown bears.

12. Flashlights

The best survival kits also have some sort of light. Our kids bring headlights with extra AA batteries. Glow sticks are another great option.

13. Multi-pocket Hikers Backpack

The last thing your kiddos need is something to carry all of their goodies in! We’ve tried a ton of backpacks. One year, our oldest even used a dry bag.

In the end, we’ve found the Frost River High Falls Day Pack to be the best. It is large enough to fit everything, as extra pockets and straps inside for organization, and is small enough for a six year old to carry.

Camping Survival Kit for Kids – Final Thoughts

Kids excited to try out their new Survival Packs purchased from Frost River in Duluth, MN

We are not saying your kids need to be able to survive on their own at 6 years old!

What we are saying though is that teaching them basic survival skills from a young age will pay dividends later on. One way to encourage that learning is to pack each kid a survival kit and have them to carry it everywhere!

Again, start your kids off slowly. Practice makes progress, so take small steps, and soon they’ll be able to act confidently and clearly in a survival situation.

A camping survival kit for kids also makes the perfect gift for any occasion.

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The Quill Family

We are the Quills! An ordinary family sharing our extraordinary travel experiences. 


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