Jungle Survival Kit
After personally living in remote jungle regions of Central America for over ten years, I have gained an insight as to what it takes to survive in a very remote jungle environment.
Most of the local population found in these sparsely populated areas live and travel with only a few tools at hand. I have tried to list some of the more important items for a person or small group based on the assumption they are not familiar with remote jungle regions but find they are trying to survive long enough to escape or be rescued.
The single most important item in the following list is a machete. Not a John Wayne Bowie knife or huge survival knife, but a simple and cheap machete. With this one tool, most can survive in the jungle with very little or nothing else. It is used to cut down trees, trim limbs, gather fire wood, make shelters, gather food, dig as needed, and more important to me, a defensive weapon for the myriad of snakes, jaguars and other critters encountered in these locations. For that reason I prefer a rather long machete. In my area, the most sought after machetes are made in El Salvador and cost $8 - $15. A small pocket size file should be tossed in to keep the machete sharp.
A side note: If you see locals living or traveling in the jungles they are never without their machetes. They normally carry the machete in their strong hand leaning against their shoulder with the point up when walking under trees. They do this not only because it's an easy way to carry, but honestly, in case a snake drops down they can saw it off quickly.
Ok, now on to some personal items for a happy-go-lucky visitor. If you know you are going into or perhaps suspect in a worse scenario (airplane crash for example), here are a few items to carry on your person (or have on hand). Keep in mind that in the tropics, there is either a rainy season with lots of showers during the day which equates into lots of mud and everything wet or a "dry season" with a few showers. Heat and high humidity is the norm.
- Also remember that almost anything that moves, crawls, slithers, or grows is likely to bite, scratch, tear or poke holes into your tender flesh.
- I recommend removing surplus packaging materials from your personal items. Put what you can into zip lock bags. These do keep things organized, but more importantly if you find yourself stuck or traveling during the rainy season they will come in handy.
- Hint: insert a simple plastic drinking straw into the bag. Zipper the bag close until only the straw is sticking out. Inhale on the straw and suck out all the air. Simply close the zipper and you have a nicely compressed package.
Footwear: In the tropics, your feet must be protected if you want to ever walk properly later in life. There are many demagogical disorders that can have life-long consequences on a person's feet and lower legs. Many foot diseases in the tropics can be prevented by proper footwear and use of foot powders (toss some in your personal kit). I have worn hiking boots, tennis shoes and even sandals, but I learned that if you know you are going into the areas, (or toss a pair in the airplane), follow the advice of locals who have to live there; they wear cheap, almost knee high, rubber boots like those used on farms and ranches. They not only provide the better traction in mud than any hiking shoe I've ever tried, but they also wear them because of those cursed snakes I mentioned. (Once, un-expectantly, I had to wear a pair of new tennis shoes during the rainy season. They lasted less than a week before I had to resort to using safety pins and duck tape to hold the soles together).
Personal carried items: I suggest putting into a zip lock bag items to later be carried on your person in your kit:
- 5-in-1, it has whistle/compass/waterproof match container (put Strike Anywhere matches inside), a small compass and an emergency fire flint. It is cheap, light weight and to be carried around your neck if you loose everything else.
- Bandana. Needed for the sweat, washing, holding hot cup/pot, scarf, bandage.
- Compass (learn how to navigate before getting here or carry good instructions)
- Map(s) preferably topographic
- Flashlight with spare batteries and bulb. I like the Mini-Mag Lite as I can carry it 24/7 in my pocket with spare bulb in its base.
- Hat, floppy (for rain, sun and hang mosquito head net)
- Mosquito net for head
- Insect repellant (carry as much as practical and with a high DEET rating)
- Light long sleeve shirt
- Pocket knife. I prefer one of the medium size Swiss Army styles, but like the flashlight, each to his own.
- Sweater if space allows. Believe it or not, mountains in the jungles do get down right cool at times.
Water: In the jungle areas, I can guarantee you any pond, stream, swamp or standing water will be full of amebas and worms and other nasty things you do not want in your tummy. So pretend you are taking a trip and remember the rule "Don't drink the water!", unless you can clean it first or catch rain water.
- Water container. Simple gallon size zip lock bag, canteen or even a soft drink bottle will work. Some suggest condoms, but personally I shrink from the thought.
- Water purification straw. These are cheap, small and light to carry in a pocket and will completely remove the nasty critters (and even the taste) for many gallons of water. If traveling, it is easy to get a cup of water and sip instead of stopping to build a fire for boiling water.
- Water purification tablets. I personally don't use them, but they are standard in survival kits and take up little space so you may want to toss a bottle in the kit.
Food: If I had to recommend one item for people to survive here, it would be a plant identification guide for the jungle. The regions are full of food if you know which ones to look for. You do not need an in-depth book; rather a few simple photo cards will suffice. The Military and Survival Manuals do not provide sufficient information to identify edible plants in the jungles. So pickup a small copy or make your own from the Internet.
- Energy bars. A couple to get you started.
- Instant foods. A couple of instant oatmeal &/or envelopes of instant soups are tasty if space allows in your kit.
- Candy. I find most candy does not weather too well in this climate. Individually wrapped hard candy is about the best I have found.
- Condiments. A tiny bag with a few individual packets (from fast food places) such as salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard or whatever sure helps to make iguana more palatable.
- Instant drinks. These are a welcome delight after a day fighting off snakes! I carry instant coffee, but a couple of tea bags, Gatorade or whatever you like.
- Remember to put food items into a zip lock bag and suck the air out. Makes tidy and tiny size package.
- Spoon. One of the heavy duty Lexan spoons is best.
- Sierra cup. Some suggest a plastic cup in their kit, but I find I use my sierra cup all day long. From cooking some instant soup, eating, boiling water if needed or using to sip with purification straw, it hangs on my belt constantly. In addition, when packing your kit you can put many items inside and wrap wire or line around the outside for a nifty package.
Shelter: In most places, simple, yet effective shelters are easily made from handy vegetation. Where I live there is one plant (I call it an "Elephant Plant" for I do not know the botanical name and the leaves look like an elephant's ear). It has leaves 4' to 6' long and about 3' to 4' wide. If a rain shower starts, the locals use their handy machete and hack off one. It makes a fine umbrella or a couple tossed over a limb makes a dandy tent.
- "Plastic tarp. Used as a poncho, shelter and catching rain water. About 8' x 10' clear lightweight painter's style is all that is needed. Is better than those cheap tube tents and rain ponchos as they don't tear as easily in the high winds and heavy rains.
- If space permits in your kit, I suggest a full-length mosquito net for sleeping. The places you will find yourself in are literally crawling at night with nasty bugs and those darned snakes.
- A simple hammock. Gets you off the ground (snakes) especially if it is rainy, wet and probably muddy during your stay in "my neck of the woods". I have lived in a hammock under a plastic tarp for so long I have permanent creases on my backside (but I do not have any snake bite scars).
- Waterproof matches! Obvious in rainy season.
- I like the Spark-Lite with tender as it seems the easiest to use.
- More matches in waterproof container.
- Aluminum foil. A couple of feet folded into small flat size. Used for cooking, a fire reflector to keep warm with and a signaling device.
- Duct tape. A small roll of duct tape will be found to have many uses from repairing the tarp, mending large tears in clothing, first aid, shelter building, cooking and even fishing.
- File for machete, only reminding you. A small flat bastard file is suggested.
- Multi purpose tool or small pliers. While I don't often find use for the heavy multi tool, I don't like to twist and cut wire without a simple and light weight pair of pliers.
- Para cord. It probably will be used for tons of things. About 50' should suffice.
- Sewing kit. A small kit or at the minimum a few needs and strong line from the fishing kit can be used. Clothing does not last long in jungle and if you are there for more than a couple of days you will need it.
- Safety pins. A few medium and large.
- Wire. 20' or so of light weight wire. I suggest not worrying about snares here. No rabbits and squirrels in my neighborhood. (Monkeys are easily caught with a small cage with a small opening, only large enough to insert their hand. Putting a shinny object inside, the monkey will grab it and can't pull their fist out. They won't drop the thing and you can walk right up and begin the food processing).
- Fishing kit. A small basic kit is all that is required. I suggest 25' of 10 and 50 pound test line plus a few different size hooks, couple of split shot and toss in a spoon or jig or two if you like. The heavy line comes in handy not only for fishing, but if you find yourself near a pond or slow moving stream, there is a good chance there are iguanas present. A simple bow & barbed arrow with the heavy line attached to the arrow will give you a good meal or two. (They taste much better with ketchup I think).
- Notebook and pen. These are a must in unknown areas. "Local folks" you encounter will not likely speak English, Spanish or other common languages; rather, many will speak a much localized dialect that you can not communicate by talking. Sign language and drawing on the paper in a small pocket size notebook is your best bet. (Good chance ground is muddy so forget the scribbling in the sand routine).
- Survival manual. A simple guide to wilderness survival suggestions will go along way to get you started in basic field crafts. Plus, it gives you something to read while sipping that hot beverage before the sun goes down and the snakes get to moving around.
First aid kit: I do not intend to itemize a list for you. Some want only a tiny basic kit with a few dressings and others want a full field-hospital carried. Emergency first aid kits are very over-rated anyway. More important than a medical kit, is training and instruction. The more you know about how to treat yourself or another in the time of emergency, the fewer items you will need to have with you.
There are a few medicines and items you should consider carrying in the kit:
- Antibiotic. A wide spectrum antibiotic for diarrhea & prophylaxis.
- Diarrhea medicine such as Loperamide (Imodium AD).
- Ibuprofen &/or Acetaminophen
- Metronizadole (for when you get amebas from drinking the local waters)
- Mebendazole tabs. Used for squiggly worms inside your gut. (Always remember this rule. If you are going to treat for amebas, ALWAYS treat for worms first! If not, the worms can detect the Metronizadole coming down the highway and many can burrow outside the digestive tract to places you do not want them. Most doctors in the States are unaware of this but docs in the tropics are).
- Salt tablets. You need to take them often everyday, especially if traveling because you will be sweating in the hot humid environment.
- Moleskin. Your feet will blister rapidly if you do not have proper footwear.
Dental kit. You can buy one of the commercial kits, but I suggest the following:
Ask your local dentist to give you a very small amount of eugenol and zinc oxide powder. These are not prescription items (and most drug stores either carry or can order them for you but the amounts you get are so large it's crazy). I bet if you take in a tiny dark bottle that has a very tight fitting lid for the eugenol (it is a liquid) and a small container (film container?) for the zinc oxide power to the dentist they will gladly give it to you because its is very cheap stuff. Remember you will only need small amounts of both. Eugenol can be substituted with oil of cloves for they are the same stuff and oil of cloves is found in many grocery stores in the spice department. However, it is not as potent as pure eugenol.
Eugenol has been used for more than a hundred years by dentists to stop the pain from a tooth ache or even broken teeth and is often used today. All it requires is placing a small drop of the eugenol on a tiny cotton ball (even a piece of shirt/bandana will work) and inserting it into the cavity, lost filling or broken tooth. It will stop the pain instantly but watch you don't get it spread around a bit for it can and will numb the gums, tongue and lips! (Tastes like crap for a few seconds) Reapply as needed.
If there is a cavity or lost filling, mixing the zinc oxide with the eugenol into a paste makes a great "temporary filling material" that is still used by dentists today. Mix a small amount and stick it into the cavity. Hold the mouth open for a minute to dry. If the cavity is large or the material seems not to hold, try again and mix a few strands of cotton with the paste for a stronger bond. These "temporary fillings" can last for weeks, months or even longer depending on the location of the filling. The eugenol covers the exposed root, will deaden the nerve(s) in the tooth and it is also an antiseptic so it helps fight bacteria. Good stuffs.
Cavit© is the temporary filling material found in the commercial kits. It too is a good material for fillings, but it is a paste and does not have the anesthetic properties of liquid eugenol.
- GPS. Unfortunately, even experienced navigators have troubles finding their locations at times in the jungle. A pocket sized GPS sure helps to get you started.
- Belt knife. I carried one myself for a year or so, but discovered I very seldom used it. My pocket knife I used constantly, but I gave up the weight of an extra object on my body. But almost every survival book recommends a belt knife for some reason and you could toss one in the kit. Would make for a good place to wrap the para cord, wire, etc.
- Chemical lights. Would be good for such things as signaling or just giving the camp a bit of light when you need to slip out of the hammock in the middle of the night and don't want to acquaint yourself with one of the hundreds of snakes around you on the ground. They are light weight and take up very little room in a kit, so you may opt to add a couple.
- Rocket flares. If you are needing a rescue (downed airplane or whatever) the jungle is an awfully hard place to locate even a shinny plane, so 2 small skyblazer self-contained red meteors (as used by boaters) may be a good thing to have at night.
- Smoke. 2 red handheld signals for day use.
Firearms: In most countries I have been in firearm laws are not an issue, especially in remote areas. In fact gun ownership and concealed gun permits are encouraged by the governments; however carrying guns are a toss of the coin. A few locals will carry them, but most can't afford one. They would if they could. I have carried pistols, rifles and shotguns and never had a word spoken about them. Here in Central America, there have been so many civil wars, that it is frequent to see locals with AK-47's, Uzi's and once I spotted an RPG (I guess in case he ran into the same jaguar I did one night). So if it was me and I was outfitting a survival kit for an airplane, I would not hesitate putting a gun in the kit.
I hope the foregoing tips on items to prepare a kit for coming into my backyard un-expectantly helps you survive long enough to be found or make your way to "civilization".
-Jerry B Blaine