Questions like these two have made me wonder about my own answer in the first linked question. I have to admit, I haven't 'tested' the kits I put together. I have some wilderness survival training (primarily from when I was a kid in the BSA), but that was more than a couple of years ago. (Quite a few more than a couple, tbh.)

If an emergency kit or procedure isn't adequate -- whether for backpacking or restarting an airplane engine in flight, one would prefer to find that out before an actual emergency; this means testing.

I came close to testing my emergency kit when I took a day hike and seriously pushed it to far and too long. However, small problem -- I didn't have the kit with me! Luckily, I made it back to my car before it got too dark to safely proceed. I have since been religious about checking I have the kit with me on even easy hikes.

I'm tempted to head out camping, set up a base camp with my normal tent and supplies, then move myself 50 yards off with just my day hiking bag and emergency kit and see how well it works. (Of course, I'd wait 'til spring on account of you know, not being crazy.) I figure if I can avoid the necessity or even temptation of heading back to my base camp, it's a successful test.

Of course, this is not a completely realistic test, because there is no emergency, and thus no panic or confusion leading to poor judgment.

Is there a better way -- more realistic and/or harsher -- to test an emergency kit?

I suppose I could look for a class (I'm from MA, so I'd start with the AMC, I think). If nothing else, between this question and my thinking about doing the test, I can already see two things I'd add to my kit.

  • 1
    I think this is a great question but since there might not be a single answer maybe not best for SE format. Anyway I think there is clearly a right way to do this and a wrong way, and the right way can be broad enough to apply to a lot of cases. I'll take a crack at it later if the Qs still open.
    – cr0
    Dec 18, 2018 at 0:32

4 Answers 4


There are two ways to test gear like this,

  1. Do it in a situation where it won't matter.

    Go without a sleeping bag for a night with it still in your backpack. Use a space tarp instead of your real one. Leave the GPS in your pack and navigate just by eye. Go fishing with dental floss etc. Deliberately fast while in camp. Start a campfire in the rain.

  2. Do outdoor things long enough and you will inevitably run into bad situations either by poor decision making or being a victim of circumstances. Things like,

    • Forgetting 1/4 of the food in the truck.
    • Taking the wrong turn on a trail and being lost for a whole day.
    • Having to descend 1,000 ft of vertical talus in the dark with just a headlight.
    • Cutting steps with a rock instead of an ice ax.
    • Finding out that your bivy sack really isn't waterproof.
    • 2 inches of snow while under an open-sided tarp.
    • Forgetting to pack up your tarp and not realizing it till the end of the day then taking one more day to get back to it.
    • Not bringing water shoes on a trail with a stream crossing every quarter mile.
    • Falling through snow bridges that were fine on the way up the hill but not on the way down.

Most of those were not particularly fun things, but on the other side, there is a confidence that comes from having survived them and it shows that just because one is uncomfortable, it does not mean that one is in immediate danger.


A downside of your plan is that emergency stuff doesn't have to be comfortable while your planned base camp probably is. If you're spending a safe but miserable night a short walk from your camp, do you have the willpower to not get in your nice warm sleeping bag in a nice dry tent? How are you with lack of sleep? Are you going to do something silly the next day because your emergency bivi kept you awake (this is part of the test, but also a consideration in how/when you test it).

I suggest that it's more important to become familiar with the kit in various situations than to rely on it all at once. So test your fire kit in the dark, in the rain, in both. Test your emergency shelter in rain and wind, even if it's in your garden (I plan to do this when I make a tarp + bike shelter tent, for example, though that's not an emergency shelter). This system leads to more smaller tests than one single overnighter, and in turn to greater familiarity with the kit. It gives you the chance to make changes and retest without a huge time commitment.


By far the best way I've found to test your setup, is to get out there and test your setup.

It should go without saying that this needs to be done in a metered manner; don't bite off more than you can chew and "hope for the best".

In the long distance hiking community these are frequently called "shakedown hikes" and represent a sort of real-life expectations test of your gear in that form that a 2,500 mile hike is really just a lot of 3-5 day hikes strung together.

If you've the time, shakedown hikes can really help you narrow down the problems you've made in your personal selections of gear and equipment, and also allows you to familiarize yourself with your kit before being too far away from civilization.

In regards to emergency situations and emergency preparedness, I'd focus more on getting your expectations and experience through courses and training before hitting the trail. Depending on the environment you're heading into this could range from something as simple as contacting a local ranger station close by to your intended area for the big ticket items to think about, or as in-depth as taking multiple courses in wilderness first aid/responder/EMT, a course on ice climbing, courses on backcountry snowshoeing and cross country skiing, etc. in and around the environments you'll be traversing through.

I personally find that for longer treks, a book or two written by someone who has done something similar have been extremely helpful for all experience levels.

Hope that helps, let me know if you have follow-on questions.


"Testing" an emergency kit is an interesting idea. Most of the things in an emergency kit should be foolproof. What you should be testing isn't the kit but the skills and situations covered by your kit. Testing that a tarp is in fact a tarp is relatively pointless unless you are verifying that your kit has what its supposed to. What you really want to do is have a checklist of scenarios that you have prepared for. In the case of the basics of Fire/Water/shelter- Can you build a shelter with what you have? Can you build a fire? What happens if its wet? What will you do if you have a minor cut? A major cut? (I can't tell you how many people consider a few band aids a first aid kit). What you prepare for will dictate what should be in your kit. Maybe keeping storm proof matches in a waterproof bag is what you consider sufficient. Maybe you've decided to add a waterproof tinder like a diethylene glycol pack. (try dumping a bucket a water on your fire and see if you can relight it) That's the only way to test your kit.

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