Tips on survival kits for safe adventuring

May 7, 2019

Heading out on the water? Going on a hike? Gabe Dunham with Alaska Sea Grants came by to talk about a few survival kits and tips to make for safer exploring this spring and summer

Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG

From community clean-up to the March for Science, there have been a flurry of events focused on environmental awareness in Dillingham. As summer approaches, many might consider venturing into the vast expanses of Bristol Bay. Gabe Dunham, with the Alaska Sea Grant, had some tips on how people can be prepared when they do.

When Dunham came to KDLG to talk about survival kits, he brought with him an orange bandana. On it were seven steps to survival: Recognition, inventory, shelter, signals, water, food, and play.

Gabe Dunham and a few survival kits he brought in to the KDLG studio.
Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG

To illustrate what one might want in an emergency, Dunham began with an exercise.

Dunham: “Pretend that you are suddenly in a survival situation and you have nothing but your wits to survive on. So empty your pockets – let’s see what you have to survive on.”

Ross: “OK. I got a piece of paper. I have a pen. I have my phone. And that’s it."

Dunham: "I’ll add too, for people that can’t see us right now, that Izzy’s got a jacket on and looks like she’s dressed pretty warmly. That’s helpful. The first item of shelter you have are the clothes on your back. Let’s go back to the other things you’ve got here. Your cell phone – we could call for help, hopefully. If we’re in cell phone range we could call for help and say, ‘Hey, come get me.’”

"The pen is a little bit more questionable. It’s a little bit small to write a ‘help me’ message that anybody’s going to see from the air. But you could certainly write any other message with your pen and your paper if you have to move from your location that you’re at, you could write a note to people that may discover your car."

Before going on an excursion, Dunham said, it was important to think about what you have on your person. Doing so can help inform how you assemble a survival kit.

Four kits were laid out on the table. The first was a little plastic orange unit about five inches long, hanging on a lanyard. It had a whistle at one end and a compass on the other. 

“You can unscrew the cap and inside, on the reverse side of the cap, is a little mirror that you can use for daytime signaling. It’s a watertight container. And inside I’ve got about 15 matches,” Dunham said, noting that the whistle was excellent for signaling and making noise.

The second kit was about the size of a bar of soap, though it was not waterproof or water resistant.

“This is something that’s big enough to put in my coat pocket,” Dunham said. “I’ve got a little bit larger signaling mirror. I’ve also got this really cool little blinky, flashy light. I tighten this down all the way and it will flash morse code SOS. I’ve got another whistle. I’ve also got a lighter.”

To waterproof that lighter, he explained, clear packing tape can be wrapped around the top to keep the flint dry. He also had a trash bag to keep dry – important when trying to stay warm.

The contents of the third kit fit in a Nalgene water bottle, which Dunham said is a durable container that has many uses.

“They’re really tough to destroy," he explained. "And it’s quite a bit bigger than the soap box that I just had. I’ve got some hand warmers. I’ve got a flashlight.”

Dunham's small orange whistle kit fit inside the bottle, as well as an antiseptic towelette, a small knife and an emergency space blanket. Lastly, he had a hand-held aerial signaling flair.

“These things are great. And they have saved my bacon on at least one occasion. People can see these from a very great distance away,” Dunham said.

The last kit was a small, waterproof otter box – the kind of kit that, according to Dunham, you might have in your skiff or RV. Among its contents were a drinking container, twine, the orange whistle, a small first-aid kit, a two-person bivy and two hand-held flairs, a flashlight a mirror, and a CPR kit. There was another bulky item as well: A VHF radio.

“The most important thing with anything that’s powered by batteries is to make sure it’s charged,” Dunham said.

He recommended that when planning a trip, adventurers find out the local station or river frequency ahead of time.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200.