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How to Choose and Pack a Survival Vest

Updated on October 20, 2014

A good survival vest can make any outdoor adventure more safe and enjoyable. Packed with the right items, a survival vest can even mean the difference between life or death. Not only does a survival vest afford the outdoor enthusiast with extra storage space, but it is also more accessible than a backpack during times when it matters most. This accessibility makes it a much more convenient piece of load-carrying equipment for hikers, campers, fishermen, hunters and other outdoor adventurers than other forms of load-bearing equipment.

How to Choose a Survival Vest

There are many types of vests to choose from, including: fishing, hiking, travel and tactical. It makes no difference which type of vest is chosen, so long as it is practical and able to meet the requirements and expectations of a good survival vest. Typically, a good choice is any vest which is lightweight, durable, breathable, relatively inexpensive and loaded with as many pockets and extra features as possible.

When choosing the size of a survival vest it is important to get a vest which is one size larger than would normally be worn. This is because the vest will be packed with useful items, food and other necessities which will press into the fabric and pull down upon it, causing the vest to lose much of the shape it would normally have when carrying no load.

The fabric a survival vest is made of is particularly important, and choosing which fabric is best is largely dependent upon what sort of climate the individual lives in. Probably the best choice of material, for most individuals, is a 50/50 cotton and polyester fabric, since it is lightweight, comfortable, very breathable and relatively durable. Nylon mesh is a good alternative.

A fabric should be chosen which does not require removal in dry conditions in order to regulate body temperature during times of strenuous activity. Most outdoor enthusiasts will don a rain poncho or jacket during wet weather, so it does not need to be waterproof, rather it is much more important for it to be lightweight, durable, breathable and comfortable, since it is not meant for removal (that defeats its purpose). Individuals living in colder climates and at higher elevations may want to consider a heavier fabric, or a vest which provides some sort of insulation.

A good survival vest may have zippers, but it should also contain buttons and Velcro for when the zippers inevitably fail, which is quite common during extreme cold. If a vest cannot be found with these added benefits, then it may be modified by sewing buttons and Velcro onto it for each pocket as well as the front closure.

The vest should also have an abundance of pockets, and several 'D' rings for adding carabiners which will enable the attachment of water bottles, gloves and other items.

What to Look for in a Survival Vest

Uncle Milty's Travel Vest has 17 pockets
Uncle Milty's Travel Vest has 17 pockets | Source
Items that can be folded and flatten such as an emergency blanket and plastic rain poncho should go in the rear pocket of your survival vest
Items that can be folded and flatten such as an emergency blanket and plastic rain poncho should go in the rear pocket of your survival vest | Source
Interior pockets are great for storing medicine and hygiene supplies.
Interior pockets are great for storing medicine and hygiene supplies. | Source

How to Pack a Survival Vest

When packing a survival vest four factors should be taken into consideration: weight, comfort, bulk and safety. The weight should not exceed 5 pounds and it should be distributed evenly over the body so that the vest is not pulling one way more than another. Bulky items should not be placed in the vest, and sharp objects should be placed in a safe container which will keep the individual from accidentally stabbing or cutting their self, or damaging the vest. It is important that items are stored in locations which are comfortable when standing, sitting or bending, both with and without a backpack. Also, items which will be used most often should be placed in a location where reaching for them will feel natural to the individual (consider your dominant hand).

Items to Place in a Survival Vest

A survival vest is to serve as either an addition to a backpack or as stand alone load-bearing equipment, and as such, the items which should be placed in the survival vest depend upon which purpose the vest will be serving. However, in most cases it would likely be preferred that the survival vest include all the items which would be necessary for survival if no backpack or any other additional load-bearing equipment were in use. Typically, there are four categories which should be taken into consideration: food, water, warmth and medicine. The following items are suggested:

  • compass

  • whistle

  • multi-tool

  • mini mag-light

  • lighter and waterproof matches

  • granola bars, gorp and/or hard candy

  • small water bottle, flask or collapsible cup

  • water purification tablets

  • paper and pencil

  • handkerchief

  • toilet tissue (in waterproof container)

  • small first aid kit (in waterproof container)

  • pillbox (for medicine or vitamins)

  • small sewing kit (with spare bootlaces and buttons)

  • gloves

  • plastic rain poncho

  • emergency blanket

  • pocket-size version of personal spiritual text (inside plastic Ziploc bag)

  • * personal items such as an MP3 player and cell phone may also be included

Personalize Your Survival Vest

Finally, you will want to personalize your survival vest so that it represents you. You can go all out, or just keep it simple like in the example below.

It can be fun to watch the reaction of people as you confuse stereotypes, and upset the sociopolitical left-right paradigm through artistic expression
It can be fun to watch the reaction of people as you confuse stereotypes, and upset the sociopolitical left-right paradigm through artistic expression | Source


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    • profile image

      k car art 1967 

      4 years ago

      Howdy, everyone! Love this link about survival vests! I recently purchased an Uncle Milty's 17 pocket vest in olive drab green. I am a pocket fanatic so this thing is so cool! One question, though. What is that sheepskin covered patch that is stored in the left front top pocket? What is the patch for? Thanks!

    • Mandrake_1975 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you! My survival vest has served me well, and I hope the information I provided does the same for others.

    • whoisbid profile image


      9 years ago

      Great stuff! Keep it up my friend!

    • Mandrake_1975 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      How-To, Yes. The multi-tool should include something for cutting, whittling, skinning, but to be honest I've used the saw, pliers, scissors, tweezers and toothpick found in my multi-tool far more than any other device. I know everyone recommends a knife as the most important tool, but in all my 30 some years of backpacking, camping, fishing and foraging it has been the least used tool. I think the primary point behind a knife is that it IS a multi-tool, but if you have something like a Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife you will find yourself relying on the actual knife blade very few times, other than for purposes of gutting and cleaning game.

      Frog - You are very correct. What items you carry will be decided by your environment, which includes the current season. Items will also be determined by the individual's current circumstance. In other words, if they are ill, have a broken bone, or their children are with, will all be deciding factors weighing upon what items stay and what items go.

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 

      9 years ago from Arlington, TX

      Mandrake - Having been through a survival course or two myself, the items you need are dependent obviously on the environment you will face.

      Excellent Hub.

      The Frog

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great @Mandrake_1975, just wanna know is the multi-tool in your list means multi purpose Swiss knife

    • Mandrake_1975 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for stopping by Reynold Jay! A survival vest is a great tool for hikers.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      9 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      OK--I'm ready to go shopping with all this inforamtion in hand. I enjoyed this very much. You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. I must give this an “Up ONE and Useful.” I'm now your fan! RJ

      Based upon this HUB, you might enjoy…


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