A forum member recently asked the above question. There was a great discussion from several members and I figured the blog readers might like to see my response:

My personal level of preparation greatly depends on the situation. My level of knowledge also factors in heavily.

We’ll discuss knowledge first. Many survival instructors I have read about or seen will start out with only a few simple items: appropriate clothing, a crappy knife, a way to carry water, a way to start a fire, and maybe an item more or less. They live and breathe the outdoors and survival situations, so they are prepared to handle almost anything using the few tools they have and what is in the wilderness around them. They understand that if they lose or break their knife, a sharp stone will cut just fine. If they lose their firesteel, they know 20 different ways to start a friction fire. If they lose their way of carrying water, they can use bamboo to hold water, make a clay pot, use a sheep’s bladder, or whatever.

Do you have their knowledge? Probably not. I know I don’t. Because of this, you will probably need a few extra tools to make yourself comfortable and keep yourself and your loved ones OUT of a survival situation. (Side note: I always hate referring to uncomfortable situations as “survival situations” or my tool kit as my “survival kit.” Such language conjures images of Y2K and the end of the world. I use the items in my tool kit on a regular basis and use my knowledge to do everything possible to keep myself and my wife comfortable and safe. The likelihood of being in a survival situation is minimal, but the likelihood of being uncomfortable is damn high, in my experience. I plan and learn accordingly. Back on track…) Plus, how comfortable will you be if you only take a few items? I want a tent or hammock, a sleeping pad, a nice sleeping bag, a comfortable pack, rain gear, etc. I think the experience of going out in the woods with just a few items would be fun and a great learning environment, but to do that every time I step outside? No thanks. Take what makes you feel comfortable and you know will help you handle the scenarios you will likely encounter. As you gain knowledge and experience, the amount of needed gear may go up or down.

Now, different situations can make the amount of gear I feel necessary vary immensely. If I went for a week in the Smokies in the summer with nothing but a knife and a firesteel, I’d probably be miserable and uncomfortable, but I’d like to think I would be fine at the end of it. If I did the same thing in the Sahara or in Siberia, I’d probably be dead in a day.

I may not take an extra fleece (OK, we all know it would not be fleece, it would be merino wool) during a summer trip in the southeast. What are the consequences of this? The temperatures might dip at night, but to what? 75F? The risk is not high if I am not prepared for cold weather. If you do the same thing in Canada in the winter, then you are either an idiot or Les Stroud. I personally do not want to burrow inside a caribou carcass, so I would plan and prepare accordingly.

The point is, pack and prepare the amount of gear that YOU feel is appropriate for YOUR skill and knowledge levels and the scenarios you are likely to encounter. If you think you need 20 ways to start a fire because you are terrible at it, then take 20 ways. If you can start a fire by staring really hard at a downed tree, then you might not need as much.