Be Prepared: What to Include in Your National Park Emergency Kit

Visiting a national park is a great way to get in touch with nature, build that vitamin D, and experience new adventures. However, it’s important to remember that the great outdoors can be unpredictable, and accidents can happen. It’s always better to be safe than sorry which is why packing an emergency kit before heading out on a national park adventure is crucial.

We’ll leave out the fluff and review exactly what you SHOULD include in your national park emergency kit!


When it comes to packing your national park emergency kit, there are certain essential items that should always be included. We are very serious about these items, and we recommend that you are too. These items include:

First Aid Kit:

A first aid kit is an absolute must-have for any national park adventure. Make sure to pack essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, gauze, tweezers, and pain relief medication. Additionally, if you have any allergies or medical conditions be sure to pack any necessary medications.

Watch this video for additions we highly suggest you make:

Navigation Tools:

Even if you’re familiar with the park, navigation tools are essential for any emergency situation. Both a compass and a map are essential.

Just as important as having these tools is knowing how to properly use them. Even though a compass may seem simple and my husband is even an Eagle Scout, our family did decide to take a course on compass use through REI. This outfitter has numerous courses that can prepare you for many outdoor adventures, so plugging into your local store’s programming is a great idea for outdoor enthusiasts.

A GPS device like this Garmin are also recommended, especially for those that enjoy going deep into the back country. We always carry one of these when hiking.

Water & Food:

Staying hydrated is important, especially if you’re hiking or exploring in the heat. Pack enough water for your entire group, plus a little extra just in case. We also advise keeping water in your vehicle for post-hike hydration.

Any time we go into the back country, we also carry a water filter and purifying tabs. Two lines of “defense” for any given challenge have proven helpful more times than we would like to admit!

Also, be sure to pack non-perishable, high-energy snacks like granola bars, trail mix, or jerky to keep your energy levels up. Some “professional” hikers even swear by leftover pizza due to the high levels of sodium it packs!

Emergency Shelter & Bag:

A lightweight emergency shelter can protect you from the elements and provide warmth in case you need to spend the night unexpectedly. We also always hike with a bivvy sack to use as an emergency sleeping bag.

Fire Starter:

In case of an emergency, a fire can provide warmth and a signal for rescuers. Pack a lighter, waterproof matches, or a fire starter kit. Have two different options in case one does not work!


A whistle is a simple yet effective way to signal for help in case of an emergency. We often find these on hiking or backpacking packs.


A multi-tool can come in handy for a variety of situations, from fixing gear to preparing food.

Headlamp or Flashlight:

In case you find yourself out after dark, a headlamp or flashlight can help you navigate safely. The truth is that it is easier than we like to admit to accidentally wander off trail or to lose the trail completely. Additionally, when travelling to other parts of the country, sunrise and sunset may be hours off then our estimate. Travelling in our national parks without a headlamp or flashlight can be a grave mistake that we don’t want you to make.

Sun Protection:

Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses can protect you from harmful UV rays and prevent sunburn. Always use sun protection as if you are at the beach. Even if you are in the mountains or it is an overcast day, the sun is strong in our parks. Protect yourself.

Insect Repellent:

Mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests can be a nuisance and even carry diseases, so be sure to pack insect repellent. I hate bug sprays, but I have learned the hard way that protecting yourself from these biting creatures is essential to my safety and enjoyment of the national parks.

If you are concerned about the weight of your pack, you can carry individually packed wipes that are soaked in repellent. Be aware that often the more natural repellents are effective in park conditions.

In order to limit the amount of chemical I use and still protect myself, I always carry a bug net for my head. I do look rediculous and make people giggle as they pass me, but, hey, I do what I can to have fun in the great outdoors!

No matter how experienced or prepared you may feel, emergencies can happen at any time in a national park. It’s important to pack an emergency kit before you head out on your adventure. The essential items and recommended gear listed above can help you stay safe and comfortable in case of an emergency.

Additionally, be sure to research the specific park you’ll be visiting to learn about any potential hazards or specific gear recommendations. Always let someone know your itinerary and expected return time. Stay on designated trails. And, remember, preparation is key when it comes to staying safe in a national park. By packing an emergency kit and being aware of potential hazards, you can enjoy your adventure while also ensuring your safety. Happy exploring!