Basic Safety Equipment

Even on the shortest trip you should carry a basic safety pack. Here's a list of the minimum it should contain.

Items marked with a bullet should be packed in a waterproof outer to be opened only in emergency. The other items mostly have emergency and general uses, so they should be more accessible.

• First aid kit

A variety of sealed plasters, two bandages, two sterile wound pads, a sterile eye pad, a roll of sticky micropore tape, a roll of sticky cloth tape, a sling, antiseptic cream, insect bite cream, several sealed hand wipes, a pair of scissors, two strong plastic bags big enough for a whole hand or foot, and a closable plastic bag of tissues. Any special medication you might need must also be included. The first aid kit must be replenished to original state after any of it contents have been used - never let it get depleted - and it must be sealed against the wet. So if it has a hinged lid, tape round the join between the body and lid with insulating tape. Fold a couple of inches (5 cm) at the end of the tape back on itself to make a tab that can be pulled quickly.

It's a good idea to pack two or three plasters in a separate plastic bag and stash them somewhere in your recording kit bag. This avoids breaking into your emergency pack just to dress a minor scratch.

• Survival bag

A person-sized heavyweight orange plastic bag that you can climb inside if you get stranded in the cold and wet. It usually comes folded into a small flat pack and takes up little room. A survival bag won't completely stop you losing body heat but it will help and will keep you dry. You should replace your survival bag every couple of years whether you've used it or not, as the plastic can get brittle and crack or tear at the folds.

• Moon blanket

Nothing more than a very thin metallised plastic sheet. It weighs next to nothing and takes up negligible room in your survival pack, but can literally save your life. Wrapped tightly round you inside your survival bag, it reflects your body heat back inwards, hugely reducing your heat loss. On its own it doesn't work so well as heat will be lost where its edges come together, so you need both. Never take a trip without your survival bag and moon blanket, and if you have to use them it's probably safest to replace them before the next trip.

• Emergency rations

Always take some sugary solid food such as sweet grain bars, packed individually in closed plastic sandwich bags within an overall waterproof outer.

Make sure you have some beverage with you, preferable sweetened with sugar and hot if the weather is cold or wet, or if there's a possibility you'll be out at night - which for the wild soundscape recordist is very likely. A small thermos flask of it should be put in the survival kit before setting out on foot, and not touched except in emergency. Take a second thermos for your comfort drinks. A practical alternative, albeit a somewhat expensive one - but only if you need to use it - is the military self-heating ration can. These have a trigger of some sort that sets a chemical heater going in an outer can, and are openable without a can opener. They take around 15 minutes to heat but are reliable and have a long shelf life. Don't forget your spoon though.

The quantity you should take will depend on the scale of your trip, but you should allow at least 12 hours wait should you need to be rescued within the British Isles, and longer where distances are greater or you're not familiar with the region or the language. That said, in temperate zones food is a lower priority than warmth and liquids unless you're lost for more than a day or so. Your emergency rations must be unpacked and inspected on your return and assembled freshly for every trip. Never leave them packed, and always discard any rations that show the slightest sign of spoilage or have passed their usage date.

• Unbreakable mirror

A highly reflective object at least three inches (75 mm) square that won't break if bent or dropped is invaluable for signalling, provided there's direct sunlight. A disused CD is ideal.

• Highly visible overgarment

This doesn't have to be waterproof or windproof so long as it will fit over your outer garments, but it does have to be very visible. Bright fluorescent yellow or orange are generally quite obvious against most backgrounds, but the bands of reflective material that are normally fitted to high visibility work clothing - and make them expensive - aren't a lot of use for locating you at moderate distance, particularly from the air. They're designed to show up in the direct light of vehicle headlamps, whereas your purpose is to stand out against a background from a distance, quite possibly in diffuse light. A high visibility jacket is also a bit small to be seen easily by air rescue. It's typically recommended that ground to air signal patterns are some 30 feet high (10 metres), laid out with strips ten feet (3 metres) wide, and your patch of orange is only two feet (60 cm) square. But it will assist ground-based rescue, so it's worth packing in your kit.


Although it's only used in emergency, you shouldn't pack your whistle away. It should be attached to a lanyard - not round your neck, but fastened to your belt. The whistle and its lanyard should live in your trouser pocket and the lanyard should be long enough so you can blow the whistle without unfastening it from your belt. This is to ensure you don't lose it if you drop it and also have a reasonable chance of using it quickly if you suffer a fall or are separated from your emergency pack. Many kinds of whistle are available, a standard being the orange plastic two-tone whistle widely used on adventure trails. But it's actually not as audible or robust as some others. I use an Acme Thunderer™ model 60.5 football whistle. It's small, made of solid chromed metal, effectively unbreakable, and very loud. The "pea" in it can make a very slight rattling noise if you move fast, but it's never been a problem for me in the field.


A small hand held or head band torch with fresh batteries and a spare set of new batteries is essential in case you get delayed until dark. Alkaline batteries are better than rechargeables for emergency use, as the latter lose their charge over a period of weeks even if not used. A head torch is best for survival purposes as it leaves your hands free, but it's not convenient for general use as it's less controllable - the beam tends to bob around more than that of a well-managed hand-held torch. If you can get a red filter for your torch it's a useful extra as it helps maintain your night vision.


One of the most useful is still the Silva baseplate compass that has changed little in design for over half a century. It's light, robust and easy to use, and is accurate to a couple of degrees. Always carry one, but make sure you know how to use it.

Maps, map case and wax pencil

A large scale map of your destination is essential. It must show contours, footpaths (if any) and landmarks. The map case is a small waterproof case with a plastic window. You fold your map so the area of interest shows in the window and seal the bag against rain and dirt. If you're in an area without marked paths, a wax pencil can be used to mark your proposed trail on the window of the map case.

Hank of cord

A good length - at least 20 feet (6 metres) - of strong cord can be a boon in emergency, for tying down weather protection, repairing broken harnesses, lashing splints and many other uses. A very suitable six millimetre braided soft nylon cord that takes up little space is available in DIY stores. It has the advantages that it's a bit stretchy so you can safely use it to splint a limb if you don't tie it too tight, and it doesn't shrink when it's wetted like cotton cord does, so you can untie your knots again regardless of the weather.


Due to hysterical propaganda, carrying a knife of any kind has become something of a social taboo, but on field trips a Swiss Army-type knife is a survival essential. It doesn't need all the gadgets of the fancy models, but as well as two blades it should ideally have flat and cross point screwdrivers and an awl for piercing holes. Despite the fuss, folding pocket knives with non-locking blades are exempt from the legal restrictions on carrying knives so you shouldn't encounter problems with even the most vigorous law enforcers, particularly if you keep your knife in your survival kit rather than in your pocket. Sheath knives are another matter altogether - a field sound recordist has no justifiable need for one. A possible alternative is a multi-tool. This has the advantage that it contains extra tools such as pliers and wrenches, but it's generally bulkier, heavier and much less comfortable to use when your hands are cold or wet.