Always Carry a Second Compass
I like to have a ball compass pinned to my shirt as a convenient directional glance. But I don’t rely on the ball compass, I also carry a second compass. This needs to be a good quality compass with a lanyard line that I can loop through a sturdy button hole or belt loop. I want to make sure that this compass is always on my person and can’t get lost if it falls out of a pocket.
Map of the Area
Even if you aren’t planning on going for a long walk, you need to know the direction of the roads around you. That way you’ll know what the best heading would be to travel to get out. When I’m exploring the woods I carry a topographical map. Some of my favorites are also free thanks to the State of Michigan. Just click here to find one for your area. I cut and paste some together, make an image of it, and then custom print maps for the area I want to explore.
When I’m going to get out and traverse miles of wilderness, I’ll put contact paper on both sides of my map to give it a layer of water resistance. A real lifesaver!
You might not need a map in your pocket every time you go in the woods, but you at least need to have a map of the nearby roads permanently fixed in your mind.
Here's a link to free State of Michigan Topo maps.
A Knife or Two
I’m a big fan of the Leatherman for a multi-tool pocket knife and find the Juice CS4 has the most desired tools for my outdoors extravaganzas. Although like most things that do many things, not always are their individual components as reliable as the stand alone they replicate.
That’s why I often also carry a second knife equipped with a bigger, stronger, or more adequately formed blade for the necessary task. For a pocket folding knife I really like Benchmade Summit Lake or Grizzly Creek Folder (for hunting).
For a fixed blade and sheath I love the quality and design of a Rapid River blade. My favorite being the Drop Point. The steel is top quality, takes a perfect edge and can stand some abuse. Word of caution - I lost a family heirloom Marbles knife in a swamp once because it fell out of the sheath. Since then I prefer to carry a sheath that goes up most of the knife handle or snaps around the thumb guard.
You might want to carry a lighter or matches, but I love the reliability of a flint. Although it’s not a bad idea to practice a few times before you use it for the first time. Don’t fight nature, use her tools to help you get warm. Wet is wet, no matter how hard you try to light it. You can find dry tinder under tree bark or by shaving bark from a cedar tree. And natures lighter fluid is birch bark. If you’re walking and see birch bark on the forest floor it’s worth it to put some in your pocket to carry for when you’ll need to light a fire.
Water Bottle and Purifier System
I carry a stainless steel water bottle. I bought an army glove, sewed a belt loop to it and use that as a carrier. It stays out of the way and is always accessible.
Bringing a purifier system on the hike means you won't have to carry a real large bottle of water. Options include filters such as Katadyn, UV light Steripen, or even iodine tablets. While Iodine tablets saved me in a pinch on a long trek once, it would not be my first choice.
I’ve never had to use it, but often carry a .357 with me in the woods. If you don’t carry a pistol, and want the security of thwarting off a large animal you can carry bear pepper spray.
Optional Rope or Twine
I generally carry a bit of rope or twine in my pocket. There are things in nature that can be used to fasten things together, but in a pinch it sure is handy to have rope other than your shoelaces!