A List of Essential Search and Recovery Equipment

A List of Essential Search and Recovery Equipment

A List of Essential Search and Recovery Equipment

Search and recovery missions aren’t for the faint of heart. They require dedication, bravery, and, most importantly, the right tools for the job. To make sure your next search and recovery mission goes smoothly, you'll want to include the necessary equipment in your bags.

Keep reading for a list of essential search and recovery equipment. Having these items on hand is necessary for a safe, successful mission.

Essential Search and Recovery Equipment

The equipment you’ll need is easily broken down into a few simple categories.


To effectively navigate your surroundings, you'll require two essential navigation items: a map and a compass. While an app on your phone might seem ideal for navigation, you'll want to carry a physical, paper version as a backup. This is in case your battery dies or, more likely, that the cell signal in your area isn't particularly strong.

A compass, when paired with a physical map, can help you keep track of the direction you're heading. Your compass should have a clear, plastic base, preferably with adjustable declination and a sighting mirror.


For safety from extreme temperatures, humidity, and harsh, battering rain or snow, you'll want to dress in insulated and breathable clothing. Apart from wearing a comfortable shirt and pants, you’ll want to bring along the following:

  • Rain gear
  • Boots
  • Extra socks
  • Headgear
  • Bandana
  • Wristwatch
  • Gloves

For rain gear, you should invest in a durable poncho, at minimum. Breathable, waterproof parkas and pants can offer additional protection from the rain. Since you'll be walking long distances and potentially hiking up steep cliffs and mountainsides, comfortable footwear is paramount. Thick socks can keep your feet warm and free from painful blistering.

Eye protection, such as sunglasses, safety glasses, or goggles, will shield your eyes from the sun, adverse weather conditions, and falling debris. Bandanas are a versatile clothing item. You can use them for protection, cooling, or as a sling or bandage in case of injury. When it comes to your hands, you’ll want a wristwatch to keep time and gloves to protect your fingers and palm from cuts and bruising.

For warmer weather, your pack should include:

  • Gaiters
  • A windbreaker
  • Nylon/poly pants or shorts

Don’t forget these essential apparel items for cool, damp weather:

  • Thermal underwear
  • Balaclava/wool Cap
  • Gaiters
  • Wool socks
  • An insulated jacket
  • Wool or insulated pants

Source of Heat and Light

Whether you’re navigating through the shroud of night or the dim, eerie blackness of caves, you'll want a reliable source of illumination in the dark. Two efficient ways to illuminate your surroundings are handheld flashlights and headlamps. As a precaution, you’ll want to carry spare batteries and an extra bulb with you.

Make sure you have waterproof matches, a lighter, or some other way to start a fire, as well. This gives you a way to cook or warm your food and can provide you with warmth on freezing nights.

Nutrition and Hydration

If your search and recovery mission lasts longer than a few hours, you'll need a way to sustain yourself. You should pack enough food and water to last an entire day, preferably longer if possible. The average person should drink a gallon of water per day and needs to eat the right number of calories for their weight, height, and overall build.

Bring along food that’s quick and easy to eat. Soup is a fantastic choice, as are granola bars, trail mix, jerky, peanut butter, and other non-perishable food items. Avoid food that’s heavy, perishable, or takes a long time to prepare and cook.

Store your food and beverages in portable cups or bowls or an insulated thermos. For durability, you'll want to pick crockery that's made of strong, sturdy metal.

First Aid

In case of injury, you'll want a fully stocked first aid kit. Include prescription medication and other important personal items, such as an EpiPen for allergies.

The Red Cross recommends that all first aid kits include the following:

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 emergency blanket
  • 1 breathing barrier (with a one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of nonlatex gloves
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
  • 1 3-inch gauze roll (roller) bandage
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 3-inch x 3-inch sterile gauze pads
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • Oral thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers
  • Emergency First Aid guide

Emergency Shelter

For longer searches, you'll require a form of emergency shelter. This can protect you from inclement weather, temperature shifts, and other unexpected conditions. Some essential items include a sleeping bag and sleeping pad and—if you're able to effectively store and carry it—a tent.

For sleeping bags, you'll want to pick your form of insulation carefully. Down insulation functions better in warmer conditions, while synthetic insulation is recommended for cool, damp nights. Ensolite is the cheapest and lightest type of sleeping pad. Self-inflating pads are heavier, but they’re comfortable and well-insulated.

Ultra-light tents, some weighing less than 3.5 pounds, are foldable and lightweight enough to carry. They offer added protection in wet, windy weather and a safe place to sleep away from wild animals and falling debris.

Other Tools and Repair Items

There are a few other essential tools you’ll need. Some are intended for your own protection and comfort, while others can help you repair any damaged or broken equipment.

These additional items include:

  • A whistle
  • A knife
  • Nylon cord or rope
  • Webbing
  • Binoculars
  • A notepad and pencil
  • Toilet supplies
  • A fanny pack or backpack
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Insect repellent
  • Sealable bags
  • Duct or survey tape
  • Multi-tool utensil

This list of essential search and recovery equipment is a good start, but before you head out on your mission, you’ll need to make sure you have the right tools to pass your State SAR Field Certification Test. This varies from area to area, so don’t forget to double and triple-check.

Search & Recovery Engineering can provide you with everything you'll need for a successful search and recovery mission. Browse through our inventory for some of the best search and rescue equipment on the market.

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