Saturday , May 18 2024

Seven Essential Bush Pilot Survival Items

Bush flying involves a lot of risks and challenges. It’s what actually attracts pilots looking for an adrenaline rush. Bush pilots have to be prepared to land everywhere. They usually operate on VFR (Visual Flight Rules) and the aircraft are as diverse as floats, tailwheel, tundra tire or ski craft. Bush pilots do more than mere island hoping. Most of their work is done at remote locations and it revolves around helping isolated people (missionary aviation) or enabling vital communication (commercial operations). Since the intricacies in this field are quite complex, survival skills are an important part of the bush pilot flying curriculum. And we all know that proper gear can transform a hopeless emergency into a tacky situation with promising outcome.

Personal Locator

Aircraft, even small single engine general aviation planes, have advanced avionics that share data with more than one device. And their pilots have electronic flight bag (iPad) so data can be synchronized with many other devices including handheld GPS units and GPS watches. Despite all of this, having a back up personal locator is important for anyone that is heading to remote place.

personal emergency locator

Search and rescue starts with determining the position of the crashed plane or sinking ship. Crews in marine environments use EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) to send a distress signal. Pilots are surrounded by avionics, yet they better have their own personal emergency locator for signaling in emergencies. The benefits are self evident. These units are powered independently, so if everything else fails the beacon will work. And maybe even more important – they use satellite networks to relay messages and data.

Let’s take the Garmin InReach for example. This is your typical handheld satellite communicator capable of two-way messaging via the Iridium network. They have GPS, a digital compass, barometric altimeter and a host of other features useful when you are far from mobile network coverage. Bush pilots can use them as a personal emergency locator, but they can also use them to receive weather reports, keep in touch and even post events on social media. These gadgets are ergonomic and easy to handle, but they can also withstand a lot of abuse from the elements.

Emergency Food

You can take a page from military units in this regard. Air force pilots carry rations of food in their aircraft. While they vary depending on climate, duration of stay, distance from base or other special considerations, in essence they are meant to sustain you (and your crew, if any) until help arrives.

The general requirements for this kind of food are to offer high nutrition, have long shelf life, be compact in size and lightweight. There are companies that produce freeze dried foods that don’t require heating, also known as MRE meals. These foods are designed to be stable for years and to be edible as soon as you open the pack.

In a survival context, when you (or your crew) is possibly recovering from the shock of crash landing you need food fast. There is no modicum of energy you can invest in hunting or preparing feral animals, and sometimes you need to conserve strength until rescue services fetch you.

Pilots, hikers, and extreme athletes are spoiled these days. You can choose vegetarian, gluten free, or a pack full of meat. Some packs are a part of a kit assembled according to standard, the most typical of which are the 24 hour packs. You can take as much MRE meals as you want as long as you can carry them. If you are in a remote location, you don’t even have to wait for an emergency to open one of these.

Two final tips about emergency food – check the expiration date on a regular basis, and don’t take apart a kit that is tailored according to suggested daily intake of food.

Essential Bush Pilot Survival Items

Space Blanket

This is your ultimate survival blanket. They are very compact (when folded), and they reflect your heat back to you. This allows you to conserve your energy when you have to spend the night without a proper shelter. Their properties are simply not matched by other similar products on the market. Definitely an item for your bush survival kit.

Water Filtration Device

This one is fairly straightforward as well. You can fill many canisters with water before take off, especially if potable water is scarce at your destination. However, water is the greatest resource for sustenance in the wild, more important than food. If you have to keep on moving, or you are in some form of life raft floating in salt water, a water filter can be a life saver.

Their design has advanced significantly in the past decade. Commercially available water filters can remove up to 99,99% of harmful bacteria and protozoa from water. Go for a compact and lightweight filter so you can carry it with ease.


It can’t get more basic than a plain old fire. In a survival setting, fire is crucial to keep warm, prepare food, purify (boil) water and you can even use it to signal your position. There are many options out there and luckily most of them are lightweight. One option is to take a ferro rod scratch it with a knife and sparks will rain on your tinder. Including highly flammable fabric in your kit is also recommended (wool, cloth dipped in fuel, waxed cord).

Pilot Survival Items

Signaling Gear

This is fairly old school, but you simply can’t know when you’ll need signaling gear. I’m talking about whistles, mirrors, flares and similar gear. They can greatly reduce the response time of rescue services, and this can be critical if someone is hurt.


You are probably aware that this list can include a lot of other items. Headlamps, first aid kits, spare batteries, multipurpose cordage, knives, fish hooks and lines are among the most popular. As long as the overall weight capacity of your craft allows it, you can pack all of these items and more. Sometimes cargo in a bush plane has to be accounted for (to the gram) to ensure an uneventful flight, particularly if the landing strip is tacky (quite common occurrence). So shop and prepare wisely, because adventure is not for the faint of heart.