The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are my adopted home, but as far back as I can remember I've always enjoyed wild places. I picked up some lessons along the way (especially in the early years) that I take for granted now, and yet some are essential, potentially life saving tips.
The majority of my hikes last 6-10 hours, but I always, without fail, carry enough equipment with me to spend the night outside. This doesn't mean that I always have, for example, a tent, but that I'm prepared to survive that night.
A survival kit is a collection of items that would enable an individual to endure unexpected conditions - usually a longer stay in the wilderness! Ready-made kits are widely available these days, but I've always felt that it's better to assemble your own. It's convenient to just buy one, but if you make your own I think you have a better chance of knowing how to use the items you've selected. This is an important point; simply owning something does not make you an expert. A rifle doesn't make a sniper any more than a camera makes a pro photographer.
If you haven't done so already, learn (and practice) to make a functional shelter, start a fire and to perform basic first aid. An emergency is not the time to do this!
A homemade survival kit begins with something like this old Altoids tin. A tobacco tin or even a film canister can be used as an alternative. It should be big enough to have useful items, and small enough to leave in your backpack (and hope you never need it).
Food and water may be your first thoughts when thinking of survival, but an average human can last 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Hypothermia, on the other hand, can kill in a few hours and can happen in the Rockies at any time of the year. Therefore, fire and shelter are usually your immediate priorities in the absence of a serious injury.
My kits (I have one in each pack - summer and winter) include three methods of starting a fire: matches, a small lighter and a spark generator. It also includes dry tinder (cotton wool, for example), a blade from a utility knife, safety pins, a needle and thread, water purifying tablets and other items.
In addition to the tin of small items and fire-starting tools, I always have at least one reflective blanket (they're so light and cheap that there's not excuse not to) and a disposable water filter.
These items are not all that you would need for an extended stay in a harsh environment, but they can be left in a pack and used alongside your regular equipment to save your life. A good packing list for other wilderness essentials will be the subject of the next update.