Survival Items Lewis and Clark Had with Them on Their Two-Year Journey

Rich M.
By Rich M. November 22, 2019 07:25

Survival Items Lewis and Clark Had with Them on Their Two-Year Journey

The famous journey by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase, map out the Missouri River and find the fabled “Northwest Passage” to the Pacific Ocean is an important part of American History. Never before had such an expedition been undertaken and considering that they were traveling into uncharted and unsettled country, the survival challenges alone made this an epic journey.

Lewis and Clark were experienced officers and the men they took with them were mostly experienced soldiers. But survival in combat doesn’t necessarily prepare one for surviving in the wilds.

Survival Items Lewis and Clark Had with Them on Their Two-Year Journey

The expedition would be crossing unknown terrain and facing many unforeseen situations before they returned. Everything they needed would either have to be taken with them or found in nature, as there would be absolutely no chance for resupply.

Nor was there any means of rescue, other than what they could accomplish themselves, retracing their steps back to civilization.

This meant that they had to pack carefully, ensuring they had everything they needed. Even so, they were limited in what they could bring by the capacity of their boat, a 60 foot long keelboat, with a capacity of 8 tons, including their team of 45 people.

Even so, they brought an amazing collection of equipment and supplies with them. Records of this survive to today. From it, we can learn a lot about what it takes to survive for prolonged periods of time in the wild.

Related: 13 Prepper Items You Should Look for at Goodwill


One of the first things we find on the list of their supplies were rifles, the finest rifles money could buy at the time. In fact, the rifles they chose to take with them were so new, they were actually prototypes of a new 1803 model, .54 caliber rifle. They also took considerable stores of powder and lead for making shot. Even the powder was packed in lead containers, which could be converted to additional shot.

But that wasn’t the only unique gun they took with them. They also brought along a Girandoni air rifle, which had a 22 round capacity and operated off of air at an incredible 800 PSI. It was the fastest shooting rifle of its day for those 22 rounds, as it could be reloaded and cocked in about three to four seconds. But once the magazine was shot, the air reservoir had to be refilled, which required 1,500 strokes of its special  pump.Survival Items Lewis and Clark Had with Them on Their Two-Year JourneyThis rifle was impressive enough, that it was used as a sniper rifle by the Austrian army. Lewis, whose rifle it was, used it to impress the Indians they dealt with along the way.

But Lewis & Clark didn’t just take rifles and shot along, they also took along a considerable stock of tools and parts to repair those guns, knowing that they would need to be repaired along the way. Without this stock of parts, they may have never survived the journey, as they used their rifles for both hunting and defense.

Warm Clothing

Weather was likely going to be an issue for the expedition; so they made sure to take along the warmest clothing they could find. This was all made of wool, which may not seem so innovative to us today.

But wool is about the only cloth which will retain at least some of its insulating value when wet. None of our modern miracle fabrics can do that. Considering that they were traveling by boat, having clothing which would keep them at least somewhat warm, even when wet was an important consideration.


In addition to the gunsmith’s tool kit they took along, Lewis & Clark had an impressive collection of other tools as well, enough to keep a carpenter happy.

Survival Items Lewis and Clark Had with Them on Their Two-Year JourneySince they had no means of resupply or repair, other than what the members of their expedition did, these tools allowed them to make things that they needed and perform repairs to their boat.

As winter approached in the first year of their expedition, the team had to prepare winter lodgings, which were called Fort Mandan.

Had they not had those tools along, they would have had to spend the winter in tents, which would have meant lives lost to hypothermia.

Materials for Making Shelters

They didn’t have ripstop nylon tarps or rescue blankets to make temporary shelters with. What they did have was heavy cloth, something akin to canvas. Knowing they might very well need to make shelters to stay the winter in, Lewis brought along 150 yards of this and other cloth.

Besides the tools and material, the expedition had a considerable amount of cordage with them; both light cordage and heavier rope. This was probably mostly hemp rope, as that was the common rope of the day.

Honing Stone

Survival Items Lewis and Clark Had with Them on Their Two-Year Journey

The knife is considered to be the most basic survival tool. Yet many people forget to bring along a honing stone to go along with that knife.

I rarely see that included in any lists for bug out bags or survival kits. Yet Lewis & Clark understood the need to be able to sharpen their knives and brought along an oil stone.

Extra Fire Starters

Fire is an important part of survival and they went prepared. Even though the expedition consisted of only 45 members at the outset, they brought along 100 flints and 30 fire starting steels. This is in addition to the 500 flints for their rifles. Obviously they expected their flints to wear out and brought extras.

Emergency Food Supplies

It is clear from looking at the list of what they brought on their journey that they were not planning on living off the food that they were carrying, but rather live off the land.

Survival Items Lewis and Clark Had with Them on Their Two-Year JourneyNevertheless, they brought along 150 pounds of dried soup as emergency rations. While not as satisfying as a nice bison steak, I’m sure there were many a night where that dried soup ensured that they did not go hungry, especially in the winter.

The expedition also took a considerable amount of salt along with them. Salt is not only necessary as a supplement to our food, but also for preserving meat.

While I don’t know if they preserved any meat along the way, it is clear from the amount they took that they were thinking of more than just seasoning their food.

Fishing Gear

Many people keep a survival fishing kit in their bug out bag. This practice might have started with the Lewis & Clark expedition, which brought along four gross (480) fishing hooks and 12 bunches of “drum line” fishing line.

Barter Goods

While this was mostly an exploratory expedition, part of that was to meet with the various Indian tribes they crossed paths with along the way. With that in mind, the expedition’s luggage contained a considerable amount of barter goods. They would have the ability to trade for whatever they needed, that they didn’t have with them.

However, these weren’t actually used to barter, but rather as gifts to the Indians. Lewis’ means of dealing with the Indians was to try and sell them on the idea of being part of the United States of America. These gifts, along with various pieces of technology that they demonstrated to the natives (like the Girandoni air rifle), were part of that campaign.


Survival Items Lewis and Clark Had with Them on Their Two-Year JourneyBefore leaving on the trip, Lewis spent a considerable amount of time studying various areas of science, so that he would be ready to record what they discovered along the way. Nevertheless, he brought along references to use, not relying only on his memory.

The kind of books that Lewis brought on this expedition can be likened to us carrying along a book on edible plants or herbal medicine in our bug out bag. They were the same sorts of books.


Finally, the expedition left prepared for illness and injury. While the level of medicine in the early 1800’s wasn’t anything like what we know today, Lewis & Clark brought the best of what was available. They knew that getting through the entire journey without any of their soldiers suffering harm or illness was unlikely. Therefore, they went prepared for it.

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Rich M.
By Rich M. November 22, 2019 07:25
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  1. Nolan November 22, 17:34

    Very nice article… ALWAYS bring MORE than you need!

    Reply to this comment
  2. left coast chuck November 22, 18:15

    There were at least three reasons why the gun powder was sealed in lead containers. The first was that the container could be melted down for bullets after it was empty. The second was it was more waterproof to seal the gun powder in lead rather than wooden casks which were usually used to store gun powder. The third was most ingenious. If the gun powder had been sealed in wooden casks, they would float if their boat capsized. They would spend precious days scouring the river banks for miles downstream looking for the wooden casks which would have been carried off by the current. Sealing the powder in lead insured that the powder boxes would sink almost straight to the bottom so that they would know the approximate location of the powder boxes in the event the boat capsized and would be better able to retrieve the precious, life-saving powder.

    Had it been me provisioning the boat, I would have stored the gun powder in wooden casks so that I could take more with me because the wood was lighter than lead. This would have been two mistakes. The first time the boat capsized, and it did, the powder would have been distributed down the river who knows how many miles. Secondly, wood was not in short supply. After the cask was empty, it would have served little purpose.

    This illustrates the preppier lessons we all need to heed. When bugging out, try to take only multiple use items rather than single use items. Secondly be creative in your thinking. Don’t be locked into stereotypical ideation.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Chuckster59 November 22, 18:52

    Lewis and Clark were the original bad@sses of America.

    Reply to this comment
    • Inkslinger May 18, 20:58

      In the bad@ss department, read some of the stories about the American Revolution. Every battle, Valley Forge, Cowpens, and the whole Carolina/Virginia campaign. Courage and valor do not begin to describe …

      Reply to this comment
  4. Miss Kitty November 23, 12:21

    Very interesting! The other resources they took were the people…not only the original crew, but the native guides that they had.

    We’ve all heard about Sacajawea coming with them to interpret and help guide them, but there were other, short-term guides who would get them from point a to point b, maybe navigating a particular stretch of river or to the next village where the guide perhaps had relatives. Having someone local, who knows not only the best restaurants but what the bad neighborhoods are and who speaks the language, with your group is a big help and that resource would have been eagerly pounced upon.

    Not to mention, if their boat was incapacitated due to damage or the river not having the draft needed, they needed a bunch of people to unload the boat, maybe portage the contents and the boat itself to a better stretch of the river, and reload it.

    Too often, we look at shtf as a solitary event, with perhaps our dependants in tow. History shows, however, that if you are traveling through what would essentially be “enemy territory” that there is indeed safety in numbers.

    Reply to this comment
    • IvyMike November 24, 00:21

      i haven’t read L&C in a while but I remember one winter they needed help from the Indians to avoid starvation. It was a bad winter for game, probably as a result of previous drought, but even the Tribal People were down to eating their dogs and horses because the game they killed was starving and didn’t have any fat or meat. An old homesteader friend of mine was telling me about killing Elk in Alaska, since I hunt at Wal Mart I expressed the usual sympathy for the beautiful Elk but he said, that’s our meat for the winter, once the snow starts nobody goes anywhere. If you have a couple sets of Antlers up on the roof, everybody knows you’re doing fine. I myself have a DTV dish.

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck November 25, 05:54

        WallyWorld will be the first store ransacked. Electronics will be the first items looted until folks figure out that one can’t eat the 136 inch HDTV nor drink it. Then a WallyWorld run will require fire support by a Marine rifle squad at a minimum. Your best bet is the small Indian or Peruvian grocery store in an slightly less tha upscale neighborhood.

        During the Cuban missile crisis, a co-worker seriously informed me that he planned on hunting the San Bernardino mountains for wildlife. I hope when I asked him how many hunters he figured there were in San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties that he gave serious thought to that figment of his imagination.

        I suspect that any wildlife that exists after an EOTW event in the LA area will have a shorter life span than Epstein in Rikers.

        A hunting expedition in any of the mountains surrounding the LA basin will be like a re-enactment of the battle of Fallujah. A long time ago after a co-worker returned from a deer hunting expedition I asked him if he had any luck. He told me no, but he had a couple of good sound shots.

        I asked, “A couple of what?”

        He said, “You know, you hear a sound in the bushes and take a shot. But I didn’t hit anything.””

        Mental note to self, “Make sure you never, ever hunt with this idiot.”

        I will say that in my opinion, he wasn’t the brightest light bulb at that place of employment. There wasn’t a contest to determine who was the dumbest, but I am sure that he certainly would have been a strong contender for the title had the other employees ever been polled.

        Reply to this comment
  5. UNexplain Hunter November 23, 15:25

    As always a good read and advice, Keep up the good work

    Reply to this comment
  6. red November 27, 02:25

    I like this. L&C were heroes to us when I was a kid. niio!

    Reply to this comment
  7. Inkslinger May 18, 20:51

    Re: L&C, the beststory I have read of their journey and background, is Stephen Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.” Great reading, for anyone who follows this period of American history.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Dee June 9, 01:53

    L&C’s group also ate candles made out of animal fat when after the dog and horse meat was gone!

    Reply to this comment
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