Most of the time our outdoor activities don't take us more than a mile or so in any given direction from a road or know trail. However, many of us occasionally take the path less traveled (actually my preferred path) and we venture into wilderness areas, large tracts of forest, or great acres of open prairie. Anyone who has spent much time in the great outdoors will tell you that Murphy and his Pandora's box of misfortunes is likely on your trail and laying in wait for you. To keep Mr. Murphy and his furies at bay, I keep this pocket sized survival kit on my person whenever I'm in the woods. It contains essential tools and materials to help you survive an unexpected outdoor experience. Good planning, some common sense, and good equipment will normally keep you out of trouble. However, even the best laid plans often go astray and this kit may help turn an unexpected situation into an amusing camp story and not a tragedy.
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Step 1: The Components
I will spend close to a hundred days a year in the field hunting, fishing, camping, or working and I've found it essential to have good equipment. I'm not saying that you have to spend a lot of money or buy the newest gadgets on the market, but get good quality and keep it in good working order. That being said, most of the over the counter commercially packaged "Survival Kits" leave a lot to be desired. Many of the components are low quality and not always very realistic. I've tried to keep my kit simple and practical. I've used just about everything in this kit at one time or another and the components have not failed me. The following list of items is what I keep in my kit. I'm constantly adding, deleting, changing, and trying new items and different configurations. If you choose to replicate this setup please feel free to modify it as you desire. This kit will not replace good planning and sound judgement but it might help you overcome some mistakes and unforeseen circumstances.
A survival kit should be developed to help you survive a specific scenario or a range of situations. In example, a cold weather kit would have many of the same components of a hot weather kit but each would have different items specific to the climate, season of the year, or geographic area that you plan to be in. A kit that has everything you might need for any given occurrence would be so large and heavy as to make impractical to carry. A great comprehensive kit left back at camp because it is too heavy to carry won't do you any good when you're lost in the woods or get drenched by a sudden down pour. My kit is made up of groups of components designed for basic needs. It is light weight (about 10 oz) and is designed to be carried on your person. It should be supplemented with additional supplies and equipment as needed based on the activity you participate in. This is a simple bare essentials kit with with some redundant features. In general, the kit is made up of 6 groups of components:
1. The container.
2. The signaling group.
3. The fire making group.
4. The sharps or cutting group.
5. The food gathering and repairs group.
6. The medical group.
Step 2: The Container
The criteria for my container was that it had to fit into a cargo or jacket pocket, be waterproof, and light weight. What I chose to hold my kit was a 5"x7" clear vinyl dry sack made by Coghlan's. It is small enough to fit in my cargo pocket, holds everything for a basic kit, is water proof, is clear so I can see what's inside, its light and durable, and it was fairly inexpensive. The bag can be emptied of its contents and used for water storage, It is small but it will hold about 12 oz. It came with a 5' yellow nylon cord. I replaced it with about that much 550 para cord. The 550 cord is stronger and of course has the internal strands that can by removed and used for a plethora purposes. You can use the cord as a dummy cord or place it around you neck to make sure it doesn't get lost.
Step 3: The Signaling & Navigation Group
The signaling & navigation group is comprised of the following items to help searchers find you. In a "you've gotten yourself lost" scenario most experts recommend that you stop, find shelter, and wait for a rescue team to find you. You know people will be looking for you because you remembered to leave a trip plan with a responsible person telling them where you are going and when you should return, right? So, this being the case, your first duty should be to help the search team find you.
1. Vector 1 signaling mirror: Use for signalling search & rescue personnel. Used properly, it can be seen for miles. Make sure it has a functional retro-reflective aiming circle. Many cheap models do not have this feature. It is a must to accurately aid your signal flash. Practice with this tool before you go out on your adventure.
2. ACR rescue whistle: Any loud whistle will do. A shrill whistle will travel farther and can be heard easier than a shout and can be maintained longer. Three sets of 3 blasts on a whistle is an internationally recognized distress signal. I chose the ACR model because it is loud (SOLAS approved), very slim and pealess so it will work in freezing weather. There are several other good models to choose from.
3. Mini Maglite LED flashlight w/ AAA battery: The LED light gives out good illumination and has good battery life. Another good choice would be a Inova mini led light or a Freedom Photon model.
4. Brunton liquid filled button compass: This should be a backup to the map reading compass and/or GPS unit that you should carry. It is small (approx 25mm dia) and is liquid filled. It will help give you general bearings and will work in low temperatures.
5. 3 sheets of Post-it note paper. Can be used as tender to start a fire, record information, leave a note, record your experience, etc.
6. Small lead pencil. Use to write your notes or can be whittled into a fuzz stick to start a fire.
7. Brass trap tag with my name and address. I included this item that records my name and address to identify me in the event I'm not able to do so myself. Hopefully, this will never be necessary.
Step 4: Fire Making Group
In a survival situation the ability to make and maintain a fire is one of the most important skills to have. A fire will keep you warm, cook your food, keep animals (and the boogieman) away, and can be used as a signal for help. Three fires in a triangular shape is an internationally recognized distress signal. A good mental attitude is one of the most essential tools in any survival situation. In an unexpected overnight stay in the woods, a fire can go a long way to keep your spirits up. This kit contains at least 4 ways to start a fire. Fire making is a skill that takes practice to master. The middle of the night during a snow storm with one injured hand is no time to begin learning how to make a fire. As seen on TV, you can make a fire by rubbing 2 sticks together, if you're a 32nd degree Eagle Scout, an aboriginal tribesman, or Bear Grylls (don't get me started). The rest of us will fare much better with some fire making tools and a little practice. Basic fire making preparation requires selecting a appropriate site, collecting tender, kindling, and fuel, and producing a flame, or at least a spark that can be coaxed into a flame. Please be extremely care building a fire. Make sure you can control it once it is made. You will probably get noticed if you start a brush or forest fire, but if you're not a victim of your own negligence, you'll probably have to answer some serious questions from the authorities. These tools have been proved to successfully help start a fire and I include them or a variation in all of my kits.
1. Fresnel magnifying lens. This lens can by used to magnify the suns rays to start a fire. It can also be used to read a map, or see to remove a splinter or tick.
2. Military damp proof matchbook from an MRE packet. I got these at a gun show, but they are available on Ebay or you can eat an MRE and save them. I used these because they are moisture resistant (not waterproof) and fit well in the kit although any book of matches will do. I seal them in a small zip lock bag. You can get the small zip seal bags at most hobby stores. They really come in handy for a variety of uses. These matches are a backup item as you should have a matchbox with waterproof matches in your left breast pocket, right?
3. Mini Bic butane lighter. Again the size is convenient for the pocket sized kit. You've got a full sized butane lighter in your right breast pocket next to your body to keep it warm, right?
4. Magnesium bar with an attached ferrocerium rod and steel striker. You can shave a pile of the magnesium bar into a pile about the size of a dime and use the striker against the ferrocerium rod to make a shower of sparks that will ignite the pile. Magnesium burns at approximately 4000 degrees F and will start even damp tender. I purchased this one from Survival Resources ( www.be prepared to survive.com ). It is large enough to grip and small enough to fit on a key chain. It also has both the magnesium and fire steel in one piece.
5. Spark Lite Tender-quick tabs. This commercially prepared tender works great. It will catch fire from just sparks and will burn for about 2 minutes. You could use any commercial brand or even make your own from cotton balls or dryer lint. Sparks from the ferrocerium rod or even an empty butane or flint wheel liter will ignite them.
Step 5: The Sharps or Cutting Group
Next to the ability to start a fire, a knife is probably the most useful survival tool. You should keep a sharp medium sized fixed blade knife as part of your everyday field equipment. In addition to the knife I wear on my belt I keep the following sharps in my pocket kit:
1. Gerber slimline folding knife. This stainless steel folder will perform most light camp chores, cut cord, skin and dress small game, whittle a snare trigger, make a fuzz stick, used as a fire steel striker, dig out a splinter, or just about anything else you will need to do.
2. Folding surgical prep razor. A back-up to the Gerber folder. Will cut cord, cloth, & leather. It can be used to lance a wound, or shave an area around a cut or puncture wound for first aid dressing. I find this razor is much easier to use and safer than the plain razor or scalpel blades that are commonly found in off the shelf survival tins or pocket kits.
3. Military P-38 can opener. This may be one of the best inventions ever devised by the military. It can be used as intended as a can opener, or as a screw driver. It can be sharpened to a cutting edge, used as a fire steel striker, or a small pry bar. When I was in the service I kept one on my dog tag chain and another on my key ring. It seems like I used it for something just about every day.
Step 6: Food Gathering & Repairs Group
This group has several items that are muti-taskers. They can be used for various purposes from repairing clothing and gear to making shelter to gathering food. Generally speaking, food is pretty low on the priority list for short term survival. Depending on your health and other conditions you can actually survival several weeks without food. But, while you are waiting for the rescue team to arrive or if your situation may extend beyond a day or two, you might as well keep occupied by repairing damaged equipment and trying to find some sustenance. My kit contains the following items:
1. (1) 18"x24" heavy duty aluminum foil sheet. This sheet can be used for cooking, sanitizing water, making fishing lures, as a solar reflector, food storage, or a signaling device.
2. 40' spool of military surplus trip wire. I got this particular spool on eBay. It is about 2" long and approx 1/2" dia. plastic spool with 2 nails inside the spool. This wire can sometimes be found on the internet or at local military surplus stores. If you can't find this kind of trip wire any light gauge brass wire will do. You should have at least 10' in your kit. It can be used to repair gear, make snares, lash limbs to make a shelter, replace boot laces, secure equipment, and many other uses.
3. 10' to 12' feet of 100 lb test braided fishing line, the kind you would use for catfishing wound on a floss bobbin. Cordage is very handy for a variety of purposes. You can get plastic floss bobbins at you local craft or fabric store. The bobbins are about an 1-1/4" square and have ears that hold the line nicely. They hold quite a bit of line and don't take up much space. I use a piece of scotch tape to keep them from unraveling inside the pack.
4. 25' or so of 30 lb test Spider Wire braided fishing line wound on a floss bobbin. Spider Wire is very thin and strong. The 30 lb test Spider line is the diameter of 8 lb test monofilament. I like Spider Wire better than mono because it is stronger per diameter, it has less memory on the spool, and it doesn't get brittle with age. It can be used for fishing line, sewing thread, lashing cord, or in a pinch even sutures.
5. (1) #6/0 Stainless steel O'Shaunesy style fish hook with a carpet tack. This hook can be used for fishing on a line or as a gaff. You can attach the hook to a limb with the carpet tack driven through the eye and the shank whipped with cord to make a simple gaff.
6. Small styrofoam fishing float. People have used a cork and a line to fish for centuries.
7. About 6' of 2" duct tape. You can use duct tape to fix just about anything.
8. Various sizes of safety pins. Use the pins to repair tears in gear, replace lost buttons, attach gear articles to you jacket to keep them from being lost, use them as a field expedient fish hook, or even in an emergency, to close a wound.
9. (1) 1/8th oz crappie jig. A proven fishing lure. Choose your favorite color.
10. Spare carpet tack for the gaff hook, just because they're easy to drop and lose.
11. Fish hook and sinker assortment. I include (2) each size 6, 8, &10. and (6) split shot sinkers.
12. (1) sewing needle and a spool of nylon thread. The nylon thread can be used for repairing torn clothing or gear and is strong enough for light fishing. I actually caught several brook trout in Colorado last year using this thread tied to a limb with one of the #6 hooks and a grasshopper. Make sure the thread will fit through the needle you select. In an emergency you can use the needle and thread as sutures (just like Rambo).
13. Small plastic vial. This vial holds the small safety pins, crappie jig, tack, fish hooks, sinkers, and needle. It makes a great little sewing and fishing kit.
14. 15' of 100 lb test waxed braided fishing line (like is used for trot line fishing). You'll find cordage of all types very handy and should be kept close at hand for lashing, fastening and carrying purposes.
Step 7: The Medical Group
I keep just a few medical items in my pocket survival kit as I normally carry a small first aid kit either in my pack or in the left side cargo pocket of my trousers. These items are just for minor issues.
1. Standard 3/4"x3" adhesive bandages. Use these for minor cuts and scrapes or to cover a foot blister.
2. (2) Alcohol swabs. I keep these in the kit more for additional fire tender than anything else. A spark from the fire steel or lighter will lite them. They can also be used to clean wounds or to sterilize suturing materials.
3. (1) packet of toilet paper from an MRE accessory pack. This can be used for fire starting tender or more important paperwork.
4. One thing that is missing from this kit that I normally keep in it are water purification tablets. Normally there would be 4 to 6 tablets in this kit. The ones I had were old and I haven't replaced them yet.
NOTE: If you require medication it might be a good idea to include a dose or two in your kit.
Step 8: Final Thoughts
Survival is mostly about overcoming mistakes and bad judgement. If you had put a map in your pack you might not have gotten lost. If you had left a trip plan with a responsible party, a rescue team might know that you are overdue and where to look for you. If you had checked the weather forecast before you left, you might have not gone at all. Add in a little chaos theory and you may find yourself in a position to spend an unexpected night or two communing with nature. As I said before, I've found most commercially produced survival kits woefully inadequate at best and can lead to a false sense of security at worst. You don't want to risk your life on dime store quality equipment in an emergency. This is the actual kit I keep in the right side cargo pocket of my trousers whenever I go into the woods. I have practiced with and used all of the components and know they will not let me down when and if I need them. This is my bare essentials kit that I keep on my person in the event I get separated from the rest of my gear. I keep more robust equipment in my pack and additional items in camp and/or in my vehicle. The distance you venture from home or camp and the length of time you plan to stay will dictate the type and quantity of supplies and equipment you'll need. I can't guarantee that having this kit will keep you from harm, but it will certainly give you a better chance to overcome the conditions that put you in jeopardy. Feel free to replicate this kit and modify it and it's components to suit your needs and the areas you travel. Be safe, be prepared, and fend for yourself.