survival kits, read all kinds of articles about them, and tested many components on my own. Seems many of these guys use their kits occasionally, if for no more reason than to rotate the items or food out for freshness' sake. But most will only relate their story of when they had to use a kit, or something they had carried with them that saved their lives. Usually, though, I must admit that some writers do give some thought to their kits, but some do not consider various climates, many sizes of people, or the knowledge levels of the user. One author had a three-part kit that would have been too much for any child or a frail person.
What Kind of Kit Do I Need?
First of all, what do you want your survival kit to do? Be an augment to your backpack? Save you from stupidity? Rescue you from Armageddon? Seriously, think about it. If you're going to want something for bugging out when everything goes to the dogs (a NICE way to put it), your kit should be the size of a backpack. If you want something to be an accessory to your backpack, try some of the fanny packs or tourist-sized front or side belt packs. A normal day pack would carry a large survival kit.
What About My Abilities?
Also, let us consider your abilities:
• Are you able to survive with only a knife and the clothes on your back? No? Then, you're going to need something more, maybe MUCH more.
• An avid outdoorsman with some skills? Maybe one of the side or belly packs would suffice to carry only a few essentials.
• An occasional foray into the wilds? This may require some special thought and space, oh, about the size of a decent fanny pack, 100-300 cubic inches.
• Little to no skills? You should consider living in a commune. Just joking, but you really need something more substantial, possibly a day pack or a week-ender, 350-700 cubic inches.
Once you've determined your needs, we need to see what is going to go into your kit! Out of necessity and to prioritize a bit, let's cover the basics of survival that are required in any given situation. Not in any particular order, they are: water, shelter, food, and fire. Prioritizing them is the trick, however. Through research, scientists know that we can live without food for about six weeks. More for some, less for others, depending on expending energy, weather and exposure, and any medicinal requirements. Water, however, is needed far sooner. Without it, we humans would expire in about six days. The rule of thumb I learned in boy scouts was: 6 weeks without food, 6 days without water, and 6 minutes without air. So, by default, we require heat or shelter to be our first priority. Let's go from there! Choosing fire or shelter would depend upon the circumstance we would find ourselves.
Imagine being caught out in a blizzard...I have more than once, especially in the Alaskan wilderness. Gale-force winds howling and dropping tons of snow all around would dictate that shelter was our first concern. Why even TRY to build a fire in such conditions? Same question applies in a torrential downpour elsewhere. Without shelter from those kinds of conditions, a fire would be nearly impossible to build.
On the other hand, calm conditions, even around 40-50 degrees F., can be dangerous without a heat source. Many have died from hypothermia thinking they could wait for a heat source in such conditions! Once I learned that, I saved my own life and the life of a friend when we were out all day in a soaking rain on a Labor Day week-end while trying to move his gear out of his cabin in a canoe. It was well after dark when we paddled into shore nearly 8 hours later down river. The last meal we had was lunch about noon. We landed the canoe almost at the stroke of 9 p.m. But once safe on shore, chills immediately overtook us. We had not realized our diminishing physical condition (remember: no food in eight hours!) because our exertion, through paddling, had kept us warm. In fact, the breeze wicked any warmth away from us, cooling us as the drizzling rain persisted. Fortunately, several fire starters had been in one of our pockets and in his gear, and despite our shaking hands, we had dry tinder to build a fire with a single stroke from a small, inexpensive lighter.
Get the picture? If weather permits, build a fire first, if not, find or build a shelter first! If nothing more, it lifts the spirits to a higher level. So, in order, depending on weather, our priorities should be:
1. FIRE 2. SHELTER 3. WATER 4. FOOD
Therefore, the very first item(s) that should be included in any survival kit should be several ways (no less than three) to build a fire. Consider all the possibilities and do NOT pick any of them you are NOT familiar with! Then, guess what? Become proficient with all three methods!
I. HEAT SOURCES (minimum-3)
1) Lighters-lightweight and reliable, especially when used with a candle 2) Strike anywhere matches (not 'strike on the box' or 'book' matches), dipped in wax. Inexpensive if you can find them.
3) Survival windproof/waterproof matches-great last chance for a fire...hot and stays lit.
4) Flashlight batteries or a 9 volt radio battery and steel wool (a sensitive tinder that will hold a spark when it has been wet)
5) Magnifying glass-great on sunny days, with dry or sensitive tinder.
6) Flint and steel (or commercial strikers/blast matches)-with a sensitive tinder such as 000 steel wool or dried thistle down mixed with other dried materials.
7) Bow-and-drill (see what I mean about being familiar?)
8) Bullet and cloth-leave this one for the hunters and gun enthusiasts!
9) Calcium carbide plus water, and a sparker-makes acetylene gas, hence, it can be explosive. Be careful, this one takes practice.
10) Emergency flares-burns HOT and lasts 15-20 minutes. One couldn't hurt: doubles as a weapon for protection!
11) Fuel(s) and a sparker-gas (be careful, not too much!), kerosene, diesel, some oils, charcoal lighter, cigarette lighter fuel
12) Glycerin and potassium permanganate (spontaneously ignites when mixed!)
II. TINDERS (min.2):
1) Steel wool (00, 000, or 0000)
Mix the following with dried grasses:
2) Dried down of thistle, cattail down, milkweed
3) Roughed up inner bark of red cedar, cottonwood, willow, aspen, or birch
4) Dried stalk fibers of fireweed, milkweed, nettles, cattails, thistles, burdock, outer bark of sagebrush.
5) Trick birthday candles or bicycle inner tube squares light well with matches or lighters
6) Nice thing about flares, they burn fine by themselves. And just about anything else you want!
III. SHELTER (min.1):
Because a backpacking tent is a little large and heavy for a survival tent, forget them. Most items need to be lightweight and packable into a small place. An old backpacking tent's rain fly might fill the bill nicely.
1) Space Blankets-two types are available: (a) lightweight, fist-sized, usually in a blister package, and (b) the larger (and heavier) type. Either work as they say they do, but the heavier, thicker one folds down nicely and comes with eyelets on the perimeter for tying down. Take at least one, depending on your abilities. Designed to hold in heat, keep out moisture. Works best when wrapped around a sitting individual with a candle burning up between the legs, or used as a sleeping bag. Some are made to be emergency sleeping bags.
2) Heavy trash bags-useful for all sorts of things, but good for rain protection or crawling into. Two, minimum.
3) Tube tents-just that, a tube of plastic, usually about 6-9 feet long and 12 feet around, lightweight like light trash bags or light space blankets.
4) Bivy bag-expensive, but state-of-the-art, usually made of Gore-tex. A big disadvantage is that it, like any other product made with nylon, has an aversion to fire!
5) Heavy-duty plastic or paint cover- 12x9 feet, one with eyelets preferred.
6) Lightweight tarp-durable but heavy, plastic or canvas, with eyelets and ties.
7) Large military-type poncho-coupled with another, makes a nice lean-to or pup tent. Nice compromise to the tarp, tube tent, or trash bags. Can cost more, $8 to $25. A little more money can get you a poncho liner, a nice addition to an already useful item.
TIP: No money? Line your garbage bags with an old wool shirt or maybe some flexible foam...anything to help keep warm! Take two flannel shirts, sew together, and fill with dry grasses, thistle down, etc. I once lined two flannel shirts with the flexible foam from between windshields. It is the same foam, sort of like Styrofoam but more flexible, that is often used in wrapping fragile items inside boxes. Remember, the more loft means better heat retention!
IV. WATER (remember, this one is necessary!):
Sources : 1) Carried with you 2) Groundwater (creek, pond, lake, river, spring, etc.) 3) Solar still 4) Plants
1) Carrying enough water with you will be a) impractical, as water IS obtainable, and b) heavy (8 lbs. per gallon).
Unless you have had the foresight to cache or stash safe drinking water ahead of you on your route, this is not the option I'd choose unless you have no idea where your next drink is coming from. I like the military ones, as they can be carried in the pack or on the hip in a cover that also holds a canteen cup, a little stove which uses trioxane bars or the surrounding flora for fuel, and a little pocket to carry your iodide tablets. Some claim that the older metal military canteen enables one to melt frozen water near a fire, an added bonus!
2) Groundwater is usually plentiful almost everywhere but in the desert, but hang on, we'll discuss that, too. Most groundwater, however, must be purified to keep us healthy because of contaminants and bacteria our bodies prefer to live without. Frankly, come to think of it so does most of our city water! Now that we know we need purification, here's a few methods to consider:
a) BOILING-some say anywhere from 1 minute to 20 minutes! Research the area you'll be in and get the advice of someone who frequents the area and knows what the conditions are. b) IODINE TABLETS-objectionable taste to some, but relatively cheap. c) CHLORINE TABLETS-tastes more familiar, a little more expensive. One can use pure bleach, but it must be done carefully to prevent poisoning. d) COMMERCIAL PURIFIERS-starting about $30+. No Recommendations here! Seriously, preference is the determining factor. If you boil, fuel must be abundant. The tablets are according to taste, room, and price. The purifier is safe, expensive, and requires the most room in the kit. Is price an problem object? Or your survival?
3) Solar Stills are simply amazing at providing H2O in barren areas (deserts!) where plants and moisture are hard to find. Best used in a desert climate, a successful still uses a piece of plastic about 48'x48' as a minimum size. Add a six foot piece of surgical tubing and it becomes a luxury! Place safe vegetation like grasses or edible plants in the bottom of the still to aid the distillation. Pee around the outer areas, but not on the surgical straw! Can yield about half a gallon per day in the desert.
Rick Shrack, firstname.lastname@example.org