IS YOUR KIT UP TO THE TEST?
TEST YOUR KIT—AND YOURSELF—IN A REAL-WORLD SURVIVAL OUTING.
This industry has always been fascinated by survival kits. People spend a lot of time and money looking for the right prepackaged combination or components to use when putting a kit together. This has become a form of “outdoors pastime” that plays out inside their homes.
We like the convenience and gratification of buying an assemblage of survival gear that looks as if it might work for the survival situation we think we might need protection from. For too many, the prepping process is finished when we hit the “buy” button on a website that offered a dizzying array of choices.
I remember the days of excitedly returning from the dollar or hardware store with all these little components, intent on stuffing them inside a small Altoids tin. Most people who have had any interest in outdoors survival have probably done the same.
This has been referred to as a “mini kit,” made popular by the late Ron Hood. Small kits are okay for emergencies, but if you try to camp out of them, their shortcomings become obvious very quickly: All of a sudden, crammed items just don’t cut it for a real overnighter or emergency, unless the person has some very good training and experience. I know I wouldn’t want to overnight with just what I could stuff into a small tin.
Then, there are the big “everything kits” that employ the “Better to have it and not need it than not have it when you need it” mentality. These kits usually weigh a ton and become a bit of a crutch, often replacing training and good, old-fashioned practice with more gear.
Some people, while prepared, are kit dominant, begging the question, What about skills and realistic camp practice?
TESTING YOUR GEAR CHOICES
At one time or another, I’ve been in both “camps” mentioned above. As a student of the art, I came to realize that only after returning from a trip—whether camping, backpacking, or taking or teaching a class—did it became clear what I really needed for survival. These epiphanies don’t come to you if the sum total of your experience with your gear is reached when you take it out of the packaging.
Comfort is another realm altogether; and, too often, outdoorsmen think comfort items in their kit are more important than the absolute necessities. I believe every serious outdoorsman, prepping and survival enthusiast, hunter and survival instructor should spend several nights in the bush with their hard-thoughtout survival kit and see how it works in different situations. No two people will have the same stuff in their kits, especially if they’re in different environments. Survival in the jungle requires different gear and approaches than the desert, the Pacific Northwest or the southern states. This is most apparent regarding your clothing and shelter, but basic “survival necessities” should be similar, regardless of the area you’re in.
I have camped out overnight on many occasions in different environments with only what I could fit in a small “possibles pouch” and a couple of tools, intent on being safe and staying hydrated. If you and your gear pass these tests, you are reducing your challenging situation into a more-familiar and less-threatening scenario: camping!
I helped teach a few classes in Alabama for which the students were sent out into the woods after basic survival training.
SURVIVAL SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN LIGHTLY; PRACTICE SHOULD NOT BE DISMISSED BECAUSE YOU OWN A PRE-PACKED SURVIVAL KIT.
They were told they could use anything from that point onward to help supplement their survival for the next 48 hours. (This forces people to use the power of observation and offers a chance to be creative.)
Every trip into the wilderness offers us a chance to observe and collect—if the situation ever were to arise—so take advantage of it.
Dave Canterbury popularized the “five Cs” and the “10 Cs” of survival. However, the items on these lists are often already being carried by anyone expecting to spend an extended period in the wild. Dave fine-tuned the lists for us and made them more purpose driven, which simplified things for a lot of people.
I REMEMBER THE DAYS OF EXCITEDLY RETURNING FROM THE DOLLAR OR HARDWARE STORE WITH ALL THESE LITTLE COMPONENTS, INTENT ON STUFFING THEM INSIDE A SMALL ALTOIDS TIN.
THE FIRST FIVE CS
The basic five Cs are: cutting tools, cover, container, combustible (fire starter) and cordage. With these items, survival and everyday bushcraft tasks can easily be accomplished. The container could be a reservoir for collecting and carrying/drinking water, as well as a metal general storage container, which is an absolute must for survival or camping in the backcountry.
Cutting tools are so diverse that it would be hard to select just one—or five, for that matter. However, I feel this should be kept down to two items: a saw and a fixedblade knife. Depending on your part of the world, the season and other factors, a tomahawk and saw or a Swiss Army Knife
CUTTING TOOLS ARE SO DIVERSE THAT IT WOULD BE HARD TO SELECT JUST ONE—OR FIVE, FOR THAT MATTER.
and axe are more appropriate. The options are endless and must be figured out by each end user. Your specific experience in the field will help you decide.
Finally, some sort of cover is key, because many environments can’t be survived without the protection afforded by an effective shelter.
THE SECOND FIVE CS
The remaining five Cs, according to Canterbury, are candle, cotton bandana, compass, cloth tape and a canvas sail needle. Naturally, these items can be interpreted in many ways, according to your needs. Candles are included to produce light, which can also be provided by a flashlight or headlamp. The cotton bandana could take the form of a shemagh, and the material and size can vary. The requirement of the canvas sail needle could be satisfied by any needle for clothing and gear repairs or by safety pins.
I’m not trying to rewrite the book here, but another “C” could be communication, as in signaling people with a whistle or signal mirror, for example. The important thing is to know how and when to use these items on a regular basis—not only when they are needed and night is approaching.
COMFORT IS ANOTHER REALM ALTOGETHER AND, TOO OFTEN, OUTDOORSMEN THINK COMFORT ITEMS IN THEIR KIT ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITIES.
In a small kit, whether it’s homemade or store bought, the hardest thing to accomplish is shelter. This is considered “cover” in the book of Cs. The most basic and compact cover a person could have is a reflective Mylar space blanket (thermal heat sheet), which is a little larger than a deck of playing cards when it’s packed. This is also the most difficult to set up, because the slightest breeze can have you chasing the reflective “kite” around in the wilderness.
Erecting this shelter is one skill you should learn and practice—for your own sake and perhaps to help another. Try setting one up by yourself in a lean-to shape. There are no grommets in these compact shelters, so use small, smooth stones, acorns or coins. Alternatively, cut the ends off a green branch to put the item in the corners and bind them with cordage to make tie-off points. This will be secure, but not bomb proof.
If you have two trees to tie off to and plenty of cordage, you are ahead of the game, but practice setting this shelter up “free standing”— that is, without trees or terrain features to tie off to. Cut and set small, dry or green branches, waist high, as the tie off points, much like a backpacker would use trekking poles. Set them up first. Then pull your Mylar sheet back tight
and let the force keep the support sticks taut by anchoring them back to tie-off points. If possible, add one smooth support stick underneath for extra headroom and to shed snow and water more efficiently.
These heat sheets are cheap enough to practice with, even if you tear one or two in the process. If you can’t master this, you’ll need another solution for your shelter.
With a long fire in front of the space blanket shelter (one long step away), a warm shelter is accomplished. But ground insulation is the name of the game. As part of my “cover,” I also bring along one large trash bag for stuffing with debris for my mattress. It is important to smash it down, slowly, and then fill it some more. I generally use a torso-sized pad when backpacking, so a large trash bag is not as important to me.
Set the whole shelter up, maybe facing southeast to get the most of that first morning light and heat (in some environments, this is not too important). Work with the terrain: If there is a “perfect” survival camp spot with a good wood supply, water and a large boulder for providing heat reflection and a windbreak, call that home for the night!
Because this will be the main place you keep your survival gear, make sure it is durable nylon, polyester or leather. Mat Gillenwater of Reliance Leather Works makes some of the best traditional possibles pouches for wilderness carry I have seen. I have found leather to be a very good choice for use in snow and rain, because it is more weather resistant than people think. Nylon or open-top pouches will get saturated in bad weather, but most of the gear mentioned in the 10 Cs list doesn’t require protection from water. Naturally, tinder, matches or lighters need to be kept dry, but ferrocerium rods will work, even when they’re wet.
I try to avoid zippers in the outdoors, because they will eventually fail. However, the Izula Gear pouches from Randall’s Adventure & Training have been some of my new “go-to” pouches, because they’re built with what I call “debris-proof” zippers. I haven’t been able to make them malfunction yet, even in snow, dirt and grit. They come in orange and OD green and are just the right size to bring just the necessities. In winter, when I wear several layers of clothing, I use the over-the-shoulder-style pouches. During the summer, I tend to use belt pouches, because they are easy to access with only my shirt covering them.
Safe hydration is a matter of boiling water in a metal container—and in the warmer months, this is a pain in the butt! Boiling and drinking water when it is hot is pretty miserable. I always have iodine tablets, which have proven to work, even when drinking water gathered from a river with bathing water buffalos in the Philippines or sloth guts in Peru. I have two leather pouches that hold a small metal cup I made from a Vienna sausage can that weighs a fraction of an ounce.
I always keep a tube of Carmex for all types of things—mainly for rubbing into dry cotton balls for a fire accelerant, lip and wound protection, and lubricating into bow-drill sockets. The tube is soft and gets smaller as it is used, making room in the pouch for more tinder gathered off the ground. I also keep a small, ceramic sharpener for edged tools and a stick of fatwood, with perhaps a folded piece of foil as additions to my 10 Cs.
Get out there and try it. Survival should not be taken lightly. Practice should not be dismissed because you own a pre-packed survival kit. In the world of survival, there is no graduation day!
Besides the 10 “Cs” of survival, the author uses these small items for camping and survival. Most important is iodine for water purification.
Opposite page, top: This kit is based on the popular 10 “Cs” of survivability—but with a few changes: The canvas sail needle has been substituted for cotton balls. Notice two cutting tools, two containers, two types of cover and two types of cordage. Right: One leather pouch used by the author. It holds a small, aluminum cup for boiling water.
Above: This is author Bolieu’s personal pouch and cutting tool for even the harshest weather. The leather is quite resilient, and the flap covers the kit contents.
Randall’s Adventure & Training pouches are available in two colors and can be purchased either with kit contents or empty.
The author has regularly camped with this kit, adding a water reservoir to it along the way.
A simple, compact set of tools—such as a folding saw and fixed-blade knife—is just about all a person needs for most seasons. Skill will help a person get along with just these two cutting tools. Both will fit into cargo pants pockets, or the sheath knife could be attached to a belt.