Build the kit that works best for you.

American Survival Guide - - CONTENTS - By Christo­pher Ny­erges


We’ve all heard about the “10 essen­tials,” right?— the stuff we should al­ways carry in our packs in case we get lost or sim­ply be­cause we should al­ways have cer­tain things when we’re out in the wild. As a cau­tion­ary list for ad­ven­tur­ers, the “10 essen­tials” goes way back to the early days of the Sierra Club, and it has evolved over the years. And I have seen lists of some­what non-es­sen­tial “10 essen­tials” at back­pack­ing stores. Un­for­tu­nately, they weren’t par­tic­u­larly de­signed for your pro­tec­tion on the trail but for the widgets the store was sell­ing.


Here is one clas­sic list: 1. Map and com­pass (that’s two items!) 2. Sun­glasses 3. Sun­screen 4. Ex­tra cloth­ing 5. Head­lamp/flash­light 6. First aid sup­plies 7. Fire-starter 8. Matches (re­ally?) 9. Knife 10. Ex­tra food So, even from the very be­gin­ning, 10 was never

10, which il­lus­trates that this con­cept is re­ally a way to think about your ba­sic needs.


In my classes, I am of­ten asked what to carry reg­u­larly on the trail, as well as what to carry in a bug-out bag, mean­ing a pre-loaded bag you grab for evac­u­a­tion. Each per­ceived sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent, but in re­al­ity, all the ba­sic needs are the same. Here is my es­sen­tial list of items I nearly al­ways carry in what I call my “sur­vival pack.” (Don’t con­fuse it with “ev­ery­day carry” [EDC].)

• A knife; and the more, the bet­ter. I carry a Swiss Army knife, Leather­man multi-tool, big sheath knife, fold­ing saw and Flo­rian ratchet clip­pers. That’s re­ally five items (with a lot more func­tions ... if you item­ize the tools on the SAK and the Leather­man).

• I also carry a fire starter—but usu­ally not matches. I carry a mag­ne­sium fire starter and a BIC lighter. That’s two more items for get­ting a fire started.

• I also carry (and I sug­gest that you do the same) some form of cordage. This can be a sim­ple, $3 ball of twine or a roll of para­chute cord. I don’t re­call ever see­ing cordage on any list, but it is amaz­ing how many things you can do with it. These first three cat­e­gories above are what I con­sider my “holy trin­ity”—the things I should al­ways carry in all cir­cum­stances.

• I usu­ally don’t carry ex­tra cloth­ing, but it de­pends on the cir­cum­stances. At the least, I will carry sun­glasses, read­ing glasses, a few ker­chiefs, gloves, a small hat and per­haps a few other small items.

• I carry a small LED flash­light—al­ways one that uses AA bat­ter­ies, which I think are the most eco­nom­i­cal and read­ily avail­able. I don’t usu­ally carry a sig­nal­ing mir­ror or a whis­tle, but I think those are good ideas (I can usu­ally make a sig­nal­ing de­vice or a whis­tle from trash or other scav­enged items, if needed).

• I nearly al­ways carry a small first aid kit con­tain­ing a spec­trum of items for deal­ing with in­juries from trail ac­ci­dents.

• Al­though I rarely carry much food, I have car­ried nuts, dried fruit and even salad dress­ing (yes, salad dress­ing, be­cause, if you know wild plants, you can make a salad just about any­where).

• I do carry a small, com­pact fish­ing kit with line, some hooks and a few sinkers. Fish are ev­ery­where. And some­times, if I am think­ing re­ally “apoc­a­lyp­tic,” and my mind wan­ders into a Book of Eli-type fu­ture, I will make a point to bring some seeds along in my kit in case I have to re­ally start over.


• I don’t typ­i­cally carry a stove, but I of­ten carry a stain­less steel Sierra cup I can also use for cook­ing. I also carry a stain­less steel wa­ter bot­tle (oddly, this is some­thing I don’t find on other lists).

• Yes, I carry a roll of toi­let pa­per. And let’s be hon­est: Tis­sue pa­per and wet wipes will al­ways come in handy. If you can’t use them, some­one around you will ap­pre­ci­ate them or trade for them. Plus, even in the af­ter­math of a ma­jor dis­as­ter, we don’t usu­ally plunge from the Mod­ern Age deep into

the Stone Age. You’re go­ing to be in­ter­act­ing with other peo­ple af­ter a dis­as­ter in some ca­pac­ity. In the very be­gin­ning, your credit cards and ID should have some value. When your plas­tic is re­fused, your pa­per money will likely still be use­ful. If things re­ally drag on, your pa­per and plas­tic will be worth­less, and peo­ple will only trade or barter for coins or items of in­trin­sic value. And al­though I see “map and com­pass” on nearly ev­ery list I have ever seen, I rarely carry them. If I know I am go­ing into un­known ter­rain, I will get a map of the ter­rain and bring it, along with my com­pass.


Let’s for­get the pre­tense of “10” essen­tials and think more in terms of a sys­temic ap­proach. What you carry is wholly de­pen­dent on who you are, where you live, your skills, your fam­ily cir­cum­stances and needs, the over­all cli­mate where you live, how well you get along with neigh­bors, ur­ban ver­sus ru­ral sur­round­ings, which dis­as­ters your area is most prone to (earth­quake, flood­ing, mud­slides, tsunami, fires, loot­ing ... and the list goes on). Ten is not 10. What’s im­por­tant is to eval­u­ate your sit­u­a­tion and think through the 10 cat­e­gories of sys­tems that should be ad­dressed. Also, in de­sign­ing your kit for a the­o­ret­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, are you think­ing long term or short term? Are you trav­el­ing and do­ing so openly or incog­nito? Is it a bug-out bag or a get-home bag? Or, is it the last bag you’ll ever have as civ­i­liza­tion sinks into the west? 1. Nav­i­ga­tion: In to­day’s world, this can be han­dled with a mod­ern smart phone with its built-in GPS sys­tem. How­ever, would that be up and run­ning in the af­ter­math of a ma­jor dis­as­ter? Maybe not. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of a topo­graph­i­cal map of your lo­cal area handy—“handy,” as in your pack, folded neatly, along with a stan­dard com­pass. The map-and-com­pass com­bi­na­tion has stood the test of time. Yes, your GPS de­vice is great un­der or­di­nary cir­cum­stances, but it does re­quire bat­ter­ies and some train­ing. 2. Sun Pro­tec­tion: This refers to such things as a hat, sun­glasses, lip balm and sun­screen. These are some­what per­sonal and in­di­vid­ual choices, de­pend­ing on your needs. A ban­danna could also fit into this cat­e­gory for a head cov­er­ing. 3. In­su­la­tion: Ev­ery­thing that keeps you warm from the cold falls into this cat­e­gory, in­clud­ing even things that in­su­late you from the sun and wind. So, the very cloth­ing you choose to wear is the first line of de­fense. A space blan­ket, al­though woe­fully in­ad­e­quate for any se­ri­ous in­su­la­tion needs, seems to find it­self in ev­ery sur­vival kit. It is small, com­pact and cheap—but only marginally valu­able as in­su­la­tion. A My­lar bag or suit is far more use­ful if you want some­thing com­pact. Mod­ern syn­thet­ics, such as Po­lartec, are great for light­weight, com­pact blan­kets, and those that pack small might be use­ful in a longer-term sur­vival kit. A multi-func­tional ban­danna would also fit into this cat­e­gory. A ban­danna can be worn as a hat, neck pro­tec­tor and a head­band, and it’s use­ful in so many other ways (see the side­bar on the fac­ing page and on page 18). 4. Il­lu­mi­na­tion: Yes, fire can be il­lu­mi­na­tion, but this head­ing refers to your light­stick and your flash­light. Good flash­lights these days can be very in­ex­pen­sive—and also very bright via the lat­est LEDS. Sug­ges­tion: Don’t buy any with hard-to-get bat­ter­ies. Stick to AAS (and maybe AAAS and Cs). A light­stick has its place, but it’s a one-time-use item, so I never carry one. Can­dles are OK for a camp­site and for help with get­ting a fire go­ing, so I of­ten carry a few can­dles that are kept in a sealed plas­tic bag. 5. Fire: This is an im­por­tant cat­e­gory and should in­clude sev­eral bu­tane lighters for a quick light


(lots of folks carry matches. I would carry stick matches rather than book matches) and, at the least, a mag­ne­sium fire starter. A fer­ro­cerium rod is OK, but it’s al­ready built into the mag­ne­sium fire starter. 6. First Aid: There are many por­ta­ble first aid kits avail­able for pur­chase ev­ery­where, from su­per­mar­kets to phar­ma­cies to on­line sources. Buy the kit that fits your par­tic­u­lar needs. Re­mem­ber: Your knowl­edge of how to han­dle ba­sic med­i­cal emer­gen­cies is far more im­por­tant than the stuff in your kit; that is, if you don’t ac­tu­ally know how to re­spond, the stuff in your kit is not very use­ful. So, yes, get a kit, but also en­roll in an emer­gency first aid course, at which you will learn real-world skills. In ad­di­tion, a ban­danna could also fit into this cat­e­gory. 7. Tools/re­pair Kit: This rather broad cat­e­gory in­cludes your knives and other fix-it gear. For me, this means at least one Swiss Army knife, a Leather­man tool and at least one sheath knife. This cat­e­gory can also in­clude a small amount of duct tape, a re­pair kit for glasses (if you wear glasses), and some rope or twine. I some­times carry a roll of para­cord and some­times a roll of jute— de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances. I never fail to use some sort of twine. If you feel the need to carry any weapons, they’d fall into this cat­e­gory. 8. Nutri­tion: You prob­a­bly can’t carry all the food you need for an un­de­ter­mined, in­def­i­nite pe­riod of time. So, in an emer­gency pack, you should carry some pro­tein bars, which will last a long time. You should plan for your im­me­di­ate nutritional needs, as well as an in­ter­me­di­ate length of time. This means car­ry­ing nu­tri­tious foods that will keep for a long pe­riod of time (dried meat or vege­tar­ian jerky, dried fruits and nuts, and maybe some whole-grain crack­ers). In­clude vi­ta­min and min­eral pills. And just in case your sit­u­a­tion drags on, you should have some ba­sic fish­ing gear (a small pouch can hold line, hooks and a few sinkers) and some snares. 9. Wa­ter Pu­rifi­ca­tion: You should carry a wa­ter con­tainer of some sort, ei­ther plas­tic or metal. You should also carry a means to make raw wa­ter potable, whether it’s a small Sawyer wa­ter fil­ter or one of the pump mod­els (such as a Tim­ber­line or MSR). Ad­di­tion­ally, con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of car­ry­ing a wa­ter key—the small keys you can buy at any hard­ware store that will turn on wa­ter spig­ots any­where. 10. Other: This cat­e­gory in­cludes any­thing else you might need to carry to im­prove your sit­u­a­tion. One sug­ges­tion you should not over­look is the ne­ces­sity of car­ry­ing some ac­tual cash/coins—as much as you can af­ford to have handy for emer­gen­cies.

Be­low: A se­lec­tion of some of the items in the author’s pack

Right: Trainer Keith Far­rar shows the Doan mag­ne­sium fire-starter—one of the ideal tools to carry on a key­chain.

Left: Trainer Keith Far­rar con­ducts a class on fire-mak­ing us­ing a va­ri­ety of im­ple­ments.

Above, left: A map and com­pass should be used to­gether for proper nav­i­ga­tion.

Above, right: This se­lec­tion of es­sen­tial pack items in­cludes (from top left) a tube tent, wa­ter bot­tle, first aid kit, food bars, knives, flash­light, round sig­nal­ing mir­ror and fire-start­ing de­vices.

Right: Keith Far­rar turns a tarp into a shel­ter. No­tice the value of hav­ing some cordage.

Right: Stu­dents learn to set up a sim­ple tent dur­ing an out­door class. Many tents pack very com­pactly but still pro­vide am­ple liv­ing space.

Near left: The author’s “holy trin­ity”: cordage, fire starters, knife

Right: A com­pre­hen­sive se­lec­tion of items from a per­sonal first aid kit

Far left: A com­pass with some com­mon items used for sig­nal­ing

Right: This Tim­ber­line pump wa­ter fil­ter can make raw wa­ter safe to drink.

Right: For a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, here are some of the tools from out­door leader Fran­cisco Loaiza’s bag.

Left: The author car­ries this col­lec­tion of tools and knives.

Near right: Be­cause you never know what might arise, don’t for­get to carry cash in both pa­per and coin cur­ren­cies.

Far right: These light­weight and long-last­ing food items pro­vide sim­ple nutri­tion for up to a few days.

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