No matter what “expert” you ask in the outdoor survival industry, you’ll get a different answer about what’s necessary to have in a survival kit. Largely, if you pay attention, you’ll find those same experts have put their name on a “survival kit” project distributed by some vendor. In my mind, having their name on a product lends doubt as to the purity of their recommendations. When you can find their name on six different “survival packs” or ten different “survival knives,” then you have to wonder which one is really best and how come they couldn’t make up their mind. As a result of all this brain work (or was it just complaining?) I sat with a couple friends of mine and together we created a list of what we felt should be in the Ultimate Survival Kit. After building the list we spent some time surfing the web and looking for the items we felt best fit our list of needs. So, here is our list and some comments about why we included each item and, maybe more importantly, why we selected specific products to fulfill that need/requirement.
- A Pack to carry this stuff
- Sleeping Bag or Body Wrap
- Fire Starter / Striker Kit
- First-Aid Materials
- Fishing Supplies
- Duct Tape
- Kleenex Travel Tissue
- Water Purification
As I’m sure you’ll note, the only weapon on the list is a knife. While virtually everyone involved in our discussion carries a gun (legally) every day, and each of us has at least one rifle and one handgun we include in our own personal survival kits, we didn’t include them here for a couple reasons. First, selecting any firearm is an intensely personal activity. Design, function, caliber, etc. all play a role in the decision and thousands upon thousands of articles have been written by prominent authors on how and why you should select whatever it is you end up selecting. Additionally, guns aren’t cheap. If they are, you either found an exceptionally great deal or you’re buying the wrong gun anyway. We decided to keep our focus on the items we deemed necessary to go in, or on, the pack to support the needs of shelter, food, water, and warmth. We included the first-aid items and a couple minor convenience items; however, we felt every item included fit our requirements and provided for extended survival OR enhanced the chance of rescue.
The pack we selected was the Condor Tactical 165: Fuel Hydration Pack. Measuring 10”x17”x6” and available in three different colors (OD, Black, Tan) this pack offers just over 1,000 cubic inches of storage space which we deemed just big enough. We felt that 1,000 cubic inches should be minimum, but we also wanted to focus on the smallest pack we felt could handle carrying our minimum requirements. Additionally, this pack includes a 2.5 liter hydration bladder. We’d prefer a 3 liter bladder but that would be a challenge, at best, to put into a pack of this size. We felt 2.5 liters was an acceptable compromise.
Bearing in mind that our goals included keeping the kit as light as possible, for the shelter we selected the 2-person Survival Blanket from Adventure Medical Kits’ Survive Outdoors Longer (AMK SOL) line of products. This 2-person blanket measures 60”x96” (5’ by 8’) and weighs less than one-quarter pound (3.5 ounces). According to AMK’s website this blanket reflects back 90% of the user’s body heat and it’s larger enough for two. At five feet by eight feet in size it’s big enough to be used as an emergency shelter and that was our primary intended purpose for it. The fact that it could also be used as a body wrap or sleeping bag is a strength of versatility that we tried to seek out with each item as much as we could.
As a side note on the AMK SOL 2-person Survival Blanket, minor changes to the design were discussed with the AMK SOL representative at SHOT Show 2012. Specifically the recommendation was made that they include a grommet in the middle of each short (five foot) end. That would enable the blanket to be set up in pup tent fashion without having to alter it (poke holes).
For this item we selected a product also from AMK SOL – the Escape Bivvy. Like an emergency “space” blanket but stitched like a sleeping bag with no zipper, the Escape Bivvy weighs about a half pound (9.9 ounces) and measures 36”x84” (3’ by 7’) and it’s important to remember that’s space you can get inside of. That’s about the same size as, if not slightly larger than, most sleeping bags. This product too is supposed to reflect about 90% of the user’s body heat and is allegedly capable of keeping the user comfortable down to temperatures nearing freezing (32°F). That’s comfortable. For pure survival, temperatures below that would be included. Our group assumed the ability to build a fire to support survival warmth so this Escape Bivvy seemed sufficient in our estimation.
In the opening paragraph I was critical of survival experts who put their name on a plethora of products, but I wasn’t being critical (specifically) of Gerber’s line of survival products with the Bear Grylls name on them. In the Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival line of products there are a number of knives in different sizes, several “survival kits” with different contents and a couple multi-tools. Obviously, given his background, Bear knows what he’s doing when it comes to delineating requirements for various sized tools. That said, I can’t help but wonder which specific knife, survival kit or multi-tool he’d pick if he could only pick one of each. In this case, the Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Fixed Blade knife was our selection. It was chosen as much for the sheath as it was for the knife.
Where the knife was concerned we wanted a knife big enough to handle “most chores” (that was the best way we could describe it) but small enough not to be unwieldy. What we came up with was a “knife with about a five inch blade, an equal amount of handle, a hammering pommel, a full hilt and decent sheath.” The Bear Grylls Ultimate Fixed Blade Knife met our requirements. It has a 4.8” blade, just over five inches of handle, a full hilt and a pommel you can hammer with. With the sheath it weighs just under a pound coming in at 14.7 ounces. On the lanyard of the knife (which I detached from the knife and attached to the sheath) is a whistle for signaling.
The sheath, in our mind, was a big strength for it. Incorporated in the sheath is a fire starter (ferrocerium rod) that locks into the face of the sheath. The steel striker notch is incorporated into the spine of the knife blade so you have the ability to make spark in this combined tool. There is also a diamond sharpener built into the sheath on the back of the main sheath body, covered by the nylon back/mount of the sheath. There are land-to-air arm signals delineated and shown on a sheet of plastic sewn into the back of the sheath and that forms a pocket that contains a pocket survival guide with survival hints from Bear Grylls. The sheath can be carried on your belt or it can be MOLLE mounted to any appropriate surface. Mounting it on MOLLE webbing, however, makes it more time consuming and less convenient to make use of the diamond sharpener or to access the land-to-air signal instructions and Grylls’ survival instructions.
That’s a lot of functionality built into “a knife” and we felt that versatility of function was desirable in our survival kit.
I’m not writing an entire paragraph about this. Pick a color. Carry fifty feet or more. If you can’t figure out why you need paracord as a survival tool, perhaps you need to rethink preparedness in general.
Although there is a striker built into the specified knife, redundancy is good. For this item we selected (again, from AMK SOL) the FireLite (striker) with two TinderQuik packs. That’s a total of eight small fire starter fuel bits (TinderQuik) and another striker to create the requisite spark. All together these items only weigh about one half of one ounce.
Built into pack. See that section above.
Although we often forget, “survival” is what you do until you find your way back to civilization or you get rescued. Toward the goal of being rescued, you need the ability to make yourself seen and/or heard. While smoke from a fire is easily seen by search and rescue teams, there are other options you can exercise while on the move. For the purpose of signaling we included two items, both from AMK SOL. The visual signaling device we chose is the Rescue Flash Signal Mirror. Weighing less than one half ounce (.3 ounces) it allows you to redirect natural light to attract the attention of a rescue team. The sound signaling device we chose is the Rescue Howler Whistle. The two-pack weighs one-half ounce. Yes, there is a rescue whistle on the lanyard of the above specified knife. Yes, adding TWO more is double redundancy. We’re not saying you have to have all three. Buy the two pack (MSRP is a whopping $9). Put on in, or attach one to, your pack. Put the other one on your keychain. You’ll have one on your knife. With such placement it’s hard to imagine a scenario wherein you couldn’t reach and use at least one of them in a timely fashion.
We worked on the assumption that if you’re in a survival situation then you were constantly trying to get out of it by returning to some semblance of civilization. To do so requires travel whether it be by foot or vehicle. Knowing what direction you should be traveling in is imperative but then being able to identify that direction is equally important. Sure, you can navigate dependent on the sun’s position, but that’s hardly accurate. If you have the knowledge and training, you can navigate at night by the stars –but few people have such skills. The easy answer is a compass. It doesn’t have to be an expensive compass; it just has to wor.
We picked the Rothco 337 Ranger Sighting Orienteering compass. The MSRP on this item is only $5. It has the words “Ranger sighting” in its name because the design of the compass incorporates the necessary hinged mount for an azimuth sighting line. “Orienteering” is in the name because the compass is mounted on a clear backing, ideal for setting it on a map and using for land navigation in that fashion. It meets all of our requirements at a low cost.
Although we all agreed that some basic first-aid materials are required, there was some disagreement on what “basic” is. Some in the discussion felt that a tourniquet and two pressure bandages were all that was necessary. Others felt that more common necessities, such as band-aids and ibuprofen, were of greater importance. In the end we agreed to disagree but did manage to mutually support a recommendation for some type of trauma care pack. What we decided was that most cuts or scrapes, such as those that would be treated by band-aids, are not life threatening. We felt that the person surviving should be prepared to deal with more grievous wounds. So, what we finally came up with was the suggestion of a Trauma Pak with QuikClot from AMK accompanied by a SWAT-T tourniquet (google that and you’ll find them). Additionally, we recommend that you put your own supply of pain medications, prescription medications and smaller necessities such as band-aids, etc. as you see fit or deem necessary.
This was another contentious item. Some felt there was no need for such. Others felt that a complete kit should be mandatory. The final agreement was that a fishing kit might come in handy if food supplies ran low (or out) but the kit would have to be compact while being as complete as possible. With a little Internet research we found, and agreed on, the Best Glide Standard Survival Fishing Kit. Packaged in a pretty compact tin, this kit includes everything you could need (except a pole). Obviously, as with everything listed, the ultimate decision on whether or not to include it is up to you; however, we all agreed that it’s better to have it and not need it instead of needing it and not having it.
The next two items on our list are convenience items: duct tape and Kleenex tissues. You simply never know when you might have a need that duct tape can fulfill, to include potential first-aid uses, and “camper” packs are available pretty cheap. For less than $4 you can get two rolls of duct tape, two inches wide and just over four feet long. That’s more than eight feet of duct tape, broken into two convenient to pack and carry rolls. The Kleenex tissues – well, if you’ve ever tried to decide which leaf in the woods you’re going to use to wipe your backside, you understand completely why a travel pack (or three) of tissues is on this list.
We all agreed up front that the 2.5 liter capacity of the integrated hydration system in the specified pack was insufficient for more than one day, two at most, in a survival situation. So, we discussed ways of procuring and cleaning more water. Two purification/cleaning methods were suggested and ultimately we decided to include them both.
Potable Aqua Water Tablets & Neutralizing Tablets are available commercially in bottles of 25 or 50 (that we found). We recommend having a supply of them in your pack. It’s important to note that they do nothing to improve the taste of whatever water you’re drinking, so they are not our first and preferred method of water purification.
The CamelBak HydroLink In-Line MicroFilter is our other item of choice. Placed between the bladder and your drinking tube, the microfilter cleans the water as you’re sucking it out of the bladder. The only improvement in the taste of your water that it might make is by removing small particles and contaminants that don’t taste good. The use of a microfilter is still no guarantee of clean and pure water.
Our recommendation is that you pre-filter the water as best you can before you put it into the hydration bladder. Using a clean shirt, or other such material, you can get much of the dirt or other particle contaminants out of the water. Add the necessary purification and neutralization tablets to the water in the bladder to further purify it. Then, keep the microfilter in-line so that it cleans the water again as you suck it through. Short of boiling the water prior to use (and we include no mess kit in our list so we assumed no pot to boil water in), we feel this is as clean as you’re going to get your water – which also means this is the best you’re going to get it to taste.
This is the last item on our list and, since virtually everyone in the conversation is a military service veteran, we all agreed on MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat). Our recommendation is that you pack three, considering each MRE the requisite food ration for one day. If you consume one complete MRE per day, you might still feel hungry during other parts of the day/night, but your body will not perceive starvation for nutrition and you should still have sufficient fuel for your systems to function.
So, that’s our “Ultimate Survival Kit.” From the pack to what you put into it, the knife you strap onto it (MOLLE mount) and the tools you need to signal for help or navigate your way back to civilization, we feel we have it covered. That said, feel free to comment below on items you would add or subtract. Remember our goal before criticizing our choices: the smallest, complete survival kit we could assemble.
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