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Survival Kits & Notions

November 08, 2006

Survival skills and awareness is a must for outdoorspeople. I've been getting free subs to the two "biggy" hook'n'bullet mags for a couple years now and they often cover the subject. There seem to be a couple key details that pop out: if you get lost and panic you're a goner and also if you're lost for more than a day the odds go way down for you. Something like that anyway.

I'd say the challenge boils down to two phases. The first big one is theoretically the easiest. It's the awareness factor. It starts with simply thinking twice before heading out into any unknown area. Stop! Do you have a map, compass, lighter, LED, whistle, space-blanket, water and food? That is, do you have the simplest survival kit. Of course it doesn't have to be a kit per se, just think about the goodies on your person at the moment before you head out. No, not then: a few minutes earlier. Last minute notions are often dismissed, with DIRE consequences.

I go into the boonies fairly often and I assume that due to experience I'm generally ready. Ha! I screw up all the time. For me, it's usually ridiculous mis-estimations of canoe outings: they end up going MUCH longer than I thought. It's not being lost but darn it's uncomfortable and we often run short of food for the day and the map back at the car sure would be handy. (Actually, I haven't screwed up in past 6 years, say.)

Hunters get lost ALL the time. I've been seriously lost for hours just one time---as a teen when up north deer hunting. It was vexing and slightly alarming. Our flat, overcast, thicket-rich Michigan is a mellow place but easy to get lost in. It all starts so mildly: you know the lay of the land; you head out to a blind or hunting area you've explored before; you become sidetracked into a thicket or any ole location off to the side, for whatever reason---following tracks being a very common one. In 5 minutes you're lost. You're close to where you need to be, but where is it? You guess wrong and you're on your way!

Rescuers say that when they go look for hunters if they see that the gun, pack and coat have been discarded then they're on a body recovery. Gulp! Apparently it's easy to lose it in the first hour. You aren't your normal self. It's hard to train for.

But that's the next step: First, take the darn vital supplies with you! Have a map on you of even your old favorite family hunting turf, of the river you paddle every summer, the forest area you commonly hike: bring the map anyway! A couple other goodies then and you're set. Then make sure all your vehicles have little kits. Next, know how to use everything you bring. Know your compass. I know mine: they suck. I tend to bring 3 along with me and set them all out a few times before I'm confident of a reading. Know how to make a fire with what you're carrying. I tried demo'ing fire-building to kids last summer: it was harder than I thought and took a half hour. The last hurdle would be to try a day in the woods without food, try spending a night with your emergency rig. Ha...now we're down to the 1%ers. I haven't done it. I suspect that doing it just once would greatly improve my chances, especially of avoiding that initial panic.

Ya know, maybe I'll see if I can rent the DVD of that new TV series "Man vs. Wild" and see how he does it.

OK, now here's my original Survival Kits article...

[BUMPED FROM 7/31/06] Here's a stepwise approach to making and carrying survival kits, offering several levels of kit. I like to start from tiny kits that are always in each car and on every bike and with me whenever I go for a jaunt or a rumpush.

Kits vary with weather as well---I always have a folding army shovel in a car in winter. I tend to always carry a whacking stick in a car as well---for self defense but more commonly if I see that some driver has mortally injured a critter, I can readily dispatch it---gross but kind, actually---sometimes said critters are even highly valued for tastiness (I once hit a pheasant).

Kits aren't only just for total survival situations. You have to realize that emergencies can be quite small. Things pop up. It's great if you a quick fix handy so they don't cause a ruckus. (Our muffler fell off last week and Martha easily tied it back up with wire.) I use some aspect of my kits every week. Heck, some components I use several times a day (SAK, one-hand knife). I also merge and cross-over the kits a lot---I tend to carry tons of stuff in my patented OYB man-purse.

However, my lists do remind me that I still need to get some things... : ) I'm shy of a space blanket, poncho/tarp, fuel tabs, I do believe.

Thru the steps, the kits then bloat with nifty stuff all the way up thru rucksacks to the duffle size where it's basically what I had with me when I moved to a new house or headed out west for a few months: whatever would fit into a hockey duffle plus accessory bag. (Often I realize that when I go away for an intense weekend that I have enough stuff in my duffle that I could readily live on it.) Oh yeah! I like lists.

Step One: Fun & Useful Stuff


(carry in pockets, in man-purse, or on car-key fob)

SAK Executive (Swiss Army Knife with pen...on car keys)

Photo III LED light (on car keys)



a little wrap of wire, cord, twist-ties, duct-tape around a couple big zip-ties
for more essential high-power tech add...

minicam (Sony Cybershot U30 is the smallest)

cellphone (don't have one but they're smart to have)




one-hand knife (w/pocketclip)

pepper spray

water tablets
space blanket
water bottle



(carry in belt pouches or man-purse)


more twist-ties, zipties, cord, wire

fishing line, hooks, sinkers



magnesium striker (sparker)


better poncho/tarp

replace little SAK w/ bigger SAK (w/ tweezers)

pen / little pad of paper

more Powerbars





$20 bill



plastic airline bottle of whisky

(all containers should be tiny and items reduced in size)

optional for max defense/rescue...

derringer, or cute little N. American Arms .22 super-mini revolver

kubota (small pressure point, glass breaking tool)

car-rescue tool (small hammer/seat-belt knife)


Step Two: Survival in Style

(carry in bigger fanny pack)


cup and spork

(regional map)



hat, gloves, sox, windbreaker

toothbrush, razor, soap

hatchet or bigger knife

waterproof matches

fire tablets

thermal-packs (for feet, hands, etc.)

more Powerbars

water filter



tea bags

bullion cubes

$100 cash

coiled wire pull-saw

110 Conibear trap (for easiest mammal meat)


Step Three: Comfy Travel

(carry in rucksack)


extra batteries

sm. foam pad

lite sleeping bag

bivvy sack


big cup / bowl

knife / fork / spoon

coffee can stove

toiletries: soap / TP / toothbrush / paste / deo / razor / comb (dishsoap?)

wash cloth / hand towel

extra socks, undies, tshirt, nylon shorts


bigger notebook

walkman radio w/ weather band (and a few CDs)

brim hat

cheese, sausage, hard tack

instant coffee

more bullion cubes

more tea bags

army folding shovel


Step Four: Live Anywhere & Have Fun

(carry in 2 hockey bags, roof rack)



12 books

drawing pad with colored pencils

deck of playing cards

boombox with tunes

bike (with lights, fenders, rack, biggish tires) (folding Dahon/Brompton if space limited)

skis, poles, boots

inline skates, ice speed skates, combi rollerskis

canoe, paddle, PFD (inflatable or folding boat if space limited)

.22/.308 rifle

12 ga shotgun

fishing rod'n'reel'n'tackle'n'creel'n'net

3 outfits of clothes for each season

dress shoes, runners, boots

pot, pan, spatula, big spoon, scrubby

toolbox (w/ tools, bike tools, wax, spares, ammo)
alarm clock

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