The 12 Most Common Items in A Survival Kit

As a general rule, most survival kits of any size or conveyance are built around the preferences and skill set of the one presenting them to the public as an example to follow. You must take the time to personalize your survival kit. An Altoids tin, coffee can kit, or some other survival kit advocated by others may not be practical for your particular needs and requirements. For example, Les Stroud’s survival experience allows him to have fewer contents in his survival kit. Someone with fewer skills will need more items in their kit. One who has formal training and accumulated years of experience developing their survival skills will not require a survival kit with a large amount of content. By contrast, those with little or no developed outdoor survival skills will need more options at their disposal to affect a rescue in an outdoor environment. Hikers and backpackers are no different regarding survival kits and their contents. Therefore, build your survival kit around your particular needs and requirements.

It is common to read about a hiker, hunter, or backpacker getting lost or injured while out on an outdoor adventure. The hiking trail can be fun as well as dangerous. Lately, I have been reviewing some of the survival stories featured on Discovery Channel’s “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” and The Weather Channel’s “S.O.S.: How to Survive with Creek Stewart.” The common characteristics of these stories are people going into the wilderness underestimating the danger and overestimating their abilities and understanding of the situation. Consequently, they go into the field unprepared for an emergency. Another common characteristic of these stories is people are lost or stranded in places with no cell phone coverage. The importance of having a survival kit or survival items with you in the field is critical.

I recently reviewed and compared different survival kit loadouts to determine which items are the most common in most survival kits. It was interesting to discover that these kits contain the same survival items, whether it’s the Altoids tin, five-gallon bucket, or 72-Hour Emergency Bag. The only difference between the kits is the size and sophistication of the survival items contained in them. The following list outlines the twelve most common survival items found in any survival kit. Moreover, these items should be the foundation for developing your personalized survival kit.

1. Cutting Tool

The most common item found in any survival kit is a cutting tool of some kind. The pocket-sized Altoids tin kits usually list a razor blade, mini pocketknife, or mini multitool. The larger kits will have a small fixed-blade knife, pocketknife, or multitool. Occasionally, a wire saw, hacksaw blade or folding saw will be listed as a cutting device. Backpacks or carry-bags listed as survival kits or emergency bags sometimes will contain an ax, hatchet, or machete as a cutting tool depending on their size.

2. Cordage

The second most common item listed in any survival kit is cordage, usually paracord (550 cord or parachute cord). However, bank line is becoming more frequently listed in kits. Bank line is tarred twine and was developed for fishing applications. Dave Canterbury’s advocacy of carrying bank line in his wilderness and bushcraft loadouts has made it a popular option with some people over paracord. Cordage items in the small pocket-sized tins are fishing line, Kevlar line, or snare wire. More robust survival kits can list up to 100 feet of paracord or a full spool of bank line.

3. Compass

Compasses are an exciting topic. Most pocket survival tins contain a button compass. An example of a pocket survival tin would be those advocated by John “Lofty” Wiseman in his book, The S.A.S. Survival Handbook. The larger survival kits, such as those in mess kits or coffee cans, have more sophisticated compasses. Many people list one of three compasses in their survival kits: the Suunto Clipper Compass, Suunto MC-2 Compass, or the Cammenga Lensatic Compass. Surplus military aviation survival kits will have the Suunto A-10, Suunto A-30, or the Brunton 8010 Luminescent Compass.

4. Illumination Device

There is a myriad of styles and types of illumination devices that are listed in survival kits. The smallest of these devices are micro flashlights. In more recent survival kit loadouts, one will regularly see a rechargeable headlamp or flashlight as the preference for a lighting device. Non-battery illumination devices are the Cyalume Chemical Lights (Chem Light or Snap Light). The major weakness with chem lights is that they are a one-time use item. Home Emergency Kits stored in deck boxes or job site boxes will have the large handheld spotlights as the illumination device.

5. Whistle

An emergency, pealess whistle is a must-have in survival kits. Ranger Rick Tscherne recommends an emergency whistle as part of his neckless survival kit. The most common emergency whistle in most kits is the S.O.L. Slim Rescue Howler or a similar type of whistle. However, military-type survival kits being sold on the market feature the Acme 636 Tornado Rescue Whistle. These whistles are made of A.B.S. plastic, and they are great whistles for any kit. Several companies are producing all-metal pealess rescue whistles. I would recommend one of the all-metal whistles over the plastic ones because of their durability in a field environment.

6. Fire Making Items

One’s ability to start a fire during an emergency in the woods is critical to survival. While there are stories of people surviving without making a fire, these are the exception rather than the rule. Don’t bet your life on getting through a life-threatening emergency on the trail without being able to make a fire. All survival kits contain a fire-making capability. The smaller kits will have a small ferrocerium rod and striker or wooden weatherproof matches. Larger kits tend to list the Bic Lighter, large Ferro Rod with tinder items such as tinder tabs or WetFire cubes.

The best fire-making device for any situation is the magnesium bar and striker. These fire starters are a common item in military aviation survival vests. The magnesium is the fuel, and the small ferro rod on the side provides the spark. The Doan Company makes the magnesium fire-starting bars for the U.S. military. However, you can find smaller ones at Best Glide Aviation Survival Equipment. Yet, the smallest and most reliable fire-making device is the mini–Bic Lighter. The mini–Bic is the most reliable because it offers instant flame for any survival kit. The most reliable fire tinder is the WetFire tinder cubes. They will ignite in both wet and dry conditions.

7. Emergency Blanket

An emergency blanket is also a common item in most survival kits. They are also known as space blankets or mylar blankets. Survival experts are divided on the practicality of carrying one in a survival kit. The most significant complaint against them is that they tear easily and do not hold up well for their intended use. They are too big for a pocket-sized tin, like an Altoids tin; however, they are small enough to fit in other kinds of kits. The Best Glide A.S.E. Advanced Survival Kit contains an emergency blanket. However, there are some great reviews on the emergency blankets sold by Titan Survival and S.O.L./Survive Outdoors Longer. Furthermore, backpacks and bags that are identified as emergency survival kits will have a more robust emergency blanket in them. An example of this type of blanket is the Grabber All-Weather Space Blanket.

8. Duct Tape

Duct tape is regularly listed as an item in survival kits. U.S. Army soldiers call duct tape “100 mile-an-hour tape” because an urban legend says that military duct tape can stay stuck in winds up to 100 mph. Nevertheless, how duct tape is stored in a survival kit depends on the one making the presentation. Duct tape can be wrapped around a plastic sewing bobbin, cardboard, or used gift card. It can be wrapped around the outside of a pocket-sized tin. Despite how it is stored or carried, duct tape is listed in almost every survival kit.

9. Water Treatment Tablets

The importance of collecting and purifying water is a critical task in the practice of survival techniques. Every survival kit that I surveyed had some water collection and treatment items. The most common of these water-related items were water purification tablets. The more sophisticated survival kits have a water filter straw, such as a Sawyer Mini or the Aquamira Frontier Filter Straw. Yet, even with the kits containing filtration straws, water treatment tablets are included in the kits also. Their size and reliability for purifying water make them ideal for any size survival kit. Some of the best water treatment tablets on the market are the Micropur MP1 tablets, Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide tablets, and the Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets. I recommend the chlorine dioxide tablets because some people have allergies to iodine. 

10. Fishing items

In an emergency, gathering and processing food and plants in the wild are necessary survival tasks. Most survival kits that I examined carry fishing tackle items in them. It can be as simple as a couple of fishhooks and some monofilament line wrapped around a stainless-steel sewing bobbin. The fishing items that one carries become more complex as the survival kit gets more robust.

A note of caution needs to be understood with including fishing items in a survival kit. Fishing items may not be used for fishing in a desert environment, such as the Mojave or Sonoran deserts in the southwestern United States. However, they can be helpful with trapping small game in the desert if you have developed the skills for making and setting traps for small game or birds. For example, one survival expert demonstrated using his fishing tackle to catch crawdads in a pool of water and used fishing hooks to try and trap birds. 

11. Adhesive Bandages

First-aid in an outdoor environment will eventually happen if you spend enough time on the trail. Rendering medical care can be as simple as putting a bandage on a small cut on your finger or as severe as placing a tourniquet on a severely injured person. Almost every list of contents in the survival kits that I studied had adhesive bandage strips as part of their contents. The British call them “plasters.” We call them “Band-Aids” in the United States.

12. Signal Mirror

The ability to signal for help when stranded in the wilderness is a core survival task. Nearly all of the survival kits I reviewed contained a signal mirror or mirror-like device. An example of a signal mirror-like device would be an Altoids tin’s highly polished inner lid. Best Glide A.S.E. sells a metal, micro signaling mirror perfect for a small pocket-sized survival tin. The most innovative signal mirror-like device that I have seen is the military dog tag that is polished to be a signal mirror. These are but a few of the many options regarding signal mirrors. Therefore, consider putting a signal mirror or signal mirror-like device in your survival kit as you prepare for the spring and summer hiking season.

Some Concluding Thoughts

The spring and summer outdoor seasons will soon be upon us. Many people are getting ready for a new year of outdoor adventures. An essential part of your packing list is a survival kit. Furthermore, survival experts encourage wearing survival items on your body or placed in the pockets of your shirt or trousers. I recommend using the layering technique of outfitting yourself with survival gear.

The first layer would be what you can wear, keep in your pockets, or fasten to your trouser belt. Items that would function in this category would be your fixed-blade knife, paracord bracelet, an emergency whistle around your neck, or mylar blanket in your pants cargo pocket. The second layer of survival gear should be a pouch or tin carried on your body, such as a 5.11 6 x 6 pouch, fanny pack, or butt pack. Examples of such items carried in this manner would be an individual first aid kit (IFAK), trauma kit with a tourniquet, Military Survival Tin, extra fire-making items, headlamps, and snack items. The third layer of survival gear would consist of items carried in your backpack. Items such as folding saws, fire kits, cook sets, fishing kits, water treatment kits, 100 feet of paracord, and seasonal outerwear, would fall within the third layer of survival gear considerations.

As you continue to plan and resource your spring and summer outdoors, remember to update or replace your worn-out survival gear. Keep your survival kit as current as possible. I also want to encourage you to enjoy yourself out on the trail. Remember to stay safe, stay prepared, and eventually, I want to see you out on the trail.

An Outstanding Dry Bag Emergency Kit

An outstanding dry bag emergency kit is a great way to keep your emergency items. Here are the items that I chose for my modified dry bag emergency kit.

An outstanding dry bag emergency kit is a great way to keep your emergency items. The dry bag emergency kit is based on the concept of Dave Canterbury’s 10 Cs of Survivability. I first experimented with Dave’s concept in 2015. I found that his kit is a little bulky for the average backpacker. A more practical application of Dave’s concept for the backpacker is to buy smaller items and put them in a more flexible dry bag, such as the Osprey Ultralight Dry Sack. However, I did modify my dry bag emergency kit with the following items.

Dry Bag Emergency Items

The items for this bag were chosen for being durable, practical, dependable and affordable. It is important that whatever gear you choose for any survival kit or bag that it will not fail you when you need it the most. Thus, here are the items that I chose for my modified dry bag emergency kit based on Dave Canterbury’s 10 Cs of Survivability

Cutting Item

The following items are part of what I call your Tool Kit. Reliable tools are critical to ensuring your survival in a desperate situation. I have found that all of these items will fit in the dry bag emergency kit.  

  • Knife, Fixed Blade Morakniv, Bushcraft, 1 EA.
  • Knife, Folding Victorinox, Swiss Army, Farmer, 1 EA.
  • Multitool Leatherman Wave, 1 EA.
  • Saw, Folding Bahco Laplander Saw, 1 EA.

img_20180315_114934_661

Combustion Item

Moreover, not only are tools critical to your being able to do survival tasks in the field, you also need to address one of the core survival categories: fire. The following items make up what I call my Fire Kit. All of these items will fit in the dry bag emergency kit. You may want to place all of these items in a small pouch that will go into the dry bag.

  • Lighter, Disposable Bic® Lighter, 1 EA.
  • Cubes, Wet Fire Wet Fire, 5 EA.
  • Rod, Ferro Titan Fire Striker, 1 EA.

20180625_151408

 

Covering Item

The next category that is necessary for survival is shelter. The following items are what I call the Shelter Kit. In Dave’s video presentation of his 10 Cs of Survivability, he takes most of these items and rolls them up into the emergency blanket so that they will fit in the dry bag. I have experimented with this configuration and it will fit easily in the dry bag.

  • Blanket, Emergency SOL Heavy Duty Emergency Blanket, 1 EA.
  • Liner, Drum, 3mil, 55 gal. Toughbag Drum Liner, 2 EA.
  • Stakes, Tent MSR Tent Stakes, 5 EA.

6gfbqlgc

Container Item

The next the essential items for the dry bag emergency kit are what I call the Water Kit. The water kit helps you to procure and process water in the field. Obtaining water is one of the critical tasks that you need to do in order to live in a survival situation. The items listed here will help with get drinkable water in the outdoors.

  • Bottle, Stainless Steel, Single-Walled Klean Kanteen, 40 oz., 1 EA.
  • Cup, Nesting GSI Glacier 24 oz Cup, 1 EA.
  • Filter, Water Straw Sawyer Mini Filter, 1 EA.
  • Tablets, Water Treatment MSR Aqua Tabs, 30 pk., 1 PK.
  • Note: water treatment/filter items can go inside of the water bottle

k40wssl-bs

Cordage

Cordage is an essential part of any emergency or survival kit. Most of the experts agree that bank line or paracord should be part of any kit. Cordage allows for food procurement (fishing/trapping), shelter construction, primitive weapons (slings/bows), and in extreme circumstances can be used for first aid (lashing splints/sutures), as well as gear and clothing repair. 

  • Paracord, 550 MILSPEC, 50-100 ft.
  • Bankline, 50 ft.-1 Spool
  • Kevlar Line, 25 ft.-1 Roll

 

61gfv33wcyl

 

These first five categories are considered the essential items that are required to enable any survival situation. Thus, the following five categories are additional considerations to help with other important survival tasks. 

Cotton Item

Cotton is a versatile element in any survival or emergency kit. Cotton cloth allows for use in first aid (bandages/slings), tinder material for fire making (charred cloth), water collection (absorbing dew/water filtering), or communication if a blaze orange material (trail marking/signal flag). 

  • Bandana Levi’s Bandanas, 1 EA.
  • Bandage, Triangular USGI Military Cravat, 1 EA.

41j4iswxzil

Cargo Tape

Cargo tape or duct tape is a great item to keep in a survival kit. Cargo tape can function effectively as tinder for fire starting, gear and clothing repair, first aid, and other uses depending on a person’s skill level. 

Tape, Cargo Gorilla Tape, 1 in., 1 Roll

m0kx5sp6jbrxwnz2bxidayg

Candling  Device

A candling device is anything that can be used to shine light like a flashlight or headlamp. Candling devices can also function as emergency signals as night. 

  • Headlamp Petzl Bindi Headlamp, 1 EA.

2018-petzl-bindi-headlamp-closeup

 

Compass

A compass is a critical item in a survival or emergency kit. A compass enables land navigation over long distances. It can also be used as a signaling device if it has a mirrored function to its construction. 

  • Compass, Base Plate w/Sighting Mirror K&R Alpin Compass, 1 EA.

41ntjyrj1wl

Canvas Needle

The canvas needle is sometimes called a sail needle. The needle functions in the field as part of your sewing kit. The needle can be magnetized to construct a primitive compass. It is useful for gear repair and first aid as well. 

  • Needle, Large, Canvas, Sail Vanguard Marine Sewing Kit, 1 EA.

 

sail-needle-size-13-2

 

The final five categories offer capabilities that will enhance a person’s survival chances. Therefore, they are considered to be the next level of emergency gear that will compliment the first five categories. Yet, Dave’s dry bag survival kit is just a start for your survival needs in the field. As such, some additional considerations are offered as optional items to consider if you wish to expand beyond the basic dry bag survival kit. 

Additional Considerations Beyond the Dry Bag

Finally, these additional emergency kit items are added here for you to consider beyond the dry bag emergency kit. Remember that the dry bag carries only the basic essential items that will help you survive in the outdoors. The following items can be part of your larger emergency bag (BOB, Go Bag, GHB, INCH, 72 Hr. Emergency Bag).

Sleeping or Bedding Kit

The following sleeping items are what I call my Sleeping Kit. These will not fit into the 10 or 15 liter dry bag. However, I have added them here as a consideration.

  • Bivy, Emergency SOL Emergency Bivy, 1 EA.
  • Bivy, Gore-Tex Tennier Woodland Bivy, 1 EA.
  • Bag, Sleeping Snugpak Jungle Sleeping Bag, 1 EA.
  • Pad, Sleeping Mat USGI Sleeping Mat, 1 EA.

20180621_165550

Food Kit Pouch

  • Freeze Dried Mountain House Food Pouch, 3 EA.
  • Bars, Energy Cliff Bar Energy Bar, 3 EA.
  • Meat, Dried Jerky Jack Links Beef Jerky, 1 EA.

mountain-house-food

First Aid 

  • First Aid Kit, General Purpose Adventure Medical Kits 1.0, 1 EA.
  • Kit, First Aid, Trauma US Army IFAK, 1 EA.

20180501_204040

 

Communications 

  • Whistle, Emergency SOL Emergency Howler Whistle, 1 EA.

slimhowler

Food Procurement Kit

  • Kit, Fishing, Emergency Best Glide ASE Emergency Fishing Kit, 1 EA.

nato-survival-fishing-kit-19583-p

Self-Defense Kit

  • Spray, Pepper Sabre Pepper Spray, 1 EA.
  • Sling Shot

p-22-oc

Clothing Needs

Clothing is considered your first level of shelter based on the concept that your clothing insulates one from the affects of body heat loss. Therefore, the type and quality of the clothing is an essential part of your emergency gear considerations.

  • 1 Day Change of Clothes

    • Socks, Wool Omni Wool Boot Socks. 1 PR.
    • Shirt, Underwear, T-Shirt Coolmax T-Shirt, 1 EA.
    • Trousers, Hiking/Travel Fjallraven Vidda Pro Trousers Regular Solid Sandstone, 1 EA.
    • Shirt, Hiking/Travel Fjallraven Greenland Shirt, 1 EA.
    • Gloves, Work Petzl K53 Gloves, 1 PR.

 

  • Seasonal Gear (Cold Weather)

    • Jacket, Fleece Columbia Fleece Jacket, 1 EA.
    • Gloves, Winter, Gore-Tex Carhartt Waterproof Work Gloves, 1 PR.
    • Scarf, Wool Winter Wool Scarf, 1 EA.
    • Cap, Wool, Watch Army Universe Wool Watch Cap, 1 EA.
    • Baselayer Bottom Meriwool Baselayer Bottoms, 1 EA.
    • Baselayer Top Meriwool Baselayer Top, 1 EA.

 

  • Seasonal Gear (Wet Weather)

    • Jacket, Rain, Packable Columbia Rain Jacket, 1 EA.
    • Trouser, Rain, Packable Columbia Rain Pants, 1 EA.

8 Tips For Trekking On Unfamiliar Terrain

There are 8 tips for trekking on unfamiliar terrain to consider when planning your next outdoor adventure. Even the well-experienced hikers can get lost and in trouble on the trail just as quickly as novices.

There are 8 tips for trekking on unfamiliar terrain to consider when planning your next outdoor adventure. An Associated Press story about a hiker from the state of Virginia who was found dead after going missing on a day hike in Mexico on December 30, 2014 provides some helpful insights on hiking on unfamiliar terrain.

First, the positive aspects of the story inform us that person did have a communication plan. He sent a selfie picture to his wife and then a couple of hours later sent a text message. This was probably very helpful information that aided the Mexican Search and Rescue (SAR) teams find his body.

However, two important pieces of information from this article that were revealed was that the man did not have any survival training and that he had gotten lost while on day hikes in his past. The story goes on to relate that he was able to self-recover from being lost on previous occasions; however, this time he was in a foreign country and navigating on unfamiliar terrain. What are some key learning elements from this story regarding hiking on unfamiliar terrain whether you are hiking in the United States or abroad?

1. Establish A Plan

First, have a plan. That means you need to have a plan for conducting your hike from start to finish. Planning your hike must involve determining your route, your expected time of return to your starting point, establishing way points on your GPS if you are using one. There should be an integration of an emergency plan should you get lost or injured while hiking. You should ensure that you have adequate food and water for the area, time on the trail, and time of year. Now the question arises as to how you plan the actual hike upon terrain upon in which you have never traversed.

2. Conduct A Map Reconnaissance

The first step in planning a hike on unfamiliar terrain is to consult a map. With the advent of iPads, Tablets, and GPS devices, Google Earth, topographic terrain applications are available for most of these devices. If you cannot afford the electronic stuff, there are paper maps that can be purchased. If you cannot find a map that covers your area of interest prior to your trip, you can buy a map at your intended location once you have arrived. Another way to get information on the terrain upon which you are unfamiliar is to do an internet search. There is no reason why you cannot get some idea of the terrain you wish to hike if you are hiking anywhere in North America or Europe. Asia, Central and South America, and Africa may present some challenges in regards to obtaining information, but it is not impossible.

3. Conduct A Risk Assessment

Conducting a risk assessment of your planned outdoor adventure is critical to a safe hike. It is essential to understand the risks of the area and incorporate risk mitigation into your plan. There are several ways to conduct a risk assessment. The simplest is to take a piece of paper and list the risks, such as dehydration, then under the risk, list ways to mitigate or control that risk, such as carrying a water treatment kit. The U.S. Army Composite Risk Management Worksheet is a useful tool for conducting a risk assessment for planning a backpacking trip on unfamiliar terrain.

4. Identify The Terrain Hazards

Generally, there are two types of hazards to consider on any hike, man-made and naturally occurring risks.

Natural Hazards

The naturally occurring hazards are the most likely to be encountered.  Naturally occurring hazards encompass wild life, dangerous plants and insects, and weather. Your local bookstore, library, and outfitter store can provide information on the natural hazards pertaining to the area in which you desire to hike. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website can provide accurate weather assessments for the area you wish to hike in the United States. 

Man-made Hazards

Another risk to consider when hiking over unfamiliar terrain are the man-made hazards that may exist on your route. Man-made hazards can be construction areas, logging areas, mining areas, or places of war, insurrection, or high crime areas. A hiker from North Carolina was recently killed by members of a drug cartel while he was hiking in Mexico. His story illustrates the importance of understanding the man-made hazards on a particular hike. 

Travel Restrictions and Warnings

Another important aspect about man-made hazards to consider for hiking in foreign countries is to check and heed the warning and travel restrictions published by the U.S. State Department. Sometimes tourists in foreign country like to take a treks away from the places that are established for tourists. It is critical to understand and heed the travel restrictions issued by the U.S. State Department. We do not have perfect knowledge of any particular foreign area. Therefore, it is imperative to integrate our government’s travel restrictions and warnings into any trek that will transpire in a foreign country. 

5. Establish and Publish An Emergency Plan

Another planning consideration in regards to hiking on unfamiliar terrain is to plan for emergencies. I have watched several documentaries about mountain climbing, hiking, and endurance races. Most of the unfortunate incidences discussed in these programs center on the fact that the individuals affected were not prepared for emergencies. I have also read several news stories over the last few months where hikers had to be rescued who were lost or injured while hiking. Their testimony was that they were not anticipating any problems on their hike. The take away principle from the experiences of others is always prepare for the worst scenario that can happen on your hike. Never go on a hike, regardless of length of time or distance without an emergency plan.

6. Incorporate A Personal Emergency Survival Kit

Your emergency plan should incorporate a personal emergency survival kit. The kit should address the basic principles of survival: Shelter, Food, Fire, and Hydration. The best survival kit is the one that you develop on your own. There are several resources available that will help you understand how to build your own kit. Your personal survival kit should be tailored for your particular hike and for the time of the year in which you will be backpacking. The challenge for taking emergency survival gear into foreign countries for backpacking is the aspect of the survival knife. Consult the laws of the country in which you desire to travel regarding knives and multi-tools. It may be that you have to buy one of these items after you arrive in the country of your destination. There are some seasonal aspects to consider when building your survival kit.

 7. Incorporate Seasonal Gear

One aspect of risk mitigation for trekking on unfamiliar terrain is to understand and incorporate seasonal gear into your packing list. You can not pack for every single contingency. Your backpack will be too heavy to carry if you try. Therefore, it is important to tailor your packing for the particular season and kind of terrain upon you will trek. This is called, modularity. 

Summer/Fall Gear Considerations

At a minimum your backpack should have for a summer or early fall hike the following items: rain gear, such as a waterproof tarp or H2O proof outerwear. Wet weather will be the one weather hazard that you will encounter in most locations in the summer or fall in North America or Europe. Therefore, in addition to the basic survival kit items, consider some type of rain gear to put in your backpack. The temperatures will fluctuate as the earth transitions from summer to fall. It is beneficial to include some kind of light to medium cold weather gear, such as, a packable jacket and fleece cap. The Columbia Watertight II Jacket (Packable) is a great example of raingear for backpacking. 

Winter/Spring Gear Considerations

Hiking in the winter to early spring brings its own weather risks. Cold weather gear should be part of your packing list if you are trekking during this time of the year. One type of winter gear to bring on a hike in the winter are snowshoes. The MSR EVO Ascent Snowshoes are an example of snowshoes for hiking. Hand and Body warmers should be a consideration for your packing list. Winter outerwear such as the Columbia Alpine Action Jacket with Omni-Heat technology is the kind of winter gear to consider putting on your packing list. 

8. Get Formal Survival Training

Another aspect of the news article mentioned above was that the wife of the hiker reported that he did not have any survival training. This is unfortunate. As many resources, websites, and television programs that are available that cover survival, nobody should be without some kind of knowledge of the basics of survival.

If you have never had any training on survival techniques in the wilderness, I would recommend that you conduct an internet search of some good videos that give sound instruction on such important information as building shelters, starting fires, etc. The best information for those not familiar with survival techniques are Les Stroud’s Survivorman video series. Dave Canterbury and his Pathfinder School provide good instructional videos also.

If you can afford it, take a survival course before your next hike. There are four places of instruction that I would recommend: Dave Canterbury’s Pathfinder School , Cody Lundin’s Aboriginal Living Skills School , ESEE Knives’-Randal’s Adventure and Training School of Survival , and the Sigma 3 Survival School. Some of these schools have ex-military veterans as instructors, who have experience and expertise in training survival techniques. Having an understanding of survival basics and some, familiarity on how to use basic survival equipment, such as an individual first aid kit, is better than no knowledge at all.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, hiking on unfamiliar terrain can be an exciting experience; however, failure to plan and anticipate problems increases the chances of a good hike turning bad. Stay on well-used paths and do not venture off into areas for a great selfie or a great view of the scenery. Remember that even the well-experienced hikers can get lost and in trouble on the trail just as quickly as novices. Therefore, stay informed, stay safe, have a plan, and enjoy your hike.
See you on the trail!

Hiking Tip # 1: The Survival Knife

January 28, 2017

survival-knife-comparisonIn the beginning of my hiking and backpacking journey, it became clear that there is a definite controversy surrounding “survival” knives. Despite this, everyone seems to agree that a good survival knife is an essential item for backpackers. There are many good resources to access regarding learning about survival knives.  I have experimented with some of the survival-type knives marketed over the years and for me the key word is versatility and practicality when it comes to carrying fixed-blade knives. The defining question on fixed-blade knives is how such a knife will be used in the field. For me, the term “survival” knife is a definition for a purpose or an application of the knife. That means that the intended purpose of the knife is for it to be the one all-purpose knife that you will rely on exclusively in the field to save your life should you get lost or separated from your gear.[1]  Also, you must understand there are many categories of survival: combat/tactical, wilderness, urban, water/sea, jungle, mountain, desert, medical, emergency, etc. There are knives available for each of these survival categories.

Therefore, a person needs to define what kind of use they want to get out of a fixed-blade knife. Is the knife going to be used primarily around the campsite or bivouac to build shelters, process meat, process wood, build snares or traps, cook, etc.? Will the knife be used for hunting, fishing, camping, or self-defense? While serving in the U.S. Army, I found that there is such a thing as having too much knife (i.e. cumbersome and impractical). Lugging a long-blade knife around your waist and the only chance you get to use it is when you open an MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat) is my definition of too much knife. Moreover, there is a big difference between using a knife to survive in a combat environment and using one to get you through the wilderness (i.e. bushcrafting, big game hunting, or a through-hike on the hiking trail). For those who practice wilderness survival and bushcrafting as their primary activity, then the type of fixed-blade knife that they will use and recommend is well defined.  For those less inclined to practice woodsmanship or bushcrafting, then there seems to be more variety of fixed-blade knives from which to choose. To determine what one needs for a survival knife, there are some basic characteristics that are universally accepted by outdoor experts that define a good survival knife.

First, the knife must be full tang. Full Tang means the knife blade and handle tang are formed from a singular piece of steel.  The tang is the part of the knife upon which the handle scales are attached.  The knife tang should extend to the bottom of the handle and not taper into the handle as in a “rat-tail” design.  Some knives marketed as survival knives have a hollow handle molded, bolted, or welded to the blade. This makes the knife vulnerable to cracking and breaking at the joint where the blade and handle meet. When I first learned about this difference, I quickly discovered that you get what you pay for. Most hollow-handle survival knives that are inexpensive fall into this category. However, in recent years, there has been some significant improvements on the hollow-handle knives and some people are starting to recommend them as a useful knife.[2]

The second characteristic of a good survival knife involves blade thickness. A good survival knife needs the blade thickness to be between 3/16 of an inch to 1/4 of an inch. This provides a solid and durable blade that will last if you properly take care of it. Other sources will have additional considerations. However, I found that if you find a knife that meets these first two specifications then the other recommended characteristics for a good survival knife will fall into place.

Some other points of argumentation that one will find in the literature or online concerning survival knives are about the type of metal the blade is made from, the grind of the cutting edge, blade coating, and the edge of the blade spine. Again, this is easily worked out if one has a good idea of what they want the knife to do in the field or on the trail. If you are a hiker or backpacker that likes to do bushcrafting while you are outdoors, then your preference in a survival knife is going to be a bushcrafting knife with all the accepted characteristics (90° blade spine, no serrated edges, Scandinavian grind cutting edge, 5 to 6-inch blade made from 1095 High Carbon Steel with no coatings). If you are a camper or a hiker just out for a couple of hours or spending the night in a prepared bivouac and you are carrying your tent, stove, and food, then there are a variety of options available to you for a good fixed-blade knife.

There is one knife that is the exception to these general considerations.  It is the Morakniv® Bushcraft Survival Knife. Most of the experts agree that this is the best knife to possess if you are on a budget or as a secondary knife in your kit. It is not full-tang and its blade is just under 5 inches; however, it meets the other criteria that bushcrafters and outdoorsman are looking for in a knife. If you are a hiker or backpacker and do not want to spend a lot of money on a knife, but want a good, solid, reliable knife, the experts agree that the Morakniv® Bushcraft series are the best knives.

Finally, a short comment on serrated edges. There is much ado regarding a knife blade with a serrated edge and one without. For me, it is a matter of preference and being able to answer the question that I mentioned earlier, “What is the purpose of your knife”? If you want to cut down on weight in your backpack and are interested in carrying only one knife, then a knife with a serrated edge may be a viable option. The serrated edge provides some versatility with the ability to saw small diameter limbs or materials such as plastic. If you are going to carry a good multi-tool (e.g. Leatherman® Sidekick or Gerber® Diesel), then I do not think you really need a knife with a serrated edge. The multi-tool already gives you the capability to saw things. If you expect to process wood with a saw-type tool, then I would recommend carrying a decent folding limb saw to round out your basic tool needs as a backpacker.[3]

It must be remembered that many of the knives being marketed as survival knives are actually tactical knives designed for military use with some cross over applications in law enforcement. The serrated-edge tactical knives provide soldiers and field medical personnel the ability to cut through MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment) gear and armor plate carriers when rescuing or rendering medical aid to an injured or wounded service member.  Commercial stainless steel fine-edge knives are not as efficient at cutting though military-grade Cordura® material as the Berry Compliant tactical knives with serrated edges. Tactical knives are very attractive and inspire confidence, but they have little application in a non-tactical environment. Additionally, most of these tactical knives have the serrated edge near the hilt of the knife which is the most important cutting surface of the blade for notching other carving and cutting tasks that require more hand dexterity and precision. The tasks become more difficult if you are trying use one of these serrated tactical knives to cut notches in limbs or carve out a slot in a small piece of wood for a trap or fire-making kit. So, consider carefully what you are going to need a survival knife to accomplish before purchasing a knife that looks awesome but is useless to meet your needs.

So, have fun, do some shopping, and once you are settled on the knife that meets your needs, exhaust its use.  See you on the trail!

[1] Dave Canterbury, “Knives JMHO”, Wilderness Outfitters, YouTube®, accessed December 14, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpNQS6CX7FA&index=2&list=PLZLagqylZ3j4VEKfSuM-2jZrwsh689YSs.

[2] Jack Richland, “Rambo Survival Knife”, Black Scout Survival, YouTube®, accessed December 15, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8YR-YmGFiw.

[3] The basic tool needs for backpackers: fixed-blade knife, folding blade knife, multi-tool, and folding saw; a small camp axe is optional.