3 Outstanding Survival Knives For Backpackers

What are the 3 outstanding survival knives for backpackers?

What are the 3 outstanding survival knives for backpackers? The backpacking world has many trekking methods. There is thru-hiking, ultra-light hiking, multi-day hiking, day-hiking, and rucking. All of these styles of backpacking have their associated gear. The common gear items among them is a fixed blade knife, multi-tool, and folding blade knife.
The subject of the best knives or tools for outdoorsman is a matter of opinion and experience. Most articles that one reads reviewing knives and tools often reflect the personal preferences of the authors. Arguments are given for the various reasons as to why a particular knife or multitool gets top billing. Ultimately, settling on the best knife or tool is up to you, the consumer and end-user of the products that are on the market.

Criteria For Selection

The following list of budget-friendly knives reflects my personal use of these knives and my experience with them in the field. There are three basic levels of cost for purchasing knives: budget-friendly or low cost, middle range cost, and high-end or expensive. In this article, I will cover the best budget friendly survival knives for backpackers. The criteria for the selection of the individual knives is: cost (less than $100), quality, and practicality for hiking or backpacking.

1. The Light My Fire® Swedish Fire Knife® (Stainless Steel)

 

20180327_080900

The Swedish Fire Knife is one of the best knives that a backpacker can carry on the trail. The knife is a collaborative effort between Light My Fire® and Morakniv®. This knife is a Morakniv. Morakniv produces some the best budget-friendly knives on the market. Many of the outdoor and survival experts agree that a Morakniv product is a wise choice for those with limited resources. The Swedish Fire Knife is one of the more versatile of the Mora knife products.

 
This knife produced by Morakniv for the Light My Fire® company is a versatile and durable knife for backpackers. Unlike bushcrafters, backpackers carry most of their needs on the trail. Primitive skills or bushcrafting skills are an added bonus if a backpacker has these skills. However, most backpackers carry gear that addresses their needs. Therefore, a standard bushcrafting knife might be overkill for most backpackers. The Swedish Fire Knife is perfect for the needs of the backpacker.

Overall Impressions

There are several great qualities with the Swedish Fire Knife that backpackers should consider. The first positive with the knife is its blade. The blade is made of stainless steel with a satin finish. However, there is a carbon steel blade version of this knife. The characteristics of the blade allow for ease of maintenance in the field. The knife will stay sharp and will not rust or corrode. These qualities in the blade make it an ideal knife for backpackers, especially day-hikers and weekend backpackers.

 
The next positive aspect of the knife is the blade length. The length of the blade is just under 4 inches. The blade length makes the knife ideal as a belt knife that will not be cumbersome around the waist when wearing a backpack or mounted on the shoulder strap of your backpack.

 
Another great quality with the knife is durability. The Swedish Fire Knife has both a stainless steel blade and a rubberized handle. The implications are that Morakniv designed the knife to last in the field under normal use. I have also noticed that the rubber handle reduces slippage on the hand when the knife is being used in wet weather. That is a great quality when you are trying to set up your bivouac area when it is raining.

 
A third great quality of the knife is its practicality for use with backpacking, hiking, and other recreational outdoor applications. The knife has a fire steel (ferro rod) built into the handle. The feature allows for a fire making tool that is not attached to a knife sheath or on a separate lanyard. Because the knife has its own fire steel, the blade is ground to a sharp 90° angle. This blade feature allows for scraping tree bark or using with a larger ferro rod. Additionally, the knife blade is thin enough for processing fish or small game.

2. Morakniv Garberg (Stainless Steel)

 

20180315_114505

The Morakniv® Garberg is Mora’s full tang knife. It was initially marketed with a stainless steel blade. More recently, Mora began offering the knife with a 1095 high carbon steel blade. The stainless steel blade seems to work best for those who spend limited amounts of time outdoors. Therefore, the Garberg with the stainless steel blade is recommended.
Furthermore, Morakniv also offers two different sheaths for the knife: leather and polymer. The polymer sheath is called the Multi-mount Sheath. It allows for a traditional belt mount or PALS mount configuration for MOLLE gear. The Garberg is a great full-tang knife option for those wanting a more traditional, yet budget-friendly, bushcraft survival-type knife.

Overall Impressions

The Garberg is very versatile in the tasks that it can be used for in the field. It can help with making wooden stakes or toggles for setting up your tent or tarp. The knife is good for processing wood for making fires. This knife also is useful for processing fish or game. The blade spine is a robust 90°. Therefore, it is excellent for striking sparks from a ferro rod or scraping tasks to make tinder.

3. Ontario Knife Company® Air Force Survival Knife (499)

 

591837_ts

 

The Ontario Knife Company® Air Force Survival Knife (499) is another outstanding knife for backpackers. The Air Force Survival Knife has been around since the late 1950s. It was the standard survival knife issued to U.S. military pilots for almost fifty years. The longevity of the knife’s use by the U.S. military is a testament to its quality. The knife saw its most extensive use in the jungle warfare of Vietnam in the 1960s. Later, it was adopted by many recreational outdoorsman in the 1970s and 1980s. The Air Force Survival Knife is a great addition to your kit if you are looking for a quality, budget-friendly fixed-blade knife. If you want to know more about the Air Force Survival Knife, you can read my article The Short History Of The Air Force Survival Knife.

Overall Impressions

The Air Force Survival Knife is a great knife for backpacking. The blade is not too long. Yet, the blade is made of 1095 carbon steel. This steel allows for making sparks with flint rock. The notched spine is excelling for small notch making tasks. The flat part of the spine near the hand guard is ground to 90°. This feature makes it compatible for use with a ferro rod. The fine edge on the blade makes for ease of sharpening in the field with the accompanying sharpening stone.

One drawback with the knife is that its sheath is only compatible for wearing on a belt. Therefore, for those wanting a MOLLE compatible sheath for a fixed-blade knife will have to seek one from another company. Some critics make complaints about the hand guard between the handle and blade is not necessary. However, those who make that criticism are seeking a bushcrafting knife. The Air Force Survival Knife is not a bushcrafting knife.

Final Thoughts

Backpackers love the outdoors. As such, it is wise to carry a fixed-blade knife with you. There are many great knives on the market at various prices levels. Those wanting to stay within a budget will find that these knives meet that criterion. These are quality knives and will not let you down when you are on the trail. Therefore, consider wisely the knife that you carry on your next adventure.

This Awesome Tool Can Help You Prevent Heat Injuries!

The prevention of heat injuries in hot weather conditions is crucial to enjoying the outdoors in the warmer months of the year. Do you have this awesome tool to help prevent heat injuries?

Do you have this awesome tool to help prevent heat injuries? March 20th marks the official change from winter to spring. Many parts of the nation are still reeling from the effects of the late winter storms. However, spring signals that warmer temperatures and the summer months will soon be here. The warmer temperatures of spring and summer bring with them their own unique weather-related injuries. Heat injuries are just as life-threatening as cold weather injuries. The three common heat injuries are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. A valuable tool to keep in your kit is the Work-Rest and Water Consumption Table published by the U.S. Army Public Health Command (USAPHC).

original

1. The Work to Rest Definition Section

work categories

The work to rest section of this card helps people understand how much work a person can do within a range of temperatures. There are three categories of work annotated on this instrument: Easy Work, Moderate Work, and Hard Work. Each section gives examples of the type of work that a person can do. The critical part of this section for outdoorsman are the walking distances and weights for carrying loads. The reason that this is critical for outdoorsman is that these annotations directly address their particular concerns. Hikers, backpackers, hunters, anglers, and others, who spend time outdoors in the spring and summer, will find that information crucial for their activities. The information annotated in this section comes as a result of decades of research to help soldiers stay healthy, as well as, function safely and effectively in hot weather conditions.

2. Heat Category Section

heat cats

The Heat Category Section is a unique numerical and color code system that the U.S. Army developed to alert supervisors of the potential for heat casualties based on the current temperatures. These heat categories are in use throughout the year. However, their relevance increases during the spring and summer months. The types are numbered one through five. Heat Categories 3, 4, and 5 are heat conditions with a higher risk for heat injuries. Heat Categories 1 and 2 have temperature conditions with the lowest risk for heat injuries. Nevertheless, remember that there is always a risk for a heat injury even at Heat Category 1.

3. Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index (WBGT) Sectionwbgt cats

The next section on the card is the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) Index correlated to the levels of heat categories. The WBGT index offers a more comprehensive assessment of heat conditions than air temperature alone or the Heat Index. The definition of the WBGT Index is that it is a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight, which takes into account: temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover (solar radiation) (https://www.weather.gov/tsa/wbgt). The critical point is heat stress attributable to exposure to direct sunlight.

Thus, the WBGT Index is an indicator of the accumulated effects of weather and heat conditions upon a person working in direct sunlight. Therefore, in Heat Category 4, people working in direct sunlight when WBGT conditions are between 88° and 88.9° are at a dangerous risk of having a heat injury (heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke). One way to determine the WBGT for your area is to call your local weather station. Another way to learn the WBGT for your area is to purchase a WBGT Heat Stress Meter.
reed-r6200-wbgt-heat-stress-meter

4. Work-Rest Time Section


work-rest

The third section is the Work-Rest Time section. The division is a guide to inform people on the recommended level of work versus rest within the various heat categories. It is based on any given sixty minutes of outdoor activity. This section is one of the more controversial parts of the card. For example, if a unit is provided a training mission to conduct a dismounted movement in the desert in the summer, how is this work/rest cycle implemented without jeopardizing the mission or the health of the soldiers? The answer to that question goes into the required risk assessment of which commanders must sign.

However, outdoorsman, hikers, and backpackers are outside of the constraints of the military application of this chart. Therefore, it is best to follow the work-rest recommendations to increase avoidance of experiencing a heat injury. For example, under the Easy Work column, there are no limitations on easy work until Heat Category 5. Whereas, on the Hard Work column, the work-rest recommendation for Heat Category 1 is 40 minutes of work with 20 minutes of rest. Thus, hiking a trail rated as difficult would fall under the Hard Work column of the chart. Therefore, heed the work-rest cycle in hot weather conditions appropriate for the level of difficulty of your outdoor activity.

5. Water Intake Section


water intake

Another relevant section of this chart is the Water Intake section. The measurements on the Water Intake section are in quarts per hour. A cautionary note on the margin of this chart warns, “Hourly fluid intake should not exceed 1 ½ quarts. Daily fluid intake should not exceed 12 quarts.” These warnings are given for the prevention of the onset of overhydration or water intoxication which can lead to hyponatremia.

Hyponatremia is a dangerous heat-related injury caused by diluting the electrolytes in the bloodstream through too much water intake. In other words, too much water intake will cause your electrolytes to be depleted. Consequently, your body shuts down because the electricity needed to run your body cannot get from your brain to your organs. As a result, your internal organs begin to shut down. Therefore, watch your fluid intake in hot weather and do not over do it.

Final Thoughts

The prevention of heat injuries in hot weather conditions is crucial to enjoying the outdoors in the warmer months of the year. The Work-Rest Water Consumption Table is a valuable tool to employ in your outdoor planning activities during the spring and summer. Additionally, it is essential to read the marginal notes of this card as they help in defining terms and explaining annotations on the card. There is a more comprehensive document that contains this table. It is the Heat Illness Prevention (HIP) Pocket Guide (2018). The document also includes The Work-Rest Water Consumption Table, as well as, other useful information and tips to enable the prevention of heat injuries. Therefore, as you get ready for more outdoor activities in the coming months, remember to consult The Work-Rest Water Consumption Table before leaving on your next outdoor adventure.

Knife Survival System: The Ka-Bar® Becker Champion BK2

My Ka-Bar® Becker Champion BK-2 Knife Survival System is generating interest. Let us find out what is in my knife survival kit.

My Ka-Bar® Becker Champion BK-2 Knife Survival System is generating some interest on my social media accounts. It seems that every time I post a picture of the kit, people send me questions about it. As with most things related to wilderness survival, there is a lot of interest concerning survival gear. Backpackers, hunters, preppers, survivalists, and those who love the outdoors are getting into survival gear. So, let us find out what is in my knife survival kit.

20190313_101207 (2)

The Knife: Ka-Bar® Becker Champion BK-2

The Ka-Bar® Becker Champion BK-2 is the standard fixed-blade knife that I carry on the trail when I go backpacking. Most of the time, I wear it on my belt. However, some backpacks are not belt-knife friendly, so the knife goes into one of the outside pockets of that particular pack. For example, when I am using my Kelty® Redwing 50, the knife kit will be stored in one of the large side pockets on the outside of the pack.

 
The BK-2 is the first fixed-blade knife that I purchased after doing some research back in 2015. Most of the survival knife reviews that I read, at that time, had the BK-2 ranked somewhere on their top ten list. Furthermore, the knife is a quality product that also fit into my budget. Thus, it was sensible for me to purchase this knife from a familiar and reputable company. Ka-Bar has an extensive history supplying fighting knives to the U.S. military.

 

bk2-e1552497912335.jpg

Knife Description

  • Weight: 1 lb.
  • Overall length: 10.5 inches
  • Blade Type: Fixed Blade
  • Blade Length: 5.25 inches
  • Blade Thickness: .25 inches
  • Blade Width: 1.625 inches
  • Blade Shape: Drop Point
  • Blade Material: 1095 Cro-Van
  • Blade Grind: A high Scandi Grind with a beveled edge. Ka-Bar calls it a Flat Grind, but it is not a textbook flat grind.
  • Rockwell Hardness: 56-58
  • Handle Material: Ultramid-B®.

Ultramid-B® is a hardened, unreinforced plastic manufactured by BASF® (Ultramid, BASF.com, 2019, https://products.basf.com/en/Ultramid.html).

Pros

The knife is heavy enough to do some light chopping. It is also proficient at batoning and feather sticking wood. Its thick blade allows it to do the basic bushcraft skills such as carving, chopping, processing, skinning and scraping (with blade edge). This knife is one of the best on the market for outdoorsman and backpackers.

Cons

Some of the criticisms of this knife by others are that the blade comes coated and the standard handle scales are too smooth. These criticisms from bushcrafters are valid if one wants a knife for processing game. The Becker Champion is designed to be an all-around task knife. One con with this knife is that the blade spine is not ground to a sharp 90° angle for use with ferro rods or flint rock. It also limits the knife on scraping bark or hides.

Suggested Improvements

There are two improvements that Ka-Bar could make to this knife to improve it, overall. The first improvement is to replace the powder coating on the blade with a more game processing-friendly coating or a patina. Another option for Ka-Bar would be to offer the knife with no blade coating. The second improvement to the knife is to grind the spine to a sharp 90° angle for more efficient scrapping tasks and use with fire making implements.

The Sheath: Spec-OPS Brand® Combat Master (Short)

The sheath that works well with the Becker BK2 knife is the Spec-Ops Brand® Combat Master (Short) sheath. The Combat Master sheath is the 21st-century version of the leather sheath from the Air Force Survival knife (OKC 499). The sheath is made of 1000 denier Cordura® fabric. It is compatible with MOLLE gear such as MOLLE rucksacks, body armor, and load bearing vests. This sheath works well with the current MOLLE Rifleman’s Kit. The sheath is also compatible with waist belts, such as tactical rigger’s belts or a leather Kore Essentials belt.

combat-master-short-mc-a-e1552498100966.jpg

 

Sheath Description

  • Length: 13 in.
  • Width: 2.875 in.
  • Fits blades up to 6 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
  • Fully adjustable outside pouch.
  • Diamond Braid cordage laced around the edge of the sheath.
  • KYDEX® liner can be removable for cleaning.
  • Two Belt Loops with snaps and Velcro
  • Web loop at the bottom for tie-down to packs, leg-loop, etc.
  • Double-layered 1000D Cordura® fabric for sheath body
  • Mil-spec. Grommet tie-downs along sides of the sheath body.
  • Snapping Handle Securing Strap

The Sharpening Stone: Gator Finishing Products® Pocket Sharpening Stone

The sharpening stone that works well with this kit is the pocket sharpening stone by Gator Finishing Products®. However, any pocket whetstone or sharpening stone that is 4 in. x 1 in. x .25 in. or smaller will work. This one just happened to be the one that I found first while shopping at a Tru-Value® hardware store in Virginia. The manufacturer recommends using honing oil on the more coarse side of this stone. However, a possible field expedient honing oil could be the CLP oil in your weapon cleaning kit. Nevertheless, I am sure that the knife gurus have better recommendations for pocket sharpening stones.

 

nor87937

Stone Description

  • Length: 3.937 in.
  • Width: 1 in.
  • Thickness: .437 in.
  • Grit: One side is 60 grit. The opposite side is 80 grit.

The Ferro Rod: Böker® Plus Fire Starter

The current ferro rod that I use with this system is the Böker® Plus Fire Starter. It has some features that make it a great addition to this system. The Böker® Plus Fire Starter is a longer version of the Aurora Fire Starter. The item has a threaded, aircraft aluminum body with non-slip checkering. It has a small button compass embedded in the handle. The striker is 3 inches long with some interesting features. It has a bottle opener and a hex opening for use with small hex bits. There is a 1/10,000 map measuring tool on one side marked to 5 kilometers. On the opposite side of the scraper is a metric ruler up to 5 centimeters. There is a sharpened single bevel edge that is .5 inches long on the bottle opener side of the tool. The sharp edge gives the ability to cut cordage.

STANDARD-122215970d43341730-1280x1280

Description

  • Length: 4.5625 in.
  • Width: .625 in.
  • Ferro Rod Length: 2.25 in.
  • Some optional ferro rod choices for this system would be the Aurora Fire Striker, the Bear Grylls Compact Firestriker, or the Exotac Nanostriker.

Final Thoughts:

My Becker BK-2 Survival Knife System is an attempt to find a one system solution for general outdoor and backpacking activities. There are many other more robust options on the market, such as the TOPS Knives Bushcrafter Kukri 7.0. However, for a budget-friendly option, this system meets my needs in the field. As you consider your field gear options, it is helpful to remember three primary considerations: your gear knowledge, your gear experience, and your gear budget.

 

 

Product Purchase Links

Alternate Fire Strikers

Hiking With Your Family

Hiking with your family can be a great time outdoors. Here is what I learned.

Hiking with your family can be a great time outdoors. Children love being outside. Recently, my wife wanted us to go hiking near where we live. The trail was a heavily used unimproved service road that wound around the mountains near our home. I thought that it would be a good opportunity to teach our two oldest children about hiking and backpacking. In that process, what was normally second nature to me, had to be slowed down and methodically articulated and each preparatory task thought through. Here is what I learned:

Lessons Learned From Hiking With Family

1. Kids get tired of carrying their backpacks more quickly than you are expecting. I ended up hand-carrying their little packs on the return leg of our hike back to our car.

2. Kids like to get into their backpacks and play with all of those essential items that have been put together for them (e.g. whistles, multi-tools, flashlights, snacks, etc.).

3. Backpack weight has be considered. Carrying weight has to be something that a person needs to get used to. This is especially true for children and their backpacks. Even though I thought my kid’s backpacks were light, their little back muscles and shoulders became fatigued carrying the weight on their backs much sooner than was anticipated.

4. If you have an infant, someone has to have a child carrier instead of a stroller. My wife wanted to use a stroller for our infant son. However, the trail was unimproved and had some steep areas along the way. This made pushing the stroller more physically demanding that would have been if one of us was using a child-carrier.

5. Kids will sunburn more easily, become dehydrated more easily, and will lose interest in the hike more quickly that you are anticipating. 

Suggestions For Hiking With Your Family

Here are some suggestions to consider if you have never been hiking or backpacking with your family or have not been outdoors with your family in a while.

1. Do not put things in your children’s backpacks that you do not want them to get into. If you can, carry those items with you. During rest breaks, teach them about each of the items that you are carrying for them.

2. Carry extra water and food in your pack for your children.

3. Be mindful of the weight of the children’s backpacks. They cannot carry as much weight as you might think.

4. If you use a child-carrier, then the spouse that can carry the extras for the children will have to carry them in their pack.

5. Do not overload your own back to carry extras. I have arthritis in my back, so I have to be careful about how much weight I am putting on my body, so that there are no spasms or cramps during the hike. This means that some items will have to be left home or in the vehicle.

6. Have realistic expectations of yourself, your spouse, and your children. If you or your spouse are not in shape to conduct a multi-day hike, or your children have little or no experience with hiking or backpacking, do not attempt a large and complicated hike. Start with short hikes and work your family up to being able to hike a multi-day hike. It is easy to take on more than you or your family are ready for by being overconfident in your knowledge, abilities, or physical fitness.

7. As always, have an emergency plan. Children can get hurt out there just like you. Have a plan on how to deal with emergencies (i.e. physical injuries, sickness, bites, allergic reactions, etc.).

8. Finally, always tell someone what you are doing, where you are going and what time you will return. Provide them a map with indicated waypoints along with your cell/smart phone number and emergency points of contact like U.S. Park Ranger Stations, etc.

Some Final Thoughts

The outdoors can be a lot of fun for your family. Children love adventure and seeing all of the new things that are presented by the outdoors satisfies those curiosities. However, safety has to be the operative word when taking your family on the trail. Little feet get tired, little backs get fatigued, your spouse gets as physically tired as you do and needs a break. Therefore, every precaution should be considered before leaving for even a few hours in the wilderness. As one Oregon family discovered, you can get lost just going out to pick wild berries. So, be prepared at all times, especially, when young children are included in the outdoor adventure.

If you are safe and thoughtful, hiking with your family can bring a lifetime of fond memories and an appetite for more outdoor fun. There is nothing like watching your young children get excited about a seeing a deer in the distance or a butterfly suddenly fly past unexpected. Hiking and backpacking are a great way to enjoy nature, get some physical exercise, and develop family relationships. Therefore, do not hesitate to enjoy a little outdoor recreation with your family on the hiking trail.

I hope this has been useful for you.

Take care and See you on the Trail!

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!

A Short History of the U. S. Army M-1950 Lensatic Compass

The history of the U. S. Army Lensatic Compass is relatively unknown. Yet, the origins of the compass are interesting.

The U. S. Army lensatic compass is an iconic land navigation device. Its decades of use by the U. S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and SOF make this compass one the best ever produced. Furthermore, the history of this piece of military gear is relatively unknown. Much like the history of the Air Force Survival Knife, the background about the military lensatic compass is minimal. The compass is undoubtedly not the first to employ the lensatic sighting system. However, it did standardize the use of the lensatic sighting system. Yet, the origins of the compass are interesting.

Origins Of The Lensatic Compass

The Schmacalder Compass

The current version of the U. S. Army Lensatic Compass finds its roots in similar compass styles in use before World War II. The current lensatic compass is an evolution from the older hand-held sighting and surveyor’s compasses in use during the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, on March 5, 1812, Charles Augustus Schmacalder, an optician and instrument maker, received a patent for his prismatic sighting compass design from the Royal Patent Office in London. His design is the first to feature a folding prismatic sighting mechanism that is similar to the one on the current military lensatic compass. The Schmacalder Compass was the standard prismatic compass in use by the British Army throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s before World War I.

schmalcalder-s-patent-prismatic-compass
The Schmalcalder Compass

The Verner Compass

Later, Colonel William Willoughby Cole Verner of the British Army improved Schmacalder’s design for a pocket compass. Verner’s compasses are sometimes referred to as marching compasses. These marching compasses were used for moving mounted and dismounted infantry units across the late 19th-century battlefield. Verner’s compasses are the first to look more like the modern military lensatic compass. It had a folding lid, folding wire sight, and folding prism eyesight. They were carried in a leather pouch that was attached to a British officer’s waist belt. Verner’s compass became the standard pocket field compass for the British Army throughout World War I.

bowen_verner_compass_-_8_110x110@2x
The Verner Marching Compass

The U. S. Army Needs A New Compass

The Pocket Watch-type Compass

By contrast, the pocket or hand-held compasses that were in use with the U. S. Army during World War I resembled modified pocket watches. The reason for this phenomenon is that most of the compasses in use by the U. S. Army during that era were manufactured by watch companies. Examples of such compasses are the Waltham Watch Company Pocket Compass. Cruchon & Emons of London and the Plan, Ltd of Neuchatel Switzerland also made pocket compasses for the U. S. Army during World War I. The C&E and Plan company pocket watches are early attempts at a mirrored pocket sighting compass.

8713187_1
Waltham Pocket Compass

The M-1938 Lensatic Compass

Undoubtedly, U. S. Army service personnel became aware of the Verner prismatic compasses while serving with their British counterparts in World War I. The Army authorized research and development projects to develop a new compass at the request of the U. S. Army’s Infantry School in Fort Benning. The first of these R&D projects for a new compass was issued on March 21, 1928. The agency responsible for the research and development of compasses for the U.S. Army, at that time, was The Engineering and Topographic Laboratories at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Additional research projects were issued until 1938. Special Project 280 (SP-280) was authorized on October 21, 1938, to find a suitable commercial lensatic compass for the Infantry that met the Infantry School’s requirements. The Engineer Board did not discover a commercial compass that met the standards published by the Infantry School. However, two companies, The W. &L. E. Gurley Company and The Taylor Instrument Company offered to make new compass prototypes based on the Infantry School’s requirements. After the testing and modifications of their compasses, they were recommended for procurement in 1940. Both manufacturers supplied compasses to the U. S. Army during World War II. Their compasses were designated as the M-1938 Lensatic Compass.

lensatic-003
M-1938 Lensatic Compass

The M-1950 Lensatic Compass

Liquid Filled Dampening

The U. S. Army continued to suggest improvements to the M-1938 lensatic compass throughout World War II. For example, there were several attempts to solve the mechanical dampening problem with the lensatic compass. In short, they were attempting to find ways to keep the compass needle from oscillating when taking a bearing. Reducing oscillation of the needle helps to gain a more accurate reading when taking an azimuth and bearing for land navigation. A liquid was commonly used for dampening in the lensatic compasses through most of World War II. The use of liquid dampening was a better option for the technology of the times. However, experimentation with the dampening process continued throughout the war.

Induction Dampening

According to Pennington, the Superior Magnetic Corporation discovered how to dampen the lensatic compass without using liquid through the employment of the induction dampening principle. Induction dampening uses the electromagnetic field to control needle oscillation instead of liquid. The compass well was made of copper which allowed the magnetic field to act as a dampener on needle movement. The company’s effort resulted in the lensatic and wrist compasses incorporating induction dampening by the middle of 1945. These new compasses were quickly procured and issued to military service personnel in the waning days of the war.

Standardizing The Lensatic Compass

In 1947, there was a renewed emphasis on developing a more standardized lensatic compass. The push for a more standardized and improved compass was part of a more extensive program of standardizing equipment across all of the services after World War II (see my article on the Air Force Survival Knife). The Taylor Instrument Company and the Brunson Instrument Company submitted prototype compasses that met the published specifications and standards by the U. S. Army. The Brunson compass was accepted, and the project for developing a new standardized lensatic compass was completed in 1952. The new lensatic compass was designated Compass, Magnetic, M-1950.

282987158000_1
The Brunson Lensatic Compass

The Modern U. S. Army Lensatic Compass

The M-1950 Lensatic Compass is a design that is still in use by the various military services of the United States Department of Defense. Improvements and modifications have continued on the compass. However, the basic look, construction, and employment of the compass has mostly remained unchanged over its nearly seventy-year history. The government contract to supply the lensatic compass to the military has changed hands over the life cycle of the compass. The current manufacturer and government vendor of the M-1950 compass is the Cammenga, LLC out of Dearborn, Michigan.

The Cammenga Lensatic Compass

Cammenga produces two versions of the M-1950 compass for the U. S. Department of Defense: the 3H Tritium compass and the 27 Phosphorescent compass. The only real difference between these two compasses is the material used to meet the self-illuminating features required by the military standards. Cammenga also offers the compass in two magnetic orientations: northern hemisphere (needle points to the magnetic north pole) and southern hemisphere (needle points the magnetic south pole).

cammenga-3h-od-1_grande
Cammenga 3H Lensatic Compass

Concluding Thoughts

The U. S. Army Lensatic Compass has proven its value over the last sixty years. Its development can be traced to the first prismatic and pocket compasses of the nineteenth centuries. The endurance of the design and construction of the current lensatic compass is a testament to the innovative engineers at the Brunson Instrument Company. Cammenga carries on the high standards for the construction of the M-1950 compass. The M-1950 Lensatic compass is an essential piece of gear for those heading to the outdoors. It requires some practice in using it, especially in land navigation. However, one will not be disappointed by the U. S. Army Lensatic Compass.

For additional information see the following articles:

https://olive-drab.com/od_soldiers_gear_compass_lensatic.php.

http://northingeasting.blogspot.com/2012/05/history-revealed-origins-of-army.html.

Gear Review: The Buck Knives Omni Hunter 10 Pt Fixed Blade Knife

The Buck Knives® Omni Hunter™ 10pt knife is an ideal fixed-blade knife for hikers and backpackers. Let’s see why.

The Buck Knives® Omni Hunter™ 10pt knife is an ideal fixed-blade knife for hikers and backpackers. I was searching for a budget-friendly, fixed-blade knife that was more practical for backpacking rather than for bushcrafting, hunting, or tactical applications. Many kinds of knives function well on the trail. The Morakniv® Bushcrafter™ and Garberg™ are examples of such knives. However, I desired to find an American-made knife that has the characteristics that are useful to hiking or backpacking.

My searching for a good knife useful for hiking or backpacking led to a knife meeting specific criteria. The knife had to have the following features. The blade has to be one that is fixed and full-tang. The blade grind needs to be flat, scandi, or hollow. The blade material 420 HC stainless steel or better. The blade length can be no longer than 5.5 inches. The handle or scales must be durable in all kinds of terrain and weather. Additionally, the knife should be able to fit a belt-worn or MOLLE compatible sheath. Why should a knife have these criteria to make it compatible for backpacking?

Backpacking Knife Criteria

These knife features are best for hiking and backpacking due to personal field experience and the way knives are used on the trail. A fixed-blade and full-tang blade is the standard configuration for a field knife. There are many good reasons for this kind of knife configuration. Yet, for backpacking the main concern is safety. A fixed-blade knife does not have a locking mechanism that may fail under pressure like happens, at times, with a folding-blade knife. The blade grids are the easiest to keep sharp in the field with a pocket sharpener. A stainless steel blade does not rust under wet or humid conditions. Furthermore, this kind of knife is user-friendly to the recreational hiker or backpacker. Those serious about bushcraft, hunting, fishing, or survival preparedness will use more sophisticated and expensive knives.

General Description

The Buck Knives® Omni Hunter™ 10pt knife is listed by the manufacturer as a hunting knife. Its retail price is $48 on the company’s website. This price puts the knife in a category that is competitive with the Morakniv® and Ontario Knife Company® products. The total length of this knife is roughly 7 ¾ inches. It also comes with its own nylon sheath that can be worn on trouser belts two inches wide or less. What are the features of the Omni Hunter™ 10pt knife?

The Blade 

Measurements

The blade length on this knife is 3⅜ inches in a centerline measurement from point to handle. Buck Knives® lists the blade length as 3¼ inches. This is the measurement of the cutting edge of the blade. The blade is ⅛ of an inch thick and 1⅝ inches wide. The knife is small for many in the outdoor community.

Blade Shape

Blade shape of the knife is a drop point. The drop point style gives a knife blade more strength. It allows for heavier tasks like picking or prying. The form enables the knife to function effectively for general work applications, such as making feather sticks or notching tasks. The drop point helps to lower the risk of making accidental punctures when processing small or medium game. This blade is full bellied with a robust and thick point for more intense tasks.

Blade Material

Blade material for this knife is the 420HC stainless steel. 420HC is high carbon (HC) stainless steel that has excellent corrosion resistance and durability. One can easily sharpen the blade in the field. The edge stays reasonably well once sharpened. The blade is hardened to a Rockwell hardness of RC 58.

Blade Grind

The blade grind for this knife is a hollow grind with a secondary bevel. This is the most common knife grind. The hollow grind on a knife blade is best suited for cutting flesh and soft woods. Since this knife is categorized as a hunting knife by the manufacturer, it is understood that the primary purpose for this knife is processing game. However, for a weekend backpacker or hiker, it is adequate for cutting cordage or textile materials, processing fish, processing fire tinder, or making small game traps (e.g., figure four or snare trap).

Blade Spine

This knife has a unique blade spine. The blade has a curved 90° flat ground spine. The curve is shallow enough that it can be used to scrape a ferrocerium rod to make sparks for starting a campfire. The best place on the spine for striking sparks from a ferrocerium rod is just in front of the jimping. This is the technique that I use, and it works pretty consistently on the ferrocerium rod. The spine also has ¾ of an inch of jimping (notches) that start at the base of the handle. The spine notches enable holding the knife steady when doing carving tasks.

The Handle

The Omni Hunter™ 10pt does not have handle scales. The knife handle is encased in thick Alcryn® Rubber. The handle material reduces slipping when in use in rainy conditions. The handle has an ergonomic curve that fits well in your hand. It also has notches on the underside handle curve for added grip. The knife handle also has a lanyard hole if one chooses to put in a lanyard.

Additional Thoughts

This fixed-blade knife is outstanding for backpacking and hiking applications. It is not too large or too small for most people. People that wear large or extra-large gloves will have trouble with this knife. The Omni Hunter™ 12pt may be a better option for those will larger hands. However, it is perfect for those who wear small or medium size gloves.
Moreover, you may want to use another sheath than the one that comes with the knife, such as a custom Kydex® sheath. Overall, this knife is one the best suited for backpacking and hiking. Those that prefer the Morakniv® products might enjoy putting this knife to test. As with any knife, the Omni Hunter™ 10pt is not for everyone. Yet, this knife is for you if you are looking for an American-made fixed-blade knife that can compete with your trusted Morakniv®.