The 5 Elements For Mitigating Risk

The five elements for mitigating risk are essential principles for planning your next backpacking adventure. Backpacking season brings an increase in news reports about disappearances and accidents on the trail.  Recently, there was a report from California discusses the disappearance of an experienced hiker at a campsite in the Bristlecone Pine Forest. She was later found alive after four days. The report reveals that she had to flee her location due to a threatening person. Another story relates to the discovery of the body of a missing person on the Snake River in Wyoming. Backpacking and hiking are enjoyable outdoor activities to experience nature. However, they also have inherent risks. It is vital to develop a risk assessment and reduction plan. The following principles can help you build your risk mitigation plan.  

1. Assess the level of wilderness experience and field skills of yourself and others

A person’s lack of experience and skills backpacking in the wilderness should indicate that they are a risk to themselves and others. One way to reduce that kind of risk is to take a more experienced partner on the trail. Their experience and skills will offset your weak areas. For example, I am not proficient in wild edibles and medicinal plants. If I attempt to eat something on the trail that may look edible, the results could be tragic. Yet, if I go on the trail with someone who has more experience in that area, I will learn more about how to recognize safe plants, making the hike more safe and enjoyable. Moreover, it is always better to go on the trail with a partner regardless of your experience or skills. 

2. Know the level of health and physical fitness of yourself and others

It is vital to know your level of health and physical fitness. Health and physical fitness play an important role in determining the class of trail one should be hiking. For example, a person with some health considerations may be limited to hiking fully developed trails versus a minimally developed one. 

Altitude and elevation also will influence decisions about where to go backpacking when one’s level of health or physical fitness is a concern. It may not be wise to take someone on a trail above 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains if they have a respiratory issue. Furthermore, someone who has suffered a previous heat injury should probably not be backpacking in the desert Southwest’s summer heat.     

3. Understand the natural or human-made dangers of the area of activity

Many stories about people’s negative experiences in the outdoors reflect a lack of awareness of the risks present in that area. One type of natural hazard involves predatory animals, such as mountain lions or bears. Other inherent threats are those relating to the terrain, such as cliffs, water bodies, areas of deadfall, or unstable ground. Human-made dangers are those of human activity. These can comprise logging areas, areas of construction, or even previous criminal activity. There seems to be an increasing number of stories about backpackers being confronted by criminals on their hike. Thus, it is vital to know the criminal activity of your planned trail.

4. Analyze the local weather and weather anomalies of the area of activity

Weather is a contributor to outdoor risks. There are reports of sudden fog, rain, or dropping of temperatures even in the summer months in some locations. It must be remembered that some local weather patterns cannot be found in a national or local forecast. The people who live in the area can provide useful information on local weather activities such as afternoon thundershowers. Analyzing the local weather traits will help make decisions about what to put in your backpack, such as rain gear or a light fleece jacket. Thankfully, technology, like weather applications on your smartphone, helps sensitize you to weather dangers arising on your hike. 

5. Identify the level of access to emergency help in the area of activity

Sometimes people, who go outdoors, do not take into account the availability of emergency help. It is essential to have a good understanding of what kind of emergency help is available. Additionally, it is crucial to know how to access emergency help in your planned area of activity. The importance of knowing how to contact emergency help is a critical part of your outdoor planning.

For example, one of the areas near me does not have a large number of park rangers. They tell you when you come into the park that most emergency help will be by airlift. They do not have the personnel or transportation available to go to your aid if you call for help. Thus, an expensive life flight to a local hospital awaits, should you dial for assistance. That kind of information influences your activity and what you have in your gear.

Some wilderness areas have no cell phone access. How will you get help in an emergency?

It is recommended that you develop a first-responder contact card. This card should have contact information for park rangers, first responders, and area hospitals. You should include emergency radio channels on the card if you are carrying a handheld radio with you.  

Final Thoughts

Risk reduction is an important skill to develop and exercise for those who love hiking and backpacking. Your risk reduction plan has its limitations. Yet, without one, you may find your activity being less than enjoyable. Once you have identified the risks for your planned wilderness adventure, then develop and implement measures to reduce it. Your risk reduction plan should take into account the kind of activity (Mission), local and area dangers (Enemy), time of day, month or day (Time), the people involved (Troops), location (Terrain), and accesses to emergency help (Civilian Considerations). Once you have your risk mitigation plan complete, give a copy to those you will be making your communication checks while you are on the trail. As you plan your next backpacking adventure, remember these principles for reducing the risks. 

Top 5 U.S. Military Fire Starters

The top five U.S. military fire starters for backpackers are some excellent options for backpackers. An emergency survival fire is an essential element in wilderness survival. The assets to make a fire in an emergency should be part of every backpacker’s loadout. Many survival experts recommend creating a fire starting kit with various methods to make a fire in an emergency. These five U.S. military fire starting methods can be considered for those seeking low-cost options to include in their packing list.   

1. The Zippo® Lighter (NSN 9920-01-598-9704)

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Zippo® products are favorites with many people. The famous Zippo lighter was issued to servicemembers for many decades until the dawn of the disposable lighters. Its official military name is Lighter, Windproof. I recently talked with a gentleman who served in Vietnam, and he got a little gleam in his eye when we talked about how these lighters were issued to soldiers. He remembered being issued one while he served in the U.S. Army. My father, who served in the U.S. Army in the early 1960s, recalls being issued a Zippo lighter.

Zippo lighters typically are associated with smoking tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. However, they can still be used to start a campfire on the trail or an emergency fire in an emergency survival situation.

One drawback with these lighters is the lighter fluid evaporates more quickly than a disposable lighter. One advantage the Zippo lighter has over the disposable lighter is that one can replace the lighter fluid and the flint for the spark wheel.

One complaint that servicemembers often give about the lighter is that it is labeled as windproof when it is not as windproof as one might expect. With normal usage, the lighter will maintain its flame in windy conditions that are light to moderate.

2. NATO Survival Matches (NSN: 9920-99-966-9432)

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Windproof matches are a common item in most survival kits. UCO® makes some of the best windproof and stormproof matches on the market. However, the concept for these matches reaches back to U.S. military.

American pilots began wearing vests with many pockets. Early survival training for pilots featured starting a fire, as fire is essential for survival. Wooden matches in metal or plastic containers begin to be issued as survival items to pilots. Over the years, technological developments allowed the wooden match to become a unique survival tool for American pilots.

The most current version of these wooden matches is the NATO Survival Matches. They come in a plastic bottle with twenty-five matches or a Ziploc-type bag of ten matches. Best Glide ASE® and BCB International® sell these matches. They are shorter than those sold by UCO®. Best Glide ASE® writes, “NATO Survival Matches are currently used by the U.K. MoD, Red Cross, United States Marine Corps, and Air Force, NATO, GSA, UNICEF, and others.”

If you are looking to add a little militaria to your emergency survival fire starting kit, the NATO Survival Matches are the best consideration for price and reliability.

3. Spark-Lite™ Fire Starting Kit (NSN:1680-01-233-0061)

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Spark-Lite™ fire starting kits are small and compact. They were a standard survival item in a pilot’s aviation life support equipment (ALSE) for many years. The kit comes in a plastic, non-waterproof container that measures 2.5 inches in length, .5 inches in depth, and 1.5 inches in width. Inside the box are eight Tinder-Quik cotton tabs and one sparking wheel on a plastic handle. The more expensive versions have a brass handle on the sparking wheel.

Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL)® produces its version of this kit called The Fire Lite Kit. It comes in a Ziploc-type bag with twenty Tinder Quik tabs, and a plastic handled sparker. The SOL® kit is much bulkier than the Spark-Lite kit.

The Spark-Lite kit is a one-hand fire staring solution for making emergency survival fires. You will not be disappointed if you decide to include this kit in your backpacking fire kit.

4. The Magnesium Bar (NSN: 4240-01-160-5618)

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Survivorman, Les Stroud, demonstrated the magnesium bar’s usefulness for starting fires in the episode, “Canyon Lands” on Survivorman Season One. Many of us have seen those magnesium bars by Coleman® or Coghlan® hanging in the outfitter stores, Walmart®, and other places outdoor gear is sold. However, until a few years ago, I was unaware that the magnesium bar was issued as a survival item in the U.S. military.

The U.S. military version of the magnesium bar is manufactured by the Doan Machinery & Equipment Company, Incorporated® in South Euclid, Ohio. They were issued to pilots as part of their survival kit. However, many soldiers carried and used them in the field.

These magnesium bars represent a fire starting option with both tinder and combustion wedded in a single item. A single bar is three inches long, one inch wide and a half-inch thick. A small ferrocerium rod is embedded on one side of the bar to make the sparks that ignite the magnesium shavings scraped off the bar.

Magnesium bars are a compact capability to have in your pocket should you have to make a fire in an emergency. A magnesium bar is a great item to compliment your fire kit as a backup item if you already have a primary way to start an emergency survival fire.

5. MRE Matches

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The final military fire-starting item to consider is the matches out of the accessory packet of a Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE). These represent the traditional book of paper matches. Most people may not consider these as a survival fire making option. However, if they are all you have in an emergency, you will be grateful for their presence in your loadout.

A couple of soldiers from my unit became lost during a night movement in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield. After thirty-six hours, they were found by a helicopter who spotted them due to a small fire they had started to keep warm and heat their MREs. Afterward, our leaders ordered everyone to carry matches from the MRE.

The MRE matches are an item to consider when looking for a last-ditch method to make an emergency survival fire. These traditional matches will work in dry environments, as long as they do not get wet. To ensure they stay dry, you could add them into your fire starting kit if you use a waterproof container, such as a dry sack or a 4 x 6 Pelican® case. 

Final Thoughts

There is much to be said in favor of the military surplus gear of the United States. People who love the outdoors always are on the lookout for quality gear at a reasonable price. Military surplus meets that criteria. By contrast, I am not interested in looking like someone on patrol in a combat zone on the trail. Thankfully, the fire starting items in the list above are small enough that nobody will know you have them until you use them. You can experiment to see what fits your needs and then decide if you want to carry it on the trail. So, enjoy the journey of discovery with these and other surplus items in your loadout.  

Top 10 U.S. Military Gear For Backpackers

The top ten U.S. military gear for backpackers listed in this article are great options for backpackers to consider.

The top ten U.S. military gear for backpackers listed in this article are great options for backpackers to consider. I am acknowledging at the beginning of this article that most backpackers have their gear choices already set. However, military surplus gear is a favorite among many people. The following list is not meant to suggest that every item be substituted for your favorite gear. By contrast, if you are considering some military surplus gear, the following items are a good starting point for adjusting your packing list. U.S. Army surplus gear is durable, reliable, and available in most military surplus stores.

1. The U.S. Air Force Pilot’s Survival Knife (NSN 7340-00-098-4327)

Some backpackers like to carry a fixed-blade knife with them on the trail. If that applies to you then, the U.S. Air Force Pilot’s Survival Knife tops the list of U.S. military gear to consider for your kit. For those with limitations on their spending, the pilot’s survival knife (PSK) is the best high-quality and budget-friendly surplus item for your next hike. Outdoor and survival experts agree that a knife is the most critical tool that you will have at your disposal in a survival situation. You will not go wrong with this knife.

The knife is currently produced by the Ontario Knife Company (OKC) as the 499 Survival Knife. However, the knife is no longer part of the U.S. Government inventory. OKC sells the knife for around $50-60, in most outdoor stores like Cabela’s or Sportsman’s Warehouse. If you are interested in more information about this knife, you can read my previous article on the history of the U.S. Air Force Pilot’s Survival Knife.

2. Gerber MP-600 (USA) Multitool (NSN: 5110-01-394-6252)

Backpackers can always use a good multitool. One of the best military-issued multitools is the Gerber Gear MP-600. It is made in the United States and comes with a Berry-Compliant sheath. There are many detractors of Gerber products. However, I was issued one of these multitools before deploying to Iraq in 2006 as part of our Rapid Fielding Issue (RFI) load out. This multitool is still with me today, and it is as useful as ever when I go backpacking. It is size does works well with most of my loadouts

The Gerber MP-600 is designed to be a one-hand opening multitool. Its folded dimension is 4.9 inches in length and 1.5 inches in width. Thus, this multitool is about the size of a 3 x 5 index card when collapsed and in its sheath. There are multiple versions of the MP-600 (USA). I prefer the standard needle-nose pliers version over the blunt-nosed version. Gerber advertises the multitool as having fourteen tool options. However, it actually has nine tools in the handles. Some of these tools have a dual-use, such as the bottle opener with a flat-tip screwdriver head. The other options that Gerber counts as tools are the standard and metric rulers on the handles. The military-issued MP-600 has replaceable wire cutter heads. Additionally, the MP-600 comes in an oxide black or stainless steel option. However, the MP-600 that is issued to the U.S. servicemember is the black oxide version.

The MP-600 has been on the market long enough to find written and video reviews of it online. Thus, if you are looking for another multitool option, the Gerber MP-600 (USA) is a reasonable consideration.

3. 1-Quart Canteen Set

Military canteens are favorite items for most people. They are readily available in most surplus stores. The U.S. military 1-quart canteens (NSN 8465-01-115-0026) that are the most common on the market are made of heavy-duty plastic. It is rare to find a U.S. military canteen that is stainless steel. However, there are some companies producing replicas in stainless steel with a narrow mouth. These military canteens represent World War II and Korea War versions.

The U.S. canteen comes with a stainless steel nesting cup (NSN 8465-01-314-4282), a canteen cup stand used as a stove (NSN 8465-01-250-3632), that fits into a canteen pouch (NSN 8465-01-525-0585). I call this a set; however, each item must be purchased separately. The military does not issue these four items as a complete set. Nevertheless, if you are buying the plastic canteen, I recommend purchasing the canteen cup and stove to make it a complete backpacking-worthy kit.

One disadvantage of plastic canteens is that they are more susceptible to getting mold on the inside. Surplus stores, usually, do not clean the canteens out before they sell them. Therefore, after purchasing one, ensure it is bleached out, washed, and dried before putting drinking water in it.

4. Watch Cap

The military watch cap has been part of the winter clothing for servicemembers for many decades. Watch caps were made of 100% wool. However, in recent times, the bulky wool and acrylic watch caps have been replaced by the synthetic fleece watch cap. I have been issued both types of watch caps during my military service. Both caps are exceptional clothing items to consider as you prepare for your next outdoor adventure. My personal preference is the wool watch cap. However, for those wanting to save space, the fleece watch cap should be your consideration.

Wool is an efficient clothing material for field use. It retains its ability to keep you warm even if it is wet and also dries quickly when wet. However, some people have allergies to wool. Consequently, the U.S. Army phased out wool material in favor of synthetics such as acrylic, fleece, and Gore-Tex. Moreover, I have provided two options for the watch cap: 100% wool (NSN 8405-01-006-1074) and synthetic fleece (NSN 8405-01-524-2671).

Additionally, remember that national stock numbers are assigned to different colors and sizes of military-issued clothing items. The stock numbers, here, are for the black watch caps. If you desire to have a different color, then follow the links to the vendors. The stock numbers, here, are just a reference for your further investigation and knowledge.

5. Military Cravat Triangular Bandage (NSN: 6510-00-201-1755)

One of the most versatile gear items issued to the military is the triangular bandage. In Vietnam, the infantrymen of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps called it the “drive-on rag.” Many service members in Vietnam also began to use them as head wraps.

Their dimensions are 37 inches by 37 inches by 52 inches. They come folding in a compact, vacuum-sealed plastic bag that measures 3.5 inches by 3 inches by .75 inches. Two stainless steel safety pins come with each bandage. The size of the folded triangular bandage makes them ideal for backpackers.

The military cravat is primarily a medical first-aid item. However, because it is made of 100% cotton, there are many other survival uses for this item. It has multiple ways it can be utilized as a bandage, head wrap, face mask, camouflage aid, or making charred cloth for making fires. It is larger than a standard bandana. Therefore, it is a better item to carry with you on your next backpacking activity.

6. 3H Lensatic Compass (NSN: 6605-01-196-6971)

Land navigation on the trail is a must to ensure that you arrive home safely. Many backpackers love the Garmin® GPS devices and smartphone applications like All Trails to navigate hiking trails. However, these electronic means of land navigation can fail in the middle of a hike. The analog version for land navigation is a paper map, compass, and map protractor.

The U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps still train using the analog method of land navigation. The compass they use is the 3H Tritium Lensatic Compass produced by Cammenga. The full designation of this compass is the M1950 Lensatic Compass. If you are interested in military compass development, you can read my article on the short history of the military compass. 

The conversation about preferences concerning compasses is varied across the internet. I have found that those who have had a bad experience with the military lensatic compass, usually, do not recommend its use. My spending many hours and days on military land navigation courses reveal that the ex-military people who shy away from the military lensatic compass most likely had a hard time passing the land navigation task using this compass.

However, if you are curious about the use and function of the military lensatic compass, the Cammenga 3H Tritium Compass is one that you should consider for your next backpacking adventure.

7. Gore-Tex Bivy Sack (NSN 8465-01-416-8517)

Another surplus item to consider for your packing list is the Gore-Tex Bivy sack from the military modular sleep system (MSS) produced by Tennier Industries. There are two versions available on the market, woodland camouflage and Army Combat Uniform (Foliage) camouflage. I prefer the woodland camouflage version. However, the camouflage pattern does not matter because the bivys are identical except for the coloring. As of this writing, I am not sure if Tennier is producing an operational combat uniform (OCP/Multicam) version. 

Gore-Tex is an excellent material for the field as it is waterproof, windproof, and abrasion-resistant. That does not mean that it is immune from tearing. It means that it will last a long time before any holes or tears appear with proper use. Furthermore, the bivy can be used as a hasty shelter in an emergency in conjunction with an emergency blanket or bivy. Thus, as a piece of survival gear, you will not be disappointed by the Gore-Tex bivy sack from the military modular sleep system.

8. Military Rain Poncho/Woodland Camouflage (NSN 8405-01-100-0976)

Shelter considerations are a focus for backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The military rain poncho is one that some people have found to be a shelter solution on the trail.

The military rain poncho has been with the U.S. military at least since the U.S. Civil War when they were made of oil-penetrated canvas. However, most people are familiar with the military rain poncho used during the Vietnam War. These ponchos are made of rip-stop nylon. They will fit in the large center pocket of the ALICE rucksack when folded and rolled correctly.

A military rain poncho has several uses in the field. Its primary function is as a piece of wet weather clothing to keep you and your get dry. A secondary role is that it can be used as a tarp shelter or cover after the hood is tied off to prevent leaking. There are many sources of information on using tarps for shelters. These tarp configurations also apply to the military rain poncho. Other options that a military poncho can be used for is a hasty litter, game hauler, or hasty sleeping bag when used with the poncho liner.

9. Military Poncho Liner/Woodland Camouflage (NSN 8405-00-889-3683)

Another versatile piece of military gear for backpackers is the liner for the military rain poncho. The poncho liner is, in essence, a light microfiber-filled blanket. However, it is more than a liner for the rain poncho. It can be used as a liner for your sleeping bag, a hasty shelter, or a blanket. The poncho liner is lightweight and measures around 82 inches by 62 inches. Some poncho liners that you can buy have a zipper that allows you to fold them in half and zip them up for a hasty sleeping bag or sleeping bag liner.

A drawback with the poncho liner is that it does not come with its storage mechanism. Those who want a little more organization to their packs will want to put this in a cinch sack or mesh bag. Another way to store the poncho liner is to roll it up and secure it with a couple of gear straps from Sea-To-Summit or Redpoint. Additionally, the rain poncho also can be stored using a cinch sack or gear straps.

If you are looking for a quality piece of military surplus gear, the military poncho liner is your solution to keeping warm while bivouacking on the trail.

10. M-1966 Jungle Hammock (NSN 8460-00-935-6397)

An interesting military surplus item is the jungle hammock. Many backpackers like to use hammocks. If your shelter and bedding preference is a hammock and tarp, you might want to consider the M-1966 Jungle Hammock. You have to be careful when looking for this item as some people will sell the larger M-1965 Hammock system as the hammock we are discussing in this article. The M-1966 Jungle Hammock is comparable to the Warbonnet Traveler hammock.

It is a little bulky compared to most commercial hammocks, such as those sold by Eno. However, if you are curious about a military hammock, then the M-1966 Jungle Hammock is a great military surplus item.

Final Thoughts

As backpackers, we are all curious about different gear options. Military surplus field gear has been in use for generations. These ten gear options are excellent items to think about substituting in your pack. As mentioned above, these gear recommendations are not intended to swap out any of your preferred items completely. However, if you are looking from some military surplus items to add to your packing list, these surplus items are a place to start thinking through what you want.

Also, when looking for U.S. military surplus make sure that you check it for proper labeling. Genuine issued military surplus gear will have the national stock number and nomenclature on it somewhere, either as a tag or stencil. There are many knock-offs out there on the market. If you want to get the real stuff then you should inspect it before purchasing it.

Remember that you have already purchased U.S. military field gear indirectly through your federal income tax. Part of your federal income tax goes to purchasing this rugged and reliable gear for our military service members. You will not go wrong adding some of this excellent gear into your packing list. It has stood the test of time. It is reliable, practical, and will continue to last if it is properly maintained.

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)

 

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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)

 

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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)

 

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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®.