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®.

Top 5 Emergency Tools To Keep In Your Car For Winter

The winter months are almost here.Therefore, as we take a look at our vehicle emergency kits, there some the basic principles that should help you decide what to store in your vehicle. Afterward, we will discuss the top five tools that you should keep in your car for the winter months.

The winter months are almost here. The snow is already beginning to fall in some parts of our nation. It is a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your vehicle. Those who live in New England and the Upper Midwest already know the value of keeping some essential survival items and tools in their cars. Snow and ice can keep your afternoon drive home from work from being smooth. However, for those who live in mild climates, sub-zero temperatures in the winter can be a safety hazard, even on a clear day. Therefore, as we take a look at our vehicle emergency kits, there some the basic principles that should help you decide what to store in your vehicle. Afterward, we will discuss the top five tools that you should keep in your car for the winter months.

Principles For Choosing Emergency Tools

Principle # 1: Experience

The first principle for choosing what tools to store in your vehicle is your experience with the devices themselves. There are many articles, websites, and YouTube® videos that will give advice on emergency tools for your car. However, the question that should be asked is how much experience do you have with those tools? If you have no experience with vehicle maintenance then keeping a mechanic’s toolbox in your care is overkill. Thus, your experience should govern the types and quantities of tools that you keep in your car.

Principle # 2: Historic Winter Climate In Your Location

The second principle that should influence what you keep in your car is the kind of winters that you experience in your location. For example, there are places in the southwest that get snow, but blizzards are rare. By contrast, in the upper Midwest, blizzards and below-zero temperatures are an annual event. Thus, a person living in the southwest may not need to carry a pair of snowshoes in their car as a might a person living in Montana. Therefore, with these principles in mind, what are the top 5 emergency tools that one should keep in their vehicle during the winter?

Emergency Tools To Keep In Your Car

1. Tire Chains

The first emergency tool that should be held in your car at all times is a good set of tire chains. Tire chains are not technically a “tool.” However, they will make your chances of getting home in winter weather more possible. It is important to remember that tire chains wear out over time. The links can become broken, or the fastening clasps can become broken. Therefore, remember to keep your tire chains maintained and usable at all times.

2. Highway Flares

Road flares have become more sophisticated over the years. There are many types of road flares sold in the local auto parts store. Some people choose to purchase the electronic flares that use flashing LED lights. These types of flares are great for the urban commute home in a major city. However, out on the freeway to visit relatives for Christmas, is not the place for electronic flares. The kinds of road-flares to store in your car for the winter are those the stick kind that light on fire and burn a reddish, orange flame. These are a multi-use item. Not only are they useful for signaling for help, but they are also great for starting fires in an emergency.

A Word of Caution

Road Flares can be a valuable asset in the winter. However, there is always a risk of a burn injury with their use. Be careful when using them and comply with all safety instructions related to their storage, ignition, employment, and disposal.

3. Pioneer Tool Kit

A Pioneer Tool Kit is a kit that consists of three tools: a shovel, ax, and pick mattock. Truckers and off-road enthusiasts keep these tools stored on their vehicles. Their primary use is to dig out a stuck car. However, in an emergency situation in the winter, they can be used to build a shelter or process firewood. The name of this tool set comes from the frontier days when these types of items were carried on covered wagons.
The full-sized shovel, ax, and mattock are suitable for the large SUVs, RVs, and the mid-sized pickup trucks. However, there are smaller versions of these tools that are available at your local hardware store that fit comfortably in smaller vehicles. For example, you may have to substitute a full-sized ax for a camp hatchet. Additionally, you may want to store these tools in a bag. The regular military duffle bag will hold the standard size tools. A smaller heavy duty bag made of nylon or Cordura will keep the smaller version of the pioneer tools. The trunk or storage space in your vehicle will determine the size of your tools and storage bag.

Pioneer Tool Kit Items:

4. Towing Strap

A towing strap made of heavy-duty nylon is an invaluable tool to keep your vehicle. The towing strap is also a multi-use item in an emergency. The standard use of the towing strap is to help another car pull a car out of a rut or ditch. However, the towing strap can be used in the construction of improvised snow shows or mukluks. The towing strap should be considered part of your cordage considerations as you think about your emergency kit for your car.

5. Jumper Cables

It is amazing how many people do not have a set of jumper cables in their vehicles. This item used to be a standard item to carry in your car. However, because of the sophistication of the newer cars, the use of jumper cables can be problematic. For example, in some vehicles, the battery is not in the engine compartment but in some other location on the car. Yet, despite these concerns, a quality set of jumper cables are an invaluable asset to store in your car in the winter. Jumper cables can be used for emergency cordage and other emergency tasks.

A Word of Caution

There is always a hazard for an electrical shock when jumper cables are attached to the batter or charging point on your vehicle. Be careful to use them in compliance with all safety instructions relating to the use of jumper cables.

Conclusion

These essential items are critical to your successful survival if stranded off the road in winter. Winter is as dangerous climate as Summer. The level of snow and ice coupled with below-zero temperatures and wind are the perfect conditions for a winter survival emergency away from home. Therefore, keep your vehicle adequately set up to meet emergency situations in the winter. An excellent vehicle survival kit and emergency tools are lifesavers in a stranded situation. Thus, choose your emergency kit items and tools wisely in preparation for the winter.

Upgrade Your Emergency Bag For Winter

The Importance of An Emergency Bag

It is time to get your Get-Home-Bag (GHB) adjusted for the fall and winter months. Your bag is the one emergency item that you keep up-to-date. It should be stored in the trunk of your car or the utility box on your truck. If you find yourself stranded on the side of the road, your GHB will be critical to your survival. Therefore, keep its contents current and adjusted for the season.

Recommended Items

Below is a table of suggested contents to consider as items for your bag. This is not a comprehensive list. Moreover, it should be understood that every item listed will not fit into a bag that is coinvent to store in your vehicle. So choose any gear for your bag wisely.

Here is a sample packing list for a winterized Get-Home Bag:

1. Backpack

5.11Tactical® Rush 72 Backpack (55 liters)

2. Fire

Sigma 3 Fire Kit

3. Water

The Sigma 3 Water Kit

4. Shelter

5. Food and Food Procurement

6. Clothing (Single Change of Clothes)

7. Cold Weather Gear

8. Wet Weather Gear

9. Cutting Tools:

10. Illumination Items

11. Navigation Items

12. Communication and Signaling Items

13. First-Aid Items

 

A Short History of the Air Force Survival Knife

The genesis of the Air Force Survival Knife goes back to the 1950s at the dawn of the jet age. Here is the basic history of this knife.

June 21, 2018

Many of us have been exposed to the fixed blade knife known popularly as the Air Force Survival Knife. We have seen it in outfitter stores, marketed on the internet, and may even have owned one. Possibly, some may have had one issued to them while serving in the military. This knife has been around for many years. It used to be a standard piece of gear for anyone, including backpackers, who was a serious outdoorsman and wilderness adventurers back in the 1970s and 1980s, before the Rambo movies made popular the Rambo-type survival knife. I became curious about the background and history of this knife about a year ago. It was enlightening to discover that there is very little information available on the background and origins of this knife. Most of the information that I have collected about the knife comes from blogs and knife forums on the internet. After vetting the information against the published government standards for this knife and the government procurement process, what emerged was a unique story of an iconic knife that has found its way from the military to the civilian outdoor world and into the hearts of many owners and users.

Origins Of A New Survival Knife for Military Aircrews

Robin Olds Survival Knife2The genesis of the Air Force Survival Knife goes back to the 1950s at the dawn of the jet age. The U.S. Defense Department published to private industry requirements for a standardized fixed blade knife to issue to pilots and aircrews of the various service branches. Before this requirement, knives of several types were procured by the individual branches of the military and dispensed to their members. By contrast, the current DoD procurement process is much more refined and regulated. Thus, the current standards, methods, and procedures were not necessarily applicable to the procurement process that brought this knife into existence. As such, finding a definitive history of the development and procurement of this knife is difficult to reconstruct. It is assumed that such information resides in the archives of the companies that have manufactured the knife as well as the files of the DoD. However, based on the information that I have collected, vetted, and coupled with my own experience with the DoD procurement and testing process, here is the basic history of this knife.

The story of this knife seems to begin in 1953, when the DoD announced to private industry their specifications for a standardized survival knife for pilots to interested vendors in Military Specification MIL-K-8662 (16 October 1953). Companies interested in gaining the government contract received these requirements and submitted proposals for consideration based on those requirements. As the development and testing process began to take shape, updates to the original specification documents were published. The 1954 update calls for the knife to have a sharpened clip point blade and an additional rivet to the sheath. That same year, the Marble-Arms Corporation (now known as Marble’s®) began work on designing their prototype for the survival knife based on the government specifications. In 1957, the Marble-Arms Corporation submitted to the U.S. government a design based on their Ideal Hunting Knife design. This design was accepted, and the military specifications documents were updated to reflect Marble’s concept in MIL-K-8662A (04 November 1957). This military specification document would become the standard for further improvements and changes to the pilot survival knife throughout the years.

Marble produced several thousand knives for field testing and delivered them to the U.S. Air Force between 1957-1959. After the completion of testing and bidding competition between Marble, Camillus Cutlery, and the Ontario Knife Company (OKC), Camillus was awarded the contract to supply the new Jet Pilot Survival Knife (JPSK) to the Department of Defense instead of Marble. Camillus produced the knife with a 6-inch blade from 1959-1961. In 1961, updates to the military specifications called for a 5-inch blade. Camillus produced the Jet Pilot Survival Knife with a 5-inch blade from 1961-2006. It appears that in 2006, Ontario Knife Company became the current vendor to the DoD of the Jet Pilot Survival Knife under the National Stock Number (NSN): 7340-00-098-4327. The Ontario Knife Company identifies this knife as the 499 Air Force Survival Knife on their website. Additionally, OKC is the only company selling this knife commercially.

The Air Force Survival Knife Introduced to the Commercial Market

The Air Force Survival Knife was introduced to the commercial market by Marble after not being awarded the DoD contract to supply the new survival knife to the military. The reason behind Marble selling their knife to the general public was due, in part, to pre-maturely manufacturing several thousand knife blades and parts in advance of learning who would be awarded the government contract to supply the knives to the military. To recuperate some of the money that they had spent producing blades and knife components, Marble offered a civilian version of the knife to the public in 1961. Their commercial version of the survival knife had a polished blade instead of a subdued or blued blade, brass guard, and polished pommel. These knives became popular with outdoorsman. Later, after service members began returning from Vietnam, the military-grade issued knives began to be seen on the market. Currently, the military-grade Air Force Survival Knife is only manufactured and sold by the Ontario Knife Company.

Design Features for the Air Force Survival Knife

The primary document that describes the various features of the Air Force Survival Knife is Military Specification MIL-K-8662 (16 October 1953). Over the decades, this document has been updated. The current edition of this document is Aerospace Standard SAE-AS-8662. However, the essential features of the knife have remained constant throughout the life of the knife. What are the unique features of the Air Force Survival Knife, as outlined in the U.S. Government specifications?

Basic Description:

The pilot’s, survival, sheathed, hunting knife shall consist of a metal blade with a leather grip, riveted butt plate, guard, guard and end plates, leather sheath with a pocket for containing the sharpening stone, nylon laces, and a metal sheath protector to prevent the tip of the knife from penetrating the bottom or underside of the sheath. The intended use of the knife is for pilots as required in survival situations.

The Blade:

  • The blade is to be a “through tang” blade blanked from AISI 1095 steel conforming to MIL-S-8665 Steel Bars, Carbon, AISI 1095, Aircraft Quality.
  • The blade will be tempered to a Rockwell Hardness of C50-C55
  • The cutting blade is to be 5 1/8 inches long and 3/16 inches thick.

The Sheath:

  • The sheath shall be made of leather in compliance with Federal Standard KK-L-271 Leather, Cattlehide, Strap, Vegetable Tanned.
  • The sheath leather shall be 8/64-inch-thick
  • The sheath welt shall be 3/8-inch-thick and 2 ½ inches in length.

The Handle Grip:

  • The grip will be made of leather in compliance with Federal Standard KK-L-165 Leather, Cattlehide, Vegetable Tanned and Chrome Retanned; Impregnated and Soles.
  • The leather for the grip will be cut into washers, 1/8 inch in thickness.
  • The leather will be treated with para-nitrophenol fungicide.
    • Paranitrophenol fungicide:
      Paranitrophenol was first registered in the United States in 1963 as a fungicide incorporated into leather products and hides as a preservative. A second fungicidal product was registered in 1967. Both products contained a second active ingredient, salicylanilide. However, the registrations for all registered products containing salicylanilide as an active ingredient have been canceled. Currently, one pesticide product is registered to contain para-nitrophenol as an active ingredient. This registration, granted in 1980, is for use of paranitrophenol as a fungicide incorporated into leather for military use, at a concentration not to exceed 0.7% on the basis of dry finished leather weight. In 1983, this registration was amended to add the use of the product for incorporation into cork insulation for military use.

The Sharpening Stone:

  • The sharpening stone shall be fabricated from silicon carbide, grain size 280, hardness P, vitrified bond.
  • The sharpening stone size shall be 3 inches long, 7/8-inch-wide, and 1/4 inch thick.

Some Comments on the Design Features of the Air Force Survival Knife

The Air Force Survival Knife was designed to meet a particular requirement for the military. As such, this knife was not intended as a frontiersman or bushcraft knife, per se. The design features for this knife came about through various inputs from servicemembers, survivability researchers, and training developers. Moreover, the requirement for having a standard survival knife for pilots and aircrews across the DoD was due to economic considerations and budgeting constraints at the time which fostered standardization across the military services. Furthermore, standardization of equipment reduces costs upon the logistical system. These influences upon the procurement system tempered the DoD design features of the knife.

Additionally, the jet age in military aviation increased the number of gear pilots and aircrews had to carry on their flights. Thus, finding ways of reducing the bulk of the Aviation Life Support Equipment (ALSE) assisted in the overall weight considerations for flying. Consequently, the knife blade being reduced from six inches to five inches allowed it to retain some of the qualities necessary to carry out survival tasks, but small enough that it could be easily stowed on an aircrewman’s vest without causing interference for aircrews trying to carry out their duties while flying.

In particular, some questions that arise with this knife are those regarding two specific features of the knife: the saw-toothed spine and the two holes in the handguard. The serrated spine on this knife is part of the functional requirements for this knife. One of the tasks that this knife was designed to accomplish was helping pilots and aircrews egress their downed aircraft or to help first responders extract them from their downed aircraft. The serrated spine was designed to cut through the aluminum skin surrounding the airframes of Korean and Vietnam War-era aircraft. The sharpened clip point on the blade allows the pilot to punch a hole in the aluminum then use the knife spine as a hasty saw to cut through the aircraft skin during an aircraft egress situation.

Additionally, synthetic composite materials like Kevlar had not been fully integrated into aircraft construction until the late 1970s and 1980s. Thus, this knife became obsolete for its original intended use when the majority of military aircraft incorporated composite materials. However, it was still adequate for survival situations and therefore remained in the Federal Supply System.

The second question that arises concerning some of the features of this knife is the purpose of the two holes in the blade guard. As best as can be ascertained, the two holes are used as lashing points for cordage for survival tasks in the field, such as creating a hasty spear. However, there is not enough information in the literature to determine with certainty the purpose of the holes. As with many uses of military equipment, service members use considerable ingenuity in the field when employing their equipment and therefore, the use of the holes in the blade guard for cordage lashing points may have been a field expedient use of the knife rather than as an intentionally designed purpose. So, as stated earlier, the archives of Marble or the DoD may reveal conclusively if the reason for the holes in the handguard.

Further Developments of the Air Force Survival Knife

In the early 2000s, the U.S. Army published requirements to private industry for an aviation survival knife to replace the aging Air Force Survival Knife. As a result, the Ontario Knife Company developed a prototype based on the 1957 design that was first submitted by Marble. Ontario’s model became the Aircrew Survival and Egress Knife, System (ASEK) based on the published requirements by the U.S. Army. Ontario’s knife became procured by the U.S. Army and was issued a National Stock Number, NSN: 1095-01-530-0833 within the Federal Supply System. However, this was not the end of the aging Air Force Survival Knife. It is currently still in inventory with the DoD through the GSA. As a further development on the Air Force Survival Knife, the Ontario Knife Company offers a second-generation civilian version of the knife in its Special Purpose SP® series of knives. It is the SP 2, Survival Knife.

Some Concluding Thoughts

The Air Force Survival Knife has had a storied, yet obscure, history. The knife has been in continuous service with the Department of Defense for over sixty years. The iconic design features of the knife, that have characterized its look, have remained unchanged since its inception. This is a testimony to the ingenuity of the design team that developed the knife at the Marble’s company. As well, it must be remembered that this knife was designed to address a specific need for the U.S. military and was not intended to be used outside of that context. However, because of Marble’s premature manufacturing of the knife before it was awarded a government contract, the rest of the world gained the privilege to own this knife.

The Air Force Survival Knife will be around for a very long time. Even if the Ontario Knife Company discontinues their production and the DoD phases them out of their inventories, the knife will be around for commercial purchase. Surplus stores will purchase them in bulk through U.S. Government auctions, collectors will buy them at auctions, military museums will display them, and they will continue to be available for purchase on the internet. It is also suspected that knife makers will begin to find ways to improve the knife and manufacture their versions of the knife similar to what knife companies are doing with other legacy knife designs.

The journey of this iconic knife has been exciting to discover. I own one as a backup knife for my backpacking, outdoor, and emergency needs. The Air Force Survival Knife is an excellent knife. Those who do not currently own one should purchase one. It will not be long before you are won over by the versatility and practicality of the Air Force Survival Knife.

jet_marble_rtn800
The Original Design Proposal Submitted by Marble for a Pilot’s Survival Knife

 

2981648575_b848c8dedf_z
Advertisement for the Camillus Air Force Survival Knife
Marbles-233
The Marbles Commercial Pilot Survival Knife

 

 

QN-ASEK
The OKC Aircrew Survival and Egress Knife (ASEK) System

 

on8305-ontario-sp2-air-force-survival-8305
The OKC SP 2 Air Force Survival Knife

Gear Review: MOLLE 4000 Rucksack

There is a new version of the MOLLE rucksack called, the MOLLE 4000. What are the features and characteristics of this pack?

January 30, 2018

Military surplus MOLLE backpacks and pouches and their commercial-of-the-shelf (COTS) imitators have become a favorite purchase item for both the outdoor enthusiasts and preppers. As with most equipment designed for the military, it has limited efficiency when employed for civilian use. For example, the current modular sleep system used by the military will not fit in its entirety into the sleeping bag compartments of most commercial backpacks. Therefore, for the ultralight backpackers and adventure racers, military surplus, such as sleeping bags, are avoided. However, MOLLE backpacks and pouches are purchased and used by a wide variety of people and they work quite well when used within their designed purposes.
In recent years, an interest has arisen in the military for a backpack, whose volume falls in between the current issue MOLLE Large and Medium Rucksacks. MOLLE is an acronym for Modular Light Weight Load Carrying Equipment. The MOLLE system was first introduced in the late 1990s to replace the aging Vietnam-era ALICE (All-Purpose Individual Combat Equipment) system. New materials and manufacturing techniques drives the current philosophy of producing lighter and stronger individual equipment that is procured by the military. Once aging or unserviceable MOLLE equipment is coded out of the military inventory system, it becomes available for acquisition by civilian surplus stores for sale to the general public.

A new version of the MOLLE rucksack called, the MOLLE 4000, is being tested by the military for parachute operations. Some of the early test models submitted by vendors are starting to make their way on to the market for the general public. I purchased mine last year at a military surplus store when I lived in Virginia. These are interesting packs and reflect the genre of the military’s current designs for rucksacks. It is not known, as of this writing, if the military has adopted this particular design of the rucksack. However, it is certain that more of these backpacks will eventually find their way to surplus stores, as well as, internet vendors and will be purchased by interested consumers. 

Characteristics

General Description:

This rucksack falls into the category of an external frame backpack. The advertised volume of the rucksack is 4000 cubic inches making it 65 liters. It is constructed of 1000 Denier Cordura fabric. The frame is made of high impact polymer plastic. The PALS webbing give the added value of modularity. All zippers are the standard YKK-type. The buckles are the standard heavy duty plastic, Fastek-type. The pack has the appearance of an over-sized MOLLE 3-day Assault Pack with a top flap closure instead of a zippered one. I have read others describe it as a kind of modern ALICE pack.

Volume:

The main compartment is 4000 cubic inches or 65 liters. However, because of the addition of the storm flap, the volume of the main compartment increases to 85 liters if fully packed. It has one large access pouch on the outside, similar to the ones on the assault pack and medium rucksack. The outside compartment gives an additional 20 liters in the overall volume to the pack. Therefore, the over all volume of the pack is 90-95 liters.

Features:

The main compartment has a draw-string storm flap closure. There is a zippered access point on the main compartment for easy access to the contents while the main cover is closed. It has a large cover flap for the main compartment that functions as a map compartment with a Velcro closure. There is no mesh webbing on the underside of the main compartment flap as there is on the large MOLLE rucksack. The excess strapping from the two main closure straps can be rolled up and secured in two slots on the top of the main compartment flap. It has two compression straps on each side, similar to the MOLLE Medium Rucksack. The pack frame is the equivalent to the USMC DE1606 MC frame. The frame is much more thick than the standard frame thickness of the MOLLE Medium or Large Rucksacks. The shoulder straps are sewn into the pack with the pack sitting over the frame in a similar manner to the legacy ALICE pack and LC-2 frame. There is a compartment on the bottom of the ruck that stores the parachute rigging. What are some observations about this backpack?

Observations

Because of its intended use, the MOLLE 4000 seems to be heavy for its size when empty. This is because the pack has to withstand larger stressors on it during parachute operations than a normal backpack. The padding on the shoulder straps is thicker than those on the other rucksacks in this line giving it exceptional comfort. The pack does look like a cross between the legacy ALICE pack and current MOLLE rucksack. Initial impressions of this pack are that it has great potential to become a favorite for hikers and backpackers with some modifications for non-military users. How does this backpack perform on the trail?

Performance

This pack performed well on the trail. It felt more like my older ALICE pack on my back the longer I carried it. The lumbar waist belt provides excellent comfort over an extended period of time. The PALS webbing on the lumbar belt also gives additional pouch options. The shoulder straps and the shoulder padding also give excellent comfort. However, some thought needs to be put into balancing the weight of the contents if additional outside pouches are attached. For example, I attempted to attach my Condor Nalgene Bottle Pouch on the side with a full water bottle. It caused the weight to become imbalanced, so I just packed it on the top of the main compartment under the flap closure for easy access, since I did not have another Nalgene Bottle for the opposite side. The weight of the pack with my contents started to get close to 40-45 lbs. in total weight. This was before I added the sleeping bag which pushed the pack to over 50 lbs. What is the best employment of this backpack?

Best Use of This Backpack

This pack is best used for no more than a two or three day hike. The weight of the pack combined with necessary contents for longer treks on the trail would cause the pack to become uncomfortable very quickly, especially for thru-hiking. The pack is ruggedly built, so it would be a good pack for hunters. Its dimensions make it too small to be used as a large game hauler. However, it will easily accommodate varmint hunting or trapping. This pack would also be a good consideration for bushcrafters because of the deep barrel main compartment construction. This pack would also be a good consideration as a 72-hour emergency evacuation or bug out bag. How could this pack be improved?

Suggested Improvements

If commercial manufacturers decide to produce a civilian version of this backpack, here are some suggested changes that could make the pack more user-friendly to the general public.

  • The manufacturer should consider putting in a water bladder compatible inner compartment.
  • The manufacturer should consider constructing a thinner thickness frame to reduce the empty weight of the pack for general use considerations.
  • The manufacturer should consider a titanium tubing LC-2 ALICE-type frame to replace the polymer frame for added strength and durability as well as reducing the empty weight of the pack.

Concluding Comments

Overall this backpack is a wonderful pack for no more than three days on the trail. It will easily accommodate the packing needs of most day hikers or weekend backpackers. The construction of the pack eliminates worry about damage under general-use conditions. Its volumous main compartment allows for any combination of contents for most outdoor scenarios and considerations.