Thursday, October 29, 2009

Survival Kit

What should be included in a survival kit? What is most likely to be needed in any given situation, and what items are mostly just gimmicks? 

A survival kit should be assembled with one thought in mind — If I have to spend the night in the woods with nothing but this stuff, what will I need? One kit may not fit all situations. I have more than one kit. The winter kit requires a larger fanny pack than a summer kit, because of the additional clothing and food items carried. Each kit includes a shelter, redundant fire starters, a signal mirror and whistle. Each has emergency food rations, a  flashlight and extra set of batteries, a folding knife, and an assortment of bandages. The summer kit includes bug repellent, which would be unnecessary baggage in the winter kit. The winter kit, on the other hand, has spare socks, a neoprene face mask, spare glove liners, and more high-calorie food.

A homemade kit can be far superior to a store-bought kit, if for no other reason than the individual assembling the kit is forced to become familiar with everything in it. Too often, people who buy ready-made kits assume that because it was assembled by "professionals" it must be perfect, and they never even look through its contents until an emergency arises.

Every person should carry his or her own personal survival kit, know what is inside and how to use the equipment. Older children should not be left out of the equation, but should be familiar with their own kits and trained in the use of every item in an age-appropriate manner.
Consideration should be given to medical problems.  Adhesive bandages, sun protection, bug repellent, and moist towelettes are examples of items that should be included. Anyone who has health issues requiring special medications should include those items in their personal survival kits.

There are several priorities to address when assembling a survival kit.
  • Shelter is highest on the list. Exposure to the elements can injure or kill a human much more quickly than nearly any other survival factor except traumatic accident. Under the right conditions, a person can be seriously at risk in a matter of hours, so shelter is a very high priority. In a survival kit, shelter must be limited to a super compact and lightweight form. A reflective emergency blanket or pocket-sized emergency poncho will protect against the wind and precipitation. An emergency bivvy, such as the one from Adventure Medical Kits ( provides wraparound protection and effectively reflects body heat back toward you. A simple tube tent will keep the rain/snow off and turn the wind. 
  • The ability to start and maintain a fire can make all the difference. It will warm you up, purify water, cook food, provide light for yourself and smoke for to signal rescuers. I carry two means of starting a fire — a Brunton Helios Stormproof lighter and a Swedish Firesteel striker. But it isn't enough to carry the equipment — practice the techniques.
  • Methods for signaling to help rescuers find you. I carry both a signal mirror and whistle.
  • Water is critical. At 8.5 pounds per gallon, it is impossible to carry enough water for a prolonged survival situation. A compact filter that will remove microorganisms such as giardia is the solution. I carry an Aquamira Frontier Filter straw that is good for up to 20 gallons. It fits in a pocket and will keep me going for about three weeks, if I am careful. 

  • Food will help you function more efficiently and think more clearly. You won't actually die of starvation for several weeks, but you may kill yourself off through other means if you can't think or perform well. Choose high-calorie foods that are compact and have a long shelf life. Power bars, or something similar, work well. Homemade GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) will do the job. Cycle food out (that means eat it) periodically, to prevent stuff from going rancid.
 A well-developed survival kit is not something you can tuck in a shirt pocket. A fanny pack or day pack will do, but even the best survival  kit will not help if you leave it  behind.

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