Friday, July 11, 2008

Survival Kits

What would you do if you were given 1 day/1 hour/1 minute to gather everything you needed to survive for 1 day/1 week/1 month? You would probably panic and scramble around the house looking for supplies. Chances are you would grab some non-essentials and forget to grab some necessities. Now what would you do if you were at work, the same situation happened and you couldn't get home? Would you even be able to find necessities there?

These are the questions that survival kits, a.k.a. "Grab N Go" bags or "Bug Out Bags" are meant to answer. The idea is to have everything you will need already packed up so you can literally grab it and go. It is recommended to have a kit at home, work and in your car since you never know where you'll be when you need to bug out.

Each kit should contain items to satisfy these basic needs:

  • shelter
  • water
  • fire
  • food
  • signaling or navigating for help
It is a good idea to have more than one item for each of these areas. For example, my kits have more than one way to start a fire. The smaller the kit the more important it is for an item to be useful for more than need. Also, it is essential to have a pocket knife in conjunction with the kit. I carry one in my pocket every day.

One of the benefits of making your own kit is that you can tailor it to your personal needs and skills. I, for example, have little experience fishing so I added more fishing gear than a more experienced person would need including a cheat sheet on tying fishing knots.

I don't ever plan to stake my life on these kits alone. In fact, I wouldn't feel confident in survival at all if I hadn't taken classes and practiced skills. In a long-term survival situation I see these kits as giving me a buffer period to make up for my lack of skill and experience. For example, I could make a fish hook from a piece of bone or wood, but I've never done that before so bringing fish hooks gives me time to learn how.

I decided to make three kits of different sizes. The first one is small enough to fit in my pocket so in theory I could take it with me always. It fits into an Altoids container. It's amazing how many useful things one can pack into such a small container.

Starting from the top left here are the contents and their possible uses:

  • Altoids tin: boil water/cook, plate/cup, use the metal for tools (scraper, arrowhead, etc.), signal
  • knot cheat sheet: tinder, leave a note
  • Ziploc bag: keep other items dry, hold almost a quart of water for use with purification tablets
  • fishing tackle (various sizes of hooks, swivels and split shot): stored in the little tube with the red top.
  • needles (also included in the tube): clothing repairs, medical
  • razor blades (also included in the tube); medical, process game
  • circular mirror: signal, medical (find ticks and see wounds), personal hygiene
  • compass: navigation
  • saw blade: shelter, make wooden tools (ie: trap parts, arrow notches)
  • 1 sq ft aluminum foil: cook food, boil water, fish/hunt/trap lure, signal, etc.
  • 8 water purification tablets (enough for 2 gallons): make water drinkable
  • fishing line wrapped in duct tape: fishing line to fish, clothing repairs, snare/trap parts; duct tape to repair, medical (wound closure)
  • LED light (12 hrs): temporary convenient light source, signal
  • safety pin wrapped in nylon: safety pin to repair, fish; nylon to fish, clothing repairs, shelter, snare/trap parts
  • candle (cut to fit): fire, light, heat
  • lint and petroleum jelly (in small bag): tinder (starts from a spark and when wet)
  • waterproof matches (in latex): fire
  • fire steel: fire (scrape off ignited metal filings)
  • alcohol swab: medical, fire
  • 2 butterfly closures: medical
  • bandage: medical
  • 10 ft of paracord (not pictured above): shelter, fishing line, trap/snare parts, keep kit closed, etc.

Everything packed in the kit

Paracord is very strong and is composed of an outer sheath with 6-7 smaller threads inside. It can be used whole or broken down into smaller pieces and is thus very versatile and useful.

The kit sealed with 10 ft. of paracord.

The second kit I made fits into a bag the size of a small camera case. The bag actually was a survival kit I bought from REI. Most of the stuff in it was junk, but the size of the bag was perfect and it had enough good stuff inside to make it worth the price. It is easy to sling over the shoulder or string through a belt. It weighs 2-2.5 pounds fully packed.

Starting from the top left here are the contents and their possible uses (where not already explained in pocket kit):

  • red poncho: clothing, shelter, water collection, signaling
  • 1 gallon Ziploc: water storage
  • emergency blanket: shelter, water collection, signaling
  • carrying bag with 25 ft. paracord strap
  • square mirror
  • money (I plan to put actual cash in when I can afford to): phone call, etc.
  • orange whistle: signal
  • 2 sq ft aluminum foil
  • LED flashlight - the only flashlight I could find that combined the long-lasting LED bulb with the cost-efficient AA battery.
  • 2 spare AA batteries
  • needle tweezers: medical (tick, splinter removal)
  • moleskin: medical (blister care, wound closure)
  • length of nylon
  • length of fishing line
  • 4 water purification tablets
  • 1 oz bottle of bleach wrapped with 2 ft of duct tape: water purification (6-8 drops/gal)
  • candle
  • camera film tube of lint and petroleum jelly
  • fire steel (from bigger than the one in the pocket kit
  • waterproof matches in latex: more than in pocket kit
  • 2 needles
  • 2 butterfly closures
  • 1 Pepto Bismal tablet: duh!
  • 4 500 mg acetaminophen: medical
  • 2 bandages
  • 2 alcohol swabs
  • fishing tackle: more than in pocket kit
  • 2 saw blades: the bigger one has a sharpened edge opposite the teeth for scraping wood
  • 2 bullion cubes: food (replace salts, flavoring)
  • fishing knots cheat sheet
  • Ziploc to hold small items
  • 2 razor blades
  • 5 safety pins

Below you can see the case fully packed with the strap I made from the 25 feet of paracord. It is stronger than the strap that came with the bag and is more useful.

The third kit I'm still working on fits into a backpack. It basically includes everything included in the kits above but in larger quantities. It also contains the usual gear for a backpacking trip like a tent, clothing, stove, pots, knife, food, water and sleeping bag. I also plan to include a wild edible/medicinal plant book, my survival journal, passport, cash, work gloves, etc.

I was curious to see how well aluminum foil would work for boiling water. I took a 1 sq ft sheet and formed a crude bowl. I made a fire in my rocket stove and set the foil bowl on top. It successfully boiled water. The first time I tried it I wasn't careful enough with the foil. I ended up putting holes in it with the bending and shaping, so you do have to be a little delicate with it. But, I only needed one ply to be successful.