This post was written by Intrepid Eddie
A short time ago, the Lone Iguana contacted me and asked if I was willing to write a guest article on Lone Iguana about what I have done in preparation for possible survival situations. This was sparked by a Lifehacker article and the ensuing comments it generated. Let me tell you up front that I have no special expertise that makes me any more qualified to write this article than anyone else (though, I have been through Air Force SERE training). Thus, we have a disclaimer: Everything I write here is based on my experiences and opinions. Preparing for a survival situation will be different for everyone; if you ask ten people what they do to prepare, you will get ten different answers. And they will all be valid. So, to keep from continuously writing out “in my opinion”, just assume that phrase applies to everything I write here.
The most important thing for survival in any situation is knowledge. You can have a truck load of tools and supplies, but if you don’t know some survival basics you won’t last long (unless you’re really freaking lucky). Fortunately, there is a lot you can do: take courses, read, watch shows like “Man vs Wild”, “Survivorman”, and “Burn Notice”. Then go out and practice. Trekking, camping, hunting, and fishing are perfect opportunities.
Now we come to the meat of the article – the survival kit. This is typically what everyone wants to know about when looking up survival information. And that’s fine… as long you keep in mind the previous paragraph.
There are basically two types of survival kits: the tiny take-anywhere kits and the big the-world-is-going-to-hell kits. Both types of kits serve a purpose and are worth the time to consider. Again, everyone will have different things they consider important and different thoughts on this subject. This is what I do, and it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Also note that these kits are different from other, more specific kits I have, like the winter kits I keep in my cars.
I personally don’t keep micro survival kits. The only thing I make sure I have on me at all times is a good pocket knife with serrations. On a daily basis, that’s all the survival reassurance I need. (And I feel a bit naked when I have to pack it away for air travel.) However, I have seen some really clever micro survival kits – usually packed into something like an Altoids tin or old ammo pouch – and these can be great for backpacking trips when you have to pack light. Here are a few examples: Altoids Survival kit, another Altoids Survival kit, and Bennett’s Expedient Survival Tin.
And now, the big quick-grab survival kit. This is a list of all the items I have ready to go should the need arise. Paranoid? No, not really. It’s not about getting nuked by Cuba, or “Red Dawn” actually happening, or something like the Y2K bug coming to pass. There are natural disasters. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes… this stuff does happen. How many Katrina survivors or, more recently, Haiti earthquake survivors would have been in much better shape if they had a survival kit at the ready?
My survival kit is packed in a big plastic tub and sits next to my camping tubs. That way, I can grab them all and have the added benefit of all the camping supplies. Here, I’ll break down the contents of my survival kit into categories and give a brief explanation of each item.
· SAS Survival Handbook – I consider this the short-term/emergency survival bible. It covers the basics of what you need to survive in extreme situations.
· Foxfire Book – If the SAS Survival Handbook is the short-term survival bible, then the Foxfire Book is the long-term survival bible. This covers a multitude of topics on “plain living”. Note that there are several versions and volumes of this book.
· A book on edible plants for your region – This will save you a lot of time (and possibly your life). I also have one on edible and poisonous fungi.
· A book on first aid – the SAS Survival Handbook touches on the topic, but you’re better off having a book fully dedicated to the subject.
· Topographic maps for your region – Not only good to know where you are and where you’re going, but for planning hunting and fishing excursions.
· Knife – at least one, sharp, full-tang knife with a 6-inch blade (at least). This is probably the single most important tool to have, so go for quality. Be warned that knives of this length are illegal to carry in public in many states.
· Whetstone – and know how to properly use it.
· Multi-tool – like a Leatherman or a Swiss Army knife.
· Compass – not a critical necessity, but makes navigation a lot easier.
· Basic tools – I have a hammer, a saw, and a pry bar.
· Shovel – to save space, I have a folding camp shovel.
· Hatchet or axe – a long-handled axe is probably better, but I have a hatchet to save space.
· Lockpicks – yes, lockpicks. Think about it. And know how to use them, otherwise they’re worthless. [Disclaimer]
· Fire starter – I have a couple keychain-sized flint and magnesium blocks. Great for starting fires and they last a long time.
· Fishing gear – in case you get bored eating twigs and berries.
· Small LED flashlights – the kind you typically see on keychains. These provide good “emergency” light and they last a long time.
· Amateur radio equipment – If you’re a licensed amateur radio operator, this is a no-brainer. What equipment to take is a whole other article that would be better addressed by someone more qualified.
· Cooking pot – the most versatile item to have is a big, cast-iron dutch oven. You can use these for just about anything.
· Basic cooking/eating utensils – just the basics.
· Food – MREs are the go-to food for survival kits. They have a long shelf life and are usually fairly nutritious. I also have some canned food for variety.
· Water – I always have a few cases of bottled water sitting near the camping tubs. I also have a few bottles of water purification tablets – these are a lot cheaper than other purification/filtration systems and gadgets.
· Watch – especially one that does not require batteries (I have an old Timex that has to be wound daily). And prefer an analog watch to a digital one.
· Spool of parachute cord – also called 550 cord. This stuff is incredibly versatile.
· Box of long-burning candles – another “nice to have” item.
· Water-proof matches – even with the fire starter mentioned above, it’s good to be able to start a fire quickly when you really need to.
· Tent – I have two, compact, two-person tents.
· First aid kit – I have a large, fully-stocked first aid kit; the kind with everything you need to perform minor surgery.
· Plastic tarp – not strictly necessary, but it has a lot of uses and doesn’t take up much space.
· Space blanket – even though I have one, I’m not convinced of their value. If you have to choose, wool blankets are better.
· Wool blanket – I have a few in the kit. Wool is great because it will keep you warm even if it gets wet.
· Games – something to keep your sanity. I have a deck of cards and a travel game kit with chess, checkers, and backgammon.
· Notebook, pens, pencils – I like to keep journals, and it’s a good idea for keeping track of good hunting/fishing locations, edible plants, and medical issues. And if you’re desperate, you can always use the paper as kindling for a fire. Or – If you’re really desperate – for toilet paper.
Guns will always be a controversial topic, and while not a critical survival item, there’s no denying their value in a survival situation. I won’t go into the pros and cons of gun ownership or any other political BS. However, for survival, here are my thoughts on guns. Prefer a hunting rifle or shotgun over a pistol. Personally, I prefer a hunting rifle – better for hunting food, and if you’re really concerned about self-defense, it will work just as well as a pistol. Regardless of what type of gun you have (if you have one), know how to handle and use it properly. That includes cleaning and maintaining it. Hunter safety classes are a good idea. Finally, if you don’t know how to properly handle, use, and clean a gun, then you don’t have any business owning one – it won’t do you any good and you’ll probably shoot your eye out.
That, in a rather wordy nutshell, is my personal survival prep. I’ll leave you with a few touchy-feely things you’ve no doubt already heard: surviving is largely mental. First and foremost, don’t panic. Having a positive attitude is essential. Include others in your plans because community is good and you can do a lot more as a group. And practice, practice, practice (in other words, go and enjoy the outdoors).
Editor’s note: Many thanks, Eddie! Have feedback? Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments!