Saturday, May 19, 2007

Practical Wilderness Survival

So simple, even a caveman could do it.
-Blatant theivery from Geico

Actually, you don't have to be a caveman to survive in the woods. Sure, it'll impress the other island survivors if you can whip up a fire from two sticks but they'll also probably see you as a threat and vote you off once supper has been cooked.

I need to work on my run-on sentences.

Anyway, it seems there's always some lost hunter, hiker or boyscout in the news. Many are ill-prepared in skills or gear to handle the situation. Spending as much time in the woods as I do, I've assembled a kit that goes with me every time I'm off the pavement. With it I can start a fire, build a shelter, purify water, signal for help, and even do some minor repairs.

My survival gear is made up of three objects: A neck knife with compass and spark rod, an orange bandana, and the main kit. Obivously the bright orange bandana can be used to signal but bandanas also have many other uses. This bandana usually goes in my back pants pocket.

The knife started out as cheap, tanto-style blade in a zytel sheath with a whistle. I wrapped the handle with bright yellow nylon string. Cordage is a pain in the arse to make in the woods so I always make sure I have plenty with me. Along this line I replaced the bead chain necklace with more nylon cord with a break-away connection. The break-away is very important, I don't want to end up hung by my lifesaver! Next, I carved a small groove in the edge of the sheath and epoxied a flint striker in it. A scrape of a knife along this striker showers tinder in super-hot sparks, usually resulting in instant ignition. The final modification was the addition of a small compass to the necklace cord. I may epoxy the compass to the sheath, but for now it's just tied on.

The main kit contains everything else. It all resides in a large BDU wallet which goes in a front cargo pocket of my pants.. This wallet has several interior pockets and straps to hold my fire-making, shelter, signaling, water purification and repair gear.

1. Spark Lite Fire Starter
2. Mini Bic Lighter
3.Katadyn Micropur MP1 Water Purification Tablets
4. 25' Mil-Spec Paracord
5. Plastic Mesh Bag + 1 Qt. Ziploc Bag
6. NATO Survival Whistle

Unpacking some...
1. Spark Lite Fire Starter
2. Mini Bic Lighter
3. 25' Mil-Spec Paracord
4. Flattend Duct Tape
5. NATO Survival Whistle
6. Plastic Mesh Bag + 1 Qt. Ziploc Bag
7.Katadyn Micropur MP1 Water Purification Tablets
8. Gerber Microlight LST Knife

The water in most areas I go can easily be made safe for drinking just by killing any bacteria/viri present in it. This can be done by boiling or with chemicals. If by chance I lose my water bottle I still have a 1 quart Ziploc bag (2.) to hold water. The Ziploc bag is strengthened with the plastic mesh bag (1.). To then purify the water I just drop in a Katadyn Micropur MP1 Water Purification Tablet (3.)
One should always try and find out what treatments are necessary to purify water in the area you be in. For instance, the water along the 4-C trail in central Texas can't be made safe by boiling or chemical means. Heavy metals in it require an activated carbon filter to make it safe. Meanwhile, the waters of Spring Creek have only bacteria dangers which can be handled by boiling, chemical treatment, or a water filter.

Shelter from bad weather can be a life-saver and so my kit contains:
1. 25' Mil-Spec Paracord for tying up the AMK Heatsheet.
2. Dental floss - wonderfully strong fiber for tying/stitching/repairing gear, fishing, or many other uses. Probably should have gone in the "Misc. Kit" photo.
3. AMK Heatsheet. These are WAY more durable than the flimsy mylar space blankets.

Fire (my personal favorite!) is covered three ways. Bic lighters are a cheap, small and durable way to start a fire. I usually have one loose in my pocket plus the spare in my survival kit. The long, greenish thing is a Spark Lite fire starter, which basically is the sparking wheel and flint from a lighter. A flick of the wheel send a shower of sparks onto your tinder. The tube at the top holds the Sparke Lite's tinder. The orange stripe in the tindertube is a zip-tie. Pulling on it pulls the tinder cubes out of the tube.

For visual signaling I have a polished stainless steel mirror from my Boy Scout days. The hole in the center is used to aim the sunbeam at a passing plane or other potential rescuer. There's also the whistle in the wallet as well as the whistle on my neck knife. Finally, the orange bandana in my back pocket. Hopefully one of these will attact the attention I might need. Sidenote, I carry a cell phone with me, but electronic devices are too fragile to rely upon.

To finish it off, the kit holds another compass, knife, and a small LED flashlight. Considering I have the neck knife as well as 2-4 other knives with me while in the woods (I like sharp objects!) the small folder probably isn't needed. But it's so small and light I stick it in there anyway. If need be I could lend it to someone else.

So that's my emergency gear. Making a knife from a shard of flint, starting a fire with two sticks or building a debris shelter is useful knowledge, but in an emergency isn't it better to carry a few objects that will work much better? Of course, this kit assumes you've done all the normal pre-hike safety stuff like get maps of the area, left an itinery with someone trustworthy, have a first aid kit, etc... If you have suggestions or questions drop me a line. I'd love to hear them.

Adventure! Excitement! Lots of knives!


Survival ron said...

pretty good kit, should get you through nearly any situation.

Anonymous said...

Its a very well thought out kit and I really like it but I do have on suggestion. You yourself pointed out that you seem to have an awful lot of cutlery, why not remove one knife and replace it with a few first aid items? A small tube on neosporin, some gauze, a sewing needle (to go with your dental floss) and a few band aids would take up about the same space.

Anonymous said...

i really like that neck knife! who makes it?

Merriwether said...

I picked up the neck knife at a gun show. The same thing is available here:

It is pretty low quality. I plan on replacing it with a "Becker Necker" when I have the money.

Anonymous said...

i have the same flashlight
you can see the camera reflection in the signal mirror!
cool cool cool!

Anonymous said...



Merriwether said...

No, as far as I know the Heatsheet only comes as a "brick". Some sort of optical illusion is making it look thinner than the floss card. One thing I've done with other Heatsheets is open the package, partially unfold it and then re-package it flatter but wider in a Tyvek envelope. It won't fit in this wilderness kit, but repackaging it like that makes it fit better in the large, back pocket of my coanoe/kayak vest.