GET GEARED UP: MY ESSENTIALS FOR A BASIC KIT
By EJ Snyder
Photo by Grayl
When it comes to the gear that you take when heading out into the wilderness to hike or camp, going on a hunting excursion, or preparing for an unpredictable survival or emergency, you should make sure that what’s in your pack covers every contingency. When a situation occurs, what’s in your pack can make the difference between living and dying.
Sure, it’s great if you can walk off into the wild with just the clothes on your back, a knife in your hand, and the bushcraft skills needed to live off the land, but in my opinion that’s a short-sighted stance for one to take against Mother Nature, even for those who are more experienced in survival. I always look at survival and gear as a simple thing and try to keep it easy for everyone to understand, with some “skull-crushing sense” (this is like common sense but with an edge! ) Everyone has their own opinions, theories, and favorite go-to gear and that’s okay, and they aren’t wrong. Because everybody’s situation is different, as are levels of skills and experiences. I am just going to tell you how I like to skin the deer here. So, pull up a log around my campfire and let the Old Skullcrusher give you his two cents on gear.
I am continually asked about survival kits and bug-out or go bags. These days, with pandemics, crime and civil unrest, weather events and natural disasters, war and man-made catastrophes, folks want to have some reassurance for themselves and their loved ones. Yes, survival skills are great to have, and I am a believer that everyone should learn them, right up there with swimming and basic first aid. But what kind of a kit do you pack if you’re just an Everyday Joe or Joan out there with no time to attend or even afford a class on skills? While there’s no substitute for an actual class taught by a qualified, experienced instructor with formal training and hands-on practice, a lot can be learned from the abundance of survival media and even from good old-fashioned manuals like the U.S. Army Survival Guide or The SAS Survival Handbook. Learning basics—shelter building, water purification, fire building, and some food sourcing, like basic fishing, simple traps, or common and easily identifiable edibles—would be a huge boost to one’s confidence and give peace of mind. But a good basic survival kit with tools can make all the difference even without such skills.
I have never left home without one. When I was in the Army, I made sure every soldier had a basic survival kit on them, as well as one in the vehicle. I preach to folks to apply this in their everyday life. One in your cargo pocket, purse, day pack, or glove box; just have some. They are more affordable than you think. I’ve built them from Dollar Stores as well as some expensive high-enders too. Survival kits can provide you with just the right amount of tools to get you through a very challenging emergency or survival situation. I always say you need to foresee problems and/or issues before they happen and be prepared, so always have a backup to the backup. Threes are even better! We will not be looking at weather, terrain, and such for these kits—those are always special considerations and what I call add-ons. But what I will discuss is what you need to build your own kit, or stuff to have in your bag that won’t require special skills to use. We can call it the Everyday Joe or Joan Survival Kit.
MY TOP 10 MUST-HAVE ITEMS FOR YOUR PACK OR KIT:
- Knife or machete: In my book, it’s the most important tool in any kit. A good fixed-blade non-folding knife with at least a five-inch blade is extremely versatile. I carry the TOPS Knives SXB which, for me, is great for chopping, small tasks, and self-defense. I recommend one made out of high carbon so it can throw a spark for fire, sharpen easily on a rock, and hold an edge. It is needed for all survival tasks, such as shelter building, fire making, sourcing water by cutting water vines, making traps for food, and building items and tools. You need to have at least one. A good machete has a lot of perks, too, especially for clearing a path and defense at a distance. Remember, I said always have a backup to the backup. So, in my pocket—and I never leave home without it—is my EDC, Cold Steel Knives 4MAX. A hearty folder if there ever was one, it can actually handle bushcraft tasks. But this year Cold Steel Knives will be releasing the 5MAX, and I can’t wait to switch out for the extra inch-long blade to the 4MAX.
- Fire making: Fire is a critically needed item. You can hedge your bets here easily. Lighters can allow you to start a fire quickly and efficiently, which is why I carry two…always! Also carry some good windproof and waterproof matches in a watertight container as a backup to your lighter; lighters can malfunction, run out of fuel, or break. I also like a good magnesium ferro rod fire starter like the Purefire Tactical that can literally ignite in the wettest of conditions and even in water. Fire will light the way, purify water, cook food, warm you, be a morale boost, and keep predators and bugs at bay. Place all this in a Ziplock plastic bag for organization and waterproofing. Tip: Store some cotton balls dipped in Vaseline in another smaller Ziplock as well as some collected dryer lint in another; these two hacks will help get that tinder bundle up in flames in no time.
- Water Purification: Purifying water primitively by boiling can be time-consuming but isn’t bad as a backup way. I use a two-bottle water system to head out into the wild. I personally like the Grayl Water Purification GeoPress bottle with a single-walled stainless steel water bottle as a backup. You have two ways to carry water and two ways to purify it, and if the purifying filter breaks or has passed its longevity and effectiveness, you will still be able to boil water and have two water bottles on you. I carry a Life Straw as a good option as well; you literally use the Life Straw to drink purified water either directly from the water source or from the bottle you collected the source water in. Water purification tablets are also an easy-use item; the water doesn’t taste great, but many come with a second bottle and another tablet to make it more palatable. I’ve used these throughout my military career. Tip: When getting water-sourcing gear, make sure you know the difference between filtering and purifying as there is a difference.
- Food Sourcing Kit: I use a Ziplock bag and fill it with all kinds of stuff to help with food procurement. A large roll of high-tension fishing line with 50 hooks of all sizes, a few lures, rubber worms, and weights. I also carry a half dozen gator hooks, too, and a couple of rolls of .24 gauge snare wire. I carry a sling bow with me, which is a modified wrist-rocket slingshot. I carry a small bag of marbles and ball bearings, an added whisker biscuit attached with zippy ties to flip up and down so that I can fire modified arrows. I have golf tees glued in at the arrow knock point to hold onto as I shoot the shorter arrows; it’s very effective on medium to larger game like deer and hogs.
- Navigation Kit Tools: A compass, signal mirror, and a light source. A good compass is handy even if you aren’t very skilled in orienteering. Just knowing basic direction is a huge confidence builder and can ease fears. A compass can point and keep you in the right direction. And, if at night you see lots of lights in a town, shoot a direct azimuth to it and you will be able to head that way for help. A good flashlight or headlamp will be very handy to light the way. A flashlight is easier to point and is directional, but a headlamp allows your hands to be free. Either way, you will be glad you have them. Not only can they help you see in the dark, they can be used to signal for help as well. A signal mirror will enable you to signal for help from a great distance away. Tip: Bring extra batteries. I also carry a battery recharging pack from Dark Energy and their foldable lightweight solar panel. Store away with the batteries backwards so they don’t accidentally drain.
- Basic First Aid Kit: Injuries can happen at any time and are quite common in these situations. Without treatment, even small wounds can turn into big debilitating events and make your situation worse. You need common first aid things in there, like Band-Aids, gauze, medical tape, ointment for wounds, liquid stitches, tweezers, wraps, and even basic pain meds of a variety. I also tell folks if they have prescription drugs, have enough for at least a few weeks, if not longer. A bee sting kit, a snake bite kit, insect repellent, and sunscreen. Tip: Carry a backup pair of prescription eyeglasses if you wear them, as contacts go bad fast in the field and your primary pair may break. They also work for starting fire through magnification.
- Parachute Cord: Or any other cordage in a minimum of 100 feet, will have many uses in a survival situation. You can build shelters with it, traps, project construction, or other items, and even use as part of a bow drill kit to start fire primitively if you absolutely have to.
- Stainless Steel Cup or Pot: Very handy for boiling water, cooking food, or making soups. They can even hold smaller items of your survival kit to keep them from getting lost. I carry a nesting cup with an outer cooking sleeve. I have and still carry a Coleman camp coffeepot as it has an inner basket which is nice for making teas, and its percolator helps boil water a lot faster. My favorite cooking pot is the medium-size CanCooker designed from old metal milk jugs and is now modified with a couple of latches for the lid with a small hole in it. It acts like a pressure cooker and cooks amazingly. In any case, make sure your pot has a lid, as when you are boiling water it helps keep the water from evaporating too much and keeps the juices and nutrients from leaving the pot when cooking food.
- Tarp or Snugpak Single Tent or Hammock: A good tarp can go a long way. I like the ones with one colored side and one silver side. A tarp can make a quick and easy shelter, wrapped up like a blanket, used to catch water, and so much more. The Snugpak single tent is great if you’re solo as it’s lightweight and easy to pack. If you’re running as a duo, I like the Big Agnes tent systems, which you and your partner can divide up and carry between you. I also know a lot of folks who live and die by the hammock, and with a rain fly and insect net set up are lightweight to carry and can get you up off the ground in wet areas and away from the crawling things.
- Waterproof Windbreaker or Raincoat or Parka with a Hood: I am a firm believer that just having this one piece of kit with you will make your life so much better. It will help keep your core body temp in check, keep you fairly dry, and somewhat warm. I never leave home without one.
Wool Blanket or Military Woobie Poncho Liner and Insect Net: Even the best natural shelters can be quite cold, and a tarp shelter is rather exposed, but adding a good old-fashioned wool blanket can make all the difference to being way too cold and will help with a good night’s sleep. Parts, or all of it, can be fashioned into additional clothing, too. Wool is a bit heavier in weight and somewhat bulky, but it’s great and breathable, and even when the wool gets damp or wet, it can still keep you warm. The Woobie, as it is affectionately called by military folks, is a basic poncho liner that is lightweight but works as well as a wool blanket. Insect nets not only keep the bugs away and ensure a much-needed good night’s sleep, but can double as good fishing nets.
Not discussed here are some items such as types of packs and bags, personal protection (like firearms, ammo, and body armor), food, extra clothing, building items (like axes, saws, and shovels, etc.), some or all of which many might say should be in a Top 10 list and I get that. A true pack list will always have an additional 10 or 15 essential items for a more complete pack, but here I am just covering my personal must-have top 10. Also, folks will tailor bags, gear, and weight of contents to their personal preference and/or personal fitness and skill level. This is a whole other debatable subject in itself, especially with the popularity of thru-hiking and ultra- lightweight gear. I won’t argue there, though…as an old army foot soldier, we had a saying: Ounces equals pounds, and pounds equals misery!
As you can see, just having a basic survival kit like this won’t break your bank, is a smart item to have handy, and can definitely help get you through any tough situation you may find yourself in. With the explanations I have provided, I don’t believe there is a single item on this list that the average person can’t handle. Even so, always be safe when working with any of these items, as a survival or emergency situation will be very stressful and can cause you to make mistakes. Always remember: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. With this list and what you’ve read here, you are halfway there to being ready. So now you, the Everyday Joe or Joan, can get your kit and pack together and start practicing with it!
Here is a link for my recommended gear list.
So that’s the Old Skullcrusher’s two cents on survival kits and packs, and what I think is important to have in them. I love sharing my favorite gear and philosophies with all of you. I am always testing and looking at new things. When it comes to gear that you need to count on for tasks in the field—or, heaven forbid, need to get yourself out of a bad situation—always look for the best stuff out there! Look for written reviews, check out gear expert videos, and ask around. Now be safe and survive on!
Watch EJ Snyder’s YouTube videos, The Dollar Store Survival Kit and Walmart Bug-Out Bag.