Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Things in Tins

Born from the military concept of "you might have to survive using only the stuff in your pockets and your knife when you ditch your bergen and webbing because you're running for your life", the compact survival kit has to be small and light enough that you'll carry it on your person, rather than in your bag, and large enough that it can contain all the useful kit you might need. This is very similar to the "possibles pouch" which neatly contains all of the kit you would carry around the woods or a bushcraft gathering, giving you the opportunity to perform general tasks without having to grab something from your sack.

I find the "tobacco tin" survival kits of a suitable size to be carried in a jacket pocket, thigh pocket, or in some old first aid or camera case on the belt. Contrastly, the larger Web-tex one is a bit big and not so robust and although has more capacity, breaks the first rule of survival kits, see above.

All of the items in the kit should be multi-function, so rather than packing snares, pack wire, which might be useful for other things. Little hooks are good for catching both big and little fish, but big ones can't catch small. A tampon is a good source of tinder, as well as a good wound dressing. A condom, though good for holding lots of water (albeit quite unstably), might be considered not as versatrie as a zip lock bag which can hold "enough" water whilst still being useful for holding food, or to cover a burn, say. Metal tins could be used as pots and the shiny lid as a signalling mirror. This is not possible with a plastic or canvas pouch kit. For Christ sake don't keep your kit in the handle of your knife. Even Ray Mears released one of these back on the day, as they were all the rage after the film Rambo. All they do is weaken the knife, which is kinda silly.

Again, similar to the possibles pouch, the survival tin is supplemented with other carried items such as a knife, steel, compass, whistle and first aid kit, which I tend to keep on me at all time I am hiking, camping, teaching or bushcraft socialising. Again, none of these are in my bag. To this end, it can contain smaller versions of these items, which although not as good as the real thing are still useful. Rather than remove lesser versions, however, we keep the kit complete so that is can be used in isolation and is a "one stop shop", should it be the only thing you can grab.

My Current Kit
An off the shelf survival kit should be seen as a starting point, to be updated and added to depending on your whim and the environment you are travelling to. Some things can't be sold with the kit, such as pain killers or other medicine you might take regularly. You might like to add such as a survival straw, heliograph, tinder card or cotton wool, which also stops it rattling. Some people update the tin by replacing the electrical tape with duck tape, some wrap it with paracord. I've replaced the knife in the mine with the Web-tex knife, which is a slimmer, generally better knife; I've seen some with a mini Opinel blade. If off to the jungle, you may wish to put in a broad spectrum antibiotic and some anti-malarials.

Most importantly, is that you learn to use all of the equipment inside. It's not good learning on the job when it all goes pear shaped and given how cheap most of the components are, they are easily replaced, so get out and have a go. Don't forget to replace anything you use or break and remember to sharpen the knife. There's no point in having a well collated kit one day if it's half empty when needed.

Of course, there is the general debate about the need for such things, but having one in the car or one in my hold luggage on a plane or even a "non-sharp" version in hand luggage (please call your operator for confirmation) makes me feel confident that I have some useful kit should the proverbial hit the proverbial. I don't tend to take them to bushcraft meets, but I do if I'm wild camping in the middle of Wales. I don't take one on the train, but I do take one on a plane.

Survival kits are, like first aid kits and flares, the sort of things that are carried and never used, but can be life savers in situations where you needs their contents. It's all well and good knowing you can make a compass from a needle, fishing hooks from bones, cordage from nettles and a whistle from a reed, but how useful would it be just to not have to bother when you've got more important things to think about, like icy wind, water treatment and hungry children?

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