I'm going to start this article out with an assumption. That is, you have some sort of survival kit. Whether you call it a bug out bag, a get home bag, an everyday bag or a survival kit, you've got something that you intend to take with you, if you ever find yourself in a survival situation.
That's a good start. But I'd like to ask you a question. When was the last time you revised your bag, removing items you don't need and adding items you do? I don't mean just throwing some new gadget you got into it, but actually going through it, item by item, to make sure you really have the right things in your bag. If you're like most of us, you don't really do that. But if your knowledge of survival has increased since you set that kit up, it's probably a bit outdated.
The other thing that can make your kit outdated is changes in the marketplace. People are constantly coming out with new survival gadgets. And while some aren't more than gimmicks, you can also find some that are well worth owning. I'm constantly on the lookout for what's new in survival and have added several new items to my survival kits, everyday carry bag and bug out bag.
As far as I'm concerned, any of these kits are dynamic items. What I mean by that is that they are constantly changing, albeit slowly. As I age, i find that my needs change. But there are other things that cause them to change as well, things like visiting another part of the country, where survival needs are different, changes in the seasons and who I will have with me in any given situation. I have to take all of those things into consideration and make sure that what I'm carrying is appropriate to the need.
That's clearly not a one-time thing. Sometimes I'm traveling with my wife and other times I'm traveling alone. That makes a huge difference. If I take a kit meant for one with me, then I'm either going to be giving her my things to use, or I'm not going to have what she needs. Either way, it's not good.
But more than anything, I constantly find myself looking for better ways. That means that the old ones I was using may not be the ones I want to use tomorrow. Perhaps I set up my bug out bag with an inexpensive tool of some sort. That doesn't mean that I will always want that inexpensive tool, especially if it's a tool that might fail me at the wrong time. In that case, I should replace it with something better, when I can... once I figure out what better is and how I'm going to pay for it.
One of my concerns here is that survival is difficult enough as it is. There's no reason for any of us to select a means of meeting some critical survival need, which is more complicated or harder to do, than absolutely necessary. We'll have plenty of things which are hard to do, what we need are ways to do them more easily.
Start with a Bag Analysis
The starting point with this is to look at what you're currently carrying in your kit. That means taking everything out and seriously looking at it. Better yet, take it out and try using it as you would in a survival situation. That's really the only way that you're going to know if it's capable of meeting your needs or not.
Surprisingly, there are a lot of things which people carry in their survival kits or bug out bags, which really aren't all that good. Some of those things are actually quite common. But just because everyone does it, doesn't mean that it's the thing to do.
Take a wire saw, for example. I carried wire saws with me for years. But I no longer do. I've found something better to carry instead. I did that, because I actually tried using a wire saw once; and while it did cut through the 2" tree limb that I was trying to cut, it took half of forever. It was then that I decided that I really needed to find something better.
One of the reasons why people have equipment like the wire saw (and others that I'll mention later) is that they don't know what else to use. That's understandable, as a proper survival kit must be lightweight and compact. But lightweight and compact means leaving the chain saw at home.
So, the first thing you're looking for is usability. Is it actually possible to work with the equipment you're carrying? The second thing you're looking for is need. Do you really need that item? Granted, there are different levels of need; so this one takes some real thinking.
Take the multi-tool, for example. Just about everyone carries a multi-tool in their survival kit or bug out bag these days. The combination of various tools in one compact package seems ideal for survival needs. But let me ask you this... when are you going to use it? For that matter, what are you going to use it for? Do you really expect to need a screwdriver out in the middle of the woods? Can you think of anything you would really try to cut with a three inch saw?
I'm not trying to say get rid of your multi-tool; what I'm trying to do is to get you to ask yourself if you really should have that as part of your kit. Or can that weight be best used carrying something else along, which you'll use longer. If you're in an urban bug out, I'd say you will probably find opportunities to use that multi-tool. But if your bug out plans are to head for the woods, you might never touch it. Your kit's contents must match your plans, not somebody else's.
The real key here is to ask yourself if each item is worth the weight of carrying it around with you. Remember, you're going to have to carry your bug out bag or survival kit. Do you really want any extra weight in there? If it's not going to be useful, then it's just dead weight, sapping your strength and energy.
Okay, so now that you've taken a look at your kit, let's get into some specifics about what you need, so that you can decide if what you have, really matches up with what you need.
While fire is not usually considered one of the top three survival priorities, I'm going to start with it. Mostly, I'm starting with fire because I think there are some problems with the conventional wisdom about fire starting methods. But even more importantly than that, fire can be used to help accomplish all three of the top survival priorities.
Conventional survival wisdom is to carry two primary and two secondary means of fire starting. In addition to that, I might add that any serious survivalist, and especially survival instructors, seems to collect methods for starting fires. Now, while that knowledge might be useful in a pinch, I personally hope to avoid ever being in that pinch.
For primary fire starters, disposable butane lighters and waterproof matches are recommended. A host of different things are recommended as secondary systems, but probably the most common is a Ferro Rod. Have you ever tried starting a fire with a Ferro Rod? It's not easy.
The best fire starter known to man is the butane lighter. For over 50 years now, we've had the butane lighter available to us, largely replacing matches as the most common fire starting method. While matches still work just fine, they have two important limitations: they are a one-use item and if they get wet, they are destroyed.
Granted, there are waterproof matches and even stormproof matches around; but they are still one-use items. So, if you are depending on matches as your primary fires starter, you are limited by how many matches you can reasonably carry.
One disposable butane lighter, on the other hand, can start up to about 1,000 fires, if you are careful not to waste it. That's a lot more fires for the volume and weight. The only drawback to that butane lighter is that they don't work well in the cold. But you can mitigate against that by keeping it inside your clothes. Your body heat will keep it warm enough to work just fine.
But I wouldn't bother with a disposable butane lighter, even though many people do. Instead, I'd make the extra investment for a refillable piezo-electric stormproof lighter. These have a piezo-electric igniter, making them extremely easy to ignite. The igniter sparks constantly, whenever the gas valve button is depressed, so they re-ignite immediately if the wind blows them out. That makes it easy to start a fire, even when your hands are numb from cold and the wind is howling all around you. Being refillable, you could carry a can of extra butane, allowing that lighter to work for much more than 1,000 fires.
While a lighter of this sort is the best possible form of fire starting on the market, I wouldn't go so far as to say that you don't need a backup. For that, I recommend a push sparker, such as the BlastMatch. If you've ever tried using other sparker methods, such as Ferro Rods and the Metal Match, you'll have found that they aren't easy. But the BlastMatch blows them all away.
The other thing I want to say about fire starting is that you should stock up on accelerants. What I mean by that are the combustibles which are sold for starting fire. Unfortunately, they are also called "fire starters" so it can be a bit confusing. But the idea is that these items, whether commercial or homemade, allow starting a fire much more easily, especially if you are in a situation where you need to start a fire in wet weather.
The thing is, most people only carry a few of these fire starting accelerants, maybe ten in total. But then, what do you do when they run out? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't expect a mere ten of them to be enough in a survival situation. If things are bad enough that I have to resort to using an accelerant to get my fire going, then I'm probably going to have to do so a number of times.
That's why I carry 50 of these in my bug out bag. Yes, I realize that sounds a bit excessive, but fire is important. Therefore, I feel it is worth it. But I don't use the commercial ones, I carry the ones you can make yourself out of cotton balls and petroleum jelly. Fifty of those fit in a ziplock sandwich bag and don't weigh hardly anything at all. So, I'm always assured of having a way to start my fires, or at least the first 50 of them.
Fire is one of the two things needed to meet the first survival priority; that of keeping yourself warm. The second one is shelter. Here again, there's a lot of different ideas about shelter, most of which involve making something like a debris shelter in the woods.
I have nothing against debris shelters or any other type of shelter that you can make out in the woods. But you don't always have the abundant resources of the woods to work with. I happen to live in an area of the country where trees are scarce. Not only that, but cutting enough branches to make a shelter or gathering enough sticks and leaves to make a shelter consumes a lot of time and energy.
The solution to this problem is one which has lasted literally for millennia... the tent. Tents have been used by a wide variety of cultures as their permanent lodging. While we don't do that today, tents are still used by people on vacation, when they go camping.
But most tents are too big, too bulky and too heavy to even consider carrying them in a bug out bag. Even adding a lightweight backpacking tent may be a problem for some people, as it is extra weight in their kit.
There are ways of getting a lightweight tent that you can take along with you, without having to spend a lot of money or carry a lot of extra weight. The two simplest, and quite possibly best, I've seen are the tube tent and a tarp. Both are lightweight, can be erected with a minimal amount of effort, and don't require carrying around a lot of extra bulk and weight in the form of tent poles and other components.
Of course, if you can carry a backpacking tent, that's even better shelter than a tube tent or tarp. Some are less than two pounds, so they are really lightweight. You'll pay more for those lightweight tents, but it's an investment that's well worth it.
The biggest advantage of any of these three options (backpacking tent, tube tent, or tarp) is that you can erect them in a matter of five to ten minutes, rather than spending an hour or two building a shelter made from materials you find in nature. That's energy you need to save, so that your body can use it to survive, not spend making a shelter that you'll only use one night.
Unfortunately, water is heavy and there's not much you can do about that. The weight alone limits the amount of water you can carry with you, unless you have something to carry the water for you. However, most of us don't have that, so we need to either carry the water ourselves or make sure that we stay near water.
In pioneering days, the wagon trains and cattle drives moved from water hole to water hole, allowing their trail and their progress to be determined by water. You and I need to do the same, whether we are bugging out or just in a survival situation.
Water purification systems are critical, but you don't need to get carried away. By that I mean that you don't need a water filter, a water straw, chemical purifiers and something else for backup. Get a good straw filter for drinking water directly with, such as the Lifestraw and a good filtration system for filling your water bottles. If you buy ones that have a high capacity, then that will be enough. I personally like the Sawyer system, which is good for a million gallons.
The second part of dealing with your water needs is having something to carry water in. Nalgene water bottles have become increasingly popular for that. But while I like those, I've found something better, aluminum. Aluminum is both stronger than Nalgene, preventing it from breaking (yes, nalgene water bottles can break if you drop them), and can be put in a fire to purify the water, if you need to. You can't do that with Nalgene. They are both about the same weight too, so the aluminum doesn't penalize you there.
You might also want to consider carrying a collapsible water bottle as well, for a backup. That way, if you need something to carry more water in, say to cross a dry space, you've got something with you. If you don't have a collapsible bottle in your kit, be sure to have a couple of heavy-duty zipper bags. They make great water bottles in a pinch.
One of the best sources of water is also one that is often overlooked... rainwater catchment. Even people who use that at home forget about using it on the road. But assuming you have something clean to capture the water with, that's some of the purest water you can find.
All you need for effective rainwater catchment is a clean tarp and some paracord to string it up with. You can even use the cheap space blankets for this. I've found that tarp clips are great for use when doing this, as they hold the tarp or space blanket well, are lightweight and don't end up ruining space blankets, like tying a rope to them will. The same tarp clips are useful when stringing up a tarp for shade or as a signal panel.
The biggest chunk of the average bug out bag's weight is taken up with food. Nevertheless, most of us only carry a few days worth of food with us. We really don't have enough to last us through an emergency, let alone sustain us while we establish ourselves somewhere where we can start harvesting food from nature.
Typically, the food people put in their bug out bags and survival kits is either MREs, the civilian version of MREs or their own homemade equivalent. There's only one problem with that... you end up with a lot of bulk, for not enough nutrition.
The real issue here is why are you eating? Are you eating to sustain yourself or are you eating to enjoy it? Most of us live to eat, rather than eating to live. We tend to do our prepping the same. Rather than going for the maximum amount of calories in the minimum amount of space, we try to go for something that's going to fill us up and make us feel good. While that's nice, it really won't help you survive.
If you're looking to get the most calories the smallest package, you're going to be better off carrying high-energy survival food bars, rather than carrying a MRE type of meal. Granted, it may not be as satisfying, but at least it will keep you going.
Here's the issue. Three days worth of food isn't enough for anyone's bug out bag. I'm not sure where that standard came from, other than it is what's listed on the FEMA website. But I don't follow that standard. I carry along a week's worth of rations, and I can't do that by carrying along full meals. I have to limit myself to something compact and with a high calorie density.
I'm not trying to say that these high energy food bars are a balanced diet. I'm trying to say that they give me the most bang for the limited space I have in by bug out bag, survival kit and EDC bag. That's why I carry them. I have developed the discipline to not allow hunger to drive my eating, so if it comes down to a survival situation, I'll end up being hungry. But I'll be taking in enough calories that along with the energy stored in my body, I will survive.
Since I can't carry enough food along to be satisfying for a prolonged period of time, I make up for that in other ways. I carry both coffee and tea, which are both lightweight and satisfying. There have been many a time when a cup of coffee was more satisfying than a whole meal could be. I also carry hard candies, to give me something sweet, as well as a burst of energy.
Anything over and above the things I've mentioned is going to have to come from nature. This is one place where most of us fail. We talk about snaring game and eating plants that we find in the wild, but we never bother learning how to do it. The most that we do is to have a few sheets with diagrams of how to build snares in our kit.
Well, building snares is not easy. If you haven't practiced it, you'll likely find that you don't catch a thing. You've got to know how to build an effective trigger, know where to put the snare and how to bait it to get animals to go into it. Otherwise, all you're doing is wasting time, making yourself think that you're doing something to help you survive.
The same goes for harvesting plants to eat. You know, it's amazing how many plants look similar. It's also amazing how hard it is to find the kind of plants you're looking for. You have to know where they grow, so that you can know where to look for them. Otherwise, you'll end up looking for the wrong things in the wrong places. Yes, carry an edible plant guide in your kit, but try using it to find the plants that are edible too; don't just hide it away for that proverbial rainy day.
But the easiest type of food to forage from the wilderness is fish. That's assuming you're someplace where there is water to find fish in. More than snaring animals and finding edible plants, you should count on fishing to find the food to augment your high energy bars. You can build a very effective survival fishing kit, for minimal cost, minimal weight and minimal bulk. But don't limit yourself to two hooks or two bobbers. They don't weigh much, so make sure you have enough to see you through.