Away from the Survival Tin

6 October 2009
After coming across yet another article on making a survival kit out of an Altoids or tobacco tin I've finally had enough. It's not that the article is bad or even that the idea is bad, it's just that the thought process involved is too general.
Building some sort of survival kit is not a difficult task but it does involve a following a logical train of thought.

Step 1 - Don't do Dumb Things
I'm not saying that all dangerous situations are avoidable but you can put measures in place to reduce the risk. The first thing is to listen to the little voice inside your head that says "should you really be doing that?". This inner voice is one of the most important things the solo bushcrafter or walker can cultivate. You probably don't need to fell that tree, jump over that ditch or descend that slope if you think about it. If in doubt, sit down, have a drink, come up with a plan and take things slowly.
Aside from causing accidents then the other main way of causing problems is to get lost. Despite many people saying that a mobile phone is a great tool it is about as much use as a chocolate teapot if you don't know where you are. Every day people break down on major roads without having a clue which junctions they're between or even what road they're on - and it's a lot easier to find you on a motor way than in a national park!
To avoid getting lost you need a map and a compass. Using either alone takes more skill than using them both together so have both. Don't bother with a little button compass, get a real, full size one with a base plate. After that get hold of one of the many books on navigation you can get through your local library of pick up something such as a "Be Expert with Map and Compass" via amazon.
There are 2 ways of causing problems with using a compass. The first is to place it near something electrical or made of metal when taking a reading - don't do it on the car roof, next to a bag of pans or a rifle or under power cables. The second is to trust your own sense of direction over the compass.

Step 2 - Where and How Long?
Where are you going? You need to ask as you have no need for taking any devices or equipment for food gathering unless you are more than 10 days from help. In Europe you are never 10 days from help as long as you've told someone where you are going to be. The location also influences the signalling choices you make - signalling mirrors are great if people are searching by air but less so if there is a ground search. I recommend a mix of signalling methods as none of them is heavy or expensive. A mirror is fairly cheap, fits flat in a chest pocket and is great if you are going in an area where an air search is likely. A whistle is also good as it can, depending on local conditions, be audible several miles away. The third signalling item I recommend is an LED torch with a flashing option. It lets you see a bit in the dark and lets people see you. In wilderness areas, with low light pollution, this would be visible from a long way off.
So, now people can find you we need to stay alive till they get there.

Step 3 - What can go wrong?
It is always useful to run through a few scenarios of what could go wrong. In Britain I'd go for the following as being the 3 main ones that could cause problems.
  1. Sudden change of weather
  2. Accident
  3. Getting lost
Now, by having a map and compass and knowing how to use them we should hopefully eliminate number 3 so we are left with the first and second problems. The first problem is probably the most likely in the UK and common in any area where mountains affect weather patterns. Aside from looking at the forecast and keeping an eye on the sky there are a couple of pieces of kit you could take with you.

Fighting the Cold and Wet
First is something you wouldn't think of as part of a "survival" kit but something you may well have on you for an enjoyable walk. I'm going to break with tradition and recommend a thermos flask of tea. The logic behind this is that hot drinks often comfort and calm people down and by sitting down and having a cuppa you'll be less likely to run around like a headless chicken and make the situation worse. The water in the drink is of benefit as is the fact the drink will be warm. Next up is something a little more usual for a survival kit. I recommend getting a big, strong plastic bag. You can pick up the bright orange survival bivvy bag or any other similarly sized bag. Don't worry about space blankets - they do work but flap around like crazy and tear easily. A bag is more use because you can either get inside it, split it and make a shelter from it or turn it into a raincoat. Bright colours are better as they can be seen easier and don't hesitate to use it over the top of a regular coat - the plastic is more waterproof than most breathable, seamed coats are. If you buy one, try to keep it in its original packaging as once opened you'll never manage to fold it up as small again.
The next item in our fight against the cold is something to sit on. Water and the ground both conduct heat away from you quickly so having some form of insulation between yourself and the ground is helpful. It's also nice to be able to sit down in comfort the rest of the time. You can get various types of sit-mats in camping shops.
The last item in this section is some extra item of clothing - a jumper, jacket or fleece. This bit should already be somewhere in your wardrobe so shouldn't cost you a penny.

Step 3 What can You do?
The final section on my version of the survival kit is the medical section. I am not medically trained so my first aid kit is very minimal. I have plasters, disinfectant wipes a couple of absorbent dressings and surgical tape. I know that most people would recommend a lot more but what I'm trying to say here is to take items commensurate with your skill level. If you know very little about first aid then you aren't going to be sewing yourself up or splinting a broken leg. Simply take what you can use and resolve to increase your first aid knowledge (I'm currently starting to work on mine). My first aid kit is designed to patch up small cuts and scrapes and little more, use your knowledge to assemble what you think is necessary in this area.

Off We Go
Hopefully we now have a survival kit that, rather than rusting in a tin, covers us in the event of some of the most likely scenarios. It isn't exhaustive and by trying to avoid the old SAS style kit complete with snare wire and flares I hope we've got something that is more useful on more occasions to more people

Over to You
What do you think of this type of survival kit? Would you recommend something entirely different? Please comment below.
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