During nearly 45 years of wandering around the world’s backcountry I have developed a collection of equipment that has frequently saved my bacon! Equipment that, on more than one occasion, changed a potentially life threatening situation into an inconvenient night out.
By Peter Kummerfeldt
Some would call my collection of gear a “survival kit.” Over the years the contents of my kit have changed. As new equipment came along that was better and lighter than the gear I used it replaced the old.
Despite the changes in the individual pieces of equipment, the categories of equipment I carry have not changed – there are those must have items; there are pieces of equipment that would be sorely missed if they were not available and then there are those pieces of equipment that you would like to have with you but if you didn’t, the world would not come to an end.
While it’s hard to justify carrying equipment that doesn’t get used often there is some equipment that has to be carried for that once in a life situation when your life hangs in the balance – these core items include shelter, fire making and signaling equipment.
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In my pockets: Some things just belong in your pockets – a folding knife for example. A bandanna handkerchief, a piece of equipment that has a thousand uses, would be another valuable item, Chapped lips are a constant aggravation – carry one of the lip balms with a SPF factor of at least 15 with you and use it often. I would always have a metal match with me with which to start a fire. Carry those things in your pockets that you need quickly and use often.
Then, because of circumstance, you were separated from all of your equipment bags you would at least have a few basic items with you that you could use to save yourself.
In my get-away bag This bag should contain the emergency gear that you would heavily depend on if you were stranded, if you were hurt and couldn’t make it back, if you were caught out after dark or trapped by bad weather and continuing on would be dangerous.
This bag would be usually carried in your day pack or fanny pack and then removed if the larger pack was left behind. Fundamentally this bag should contain a water proof, windproof shelter – material that you could crawl into or crawl under to keep yourself dry and warm. It should contain reliable fire starting tools and the means to signal your distress.
Here’s a list of what I carry in my get-away kit.
- 1 heavy duty, 4 mil, orange or blue plastic bag (38”x65”) for shelter
- 1 metal match with scraper
- 2 match cases – one filled with REI matches and one filled with Vaseline saturated cotton balls
- 1 glass signal mirror
- 1 plastic whistle
- 1 small folding knife
- 1 orienteering compass
- 1 plastic water bag
- Small stick of pitch wood for fire starting
- 1 small LED light with a head band
- Nylon line
This equipment is packed in a bright orange Cordura zippered pouch with belt loops.
In my day pack: In addition to the items listed above I carry the following additional equipment which might be considered nice-to-have but in a pinch I could do without, even though I might not want to.
- Dandy saw with 17” blade or a Florian folding saw
- 18”x18” closed cell foam sitting pad
- 150’ parachute cord dyed red
- Hygiene kit (toilet paper, wipes & small bar of soap)
- Basic medical kit (band aids, ace bandage, 4×4 gauze pads, Imodium AD tablets, Benedryl tablets, Bayer’s aspirin, Rolaids, Finger nail clipper, Dental floss, prescription antibiotic, personal prescriptions medications.
- Sawyer bug repellent (depends where I’m going – summer only)
- Bug Out jacket (depends where I’m going – summer only)
- Head Sokz for head protection
- Helly Hansen Guide raincoat and bibs
- Light leather goat skin gloves
- Synthetic mittens
- Esbit fuel tablet stove with plenty of fuel tablets
- Map of the area
- Chunk of pitch wood for fire starting
- Food bars, Cup-of-Soup powder, hot chocolate powder.
- One quart Nalgene wide mouth, water bottle.
- 4 cell, AA battery, Princeton Tec flashlight with elastic headband
- 3.5” Bill Hook Model M571 fixed blade knife.
- One bottle (50 tablets) Potable Aqua tablets
- One metal cup
- An additional large plastic bag
- Additional insulated clothing
The ability to produce a lot of firewood quickly makes carrying a good saw a priority. Select a saw that is multi-purpose. The Dandy Saw I carry cuts wood, snow and bone. It is tough, requires no assembly and has no moving parts.
The Florian folding saw is another very dependable tool that, while not quite as versatile as the Dandy saw, is efficient, safe and reliable.
I carry a closed cell foam pad to insulate myself from the ground when I sit down. It also helps to keep my clothing clean and dry. Its most important value may be the padding it provides when I sit on hard ground, rocks or other uncomfortable, cold objects.
Parachute line is very useful and will serve as your hammer and nails when you build shelters, line for hanging equipment, sewing thread, dental floss, fishing line and hundreds of other uses.
Your toilet kit should have “wipes” in addition to toilet paper. Under field conditions toilet paper doesn’t do the job well enough. Wipes are the field replacement for a shower or bathtub!
Assemble a medical kit sufficient to handle the commonly encountered medical issues – not to perform major surgery! In the event of a serious injury there is little that those present can do beyond taking the normal first aid steps and then making the patient as comfortable as possible before going for help. Limit the drugs you carry to those personal medications you must have and then add Benedryl for dealing with any allergy issues, aspirin for pain control and for its usefulness when treating someone who is experiencing cardiac problems and finally Imodium or other anti-diarrhea medication.
In some parts of the country protection from biting insects is essential. Black flies, deer flies, mosquitoes and other forms of “flying teeth” make life miserable for a survivor and can become a life threatening issue. Head nets, bug-shirts and repellents are virtually impossible to improvise – have them with you when you need them!
Emergency clothing should include the means to keep your head warm, an outer layer that is wind proof and waterproof and a pair of light leather gloves. Your hands are not as tough as you think they are and will soon become bruised, burned and battered. In colder weather include mittens in your gear. With functioning hands survival is difficult. Without the use of your hands survival becomes impossible. Take care of them!
The ability to start a fire under adverse conditions is fundamental to surviving especially when clothing is inadequate and shelter hard to come by. Relying on primitive fire making skills in the absence of a metal match or good matches is asking for a cold night out and the possibility of becoming a hypothermia victim.
A container full of Vaseline soaked cotton balls for tinder and a metal match provide the means to start hundreds of fires.
Unlike other methods of fire starting, metal matches are not affected by changes in air pressure (cigarette lighters don’t work well at altitude) temperature, or moisture and require minimum practice to become proficient. For those who still want to carry matches REI Stormproof matches are the best.
An Esbit stove is a very useful device that makes getting a hot drink easy without having to build a fire.
Signaling devices range from expensive electronic devices that can reach out from any location in the world by satellite and make contact with rescuers, to simple less expensive equipment that may not have the range of the more sophisticated gear but can still get the job done. Every emergency pack should, at the very least, contain a whistle and a mirror. Both can be used to attract the attention of ground searchers and, in the case of the mirror, can also be used to signal a passing aircraft or boat. The human voice is a poor signaling device – it doesn’t last very long nor does it carry very far! Carry a whistle – it can be blown all day and the blast carries much further than your voice.
Depending on the time of year other things may show-up in my gear. During the colder months I add a Wiggy’s Sweater. This jacket is insulated with Lamalite, one of the best synthetic insulators available.
Should I need to dig a snow shelter or move snow for any other reason I add a Snow Claw digging tool. This inexpensive mini-snow shovel works far better than digging with your hands or other improvised shovel and can be used for a number of other purposes as well! In arid regions I would add additional water containers.
To some of you this may seem like a lot of equipment to carry around the mountain. To others it may seem barely enough. We each have to decide what we need based on our circumstances and the situations that we might find ourselves in. Granted, few people are going to find themselves in a survival situation but when they do, it would be nice to be well equipped, clothed and prepared.
Author’s note: The product recommendations given are based on the author’s use of the items in the field. The author does not “rep” for any of the companies listed.
Peter Kummerfeldt has walked the talk in the wilderness survival field for decades. Peter grew up in
Kenya, East Africa and came to America in 1965 and joined the U.S. Air Force. He is a graduate of the Air Force Survival Instructor Training School and has served as an instructor at the Basic Survival School, Spokane, Washington; the Arctic Survival School, Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Jungle Survival School, Republic of the Philippines.
For twelve years, Peter was the Survival Training Director at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. He retired from the Air Force in 1995 after 30 years of service.
In 1992, concerned with the number of accidents that were occurring in the outdoors annually and the number of tourists traveling overseas who were involved in unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening incidents Peter created OutdoorSafe.com
He is the author of Surviving a Wilderness Emergency and has addressed over 20,000 people as the featured speaker at numerous seminars, conferences and national conventions.
Check out Peter’s blog at: OutdoorSafe.blogspot.com