Basic outdoor survival and equipment

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Ripley1046

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I think most people that are involved in overlanding have a basic understanding and knowledge of outdoor survival, and gear needed when being in remote areas. But as someone relatively new to this forum, I’m learning a lot of new things, and feel like it’s a great resource for those who are less familiar, or have less experience outdoors. So I thought a basic primer on wilderness survival, and some basic gear would be beneficial.

I’m not an expert, by any stretch, but I spend a lot of time in the woods, and have spent a lot of time reading and learning what I can about self reliance and survival.

So here’s a basic break down of things I think everyone should know before heading into the woods, and a simple kit of things you should take with you. Every situation is different, but there are a few guidelines that apply to everything from an afternoon hike to a 2 month expedition.

The more you know, the less you have to carry.

Remember the Rule of 3s. The average human can survive:
  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter (in extreme environments)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food.
With enough practice and training, you can certainly figure out how to acquire all of those things without having to take them with you or have any tools, but in the real world most of us live, there are a few things that will make life a lot easier.

Water - Carry a water bottle, and some way to purify any water you may collect. Obviously you should pack water, even for a short hike. But if the trip takes longer than expected, or you get lost or stranded, some way to get and clean water is an absolute necessity. For longer trips roughly a gallon per person, per day is recommended.

What are your options?
  • Water purification tabs - I haven’t used these, and they do have a shelf life, but some people swear by them.
  • Water filter/straw - There are a slew of companies that make very compact and lightweight water filters. This is what you’ll find in every outdoor kit I have.
  • Boiling - Tried and true, if you have a metal container and a way to make it hot, you can boil water to make it safe to drink.
  • Rain water - Not very reliable, but always an option if you can collect it. I don’t like leaving things to chance personally
  • Ultraviolet light - I don’t know much about this one, but it’s out there. I will update with more info once I get a chance to try one out.
Shelter - Shelter tends to be a little more tricky. The first line of defense is the clothing you choose. Checking weather conditions and dressing accordingly goes a long way toward staying warm and dry. Beyond that, all my wilderness kits include a mylar (space) blanket. They are very small and light, cheap, and actually will keep you pretty warm when needed. All of my backpack (or larger) kits have a tarp and some 550 paracord to make shelters should I get lost. There are also plenty of natural solutions to keeping out of the elements with some training and practice, depending on your location. Large contractor style trash bags make a great substitute for tarps and ponchos too.

Fire - A big part of comfort and security for shelter is fire. Fire is not optional to me in a survival situation. Can you survive without it? Absolutely, but it will be easier if you can make a fire for signaling, warmth, boiling water, light, cooking food (if you have it, or can acquire it). A couple Bic lighters make for a lot of peace of mind. I also carry a ferro rod to make sparks with my knife if the lighters get lost, or fail. (Always be responsible with fire, and make sure to clean up when you are leaving the area)

Which brings me to two other points. The first, Two is one, one is none. Gear will fail you when it’s least convenient. Have a backup for things that are necessary as much as is feasible.

The second, ALWAYS have a knife. The style is up to you, and I’ll go over some pros and cons of several, but the important lesson is you should always have a good knife with you.

Knives:
Fixed Blade - A personal favorite of mine and many outdoor and survival enthusiasts. A full tang (meaning the blade and handle are all one piece of steel) fixed blade knife is one of the most versatile and reliable tools you can carry in the woods. I carry a Gerber Prodigy every day on my belt, but I understand not everyone is in the position to do this. I also have a number of Morakniv knives that have been part of my EDC kit and remain in most of my survival bags. The are inexpensive, and while not full tang, are pretty robust. I haven’t been able to damage any of mine yet, and I’ve abused them pretty hard. If you are assembling a bag to take into the woods, a fixed blade knife is a great addition.

Locking Folding Blade - Probably one of the more popular options, at least in recent years. I’ve seen many more people carrying a small folding knife with a locking blade. I always have one on me, and usually a spare somewhere close. Lately I’ve been carrying a Spiderco that’s almost as big as my Gerber fixed blade, but for about 2 years prior to that I carried an Ozark Trail $4 folder from Walmart. Yep, $4. I wasn’t kidding when I said good didn’t have to mean expensive. I bought the $4 OT knife with the express intention of torture testing it in the real world to see what it would do. 2 years of daily use at my jobs and half a dozen camping and hunting trips and it has earned a place in my survival kit permanently. Not all cheap knives are created equal, but I can say the one I have is pretty amazing. I also have a few Gerber paraframe folders that I will trust until my last breath.

Multitool - Two schools of thought here. Leatherman or Swiss Army.

Leatherman (Gerber, SOG, etc.) style multitools are a little bigger, but tend to be a bit more robust and safer in my opinion. The blades usually lock into place, something I’ll cover more in depth in the next section. I carry a Leatherman Wave, but have owned a number of brands, most of which are comparable. Even the $15 Kobalt has not let me down yet.

Swiss Army knives are very popular, and for good reason. They are small, have a number of tools, are generally well made, and pretty inexpensive. I have carried them in the past, but have stopped keeping one on me daily for a few reasons. First, I always have my Leatherman, so a lot of the extra functions are covered. Secondly, the blades don’t lock open. Why is that a concern? Have you ever closed a very sharp knife on your fingers while trying to work on something? Now think about a survival scenario when the elements, fatigue, and stress are all making you less coordinated. They are great tools, and certainly better than not having a knife, but for me personally they are not my first choice.

First Aid Kit - This is entirely dependent on you, your travel plans, and your level of knowledge of how to use the things in your kit. I can say for sure that most first aid kits that come prepackaged are incomplete at best, and a waste of money at worst. You can find decent kits, just tailor them to your needs before sending them out in the field. The bare necessities for my kit are

  • Band aids
  • Gauze
  • Alcohol wipes
  • ACE wrap
  • Pain reliever
  • A few doses of any prescribed medication
  • Gloves, in case you are treating someone else
This is definitely an area I need to spend some time on myself, but the big point is this. Get some training, do some research, figure out what suits your needs the best, and make a kit that fits.

Light - I have a hard time seeing in the dark. I also feel a lot safer when I can see what’s around me at night for security reasons. For those reasons I always carry a flashlight. Most of my kits have a headlamp for hiking, camp tasks, or any other reasons I need to have both hands free, but there is always a flashlight on my person. You would be amazed how often it comes in handy in a day. Glow sticks are another inexpensive solution to low level lighting that lasts a long time. I keep a few in my kits for small camp tasks, and as markers if I were to get lost.

Bandana - You know the one. Usually red, paisley pattern, some regions call it a handkerchief. The amount of things you can use these little squares of cotton for are amazing. So many in fact that I’m not even going to attempt to list many. Face covering/primitive dust mask, water filter (for sediment and debris, still need a proper filter or purification system), wound covering, soak in water and tie around your neck to keep cool, wear on your head to keep sweat out of your face and bugs out of your hair. The list is endless. They weigh nothing, take up little space, and cost $1 or less, why don’t you have one already?

Signaling - Yelling takes energy, and isn’t that loud. A whistle doesn’t weigh much, and can be heard much farther away. Signal mirrors are good to have in remote areas where a plane or helicopter may be your only chance of rescue. 3 is a magic number. Three blasts of a whistle, three shots of a firearm, three fires placed in a triangle pattern. These are all signs of distress in most of the world. S.O.S. in Morse code is 3 dashes, 3 dots, 3 dashes. (- - - . . . - - -)

General knowledge that may be helpful:

  • The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, while the specifics change depending on location and time of year, that will get you a rough bearing. Moss on trees or rocks is not a reliable indicator of direction.
  • If you are lost, and someone knows roughly where you are, stop moving, stay put, and find a way to signal rescuers. You may spend more time running away from them if you don’t know where you’re going.
  • Always tell someone where you’re heading, and when you plan to return. This is one of the most important things I can mention. Even on a hike in my local state forest which is only a few square miles, I tell someone when I’m out hiking, and keep a small survival kit with me. All it takes is one broken ankle, and some bad weather to turn a day hike into a serious situation.
  • Stay hydrated. Food may seem more important, but you need water much more than food.
  • Don’t panic. Stop, assess the situation, make a plan, then start doing what needs to be done. It’s easy to lose your head and get yourself in more trouble than you would think.
  • Know when to admit something isn’t right. We all want to be confident we are right. But no one gets lost in one decision. Usually it’s a series of choices that lead to problems.
  • If you are not 100% sure you know what a plant is, don’t eat it, or even touch it if you can avoid it. Most things that are edible in nature have a poisonous counterpart that looks very similar.
  • Stay positive. Nearly anyone who has lived through a survival situation will attest that a positive mindset and good attitude will get you through nearly anything. Giving up is not an option, and you can make it through anything if you try hard enough.
I hope some of you find this helpful, and I'm sure plenty of people have things to add to this. I look forward to the conversation. To me everything above is part of the outfit in Outfit and Explore. Stay safe, and have fun out there!
 

Kent R

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Great write up! If you don't mind id like to re post on our club page. We have been working on Survival gear and hope to get into it deeper this year.

I agree with almost all of it with one exception the space blanket. For a couple of years I have listened to Brett Stofflel from Emergency Response International at the Portland Sportsman's show and his recommendation is to get rid of space blankets because they rip way to easy and cary this bag.
http://shop.eri-online.com/productpage.aspx?itemid=50

Many years ago our hunting group was in the back county of Idaho spike camped and we ran across a lost hunter who had no survival gear with him except his signaling device (Rifle). We all had Space Blankets but when they got opened up about half had the tiny holes they develop and eventually ripped.

Thanks again for the write up.
 
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Ripley1046

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Feel free Kent. I've not seen those bags, but I'll have to grab one and give it a shot. The main reason I mention those is I've used them a few times, and even in pieces they have some value in keeping me warm. That and after owning a jacket that has mylar built into the liner I can attest to what a difference it can make. I have seen some mylar blankets that are coupled with a tarp, and need to try those out as well. They don't store quite as small, but I feel like the multipurpose-ness of that outweighs the size increase.

Part of this write up too is that everything listed can be bought at Walmart, or most sporting goods stores. The best survival kit is the one you have with you when you need it, so for someone to be able to go out right now and grab a few things goes a long way.

I usually have most of the things I would need on me, but it does make for a lot of stuff. I guess I use it all enough to keep it on me though. The pic is my EDC, and that is honestly what I carry every day. I guess I'd rather have and not need than need and not have.

IMG_5521.jpg
 
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Good compilation, Ripley, and a great reminder of important items. Nicely done, man.

Morakniv is making a full tang 4.3" fixed blade knife now, the Garberg, available in Sandvik stainless or carbon blades (stainless only in the US as of this writing, carbon just released). A lot more expensive and includes a nice multi-directional sheath (right or left handed) and Molle compatible mount.

They also make a Bushcraft carbon bladed knife with sheath and firestarter for about half as much. I have both, as well as a bunch of other Morakniv blades meant for different things, and have to say I'm reaching for the full tang Garberg more and more for all 'round camping and back country use. Can't wait 'til the carbon blade version is available stateside.

Also handy for EDC or survival kits, depending largely on personal preference, are the Opinel folding knives. Many sizes available. Some are meant more for survival, like their #12 Explore, which has some interesting features. I have a bunch of Opinel, too.

Both the Moraknivs and Opinels are generally inexpensive and have legendary sharp edges. Planning on doing a write-up this winter sometime of blades like these and their uses, and your new piece is encouraging me to get on it!
 
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Ripley1046

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I have been meaning to give Opinel a shot. I’ve heard good things. For my EDC knives I prefer the stainless actually. The carbon Mora I have is a great knife, but with daily use it would get rusty fast. Never too bad, and I love the edge it holds, just didn’t do well for me daily. I have seen the garberg, and it looks great, but I have a hard time spending that much on anything, much less something I have 20 of like a knife. No doubt it’s worth it at all, I’m just cheap.

And thanks for the kind words guys. I don’t know a lot about much, but I know a little about a lot, so if it can help someone out I’m always happy to share.
 
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4xFar Adventures

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There are quality space blankets out there. The WFR class I was in last year had some that have been used for years in different scenarios. I'm not sure where they came from. The instructor is often given supplies, so she may not know the company that produced them. But, they're so small that having a few extras of them shouldn't be a burden on anyone.


Water:

I've seen a Ziplock bag full of water placed out in the sun for UV sterilization. It takes pretty intense sun, and most of the day to work.

I also remember watching an episode of Survivorman with Les Stroud where he was able to boil water in a plastic water bottle over a flame. The tricks to success were the bottle has to be hung just above, not in the flames, and the bottle cap must be on tight. This helps build the pressure inside and makes the water boil faster. Also, I believe Les used a stick to push the bottle so it would swing a little and avoid sitting in one place and get hot enough to melt the plastic. Of course you'll need to let the water cool before opening the bottle. Think about what happens if you open the coolant tank or radiator in a hot engine bay. Explosive jets of water and steam!!!

If you can build a fire, but don't have something that can take the flames (like a waxed cotton hat), you can also heat rocks in the fire and place them into your water container. The rocks will need to be swapped out until the water temp hits that magic 212*F.

Wrap plastic bags over the branches of plants with a lot of green leaves and tie the end to avoid it slipping off from the weight of the water that will collect inside.

Don't pull a Bear Grylls and just drink your own urine, or squeeze a giant elephant turd into your mouth to get water into your system! Dig a hole deep enough to place a cup or water bottle in it. Pee around the center where the bottle will be placed. Place the bottle in the center of the hole. Cover the hole with a clear plastic sheet and bury the edges (seal) all the way around. Drop a small stone on top of the sheet to make it a little concave, over the center of the bottle. As the water evaporates in the hole, it will form condensation on the underside of the plastic sheet. The stone makes a slight angle for the water to run down and drip into the bottle.

Collect morning dew on grass or metal objects with a rag and squeeze the water into your mouth. There needs to be a lot of it since the fabric will retain some of the initial moisture you collect. Avoid dirty objects that might be contaminated as a source of your water.
 

Kent R

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Im going to a talk that Brett Stoffel is putting on this week and I will ask him about sterilization, I read somewhere that you don't need to actually boil the water because once it hits 140 deg all the germs have died even the super bugs. Brett is a former Air Force pilot and directed the survival training for the air force for some time so hopefully I can get my question answered.
 
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Im going to a talk that Brett Stoffel is putting on this week and I will ask him about sterilization, I read somewhere that you don't need to actually boil the water because once it hits 140 deg all the germs have died even the super bugs. Brett is a former Air Force pilot and directed the survival training for the air force for some time so hopefully I can get my question answered.
Cool, Kent - it'll be interesting to see what he has to say.
 

Ripley1046

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I love survivorman, Les is one of the ones that got me interested in this stuff to begin with. Also Creek Stewert.

I know a lot of ways to get water, was just trying to get some basics in the article itself. Behinner’s guide if you will. I appreciate the info being in the thread though.

I’m also curious about the water temp for sterilization. I think I heard 140 at some point, but it’s always good to get an expert opinion.
 

Plisken

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I love survivorman, Les is one of the ones that got me interested in this stuff to begin with. Also Creek Stewert.

I know a lot of ways to get water, was just trying to get some basics in the article itself. Behinner’s guide if you will. I appreciate the info being in the thread though.

I’m also curious about the water temp for sterilization. I think I heard 140 at some point, but it’s always good to get an expert opinion.
One of my outdoor buddies and I refer to Les as "Hungry Hungry Les". I love the show and he provides some great info but watching him suffer from hunger for television is rather humorous ;)

Also a couple of items that should always be in your kit and considered invaluable safety items:

analog compass (as a backup if nothing else) and know how to use it
map/s

Getting lost (or injured) is what causes you to need the rest of the stuff mentioned above.
 
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Some of my personal choices of daily carry emergency items I keep wherever I go:
1. As for blades, I never travel anywhere without one kind or another.
ONE of my favorite pieces of kit is my Gerber LMF Infantry II blade. It is still as solid as the day I bought it. The reason I bought it is because it has an interrupted tang that was designed for helicopter crewman in the event they had a need to cut through live electrical wiring. Without a full tang the electrical current cannot reach the hand. There are other substantial pros to owning this blade as many knife forums will attest to.
Just a personal choice along with my custom made Gossman Neck Knife. His PSK of similar design has literally saved a man's life. These are two items in my EDC (Emergency Daily carry).
2. Next of importance is a tarp (a decent tarp), sized at about 8 ft. x 8 ft. minimum. Staying out of the wind and rain is half the battle. (A bit of rope, cord, etc. is a huge help in securing the tarp.)
3. A fire kit is absolute in staving off hypothermia even in temps as high as 70 degrees F. A means of starting a fire also needs tinder, not just the starting method. Have some dry materials to get the fire going and I always keep a bit of char cloth in my kit. It also helps to have it all stored in a water proof container or baggie.
4. A means of collecting water and some sort of container to heat the water over a fire; even a small metal cup will help. Always having a start on the water means being in the habit of drinking water regularly. So get use to carrying a bottle or two for starters.
5. A bit of food; granola or some snack bars, nuts, raisins, jerky, etc. for the energy to keep you going in an emergency. This will aid in your cognitive functions.
6. Dress for the occasional unexpected. One extra layer will be so helpful, particularly if it keeps you dry.

Mind you this is not an elaborate breakdown, but suggestions that have kept me more than comfortable in a few adverse situations. I can only say that the more you have the better. I have too much gear but the things here I would recommend as the basics.
 

4wheelspulling

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Everyone from the OP, to all that have contributed have put a lot of valuable information in this thread. I would just like to add my .02 cents. The most important survival equipment is You! Keep calm and have a clear head. Stay away from drinking alcohol and doing drugs. Another important part in setting up a survival kit is knowing how to use the items in the kit! And if you do not have the kit with you when you need it, does not matter how nice or complete the kit is. So, portability is a consideration. Benz.
 

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I’ve heard the 140 thing to however many including me default to boil in the back country because it’s an easy indicator that it is sterilized for sure. It’s hard to tell for sure if you’ve hit 140 when camping unless you carry a calibrated thermometer. It’s just easier to boil.
 
the wife & I always have BOB's with us when disperse camping, we toss them in the rear seat of the truck.
Carrying enough for 72hrs. Her 55L pack weighs in @ 27lb, mine 55L pack @ 38 lbs. Fire starting kit: 3 types of method of fire starting, water purification system w\ tablets, 6x8 plastic tarp w\ stakes, fleece blanket wrapped in a large plastic construction trash bag, first aid kit, small personal hygiene kit, 550 paracord, some bungies cord, 14" machete w\ sharpening stone, hand held 40 channel CB radio uses AA batteries, 2 walkie talkies uses AA batteries, extra AA & AAA rechargeable batteries, 16 oz water in stainless steel water bottle, 1 qt. army canteen & cup, heavy duty camp knife, 3 packets instant freeze dried coffee, stainless steel army mess kit w\ eating utensils, 3 days of Mountain House food, SOS energy bar, small solar charger that charges AA & AAA batteries, flash lights use AA batteries, head lamps that use AAA batteries, toilet paper, small roll of duct tape, insect repellent & a few other items.
001.JPG 002.JPG
 

danthman114

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heres alittle tip for deserts that have the cholla cactus. they light on fire really easy but you have to be careful to not get stuck. the dead sections that fall on the ground are about the best natural fire starter there is. it flares up like a match so have all your wood ready and MAKE SURE that all of it is in the fire pit when its light out because to step on those is a very bad day (and night).
true story: when I was in the marines me and 3 other marines went to go teach corpsmen how to shoot their m9s in more of a tactical method. this wasn't target practice type of shooting, it was shooting while moving, rolling and shooting, movement while reloading, movement while clearing malfunctions etc etc. not the phony chris costa garbage. anyway, my buddy was demonstrating from standing to shooting from his back. how it was supposed to go was from the target on his left, turn shoot 3 to 5 shots, side step, shoot, fall back onto his back and shoot while on his back, roll then shoot again then recover. he fell back on a cholla that nobody seen. he came up like a rocket. good thing the class was all corpsmen. they were pulling needles out of the stinky part of his buttcrack... needless to say all the marines with me were cracking up while his cammies were around his ankles and him spreading his cheeks so a doc could get in there with pliers... I wish I had a camera phone.
 

Stewart (Stu) Pirie

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I carry a Leatherman Wave (will get a new FREE series when they come out as I'm a gear nerd) and a Benchmade griptillian with me all the time almost (Laws in Scotland are awful in regards to blades). And a ESEE rat 4 in the woods always.
A foil blanket, lighter and ferro rod all banded together and a LED Lenser p2 as a torch.

A stainless water bottle is always nearby too (though in Scotland most water in the hills is safe to drink within reason)
Remember, boil water at a rolling boil, and add an extra minute for every 1000 feet above sea level you are.
I Always have an IFAK with CELOX, tourniquet and isreali bandage along with a boo boo kit.

And I never go far without a good jacket.
 
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