The purpose of a survival kit in this type of situation is to keep you alive and help you attract the attention of rescuers.
With these goals in mind, the suggested kit has options for spending money on proprietary equipment and options for home equipment that are just as effective but, in these days of credit crunch, cheaper or free. I am going to describe a generic all-weather survival kit; obviously use your own common sense if you are planning to go somewhere ‘extreme’; the Sahara and the Arctic will require different approaches for a North American wilderness camping trip or a charity hike along the ‘Freedom Trail’ through the Pyrenees
First of all, let’s look at the kit to get attention.
1. An emergency battery / charger for your mobile phone is worth considering. Remember if you pack one to update it every time you update your mobile. You can’t make them yourself (unless you’re an electronics engineer), but there are plenty of inexpensive generic models even before the standardization of charger plugs, which expires in 2011.
2. It is always worth having a signaling mirror, which will “carry” over several kilometers, even in low light conditions. DO NOT get a mirror glass, they break too easily. Get a steel one, if you want to go for the homemade option you can use a sheet of metal (or the inside of the lid from your survival kit if you are using a can). Rub with valve polishing compound or automatic color restorer to achieve a mirror polish.
3. High visibility tape is great for creating words (HELP or SOS) or for making address markers. It is available at hardware stores and builders dealers.
4. Oddly enough, a brightly colored kite, shaped like a modern parachute, is also a good way to attract attention in rural areas. Most toy and gadget stores sell ‘pocket’ kites for a few dollars that squash very small and are therefore perfect for a survival kit.
5. Smoke also attracts attention well, so it is necessary to have equipment to make fire AND to know what fuels produce good smoke; Straw and damp leaves make good smoke, as do many plastics. It doesn’t matter if the smoke is black or white, as long as it is thick enough to be seen.
Okay, now let’s look at the things that are worth taking to keep you alive; you need heat, water and first aid
6. Fire will help keep you warm and perhaps help you eat, purify water, and attract attention. You need to have something to start a fire and the simplest option is to pack a disposable lighter! Yes, it is a bit non-purist, but when you try to survive you can abandon your principles. If you want to be more “authentic”, you can opt for weather resistant matches; Make yours using non-safety matches and dip the head and top 1/4-inch in melted candle wax. You can also get a ‘flint and steel’ at almost every camping tent if you really want to go for the caveman survival approach. One of these will last several years longer than a disposable gas lighter, so if you’re going to end up stranded on a desert island, it’s a good bet! Getting a spark is only half the battle, you need something that starts to burn fast and hot, unless you learn all about shaved birch bark and can dust off, the best and simplest is lighter fluid. Sometimes you can buy small gummy capsules of lighter fluid that you can spray over your main fuel for a quick-start fire, failing that a small lighter fluid spray. A tampon compresses cotton very much, which, when removed, can also be used as tinder.
7. Must be able to collect and transport water, and must be able to purify it for drinking. A couple of standard party balloons are great water carriers, especially if you also pack a couple of those clips that you use in freezer bags to seal them (tying a knot at the top of a balloon is fine, but knots in the rubber of the balloon are almost imperceptible). Impossible to untie!) Some people think condoms are better, but they have two distinct disadvantages; First, they are more expensive, and second, they tend to come with spermicide or lubricant that spoils the taste of drinking water. Purification tablets can be purchased from most camp stores or even in a purification straw, although they are still quite expensive. You can also boil water in the can of your survival kit to sterilize it. A thin polyethylene sheet about two feet square will allow you to collect rainwater or make a ‘survival alembic’; An emergency rain cover of the kind often included in hotel guest packages is the solution.
8. In terms of first aid, I would recommend taking a short course NOW, even if you only buy a DVD for a couple of dollars and take an hour to watch it; You never know when you will want to save the life of your spouse, partner or descendants at home, never mind in the boonies! In your survival kit, pack needles and thread (this is a first aid essential, as well as an essential repair for clothing), add a small collection of plasters and a small layer of disinfectant, let’s face it, it might help if someone listens to you. scream as you apply it to your blisters, cuts or scrapes. It is also worth adding a small pair of tweezers to remove pitting or debris from the wounds. The tampon mentioned above in point 6 can also be used as a cotton pad on small wounds or, in the case of a puncture wound, it can be inserted whole to stop blood loss. Some sugar cubes or sachets and salt sachets from any take out store are vital to replace your body’s losses if you have diarrhea.
9. There are a few different things that may be worth having as well.
a) a small guide to useful things like morse code, first aid, building a survival alembic, building a shelter. Make one up, cut it down to the smallest type you can, and print it on the thinnest paper.
b) a magnifying glass. This can be one of those flat plastics, credit card style; They are small and light, you can use it to read the guide in a) above, to focus the sun’s rays to start a fire or to detect bites, spikes and serious injuries. These are often available as gifts at opticians and bookstores, alternatively a small glass from a toy store will do just fine.
c) a knife; I’m not talking about a WWII Rambo / Crocodile Dundee type knife, but something sharp that will fit in the kit. You want the kind of thing that you can cut strings with or shave off the bark to light up instead of something to cut down a tree. A single-edged razor blade or a short vegetable knife with the handle cut off is perfect.
d) a wire saw to cut firewood and shelter brackets, slats and stretch bars.
e) about 20 feet of very fine nylon thread. You are not going down the cliffs with it, you want it to make a shelter, a splint, a trap or to replace your boot laces.
f) one of those tiny coin-sized keychain torches, especially one with a red LED, you can usually get them at gas stations for a couple of bucks
You will notice that there is no compass … the best thing you can do in a survival situation like this is to stay where you are and draw attention to yourself. A compass is of little value if you don’t have a map or don’t know where you are on the map. If you remember to look at the map before you leave, and you know, for example, that wherever you are you can head south and hit a main road, then a compass is helpful.
Lastly … don’t keep this in your backpack, bike bag or canoe compartment … keep it in your pocket, preferably a trouser pocket; That way, if you lose everything else, you still have your survival kit, and let’s face it, that’s when you’ve lost everything else that you really need it.