First of all we need to talk about the difference between a survival kit and a bug-out bag.
There are so many definitions and expectations today that the meaning has become blurred. Here’s how I define a survival kit: a minimal amount of gear that you carry with you in order to survive various undesirable and unexpected situations you might find yourself in.
For example: you’re out on a day hike in a piece of forest you don’t know, but the trail is well marked. Coming back down the mountain you suddenly see a split in the trail that wasn’t visible to you on the way in and you make a wrong turn and find yourself deep in the woods with the sun going down. If you’re smart you have a small backpack with a few well thought out pieces of survival gear in it. You might be uncomfortable, but you will survive the night.
Categories of Survival Kits
EDC – During the day some people have Every Day Carry (EDC) kits, which might consist of a pocket knife, small flashlight, mini fire steel, and a few other small items you can carry in your pocket.
Altoid Tin Kit – Then there are the Altoid tin survival kits, which can contain a small amount of gear that you might keep in a coat pocket. This would contain some absolute essentials like a small lighter or firesteel, fire starting material, a flat signal mirror and small whistle, and a small flashlight. I’ll talk more about this in another post.
Hiking Pack – For hiking you might have a minimal kit that includes a compass, lighter, knife, poncho, and a few other small items in a pack. I’ll cover this in more detail in just a bit.
*Special Note: In addition to the gear you must have knowledge on how to use these items in order to survive any situation you might find yourself in.
Bug-Out Bag – A bug-out bag is a bag that you can live out of for a certain predetermined amount of time – usually 72 hours – and has everything you need for that time. Food, water, shelter, clothing, it’s all in the bag and ready to go. While this is a survival kit of sorts it’s not really what I’m talking about in this post.
First, I wanted to create the lightest Get Home Bag (GHB)/Hiking kit I could make with resources I had available in my house or could easily be purchased at a store, yet still be able to operate in a hostile environment if pushed into it. It’s important to keep in mind that my GHB is something that I use quite often, thus it doubles as a my hiking pack/survival kit.
In the past I’ve carried a lot of gear in it that usually weighs in around 25 to 30 lbs. Heavier objects include my wool blanket, military grade poncho, Solo Stove and other stuff.
A few weeks ago I hiked up a local mountain with Mrs. Jarhead. While I consider myself to be in good shape for my age I was still puffing pretty good by the time we got to the top. I pulled out my canteen and drank some water and we started back down again. And that’s all I used!
This got me thinking about how crazy it is to always tote this amount of gear around. It’s good exercise, but not real practical for doing a short day hike in the hills where I’ve been hiking for 30 years. When I sat down to evaluate exactly what it was I always used when I go for one of my short day hikes, it came out to this short list:
- Fire steel/lighter (I like using the fire steel to keep my fire starting skills sharp)
- Canteen and cup
Then I made another list of gear I use sometimes:
- Map and compass
Things I almost never used included:
- Wool blanket
- Multiple MREs
- Other misc. gear
And that was about it. So I started looking around the ‘Net and found quite a few sites dealing with survival kits. My research ultimately took me to Dave Canterbury’s site where he talks about the 10 C’s of survival.
What I like about this list is that it’s basically a list of categories and he leaves it up to you to decide how to fill that category. That means you can use gear that you like and are comfortable with instead of being told to buy something you might not know how to use or don’t like.
Check out his site for the detailed explanation of his survival gear. Right now I’m going to present his list and show you what I came up with and how much it weighed at the end. Again, this is coming straight from Dave Canterbury’s excellent web site.
(1) Cutting Tool:
(9) Cargo Tape:
(10) Canvas Needle:
First, you need a pack. Since I still have some of the MARPAT assault packs kicking around (you can still buy one here) I used one of those. (The linked page talks about the packs, but provides links to the store if you want one.)
Here’s the gear I added to my pack to cover each category in the above list.
For a cutting tool I added my Ka-Bar Becker BK2 survival knife. It’s heavy, which is good for chopping and it’s sharp, and it’s super duty tough. Maybe not the best choice for creating a light-weight kit, but I wanted something reliable and this was it.
For combustion I threw in a lighter and my firesteel. I like redundancy.
I’ve been struggling with the cover. At first I added just an emergency blanket, then I gave in and threw in my lightweight poncho as well. I’m still mulling this over though. I’ve also got a contractor bag in there to take up any slack.
For a container I used the water bottle and cup combination you can order off Dave’s site. It’s consists of a canteen cover, steel water bottle, steel cup, and a small stove ring that you can put in a fire. (In case you’re wondering I’m not getting any kickback from Dave’s site. It’s a product I bought and use and I like it a lot.)
Cordage was obviously paracord.
Candle – I used a small flashlight and an actual candle for this category. The candle is one of those eight hour candles and the flashlight is a small, but powerful handheld. I’ll probably change this over to a headlamp in the near future.
For a compass I used the small racing compass I got awhile back. This is an excellent compass that I like quite a bit.
Cargo tape – I bought a roll of camo duct tape for my pack. I’ve only used it in the field a few times, but I can see how it would have a lot of utility. I’ll probably take the cargo tape off the cardboard roll to make it a little smaller.
Canvas Needle – for this I had to buy a small kit of needles. They weigh next to nothing so I threw the whole kit into my pack.
Since this kit is also used for hiking and fooling around out in the woods I also added a titanium spork and a few other small pieces of gear plus some light food items.
Total weight of the pack is under 15 lbs and that’s with a full water bottle. Using the above model I was able to cut my pack weight in half and man, does it feel good!
Another upside is that it leaves a lot of room in the pack and if I decide to throw in a hat and gloves, or whatever, there’s no issue of trying to move stuff around or pack it tighter to get everything in.
I still have a “Go” bag set up like my heavier kit, but my hiking/survival kit is now much lighter. None of the gear in it (except maybe the spork) would be considered ultra-light, but that wasn’t the p0int of this exercise. I was able to take equipment already on-hand and turn it into a light-weight hiking bag/survival kit.
Now I need to give it a real test and take it out in the woods for an overnighter. It’s getting cold up here in Maine now – down to 32 F. the other night – so a big part of keeping warm will be using wilderness experience to make a good shelter, get a proper fire going, and use the tools in this kit to maximum advantage. Surviving shouldn’t be a problem, but can I stay comfortable while doing it?
That remains to be seen.
It’s my opinion that a survival kit should be tested before you really need it to see if everything really works. If you decide to set something like this up make sure you take it out in the woods and try it out.
Now tell me about your light-weight bug-out bag or survival kit!
Sound off below!