Raw Survival – Pick Your Most Important Piece Of Survival Gear

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you know I love outdoor related survival stuff.  I’ve learned a lot from reader’s comments on this subject, which is one of the reasons I like to write about it.  Everybody has their own experiences with camping, hiking, hunting, or just doing short day hikes on trails.

Everybody who goes outside for any length of time should have a small kit and/or a large amount of survival knowledge because no one knows when TS will HTF.  You might get lost, fall and break an ankle, or whatever.

One recent comment that got me thinking was that they’d choose a metal pot over a knife because sharp edges can be manufactured in the field.  Excellent point!  That’s the kind of thing I like to sit and think about.

In the interest of gaining more viewpoints about survival camping gear I offer the following scenario and pose a question.  Here goes:

It is fall in Maine (my scenario – my state) and you’re canoeing down a river in Northern Aroostook County.  You’re thirty miles up river from the nearest town (that you’re aware of.)  Night time temps are anywhere from 15 to 30 degrees and the water is cold and it’s forecast to rain and snow over the next day or so, although it’s clear and sunny at the moment. Your well stocked canoe tips over and you plunge into the icy water.  You emerge from the water uninjured, but you’re cold and wet and hypothermia is threatening.

You’re well dressed for the outside.  Wool socks and heavy boots, warm underwear and heavy pants, a thermal undershirt, wool sweater, and a warm jacket, plus wool hat and a warm pair of gloves.

The canoe goes down the river without you, but you’re able to salvage three pieces of gear in addition to your warm clothing.  Only three.

What three pieces of gear would you want to survive?

Here’s what I would choose, but I’d love to hear what you have to say.

1.  Knife – Becker Campanion campanion

2.  Fire Steel   firesteel

3.  Military Poncho poncho


Here’s my reasoning:  I’ll use the knife and fire steel to get a fire going and dry out my clothing.  The poncho can be used as protection from the rain (the purpose a poncho was originally designed for), to catch rain water for drinking, and to provide shelter when I stop at night – both for me and the fire I’ll start.

I’m going to try and walk out by heading down river.  You could probably walk out in a day and a half if everything was perfect, but this the Northern Maine wilderness and I’ll be happy to make ten miles a day.

There’s my choices and reasoning.  What gear do you want?

-Jarhead Survivor

18 comments… add one
  • Prepared N.D. November 30, 2011, 9:12 am

    I agree with the knife, fire steel, and poncho.

    However. What if you replaced the military poncho with a hooded space blanket?

    It’s reflective so you can use a smaller fire or no fire at all if you can get dry. It weighs a little less than the military poncho and probably isn’t as durable. It could be used for signalling.

    I’ve never tried one of these, but people claim to have used these as tarps, ground covers, etc repeatedly with no tearing. It might be worth looking into.

  • Spook45 November 30, 2011, 9:18 am

    Simple enough, BIG SHARP KNIFE. Gmme a panco liner and a big sharp knife, I take you to hell and back.

  • Joe November 30, 2011, 10:00 am

    I might be tempted to take some food instead of the knife. If I have to hike 30 miles in rain & snow, I will need calories. That hike could take several days & maybe a week or even more if problems or Murphy shows up. If I have a poncho for shelter & water gathering, an ability to make fire easy- a knife would be great to have, but calories are whats needed. If there was a small bag of food & that was one piece of gear that could be taken- then that’s what I would take. I would try to make some sort of spear & knife with whatever materials I find.

  • Waif November 30, 2011, 10:02 am

    I agree with Knife & Firesteel (Both live in my pocket EDC)
    While I can agree with both the Poncho & Space blanket, I have a space sleeping bag ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/SPACE-BLANKET-SURVIVAL-SLEEPING-EMERGENCIES/dp/B00331Q90S ) Not a Versatile as the Blanket but will work better at Keeping warm without Drafts

    Knife, Fire steel, Space Blanket/Bag

  • Foster November 30, 2011, 10:38 am

    Good choices for just about anywhere. They would be my top pick as well.

  • Carl November 30, 2011, 10:46 am

    I have an army surplus rain poncho. It is absolutely water proof, has a Hood and can be used as a pup tent. I wish I could find another one.

    My survival knife has a fire starter in the pockets on the sheith as well as a compass, wood cutter cable and a few other items. The knife itself has some tools integrated like a hammer and saraded edge.

    I would also like to add a couple of energy bars to my list..

    Does all this count as 3?


  • R.C. November 30, 2011, 11:21 am

    The knife and the firestarter for certain.

    I am torn between some type of pot to boil water in or a compass.

    My reason for either and not your poncho idea is thus:

    #1You were in a river, plenty of water nearby, poncho wouldn’t be needed for water collection.

    #2 – sure, you can keep the rain off, but as you suggested, you’d start a fire to dry out. You can build plenty of lean-to’s to keep the rain off as you dry out.

    #3 – if you’re familiar with the area, a compass may not be needed, hopefully you know where the sun rises and sets and can navigate from there, but at least with having a compass you have some sense of direction.

    Just my personal thoughts. Good scenario.

  • KEVIN November 30, 2011, 12:14 pm

    you pretty much called it

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. November 30, 2011, 2:02 pm

    Bug net for our area, you cannot get a good nights sleep outside without it, you will slap and scratch all night, meaning next day will be miserable. Unless you are traveling at night and sleeping during day, its a necessity to stay rested as possible.

    Pot or cooking container – yep, our area has very little natural water sources to gather from, so its precious, you need a container of some sort.

    A knife – yep, that or a sturdy Leatherman tool like a Wave or Surge, some toolage makes life easier to make or fix things.

    Good thread.

  • PrimalCane November 30, 2011, 2:10 pm

    I would grab my RAT3, Gobspark, and titanium cup, I have paracord on the knife and gobspark, along with a tinder cache in a film canister on the gobspark, do I get to keep those cheats as well? I am actually looking to cram a fire kit in an Altoids can or something because the fire steel is nice but why don’t you jump in the water like you said and see how your motor skills are with hypothermia setting in. I think some storm matches and a cotton ball smothered in Vaseline or neosporin would be worth their weight in lithium.


  • Zoomer November 30, 2011, 9:08 pm

    Uh….I need the C’s, cover (poncho), cut (knife), combustion (fire-making), container (hold water) at a minimum. There are other important C’s.

    But I want to offer one of the most important ones….communication. Give me a knife, poncho, and an EPIRB and within a couple of hours of being back to civilization I’ll be fit and ready to come search for your frozen, famished bodies.

  • Michael November 30, 2011, 9:15 pm

    Cell phone?

  • Nor' Country November 30, 2011, 9:40 pm

    Nothing wrong with the knife, but I would choose an axe…

    The “pre-incident” weight is not an issue since you are traveling by canoe, so you don’t have to carry it in a pack or on a belt.

    It may be a bit heavier to pack in “post-incident” if you decide to chance a hike to the town 30 miles away, but it is easier to build shelters with and to split the wood you would be burning for the fire…

  • irishdutchuncle November 30, 2011, 11:41 pm

    i would have probably gone into cardiac arrest the moment i hit that cold water.

    since i’m not a great swimmer, i would have been wearing a life jacket, instead of my “day hike bag”/ man purse, that i bring on all my “wilderness adventures”. (the swiss army knife, fire-steel, plastic poncho, compass, signal mirror, whistle and mylar blanket are already in my coat pockets, along with a head mountable flashlight) losing that bag would make me profoundly unhappy, and make spending the night in the woods very unpleasant.

    since i don’t worry any more what other people think about me, i would have kept the bag tied to myself, while in the canoe. (of course, if the bag was open when the canoe flipped, i guess i’d still lose most of my gear…)

  • lacttech December 1, 2011, 4:49 am

    Great scenario.
    If I were in Maine, it would mean we were on vacation. Top 3 priorities: Son #1, Son#2, and hope like heck the things I normally carry in my pocket (small knife, lighter, cell phone) didn’t fall out.

  • john December 1, 2011, 5:38 am

    I would have planned to take a knife with a fire steel, but, to separate it out then a

    1 – knife
    2- fire steel
    3 -hatchet/ small axe

    because the fire would be the 1st order of business, as quick as possible, and then a shelter using a minimum amount of effort, and a then a walking stick/weapon.

    To build a fire that will keep you warm all night at 15 degrees, you need more wood then you want to try finding by picking up loose branches on the forest floor.

    In that part of Maine you want to find a fallen tree, off the ground and propped up on another tree or log, hopefully a white birch or scrub oak. That is the firewood tree, hack off branches and get a fire going ASAP.

    Then dry the clothes, while they are drying, find a young fir tree, hack the lower branches off, use them and saplings to build a shelter against the trunk, make a bed, and a fire pit if the ground is not too frozen. That part of Maine you should be able to find field stones without returning to the water, to build a pit above ground.

    Then I would get more stones and line the fire pit with them to use as a bed and foot warmer. You can also use a stack of them to dry bark you want to use for kindling, especially if you were not fortunate to find any river or white birch within your immediate area.

    I would soak my socks in water and hang them by the fire to heat up the water before I drank it.

    It gets dark at five, so, that would be enough work for the rest of the day before I attempted the walk out.

  • extremesgs December 1, 2011, 6:37 pm

    Hell, I’ve BEEN up there! :-)

    My instant thought was my LMF knife, but then quickly went to axe… for the reasons stated. One thought was, i can use th eknife as a spear point. But… i can make 100 spears with one axe.

    I’d grab my magnesium fire started- striker on one side, the rest magnesium. I like knowing that i’m getting a good start to the fire :-)

    Lastly… hmmm…. i’d fight the urge to grab my file to sharpen the axe (use a proper stone), and would grab my spool (hey, i’m in a canoe!) of 550 para cord.

    Being comfortable out in the woods, and a low breaking point with frustration, if I knew i’d be out there a while, or had no clue how long a walk to “people” then i would be more likely to set up camp and wait to be found.

    When you find me, i may only have a tricked out lean-to, deer roasting on the spit, and a slew of pine cone instruments set up….. or if its a LONG time, I may have time to get the two-story north woods condo set up!

    Seriously though… great scenario, and there’s applicable carry-over: think about what you have ON you (in your pockets, on a “necklace” etc) in case you’re stuck with only yourself and no bag, pack, or ability to grab anything.

  • izzy December 5, 2011, 4:18 am

    I end up agreeeing:
    1. A reflective heavy duty tarp w/ties in this case (i.e, you planned to get dumped and stranded provisionless. Though generally a poncho w/twine if completely unprepared for dumping scenario).
    2. Firestarter (Burn a bit of anything as tinder- one guy in this real-life scenario started a fire with cellophane) .
    3, Pocketknife (so you can shave wood, cut boughs, etc).

    But with all due respect to the classics (poncho, knife, firestarter) – add a PLASTIC BAG. If I’m in a boat, I’d hope I do the common-sense thing and bring a heavy-duty waterproof bag before I even get in!

    My better-than-nothing-EDC = heavy-duty oven ziploc bag (emergency water gather), cotton gauze pads (first aid/tinder), aluminum foil (cup/pot), braided sang twine, safety pins, zippo, 2 instant heat paks, snack bar, cough drops, inadequate emergency poncho, and emergency better-than-absolutely-nothing blanket (Ever huddled under a mylar balloon for warmth? Emergency blankets are like that. Try it for an hour).

    When I kayak I carry a small ziploc bag in my inside chest pocket, it usually has my cellphone/cash in it and my keys (firestarter /flashlight /pocketknife w/saw) .
    If by the grace of God I manage to grab a daypack before going over, it oughta have a garbage bag tied shut with fleece/down coat/blanket/ultralight sleeping bag (any survivalist reviews out there of ultrasmall hi-tech sleeping bags?), long undies & socks, 2 snack bars, Zippo, and sterno/whatever (okay I’m still behind on the latest quick fuel). For quick shelter, I could crawl inside garbage bag – or add a bivvy bag/tube tent/poncho – but if I have room for that, a reflective tarp/hammock/ultralight tent packs as small but much warmer).

    But just 3 items… hmmm…

    Hopefully you didn’t need to lose your heavy boots/pants in order to swim to shore. At this point odds are you are already in hypothermia. You will be sapped of energy and shaking uncontrollably, almost too bad to function by the time you remove your clothes (yes you do have to take them off. yes, unfortunately.) Need shelter immediately while drying, without effort. Surviving the first 24 hours is the trick. Then if only 3 days from town, water not till day 2-3, assume you’re rescued prior to any potential waterborne illness. Food not till a few days to week. Though food or anything else to keep warm while drying clothes would be nice. At hand is running/drip water, evergreens, timber, fish? (Still no large carnivorous wildlife in that part of Maine?)

    So – If you said a bag didn’t count, I’d add a Ziploc bag w/ fuel or a garbage bag with ultrasmall sleeping bag in it . (Then I’d try to sneak a snack bar in the bag.)

    Ziploc bags and garbage bags – pioneers would’ve used plastic bags if they had ’em. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this scenario. In most emergencies you’re not heroic and full of energy, but cold/wet/semiconscious/inadequately clothed. That’s the test..


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