All of us pack before we go somewhere, don’t we? Whether it is a visit to our hometown, a business trip to another city or a weekend in the wilderness. It is but natural to carry along the stuff that we think we will need for the duration. Particularly for the wilderness, there are three broad packs that are essential – the Day Pack with your clothes and some bare essentials in it, the Survival Kit with the gear and equipment to face a contingency and a First Aid Kit to treat minor wounds and injuries. But, do you also pack a Personal Survival Kit?
Let us look at a typical adventure trip.
You reach the spot where you want to spend the night, drop your packs, relax awhile and set up camp. And then you probably go for a stroll to explore the area. You love the experience and lose not only track of time, but also direction. You walk up and down hill tops and through meadows and cross streams and rivulets. You then decide to turn around and something seems amiss. Is that where I came from? Or that track. You follow one or the other and soon you are walking around in circles. Finally realisation dawns … you are lost and do not know how to get back to camp. The Sun races down to the horizon and you know you have to spend the night out in the open, all by yourself. You reach for your pack and realise that you left them back at camp.
Bingo, you have a real problem on your hands.
You did prepare for your weekend adventure and carried all the gear and equipment you thought would suffice for the contingency when things went South. You were prepared for survival.
But, your Survival Kit is back at camp and you might as well have not brought it with you.
This is the reason, I always recommend carrying what is called a Personal Survival Kit or PSK. Depending on where you are going to be using it, it goes by different names. If in the city, it would probably be called the EDC or Every Day Carry. But let us stick to the wilderness for now.
In addition to your main Survival Kit, always carry a Personal Survival Kit. This contains lesser stuff than your main kit, but this is something that is ALWAYS with you. Maybe in a pouch hanging from your belt or (ideally) much of the gear distributed in your body. Let me explain.
Here is a list of items that should be a part of your Personal Survival Kit, primarily because it is much more difficult to design these from natural material:
- Knife: A good knife is a life saver and the most important item in the Kit. In fact carry TWO knives - a multitool and a larger knife, with a six to eight inch blade. Both can be hanging from your belt around your waist. Ideally drop in a folding wood saw too as part of the Kit.
- Space blanket: You need something to protect yourself from the cold. You can use a space blanket to do so. In addition it can also be used as a signalling device, as a fire reflector and you can fashion utensils out of it to boil your water in for instance. A space blanket can fit snugly in your pocket without you even noticing its presence.
- Metal water container: Metal because you can put it on a fire to boil your water in. With a nesting cup built in, you can cook your meals in it. I suspect this is one item you would carry with you in any case without a second thought!
- Fire starter: Making fire by rubbing sticks together is time consuming and energy sapping. Matchsticks get wet. Lighters fail. A ferrocerium rod will almost never fail to produce a spark, even when wet. Hang one from your neck.
- Whistle: A whistle can be used for signalling. Get a multipurpose one. One that has a compass built in. And a magnifying glass to start fires. With a hollow waterproof shell where you can keep some tinder and a small fishing kit. There are whistles that have a ferrocerium rod built in. Sacrifice aesthetics. Again, this can hang around your neck.
- Bandana and/or shemagh: It is not just to put around your head; there are a lot of uses you can put a bandana to. Filtration of water. As a sling. As binding. For bandaging. As a tourniquet. As a scarf. As an eye protector. As a signalling device. Carry a cotton, quick-drying one. This can be wrapped around your head or neck.
- A torch to help you see in the dark. A head mounted torch is better than a hand held one for obvious reasons.
- Dry bag: You can store your Personal Survival Kit in a Dry Bag to keep it dry. You can use the dry bag to store water in. You can even use it to boil water in. Talking of dry bags, put in a bunch of ziplock bags in the kit as well.
If you are thus equipped, you will have much of the stuff with you to help you spend a night (or two) in the outdoors, without the benefit of your main Survival Kit.
The wilderness is about improvisation, adaptation and innovation. Multitask your gear. For instance, carry a whistle that has a compass built in. This way you will carry less. And scavenge - even trash is useful if you know how to use it. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Almost nothing in the back country comes easy; everything takes time, effort and energy. And the trick is conservation of energy and conservation of water, including body fluids. More so when you find yourself in a self-reliant situation. You need to do whatever you need to do by expending the least amount of energy and by preserving as much of your body fluids as possible. Which is where the Personal Survival Kit becomes useful.
All these ten items will fit into a very small pouch. I suggest is that this pouch be a removable part of your Day Pack that also contains much of the other items listed in the Survival Kit section a couple of pages earlier. Make sure that the pouch is easily removable and has a mechanism whereby you can hang it from your belt.
Essentially, you have TWO Survival Kits, independent of each other. When you are day hiking, and have set up camp, you might not carry your Day Pack or Survival Kit if you are going round the corner for instance. Make it a habit to always hang the Personal Survival Kit from your belt so that you will never ever be without it.
Often, you get lost ... and therefore right into a survival situation ... when you least expect it. Walking twenty feet away from camp to explore the surrounding jungle can lead to you getting disoriented and lost. You climb a small hillock and descend down the wrong path and get lost in the process of trying to find your way back.
This is when you require your Personal Survival Kit with you - to spend the night, to purify your water, to set snares, to light a fire, to signal and to navigate.