Let’s talk about each
of these priorities individually.
Security: Safety and protection from predators, either two legged or four. Safety also from natural disasters such as wildfire, storms, earthquakes, etc. Consider the tools needed for the job.
Shelter: Since we are speaking of this in the context of the Survival Rucksack, in my opinion, your shelter needs to be the kind carried on your back. Remember the tortoise? So what to carry?
My first choice is the Bivvy Sack. It should be made out of Gore Tex or some other high quality breathable material. The Bivvy sack (or bag) is nothing but a large envelope of breathable, waterproof material that zips up with you, your sleeping bag and hopefully some room left for your gear. I have slept in very rainy weather inside a good Bivvy, all the while staying warm and dry. The U.S. Military has been using them for some time now and they are available on the surplus market in new and used excellent condition.
Second choice, I would consider a good one man tent; a rugged one that is light weight. The problem here is that these can get quite pricey and are still heavier than a Bivvy or lightweight nylon tarp shelter.
My third choice shelter is an oversized poncho like tarp at least 7’ X 9’ in a drab color. I prefer a rip stop nylon material with several grommets around the edges and loops for suspending it from a tree. There is one available from some of the outdoor catalog companies called the SAS Shelter. Be sure to require that it is the authentic item. This is a reasonably priced item and it gives you a better field of view of your surrounding area than a tent.
Water: Real simple. To carry only 1 quart of water is folly. You need to carry an absolute minimum of two quarts; but a more realistic quantity is up to 4 quarts. I repeat, 2 quarts of water is the absolute minimum that should be carried by an adult. Two additional 1 quart canteens or a lightweight 2 quart jungle canteen can be carried empty when you are in an area that has ample water and filled as needed in drier areas. Water rehydration bladders are all the rage these days and they do work well, but they are a bit fragile. I would not rely on them solely as they are easy to puncture. Also keep in mind it is very easy for an adult to go through 4 quarts of water a day when carrying a rucksack in warm weather.
Food: Food is your final priority, but it is as important as any of the others; you can’t live without it, and it is the one hardest to replace. I know all the Rambo’s out there are laughing now, but trust me, food is harder to acquire than you might think. “ I’ll just kill me a deer or a bar”, Okay, but see how far Bambi goes when everyone out there has the same idea. I have hunted the High Sierras on several occasions and sometimes the only thing I saw were Chipmunks. Maybe I’m just a poor hunter.
I have taught survival in the Army and I have rarely seen anyone put on weight on one of these outings unless they had smuggled in a gas mask carrier full of Hershey bars. The best answer I know of is to carry as much high calorie, high protein, light weight food as you can manage. Of course, if you had a stash under a rock someplace that would be great, but then you would not need your rucksack would you. Always remember Murphy,s Law. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. On your back is where you want your food.
Now about the food. Question: How much food do I need in my rucksack?.
Answer: How long do you want to live? Pretty simple when you look at it that way.
I realize you can’t carry a one year supply of food around on your back, but if you carried the right kind you could carry: 3, 5, 10 or even 15 days worth without too much trouble.
Question: How many calories per day do I need?
Answer: You should plan on around 2000-3000 calories per day, depending on your activity. 2000 calories is probably plenty if you are hunkered down and not doing much. If you are beating the bush, carrying your rucksack, you can easily consume 3000 calories or more a day.
This of course is in mild weather. If you are in a very cold environment, you can easily add a third to a half more calories for the same period.
Remember, we are not talking weight watchers here. You want calories, that means fats, carbs and protein.
Weight, how much does this stuff weigh?
What type of food should I have in my Survival Rucksack?
Answer: The kind that keeps you going! This is usually Military type food. There are basically three types that will do a good job. They are: Freeze Dried, Dehydrated and flexible pouch (MRE type). There are also canned rations, which due to their bulk, weight and short shelf life are hardly worth considering.
The lightest to carry are Freeze Dried, (containing approximately 2-3 % moisture) and are easily the best tasting.
Dehydrated (containing approximately 5-10 % moisture).
Commercial “dried” (containing approximately 20% moisture) is another choice, but has a short shelf life.
MRE type foods are much heavier that the Freeze Dried or Dehydrated (usually about three times heavier).
Canned foods are even heavier than MREs.
Each type of food has its own unique qualities.
Freeze Dried normally tastes better and has the best storage life. Average preparation time for a Freeze Dried meal including heating water is around 20 minutes.
Dehydrated: Taste is not usually as good, but vegetables and pastas can be quite decent. Keeps well if in an oxygen free package. Average time to prepare a full meal including heating water is about 60 minutes.
MREs: Much heavier than Freeze Dried or Dehydrated but is the quickest of all to prepare. Just tear the envelope open and gobble it down. Taste generally considered fair (C - ). Short shelf life if stored in a hot environment.
Canned Food: Normally the least desirable from the stand point of weight and nutrition, even heavier than MREs. Very quick to open and serve (be sure you have a good can opener). Shelf life (about 1-2 years tops) is normally the shortest of any of the above listed foods. Very sensitive to heat.
Some myths exposed: A common myth is that MREs contain 3500 to 4500 calories each. Not so, an MRE contains approximately 1300 – 1500 calories, depending upon the menu. The misconception comes from the term “ration”, which is construed to mean one meal. The historical term “ration” as used by the military normally means “one day food supply”, hence the misunderstanding concerning calorie count. The truth is, two complete MREs in temperate weather will usually keep a man going pretty well for a full day.
Field strip your MREs: Get rid of the cardboard boxes they put everything in. Take out the things you don’t need. Example, the Tabasco sauce they put in almost every meal. The gum, tea, and the other things you usually won’t use. By doing this you will reduce the size to the point that you can put two meals into one MRE bag and save considerable weight in doing so.
Shelf life of MREs: The U.S. Army conducted extensive testing on the shelf life of MREs. They deemed them “acceptable”, for 130 months (over 10 years) when stored at a constant 60 degrees, which means they will sustain a soldier in a field environment, but they found that the MRE failed after just 6 months (that’s right 6 months) when stored at a constant 120 degrees. Now you say you will not store your MREs at 120 degrees. That’s right, but at a constant 80 degrees, they were only good for about 5 years. The point is, MREs are very sensitive to heat, so be careful where you store them. Automobile trunks, attics and garages are not good places for them. A few years ago I received a memo through official military channels that convalescing medical patients were not to be fed MREs under any circumstances, go figure.
Shelf life on Freeze Dried Foods: These are the best by far of any of the foods. They are far less affected by heat than the other foods and can last for several decades when stored properly.
In 1976 I packed a 55 gallon barrel full of Freeze Dried Foods for an expedition up Mt. Ararat in search of a large boat. The food was never shipped, as the intended user was not able to get clearance for his fourth ascent (the local communists did not care much for Christians.) I have dragged that barrel around for over a quarter of a century now, opening it every couple of years to supply pack trips and the food is still excellent. If you ever want to hear the rest of the story email me at: email@example.com
Weights of: Food:
Fresh: About three pounds per day
MRE: About 2 pounds plus per day
Freeze Dried: About 1 pound per day
Dehydrated: About 1 pound per day
Dried: About 1 to 1 -1/2 pounds per day
Question: What is a good mix of the different types of food to carry in my pack, i.e. freeze dried to MRE, etc.
I like a mix of about 80% Freeze Dried with some dehydrated foods to 20% field stripped MRE items. Using this formula I can carry 15 days of food weighing in around 17-19 pounds.
The stuff that goes into your Survival Pack:
1 roll consisting of 1 undershirt, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of heavy boot socks
1 extra pair of socks (total of 2 pairs of socks)
Hat or cap
Gloves or glove liners for cold weather
6 empty plastic MRE bags or other strong plastic bags of like size
Vitamins, minimum 30 days worth
Prescriptions, minimum 30 days worth
Toiletries: tooth brush (cut down), small tube of toothpaste (1/2oz), dental floss, soap
Toilet paper (very important), 1 roll divided up into three separate bundles in MRE bags
Bivvy bag, tent or tarp
Sleeping mat (preferably self inflating)
Jacket with cold weather liner or sweater
Water Purification Filter (capable of filtering to less than 1/2 micron)
Pouch containing: 1oz plastic bottle of liquid dishwashing soap, small scrubbing pad
Tube of military bug repellent, pain medication,
550 cord (parachute cord), minimum of 30’
2 quart jungle canteen or equivalent
Nail clippers (small)
Harness or vest
1 – 3 days of food
2 Military canteens, canteen cups and carriers
Butt pack if compatible with rucksack, if not, attached to rucksack
Survival kit carried on harness or in butt pack
Survival kit with: Fire starting materials, snare kit, water purification tablets, signal mirror.Now divide your equipment into three piles:
Pile # 1 Must have (mission essential, totally necessary)
Pile # 2 Nice to have but not totally necessary
Pile # 3 Not needed (non mission essential)
After throwing out pile #3 (that goes back in your closet) load pile
#1 into your rucksack along with pile #2, put rucksack on and see if
you can stand up. If not, continue taking items out of pile # 2 until
you arrive at a manageable weight. Now go out and walk around the neighborhood.
Come home and continue taking stuff out of pile # 2 until you think
you have it right (you’re getting the picture now). When you
can walk at a brisk pace for 4 – 5 miles wearing your rucksack
and it is not killing you, you are well on your way to becoming a bona
Loading your rucksack: In general.
Keep the load close to your back – heaviest items forward and high.
Weight of the rucksack and personal gear.
This is an individual matter, but generally the entire weight of your equipment should not exceed one fourth to one third of your total body weight. With practice you will probably find yourself
exceeding these weights, but be careful. With much training, specialized soldiers often carry from one half to more than their own body weight, but this is not recommended for the average mortal.
Once you have become fully infected by the “ruckers disease” you must be careful as you may become exposed to and infected by “The Crazy B**tard’s Disease“, also known as the “Ultra light
or minimalist backpackers infection” I used to have the disease and felt I had recovered from it by getting old. Worked really good for a while!
You have all seen these lunatics, usually running up mountain trails half naked, cursing the old folks (anyone over 35) for not getting out of their way fast enough, bota bag slung over their
shoulder now only about 1/2 full and carrying what you would think was only a day pack. Actually they have everything needed (except enough wine) for at least a few days while usually keeping
the weight to about 20 pounds or so.
I ran across one of these nut jobs recently; turns out he’s on my county SAR team. I thought I had fully recovered from the disease but it seams it lays dormant in the host until the death of
said host. After only one evening with this guy, I found I had been hopelessly reinfected by the “Crazy Bastard’s Disease” and have not been right since. I realized the severity of the reinfection
a couple weeks ago when I was cutting and trimming all the extra weight off my ALICE Pack and web gear. That was not the scary part, the scary part was when I found myself running into the
kitchen and weighing all the stuff I had just cut off; all 5 1/2 ounces.
WWWF: No, this is not World Wide Wrestling Federation, it is my own little acronym for Weapon,Web gear, Water, and Food. These are also the first things you pick up in case of emergency.
If this helps you to remember these things, then use it. This acronym describes those items
normally carried on a harness called web gear, LBE (load bearing equipment) or LBV (load bearing vest). I believe the combined weight of this gear should not exceed 25-30 lbs.
Conditioning Hikes: Warning, be sure to check with your doctor before doing this.
It’s a very good idea to get yourself in condition by using your pack, should you ever need it for it’s intended purpose. It is great exercise that can pay you big dividends while you train. Some of my most pleasant times are spent hiking at a brisk pace (and some times just strolling) with my pack down some of the local trails beside the old irrigation ditch.
A good standard to use for conditioning hikes is the one used by the U.S. Army: The Army Forced March
This is a very brisk walk that maintains a pace of 4 miles per hour. When you get up to that pace and can keep it up for 5 – 7 miles with a 35 lb pack on your back you can consider yourself to be in very good condition; probably better than 95% of the civilian population out there.
The Army considers 3 – 4 times a week to be ideal, with at least one workout to be on the light side.
Be sure to consult your doctor before you undertake such an exercise program.
As a side note, 35 years ago the forced march was 5 miles per hour with full gear. You had to run part of the way to keep up the pace.
They used to tell us “no pain – no gain”. Well, I’m here to tell you it does not need to be that way. Regularity and consistency in your workouts is the key and by the way, if you keep to it you should find that the term workout will change to “play out”, I can almost guarantee it. In addition to this, the confidence you will gain in knowing you can survive will in itself more than compensate for the energy
Remember what farmers say about machinery. A good machine will rust out long before it wears out. Keep the rust off! Now go do it! - FDG
e-mail: Freezedryguy@lanset.com, Copyright 2003.