Field Gear on a Shoestring Budget: Ten Project Examples, by George S.

The following are some hopefully useful field expedients, substitutes and spares, all of which can be had for a buck to about ten bucks each:

#1: Drywall Saw: if you don’t have one of those all-purpose $49.95 survival knives or field shovels from Gerber or Glock with the accessory root saw, or you’ve found that the finger-length saw blade on a Swiss Army folder leaves a lot to be desired when cutting a 2×6 [board] down to size? A bow saw or flexible survival kit saw are a couple of possible candidates that may be up to the task, but so too is an inexpensive drywall “stab” saw. The blade on the one I got for a buck in the closeout tool bin at my local Big Box store hardware department has a blade just a smidgen under 7 inches long and saw teeth that cut on the push stroke on one edge and reversed teeth that work on the draw stroke on the other. It also has a sharp enough tip on the blade point to poke through drywall or thin wood paneling, hence the term “stab” saw.

The handle on mine, made/distributed under the GreatNeck brand, P/N 4932, is hard plastic and black rubber, comfortable enough to use for repeat cutting. Though that handle included a molded-in flap pierced for a lanyard or hang cord, the handle itself is stout enough to be drilled at the butt end for a hole for a wrist lanyard or dummy cord. So I modified mine to eliminate any chance of the cord tearing through the molded flap. I also did a little reshaping of the handle on my saw with a file to get it to better fit my hand, so there is enough material molded around the blade at the handle end for personal modification to suit.

In addition to the obvious uses for field carpentry, mine’s proved useful on the rib cage and pelvic bones when field dressing whitetail deer. There are certainly other times in the woods when a nice quiet saw is to be preferred to noisier if sometimes quicker tools like machetes or hatchets, as well as being lighter in weight. A drywall saw is easily carried in a homemade or improvised leather or nylon web belt sheath, or a short length of metal tubing can be squashed flat and the saw blade inserted, both for protection for the blade from other residents in a toolbox and to keep the saw from chewing holes in a pack or rucksack pocket. Mine also fits in a scabbard meant for an M7 bayonet for an M16 rifle, which I picked up for a couple of bucks in the junk box at my favorite army-navy surplus store. That has the total cost for my saw under five bucks, so I went back and bought two more, one for a pal and one as a spare for myself. Using a saw to cut those little figure-four release triggers for small game snares or dead fall traps beats doing that task with most knife blades, by the way, though setting snares in the cold is not real high on my list of fun things to do. But if you’re going to try it, I suggest you first practice setting the things when it’s warmer out…and using a saw instead of a knife to build your hare-trigger releases. (Yes, that spelling was intentional!)

#2: Snow Camo Overwhites: I live in snow country where sets of military over-white trousers and parka can be useful during the white time of the year, and yes, I have a good set. But my back-up plan consists of a large white vinyl trash bag that can either be used for its intended purpose or can instead have neck and arm holes poked into it in a pinch, then to be worn to help keep drizzle and sleet off. It’s considerably more glossy and shiny than I care for, which can be cured either with a few vertical stripes of flat white automotive spray paint, or an XXXXXL white t-shirt can be added over it- unless, of course, you are a XXXXXL T-shirt size as is, and you have to use a white pillowcase or kiddy bed bed sheet substitute instead. Really large used T-shirts go for 50 cents each at my local Goodwill thrift store, and since I’m not planning on wearing these against my skin, I’m not the least bit squeamish about getting one that’s been used. And while I was there I found a pair of much-dripped-on white painter’s pants for a buck, too, oversized and baggy, just right for wear over warmer trousers underneath. A few shots with the ol’ 99-cent can of flat white spray paint, and I was right in business. Admittedly, they were still loose enough on me that I needed a pair of elastic carpenters’ suspenders to help hold them up, and those suspenders were available only in blue or red, not white. Out came the flat white spray can again, which took care of that, backed up by a wrap or two of white athletic bandage tape over the too-shiny buckles, which both locked them in place and ensured there wouldn’t be any giveaway shine even if the paint flaked a bit. It didn’t hurt to have that pair of short lengths of tape handy should they be needed for other uses, either. That white spray paint also works real well on surplus store desert helmet covers to whitenize them for winter wear, then useable either as field jacket or parka hoods, or as, of all things, wintertime helmet covers.

#3: Inexpensive Lockblade Folding Knifes: I like nice pretty folding knives, both factory and custom, and some are so pretty and beautifully crafted that it seems like sacrilege to drop one in a pocket, let alone open it up and actually use it; the one I got as a present a couple of years back is like that. So in my pocket rattling against my keys instead is the cheapie $1 lockblade folder I picked up in the sporting goods/camping supplies department at my local Wal-Mart. Packaged as “Ozark Trail #3074,” the knife’s 31?4″ blade is jinked (partially “sawtoothed) along the rear third of its belly edge, is marked “stainless,” and is retained by a screw, making sharpening and other maintenance simple. The knives’ handles/scales are a hard black plastic that’s sufficiently impact resistant that of the dozen or so examples I have none have yet suffered breakage or cracking, though one that came in contact with a hot Jeep exhaust manifold melted and blurred a bit. Now that one’s a “parts queen” donor for any of the others that might have a blade chip or snap a point. That hasn’t happened yet, the only replacement so far needed on my stable of cheap Chinese folding pointy-sharpie things having been that of a replacement blade pivot screw that came loose on one and got away in my pocket. The scales are a little squarish for my taste, easily fixed by rounding off the edges and corners with a file or sandpaper, and yep, there’s a well-placed hole for a dummy cord lanyard or key ring. One so equipped resides on a spare bootlace that goes around my neck when I’m kayaking in the summertime, and twin brothers of the cheapie Wal-Mart folder live in the glove box of each of my vehicles, my tool boxes, in one pocket or another of most of my rucks and daypacks, on my key chain and there’s one in the drawer of my computer desk where it does double duty as letter opener and box tape slicer. There are some users who don’t care for the idea that the knife can be disassembled and have concerns that parts can become unattached and lost. I haven’t had that happen yet, but I figure screw tightness checks are routine maintenance, and I will use a threadlocker if I think it’s necessary.

#4: Singlepoint Balance Sling: I had always wanted to be a high-speed, low drag, tactical operations operating operator, but had never been able to come up with one of the $35-$50 3-way HK or Vickers slings that all the gun shop commandos and SWAT Team guys who’ve never fired a shot in a real world gunfight keep insisting to me that all the real professionals use. Adding a center-of-balance attach point for a centerpoint sling is a simpler alternative, and can be accomplished with nothing any more complicated or expensive than a screw-in eyebolt at the point where the wrist of a shotgun’s butt fits into the gun’s receiver, an expedient that goes at least as far back in historic use as Doc Holliday’s sawn-off double-barreled scatterguns. For the sling itself I used a five-foot length of black 1-inch wide tubular webbing as used for rock climbing harnesses, also very useful for belts and regular weapons slings. The advantage of using the tube web in this application is that the tube web is hollow inside, and inside went a 48-inch-long elastic bungee cord. The hook of one end of the bungee’s elastic shock cord was then crimped to the front snaploop of a very used AK-47 sling that had pulled out the oil-rotted threads holding it on, though all sorts of alternate snaps and swivels [or a 550-cord loop] could be used instead. The ones found on $2 surplus Swiss gas mask bags are especially excellent, with or without the bag strap attached. The hook then attaches either to an AK or other rifle’s front sling swivel, or at the new midpoint location if the hardware for that application is installed. A friend who saw and tried my centerpoint sling on my AK wanted one for his new M4 configuration AR-15, and since he already had a sling attach point installed as the stock locking plate of his CAR-15, all I had to do was add the sling’s body loop and the strap with the swivel snap. In his case, that snap was made from a pear-shaped key ring mini-caribiner, after threading a short piece of clear plastic gas line tubing over it to keep it from scratching the rifle finish and keep potential rattling silenced.

At the other end there’s a loop just large enough to go over the user’s shoulder across the chest front, again with the elastic cord keeping it snug. With the sling snap attached at the midpoint I can hold my rifle in both hands and extend it out to arm’s length in front of me, and the elastic and slightly muzzle-heavy weight with a loaded mag in places returns it to a muzzle-down port arms position. This allows a fast transition from carbine to handgun, handheld radio/cell phone, or my ice cream cone, depending on my priorities at the time. I really prefer to have web or leather slings on weapons that may be fired enough to get more than a little warm, since nylon slings can melt through if they come in contact with a hot barrel. I’ve also had my doubts about the general utility of balance point slings, but this is my opportunity to try one out for a while, and there do seem to be two situations in which mine has proven useful for me. One is while standing around with the weapon at ready for long periods of time, as when at a guard post or waiting to hit the firing line on a hot range, probably why they’ve been so popular with some troops in Iraq. The other is when aboard a motorcycle, snowmobile or ATV and the right hand is occupied with operating the vehicle, which would be a really nice time to have a shorty bullpup weapon instead. But when what you’ve got is what you’re going to have to use, I’ll admit the springy sling may be worth being fitted.

#5: Gear/Armor Carrier Vest: Now that I had my new SWATzie sling I now needed a black tactical vest and armor plate/pad carrier to go with it, and $2 seemed to be a good price to give for the basic start for one. That was for two of the polycloth black shopping bags from my local Wal-Mart store at a buck each, offered as an alternative to the usual flimsy plastic variety. Aside from the low cost, their big attractions were their 12″ x 12″ square size, and the pair of 11?4″ wide straps that serve as the bags front and rear handles. Cutting away the stitching that held the end of one strap at the mouth of one bag left an attached double strap that was long enough to go over my shoulder and connect the first bag worn in front to the second one across my back. The other strap was similarly modified, but on the other side of the handle, giving a strap on either side to connect to the other bag, one on the front left side of the front bag, and the other on the right rear of the same bag. The straps on the other bag were modified the same way, but alternated in mirror-image reverse, so that the outside left strap of the front bag’s strap connected to the outside left of the rear bag, and the inside straps likewise went to the attach points of their respective counterparts. In my case, just the straps of one bag worn draped over my neck probably would have been enough to position the front bag high enough in front that the bag’s open top came to about the height of a field jacket’s front collar button. That configuration is very similar to the old Military Armament Corporation (MAC) Ingram M10 submachinegun carry bags [made of then military-standard olive drab canvas] that unfolded for wear beneath the user’s neck, the inside of the MAC bags being lined with a Kevlar pad. I wanted protection and other features in back, though, so initially went with the twin bag approach. The bag in back rode high enough that it too left just enough room for a jacket or shirt collar to fit beneath it, and it covered my upper back and shoulders nicely. Both bags rode high enough that an equipment belt can be worn underneath, and the belt can be put on either first or after the vest is in place; others of different body sizes may find they’ll need more of the adjustment provided by lengthening both shoulder straps. Alternately, a set of padded shoulder straps salvaged from a day pack or ALICE ruck shoulder straps could be used instead.

Inside the rear face of my front bag went a used and expired Kevlar soft vest obtained in a trade from a retired cop neighbor of mine. Inside the front face of that same pouch went a military SAPI plate, hopefully capable of withstanding rifle fire–or maybe not as effectively as desired: the military has been replacing them with a newer E-SAPI version–an enhanced SAPI plate. I also added a “kangaroo pouch” extension extending from the bottom of the front bag, [made from a third black cloth shopping bag folded in half top-to-bottom, giving a 6-inch extension and raising the basic cost of the rig by another whole dollar. The Kevlar padding from another soft vest went in the bag in back. I can add yet another “kangaroo” drop pouch location on the bottom of the rear bag, should another 8″ by 12″ SAPI or E-SAPI plate come my way and I feel like spending yet another dollar, and depending on whether I want the extra SAPI protection low over my kidneys and spine, or higher at my shoulder level. Until then the ballistic pad from a vest fired into for testing rides at a height in between, sealed in a large vinyl pouch to prevent the pad from becoming soaked if I get caught wearing the vest outside in the rain, or go for an unplanned swim. No, you shouldn’t use expired or damaged vest inserts or material. Yes, you ought to spend the bucks for the very best body armor you can afford, and if you’ve developed tastes based on personal experience, go with it. But if all you have on hand is less desirable material, it may be better than nothing, so long you’re under no illusions about its lessened effectiveness.

At the bottom edge of both the front and rear bags’ exterior I added a left and right-side horizontal black nylon strap [sections left over from building the sling described in section #4 above] and quick-release buckle to connect the front and rear bags at my waist. The buckles came in a package of three from the craft section of my local fabric shop, and one had been used on a holster project, leaving the two I needed. I notice, however, that these not only appear identical to the ones used on grocery shopping cart kiddy seat belts and will fasten with the cart buckles just fine, but also are even identified as having been made by the same manufacturer. [Ask nicely at your grocery when they change their shopping carts’ seatbelts for newer ones less frayed or for ones with a newer advertising message and you may get a grocery bag full of the old ones for free.] In any event, the bottom straps do a fine job of keeping the bottoms of the vest bags from flopping around, and mine can be adjusted for anything from t-shirt weather to opened up enough to fit over a parka or field jacket with winter liner. Velcro attachments would probably work just as well.

Upgrades and enhancements: I also added velcro at the edge seams of the bags to help the bags maintain their flat and square profile when other items like my cheapie overwhites and poncho are added inside between the ballistic panels. Likewise I added matching facing velcro straps to the former cloth handles, now over-the-shoulder straps, which helps them stay together to be slid through the adjustment buckles for them, which are former metal sling adjustment keepers.

The Velcro came from the craft department at Wal-Mart in a strip about 3?4-inches wide by 3 feet long for a little over a buck. Yes, there are uses yet to come for the leftover hook-and-loop pieces.
I wanted a way to carry ammo and other goodies with my cheapie vest, and since they’d be a bit difficult to get to with the vest padding inside, that meant pouches for them on the outside surface, leaving the bag interiors to function as a drop pouch for empty magazines or clips or other non-disposable novelties. The solution to hanging external pouches or other accessories was easy, and all it took was a bunch of 12-inch long black nylon inch-wide straps laid out in horizontal rows across each bag’s outside face, separated by about a half inch. If that sounds like MOLLE rack webbing, it should because that’s a good approximation of what it is, though spaced primarily for ALICE gear rather than MOLLE. Accordingly, the critical dimension is not the spacing between the straps, but the distance from the bottom edge of each lower strap to the top edge of the upper strap, which should be from about 2-1?4 inches to no more than 2-3/8 inches, the inside height of an ALICE fastener. The front face of my vest wound up with nine rows of webbing, seven at the bottom and two at the top for first aid packet or compass pouches. On the back outside face, it’s also covered top to bottom with nine rows of the webbing, allowing anything from a Camelbak canteen pouch, a couple of 2-liter GI bladder canteens or ammo pouches to be fitted. The spacing for the vertical stitches that hold the straps to the fabric is approximately 1-3/16ths inch apart each and I made up a spacer from a narrowed wooden paint-stirring paddle to keep them in a reasonably uniform vertical line. Note that the metal ALICE clip fasteners will chew through web straps fairly rapidly, since they’re really meant for use on the heavy- duty web of a pistol or LBE belt. One answer for this is to use the commercially available and relatively inexpensive ALICE strap-type adapters; another is the old airborne unit trick of replacing each ALICE clip with at least two separate loops of parachute cord, knotted tight and with the ends at the knot fused by heat to prevent the knots from working loose. Now if you come across a military vest or armor carrier with the MOLLE straps worn through, you’ll have a good idea as to the likely cause, and how to prevent a repeat if you adopt the vest and repair the damage.

As an added benefit, the resulting ALICE/MOLLE web slots are just large enough to allow the body of a 12-gauge shotgun shell to fit, with the shell’s rim keeping the round from dropping through. That inspired me to build a second vest primarily for use with a shotgun. Lacking the bottom extensions it’s accordingly shorter and more compact, and so can be worn reasonably concealed beneath a GI field jacket. The old Second Chance Z9 that was the first vest I owned back in the 1970s rides in front in this one, and I’m still looking for another castoff vest for the back pouch. Additional boxed ammo carried in pouches in back helps balance the load on my shoulders, and helps prevent me from kicking myself for not bringing more ammo along for those parties that last longer than anticipated.

A third, similar vest was made at the request of a friend for carrying .50 caliber rifle ammo, among other items. It’s similar to my second “shotgun” vest, with a few variations described later. Other specialized applications may well come along, and I expecting that vests to serve as at least temporary expedients for dealing with them can be launched at a cost of around two bucks each, for a start.

The triple-magazine ALICE pouches for M16 magazines fit very nicely at the bottom corners of my first “rifle” vest, though M16 magazines aren’t what are in them. With the two inside top anti-rattle strap tabs that separate the three magazines removed, an M16 pouch is just right for an 8-round M1 Garand clip of .30-06 ammo laid flat. Alternate the bullet ends left to right as more loaded clips are added, and they’ll hold eight clips, nine in some if an extra one is crammed up into the pouch cover before snapping it shut. I’ve got two pouches so filled on the back bottom corners of my long vest and another up front, [and a holstered handgun where a fourth ammo pouch could go] giving me 192 rounds in 24 clips carried in three pouches. Conveniently, my Garand ammo is stored in 192-round cans, in clips; isn’t it splendid how such things sometimes work out?

A load like that with the added weight of vest pads and plates can get heavy after a bit, so I added some of that black nylon webbing along either side of both of the adjustable straps to help spread the weight; padded pack straps are a possible solution for this problem, too. Those leftover short sections of Velcro strip were added to three of the webbing rows approximately centered on the front panel on the third, fourth and fifth rows from the top. Their mating sections were added to the back of a largish US flag patch, which I’ll continue to consider wearing so long as this country and its Constitution remain at least partially workable institutions. Since situations in which wearing a bullet-resistant tac vest with a couple of hundred rounds of Garand ammo are not only possible but appear to be becoming more likely of late, there may be some question as to how long that “workable” consideration will last. Others may find flags of state or local jurisdictions, their religious or veterans organizations, or family or group identification symbols or name tapes to be more suitable or to the point.

Oh yeah: the black Wally-World bags come with the motto “Paper or Plastic? Neither”, and “Wal-Mart” printed across their front. Various cures for this can be as simple as just facing those slogans inward, turning the bags inside-out placing the lettering in the inside where it won’t be seen, to a few shots with the trusty 99-cent spray paint can, the flat black one in this case. I found that the paint solvents softened the bag lettering enough to allow the printing to be scraped away, but turned one inside out for better access to the stitching of the handle straps anyway. If you don’t care for the black colored bags, blue ones from Kroger grocery stores can be used instead, or bright orange ones from the Big Lots retail chain. I’m sure that the selection can vary depending on what stores are in a particular area; I haven’t found suitable bags in winter white yet, but either a white cover can be added to the front and rear faces of the pouch sections, or that ever-handy can of flat white spray can be again called to duty. An inexpensive camouflage bandanna can be used as a sewn-on cover before ALICE or MOLLE webbing is added instead, for those wishing to match their other field gear or maintain uniformity with group camo; likewise the remaining material from the back of a camouflage shirt blouse or lightweight T-shirt could be used. I’ve also found that the JoAnn Fabrics shop chain offers a very similar bag in a Loden/British Racing Green for a buck each, and a few of them may be the beginning of my next project.

Those who’ve seen how glaringly black vests fluoresce in current night vision equipment seem to be less enthusiastic about using all-black gear, but television and movies have done their best to condition their zombie audiences to accept those in the black tac vests as being the ultimate in authority figures. That kind of mass conditioning may be helpful to domestic concentration camp guards, but the cowering habits of sheep-like GDP en route to the slaughterhouse may also be utilized in making one’s exit from such locales by other individuals or groups wearing the black vests, at least until the urban inmates discover that many of those in the black outfits may not have their best interests at heart.

As for sourcing components, I happened to get a deal on a couple of a hundred 18-inch sections of nylon strap from the industrial surplus outlet of a manufacturing plant. New web from commercial sources can be used instead; one pal of mine used a couple of cheap nylon dog leashes to make his, and inexpensive import nylon slings are another source of alternate potential raw material. Those wanting olive drab straps instead of black can use the material from the Swiss military web straps offered by Sportsman’s Guide, 6 of them 31 inches long and 14 that are 66″ each, all with plastic pinch-release buckles, and under $15 for all 20, their item # 124510. Sportsman’s Guide also offers 1-inch wide nylon strapping in 125- yard rolls as their item # 132816, but you don’t get any buckles with that deal. My ballistic pads and inserts have been collected from a variety of sources and applications over the years, but those looking for their own suppliers of those components should check with the offerings of or as possible sources.

Previously I’ve never cared for vests for much other than the specialized ones for aircraft survival gear, [which can be slung over flight deck seats when not in use] M79/M203 ammunition or photographic gear. The polyvalence of having body armor and ballistic plate carriers do double-duty as attach points for web gear is too obvious to avoid, however, particularly since the armor carrier makes the use of web gear or LBE suspenders underneath both hot and uncomfortable, and can restrict access to gear carried underneath. Two bucks [or four] for a pair of shopping bags as a starting place for an armor/gear carry vest seems like a good bargain to me, though you’ll have considerable time and hand work putting one together after you decide just how you want it arranged.

The vests made from 12″x12″ bags front and rear work out a little short so far as complete lower torso coverage goes, but that can be an advantage for those who expect to spend lengthy periods seated in vehicles or elsewhere. Adding the extensions like those I used for my SAPI plates provides an additional 6-inch deep pocket that runs horizontally completely along the front of the vest, long enough inside for double-taped “royal” AK or RPK magazines, full-length Sten, Swedish K or Thompson SMG magazines, or for use as a “drop pouch” for expended magazines or recovered clips in the case of my Garands. Those without such concerns can use the long horizontal space for chem-lights, highway flares or pop flares, pistol mags or a gas mask or night vision device, as available.[JWR Adds: I do not advocate taping rifle of SMG magazines “end for end” . This often results in the downward-pointing magazine getting jammed full of mud when you jump down prone. So instead, tape the pair together parallel (with both tops pointing upward.) You can use a short length of dowel, and a pencil, or even a couple of thicknesses of MRE spoon handles between the magazines, to make them angle apart from one another, to provide the necessary magazine well clearance.]

Those who are really tall might want to consider the possibility of stacking two bags piggyback, front and rear- four bucks worth, again. Alternately, that open space beneath the rib cage not well covered by a single bag [or the small of the back, for the rear bag] can be used for a front- attached drop magazine pouch or reversed fanny pack, or in back, for an extension for a poncho or sleeping bag carrier that rides below the 12″ x 12″ dimensions of the bags. If a fanny pack is used low across the back, the waist straps from it can be used for the waist/belt line connecting straps between the front and rear bags, saving the separate addition of those components. It’s also a common feature on commercial vests to include multiple belt loops extending beneath the vests’ bottom edge at the belt line, allowing an equipment belt to be supported by the vest itself. Such can be added and used if that’s your preference.

One additional word of warning: the allegedly recycled plastic-weave material from which the raw material shopping bags are made does not seem to be especially fireproof or fire-resistant, and the nylon straps added for gear attachment certainly are not. A dunking of the vest in one of the commercially available fireproofing chemical mixtures could be a wise final finishing step once the vest is completed but before other equipment is installed. That may be more of a consideration if you’re an armored fighting vehicle crewman or plan to hang around the exhaust downdraft on either side of a CH-47 “Chinook” helicopter exit ramp, but do be cautious when close to campfires or other open flames, and try not to excessively antagonize anyone operating a flamethrower.

#6: Too-big, worn-soled Moccasins fix: I’d been watching for a decent pair of mocs for most all of last year’s yard sales, but all that turned up [at the last yard sale of the season, of course!] was a pair that was way oversize and had both soles worn through. No worries, for 50 cents for the pair, they were a bargain, just a quarter apiece. I spent part of the winter cutting away the worn-through bottoms and peeling off the glued-on strip of finest plastic beading in the decorative native pattern of the Made in China tribe. On Memorial Day weekend, off I went to the Buckskinners’ and Revolutionary War Reenactors’ Rendezvous where the sutlers and craftsmen had set up their booths and tents on Sutler’s Row. I found the guy I was looking for, a leathersmith who offered a resoling service for mocs, with buffalo leather soles for $2 per sole. That gave me a pair of newly-resoled slightly oversize mocs for just under 5 bucks. I added a pair of glue-in padded insoles, let them dry, and then checked their fit: still floppy. The next addition was a pair of $1.98 cotton booties, which I installed by wrapping my feet in plastic shopping bags and then putting on the booties, and then liberally slathering rubber cement over the booties and the places inside the mocs I could reach, pretty much everywhere once I had them turned half-inside-out. Insert glue-coated bootied foot in moccasin, allow to dry, and then repeat on the other foot.

While I was waiting for the second foot’s new addition to dry, I carefully removed my other foot from the first one, leaving the bootie and plastic bag inside. I then had at it with my paramedics’ shears and cut away all of the former bootie that showed outside the edges of the moccasin, then slowly and gently began peeling away the remains of plastic bag from the moc’s interior. Again, by the time I had finished with the first foot the glue had set up enough for me to begin on the second. I set them aside to cure up overnight, and as it turned out, they had all weekend. When I tried them on again, the fit was just right, tight enough to stay in place without flopping or raising blisters, and loose enough I could nudge one off with help from the toes of the other foot.

The insulation from the cold provided by the cotton bootie bottoms was a nice feature, but one I’d have rather avoided for extended summertime wear or for wear in situations in which the things were likely to get soaked. If I hadn’t had the services of the rendezvous craftsman, I could have likely have done a fair job of resoling them myself, or could have let a local shoe repairman- getting harder to find nowadays- do the job. But he did a very tidy job, had materials that were unavailable to me, and the skilled experience he had at doing dozens of pairs of mocs at each of these events he attended far outweighed the cost of his very reasonable price. Interestingly, that leatherworker who did my resole work had another pair he was working on when I picked mine up. Belonging to a big feller pushing over 350 pounds or so, the addition to his mocs included the bottom of a pair of flip-flop shower shoes added as a cushion to the underside of his mocs before the buffalo skin retread went on and concealed that decidedly non-period padding. That combination would indeed help keep ground dampness from morning dew or a light rain off the bottom of one’s feet, though, and if needle and flax or waxed linen shoemaker’s threads weren’t available, at least some similar work could probably be managed with a tube of shoe-goo and/or some staples. And maybe an old pair of cast-off donor flip-flop shower shoes.

Yeah, during this year’s yard sale season, I kept my eyes open for any more good deals on moccasins, with no real sweet finds. But now I’m happy to find any good deal on mocs whether they’re my size or if they happen to be a bit bigger, and smaller ones go into a “trade goods” bucket. Any time I can get a pretty good pair of mocs for under a couple of bucks, I figure I’ve done okay; I spend a lot of time in the things, indoors and out, so spending another five dollars or so on a pair to extend their service life and improve their fit seems like money well spent. That’s not only much less than what a decent pair of even imported lined mocs will run new, but I suspect those buffalo hide soles are going to last me a good long while. And interior padding added to a pair of oversize shoes or boots when nothing else is available could save someone an awful lot of blisters.

#7: Fifty Caliber Spare Ammo Carriers: When a pal of mine managed to scrape up the bucks to get the .50 caliber long-range rifle he’d wanted for some time, he came to me for advice and counsel on ammo and accessories, since I’d gotten myself one as a 50th birthday present a few years back. Could I make one of those two-dollar tac vests [#5 above] for him, but set up for .50 x 99mm Browning MG ammo for his Big Rifle instead of shotgun shells or MOLLE gear? Why sure, I told him, it being just a matter of having three rows of loops per row of shells, the one at the bottom consisting of smaller bullet-diameter loops to keep the cartridge cases from dropping through, the rimless but bottlenecked .50 cases not being as well retained by the top row of webbing as rimmed shotgun shells are. I believe it would have been no great problem to space rows of eight cartridges across the 12-inch space available, but he was happy with a pair of rows of six shells each, with a little extra space in front, a configuration that does make removing them from the loops a bit easier and keeps the vest’s weight down. On the back, he specified an all-web covering, giving him the option of carrying additional ammo in pouches, or canteens, Camelback water bottle, or other useful goodies back there. I don’t expect he intends to do much crawling beneath barbed-wire fences for long distances, especially on his back, while he’s equipped with his big long-range noisemaker.

A dozen rounds is a good beginning for an ammo load out for the big loud rifle, but a way to easily increase that amount by double or triple was still needed. In the big box in one gun shop I visit pretty regularly all sorts of used holsters, pouches and cast-off accessories from trade-in guns can be found. Though I’d pawed through the contents before and noted an odd trio of residents therein, I’d never had a use for the particular items I had encountered and had no immediate use for them. Apparently, other customers had felt the same way, because there they remained, despite price tags of five bucks each. Now they had suddenly become useful; I paid for the three and picked up a fourth one new in the packaging, at a cost more than the three used ones combined. The items in question were vinyl plastic “Sidesaddle” 12 gauge shotgun shell holders meant to be bolted to the side of Mossberg 500 series scatterguns; similar models are available for the Remington 870 and Winchester 1200 guns, and several other models. The problem is that with the aluminum receiver of the Mossberg guns, the receivers can be warped inward if the sidesaddle attaching bolts are overzealously tightened. The previous owners of the guns traded in with their spiffy tactical ammo holders still mounted had apparently found that out the hard way.

One simple answer if using the things on a shotgun, especially if it’s a gun other than the model the device is meant to be mounted upon, is to attach it to the stock instead, using wood screws and/or multiple wraps of tape. In this case instead, the ammunition holders were fitted up to each other, back to back, with a short section of seat belt webbing removed from a junked car mounted in between as a spacer. The spacer web extends just far enough from either end of the two shell carriers to allow a pair of grommets to be added at the corners of both ends. This allows a carry strap with snap hooks to be hooked to them for carry in either a vertical or horizontal position. The strap I favor for the purpose is the one that’s used for the U.S. military 2-quart bladder canteens, since it’s wide, adjustable and comes with a snap hook at either end; the Israelis are also real fond of using these as top-mounted M16A1 rifle slings. Since the ammo being carried is a dozen rounds of .50 caliber instead of a dozen lighter-weight shotgun shells, the wide strap is advisable since it helps spread the load across the shoulders.

With the six-.50 rounds of one carrier facing forward and the others pointed to the rear, [or up and down, if a horizontal carry position is used] it’s a simple matter to peel off individual rounds as needed, either to load the noisy rifle, top up a magazine, or refill the vest loops. If the user prefers to have them all face in the same direction, they can be inserted in that way instead. There’s a possibility that rounds could drop out or be knocked off inadvertently, since the .50 rounds are much longer than the shotgun shells that were fully covered when in the carrier slots. That leverage of the longer ammo can be taken care of by having a pouch on the belt into which the carriers can be dropped when on the move, one on either side, or velcro or snap-on covers can be made and installed.

Those who don’t have a .50 but are looking for a means of carrying a dozen extra reload rounds for a shotgun may also find that fitting two of the sidesaddle carriers mounted back-to-back is a suitable way of doing so, especially if an over-the-shoulder strap is added. That allows a quick “grab-and go” procedure of quickly taking up the shotgun by its sling in one hand and the dozen-round ammo carrier in the other, then tossing the ammo carrier’s strap over a shoulder to free up the hand with the ammo for other purposes.

#8: Knife Handle Repair: While at the local thrift store looking for really big undershirts, white painters’ pants and worn-out, torn or ugly belts [a buck each, and dandy material for knife sheaths or reinforcing cheap import book bag/backpack shoulder straps for more severe duty] I made my usual search of the used kitchen cutlery box; this time I struck pay dirt. With items ranging from 25 cents to an extravagant $2.50, I zeroed in on a 7-inch blade Ontario Knife Co butcher’s knife, with a 50 cent tag sticker on it; when I picked it up I found out why: the wood around the rivets on the starboard side grip scale had split and required repair or replacement. Can do!

Yep, I could have just whittled and sanded a twin of the good one, drilled out the remaining rivets, replaced them, and it would have been almost as good as new. I could even have just epoxied the old handle back on, good for at least a short-term fix, but probably a repair that wouldn’t survive hard use. Instead I took some of that black nylon web strap material left over from building those $2 tac vest/ armor vest insert carriers, and cut a section long enough to go from the back of the blade’s edge along the handle where the grip scale had been, wrapping around the butt of the handle at the end, then back again along the other side to match where I’d begun, but on the other side. Then I cut another one, same length. Mine worked out to just over 91?2 inches long; shorter or longer handles would of course require shorter or longer sections. The point, though, is that the length of strap material that covers both sides is made from one continuous strip of web.

The next step is to liberally coat both sides of the knife blade where the handle rests with epoxy [knives that have a short tang instead of full-blade-width material for grip attachment get a different fix, discussed later] and to press the web, not along the sides of the grip where the wood scales had been, but along the top and bottom, again, wrapping around the butt. When the epoxy has tacked up sufficiently to keep the web in place, fold the material sticking out to the sides down against the handle area. Don’t worry if there’s a gap, but if a dry test fit before applying epoxy shows any overlap, you may want to trim a little off the edges so that they neatly butt against each other. At this point I begin wrapping the handle area with plastic shopping bag material cut about a half-inch wide, overlapping each wrap just snug enough to hold the webbing tightly against the handle. When you get up to the end try to tuck the section wrapping around the handle’s end in as tightly as you can; if it won’t cooperate, there’s a cure for that after it’s dried.

Once you’ve completely covered the handle with the plastic bag material wrap, you’re ready for the next step, which is a single-layer wrapping of more of the bag material around the entire handle. At this point, I add a pair of corrugated cardboard pads over the handle area- you may not need it. I then put my handle in a vise and tighten that sucker good, squeezing the epoxy into the nylon web and getting a good bond to the metal beneath. I let it set up overnight at least, a weekend if possible- the directions for your epoxy, room temperature and your experience with your favorite flavor of epoxy may vary. When it’s nicely set up and cured a couple of days later, I peel away the plastic bag strip, and if necessary I’ll then hold that butt section momentarily over a candle if needed to get a good fit on that back-end fold. The idea here is to heat the material just enough to soften it, not for it to catch fire. Again, squashing it in a vise while it cools may help, but if you don’t have a vise, you can do about as well by setting the handle on the edge of a brick on it’s side, using another brick on top for pressure, and adding a concrete block on top of the upper brick for additional weight.

The next step is a repeat of the first, but using that second strap you cut to size, except that this time the web will be placed flat on the handle sides instead of the edges the first strip covered. This time you do really want as good a fit as possible at the back edge of the handle, and this time, since the epoxy is going to bond web-to-web, my first wrapping to secure the web in place while it sets up is a covering of black nylon fishing line. Then I add the plastic bag strip, then squish that feller real good in the vise, and go away for a day or two. Or three.

Unwrapping the bag material is like Christmas, I’m surprised almost every time, sometimes good, sometimes not. If the repair is to your satisfaction, good on you. If not, some more carefully applied heat, a little more epoxy here and/or there, and some more of that fish-line wrap may fix your problem. If not, you can always get out the rasp or a wire wheel on a drill and start over. Or use leather from those cheap thrift store belts instead, though it doesn’t wrap around the ends as well and heat won’t help shrink it to fit- you may be better off cutting a separate piece for each side’s handle if you use leather. I’ve repaired the handles of around a dozen knives and one hammer using variations of this method, some of ‘em toolbox knives that get knocked around and rattle in the box quite a bit. So far, I haven’t had to redo any of the ones I’ve reworked this way, and some of those repairs date back to 2000. Though some folks like to use a loose wrap of cord around the handle so that it can be unrolled and used for alternate purposes in an emergency, I’d rather have the most secure handle possible and carry spare cordage wrapped around a knife’s sheath and as a sheath tie down. That personal preference is up to the user, but I’ve yet to run out of cordage and regret not having access to that epoxied to my knife handle.

As for those knives with narrow tangs or less than full-length material where the handle attaches: I’ve done the same sort of thing with a cord-and-epoxy repair, except that in this instance I use heavy nylon cord [trotline cord from the Sporting Goods department] instead of flat web. If there’s a hole through the tang from a previous attach rivet or screw, I start on one side there, go through any existing or added hole to the other side, and then both radial wrapping and back-and-forth linear runs of cord begin. Once it’s built up enough to act solidly enough as a handle again, a cover made of a short section of that black hollow-center tube webbing can be used if flattish grip sides are preferred. If not, just go at it with more and more trot line, and again, finish up with a finer fishing line or even heavy carpet thread in the color of your choice if desired.

The application of composite cord/epoxy handles is not limited to knife blade repairs of course, but may also be of use to those looking for a way to utilize hacksaw or Sawzall blades made for cutting metal as emergency hand tools. The back-up plan to this application is to use a pair of vise-grip locking pliers as an expedient handle for a metal-cutting saw blade, allowing later use of the blade in the tool for which it was designed if desired or possible, but the added permanent handle is certainly more comfortable for extended in-hand use. Neither should the possibility of adding a handle to a worn-out or broken saw blade reground to a knife edge be overlooked; power hacksaw blades are particularly nice for this application. Those who wish to build their own survival knife with saw teeth on the blade spine and a sharp belly edge can begin with a new power blade, rework that blade to the length and shape they prefer, and add a handle as per the above. Their resulting tool will be at least reasonably capable of either whittling or cutting metals.

#9: BugOut Bag folding fork and spoon [or “Spork”.] This one is an idea that’s neither new nor original, but like the others is one that’s been further modified to fit my particular needs and the material available to start the project. In this case, I wanted a compact fork and spoon for use with both my personal bugout bag, as well as extras for the 30-day supply bags carried in my vehicles. My first attempt consisted of simply shortening a pair of the utensils in question, then drilling a hole in their shorter handles for a connecting lanyard or key chain. But they rattled.

During the Second World War, some German troops were equipped with a mess kit fork-and-spoon combination that had the handles of the utensils shortened even more, then were joined by a rivet that served as a pivot, allowing them to fold and nest into each other nice and compact. When folded out, the opposing tool became the handle end for its partner, allowing shorter handles than if they had been separate items. I cut the handles of my first-draft unit down further, drilled them for the pivot and joined them together. Opened, the utensil’s fork was sturdy enough to assault combative peas, or, with the other end, the spoon was ready for the annihilation of soups. Folded, the unit was compact enough to slip handle-first into the side of a first-aid or compass carry pouch, through one of the webbing loops of a tac vest or armor plate carrier, or, temporarily, in the top of one’s boot if the cuffs are bloused into it.

I began my initial limited production run of enough of the folding utensils for my BugOut Bag, 3-day pack and 30-day packs, plus one each for the glove boxes of each of three vehicles, and a couple of spares. Improvements/additions included grinding a flat screwdriver tip on the end of either handle just past the rivet, one that is narrow enough to service M1911 grip screws and my pocketknife blade pivot screws, and the other a bit wider. Adding a second pair of smaller holes further down the handle with another rivet set into one handle so that the rivet’s head acted as a detent into the mating hole in the handle of its partner made the lockup of the unit more positive when in the open position. And naturally I added a small hole for a dummy cord lanyard to prevent loss either from dropping or absent-mindedly setting it down and forgetfully walking away from it. This is why they’re called dummy cords.

It turned out that the first dozen I built for myself weren’t enough: others who’ve been around me when I’ve been using mine have asked me to build one or more for them too. I’ve also got a simpler variation that simply consists of a fork-and-spoon pair riveted together end-to-end but doesn’t fold. That version goes along with bulk packages of food in storage, along with a P-38 military folding can opener. The two items can be connected together by key chain, one of the ubiquitous mini-carabiner snap links or a chain repair link, or on a lanyard cord long enough for the useful tools to be carried or temporarily draped around a user’s neck.

#10: Shoestrings. Speaking of hanging things on a cord around one’s neck: I frequently keep a quarter-sized “button” compass and small pocketknife around my neck on a spare bootlace; and some of us old-timers include a military P-38 C-ration can opener as well, even though the days of the issue of C-rats are long gone. This used to be a common practice when I was in the military, threading the bootlace cord into the plastic protective tubing we put over our dog tag chains to keep the cold chain off our bare skin. I’ve yet to really need these minimalist survival tools, though I’ll be glad enough to have them if I do suddenly have a critical use for them, but the extra boot lace has come in handy numerous times. Sometimes that’s actually been as a replacement for a shoelace that’s broken on a shoe or boot, but there’s a swell flash of realization when you really need a short length of strong cord and then remember you’ve got one handy right around your neck.

Variations on this idea include using braided nylon #550 pound test parachute suspension line, also known as “parachute cord” instead, or using fisherman’s twisted cord trot line, both of which are available in a variety of colors and sizes/strengths. The #18 twisted nylon cord I use is rated at 113 pounds test, and the thicker #36 cord is listed as good for 320 pounds; if anything stronger is required I reach for my roll of parachute suspension line. Short sections of any suitable cordage are useful as “dummy cord” lanyards for weapons, knives or other critical gear, especially when in or around boats, snowmobiles, or motorcycles. Cord can be such an excellent replacement for the metal ALICE equipment clips for U.S. belt equipment that some military users pitch all their metal fasteners; just be sure and use at least two separately knotted cord loops as the silent and nonmetallic replacement for each ALICE clip if you do this- and three per is better.

I’ve also known one trooper who used military issue WD-1/TT commo wire as replacement boot laces in a pinch; the civilian-world equivalent would be stereo speaker wire. Clearly, he didn’t have an extra bootlace worn around his neck…
Final thoughts: My adaptations, field expedients, and shade-tree modifications are ones that were suitable for the tasks I’ve had at hand, the tools I’ve had available, and the skill levels and experience I’ve got at working with the tools I had for what I was doing. Changing materials or methods may be perfectly suitable for your needs, you may conclude that some of the items or modifications just aren’t worth the trouble, or that the expenditure of a few more bucks on more specific-purpose items is a better idea- and for you, that may well be. For others, some of these adaptations may be the only gear that fits a minimalist budget, or that allows the purchase of other necessities. In other cases, some of the items presented here may serve as spares, with better top-grade [and top-dollar!] equipment better used for the job at hand until it fails from overuse or is otherwise expended- and my low-bucks methodology may give you a back up plan to turn what might have been a disastrous shortage into an inconvenience. As with all things, your mileage may vary, and remember that all of my demonstrations have been performed by a professional on a closed course.

Way back in the early days of World War Two, when wartime shortages and rationing began to affect stateside consumers, a motto appeared by which many, perhaps most of those recent survivors of the Hoover-Roosevelt Depression lived. Some thirty-five years later it was revived and applied to those living in politically [and physically] embargoed Rhodesia, also engaged in a war, theirs simultaneously against foreign invaders, domestic terrorists and sellout politicians [in England and] within. Now there may be another resurgence of the applicability of that motto, and we may soon be in a much better position both to more clearly understand and appreciate the creativity and resourcefulness of those who lived by those words earlier, as well as finding a few of their earlier methods and techniques useful in our time as well: “Fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”