Selecting Equipment for Years of Use, by M.C. in Arizona

I am at home sitting safely on my couch, however, between 2001 and 2009 I was a soldier serving in the GWOT campaign. I have served three tours in Iraq, one tour in Afghanistan, and a year assisting the African theater (proxy war.) And I’m currently working for the Marine Corps as a civilian contractor. I figured I’d write down some thoughts because I have had the misfortune of twice being cut off from any re-supply or ‘rescue’. In addition the equipment issued to servicemen is not always ‘the best’ money can buy. So here are some thoughts on that to have and what to spend money on to get the very best.

People tend to forget that everything will wear out and start to break or tear. In my SERE kit I carried two sewing kits. One for medical and another for clothing, tent repair (cold nights will keep you awake), boots, etc. Knives will dull, weapons will foul and rust, cloth will tear, boots will lose their soles, facial hair will grow, your teeth will suffer, your skin will rash. The list of things that go wrong or bad without maintenance are endless. But at this time we wont be discussing combat conditions, we are discussing survival in the inevitable troubled times within the next couple years.

We’ve gotten very accustomed to the instant gratification life style of ‘just go get a new one’ when something wears out or breaks. Now think about this for one day. You cannot get a new one, you cannot replace it. When you go on your next camping trip, think to yourself that what you have is all that you have and all that you’ll get. Do you have what you need to keep your equipment in working order for years to come? Do you have the knowledge to take the best care of your things like wash your clothes only in low mineral content water. (Here in Arizona, high mineral content water in streams or springs will destroy your clothing.)

Not only do you have to take care of your equipment, but more importantly. What equipment will you bring? And how will you carry it? Wally World carries some nice looking back packs that appear to be well made. When choosing your back pack or bug out bag, stuff it full of something. Then look to see if there is even outward pressure on the stitching or if some stitching is ‘stretched’ more than others. If so, this is not the pack/bag you want to buy. Now, not all of us can afford to spend $1,000 on a back pack with Kevlar stitching and high tech spaceman materials. So if you do buy the Wal-Mart pack, buy also a tent repair kit (or two) as the thread in these kits are more durable than your run of the mill thread. Remember, two is one and one is none.

    I say all this because if you have to leave your prepared position, I.e. its no longer tenable or you must assist in your own rescue, then you have carry all this on your back. Depending on your situation and your environment, you will need to think about what is most important. A human can go thirty days without food, but in the desert one can go only hours without water. Do not drink the hard alkali water found in the desert. So assuming that we must leave our fortified position, our packs just got very heavy. Because staying in place is much easier than moving on foot. Its when you must go somewhere is when it gets complicated. With a vehicle  you can carry much more than walking. However, gas stations won’t be open for business. That being said, “ground pounder gear” will be carried eventually. So, What will be in your rolling gear?

First and foremost – (in Arizona) WATER, as much as you can carry and a means to get water. When you think that you have what you need, triple it.

Food – Without the energy, your not carrying anything. You will lose the will to survive if you don’t eat.

Shelter – A little one-man tent is good but tends to be a little flimsy. A tent repair kit would be a plus.

Sleeping Bag – A 32 degree-rated sleeping bag is sufficient in most cases with the addition of a fleece liner.

Shoes – A new [but well broken-in] pair of 6” top quality boots, period. Four pair of new socks.

Fire starter – Water proof matches, lighter, trioxane, “wet start”, etc.

Cook set – for cooking food, boiling water. Aluminum is good enough, Titanium would be better. Plastic MRE spoon (2). A titanium spork would be good to have for eating and for cooking/stirring.

Knife – A good quality general purpose knife, multi-tool, a large fighting knife, and a machete. Don’t forget the sharpening stone or even better, a full honing set.
Weapons – Rifle with 100 rounds of ammo minimum, pistol with 5 loaded magazines.


So now that we have the crucial items that you will live with or die without. Now lets make a list of items of “ground pounder gear” in the pack. Each person should carry this in their pack regardless of what else they want. These are the basics, strictly surviving.
Remember: Ounces Lead to Ponds and Pounds Lead to Pain

Water – Two 2 liter bladder, one 1 gallon jug. 16.6 lbs. Water filter (1,500 gallon working life, minimum).

Food – At least three days worth at two meals a day = 6 MREs. This is assuming that you know how and where to forage for supplementary food in your environment.

Knife –  You either have crap or gold. With knives there is little middle ground for quality.

Multi-tool – No less than two should be carried. They are too useful and there for too important to lose.

Compass – Two should be carried in case of loss or “compass panic”. People do panic when lost or off course. They start to distrust their compass and quickly make their situation worse. Comparing the compass readings can help quell panic.

Map – Individual maps for each area you intend to enter.

Toilet paper – What goes in must come out. The human body is only 86% efficient, that creates 18% waste. Butt rash is as bad as a blister. Carry plenty.

First Aid kit – Band-aids, Neosporin, Splint, Mol-skin, Gauze (stick and non-stick)…

Tent – A Bivy Sack (one man tent) is ideal in most situations. Think about it, who will carry the fifty man tent?

Sleeping bag – Appropriate temp rating to your environment. In Arizona , 32F is sufficient in the low country.

Tarp – If the weight of the pack allows. You want it to allow.

Bed mat 1” – Because a rock in your hip makes a crappy night sleep.

Socks – Four pair at minimum. Pack new ones..

Hat – Boonie type is best

Sun glasses – A decent pair will be good. A $150 could be better spent else where.

Fire Starter – Matches (water proof), lighter, Trioxane, Magnesium, …

BinocularsQuality. Quality is a must in this area. Imagine being able to see 1,000 yards ahead without danger or eye strain.

Lock pick set – For picking locks for shelter, abandoned supplies, refuge, etc.

Flash light – Don’t be cheap here either. Seeing in the dark could mean the difference between life or death. Don’t forget batteries! Don’t want you walking off a cliff in the middle of the night going to restroom.

Warm clothing – Thermal under wear and light weight jacket or poncho or both depending on weight. Layers are best as to avoid big bulky coats and light layers insulate better than single heavy layers anyhow.

T-shirt – If you’ve ever spent an extended period of time without modern luxuries, you know what a moral boost a clean shirt can be.

Bar Soap – For washing your body and your clothes

Tooth paste – Because a painful cavity will incapacitate you.

Wash cloth – Some areas must be scrubbed; arm pits, crotch, feet, feet, feet….feet.

Bandana – Appropriate camo colors for your environment. Carry multiple if necessary.

Duct tape – You just never know. I’ve seen men use duct tape as a splint on broken feet. Yet another use.

Leather gloves – Because thorns, blisters, and cuts hurt and lessen your effectiveness.

Writing pad with pencil – For making notes or marking ‘way points’ on your map. We cannot remember everything. So write it down. Pencils don’t dry out!

Instant coffee – As much as you can carry. Because a simple cup of coffee is a huge moral boost. Also the caffeine can give an energy boost when food is low or scarce.

Mechanical Watch – When boiling water, you have to know when 30 minutes is reached. Its useful for planning your movements at sunrise and sunset.

Para-cord – As much as you can carry. 20 feet minimum. This is light and strong. Its uses are virtually endless.

Mule tape – Or flat rope. At least 20 feet. This is used by utility companies for pulling large wire. It is rated for 2,500 pounds and is very light. It can be tied in very small and tight knots if needed. Beware though that it does deteriorate over time (several years), so buy it new.

Rifle – Carry at least 100 rounds and spare parts; firing pin, recoil spring, sear, sear spring, extractor, extractor spring, hammer, and anything else that tends to break or wear out. KNOW HOW TO CHANGE THESE PARTS!

Pistol – Carry at least five loaded magazines.

Weapon cleaning supplies – Cleanliness is next to godliness. My personal choice for cleaner, lubricant, protectant (CLP) is Frog Lube. It is FDA approved so it is edible which only means that its nontoxic to you and any children around you. I’ve also cleaned my weapons with CLP and little more than my thumb and a paper towel through the bore. It will not allow carbon to stick to the metal of your weapon and does not dry out or ‘gum up‘. What ever you choose, (Hoppe’s, Remington, CLP, etc.) just make sure to buy plenty!

Emergency blanket – Use as heat reflector NOT as a blanket.

Aluminum foil – Cooking.

Knife Sharpening kit – Your knife will become dull. A dull knife will make you work harder and greatly increases the chances of a severe cut or wound. Don’t make yourself a burden or casualty.

Chap stick – As much as can be carried. Chapped lips are very inconvenient. It can also be used on the dry cracked skin of your hands or fingers.

Q-tips – Use your imagination. Clean your ears, apply Iodine (don’t waste it), start a fire….

Iodine – Water, stings, etc.

Small (short) wood handle shovel –  For digging ‘restroom holes,’ Dysentery is a monster that has incapacitated armies. This can be picked up at virtually any home improvement store for $20 bucks or less. The wood handle is lighter than the all steel construction of surplus shovels and will probably last longer too!

It doesn’t matter what your situation is: If you neglect your feet then you are in for a real treat of pain and discomfort.   

The ground pounder gear is already listed. Now what? For the vehicle you simply magnify the amounts, i.e., 1,000 rounds of ammo, 50 gallons of water, a couple hundred sand bags, 100 pounds of food, etc, etc. But if you or I had to sum up a survival scenario in simple terms it would be this. There are many things we can go without, there are few things we cant go without, food, water, shelter. So it is safe to assume that we can never have enough food and water, but lets add a premium quality knife, a rifle, and ammo to that list. There is nothing worse than running out of ammo or breaking a firing pin at the worst possible time. Most of the items discussed here are cheap, some are not. Think intelligently about what you buy and where you put your money. Just because it has ‘tactical’ in the name doesn’t mean its worth the money.

Before I finish, I’d like to add some thoughts on weapons. I carried the M4, M249 SAW, and the M240B and found all of them good weapons. The M4/AR-15 platform after some fifty years of fine tuning has become a decent rifle. Now lets go against traditional thinking a moment. The M4 should only have the bore, chamber, gas tube, and bolt ‘cleaned’. As for the bolt carrier and the upper receiver, just wipe it off. It will work better. Whenever possible though, I would often pick up enemy weapons. Why? Because they work. If you want to choose a weapon system that will just work. Try observing the countries or regions that don’t have multi-billion dollar budgets or a gun store on every corner. The nomads carry AK variations as well as 70 percent of the rest of the Arab world. This is simply because it works. The other 30 percent are wielding older (legacy) HK variants. They use these platforms because yes, they are widely available. But more than that, they work. Big parts power through the fowling that builds up. Loose parts glide over the fowling. Big, loose parts just function better than the tight, light weight M4/AR15 system. My personal choice for primary weapon system is the HK G3 because its simplicity and reliability. The extra weight of weapon and ammo are a trade off. The light weight M4 and it’s 5.56mm ammunition means that yes can carry more ammo. But in my experience, using the 5.56 means that you need more ammo to get the job done. The 7.62x51mm is a versatile cartridge being suitable for deer, elk, or self defense. Still, the 5.56 has its place and will perform.

In closing, take the time to think wisely about what you buy. Know how to use and take care of your kit. Because once your equipment fails, it might just kill you.