I am a pretty avid reader of the survivalblog.com site. I also follow many of the other sites on prepping and survival that are out there. After a few months, it becomes pretty obvious which sites lean towards sensationalism, conspiracy theories, couch prepping, and even sales and marketing. The problem lies in the fact that with the mainstream media is piling onto the prepping bandwagon and this increases the amount of information available. Some of the information available today is of little use and some of it is outright dangerous. With that in mind, I will make the suggestion that you take a little walk.
In this case I am referring to Get Home Bags (GHB) and Every Day Carry (EDC) kits. I have seen numerous kits advertised for sale or personally built. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support the idea of EDC and GHB. My concern is with what is contained in many of these kits. Some of them seem to be created with just a bunch of stuff, and not designed with a specific goal in mind. Some of the items are useful, but many times they are mishmash from the junk drawer. Other times they are a collection of cheaply barely functional gear.
When you build an EDC kit, have a specific goal in mind. Something reasonable may be “to get me to my home after a natural disaster (earthquake, fire, EMP)”. I am not dictating the emergency you are planning for. Make it coherent and plausible for your situation. I am also not dictating what you put in it, but make it useful for the goal, or leave it out. More crap just to fill an empty spot in your kit can be counterproductive. Put in gear that is useful. I mean gear that you use fully (consistently with success). If you get a new piece of gear, practice with it until you are proficient.
After you build your kit, test it. If it is designed to get you home, then use it to get you home. This is what a buddy of mine and I did to test our Get Home Bags (GHB). We picked a Friday with good weather (ideal conditions) and decided to walk home. We had our GHB packed and at work for several weeks prior. We made sure our wives knew (and yes they thought we were crazy) and set out after work.
The trip was approximately 18 miles through suburban, light industrial and commercial areas on the edge of a mid-sized city. We planned to stick to roads and sidewalks, and our path took us through some less desirable parts of town, but nothing outright dangerous. The worst parts of town would be traversed before dark. The weather was clear and the temperature was about 75 when we started.
My GHB consisted of a small well-used day pack from a discount store. It contained a small first aid pouch (antiseptic wipes, gauze, band aids, and ointment), two small candles, cotton balls, hand sanitizer, lighter, chap stick, Leatherman multi-tool, $5 cash, $5 coins, $3 in small change, sunglasses, bandanna, a gallon bag of homemade trail mix, a ball cap, a flannel shirt, a pair of socks and two 16 oz. bottles of water. I changed from steel toe boots to a pair of quality running shoes.
I expected we would cover between two and three miles per hour. We left at 3:30 PM so I was projecting we would arrive around 10:30. We each obtained a walking stick at the first opportunity. This provided a walking aid, and a way to fend off aggressive dogs. It is not exactly a bad item for two legged critters either, although an adult walking through town is a bit more conspicuous when they carry a stick (it was not a club).
The first part of the trip was fairly rural with no sidewalks. We spent most of the time walking on the road. Our pace was moderate since we were fresh, but we decided to not push too hard early. We covered just over a mile in the first 20 minutes, and decided to take a five minute break every hour. This would keep us at a pace of about 3 mile per hour.
After two hours we had covered just over six miles and decided to stop for dinner. There was a convenient place to sit, and we were in a fairly busy commercial area. Security was not a major concern, but there were several transients in the area. We did a fairly good job of blending in, and did not appear to attract attention. Plain clothes and lightweight (used looking) kit helped with this, in my opinion. We shared some trail mix and granola bars (from my buddies stash) and water. One bottle of water was gone at this point (my buddy had a Camelbak).
The next leg of the trip was a little more challenging. The less affluent neighborhoods we went through at this point had no sidewalks. We were following a fairly busy thoroughfare, so walking in the street was not safe. The area also had hills that were not steep enough to notice while driving. They were not strenuous, but you could tell they were there when you had to walk up them.
Three miles later the second bottle of water was gone. We were halfway home and I was out of water. This brought up another problem, where to relieve myself. The area was too populated to just use a bush and not attract the attention of law enforcement. We opted for a small gas station that also required a purchase for use of the facilities. I purchased a 32 oz. Gatorade. Lesson learned: You will probably need much more water than you think, under ideal conditions.
We made another three miles and decided to take a longer stop. We were slightly ahead of schedule and our feet were less than happy. This stop included an airing out of the feet (dude, don’t sit upwind) and a change to clean dry socks. The socks were invaluable. We probably should have been changing them every two hours to properly care for our feet.
The next portion of the trip was fairly pleasant (other than tired feet and calves). The sun was going down along with the temperature, and we were in a better part of town with sidewalks. The difference in walking on a sidewalk as opposed to a grassy roadside is amazing. We even took the time to cross the street if it meant we could get on a sidewalk for an extended period.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. The final three miles required a lot of willpower on my part. My buddy had a flashlight, and that was helpful when there were no sidewalks, but not essential. It did make us more conspicuous. I probably would not have used it in a bad neighborhood.
To sum up the trip, more socks would have been nice and I needed more water. Two liters was just about right for my buddy. Lip balm was essential. I had trail mix left over, and he had a few snacks left also, so food was not an issue. We ended with a few blisters, but nothing too bad. Cold weather or rain would have changed the story entirely (that would have been miserable). A truly hot day would have been extremely difficult.
Looking at EDC kits I see a lot of these things packed with fishing line and hooks, a tiny magnifying glass, survival instructions. They seem to be filled with small, but only marginally useful, items useful in specialty situations or just to fill the kit up.
I fish quite a bit, and I have a hard enough time catching fish with a rod and reel. I can’t imagine the time and effort it would take to catch a fish by hand with 8 feet of line and small hook. Besides that, every minute sitting there fishing is not getting me to my destination.
I once started a fire with a magnifying glass. It required a 4 inch glass and the help of my buddy, and it still took nearly an hour in good conditions. I am no expert, so maybe some people could do it with a 1 inch glass. The problem is that for this purpose size matters. The smaller glass will not collect enough light to generate the heat required for ignition very quickly. For this reason I do not pack a magnifying glass in any of my bags. It does not fit my skill set and therefore does not fill a need.
I am getting at the following point. Learn to use the items before they go in your kit. The things you are able to use, and fill the purpose for your kit, are the essentials. These are the things you need. I will tell you right now, you need water. Who cares if it doesn’t fit in your small metal tin box, you need it. You need it more than just about anything except air. If you need to pack something in your small tin, then pack a way to purify more water.
Some sort of knife or multi-tool is another essential item in my opinion. This item will open up another world of tools and items you can fabricate. Pack a knife you use and are comfortable with. My knife is always in my pocket. It was a free gift, but probably only cost about $10. I don’t care if it is not a high dollar name brand unobtainium alloy. I like it and more importantly, I use it constantly.
From this point we start moving down the road to luxuries. By this, I mean we could have completed the trip without a fresh pair of socks. We would have been more uncomfortable doing it, but I am pretty confident we would have made it. On the other end of the spectrum, we could have packed 5 extra pairs and changed every hour. To be honest, that would not have been worth the extra space and weight. There is a balance between need and luxury. This is a personal aspect that only you can answer, but the only way for you to truly know is to take a little walk of your own. In any case you will be much better informed, and you will know what you, and your kit, are capable of.