Survival Gear Packing 101, by Jim G.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about types of bags and the many different options for BOBs that are out there. A staple of all prep web sites is the gear list and there is no shortage of suggestions on what you should have with you. What I’m not seeing is how to stow your gear. I’m not talking about the actual packing of your bag. I’ve actually seen an article or two about this, tips like keeping the heavy items low and close to your back, use of ditty bags, or packing your rucksack in a columnar system. What I’m talking about is an overall strategy of where on your person, and where in your transport system certain items should go.

Most military types will be familiar with the information I’m about to present, especially if they were in any way involved in long range patrolling techniques. Basically we’re looking at three tiered system. You’ll divide your gear into three parts and carry it either on your person, on your belt, or in your rucksack.

On Your Person
Working outwards from the body we’ll look first at what you should have on your person. Think of this as your wilderness everyday carry (EDC). A good way to determine what should be on your person is to think the worst. Think about what you’d need if for what-ever reason you had to bail with just the clothes on your back. Say you’re caught in an ambush and had to drop your ruck and cut and run, or some nasties raid your camp and again you have to run for it. It could be something as innocent as losing your pack. I recall being on a canoe trip with friends. We ran a fairly serious set of rapids and one of the canoes went over. Not serious, but when we recovered everything a rucksack was missing, the tether that had secured it to the canoe dangling free and empty. We bumped around for the better part of an afternoon, getting wet and taking chances in the fast water but never did find the ruck or any of the gear that was in it.

Very important items, like a compass or a Swiss Army knife can go on lanyard around your neck, making them even more secure. Beware the Pain In The A** (PITA) factor. A full-sized Silva compass or a large multi tool hanging around your neck and getting in the way every time you bend over or move around will quickly become a PITA. It gets taken off and stowed elsewhere. Murphy’s Law seems to be ever present in these situations and that means that when the SHTF your compass or pocket knife is not where it normally is. It may seem like a good idea to keep some items “next to skin” but keep them small. I have a little plastic case on a lanyard, you’ll see folks who work in controlled access areas with their passes in them, in it I carry my ID card, drivers licence, and a credit card. You could also fold and squeeze in a good chunk of cash, especially here in Canada with our new ultra thin polymer bank notes. On the lanyard I also have a little pen knife. The entire issue goes under my shirt and is barely noticeable. Another item that you might consider keeping “next to skin” or at least under your basic clothing is a money belt.

We’ve already touched on four basic items that should be on your person, pocket knife, (or multi-tool) compass, cash, and documents. As well you should always have your survival tin well stocked and in a pants pocket or in a small pouch on your belt. There are a plethora of articles written on building a small survival tin and there are commercial versions available. It should be small enough that it can be carried all day and night and be barely noticeable. If it’s too big or cumbersome it may get left elsewhere when it’s really needed. Matches or a lighter should be on your person. This goes without saying for smokers, but it’s usually one of the things I forget and need to go digging in my main ruck when I need to light something. A small flashlight is must, either a small Maglite or a tactical light like a Surefire. While in the military I always tried to have at least some food on me at all times. A chocolate bar, Power Bar or similar snack fits nicely into a shirt pocket and might make all the difference in that first night after you had to bail on your gear. Personal comms, such as a cell phone or Sat phone should also be on your person, though this depends on the coverage available. The situation will dictate, as it does with all gear choices. Choice of clothing should be made with a view to having as many practical pockets as possible. Outdoor gear and military style clothing fit the bill nicely. Belt pouches are fine, however if you have too much stuff on your belt it becomes uncomfortable if you have to sit or lay down, your waist band on your ruck may not sit properly, not to mention it will be difficult to keep your pants up with your belt loaded with kit. Leave the utility belt for Batman. One thing that should always be on your belt is your sheath knife. I’m a bit of a believer in knives so on my person I have my Buck sheath knife, a Spyderco pocket folder, and my little Swiss Army knife around my neck.

On Your Belt
A good sized belt pouch should be next. A regular belt with a large pouch attached would work well, as would a good sized butt pack. This is where you’ll stow gear that you need readily, but without the survival importance of gear you’ll have on your person. A satchel with a shoulder strap works well too. It will swallow up a lot of gear and it doesn’t have to go around your waist. A large metal cup, coffee or tea, creamers, sugars, along with a small solid fuel stove can provide refreshment without digging into your main pack. Spare food, spare batteries, a back-up multi-tool, small water bottle, back-up fire starter, extra ammo, bigger flashlight, signal mirror or panel marker, lots of matches or lighter, water purifier, and a survival blanket are all items that can be considered for this belt pack. Again use the worst case scenario when deciding what to carry here. What if you had to run for your life and that meant ditching your pack? What if you’re foraging or scouting away from your camp and get separated from your pack for an extended time? As a rough rule of thumb your belt kit should be able to sustain you for one full day and night away from your main pack.  Keep the PITA rule in mind also and that if an item is too large or cumbersome it can quickly become a detriment instead of a benefit. Choose your equipment based on your situation and ease of carry.

Weapons and Ammunition
Generally the best possible way of being armed is with a long gun as a primary firearm and a pistol as a back up. This gives the flexibility to respond to all threats, it also gives depth to your personal defence plan. Where these weapons are carried is easy, your long gun and its ammo are part of the intermediate layer, integral to your belt kit. Your hand gun is part of your gear that goes on your person. A little trial and error with holsters, shoulder rigs, or gun belts is necessary to come up with an efficient and comfortable carry for both your primary and secondary weapon. A third layer of firearm protection is tempting, a small derringer type gun or “belly gun” kept under your shirt might alleviate an otherwise hopeless situation. On the other hand be aware of being over gunned. More guns mean more ammunition and the added logistics of carrying different natures. Again the PITA rule bears attending to. Be careful of having too much gear around your waist. A gun belt is good but how will that effect your rucksack carry? How will it ride in conjunction with a belt kit? Questions to consider and find a solution to before the SHTF.

In Your Rucksack
The rucksack is the heart and soul of any load bearing system. It becomes the “mother ship” for all of your gear. It will contain most of your necessities but keep in mind that the ruck may not be with you at all times. If you establish a base camp, and are away hunting, scouting, or foraging the ruck will generally be left behind. There should be nothing in your ruck that you absolutely cannot do with out. You might lose your main shelter, water, and the bulk of your food should you need to ditch the pack, but you should have alternate survival supplies on your belt or on your person.

What you put in your main pack will come under three headings. Food and water, shelter, and environmental clothing. A good water purifier will cut down or eliminate the need to carry a lot of water, allowing more food to be carried. Ten days food is about the max that can be carried without seriously overloading but you’ll need to be frugal and use a strict ration plan. Included with your food is a stove and fuel. You might consider leaving the stove and fuel behind and using fires instead. The downside of this is fire and smoke can give your position away and attract attention while a stove can provide a hot meal or hot drink with out too much of a signature.

Shelter can be a tent or a tarp suitable for building a shelter. This will depend on the ground and the environment. Obviously in more temperate areas a bivvy will suffice, while in colder harsher environments an enclosed tent will probably work better. A bivvy bag can be an alternative if you’re traveling alone and speed and ease of carry is an issue. There is one main disadvantage to this. In bad weather or adverse conditions you can stay put and “ride things out” a lot more comfortably in a tent. A bivvy bag is good for sleeping in but not much else. In a bivvy bag you can’t sit up and have a coffee or read a book while the blizzard rages outside.

Speaking of inclement weather brings up the subject of environmental clothing. Here in Canada, working and living in cold environments is a matter of fact for almost half of the year. You’ll need to allow room in the pack for heavy parkas, wind pants, and insulated boots. The problem here is that you’ll need to move and work in lighter, better vented clothes, while at night or in-active you’ll need serious insulated cold weather gear. Moving or working in your warm gear, and getting overheated and sweat soaked can be disastrous. Environmental clothing can take up a lot of space. Space that might seem better used for food or other niceties, but remember the old adage; “pack light, freeze at night”

Practice using a small sled to haul your gear in the snow. After years of humping big rucksacks I got a small kids sled, lashed my ruck to it and went on an overnighter hauling my gear as opposed to carrying it. The difference was quite pleasant and as long as I was in relatively open ground the pack towed along behind me effortlessly. I did end up jury rigging a set of small poles to replace the tow rope so the sled wouldn’t pass me or run me over on the down hills. It alleviated a lot of the problems we talked about earlier about having too much kit and belts around your waist.

In summary, have a good look at where each item you carry goes. Assess the value of each item and put it where it belongs. “Must haves” go on your person so if you have to bail with the clothes on your back you won’t be without your critical survival gear. “Nice to haves” come next on a belt kit or shoulder bag. These are items that can make a night or nights away from camp bearable weather they’re forced on you by weather, a navigational error, or by the action of hostiles. Lastly “Everything Else” goes in your main pack. It is your main carry and the center piece of any load bearing system. It is also the first thing that gets looted, dropped, lost, left behind, or abandoned. Nothing that is critical to your survival should be in the ruck. Dropping or losing your rucksack will be a serious situation but it should not be the end of the world for a savvy survivalists.