My foray into prepping began over a decade ago after I became hopelessly lost in the Adirondack Mountains. My birthday falls on October 24th and on this particular year, the day was uncharacteristically warm. I felt the urge to take advantage of my good fortune by scouting out some new area for the upcoming deer season. Telling no one of my intentions that day, I jumped into my four-door beater sedan that I fondly called “The Kevorkian” and resolved to boldly go where no man had gone before. I went off the beaten path and drove the Kevorkian down some back roads that snaked their way through the Adirondack’s 6.1 million acres of woods. I parked along the side of the road, locked the door, and walked into the woods wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I did not have a map, a GPS, or even a compass. I had no food, water, or anything remotely resembling survival gear. I made up for this by carrying mass quantities of hubris and I would almost pay for my youthful indiscretion with my life. I wandered the rugged terrain for a few hours when I came to the base of what could be interchangeably termed a large hill or small mountain. After reaching the top I stopped to look around and catch my breath. The trees at the top were so crowded that there was no view to speak of. Having walked for several hours now, I decided I had gone far enough and it was time to go home. I tried to find the side of the mountain that I came up to retrace my steps and panic suddenly welled up in me as I realized that I couldn’t. In case you have never experienced the initial feeling of fear that comes with realizing you are lost in a 6 million acre forest then it is worth a superficial description. There is a characteristic lump in the throat that makes swallowing as difficult as getting conjoined twins into a kayak. Then there is the very fascinating sensation of your sphincter muscle loosening without your express or implied permission. This gives way to sweating like your diffusing a grenade and a heart rate that is higher than…. Well.. Something that is really high. The initial shock and fear passed after several minutes and gave way to a moment of clarity. I sat down and developed a plan. I oriented myself using the sun and walked in as straight of a line as I could until I found a river. I followed this river until I saw some posted signs and then, after about 15 miles and several hours of walking, I came upon a house just before dark. I knocked on the door and was almost in tears when a man opened it. I explained that I was lost and had been walking all day. After conferring with the man as to my location, I determined that I had been walking parallel to the road I parked on for the last 12 miles. I walked back to my car and returned home that night more exhausted than I’d ever been but with a tremendous sense of relief. The seeds of a prepper lifestyle were sown that day and I’ve thought long and hard about how different the outcome of day’s events could have gone had I chosen a different azimuth.
Over the years I have researched survivalism in great depth. The bug began with wilderness survival but has since branched out to disaster preparedness. I have made numerous bug out bags and mini carry kits in altoid tins and small cigar tins. The issue is that every time I wake up and get dressed I must make a conscious decision to place that item in my pocket and inevitably, it would be forgotten and left at home. My philosophies have since changed to try and incorporate survival and preparedness items into my every day carry items. Lets discuss everyday wear or carry items common to most people and what can be incorporated into them:
SHOES: Merrill hiking sneakers are my everyday shoe. I removed the laces and measured out an identical length of seven-strand 550 [nylon parachute] cord and melted the ends with a lighter so that they don’t fray. These laces have held up extremely well and they represent almost 50 feet of usable cordage with the strands removed. 550 cord comes in numerous colors to match your shoes or boots and is an indispensable asset to have in many survival situations. Next, I purchased several ferrocerium rods of varying lengths and diameters through an Internet wholesaler. These rods are also called “Swedish steel” or “metal matches” by some and they are able to create sparks when scraped with a sharp edge. I removed the inserts from my Merrill hiking shoes and cut out the outline of a small rod roughly 1/8 inch in diameter and 2.5 inches in length into the bottom of the sole. The rod fits perfectly in place and after the sole was reinserted, I couldn’t feel it at all. I duct taped a small two inch piece of jig saw blade to the bottom of the other shoe underneath the sole in the heel area. I made sure the duct tape fully covered the blade and that the blade lay perfectly flat on the heel portion so that when the arch flexed the blade did not try to dig into my foot. The square edge of this small jigsaw blade is what will be used to scrape the metal match to create a spark. Both additions add virtually no noticeable weight and did not change the feel at all. This will enable me to start a fire almost anywhere and they work even after being submerged in water.
WALLET/PURSE: My wallet contains a Victorinox Swiss Army Card. These are the same dimensions as standard credit card but a little thicker. These great little gadgets give you scissors, tweezers, a knife, pen, light, toothpick, and magnifying glass. In addition to this I carry some individually wrapped water purification tablets and an unlubricated condom. In a crunch, you can place the condom inside a sock to hold a quart of water and then add the iodine tablet to it. A few Band-Aids and packet of triple-antibiotic ointment finish off the wallet. If you happen to be a woman and you carry a purse on a daily basis then you are not nearly as limited as the average guy. Man bags and fanny packs seem to be an assault to the masculinity of most of us men but if you are willing to sacrifice your dignity for the sake of preparedness, then God bless you. Purses or Maxpedition bags can carry a huge amount of survival gear to include some food and water. These can be set up more like a small bug out bag. Comprehensive lists for bug out bags can be found all over the Internet and as such it is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that a purse gives a woman a huge opportunity to prepare for almost any need i.e. First aid, self defense, food, water, shelter, communications, etc.
KEYCHAIN: Key chains may not be the most discreet way to carry survival gear but they are one of those ubiquitous items that we always seem to have on our person regardless of where we go. This makes them an ideal candidate for our discussion. I recommend using a carabiner to hold your keys since they hold more gear and are a valuable survival item. Make sure they are rated to handle a load. The spine will typically say “not load bearing” or “not for climbing” on the spine if it is not. Let’s discuss the gadgets you can have on your keychain
FLASHLIGHTS: There are numerous flashlights to be found that are designed to be small and fit on a keychain. With the advent of the LED and their improvements in technology, there is no reason not to carry a small LED flashlight on your key chain. It is an inexpensive and inconspicuous way to ensure that you have enough light at night to cope with a survival situation. A caveat is to ensure you only purchase a light that be locked or switched into the on position. I made the mistake of purchasing a small light that would only illuminate if I held the button down. This meant that I would only have one free hand to start a fire or engage in other life saving tasks. Having a light that can be switched on ensures you can free up both hands. Some of these lights even have little clips that can mount to your hat so you don’t have to hold the light with your teeth.
MEDICINE: Waterproof pill bottles designed for your keychain can found all over the internet and in most drug stores. These can house critical medication like nitroglycerin tablets if you have a heart condition. I have water purification tablets in one, aspirin and anti-diarrheal in another and a small fishing kit in a third. Of course waterproof matches can be fit in these containers as well. I warn you not to place so much gear on your keychain that it creates the temptation to remove things. The entire idea behind this is to seamlessly integrate survival gear into your everyday lifestyle so that it is there when you need it and it does not involve consciously deciding to carry it. You may have to create a cover story for your friends when they ask why you carry so much “junk” on your keychain but remember that it is only “junk” to the uninitiated we call “sheeple”.
MISCELLANY: You can also carry a small compass, multi-tool, whistle, pepper-spray (where legal), pocket knife, or Swedish steel (redundant to what’s in your shoe) if you so desire. My advice is to conduct a web search on the phrase “Keychain survival kit” and see what is out there. You will be amazed by what your find.
BELT: There are numerous plans on the Internet for making your own belt out of 550 cord. They look great and involve using a “double cobra stitch”. It took me about 15 minutes to learn the technique from the Internet and then about five hours one evening to make my first belt. I have since made three and they are an awesome piece of gear. The belt will give you about 75 feet of 550 cord depending on your waist size. There are two other belts that have survival value. The first is the rigger’s belt. These can be found at most Army/Navy stores or easily on the Internet. They can be used with your carabiner keychain (if rated for load) and some cordage to belay you if necessary. The second is the money belt. These belts have hidden pockets inconspicuously sewn in and you can hold emergency money or small items of survival gear.
WATCH: I have a Timex compass watch, which as the name implies, has a built in compass. The triple sensor watches like the Casio Pathfinder give you a compass, barometer, and altimeter in addition to the other functions. If you don’t own a compass watch then consider adding a compass to the band as an afterthought. [JWR Adds: If your watch has a steel case, you will of course need to remove the compass from the watchband before using it, to avoid a directional error.] My favorite watch is my Polimaster PM1208. It serves as a radiation detector and dosimeter in addition to telling time and looks just like any other watch. I am an active duty Marine and it is comforting to know that I have the ability to tell if I am being exposed to radiation and how much. This watch is very sensitive and actually detects the increase in background radiation I experience every time I fly. There is a newer version out currently called the PM1208M. These watches are pricey but I have been thoroughly impressed with all my dealings with Polimaster and I believe they are worth the cost.
My wife would occasionally ask me why I needed something that I was carrying. My response was always the same “You don’t need something until you need something”. My mind inevitably wanders back to the day I was lost in the woods and I think of how different things would be today. Set up your gear so that you will have it with you by default and you will never find yourself in a situation where you are kicking yourself for leaving it at home when your need it.