Personal Survival Kit– The Pocket-size Giant of Preparedness, by R.B.

The Personal Survival Kit (PSK) is everywhere. If you Google it, up come 10,400,000 entries. What is it? Peace of mind, a force-multiplier, a breath-mint tin full of miracle producing ingredients, or maybe not! The PSK can be purchased ready-made online or in any camping store. These kits are diverse in contents and in price range, some being quite expensive. They are interesting but rarely are they exactly what any specific real-life survival situation requires. You will always have to add or subtract components in order to achieve the ideal kit. It is better to take the time and make your own PSK. The self-made kit will make you think about what survival is all about. The process of selecting each component will put you in direct contact with its function and your commitment to its possible future use in your hands.

The plethora of Internet how-to videos is presently making the self-made PSK the hot topic. Some are thoughtfully assembled and presented, but most go more in the direction of nonsensical fantasy, uselessness, and unrealistic imagined survival scenarios. Many presumed essential components of these PSK’s would unfortunately not save anyone’s life.

The Real PSK

Everyone has their own personal contingency. The Personal Survival Kit will neither save you from an E-5 twister, a category five hurricane, or an earthquake registering a 9.0 on the Richter scale, nor from floods, forest fires, or civil unrest. The most important tools to have with you in an emergency are practical experience and prudence.. You will ultimately have to save yourself in every survival scenario. The PSK is a wisely selected collection of effective back-up tools that will serve you once you decide what you will do next. It is there to support your resolve to take action and survive.

One foundational principle of survival is to know where you are and be able to locate yourself on a basic road map. If you had to abandon your vehicle and walk home, which way would you go? Wherever I travel, especially when driving, I keep a general sense of homeward direction. I still use hard copy maps and a compact road atlas. Even if I know where I am going on a repeat trip, without any need for a map, I habitually pay attention to directions with a sort of mental compass. Everyone, especially those who don’t have an innate sense of direction, should include some navigation aids in their PSK, since getting out of a bad situation usually involves moving and going.

Wherever my work takes me, I always have at least a minimalist PSK in my vehicle driver-side door, in my shoulder bag, or sometimes in my pocket. Your own PSK can be kept in your vehicle storage compartments, in your boat, in your aircraft, in a pocket in your backpack, or best of all, on your person in a pocket or purse.

A PSK Means Foresight

In an emergency situation, the immediate objective is positive, can-do, survival attitude. In the face of contrary predicaments, survival means to keep safe, keep dry, keep hydrated, keep fed, keep warm, keep alert, keep visible or invisible, keep connected, keep healthy, and stay alive. The last 36 months have produced enough extreme situations, both nationwide and abroad, where many people probably wished they had some sort of survival kit.

Building your PSK

Your PSK should be intentionally compact and practical, so as to avoid any excuse to leave it behind. If something were to happen where the PSK was your last resort, your life might depend on what’s inside. Every item should be your own personal choice. Even though budget priorities command how we invest in equipment, you can’t afford cheap. Doubtful and unproven components are not an option. Better-than-nothing is an unacceptable survival attitude.

Good Survival Books

Any comprehensive survival book covers the PSK. I have benefited from John McCann’s “Stay Alive” and “Building your own PSK”. Also good is the Tom Brown series or military handbooks. Ex-military authors usually cut the fat and get down to essentials. The PSK is a big fad right now, and there is a confusing array of things to buy, based on TV survival shows. Many of these highly commercialized gadgets are glorified toys. They are endorsed by survival stars who are actors. I would not entrust my life to any of them.

Basic principles

It comes as no surprise that the little phrase “God helps those who help themselves” exists in every known language. In survival scenarios, it frequently happens that little things make the big difference. Read, study, take notes, and learn now because the government’s emergency system cannot always save you. Your PSK is for you and yours, in line with your life’s immediate situational duties, your employment, and your extended range of activities. Most specific components can be had at reasonable cost, from ordinary sources such as grocery stores, drugstores, and hardware stores. Camping or military surplus stores offer a variety of specialized items, as well as imported knock-offs. Be selective and buy what really works. Online sources are located by using clear and precise search words for the item you want.

What is your PSK really for?

Question its ultimate purpose. Should your PSK help you to be more visible or more easily found? Will you be lost and, hopefully, the object of “search and rescue” efforts? In some scenarios, you want high visibility; bright, orange-colored and reflective items should be sought for the container and contents.. When stranded at night, it is good to be able to shine a light on yourself to oncoming traffic or potential “search and rescue” personnel. Shiny PSK components add more visibility. If bright colors are only preferred because you are concerned about dropping and losing your PSK contents, then put minimal landyards on the items you fear losing.

Modeled after military-issue PSK’s, should your kit be of the tactical type, to be able to disappear with you? Are you escaping and evading SHTF pandemonium or WROL disorder? Is wilderness or desert near where you live and work? Can you discreetly camp or make a fire where you are going? Is your situation more likely in an urban context? Your survival kit should be specific to your area of operations. PSK’s are as diverse as their owners and their respective contingencies.

The Container

The small tin format, immortalized by the Altoids breath-mint dispenser, has become the model. Despite the genius-level examples I have seen, I do not consider this to be completely serious or adequate. If your PSK absolutely has to fit inside your pocket, then be ready and willing to forego a lot of useful survival items. By going a little bigger, the greater benefits would exponentially outweigh the inconvenience. Worthy and larger variants to the Altoids tin do exist, such as watertight plastic boxes made by Otter, Pelican,and Plano. These run the gamut of either bright or subdued colors as well as camo.

Metal containers either larger or smaller than the breath mint tin are widely available. Larger would be ideal for a more developed PSK; smaller would be good for mounting on an edge tool sheath, such as a fixed blade survival knife or a machete. Smaller tins can be sub-containers inside the main container.

USA-made military organizers and pouches with buckles or zippers can be used for the PSK container itself or as a quickly identifiable storage case. These come in virtually any size, color, and configuration, with varying amounts of internal fixtures and sub-compartments. By themselves, they are good if soft and silent is a priority. Just be sure your choice will resist the elements.

My personal preference is for the metal tin concept, which is crush- resistant, and able to be put on a fire for boiling water or cooking. The shiny inside surface can be polished and used as a signal mirror. It should be waterproof, either with an internal gasket or sealable with heavy tape. Every shape and size can be found online. Sources are numerous, such as BestGlide.com or SurvivalResources.com, which offer many of the common sizes. Trangia.se and EcoLunchBoxes.com make larger sizes.

I tape my PSK tin shut. Tape can be re-used for other purposes in survival. Gorilla brand is available at any big-box home improvement store. PatriotOutfitters.com offers tactical tape in military colors and various widths. Go around the edge of your container several times so as to have more tape available for multi-tasking. Ranger bands made from bicycle inner tubes will keep your PSK closed but if the inner tubes are old, these bands will fail. Small diameter elastic shock cord is considered a multi-use survival item by the USMC. It can be used to keep your PSK closed, if you do not want to use tape. If you wrap paracord or anything else around the outside of your PSK, it must be able to slide off easily, allowing your kit to quickly deploy. Taping my PSK shut also reminds me not to borrow things from inside that I’ll forget to put back.

As it is for the container, so should it be for the contents. I like metal sub-containers. To me, metal PSK items seem better– more robust and less toy-like. My kit incorporates various metal items like a titanium whistle, brass button compass, zinc alloy flashlight, stainless steel signal mirror, and an aluminum match case.

PSK Tools

  • Maps and Compass.

    One foundational principle of survival is to know where you are and be able to locate yourself on a basic road map. If you had to abandon your vehicle and walk home, which way would you go? Wherever I travel, especially when driving, I keep a general sense of homeward direction. I still use hard copy maps and a compact road atlas. Even if I know where I am going on a repeat trip, without any need for a map, I habitually pay attention to directions with a sort of mental compass. Everyone, especially those who don’t have an innate sense of direction, should include some navigation aids in their PSK, since getting out of a bad situation usually involves moving and going.

    The compass is one of the survival big C’s : cutter, cordage, container, combustion, communication, compass. Navigation is for the scenario where you are either lost and needing to get your bearings, trying to get a sense of location on a map, or trying to move in a line towards a precise objective. The cardinal directions of the compass will be indispensible. Two accurate compasses should be part of the PSK; one primary compass should be kept on your person and a back-up one kept inside the kit.

    Every PSK wants to have the ingenious little button compass made famous in war movies. Brass is best for the button compass. Cheap plastic ones are unreliable and a gamble, at best. I’m not sure if I would entrust my life’s destiny to a $1.99 plastic button compass. The Francis Barker NATO brass button compasses are pricey, but they are trustworthy, while keeping in mind that button compasses are meant only for very general navigation. Only one button compass, from USA-made TruNord.com, is as accurate as bigger ones and worthy of total confidence in all conditions.

    The next size bigger is the watchband compass. This compass is excellent, accurate, and much better than even the good button compass. Cammenga, TruNord, and Suunto.com make these.

    Add a playing card size plastic laminated map of the USA, or cards with more specific maps, depending upon where you live and work or where you will be traveling. Copy and print them from map websites. The smallness of such map cards seems somewhat futile, but it is a big help in giving a general geographical sense of where you are, and is usually sufficient for getting your bearings.

    Slavomir Rawicz’s somewhat contested, but believable, biography “The Long Walk” was particularly long because the escapees from the WWII Siberian gulag did not know where to go. They did have a cobbled PSK of sorts, but only sketchy knowledge of their whereabouts in eastern European and Asian geography.

    In survival, even the smallest help can change everything for the better. You can print out survival instructions from the Internet and make your own quick information cards. If you are injured or compromised, someone else may have to utilize your PSK. Avery.com makes plain cards and labels any size to print out and add to your PSK.

    I do not keep a complete note pad in the PSK, but rather just a few loose Rite-in-the-Rain pages. Shorten the length of a pencil and sharpen it so it fits into your PSK container. I use a woodless, solid graphite pencil from the arts and crafts store. Sharpen the pencil with a metal sharpener, which will multi-task to make wood shavings from whittled sticks for fire tinder. In a pinch, you can remove and sterilize the pencil sharpener blade for first aid use.

    Add some surveyor flagging ribbon to your PSK in your choice of color (bright or subdued) for marking your way so as to avoid walking in circles, if you are disoriented. The true story of German officer Clemens Forrell’s escape from a Russian prison camp “As Far as my Feet will Carry Me” dramatizes this delirious episode. It frequently happens to hunters while they concentrate on stalking and inadvertently lose their bearings. Most hunters do not look at a compass when they start out in the direction of their game. Reversing the bearings to come back to camp becomes impossible. It only takes a minute to look.

  • Knife.

    A good knife is your number one tool. If you put one inside this kit, you have three choices– a folder, a multi-tool, or a small fixed blade. However, if your PSK attaches to a fixed blade sheath, the knife can be a big as you want. Do I really need to put a knife inside my PSK? What will be my eventual demands and expectations of an edged tool? Do I want a snap-off cutter refill blade or disposable scalpel blade only for fine cuts, or a broader use standard knife? If I choose a folder, can I still baton and process firewood without stressing and breaking it? Are there other blades and useful tools folded inside the valuable handle space? Can a small skeletal knife be made bigger with the addition of an improvised handle? There are plus-and-minus determinants for each type of tool.

    Ultra compact PSK-specific knives are now being produced by quality knifemakers, including the American Redoubt knife-making superstars (TOPS, Buck, CRKT), and also the common USA-made brands like Kershaw, ESEE, and Becker. They range from three to six inches in length or longer. Internet sources can be found by entering the search word “PSK knife.” Besides a multi-tool, which I carry on my person, I like the military variants of the Swiss Army Knife for my PSK. They are available in black, green, or camo. My SAK has a decent stainless steel blade that allows for one-handed opening and includes a saw, while other tools fill up the handle space. I add various grits of folded wet-or-dry sandpaper in the PSK for edge tool sharpening and other uses. Small sharpening stones removed from fold-up holders are very effective but less compact. Credit card size diamond sharpeners are excellent but a little pricey.

  • Multi-tools.

    Small multi-tools do fit well in the PSK tin, but how useful are they in a survival situation? Miniature/tiny fold-out blades and tools are not always ideal. A little extra room allowed for medium-sized tools could make a huge difference when the heat is on. Beyond the blade and pliers, everyone wants tweezers and scissors. The original Slip-N-Snip folding scissors are still made in Sweet Home, Oregon. SliverGripper.com produces Uncle Bill’s heavy duty tweezers. Although a sewing needle or knife tip can aid in the removal of splinters and other foreign elements that penetrate the skin, traditional tweezers are still the best. Cactus grows in my area of operations, requiring sufficient tweezers. A mini-tin of PRID traditional black drawing salve is a good follow-up to cactus run-ins and splinters.

  • Mini Prybar.

    The urban PSK tends to downplay the knife, since this can usually be carried separately. In its place is a combination tool or mini-prybar. These range from a truly functional miniature prybar to a wedge-shaped keychain accessory. Leatherman Piranha, Planet Pocket Tool, and Widgy Pry-bar are USA-made examples. Although their realistic prying force is surprising, the principle is to have an alternative to knife blades, which were not meant for leverage prying. In desperate emergency situations people panic and demand the impossible from whatever tool is in their hands. Urban PSKs frequently include other city-specific implements. VigilantGear.com offers versatile lock bypass tools. UltimateSurvival.com offers the saber-cut survival saw, which acts as a mini hacksaw.

  • Fire Making.

    Fire is an essential survival objective; it’s one of the big four– fire, shelter, food, and water. If fire-making is within your contingency, be sure to have multiple ways to make the fire that will warm you, protect you from animals, allow cooking, and purify water. Fire is useful for signaling with smoke during the day and flames at night.. Dry wood makes black smoke; wet wood makes white. The decision to build a fire should be the conclusion of much thought regarding necessity, safety, and discretion.

    In an urban scenario, metal-cased tea lights or small emergency candles fit in the PSK. The more real beeswax content, the longer the burn time. Light the candle, drip some wax on the intended fireproof emplacement, and it should stick in place, standing up. Compelling words on beeswax. A lip balm candle idea is great.

    Fire starter petroleum-impregnated cotton is still the favorite choice. You can put some in dedicated sealed drinking straw segments. I do not commit cotton balls or cotton wads from vitamin bottles to being greased up for fire starting until the need arises. I keep some form of first aid petroleum separate for the same idea of multi-tasking. Lip balm or ointments from first aid squeeze tubes work for fire as well as their intended purpose, but they are bulky if you want them in your PSK instead of your pockets. Purchase the single-use flat wrapped versions of these first aid items. Foil-wrapped single-application antibiotic ointment takes up little room. Add any of these to cotton balls for fast fire starting. Multi-task Remington gun wipes, alcohol wipes, military issue Trioxane, or Esbit, and WetFire cubes are all good fire tinders for open-air fires. Avoid breathing the fumes.

    Ferrocerium combination magnesium bars with an attached ferro rod, even the original military-issue, are over-rated. I have rarely had the chance to light a fire in idyllic, windless conditions. Magnesium shavings blow away, and the attached ferro rod can only be repeatedly struck on the same face. A good ferro rod is a major player in survival fire making. A plain one, without a handle and or plastic housing, is best; it’s the most compact, long enough to be firmly held by a gloved hand, and can be struck from either end. The minimalist ferro rod will not take up valuable space in the PSK. Camping Survival.com, Going Gear.com or Firesteel.com offer the best sizes.

    Coated blades and some stainless steels will not spark a ferro rod. To make the ferro rod spark well, the striker must be bare metal that is sharpened square with a burr on the edge, whether this be the back of a carbon steel tool blade or a dedicated striker. Practice by lightly scraping your finger across your intended striker. If it grabs your skin, it will do the same on a ferro rod. My back-up striker is the larger P-51 military can opener I filed with a square edge. How many uses does the can opener have? See “The Army’s Greatest Invention: the P38 Can Opener”.

    A compact disposable Bic-type lighter fits perfectly in the PSK, as well as any available clothing pocket or purse; the more the better. Refillable windproof or metal survival lighters are more durable but require extra lighter fluid. When making a PSK, it is practical to wrap things like extra tape and small diameter cordage around tubes. But common sense says not to wrap anything around a disposable object such as a lighter. Better to wrap material around something you will not throw away, like a metal matchcase. Put a small cable tie at the on-button of your PSK lighter to prevent it from inadvertently turning on while stored, since items in compact kits are generally very tightly compressed against each other. Break the cable tie only when you absolutely need that particular lighter. Additional cable ties are useful for other purposes. They also come in multiple colors for marking things for specific uses.

    NATO matches are frequently poor quality of unknown manufacture. Household strike-anywhere matches are surprisingly dependable. The Eco-green ones are not. Get the windproof-waterproof UCO long matches at camping supply stores.

    Keep matches in a waterproof metal container, if the plastic ones may be an issue. It makes sense to have fire-making elements stored in fireproof containers. Matches are used once, but the container can be re-used for other things. Original Marbles brand or old Boy Scout brass match containers are available, if you search around. The new ones you buy today are poorly made copies and are not waterproof. The long UCO matches need a slightly longer container. NuMyth and Exotac make watertight aluminum containers. K&M, a highly respected ma-and-pa American Redoubt enterprise, makes military grade brass containers.

  • Energy and Warmth.

    If fire cannot be made, what else can give you energy or warm you up in a pinch, at least to prevent hypothermia? Plastic sheeting or reflective mylar sheet materials, such as a survival blanket or a bivy bag, are my first choice. Wrap up, sit down, and, if possible, light a candle inside this thermal environment. It is not luxurious, but you will keep fairly warm. Grocery store tea-lights work, but not as well or as long as the UCO beeswax tea lights.

    Tea bags can be sucked on to increase alertness. Salty bouillon cubes are my favorite quick revitalizer. If you can light a fuel cube and put water in your PSK tin to make real bouillon, this is well worth the extra effort. Chewable vitamin tablets or hard candy help as well. Datrex.com still produces the classic miniature ration bars with a 5-year shelf life. In extreme military survival, the patriotic Tootsie Roll has a special history of its own; it story is a A “must read”.

  • Lighting.

    Single AAA battery nano flashlights or coin-size lithium battery-powered keychain lights will fit in the PSK. Energizer makes a metal-cased high tech key chain light. The original Photonlight.com is based in Blachly, Oregon, but beware of the fakes. Solar-powered keychain lights are absolute fakes, as well. Good lights require good batteries that need to be kept fresh. Before I entrust any light to my kit, I try it out for a while, keeping it in my pocket. Keep spare batteries in the kit. When packing your light into the PSK container, be sure nothing pushes against the on/off button.

  • Signaling.

    Everybody puts a signal mirror in their PSK. Even though anything shiny and reflective can be used for signaling, a dedicated mirror is more efficient. I’ve used both plastic and steel signal mirrors. If you are not familiar with signaling by sunlight, you can glue instructions on the back. An interesting credit card size steel signal mirror is available from American Redoubt located at SilentSignals.com.

  • Water.

    The dangers of dehydration make this the biggest of the “four big survival concerns”. Water wisdom: the dictum, “don’t eat unless you can drink,” is still one of the golden rules of survival. This is why, in general, most survival kits contain little or no food, though hydration is essential. Water and food procurement possibilities do remain primary ends of the PSK. Various military and survival authorities dispute how long a human can go without food. But all agree that hydration is critical. In survival, never pass up a water source if you find one, collect some and purify it while moving. If you find something better later on, you can always discard the less desirable water.

    You need two water specific items: a container and a method of purification. Beware of fast-acting water purification tablets. The best tablets require several hours of waiting for full effect. They come wrapped and sealed in foil, and identified with a printed expiration date. Be sure to know how many you have on hand. You can add packets of powdered sports drink mix to mask the iodine or chlorine taste. Space is a primary issue according to PSK principles, but essential items such as water purification should have a primary place.

    A compact filter-straw water purifier is a good addition to the PSK, if there is sufficient room. Not all filter-straws are created equal. Beware of the cheap ones. Water is life. DownUnder Military-approved Sure Aqua Survival straw is imported by Colorado-based SurvivalMetrics.com. Good straws are more expensive, and slightly less compact, but they are proven. They cease to function when their time is up, so there is no guessing about how much water they will purify. The cheap ones reach their expiration limit and you ingest any combination of deadly bacteria. Water filters are very sensitive to what touches them, so be sure to practice at home. Recognize how one small error could spell disaster, since bacteria is only microscopically visible. Remember also that wet water filters will freeze in extreme cold conditions.

    Avoid the common cheaply-made zip-lock style water bags. Aqua-Pouch, Nasco WhirlPak, and Loksak make survival-specific water bags for the PSK. They have space-saving, zip-lock style closures. The PSK tin makes for an ideal vessel for boiling water. A coffee filter or tablet-size compressed survival towels, which (once unwrapped) become washcloth size or bigger, serve as pre-filters. EZ Towel, Ultimate Survival Technologies, Hoods Woods or Uni-Tissue make these. A compressed sponge made by Miracle Sponge at Dick Blick.com, powderless nitrile surgical gloves or sterilized balloons can be used as makeshift water vessels.

  • Food gathering.

    This is another one of the four survival elements. Animal trapping and fishing seem like a time-consuming gamble, but certain situations allow for this with much-appreciated results. Better to have the means and not need it than to be completely without and suffer a missed opportunity. Keep some brass or stainless snare wire, which can be used for many things besides snares. Craft stores sell all kinds of fine gauge wire. Maybe add an ESEE AH-1 arrowhead, an impressive miniature spear.

    Gripping examples of real-life extreme survival food gathering are found in one famous WWII story of the Norwegian commandos “Assault in Norway.” BBC sponsored a re-enactment led by survival celebrity Ray Mear, with many failures. See The Real Heroes of Telemark. Hunting for food in a survival situation can be very trying. Practice first. Learn how to skin and cook unusual and less desirable animals you might trap, which would normally not very appetizing. Declassified military instruction film demonstrates these skills.

    Fishing obviously presumes being near natural bodies of water or canals. Be sure your mini kit is what catches the local fish– the bait they like, right size hooks, and appropriate line. Braided filament such as Spider Wire has many uses besides fishing, whereas monofilament degrades quickly. Soft tree bark, bits of wine bottle cork and foam ear plugs will float for makeshift bobbers. Store your fishing kit as a sub-kit in something like an Altoid small tin. Smaller slide-top tins are available on-line at Papermart.com and others under the search : small metal tins.

  • Bandana.

    SurvivalMetrics.comoffers a head bandana with established survival instructions printed on it. My choice is a piece of cloth from fabric stores where good materials like silk, wool, linen, can be found by the yard, in bright or subdued colors of your choice. Any bandana should be sized so as to double as a cravat-scarf for a first aid sling. The bandana also serves as an effective pre-filter for water collection.

  • Shelter.

    A painter’s clear plastic drop cloth is light and compact. You can get them in various mil-thicknesses and dimensions. Ultra light is less re-usable. Close up your shelter with this and light a fire out front, if it is feasible. This mini-greenhouse keeps you warmer than in an open lean-to style configuration. If you are in a natural duff-debris shelter, put the painter’s drop-cloth down as a water barrier, either on the ground or overhead as a cover, adding more debris for insulation. This is much better than a mylar blanket, which should be saved and used around you as a personal wrap.

    If you pack a larger-size PSK and include a tarp, pre-tie cordage to corners and most often used tie-offs in between corners. The tarp should thus be ready to deploy quickly. Space blankets, plastic sheets, and trashcan liners and ponchos that lack grommets can easily be used as tarps as shown at.

  • The SPACE Blanket.

    This is the iconic survival item. Though many knock-offs exist, http://GrabberWorld.com still makes the original Mylar blanket. Blaze orange or O.D. green are available on one side, if visibility is wanted or unwanted. Hypothermia is overcome by wrapping yourself in the blanket to create a thermal barrier. Add a metal encased tea candle to heat up the inside. An excellent instruction on the space blanket is available. U.K.-based Blizzard Survival.com has a full range of space blanket configurations. They are widely available at U.S. suppliers. They make the mylar ponchos and vests that fold up for a compact PSK, too.

  • Cordage.

    Pre-cut single or double shoelace lengths of cordage. Then make quick-release braided chains. Coiling will knot up when you try to unravel it in a hurry. 550 military-invented paracord is touted as the best for a PSK. The inner strands can be used for filament or other low-strength applications. Paracord bracelets deploy easily, yielding about 8 to 12 feet. I carry my cordage outside of my PSK. Better to keep some extra around your neck or waist, or wrap it around the PSK so as to slide it off quickly. Despite all the praise for 550 cord, there are other PSK-specific options. AtwoodRope.net makes the compact 3/32″ cord. Nylon twisted or braided masonry line, bankline, decoy line, or 65-pound spider wire braided fishing line will all easily do the job, as well as 550 cord, where strength is less important. The 550 paracord does remain a backbone of any PSK, whatever length you choose, but you will never regret additional smaller cordage.

  • Carabiners.

    Stay away from the brightly colored toys, key chain, and water bottle ornaments. They are dangerous when any trust is placed in their effectiveness. Get the real thing, so it can be truly put to use, if the need arises. I wouldn’t keep any carabiners inside the PSK; instead, attach them on the outside of the carrying case. If things need to be clipped together, use a small Nite-Ize metal S-biner or any size split ring. They are more effective than toy carabiners.

  • Foil.

    Neatly-folded aluminum foil is a popular PSK item, but it is next to useless for repeated use. Aluminum foil melts and burns in a hot campfire. Heavy foil, used in backpacking stove windscreens, is better and obtainable through online suppliers. Fold up a small aluminum foil baking pan and you will have something for boiling water if you opt out of the metal PSK container.

  • The Survival Saw.

    The compact G.I.-issue wire saw is often a misnomer. Make sure it is the real item based on the original medical-use Gigli wire saw. Every manufacturer uses survival, military, and/or commando buzzwords. Knock-offs will quickly fail and even break in your hands with a little stressing. There are dubious claims that these saws will cut bolts and padlocks. There is also a pocket chainsaw, utilizing field-made handles, that works fairly well. Tests prove that all survival saws are fragile, and their proven use varies. See Survival Saws. What do you need to saw? If padlocks, bolts, and door hinges are barriers in an urban scenario, try a plan-B alternative passage first. The saw on the multi-tool or SAK should be enough for most woodland survival sawing purposes. The wire saw is compact and worth a chance, if it can be used properly. Practice with one; you may or may not like it. Quick-use firewood can be broken with hands and legs.

    Reality survival is intense and improvised. Minimalism is nearly always the right measure for survival. Your PSK should be enough. Elaborate tools made in the field seem to be less essential in a true survival situation. They appear to be more at home for extended primitive camping and bushcraft recreation.

  • The Fresnel magnifying lens.

    Will you have time, along with a cloudless sky, to sit and magnify sunlight to make a fire? Fire making is best covered by the ferro rod, matches and lighter. However, if you use reading glasses, the magnifier will help if your glasses are lost.

  • IFAK and PSK crossovers.

    The survival tin cannot always double as an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK), but some minimal space-saving items are useful and welcome. A small assortment of Band-Aids, Steri-strips, a patch of Moleskin, Burn-Aid pads are thin and lay flat in the PSK. Anti-staph alcohol wipes such as Hibistat multi-task for a variety of clean-up needs. Betadine wipes and triple antibiotic singles take up little space as well. Single-dose pain relievers and both allergy and sting medicines fit inside any PSK. Add assorted sewing needles with eyelets big enough to take braided fishing line and dental floss. Not sure if I would ever suture myself, but at least for repair, the humble needle and thread saw the beginning of everything you are wearing. A few safety pins can be added to the repair items. Foil wrapped single-use scalpel blades are my preference over safety razor blades, they can be easily resharpened for non-medical repeat use. Scalpel handles can be re-sized for your kit. In wilderness survival scenarios, most people are justifiably worried about insect and snake bites.

Your PSK will be a diminutive giant of preparedness in your travels, wherever you need to go. Choose your components based on your personal situation. Upgrade and improve your collection of small but effective tools, use them, and be familiar with their multiple uses. Peace of mind will ensue, knowing that you have an effective real-life kit ready to support your plan of action. R.B.

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