I was served up an ad for a $20 “survival kit” today, and it was full of the usual suspects. A tactical pen. A cheap folding knife. A single AA “tactical flashlight” and a compass that was slightly larger than an aspirin. All of it was of dubious quality and practically none of it would be any help in a real life or death environment.
But it got me thinking: Could you actually put together something… not awful, for just $20? Something that had decent gear that was actually useful? Something that you could use to keep yourself alive when all else has failed you?
First off, a little review is in order. I follow the outdoor survival rule of threes when it comes to setting up my “prepping” gear:
- You can survive three minutes without breathable air (unconsciousness) generally with protection, or in icy water.
- You can survive three hours in a harsh environment (extreme heat or cold).
- You can survive three days without drinkable water.
- You can survive three weeks without food.
So if the “survival kit” you’re looking at has three different types of fishing gear, but no way to start a fire, you’re doing it wrong. I’m also not going to talk about medical gear or self-defense. Those have their own goals and require different skill sets and different gear.
With all that in mind, let’s see what we can get for around $20.
Knife: Morakniv Craftline Basic, 3.6 inch Blade. My friend Robert turned me on to these in the mid-80s, and I’ve had one near me ever since. Sharp, durable and inexpensive, you could pay more for another knife, but why?
Shelter: A Mylar “Emergency Blanket.” Yes, these are not known for their durability and it will probably last only one or two days, but that is one or two days you have to make a better shelter. Plus you can always use the ripped up pieces for signaling.
Cost: $2.75 ea (or less)
Compass: Coghlan Map Compass. Not my first choice, but because chances are, it’ll probably work, it is definitely better than anything else in this price range.
And that uses up our $20 budget. Now it’s time to get creative.
Fire: A Disposable Lighter. I carry a lighter with me every day. Not because I smoke (I don’t), but because birthday parties happen, or grills don’t light, or shrink tubing needs shrinking, or any one of hundreds of other reasons.
Cost: Under a buck.
Water: 1 Liter Heavy Duty Zip Close Bag, Bleach, Plastic Eyedropper Bottle. Two effective ways to clean up drinking water without boiling it are exposing it to UV light (like the sun) for 6 hours, which you can do with a zip close bag, or adding a few drops of bleach to it, which you can carry in the eyedropper bottle. Be sure to toss in a few drip coffee filters as well so you can also clean out most of the floaties and nasty bits.
Cost: $0.80, or free if you don’t throw out the bottle when you run out of eye drops
Signaling: A Plastic Mirror and a Coach’s Whistle. I have yet to get one of those orange plastic “survival” whistles to work, but anyone who’s done any kind of high school sports knows just how loud a coach’s whistle can get. Rather than buy a dedicated “survival” signal mirror, buy a sheet of decorative plastic mirror tile and cut it to a convenient size.
Cost: Around a dollar or so. -ish.
Other stuff: Carry a handkerchief. They are just too useful to not have around. I didn’t add a flashlight because anything halfway decent (even a Photon Micro-Light II) would have put me way over my $20 budget, and I’d rather have a good knife with me than a flashlight. You can use fire for illumination or signaling, but there are no substitutes for a decent knife. I also didn’t really consider how all this stuff could be packaged and carried. However, all of it together is small enough to fit into various pockets, otherwise you can find something like a binder pouch for about a buck and a half that’ll carry everything.
Is this enough? No, not really, but it’s enough to get you started. All this stuff does is allow you to put the knowledge and training you already have into use when your life is on the line. The rest is up to you.