What I am going to share here is just tips that can be filed away for the time they are needed. Some may not work in your area or be applicable, but hopefully there will be something useful for everyone who spends time reading this. Some deal with gear and simple things you can do to improve your situation, others are skills.
I am a firm believer that learning skills is the best preparation anyone can make. Knowledge to me means information you can learn from a book, to make it a skill you have to actually learn it hands-on. Better yet do it repeatedly until it is easy. Knowledge is far better than nothing, but I’d encourage anyone reading this to go the extra step and turn what you can into a skill. Skills learned cannot be taken away by anyone and are always with you, whatever the situation.
These are in no particular order, because if you all are like me you will just skip to the section you are most interested in and forget all the others. No such luck, I’m going to make you read it all if you are interested in any of it.
Carry basic tools with you all the time. For me in my job this means a Leatherman Wave in a custom sheath I had built that also holds a magnesium rod and firesteel on my right side. I also carry a small Benchmade folder in my pocket or, when working horseback, a Mooremaker fixed blade in a sheath on my left side. The fixed blade is just in case I ever get my right hand hung up in a rope doctoring cattle I can reach the knife with my left hand. Fit your tools to your situation, and they don’t have to be expensive although if you use them regularly you get what you pay for. I’d avoid the $5 generic knives since Buck, Gerber, Kershaw, Mora, and others have much better knives for $10-15 . Every coat or jacket I have has a small inexpensive lightweight folding knife and a mini BIC lighter. I want to be able to cut material and start a fire no matter what.
When building kits think of buying things in quantities that can be divided between several kits. All types of cordage, fish hooks, lighters, many items can be bought cheaper in bigger packs and then split up.
Buy a roll of braided nylon cord in a couple of weights. I like a lighter cord around 150lb and a heavy cord of around 350lb knot strength. Paracord is great to have along also, but bulkier so I save it for bigger kits.
Cut off 15-30ft lengths and roll it around 3 fingers then slide it off your fingers and wrap it with electrical tape. Having it wrapped up like that keeps it from tangling anything in your pockets and ready for when it is needed. This is cheap, light, and can go right in the jacket pockets with the lighter and small knife. The cordage can really make a difference when trying to lash a shelter together, your boot lace breaks, you want to make a snare, endless uses. For a quarter of a pound and not much bulk the lighter, folding knife, and cordage can always be with you.
Altoids tin kits are the next step I like to slip in my hunting coat pocket, tackle box, saddlebag, glove box, ATV, etc. I like to have one in anything might ever need one. Fit them to your area and environment, nothing in them needs to be expensive either. Here is what mine include:
-Reynolds oven bag cut in half (water storage)
-mini firesteel & striker
-small bic lighter
-2 vaseline coated cotton balls (wrapped in plastic twist tied shut)
-fish hooks 6 small 6 medium
-fishing line 30ft 25lb Berkley Big Game (wrapped around lighter)
-repair needle to fit fishing line or trotline cord
-15ft green 142lb trotline cord (fits through eyes of medium hooks)
-Leatherman mini flashlight (batteries backward to prevent accidental discharge, 30hr life)
-4 1qt water purification tablets
-6 wire fishing leaders 45lb 18” long bent into snares
-strips of 1” wide gorilla tape wrapped around outside of tin holding it shut.
Protein can be hard to come by in the wild without much gear. For that reason I’m a big fan of absentee fishing and snares. Both can be effective and the components don’t weigh or cost much.
Inexpensive fishing kits are another thing I like to have around in any larger kit. Walmart can be a great resource for that and you can make a lot of kits for around a $20 investment. I like Berkley Big Game fishing line because it is reasonably priced and tough. It isn’t designed for smooth casts or finesse, it’s made to stand up to rubbing against rocks or logs. It works really well for what I do. I like to have a couple weights, a clear or green 12lb spool and a solar colored 25-40lb spool. Fit it to the size fish in your area, channel cat are a lot bigger than brook trout. Cut the line into lengths that fit your kits and wrap them around something else in the kit (lighter, pen, etc.) to keep them untangled and out of the way. For hooks I like to buy a panfish assortment and a catfish assortment and divide them up between kits. Hooks should be sized to the fish where you are going for example I don’t pack catfish hooks when elk hunting in the mountains. The decent brand hooks like Eagle Claw are close enough in price to the real cheap ones that it pays to buy a name brand. Real cheap hooks are often dull or poorly tempered, and you want a sharp strong hook for absentee fishing. For panfish I like a longer shanked J hook. The extra length gives me more leverage to pry the hook out. To small or short a hook and the fish will swallow it so you have to cut it out each time. For the medium size hooks I prefer to buy Kahle style or circle hooks, as it seems to improve my hook-up percentage for absentee fishing which we will get into later. Lures can be good to add also but will up the cost of the kits depending on what you buy. I like lures that can be made to work without me providing them action for absentee fishing. For example a crappie jig will bounce under a bobber with the waves on a pond surface, a blade bait or inline spinner will flash with the current in a stream. These lures can be used for absentee fishing in a pinch. I don’t pack lead weights or floats in survival kits as these can be improvised. I will pack a few swivels of both straight and 3 way design to give me options in rigging.
A water bottle or similar shaped item can be used as an improvised reel for fishing. Wrap the line around the bottle and leave a few feet of slack out with your hook/lure on the end. To cast throw your hook/lure out into the water with one hand while holding the bottle with the other hand, with the bottom pointed out toward the direction you threw the hook/lure. The line will spool off the bottle freely. To reel it in simply wrap the line around the bottle as you pull the hook back toward you.
The braided nylon “bankline” or “trotline cord” in a pack can be used to stringer fish to keep them alive until needed. It will need to be kept where turtles or raccoons cannot help themselves to your fish easily. Also the string should be run through the lip of the fish, usually the lower lip, or somewhere else that it doesn’t interfere with the gills working. If it impedes the gills the fish will die much quicker.
The other food gathering method I like to have in any kit altoids tin or larger is snares. For the smallest kits I like to have 18” long 45lb wire fishing leaders. Any shorter than 18” and I can’t make a loop large enough for rabbits. Picture wire works also, as does the light copper snare wire. The cable leaders I feel are tougher than the light snare wire and pack smaller than the picture wire. Larger kits I include picture wire and real pre-made self-locking cable snares. Predators are prevalent in my area so any snare I set for rabbits or squirrels I try to make a spring snare. This uses a sapling to pull the game up off the ground once caught and hopefully out of the reach of a coon or coyote coming through. It also keeps an improvised snare without a self locking mechanism tight. Much more and better information can be found on snaring and how to set them online with some searching.
The beauty of snares and setlines (absentee fishing) is that they can be working for you while you do other tasks. Other types of traps are excellent to have also as snares will become damaged with use while they can be used over and over. The biggest disadvantages to the other trap designs are cost and weight.
A very valuable survival tool often overlooked is a fish gig head. If you are near any good water source having a metal gig head in your pack can be a great addition again without much bulk or weight. A shaft can always be made from wood in the field, just carry a screw or other way to attach the head. While wooden gigs can be made the metal version penetrates scales much better and the barbs help retain the caught fish. It can also be handy to pull a rabbit out from under a brushpile or piece of old machinery, to pin a snake until his head can be removed, multi-purpose.
Another item I like to keep in any long-term kit is a good open reed predator call. I like to use one of the higher pitched howlers for this as I can make a wider variety of calls with it. If I have a predator hanging around my camp robbing my snares this gives me an opportunity to take him. Also if I ever find myself needing to prove that I can be a useful addition to a group removing some of the local predators and providing hides can be a good start. It’s a small item that doesn’t take up much room or add much weight. Feral dogs are another problem that the call can come in handy for. The call can give you a chance to deal with problem animals on your terms, at a place of your choosing giving you the upper hand. Deer or other game can also be made nervous, made to stand up in tall grass or move out of timber for a clear shot with a howler.
Keep dryer lint every time you clean it out in a ziplock or old condiment jar. It makes a good tinder to catch a spark and flame up although it burns very quick. Your longer burning tinder material needs to be set-up and waiting for the lint. I like the plastic condiment jars best myself as a large quantity of lint can be packed into them and kept dry. I like to tape a small firesteel and striker (piece of hacksaw blade) to the inside of the lid. Firesteels.com sells small inexpensive firesteels that can be purchased in bulk for this. Free book matches, lighters, other ignition sources work also, but the firesteel can store forever and doesn’t need to be dry to work. I can then store these fire kits in handy places like my boat, truck toolbox, the rafter of an old shed in our calving pasture, anywhere it may someday come in handy.
Cotton balls rolled in Vaseline and stored in a pill bottle are a much better tinder source. They burn much longer than the lint. Wetfire cubes are good also. Throwing a few Wetfire or Esbit cubes in their factory containers or a small bottle of Vaseline cotton balls inside the jar of lint isn’t a bad idea for real damp or tough conditions. The lint can be used in decent conditions, the better tinder saved for when it is really needed.
Always be on the lookout for tinder sources when walking through the outdoors. Awareness of your surroundings in general is a great habit to have. Something may happen to turn a jaunt into a survival situation and the bird nest you passed a little way back can be the tinder that gets your fire going.
Take time to stop and look behind you as you move through the outdoors, especially in unfamiliar territory. Everything looks different going the other direction so this can help keep you from getting lost. It can also show resources that were hidden behind a bush or rock as you passed them by. It costs no extra energy to see the whole picture.
Remember primitive ranged weapons are primitive. I am certainly not saying that becoming proficient with one or more isn’t a good idea, but saying that their limitations need to be remembered. I spent several afternoons practicing at 10yds with an arrow firing slingshot and got to where I could hit a cardboard rabbit stuck to a round bale at waist height. I switched it to ground level and had to start all over again learning where to hold. Growing frustrated I took my 3” barreled 357 and put all 5 of the shots it held into the vitals from twice that distance. Primitive weapons have their place, but it’s often much easier and more effective to use a gun. That revolver takes up less room and isn’t much heavier than the slingshot and arrows. I’m still trying to improve with the slingshot with both arrows and ball bearing ammo, but would much rather feed myself with a firearm. If you plan on relying on a primitive weapon, plan on putting in lots of time mastering it.
If noise needs limited a good quality air rifle or 22 rifle with subsonic ammunition is a great tool to have around. I keep an older 22 rifle (Marlin 60) that I wouldn’t otherwise use zeroed with the subsonic ammunition. It cycles it fine.
Written by: Catfish Hunter