Tools and Essentials
Since the beginning of time, fire has been one of the primary necessities of civilization. It provides light and heat. Both are requirements for survival. It can also be useful for cooking, boiling water to sanitize it, fending off wild animals, and simply for comfort.
As fire is of prime importance in wilderness or civilization-turned-wilderness-by-a-disaster settings, you should to carry three methods of starting a fire. There are dozens of ways to start fires, but I will highlight the three I recommend for this size of kit.
Matches are the classic fire starter. They are easy to use and produce a good, but short lived, flame. At least they do when the matches are dry and there is no wind. Everybody knows how to strike a match, so having this option available has great value if you are not the one starting the fire. Make sure you include the striker with the matches and store them in a waterproof match case.
Next is the classic Bic lighter. It has a familiar operation, burns for a long time, and is reliable in the best of times. In the worst of times however, don’t plan on it working after it is dunked in water (at least until it completely dries out). Also, the lighter fluid can leak out if the unit is crushed or the lever accidently gets depressed against other gear in your bag. Avoid refillable lighters, as they are notorious for leaking their fluid for no apparent reason. Get one in a color where you can see the lighter fluid level so you know how much fuel remains.
This third option for your emergency kit is much more reliable than the first two, but is just different enough that someone unfamiliar with it may not know what to do with it. (Which is why you carry the other options too.) The Spark-Lite and its associated Tinder-Quik tabs are small, light, and very dependable. They work when wet (just shake off the water) and can be operated with one hand if needed.
The Spark-Lite operates very much like a traditional Bic lighter, but produces a much hotter and larger shower of sparks. First, fluff one end of the waterproof Tinder-Quik. Then flick the wheel to shower sparks from the Spark-Lite onto the tinder. It normally lights after only one or two sparks.
If conditions are ideal I find you can often get away with only half a Tinder-Quik. (Simply cut it in half with your knife.) Only do this if you are confident in your fire building skills and conditions are right (i.e., dry kindling, no wind, low stress situation, warm temperatures, etc.).
Getting an initial flame won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to turn it into a larger fire. I recommend practicing in your back yard (on a fireproof surface in a safe location) to get familiar with the process. If you have never built a fire or have only built one using an entire bottle of lighter fluid, then the process may take a bit more skill than you realize. The key to developing that skill is practice.
Fire is extremely dangerous and should only be used in safe locations and then only with great care. Never build a fire indoors (risk of carbon monoxide poisoning) or when there is risk of a forest fire.
The knife is considered by some experts to be the most essential component of a wilderness survival kit. In the disaster emergency kit, it still holds a place of prime importance. Its usefulness is simply too important to ignore this critical tool.
Its uses include cutting, prying, whittling sticks (for skewers, shelters, or simply to pass the time), and, well you get the idea…
For this kit, you don’t want to haul around a huge fixed blade survival knife (save that for another kit). Instead, I recommend a high-quality folding knife with a non-serrated (plain-edge) blade. Serrated blades are more popular (and thus easier to find) and will work just as well as a plain edge blade, but they are harder to sharpen without special equipment that you can’t count on having with you.
Get the best knife you can afford. The better the steel and the way it is constructed make a huge difference in its ability to service you well. Cheep steel dulls easily. And dull knifes are dangerous as they require you to use greater force to accomplish your task, which in turn increases the risk of the knife slipping and cutting you.
Get a knife with a blade made from 440C, D2, 154-CM, or better steel.
Benchmade Mini-Griptillian Folding Knife (plain edge)
The Benchmade Griptillian series of knives are beautifully constructed and made of good quality steel. They are very reasonably priced for the quality of the product. I especially like their AXIS blade lock, which is one of the most reliable and safest locking mechanisms I have seen.
I carry a Mini-Griptillian Mini with a plain-edge (non-serrated) blade made of quality D2 steel. The specific model I have appears to be replaced with a newer Mini-Griptillian with a slightly better (for our purposes) 154-CM stainless steel.
If you can’t afford a quality knife, I recommend you save up until you can. In the mean time, at least carry the keychain knife I recommend for your Everyday Carry Emergency Kit.
A multi-tool, such as one of the popular Leatherman tools, is a great addition to your kit. The various tools (pliers, wire cutters, screwdrivers, file, saw, can opener, awl, etc.) are very useful for repairs and other tasks. For example, use the can opener to open your survival rations or use the pliers as a potholder or to pull a needle and thread through tough material.
Since this is a small kit, consider getting a mini multi-tool, like the Gerber Clutch or the Leatherman Squirt P series (the Squirt S series have scissors rather than pliers). While the min multi-tools won’t do everything a larger one will, they are considerably lighter and smaller. (I carry a full sized Leatherman Wave in my kit for its superior strength and thus usefulness.)
The knives on these tools are backup blades rather than primary blades. Carry a multi-tool in addition to the folding knife mentioned above.
Because it’s such a great value (and so small) I recommend the Gerber Clutch. If you want to carry a full size tool I recommend the Leatherman Wave.
Some form of light is both necessary and comforting during and after a disaster. You may need to find you way across debris and through unfamiliar areas when the power is out. If you have kids, the comforting part really becomes a necessity.
A headlamp is generally more useful than a traditional flashlight as it leave both hands free to work.
I am partial to the Princeton Tec EOS Headlamp. It is very bright, has good battery life, and is well constructed.
As I mention on my everyday carry kit page, I also carry a micro keychain light on my key ring. I use it constantly and it is more convenient to pull out than a full sized light. The Photon Freedom Micro Light is slightly more expensive than others in its class, but is made out of nearly indestructible glass filled polyurethane. It is also water resistant. Well worth the few extra dollars.
Get the “covert” model Photon Light in the white beam color. The covert model adds a shield around the bulb so it doesn’t blind you with the side-scatter light. It in no way affects the usable light output from the unit. It also comes with a handy clip attachment so you can use it as an improvised “headlamp” by clipping it to your hat brim or shirt collar.
Make sure you carry spare batteries for your light. As I mentioned above, it is a good idea, if you can, to get a light that uses the same batteries that your radio does.
Also, make sure you get a quality flashlight or headlamp for your emergency kit. The cheap ones will leave you without light when you really need them.
Genuine mil spec 550 parachute cord (generally referred to as paracord) is great stuff. It has a breaking strength of 550 pounds (250 kg), but is sufficiently small that you can pack a decent length in a small space.
It has seven inner strands that can be pulled from the outer sheath and used where the full diameter rope is not appropriate.
The cheap, imitation rope you find in the discount store camping section is inferior in strength and usability to the mil spec version.
Use it as a ridgeline or guy line for a tarp shelter, as an emergency belt, to tie a homemade splint, repair gear, make a lanyard for your flashlight so you don’t drop it in the water, etc.
Heavy-duty aluminum foil has several interesting uses. You can make a cup to boil, and thus sanitize, water over a campfire (make a lid to keep out the soot). You can cook food hobo style by simply wrapping the food up in foil and placing in hot coals to cook. You can also use it to create a windbreak for your fire or camp stove.