Essential Wilderness Equipment – 7 Items I Never Leave Home Without

by Paul Kirtley

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Essential Wilderness Equipment

Essential Wilderness Equipment. Photo: Paul Kirtley

If you were stranded in the middle of nowhere, your chances of survival would be significantly higher if you had this equipment with you.  To me, however, these items are not just pieces of survival equipment, they are things I use everyday when I am living outdoors.  They are well-used but also well-loved.   

With the exception of the first item – a knife – the following discussion of equipment is not in any order of priority or importance.  Each item is important in its own right and could be more critical than another in a given situation or scenario.   

Knife

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a bushcraft knife is at the top of my list!  Knives generate strong opinions, even amongst outdoors people.  Many have a view on which knife is ‘best’ and almost everyone involved in bushcraft or survival has their favourite.  I think most would agree, in general, a knife for wilderness use should be strong and safe to use, it should hold its edge well and be relatively easy to sharpen.  To me, though, what’s more important than the knife itself is your skill in using it.   

In the hands of someone skilled in bushcraft, a good quality knife is an invaluable tool.  The more skilful you are, the more you can achieve in a given period of time.  If you can complete tasks and make items quickly and efficiently using your knife, then more becomes possible with only a knife.   

There is an old adage – “your knife is your life”.    

Woodlore Instructor's Knife and Sheath

A robust knife and strong sheath are ideal for wilderness use. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Sharpening Stone

There’s another old adage – “you are only as sharp as your knife”.  A portable and efficient sharpening stone allows you to easily maintain a keen edge while in the field.  A small whetstone that can be kept on your person is a good idea in case you are separated from the rest of your equipment.    

There are various options but I like to use a small combination stone that has a fine diamond powder on one side and a fine ceramic surface on the other.  Diamond is quite aggressive and takes metal off your blade quickly.  Ceramic is slow to remove metal but gives a fine, sharp edge.  At 32x100mm (1.26×3.94”), the Fallkniven DC4 whetstone easily fits into a pocket.  Unlike many sharpening stones this type of stone can be used dry.  It doesn’t require oil or water while sharpening but does benefit from occasional cleaning with a little soap and water.

Fireflash

Fire-lighting is a cornerstone skill of bushcraft and fire can be of critical importance in a wilderness survival situation.  You may already be very familiar with the fireflash, also known as the Swedish Firesteel, but they do take a little bit of practice to get the hang of.  I’ve met people who hadn’t managed to get consistent results with a fireflash and concluded they were “rubbish”.  So, it’s still worth me highlighting the fireflash’s merits as a quick explanation of why it’s worth carrying one.  This simple piece of kit has to be the most dependable means of producing a spark.  Even if you are confident in lighting fire by friction, carrying a fireflash is prudent insurance in pretty much every environment you might find yourself.    

Unlike a box of matches or a cigarette lighter, the fireflash can literally light thousands of fires (the manufacturer reckons 12,000 strikes).  A further plus point is that there are no moving parts to break.  While it will corrode if kept damp for an extended period of time the fireflash’s effectiveness is not diminished by having been wet – ideal for wilderness use.  So if the rain has soaked you through or if you fall out of your canoe, you always have the means to light a fire.    

The fireflash produces very hot sparks.  They are much hotter than the sparks from traditional flint-and-steel sets.  You can see this in the colour of the sparks produced – the traditional sets produce orange sparks while the fireflash produces bright white sparks.  At nearly 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,500 degrees Fahrenheit), the sparks from a fireflash will light the widest range of natural and man-made tinders of any of the spark-producing gadgets.  With caution, a fireflash can also be used to light gas and multi-fuel camping stoves.   

I would recommend the full-sized ‘Army’ model fireflash over the smaller ‘Scout’ or ‘Mini’ models for reasons of both longevity and ease of use.  The full-sized model weighs only about 60g (2oz).    

Swedish Firesteel or "Fireflash"

The most dependable of fire-lighting tools. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

I carry my fireflash attached to a length or paracord by a quick-release clip.  I can wear this arrangement around my neck or secure it to my belt, keeping the fireflash in my trouser pocket.  In common with many who are interested in bushcraft, I have dispensed with the metal striker included with the fireflash and use the back of my knife instead.  Using the part of your bushcraft knife where the bevel meets the back is the best spot.  A good way of practicing getting a big spark just where you want it, is to light a candle directly with a fireflash.  Birthday parties at my house are so much fun… 

First-Aid Kit

When I pick up my knife and head outdoors, I also pick up a ‘cuts kit’, a small first aid kit that can deal with what must be the most common injury in bushcraft.  Some people don’t bother protecting cuts but infection is a risk.  When living outdoors for an extended period it is very difficult to keep your hands as clean as you do at home.  I’ve also added a few other useful items to the kit including Wysi-wipes (a compressed, dehydrated wet-wipe) and painkillers (analgesics).    

The kit is not big, and I keep it in a waterproof 4.5×7” (11.43×17.78cm) Aloksac.  This then lives unnoticed in my right hand thigh pocket until I need it.  This little kit contains the following items:    

  • Gauze swabs;
  • Wysi Wipes;
  • Plasters, assorted;
  • Steri-strips/Leukostrips;
  • Melolin dressings, small x2;
  • Micropore tape;
  • Analgesics.
Cuts kit

Contents of 'cuts kit' Photo: Paul Kirtley

Warning:  You should always make sure that you are not allergic or prone to any other adverse reaction to any medicines you choose to include in your first aid kit.  If in doubt, speak to a pharmacist or your doctor.  Also, unless you are trained and qualified to prescribe or administer drugs, any medicines you include in your first aid kit should be for your personal use only and not given to anyone else. 

Metal Mug and Water Bottle

The simplest method of producing drinking water that is free of pathogenic organisms is to boil it.  In the wilderness, boiling water without a metal container is tricky.  So, if you always have your metal mug with you, you can easily boil water.  Yes, of course you can use a billy-can or cooking pot if you have them but you are not likely to carry these on your person.    

I prefer an uncoated, steel mug.  Non-stick coatings can retain flavours, which sometimes makes for some unpleasant combinations (although some people like their tea tasting of last-night’s curry…).  Coatings also make it harder to keep your mug clean – using anything abrasive will damage the coating.  The conductivity of aluminium is higher than steel so you are more likely to burn you lips with an aluminium cup, hence my preference for steel.    

In an emergency, you can manage without a water bottle if you have a metal mug or similar in which to boil water.   In these circumstances, staying hydrated does become more difficult.  Having somewhere to store drinking water is an obvious advantage, particularly if you are on the move.  Under normal circumstances you should always have at least one litre of water-carrying capacity, preferably two litres.    

There are many mugs on the market and many designs of bottle available.  A combination that fits together well, takes up minimal room in your kit and can be carried on your person when required is a real asset.  A neat solution that I like is a NATO flask with a BCB ‘Crusader’ metal mug.  This combination can then be fitted into a belt pouch and easily carried.  I also slot a metal spoon in here.  If the pouch also has a smaller pocket, as water-bottle pouches often do, you have the option of including water-purification tablets, coffee sachets, etc, in your kit.      

Bottle, pouch and mug

Bottle, mug and pouch - everything you need in one compact kit. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Compass

The compass is a simple yet very reliable instrument.  A compass doesn’t need batteries, rarely goes wrong and should always be trusted.  A compass has many more uses than just finding north.  One of the key benefits of learning how to use a compass effectively is that it frees you to confidently navigate in unfamiliar territory.   

Silva Ranger 15TDCL Compass

Silva Ranger 15TDCL. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The model of compass I have been using for the past few years is the Silva Ranger 15TDCL (Silva have since changed the name to Silva Expedition 15TDCL).  This compass has many features and the sighting mirror is useful for things other than navigation too.  From getting something out of your eye to signalling for help over long distances, a mirror is very valuable.    

I keep my compass in my shirt or jacket pocket and it is attached with a lanyard.   

Think about what you really need…

Implicit in all of the above is that these pieces of equipment should be easily carried with you.  Your equipment mustn’t hinder you.  The essential equipment you choose should be light and comfortable enough that you are never tempted to leave it behind at times when you should have it with you.  

Wilderness Bushcraft Belt Kit

Knife and water-bottle pouch. You can also see fireflash lanyard in my right pocket. The canvas pouch contains a more comprehensive first-aid kit than the 'cuts kit'. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

There are situations while travelling in wild places when you might not have access to your main bags or backpack, particularly in vehicles, helicopters or light planes.  Even going for a short walk away from camp, you should consider the consequences of getting lost in unfamiliar territory.   

There are numerous emergency situations you can envisage where you could lose your main equipment, such as slipping over and losing your backpack while wading across a river or in capsizing a canoe.  Then what you have on you person is critical.

Even though many of us like shiny things, bushcraft isn’t about gear. At the heart of bushcraft is knowledge and skill. Some gear does make the application of your knowledge and skills a lot easier and other aspects of your trips quicker or more comfortable.

The more skillful, knowledgeable and experienced you become, the less you will need to rely on equipment and the less stressful it will be to lose some of it or have some of it break.  That’s not to say you should be sloppy with your kit, though!  What it does mean is that when you are planning a trip, you get to make the choice as to what level you want to rely on equipment and how much you want to rely on your skills and natural materials.  Do you take a tarp or build a shelter?  Do you take a stove or cook over a fire? Do you use matches or carve a bow-drill set?

This is closely tied to the aims of your trip.  Maybe you are after covering distance quickly and a modern, lightweight camping outfit is what suits you best? Or, maybe you intend to spend more time in each place, so you take a few tools and employ your camp craft skills to make many of the items you need around camp? Or, maybe you plan to test yourself, living from the land, relying heavily on your bushcraft and survival skills?     

For some people reading this, the idea of spending a night or two out in the woods with only the 7 items I’ve highlighted would be a nightmare.  For others, this scenario will read like a holiday/vacation, as it’s something they’ve done, perhaps many times, and enjoyed.  For others it will be an attractive challenge yet to be tried.      

Everyone has their own comfort zone and what is superfluous to one person may be essential to another.  I could manage with less but above is my list of kit that I always like to have if I have the choice.  So, what’s your essential wilderness equipment?  Leave a comment and let me know if you’d have something different, in preference to these items.  Also, even if you agree with my ‘top-7’, let me and other readers know what would be next on your list to make up your top-10.  I’m sure it will make for an interesting discussion…

Related Articles on Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

How to Build a Survival Kit on Bushcraft Principles

PLAN Your Skills for Survival

STOP What you are Doing!

Creeping Death – Hypothermia and How to Avoid it

 

Recommended Books for Further Reading:
 

 

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

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{ 88 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Bayley

Another engaging and well reasoned article. The two items that I’d add to a lightweight kit-list like this would be a whistle & light source. I carry a Fox40 whistle (very loud & no moving parts) and a tiny LED key-ring type torch on a lanyard around my neck. They weigh just a few grams and don’t hinder me in any way but can be very valuable. The whistle is for attracting help in an emergency and a torch makes patching yourself up with your cuts-kit or finding your dropped fireflash and many other tasks much easier than trying to tackle them in the dark.

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Ziggy Evitts

If I were to add 3 other items to round out a top 10 they would be; a small wash kit in a tin, a small fishing kit (just hooks and line) in another tin and an MP3 player with a bright enough screen to serve as an emergency light, loaded with Tangerine Dream.

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Paul Kirtley

Ziggy, I wondered when someone would get onto the idea of food. You can spot someone who’s done the Journeyman course :o Fishing kit is a good one. How about including some wire in this too – could make leaders for fishing or snares? How about some Boards of Canada or Autechre’s ‘Incunabula’ to add to Tangerine Dream?

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Steve Amos

A fishing hook could also be improvised from a rose thorn and fixed onto a line stretched across a stream or pond, I think, although not usually as effective as a proper fishing kit. Maybe paracord would be a useful item to add as while cordage could be made without too much difficulty, it’s useful to have a ready amount of strong cord, which could be invaluable for a bow drill as some natural fibres aren’t resilient enough. Just a personal preference. I’m ,only 13, so I’m not so experienced as to produce long lengths of cord quickly. The metal cup is also a firm favourite of mine for brewing some hot chocolate out in the woods.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your comment. It’s good that you are thinking about these things – I think you are right to value good, strong cordage. It can be difficult to create/replicate from natural materials. And even the best plant-fibre based natural cordage is not as resilient for bow-drill. Rawhide on the other hand is excellent. Like modern cordage, rawhide is something which would have to be manufactured and carried with you.

Keep in touch,

Paul

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Paul Kirtley

Steve, thanks for your comment. Good, practical suggestions. I like them. Fox 40 is very loud indeed. They should come with ear defenders!

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Jonathan Deval

Cracking article again Paul,

As Steve has mentioned above, I carry a whistle, Fisher Space pen and a small Inova micro light in my first aid kit, otherwise it is a basic kit list you just can’t argue with and the minimum base items that make life not only possible, but comfortable too. I don’t think I can really add to that.

Keep ‘em coming..

JD

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Paul Kirtley

Jonathan, glad you liked the article. A pen is an interesting one. Being able to make notes or sketch maps could be important in some situations. Good stuff!

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Jonathan Deval

I thought the idea of honing your fireflash skills on a candle was a great idea. Good tip for anyone else trying this though, is to avoid using the other halfs large scented church candles. Apart from the fact that it is difficult to light a wick in a pre burnt 4 inch diameter candle with a gaping crater to the wick, you also tend to leave a load of unsparked ferrocerium in the bowl which gives out tremendous results when someone comes to use it.

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Rick Amos

Fisher Space pen…….expense, why cut down pencil, cheap as chips, also writes in the rain

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Austin Lill

Interested in the firesteel-I love the metal striker and have put a slight edge on the ‘handle’ (not the smaller striking bit). I find flicking the striker off the very end with my other thumb is for me, about as good as using a knife. Talking of knives, I’ve recently got a bespoke one so your first aid kit info is timely!

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Paul Kirtley

Hey Austin, if you are using the more recent key-shaped strikers, I agree they are much better than the old type. Filing to increase the edge is a good idea – bit like a furniture scraper. This works well on the back of Mora ‘Clipper’ knives too, which other than where the bevel meets the back, are a little rouned to get any decent ‘bite’ on the fireflash. Enjoy your new blade :o

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Mark Hotson

As the years progress I carry less kit than I used to. However narrowing down to a top ten is tricky.I go with ‘Paul’s top 7′ in essence.But would add a mobile phone, a headtorch and a small forest axe.

I feel happier with a mobile about me, when I am out any where. It affords me a higher degree of confidence ,especially in an emergency and the ability to change my plans and let those at ‘home’ know. Although my phone is rather basic many have GPS , backlights , internet facilities etc. Not very bushcrafty but very practical !

As mentioned previously the head torch is a must .

Although the knife is a very versatile tool in the right hands.My Gransfors B. Small Forest axe allows me to perform many tasks in a much more efficient manner.

I would also use the versatility of my First Aid kit to include items such as Safety pins (fish hooks), spirit based wipes (firelighting) etc and some emergency Topic Bars/chocolate !

Another excellent article..thought provoking. Perhaps a ‘sense of humour’ is the one thing we should never be without……

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Jonathan Deval

Hi Mark.

Problem with me though, the weight of the axe would get me leaving it behind almost everytime as it is difficult to carry on your person everytime you venture out, especially the SFA. I personally never carry one in the UK, preferring a laplander and knife combo, and very rarely use it abroad as I mosly visit warmer climes in my job. I would have included the axe more as a rucksack item than a personal, body item too. But it’s horses for courses and we are all different, you can probably do with-an-axe what I have trouble doing with a scalpel. A mobile certainly is an excellent idea, if not a necessity in this day and age, and I bet most of us wouldn’t even consider it as kit as it is present anyway, good call. Now if someone would make a mobile with a fireflash secreted inside ;-)

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Paul Kirtley

It’s true – we are all different – and we should embrace that. I’m surprised it’s taken so long for anyone to mention a folding saw. Paired with a knife it’s a powerful combination. An axe is certainly more useful in the northern forests than in warmer/tropical zones. In the boreal forest, particularly in winter, the axe is more important than the knife. The slower growth of trees due to the shorter growing season means growth rings are more tightly packed than at lower lattitudes. Some wood will be frozen. To stay warm you need a lot of firewood. You end up using your axe a lot.

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Paul Kirtley

Mobile phones are certainly useful for personal safety. Unfortunately some inexperienced people misuse mobiles to call out resuces because they are ‘tired’ on Hellvellyn or similar. Some places in the UK still don’t have good coverage though and in remote areas, overseas you can lose reception altogether. Then you are into the realm of satellite phones. If you are in charge of a group, however, you should have some means of communicating with the outside world. Most people would view you as naive or negligent if you didn’t.

A headtorch is very useful, particularly in the winter months, and the modern LED torches are powerful and so light in weight that you can carry them and hardly notice. A torch increases your safety in the dark allowing you to do work you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do (such as finish a shelter for the night). A torch also allows you to signal. The discipline comes in using a headtorch sparingly so that you don’t run the batteries down too quickly.

A larger first aid kit can indeed contain extra items – the kit you can see on my belt in the picture in the article contains not only bandages, etc but also a Petzl e-lite headtorch and a cigarette lighter.

Great responses guys. Keep them coming!

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Mark Hotson

Hi Jonathan,

The carrying of my GB axe has almost become habitual for me. The points you make are very valid though. A lot of what and how we go about our ‘outdoor activities is based on the actual environment we find ourselves in, personal preference , skill levels , comfort zones and taught influences.

I find myself doing a lot of Campcraft and find the axe invaluable.When in a location I tend to carry it in an axe ‘loop’ on my belt , but I guess , I would nearly always go out with a ruck sack/bag etc and would carry ‘all’ my kit ( perhaps item numbers 4-10 plus essential clothing) in that . Although I would leave the knife, fireflash and first aid kit on my belt . I have to say I attended a Campcraft course with Paul a few years back now and have never looked back , as far as axe use is concerned. So I ‘ll blame Paul as a ‘taught influence’ !

If we counted a Food item as an essential piece of our ‘possibles kit’ for either morale or nutrition or both….What would you carry ?……. It would be a slab of Dark Chocolate for me !!!

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Paul Kirtley

Ok, I’ll take the blame for that one :)

Dark chocolate certainly would be good. But you also mentioned Topics earlier. I haven’t had a Topic for ages. I might have to put this right very soon! The power of suggestion, eh?…

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Steffan Stringer

Hi Paul,

Great article!

I know you are covering ‘wilderness’ kit, but there is also another way of thinking about ‘things I never leave home without’.

When going about my daily business, I have three things in my jeans pocket at all times – cheap disposable cigarette lighter, standard size (non-locking) Swiss army knife and chapstick.

The lighter and pocket knife should get me out of a few scrapes. And then there are the odd bits of very worn stuff that I stash in my car that I optimistically call my ‘ditch kit’. I should probably take a look at that and organise it a bit.

If I am flying then I leave behind the pocket knife (for the most part I try to travel with only carry-on luggage, unless I am doing something outdoorsey when all the sharps go in the hold), leaving me with my lighter and house keys as my only tools. I do get separation anxiety without the knife in my pocket.

I have never been asked to empty my pockets by the police, but feel I can justify a standard size Swiss army knife if that ever happens – even in a pub – especially a non-locking variety which the UK has seemed to gone weird over. If I am out for a walk in the woods I might swap it for a larger locker and chance it.

I used to have a dinky little torch on my key ring and should probably go out and find a good one again.

Regards

Steffan

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Steffan

I’m glad you liked the article and thanks for your comment. I like the idea of an everyday ‘ditch kit’. I also have a small Swiss Army knife on my keyring with my house keys. It’s a useful little blade along with scissors, tweezers and a pen.

From a survival point of view, I think that any knife is better than no knife!

I used to carry a stick of Swedish ‘Hudsalva’ (which you can actually eat/cook with) but it melted all over the inside of my trouser pocket and keys – it was a real mess! So I reserve Hudsalva for where it works best – colder climes where ordinary chapsticks just go solid like candle wax.

The little Photon microlights with variable brightness control are very good.

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kevin flanagan

How weird, or maybe totally sensible, but Steffan and i carry the same three things around daily… for twenty years i have carried a small lighter, chapstick, and a swiss army in my pockets daily… i carry the hiker because i like having the saw blade, but the super tinker was my carry for many years and i keep a spare super tinker in the cruiser at all times… if i’m serious or hunting/fishing or whatever i may carry the SWC or one other of my fixed blades, but i feel naked without the swiss… when i fly i have bought another upon arrival… how do men NOT carry a pocketknife ? i make my wife carry a ST in her purse !

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Dan Madden

Hey Paul,
Found that a great read, thanks!

Something i often carry is a little tinder – most often birch bark – in a small pouch. Not only may it save time in fire lighting, but i like to be prepared. So i keep the tinder close to my body, in the hope that that reduces the chance of it getting too wet.

All the best,
Dan

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Dan

That’s a very good idea. Having some decent tinder on your person can indeed speed up the process. Preparation is certainly the key thing to remember for firelighting. Do you use one of those tobacco pouches for your tinder?

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Dan Madden

I use a small leather pouch/bag to keep tinder in. Ive looked for the ‘baccy pouches, but am yet to find one. They all do the same thing tho!
Dan

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Neil Hopgood

Great article, Paul.

A couple of items I would consider adding would be a lightweight poncho and an emergency space blanket.

The poncho (apart from it’s obvious use) is also quick shelter that can be adapted to what’s around you to get yourself out of the elements. The space blanket could be used underneath the poncho to reflect heat from the fire back down onto you when resting up. It could also be used for signalling (marker panel, or waved for colour, contrast and movement) in an emergency.

Just a thought.

Neil

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Neil

This is good thinking. Shelter is a basic need and having some materials that can provide shelter in themselves or add to an improvised shelter would be valuable in many situations.

I also like your thinking about items having multiple uses. It’s always good to consider this.

Thanks!

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Steffan Stringer

Hi again Paul – a follow up. A bought some wysiwipes and they are so cool! When do you tend to use them? For cleaning up a messy wound with water from your canteen?

Also got the current Freedom Photon Microlight – they have improved significantly since I first had one.

Question for you about wearing your belt kit (heavy water bottle) – it’s not something I have not tended to do myself in the past – but when I did I always used a separate belt. No problems with it getting in the way of your pack?

In the same vein – do you know anyone that sells a drop for the belt sheath. I want to get the knife a little lower and further from my pack and with some articulation so that it keeps out of my way.

All the best and Happy New Year!

Steffan

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Steffan

Happy New Year!

Wysi Wipes are quite absorbent and, in the context of first aid, I use them for wiping and mopping. A few drops from a water bottle is all you need to get the wipe expanding. Just avoid using your water bottle to wet a wipe that is used on someone else. There are obvious cross-contamination dangers.

In answer to your question about having a heavy water bottle on your belt: I tend to wear it on my belt when I don’t have a pack on, particularly in hot climates. If I do wear it when I have a pack on, the belt-loop on my water bottle pouch is a dropper loop so it will hang low enough. I do always use a second belt in addition to my trouser belt to carry a water bottle. Leather belts are OK but in hot climates I find they get wet and uncomfortable from sweat on your lower back. In these circumstances I prefer a light webbing belt such as the models produced by Blackhawk Industries.

For the belt sheath, I wouldn’t recommend going to the expense of purchasing a second sheath. You can make a simple, strong dropper from paracord. Take 30cm (12″) of paracord and make a closed loop, tieing it off with a double-fisherman’s knot. Pass the cord loop through the sheath belt-loop so you end up with equal amounts of doubled-over cord showing on each side of the belt loop. You have formed two cord loops that should then be slotted onto your belt. Your sheath will hang below your belt and be articulated. If it hangs too low, shorten the cord.

If I’m walking with a day-pack, I keep my knife on my belt. If I’m walking with a heavy back-pack, when the hip-belt of the pack is transferring much of the load onto my hips, having a knife on my belt can be uncomfortable. Also access to the knife is difficult. Then, I take a longer loop of paracord, pass it singly through the belt-loop, tie it off and hang the knife around my neck.

Thanks for the follow-up points and questions. I hope this helps.

All the best,

Paul

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Steffan Stringer

Hi Paul, great tips on the makeshift dropper. I wasn’t thinking of getting a new sheath, and contacted Ben Orford at www dot benorford dot com. He made one up from brass and leather to match the colour of my existing battered sheath for £15.

Steffan

P.S. is there a way to subscribe to comment threads here? Can’t seem to find it.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Steffan

I’ll sort the comment subscription option. Is it RSS you are after?

Best

Paul

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Paul Kirtley

I’ve added an RSS feed for comments. You should be able to see it below, just above the comments form.

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Steffan Stringer

Hi Paul, i was actually thinking of an email notification whenever there is a comment in a thread that one has contributed to – but I guess I am being picky!

Cheers

S

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David OB

I’m a bit late to the party as most of my items have already been mentioned. I like your list, but in my cuts and scrapes would have to add some small needle point tweezers for removing splinters. I always carry a credit card sized piece of BCB tinder card, it only takes a piece the size of a postage stamp to start a fire with a single spark from a fire steel! For cutting I use a diamond steel and give the blade a couple of strokes each time I use it and my trusty laplander for heavier cutting. I also carry as much 3mm paracord as I can can carry conveniently, usually about 20m.

I know many of these items can be omitted, but they are so much more effective. Fortunately I have never been in a true survival situation so I practice using natural tinder etc. but if I’m cold and tired why not cheat a bit!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi David

Welcome to the party! This article is still generating a lot of interest. I received a couple of emails about it yesterday too.

Tweezers are a very good addition. I like the Sliver Gripper tweezers – very useful from removing splinters to removing ticks. You can pop these in your cuts kit or clip them onto a lanyard around your neck with photon microlight and fireflash.

Some man-made tinder is a good one. I also often have some waxed paper tucked away somewhere. As you say, it can speed things up a lot, whatever situation you are in.

Laplander! Thanks, you are the first to mention a folding saw. A bushcraft knife and a folding saw is a really powerful combination.

Paracord is such useful stuff. Funny you should mention it on the same day I was writing in my forthcoming article about how important a hank of paracord can be.

These are great additions to my kit list.

Thanks

Paul

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Matt Batham

Hi Paul,

Again, this is a great article. It helps to clarify what is essential and what would make life easier. I wish I would have had your list prior to the overnight exercise on the Applied Bushcraft course!

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I spent a couple of hours trying to light a candle with my fire flash and knife, whilst watching TV. I did manage it once and I was chuffed. I tried again the following day and managed to embed my knife into my index finger of my left hand. Unfortunately my knife was sharp and I now have a sizable cut. On the positive side, I can now produce a much larger spark.

All’s well that ends well,
Cheers Paul,
Matt

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Matt, I hope your finger is healing. And your pride! Well done with the spark production though.

This article and my most recent one on survival kits would have both been useful for you before that ‘overnight exercise’ :o)

Thanks for the comment.

All the best,

Paul

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Dave Harris

Another great article Paul. I suggest that a Millbank bag would be a good addition to this kit, or to your survival kit you describe in another post. I know you can always improvise something to filter out the larger bits of debris from your water source, but Millbanks are very light, don’t take up much room and work very well. Along with your means of boiling water you’d be sorted then!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Dave

Good suggestion. As you say, you can of course improvise – for example tie off a trouser leg or use other tightly woven fabric in an emergency. But it’s nicer to keep your trousers on! A Millbank bag would be a good addition, particularly if you plan on boiling as part of your everyday water preparation.

Thanks

Paul

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Pierre

At the risk of being uncool and “un-bushcrafty”, I would add one essential item: cell phone. At least in our déveloped countries.
It was probably implicit and left that way because of the explicit focus on bushcraft. But if you think “survival” then it needs to be on the list.

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Rick Amos

Nice Article Paul, One thing that no one has mentioned is a mobile phone is great and I always take one, but coverage can be a bit poor, I like to take my 2m/70cm dual band amateur radio hand held. You would be surprised how far 5 Watts RF can get you, and it’s very easy to get your foundation radio licence, quick exam job done. Can easy make a larger antenna from 300ohm twin lead, hook it up in a tree and works 3 x that of the standard rubber duck antenna that comes as standard. Not very bush crafty I know, but more survival.

Anyway nice blog top marks

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Steve Bayley

Just a quick tip about my cuts-kit. I found that the little roll of micropore tape I had was a bit too deep and stressed the aloksac so that it tended to pop open. Solution? Just unwind the tape onto a small piece of card so it is now a wide, flat ‘roll’ that fits in much better. I’ve done the same with some Gaffa in my survival kit too.

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Roland

Great blogs Paul, and sound advice. I’d give a second vote for the Millbank bag; mine lives in the front pocket of the water bottle pouch. Other items I always have, even at work, are a Swiss army knife, Zippo and some cordage.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Roland

Welcome and thanks for your comment. Millbank bags are definitely a good basic piece of kit to have with you.

You can go a long way with a Swiss Army Knife, a Zippo lighter and some cord…. :)

All the best

Paul

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Andrew Rush

In the photograph of the Silva Ranger it looks like there is some form of ‘spike’ attached to the retaining cord? What is it?

Additionally that cord on the ranger looks like the same stuff used for certain brands of Australian Hootchie guy rope, do you know where longer lengths of that cord can be be baught?

Thanks in advance.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Andrew

The Silva Ranger 15 TDCL has adjustable declination. The ‘spike’ is a small plate of aluminum (ie non-magnetic) with which you can turn the little brass screw (at NE) to adjust the declination setting.

The cord is indeed the same stuff that is often used as hoochie guylines. I like a longer lanyard on my compass so I can either use the compass when it is attached to a pocket or put the cord around my neck, on the outside of clothing then into a chest or jacket pocket. I think the manufacturer of the cord is http://www.marlowropes.com/

All the best

Paul

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Dave Smith

Hey Paul.
Great article, but there is 1 thing that a lot of outdoors people forget, or just never mention.
And that is having a good sturdy thick Belt ! .. a person could never carry his or her daily gear like a Knife, firesteel, small first aid kit. A good belt IMO is a must. Out of all the books i have read no one mentions having a good Belt, lol. I bought a very heavy 2″ belt with a strudy buckle.
I got tired of buying those 1″ dress belts, they just break down after a couple of years of being out in the bush. And i spent $ 50.00 for it. I bought my new heavy belt for $ 30.00 its not fancy just a good thick piece of cow hide.

Once again, awesome Blog Paul always enjoy all the stuff you write & post.

Cheers,

Dave.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Dave

Yep, a good strong leather belt is hard to beat and is my usual choice. You can see mine in one of the pics in the article. The only time I question this choice is when it gets soaking wet – they can take a long time to dry out….

Cheers,

Paul

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Custom Lanyard

great article and an excellent site. Thank you Paul Kirtley !!!

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Paul Salmon

Hi Paul,
I’m really pleased to have come across your web site. Could you possibly share the details of your leather case for your compass, as protection of something so important is always on my mind. I usually only have the small Nato button compass with me. Many thanks Paul.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Paul

Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you are finding this site useful.

The case for my Silva Ranger compass is from Woodlore Ltd. but you can easily make your own from a sheet of leather. Simple folding and stiching is all that is needed. You can add an extra ‘flap’ on the back if you’d like to create a belt loop.

All the best

Paul

Reply

steven mennenga

I have a challage to make, try making a bushcraft/wilderness kit for 40buck’s , but also thouggh in that yyou should have a samll emergenncy survuval kit can you amaze me?I’m only fifteen shouldn’t be that hard

Reply

steven mennenga

I have a challage to make, try making a bushcraft/wilderness kit for 40buck’s , but also though in that you should have a small emergenncy survivaul kit can you amaze me?I’m only fifteen shouldn’t be that hard

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Paul Kirtley

Steven

How about:

1. Mora knife ($10);
2. Swedish Firesteel ($10);
3. Whistle (99 cents);
4. 30 metres (100ft) 550lb paracord ( a few $);
5. Metal cup ($5-10);
6. Large, bin liner (aka garbage bag) (few cents).

You still have change for some fish-hooks or a reel of snare wire.

Hope that helps.

All the best,

Paul

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Lorna Shawcross

Hey, I’m dead chuffed. I’ve just read this article again and picked up on the bit about which is the best bit of the knife blade to use for striking sparks off the fireflash. I’ve tried using the back of the blade before and got nothing, this time I got some big sparks. Then I thought right, wonder if you really can light a candle with one. Third spark hit home. I’ve spent years trying to light fiddly bits of tinder and scattering it everywhere or taking lumps out of the back of my knuckles.

So thanks very much for putting the fine details in your blogs – I’ll be re-reading all the rest of them again to see what else I’ve missed

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Lorna

That’s great! I’m really happy to hear you’ve had success with precision sparks :)

Now use that technique on all of your tinder; you’ll have much greater success. And you’ll keep more of the skin on your knuckles….

There is a lot of detail in my articles. You’ll get the most out them by coming back repeatedly, having tried things or having experience of certain aspects that I’m describing or discussing.

Thanks for your comment and please let us know what else you find useful.

All the best,

Paul

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Jaron

hi Paul,

Great article and nice blog! Could you tell me where you got your water pouch from? It looks like an excellent piece of kit! I would add some sort of small shelter aid such as a space blanket or the like. Still, you seem to have it all covered… great stuff and cool gear!

Glad I came across you blog… keep it up!

Jaron

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Jaron

Welcome and thanks for your comment. The water bottle pouch is produced by Robco products in Australia http://www.robcoproducts.com.au/

Yes a sheet of plastic can be useful in aiding shelter building.

Keep in touch!

All the best,

Paul

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jim

Hi Paul
I notice nobody seems to have mentioned putting a pack of leather needles and some strong thread
in the essential equipment they are also handy in the first aid for removing thorns and splinters
dont weigh much and hard to make in the wilds

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Jim,

Yes, you make a good point.

The ability to make repairs, particularly to clothing is important.

I always have a needle or similar in my first aid kit too – for exactly the same reason as you recommend them.

Thanks for your comment.

All the best,

Paul

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ricky

hi paul being new to bushcraft i just wanted to say after reading all these coments about belt kit .what i carry on my belt .the first is my possibles pouch and fire kit including strips of old inertube .great even in wet conditions a small jar of vaselene coated cotton balls my second pouch is my cuts kit very similar to yours my third is my knife and fourth is my water bottle and mug as well as my laplander saw.great blog .

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Ricky,

Welcome and thanks for your comments. It’s interesting to read how you organise your most important personal kit.

Thanks for sharing and thanks for your feedback on my blog.

All the best,

Paul

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ricky

ps i also carry my shelter on my belt whitch includes my basha bungy s and 550 paracord

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Bill Reed

Hi, I was wondering where you got that water bottle holder? I have the NATO water bottle and metal cup, which I have grown to like more than the American version. However, all I can ever find here in the states is the zulu holder, which I dont really care for. I like the style you have there much better than the one I have. Was wondering where you got it? Thanks!

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your message. Yes, these water bottle holders are nice. They are made in Australia by Robco Products:

http://www.robcoproducts.com.au/

I hope this helps.

All the best,

Paul

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bakeca livorno

very true…nice post

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Jeroen

Hi Paul,

I’m just learning to use compasses (I bought a Recta DP6, virtually indestructible) but I’m unsure how to store it, both at home and on the trail. Although I don’t carry magnets when about, I’m still afraid my compass gets affected by magnetism somehow and loses its reliability. How do you cope with this?

And at home? How do you store it? Ideally, I would like to store it in an anti-magnetic bag or something, but I’m fairly sure that doesn’t exist.

Cheers!
Jeroen

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Jeroen,

It’s good to hear from you.

You are right to be careful with your compass. Even though there are some tough designs out there, they are still precision instruments and at their heart quite delicate.

There are two main issues with compasses and magnetism:

1/ Local magnetic fields making the compass inaccurate at the time of use – for example, using your car bonnet as a map table before heading out for the day (on the wrong bearing!), taking bearings near fences with metal wire in them, locally strongly magnetic rock (such as on the Isle of Skye) or metal on your person such as belt buckles, knives, phones, etc. Mobile phones can be a particular problem and it’s often the cases which are the main culprit as many contain magnets which keep the case closed or interact with the phone.

2/ Strong magnetic fields causing permanent inaccuracy of the compass. This can be caused by magnets in mobile phone cases if the compass is kept close by in a pocket but it is in around very strong magnets you need to be especially careful.

While mistakes such as highlighted in 1/ can be serious for you, your compass will return to normal afterwards, while the full effect of 2/ on your compass will be to reverse the polarity so that north becomes south and south becomes north – i.e. the needle is pointing the wrong way by 180 degrees. You can check for this by comparing your compass with other indicators of direction such as the sun or the other star or, on a clear day, just careful comparison between your map, the land and your compass to make sure it all agrees. What can also happen in the case of 2/ is that the polarity of the compass needle is no very strongly reversed and is therefore does not respond quickly to the Earth’s local magnetic field, making it slow to move and slow to settle down. So you should keep an eye out for this type of behaviour from your compass too.

To avoid the type of trouble in 1/ you just have to be careful and mindful of your surroundings when you are reading your compass.

To avoid the type of trouble in 2/ keep your compass away from very strong magnets such as in loudspeakers or cathode-ray tube televisions or monitors.

I hope this helps,

Paul

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Jeroen

Thanks Paul! Some good information I copied to Evernote ;)

One more question though. In the second scenario, where magnets can cause permanent inaccuracy, will the needle always be reversed/180 degrees? Or is it also possible to get a slight, although permanent, inaccuracy of let’s say 5 degrees (or anything in between 1 and 180 degrees)?

Although my iPhone-case doesn’t have any magnets, my phone apparently does. Tried it with an old compass. I never even knew that.

I guess neck carry of a compass is the safest method for me. Since the most likely nearest metal source is the knife and PSK on my belt.

Thanks again!

Jeroen

Ps. It’s absolutely great your responses are so thorough. It definitely shows your enthusiasm and passion of teaching bushcraft/wilderness skills.

Reply

Paul Kirtley
Paul Kirtley

Hi again Jeroen,

I’m happy that my response was useful. And yes, I always do my best to help people with their outdoor skills. It’s what I love doing!

With the demagetisation/polarity problems, it is possible that if the needle is demagnetised somewhat or that it is not strongly remagnetised with reversed polarity, that it could lie somewhere off the true line of the local magnetic field and thus be off by, say, 5 degrees. I’ve heard of this happening, although I’ve not witnessed this particular error myself. For example, it is referred to in the following post on the MCoS website where the author refers to her compass being 10 degrees out:

http://www.mcofs.org.uk/navigation-reversed-polarity.asp

All the best,

Paul

Reply

uncle bart

Thanks Paul great advice. My extra item would be five hamlet cigars. Dont get me wrong smoking is a filthy habit and it’s eighteen years since I’ve had one, but if I am ever in a situation where I have to get the kit out and use it in earnest I would want something to make me sit down and take five minutes to assess the situation and decide what next.

Reply

Flemke

Hi there,

Great article! However I would add/change following items:
1/ I would replace the plastic canteen by a metal one. Weighs a bit more, but more usablility (use for boiling, make charred cotton in it,…) and more durable than a plastic one.
2/ I would wrap some 550 paracord or bankline over the knife sheat, or add some at your compass or fire steel, just in case.
3/ cotton bandana to char in canteen with cup on top of it (see 1), or to use as bandage together with other parts of medical kit
4/ add a needle at the back of the knife sheet (under the cordage) has multiple uses: splinter removing, repare gear, backup compass,…
5/ final addition for in your medical kit (or wrap it around the handle of fire steel) duc tape. Needless to say this has multiple uses. You know what they say, if you can’t duck it, f***k it…

Reply

Michael

Hi,First and formost,My Remingtron 700,and 20 rounds.very important in the forests I venture into!Then the “BAT BELT”with my bits n bobs!

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Paul Kirtley

A solid and practical solution.

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James Gohl

Thanks for your article Paul.

Along with everything you suggest, I carry a Map.
Keep on writing; I’ll keep on reading.

Jim

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Jim,

Yes, a good map is invaluable.

Thanks for your comment – it’s much appreciated.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Colin little

Hello Paul,I have found that your articles are nearly as good as having you there to instruct and advise,I have started to enjoy my times in the woods and countryside as a great stress reliever and a way of recreating my scouting activities of many years ago.
Your article on 7 items to take with you at all times was quite an eye opener but fairly obvious if we think about it logically,as I have definitely been taking too much kit out with me lately.What I like to have with me is my pocket stove as it fits in my first aid kit and my snugpak all weather shelter,it has all the bits that you need and it folds up small and fairly lightweight.
It is a good test to pack my bag the day before I go into the woods and to resist the temptation to repack it with some extra goodies that will not get used and weigh me down.
Thanks for now Colin

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Colin,

That’s very kind of you to say. I’m glad you are getting so much out my articles and I hope you continue to do so.

A stove and shelter are very sensible additions to your daypack.

As you say, thinking about things logically (and having some packing self-discipline) is definitely the way to go.

Warm regards,

Paul

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Nobby Hall

Iodine water purification is available as a two part mix kit on e-bay, potassium permanganate has its uses but BE CAREFUL with it! I tend to use OASIS tablets as supplied in UK/NATO forces ratpacks. They deal with the water on Bodmin/Dart/Exmoors. After seeing a friend suffer terribly from drinking untreated water from an area on Dartmoor I can vouch for these little beauts.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Nobby,

Agreed re pot perm – be careful. Good feedback re Oasis tabs. As with any chlorine-based system, readers should note to make sure the water is as visibly clean as possible before adding the tablets.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

All the best,

Paul

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James Gohl

Dear Paul,

Whenever I go out in the woods, people I meet are not wearing the latest and greatest bushcraft clothing; they are wearing blue jeans and hoodies. The people I meet are not equipped with the latest and greatest gear; they carry discount store items or hand-me-downs. What I like about your article is the economy of the gear you suggest. You gave me a benchmark for quality gear and I appreciate that.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi James,

It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for your feedback on this article. It’s a core list that has stood the test of time as a benchmark for me and others I work/travel with. I’m glad it has been useful to you too.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Andy Hunt

Very nice article. All practical items and covers the essentials. I have 4 more suggestions that people could try. These are all really just additions to the items you have already listed.
1. swiss army camper knife. It has the saw blade which makes it twice as versatile as a standard small folding knife.
2. A small shoe polish tin filled with Vaseline. I suppose this fulfils much the same needs as the chapsticks already mentioned, but with a few other uses. It makes great fire starter when rubbed into kindling or feathersticks. I’ve used it to free up dirty stuck folding knives and saws. When my hands have ingrained dirt its great to rub some in a few minutes before washing. really frees up the dirt.
3. I made a close fitting stove for my crusader cup from an ikea style cutlery drainer (mine was £2.50 from a cheap store). All I have done is cut the top of to fit the height of the crusader, then pushed in the sides to fit around the cup. I then cut 2 steel tent pegs down to fit width ways across the upper holes. they support the cup when being boiled. Small thumb sized cuts of wood work great, as do pine cones, allowing for far less wood to boil the cup than any open style fire. It fits snugly round the cup with the pegs down the side. It may be to tight with some pouches tho.
4. Small 1cm wide roll of brightly coloured electrical insulation tape. Cheap as chips (about £1 a roll or less). Has almost infinite uses. In the past I’ve used it to; act as plaster round fingers, repair small holes and tears, emergency covering around thread whipping, and my favourite use…small pieces stuck on anything that I may put down and lose! In a survival situation it would make ideal location marker. Its very easy to peel of, and doesn’t leave any marks on most surfaces.
I suppose a lot of the items people carry as their basic kit are dependent on individual needs and also very much on personal opinion. I, for instance, rarely carry fixed blade knife on my person, but have it in my pack. in fact I will more often have a cheap, light pair of pruning shears.
It’s good to see that your so open to others views. After all, we only learn from our differences!

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Paul Kirtley

Thanks for sharing Andy. Much appreciated!

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

wendy barnes

Hi i have read your article and thought it was very informative, i have some basic items
that i have purchased already. The things i have put in my kit up to now are a wind up torch
and lamp, saves on batteries and some candles just as a back up.
Thanks for the reply.

Reply

Gary Jones

Hi Paul, one thing that I always have in my pack is a HB pencil with 2 wraps of Duck Tape to a thickness of about 15mm around it. Used it everywhere from on the doorstep here in Wales to Kilimanjaro for allsorts of situations (even used it in work in the past with a pad as an emergency wound dressing).

Great website btw, only just found it, so plenty for me to read up on.

Cheers Gary

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Dennis Kramer

Great discussions ,comments and ideas. My adventures in bush craft have taken most of 50 years to accumulate. So my thoughts today of outdoor adventure is more than just survival . It is survival in comfort. By that I mean, comfortable within myself about my ability to shine in the wilderness. A confidence that can be achieved with experience,and practical knowledge of your surroundings. It is also important knowing your self and your limitations. Your growth through experiences out there alone, with a companion or with a group, can give you an understanding that is in itself a stress reducer and that provides you, and those you are with, a calm level headed attitude about your situation and your surroundings. When you know that something will happen, it is also wise to know why it is happening and what your options are to improve, avoid, or experience a new event without fear or better yet, to have a laugh at the expense of one of your companions. So regardless if you take 3 cherished items with you or 10, your brain and knowing how it works,how it handles stress ,what it remembers and generally how it functions is by far the most important item you can possess.

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Paul Kirtley

Hi Dennis,

Very nice comment. Thank you.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

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