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The Always-With-You Compact Wilderness Survival Kit
The best survival kit is one that will be on you when you need it!
by Thomas J. Elpel

      As a primitive skills and nature awareness author and instructor, most of my knowledge and experience is oriented towards getting people into nature, not out of it. Nevertheless, the potential always exists for an unexpected life-threatening survival situation. For example, in my travels, both near and far, I have often seized the opportunity (when time permitted) to drive up a mountain road, park the car, and go for a hike. A few hours later, miles from the car or any other human being, I would realize my stupidity: I could die from a broken leg. One bad fall could make it impractical to get back to my vehicle, leaving me stranded in the mountains with few clothes and no means of starting a fire to keep warm.

      Sure, I always have a knife, and I could make a bowdrill fire set. But many places lack ideal woods for bowdrill kits, and in an emergency, I would rather not have to carve a bowdrill set anyway. A simple fire-starter could make the difference between living or dying from a broken leg in the wilderness. Thus began a multi-year quest to find the best possible survival gear for myself, as well as to recommend to our students and customers.

      However, I've never liked survival kits, mostly because it is too easy to leave them behind. A good survival kit should be there for an unexpected emergency. What if you leave the kit in the glove box because you intend to stay within a few hundred yards of the car? But then you find yourself going just a little farther to see what is around the corner, and around the next corner after that? That happens to me all the time. I want survival gear that is on my body whether I expect to be in a potential survival situation or not!

      Thus was born the Always-With-You Compact Wilderness Survival Kit, featuring gear that I have on me at all times, regardless of whether I am attending a wedding in the city or hiking in the mountains. The kit includes the book 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive, which I do not carry in the field, but it clearly outlines the essentials of wilderness survival. Carry the book knowledge in your head, and the additional equipment in your pockets, and you will always be prepared. Read on down the page for more information about the book and recommended gear. I'll continue adding to this page over time.

98.6 Degrees
The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive
How to Survive Fear, Panic, and the Biggest Outdoor Killers
By Cody Lundin. Illustrated by Russ Miller

      There must be hundreds of wilderness survival books on the market, but if you only read one, then read this one. Written by Cody Lundin, a personal friend and co-host of Dual Survival on the Discovery Channel, 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive focuses entirely on essential knowledge needed to prevent an emergency wilderness situation, or to get safely out of one if something goes wrong.

      Most other survival texts stray into hunting, trapping, and foraging methods for long-term survival living, but 98.6 Degrees gets in your face with the essentials--you have to stay properly heated or cooled, clothed and hydrated, to maintain your body temperature at 98.6 Degrees until you are rescued. Most survival situations last only about 72 hours, Lundin points out, before rescuers find you either alive or dead. Therefore, you don't need to be proficient at trapping squirrels or catching fish for food. You just have to stay alive until you get out.

      98.6 Degrees is written and illustrated with an in-your-face style, racy cartoons, and some colorful language, which may be a turn-off to more conservative readers. But Cody is out to get your attention in whatever way he can to hammer in the essentials of survival. Most readers will find this to be a fun and enlightening read. It could truly save your life. ISBN: 1-58685-234-5. 2003. 214 pages. $17.00.

98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive    $17.00    Quantity:

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Swedish Fire Steel Emergency Fire Starter
Start fires easily with 3,000ºC (5,000ºF) sparks!
Quality fire-starters you can keep on your key chain or in a survival kit.
Review by Thomas J. Elpel

      An emergency fire-starter is only useful if you have it when you need it!   Sure, you can put a fire-starter in a survival kit, but then you have to remember to take the kit with you everywhere you go. What happens if you leave it in the car, because you are only going on a "short walk", and end up straying farther away than you planned? What happens if you bring your survival kit on a camping trip, but leave it at camp because you "won't be far away?" What happens if you have an emergency situation a quarter mile from camp, and cannot get back with a broken leg, or can't quite figure out where camp is?

      I spent years searching for the ideal emergency fire-starter, one that is easy to use and small enough to keep on a keychain at all times. I never imagined it would be so hard to find a good one, when fire-starters are sold in nearly every sporting good store and all over the internet.

      Emergency fire-starters come under many different types and names, such as magnesium and steel, metal match, or misch metal. Unfortunately, a few of them are nearly impossible to start a fire with. To be fair, most emergency fire-starters work very well, but they are simply too bulky to carry with you at all times, and key chain models are seldom durable enough for the abuses of rattling around in a pocket with your keys.

      The Swedish Fire Steel from Light My Fire is the best compact fire starter we have found, and it comes in two sizes. The larger Army Model (12,000 strikes) is ideal for camping and conventional survival kits. The Scout Model (3,000 strikes) is just barely small enough to carry on a key ring, so you always have it with you. I removed the nylon cord and put the fire steel and striker directly on my key ring.

      Originally developed for the Swedish Department of Defense, Swedish Fire Steel is truly "a flash of genius". Its 3,000ºC (5,000ºF) spark makes fire building easy in any weather, at any altitude. The Swedish Fire Steel has been approved by the International Survival Instructors Association and is used by a number of armies around the world. Swedish Fire Steel's dependability makes it a favorite among survival experts, hunters, fishermen and campers. It works equally well when wet or dry. Swedish Fire Steel has even found its way into cabins and backyards as a fool-proof way to light stoves and gas-barbecues.

     The easiest way to start a fire with your Swedish Fire Steel (or any other spark-based fire starter) is to use cotton balls (100% cotton only) mostly saturated with petroleum jelly. The cotton balls catch a spark quickly and make a small, hot fire you can add tinder and kindling to. You can prepare cotton balls with petroleum jelly and flatten them to store in a small bag in your wallet. But that adds bulk in a hurry. (Flint and steel char cloth also works.) Even if you carry cotton balls or char cloth, it is essential to practice starting a fire without them.

      To use your Swedish Fire Steel, look for dry, fluffy tinder, such as dry grass, and make a loose pile with it. Hold the Swedish Fire Steel in one hand and the striker in the other hand, and force the striker down the rod to produce sparks. Practice striking sparks into the grass until it ignites. It is helpful to hold the striker still and pull the Swedish Fire Steel back, so that you can create sparks without knocking the pile over. After igniting the tinder, add more tinder and small kindling to build up the fire. I recommend getting two Swedish Fire Steels--one to practice on until you are proficient at using it, and the other to carry for emergencies. Note: The Handy-Sharp Knife Sharpener can be substituted for the steel striker, saving room on a survival keychain.

Swedish Fire Steel Emergency Fire-Starter, Scout Model    $14.00    Quantity:
Swedish Fire Steel Emergency Fire-Starter, Army Model    $16.00    Quantity:

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Fresnel Lenses
Emergency Fire Starters for Wilderness Survival Kits
Small enough to slide in your wallet or purse.
Review by Thomas J. Elpel

      It is always sensible to have more than one means of starting a fire on you at all times. The Fresnel lens card magnifier is especially handy, because it is the size of a credit card and slips easily into a wallet or purse, glove box, or a wilderness survival kit of any shape or size. It is a multipurpose tool that can be used to read small type, magnify flowers for identification, or start a fire.

      The Fresnel lens functions like a regular magnifying glass, except it is flat instead of lens-shaped. It is named after its inventor, French physicist Augustin Jean Fresnel, who studied light and optics in the 1800s. Basically, if you were to slice a normal lens into a hundred or more concentric rings (like the rings of a tree), and mount each of those rings on a flat surface, then you would have a flat lens of equal power to the original lens. The face of each ring is a slightly different angle to retain the lens' ability to focus light towards a central point. A Fresnel lens can be made as large as desired without making it thicker and thicker, as you would with a regular lens. Fresnel lenses were first used in lighthouses to focus the beam of light far out across the ocean throughout the nights.

      Starting a fire with a Fresnel Lens card magnifier is just like using a regular magnifying glass. Collect a wad of dry, fluffy tinder, such as the dry inner bark of a dead cottonwood, and focus the light of the lens on the tinder to start it smoldering. When you have a glowing coal, then you can blow on it to make it grow until it ultimately bursts into flame. Do keep in mind that card magnifiers only work when the sun is shining. They don't do much at night or in the rain.

      Most card-sized magnifiers are 3x power, but ours are 5x lenses, concentrating solar heat better for even easier fire-starting.

Fresnel Lens Card Magnifier    $3.00    Quantity:

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Victorinox Field Master Swiss Army Knife
Compact, but incredibly versatile
Review by Thomas J. Elpel

      Survival skills enthusiasts often like big, macho knives. Big knives are useful for certain tasks, especially serious wood-working, even for chopping down small trees. But for most survival purposes, my favorite knife has always been a good Victorinox Swiss Army Knife with two knife blades, a saw, scissors, and tweezers. (The other functions are useful too, but these are the important tools.)

      At home I use my Swiss Army Knife constantly. I use a blade for a letter opener, and the scissors for everything from trimming my fingernails to cutting paper or buckskin. The tweezers are always handy for slivers, and yes, I use the both styles of screw drivers, and occasionally even the wire stripper.

      When traveling, my Swiss Army Knife is the equivalent of having a whole tool kit at hand, useful for minor car repairs, or for opening a can of tuna and cutting through a block of cheese.

      In the wilderness I use the saw blade more than anything else, since it so easy to make straight clean cuts through small branches (rather than using a blade to cut through the branch and whittling it down to a blunt tip). The saw blade is also useful for quickly notching a bowdrill fire board for friction fire-starting.

      The one thing you have to be careful about with a Swiss Army Knife is to avoid prying with the blade. That is a common mistake with any knife, and I've broken the blade on more than one pocketknife that way. After breaking the blade on my Swiss Knife many years ago, I switched over to a variety of substitute knives. All of them had nice features, but they were typically big and clunky, or not very versatile. I even carried a stone knife for a year. Trying out different knives helped to hone my survival skills, because I had to figure out how to do things without the aid of the scissors, saw and tweezers. But it was so inconvenient. I constantly missed the versatility and compact size of a good Swiss Army Knife, so I am glad to once again have my favorite knife in my pocket.

      I sometimes bring a second, larger blade, such as a Mora Knife on camping trips, but my first choice is still my Swiss Knife. It is always in my pocket whether I am attending a wedding or standing on top of a 10,000 foot peak.

      We carry a wide selection of Swiss Army Knives at our store in Silver Star, Montana, but my favorite is the Field Master model shown here, since it has the blades, saw, and scissors combination. Sure, pliers would be nice too, but that makes the knife excessively clunky, so this is my preferred model. When Victorinox comes out with a Swiss Army Phaser, then I'll buy that too.

      Avoid the cheap knock-off brands that are found everywhere these days. Only a genuine Swiss-made Swiss Army Knife is worth bothering with. The Victorinox Field Master Swiss Army Knife. $35.00..

Victorinox FieldMaster Swiss Army Knife    $39.00    Quantity:

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Handy-Sharp / E-Z Sharp
Keychain Knife Sharpener
Great for keychain survival kits.
Review by Thomas J. Elpel

      My knife is an extension of my hand and I use it constantly in the kitchen, in house construction, and on wilderness treks. I need to keep a sharp blade, but have neither the time nor the inclination to stop and use a whetstone until my knife becomes impossibly dull. Fortunately, the E-Z Sharp keychain knife sharpener is the ideal knife sharpening system for people like me who need a blade, but don't have time to mess with whetstones. E-Z sharp is small, lightweight and easily fits on a keychain to insure that you always have it when you need it. With E-Z Sharp on your keychain, you can sharpen your knife in seconds, right when you need it most. E-Z Sharp is versatile and effectively sharpens a large variety of cutting edges, including: knives, scissors, broadheads, fish hooks, garden tools, and axes.

      1. Hold knife sharpener firmly at a 20 to 30 degree angle. Stroke any cornered edge of your E-Z Sharp with your blade (Not the flat top surface.) A few strokes are usually adequate.
      2. For a dulled or burred knife, increase stroke pressure.
      3. As the cutting edge becomes sharper, the stroke pressure should be lightened to create a finer honed edge.
      4. Sharpening techniques may be varied to meet individual styles and needs.

      Always be careful to avoid contact with the sharp edges of cutting tools.

Survival Keychain
      Because of its compact size, E-Z Sharp is ideal for the survival keychain. Furthermore, as my friend Niall Fink taught me, the carbide edge is equal or better at striking sparks with the Swedish Fire Steel than the metal striker that comes with the Fire Steel. Keep the mischmetal rod, but substitute E-Z Sharp for the metal plate for increased functionality with less bulk. The Handy-Sharp pictured here (upper left) is slightly larger, but otherwise functions the same as the E-Z Sharp. It also has a two-carbide, angled notch on the side to sharpen blades by dragging them through the notch.

      Limited availability: The E-Z Sharp and Handy Sharp are currently out of production, but our supplier is kindly redirecting stock from other vendors to us. We ship either the E-Z Sharp or the Handy Sharp, depending on what we have in stock at the moment.

E-Z Sharp / Handy-Sharp Knife Sharpener    $8.00    Quantity:

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Stainless Steel LED Keychain Flashlight
A3 EOS SS Flashlight Utilizes convenient AAA batteries!
Review by Thomas J. Elpel

      Navigating in the dark without a flashlight is an excellent wilderness survival skill and something worth practicing. However, there are times both in the wilds and in ordinary city or country life when a flashlight is immensely appreciated. A big flashlight is rarely needed. A small amount of light can work miracles if you are searching in the dark for something you've dropped, such as sewing needle at your campsite, or perhaps a nut and washer that fell on the ground while working on a car in the dark beside the road.

      A small amount of light can also be handy for navigating around hazardous obstacles while walking at night, regardless of whether you are out in the woods or just walking through the house after a power outage.

      But a flashlight is only useful if you have it on you when you need it, such as on your keychain. I use mine almost every day, for such things as walking through the house late at night after all the lights are turned off, or reading a book when I am out camping. If it is in your pocket all the time, then you may be surprised at just how often you use it.

      I couldn't stand flashlights at all until LED lights came on the market, because the old incandescent bulbs required such big batteries and still ran out of juice too quickly. But LED lights opened up a whole new world of possibilities for compact flashlights with long-lasting batteries. I've had several compact LED keychain lights, which I loved, but none of them lasted very long until the plastic broke or the button switches stopped working. Thus, I started searching for a compact LED keychain light with durable metallic construction.

      Batteries are another key challenge for compact flashlights. Button batteries are not rechargeable, inconvenient to recycle, and inconvenient to replace. AA batteries require a flashlight that is too big for a pocket keychain. The ideal battery is a rechargeable AAA battery, but until recently, there were few choices available in AAA keychain flashlights.

      Today there are several new AAA keychain flashlights on the market, such as the Maglite Solitaire, Gerber Sonic, Fenix, and the iTP Stainless Steel Keychain Flashlight. The iTP light is the brightest and most durable keychain flashlight available, and definitely worth the extra expense for the stainless steel housing. The flashlight has three brightness settings, which change each time the light is switched on and off. Battery not included.

iTP Stainless Steel AAA Keychain Flashlight    $25.00    Quantity:

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The Cotton Bandana
A multi-purpose survival tool
Review by Thomas J. Elpel

      Bandanas are always an important part of my survival gear on camping trips. I typically bring three bandanas when I go out. I tie one around my neck for protection from sunburns. I use another for a snot rag, and the third for tasks ranging from pot holder to gathering basket. Sometimes I use bandanas as rope to tie things together, and they are also useful as wash cloths for cleaning up. In a medical situation, a bandana can be used as a sort of Band-Aid to apply pressure to help stop bleeding (being careful not to make it so tight that you cut off circulation).

      While I've always been well-prepared with bandanas on camping trips, it has taken me a bit longer to make a habit of carrying a bandana with me at all times, everywhere I go. I cannot count the number of day hikes I've been on with a nose-dripping, two- or three-year-old child on my shoulders, with me wishing I had something handy for a quick nose-wipe. Ditto for road trips, when hunting for a box of tissues for myself or my passengers, while I should be focusing on the pavement ahead.

      Bandanas are a bit harder to remember than a pocketknife or a key ring fire-starter, since they need to be periodically washed with the laundry, then returned to a pocket. I never get that far from my knife! However, we sell bandanas in a convenient three-pack of camouflage colors, so that you can always have a clean one available for your pocket. (The camouflage pattern might clash with a tuxedo if you have one in your pocket at a wedding, but you can keep it tucked all the way in.) Made in the USA. Camouflage Bandana Three Pack. $9.00 ($3 each bandana).

Three Pack of Survival Bandanas    $9.00    Quantity:

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The Always-With-You
Compact Wilderness Survival Kit

Be prepared wherever you are!

      Get our complete Survival Kit (okay, mostly complete), and you will be prepared with the essentials whether you are attending a wedding, or camping deep in the wilderness. We'll add a few things to this page in the future, but the most important items are included now:

      NOTE: If you want the Army Swedish Fire Steel instead of the Scout Model, please request it in the "Comments" box on the checkout form.

Always-With-You Wilderness Survival Kit (7 items--save $22.00)    $93.00    Quantity:
Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills    $30.00    Quantity:


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