Trouble sometimes unexpectedly just knocks on your door. Bad things happen to good people, you don’t have to invite trouble to get into it. However safe your lifestyle is, you will never be impervious to nature’s bouts (remember Katrina..), or political unrest caused by politicians you haven’t voted for. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, meteorites, war, dissension, industrial accidents, pandemics, all have and will happen again on this earth. People have died because they simply got lost or their car broke down in a hostile (at the time) environment. Have you given any thought on how to protect yourself and your family against the unexpected? Without going into full survivalist mode, there is one main thing you can do: Have a trouble-bag. What is it? You’ll ask me.. Just a bag with a few items that you would need in an emergency situation. The kind of bag you leave in a closet, or in the trunk of your car, until the day you need to “bail out” to save your life. So, let’s see what those items are, how to choose, store and use them.
First thing first, you need a bag. A small backpack will serve you best. I like hydration bags because they have a built-in water pouch and drinking tube. Camelback and Blackhawk have quality products they provide to the military. Plan on spending about $120. A more affordable option is a pack from Wallmart for about $30. Don’t get too large a bag, you might be tempted to stuff it with useless items, and your back won’t like it if you ever need to walk with it. You can always have a second lager “vehicle bag.” You may also want to stop by your local Army/Navy surplus store. They will have a few items for your bag.
Knives are the most basic tools we humans have. It is probably the first one we ever made, and for good reasons! If nothing else, you must have a knife. You really can’t save money on this, it would be like saving by buying cheap brakes for your car.. You can get a decent knife for $50, an a very good one for about $100. No need to spend $500 here, after all, if you’re lucky, you’ll never use it, but too cheap might cost you more than the money you saved… Choose a fixed blade knife, with a full tang and a 5 to 6 inch blade. Make sure the tip is not too thin, that it has a good grip and a guard.
Look at Ontario Knives, Cold Steel, Becker (tough and affordable), Ka-Bar, Gerber, to name a few. I also suggest getting a Leatherman Tollkit, the best multi-tool I ever came across.
Modern knives will unlikely rust when kept in a bag, but a thin coating of oil won’t hurt. Also get a small sharpening store with a rough side and a smooth one. Learn knife sharpening on an old kitchen knife, and before you really need it. It isn’t as easy as it seems, and requires practice and patience. Prefer a cordura or kydex sheath to leather. Kydex can be noisy, I like cordura. Avoid hollow handle knives, which are not as strong (except for the Chris Reeve). In tropical regions, a machete is a must, and will most likely be strapped on the outside of your bag because of it’s size.
Water is life. Without it, don’t expect to be around for more than a few days. We need at least half a gallon a day, and that is doing nothing. Water consumption will quickly climb to 5 gallons a day when working hard in the sun. After your hydration pack is empty, you need to find, transport, filter and purify water. When you find it, you need to take it with you. Have a few plastic bags handy, they are very useful to carry water. I use coffee filters to remove impurities. There are a few ways to purify water. Boiling: For at least ten minutes. Chlorine: Household chlorine; add 8 drops per gallon. Iodine: 20 to 40 drops per gallon, depending on how dirty it is. Stir, then let it stand for 30 minutes. Water purification pills are available in many drugstores and camping stores. Hydroclonazone: manufactured in France; I like them because it doesn’t make the water taste bad. Read the EPA page for more information on water purification.
Life without fire can be pretty miserable. Put a couple regular plastic lighters in your bag. I also have a magnesium fire starter. It is a block of magnesium about three inches long, with a striking insert on the side. You shave a little pile of magnesium, strike the insert with your knife, and the sparks ignite the shavings. The hight temperature will ignite almost anything. You can get one for $7, and it will last forever.
The first thing to put in your bag is whatever medication you must take on a regular basis. Next should come a disinfectant like Betadine, along with bandages, gauze, antibiotic ointment, burn ointment, scissors, tweezers, tape. Some off-the-shelf medications might prove useful: Aspirin, anti-diarrhea medication (to avoid dehydration), insect repellent and anti-histamine cream (Benadryl), clove oil (tooth aches), and sunscreen. See ready.gov for tips on first aid kits. Include latex gloves for your safety. Put everything in ziplock bags to keep it dry.
Sometimes you don’t want to be found, but sometimes you need to make yourself visible to rescue crews. A signaling mirror is a must-have in any trouble bag. If you have the money, you can get a signaling laser. Glow-sticks will glow for up to eight hours for the color ones. The white ones are nice to have and provide comfort on a moonless night. There is nothing like a good fire of course, for signaling, warmth and safety. A smoke grenade might also be a good item to have, if your bag is large enough.
In an emergency, you need quick energy to carry through the ordeal. Candy bars will give you the quick boost you might need at first. Search on the web for the “ER Food Bar” which is a 2400 calories emergency ration (available from Quake Kare). Have a three-day supply in your bag. They have a shelf life of five years.
Carrying a weapon is a controversial subject. Adding one to an emergency bag isn’t really practical, because of the weight of the gun and ammunition. Note that a good slingshot with steel pellets will, with a bit of practice, bring small game to your food supply without the penalty of a heavy and bulky handgun. It is also important to differentiate a hunting emergency gun and a self-defense gun. Without going into details, for self defense, I would choose the AK-47 hands down. For survival, I would suggest a Ruger 10-22, the Springfield Armory M6 Scout (.22 and 410 shells), or the TC Contender Pistol with .22 and a .45LC/410 barrels. The .22 caliber, although not a “stopper” has the advantage of being light, so you can carry more ammunition in a small space. If you do get a weapon, you will need to train with it on a regular basis. Seek an instructor to teach you safety if you are not accustomed to handling a firearm. I would not bother with optics or other gadgets. I would however include a cleaning kit. Not really a weapon, but related to hunting, I also suggest some fishing line and hooks, just in case. If you know how to make a snare, also have some thin wire for trapping.
Flashlight: Get an LED flashlight. Batteries will last much longer. You can back-it-up with a coil/magnet powered flashlight, which never needs any batteries. They cost more (Don’t buy cheap chinese imitations). NightStar has the best ones.
Hat: Protect your head. Depending on your climate, ou need to protect yourself against cold or the sun.
Mosquito net: It goes over your hat, and seals around your neck. It will protect you not only against mosquitoes, but also against crawling insects while you sleep.
Tie wraps: Used to tie electric wires together, they are very strong, and will tie anything together.
Nylon String: An overall useful item.
Toilet Paper: No explanation needed here…
Sleeping bag: Sleeping bag technology has made leaps and bounds in reducing the size of light bags, which now fit in the palm of your hand while compressed. You may attach it outside your bag, as you probaly won’t have the space inside. Also, outside the scope of this article, you may want to look into one-person emergency tents. Many do not work well however, you need to do your homework carefully.
Hygiene: You can buy air-travel size items like toothpaste, shampoo, soap, and a toothbrush. These are not life-sustaining items, but they will keep your morale up by staying clean. Also have a spare pair of socks and underwear. Staying dry is an important part of survival outside of your home.
Poncho: A light plastic poncho will help keep you dry. Being wet and cold will make you miserable and a target for hypothermia.
Survival manual: Read it before you need it. You should know about the subject and not need to have the book with you, so you can show-off your knowledge to your girlfriend/boyfriend in an emergency.
Compass: Remember that a compass is useless without a map. Learn dead-rekoning, it is fun and something to do on a boring week-end. Hand-held GPSs are really small these days, but the signal can be turned off, and that will leave you stranded if you don’t know how to navigate.
I am not an expert, just a safety minded person who has been around.. So take my advise at your own risk. Reading this won’t help you if you don’t actually start a trouble bag. Your significant other might laugh at your “paranoia,” but that will only last until shit hits the fan and you save the day. Keep a record of your perishable items with their expiration date. Change the water in your hydration pouch on a regular basis. Keep your bag handy at home, or better, in your trunk. Suggestions to improve the above list are welcome as “comments.” I do not pretend to know it all. Have fun shopping and be safe!