The Soft Core Bag.

Today I am going to introduce what I call my “soft core bag”. This is not a “bug-out bag”, although it could be included in the contents of one.
I have a number of bags and rucksacs, and there are certain items that I would invariably want in one of I was carrying it. Stocking each pack with necessary items is not economically practical, however. Perhaps, I thought, I should have a box containing the necessary items and potential alternatives. This was part of the solution, but I quickly realized many items could be packed together so they could easily be grabbed in one go.
I drew on the lists given in the previous post to select the current loadout.

  • Top left: A small first aid kit. This supplements the items I carry in my skin-level EDC.
  • Directly below the first aid kit in a dark brown camouflage bag is a rain poncho.
  • The white plastic bag beside the poncho contains a toilet roll.
  • Middle top can be see a bag of boiled sweets and a pair of warm gloves. These are sitting on top of a dark green all-weather blanket. You can see some of the shoelaces that are tied to the grommets of this.
  • Top right, a red and black shemagh. This is a spare/ additional shemagh since I am often wearing one these days.
  • Bottom centre is my Advantage-camouflaged boonie hat.
  • Sitting on the boonie hat is a plastic bag carrying a small fire kit. This has two butane lighters, two nightlights, a 35mm film container filled with Vaseline-soaked cotton wool and a Fresnel lens.
  • Below the fire kit and to the left is an ACU-patterned headover which can serve various roles including as warm headgear.
  • Bottom right is a one-litre Playtpus waterbottle. Sitting on it are a shoelace, hank of general purpose string, hank of green paracord and some braided fishing line wrapped around a piece of plastic (yoghurt carton).
  • Not shown: two supermarket carrier bags.

The whole collection packs into a draw-cord bag, as shown. Note snap-link added to one carrying cord. This bag is lined with another plastic bag to provide better water resistance. The headover is folded into a pouch and used to contain some of the smaller items. This pouch, in turn, is placed inside the boonie hat. Most of the pack contents are soft and crushable so no great genius at packing is really needed. Put the blanket in first and add the other contents. Put your water-bottle away from your back and ensure your poncho rides near the top of your bag.
Packed, but without water, the soft core bag weighs about 1.3 kg. The volume of water I will carry and which water-bottle I will carry will vary with climate and anticipated conditions.
The soft core pack is easily stuffed into a larger bag, immediately adding a collection of very useful items. On its own, it is a good bag to have for trips where you do not want to be bothered by a bag. It is light and low-density, and makes a pretty good pillow.
A quick glance inside the first aid kit. Items in this kit are consumed in preference to those in the skin-level EDC. Vaseline is good for chapped lips and other ailments.
The soft core bag probably has more cordage than it needs, but I had some hanks already made up. This is a nice example of paracord carried using hojo-jitsu configuration.

Survival Kits: Bringing It All Together

Today I am going to try and bring together some of my ideas regarding survival kit and selection of contents. When possible, I try to approach topics from a different perspective to that echoed on most websites.
Regular readers may know that I have my reservations about the “little tin of gizmos”. Thinking that you are covered because you have a couple of band-aids and a couple of loose fishing hooks and swivels is a recipe for disaster.
Survival kit may exist on several levels. On your person you will have your skin-level EDC. Most of mine is in the pockets of my trousers, although some items are on my trouser belt or key-ring. If you are carrying a bag, it is prudent to have some additional items in your bag. You consume the items in your bag in preference to your skin-level items. Military personnel often have an intermediate level in their webbing load-bearing equipment. Ideally this should only hold ammo, weapons, some water and immediate first aid items but the tendency to add additional gear is common. A larger pack or vehicle may provide higher levels of survival gear. One should always plan for the contingency that one may get separated from bags or vehicles. This is why your skin-level gear is important.
My current planning list looks like this:
Seven Tools of EDC
Hat, Towel, Rope
Medical, Writing, Fire, Knife
Foundation Survival Kit
Blanket, Fire, Knife
Poncho, Water, Toilet Paper, Canteen Cup
Travelling Kit
Navigation, Signalling, Illumination
Washing, Repairs, Food,
Documentation, Money, Clothing, Armament
The item names are memory aids and should be taken generically rather than specifically. “Knife” represents other tools, “blanket” represents sleeping bags and related items and so on.
The Seven Tools of EDC
The Seven Tools of EDC were inspired by the roguku or Six Tools of Travelling. I remember these as three flexible things (hat, towel and rope), three multi-part things (medical kit, fire kit and writing kit) and a knife.
Hat” represents other protective clothing, such as gloves, goggles and sun-glasses. At “skin-level” this will be whatever headgear and other items suits the current or expected weather. If I am taking a bag I will probably have two hats. One will be to protect from the sun and keep the rain off my glasses, probably a boonie hat. The other will be a warm hat such as a watch cap or headover. If it is really cold spare gloves and headover are a prudent precaution.
Towel” in this context is a multi-purpose piece of cloth. At skin-level this is a bandanna in my pocket but recently I have also been wearing a shemagh. If I lose or did not bring my hat these can serve as head coverings. Any bag I carry usually has a spare bandanna and/or shemagh in it. In colder conditions the shemagh is replaced or supplemented by a woollen or acrylic scarf.
Rope” for the ninja may have meant a grappling hook and rope. For me this reminds me to carry some cordage. At skin-level this is a couple of armspans of paracord, a hank of string, a container of dental floss and a retaining cord for my glasses. Packs contain longer lengths of paracord. If heading for the deep wilderness I would have a toggle rope or the modern equivalent.
Medical Kit. On my person I have a small number of plasters, alcohol wipes and pain-killers, plus some personal medication. I have a more extensive medical kit I carry in daysacs, plus a bigger kit in my travelling bags. Medical also includes such items as insect repellent and sun cream. These are usually bag items but certain conditions may require a small supply to be carried on your person. Whenever possible items are consumed from the larger kits before the skin-level kit.
Writing represents communication and recording. In my pockets I carry a pen, pencil and two pieces of chalk (one light, one dark colour). Usually have a phone on my belt. Daysac may contain a notepad in a plastic bag. When on holiday I keep a journal.
Fire Kit. For everyday use this is simply a disposable lighter riding in the bottom of a pocket. I carry a plastic bag with a couple of tissues in, which could be used as tinder. If straying further afield I would add a container of tinder, fresnel lens and spare lighter to my pockets. Daysac has a couple of spare lighters and some candles.
Knife” represents tools and related hardware. My Swiss Army Knife goes nearly everywhere with me. I also have a Leatherman Squirt and pocket prybar on my person. A diamond impregnated metal card is carried for sharpening.
Foundation Survival Kit
The items on the Foundation Survival List are mainly bulkier “bag” items, with a couple of significant exceptions.
Blanket” represents sleeping items in general. It includes poncho-liners, sleeping bags, cloaks and long coats. These can keep you warm, even when not sleeping. This category is called “blanket” to remind us about the survival blanket, which is compact enough you can easily fit one or more in a trouser cargo pocket. They are reasonably priced so you can buy a dozen and stick spares in coat pockets and any bags you might carry. As well as keeping you warm, they can keep the rain off, spread out as a signalling panel, possibly even used as a heliograph. One is in the little medical pouch that carries most of my skin-level EDC. For decades now my daysac has carried the survival blanket’s larger cousin, an All-Weather Blanket.
Fire Kit. A fire kit was included in the original Foundation Kit list. It is repeated since the ability to create a fire is an important component of survival. Have a means of making fire on your person, and additional means in your bag. Consume the bag supplies before that on your person.
Knife. Another duplication, but repeated for much the same reason. In this context it can be read as “a bigger knife”. Useful as a pocket knife or muli-tool are, they can only get you so far. This category also reminds us to remember other, larger tools such as a crowbar or entrenching tool. Have a fixed-blade knife on your trouser belt. If you lose your pack, webbing or even your jacket or shirt you will still have a useful survival tool.
Poncho includes other forms of rain-proof clothing and shelter items such as tarps, tents, shelter halves, basha-sheets, groundsheets and so on. Any bag of sufficient size should include a means of rain protection.
Water represents a means to carry water, and the means to ensure that it is drinkable, such as water purification tablets. In rural areas a supply of water and purification tablets should be both on your person and in your pack. Consume the water in your pack before that on your person.
Toilet Paper. A roll of toilet paper in a waterproof bag is a prudent addition to any bag. A small bag with a couple of paper tissues rides in a cargo pocket of my trousers. A bag with additional tissues will be added if I am heading off the beaten track. As well as intended use, such tissues can be used for nosebleeds, nose-blowing and as tinder.
Canteen Cup. A metal canteen cup or similar small cooking vessel is a useful addition to the above items. Boiling water to sterilize it will conserve water-purification tablets. It can also be used to sterilize instruments or blades intended for medical uses. Even if you wear a water bottle on your person, the canteen cup is probably best carried as a pack it. The interior can be packed with some of the smaller items listed above.
There is a survival adage that says you cannot live three minutes without oxygen, three hours without shelter can kill you, you can last three days without water and three weeks without food. The Foundation Kit contains the essentials towards keeping you alive beyond three days.
Travelling Kit
What I have chosen to call the “Travelling Kit” are mainly “very useful” rather than essential. Food is obviously essential, but you can last several days or more without it.
Repairs. If away from home, a small repair kit is worth putting together. My compact little sewing kit has seen many uses over the years. This is supplemented by a couple of rucksac buckles, dental floss, a roll of electrical tape and a tube of superglue. A small screwdriver that fits in my Swiss Army Knife corkscrew has been used to repair several pairs of glasses. I have seen it suggested that a piece of glue stick of the type intended for hot glue guns may also be useful. You can even add a little repair capability to your skin-level kit. A small bag of safety pins can deal with tears and zipper problems. Around the pencil I have wrapped a length of electrical tape then bound two threaded needles to its sides.
Food includes food procurement and cooking means. Put together a small fishing kit, with some wire traces that can be used as snares in extremis. Assemble as much of the kit as is practical before hand. Sitting in the wind and rain as the light fades is no time to be tying on swivels! Add the fishing kit to your trouser pocket items if heading into the wilds. The food you carry should include some items that can be consumed without heating or rehydrating. Some boiled sweets/ hard candy is a useful addition to any daysac, giving a quick energy boost when it is needed.
Illumination. There are numerous small flashlights that are suitable for skin-level EDC. The little Photon lights can be added to a keyring, dogtag chain or whistle lanyard. A larger flashlight is a suitable addition to a daysac or larger pack. My daysac has a handcrank model in it.
Navigation. Personally, I have found a small compass a useful addition to my EDC. Even in town it is sometimes useful to know which direction is which. A number of guidebooks have information such as “…the hostel is to the northwest of the piazza”. If travelling away from civilization better maps and compass are recommended. GPS is nice, but you should plan for when it stops working. Without a compass there are other ways to determine direction, which is why these items are under “very useful” rather than essential. Worth repeating is that in most cases where rescue can reasonably be expected your chances of survival are better if you stay put rather than walking out.
Signalling. Signalling assumes there is somewhere out there to signal to. Flares are not much use if no one is likely to be in line of sight. Tell someone where you are going and when you will be overdue. Signalling overlaps with Illumination and Fire, and mobile phones have already been mentioned. Your skin-level kit should include a whistle. Mine is on my key-ring. A small heliograph is easily fabricated. The back of my phone is mirror-polished, so I would use this instead.
Washing. If you do any travelling you should put together a lightweight wash kit. How to put one together is detailed on another page. I prefer mesh bags over the more elaborate, heavier and more expensive wash bags.
Documentation. Travelling may require visa, permits, passports and other documentation. Make sure you have it all before any trip, and store in a waterproof bag. Make photocopies of important documents, such as your passport, and carry then separately to the originals. I prefer to carry some of these things on my person rather than in a bag.
Money. In some environments, one of your most useful tools. Includes credit, debit and ATM cards. Have information on what to do if you lose the latter. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
Clothing. How much spare clothing, its type and quantity will depend on trip duration and conditions. 
Armament. Carry if you can. The world is full of nasty people who will rob you or hurt you just because they can.

Four Tricks for Cleaning Water.

Today’s blog will be a short one, but it will cover a couple of useful and interrelated ideas, all to do with water.
If you find a source of water, the chances are that it will not be too clean. All sorts of mud, dirt and grit may be floating in it and the organic components will affect the efficiency of chemical purification methods you may employ.
One solution is to use a cloth bag to filter the water through. I have even seen it suggested to use a spare pair of trousers. Tuck one leg into the other to form a double layer and then tie a knot in end of the leg(s). Hang this up and pour water through so that it drips into a container. In a long term camp the filter can be packed with sand and straw etc. Note that the water produced will be clearer, but cannot be considered to be safe until it has been boiled or chemically treated.
A variation of the above is the wick method. Fill a container with your crude, suspect water and place and empty container lower down. Connect the two with a strip of cloth such as a bandanna and allow capillary action to do its thing. This may work with other materials such as paper or string. Experiment. This method is a lot more economical on materials. When your wick becomes too dirty wash it or discard it. Note that while the water produced will appear clearer it cannot be considered to be safe until it has been boiled or chemically treated.
A third method I was taught to call an Indian Well. We have all seen the movies when the protagonists get to a water hole and it is all muddy. “Oh no!” they cry. What they should do is start digging a hole near the shore of the waterhole or river. If the ground is too hard for your hands find an object you can use as a digging stick. A tent peg, tire iron, even a stick! The hole should be about half a metre across and deep. Since you have dug down into damp ground the hole will begin to fill with water. Poke a few holes in the side of the hole and it will fill even quicker. The water will probably look muddy and still something you do not want to drink. Using your hands, a bark scoop, tin can or anything else you have handy bail out the water and cast it onto the ground nearby. Eventually the water coming through should become clearer. Leave it a while and more material will settle out. The water will still need to be filtered further and boiled or treated. This is not the fastest method of getting cleaner water but does have the advantage that you can use it when not near an obvious water source. Just dig down into damp ground. Obviously, digging at a low point will be more productive than a hilltop. The Boy Scout Handbook (1911) tells us that an Indian Well should be several feet from the water source, twelve inches across and six inches below the water level. Empty by bailing at least three times before considering using the water.
Our fourth method is useful for sunnier locations such as the desert, but may work elsewhere. Take two bottles, glass or plastic. Clear is good but if both are opaque use the darker coloured one for the “crude” water. Partially fill one bottle with untreated water and tape the necks of the two bottles together. Since we are in the desert we will assume you have a vehicle nearby (working or not) and it has some tape in the tool kit. (don’t go to places like the desert without a tool kit and other essentials in your vehicle!). If you have a suitable tube use this to connect the two bottles rather than taping them neck to neck. Find a slope or pile of sand, Select the side that will get the most exposure to the sun (the south in the northern hemisphere). If the bottles were taped directly together lay the two bottles on their sides and bury the empty one in the side of the slope, leaving the one with water exposed to the sun. Let nature take its course. The water in the outside bottle will be heated and evaporate. Being in a closed system it will pass into the interior of the buried bottle and the drop in temperature will cause it to condense. After a while the buried bottle will contain drinkable water which can be collected if you take the apparatus to pieces carefully. If you had a suitable tube you could have run this into the collection bottle when you constructed the device. If you paid attention in school you will recognise this method as distillation without the need for Bunsens and heatproof glassware. The source water you used could have been urine and the produced water would still be safe to drink.

Bows in North America and Pellucidar

Reading through my file collection the other day I came across an old (1930’s?) article on how the North American Indians made their bows. I have some knowledge of English and Asian bows but this was a field I was less familiar with. One of the reasons that this article so interested me was that I am currently reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar series. Many of the characters in these books use bows and there are frequent references to them constructing new weapons after escaping from capture. The Indians tended to favour flatbow designs and I have heard it suggested that such a bow is easier to construct under field conditions than the D-section English Longbow.
I will not bother to reproduce the entire article since there are some excellent websites on the topic available on the internet. Some interesting points from the original article were:
    • The best time to cut wood to make bows was February since the sap had not yet risen into the wood. This was defined in the article as “when the geese return”.
    • The wood of choice was Osage Orange Where this was not available a number of other woods were used including ash, hickory and yew.
    • Like the English Longbow, the bowstave needed a considerable period of seasoning before any carving could be done. Bowstaves were hung high up in the tepee above the fire to gently season in the heat. Arrowshafts and other items were seasoned in the same way. The bark side of the stave was used for the “back” of the bow: the part that faces away from you.
    • Bow length varied with tribe, intended use and probably the individual. Bows of six foot or longer were known, as were bows of only a few feet. A suggested measure for a bow was the distance from the left hip to the right hand when the hand was held out horizontally to the side. This is about four feet. Some readers will recognize this as illustrated in Lofty Wiseman’s “The SAS Survival Guide” and doubtless this book and the article drew from a similar source. The bow illustrated in that publication is a flatbow.
    • Arrows were often marked with three lightning bolt carvings. Practical purpose of these may have been to reduce the tendency of the arrow to warp. It was also suggested in the article that the grooves might have encouraged blood loss.
    • Arrowheads were bound into the end of the arrowshaft. Some war arrowheads were constructed so that impact with the target would cut the bindings, leaving the head in the target even if the shaft was pulled out.
    • Hard sinew (from the neck of a buffalo) was sometimes used as an arrowhead. The stated advantage of this was that such heads had a tendency to deflect from the ribs of an animal and slip between them while flint or iron heads would stick, shatter or bend.
ERB does not give us any description of the type of bows his characters use, although David Innes in“Land of Terror” does tell us:
“A species of the genus Taxus is more or less widely distributed throughout Pellucidar; and I had discovered that its wood made the best bows. For arrows I used a straight, hollow reed that becomes very hard when dry. The tips which I inserted in the end of the reeds were of wood, fire-hardened.
A modern archer of the civilized outer world would doubtless laugh at the crude bow I made then at the edge of the Valley of the Jukans. If he uses a yew bow, the wood for it was allowed to season for three years before it was made into a bow, and then the bow was probably not used for two more years; but I could not wait five years before eating; and so I hacked the limb I had selected from the tree with my stone knife and took the bark from it and tapered it crudely from the center toward each end. I prefer a six foot, eighty pound bow for a three-foot arrow, because of the great size and formidability of some of the beasts one meets here; but of course my bow did not attain this strength immediately. Every time we had a fire, I would dry it out a little more, so that it gradually attained its full efficiency. The strings for my bows I can make from several long-fibered plants; but even the best of them do not last long, and I am constantly having to renew them.”

In “Return to Pellucidar” in the anthology book “Savage Pellucidar”:
“Fruit and nuts grew in abundance on the trees and shrubs of the little canyon; but fighting men require meat; and one must have weapons to have meat. These two had not even a stone knife between them, but the first men had no weapons originally. They had to make them.
Innes and Hodon went into the little stream and hunted around until they found a large mussel. They pried it open with a sharp stone, and each took a half shell. With these they cut two pieces of bamboo-like arborescent grass to form the hafts of two spears. Searching again they collected a number of stones: soft stones, hard stones, flat stones, stones with sharp edges; and with some of these they chipped and scraped at others until they had fashioned two spear heads and a couple of crude knives. While Hodon was finding the toughest fibers with which to bind the spear heads to the hafts, Innes made a bow and some arrows, for this was one of his favorite weapons.”
Since Pellucidar was constantly under an unmoving noon-day sun it presumably had no seasons and the trees would have always been filled with sap. Perhaps that was why the bow was so rare on Pellucidar!
The Boy Scout Handbook (1911) has a nice section on archery.