Crash Combat Third Edition Out Now!

I am pleased to announce that the Third Edition of Crash Combat has now become available.
This version has been extensively expanded, being about 30% longer. More content, extra illustrations, more techniques, new techniques and generally much more book for your money. In addition, much of the book has been rewritten and restructured so information is more easily assimilated and learnt.
While Crash Combat was originally written for a military context, it remains relevant to any individual wishing to learn to protect themselves in this dangerous and uncertain world.
Visit the Author Spotlight for my other books.
May be purchased direct from in either print or epub format. It will take a few more days or more for this version to appear with other retailers. Buying from Lulu costs you less and more of the money goes to the author.


I have just received and approved the proof copy of the print version. Very pleased with how it looks and reads. Treat yourself!

Throwing Arrows, Ouneps and Amentum

In my recent post about throwing sticks and stones, I mentioned that creating a good spear was not as easy as some survival manuals make out, and that the throwing stick might be a better investment of your time and energies.
I had wanted to link this comment to an article that I had written back in my early days on the internet. However, the throwing weapons group I had originally written it for had long since disappeared, and to my surprise, I had not placed a copy on my other website.
Since then, I have discovered several of my original articles are preserved on this site.
The spear article, in turn, referenced an article I wrote on throwing arrows, so I have updated that and reposted it here.

Throwing arrows, or at least javelins that resemble arrows, have been used by several cultures, including the Romans and the Plains Indians.
One form of Roman weapon, the plumbata, is described as being about 10 inches long with an iron head, lead or lead‑weighted shaft and tin fins. There are references to legionaries carrying a rack of such missiles on the inside of their shields, at least in some regions or periods of the empire.
The Celts are known to have used a hardwood and iron weapon of about 21 inches length. (These are the weapons termed “Irish darts” in “Slash and Thrust” by John Sanchez. Sanchez claims these were the inspiration for the lead, iron and tin Roman dart. The example of the latter that he illustrates differs from most modern reconstructions.)
By the Middle Ages, such short spears or darts were also popular in other regions, particularly with the Arabs and Spanish (no doubt with the latter due to Moorish influence). “Spanish Darts” were one of the many weapons Henry VIII was proficient with. “Top dartes” were thrown from the rigging of warships.
Hand‑thrown arrows are sometimes referred to as “dutch arrows”.
This article will deal with less conventionally thrown arrows.
In his book “The Art of Attack”, H.S.Cowper refers to a class of weapon that he calls “javelins”, although he concedes the term is also used for conventional spears.
Cowper uses the term javelin to define "“…short pointed missiles flung by the wrist, not propelled straight by the forearm, but twirling in the air end over end before striking the object aimed at”. In other words, something that looks like a spear but is thrown like a knife.
Most of these weapons he describes are between one and three feet in length.
Obviously, this use of the term “javelin” has fallen into disuse.
Cowper suggests such a javelin was the type of weapon Saul threw at David: sitting around the throne room with a full size spear and throwing it a such short range seems to him unlikely.
Cowper describes several examples of javelin:
The Persians used an all metal weapon 2.5 feet long, and sometimes carried two or three in the same sheath. The Arabs used the “mizrak”, which had a 15 inch head, 23 inch shaft and a spiked butt.
The Greek version had a head at each end, but then so do certain much longer Greek spears.
The Knights’ Armoury at Malta had large stocks of sticks with a spear point at each end. These two foot long weapons were intended for throwing from the walls.
Most of the two‑pointed weapons have one head smaller than the other. It is true that this is a feature seen on many double pointed throwing knives, but it is just as likely the lesser point is for close combat or sticking the thing in the ground.
Short throwing sticks with a point at each end date back to prehistoric man.
Two‑pointed examples certainly exist, but the majority of these weapons are single‑pointed, and single‑bladed tumbling weapons seem to have seen very little battlefield use .
Cowper's javelins resemble short spears or throwing arrows, but are thrown end over end like a throwing knife. Pretty obviously, it is hard to tell by looking if a short spear was thrown knife fashion or spear fashion, and in many cases the answer may be either.
I have seen suggestions that the Roman plumbata may have been thrown like a German stick grenade.
Short, spear-like throwing weapons
The best evidence for such missiles being used that I have found comes from Japan. The “uchi‑ne” resembles a short stocky arrow about 12 inch long with a 4 inch head. naga-yari and uchi-ne
The “nage‑yari” (“thrown/throwing spear”) is a short spear about 17 inch long with a 5 inch head. Often tassels are fitted behind the head, which may aid drag stabilisation.
According to some books, these short missiles are used in the defence of palanquins.
Michael Finn's book “The Art of Shuriken” plainly shows an uchi‑ne being thrown in the same way as a knife, but holding the bottom of the shaft just above the vanes. Finn’s illustration appears to show an uchi‑ne brought up to touch the shoulder and then flipped forward by straightening the arm.
Throwing uchi-ne from Michael Finn's "Art of the Shuriken"
Don. F. Draeger, in “Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts” lists “uchi‑ne jitsu” as a skill practiced by samurai.
Shirakami Uchi-ne
In Shirakami Ikku Ken's book “Shuriken‑Do”, there is also an illustration of uchi‑ne throwing, but this arrow is about two and a half feet long, and obviously thrown as a spear. Interestingly, this illustration also shows a retrieval cord, and the text mentions that some uchi‑ne are fitted with these. Shirakami tells us that for long ranges the uchi‑ne is thrown like a spear, but for shorter ranges it is gripped differently and thrown in a turning style.
Interestingly, Shirakami precedes this description with a few words on more conventional Japanese throwing spears, which he terms “uchine” (spelt without a hyphen).
Most illustrations of uchi‑ne that I've encountered have been of the shorter variety, however.
The uchi‑ne was obviously intended to fly point first, and there is some indication that the nage‑yari was drag stabilized: the shaft appears to be tapered and there seems to be a tassel behind the head.
The question that intrigues me is were nage‑yari thrown like spears or like knives, and did they have enough drag stabilization to fly point first or did they tumble as Cowper assumes?

These weapons pose several questions which are worth investigating.

  • How long a shaft is needed to get a knife to fly point first? This will of course vary with head length and mass. Could a formulae to predict the length needed be found?
  • Will adding a shaft to a knife significantly increase its range?
  • Will adding a shaft to a undersized or too light knife turn it into a more effective missile?
Sadly, I don't have the room nor resources to experiment with these ideas at the moment, but would like to hear from anyone who decides to give them a try.
In addition to wood, a good shaft material may be plastic pipe.

Throwing with Strings

In his book “The Crossbow”, Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey describes arrow throwing as it was practiced by pitmen of the West Riding region, Yorkshire.
Where the Yorkshire technique differs from most arrow throwing is that it uses a length of string.
This string had an overhand knot tied at one end and this end was attached to the arrow by means of a half hitch. Hitching point was 16 inches back from the head, just behind the centre of gravity. The other end of the string was wrapped around the index finger of the throwing hand.
The arrow was then grasped just behind the head with the thumb and second and third fingers, the index finger keeping the string taunt.
The arrow is thrown like a spear, but the string increases the efficiency/duration of energy transfer. (I'll leave it to a physics teacher to explain this better!)
As the arrow leaves the thrower, the half hitch unties itself and so the string stays with the thrower.
The arrows used were 31 inches long, with an ogival tip and 5/16 of an inch wide at the head end. The arrow tapered to a point 3/16 of an inch wide at the back end.
Centre of balance was 13 inches from the head.
The entire arrow would have weighed only a little more than half an ounce. Usual material was hazelwood with a pith core. This would be dried for two years before being used to make an arrow.
A good arrow was highly prized by its owner.
The purpose of this arrow throwing was for amusement and competition.
An typical throw ranged from about 240 to 250 yards, although the better throwers may manage 280 to 300 yards.
The longest recorded throw was 372 yards.
As an experiment, Payne-Gallwey asked a thrower to use this technique with a flight arrow from a bow. A range of 180 to 200 yards was achievable. Given Payne-Gallwey's other interests, I suspect that the arrow used was a Turkish arrow which would have weighed 7 dr, or 7/8th of an ounce.
The arrows used in Yorkshire were not used for hunting or war, but the technique of throwing a missile further with a length of cord was used in a more belligerent manner by other cultures.
Natives of the New Hebrides, New Caledonia and New Guinea used a device called the “ounep” by Cowper.
The only difference between the ounep and the Yorkshireman's string is that the ounep was used on full‑sized spears and the hitch was tied at the centre of gravity rather than the butt.
The finger end of the cord might have a loop tied rather than just being wrapped around the finger.
The ounep allowed a spear to be thrown further, and theoretically a thrower would not be in danger from a return cast unless the enemy had a ounep of his own.
Throwing spear with amentum
The principle of the ounep was known to the Greeks and Romans, although they used a loop of cord tied permanently to the shaft. This was known as the “amentum” (thong or strap) to the Romans and the “ankulé” to the Greeks. This device was used by the javelin armed pelasts of the Greek world.
A comparison of hand‑throwing, ounep, amentum and atlatl spear‑throwing would be interesting.

Survival Spears

In my recent post about throwing sticks and stones, I mentioned that creating a good spear was not as easy as some survival manuals make out, and that the throwing stick might be a better investment of your time and energies.
I had wanted to link this comment to an article that I had written back in my early days on the internet. However, the throwing weapons group I had originally written it for had long since disappeared, and to my surprise, I had not placed a copy on my other website.
Below is the original article from many decades ago, with some minor updating and editing.
Since I wrote this, I have discovered several of my original articles are preserved on this site.

A Short Essay on Spears

Sometime ago, I started putting together notes on easily-made weapons and started off with spears since most survival books make this out to be quite simple. Just grab a length of wood and sharpen one end, and off you go!
Not quite!
Assuming that you do have a handy forest nearby, you won't see that many six foot+ lengths of timber of suitable width just growing from the ground, not anywhere I've been, anyhow.
If you do find something without needing to chop down a tree, it probably won't be straight, so you have to beath it.
Beathing involves gently roasting the wood over a fire or in hot ashes to make it temporarily supple. After this, you will probably have to hang your spear up to dry a day or so. Hanging a heavy weight from it may help the shaft stay straight. Bell towers were sometimes used to make and store pikes and spears.

Throwing Spears

For a throwing spear, just sharpening a point on one end and throwing it may not be enough. The spear will probably yaw like crazy and you may miss your mark by at least a foot.
Your spear needs flight stabilization.
Although fletching is sometimes used, most throwing spears are stabilized by drag, for which the front half needs to be heavier than the rear.
For a “self” spear (one made of a single piece of wood), drag stabilization may be achieved by tapering the shaft towards the butt, or better still. selecting a length of wood that is already tapered.
Hawaiian All Wooden Spear
Captain Cook's expedition to Hawaii acquired a very nice example of such a spear (above), which must have been the product of many hours carving, particularly since the owner was unlikely to have had metal tools.
Throwing Spears
A simpler option is to fit a heavier head or a fit a weight just behind the head.
Most spears that have a separate head have a head that is denser than the shaft material.
Flint heads are well known, but one can also carve a blade from wood, maybe gumming flakes of flint or shell to it.
Fixing a knife as a spear point will do, but the blade length handy for a knife is often too short for a good spear and any cross guard will limit penetration. Traditional boar‑spears penetrated at least ten inches, and bear‑spears more than double this.
A point can be carved from wood, and fire hardened in some cases, but if for a throwing spear, ensure it has sufficient weight.
Fire hardening is a process that is often mentioned, but not described in detail in many survival manuals. Fire hardening is “lightly toasting” the sharpened point of a wooden weapon to drive out some of the moisture. The point is then sharpened further. Fire hardening may make a wooden tip harder, but also makes it more brittle. Sometimes grease, oil or fat is applied to the treated point afterwards.
Other useful construction materials include flint, obsidian, glass, shell, slate, bone, horn, antler or metal, either on their own or added to a wooden head.
Drag stabilization may also be increased by adding cloth streamers or long tufts of grass or hair behind the head.

Thrusting Spears

Sometimes your intended meal will have other ideas and will want to come up and inform you of its differing opinion. In such a situation, a thrusting spear is useful, no matter what other weapon you were using to hunt.
Forward balance is not such a problem for a thrusting spear but penetration still is. In this situation your concern is too much rather than too little.
Some beasties have been known to impale themselves further onto a spear or sword attempting to get the hunter within reach of their horns, tusks, claws or teeth!
The solution to this hazard is some form of arrest, usually a crossbar a foot or more down the shaft.
Examples of methods of creating barred spears
A number of examples are shown in the illustration above, taken from “Hunting Weapons” by Howard L. Blackmore.
The leftmost uses a boar tusk thrust through the bindings. Several others use plates of bone or horn attached by cordage. Blackmore, p.91: “To start with, in the fifteenth century, the bar was a piece of wood or horn held firmly in position by thonging. It was then realized that if the bar hung loose it was still effective and was not so liable to cause accidental injury to the bearer or his companions. The piece of horn forming the bar, often only roughly shaped, was fastened to the haft by a leather strap passing through a hole in the socket or woven into the binding which normally criss-crossed the head of the haft to provide a grip.”
In some weapons, the arrest is not so obvious, being incorporated into the design of the blade or socket. Examples of this include the partizan and the lugged or winged spears.
Having more than one point automatically limits penetration, as can be seen with the Chinese tiger fork.
Chinese Tiger Fork
Thrusting spears are also used for hunting, usually from ambush.
A thrusting spear should lack any barbs so that it can be easily withdrawn for a second thrust or to be used against another target.

Barbs and Multiple Points

A throwing spear may be barbed, and in a hunting situation this may be done for two reasons:
Firstly, it is done to keep a poisoned blade in the animal's body long enough for the poison to take effect. Often the head detaches so that the shaft (the production of which may have involved quite a lot of work) will not be lost or damaged as the animal escapes through the brush or tries to rub the head loose. Having a wound partially plugged by a shaft reduces the rate of blood loss, but the movement of the shaft will also inhibit clotting, prolonging bleeding time.
Heads are also barbed to prevent an animal escaping from the spear head when the shaft of the spear is held or the weight of the shaft will hinder escape.
The most familiar examples of this are fishing spears (which may be more effective thrust rather well as thrown).
Sometimes the head of a spear will be designed to detach but will be on a line so that the fish/seal/hippo(!) can be hauled in once exhausted.
The drag of the detached shaft through the water may further tire the animal and sometimes a bladder or buoy is added to the shaft increase this effect.
This technique is also used with arrows.
Fishing Arrow
An very nice example (above), taken from “The Art of Attack” by Henry Swainson Cowper. The drag of the arrow shaft being pulled sideways through the water tires the prey. The barbed arrowhead is made from bone and inserts into a socket in the end of the shaft.
Because fish are often hard to hit, many fishing spears (and arrows) have multiple points, and this strategy may also be used on small elusive furred and feathered game too. For ideas for such designs, I suggest browsing Cowper and Blackmore, paying particular attention to the multi‑pointed spear, harpoon and arrow heads made from non‑metallic materials such as antler, wood and bone.

Throwing Cords

A useful trick that can be applied to spears is to tie a loop of cordage to the shaft and slip the first two fingers through the loop when throwing. This increases energy transfer to the shaft and was known to the Greeks as the “ankulé” and to the Romans as the “amentum. Cowper describes this on p.230.
A variant of this is to tie the cord with a half hitch, either near the centre of gravity or the butt. Using this knot allows the cord to remain with the thrower after the spear is cast. Cowper describes this on p.231, using the term “ounep”.
Miners in West Riding, Yorkshire, used this method to throw 31 inch long drag stabilised arrows, and ranges commonly exceeded 200 yards. Cowper describes this on p.230, the source being “The Crossbow/The Book of the Crossbow” by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey.
Conventional arrows can be thrown by the same method and this maybe a useful hunting technique for a bow hunter should your bow be broken.

If suitable materials are available, and the above design principles are borne in mind, quite effective spears can be made.
Spears are also useful as walking and wading aids, as carrying poles, shelter supports etc.

Throwing Sticks and Stones

Recently, my computer began to lag, so I ran a chkdsk on it. This took some time, so I decided to read in the more traditional manner.
My choice was a printed copy of Richard F. Burton’s “The Book of the Sword” (1884). I have dipped into this book on occasions, but never actually read it from cover to cover.
Bigfoot attack a cabin

Throwing Stones

In the introduction and preamble, Burton discusses humanity’s need for weapons, their disposition to violence and the forms and possible inspirations of early armaments.
I was particularly struck (pun intended!) by the discussion of hand‑throwing of stones.
Various apes, monkeys, kangaroo mice and some octopuses will throw a variety of objects to discourage intruders and predators.
Humans, however, are able to throw with sufficient accuracy to deliberately hit and injure an intended target. Indeed, there are indications that aptitude in this ability may have been an evolutionarily selected trait and have contributed to human sexual dimorphism.
In the Iliad, duelling heroes pick up great rocks and hurl them at each other.
Classical armies are believed to have included units of stone throwing warriors, known as “petrobóloi” or “lithobóloi”. Since these terms mean “stone-thrower”, some of these references may alternately refer to men armed with slings or catapult‑type war engines.
A little later in history, the Roman Vegetius states: [Legionary] Recruits are to be taught the art of throwing stones both with the hand and sling.” and “Formerly all soldiers were trained to the practice of throwing stones of a pound weight with the hand, as this was thought a readier method since it did not require a sling.”
It is worth bearing in mind that accurate use of a sling is very difficult and requires considerable time and training. Having legionaries lob stones at enemies was much more practical.
Japanese armies also had low-ranking warriors whose speciality was throwing stones (ishinage/ishiuchi/inji/sekisen/tōseki/isi arasoi/isi gassen), the stones known as tsubute. (“Classic Weaponry of Japan, p.156, Serge Mol)
Japanese stone throwing
Burton gives several examples of stones used in hunting or war (p.16): “Diodorus of Sicily (B.C. 44)…says that the Libyans [possibly a generic term for North Africans] ‘use neither Swords, spears, nor other weapons; but only three darts [javelins] and stones in certain leather budgets [bags/sacks], wherewith they fight in pursuing and retreating.’”
He also describes how raiding “Arab Bedawin”, rather than use their matchlocks, will pelt an enemy with rocks, causing him to uselessly expend his ammunition.
Burton also remarks: As a rule, the shepherd is everywhere a skilful stone-thrower.”
In “The Art of Attack” (1906), p.153, Henry Swainson Cowper notes: “Stone throwing as a method of attack would come natural to our earliest forefathers, like the use of the simplest club. Indeed such use might precede the last named, since no branch could be used without some trimming, while suitable stones lay ready almost everywhere.” and on p.159, footnote 2, “It seems natural for man, when irritable to " chuck " the nearest available object, whether a stone or a decanter, at the offender, whether that be a dog or a relative.”
As well as being a weapon system for hunting and war, stone‑throwing has been used for a number of other purposes.
Stones may be used to bring down fruit and nuts from trees. It is probable that thrown stones have been used to drive predators and scavengers away from a kill, and birds and other animals away from the crops and herds. Thrown stones have been used for duelling, as a means of execution, and as an exhibition of disapproval, discouragement, harassment and religious devotion. I even encountered suggestions that throwing stones could be used for stress relief (other than the obvious option of throwing them at whoever bothers you!).
One might also reflect at the various sports and fun‑fair or carnival games that involve throwing balls or other stone‑like objects.
While researching this topic, I came across this interesting scientific paper.
Stones deemed most effective as missiles were those of 0.5 to 0.75 kg (figure 6). The stones used naturally weathered into spheroids, and diameter of suitable missiles was approximately that of a tennis ball, which would be around 67 mm, incidentally very close to that of an M67 grenade (64 mm).
Another interesting feature of this study was that the simulated target was a 57 kg antelope at 25 metres.
In a genuine survival situation, a thrown stone may be useful for more than just squirrels, rabbits and birds!
Not all stones are created equal, and good throwing stones may not be as readily available in some environments as you may wish.
Cowper (p.150) notes that the natives of Tierra del Fuego carry a little store of stones for throwing in the corner of their mantles. Many other stone throwing peoples also carried stones on their person.
Undoubtedly, stones were often selected for suitable mass, and for regularity and consistency of shape. Shaping and polishing stones to create better missiles is not unknown.
Despite this long and broad history, the potential of hand‑thrown stones is often overlooked by survivalists.
In modern times, we associate stone‑throwing with rioters and hoodlums.
Survival manuals that describe field expedient weapons generally ignore the use of stones, other than as ammunition for slings and hand‑catapults/slingshots.
Rubber and elastic perish and break.
While a sling is easily constructed and has formidable power and range, learning to use it accurately enough to hunt with will probably involve weeks and months of practice.
As an aside, if you do have the cordage to make a sling, you may be better off making a bolas! The bolas is a clubbing weapon as well as an entangling one, so is related to the thrown stone.
Bolas are best used in open terrain. Bushes and trees give them problems.
Cords of more than a metre may be used for bolas, and heavier weights than those suggested in FM 3‑05.70 used. Blackmore (p.327) gives a range of 1 to 1.5 lbs for each weight.
If you are serious about keeping yourself fed or defended, putting in some practice at throwing stones by hand would be prudent.
A practice range for stone throwing is easily constructed, even when out in the wilds. A tree, post, mound or object hanging from a tree may be used as a target.

Throwing Sticks

Throwing stones may be supplemented by throwing sticks.
Compared to a thrown stone, a throwing stick has a greater chance of hitting a target, and a greater range.
In their very simplest, a throwing stick is a piece of wood picked up off the ground or broken from a tree and thrown at a target. Such simple throwing sticks are useful for knocking fruit out of trees, or casting a bear‑line over a tree branch.
This video shows a very simple baton-style throwing stick made from a length of hardwood timber, as long as the arm and as thick as the wrist. Ideally this should be as free of knots and other non‑aerodynamic projections as possible.
Sharpening each end will increase its utility both as a weapon and as a digging tool.
More effective throwing sticks will take a little more fabrication.
Throwing sticks may be dived into those that have an aerodynamic cross‑section, and those that do not.
Throwing Clubs
The latter type (above) are often weighted towards one end, and may resemble a knobkerry or shillelagh.
The next illustration is taken from “Hunting Weapons” by Howard L. Blackmore, and shows hyrax being hunted.
Two hunters would work together, about 50 yards apart. Both would throw at the same time so that an animal dodging one club would be hit by the other. When hunting birds, one hunter cast his club above the bird, the other below.
Hunting with a throwing club
A knobkerry or shillelagh‑type club may be made from where a branch or root grows from a larger part.
The next illustration shows an alternated configuration of throwing club, cut from the junction of where a minor branch joins a major one.
Throwing club made from join of two branches
When it comes to aerodynamic throwing sticks, some mention must be made of the “boomerang”.
In modern usage, the term “boomerang” is generally used for returning throwing sticks. To return, a boomerang needs to be launched in a specific direction, relative to the wind. It also needs to be relatively light, making it impractical as a hunting weapon except against lightly-framed fowl.
Non-returning boomerangs intended for hunting and warfare may be up to a metre long, and may have a range of 150 yards (Cowper, p.166).
The term “boomerang” was originally a name only used in part of Australia, and according to many authors, was originally used for non-returning hunting and fighting weapons!
Burton notes (p.33): “The form of throwing-stick, which we have taught ourselves to call by an Australian name ‘boomerang,’ thereby unduly localising an almost universal weapon from Eskimo-land to Australia, was evidently a precursor of the wooden Sword. It was well known to the ancient Egyptians.”
Survival field manuals such as FM 3‑05.70 tell you to make a “rabbit stick” from “a stout stick as long as your arm, from fingertip to shoulder” (p.8‑26) and from “a blunt stick, naturally curved at about a 45-degree angle” (p.12‑8)
Some sources will tell you that a hunting throwing stick should be widest at the centre and thinner and tapered towards the tips. This is an effective form, but even if we restrict ourselves to looking at Australian designs, other forms may be encountered.
The illustration below shows a “beaked” war‑boomerang (3). Boomerangs
The image below shows an Australian weapon known as a “lil‑lil” besides a more familiar style of throwing stick.
Lil-lil and Boomerang
The lil-lil is classed as a club rather than a boomerang, but is also used as a throwing weapon. This design has inspired some weapons that do have an aerodynamic cross-section.
Both the beaked boomerang and lil-lil clearly concentrate mass towards one end rather than the centre.
Cowper shows a wide variety of curved throwing sticks, ranging from gentle S‑forms to sabre, hook and horn shapes.
In other words, you have considerable leeway in the shape of your throwing stick.
FM 3‑05.70 also tells the survivor to “Shave off two opposite sides so that the stick is flat like a boomerang.” which I think is a little misleading.
Aerodynamic throwing sticks often have a cross‑section that is described as “semi‑lenticular”. In other words, the lower surface flat‑ish and the upper convex. The edge formed concentrates the force of impact, hence Burton’s reference to wooden swords or edged clubs.
Cowper notes that some war‑boomerangs have one side flatter, which suggests this may not be as pronounced as seen on “comebacks”. He also mentions an Indian war-boomerang with both sides rounded. There is therefore some leeway in the cross‑section you give your throwing stick, depending on the tools and the time you have.
A practical bow and arrow, or even a good spear take considerable skill to produce in a survival scenario.
Manufacture of a throwing stick is easier and more forgiving. Your chances of bagging a meal with it are also much greater.
Like any other weapon system, you will still need to put in the time practicing!
There are plenty of websites and videos describing how to make and use throwing sticks, so I will not go into further detail here.
Depending on how it was constructed, a throwing stick may serve other purposes too.
Many types are suitable for use as digging sticks. Some knobkerry or shillelagh are long enough to serve as walking sticks, which is handy when traversing rough terrain. Throwing sticks may also serve as hand weapons, useful in dispatching caught fish or trapped animals.
It is a good idea to construct a pair of throwing sticks, providing you with the means to make a follow‑up attack, or defend yourself.

Rucksack Packing

My previous article was on taking the foundation survival items to the next level.
Having given you a list of items that you might need, some comments on how to carry it were logical.
It is always prudent to get some different views on a subject, particularly if it is a subject you feel you are already familiar with. Even after my many decades, I occasionally I pick-up a new idea, such as using a sandwich box to carry a wash kit!
And so, I find myself browsing videos and webpages on rucksack packing.
There is no single right answer, but a couple I encountered do stick in my mind.
One character starts by producing a waterproof bag. This is one of the expensive drybags that cost more than a reasonable takeaway:
“These are my waterproofs! Always keep them in a drybag!” they tells me, very proud of themself.
Why?, I ask the screen. Are you worried that they might get wet, or is it to stop them drying out once they are wet?
If it is raining heavy enough to penetrate the rucksack, I want to be wearing the waterproofs, so a bag to keep them dry is redundant. Once they are actually wet, I will be stowing them somewhere on or in the rucksack where they can drain and dry.
Nit-pickers will doubtless waste time thinking of rare scenarios where having the waterproofs in their own dry bag will be valid, but I will move on.
It is not an efficient packing strategy nor use of money that could be better spent on something else.
A lot of rucksack packers have a selection of accessories for their electronic gadgets. I have to marvel that many of them carry numerous flexible electronic cables in hard cases, yet are content to throw expensive and valuable compasses in pockets or soft pouches.
Once I have some funds, I intend to find a rigid camera case suitable for my best compasses. That is a post for another day.
If it is a “72‑hour pack”, why carry boot polish and associated brush and paraphernalia? Freshly polishing boots only adds a little to their water‑resistance, and your boots should not be totally water‑proof anyway.
Air needs to circulate, your feet need to breathe and the interiors need a chance to dry‑out once water gets in over the tops. And you are better advised to wear matt-finish boots in a natural or neutral colour(s).
I can recall only one three week or more duration trip where I bothered to carry boot‑cleaning items. Most trips were to a climate and/or season where canvas or canvas and Goretex boots could be worn.
When carried, my boot cleaning kit was a single brush, can of polish and a shred of rag carried in an old cotton sock. Sock could be used to buff the cleaned boot.
Rather than continue on this vein, I will pass on some useful ideas that I have gathered over the decades.
Firstly, I will suggest a premise:
• Your pack will contain some items that you do not want to get wet. For example, your warm clothing, your bedding, your food etc.
• There are some items that will get wet, and once wet you will want them to dry. This includes parts of your tent, your waterproof clothing, etc.
• There will be some items in your pack that it does not matter if they get wet. This includes water bottles, cooking vessels, canned or pouched food, etc. If the exterior is contaminated by water containing sewage or microbes, that needs to be addressed, but leaving these items out in a quick rain shower would not be a concern.

Bags within Bags

A well thought out bag is a bag of other bags.
No rucksack should be considered to be totally waterproof. Thus, one or more waterproof liners are used to enclose the contents.
Items within these liners will themselves either be in plastic bags or stuff sacks.
You can buy drybags large enough for the main compartment of a rucksack. Some armies issue these, although examples may have gone through many hands and no longer be fully waterproof. Personally, I have never used these.
A heavy-duty plastic sack is a good alternative, and the usual choice before drybags were commonly marketed.
I used to be able to get 100 litre yellow bags from work. The current ones have things like “clinical waste” and “biohazard” printed on them, so not something that may be re-purposed and used in public!
The plain yellow bag I currently use has served on many trips.
Should I need to replace it, I am considering an orange plastic survival bag for the role. This could be cut down to size, or used intact with the mouth partially rolled down. In the latter case, it may still be used as an emergency shelter, or as a signalling panel.
Incidentally, if things turn extreme, your feet may be kept warmer by placing your feet (or the foot of your sleeping bag) into the emptied rucksack. If that bag contains the emptied liner or the end of the orange survival bag, so much the better!
When the tactical situation allows, I highly recommend using a light coloured bag as a liner. It is much easier to find items within a yellow or orange bag than in a black rubbish bag or dark-coloured liner.
There is an obvious niche in the market for sand-coloured plastic liners or drybags. Failing such an item, try a clear bag.
If you expect your pack to see heavy use, it is not unreasonable to “double bag” your main rucksack compartment. When I add the orange survival bag, the older yellow bag will probably be place around it, if it is still reasonably intact.
Similarly, if attempting to cross a river, placing a black rubbish bag or two around your rucksack liner is prudent. A few rubbish bags may be squeezed into the corner of a pack and take up very little room, but can prove useful.
Clear bags are useful in the construction of solar stills or transpiration traps.
I am sure someone will soil their panties over my use of plastic bags. The real issue is the disposal of plastics, not the use of them. I expect my bags to be in use for years, possibly decades.
Some people pack the contents of their rucksacks in colour-coded stuff sacks or packing cubes. Acquiring a suitable variety of colours and sizes may take some effort and expense.
Most stuff sacks are not totally waterproof, so for things you want to keep dry, such as clothes or food, you will probably end up lining the bag with a plastic bag or two anyway.
For many items, you may be better packing them in clear plastic bags and not bothering with a stuff sack.
Clear plastic lets you see what is actually in the bag rather than memorizing stuff sack colours. You may even label the bag with its contents with a marker pen.
If planning a trip or building an emergency or camping kit, I strongly suggest that you stock up on some five‑ or ten‑litre clear plastic bags, such as freezer bags. Avoid getting rubbish bags in “biodegradable plastic”!
Bags that can be sealed watertight, such as “Ziplocs” are an obvious asset.
You should probably invest in a quantity of smaller bags too. These may be used for carrying EDC items or making fire kits.
Items that are particularly vulnerable, or that may cause serious problems if they leak, should be double-bagged.
A range of plastic bags is a much more prudent initial investment than a flashlight that can be seen from the moon!
If your bags do not have sealable closures, avoid overfilling them, roll over the opening and secure with mini-bulldog clips. If you lose a clip, or put it to another use, such as hanging up a survival blanket as a reflector or signal, twist the bag shut and use your cordage in a strangle knot. You may alternately roll the opening and use a piece of duct tape, but this solution may have only limited life.
Stuff-sacks are good for items that do not need to keep dry, such as your frying pan, or stuff you want to breathe and become dry, such as waterproof clothing.
Patrol Pack with Extra Side Pouches

Putting It Together

The above is the “how” of “how to carry items”.
The “where” is based on frequency/urgency of need and on the bulk/mass of the item(s).

Popular High or Outward

Items that are frequently needed, or may be needed in a hurry, are placed where they are most accessible. Such items are often carried in the external pouches and/or lid pocket of a large rucksack.
Smaller items, that might be hard to locate within the main compartment, also tend to get carried in external pockets.
Most large rucksacks would be considerably improved by more external pockets, and more smaller pockets and/or interior divisions to better organize gear!
My favourite hostelling and hotel rucksack has six large external pouches. I knew the water bottle would be in the bottom-left side pouch, my wash kit and towel in the bottom right-side, and my journal and medical kit in the top, front.
I could even send someone else to fetch the medical kit by being able to unambiguously describe its location.
Items that are not so frequently used, or only carried as spares, tend to be placed toward the bottom of the main compartment. You will only need to unpack your sleeping bag once a day, for example, and not until your tent or shelter is erected. The sleeping bag is thus at the bottom of the main compartment.
You do not need your sleeping clothes until your sleeping system is set up, so this clothing will probably be stored under the sleeping bag.
Some packs have the main compartment divided into two sections, often with a removable partition and separate access to the lower section. The lower part is used for your sleeping bag and related items.

Hard Up, Soft Down

A sleeping bag is soft and compressible, which is another reason it is carried toward the bottom of the bag.
Denser items, such as spare water bottles, canned food and cooking vessels are held towards the top of the pack, so their weight helps compress the items below. These items may be needed more than once a day.
Conventional wisdom is that heavier items should be carried towards the top of a pack, and close to the back.
I have seen an alternate view that ammunition should be carried with the sleeping bag in the lower compartment to avoid the pack becoming excessively top heavy. This rather depends on just how much you are carrying.
In general, I would keep the dense items “high and to the back”, but keep in mind the option of redistributing some items if the pack becomes excessively top-heavy. Better still, have a rethink of what you are taking!
I have previously written about what to carry in a daysack, so will not repeat that information here, although some of those concepts will also apply to what items and how you carry them in a “big pack”.
In a previous blog, I explained my use of a soft-core pack, which allowed me to easily transfer a number of useful items between different packs.
In a follow-up, I suggest a similar range of items packed into the detachable side pouch of a military rucksack. This pouch would be worn as a pack when the large pack was not, but when a soldier might still have need of items such as googles, extra water, protective gloves, dry socks, or rain poncho.
The other side pouch would carry CBRN items, and also be carried if such threats were anticipated.
Many modern soldiers carry lots of items on their webbing that are not immediately combat relevant and would be more efficiently carried in a light pack.
A Daysack
On many of my trips, I have ensured there was room at the top of my main pack to carry a daysack. This was packed with most of the items that I might need to hand for a day sightseeing. Many of these items were things it was always handy to have at the top of a main pack, such as a rain jacket, toilet roll and sun hat. Effectively, when the daysack was in my large pack it served as extra pockets.
I could dump my main bag at my accommodation, grab the daysack, transfer across my water bottle and journal, and I was set to see the town.
Some soldiers advocate carrying a “grab bag” of “mission essentials” at the top of their pack. This will contain relatively dense items such as ammunition and communication gear. The idea is that if the main pack needs to be abandoned, the grab bag and its contents go with the soldier.
An extension of this idea is that under the grab bag there should be a bag of “personal admin” gear that may be taken with the grab bag if possible.
Some soldiers already carry an unpacked daysack within or strapped to the outside of their large pack.
It seems to me that the above ideas may be combined with the creation of a daysack that fits into the upper part of an army large pack. The daysack would have an upper section optimized for carrying dense “mission essentials”, and a lower section for “life support” such as 24 to 36 hours of rations, a brew kit, a stove and mess kit/canteen cup.
This “assault pack” would have a compartment for a water bladder and provision to attach the side-pockets of the large pack, holding the contents suggested above.
Which “personal admin” items belong in the small pack and which should remain in the large pack will probably be hotly debated in certain circles and forums!
As is so often the case, I digress! Back to the topic of rucksack packing.
For convenience, I will divide the contents of a large pack into seven generic categories:
• Clothing
• Cooking
• Food
• Water
• Sleeping
• Shelter
• Miscellaneous/Any Other Business.


You will probably have several bags of clothing, based on form or function.
Most of your clothing will be packed into waterproof plastic bags. Several small bags may utilize the available volume better than on larger bag. “Dirty laundry” I tend to keep in a stuff sack, so that it may air.
Recently washed items such as socks may be tied to the outside of the pack, or held in a mesh bag pinned to the rim of the pack flap. This lets them air dry, and they may be easily slipped under the flap should it rain. Some rucksacks have external mesh pockets which are useful for drying your laundry.
Rain clothing is carried in stuff sacks. My rain poncho will be with my soft-core bag or side-pouch, along with some cordage and light pegs so that it may be used for a shelter.
A rain jacket and trousers, if carried, will be in a readily accessible area such as a side pocket, lid compartment or top of the main compartment. If the storm clouds are gathering, these items may be placed directly under the top flap, above the snow‑lock for immediate access.
Rain items tend to migrate, depending on if they are wet or dry.
If wet, they are generally left unbagged and slipped under the pack flap or strapped to the outside of the pack to dry.
You will probably have a plastic bag for your socks in the main compartment. It is also prudent to have at least one smaller Ziploc bag holding a single pair of socks in a more accessible location. If away from your pack, have a bagged spare pair on your person.
If conditions are bad, change into dry(er) socks whenever you can. Let the wetter pair air dry, bag them if they get dry.
With most clothing, I usually reckon on “wash, wear and spare” unless carrying a lot of other gear, or a very short trip, in which case it is “wear and a spare”.
Socks are an exception, and it is not a bad thing to have a few extra pairs.
Underwear may be bagged with your socks, or separately. If you are packing an emergency or bug-out bag, you may have several different types of underwear to suit different seasons and conditions. Bag these separately, according to type.
Spare shirts and trousers are carried in the main compartment.
If you carry a spare uniform or set of clothes for sleeping in, bag these separately and stow at the bottom of your bag under the sleeping bag.
You will need a warm jacket or jumper should the weather be colder than expected, and to prevent you from chilling once you cease a hard activity. This should be bagged individually and carried in the main compartment, but above the spare and unused clothing so it is relatively easy to access.
Hats, gloves, scarves and bandannas, if not already being worn, some, at least, should be readily available in a side or lid compartment.
You may need several different types of gloves available.
It is prudent to carry spares of hats, gloves, neck gaiters and the like. These may be bagged in the main compartment if space is needed for other items in the outer pockets.
Most clothing items take up least space if rolled. There will be exceptions to this general rule of thumb, so experiment!


Cooking is treated as a separate category to food.
On many of my “city-breaks” I have not carried any form of stove or cooking vessel.
Some backpackers take to the wilds only carrying food that will be eaten cold.
In general, you should have some means by which you are able to heat-treat water.
For general camping, I carry a pair of billies and a frying pan with a folding handle.
For more basic cooking, a canteen cup will serve, but a European mess kit is better.
The use of cooking fires is not permitted in many areas, and an unmodified canteen cup and many camping cook sets are not particularly suited to such heat sources. You will need to carry some form of stove, and an adequate supply of fuel for it.
Being relatively dense items, your cooking vessels, fuel and stove should ride high up in the main compartment, helping compress the clothing and sleeping bag below.
You will eat or brew‑up more frequently than you change clothes, so these items also sit high for ease of access.
Stuff sacks are suitable for many of these items. Fuel containers that could leak should be placed in plastic bags and packed so that they stay upright. Fuel in general should be kept dry, so pack it in plastic bags. This also reduces any odours the fuel may produce.
Brew‑kit items will also be vulnerable to water and should be in a plastic bag.
Canteen cups, and British and European mess kits are of a shape that allows them to fit in a relatively narrow pouch. Some types of stove are also very compact.
Some travellers like to carry these in the side pocket of a large pack. There is usually room also for some fuel, a brew‑kit and about a day’s worth of food and snacks. This makes these items very accessible, and is particularly useful if you tend to stop to brew‑up every 90 minutes. Additional fuel will probably need to be carried in the main compartment.
The downside of using a side pocket for your cooking kit is that you might need this side pocket space for something with a higher priority. Another problem is that your stove and other items will be rather vulnerable in this position. If anyone else is likely to handle your bag, expect it to be knocked over, manhandled and possibly tossed off the back of a trailer. If you have to trust your large pack to airline baggage handling, I suggest you repack the stove and other vulnerable items to the main compartment.


Most of your food will be in the main compartment, above your clothes. You should be eating more often than you change your clothes, and the mass of the food helps compress clothing and sleeping bag.
Most of the food will be in plastic bags. For many things such as rice or flour, double bagging is a good idea. Yes, I have travelled carrying and using flour. I have read Kephart and James Austin Wilder.
I once saw a backpacker’s guidebook advocate carrying dried rice in a plastic ice cream container. I still have no idea why the author thought that was necessary.
Many packaged foods are already in a form suitable for carrying in a rucksack. You might throw them in a bag just to keep them together. Canned goods are also generally “good to go” right off the shop shelf.
Some fresh foods, such as fruit, cheese and bread may be better kept in their paper bags. Pack fruit carefully so it does not get smushed.
In the past, I have carried some spices and condiments in 15 ml centrifuge tubes. Essentially, screw-capped plastic test tubes. More often used items were in 50 ml tubes. Curry powder, chilli powder, cayenne, cumin, salt, sugar, powdered garlic, Tabasco sauce, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce can add welcome variety to meals. In hindsight, many of these could have been carried in small Ziplock bags, with the tubes only being used for the liquids.
Snacks, trail-mix and food for that day may be carried in external pouches for easy access. Some of these items end up in jacket pockets if you tend to “graze as you go”
In bear country, you will need a line and net to cache your food and other items..


Water is quite heavy, so ideally rides near the top of your pack, near your back.
Many more modern rucksack designs include a compartment designed to carry a hydration bladder. Those that I am most familiar with are against the back and high up, so are the most efficient position to carry a large volume of water.
I suggest you get the largest hydration bladder that you can afford that is compatible with your pack, so a significant part of your water is carried where its mass is best dealt with.
Another advantage of such a hydration bladder is it lets you drink any time you want, or at least any time while you are wearing your pack.
Hydration bladders designed to attach to the outside of packs should be mounted as close to the top and back as practical. These may be better off carried within the main compartment for protection.
More conventional bottles are best carried in the main compartment, close to the top and the back.
If you do not have a hydration bladder, you will want to carry one bottle where it is readily accessible, such as in your daysack or an external pocket.


I once met a young Dutch backpacker who was rather offended that I was carrying my sleeping bag inside my rucksack.
“You are supposed to strap it to the outside!” he protested.
“But it fits inside! I have plenty of room.” I argued. Just to compound his annoyance, I was camping, so was also carrying a tent, stove, cooking kit and my daysack in my bag, while he was hostelling and had his pack so filled he had to carry his sleeping bag outside.
Admittedly, my Alaskan Packboard is a roomy beast, and I was using tricks such as wearing silk shirts. And my sleeping bag was my little Merlin Softee, which has a packed size about that of a rugby ball, without needing compression straps!
There are several approaches as to how to carry sleeping bags.
Firstly, use the right bag for the season and expected conditions. If you are hostelling in the Mediterranean in summer, you do not need your heavy, bulky extreme Arctic-rated bag!
On other pages I have given advice on what sleeping bags to acquire.
If you have to carry a sleeping bag on the outside of a rucksack, be aware that your bag is not protected against abrasion nor water. The stuff sack or compression sack you use with your sleeping bag is generally lightweight nylon.
Our ancestors knew to roll their blankets in a ground-cloth or gum blanket. This never seems to occur to many modern travellers.
It may be prudent to find a sports bag or similar that can fully enclose your sleeping bag. If necessary modify the sports bag with attachment points to keep it more securely attached to your pack.
Inside the sports bag, have a plastic bag big enough to hold the packed sleeping bag. Generally you want your sleeping bag to dry out from any moisture it may have absorbed in use. If the heavens are about to open, or you plan to ford a river, put your sleeping bag in a plastic sack to prevent it getting any wetter.
Where to carry the strapped sleeping bag? Possibly the most common solution is to carry it on the bottom of the pack. This is not so bad when walking, but can get in the way if you try to sit with your pack on.
Top of the pack is generally not so practical. I have seen soldiers try this, then discover they cannot raise their heads to fire when they have gone prone. Even if you keep on your feet, you may feel that your pack seems top-heavy.
A sleeping bag strapped to one side of your pack can get interesting if you try to navigate narrow doors or use crowded public transport. It may also throw off your centre of gravity. I have sprained an ankle carrying too much weight on one side (I had a sports bag instead of a rucksack). Similarly, a bag strapped to the front of the rucksack, projecting behind you, can cause problems, assaulting strangers and demolishing scenery.
As you will have gathered from previous sections, a sleeping bag can be carried in the main compartment of a large pack, and should be placed close to the bottom. You only need to unpack your sleeping bag once a day, and it can be compressed by the mass of other items above.
First time you put a bag in your large pack, it can be a shock! Some bags will appear to take 50 to 75% of the volume. How will you be able to carry all the other stuff you have?
Generally, sleeping bags are an item you do not roll to pack.
Your new sleeping bag probably came nicely rolled up in a stuff sack or compression sack. You can drive yourself mad trying to get it back inside in the same configuration.
The best way to pack a sleeping bag is to insert the foot part into the sack, then grab handfuls and cram them in, pushing them down as far as possible and into any empty space you feel. Takes a fraction of the time and is probably better for your bag.
If you have compression straps, first “foot and cram” as described. The best method I have found is to then sit on the sack and incrementally tighten alternate pairs of straps.
It is worth repeating that for long-term storage, sleeping bags should not be kept in stuff/compression sacks. Mine are loose in large plastic bags to keep the dust off. My down bag is in a roomy cotton sack the manufacturer thoughtfully provided.
One of the problems of a bag in a stuff sack or compression sack is that it is fairly dense and will not compress much more. It may not be the best shape to efficiently use the interior volume of your rucksack.
An alternate approach is to just not use a stuff/compression sack!
“Foot and cram” your bag directly into the bottom of your rucksack. This allows the bag to “flow” into any available space. An interesting variation of this is to use a bivi-bag as the waterproof liner you cram the bag into. A nice example of making one item serve more than one role.
Not using a stuff sack is a relatively new idea to me, so I have not had time to try this “in the field”.
As an experiment, I placed a bivi-bag in the bottom of a British Army large bergen. Into this I crammed my Merlin Softee and a -15°C three/four season bag (A Eurohike “Backpacker Micro III” I have lying around. Amazing what people leave behind and never return for!)
The results were promising. The bergen is still 50% empty, not including the volume enclosed by the snow‑lock. That is impressive for two sleeping bags and a bivi-bag. I expect the bags will compress further once some mass is placed above them.
Unpacking the bags seems quicker than if they were in stuff sacks. More importantly, they may be packed up very quickly, which is useful if you have to vacate the area quickly.
Even if your rucksack does not have a separate sleeping bag compartment, I recommend keeping your sleeping system in its own liner/bivi-bag outside the liner with all the other items.
Kip mats are another sleeping item that is often strapped to the outside of a pack. While bulky, they are less massive than sleeping bags so cause less problems with the balance of your pack.
Items tied to the outsides of packs may not fare well through baggage handling. Wrapping the pack in a dozen or so metres of plastic may only be a partial solution.
Some mats may be folded and will fit inside the main compartment. These may be carried outside the liner, and are usually placed close to the wearer’s back to provide extra cushioning.


I was taught that your tent was to be carried inside your main compartment, but outside the waterproof liner. A tent will often be packed up while still wet, so the logic of this approach is clear. Outside the liner, the tent components have a chance to dry‑off while you are in transit.
Most modern tents come in a nice bag, probably fitted with carrying handles. You will want to re-purpose this. Chances are you will never get the contents back in this bag as neatly as they came from the shop.
Separate the tent inner and fly and place them in separate stuff-sacks.
Tent poles are usually carried down the corners of the main compartment, near your back. If your main compartment has a partition, it should have cut-outs at the rear corners to accommodate tent poles. If you are buying a rucksack with a partition, make sure it has this feature.
When packing your poles and tent bags, be careful that you do not damage the waterproof liner(s).
Your bag of tent pegs should be stored with the tent fly, unless you are so unfortunate to have an “inner pitches first” tent!
Tent pegs can be in a plastic bag or a small stuff sack. A clear plastic bag lets you see the contents, but won’t let the pegs dry so readily. Galvanized tent pegs should not corrode, but if you brought them from a budget source, they may not be quite what they claim.
It is a good idea to have an additional bag of spare and special purpose tent pegs. Store these in an outer pocket where they are readily accessible.
If the tent fly or inner got a good soaking, lightly fold it and carry it without its stuff sack, under the pack flap, over the snow‑lock. This will let it air and drain.
If you use a basha or tarp rather than a tent, packing instructions are effectively the same: Inside the bag but outside the liner.
Some individuals have squeezed a basha and associated items into the top pocket of a rucksack. There is not really much room for anything else, and getting it in and out may take several minutes and a black-belt in origami, which is not the best situation if you need to pack-up fast and get somewhere else.
Carrying a basha in the top compartment may increase the rain resistance of the rest of the bag. The same effect may be achieved by carrying the basha or tent fly just beneath the snow‑lock, although this may hinder accessing the main compartment for other items. Carrying your waterproof jacket and trousers at the top of the bag may produce the same protection but be more practical.
Some companies that customize rucksacks offer external poncho/basha pouches. Typically these are high on the front of the rucksack, just below the edge of the lid when it is closed. There are various ways to rig something similar, either as a pouch, or a square of tough material the shelter may be rolled up in. If going for the former, make sure there are drainage holes that let the contents dry.

Miscellaneous/Any Other Business

The above six categories include most of the items that will occupy most of the volume of your large rucksack.
This last category includes a variety of other items, some of which are very important, others less so.


My EDC includes a number of first aid items. There is a more extensive kit in my large rucksack. An intermediate level kit may be found in my daysack/soft-core pack. I have described the contents of these kits on other pages. Many of the contents of these kits are individually in plastic bags to protect them from water. The larger pouches are within clear, sealable waterproof bags.
Your medical kits should be readily accessible, so an external pocket is preferred. It should also be obvious what it is.
You may have to send someone else to fetch your medical kit. They should be able to find it with simple directions such as “My pack. Top, front pocket. Green pouch with a white cross.”


Wash kits are another item that I have described in other blog posts. It is convenient to have them in an external pocket so they may be easily accessed when wanted. Some items of a wash kit inevitably get wet, and an external pocket gives them more opportunity to dry. The wash-kit is a large pack item. It would be a rare circumstance when I would want to carry this in my daysack.


My girlfriend: “Flashlight!”
I rummage through my bag and produce a flashlight.
“How did you know I had a flashlight?” I challenged.
“You have everything!”
A flashlight lives in my daysack, or other readily accessible pocket. I have other sources of illumination on my person. My soft-core pack has a hand-crank flashlight from a pound store. It is 100% waterproof if I keep it in a Ziplock bag.
Some campers carry lanterns. I have had little use for them myself. I am more likely to go to bed than curse the darkness. My only lantern is made from a soda can and a candle.

Maps and Compass

I have a Suunto Clipper compass as part of my EDC. If heading to the wilds, I will have a larger compass either on my belt or in a coat pocket. A mirror sighting compass lives permanently in my German desert parka.
It is not a bad idea to have a spare compass in your daysack or large pack. Pack it so that it is well protected from damage and moisture.
Maps in current use should be carried somewhere accessible, such as the daysack or top pocket of a large pack. Maps not in current use should be bagged against water and may be carried elsewhere where there is room.

Emergency Items

Emergency items such as flares, smoke bombs, space blankets and similar should obviously be in an easily accessible location. Bear in mind that the emergency may begin with you being separated from your large pack.

Repairs and Spares

Your repair kit should be relatively compact. A few buckles, a minimal sewing kit, some bladder patches and some tape. This is described elsewhere.
Despite its low bulk and mass, it is a large pack item. Tucked into the corner of a lid pocket is probably a good location.


Various sizes of cordage will prove useful.
It sould be easy to find and access. In addition what I carry on my person, the soft-core pack contains several kinds.

Books and Notepads

I like to keep a journal when travelling, so carry a notepad. Also good for recording anything interesting, or drawing pictures when there is a language barrier.
Not surprisingly, the notepad is in a plastic bag. It lives in the external pocket of my daysack, or an external pocket of my large pack, depending on what I am carrying.
Guidebooks and novels currently in use migrate between the daysack and external pockets of the large pack. Guidebooks for previous areas or areas yet to be visited ride in the main compartment where their mass compresses whatever is beneath.

Electronic Gadgets

I never carried electronic items on my major adventures. Even my beloved iPOD stayed at home. I preferred to experience rather than to photograph and record. I know this approach will be alien and probably incomprehensible to younger readers.
Rationalize the electronic gadgets and accessories you intend to carry in your pack. A couple of USB adaptors will remove the need to carry half a dozen or more different cables. A hand-crank flashlight that also works as a charger and radio is a better choice than a more expensive and heavier power bank.

Miscellaneous Bag

Tucked away in the main compartment of my large rucksack I have often carried a “miscellaneous bag”. This might be an old pencil case or a Ziploc bag. It contained anything I might need in the future, but not at present: My home house keys, travel card to get me home from the airport, money that I could not use in the present country, presents for people at home, and so on.

Other Paperwork

It is amazing how many packing lists never mention toilet roll! This needs to be reasonably accessible and kept dry. My soft-core pack includes a roll in a Ziplock bag with a 100 ml bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer.


If you are armed, a realistic quantity of ammunition should be on your person. Spare ammunition may be carried in your pack. Since ammunition is dense, and may be needed in a hurry, it obviously rides near the top of your pack, and close to the back.

Final Thoughts

If your pack is totally full, you should probably rethink.
You will need some free room for unexpected contingencies. And free space lets you move stuff around when looking for something. You do not want to unpack your pack every time you want something lower down.

Foundation Survival Kits: The Next Level

One of the blogs that I have often referred back to has been that on Foundation Survival Kits.
In that article, I suggested seven items that formed the foundation of a useful emergency kit.
These were:
• A water bottle
• A canteen cup or mess kit
• A fire kit
• A survival knife
• A blanket or poncho‑liner
• A rain‑poncho
Each of these items may also be seen to represent a theme.
In this blog, I would like to expand on these themes and reflect on what further items may be acquired to expand these capabilities.


Water is the cheapest category to address. Buy a couple of bottles of soda. Once you have drunk the soda, use the bottles for water.
Soda bottles are incredibly tough and flexible. If water freezes in a bottle you can bash it around to break up the ice, with very little chance of damaging the bottle enough for it to leak.
When there is a chance that water will freeze, carry any water containers with the cap or drinking tube downwards. Ice floats, so the lowest part of an inverted bottle will be the last to freeze solid.
The soda bottle is a superior choice to more expensive, smaller, heavier and more rigid military plastic canteens. Unlike a military canteen, you can squeeze some of the air out of a soda bottle to reduce the noise of water sloshing around.
The only thing wrong with most soda bottles is the small diameter cap. It needs a little more care when refilling. It also makes it a little harder to shake broken up ice out of the bottle.
The alternative or supplement to a soda bottle is a hydration bladder. Most of these come with drinking tubes, allowing you to drink while on the move. There are drinking tubes for soda and other plastic bottles, but the ones I have seen seem to cost as much as some models of bladder with a tube.
Being very flexible, water bladders allow air to be squeezed out of them to reduce any sloshing noises. This is useful if you want to move tactically, are hunting, nature-watching or just want some peace and quiet.
Soda bottles and large hydration bladders are a great means for carrying water in your pack.
You will need some means to carry water with you when you are not wearing your pack. However, you do not want to constantly carry such a weight of water that the effort increases your water consumption.
There are hydration bladders that can be worn as an independent backpack. You cannot wear these when wearing another pack. Switching to them usually involves some unpacking or detachment.
Depending on conditions, one or two litres on your person will be about right. This may be a soda bottle or smaller, or one or two of the smaller capacity hydration bladders or bottles.
Ideal would be a bumbag/waistpack with a bladder of about 1.5 litres. Sadly, these seem rare at the moment and the examples you can find have a high price tag and are not offered in neutral or natural colours.
See the knots book for a method to construct a carrier for a soda bottle.
“Work from the outside in”. Use the water in your pack in preference to the supply you carry on your person. This policy also applies to other consumables, such as matches, emergency food and so on.
You should invest in some water purification tablets for times when you cannot heat‑treat your drinking water. It is a good idea to have a good stock of these.
There are various brands of water sterilization pumps. Given the importance of clean water, these are worth considering if they are within your means. Viruses may pass through filter systems. Water so produced may still need to be heat or chemically treated.

Cooking and Food

The topic of heat-treating water brings us to the item of a cooking vessel. I have recently written on the subject of cooking vessels, so have little to add about them here.
A cooking vessel will be more useful if you also have some form of stove.
This theme also takes us to considering the provision of food, be it rations or that procured by hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering.
An emergency is no time to worry about the diet! The food in your bug-out bag should be rich in calories, carbs and sugars. It should require very little water, cooking or preparation. It should have a long shelf life when stowed in the bag.
Ideas along these lines have been discussed on various pages on this blog.
If the 72-hour timeline of an emergency is accepted, theoretically your bug-out bag only needs half a dozen MREs or three HDRs, if you have access to them. Obviously, discard unnecessary mass such as the gum or duplicate cutlery. This is, however, an expensive option!
Your food may need to be in a bag or net that can be hung from a tree out of reach of bears. Other items that will attract their interest, such as toothpaste, cooking vessel and refuse will also need to be cached with the food. Keep about 16 metres of suitable cord with your bear bag/net.
MREs may include flameless heating pouches. You will still need your mess kit for water treatment.
Going without a cup of tea for a couple of days will not kill you, but a small brew kit may be good for morale. A hot drink may make the difference in cold weather. In addition to tea and coffee bags (vacuum-packed?), add some variety such as instant hot chocolate, soup and stock cubes.
Inside your mess tin is a logical place to carry a brew-kit.
Living on wild foods is more likely during a longer duration survival scenario.
After plant matter, fish are your most likely source of wild food.
If venturing into the wilds, carry at least ten metres of braided fishing line and a dozen or so no.12 hooks, each already attached to a foot or more of monofilament line. A third to half of those hooks should have some form of lure, such as mackerel feathers. This fishing kit gives you the capability to set up a night‑line.
If you wish, have a small fishing kit packed into something like a 35mm film container that you can easily add to your EDC. A more extensive kit, including bulkier lures, more line and copper or brass wire may be packed in a small tobacco or Altoids tin and carried in your pack. A frog/fish gig head is worth adding to your larger fishing kit, but may need to be modified so it can be used on a field-made shaft.
For active hunting of small game, your priority purchase should be a catapult/slingshot. Potentially, this could also be used to drive off threats such as feral dogs, or knock fruit or nuts from trees. If you do not have such a device, become a petrobólos and remember the ancient art of throwing sticks and stones.
Do not get a model that is too elaborate or bulky. Regularly inspect your catapult for deterioration of the bands.
Like any weapon, this will be of little use unless you put in the practice.
Your first hunting firearm should be .22 rifle, preferably semi-automatic and suppressed. A useful number of rounds may be carried for very little mass and bulk.
Openly carrying a firearm may not be prudent in certain locations. A takedown design that can be stowed in a pack has merit, if it has adequate accuracy. A small game rifle/shooter/ammo combination needs to be capable of reliably taking squirrel‑sized targets.
Many small game and birds have sharp eyes and are particularly attuned to movement. A semi-automatic allows for less body movements that might spook your target.
If forced to use the .22 defensively, the best tactic is accurate rapid fire, which also favours the semi-auto.
Examine the iron sights that come with your .22 rifle, and invest in a good set of iron-sights if you find them wanting. Learn to use your iron-sights, before you buy a scope. If/when your scope gets damaged, you will need those iron-sights.
A survival .22 may be required to defend its user or in an emergency to take targets larger than is customary for this calibre. Both of these possibilities favour high-penetration performance. Hollow‑point “hyper‑velocity” loads such as CCI Stingers are mainly intended for small game. For the survival weapon, the preference is for more conventional high‑velocity solids. These not only waste less meat, but generally cost less!


The fire kit is another low cost item, if you are sensible. Hold off from buying fire-starting gadgets and exotic tinder materials.
The best means to light a fire is a naked flame. Buy some disposable lighters.
Have a lighter on your person at all times. I keep mine in my trouser pocket so that it stays warm. Have a couple of lighters in any fire kits you construct. Add a lighter to each of your outdoor coats, handbag, and other bags you commonly carry.
You should have a lighter or fire kit in your car, boat etc. Do not assume the dashboard lighter of a vehicle will work when you most need it. The car battery may be dead.
For each fire kit, have a water‑tight container or two for tinder. Fill one with cotton wool and Vaseline. Some folks prefer wax‑soaked cotton string. The Vaseline and cotton wool that you do not use to make tinder are handy things to have around the house anyway.
To this fire kit, you can add some birthday cake candles and a Fresnel lens. (Remember that your compass may also have a magnifying lens that can be used for fire‑starting).

Toilet Paper and Hygiene

Toilet paper is a low cost, low mass and relatively low-bulk item. Carrying more than one roll is not a bad idea. Better to have it but not need it than…
Toilet paper leads us to the theme of hygiene. I have already written about washing kits and medical kits.
The common mistake with wash kits is to carry too many items, in too complicated a bag or roll.
My wash kit fits in a small mesh bag, with the toothbrush, deodorant and paste in a mesh pencil case, since it is convenient to have these separate.
Travel towel/home-made tenugui, soap in draw-cord pouch, razor(s), container of shampoo, microfibre facecloth, mini-nailbrush, small mirror, spare comb. Very little else is needed.
With medical kits, it is easy to go for two many specialist items and overload your kit.
Insect repellant and sunscreen may be needed. EDC Pouch Contents
You will probably have several medical kits. I have a few items in my EDC pouch, and a more extensive kit with my travel bag. “Intermediate” kits are in various daysacs and the soft‑core bag. You should have a more comprehensive kit at home, in your car, truck, boat, aircraft etc.
Returning to the toilet roll(s). Alcohol hand sanitizer is not the magical panacea that some people think. It is, however, a useful item to keep with your toilet roll(s). You will also need some means to dig a cat‑hole.
This brings us to the theme of tools.


In the preceding article on foundation survival kits, I recommended the acquisition of a knife with “a full-tang fixed blade that is single-edged and not less than seven inches/18 cm”.
Knives and other tools are heavy, and can be very expensive. It is very important to have a realistic understanding of what you need.
You will see certain survival experts claiming that you do not need a big blade. Buy the little (larger profit margin) knife they use, available from the website… They fail to mention they have an axe with their pack, or a full film crew to support them.
In a survival scenario, the primary role of your knife is efficient shelter and fire construction and the ability to easily work any available materials for these purposes. You need a knife that is an effective multi‑purpose wood‑working tool.
Hence, my primary choice is a kukri.
If on a budget, machetes and billhooks will often do the job as well as any expensive custom knife.
A big knife can be handy when butchering large game, although in a survival situation you are more likely to be living on plants, small game and fish. To supplement my kukri, I carry a fixed-blade Mora knife.
Swiss Army Ranger
Another useful acquisition is a good pocket tool such as a Swiss Army knife. This forms part of your EDC, and may be the only tool you have when you really need one.
You will also need the means to resharpen your tools.


Digging tools need deeper consideration than they are sometimes accorded.
Hopefully the survivor will not have to be digging foxholes and bomb-proof dugouts.
More likely reasons to dig include:
• Edible roots and other foods
• Catholes and deeper latrines
• Disposal of biodegradable waste.
• Fire pits and trenches
• Pit traps
• Drainage gutters to keep water flooding your campsite: About 20 cm deep and as wide as your shelter
Indian well: Half a metre deep and wide
• Survival stills: About a metre across and nearly that deep. Will probably need two per person.
• Bank‑bunk/Den/Emergency dugout: A shelf to hold a sleeper, dug into the leeward side of a hill or bank. About two metres long, one wide and two thirds deep.
• Various types of snow shelter: Either digging down into snow or building a wall against the wind. When abundant fuel is available, try melting a hole down into the snow rather than digging it out.
Minor digging tasks may be achieved with a digging stick, throwing stick, tent peg, screwdriver etc.
Lightweight trowels are sold for campers and backpackers. Generally, these are either plastic or a high-tech material with a high price tag.
If on a budget, check out the trowels in the gardening centre before the camping store. The toy department is also worth a look, since beach and gardening sets for children are sometimes found.
My digging implement of choice is a hori‑hori. This is compact and relatively light, yet strong and versatile.
Many of the digging tasks listed can be performed with a hori‑hori. The larger excavations are possible in an emergency if you are methodical. For example, with the bank‑bunk, use gravity to your advantage so clods of earth levered out will drop away rather than need to be lifted.
A hori‑hori is a good choice for light and emergency digging. In certain terrain, situations or seasons, larger excavations are more likely.
Trifold Entrenching Tool
Trifold entrenching tools are probably the best off-the-shelf option for deliberate digging in terms of cost, utility and bulk/mass. Sometimes a hoe/mattock is a more useful digging implement than a shovel/spade. Buy a tool where the head can be set at an angle. Some models include a pick‑blade too.
Although used by the military, these folding tools should not be expected to be as sturdy as larger and/or one-piece tools, so use them accordingly.
For deliberate winter travel, lightweight snow shovels are worth considering. These may be aluminium or plastic, and some will disassemble or are telescopic for easier carrying.
Snow shovels are not much use for digging in hard earth, but can move large volumes of snow or leaf-litter. Items such as slabs of wood, skis, snowshoes, mess tins and frying pans may be used to move loose snow.
Knives with long blades can be handy for cutting snow blocks, although some arctic travellers carry crosscut saws from the hardware store for this purpose. These are useful for wood too. They are not as compact as camping saws, but a fraction of the cost. With a covered blade, such a saw may be slipped down the side of a rucksac’s main compartment,
If you live somewhere that is wooded and often cold, an axe such as a three‑quarter or Hudson Bay style may be a wise investment.
In an emergency, you may have to get out or into a location in a hurry. The crowbar may be a very useful addition to your kit.
Crowbars are very reasonably priced.
Wrap the shank in electrical tape to insulate your hands when it is cold. This also provides a source of tape for repairs.
A crow bar may be used like a digging stick or pick to break up hard earth.
For those with far bigger budgets than mine, there are titanium crowbars.
A screwdriver should be carried with your tent pegs. This may help in both inserting and extracting pegs. It is also a potential prying and digging implement.
Like the character in my novel, you will find such a screwdriver may be used for a variety of useful purposes.
Cordage may be considered to come under the umbrella of tools. Invest in a reel of suitably coloured paracord or similar.
In an emergency, some individuals may attempt to steal your food or equipment, or prey on you for other reasons. To ignore this as a potential possibility is to neglect the hard lessons of several thousand years of human history.
Many of the tools already discussed have potential as means of self-defence.
Since the publication of my book “Survival Weapons”, I have been asked which firearm an individual should consider purchasing first? Should it be a shotgun, or the .22 rifle?
Your first weapon should be compact or sub-compact semi-automatic combat handgun. It may be carried in situations where a rifle or shotgun might draw unwelcome reactions. It may be used to defend both your home and your person. In extremis, such a firearm may be used to hunt small and medium game in the absence of a weapon more suitable.


We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Our performance when awake is often influenced by how well we slept. Sleeping gear is an important component of your emergency kit and in keeping yourself hale and hearty.
Man in Poncho0liner
In the original article, this requirement was met and represented by a poncho-liner or blanket.
Poncho-liners, as they are issued, are mainly intended as bedding. See my previous blog on simple measures that increase the utility of your poncho-liner as a garment.
A silver surivival blanket, or a more robust all-weather blanket, may be combined with a poncho-liner and pomcho for extra warmth..

Kip Mats

Once you have a poncho-liner, the second item on your sleeping wish‑list should be a kip mat.
Quite simply, “ground chill can kill!”
A kip mat is primarily insulation rather than cushioning.
Shop around, you can sometimes find a better deal on items marketed as exercise, yoga or gym mats. The main problem seems to be finding them in neutral or natural colours.
Some folks claim the black ones are inherently warmer, while some mats are offered with a reflective foil coating. No one seems to offer a foil‑coated black foam mat!
Naturally found materials such as grass, bracken, hay, pine boughs etc can insulate you from ground chill. Use your kip mat over the top of these. It will protect you from any damp materials.
Even when you can find one in a useful colour, it will be monochrome and of a regular shape. Kip mats are light but bulky. If you have to carry one on the outside of your pack, buy or make a suitable camouflage stuff sack. Fittings may be added to this so it attaches more securely to the outside of your pack.
You can roll a kip mat up in a camouflage bivi-bag, although potentially having a bivi-bag on the outside of a pack increases the chance of it being damaged and losing water resistance.
You can trim the corners of a mat into a more “mummy” shape if you wish, but this is not going to make much difference in mass and bulk. If you prefer your kip mat inside your bivi-bag, it may fit better if you shape it.

Sleeping Bag Liner

Your next sleeping acquisition should be a sleeping bag liner. Clean, dry insulation works best. A sleeping bag liner provides a little extra warmth, but its main advantage is that it keeps your bedding clean.
I have talked about sleeping bag liners before, so will direct you to that article. If your budget won’t allow you to buy your sleeping bags for a while, you might consider the warmer examples such as pile liners.
If personal security is an issue, you may need to sleep clothed and in your boots. Wearing a pair of sandbags over your boots saves your sleeping system from damage and dirt.

Sleeping Bags

Yes, I did say sleeping bags!
The poncho-liner was designed for sleeping at temperatures of above 10°C.
If your breath is fogging, you will need to make more elaborate sleeping arrangements, such as more ground insulation and a better insulated shelter.
Your sleeping gear will most probably acquire some sleeping bags. Sleeping bags are another topic I have addressed elsewhere.
Rather than buying a super‑duper arctic mountain‑rated bag, your money will be better invested in a one‑to‑two season and a two‑to‑three season bag.
Since we are considering items for your bug‑out bag, sleeping bags should be of mummy configuration for lower bulk and better performance.
Some folks prefer zipless. Personally, I find a zip offers more versatility with respect to comfort and ventilation. Ensure your choice has a two-way zip so that you may vent the foot area.
When you own two bags as suggested, you may use either or both together as local conditions dictate.
Your liner will add a little more warmth, and keep your bags clean and warm for longer.
Your poncho-liner will continue to see service as a supplement to your sleeping bags, or on its own in hot conditions.

Mosquito Nets

In many regions a mosquito net for sleeping under is a prudent investment. Working out how to suspend it may be a challenge you don’t need at the end of a long day, so look into free‑standing variants.



The rain‑poncho represents the theme of “cover”, which is appropriate since the rain‑poncho is both a garment and a means of shelter.
I have written elsewhere on the topic of selecting clothing for your “bug‑out outfit”, so I will concentrate on the topic of shelter.
Pocho Shelters
Your poncho probably came with a stuff‑sack. If it did, to this add two three‑metre lengths of paracord or similar. These will prove useful when you rig your poncho as a shelter.
A pair of bungee cords is quicker but less versatile, so may be added later.
If it is particularly windy or cold. one of these cords may be used as a belt around your poncho. The other may be used around your poncho‑liner.
A rain‑poncho and cord is not a complete shelter. You will also need some pegs or stakes. In extremis, your knife lets you carve them from sticks.
There are a number of ways to do without pegs, or for use when pegs won’t hold. I will deal with those some other day.
To your shelter kit add a small bag of pegs. Most shelters you can construct with a poncho or basha need four to six.
Add your screwdriver to this bag. This may be used for covert pegging, or as a spare peg. The screwdriver may also be used as a “T‑handle” to pull pegs up again.
Many of the shelters you may construct with a poncho require some means of support.
You cannot rely on convenient trees or even branches always being present.
Hiking/ski poles and bicycle frames have been used instead.
In addition to the above, your kit should also include a couple of tent poles, each with an extended or assembled length of about one metre.
The rain‑poncho “hooch” is a very basic form of shelter. It is relatively low cost, even more so if you have ponchos issued to you. Some servicemen carry three or four: one for wear, one or two for shelter and another as a groundsheet.


A common upgrade is the “basha sheet”, which is a waterproof sheet of around 1.7 by 2.5 metres. It is similar to a lightweight tarp, although tarps tend to be three to four metres square. You will still need the rain‑poncho as rainwear.
Most basha sheets encountered these days have a camouflage print. However, the scale of the print is such they tend to show as a regular pattern.
A poncho/basha/tarp shelter may be improved by rigging two canopies, one below the other.
The inner canopy may be another poncho, a space blanket or even a suitably large non-waterproof cloth.
The double canopy retains more heat in cold conditions. It also insulates the occupant from the heat of the sun in the desert.
In the latter situation, the outer canopy may be a space blanket or similar reflective item. This also makes your shelter highly visible, which may or may not be desired.
This brings me to the topic of security.
One of the reasons the infantry use ponchos or bashas where possible is they give better situational awareness. They are also easier to vacate in an emergency.


A purpose‑designed tent may be warmer than a poncho/basha hooch, but also may make you more vulnerable to two‑legged predators.
This is something to think about when considering what form of shelter to include in your emergency or outdoor kit.
If you do opt for a tent, make sure that you buy a design that allows you to pitch the flysheet (outer) first and take it down last. Do not let any salesman con you that “flysheet pitches last” is an advantage. I have put up and taken down enough tents in the rain to know better!
When you buy a tent, the fly and inner probably packed in the same bag. Buy another bag and pack them separately. These bags should be distinct so that you know if you are reaching for the inner or the fly.
Avoid single layer tents unless they are made of a material that is both waterproof and breathable, such as Gore-tex. The latter are usually either bivi-bags or one‑man tube tents.
Single layer tents made from other synthetic materials either have condensation problems or let the rain in.
Single layer tents made from canvas/cotton duck etc are better, but tend to be heavy.
If you do opt for a tube‑tent or bivi‑bag. you will probably need a poncho or basha as well to give you a sheltered space you can dress or cook in.


While not essential, a groundsheet will help protect the bottom of your tent inner. It may make the interior of a hooch more pleasant too.
If you carry your bedding items on the outside of your pack, the groundsheet may be used as an abrasion and water-resistant cover .
A groundsheet for a tent should be no bigger than the tent’s floor. Any material outside this area will channel water underneath. Similarly, a groundsheet for a hooch should be no bigger than the sheltered area.
Currently, several sources are offering cheaply-priced foil-coated sheets that have interesting potential as groundsheets. During the day, these could be staked out as reflector panels to attract attention. The sheets of silver material sold as reflectors behind radiators may also have potential.
These could be combined with a sheet of waterproof, puncture resistant material.
I have, on occassion, used my all-weather blanket as a groundcloth and insulation. When the cheap tent I was in started leaking in the alpine rain, I flipped the extra width over myself and stayed dry for the night.


A bivi-bag may be thought of as a raincoat for your sleeping bag, or a one-man tent without the poles.
Being a single waterproof layer, they need to be of a breathable material such as Gore-tex, which ups their price. Gore-tex items tend to have a finite life until they stop keeping water out.
Bivi-bags are useful when you lack a kip mat or groundsheet to keep the damp out. They may be combined with shelters such as bashas and ponchos.
The bivi-bag provides a little extra insulation, so in warm weather may be used on its own or with a poncho-liner. In very cold weather it adds an extra layer of insulating air.
When inside the rucksack, a bivi-bag may be used as a water-resistant bag to store your sleeping system in. This puts your sleeping system in its own bag, rather than at the bottom of a rucksack-liner with all your other gear.


In this article I have built upon the foundation introduced in my blog on Foundation Survival Kits.
Some of these requirements may be easily met, with very little outlay.
In other cases, I hope this discussion has helped you prioritize your acquisitions.
There are a number of sundry or related topics, but these I will save for another day.

Mess Kits for Bug-Out Bags

I was reading some pretty useful advice on how to collect water while minimizing the chance of sediment and other large materials.
Hold the mouth of your bottle a fist-width below the surface to avoid floating debris (and mosquito larvae!). Hold it off the bottom to avoid stirring up silt. If the water is flowing, point the nozzle downstream to reduce the change of solids being washed in.
Cover the water bottle neck with a section of bandanna to filter water going in. Use a clove hitch or slip knot to secure the bandanna. This also puts a safety lead on your bottle to avoid loss!
Cover your canteen cup with another part of the bandanna and pour the water in the bottle through the bandanna into your cup to filter it a second time. Pour a little of this water into the bottle, to rinse out any particles that got in. Now sterilize your water.
The flaw in these instructions is that most water bottles are at least a quart or a litre, and canteen cups generally about half that! Biggest that springs to mind is the British Crusader MK.II cup at 800 mls.
I will come back to this topic presently.
After you have filtered your water, you still need to sterilize/pasteurize it. One of the most effective ways to ensure water is safe is to bring it to a rolling boil. Many foods you will encounter in a survival scenario will need cooking to make them safe or more palatable.
While there are ways to cook and even boil water without a metal vessel, life is a lot easier with one!

What Is Wrong with the Canteen Cup?

In his recommendations for SERE, Robert DePugh notes “Such cooking as may be essential can be done in the canteen cup.”
Many preppers and soldiers wishing to lighter their load are of a similar opinion.
The catch is that as they come, most canteen cups are wanting in certain respects.
The most obvious of these is most lack a lid. Lids save fuel and time. They keep bugs, dirt, dust and rain out of your food. In an escape and evasion situation, a lid may reduce tell-tale cooking odours.
Most canteen cups also require a stove. If you have to cook over a fire, you will need to jerry-rig some form of pot-support, or wait until the fire dies down to coals.
Not only do the side handles get hot, but your hand comes dangerously close to the fire.
How simpler things would be if your cooking vessel had a bail handle so you could hang it over a heat source!
It is possible to make or buy lids for your canteen cup. Similarly, there are a number of ways to add a bail handle.

I currently have three canteen cups sitting on the work table awaiting conversion. Each month I do not seem to have either the money or the time to gather the necessary tools and materials.
There is an obvious need for a low bulk cooking vessel. Can we do better than a canteen cup?
Suppose I told you that there is a superior alternative that is widely available and ready to use off the shelf, complete with bail handle and lid?

“European” Mess Kits

Instead of a canteen cup, why not carry a mess kit?
Specifically, I am suggesting the sort of military mess kit that looks like a binocular case, being either oval or kidney shaped in cross-section. I have seen these called “European” mess kits, although the Chinese and Imperial Japanese Army seem to have used the design too.
The bottom portion of the kit is a billy, with a bail handle. The upper part typically is a small pan with a side handle. This pan also serves as a lid during cooking or transport.
Many of you will have a passing familiarity with these mess kits. Their potential may have escaped you.
For a camping trip, I typically prefer a more versatile cooking outfit.
For a bug-out bag, where most of your cooking will simply be boiling or reheating, a mess kit of this configuration is ideal.
I have used my Swedish set for winter day hikes, since it fits nicely inside a daysac. With the snow thick on the ground, I have paused to cook myself some hot noodles.
Swedish Mess Kit
The familiar British and American designs of mess kit are actually atypical. The British Army used a “D-shaped” mess kit during the First World War and back through most of the nineteenth century.
The armies of most nations have used “binocular case” mess kits at one time or another. Many nations continue to use this design.
Most of the kits of this type available are described as German or Austrian, or “M31 pattern”. Do not confuse these with the pair of cups that fit outside of the German Army M59 water canteen.
German M31 Mess Tin
The more recent Bundeswehr mess kit variants are to be preferred, since these have handles that can be locked upright or out to one side, away from the flames.
The German kit (and some other examples) includes a third part which is a metal bowl/insert. The hook at the end of the lid handle engages a slot in the bowl, so the two may be carried together, or the pair balanced across the top of the billy.
German Mess Kit with Indert
There are also Chinese manufactured kits that appear to be the same design as the German. These appear to be of new manufacture, rather than military surplus.
Russian, Romanian, Hungarian and Polish surplus examples are also stocked by some suppliers.
At time of writing, prices are comparable to those of many metal canteen cups that come without lids.
Most of these kits must be brought army surplus, so you roll the dice on condition and actual design. If you want something unused, the Chinese-made copies of the German sets are an option.
To these options, I will add the Swedish M40 AL/M44 mess kit set that includes a windshield and spirit burner.
The Swedish kits have become more widely known and popular in recent years. Prices have skyrocketed since I bought mine, decades ago. I am not sure if these are still issued or in production. One company makes a stainless steel copy of the Swedish kit. An aluminium version with a non-stick coating would be very welcome.

The Case Against:

• Let us get one objection to this idea out of the way! This is that a mess kit will not fit neatly around a water bottle in a belt pouch like a canteen cup will.
Firstly, while carrying some water on your person is prudent, you should minimize unnecessary weight. To my mind it is more sensible to carry a canteen cup or equivalent in your pack, not on your belt.
Secondly, water is better carried in a bladder than a bottle. Water in a bottle may slosh around, and that noise may give you away while hunting, nature-watching or in a tactical situation. Excess airspace is seldom a problem with a bladder.
If you do carry water in a bottle, repurposed soda bottles work fine, and are lighter and cheaper than military style rigid water bottles. Soda bottles are much more flexible than thicker bottles. If the contents of a bottle freeze, the ice can be broken up without damaging the bottle.
In sub-zero conditions, carry your water bottles and bladders in the warmest part of your pack. Invert them so that the drinking tube or cap is lowest. Ice floats, so the lowest part of a container will be the last to freeze solid. Ice expands, so leave some airspace within a container if freezing is likely.
If you expect freezing temperatures overnight, pour some of your water into a cooking vessel. Ice in a pot is easier to melt than snow or ice within a bottle.
In very cold conditions, when you heat water, use what you do not use to top-up/warm-up your water containers.
If you do not carry a canteen cup on your belt, and you do not carry a military canteen, it does not matter that your cooking vessel will not nest around a canteen!
• Second objection is that most of these vessels have bare aluminium interiors. If you wade through the media sensationalism, groundless opinion and scare-mongering, you will find the evidence on possible health risks of using aluminium cookware is still inconclusive.
The surface of a cooking vessel is actually aluminium oxide, which serves as a protective coating. Prudence suggests that if you avoid cooking anything particularly acidic in an aluminium vessel, avoid prolonged cooking, or a combination of the two, you should be safe. If you use a very abrasive cleaner on your cookware, leave a short interval for the oxide coating to reform.
For a cooking vessel in an emergency kit, or one that is only used occasionally for trips out, bare aluminium is a legitimate choice. Remember that actual cooking in a survival or E&E scenario will be fairly basic and unsophisticated. Mainly just heating and boiling.
• Third objection to the mess kit is that it is larger than a canteen cup.
In a survival or E&E situation, most of your food will be from plants. These tend to be low in calories, so you will need to eat a lot of them. Bear in mind that in a survival situation, you may have to also cook for someone other than yourself. A cooking vessel larger than a canteen cup may be an advantage.
As my introduction has suggested, being able to heat treat more than half a litre of water at once is useful.
While it has more bulk, a European-style mess kit is still compact enough to fit in most daysacs. The interior space of a mess kit may be packed with food and other useful items, so effectively becomes zero bulk.
Generally, a mess kit is heavier than a canteen cup too, but bear in mind this is for two or three cooking vessels rather than a single one. My German mess kit is 400 g. 350 g if the metal bowl/insert is left at home. My Swedish five piece kit is 875 g, including windshield, burner and empty fuel bottle. Billy and lid on their own are 450 g.
The billy of my Swedish mess kit has a capacity of about 1.3 litres. The equivalent part of the M31 is 1.5 litres. It includes a measuring indent each 500 mls. Oddly, the German kit looks slightly smaller than the Swedish. Both kits can boil more than a litre of water to sterilize it.
For completeness, the lid of my Swedish Kit holds 550 mls. Both the lid and the insert/bowl of the German kit hold 400 mls each.
My Polish mess kit resembles the German model but is smaller. There is no insert and the bail handle lacks any locking mechanism. The billy has a capacity of one litre and the lid 500 mls. It masses 300 g. There is a measuring indent at half a litre.
One odd quirk of the Polish set is that it is top heavy when empty.
To put these masses and volumes in context, my 650 ml Crusader Mk 1 cup alone is 250 g!
Note that masses and volumes on this page were measured using items I personally own. Figures may differ from those given by vendors.

The Case For:

To my mind, it is not a billy if it does not have a bail handle. The bail handle is a simple feature that makes a camping cooking vessel infinitely more practical and versatile.
The bail handle of a billy lets you hang it over a fire. If your stove is a bit wobbly, you can use a tripod or crane for added security of your vessel.
In a previous post, we looked at how useful a bucket might be. A billy is essentially a bucket you can cook in. It may be used to fetch water or to gather berries. You can use it to transport a meal, even while the food is still hot. If you expect rain, leave it outside your shelter to collect fresh water.
An effective cooking vessel should be one of the foundations of your bug-out bag, 72-hour pack or survival kit.
The capacity of a European mess kit makes it more useful and versatile than a canteen cup, yet still compact enough to fit inside a relatively modest capacity bag. Or, looked at another way, it leaves room for something else you will need.
The lid of a European mess kit serves as a pot. This is often described by reviewers as a “frying pan”. It will hold a rasher of bacon, a couple of sausages, or a small piece of fish! More practically, the lid may be used as a drinking vessel, saucepan, plate or bowl. It could also be used as a ladle for bailing water out of an Indian well, or as a snow scoop for adding the final touches to a winter shelter.
The handle of my German kit lid folds easily, so care must be taken when drinking from it. Perhaps hitting the rivets would tighten this up. but I doubt it. Alternatively, drink from the insert/bowl. The handle of the Polish kit is better, but will still fold if held at the wrong angle.
If your cooking ability is limited to warming a can, a mess kit is wide enough to accommodate at least one. Discard the water used to warm a can this way. It will be contaminated with whatever was on the outside of the can, the glue from the label etc.
There are ways to warm a can without using a vessel, but that is outside the scope of this article.
Swedish soldiers call their mess kit a “Snuskburk”, which translates roughly as “dirty bucket”, “filthy jar” or similar. Apparently soldiers often neglect cleaning them after use. I do not really see why this should be the case.
If you have large hands. you may find it difficult to clean the inside of a canteen cup. This is another advantage of the larger capacity of a mess kit.
Your cooking kits should include a small sponge, such as the sort with a nylon scourer page on one side. You can also use this sponge to mop up dew if you are short of water.
With the sponge, have a small bottle of washing-up liquid. I use a 50ml centrifuge tube such as a skirted Falcon.
If you have read my blog on a more efficient way to wash-up, you will know you only need a couple of drops of detergent and a few splashes of water to keep the inside of a mess tin clean. Should you lose your detergent, ashes from the fire may be used instead.
Since the main parts of the mess kit do not nest in anything, keeping the outsides pristine is not a priority. Once cooled, just give the outside a rub with some grass or similar to dislodge any loose soot.
Another advantage of a mess tin is that you get much more bang for your buck. For a similar outlay to a canteen cup, you get a pair of larger capacity cooking vessels. You do not need to buy a lid as an accessory, nor source a hanging device.

Packing and Carrying

Traditionally, a European mess tin is held together with a strap and carried on the outside of a pack or belt kit. Some armies issue pouches, but these generally follow the tradition of “an elephant is a horse built to mil-spec”.
A more effective solution is to make or buy a suitably dimensioned stuff sack. This sack can carry associated items you do not want to carry inside the mess kit, such as your stove and fuel bottle. Double-plastic bag the latter in case of leakage.
To this, add your container of washing-up liquid and your sponge.
Add a spork for eating with and stirring the pot. Since the mess kit does not have a non-stick coating, I use a metal spork that can also be used to lift a hot bail handle. The spork also serves as a can-opener, but I have these on my keyring and Swiss Army knife too.
A triangular bandage, bandanna, tenugui, or piece of old tee-shirt may be used to stop any parts rattling. This also serves as an “oven glove”, water filter and drying cloth.
Fill the interior of your mess tin with items such as a brew kit, packet soup, instant noodles, hot chocolate mix, quick-cook rice, porridge, OXO cubes, water purification tablets, a source of ignition such as a lighter or fire kit and so on. A bit of variety in your diet will always be welcome.


There will be times when you cannot use an open fire to cook on.
The Swedish mess kit comes with its own stove in the form of a spirit burner and a windshield/stove.
Do not store fuel in the burner. It will eventually eat through the seals and leak into your bag.
The German mess tin is too big to use in the Swedish windshield. It will fit, but be too tight. Trying to remove the hot billy from the burning stove is not recommended!
European mess kits will work with a wide variety of other stove types. Some may need to be turned down a little to compensate for the pots' non-circular shape.
A hobo-stove made from a soup can will be of a good size for a European mess tin. Spirit burners may be easily made from aluminium cans, such as shown here and here. Some other homemade stove designs are shown by my pages here.
Many of the designs of stove intended for use with canteen cups or other designs of mess tin will work well with European mess kits. For example, the Crusader Mk II stove, which can use either hexamine solid fuel blocks or alcohol gel. The stove is designed so that the canteen cup nests slightly inside when in use. The mess billy is a little too big for this but will sit comfortably on top.


As I have discussed in a previous blog, mess tins are not as widely used by the military as they once were. Many soldiers now make do with just a canteen cup. Most of us, however, do not enjoy the extensive logistical support most soldiers have.
One company is already offering a stainless steel copy of the Swedish mess kit, so I think there is a good case for commercial versions of the European style mess tins.
I think many of us would be interested in an aluminium version of the Swedish kit with a non-stick or hard anodized coating. Essentially, the same materials and finish as the Crusader Mk. II cup.
Some of us would probably prefer a Swedish mess kit that was a little more compact. On the other hand, I think there would also be potential users that want it a little bigger.
An improved version should probably be available in one litre and 1.5 litre variants. The most practical way to do this would be to have two billies which only differ in depth. All other components would be the same for both variants.
Features I like from the German mess kit are the measuring indents, the locking mechanism on the bail handle and the insert. An insert for the Swedish mess kit might be useful, particularly if available in alternate materials such as plastic.
The stove for the improved mess kit should be capable of taking several fuel types. For example, hexamine, alcohol gel and spirits. Something along the lines of a scaled up Crusader Mk II stove, perhaps.



Three New Knots?

When I was reading “Bushcraft 101” for its review, I came across a knot the author calls a “Jam Knot”.
Jam, Knot
According to various videos and websites, this is also known as the arbor knot or Canadian jam knot.
According to most of these sites, the knot is the greatest thing since Silvia Saint first took her clothes off.
Silvia Saint with Revolver. Credit to Action Girls
I was currently in the process of updating my free book on knots, “Scrapboard Knots” I will admit, I was baffled.
Every depiction of this knot I have seen looks like a slip knot with an overhand tied in the running end.
Slip Knot from Scrapboard Knots
Bushcraft 101 tells me: “The jam knot is a slipknot that, when used in conjunction with a stop knot, jams a loop of line to tighten around an object. This knot is easily released by pulling the tail on the stop knot portion of the line. This is one of the most useful knots for its adaptability.”
Which does not help. I cannot see how that overhand stop knot is contributing anything other than stopping the end of the rope fraying. The running end of a slip knot is subjected to very little force, all of it being applied to the loop and the eye.
You can use a jam knot to keep a sleeping bag rolled! You can use a slip knot for that too. I tend to use a killick hitch.
I am none the wiser as to what the big deal is! I feel like the little boy watching the naked emperor!: “It's a slip knot!”
It did get me thinking, however.
Suppose you tied a slip knot with an overhand stop knot within the bight?
You would have a noose that you could tighten but would not restrict under a certain diameter.
Slip Knot with Stopper Knot
Slip Knot with Stopper in the Bight (Not Tightened)
I call this the “Slip Knot with Stopper in the Bight”. Not the catchiest name, but describes exactly what it is!
I had my copy of Kephart handy, so I had a look at what he had to say about slip knots.
There I came across a knot he logically calls the “Fisherman's Eye” knot. It looks a little like the slip knot, but is structurally closer to a Fisherman's knot.
Fisherman's Eye Knot
Kephart notes: “The strain is divided equally between the two knots, and the loop will stand until the line parts. This is one of the best ways to make an eye on a fishing line or gut”.
Fisherman's Eye Knot
Fisherman's Eye (not tightened)
Unlike a slip knot, the first overhand is tied in the standing part (like the non-slip knot). The running end is passed through this knot. The running end is then tied around the standing part with a second overhand.
This creates a loop that may be reduced, but cannot be pulled wider than a certain diameter. In this respect, the fisherman's eye is the opposite of the the slip knot with stopper in the bight.
If I tie a slip knot and knot the running end around the standing part I get a sluggish slip knot.
The next step was obvious. Make a fisherman's eye with a stop knot tied in the bight.
Three Brothers Knot, Variation One
Three Brothers Knot (Not Tightened)
I have not seen this variant anywhere else. The fisherman's eye seems to be relatively unknown itself.
I call the variant of the fisherman's eye with an additional stop knot the “three brothers”.
The three brother's knot gives you a fixed loop. There are lots of other knots that can do this, of course.
The three brothers has the merit that it easy to remember when you are too stressed to recall the finer points of a bowline, for example.
Incidentally, the Wikipedia illustration for the bowline is wrong. The running end should finish on the inside or the knot will be less secure.
The three brothers knot is also easy to adjust for size.
Three Brothers Knot Second Variation
Variation of the Three Brothers Knot (Not Tightened)
An alternate version of the three brothers may be tied by first tying a slip knot with a long running end. Tie a second overhand in the standing part behind the slip knot. Pass the running end through the second overhand, then tie the running end in an overhand around the standing part. Adjust the three overhands to get a loop of the desired size.
Three Brothers Knot Tightened
Tightened Three Brothers Knot
All of which raises the question: When is a knot new? Are these new knots, or just overhand knots in different configurations?
You saw them here first!



Survival Library: Chapter 2, Bushcraft 101

Continuing my suggestions for a survival library.
Today I will look at a title that is relatively new to me. Some other reviewers consider it a “must have”.
The book is “Bushcraft 101” by Dave Canterbury.
Cover of Bushcraft 101
I quite liked this book.
The early section on safe and effective ways to use your knife and other tools is particularly good, and possibly worth the price alone.
It is a good book for rending topics down to a simply grasped form.
An interesting aide memoire Canterbury uses is “the Five Cs”: Cutting, Cover, Combustion, Containers and Cordage. Personally, I would advise adding “Consumables” and “Compass” to that list.
Another useful aide memoire is the “Four Ws”, used for selecting a good campsite: Wood, Water, Wind and Widowmakers.
To the advice given in the book, I will remind the reader that water sources often come with biting insects, so a camp should not be too near. Under the same category, one should consider watercourses. If you camp in a dried river bed or runoff, a storm miles away may result in your camp literally being washed away.
A third handy memory aid is “LURD”, used to determine the direction viewed by star movement. I recommend memorizing it as “LURD:NESW”. If a star is moving upward, you are looking east, and so on.
Determine direction of facking by star movement
The section on maps and compass is much more straight forward than in some publications:
“The most important reason to carry a compass is so that we can walk a straight line over distance.”
• Here I will insert a useful tip not given in this book. To walk in a straight line, align three objects. Tree trunks in a forest are ideal.
As you reach the first object, align the next two objects with a fourth, and keep repeating this process as necessary.
While applying a calculation to compensated for difference between magnetic and grid north is mentioned in Bushcraft 101, the actual method (LARS) is not detailed.
Perhaps it was felt that in a survival situation the difference is not significant, only a general orientation of the map being adequate. A similar approach is taken in the SAS Survival Handbook.
In some parts of the world, or for more general navigation, magnetic declination may be significant.
I would recommend regarding the navigation section of Bushcraft 101 as a useful primer and follow it with some more detailed reading on the topic.
The above brings me to one of the shortcomings of Bushcraft 101.
The book is very much written for a North American audience, and mainly geared for travel or emergencies in woodland.
If you frequent the prairies or deserts, you may wish the book had mentioned some tent poles to rig the suggested tarp. Similarly, some of the advice given may not be so valid for other parts of the world.
That said, my impressions of this book are very positive.
Once you have the suggested titles by Kephart, Greenbank and Wiseman (and my own books, of course!), Bushcraft 101 is worth considering as a useful addition. 



Knots to Save Your Glasses

The other day I had to escort an engineer.
He managed to set off the alarm he was servicing, and was unable to get it to stop.
He had forgotten to bring the handle for his screwdriver bits.Girl in Sunglasses
Such farces are actually not that uncommon at this institution.
As the minutes rolled by and I sat there in the noise, it occurred to me I had some ear plugs on me. Actually the noise was not too bad, and using hearing protection to ignore an emergency alarm is probably setting a bad example!
Eventually the alarm was silenced by using the end of the nail file on my Swiss Army Classic. I have better screwdrivers on my tools, but the Classic on my keyring was most readily to hand.
The engineer was also having trouble with his spectacles. The rubber loops on the retaining cord he was using kept slipping off, and he was cursing the well known website he had brought them from.
All this reminded me of a topic I was thinking about when I was writing about ear plugs.
Ear plugs are a simple thing that can make all the difference if you have them with you.
Obviously, my penknives may be included in this.


Tweezers are another item I thought of, possibly because at the time I had been reviewing how to deal with biting ticks.
I carry a Swiss Army Ranger and a Classic, and each has a pair of tweezers slotted into a grip panel.
One pair has been ground to a point, as shown in this video.

If, for some bizarre reason, you do not carry a Swiss Army Knife (!), the tweezers may be brought separately.
So small and so cheap there is not really any good reason not to have a pair. Your main problem may be finding a good place to carry them so you can find them when needed!

Don't Forget Your Toothbrush

Personally, I do not have a toothbrush in my EDC. If I was heading to the wilds, I might rethink this.
If your lifestyle often finds you sleeping at someone else's house, platonically or otherwise, you may find it handy to have a toothbrush with you.
There are guards you may fit over the bristles, and two-part brushes, some of which have room for a tiny tube of paste.

Glasses Save Eyes!

The next “simple thing” did not immediately occur to me since I wear spectacles, and mine have photochromic lenses.
My girlfriend mentioned a Christmas she spent in Scotland. The snow made everything so bright she wore sunglasses whenever outside.
If you do not wear photochromic glasses, a pair of sunglasses is a worthy addition to your EDC or bug-out bag.
Excessive sun glare may occur in any season. See the “Too Bright” section of Greenbank's “The Survival Handbook”.
Protecting Eyes from Glare
Glasses also protect your eyes from branches when moving through the woods, and other threats. That, incidentally, is one of the reasons I do not switch to contacts.
My glasses have saved my eyes from injury several times.
Spectacles or sunglasses are important and useful. When climbing, biking or during other activities there is an increased risk that you and your lenses may part company.
Which brings us back to the engineer and his malfunctioning retention cord.

Retaining Glasses

My left hip pocket contains a lighter, bandana and a collection of cordage.
Included in the latter is a retention cord I may use with my spectacles.
I literally found this lying in the street, the irony that something to prevent loss was lost not lost on me.
I have not had cause to use this retention cord yet, but it seems well suited for purpose.
The cord is tubular and fits over the arms of my spectacles, giving a long contact area. A sliding piece of plastic allows the cord to be drawn snug against the back of the head.
An effective retaining cord is a prudent thing to carry with you if you wear glasses or have sunglasses, even if, like me, you only fit it when the chance or consequence of losing your glasses is serious.
Suppose you do not have a retaining cord, or have lost it.
If you have been visiting this blog, you will probably have some paracord or other cordage available. A draw cord from your anorak could be used.
Here are two suggestions on how to improvise a retention cord for your glasses:

Instructables Glasses Lanyard


Both of these methods use slip knots to attach the cord to the arms.
One method uses a double overhand to form the slip knot, the other uses an extra couple of turns to form the overhand knot portion.
The video uses a double fisherman's knot to tighten and loosen the cord. A single fisherman's knot would be easier to adjust when needed. Perhaps he wanted all the knotted sections to match?
A slip bend would be a good knot for this application. This could be made with double overhands if desired.
How to tie aSlip-Bend
The “cobra knot” used in the Instructables' method is actually multiple overhands tied in the centre of a second piece of cord. This would have been clearer if a different coloured piece of cord was used for demonstrating this part.
The simplest way to adjust a retaining cord is probably to tie a lapped overhand loop in the doubled cord. This is probably one of the few knots that may be easily adjusted when your hands are behind your head.
The other methods may be more secure, however.
All this talk of knots brings me to my final topic.
I have rewritten Scrapboard Knots, adding more content, more knots and tweaking the format to use less paper.
All of the knots mentioned in this blog may be learnt from this booklet.
Scrapboard Knots is free, but donations and tips are welcome, and much needed at the moment.



Build Your Survival Library: Chapter One

My girlfriend was telling me how her sister in Brazil had managed to acquire a piece of land. Living on her own land is something that my girlfriend has often said that she would like to do.
“You will have to teach me survival”, she added.
I admit I was a little surprised by that request. She is an incredibly practical person.
When she was a little girl, she would escape her toxic home environment and live on the beach, catching fish. I suspect there is quite a bit she could teach me.
However, she is a very wise lady, and part of wisdom is knowing what you do not know!
What should I put on her reading list, I pondered?

Camping and Woodcraft (Kephart)

My first thought was “Camping and Woodcraft” by Horace Kephart. Photo of Hoeace Kephart
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to know this is one of my favourite books. I prize my old 1927 reprint of the 1921 edition. Around 884 pages, yet fits in an M65 jacket pocket.
This book is definitely something I will save, come the apocalypse.
It is rightly called a classic and a title that every outdoorsman should read.
The book is out of copyright, so I have a number of alternate editions in PDF, found for free on-line.
Camping and Woodcraft may have been written over a century ago (1906/1916), but is still a wealth of useful knowledge. It is no bad thing to know how things may be done without Gore-tex and GPS.

The Survival Handbook (Greenbank)

Cover of The Survival Handbook, Greenbank
The first book I actually sent my girlfriend was “The Survival Handbook” by Anthony Greenbank. This may also be encountered with the alternate title of “The Book of Survival”.
Greenbank's book seldom appears in recommendations for survival libraries. It seems to be relatively unknown.
It is an excellent book and is a must-have in my opinion.
The Survival Handbook is a great book since it includes many possible emergency situations that other manuals neglect.
Packed with useful information and easy to read and navigate. Even readers “not into survival” will find something of worth within its pages.
This book was first published back in 1967, long before the “survival craze” when many manuals were produced. Consequently, there are a few minor points that need updating.
For example: current advice is to remove ticks by gently pulling them with tweezers, rather than the older approaches in this and many other books. Fisherman's Knot
I would also stress that you should not join different ropes with a reef knot, even with a couple of half-hitches added. Always use the fisherman's knot, as is later recommended by Greenbank. A fisherman's knot is a pair of overhands, so is probably easier to learn and remember than a reinforced reef.
Scorpion claws are not poisonous. Claw size is generally inversely proportional to potency of sting.
I am also dubious as to whether any coat worthy of the name would make a good signalling kite. It seems more prudent to keep your coat on and use your shirt for a use where a garment may be potentially lost.
Of course, no book is perfect and remains perpetuatlly up to date. This is why we should read more than one book on any topic. The more angles you look at something from, the better you will know it.
These very minor points aside, I would wholeheartedly recommend a copy of Greenbanks's Survival Handbook for any survival library.
Usefully, the Survival Handbook is a standard sized paperback, so there is no reason that one could not put it in a ziploc bag and carry it with you in a rucksack pocket.

The SAS Survival Handbook (Wiseman)

Cover of The SAS Survival Handbook, Wiseman
For a more “conventional” bushcraft/survival manual, Greenbank's book is nicely complimented by “The SAS Survival Handbook” by John “Lofty” Wiseman. Also available with the alternate title of “The SAS Survival Guide” or “SAS Survival Guide”.
A revised edition was published in 2009.
Probably the only thing wrong with this book is the title. Even way back in 1986 when this book was published, it was already a cliché that nearly every other survival-orientated item was claimed to be either SAS, Special Forces or Green Beret. I will stress that John Wiseman is a verified genuine former member of the SAS, however.
The SAS Survival Handbook is an excellent choice for any survival library. It is easy to read, yet very detailed. Copies may be found at very reasonable prices.
The original book was nearly a foot square (228 x 238 x 22mm). I remember looking at my copy and wishing for an edited-down smaller version more suited to carrying in the field. Someone else obviously felt the same, because a few years later a Collins Gem edition was released. Amazingly, this was pocket-sized yet preserved all of the original content!Collins Gem edition of SA Survival Guide, Wiseman
My Gem edition has spent several decades in a ziploc bag in a side pocket of my rucksack. It has travelled from Hong Kong to Brazil and up to Iceland. If nothing else, it has served as an educational way to spend my time while waiting for a bus.
Both sizes of SAS Survival Guide include a coloured section illustrating various edible plants. Other Collins Gem titles may also be of interest, such as “Food for Free”.
The SAS Survival Guide/Handbook is another “must-have” for any survival library. In fact, get the large version for your bookshelf and the Gem for your pack.
Between Kephart, Greenbank and Wiseman you now have a pretty sound foundation for your survival library. It does not hurt that your survival library happens to be relatively compact and lightweight.
If you brought the Gem edition of the SAS Guide, all three books should fit in your bug-out bag.
If you buy the titles recommended above, you have acquired a lot of useful information for a relatively modest outlay.
I suggest that at least some of your library is hardcopy, for when the power is out.
How about some free books to supplement these?

US Field Manuals

Many readers will be familiar with “FM 21-76”, the US military survival manual.Cover of FM 21-76
On-line copies are freely available from a number of sites, there being no copyright on US field manuals. Many on-line copies lack the appendixes, such as the extensive illustrated appendix of edible plants, for example.
FM 21-76-1 was a related publication about SERE.
The current version of FM 21-76 has been redesignated FM 3-05.70.
Many of the sites you can download FM21-76/FM 3-05.70 from will have other field manuals on topics of interests such as navigation, hygiene and first aid.
If you want a printed copy of a field manual, these are available from a number of publishers. Price, cover and sometimes title will vary.
While these survival manuals are now described as “all services”, they were originally written as advice for downed aircrews, and this should be remembered when reading certain sections.
US field manuals tend to be clearly written but are not necessarily concise: FM 3-05.70 is 676 pages long.
There is also sometimes a tendency in field manuals for information to become institutionalized. New content may get in, but older, possibly no longer accurate content is slow to be removed.Air Force Handbook 10-644
Also worth a look are the Air Force manuals AFM 64-3, AFR 64-4 or AFH 64-5. Latest version is AFH 10-644. These are a little harder to locate on-line.
The manuals are not as “easily digestible” as Kephart, Greenbanks or Wiseman. They are, however, “information dense” and provide excellent background and context for the other books, at a price that cannot be beat, free!
The above recommendations will have given you a pretty comprehensive survival/bushcraft library.
In later blogs I will review other titles, including those that are more specialized in their field.
You will also need some books on self-defence. For these, scroll down and follow the links.
I am very short of money at the moment, so you custom or donations will be very much appreciated!