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 (plural)!
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, if zipped, 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 ponchos: 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.
In some previous posts, we saw how the American Civil War soldier used his gum-blanket as a groundcloth, shelter-cloth and rain protection. The basha is probably the closest modern equivalent.
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 pad 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 also have these on my keyring and my 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.
Chinese Trench Stove
Shown about is an interesting Chinese-issue mess-tin with stove. The stove is not unlike the Crusader cup models, but clips to the bottom of the mess-tin for carriage. There are air holes drilled in the underside, and the mess-tin has two side channels as “exhausts”.


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.