Shortening the Shovel

Back when I was much younger than I am now, I worked in many temporary jobs to support myself during higher education. Warehouses, bakeries, kitchens and hospitals, to name a few of the places that I worked.
I am above average height, so I soon became aware that many of the fixtures or tools I was expected to use were too small for me. Even in this day and age, items such as vacuum cleaners, mops and sinks are designed with the assumption that they will be used by average-sized women rather than persons of my size.
In many of the places where I worked it was not uncommon to see broom-handles extended with a length of pipe. Sadly many other tools were not so easily adapted.

A Little Off the End

Recently, someone was describing to me their early working life as a labourer on building sites.
“One of the first things you would do is shorten your shovel by an inch.”
Given my own early working background, it may not be surprising that I could not resist asking: “Which end?”
It turned out, it was not uncommon to shorten the shovel [spade] blade and resharpen the new edge.
Resharpening the edge made the tool more efficient and negated any neglect that a previous user might have inflicted.
It also lightened the shovel a few grams, and if you were expected to use a shovel all day, this weight saving was considered to be significant and worth having.
Of a similar ilk, cleaning the tool at the end of the day was considered important. A few millimetres of concrete drying on the shovel would add weight and make the shovel harder to use the next day.
This rather reminded me of the old adage about an ounce on the feet being like a pound on the back. A slight decrease in shovel weight may significantly decrease fatigue.

Less is More?

Logically, a shorter shovel/spade blade results in a smaller volume of material that is moved by each shovelful. Less volume means less mass, so each shovelful/spadesful took less effort to move. Thus a small decrease in blade-size might mean a significant reduction in energy needed to move each spadesful, since each spadesful would be lighter.
Of course, to move a given volume would take more actions with a smaller blade, but that may be more practical than moving it as a smaller number of much heavier loads. Are half-a-dozen light loads easier to move than three that are twice as heavy?
The following diagram may not be familiar unless you work in safety, or injury liability. It shows the recommended maximal loads that should be attempted by an average male or female.
Safe Manual Handling Limits
Maximum safe lifting is with the load close to the pelvis. The further the load is from this point, the less that can be safely lifted.
About 37% of work-related injuries are due to poor manual-handling practices, with a surprising number occurring in office and “white-collar” environments.
Based on the above, a shovel/spade-load and the tool being used to lift it should be around no more than 5 to 10 kilos in total mass.
In my blog on “Easier Entrenchment”, we encountered accounts of 19th century soldiers throwing up useful earthworks using trowel-sized bayonets. A narrower blade should penetrate packed earth better. Specially designed trenching shovels tend to have long heads than may be only four inches/100 mm wide. Very different from the modern, issued entrenching tool!
Can a smaller, more efficient shape make that much difference?
1873 trowel bayonet from
All this suggests the basis for a really useful time-and-motion or ergonomics study.
What is the most effective way to throw up an earthwork with manual tools?
If the work is easier made in smaller rather than larger bites, what is the optimum size and shape of shovel blade?
I notice that some of the titanium tools on offer on the internet are not just lighter, but use blades of 200 x 90mm dimensions on a 64 cm haft.
Titanium-headed digging tool.
What is the best configuration and length of handle for a typical male?

Beyond the Pail: Buckets for Survival

Why a bucket?
Recently I blogged on the topic of dish-washing. Today, I want you to imagine that you are somewhere far from civilized plumbing. You may want to wash your cookware, clothing or you may want to wash yourself. What do you do?
Some of you, I suspect, may suggest that you head for the nearest body of water and wash there. We will assume you have been prudent and lucky enough to have placed your camp within an easy travel distance of water. Not too close, to limit hassles from insects.
Washing yourself or your dishes in a body of water is not ideal. Even in parts of the world where that water is not inhabited by crocodiles, alligators, mosquitoes, schistosomiasis or similar.
The problem is that your activity generates what is known as “greywater” or “sullage”. Dirty water, soap or detergent, and also suspended fats, grease and food particles.
Even if you use biodegradable products, biodegradation takes time! While this process is on-going, your greywater may have various effects on the body of water, including changes in pH, viscosity and changes in oxygen level.
A much better approach is to cast your greywater on to the soil, some distance from the nearest body of water. The creatures of the soil can deal with greywater much better than those of the water, and any effects are more localized. Choose ground that is absorbent, and do not use the same place on consecutive days.
OK, so you have seen the wisdom of washing some distance from the water source. Just how do you get the water to wash with to the desired location?
Your water bottle or bladder probably only holds a litre or three. You have probably treated the contents to make them safe for drinking, so using this for washing is a little wasteful. Your canteen cup probably only holds half a litre or so. You may have larger cooking pans, but for efficiency these will only be a couple or litres capacity or less. Many modern designs do not have handles suited to carrying a couple of kilos of liquid any distance.
You could fabricate a water carrier from local materials. Kephart has a whole chapter on making utensils from bark. Such crafts take time, and suitable materials will not be available in every environment or season.
Would it not have been useful if you had brought a plastic bucket with you?
Grey Plastic Bucket

Buckets for Preppers

I recall being in a bar decades ago. I had just rented a new place, actually my first real flat with multiple rooms I did not have to share with anyone. I was chatting to a young woman and told her: “I have brought a plastic bucket and bowl, so I am all set!” Many years and many locations later, that same bucket and bowl are still with me. Used the bowl just a few weeks back to soak the grill of my halogen oven.
Some will scoff! “I'm a backpacker! I go ultra-light! There is no room for a bucket!”.
Empty buckets weight very little. Being mass-produced, they cost very little too! Shop around!
If you pack the bucket full of foodstuffs and other stores, it will take up very little room in your pack. It actually provides them with some protection. Oddly, some larger capacity buckets pack better than their smaller cousins. More on capacity later.
Camouflage 5 litre bucket

What Use Is a Bucket?

What uses can we put a bucket to? We have already mentioned carrying water for washing, dish-washing and laundry.
• A friend of mine gave me a folding camping sink that holds about ten litres. Not a priority for the bug-out bag, but he thought it might be useful for more recreational camping trips. I now look at this item and wonder just how I was supposed to fill it. Ten litres of water is around 22 pounds! A filled, folding sink is not something you want to carry from a standpipe. I would have needed a bulk-water carrier, or a bucket.
If you have tried the techniques in my dish-washing article, you will know that you do not need a large capacity vessel to wash most items.
You can use a small bowl or bucket of water to wash a large diameter item such as a plate, frying pan or yourself!
Use a cup, or your hand, as a water ladle to wet and rinse. The dirty water does not go back into the vessel, so it is cleaner and more efficient.
I doubt that folding sink will ever see use. I will find a bucket that fits into my pack. A bucket will probably be more durable than a sink/bowl designed to fold.
• Read through a survival manual or book on woodcraft, and you will probably come across references to soaking things to make them more pliable or more edible. You cannot fit much in a mess-tin!
• Cannot reach the water source? Bucket on a rope may solve that problem.
• Let the water come to you! Place your bucket to collect rainwater.
• Successful day fishing or squirrel shooting? Carry your windfall back to camp in a bucket.
• Find a patch of berries? Your bucket will hold as much as you can carry.
As a quick aside: In one of Ray Mears shows one of his local hosts had an interesting berry-picking technique. She simply swiped the bush with her basket. Enough berries apparently detached and ended up in the basket for this to be a considerable labour-saving. Something to experiment with in berry season!
• An empty bucket can be used as a drum to guide companions back to camp, or just let them know dinner is nearly ready.
• A bucket can be used to dig through soft snow or sand.
• A up-turned bucket makes a useful stool and (if sturdy enough) can be used as a step.
• If you have trouble squatting when attending to “calls of nature” an up-turned bucket can be a useful support while you hang your nether-regions over a “cat-hole”.
• And if it is really nasty outside the shelter, as a vase de nuit.
Any party of more than a couple of individuals should include a bucket in their equipment.
Smaller parties and solo travellers should give them serious consideration.
Any vehicle, be it boat, SUV or APC, should find room for a bucket. The interior of the bucket can be used to store other useful items. In an emergency, grab the bucket and be instantly equipped with useful assets.
Some companies even offer 72-hour kits packed in buckets.

Green ten litre bucket

Choosing a Bucket

For backpackers, cyclists and lightweight travellers, the bucket chosen needs some consideration.
Obviously, we want a bucket that will fit easily into our pack, with little wasted space.
There is little point in my recommending a bucket of a certain capacity. In my kitchen I have two buckets, not counting one for floor-washing. The five litre bucket is too narrow at the bottom. It will fit in a daysack, but it is space-inefficient. The three (Imperial) gallon bucket is about twice the capacity (13.6 litres) but is too wide at the top for even my largest rucksacks.
The interior dimensions of your pack will be more significant than bucket capacity. Taking your pack down to the hardware store and trying some buckets for size is not that bad an idea. Remember the bucket will be riding above your softer pack items, so perhaps put a sleeping bag and a realistic load of clothing in the pack before you hit the hardware store.
Depending on intended role, you may want bright colours or natural and neutral. The outside of a bucket can easily be spray-painted.
Cylindrical buckets, with the bottom of similar diameter to the top, may be a better choice than more conventional tapered designs. Between five and ten litre size may be a good option for these.
If you decide to buy a bucket on-line, bear in mind that perfectly suitable items may be available under various other names, such as “paint kettle” or “storage tub”. There will be bowls and various other containers that can be made into buckets with just the simple addition of a handle.

Pull-Sharpening for Knives and Tools

My recent project with the machete has spurred me to sharpen a few of the tools I have around.
In my book, “Survival Weapons”, I devote an entire chapter to the topic of sharpening. That chapter remains a useful guide to a topic that can sometimes seem cryptic.
At this point I should explain that one of my “virtues” is that I am lazy. According to admiring colleagues, I can be usually be expected to find the simplest, most stress-free method of getting a job done. Over the last week or so have I noticed that how I sharpen some tools now varies somewhat from the techniques described in the book.
Regular readers will know I own a number of kukris, as well as other large blades. There was this period of ill-health where I spent my holiday budget on swords instead! Probably safe to say I have more large blades than the average prepper. Some of these have concave or convex edges, or in the case of kukris, both. Some of the techniques for sharpening you will see on some websites are not ideal for such tools.
A useful stone for pull-sharpening and an angle-er
I have, over the decades, acquired a large number of sharpening systems. The one I have found myself using the most recently is shown above.
I inherited this stone from a deceased colleague. It is most likely an Arkansas stone. The stone itself is about three inches long and a little under an inch wide. It is firmly mounted (glued?) to a wood tray about four and a half inches long by an inch and a half wide. This provides a very nice handle when using the stone. Beneath the base is the matching wooden lid. The stone has just been cleaned. I used a little washing-up liquid and some water to remove most of the grime. A little bathroom cream cleaner took of the remaining residue.

The Angle-er

The device below I call an “angle-er”. Having this nearby helps you visualize the correct angle while sharpening. This particular example has angles of 22.5, 15 and 30 degrees, which are pretty good choices for general usage. Some may prefer 17 or 20 degree and 35 degree angles. Once you have your tool close to the correct angle it is easy to vary it a couple of degrees if desired.
The beauty of this Arkansas stone is that I can move it instead of the blade. Unlike a larger flat stone this one is narrow enough that it can follow a curved edge, rather than attempting to grind it straight.
The method I use is essentially the same as was described for sharpening a machete, only instead of using a file I use a suitably sized stone.

Sharpening Styles

There are a number of ways that a stone or file can engage a blade. In the movies you often see a stone being dragged down a sword edge. Looks good but I have my doubts as to how useful this would be in the real world. Usually we want the sharpener to pass down the edge with some movement across the edge too.
The sharpening technique most often seen in “how to” guides is what may be called “push-sharpening”. If you were using a large, flat stone, you would move the blade as though you were attempting to shave the surface of the blade.
You will also see “push and pull” sharpening where the blade moves back and forth across the stone. I personally don’t use this method much and would not recommend it for the novice. Keeping the angle constant over the different strokes requires skill and it is easy to over-do things. If you can maintain an angle it is useful for quickly establishing a secondary edge.

Pull Sharpening

These days I tend to use pull-sharpening techniques. As you might expect, the blade moves in the opposite direction to push-sharpening. One of the advantages of pull-sharpening is that it is easier to move the sharpener across the blade edge, rather than moving the blade. This is useful when working on large or awkward blades but can be applied to small blades too. One does not need a workbench or similar for pull-sharpening. I usually sit on the sofa, watching the telly and using the advert breaks constructively.
Pull-sharpening is a good technique to use with small triangular-section sharpening stones. It is also suited to the oval stones sold for sharpening tools such as scythes.
lanskey sharpener
When you use a leather strop you are using an action like pull-sharpening. If you did not you would cut the leather!
If you are sharpening a tool using a high-speed device you should be using a pull-sharpening technique. This is so that if the high-speed wheel or belt snags the blade it will throw it away from you rather than at you!
One reason I like pull-sharpening is it is easier to view the angle of contact that sharpener and blade make. It is also easier to give both sides of the blade similar treatment without trying to use your non-dominant hand or run around the table.


Generally, I do not use lubricants such as oil, water or spit, for sharpening. An article I read, written by a professional sharpener, claimed that his experiments had concluded dry sharpening produced superior results. Much to my surprise, this article can still be found on-line! Generally I only apply water if a stone or sharpening system is particularly crumbly or high friction.

Pull Sharpening Technique

For example, hold your blade with the edge to the left. Place your sharpener at the desired angle, and push your sharpener right to left, moving it away from the blade spine or centre. A “pass” starts at the heel of the blade and moves towards the tip. A pass may take several strokes, depending on blade length and sharpener size. Make three to five passes on a side, then change. For the other side, you have two choices. You can flip your blade over so the edge is to the right and stroke the edge left to right; or you can turn the blade upside down and stroke the other edge right to left. Use whichever technique you prefer and better suits the tool being sharpened. Keep changing every three to five passes, reducing the number of passes as your tool approaches the desired sharpness.
Pull sharpening is a good technique if you are not that confident about your sharpening skills. It is easy to check and maintain the desired angle. It is also not a particularly aggressive technique, so you are unlikely to damage your edge. In fact, I recommend you try a very light touch as you make you strokes and passes. Let your stone trace the curves of the blade rather than trying to remove them. You will find that as the edge geometry takes shape, you will be able to feel when the stone or file is at the correct angle. Light pressure also lets your feel where sections of the edge have irregularities and need more work.
So far, the only problem I have had with pull-sharpening was with a particular multi-tool where the blade was unlocked and rather loose in the open position. Pull-sharpening tended to pull the blade closed. This would only have been a danger if I had wrapped my fingers around the grip while sharpening, rather than holding the back of the blade.
Pull-sharpening is a useful technique to add to your repertoire. The knives in my kitchen are kept sharp mainly by a butcher’s steel and a set of crock-sticks I have in a cupboard there. I maintain my assertion that crock-sticks (ceramic rods) are a very good way to teach yourself the fundamentals of sharpening. Crock-sticks are a form of push-sharpening, but pull-sharpening has improved my technique in using these too. Rather than just slicing down, I now use a lighter touch and let the stick surface trace alone the curve of the edge, keeping contact to the very tip and engaging the edge at a better angle throughout its length.
I think one of the most important things I have learnt in decades of sharpening is that it is another of those skills where less is more. You will get much better results maintaining a light contact with the sharpener rather than pressing down.

Skin-Level Survival EDC

Suppose that you are separated from your bag or rucksack. Your webbing gear, if you wore any, has become damaged or lost. All you have is the clothes you stand up in and whatever is in your pockets. This is your “skin-level” survival kit. 
Part of your skin-level kit is the clothes that you are wearing. Hopefully you were dressed appropriately for the climate. If you were chilling by the pool when everything went pear-shaped, one of your first priorities is going to be to acquire some new threads.

Today I am mainly going to concentrate on what you have in your pockets, or carried on your trouser belt. This is what many people would call “EDC” or “everyday carry”, although the exact use of this term varies.
Some people would include the contents of their daysac or handbag in their EDC. This article will assume that such items are not immediately available. Reaching them may be one of your objectives.
Some people use the term “EDC” for all the paraphernalia they have on their person, while in other contexts it is specific for defensive weapons. This article intends to examine EDC for survival.
Look on the internet and you will find EDC lists that suggest you should always carry a solar still, fishing kit, gold coins, eating utensils and so on. This is not very practical.
The heavier and bulkier your EDC kit becomes the more likely you are to not carry it all the time and omit parts you may need.
A good EDC survival kit is designed to have two tiers of readiness.
“Lower level” is what you carry all the time. Many of these items are carried because they can be useful in daily life.
“Higher level” are items that you add when you step up to a higher level of readiness.
Your lower-level kit would be on you when you go down to the store. You would add the higher-level items if you were leaving town to hike in the woods.
For example, in my lower-level kit, I have a lighter, which can be used for fire-making or illumination. The expansion to higher-level is a little pouch that adds a container of tinder, some candles and a spare lighter. I have little need for a fishing and snaring kit in town, so these items are higher-level.
Many ingenious individuals have had fun creating survival vests, survival jackets, survival walking sticks, survival pens, survival necklaces or survival hats.
These are not the best way of carrying your EDC. Jacket pockets are better used for items such as gloves, scarves and hats.
Your survival EDC should be based around your trousers. Everything should fit in your pockets, or on your trouser belt.
Since you (hopefully) wash your trousers, items should be easy to transfer to a new pair, or to a pair of shorts if the weather permits.
What you carry should not add so much weight that you have trouble keeping your trousers up. Nothing should be so bulky or hard-edged that it digs into you if you have to sleep clothed, bangs against you when walking or might injure you if you fall on it.
Personally, I am seldom not wearing cargo trousers or cargo shorts. If you have to dress more formally, there are companies that sell suitable garments with extra, hidden pockets. 
Let us have a look at what I am carrying, and how I might expand it to a higher-level. Your up-level items should be stored together in a small bag such as a pencil case. Keep this with your knife-belt (qv).
Fire: The lighter in my left pocket is my primary source of fire.
• To up-level, I will use a small fire kit that would be carried in my right cargo pocket. As described on other pages, this would have a spare lighter, a container of tinder, Fresnel lens (above), some candles and possibly some matches.
Note that the spare lighter is in a different pocket to the primary.
Food: I don't carry any food on me, so this category is more about means to procure food. At low readiness that is money and a credit card.
• For higher-level I have a container of line, hooks, wire and other fishing items. The dental floss I have in my left pocket pack could be used for snaring or fishing, the safety pins serving as hooks.
If you are diabetic, you may want to add a small supply of glucose tablets, hard-candy etc. 
You could carry a tightly rolled sheet of cooking foil, but I personally don't currently do this.
Signalling: I usually carry a phone. As well as being able to call for help, many modern phones have useful applications such as a notepad, compass or GPS capability. Phones are useful but also delicate, so should not be the sole thing you rely on.
The photon light on my keyring could be used to signal. The keyring also has a whistle.
My pocket kit includes a pencil and chalk, and I carry a pen (a retractable Zebra pen, since my belt pouch is rather small. I actually found this pen! Non-retractable, all-steel Zebras are suggested as a good alternative to more expensive “tactical” pens). A permanent marker such as a Sharpie may also prove useful.
I also have a compact flashlight.
• Up-levelling would probably add a larger, but compact, pocket torch.
A lightweight signaling mirror is another useful item. These are a good addition for tactical scenarios since they can be used to peek around cover.
You may already have an item that can be used as a signalling mirror. Many compasses have a mirror and some phones or music players have mirrored backs.
A mini-flare kit could be accommodated with the other items in the right cargo pocket, but I have never actually owned one of these.
A larger whistle, on a lanyard, might prove useful. There are cord necklaces that include a ferro-rod and steel. If you can find them at reasonable price add a whistle, photon light and a snap-link.
Shelter: Most actual shelter items are too bulky for skin-level EDC. The exception is a space blanket. One permanently rides in my pocket kit.
You may want to carry additional space blankets. Not only can they be used for warmth, but also as protection from the rain and for signalling. Penny for penny and pound for pound, space blankets are among the best survival gear you can carry. Do not leave home without at least one.
Cordage: The dental floss in my pocket kit has already been mentioned. Either carry a couple of spare bootlaces or an arm-span of paracord. This can easily be carried in the bottom of a pocket and has numerous applications. I also carry a tubular retention cord that can be fitted to my glasses if needed.
• If up-levelling, a larger hank of paracord can be carried on your person if you have room. Braided fishing line also has many uses.
Tools: My keyring includes a bottle-opener, mini-Swiss army knife, a P38 can-opener and a little tool for removing SIM cards and opening CD drives. That last tool possibly does not have a survival application. (It broke, so has been replaced with a paper-clip that can be readily adapted should the need arise),
The keyring itself is a carabiner. Several of my items can open bottles. The bottle-opener is just a convenience, particularly in social settings. 
A small pouch on my belt carries by clipper-compass, a pen, a trio of lock-picks (two Bogotas and a snake), money, credit cards and a USB drive.
A second pouch has my Swiss army knife, mini-Leatherman, pocket prybar and a sharpening card. I find small-print challenging now, so I have added a tiny pocket-magnifier to this pouch.
The Swiss army knife includes a screwdriver that can repair glasses. 
A small bag in my pocket kit contains a few safety pins, hair pins and paper clips. These can be put to various uses.
A length of electrical tape is wrapped around my pencil. I may add a needle with a metre of invisible thread. I don't regard a sewing kit as an EDC-level requirement, but the weight is negligible and a sharp point potentially useful. I have now added a couple of threaded needles, wrapping them around the pencil.
• If up-levelling my main additions would be a larger knife and compass. More of that later.
Water: There are water bottles that can fit in a cargo pocket or on a trouser belt.
The bulk and weight of water means that you are unlikely to carry water at skin level unless the weather is very hot.
A few sheets of water purification tablets can be included in your pocket medical kit.
• If up-levelling the water category, I might add a “survival straw”, ideally one that fits in a cargo pocket. A condom could be used as a water carrier, but I don't carry them, no longer being single.
Medical: Your EDC medical kit is mainly for minor injuries. Have a better kit in your bag.
My pocket medical kit rides in my left cargo pocket. In addition to the items already mentioned it has alcohol wipes, plasters and pain-killers.
There is some medication I have to take with meals, so I carry a few days supply of this in my right cargo pocket. If you need to take medication regularly then you should carry a few days supply with you, and make sure it remains in-date.
• If up-levelling, a small container of insect repellent and/or sun-cream might be a prudent addition. This need only be a small volume, your main supply being in your bag or base. Chapstick or Vaseline in winter, if you think you will need it.
Other items: If you are out in the wilds, a few metres of toilet roll or paper tissues in a ziplock bag should be added to one of your cargo pockets. Make that a permanent part of your kit if you wish.
I have a small bag with a few paper napkins for about town” and a larger bag I add for rural”.
A bandanna has numerous uses and is easily carried in a side pocket. Since I lack some hair, I have used mine for head protection when caught out without a hat.
I wear photochromic glasses so don't carry sunglasses. These protect the eyes from both excessive light levels and more physical threats.
Non-survival items carried are a USB drive, travel card and music player, although the back of the latter is a mirror.
So far we have talked about pockets and belt pouches. In years past most of my EDC was in a compact bumbag. I have learnt to make more use of my cargo pockets and have replaced the bumbag with a couple of pouches attached directly to my trouser belt. One is a repurposed pouch for a mobile phone.
You should not add so many pouches to your trouser belt that it interferes with carrying a rucksack, or sitting in a vehicle.
There are belts that are made of paracord, but if you unravel them to use the cord you have nothing to hold up your trousers, nor hang your pouches from!
There are trouser-belts with hidden storage compartments, and various ingenious buckles. The original boy scout belt had a buckle that served as a bottle opener.
Earlier on I mentioned adding a larger knife and compass to the skin-level kit.
My favorite kukri weighs just under a pound, but hanging it on the trouser-belt is a bit much. What you need is a second belt. This is effectively an intermediate level between skin-level and webbing. When at a higher level of readiness you should attempt to keep it upon your person.
Your knife belt rides below the trouser-belt, like a cowboy's gun-belt. It should be adjustable, so that it can be worn over thick clothing when desired.
Add a compass pouch to one side of the belt, and attach the compass lanyard to the belt. Add a carabiner or snap-link to the front of the belt.
I carry my kukri on one side of the belt and a Mora puukko-type knife on the other. Not surprisingly, this belt could also be used to carry a handgun. 
If I need to carry a hatchet or entrenching tool, I can slip it between belt and body.
A folded rain-jacket, poncho or unfolded space blanket can be draped over the back of the belt.
Many police officers experience medical problems from the weight of their duty belts. Detaching the duty belt from the trouser-belt and wearing it lower like a gun-belt might improve matters.
The knife belt can be used to carry a litre or two of water. The best way to carry water is in bladders since this is lighter than conventional bottles. Rather than placing the weight on the knife belt, my proposed “camelbum”concept would give more options.
I have mentioned carabiners and snap-links a couple of times. Use one as your keyring, add one to your whistle lanyard and knife belt. Also have them on your rucksac strap and/or webbing.
When you need a hand free, or there is a risk you might drop a tool, attach the tool to the nearest snap-link.
This is an extension of the idea to collect empty magazines described in my book “Survival Weapons”. Make sure your tools have loops or rings.