During any survival situation, knowledge and practical experience are your greatest assets. If you know the terrain like the back of your hand and have practiced your core survival skills frequently, you'll be able to stay calm and efficiently take steps to obtain shelter, fire, water, and food — even if the only tool you have is the one between your ears. However, there's no denying the value of gear in these situations, whether you're in an urban environment or the remote wilderness. A few simple items, such as a knife, lighter, weather-proof tarp, paracord, and cooking pot can make living through adverse conditions a substantially easier task.
In the On the Grid column in Issue 26 of RECOIL OFFGRID, we discussed some “gear philosophies” ranging from primitive survivalist (i.e. someone who carries little to no store-bought gear) to extreme geardo (i.e. one who carries everything but the kitchen sink) and asked readers to let us know where they fall on this spectrum. Some of the replies we received got us thinking — while the quantity of gear carried is an important variable, it must also be carefully balanced with quality.
Unless you're a lottery-winner with countless zeroes at the end of your bank account balance, we all have some form of budget for survival gear. It's essential to use that budget wisely, rather than squandering it frivolously. This leads to an interesting consideration: do you bias your purchases towards a smaller number of top-of-the-line tools, or would you rather diversify with more gear at the expense of longevity and reliability? In other words, would you rather survive with a handful of costly high-quality items, or a wide array of low-budget gear?
This is the question we'll address in today's Survival Scenarios article. For those who have missed our previous installments of Survival Scenarios, here’s how it works. We ask you how you’d handle a difficult choice in a hypothetical survival situation. These exercises can help you mentally ready yourself for an event you might encounter in real life someday, and consider adjusting your emergency preps accordingly. In previous Survival Scenarios, we asked how you'd react to a flash flood in a narrow canyon, and which survival tool you'd rather have on a desert island. As always, the article will end with a poll where you can make your choice and see how others felt.
In this scenario, a sudden storm hits on your long commute home from work. The powerful sheets of rain and intense gusts of wind cause your truck to hydroplane, skidding off the shoulder of a remote two-lane highway, slamming into a muddy ditch, and keeling over onto one side. Pain shoots through your ankle from the impact; you're not sure if it's broken or just sprained. It's late evening and you know it's unlikely that another vehicle will pass by at this hour, much less see your truck from the road in this downpour. You'll need to take shelter from the storm and build a fire for warmth (and signaling).
Your gear consists of a single get-home backpack which was stashed in your truck's backseat. Its contents will depend on your choice below, and they'll be the only items you'll have to survive and signal for rescue. Either way, the gear in your pack has a comparable total value.
Although it's likely you'll be spotted by another motorist within the next 12 hours once the storm abates and the sun rises, there's a possibility that the storm might worsen and you might need to rely on your gear for a few days.
If you prioritized quality over quantity, the selection of gear in your pack is limited to only a few essentials, but those items are well-made from top-quality materials — the sort of gear you'd never worry about breaking or damaging from hard use. Here's what you find in your pack:
Knife — A heavy-duty fixed blade constructed from thick carbon steel with a durable and sharp edge. It includes a kydex sheath and ferro rod/magnesium bar backup fire-starter.
Shelter — For cover from the rain, you find a tightly-folded durable tarp, lined on one side with heat-reflecting foil. It includes a bundle of mil-spec 550 paracord and triangular titanium stakes for easy set-up. You also have a top-of-the-line sleeping bag that can help you stay warm.
Food and Water — There's a hydration bladder in your pack that contains 2 liters of clean water, and a nested set of titanium cookware (small cup, large pot, lids, spork, heat-resistant pot holders, and a mesh carrying case). There are also six calorie- and nutrient-dense vacuum-packed camping meals, which can be prepared in minutes with hot water.
Before you jump the gun and say that this setup sounds like everything you need, read on and consider the possible advantages of a more diverse loadout.
If you prioritized quantity over costlier high-end gear, you'll find an extremely diverse set of tools in your pack, but all are budget-friendly picks from the local outdoor gear store. Here's what your pack contains:
Cutting Tools — A $20 partially-serrated hunting knife made from 420 stainless steel, a small multi-tool that appears to be a knock-off design, and an surplus entrenching tool that functions as a shovel, ax, and saw.
Fire Kit — This zip-up freezer bag contains a value-pack of plastic lighters, several books of matches, a roll of burlap fabric and a tube of petroleum jelly to aid in fire-starting. There's also a small propane stove with a canister of fuel, so you'll be able to cook and boil water on demand in case the campfire takes some time.
Shelter — You find a huge but thin blue tarp which seems reasonably water-resistant, a bundle of twine, and some plastic stakes. There's a large inexpensive sleeping bag, an old wool blanket, several tightly-folded mylar space blankets, and a bright yellow rain poncho. You also have a spare set of clothes.
Food and Water — Your bag contains six 16-fluid-ounce plastic water bottles (3L in total), a value-pack of beef jerky, a jug of trail mix, bags of dry beans and rice, a large stainless cook pot, and a wooden spoon. You also have a tackle box containing line, sinkers, hooks, and lures (you'll still need to fashion your own pole). Lastly, there's an old bolt-action .22LR rifle you bought used at the local gun store, and a brick of the cheapest ammo the store carried.
First Aid Kit — With the money left over in your budget from buying affordable gear, you purchased an off-the-shelf first aid kit. The hard plastic case contains various bandages, ointments, medications, antiseptic towelettes, a cold compress, and a moldable splint (this could be useful for your ankle injury). There's also an orange plastic whistle with a built-in button compass.
Each of the above loadouts has some clear advantages and disadvantages.
The “quality” gear is much more reliable, meaning you won't need to worry much about it breaking or malfunctioning. It's also a simpler setup, so you'll spend less time planning out a shelter or deciding how to start a fire. However, you won't have many backup options in the unlikely event that something breaks or is lost. And you don't have some of the additional tools available in the other loadout, such as a first aid kit, change of clothes, or rifle.
The “quantity” kit's tools are less durable and reliable, but there's also quite a bit of redundancy. In the event that your fixed-blade knife breaks or dulls, you'll have two other options to fall back on. Your shelter materials are also less weather-resistant, but more plentiful and can be built in several configurations. You have lots of food and water plus the capacity to obtain more from your surroundings, but preparing the inexpensive dry beans and rice will take longer (and be less flavorful) than the more costly freeze-dried meals. By having enough budget left over for the first aid kit, you can also treat your ankle injury and any others you might incur.
Based on the location, circumstances, and your skill set, which option would you choose: a handful of costly high-quality items, or a wide array of low-budget gear? Enter your decision into the poll below, and feel free to justify that choice in the comments section.
Survival Scenarios is a recurring feature on OFFGRIDweb.com, and will ask you to make a difficult choice between two or more hypothetical situations.
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