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This story was originally featured on Field & Stream.
If you fire up your favorite search engine and hunt for a list of survival kit components, you’ll find that most of them repeat the same things over and over. Knife, fire starter, and cordage are among the most commonly suggested items, and for good reason, as each of them could prove vital in many situations.
However, there are a bunch of things that could be handy to have that few people think to add to their kit. These aren’t all true life-or-death items. Rather, they can help make the job of surviving a little easier. When everything seems to be going awry, anything you can do to smooth things out, even just a little, will be welcome.
These are commonly used in offices. They’re sort of like paper clips on steroids and come in six sizes, from a 1/2-inch to 2 inches wide, though the most common are 1 ¼ inches and 1 ⅝ inches. If you can squirrel a few away from the office manager, these clips have several uses out in the field. They work well for affixing a tarp to a guy line or for building other types of shelters. They can also help secure cordage to a branch or tree. The clips will rust over time when used in damp conditions, so it is important not to leave them out for days or weeks at a time.
These are another good helper for shelter construction, albeit a bit more permanent than the binder clips. They can also be used to hang things in camp for the night. Secure items to your pack for safekeeping or use one to “lock” the zippers on your bug-out bag so nobody rifles through it when you’re not around. If you plan to use snares or similar types of traps, a zip tie can keep the wire securely attached to a tree or weight. They can be used to cinch pant legs to help prevent ticks, too.
Cordage is always useful for a variety of things, and adding dental floss to the kit is a great way to extend your supply. While thin, it is very strong and it has the bonus of an easy-to-use container with built-in cutter. Perhaps the most common suggestion is to use floss as fishing line, which will certainly work. But, it can also serve as snare line, sewing thread, or even a tripwire, if you’re in need of some sort of primitive alarm system.
Spend the extra few dollars for the contractor-grade bags, as they’re going to be thicker and tougher than their kitchen counterparts. Use one to keep your pack contents dry on days when the rain just won’t stop. Cut a hole in the bottom and one on each side to turn one into a makeshift poncho. Fill one with pine boughs, dry grass, and leaves to have a cushion against the ground. Or, cut one all the way open and use it as a layer in the roof of your shelter to keep the rain out.
In the wild, you need to conserve your resources. This extends to the wear and tear on your gear. Every time you use your knife, the edge is dulled to some degree. Anything you can do to conserve that edge is beneficial. For example, rather than chopping branches for the fire, wedge them between two trees and snap them. A pencil sharpener makes wonderful shavings for tinder without dulling your knife and adds almost nothing to the weight of your pocket or pack.
Deck of cards
Not everything in your kit needs to have a pure survival purpose. Cards are a great way to occupy your time, whether that means playing solitaire by yourself or poker with the others in your group. Of course, there are a number of specialized decks on the market that can contribute more than just gameplay. A simple search online will find decks devoted to wild edibles, knots, animal tracks, and similar topics. These decks can then serve the dual purposes of educating and entertaining.
Notepad and pencil
These allow you to make notes, such as your observations or thoughts while on the trail. They also give you the ability to leave a message for someone or draw a map as you move, helping to prevent wrong turns on your way back. Go for a pencil over a pen as it’ll be less affected by temperature and weather conditions. You can easily sharpen it with the pencil sharpener you’ve already added to your kit. You might consider springing for a Rite in the Rain notepad, as they hold up far better than standard paper pads.
A small tear in your clothes, coat, or tent isn’t going to stay small when you’re on the move. Make repairs as soon as you can, before the damage gets worse. A small sewing kit like the ones sold for travelers is a great addition to your kit. If you run out of thread, you can use some of the dental floss mentioned earlier. You don’t need to be a true seamstress to use a needle and thread, though a little practice at home can help you learn the basics before you truly need to know what you’re doing.
This might be the heaviest item on the list, but in some instances, it’ll be worth its weight in gold. You can cut the weight by rolling it onto a pencil or something similar, rather than packing the whole roll you purchased at the store. Use this to patch a hole in your pack or even your pants until you have time to sew them properly. You can also use it to repair a cracked water bottle. Attach a ferrocerium rod to your knife sheath if it doesn’t have a loop built into it. Speaking of which, duct tape happens to be very flammable, so you could even use it for tinder.
This is the most subjective one on our list. Survival is as much mental as it is physical. Depending on what’s happening, you may want or need a little encouragement, something that will keep you moving forward instead of giving up. This could be a photo of your spouse and children or perhaps a pocket-sized version of your chosen religious text. Anything that might bring a positive or more determined outlook will be welcome if you find yourself in a survival situation.