I am in the business of teaching people how to survive under uncomfortable conditions. Conditions in which gear can often make or break you. I often emphasize that to survive in any condition, you should focus your training on four different aspects in a specific order: Mindset, Skills, Tactics, and Gear. More often than not people reverse that order and focus on the gear. When doing this, it's easy to fall victim to marketing and get gear that is either a poor choice in general, or you could simply do without with it if you had the knowledge and skill to achieve your goal by another means. What I want to do for you today is not just point out a few items of gear that are terrible, but also give you alternatives so that you don't make the same mistakes that I have seen others make time and time again.
First Aid Kit You will see these virtually everywhere. Small portable first aid kits that have “SURVIVAL MEDICAL KIT” or “OUTDOORSMAN FIRST AID” or similar. You will find these in the big-box stores, sometimes even in the checkout lines. Most of these amount to nothing more than a few adhesive bandages, some useless medical tape, and some antiseptic wipes. You are almost always better served by building your own first aid kit. I do keep a few adhesive strips in my kit for little boo-boos - the best, most sticky and durable ones that we've found are these ones from Band-Aid, but I also carry rolled gauze, and duct tape for extra security. The whole purpose of using these items is to cover a wound so it does not get bacteria, dirt and/or grime in a wound and set up infection. Gauze and duct tape stay on, much better than adhesive strips.
Also put in a small bottle of hand sanitizer, or alcohol strips to clean around wounds, but not in them. You should also include in your kit, some more useful items like a tourniquet, a chest seal, and a nasopharyngeal airway (nose trumpet). These are bit more technical to use but are used every day and designed to save lives. To use them, you need to find a good remote, tactical or technical first aid class.
Compass You should have a good compass in your kit and the knowledge on how to use it. What I often see is people getting the cheapest compass they can find. This is a critical piece of gear and you should not entrust your land navigation ability to subpar equipment. Some things to look for are bubbles in the bezel, an arrow that does not spin freely, and a bezel that moves side to side rather than just turning. Compasses are just like knives: you can go inexpensive, that is for certain, but your life may depend upon it. Spend a little more so you can have a piece that you can depend upon. There are a few companies that we recommend. For base plate compasses choose a Silva, Brunton, or Suunto. For a lensatic compass, Cammenga is the way to go.Wire Saws This is one of those items that has two very distinct reasons to be considered at all for a kit. The first reason is due to popular culture. We like logs and sticks to be nice and tidy on the ends therefore we want something in our kits that will help- us achieve that. A wire saw seems to do this easily and it is small, lightweight and affordable. However in my practice and training, which now spans four decades, I can find no real need for such neatness. There are very few traps, fire material, shelter materials, etc., that need real clean cuts. For those cuts I can use a knife. The other reason I think people want these is because they never actually use them, they like the idea of using them. Once you do, you will quickly realize that they are only easy to use on small material, are it is easy to get clogged, brake, and get dull very quickly. Not to mention the number of calories expended using them should be a serious consideration for survival training. Your alternative for this item is to gain knowledge so you do not need to have everything perfectly cut, as well as get a Bahco Laplander, Silky Saw or similar hand saw. See David's Survival Saw Showdown Video for head to head comparisons of top wilderness saws.
Shovels or Entrenching Tools (E-Tool) Shovels and e-tools can be an incredibly useful piece of equipment but not if you get a junk one. There are any number of companies that are selling lightweight, easy to carry shovels, or similar, and they do not stand up to moderate use. I cannot begin to tell you how many of these lighter tools I have seen come to our survival classes and get bent within the first few minutes of use. There are not a lot of uses for these tools in general survival use. We use them a lot more in our tactical survival classes. However, if you want to get one, go ahead and realize that you are going to need to get a solid military issue surplus e-tool. They simply cannot be beat for portability and durability. They are heavier, but that weight is due to hardier materials that do not bend under use.
How to Avoid Survival Gear that Can Get You Killed Today, it's really easy to find great gear and avoid gear that could put your life at risk in a survival situation. First, take a survival class or two. Swap ideas with others and observe what gear performs the best. When you see several people using the same stuff and it works, you may have found your next piece of gear. Next, search Amazon or YouTube for the gear you are looking for. On Amazon, people are pretty transparent in their comments. When you find gear that has over 4 stars and lots of reviews, you may have just found a "good bet." On YouTube, watch reviewers that you trust, who have tested and used the stuff you are interested in. Stay tuned for more terrible survival gear to avoid, that we'll feature in future posts. We look forward to helping you keep quality and budget minded so you can purchase solid gear, and not break the bank by wasting money on gear that will not last.