Sunday, November 24, 2019

Survival Gear Fails + Alternatives

By Timothy Gamble

The following is my list of survival gear that might sound good, but in practice don't really work. Avoid these items. Instead try some of the alternatives I suggest.

1) The Wire Saw (sometimes called a Commando Saw) - A small, lightweight wire saw sounds like a great idea to include in survival kits and bug-out bags. But I remember a survival show host (Les Stroud?) using one in an episode of his show, and the wire ring on one side pulled off with the first tug or two. #EpicFail

After seeing that show, I decide to test mine out. Although the wire rings didn't pull off mine, after only cutting two small (about 1/3 inch diameter) pine branches, the wire became so bent, twisted, and kinked up that I could not cut completely through a third branch with it.

My Alternatives: I traded up to a survival pocket chain saw. Its a chain saw blade with two nylon hand straps, and comes with a pouch that can be worn on your belt. Its too big for a Altoids survival kit, of course, but small & light enough (less than one pound) to easily carry in a bug-out bag, tackle box, or keep in the glove compartment of your vehicle. 

I also carry a Laplander Folding Saw (7 and 1/2 inch blade) in my survival bug-out bag. For small limbs, the wood saw on my Swiss Army Knife actually works very well. All three have proven better choices than a wire saw.

2) The Emergency Fishing Kit - The problem with MOST of these kits, particularly the ones small enough to fit in an Altoids tin or similar mini-kit, is that there is not nearly enough fishing line to really be useful. Plus, the gear included in many store-bought kits are also too small and often cheap quality. There are even a couple of #FAIL videos on You Tube of folks trying unsuccessfully to fish with them. I tried out the gear I had in my old Altoids kit and had the same problem. It just didn't work. (I've since abandoned the idea of an Altoids survival kit as just a little too small to really be practical.)

My Alternatives: I keep a Ronco Pocket Fisherman in my vehicle. You might remember the old TV commercials of the folding rod & reel with a built in tackle box? They are difficult to find (mine is about 20 years old), and are too big for a true mini-kit, but at only about a pound, they can be carried in or on a bug-out bag (I can clip mine securely to the back of my pack).

A more modern alternative is a telescoping rod and reel combo, many of which come with compact carrying cases that can hold additional tackle. I also have one of those, but my particular brand is not available anymore either (apparently, I'm getting old). However, there are several other brands to choose from on Amazon

3) Ozark Trail 6-gal water jugs - There is a serious design flaw in the Ozark Trail 6-gal water jugs sold at Wal-mart stores (and perhaps elsewhere). This design flaw lead to 100% of my Ozark Trail jugs leaking within two years. These green water storage jugs have an X-design stamped on two sides. This X-design apparently creates weak spots in the material, eventually leading to leaks along the edges of the X.

A few years ago, I bought four of the Ozark Trail water jugs at Wal-mart to use as part of my water storage. I filled them up and put them in a spare bedroom that I use for storage. About six-months later, I noticed that one of the jugs had developed a leak along the X on one side. I had to throw out the leaking jug.

Over the next year-and-a-half, all three of the remaining jugs started leaking, all along the same spot - the edges of the X stamped in their sides. This X is a serious design flaw that apparently will cause all these water storage jugs to start leaking eventually. If you have these jugs, you may want to check to see if they are leaking yet. I suggest feeling along the edges of each X for moisture. 


My Alternative: I now use the 7-gallon Aqua-Tainers by Reliance. In fact, I have a couple of these that are actually a couple of years older than the defective Ozark Trail jugs I threw out, yet none of them are leaking.

4) Hollow "Survival" Knives - You know the type I'm talking about: the ones with the hollow handles with various survival supplies inside. These tend to be absolutely horrible - cheaply made, dull blades, crappy supplies inside. Worse yet, they are not full tang, with the knife blade and hollow handle being held together with little more than a spot weld or two. They will not hold up to the hard use of an emergency.

My Alternatives: There is no need for your knife and survival kit to be the same thing. Get a good quality, full tang, heavy-duty sheath knife. I own, use, and recommend the Gerber Prodigy Survival Knife (typically about $55). Another very good option is the KA-BAR Marine Corps Fighting Knife (typically about $80). Then, put together a small survival kit of decent supplies to carry in your backpack (I'll be doing a future article on doing this).

5) Most Snare Wire - I have two problems with the snare wire included in most survival kits. First, its too light weight to go after anything other than small rodents (the wire that comes with the Bear Grylls survival kit is barely more than thread). Second, there is usually only enough for one snare trap. Experts in trapping will tell you that even if you know what you're doing, you'll be lucky to get anything more than 10% of the time. This tells me that if you really want to have a chance to eat, you need to set up several traps to increase your chances.

My Alternative: There are lots of spools of Vietnam-era surplus snare wire still available. It is 24-gauge wire and comes in four 40' sections on one wood spool for a total of 160'. Plenty of snare wire for many traps, and a spool is light enough (about 2.4 ounces) to easily carry in a bug-out bag. Most importantly, learn where and how to set-up snares traps before you need to depend on them.

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