Polymath Products’s top 5 survival items

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Recently we had a discussion at Polymath Products about what we would choose if we could have only five survival items to get us through a typical UK-based wilderness survival situation, say up a mountain or in remote woodland. This discussion naturally followed on from last week’s Altoids survival tin exercise, but this time we wanted to consider five easily carriable items that would give the best chance of survival. Clearly a fully-stocked large first aid kit, a tent, five litres of drinking water, a 24-hour British Army ration pack and a double-burner gas camping stove would be seriously helpful, but lugging those around with you every time you’re out hiking may not always be practical. So we agreed that the five items on our list should all be able to fit inside a large pocket, and all should be single items (not kits of items). Here’s what we settled on:



1. Smartphone

Funnily enough, our top choice for a survival item is something that most of the population of the developed world carries with them at all times anyway! A mobile phone with a charged battery and network coverage would allow you to immediately make emergency rescue services aware of your situation, which would mean it was only a matter of time before help comes to you. Just knowing help is on its way would be a huge psychological boost from the outset, helping you to stay calm and address the other survival priorities, such as a means of signalling to the rescuers when they draw near.

Even without mobile network coverage, modern smartphones still have many uses for the survivor. Built-in functions such as the flashlight, GPS system / digital compass, mapping apps and even survival knowledge reference apps can all be a huge help. There are even ways to use a non-functional phone for survival, like using the battery to start a fire, or repurposing the LCD screen as a makeshift signalling mirror.


2. Foil survival blanket

In the UK, exposure to the elements of wind and rain (of which we have plenty of both) can quickly become fatal, the combination of the two rapidly wicking away your body heat and putting you into hypothermia. In order to prevent this happening, you’ll need a way of both keeping them out, and keeping your body heat in. In this discussion we have assumed the survivor isn’t in the nude, so other than the appropriate outdoor clothing they are wearing, they have nothing to keep the weather off of them. Unless they happen to be carrying a foil survival blanket.

The foil survival blanket is a nice pocket-sized item, and when unfolded and wrapped around the head and body offers protection from wind and rain, as well as retaining the body heat that you would otherwise naturally convect and radiate away. In short, it’s the closest thing you can have to a pocket-sized portable shelter, and it can keep you warm enough to survive until rescue happens.

Foil blankets also have a number of other survival uses, including as a: mirrored surface for signalling, heat reflector / windbreak for a fire, improvised vessel for boiling water or heating food over a fire, sling / tourniquet, or turned into a full-blown shelter if you have other shelter-building materials available.


3. Haemostatic agent

One contingency that we agreed could bring a quick and unfavourable ending to a survival situation would be that of traumatic blood loss. While fairly unlikely to occur on a typical outdoor excursion in the UK, cuts and wounds do happen, and it’d only take a particularly bad slip with a knife or hatchet to cause a life-threatening loss of blood. Applying a tourniquet to a wounded limb is one way of slowing blood loss, but this isn’t going to be much use if you’ve sustained a head wound (never attempt to apply a tourniquet to the head!). However, there are haemostatic (meaning they stop blood loss) products available, such as these haemostatic granule sachets. Applied directly to the wound, followed by pressure and bandaging (perhaps with an improvised clothing bandage), these are an easy to carry item that could prevent an otherwise rapid demise from blood loss, and are again something that would buy you time until rescuers arrive.


Fire Embers

4. Ferrocerium rod and striker

Strictly speaking, this is two items, but they often come bundled together, and aren’t much good without each other, so we’ll count them as one.

As discussed previously in the Altoids tin post, creating fire can really turn a bad situation to your advantage. Having a way of keeping warm and signalling to rescuers is of paramount importance, and fire will help you out with both of these admirably, among its many other uses.

Here we discussed the merits of a butane lighter versus a ferro rod and striker, but we ended up going for the ferro rod option. The reason being is that although it is slower to achieve a flame than the lighter, it is in our opinion that much more dependable as a means of ignition. Butane lighters can fail to light if the air temperature drops below 4°C, but a ferro rod and striker will always be able to produce hot sparks in any weather conditions.



5. Water bottle with inbuilt filter

We also discussed what could happen if rescue didn’t take place within a day of the survivor finding themselves in their predicament, and how after this period of time the need for water would become an important factor in their survival.

A piece of survival gear that quickly came to mind was the Lifestraw Go, which is essentially a plastic water bottle with a filtration element built into the cap. The great thing about this is that you have a container in which you can collect water from almost any source, and when you need to rehydrate you simply drink through the spout like a normal water bottle. This makes for a simple and effective means of supplying your body with clean drinking water, which would be essential in a prolonged survival scenario.



One final thought on this:

We’ve all heard the expression ‘mind over matter’; the premise that our minds have a considerable power over what happens in the physical world. This expression seems to ring true in the subject of survival, and it’s well documented that a positive mental attitude and the will to survive are often the deciding factors in the outcome of a survival situation. A good knowledge of survival techniques and of the environment will also go a long way towards keeping you alive. So perhaps the most important survival ‘item’ you should carry, would be your own brain, filled with know-how, experience, and the right attitude.


It was quite a lengthy discussion that we ended up having, and deciding on only five items was really quite difficult. So it’d be great to have our readers’ opinions on the five items they would want to get them through a typical survival emergency; please feel free to comment below and open up the discussion.


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