“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Though not known as an outdoorsman, Alexander Graham Bell’s observation on preparedness is just the very mindset that saves lives in the outdoors. While I didn’t hear this adage until later, it reminded me of a lesson re-learned about seven years ago. It was a January evening on Mt. Rogers in Virginia, and a couple of members of our backpacking group wandered off together and got lost along the way. They were fairly new to backcountry adventures, and hadn’t taken heed of the winter storm that was moving in. They were without essential gear because they shared equipment with two of their friends still in the main group. The two wanderers didn’t have a tent or even the means to make a fire to keep warm. With the wind chill factor, it was nearing 20 below zero, and death was a real possibility.

topswallet003.jpgAt our campsite, two of us dropped our packs to let the rest set up our gear and headed out into the bitter, gloomy dusk to try and find our lost members. Even though they had no way of signaling us, we found them within two hours—backs against a tree and shivering like wet dogs. We had a couple of extremely relieved and happy people once they were back in their tent sipping down hot soup and cocoa. That incident both reinforced and taught several lessons to the group. First, and foremost, was to be prepared for your environment and have the right gear to stay alive.

It’s that lesson that has me outside today in the 10-degree weather working with the new TOPS Survival Wallet and the Hoffman Lite Hunter. The Survival Wallet (with reflective orange back for visibility) comes with the core essentials that you would need in extreme conditions to stay warm, build a shelter, navigate the landscape, and signal others to be found. All of this packs into a ballistic nylon “wallet” which can be carried in a pocket or around the neck with the provided cord.

Survival Wallet Components
TOPS Survival Whistle
TOPS Dog-tag signal mirror
TOPS Pocket Size Survival Saw
TOPS fire starter with ferrocium rod and magnesium
P-38 military can opener/striker 
Offset Phillips/flat-head screwdriver
Small LED Flashlight
Lansky Quick Fix Sharpener
Monofilament HD line (24 feet)
Small Snap Link
Rubber Ranger Band
Razor Blade
Heavy duty sail needle
Two large safety pins

Sounding Off
One of the most impressive items in the Survival Wallet is the TOPS Survival Whistle. Recently, a fellow outdoors expert, Mike Brown, gathered up a number of popular signal whistles and measured their output with a sound level meter. Out of the group of whistles, the TOPS Survival Whistle was the loudest, at 126 decibels. That’s quite a feat considering its very small size. While the P-38 can opener can serve as a make-shift striker for the fire steel, it won’t help much with shaving the magnesium into a pile to help the fire get started. That’s where the Hoffman Lite Hunter steps in to take over.

Lite Hunter Back-up Blade
The Hoffman Lite Hunter is a new addition to their small fixed-blade line, which is a perfect complement to their Survival Wallet. Designed by Terrill Hoffman, the Lite Hunter was intended as back-up knife that’s easily carried in the provided, nicely designed sheath either on the belt or in a pocket. Constructed of 1/8-inch-thick 154CM steel with a 2-3/16-inch cutting edge, the Lite Hunter has the right profile for dressing game, but can also be employed for other tasks such as striking the fire starter, or for woodworking tasks including making traps and building a shelter. 

I went ahead and did a quick cord wrap job on the skeletonized handle that will serve a couple of functions. It provides a non-slip grip for a wet hand, insulates against the cold, and stores a short length of paracord to be used in a various number of ways. An example would be to lash the Lite Hunter to a staff for an improvised spear. Though it’s a small knife, it’s very manageable with its well-executed ridges on the thumb rest and its ergonomic profile allows for fine, close-up work. 

The TOPS Survival Wallet is roomy enough to add additional items of your choosing. One of the first things I added was a small container of tinder to help with the fire-starting task—useful for when wet conditions might be encountered. A couple of other items that would be handy to include is a length of duct tape, a few hooks for the fishing line, and maybe a small roll of brass wire for snares and field repairs. With this setup in your TOPS Survival Wallet ($49.95) combined with the Hoffman Lite Hunter ($99), you’ve got smart insurance that can be taken just about everywhere. Then, on that cold winter’s evening, you won’t have to worry about ending up on the mountain all on your own. 

For more information contact TOPS Knives at or 208-542-0113.

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