I have always had a problem with the school of wilderness survival that is based on the theory: What do you do if you are dropped naked into the wilderness? In general, I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who worry the most about this potential scenario are the ones that are the least likely to ever venture into an unroaded area. It would be practically impossible to catch the hikers, backpackers, horse-mounted trail riders, and hunters living here in the Northwest anywhere off the road and that ill-prepared. As one bushcraft guide I recently read also pointed out, primitive cultures of the past tended to plan far ahead for any environmental problem and carried the basics of field living with them at all times. Seldom, if ever, would there be circumstances where they were suddenly cast adrift in the wilds without the essentials of outdoor living. The key point here is probably that real wilderness pros, past or present, strive to prevent “survival situations” from ever arising.
canadian-survival-kit_knife.jpg Bush Kit
Canadian survival instructor Rick Marchand of has taken the “always be prepared” school of thought to its logical conclusion and created something of a “retro-modern” bush kit. The kit contains a variety of time-proven field essentials combined with modern items, when and where they are obviously superior. All of the items are stored in a series of handmade, recycled leather belt pouches.
Given Rick is an apprentice member of the American Bladesmith Society, the knives in the package are probably an obvious place to start.  The primary knife of the Bush Kit is a handforged, 3/16-inch thick, 5-inch long spear-point design of 5160 carbon steel with a cord-wrapped handle. Rick feels this type of handle is superior to conventional scales because the cord can be removed and used in the field for various other uses. Even without the cord wrap, the knife is still functional and, if need be, the tang can be covered with a wide variety of other materials. The thick knife blade is intended to be an indestructible field tool rather than a specialized cutter for any one particular use. Like all of the items in the kit, the knife is carried in a heavy, handmade leather sheath held together by brass rivets.

Tobacco Tin and Norse Hawk
The second knife is a little more specialized. You start with what in blackpowder circles is normally called a “Hudson Bay tobacco tin.” This is an oval-shaped brass container with a “burning glass” (this can also be used as a magnifying glass) in the cover. Inside the tin is a combination firesteel/knife with a 1-inch blade protected by a leather sheath, a quantity of char cloth, a small piece of flint, a short length of jute cord for tinder, and an oval-shaped piece of leather to protect the burning glass from scratching. I tried the firesteel on a chunk of high-grade French flint (I picked it up on the edge of a parking lot in Normandy a few years ago!) and found it threw excellent sparks. The burning glass also proved capable of starting both char cloth and charred punk wood on a bright, sunny January day. 

There is one last cutting tool in the kit, a Cold Steel “Norse Hawk.” This is a round poll, tomahawk-style hatchet with a 4-inch cutting edge and a 19-inch handle. Rick tells me he has found this to be a good, all-round chopper that will stand up to a lot of hard use in the backcountry. The tapered handle also has the advantage of being easily replaced if broken in the field. He provides a matching leather scabbard for the head with the kit.

The largest pouch in the kit contains what Rick considers a “backwoods tool box.” This includes a sewing kit, jute twine, leather lace, nylon paracord, knife sharpening kit, char-making tin (for flint and steel fire starting), beeswax, and an eight-hour tea candle. There is enough room left over in the pouch for the user to personalize it with additional items such as first aid needs, fishing gear, matches, butane lighters, or a compass. 

Rick’s last item in the kit is the “Neckpouch.” As anyone with much wilderness experience will testify, it is important to have more than one backup fire-starting system. The Neckpouch consists of a very lightweight, combination magnesium/ferro rod, a steel striker and a very small piece of “pitchwood” or “fatwood” (depending on what part of the country you are from). All are stored in a leather sleeve on a neck cord. I’ve carried a similar kit on a number of canoe and sea kayaking treks over the years, so I have a fair amount of experience with the basic concept. One thing I’ve learned the hard way about magnesium fire-starting rods is that saltwater will eat them up! It is safer to store them in a watertight, zip-lock plastic bag someplace on your person rather than around your neck. It might also pay to find a larger block of pitchwood you can carve replacements from for this kit, as the one on the cord is pretty much a single-use item. 

Needs A Cooking Pot
If there is one thing I think I would add to the kit, it is some kind of a small pot with a lid. Rick does suggest using the tobacco tin as a cooking pot, but given it would only hold a few ounces of liquid, this doesn’t seem very practical when compared to even the most basic backpacking kettle. With a little larger container, you can sterilize questionable water by boiling as well as melt snow and ice. Many wild plants are only safe to eat after multiple changes in boiling water, and the most practical way to prepare many types of wild game in a survival situation is as a stew or soup. With a reasonably tight lid, the pan can also be used to char punk wood and other plants for starting flint and steel fires.

Which brings me to the fact that I’m a big believer in natural flint and steel as a long-term fire-starting system in a survival situation. It is also obvious that resupplies of char cloth aren’t going to be any more available in the wilds than matches or butane lighters. My game plan revolves around using the breathing space conventional fire-starters create to prepare materials suitable for use with flint and steel in the long term. The gold standard of flint and steel fire-starting is the tinder conk found on birch trees along with a few other natural materials that will catch a spark without charring. The problem here is that none of these are available in many areas. My own favorite spark catcher is charred rotten punk wood from hardwood trees. Here in the Northwest that means big leaf maple and red alder. I’m sure there are others that will work if you experiment with the trees native to your area. 

The Primary Knife
As I mentioned earlier, Rick made a point of stating that the larger knife in the kit was designed to be an unbreakable, general-purpose blade rather than a tool for fine work. With that in mind, I was a little surprised at how well it actually cut. During my field-testing I skinned and quartered up a gray squirrel, diced an onion, peeled a potato, and chopped up a carrot for a hunting camp kind of stew with the knife. It handled any and all of these chores with ease. I would have to say Rick has done an excellent job of providing just the kind of cutting tool you need in a survival kit. 

The total cost of the kit depends on how many of the items you need or are willing to provide on your own, but it starts around $595. Rick also has a wide variety of other handforged backwoods blades and belt-pouch tool kits available on his website. Given the right preparation and a little knowledge of bushcraft there is no reason anyone should ever end up in a wilderness survival situation unprepared.

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