Welcome to this week’s Urban Survival Newsletter,
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sponsored by SurviveInPlace.com and
I’ve been testing out a lot of survival gear recently, running it through rough testing, including a 2 night solo backpacking outing. There were some winners and DRAMATIC losers. I’m going to share a few of the winners with you today.
I need to start by saying that “survival” is a broad term. It could range from going out in the woods with nothing but a knife and the clothes on your back to getting stranded while hunting or hiking, to a long term post electromagnetic pulse (EMP) situation in an urban environment. As a result of the broad uses of the term, the gear that can be considered “survival gear” is pretty broad too.
Let’s start with the most basic of survival gear and something that will apply to every survival situation…the survival knife.
I LOVE knives. I get a lot of satisfaction when a knife that I’ve sharpened cuts through something like butter. I love the sound of a fixed blade coming out of the sheath, and I love the sound and feel of a folder solidly locking into place.
When you ask people what they want from a survival knife, you’re going to get a different opinion from almost everyone you ask. Some focus on fighting and want a VERY fine 7” blade to be able to reach the heart from the collarbone. Others want a saw back. Some prefer a partial serration or no serration at all. There are preferences on finish, blade angle, blade shape, blade angle, and the type of steel used…and frankly, most of the preferences are correct depending on the application.
I like knives that can take abuse. Specifically, one of my basic tests of a good knife is whether or not I can take a 2”-3” stick and beat the back of the blade to cut or split wood. I use this technique to split wood into kindling, and to remove standing dead wood instead of using an axe or saw.
This simple test has proven several beefy folders and even some fixed blades inadequate as a survival knife. Here’s a sneak peak at one of the knives I tested that failed miserably…it was a knock off KaBar from a discount store & I’ll be sharing pictures in the near future.
When I’m not out in the woods and want to do this test on a knife, I’ll cut through a 2×6. I’ve found this to be a good basic test of the blade, the handle, and the tip. Doing this will QUICKLY show you why (most) high quality knives cost so much more than (most) discount store knives.
So here is one of my current favorite survival knives that you can buy for under $100.
It’s the Gerber LMF II Infantry/Survival knife.
This puppy is a workhorse. It comes in black or coyote brown and one of the first things you’ll notice is the oversized rubber handle. It is designed to limit slipping and blistering and I’ve been quite happy with it. I thought it would be a weak point at first, but it holds up very well to hard use.
It is a full tang knife with a 4.8”, partially serrated edge made of 420HC (That’s the good 420) stainless steel with a drop point. It’s not a top of the line steel, but it IS durable and easy to sharpen.
The choice of 420HC steel is the only reason why this knife can sell for under $100. It’s soft enough to be easy on Gerber’s manufacturing equipment; but after additional hardening, it’s durable enough to cut through an aircraft fuselage and even beat on concrete without breaking.
Balance is very natural, with the center of gravity falling right between my index finger and my middle finger when I hold the knife.
The back of the blade is 3/16” wide with no serrations so there’s a nice striking surface for cutting/splitting wood. Since the blade is full tang, it held up well to repeated strikes.
This knife was designed as a military survival knife, so has some additional great features:
- 3 eyelets made to run 550 cord (parachute cord with a 550 pound test strength) through to turn the knife into a spear. (I prefer keeping my knife and making a fire hardened spear out of wood)
- A pointed butt cap made to shatter plexiglass. It will also work well on automobile glass.
- A flat section on the butt that is designed for hammering. The only testing I’ve used it on so far has been on tent stakes in rocky soil.
And the sheath is full of even more goodies:
It comes with a belt loop, MOLLE loops, and 2 adjustable straps with a flexible section and a quick release. So, you can easily attach it to your tac vest, a backpack, a belt (with one of the 2 leg straps,) on your thigh, or on your calf. It also has several additional attachment slits and 550 holes if you figure out an alternative setup that works better for you.
The sheath has an integrated sharpener that works well for quick touchups in the field.
The retention on the sheath is worth mentioning. It is a stiff plastic lip that goes securely over the knife guard. It holds the knife tight enough that it’s almost silent when jumping and running. I even did some testing where I held onto the sheath and tried to throw the knife out of it and the knife stayed in the sheath after repeated tries to dislodge it.
What’s really impressive is that even with the secure retention, you can remove the knife easily. If you pull on the knife with your hand and push slightly with your thumb, you can remove the knife completely silently and with little effort.
It seems completely unnecessary, but there are two additional retention straps with snaps that go around the grip. So far, when I’ve worn the knife, I haven’t used the straps. When I do use them, I only use the bottom one and am considering simply cutting off the top one.
As you can probably tell, this knife is very suited for urban survival use. With the drop point, a short beefy blade, and a beefy handle, it’ll work for prying. The butt is tailor made for breaking windows. As I said earlier, the blade is made for cutting through aircraft fuselages, and the serrations make for easy work on seat belts and other webbing. The tang and the butt cap are completely separated. That feature, combined with the rubberized handle, helps prevent electrical shocks.
And, of course, it’ll work for hand to hand combat. The blade length is long enough to access pretty much every strike except the heart via the collar bone. The rubber grip almost has the wet traction of spider rubber. Even when the handle is dirty and gets wet, it did not slip in my bare hand.
The one downside on hand to hand is that if you’ve trained to strike with the butt of the knife to the head as a less lethal blow, the pointed butt on the LMF II will focus the strike and increase trauma.
The Gerber LMF II is a great survival knife and be a great addition to almost anyone’s survival gear. It has a suggested price of $136.06. I paid about $90 at a local retailer, and you can get it on Amazon for as little as $75. As a note, this is very similar to the Bear Grylls Survival Knife, but it’s not orange and has more practical features for about $10 more.
Next, is the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60W with SPOT Messenger Satellite Transponder.
This is a combination Delorme GPS and SPOT satellite transponder that allows you to send text messages from almost anywhere in the world. It will also allow friends and relatives to track your progress real time online in 10 minute increments, and it allows you to send out help requests to your contacts or an SOS request to a global search and rescue network.
Here’s why I’m including this in “Survival Gear.” A friend of mine in the 19th Special Forces Group told me about a problem he had been having and the solution he came up with. He liked going up into the mountains and disappearing for a few days, but his wife always went a little nuts when he was gone.
Despite his level of training, she would always picture him bleeding out alone in some ravine with vultures circling overhead waiting to feast. He gave up arguing and in order to keep a happy home, he didn’t go out as often as he wanted to.
Then he got one of these emergency transponders and she let him go whenever he wanted. He could send messages saying he was alright every morning and night and she knew that professional rescuers were only a button press away if he got into trouble.
I had the same problem. I love going out into the woods alone. I love going off of the trail, bushwhacking, and knowing that there’s a possibility that I’m somewhere that no other human has been in a decade…if ever.
But I also have a wife and 2 sons. And I don’t want my hunger for excitement and my desire to hone my solo survival skills to make my wife lose sleep or make her a widow unnecessarily.
And then I got a chance to try out the Delorme/SPOT GPS/transponder combo. It’s not cheap. It’s around $500 plus an annual fee for extra services. If you get all of the bells and whistles, including a messaging package, replacement insurance, and international med-evac insurance, it’s around $700. Like I said, it’s not cheap, and it doesn’t make sense for a lot of people.
So, the big question is, “how does it work?” It does take awhile to set up. You’ve got to load software, load maps, and update the firmware on the GPS and the transponder. That took me about an hour and a half. Then you’ve got to register it (so that search and rescue knows who they’re coming after), set up your groups that you want to be able to message to, and you’re good to go.
I wasn’t too excited about the setup process, but once that was done, everything worked quite well. When I left cell coverage and went into the mountains I turned the unit on to tracking mode and every 10 minutes it sent my position to a password protected web page that my wife could go to if she wanted to see where I was or if I missed a check-in.
Once I got to my campsite, I sent her a message that automatically went to both her phone and email and turned everything off. I don’t like to use GPS for navigation and I wasn’t really excited about having all of that electronic stuff on my body transmitting any more than necessary.
When I’d head out of camp hunting for small game, jogging, getting water, exploring or gathering wood, I’d simply take the emergency transponder with me.
I sent my wife messages first thing in the morning, at noon, and last thing at night, as well as when I broke camp and started out so that she’d know how to plan the day when I got home. All in all, I was pleased with it. I got to go out in the woods alone for a few days and my wife was able to go to sleep at night without worrying about me. As an added bonus, the unit cannot receive a message…which means that while you can call for help, you aren’t on an electronic leash.
One other cool feature of the PN-60W is that if you have a big group with the units, you can see everyone’s location on your screen AND you can send text messages, waypoints and routes from unit to unit. This is similar to the Garmin Rino.
One other advantage of using the PN-60W for short range messaging is that the units automatically create a web network. Here’s what I mean. The local messaging range for the PN-60W is about 1/2 mile. If you’ve got 10 people who are all 1/4 mile apart from each other, the people on each end will be 2 1/2 miles apart…5 times the range of the PN-60W. Even so, all of the PN-60Ws act as repeaters and the message will reach every unit.
There are obvious applications for this for hunting, search & rescue, and tactical operations.
Is this a survival tool? It depends. If you’re hiking or hunting in a remote area and get lost, trapped due to weather, or someone in your party has a serious injury, then it could be.
It’s probably not going to have a ton of value after a breakdown in civil order, although it could, depending on the situation. The short range messaging might work, even if satellites are down.
That being said, I see a lot of value if it provides a little bit of a safety net to allow you to go out into the wilderness more often and practice your survival skills and/or simply spend more time alone.
It doesn’t give you a license to go out and take stupid chances, but there is a lot of value in simply getting into the woods and roughing it whenever you can. It gives you a chance to test your survival skills, your survival gear, and can help toughen your mind.
Next are two mini survival/first aid kits. The first one is a Lifeline Survival Medic kit.
It costs about $25 and has a lot of great medical and survival gear. Unlike some survival kits that I’ve tried, the compass actually works. The waterproof safety matches DO have waterproof heads, but they’re not oversized and if the wood’s not dry, they go out very fast. The band aids are good cloth bandaids with high quality adhesive.
I added moleskin and a pair of scissors to mine, but the case is VERY hard to reclose…especially if you add anything to it. In fact, that is probably the biggest downside to this kit…you can’t really put everything back in and expect to close it. Mine hasn’t been zipped closed since the first time I used it. I put mine in a small pocket in one of my packs so that I don’t lose anything from it, but this is something you should keep in mind if you decide to get one.
The next one is a combination of 2 kits…an REI “Day Pack” First Aid Kit and either an AMK pocket survival pack or a Lifeline Ultralight Survival Kit.
The AMK and Lifeline kits have a lot of crossover, but are quite different. AMK has a big mirror, a fresnel lens, a GREAT firestarter, and cotton tinder that I’ve resorted to using during the spring melt when my options for tinder were wet and I needed to get a fire going quickly. The cotton catches sparks VERY well. Also, Rick reminded me that clothes dryer lint is an amazingly fast tender for starting fires as is 0000 steel wool.
The Lifeline kit has a much better compass, the whistle is on a lanyard, it has bandaids, waterproof matches, fishing line, and a piece of heavy aluminum to use for boiling water, melting snow, cooking, and signaling.
They’re both great kits, but no matter which one you get, you need to take the stuff out and make sure you know how to use it. If you don’t, learn.
All of these kits have latex free bandages, but if you have latex issues, make sure you go through your med kits and add in latex-free bandages
If you haven’t read the review of this week’s episode of The Colony, you need to.
It was a good one and it posed an interesting question…if you had your stuff together in a disaster situation, but were all alone and you saw a group of people lacking skills and organization like the Colonists that you could team up with, would you? It would add drama and danger, but it could also give you better sleep due to rotating watches and it could allow you to multiply the impact of your knowledge and skills.
Check out the review and share your thoughts at http://secretsofurbansurvival.com/408/episode-7-of-the-colony-on-discovery-tick/
Nine years ago on Saturday the thin veneer of US invincibility was shattered and people were forced to wake up to the threat of radical Islam. It’s been a threat since before the US was even a country. In fact, the threat of radical Islam reared it’s head during Adams’ administration as well as Jefferson’s and is immortalized in the US Marine Corps hymn the Marine officer sword, and even the name “Leatherneck”.
Our Marines and mercenaries sent to the Barbary Coast (Tripoli) to take care of a little extortion problem by Jefferson wore coats with heavy leather around the neck so that their heads wouldn’t get lopped off by the Barbary pirates’ swords. The name “Leatherneck” stuck, we beat down the pirates, took their sword design, and the rest is history.
This isn’t new…we just forget.
We forget just how thin the veneer of civil order is as well. Radical Islam isn’t just a threat to our warriors overseas…and it’s not the only threat we face. All it takes is a major event to disrupt life as we know it. Events like natural disasters, EMPs, or terrorist attacks can knock out banking, communications, electricity, and/or food supplies.
How will people react 3 days after the supply chain is cut and shelves are empty? It depends on several factors, but when it comes down to it, the only reactions over which you have control are your own. And the best way to know that you will react in a way that you can be proud of is to get prepared.
As you probably know, September is National Preparedness month and if you haven’t gone through the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course yet, I want to encourage you to do so right now. You can read the course description and get signed up today by going to SurviveInPlace.com.
What’s the favorite survival knife that you have? What made you decide that you could trust your life to it? Any experience with satellite transponders? How about mini first aid/survival kits? If so, share them below. If you’ve already gone through the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course, take a minute and share with others how it’s changed your life and why they should go through it.
God Bless & stay safe,
SurviveInPlace.com / UrbanSurvivalPlayingCards.com
P.S. Several people mentioned Ka-Bar USMC knives in the commments. Here is the best price I could find on them:
They’ve got a special that includes 1 brown Ka-Bar, 1 black Ka-Bar, and a black kydex sheath for right at $100..