Very often customers will come and ask, what is the best for this, or what is the best for that. The truth of the matter is, there's very rarely a best of anything. Items, Tools, equipment. These are all personal things. All things which mean more to you as an individual than they could ever to another.
Some people run hot, they don't need a 4 or 5 season sleeping bag, they do just fine in their 3.
Some people like to be out in the elements, an open fronted shelter like a Basha or Bivi. Exposed partially to the elements, just enough to feel alive. Others don't feel happy unless they've got a double skinned tent between them and the great outdoors.
Survival, Preparedness and the Outdoors in general is a really personal thing. Don't prepare for what someone else is preparing for. Just think about these five core areas. Food, Fire, Water, Wind and Rain and cover those areas well enough that you feel comfortable and safe being outdoors.
Without food, in the right quantity and balance we as humans cannot survive. We need a balanced diet of Carbohydrates, Protein, Fat, Fiber, Sugar and Salt to survive. More than survival, we need a balanced diet to have the strength and energy to perform. When you're in a survival situation you need to have the correct diet to perform at your best, or at a minimum enough food to ensure that you have the strength and energy to survive.
When we talk about Survival Food you want to think about four key things.
High Calorie: survival foods aren't always well balanced, we are often instead best looking for a high calorie count which will give you the energy you need to work hard without burning your bodies natural stores of fat or protein (Body Fat or Muscle).
Long Shelf Life: As well as a high calorie content, if you're planning on storing food then it needs to have as long a shelf life as possible. This will give you the best value for the item, the longer it lasts, the higher the probability there is that you will consume it before it expires. There are many items with 'Best Before' or 'Use-By' dates which can be extended. Many tinned goods will remain good long past their Use-By date, the same with many dried products such as white rice, pasta and whole grains. As a general rule of thumb, the lower the amount of water / moisture in a product, the longer that product can last before going off. Professionally this is referred to as 'Water Activity'.
Low Weight: If you're backpacking or bugging out on foot, it's important that food options don't weigh you down. Carrying too much weight will limit your ability to move quickly, and also increase the likelihood of injury. Both things key in an emergency. When we are talking about food for a BOB (Bug-Out-Bag) it is good to look at dehydrated foods or Army Ration style meal pouches. These can be eaten cold or with minimal cooking. Dehydrated foods are extremely lightweight but do require the addition of water which you will still need to find or carry which can require more effort in an emergency.
Easy Heating / No Heating: If you know anything about The Blitz, then you'll know that light discipline is a big thing. Having some delicious steaks for your trip out into the mountains is great during civil times, but just remember how obvious you'll be during an emergency when that delicious smell, visible smoke and bright fire can be seen and smelled for miles around. MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat, a name typically for Army Rations) can usually be eaten hot or cold, some even come with chemical food-warmers (very similar to a chemical handwarmer) which will warm up the food to make it more enjoyable without the need for a fire at all.
Fire is essential for modern life. For cooking, for heating, for boiling water (to purify it), and most certainly for improving morale. There are few memories as good as those I have spent with friends huddled around a camp-fire. A fire is almost always the heart and soul of the camp. It is both a meeting spot, kitchen and a lounge. Fire has provided protection from animals, a safe means to prepare food for eating, and a source of heat for boiling and purifying water for literally a million years.
What is Important to Remember:
A fire must be constantly monitored. It should never be left alone, especially not if you are far away from camp. It can easily spread and become out of control. Something as simple as a strong breeze can move a stationary camp fire into nearby brush, trees or bushes. There has been devastating forest and moor fires in the last few years for this very reason.
Whilst a source of heat a fire also produces enormous amounts of light. A human being standing at a high elevation with regular eyesight is capable of seeing a candle flame at over 2.67km away (A number that has been quite heavily debated) but you get the idea. You're camp fire will be significantly larger than a candle flame if you're planning on cooking or heating yourself with it.
It's best practice to carry with you Three ways to make fire. A Lighter, pack of Matches and a Ferrocerium Rod. These partnered up with a few types of tinder give you a reliable way to start a fire, no matter the weather. A lot of people like to produce their own tinder. This can be something simple like Vaseline soaked cotton wool or something more complex like Char-Cloth. A type of half-burned cloth which becomes super-dry.
Water is the source of all life. There is not a living thing on this earth which is capable of surviving without it. Many animals have adapted to use very, very small amounts. Desert Tortoises can survive years between drinks, but still. They must drink.
The commonly quoted figure is '3 Days' as the amount of time a human being can go without water. The 3 days number has been used for decades but it isn't truly reflective of the amount of time a human can survive. Humans have gone as long as 18 days without water (There is some question over this, the man possibly licked condensation off the prison cell walls) but in other situations humans can die in just hours from dehydration. In the desert the human body can sweat out 1.5 Litre of fluid in just an hour. Without replenishing that water the body will rapidly begin to shutdown.
One thing is for sure. Always have a way to keep yourself hydrated. Water is truly key to your survival. Without it, even if alive. You will quickly lose the ability to think and act to protect yourself from other threats.
Now we enter a new area. We've discussed so far things which are essential to life. For the last two points, we will discuss two things which are trying to kill you.
The wind itself is not trying to kill you perhaps but its negative effects surely will. Wind has the ability to strip the body of warmth far quicker than it can ever produce it. Partner that up with all the wonderful things it can whip up when it starts to blow and you've got yourself a terrifying monster to battle.
Whilst many of us know the story of the big bad wolf coming and huffing, puffing and blowing houses down, many may not perhaps realise its significance. Not until you've been out there in your stick-thin little tent getting blown around in a gale do you realise quite how scared those little piggies may have been.
As well as the damaging effects the wind can have on physical structures wind chill can be devastating for the human body. At a low 10kph wind an external temperature of 0.C will fill lower than -3.C. Likewise, with a -10.C external temperature and a 30kph wind (just enough to flap a flag!) the felt temperature is double the external temperature. Less than -20.C!
The best way to beat the wind is to get out of it and under shelter, and use many windproof and waterproof layers. Layers trap air and help to insulate the body. A windproof and waterproof outer-layer will help to prevent that heated air insulating your body from being stripped away.
Every hill walkers favourite. Rain. In the summer it brings lush greenery to life and smiles to the faces of kids splashing in puddles. In winter it saps the heat from your body and the happiness from your day. Rain can make or break a trip, even more so if you're unprepared for it.
Having a method to keep yourself dry is critical to your safety when out in the wilderness. Even a trip into the town is 'uncomfortable' if you're soaked through, imagine how you'd feel stuck up a mountain or deep in a forest trying to survive.
Wet clothes act to draw heat out of your body. As water is a worse conductor than air you'll generally find it much harder to warm up your body if wearing wet clothes. It's not only wise to be able to keep your kit dry, but also to have a method to dry it out should it get wet (see Fire).
Some materials do continue to retain good insulative properties even when wet. These products have kept humankind alive throughout the centuries. The main one to know about is sheep's wool. There is method to the madness of all the Scandinavian countries wearing those funky sweaters, and similarly to the tradition of 'Christmas Jumpers'. Wool Jumpers are commonplace across Iceland, Norway and Sweden where they have allowed the natives to survive centuries of Ice, Snow and harsh winter wind and rain.
I hope this alternative way of preparedness thinking as helped you to think about your preps in a different way. People choose many ways to assess their equipment, I find that if I can cover these five key areas. I feel pretty safe, no matter the situation. Everything over and above these areas is a luxury item. Something I carry because I enjoy carrying it, or to make life a little easier.
Don't be afraid to allow yourself some luxury too. It's great surviving, but its even better to truly enjoy the trip.