March 8, 2010

Staying Alive

I recently finished an article on survival gear for a Montana magazine. In the article, I suggest that every outdoors person carries a "possibilities bag" in their backpack that contains basic survival and emergency gear. Here's mine, exploded for the article.

I've got an emergency bivy sack; tiny headlamp; firestarting tinder in a waterproof bag; a first aid kit in a waterproof bag; a lighter; waterproof matches in a waterproof container; super glue; a multi-tool with pliers, knife, and scissors; pain pills; whistle; compass; duct tape around a pencil; signal mirror; chlorine dioxide water-treatment pills; and a waterproof stuff sack to hold it all together.

This is a minimalist's survival kit. Among other things, it's also critical to have extra insulation and food. In the winter, I almost always carry a down parka that squishes down to the size of a Nalgene bottle in the bottom of my pack with this bag. The bivy sack I typically carry is actually a 10-ounce MontBell GoreTex number, but the AMK one pictured above was perfect for this review. It's tiny, cheap, and will get you through the night alive.

I actually have two possibilities bags, tailored for different seasons and activities. Here's my summer one (right) packed and posing atop the North Hills behind my home.

One of my jobs for this review was to shoot some product shots, which I don't do often. But it was kind of fun trying to figure out how to capture this Leatherman in a complete and visually interesting way. After some experimentation, I ended up hauling a broken ponderosa pine branch into the middle of an open field where I could prop the tool and set it against the brilliant blue of the morning sky.

If you just want to buy a pre-made micro-survival kit, the Adventure Medical Kits Pocket Survival Pak (right) is the best I found. It packs a ridiculous amount of really useful stuff into a four-ounce package the size of a billfold.

To wrap up this journey into things that can help you not die in the woods, I'd like to show my man Jeff Boatman's meticulously awesome possibilities bag. Jeff is a pretty savvy backcountry character who makes a lot of his own gear (like the stuff sack in this picture). If something bad happened in the mountains, he'd be good person to have on your team.

Check out his exploded kit:


  1. Beautiful write up. I was turned on to this site by a tour divide rider from last year. I am looking for your two cents on a small point and shoot that can withstand being in my jersey pocket for several days. Any opinions? Thanks for your time!

  2. Jeremy: the Olympus ones are hard to beat for durability, but the image quality is weak. If you don't need high-quality shots, that's what I'd suggest.
    Personally, I use a Canon S90 for my little camera. It's pretty good. Shoots RAW and has a decent wide-angle. It seems fairly durable. Metal body. I carry it in my front pocket while skiing all the time and on my chest in a Deuter case (attached to backpack strap) when cycling. The Lumix point-and-shoots are great, too. Though these both have great image quality for a small camera, neither are anywhere near as durable as the Olympus.

  3. Along the same lines of speaking of cameras when you carry along something bigger then point and shoot what do you grab? Also would you consider doing a blog write up of your gear (from bikes to cameras)? Love the pics as they make you want to get outside!

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  5. I have checked out a good number of advanced emergency bags, and I have to admit that the one presented in this post is fairly simple, but well-packed with the most essential items one may need to stay alive. I like the simplicity of the pack, and the resourcefulness of each and every item backpacked. In addition to a good emergency pack, you need unique survival skills, such as water purification. Read more here:

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