This is a common and kind of tired, old question that usually comes down to a knife or some way to start a fire.
I settle on a good knife. What is a “good knife”? That’s the subject of another article I wrote in TSW on survival knives. Let’s just say it’s more about function and less about flash, more about cooking, cutting, and portability and less about pretending to be in Edge of Tomorrow or the latest Expendables movie.
I think fire starters or a knife probably top many lists. No real surprise there. Because of this, I think a more interesting question is, “If you could take only three items to help you survive, what would they be?”
For the sake of argument, I take phones out of the question.
Mobile phones are incredible survival devices that can connect you with help, look up info, tell directions, find descriptions of edible plants, and anything else the latest app designers come up with.
But, I take them out of the equation for two reasons:
1. Almost everyone’s got one. Chances are good that there’s one on or near you right now. If we’re going to ask if you’ll take a phone, we’d have to ask about the clothes you’re wearing, your glasses, or your keys, too.
That mobile phone you have is fast and fantastic for getting you out of a jam. However, just remember that a mobile telephone network is a service that typically goes down quickly in a major emergency, natural or man-made. Try it, but don’t count on it if a hurricane hits, zombies start munching on the neighbors, etc.
2. Satellite phones are too easy an answer. Like the ability to start a fire or cut things, the ability to communicate all over the world from almost anywhere in the world is a power that you can’t ignore.
In case you don’t know, a sat phone, or satellite phone, is a telephone that can send and pick up in areas no other phone will. The reason: it goes through a satellite.
These sat phones are amazing in both urban and rural settings. If everyone’s cell phone is out from a major disaster, you’re probably still able to talk whether you’re in the city or in open spaces.
One important point for the international adventurer or traveler: sat phones aren’t allowed in places like India, Burma, or North Korea. Depending on the security procedures of the installation, some government and commercial locations might restrict their use as well.
My Third Survival Gear Choice
Remember that the question asks what third item you would take in any situation.
Obviously, the more you know about your upcoming situation, the better you can tailor your choice. A flashlight? A compass? A tent? A box of flares? A parachute? A life jacket? A car jack? A battery?
A spool of cord makes lashing together shelter or tools much simpler and quicker. A compass or GPS is useful for location and travel. Medical kit: that’s very important.
Who doesn’t like having a flashlight for instant illumination? A waterproof tarp is great. Duct tape: incredibly useful for construction and repairs to both people and things. A PC can be an important survival tool. Binoculars. Hat. Socks. Screwdriver. Pry bar. The list goes on. But if you’re not sure what you’ll be up against…
I didn’t pick any of these. You might be surprised what ended up being my choice for third place.
A small metal pot with a strong handle.
If that’s not available, something similar like a large metal cup or a pan-any of them, preferably, with a lid.
Pretty unglamorous, huh? Typically, you don’t see these being sold near the Rambo knives with the nonfunctional compasses in their handles at your local sporting goods store.
A tough-but-light metal pot can sure come in handy. You can carry and boil water in it. You can use it to cook food by hanging it over a fire, placing it next to a fire, putting it over coals, or using any other heating source.
During one stay overseas, I actually went for months doing a significant portion of my cooking using just a large metal camp cup. Also, most of my short expeditions and camping trips have included a small pot with wire handle. It was great for making my meals, convenient to set by the fire or hang over it, and easily thrown in the bag and carried to the next location.
How to Use the Metal Pot
Plus, you can use it as a kind of “safe” if it has a lid and keep any little creatures from munching on food you’ve spent a lot of energy gathering. It also works as a makeshift canteen.
Often, you’ll read sentences like this in a survival book:
— To make sure water is safe, you can boil it.
— Make a soup from pine needles for vitamin C.
— Boil up some kind of tea for your stomach/to keep warm/to stay awake…
That all sounds great while you’re reading it at home, but it’s not that easy when you’re out there.
Yes, there are options, and you can improvise something that functions as a pot from lots of things. For instance, my regular readers might remember my describing how you can cook or boil in containers made from bamboo. But, it takes a little time to make those or other containers.
Do you need it to clank and clang to let people know where you are? Just hit it with a rock or knife. Don’t want that?
Just stuff clothes, vegetation, or other soft things in/around it to muffle it.
Plus, in a pinch, that metal pot can be used to flash sunlight or bang on for help.
If you find yourself trying to stay alive, time and energy expenditure are precious. Not having to figure out some way to hold, carry, and boil water, as well as having a safe place to keep unwelcome little dinner guests from noshing on your dinner, is a huge luxury – and maybe a lifesaver.
Now, start that fire. We could use some coffee. Good thing we brought this pot.