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On-Person Survival Kit – The O.P.K.

Posted by Self Reliance Outfitters on February 20, 2014  

When it comes to a survival kit, it seems like you can’t pick up an outdoor magazine or click on an outdoor website without getting another opinion about what you should or shouldn’t carry when venturing out of doors. The emergency kit or “survival kit” run the gamut from small matchbox sized pocket kits to full backpacks. While I personally subscribe to the idea of some kind of back-up emergency equipment, I am a realist in what will actually be carried with the person.

Last fall, some friends and I planned to canoe the MooseRiver in Maine. Having never been to that area before, we didn’t know what to expect. The trip was billed as a wilderness canoe trip with thirty-four miles of river off the beaten path. Though it is one of the most popular canoe trips in the state, we were going at the end of September, a time that some consider to be out of season. There would be no other groups on the water at that time.

With the lack of company on the river, our initially secure group of six able-bodied canoeists, pared down to two by the time the trip date came. Realizing we would be on our own, we brainstormed what type of on person emergency equipment weshould carry in case of a spill in the river where we would be separated from our canoe, our gear, and possibly each other.

You can always stuff your pockets with gear or, utilize a pouch or carrier for your redundant “never leave your person” gear. It would just be more comfortable not to have stuffed pockets when seated in a canoe for hours on end and simply have a survival kit.

Most pouch survival kits are either too big due to unnecessary equipment or too small due to a lack of the necessary essentials. They are almost always carried in one’s gear or pack. Rather than a PersonalSurvival Kit (PSK), which can be carried anyplace, this is an On Person Kit (OPK).


essential-survival-kit.jpgI was looking for a blend of “on person practicality” without the bulk. An online search yielded a wonderful little belt pouch made by Best Glide. The Best Glide Personal Survival Kit Holder was designed to hold the ubiquitous Altoid tin kit. I am not a huge fan of the Altoid sized kit; they are modeled after the British military survival tin, which is actually quite larger (tobacco tins were originally used). The pouch measures 4.5 x 3.25 in. x 1.12 inch and comes in OD green. The pouch has two pockets, the large isclosed with a zipper with two pulls. The front compartment is sealed by the Velcro tabbed flap, which covers the heavy nylon pouch. Two small tabs are sewn onto the back as well as a belt slot.

I sent for the Best Glide Personal Survival Kit Holder and upon receipt, was tasked with deciding what to carry. Again, realistically I would need equipment to make a fire, obtain and purify water, provide shelter and signal if necessary. Direction finding with a compact, accurate compass would also be desirable.

Given my worse case scenarios of being dunked into the river without any equipment or somehow being separated from my canoe, I wanted an on person survival kit which could be utilized instantly in the case of hypothermia or injury.


I decided on an Adventure Medical Kits, 2 Person Heat Sheets Survival Blanket. Wind proof and waterproof barriers are difficult and laborintensive to produce with natural materials. Plastic is a wonderful invention and an instant way of retaining body heat and staying dry. It can be wrapped around the body or utilized in a shelter. The large Heat Sheets weighs only 3.5 ounces and measures 60 x 96 inches. Silver on one side and blaze orange on the other, it could be utilized as a ground marker panel, visible from the air. The packaged unit measures less than 3.5 x 5 inches and can be compacted to just over 1⁄2 inch thick, perfect for my belt pouch. I have 20 feet of nylon decoy line which is very tough and compact in the survival kit as well. The kit is wrapped with about 3 feet of 550 paracord. Both can be used in shelter building and general binding.


Lacking a container or cup for boiling, I opted for an Aquamira Frontier Emergency Water Filter. It’s a type of straw in which you draw thewater through suction. The filter is good for 20 gallons and is 99.9% effective. Since you can drink directly from the water source the hydration is instant without a wait time like tablets and other treatments. Purification tablets are useless without a container or bottle to hold the water. The filter is compact, measuring 3 3⁄4 x 7/8 inches and weighs a little over half an ounce.


A mil-spec 2×3 inch glass mirror for daytime, sunny conditions and a Photon Micro light with multiple settings for night. A Fox 40 Micro whistle rounded out the signaling group. .


I am somewhat fanatical when it comes to fire. So, in the survival kit I packed a 4-inch ferrocerium rod with a shortened carbide sharpener to act as a scraper. (very effective). I also carry a butane lighter with the flame adjustment set high a la Cody Lundin to ensurea strong flame. Pre-made fire-starters are a must so I packed 4-1/2 inch squares of Diamond Brand Strike-a-Fire which can be ignited by flame or spark and have a long burn time.

If making the trip today, I would change my fire-starters to petroleum saturated cotton balls. They take a spark better, can be made at home and burn like crazy. Just use caution when packing petroleum cotton balls as they can stain your gear and clothing if their container leaks.


For more long-term than short-term emergencies, I had the space in the survival kit for some food gathering supplies. I figured it would be best to include fishing supplies rather than snares or wire. We would probably be close to shore and since it is a river, I put in two types of line (mono and braided), some small hooks and split shot. There is also a #10 scalpel blade in the fishing kit in case a sharp blade was needed.


I own a small, brass, Vietnam era military watchband compass. It is the best compass of its kind that I have ever found. Accurate and durable, I prefer metal compasses to plastic especially in an urgent situation.

That covers my emergency supplies that were included in the survival kit; simple and what I expected to need and use. Of course a folding knife and alternative fire source may have been in a pocket or two. I carried a 4.5 inch fixed blade knife attached to my belt, which would be my main cutting tool and hopefully survive a dunking or loss of the canoe and equipment. I also used a neck knife, which I had attached to its kydex sheath a small ferro rod, and capsule with petroleum jelly soaked cotton.

In my constantly evolving process of equipment selection, I have added a small flat skeletal fixed blade knife, the CRKT Ritter RSK MK5. The knife is only 3 3⁄4 inches long and made to fit into a small tin kit. I switched this knife with Turley PSK which is a solid tough little knife also designed to fit in a kit. I know that there are a lot of opinions and beliefs in what should be carried on person, and we have read several of these personalpreferences in this magazine. This is my opinion of a mission specific survival kit based on my abilities and this particular trip. I urge you to experiment with adaptable, on person equipment as well.


As you have probably guessed, the trip was pretty uneventful. We didn’t see another soul for 3 days. Though not very far from civilization, we were none-the-less separated from roads by miles of swamp and bog. We were also out of mobile phone contact. In case of an emergency, we were on our own. I felt comforted in the fact that we were better prepared because of our foresight, planning and the addition of our on person survival kit.

After the positive review of this kit, friends in my outdoor group have embraced the Best Glide Pouch as well and assembled their own belt kits. One friend dubbed his the “immersion kit.” Appropriate when immersed into an emergency situation or in the case of our canoe trip, water immersion.

By Mike Lychock, Self Reliance Illustrated, Issue No. 3, July/August 2011 – Edited by The Pathfinder Store

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