“Adventure is just bad planning” – Roald Amundsen

personal_survival_kitPersonal Survival Kits (PSKs) are, by definition, personal and that means that different people put them together in different ways.  This is as it should be; if you are an Orang Asal who has grown up in the jungle you will need far less than someone who has limited jungle craft skills and is new to the jungle.

So rather than try to provide some definitive list of ‘what you should take in’ I thought I’d put down some more general guidelines that have helped me in putting together my PSKs.


All PSKs involve a degree of compromise

If you want to take in every item  that you might need in an emergency you’ll end up filling a large rucksack. A PSK should be small and light enough that you’ll carry it with you – if you make it too big and heavy the chances are that you’ll end up leaving it at home as it’s just too much of pain to carry around.

So the bottom line is that the hardest thing about putting together a PSK is not deciding what to put in, but rather deciding which items to leave out.

Do a risk assessment on where you’re going – if you’ll be deep in the jungle, alone and far from civilisation you may well want a more extensive PSK with you than you would when you go on a day hike on a well used trail near to home.


Decide what sort of PSK you want:

Is it going to be a modular/removable section of your main pack or do you want a stand-alone PSK?

So, for example, the larger PSK I show in the video is designed as a removable part of my main pack and therefore I’m going to avoid duplication (e.g. no need to take another water filter/compass/back up fire starters/camp chair etc as I already have those in the PSK).

The belt version of my PSK is more of a stand-alone version – what I mean by that is it doesn’t lend itself well to  being used in conjunction with a larger pack (the belt PSK would get in the way of the pack’s waist belt and be uncomfortable).  It doesn’t include a hammock and relies on chemical purification rather than a water filter (and is thus less bulky and heavy than the larger PSK).


Buy the pouch to fit the kit (not the other way round!)

Get all the items together for your PSK and then go shopping for a pouch that can hold them.  Best of all is to get a pouch made that exactly matches your requirements – if you have a sewing machine you can do this yourself, if not, a friend of mine called Ben has set up a business doing exactly this to a very high standard and here is the link to his website for those interested:

Garrison Packs

The Molle pouch I am using in the videos was from Amazon – here’s the link.


PSKs should be ‘grab-and-go’

I’ve seen people put together PSKs where they stuff the various items in different pockets (rather than altogether in a pouch).  This may work for them but I am sure that I would end up forgetting some vital item if I tried this!

The only exceptions to this, for me at least, is my phone and food which I keep in separate pouches.


PSKs should reflect your own skill level

As an example I’ve seen PSKs which include diagrams of how to tie useful knots – you’re either going to need something like this or you don’t.  Equally, the fishing kits that are almost always included in PSKs are all well and good, but have you actually tried catching a fish with one?

However, beware the bushcraft mantra that ‘I can carry less because I know more’ – it can be a bit misleading – you may well know how to build a shelter, start a friction fire, weave palm leaves for a roof, boil water in bamboo etc….but, in an emergency, you need to be able to do all of those things in a short period of time (and harvest all the necessary resources) while your mind is most probably in a fairly agitated state, you’re tired and what you really want to do is rest by a nice fire and relax.


Use the items in your PSK regularly (especially the tools)

This is the mistake a lot of people make (particularly with small/tin based PSKs) – they put together a miniature PSK and tell themselves that it’ll be all they need in an emergency, chuck it in their pack and forget about it.

However, the only way to be really sure if your PSK is viable or not is to try it out for yourself.  For example, those wire saws seem like a great idea but try them out for yourself first and then decide.

Similarly if you’re going to rely on a small knife make sure you know how to use it to split down larger logs, how to sharpen it and understand its weaknesses (for example folders have an inherent weakness – due to the hinge – that fixed blades do not).

Here’s the Amazon link for the Opinel saw for those interested.


PSKs are region specific

A PSK for the jungle is going to be different to one that works in, for example, colder, northern climes as your survival priorities are different.


What do you expect from the PSK?

For example, the larger PSK in the video allows me to set up camp (hammock, tarp) quickly and easily and have a night that is more-or-less as comfortable as I would have using my normal gear.  The belt pack has no hammock and thus I would either up sleeping on the ground or spending time/energy building a raised platform.


Your parang is part of your PSK

This applies for the jungle at least: in fact your parang is the most important part of your PSK.


Even if your PSK isn’t perfect, take heart in the fact that almost any kit you have in an emergency is better than none at all.  If you watch Ed Stafford in the series Naked and Marooned you’ll know what I mean (he went in with nothing at all) – at one point (as he tries to carve a notch with a clam shell) he desperately wishes for a Swiss Army penknife! – equally, it took him about 10 days on the island before he managed to get a fire going (so I imagine he also wished for a BIC lighter).