Some folks have been asking about some of the equipment used on SAR missions... so I'll try to add some information here as time goes by. Please remember that opinions vary (sometimes wildly) on equipment - all I intend to do here is share what has worked for me.
Click small photo for larger view.
It would be difficult for me to pick a more critical piece of equipment for any backcountry or wilderness activity than a stout fixed blade knife. Firecraft (another) and shelter building are just two of the tasks a quality knife will facilitate.
For years I've use a K-Bar with a modified handle - the problem is they tend to break (3 so far) when seriously stressed...
Busse makes about the best, toughest production knive I've ever seen. The Fusion Steel Heart is a great knife for my purposes.
My sheath design (above) has evolved over the years - but the guiding principles have remained the same: Durability, useable storage space, one handed operation, and the ability to wear it low (or high) on my leg to make room for pack belts, etc. The storage capacity of the sheath is sufficient for all the basic survival gear needed to construct an improvised shelter, and get a fire going (attached are pouches for an aerial flare, a Mk 13 Day/Nigh flare and a Silky Saw).
The instructors at Simply Survival recently adopted the blades from Swamp Rat Knife Works (a subsidiary of Busse) as the staff knife - making it a very easy decision for me to go with one... so far so good!
For some time I used the "Ratweiler" from Swamp Rat... Great knife!
Below is my "Camp Tramp" from the Swamp Rat folks... the design, metal, etc. all work together to make a very, VERY tough knife. I do, however, prefere the handle of the Rat above...
Navigation skills require practice (and ideally training) to develop. Adding a whistle (i.e. Fox 40) to the lanyard of a Silva (now Nexus) Ranger type compass expands you ability to signal. A whistle is an order of magnitude more effective than yelling, and a mirror flash can be visible for miles.
The lanyard is long enough so that when girth hitched to my equipment it helps stabilize the compass at arms-length, eye-level.
The ability to get a fire started in any conditions is a skill well worth developing. As with most skills, there is no substitute for training and practice, and practice, and practice, and... well, you get the idea.
Metal Match - My favorite (carried in my knife sheath pouch), and recommended by (among others) Greg Davenport, of Simply Survival. A bit of a hack saw blade, with the teeth ground off, used as a striker saves the edge on your knife. As is always the case with fire building - proper preparation (and practice!) is crucial to success.
Magnesium w/flint - An easy to use firestarter. Scrape some magnesium off one side of the block, and ignite with the flint striker on the other side. Take the time to create a quarter sized pile of shavings, and practice - it burns quick.
Starting a fire in the backcountry is easy - building one that you're able to keep going is the tricky part!
There are many folks more qualified than I to teach fire building (Simply Survival is a great one), but it is useful for me to remember "3."
- 3 Corners to the "Fire Triangle" - Oxygen - Heat - Fuel (make sure all are in place).
- 3 Fuels - Tinder - Kindling - Firewood (prepare in opposite order).
- 3 Main Tasks - Site selection/preparation - Ignition - Maintenance
- 3 Times the amount of prepared materials you think you need.
Which reminds me of the "Rule of 3." This is an easy way to prioritize your immediate survival needs:
Generally speaking, you can survive (or die in):
- 3 minutes without air.
- 3 hours without shelter.
- 3 days without water.
- 3 weeks without food.
Clearly these are just approximate times, but it does make the point that, for instance, it would be silly indeed to fret about lunch if you find yourself accidentally underwater...