If you are not familiar with Bear Grylls, he is the host and star of the popular Man vs. Wild and Worst Case Scenario programs on the Discovery Channel. On those programs he usually demonstrates survival skills with little to no gear.
His show along with several other shows on cable television has generated increased interest in survival gear and skills. Unlike the television shows, I personally like to be prepared with gear. In some cases I have probably been in the woods with too much gear. Bear Grylls and Gerber collaborated on a line of survival tools and they were kind enough to send Woods Monkey two of their survival kits for review. However, after getting the opportunity to test out the Basic and Ultimate Kit I firmly believe that a simple well thought out survival kit can go a long way to providing a good chance to survive outdoors or an emergency situation.
The Basic Kit comes packaging is a lightweight bright orange nylon bag that measure 5” X 4.5” with waterproof zipper and lanyard. The backside of the nylon bag contains an alpine rescue and ground to air distress signals. Inside is a re-sealable waterproof plastic bag that holds the kits contents. The most important part of this kit in my opinion is the tools for making fire. It comes with a fire steel that includes a lanyard connected to a scraper that also has a bottle opener along with cotton tinder. There is also a pack of eight waterproof matches and a striker sealed in a clear plastic bag. The kit includes a Gerber Paraframe Mini 2.22 inch stainless steel partially serrated blade knife. Overall, the Paraframe Mini measures just over 5 inches fully opened and weighs 1.4 ounces. I have had one of these knives for several years and carry it as part of my own survival kit. Next is a red survival whistle that can be attached to a lanyard. This is an item that I have not had in my kit and only recently considered its usefulness. In a survival situation the ability to make loud noise without a lot of effort can be critical whether you are trying to signal rescuers or potentially scare off an aggressive critter. Rounding out the kit is 10.5 feet of nylon rope, approximately 16 feet of waxed thread and close to 2 feet of snare wire.
The last item included in the Basic kit is a copy of Bear Grylls’ Priorities of Survival Pocket Guide. I found this be an extremely useful item. In an emergency or survival situation you need to remain calm. Even if you are a veteran of the outdoors sometimes psychology can play havoc with your mental and physical state. Reading is one way to bring you focus when your nerves may be frazzled or you lack concentration. In those situations having a handy reminder of essential survival skills can be important to your mental health and increase your chance for survival. The pocket guide includes information on clothing, fire, shelter, location, signaling, navigation, water collection, food, knots and scavenging. It includes several diagrams to aid you tying knots, building shelters and setting snares. There are also two rulers one measuring centimeters and the other inches. In a pinch I can see the pocket guide being used as additional tinder or perhaps even toilet paper but only in situations of extreme duress. The entire kit weighs only 4.2 ounces.
The Ultimate Kit has a lot more goodies than the Basic Kit. It comes packaged in a larger black nylon bag that measures 6.5”X 4.5”with a waterproof zipper and alpine rescue and ground to air distress symbols sewn into the back of the bag. The Ultimate Kit has one addition with the inclusion of a whistle on the zipper lanyard. Inside the nylon case is an emergency survival blanket in its own re-sealable plastic bag and a separate re-sealable waterproof bag with the rest of the kit’s contents. This kit has the same fire steel, tinder, waterproof matches, nylon rope, wax thread, snare wire and pocket guide as the basic kit. Instead of the Paraframe Mini knife, it has a Gerber Clutch multi-tool. The multi-tool has a pretty standard set up that includes a 1.75 inch knife blade, two screwdrivers, awl, tweezers, nail file, bottle opener and spring loaded pliers. I really liked the multi-tool and a number of my friends who use multi-tools regularly thought it was neat as well as functional. In addition, the Ultimate Kit includes a wire saw, fishing kit, sewing kit, flashlight and signaling mirror which are not included in the basic kit. The wire saw is adequate but takes a little time to get used to using compared to some other saws that I have used. I would recommend using it on smaller branches up to a couple of inches in diameter. The next item is the fishing kit that is sealed in its own plastic bag. I am not a fisherman and do not have a lot of experience with fishing tackle so I consulted with my father in law who has extensive background in fishing. This portion of the kit includes a substantial length of 2 pound fishing line, three hooks, three swivel joints and three split shot lead sinkers. In his opinion, the fishing line is a bit too light to catch larger fish. He also indicated that the swivel joints were too large for the hooks that were included. The sewing kit has two buttons and four lengths of thread in different colors, and a safety pin. Noticeably absent from the sewing kit is a needle. I recommend using one of the fishing hooks or add a sewing needle to the kit. Next up is a simple LED flashlight that is connected to a split ring lanyard. Despite its small size it is rather bright. Using the flash light requires you to pinch both sides of its oval shape. There is no way to leave the flashlight on. It has a watch battery that can be replaced by removing three extremely small screws. More than likely you will have a more robust flashlight in your gear and I view the light included with this kit as disposable. However, in an emergency situation the flashlight included in the Ultimate Kit is functional. The last item included in the kit is small signaling mirror that measure 2 inches by 1.5 inches and comes with instructions for its use. I found the instructions for the signaling mirror straightforward and easy to use. Overall, the Ultimate Kit weighs 9.4 ounces and provides a lot of functionality given its size.
Over the summer I managed to do a little hiking with my friend Taejas. Since it was only a day hike I asked him to carry the Basic Kit on his person while I carried the Ultimate Kit. We each placed the kits in cargo pants pockets and went out for a five mile hike. The Basic Kit only weighs 4.2 ounces and upon completion of the hike, Taejas informed me that he had forgotten that he was carrying it as he didn’t notice the weight at all. The Ultimate Kit weighs in at 9.4 ounces and I could tell that the kit was in my pocket but it was not uncomfortable or distracting to carry. After completing the hike we broke the kits out to test the waterproof bags in a nearby creek and to make sure the fire starters functioned properly. I tossed both kits into a small pool of water and let them sit for about five minutes. Neither kits waterproof bags leaked nor was there any detectable moisture inside the bags once I dumped the contents out on a large rock. Next I took some of the cotton tinder from each kit as well as the fire steel. On a large rock I placed a portion of tinder and used the fire steels to ignite the tinder. Both fire steels worked great as I only had to strike each one a couple of times to throw enough spark to ignite the tinder. My friend was suitably impressed as he was not familiar with fire steels. After making sure the burning tinder would not cause further fire to the vicinity we concluded our morning with a short walk back the car.
I passed both of these kits around to a larger group of my friends and asked them what they thought of the contents as most of them have outdoor and military experience. All in all they thought the contents of each kit provided a good selection of survival gear. One of my good friends, who served in the military and has sons in the Boy Scouts raved over the contents of the kits and felt that they were a good value. He was definitely interested in purchasing the kits to help teach his sons how to use survival tools.
In my opinion the Basic and Ultimate kit are a great introduction to survival kits. I already have a lot of the contents of each kit from years of hiking but I found both kits to be demonstrative of what is most essential in a kit while keeping the weight to a minimum. I recommend combining either kit with a first aid kit. Another thing that stood out to me is that the contents are affordable and easy to replace should they get used, damaged or lost. Beyond the kits usefulness for backpacking I also think they function pretty well as part of a vehicle survival kit. Both of these survival kits can be easily stowed in glove compartment, center console or behind the seat. I plan on modifying the contents of each kit slightly and utilizing them as part of my survival gear for hiking and potentially in a car emergency kit.
After testing both of these kits I have only a few minor issues and concerns. I find the lack of needle to be a strange omission from the sewing kit. Secondly, the re-sealable plastic bag from the Basic kit became harder to re-seal each time I tried to close it and requires a bit of patience. In terms of both kits I also found it a bit perplexing that the Basic Kit includes and small folding knife and the larger Ultimate Kit has a multi-tool. I am just not sure of the logic involved in selecting which item goes with their respective kit. In my opinion both of those tools should be included in both kits. The next item I thought was a bit odd in the Ultimate Kit was the inclusion of a lanyard whistle connected to the zipper of the bag and the red whistle that came packaged inside the kit. I find two whistles in one kit to be a bit unnecessary. The Basic kit does not have a lanyard whistle connected to the zipper but does have one packaged with the kit. The last thing I would advise you to do if you purchase the Ultimate Kit is to check that the flashlight included with the kit works properly before you go out into the woods or leave it your vehicle. It can be quite demoralizing to think that you have a working flashlight and then don’t when you really need it. None of these issues would prevent me from purchasing either survival kit. Part of the fun of survival kits for me is figuring out why certain gear was included and then customizing for personal preference.
In conclusion both of these kits offer a practical introduction to survival kits. They contain many useful and functional items that are easy to use. Gerber’s retail price on the Basic Kit $23 dollars and the Ultimate Kit is $52 dollars. Most people shop online these days and both of these survival kits can be found on the Internet for less than manufacturer’s retail. Considering the price I think they are a decent value especially if you do not have the time or inclination to custom build your own kit from scratch. If you are looking for something fast and easy to throw into a backpack or your car then considering picking up either of these kits for your needs. If you are new to survival kits or have children new to the outdoors then these kits can be a great learning tool to hone survival skills. I would not hesitate to throw either the Basic or Ultimate kit into my gear. I encourage you to try one out and see how it functions for you.
For more information: http://www.gerbergear.com/Survival
Editors Note: You may see the Bear Grylls Fire Starter pictured in some of the photos as well. We originally intended on discussing it as part of this review but after field testing decided to highlight it on its own. Its an impressive piece of gear and we decided to give it a more in depth look later on.
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